Archive for the 'Theatre' Category

08
Aug
18

Jasper Jones

 

Jasper Jones

Queensland Theatre & MTC

QPAC Playhouse

August 3 – 18 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED……………

 

In the sizzling summer of 1965, a bookish 14 year-old boy flees from the boredom and bullying of small-town life by burying himself in stories of epic adventure. He never thought he’d find himself living one. Charlie Bucktin lives in a tiny, insignificant bush town where nothing happens. Nothing, that is, until Jasper Jones stumbles upon a gruesome crime out by the dam. Who else would he call on for help but the sharpest kid around?

 

A midnight tap at Charlie’s window sparks a race to solve a murder and clear Jasper’s name.

 

JASPER JONES IS AT MY WINDOW

 

A superb re-staging of the MTC production, adapted by Kate Mulvany and directed by Sam Strong, this Jasper Jones will satisfy. Brisbane’s opening night audience leapt to their feet, in the stalls at least, not even waiting for the final moment to sink in, in appreciation of the talent on stage and off. This tends to happen on opening night! And sometimes it’s best to see a different performance, once the season has started. With a stellar cast and creative team, Strong’s telling of Craig Silvey’s darkly disturbing small town story of intolerance, abuse, suspicion and suicide, is made surprisingly light and broadly appealing. It’s chilling in its true-crime flavour, but a distinctly Australian sense of humour prevails, both in the book and on stage, largely due to Kate Mulvany’s instinctive adaptation.

 

 

I miss the underlying moodiness of the novel at times and the eerie sense that a constructed eucalyptus forest on stage might bring to the live performance, with moonlight shining through branches rather than, as it is here, sensibly, through a fast and functional scrim, which is flown in and out to change our location in an instant, wasting no time to take us to the scene of an unspeakable crime, a place that’s so special to the titular character. The scrim has its place and yet it’s my least favourite aspect of the Helpmann Award winning design, which has come from the incredible imagination of Anna Cordingly, incorporating water and using tiny houses set around the outer edge of a revolve to bring to life the insular town of Corrigan. The revolve and the actors’ excellent timing allow for seamless transitions between scenes and brings some of the pivotal action centrestage, to the cricket pitch, the town’s common ground. Matt Scott’s inspired lighting states and Darrin Verhagen’s bushland soundscape help to transport us back in time and out of the city to a typical Australian town. This creative team’s close attention to detail, from the street lights to the gutters, to the louvres to the sandals and to the dirt beneath them, may have you convinced that this is in fact your place, your childhood neighbourhood. 

 

I spoke with someone recently again about the importance of memory, personal associations and adding scent to the live theatre experience to support a properly multi-sensory way into a story – remember, we’d diffused rose oil during our La RondeErotique and Diabolique, and then there was the breakfast cooking offstage during Neil Armfield’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – anyway, without it being incorporated in the design, during Jasper Jones I could nevertheless smell the eucalyptus, the wattle, the creek, and the dust of Stringybark Road. It’s always amusing to see the look on students’ faces at school when I start a story with, “Before this school was built…” or “Before this road went through…” and watch their eyes widen before one of them invariably asks, “How old ARE you, Miss?”

 

 

Nicholas Denton’s embodiment of Charlie Bucktin is one of the most searingly honest, and sensationally funny physical performances we’ve seen on this stage in a long time. It’s an endearing performance, his ability to go from awkward and gangly to grown up, wise and worldly within seconds giving us a sense of an old soul in an adolescent body. His love of literature feeds his reality and his relationships, and helps us navigate our way through the mystery as he narrates. It’s through the use of gesture and the manipulation of spatial relationships that we gain additional insight into Charlie’s world, and the people inhabiting it. That comment obviously for the students… Denton takes special care as Charlie, to establish a lovely, awkward, guarded rapport with his strikingly beautiful, strong and stubborn mother, Ruth, the sensational Rachel Gordon. In this role she is somehow a symbol of the era’s frustrations and feelings of isolation, sharing repressed rage and grief, and personifying a similar lingering discontent and sense of disempowerment to Carita Farrar Spencer’s poignant performance in Ladies in Black. I feel like she’s every woman before me, and also me. Charlie also has some weightier moments with his dull and detached, determined-to-do-better father, Wesley. A sensitive Ian Bliss, with just a dash of Doug Hastings/Barry Otto, complete with shameless combover, earns our sympathy and eventually, our admiration too. 

