Archive Page 2

02
Apr
17

Chicago

Chicago

Mad About Theatre

The J, Noosa

March 31 – April 02 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Who can forget Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger in the 2002 movie of the smash hit Broadway musical? Kander & Ebb’s Chicago is the classic roaring twenties’ tale of booze, jazz, liquor, chorus girls, lovers and the law. I love it. I loved the Australian revival touring productions (the original in 1998), starring Caroline O’Connor as Velma Kelly and the Sunshine Coast’s Chelsea Gibb, straight out of WAAPA, as Roxie Hart. Hand-picked by Director, Walter Bobbie, and Choreographer, Anne Reinking, Chelsea is still my favourite Roxie. Notably, both Caroline and the sensational Sharon Millerchip have played both Velma and Roxie – amazing – and as Velma Kelly, Caroline enjoyed an acclaimed and extended Broadway season (2002). So these are very tough acts to follow, and to even consider staging the show with less experienced performers is ambitious to say the least.

Director/Choreographer Madison Thew-Keyworth’s Mad About Theatre is one of the Sunshine Coast’s few professional companies (I can vouch for another two: SRT & XS Entertainment), which we’ll just take a moment to clarify, is a company that pays everybody involved, and not just the director, the musical director, the techies and the band. I was impressed to see Mad About Theatre’s debut professional production last year, My Brilliant Divorce, starring Blossom Goodchild, who returns here as Mama Morton. She’s Mama alright, but not as you know her.

The most seasoned performers will invariably look the most comfortable on stage and so it is with Goodchild, who embodies a sassy, flashy (Bob) Fosse inspired Mama Morton, in all-black-everything: pants, jacket, hat and boots. And it’s so refreshing to see this styling rather than try to forgive a poor attempt to imitate the Mamas who have preceded her. Without the powerhouse vocals we might expect to hear in this role, Goodchild sells it, and with a natural instinct for the comedy within the social and moral codes explored throughout the show, this consummate performer provides many of the night’s lighter moments.

Meggan Hickey is our Velma Kelly, complete with shiny black bobbed hair and the same slightly affected Liza-with-a-Z-esque speech as Mama. She’s a con grad and the new and improved Madison-from-Noosa in Judy Hains’ comedy cabaret First World White Girls. She was fabulously funny earlier this year in their Botox Party and we see a bit of the same level of mischief in Velma, however; it’s very staged, almost at odds with the glimpses we get of her darkly delicious haughtiness and nastiness. The character is there, but not always convincingly so. When she settles into the role she’ll put in the solid performance we know she’s got stashed just beneath the surface.

As much a rookie error in the direction, the awkward opening of Act 2 sees poor Velma/poor Meg standing and leaning about on the walkway above the band (Set Design by Goody), “smoking” a cigarette. Except she’s clearly a non-smoker (isn’t everyone now?), probably hates the taste and smell of the (herbal) cigarette (don’t we all?), and seems unsure about how to do that up there for so long. As actors, it’s not until we have a clear intention, a singular focus and our own inner monologue going on that such a seemingly inane action is made as fascinating as it needs to be on stage (or why are we doing it?). If something is not holding our attention it’s usually distracting us, taking us out of the moment, and away from the world of the show.

Courtney Underhill’s Roxie Hart has all the sweet-and-sour we expect to see in this demanding role. A graduate of Harvest Rain’s Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre (BAMT), Underhill has a terrific presence on stage and a singing voice that soars. It’s no wonder she was asked to understudy Lauren McKenna’s Tracy Turnblad in HR’s Hairspray. This girl will do just fine in music theatre.

Billy Flynn, the slick lawyer, a fantastic, fun role made famous in the film by Richard Gere, is almost fully realised by Jens Radda, one of the most beautiful singers to have come through Buderim’s BYTES and then WAAPA. Radda still sings superbly and wears a suit well, but at times he appears to be slightly insecure on stage, particularly in his big courtroom number, Razzle Dazzle, amidst a swirling, fan-dancing chorus of lovely girls (Costumes by Sarah Grandison). This is when we must remember that the leads are not entirely supported by the production elements, and that we’ll look forward to Mad About Theatre’s next musical production, when the depth of the stage might be made available, and lighting and sound will be precise, and the direction will allow for staging that is just as interesting but which brings the action forward so we don’t miss what little nuance the performers have to offer.

