Posts Tagged ‘anthony standish


Wuthering Heights


Wuthering Heights

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

October 1 – 18 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward





Time stagnates here.



“…everything anyone other than an english professor knows about Wuthering Heights at all happens in the first half. Then it drags on and on, focusing mainly on how handsome AND EVIL Heathcliff is, and how twisted he is, and how he’s just going to keep on ruining the lives of basically everyone around him.”


From Krypton With Love






If it’s a gorgeous, dark, desperate, thrilling thing you’re after don’t miss this Wuthering Heights.


One of my favourite companies, shake & stir, continues to come up with some of the most challenging and engaging original live theatre in Brisbane. Their adaptations of classic literature are all superb (1984, Animal Farm, Tequila Mockingbird), and their latest production, a new version of Emily Bronte’s classic gothic masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, is no exception.


Adapted and directed by Nick Skubij, this production has a slightly different feel to shake & stir’s previous works, which have been less subtle, and somehow lighter, though no less complex, confronting or shocking in terms of their themes and the impact of each on their audience. This time – it must be the moody design inspired by the eerie moors on which the story takes place – it’s a spectacular looking production and the drama follows suit.



Terror made me cruel.



We have come to expect extraordinary beauty from this brilliant creative team: shake & stir, optical bloc and – I’m sure I’ve said it before – Brisbane’s hottest design team comprising Josh McIntosh (Set Design), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Design) and Guy Webster (Sound Design). These guys seem to split up and flit about a bit, but every time they come together with shake & stir, theatre magic happens. It’s as if they come home to play at shake & stir, and out of pure joy and surrender comes their best work. Adding to the mix this time, Leigh Buchanan’s delicate-dramatic touch (Costume Design), makes Wuthering Heights a dark and stormy (yes, you can taste it), sexy and sumptuous production.



Although the pace lags at times due to Gerry Connolly’s stilted delivery (at times the pauses are effective and at other times, not so much), his characterisation of Nelly Dean and his/her oddly measured phrases remind me of my Aunty Lorna, who has seemed eternally elderly to me, and yet has always been the most lively and strongly opinionated of the relatives I visited with as a child, with the keenest powers of observation and the longest memory. It’s as if Connolly has studied Aunty Lorna’s conversation. I always remember though, in stark contrast to Connolly’s static state, Lorna’s hands shaking to match her voice as she talked about whichever book she was devouring at the time, or the latest horror on the news, or her favourite British TV crime series. She would always insist on pouring the tea for us, in her own kitchen, in her own house, for years and years, before finally moving to a high care facility. She’s ninety-something.


In his Director’s Notes, Skubij reminds us that guilt doesn’t only lie with he who sinks the knife in. “Heathcliff has copped a lot of flack over the years and has been hailed as the personification of evil in this tale but what if the real devil wears a housemaid’s outfit?” It’s an excellent point and I feel like this aspect of evil, left to fester and subliminally feed the minds and hearts of others, although hinted at in this adaptation, remains largely unexplored. By Chapter 7 of Bronte’s novel Heathcliff is being advised by Nelly Dean. Sam thinks she is the mastermind and Heathcliff her pawn, though to what end he can’t say. (“Some people are just twisted!”).




I love Connolly on the ivories, the accompaniment lends such a disturbing, penetrating, haunting air to proceedings, and his presence overall as Nelly Dean, particularly as her figure looms overhead, projected across fluttering silk curtains, is eerily omnipresent. (And to throw each character’s image, cleverly consumed by mist and fog early, and then later by curling flames against the flimsy fabric to demonstrate their downfall and their ultimate demise, is an inspired dramatic choice). Without the expertise and creative flair of Projection Designers, optikal bloc (and also, of Photographer, Dylan Evans), this version of Wuthering Heights would not be nearly as powerful.


Not quite as inspired, it has to be said, are the wigs selected for use in this production, but now that we’ve mentioned it we’ll just leave that one alone.