 

 

YOU GOTTA’ GET BRAVE

 

Shaka Cook is a real, raw, intriguing and engaging Jasper Jones. Like a hunted, haunted animal, his vulnerability lies, barely visible, beneath the surface of a tough act that’s become his habitual behaviour. Cook beautifully underplays the complexity and sustains the edgy energy of a thing about to pounce or run away. By the same token he has a languidness about him, unnerving Charlie and suggesting to us that, in possession of this juxtaposition, he might just be the coolest guy in school these days, as opposed to the scapegoat dropout. The unlikely friendship between Jasper and Charlie is handled sensitively, keeping all the nuances intact; it’s a joy to witness this relationship, and their mutual respect, develop before our eyes. 

 

The less subtle friendship is between Charlie and Jeffrey Lu, an animated, dynamic performance by Hoa Xuande, hilarious and at times, heartbreaking. I do wonder if the others were warned during rehearsals that he might steal the show. Melanie Zanetti is exquisitely ageless, playing both the ghost of Laura and her little sister, Eliza, who is very much alive, and coquettishly bold and cute, until her complete unravelling, which also undoes us a little bit. Hayden Spencer, as well as contributing the satisfying thwack! of the cricket ball as Jeffrey finally gets his moment in the sun/on the crease, lets loose as Mad Jack Lionel, Corrigan’s biggest mystery and apparently, most obvious murderer. His truth is revealed beautifully, compellingly, and completely believably, adding rich context to the themes of secrets, lies, love, family and forgiveness.

 

 

Silvey’s novel is a contemporary classic and Mulvany’s stage adaptation, directed by Sam Strong, could tour forever under the same banner, such is its unblinking look into human nature, connection and communication, and the prevailing attitudes of 1960s Australia, which haven’t necessarily changed very much, have they? I love the seemingly low-tech approach, the attention to detail, the unhurried moments spent in Jasper’s sheltered, secret glade, the musings and laughter and delight of the friends, and the days spent outside sans digital devices, as well as the look inside Charlie’s head, and through him, the remarkable insight we gain into the humans that surround him, and that surround us. With the astuteness of To Kill a Mockingbird, the kooky humour of The Goonies, and the casual, lasting impact of Stand by Me, Jasper Jones is easily my favourite Queensland Theatre production this year…perhaps until the final two.

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02
Aug
18

Lysa and the Freeborn Dames

 

Lysa and the Freeborn Dames

La Boite & QUT Creative Industries

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre 

July 21 – August 11 2018

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

 

Aristophanes’ classic Greek comedy Lysistrata is a comic account of a woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sexual privileges from their men as a means of forcing negotiation of peace. As an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society, it is an apt source for Lysa and the Freeborn Dames, a new work by Claire Christian, which waves the feminist flag through a story of self-discovery, albeit with some stereotypes.

 

Bold and defiant first year university student nineteen-year-old Lysa King (Tania Vukicevic) resents the traditions of her regional home town, most notably its annual rugby match known as the war weekend. Bolstered by viewing the 2017 women’s marches, during a trip home to the typical church/Chinese restaurant/CWA town, after awkward reunion with once girlfriend Peta (Clementine Anderson), she stages a protest to disrupt the event, as mouthpiece of the #metoo movement, angering most of the town, including her friends and her father (Hugh Parker) who is being awarded Man of the Year in one of the weekend’s rituals.

 

 

Rather than rallying the women of the town in solidarity with their international sisters, Lysa alienates almost everyone though her fired-up hostility and wide range of demands for equality as she locks local footy star Grant (Jackson Bannister) hostage in the club’s locker room after he catches her alofting a ‘Pussy Power’ flag over the hallowed footy field. As the show revolves around this decision and its consequences over one night, in one place, staging occurs within the one room of the local footy club, represented simply by a sunken set complete with daggy club-type carpet. And music is likewise used to effect, especially in cementing a concluding sentiment through Cold Chisel’s Flame Trees.

 

 

Its recognisable everyplace type of town ‘somewhere in regional Queensland’, setting increases its accessibility, however, clearly the show’s intent is to engage a younger demographic through showcase of impulsive protest as a privilege of youth, which may alienate traditional mainstage audience members. At times, it verges on caricature, overwhelming potentially poignant moments with over-the-top character portrayals which can make it a frustrating experience, especially when any warning about the potential dangers of single-minded activism seems to be breezed over in its somewhat all’s well ending.

 

 

It is difficult to empathise with Lysa. Even though she has right on her side, her raging militancy is off-putting, especially as we witness her refusal to accept other viewpoints or ‘I don’t care’ perspectives which almost cost her close friendships. And although there are three male characters within the story, their responses to Lysa’s assertions appear as mere mentions, dismissed as being ‘part of the problem’ rather than allowed space for consideration.