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You know I love to see the band, but in this case, under Noel Bowden’s baton, the musicians are a distraction and an unfortunate use of the available space. I know, it’s The J – where else would we put them?! (Insert yet another plea for a purpose built beautiful theatre here). It would have been great to see them in a semblance of costume, watching the action as the story plays out around them, but my guess is that this would have been too much to ask. If the pace and precision has improved by the end of the first short season, you’ll enjoy a much sharper, slicker show when it moves to The Events Centre, Caloundra.

Andy Hanrahan makes a fine Mr Cellophane, AKA Amos Hart, Roxie’s unfortunate husband, forlorn and fixed on feeling sorry for himself. This is a classic sad clown role, which I expected Hanrahan to more fully embrace, and to use to deeply connect with his audience, but they adore what he does with it and we do feel a wave of empathy as he exits for the final time…without his exit music. Poor Amos.

Nick Eynaud, another WAAPA grad making his professional Queensland debut, has come from a European touring season of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and MTC’s The Last Man Standing. In the role of Mary Sunshine he makes me feel as if I should warn our mate, Helpmann Award winner, James Millar (Miss Trunchbull in Matilda) to watch his back. These two must be WAAPA’s tallest and most talented male triple threats since Hugh (Jackman) finished. Eynaud’s performance is so sure and detailed that my friend doesn’t realise he’s a he and not a she until he is revealed by Billy Flynn!

Eli Cooper (Dance Captain) shines in the ensemble. A precision performer with a lovely resonant voice and a strong sense of character even in the smallest, most thankless roles, Cooper is an absolute joy to watch. The male ensemble is rounded out by Brendan Kydd, Ricky Borg and Mark Smith. You may recognise any number of the girls, all consistent triple threats with lots to prove. Cell Block Tango is a highlight, yes, but it requires much more room for the girls to really move; as the showstopper it’s intended to be, it lacks impact. Having said that, this is the only number in which we see the lighting concept work as it was intended. (The female ensemble comprises Demi Phillips, Kirra Johnson, Sarah Wrobel, Meghan Lucken, Rachael Russell & Lucy Clough).

While a slightly lagging pace and careful direction has at times let the production down, and as a result the show didn’t sizzle enough for me, I doubt that anyone else will be bothered by the occasional anomalies, which we’ll simply put down to the need to see more and do more (directing). This applies to every single Sunshine Coast director we know at the moment. If you’re making stuff you must see stuff – good and bad – and learn to distinguish between what has real impact and what leaves you (us) unaffected. Learn what works and what doesn’t, and learn how to coax it from your performers to give us scintillating, electrifying performances. All the elements are there. The talent is abundant. It’s a great, entertaining show.

Mad About Theatre is to be commended because this company is far ahead of the community pack in terms of its professionalism (and now we’re talking about the discipline, dedication and resourcefulness required to get a show like this on, as well as the pay packets), and that’s the idea. We talk about this often: community theatre is for everyone, but to level up requires something extra special. Mad About Theatre offers the more ambitious artists an opportunity to step up and see what they’re made of, and invites audiences to an evening of local theatrical entertainment that’s actually worth the asking price. 

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24
Mar
17

Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out

Noosa Long Weekend

In Association With Ensemble Theatre

The J Theatre, Noosa

March 23 – 25 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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David Williamson’s Odd Man Out sold out in Sydney over an eight-week season. Secure in the knowledge that it would be another smash hit for Williamson and Ensemble Theatre, Noosa Long Weekend invited the company to bring the production to The J for an exclusive pre-festival fundraising weekend (4 performances only), launching the rebrand of the festival only weeks prior.

Noosa Long Weekend Festival is now Noosa Alive! presenting an exciting program of world class events over 10 days in July.

Williamson’s success is unparalleled in this country. His work not only reflects the many aspects of our individual lives and the broader societal values to which we subscribe but also, it brings to light the little details of our relationships, our connections with other humans. Always funny, always touching, always extremely intelligent, examining all the things we think we should be getting right and all the things we know are not right with the world, Williamson is a master of making misfortune a gift. We see his characters expand and grow in the advent of disaster rather than be defeated by life’s difficulties.

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While Anna Gardiner’s design (lit by Christopher Page) is contemporary and suitably symbolic, at times it feels almost too sterile, which is perhaps the point: it suits every scene and our focus remains on the performers. Alistair Wallace’s soundscape adds an interesting dimension, most effectively incorporated into the second act to up the pace and underpin the absurd comedy act required of Ryan in each new social situation. 