We cannot escape each other.





I love Nelle saintly-blonde-bombshell Lee’s Isabella Linton, whose self destruction, in its naivety, is always so much sadder than mad, stubborn Catherine’s, isn’t it? And as Catherine AND Cathy, allow me to rave for a moment about Melanie Zanetti. I’m sure you don’t mind because, having seen her before, you know she is absolute perfection. If this is your first time with Zanetti, enjoy (and make sure it’s not just a one night stand!). She’s a wild, free heart (but not free at all, of course she’s not), like Charlotte Riley in Goky Giedroyc’s 2009 version for PBS. Zanetti transfixes her tall, dark, brooding, vicious vagabond Heathcliff (Ross Balbuziente) and also, every single member of the audience on opening night. What? Am I wrong? She’s absolutely captivating; in both roles emitting the essence of beautiful, alluring girl-child-grown-woman, like a heady fragrance worn lightly, of which we get a sense before the show even starts; I could be wrong but I feel it’s Marc Jacobs’ Oh Lola! (If so, thank you cosmetics training). If indeed it were deliberate, this subtle addition to the theatrical experience is absolute genius. On the other hand, perhaps it’s pure coincidence (if so, thank you unsuspecting audience member), but regardless, we get a sense of it at the beginning of the show, as the scent is carried on the cold wind in the created storm. And what a storm! The opening moments of Wuthering Heights are up there with The Lion King and Les Miserables for unforgettable entry points into the story. The final moments too are breathtaking, stunning, all the superlatives… Anyway, Zanetti’s ability to balance wide-eyed innocence with mad, obsessive passion makes me fear – and relish – having a daughter.


She burned too bright for this world.



In their debuts for shake & stir (though they are no strangers to the stage and screen), Anthony Standish and Julian Curtis are also impressive. This is most interesting and engaging work from Standish (Hindley/Hareton), and it’s the second time I’ve seen Curtis (Edgar). The first was in The Glass Menagerie and I hope there will be many more opportunities to see what he can do. Let’s keep him here a little longer, shall we?




Ross Balbuziente – he of the poster, which has had high school girls and boys stopping in halls and swooning all year – presents a sultry, stormy Heathcliff straight from the pages of the book. I think it’s fair to say it’s likely we’ve never seen the full extent of this performer’s range, or perhaps it’s a lack of total surrender to each role, though what he’s doing always seems to be enough. Even so, there’s an electric undercurrent here that makes me want to slap him and say, “GO THERE” …er, see more from Balbuziente.




Oh, Heathcliff. Are you really as evil as all that? I’ve never believed it! (Save me right now). Let’s call you misunderstood, a product of your environment, and without the consciousness or awareness to meditate on your destructive hatred and your desperate revenge-seeking in order to realise an alternative path.






The Greenhouse QTC

Bille Brown Studio

1 -17 August 2013


 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



You might not like this show. On the other hand, it might be the weirdest and most wonderful production you’ve seen in a long time. Trollop is not a nice, neat, fun or family-friendly play. It’s strange and savage, and a little bit sadistic. It’s a shock to the senses, and perhaps to your sensibilities. It’s the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award Winner by Maxine Mellor, it’s a world premiere, and far from what you might expect, it’s not pretty. I’m glad I didn’t see it alone.


Clara is depressed after something ghastly has happened. We see the muddied trash and broken furniture piled on either side of the paper walled set, a grisly reminder of the floods or the lives wasted along with the debris. If you were there in the cleanup you’ll recognise it. Perhaps you’ll smell it. The mud, I mean. It comes back to you every so often. It does! It’s the first shock of the evening. There are several more, as the tension mounts and the mythical world becomes reality, at least for Clara (and of course for us, watching). Your own nightmares are undoubtedly worse than even the most grotesque images here, but the realisation of Clara’s fears is impressive.