 

 

Obviously whether audience members will see passionate defiance or stubborn belligerence in Lysa will depend on their personal experiences and life’s journey stage. Thankfully, there is a Greek chorus of freeborn dames (the all-wonderful Barbara Lowing, Roxanne McDonald, Hsiao-Ling Tang) to mix things up. The trio doesn’t just setup the action, serving as Lysa’s persona oracle, but allows for a reprieve from her lack of relent, providing a powerful presence in their punctuating reminder the feminism is not just for the young. In particular, Lowing’s monologue about legacy and post-middle-age liberation from the repression of service to others conveys a moving honesty that makes the audience applaud mid-show. And the trio’s sardonic commentary also offers much dry humour. Indeed, like its Ancient source material, “Lysa and the Freeborn Dames” is very funny, thanks largely to its vibrant supporting cast – prim and proper(ish) fourth generation Miss Weekender (with sash to prove it), Esme (Tatum Mottin) and brash tell-it-as-it-is gutter-mouth Myra (Samantha Lush), who bring an engaging energy to the at-times physical show, especially in its spirited ‘Wild Ones’ dance scene. Also of note are Morgan Francis as the town’s well-intentioned, plucky young caught-in-the-middle policeman and Hugh Parker’s as Lysa’s everyman, good-bloke father who by his own admission, just doesn’t understand.

 

With provocation at its core, this is far from polite theatre. The show begins with a punch of profanities which continues in some way for most of its duration. The words do become wittier as the show ebbs and flows along, but its message sometimes lacks discernment; in touch on big themes like gender, sexuality, politics and sexual politics, there is a lot going on and while sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

 

Turning the international lens inward to feminism in rural Australia makes for an interesting theatrical premise, but working toward social change that takes everyone into consideration is complicated and it is probably for this reason that the show seems to lack a single thesis. From this tangle, there arises much opportunity for discussion though, especially for its target school group audiences, which is the show’s real value, for as Lysa tells her father when he questions her changed appearance and claim not to care what people think, “how is anything going to change if people can’t even have a conversation.”

 

One way or another, Lysa and the Freeborn Dames will evoke a response, whether it be in the form of feelings of frustration or fulfilment, and will, as enticed by its “fury fuelled dramedy” descriptor, generate contemplation and conversation.

 

 

27
Jun
18

The Arrival

The Arrival

QPAC’s Out of the Box & Red Leap Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

June 26 – July 1 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

A man flees his homeland and journeys across vast seas to arrive in a strange, wondrous

new world where giant ships fly through the air and curious creatures abound. There he

negotiates dazzling architecture, bizarre foods and foreign tongues to build a new life. On his

travels the man meets fellow migrants, each with their own tale to tell.

 

 

There are no notes for a relaxed performance, though that’s what it is, with hundreds of kids spilling into the seats in the Playhouse on the first day of QPAC’s Out of the Box children’s festival, asking questions already, and right through the show. And this is the way theatre used to work, and needs to continue to work, allowing us to be involved and completely immersed and alive, feeling every moment. For a kid, more often than not, this means feeling out loud, speaking their mind in the moment, and not accepting being told, “Shhh…we’ll talk about it later”, although if you’ve been following for a few years you’ll know that that is precisely what I’ve told Poppy, now twelve, for years of attending theatre with adult audiences. (I care less now about the glares). I love the children’s chatter during the shows that are especially created for them. I also love when they are captivated and silent, and in this show there are those magical moments too, when a hush descends over the entire audience of under-eights. But not for long! It’s too interesting and exciting!

 

What’s happening? What is that? Where is he going? Why can’t they be with him? Is the tiny ship the ship he’s on? Why can’t they go on the ship too? Is this a true story? Not all of it is understood, but there is a basic family unit separated and eventually reunited, and in between there is survival, friendship, war, horror and a new home.

 

More questions. This time from Poppy, afterwards. Why can’t we see Air Play? Why can’t we see everything? Why did he have to leave his home? Why couldn’t his family go together, stay together? Did the beautiful origami bird letter reach them? Was it even a letter? Money? Was it his love being sent symbolically across the ocean? This last, not as clear as it might have been, unless of course you’ve recently read the book, which Poppy had not. If you’ve not looked at the book recently either, or never looked at it, watch this brilliant animation. I had shared it with ten-year-olds at one school before we wrote about our favourite images, and created leaving and arriving freeze frames. At another school I was asked not to use the book again, it was too much to discuss. “We don’t have time to talk about that.” 

 

Adapted by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan, and directed by Nolan, this outstanding production, like Shaun Tan’s award winning graphic novel, comprises a series of incredible images, created by bodies, and the muted colours and textures they wear and through which they weave. Set pieces slide, and fold in and out and onto themselves, offering a semblance of a pop-up storybook on stage, perfectly lit. Scenes and moods and emotions shift seamlessly in curious exploration of a whole new life and the wonderment of living it, and the challenge and contentment that comes with communicating and connecting with other living beings. 