When a production is mediocre we don’t take much away from it (except perhaps a thought that we’ll not see that company again for a while, just while they work themselves out!). But when the actors excel in bringing a terrific, insightful script to life, we experience a degree of what the characters on stage are going through. This shared empathy is part of what makes live theatre so special, so vital, and how it’s possible to invest so much emotionally in what’s essentially a cute little love story. In the case of Odd Man Out, the story is much larger, and we feel more deeply than we expected to for Ryan, a high-functioning autistic physicist, and for Alice, a physiotherapist with a ticking biological clock; we quickly became complicit in her attempts to change Ryan, in a frustrating journey through life and love.

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In creating Alice, Lisa Gormley has discovered something beautifully gentle and natural, and building on it gradually, layer by layer, she develops incredible strength and purpose so that we understand completely by the end of the play, her unfailing love for Ryan and her determination to support him, in spite of the challenges he continuously throws at her. We see her undergoing the kind of transformation that can only come from a place of whole-hearted love and unwavering kindness. This role might be wasted on anyone else but Gormley gives Alice the necessary warmth and depth, and good natured sense of humour to enable us to believe in her crazy pursuit of happily ever after with a guy who seems incapable of understanding her needs, or communicating his own.

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Williamson has said to me that Justin Stewart Cotta (Dream Homes’s memorable “Lion of Lebanon”) is one of our finest stage actors – high praise indeed; I’d seen the proof of it during our brief rehearsal period and limited run of that production, directed by the playwright, for Noosa Long Weekend Festival 2015 – and in Odd Man Out we see once again, Cotta’s knack for nailing a challenging character, bringing to this complex role a heartbreaking vulnerability that might remind you of Noah Taylor and/or Geoffrey Rush in Shine, and well-studied idiosyncrasies, which are likened in the play to Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond in Rainman. And in this moment, Williamson very succinctly makes a point about our lack of references in the mainstream, since the release of Rainman, to Autism Spectrum Disorder. In recent years we’ve seen a bit of a run on bipolar and depression and dementia in the movies, however; unlike sitting in a cinema and feeling somewhat removed from the situation, when we’re just metres away from the humans having to find a way to live with a mental illness or developmental condition in a world that doesn’t offer much assistance, we can’t help but feel for them, and wonder how, given the same set of circumstances, we might behave.

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Ryan is hyper-intelligent but emotionally stunted and socially anxious, and innocently offends everyone with whom he comes into contact, including Alice, his sharp wit and honest observations providing the play’s funniest and most uncomfortable moments. An awkward and highly entertaining scene involving good friends and wine (or is that friends and good wine?) puts the approach to the test with hilarious results. But without support from her parents or friends (that gorgeous Rachel Gordon as best friend Carla, let’s face it, is far more bitch than BFF), Alice has had to find a way to teach Ryan a new way to present himself to the world. The consequences are disastrous, giving us a mother of a monologue from Cotta, just in case we weren’t already convinced of his utter conviction in the role. These two bare their souls and connect with such genuine honesty and intimacy that we can’t help but be moved. A friend told me after the show that for him, in Ryan and Alice he saw his parents’ relationship, Autism included. And he could see he was the child, whom Ryan and Alice can’t quite agree to have…until we find ourselves at the neat, optimistic ending (there’s no spoiler there if you’re familiar with Williamson’s unashamedly, cleverly crowd-pleasing style). Look, there may have been a few tears shed.

Gordon, Gael Ballantyne, Bill Young, and Matt Minto beautifully flesh out the secondary characters, but this show rightly belongs to the effervescent Gormley, and to Cotta, in his most honest, detailed and nuanced work to date.

A Williamson play is always such a gift to actors and audiences, and this one, his best yet, so sensitively directed by Ensemble’s Artistic Director, Mark Kilmurry, offers greater insight than ever into the way humans behave and successfully – or not at all – relate to one another. 

21
Mar
17

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady

Opera Australia & John Frost

QPAC Lyric Theatre

March 19 – April 30 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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How long has it been since you saw a show that left you singing its divine melodies and dancing on air for days afterwards? Dame Julie Andrews’ production of Lerner and Lowe’s much-loved classic musical, My Fair Lady, is that show; it’s flawless. Beautifully realised to commemorate and celebrate the original incarnation of the “perfect musical”, this is a superb production, “deliriously joyous”, and the most visually stunning piece we’re likely to see on QPAC’s Lyric stage this year.