With the combined visions and skill sets of four designer-directors – Wesley Enoch, Pete Foley, Ben Hughes and David Morton – and the force of three young actors – Amy Ingram, Lucy-Ann Langkilde and Anthony Standish – The Greenhouse at Queensland Theatre Company have created a monster model that’s so crazy it just might have worked!




As Clara, in the throes of apathy and depression, Ingram is always present, even when she’s completely absent from the life that her boyfriend, Erik, wants for her. Despite being silent for much of the play, we hear her loud and clear. When Langkilde, in her QTC debut, enters as the “strange Jehove” and changes the course of the action, it feels like a device that should work beautifully to break up the heavy discourse between the couple, and distract us from whatever grisly end is nigh. Instead, this section of the play seems like a last-minute consideration – something “normal” to throw us off the scent and settle us into a false sense of confidence because really, the weirdest thing happening here is that Clara wants her boyfriend to kiss the girl! Standish has already stolen the show with comparatively masses of dialogue and action by now, and at this point, when his character is stoned and drunk, willing but confused about whether or not he should follow Clara’s command, he delivers the funniest line of the play… “Something in my head is telling me this is a trick”! Laughter serves as welcome relief from the tense situation at hand, and lets us breathe before it’s too late! Before the big finish takes our collective breath away.


I can’t give it away, and I hope no one else does so either, but the big finish is almost as you’d expect, and at the same time it’s nothing of the sort. It’s the mythical become real and we’ve all had similar nightmares. I’m not a Game of Thrones fan – I abhor violence and I don’t think watching it contributes anything of particular value to my life – but I was reminded of a disturbing and fascinating installation at Sydney’s MCA, which I loved and hated, whose artist attributed some of the inspiration for her fur, twine and timber creations (I’m talking about Wangechi Mutu’s Black Thrones) to the graphic imagery of the series. I wondered if Mutu’s unique work had infiltrated Trollop’s creative process at any point.



The sound (designed by Chris Perren), particularly a high-pitched sound of such high frequency that it might be the most disturbing element for some, along with some “stranger and stranger” down-the-rabbit-hole-type imagery serve to challenge our imaginations. Flickering video footage is thrown across the sparse white set, establishing the nightmarish mood from the outset and revealing the versatility of Langkilde, who appears as multiple characters, from children’s television show host to David Attenborough style narrator, of which we are later, rather quickly and cleverly, reminded before she walks through the door into existence. (But wait, what of the ICE? I was expecting the “Sofie” story and the impenetrable, prison-like ice surrounds to all come together at some stage, but as in a dream it simply disappeared, giving way to the new “reality” that included Langkilde).


Maxine Mellor has penned some strange and truly terrifying thoughts in order for Trollop to live, in this, its first incarnation. Props to The Greenhouse at QTC for getting this beast up on its feet, and the best of luck to the next company desiring to stage it!



End of the Rainbow

End of the Rainbow

Queensland Theatre Company & Queensland Performing Arts Centre

QPAC Playhouse

2nd March – 24th March 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Christen O’Leary is the gold at the End of the Rainbow

Christen O’Leary effortlessly channels Judy Garland in the first 2013 co-production between Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. It’s a perfect vehicle for O’Leary, showcasing her superior vocal and acting ability, and her solid commitment to character, of which we saw glimpses in Bombshells last year.


Christen O'Leary & Hayden Spencer

Christen O’Leary & Hayden Spencer.

Peter Quilter’s play doesn’t give a lot of scope for the men in End of the Rainbow to achieve the same impressive heights, though Anthony Standish as Garland’s fifth and final husband (and her manager), Mickey, and Hayden Spencer as her pianist and best friend, Anthony, do all they can with what they’ve been given, and they are just enough, beautifully balanced in their opposing strategies and differing sensibilities, to help Judy rid herself of her demons.