 

 

To have The Arrival of the title, we must first have a departure. This is a poignant goodbye, preceded by the opening image of the three as one – a perfectly balanced family trinity, clutching each other in a lifted embrace before they separate, to be seen as three individuals, each with their own feelings and ways of working out the world. There is a long journey and a ship sails by, beyond the action, just as a suitcase ship is constructed downstage, in front, in the real-life world of the play. The kids get it. Perspective 101. Performers become migrants, and make a porthole of their arms, and we fully accept the style of the show now – I remind Poppy that she saw something like it for the first time in Wolfe Bowart’s beautiful works, including Letter’s End and La La Luna; his is some of my favourite visual/children’s theatre ever – combining live performance and physical theatre, puppetry, projections, silhouettes and shadows, an evocative soundscape and original music. Adults and kids alike marvel at various inspired aspects of Red Leap’s storytelling, even something as simple as swaying together to create the shared trepidation of the travellers and the movement of the ship. With only the faint hope of finding more than a day’s work, it’s the opening of Les MiserablesAt the End of the Day, played out in silent slow motion on a boat. Birds fly overhead, heralding a strange new land, and crying freedom and joy and flight and hunger and fear. Of course, that depends on who you’re asking.

 

 

The walking fingers of performers, representing the newcomers’ insignificance as much as the figures themselves, hurry along a gangplank, which rests between the suitcase ship and an official looking person, standing formidably and stamping passports, allowing them passage across the bridge to a new world. A projected image seems to be the shape from the book, which is a beautiful, spot-the-difference moment with children if you have a copy at home or at school; it’s the towering, hand-shaking figures in their boats, but it’s not as clear as the Statue of Liberty would be (and how clear is her message at the moment, anyway?), and perhaps it’s a missed opportunity to incorporate another amazing design feature, as The Rabbits had its central tower of earth. Perhaps not.

 

 

A hot air balloon is revealed before it’s miniaturised, and our man continues his journey, looking over a vast new city. This means of transportation is gentle and other-worldly, like Dorothy’s intended way home, or Charlie’s Great Glass Elevator once it’s crashed through the factory ceiling. There are oohs and ahhs all around us. We see seasons pass, and the man is rained on, snowed on, each element initially indicated by the actions of the ensemble, clustered around him, reaching and clicking fingers in the air, and more reaching, fingers pinching snowflakes, unintentionally making the “okay” sign because (the boy behind me), “Look! Everything will be okay, don’t worry, Mum”, and (Poppy beside me), “Surely someone will be kind enough to give him a home.” And someone is. The new home is tiny and strange, with strange things in it! The ensemble members become a hat stand, a shower, and the puppeteer of a stray creature, a new best friend. A wonderful moment sees the actors react to a spray of water from the shower, and kids all around us shriek and laugh! In the pages of the book we see that there are many like the man, however; this story is mostly his story, and it has not been made too overwhelming by frequently and needlessly reminding us that there are countless others in his plight, focusing instead on just a few migrant stories to represent millions. The most engaging of these, a great and terrible battle in which many lives are lost during a series of lifts and spins and balances, and a near tragedy, depicted by a woman moving over and under a continuously moving ladder to retrieve a precious book, perhaps her only possession. These are highly physical sequences, the company of actors having settled with each other and with the demands of the show over a very short rehearsal time, however; during the extended season, once they’ve really settled, you’ll see an even tighter, more precise and even more closely connected ensemble, comprising Giema Contini, Nerida Matthaei, Leah Shelton, Michael Tuahine, Charles Ball, Danielle Jackson, Kristian Santic, Caroline Dunphy, and Tama Jarman & Shadon Meredith from Red Leap Theatre.

 

 

We appreciate more and more the work of these performers, largely disguised during the journey in their on-stage-stagehand roles, manipulating the invading dragon tail dementors in the sky, and moving city walls, and later, pulling up cloth from below the apron of the stage to create a field of flowers, the perfect realisation of Tan’s original illustration. A devised imagined language also makes perfect sense, supported by comedic gestures and facial expressions, often bringing light to this dark story. There’s a very funny snozzcumber moment, when a refreshing, revolting tasting fluid is sourced from some weird vegetable at the market. A more frightening BFG/Holocaust/The Mission moment comes with the sudden, violent extraction of tiny people by enormous shadowy figures looking suspiciously like Ghostbusters (the original Ghostbusters, kids, the best).