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In reimagining the original design concepts and colour palettes by Cecil Beaton (costumes), Oliver Smith (set) and Abe Feder (lighting), this world class creative team have surpassed anything we’ve seen yet in a revival on an Australian stage. Richard Pilbrow’s lighting states take us from the dim, dusty, overcrowded streets of London to the warm golden glow of the richly furnished terrace houses, to the bright natural daylight of Ascot and a sparkling chandelier-lit ballroom. And oh, those chandeliers! Row after row, cascading down upon us in waves from the Gods to settle above the swirling dancers en masse at the Embassy Ball. This slick transition avoids a lengthy blackout and serves as a splendid reminder that if one has the good taste and sense to do the right thing with it, great wealth brings beauty and privilege (and potentially, slick scene changes).

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Oliver Smith’s glorious set, with its dual revolves, high ceilings, ornate finishes and delicately painted backdrops, as well as the welcome inclusion of a motor vehicle for Mrs Higgins (you’ll find the detail behind this inspired choice in the program notes), meld the old and the new, honouring the fine traditions of the English and American theatre and drawing on the latest technology to make everything exquisitely beautiful and functional. Consistently applied, the latter could probably slice 15 minutes off the running time…

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Cecil Beaton’s costumes are magnificently recreated by John David Ridge, who assures us, having seen a great many My Fair Lady revivals, “not one set of designs has managed to erase the memory of Mr Beaton’s original.” Tones, textures, accessories and silhouettes are all perfectly realised. The famous black and white Ascot scene is by far the best we’ve seen, scintillating in its arrogance and elegance, especially in stillness. It stops the audience short in a collective gasp of awe and delight.

A bold ensemble brings to life the boisterous, colourful characters inhabiting Eliza’s old world and the poised high society types of the new. It must be one of the largest companies we’ve seen on this stage, a new edition of the combined little black books of Lyndon Terracini’s and John Frost’s vast networks to create the look and sound they’ve been chasing since the series of smash hit co-pros commenced with South Pacific (followed by  The King and I and Anything Goes). This is where opera and musical theatre must continue to meet, with all the elements coming together in perfect alchemy to create productions with finesse (and not just flaunted, coveted, overblown budgets) and thus, even broader global appeal. The formula will surely mean the eventual success of the long-awaited (recently {ish} postponed) Jekyll and Hyde… We can remain optimistic, at least.

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There are really no stand-outs in this exceptional ensemble, but having said that, I couldn’t help be drawn time and time again to the lively, lovely faces of Georgina Hopson, Holly Meegan, Octavia Barron Martin, Elisa Colla and Erin James (Dance Captain). And the ‘loverly’ Cockneys (Matt Heyward, Todd Keys, Joel Parnis and Glen Hogstrom), bringing warm, rich harmonies and a touch of class to the Covent Garden exterior, perhaps reminding us that we’re not so different from each other, but we’ve been “carefully taught” to believe otherwise. The ensemble provide an underscore of genuine humanity and joy. We see them making do with what they’ve got and aspiring to some small, immensely satisfying achievement somewhere along the trajectory of their humble lives. While this may be a slightly romanticised view, we do get a sense that rather than miserably and regrettably settling for less, these humble people have embraced the “less is more” edict and that’s not a bad thing for a flashy musical to subtly show us.

Eliza’s cursory return to the flower markets in the final minutes of the show, at which point she’s taken for a “lady”, unrecognised and unknown to the people on the streets (although they continue to whistle her song), is a poignant reminder that some simply must choose something more, or anything other, than the ordinary. Julie Andrews’ attention to detail paired with George Bernard Shaw’s knack, in the original text, for juxtaposing the extremes of society at the time – apparent at any time in history – must account for the truths apparent in these complex, full company scenes, choreographed by the acclaimed Christopher Gatelli. With an eye for space and shape, with fitting focus on the music that lifts our souls as much as it does the dancers’ feet, Gatelli creates magic in the staging of every musical number.

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Glen Hogstrom (Zoltan Karpathy) and Deirdre Rubenstein (Mrs Pearce) offer a great deal of humour and humanity respectively, and Tony Llewellyn-Jones is a sensitive (although, appropriately, not completely sensitive) Colonel Pickering. Mark Vincent, in his second ever professional musical theatre role, embodies poor Freddy Eynsford-Hill, offering obsessive energy rooted in societal good manners, and singing On the Street Where You Live as if his petty life depends upon the appearance of Eliza at her door, which, if you’re poor petty Freddy, it does. His is a terrifically funny and sincere performance, revealing the acting chops we knew were there, behind the magnificent tenor voice.