The story is Garland’s tragedy and the star is O’Leary. She delivers the ruined performer’s weary words, “I gave them everything. There’s nothing left…” (and the pitch, pause and intonation in songs and speech is spot on, thanks in part to the work of Voice and Dialect Consultant, Melissa Agnew), with all the vulnerability of an actor who imagines she might feel the same way one day.


This is the most honest, and the most heartbreakingly damaged embodiment of Judy Garland we are likely to see outside of Bernadette Robinson’s outstanding performance in Songs for Nobodies. Given the tough gig of becoming Judy (we think we know her so well!) for a little over two hours, O’Leary ably switches between the competent, sassy, manipulative and mischievous imp, and the depressed, aggressive, desperate addict. The end of Act 1 comes crashing to a close, and the end of the show is desperately sad, until a curtain call lifts our spirits and reminds us that Judy is a legend, she is immortal, forever caught on celluloid, and sadly, like Elvis, Marilyn, MJ and so many more, along with Superman’s arch enemies, she appears trapped in The Phantom Zone, or the prism, and lost in space and time for our benefit. (Baz McAlister’s program notes are well worth the read at this point, at some stage during the twenty-minute interval anyway, if you didn’t get to them over pre-show drinks and tapas. It would be terrific to see these included on the production page of the website).


Anthony Standish & Christen O'Leary

Anthony Standish & Christen O’Leary.

But the time is 1968 and the space is, on one side of a clever revolve, Garland’s elegant suite in London’s Ritz Hotel, and on the other, the stage she inhabits during her final performances. The set is Bill Haycock’s inspired design and perfectly complementing it is David Walters’ sumptuous lighting. With the interesting addition of projected images by Tim Roane, of blossoming flowers and, during a poignant moment late in the piece, the face of Garland’s fiancé, we see far below the seemingly impenetrable surface of Judy, superstar and living legend. We see what gets under her skin, and (it’s a chilling effect) we hear the sounds of the Munchkins’ voices, contextualising perfectly the memories and forced habits of a child star who never had her childhood, and who never really grew up.



O’Leary’s Ritalin-induced manic performance finally brought the tears to my eyes; they’d been threatening to slide slowly, surreptitiously down my cheeks but the show had been, strangely, so funny, as well as being terribly sad. From the outset I had felt deep despair for this tragic, delicate figure, before finding myself laughing out loud at some outrageous comment or other made by the Judy who always got what she wanted, including the drugs that eventually killed her.  No use reaching for tissues yet though, because Quilty has included Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which O’Leary delivers longingly from behind the scrim, in her immortality, causing me to look up at lights and continue to blink away tears.

“It’s a terrible thing to know what you’re capable of…and to never get there.”


So Quilter successfully takes us on Garland’s final five-week roller coaster ride, but not without the help of (O’Leary’s husband) Andrew McNaughton’s adept musical direction and the gentle guidance of Director, David Bell, whose attention to detail rivals only O’Leary’s; together they leave nothing undone. Bell says of O’Leary, “Her performance, while underpinned by meticulous research and an eye for fine detail, is astonishingly brave and painfully human. Her Judy is not a legend but a human being.” And this is why she is able to move us beyond tears and back to rapturous applause – a deserved standing ovation on opening night – because this Judy knows the show must go on. It’s all she has. We believe it because we feel that O’Leary has raised the stakes that high.


Christen O'LearyEnd of the Rainbow is somehow the most joyous evening of true-life tragedy you’ll experience this year. It’s theatre making at its best, achieving the perfect balance of fact and fiction, triumphant success and dire failure, addiction, confusion and ultimately, a joy so spectacular your heart will fill to bursting and you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’ve had a drink with a legend, and held the hand of the same dear friend. Whether or not you’re a Judy Garland fan, I guarantee you’ll feel her pain, marvel at her incredible talent and determination, and wonder how we can sit still and watch in awe and horror as our favourite stars, to this day, destroy themselves in front of our eyes.


End of the Rainbow closes on March 24th and I hope the short season is indication that the show will hit the road…because this baby’s got legs!