 

It’s gorgeous to see and hear this society brought to life by accomplished performers, making this production a theatre makers’ masterclass: for physical theatre / devising / directing addicts/aficionados we see in The Arrival a stunning example of contemporary theatre, and specifically, Visual Theatre and Physical Theatre using the essential elements/ingredients of composition, including all of The Viewpoints. For example, and this is especially for my year 9 & 10 drama kids, who are used to me telling them to go see whatever it is I’ve just seen, a beautifully constructed sequence of everyday activities exploring gesture, tempo, repetition and duration, as well as a choreographed dream-turned-nightmare, and a unique game in which lawn bowls meets bottle-flipping, to the great delight of everyone-who-is-not-a-teacher-with-playground-duty-experience.

 

 

With the arrival of another Spring, comes the arrival of the man’s family, and again this moment is miniaturised, the fingers doing the initial walking, building our anticipation before, finally, a running, leaping, embracing reunion, made even more moving this way, setting up the final lasting image of the family standing together again. 

 

The Arrival comes to us with its universal story, its beautiful, powerful, theatrically conceptualised and constructed images, and Red Leap’s signature aesthetic. It’s unparalleled at this year’s Out of the Box Festival, superbly realised, designed and directed, imbued with so much meaning and emotion, and waiting for your take on it. This is the intelligent, aesthetically and emotionally inspiring theatre that kids (and adults) never forget. Take the whole family and talk about it, and about what it means to each of you, and what – if anything – you might do about the feelings that come up for you. It’s not a call to action exactly, but a gentle nudge, a reminder to love and be loved, and to be kind to those near you – family, friends, strangers – because at the core of The Arrival is the struggle to survive and stay connected, and that’s everyone’s story.

 

Red Leap Theatre – The Arrival TRAILER from Red Leap Theatre on Vimeo.

14
Jun
18

The Sound of a Finished Kiss

 

The Sound of a Finished Kiss

Brisbane Powerhouse, Electric Moon & now look here

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

June 13 – 16 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

When an old mixed tape is unearthed, four friends rewind to Brisbane in the 1990s. Through a series of monologues interwoven with the songs they loved, they relive the events which shattered friendships and scattered friends to the four corners of the world.

 

There is undoubtedly more lively material than any of the music ever released by The Go-Betweens and if you’re not a fan, this might not seem like the show for you, but wait, there’s more to it than that. And when you make art, is it not right that you should make it the way you want to, using the soundtrack you want to, without having to tick funding application boxes, or satisfying sponsors or producers who are under the misguided impression that their dollars equate to creative talent or artistic decisions better left to the artists? Right. Here we have Kate Wild’s show, not yours, and not mine, and it’s clear from the outset that it’s a labour of love.

 

 

I love the story, which is penned by Wild with nostalgia and style, complete with colloquialisms and local references, which might not have the same impact anywhere else in the world, but here where everyone can picture very clearly, as we did during Zig Zag Street, the share houses and cracked coffee cups and odd, stoned characters at late night share house parties, the in-jokes and the bin references are appreciated. There’s a poetry and honesty to this work that leads us gently from four corners of the globe to our own back yard, begging us to recall the details of a decade. Nothing from your life? No one you know? Look closer. No hammer here with which to shape society, not really, but a mirror held respectfully within our reach while we gaze and wonder and remember, if we’re willing, crazy, hazy days and nights.

 

 

I adore these performers – Lucinda Shaw, Lucas Stibbard, Kat Henry and Sandro Colarelli – in their element as actors who can sing and move proficiently, and certainly in the case of both Shaw and Colarelli, as singers in their own right. This is clever casting, giving Stibbard another recognisable, relatable, beautifully underplayed super sensitive sad guy (you know, he can play happy people too!), and having Henry fill the shoes of a sweater-wearing, box-ticking, wide-eyed and impressionable Toowoomba girl on a fierce/lonely/dissatisfied life journey, Shaw delightedly swivelling and swaying and dancing her way into all our hearts, despite the distinct feeling at first that she doesn’t fit in here, and Colarelli – what a master, of sensual presence, poise and too-cool, disdainful and casual connection, enthralling us even as he reaches demurely for a mic hidden beneath the floor. I don’t know how we’ve managed to keep him in Brisbane… Can we still say parochial things like that?

 

 

Beneath some beautiful lighting by Christine Felmingham, Sarah Winter’s design puts us right at home in any number of share houses during uni years, making use of various levels and all four corners of the intimate Visy stage, and placing the accomplished musicians (James Lees, Ruth Gardner, Richard Grantham, Brett Harris and Karl O’Shea) behind a scrim and in an actual Paddington living room. Really. I swear it’s our place off Latrobe Tce. Or Susan’s Kelvin Grove house. Or Marnie’s Red Hill house. Or Lyndelle’s or maybe Annie’s parents’ place. Or a random St Lucia address that preceded coffee and gelato and too much wine and table soccer and intense conversations with actors and the Italians after knockoffs under the Eiffel Tower on Park Road… The memories come flooding back and I think there are probably really bad late-night, red-eyed, smokey, blurry photos of the parties in any or all of these spaces. You know, actual photos, in photo boxes, that have never been seen on social media (and nor will they ever be). 