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Reg Livermore (honestly, who else could have been considered for this role?!), is Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s highly amusing, mildly infuriating, friendly, happy-go-lucky, lovable, mostly drunk dad. His musical numbers just about steal the show, and his characterisation, while reminiscent of Stanley Holloway’s exuberance, brings to the role a greater degree of delight and abandon. He’s an absolute joy to watch. Likewise, who else but one of my favourites, Robyn Nevin, would even cross the minds of producers and director for the role of Mrs Higgins? Nevin honours Shaw’s vision of the woman, and the sophisticated, precisely groomed, perfectly well-mannered, regal traditional take on the role, and then takes it to the next level, adding a sensational contemporary flair and a wicked wit that has to be seen and heard to be fully appreciated. She responds to her son’s deplorable behaviour mildly then firmly and finally, not unfunnily, dresses him down, as he deserves, developing in the same succession of moments, the most intimate bosom relationship with Eliza over a cup of tea in the garden. Nevin’s nuanced performance is the masterclass we knew to expect from the First Lady of the Australian theatre.

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But who would have thought we could possibly love anybody more in the leading roles than Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn (her songs dubbed by the “Voice of Hollywood”, ghost singer, Marni Nixon) in the 1964 film, the first reimagining of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion? Well, you’d better believe it; Charles Edwards and Anna O’Byrne are sensational in this production, recreating the perfectly imperfect characters by bringing a fresh, new, high voltage energy to the relationship and unique qualities to their individual characterisations. Absolutely hilarious, Edwards is completely charismatic, surprisingly debonaire, despite his blatant misogyny, arrogance and absent-mindedness, nailing the speak-singing, a style that historically, many have loved to hate; throughout, the flow between speech and song is masterful.

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And it’s not my imagination; O’Byrne is truly reminiscent of a young Julie Andrews, in voice and poise. In the role that first made Andrews famous (on Broadway in 1956), the uncanny similarity is most apparent in O’Byrne’s simple elegance and grace with which she holds the space while the men ignore her, congratulating each other on their astounding success, having passed her off at the Embassy Ball as a foreign princess. She stands, silently forlorn and not a little bit lost, until her newly discovered self-assurance and natural tendency to fire up over the gross injustice of her situation, bubbles to the surface and she violently flings Higgins’ slippers at his head. This duality is the secret to O’Byrne’s performance, harnessing as Andrews has done, both sweetness and boldness.

I’ve always adored the ending of My Fair Lady, not knowing but knowing that these two can remain separate entities but never be separated again. Growing up and watching the film dozens of times, this relationship was preferable to so many depictions of couples in other classic musicals (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, ugh!), despite the final slipper-fetching taming of the guttersnipe/shrew. Let’s face it: penned by a man in an unenlightened era, ultimately, it’s Eliza’s choice to be tamed so let’s not get too caught up in how dare he, however; as Sam will probably sadly attest, I still can’t relate to this part of the story.

When the realisation drops in – yes! they are meant to be together! they will work it all out! – we rise to our feet, grinning, the rapturous applause and standing ovation, less often seen at QPAC than some would have you believe, absolutely heartfelt on this opening night, and we leave the theatre feeling that there is hope for the world and for all of us after all, each in our little lives! 

There is real magic in and around the staging of this stunning production; you can believe the raves and book now before the season sells out. It’s not only the “perfect musical” in terms of its book and score (a magnificent full orchestra under the musical direction of Guy Simpson and on opening night, the baton of Sunshine Coast treasure, Laura Tipoki), it’s a classic with real contemporary relevance and just enough nostalgia, just a spoonful, to make this My Fair Lady, the 60th Anniversary production, a richly rewarding, highly entertaining musical theatre experience for young and old. 

20
Mar
17

#First World White Girls: Botox Party

#First World White Girls: Botox Party

Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Rooftop Terrace

March 8 – 12 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

First World White Girls is a proudly Queensland created phenomenon, inspired by an inexhaustible list of what is commonly referred to as #firstworldproblems

These are the things we should be ashamed of admitting are a problem, but we’re not ashamed because it’s all relative, isn’t it? What we don’t have we desire, and what we don’t have going perfectly for us is nothing less than lamentable, even while others are suffering.

This smash hit cabaret, direct from a sold out season at Adelaide Fringe Festival and Brisbane Comedy Festival, is the realisation of an original concept, which manifested in a little show at the Judith Wright Centre last year.

I didn’t love it, but I love its adopted little black baby, Botox Party. Judy Hains (trust fund princess, Tiffany) and Meggan Hickey (Noosa born and bred Maddison) take us through an irreverent hour or so of social catastrophes and gross injustice from their privileged point of view. From Tinder to Trump to celebrity style and puppies, climate change, labiaplasty and those little black babies (so wrong but so funny), the girls, accompanied by Max Radvan on keys, lead us through a number of hilarious recounts of their first world white girl problems and also, invite the audience to contribute their own issues to the show. This works much better this time, the pace vastly improved and the girls better able to handle the throws from the audience, rather than the original and rather time-consuming awkward reading of what we’d written before the show, the pieces of paper randomly drawn from a bucket (OR WERE THEY?).

The vocals this time are stronger and the harmonies slicker, with Hickey’s versatility a highlight in  multi-tasking singing/tap dancing hilarious new number, Snowflake. Hains giving us new insight into the ageing process via a sensational rendition of Memory. The original numbers, penned by Hains, are witty, catchy ditties with less forced rhyme than before (or are they better selling the songs?) and a greater degree of difficulty, which we see particularly in the satirical tribute to the disaster that is Donald Trump, complete with Patty Simcox inspired cheer choreography. The stakes have been well and truly raised, and we can’t fail to recognise these abhorrent creatures and their complaints, and laugh and gasp for breath with them.

I love that this show continues to evolve and prove itself to be just as current and as relevant as ever, making it much funnier and riskier than it has been before. This is the added value for audiences (and for return audiences), as well as for the artists, who obviously get to work more often doing what they love when we support the arts, so that good things can be made better and tour for longer.

Botox Party is pure fun, very funny entertainment, but the not-so-subtle satirical message marched out alongside every line is nothing less than deeply disturbing if we actually pause to think on it, and this juxtaposition makes for terrific theatre that we can enjoy time and time again, digesting as much or as little as we like. After the balloons deflate, our hangover lifts and our next Botox appointment looms, we might actually consider for a moment longer, what it is we really value in life. Or not. It’s probably too hard to even contemplate, right? Yet another #firstworldproblem #justenjoytheshow

18
Mar
17

Constellations

Constellations

Queensland Theatre

Bille Brown Studio

March 9 – April 9 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Humans are meaning makers.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director QT

 

You may have had to learn the dance routine slowly and in its component parts, but in the end, you had to let go and dance.

Howard Fine

 

The universe doesn’t care about time…

Kat Henry, Director

 

We have all the time we’ve ever, and never had.

Marianne, Constellations

 

Nick Payne’s award winning Constellations is an extraordinary play, and Kat Henry’s world class production for Queensland Theatre and Queensland Museum (and a major coup for the World Science Festival) is nothing short of astonishing, challenging actors and audiences to truly be present, live in the moment, and make the connections between seemingly random occurrences before opportunities (and loved ones) become lost to us.

Essentially, Constellations is a beautiful and complex love story, but it’s also about the choices we make and the infinite possibilities presented across ‘multiverses’.

Historically, physics has explained time chronologically, as in the “arrow of time”, charging forward in a single trajectory, however; an alternative view sees time as something immediate, infinite, without beginning or end, presenting endless opportunities. In A Time Apart, Paul Chan describes the quality, not quantity, of time as “A kind of time charged with promise and significance.” Upon further reading it becomes clear that the two types of time are entangled and while some may regard time as something to be kept, others derive greater satisfaction in its release…

The creative team behind Constellations is a scintillating meeting of minds, bringing the abstract and complexity of quantum mechanics, string theory and relativity, and the challenges of the unlikely relationship between an apiarist and an astro physicist into a reality accessible to all. (Can you lick your elbow? Try it!).

Within a deceptively simple design lies lots of clues: the dots we connect to make meaning from the play, in the same way, if we’re living mindfully, that we’re able to make meaning of our lives. Anthony Spinaze’s design draws on the visual representation of the scientific theories, the hexagonal spaces of bee hives and a smooth, shiny, deep blue undulating surface, beneath which we sense a tumultuous emotional landscape. At any given moment, the actors appear to be standing in space, or on the peak of a mountain, or within any interior indicated in the text. We are anywhere and everywhere all at once. Spinaze’s aesthetic is one of the most inspired, intelligent and effective designs we’ve seen for a long time, and so useful in terms of giving the performers a real-surreal place in which to play. 

Ben Hughes’ lighting is inherent in the design, built into the landscape and shining like streams of starlight from the wings and the rig above. The side lighting is particularly effective as we settle into the rhythm of the play and watch the relationship dance across various universes, and immensely satisfying is the final effect, covering the floor with the constellations of the title. A swirling black hole exists out of sight and yet right under our noses, continuously appearing in segments during the repeated motifs, the impressive choreography of the performers (how are they finding their marks in the dark?!) incrementally leading Roland and Marianne toward their inevitable fate. Guy Webster’s original compositions and a salient soundscape take this production into another realm, sending us at the speed of light between alternate worlds, poignant moments.