 

This is one of the marks of a decent show, though, isn’t it? It pulls you in, even as you resist and don’t recognise much of the music (I don’t mind telling you that right through uni I was still listening to a heap of Single Gun Theory and Indigo Girls and show tunes and I don’t remember what else), and it doesn’t let you go until it’s time to leave, and drive home through all those roadworks (six sections, people, SIX SECTIONS OF ONE LANE OPEN ONLY AT 40KM/HOUR), and marking devising pieces before morning. No wonder I’m tired.

 

 

The Sound of a Finished Kiss is such a sweet new thing, I want to challenge the makers to lift it a bit and find the places it can continue to keep us engaged; these are in between sections of dialogue, with a number of the songs going on for longer than necessary, sometimes by two or three verses, so at 90 minutes it feels like the show drags at times. The pace at one point is helped considerably with the fun and ironic execution of Neridah Waters’ choreography.

 

With its deep insight and some dark and topical content, its wonderful reflection on an era and its bunch of misfit, perfect-for-each-other friends (yeah, c’mon, now you know them), this production could literally bring the party to wherever it shows. Like Soi Cowboy (it was one of those amazing creative developments, like Hanako, which I’ve never finished writing about and yet often reference), and unlike many others confidently charging you full price for the privilege of seeing them, this is one of the few new works to actually, genuinely be ready for their opening night, only begging the most minimal work, only in my opinion, before a return season somewhere, surely. 

 

The Sound of A Finished Kiss closes on Saturday. It’s not just for The Go-Betweens fans. Go see for yourself.

 

Production pics by Greg Harm

 

14
Jun
18

The Mathematics of Longing

 

The Mathematics of Longing

La Boite, The Farm & The Uncertainty Principle

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

June 2 – 23 2018

 

Reviewed by Nicole Reilly

 

 

My passion is to translate, if you will, the beauty of maths and physics into something visceral, narrative, human, ‘emotional’ if I dare. This play The Mathematics of Longing is an expression of that desire to merge two of my worlds, two of my ways of seeing, and to invite everyone to share the wonder of mathematics in a completely different and experiential environment. And it is also very much about uncertainty, not just the physics theory of The Uncertainty Principle, but uncertainty as it comes up close and personal, opening up possibilities, emotional journeys, tears, laughter, sadness and joy in human lives.

– Suzie Miller, playwright and co-creator.

 

An ambitious experiment in collaborative play-building between La Boite, The Farm and The Uncertainty Principle, The Mathematics of Longing is a fast-paced 60-minute non-linear collision of art, mathematics and humanity. As promised by playwright, Suzie Miller, the audience is invited to share in the wonder of mathematics. This is for some a frightening concept, but thankfully it’s tackled through the familiar lens of love…between a physicist (Todd McDonald) and a playwright writing about physics (Ngoc Phan), and their daughter (Merlynn Tong), and a rockstar and his artist girlfriend (The Farm’s Gavin Webber and Kate Harman, who are both thrilling to watch in these demanding physical and emotional roles).

 

 

 

Each scene, or event, opens with a monologue detailing a mathematical theorem, providing a framework within which to contextualise the on-stage actions. And assumedly, due to the collaborative nature of the work, the designers (lighting by Ben Hughes, sound by Regurgitator’s Ben Ely and set by Ross Manning), are able to incorporate the beauty of mathematics into all aspects of the show quite effortlessly. It is somewhat apt, however, that after outlining a mathematical theorem, what follows is an experiment, executed with varying degrees of success. One such success is of attachment theory, with the rockstar and his girlfriend entangled in red cabling whilst below them, the physicist and the playwright attempt to divide their belongings as they navigate their separation. Even in relative stillness above, allowing our focus to go to the physicist and his wife as they collect and sort the domino-effect-fallen books surrounding the stage, the entanglement of the two dancers is nothing short of entrancing.

 

 

In an earlier scene, an alternate universe sees the physicist and the playwright lament the loss of their daughter. An attempt at profundity is made, but this is an example of when a director is necessary, rather than five co-creators. Full of potential, primed to be heart-wrenching, it fails to reach the emotional heights needed to affect the audience, or even to portray a real experience. The scene lacks vision and clarity, and feels as though every line between the physicist and the playwright was chosen for its profundity, lacking authenticity as a result. An underplayed scene that when revisited later and re-contextualised to take us into a different universe with a different set of circumstances, never offers stakes high enough for us to care.

 

 

 

 

By far the most satisfying experiment of this new work is between the physicist and his daughter, as he explains the sheer beauty of maths with such passion and intensity that the audience can’t help but smile and be swept up in his delight. Miller’s writing of her lived experience is poignant and emotive, carried with ease by both McDonald and Tong. The additional layers, in the transformation of the stacks of books lining the stage into dominoes and a helix, as well as the installation-like floating and spinning tubes of light, vividly illustrate the beauty of mathematically seeing the world. Cleverly, as the lights spiral above the audience, that sea of faces, now lit and enlightened, is revealed.

The Mathematics of Longing, in its debut season, is a promising first draft, enjoyable and full of potential, though at times it feels like an unfinished version of Nick Payne’s brilliant Constellations.

 

 

 

09
Jun
18

Wheel of Fortune

 

Wheel of Fortune

Metro Arts & Tam Presents

Metro Arts Lumen Room

June 1 – 9 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

LOCAL, NAUGHTY AND FUN.

Tim Hill, Director

 

Highly anticipated, Troy Armstrong’s Wheel of Fortune, directed by Tim Hill, promises the real and scandalous, weirdly erotic, ugly, obscene, beautiful, strange and sometimes disturbingly lustful adventures of several individuals during the heat and humidity of a Brisbane summer, and at times it delivers. It could be heralded as the new La Ronde if it had that seminal play’s wit, eroticism and intrigue. This production, and all of its potential, will have been embraced by those who support our local talent without question and by those who know little of the original text. Penned in 1897 by Arthur Schnitzler, it was immediately banned due to its controversial content, addressing the spread of venereal disease through all levels of society at a time when those in positions of privilege and power believed themselves to be above infection, responsibility and reproach. The stories are updated and localised, and despite feeling a little outdated at times, at the core is the connection between characters; think one degree of separation and the mysteries of the multiverses.

 

 

 

Wheel of Fortune’s form is beautifully supported by its cinematic component, placing the intertwining tales squarely in Brisbane. Optic Archive’s AV contribution here is integral; we see locations and characters on screen before any live action takes place below it. The transitions are well rehearsed with timing almost perfect. The show must have been a nightmare to tech! Interestingly, the preferred option to address the more delicate aspects of the script appears to be a big-screen, super-soft-porn approach, with the steamiest action taking place above the stage. A post-crossfit shower scene is actually about as steamy as it gets, but perhaps there is more in other scenes for some, and it’s likely that the actors have embraced racier moments with more gusto as the season continued. In spite of Richard Jordan’s involvement – I’ve really loved his writing in the past – it all feels a little overwritten and obvious (the other writers are Jacki Mison & Krystal Sweedman). Most scenes lack nuance, pointing to each hot topic and then pointing again in case we missed it. There’s a distinct lack of electricity in the air, and very little bare flesh, even when a scene begs for it. No, I don’t want to see gratuitous nudity for the sake of it (we’ve had to address that before, haven’t we?), but I won’t object to the beauty and sensuality of bodies on stage should the material and a sensitive director, respectful lighting, and the acting chops of the cast support its inclusion for good reason. 

 

 

So. Schnitzler’s soldier is made a marine (we can tell, because Richard Lund wears blue jeans, white shirt and dog tags, and speaks with what he claims/explains is a Tennessee accent), the prostitute becomes public servant (Meg Bowden), the parlour maid an au pair (Jacqui McClaren), and the young gentleman a schoolboy (Brendan Lorenzo). His biology teacher is the original young wife (Jacqui Story), and her husband the lawyer (Ron Kelly). His mistress, Schnitzler’s Little Miss, is referred to as the socialite: AKA Social Media Influencer/Collaborator (Ruby Clark). Clark is cute and funny as she casually climaxes at the dinner table and just as casually seduces another woman in the following scene, but like Story, the new wife, in both the gym and at home, she’s dressed in the most unflattering and ordinary sexy lingerie we’ve seen on stage in a long time. Having weaned our Sunshine Coast and Brisbane audiences off modest attire for the stage a decade ago (thank you, Honey Birdette), I wasn’t the only one on opening night wishing we could go away claiming to have been a little more voyeur than viewer, however; of course there were others who were completely happy with every aspect of the production, including the everyday briefs and bras on display. And yes, of course there are times when the most ordinary can be made extraordinary and no, this was not one of those times.

 

 

 

In the most naturalistic and welcome performances of the night, the poet is made portrait photographer (Elise Grieg) and the actress stays an actress (Veronica Neave), to be caught out by the end with the count cum politician (Stephen Hirst). Grieg and Neave demonstrate with ease exactly the style and sensibilities we wish could be so natural for every other performer on the intimate Lumen Room stage.