Lucas Stibbard and Jessica Tovey are perfectly cast, generously offering beautifully nuanced, incredibly rich material to one another and making every second vividly real, despite the challenges, which are more often found in film, presented by so much repetition in the text. This play could easily be a disaster of monumental proportions, and boring to boot, but Director, Kat Henry, is in possession of directorial superpowers. She employs a couple of them by crafting just enough of each vignette (we see an extraordinary 59 – or is it 60 – scenes in all), giving the actors clear boundaries, literally, within the space, delineated by lines and light, and also enough space between these boundaries and the actors’ bodies in which to allow them room to recreate each part of the story in a fresh, new way. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it, certainly not on a Brisbane stage. And the blocking! (Because even within these scenes, driven by impulse, there is a certain amount of direction to get them to where they need to go). 

When speaking about working on this play on Broadway, Jake Gyllenhaal observed, “There’s no moment for autopilot. It demands a constant presence,” and while this is true of every acting job, Constellations showcases the incredible skill and highly attuned instinctual natures of these two performers. To put it in a film context again, it’s as if we’re seeing every single take during a shoot, but every single take is being captured for a different film, depending on the choices made by the characters (and by the actors embodying those characters). It’s next level Sliding Doors. Bravo, Kat Henry, for diving in so deeply. We’re able to plunge the depths of human existence with Roland and Marianne, and come up for air at the end of the night in a state of serene acceptance of the tragic circumstances because, as incredibly moving and devastating as this conclusion is, we completely understand the way everything just is…and always was and always will be.

Whether or not you’re a performer, Constellations is a masterclass in staying in the present moment, applying fearless choices and responding courageously, instinctually and intentionally to whatever’s happening in a given moment.

Constellations is astonishing work; it really could change your life.

Special Event
For two evenings only, do not miss the unique opportunity to attend a performance of this critically acclaimed play, accompanied by an onstage conversation between Constellations playwright Nick Payne and World Science Festival co-founder and physicist Brian Greene.  Following the performance, Nick Payne and Brian Greene will delve into our current understanding of the multiverse, the mysteries that remain, and why this theory captivated Payne’s imagination inspiring this theatrical tour de force. This exclusive event is a collaboration between World Science Festival Brisbane and Queensland Theatre. Book online

 

10
Mar
17

Every Brilliant Thing

 

Every Brilliant Thing

QPAC, Paines Plough & Pentabus Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne

March 8 – 11 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

#BrilliantThingsProject

Inspired by Every Brilliant Thing, we’re asking you to share one brilliant thing that you think makes life worth living. Use the #BrilliantThingsProject hashtag on Instagram or Twitter, or visit qpac.com.au/the-creatory

 

You’re seven years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she’s ‘done something stupid’. She finds it hard to be happy.

You make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world.

Everything worth living for.

Ice cream

Water fights

Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV

The colour yellow

Things with stripes

Rollercoasters

People falling over

 

Adapted from the short story, Sleeve Notes, based on true and untrue tales, Every Brilliant Thing is the most precious piece of theatre in the world right now. While everyone is finishing up being very angry around one corner and getting ready to be very fancy around the other (and being very funny across the river, around the corner and down the road), this little play, staged in the round in QPAC’s intimate Cremorne Theatre, is something that could potentially tour forever, such is its intimate tone and at the same time, its extensive reach and invaluable lessons in real-life gratitude, as opposed to the meme-heavy token #gratitudeporn currently flooding our social media.

Written by Duncan Macmillan and originally starring Jonny Donahue, this touring production features James Rowland, a master in non-verbal specificity and crowd control. It’s not so much a case of the traditional audience participation or interaction employed in this show but, as a friend observed after the show, the finer art of “audience integration”. Not only are we completely engaged in the story, but some are invited to be a part of the telling, and in the provision of props. Before the show begins – before it can begin – Rowland hands out pieces of paper with either multiple lines or a single word printed on each. Numbered, these are the brilliant things of the title, thousands upon thousands of them, creating a list of everything worth living for. The joy is in the detail, and the tragedy contained between these lines, embedded in the silences. Rowland holds space for us to consider every brilliant thing, and contemplate what might be on our own lists.