 

 

 

 

My experience of this production can be considered fairly biased but unfortunately for those involved, it’s not in their favour, because one of our first sold-out shows on the Sunshine Coast was an adaptation of La Ronde, re-staged in a surf shop in Mooloolaba after its Noosa season (long before Anywhere Festival arrived on the scene) and followed by original works, Erotique (Noosa Long Weekend Festival, Sydney Fringe Festival) and Diabolique (Noosa Long Weekend Festival). The beauty of all three productions was that the director didn’t shy away from the really dark, disturbing aspects of human nature, successfully balancing these moments with wry wit, black comedy and unnerving silences, and added Leah Barclay’s incredible original musical compositions to evoke mood, which was necessarily nightmarish or desperately sad at times.

 

 

What I love about Wheel of Fortune is that it’s brought so many of our newer heads and hearts together, without masses of money or the allure of a bigger venue and a broader audience, the very things that can so often see the artistic vision compromised before it’s realised. Here we see accomplished actors and relative newcomers working together in one of the most supportive spaces in the city for new work, and we see the creative team, steered by Armstrong, working collaboratively to offer something new and exciting to a younger demographic, and with a particularly local flavour. The best advice I was ever given in terms of seeing and considering work was to see everything. That way – we hope – a singular opinion has at least a little credibility to it, and the work is supported, whether or not we are all in agreement about its impact.

 

Wheel of Fortune enjoys its final performances at Metro Arts this weekend. You should see it. 

 

Production pics by Deelan Do

17
May
18

Songs for Nobodies

 

Songs For Nobodies

Red Umbrella Theatre Co-operative

C-Square, Howard Street, Nambour

Sunday May 13 & Saturday May 19 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

How does the pursuit of success both define and restrain us? Find out as we join five nobodies on their journey of discovery. Walk the Nambour Vintage Theatre Trail and become immersed in the highs and lows of life in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Along the way be enchanted by the songs of Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas.

 

Songs for Nobodies was penned by award winning playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, who has captivated audiences around the world with her sensitive and heartfelt explorations of the human condition. This play explores how connecting with others has the power to heal and change us all.

 

Sunshine Coast based performer, Candice Hill, returns home from a guest appearance on the ABC’s Harrow to star as Too Junior Jones / Billy Holiday in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Songs For Nobodies, for Red Umbrella Theatre Co-Operative during Anywhere Theatre Festival. Hill performs a series of songs within an extended monologue, sharing the story of an imagined meeting between Billy Holiday and the ambitious journalist, Too Junior Jones, a “nobody”. This captivating performance, along with those by Claire Harding (competing with Majestic Cinema foyer noise to riff on Patsy Cline’s last public appearance and singing sensationally, not unlike the woman herself) and Sharon Grimley (sharing a poignant tale about Edith Piaf and singing fragments of her most famous songs, bringing tears to the eyes of some, sitting huddled together in a tiny op shop) make this 3-hour promenade production worth braving the cold for.

 

The production takes us on Nambour’s Vintage Theatre Trail, starting at Switch Cafe in C-Square, which is an over-crowded kitsch venue, in which sight lines are hit and miss, and acoustics are a little challenged towards the back/bar area. Having pre-ordered a light meal via email before arriving at the venue, we ate prior to the first monologue, delivered by Director, Lyn Johnson (Beatrice Ethel Appleton / Judy Garland). Those pressed for time would probably appreciate a no-dinner option, and be advised to turn up at 6pm for the start of the show.

 

A far cry from Bernadette Robinson’s award-winning touring production, in which she nailed all five roles, this version, featuring its five different women, is bookended by footage of the real-life performers rather than our local performers successfully singing the songs of the stars. Johnson’s monologue ends perfunctorily before black and white footage of Garland appears on a screen behind her, and Rebekah Ferguson (Orla McDonagh / Maria Callas) delivers beautifully, the final bold monologue (she has a knack for cheeky comedy), and even sings a bit before we hear Maria Callas herself, and look up to see the original performance of the aria in black and white on a wall in the final venue, an empty space located upstairs in C-Square. The use of this space confounds me; it’s almost cavernous, but oddly shaped and we are all – including the actress and her set pieces – cramped in the front quarter inside the doors and a strange, featured, cabin-esque entrance. I guess it must have looked vaguely like the cruise ship she speaks of. Anyway, I feel that to cast the five different women is wonderful, but to have only three of the five able to sing the songs convincingly could be considered a misstep, unless you’ve never seen or heard Robinson’s performance, or heard of her at all.

 

Despite these quibbles and the 3.5 hours duration (wear layers – it’s cold out!), Songs For Nobodies is still brilliant material, and Red Umbrella’s decision to offer the profits from their sold-out season to support services for victims of sexual violence has prompted Murray-Smith to waive her performance fees, making this show not only a brave choice, but also a successful fundraiser.

 




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