There is magic in so many moments, including listing the items themselves (and we never grow tired of hearing number one: ice cream), and the scenes in which the audience members assist.  For example, the awkward moment when a young front row fellow laughs nervously whilst delivering a lethal dose to the dog, Ronnie Barker. As the vet probably shouldn’t find the situation funny, he’s asked to play out the scene a second time, and it’s surprisingly – but not – absolutely devastating. And when the primary school teacher and school counsellor, Mrs Patterson, removes a shoe and a sock because she was directed to do so in a previous scene requiring a sock puppet and thus, next time she is called upon, already knows the drill. This is sweet and funny as the latter scene takes place some 10 years after the first. The most affecting interaction though, is when a gentleman plays the son (and then later, in a clever turn, the father), as Rowland imagines the answers to a child’s innocent and persistent stream of “Why?”.

This is meta-theatre at its most intimate, gently letting us in on the secrets of putting a show together, and at the same time, giving us a glimpse of just one way of trying to keep all the pieces of a life together. The sadness is even almost bearable because its shared, and it strikes me that for some Every Brilliant Thing could be a truly cathartic thing.

 

It’s a beautifully crafted show, delivered with pathos and sensitivity, which necessarily shines the light on life and quite blatantly and simply states that if you’re thinking about ending your life, don’t. There’s too much to live for. Start making a list…

10
Mar
17

Boys of Sondheim

 

Boys of Sondheim

Brisbane Powerhouse & Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

February 2 – 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I was a little bemused by the collateral for this one, a highlight of this year’s MELT Festival. Surely Stephen Sondheim is only recently recognised as “one of the most significant gay artists of the 20th Century”? I grew up with his music and have always recognised him as an artist. I don’t have people within my circles for whom this distinction is anything other than a source of pride and solidarity. MELT has a sense of wonderful community about it, which is typical at Brisbane Powerhouse, regardless of the programming; it’s my favourite venue as much for its vibe as its unlimited possibilities for performance and socialising, but during this festival there’s always something a little more electric (and eclectic) than usual. The energy is super charged and the collective pride shared by the artists and patrons during this time each year makes for an even more appreciative audience, and closer connections. The ‘standard’ of the stuff on show seems to be largely inconsequential. What it comes down to is this: we just want to hear our stories.

Sondheim’s music is some of the most intricate and difficult EVER. It’s not just about hitting the notes (nothing ever is), and given the chance to perform it, most artists will leap in the general direction and enthusiastically “perform” the piece. Some will even sell their song and earn heartfelt applause, and even fewer will leave someone in their audience in tears, or breathless and aching for…something that’s perhaps just out of reach.

Sometimes I do a heap of research and read about previous productions, and their creators and directors and artists, I peek at what the critics have noted, I ask friends what they think, I catch up with the artists or message them to get a sense of where they’re coming from and what they want us to get out of the work. But this is a brand new work, a world premiere, and there’s no precedent except for every other celebration of Sondheim’s music ever. This is certainly a celebration, a tribute to one of the defining voices of musical theatre and mostly, an interesting and entertaining night out, but it’s not all I’d hoped it would be. After a brief development period, the show lacks the polish it needs to win us over completely. It has some heart and some guts, and it’s a great vehicle for its talented performers, but I’d like to see it again in 6 or 9 months time when it might know better what it wants to be.

A narrative penned by Anthony Nocera offers us mostly amusing fleeting glimpses of some of the joys and pitfalls of gay dating and loving and living. Not unlike Dean Bryant’s GAYBIES, the structure relies heavily on these brief monologues, delivered in turn by the actors, to break up the musical numbers, an assortment of somebody’s favourite songs, loosely stitched together in an it’s-interesting-to-be-gay overarching way. Unfortunately, towards the end, the narrative breaks up one of Sondheim’s greatest accomplishments and Being Alive is brought to a painful death by continual interruptions. This makes it almost impossible for Tim Carroll to build the song and bring it to its bitter sweet soaring end, and makes me wonder, why?

With only a few shows in this short season, the opening number needed to be ready for opening night, and the insecurity or reticence or something of three quarters of the cast members makes the first 8-10 minutes ever so slightly uncomfortable. This is so weird, because they’re all fantastic performers, but the music is challenging and the lesser known songs don’t help to win us over. I love Kurt Phelan’s choreography, utilising the catwalk and the narrow space in front of a gay-mancave-bar, the conceit being that these guys have gathered in someone’s home for a lovely champagne catch up.

Kurt Phelan, Sean Andrews, Stephen Hirst, Alexander Woodward and Tim Carroll certainly go to some lengths to expose the “soulful, masculine underbelly” of Sondheim’s work as well as much of the comedy (Hirst’s (Not) Getting Married Today is sidesplittingly funny), but we know there’s more to this lovely little show and I can’t wait to see it reborn and restaged sometime.