Posts Tagged ‘APAM16


The Rabbits


The Rabbits

An Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company co-production in association with West Australian Opera.

Commissioned by Perth International Arts Festival and Melbourne Festival.


QPAC Playhouse

March 16 – 20 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

'The Rabbits' Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia - 2015 Production - 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 - All Rights Reserved

‘The Rabbits’ Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia – 2015 Production – 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved

The rabbits came many grandparents ago…

What an extraordinary experience, to be offered a taste of The Rabbits during APAM (we saw a delicious 20-minute excerpt), and then be treated to the entire visual and aural feast last week on Opening Night. Commissioned by Perth International Arts Festival and Melbourne Festival, Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company assembled some of Australia’s finest talent to create a stage adaptation of John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s picture book (open-hearted Adaptation and Direction by John Sheedy). This is a multi-award winning genre-defying production featuring a detailed score by Kate Miller-Heidke, additional music and arrangements by Iain Grandage, and libretto by Lally Katz. Rachael Maza has been instrumental as Indigenous Consultant. It doesn’t disappoint. However, unlike The Secret River, which also features magnificent music by Grandage, musical direction by Isaac Hayward and a heavy, heavy tale of the displacement and mistreatment of our Indigenous people, The Rabbits feels less optimistic. Poppy, who is nine and so smart, disagrees. She says,

We hear the bird calls in the beginning, and the bird calls at the end sound like we can sort it out. We can have our little piece of nature and they can have theirs. Even better, we can try harder to share the land. And the water. And the sky. In the end everything belongs to no one and everyone. We all live here together now.


Hollie Andrew who plays Coda, the marsupial who sings The Kite Song when the children are taken away, told Elissa Blake, “My mother was adopted so we don’t know where we are from,” she says. “I don’t know who my people are. So I’m singing on behalf of my ancestors in a lot of ways. I imagine my ancestors are calling out to me. I absolutely dig into it. It’s been a gift as an actor. It’s pretty raw but it’s healed me in a lot of ways, too.

“I love that this show says what has happened and then poses the question, ‘where do we go from here?'” Andrew says. “We need to own what has happened and together find a way to move forward. That’s the beauty of this story.” The story unsettles us and The Kite Song breaks our hearts; it’s devastating and we ache… 

I ache, I ache, I ache inside


We ache as Kate Miller-Heidke mourns the loss of the children, wailing and calling to all the people and ancestors and spirits and spirit animals ever, everywhere. Her grief is exquisite, something we can never (should never) un-hear. She’s the all-seeing Bird, witness to events and narrator of our tragic tale. Resplendent in white and delicate feathers, glistening with the sky and the stars and the sea and the bright eyes of the whole world, from her central vantage point high above the land, she looks over its inhabitants without the power to put a stop to the desolation brought by the rabbits. Her voice is pure, ethereal, electrical. It has the power to permeate and affect, deeply, audiences of all ages and political persuasions. The only other performer in this country with the gift to bewitch us with her voice in this way is Katie Noonan, and I’d love to see her sing this role too. (We say hi to Katie on our way out of the Playhouse but we have to cut the conversation short in order to honour our commitment to another opening night around the corner…).

The band is slick, though slightly (and suitably) dishevelled, and quite fun, at times in good spirits and at times more sombre as the story dictates, comprising Isaac Hayward (MD and cello, piano & piano accordion), Rob Mattesi (trumpet), Keir Nuttall (guitar and electronics), Stephanie Zarka (bass and tuba). They’re front and centre when a false fire alarm stops the show at the forty minute mark and we wonder if we’ll see the end of it before having to get up and go. The cast and musicians collect themselves after the curtain fails to drop completely, and they resume the show some minutes later. It’s a live-theatre-thing, a reminder that anything can happen, giving us time to cringe for a bit longer after the bawdy pub song, Hop Hop Hooray! 

'The Rabbits' Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia - 2015 Production - 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 - All Rights Reserved

‘The Rabbits’ Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia – 2015 Production – 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved

The rabbits are bombastic, very British, Gilbert & Sullivan style operatic singers, each with his own quirky personality. (Kaneen Breen as the Scientist is especially memorable). The marsupials on the other hand, are grounded contemporary music theatre/pop vocalists (I’d love to hear more from Marcus Corowa); they remind me stylistically of The Lion King and Disney generally. Friends tell me after the show that this combination isn’t their favourite aspect of the production but I like the stark contrast, and I can appreciate that it’s part of the strategy now, whether or not it was originally intended as such, to draw a more diverse audience.


Visually too, it’s a stark and sumptuous production, beautifully conveying the essence of this great Southern land, its creatures, its colours, its textures, its heat, and all its hope and hopelessness. The production looks enough like the pages of the book to satisfy fans of Tan’s original illustrations, and yet it’s not so immense and grotesque as to frighten..the children. If we’re honest – and we are – I still find the original illustrations quite frightening. (Designer Gabriela Tylesova, Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest, Sound Designer Michael Waters). The final image particularly has me holding my breath, desperate for the marsupial and the rabbit to step across – or around – the reflecting pool to embrace one another, or grasp each other’s hands or something but I know they’ll stay on opposite sides, staring at their own reflections, because it’s the final awful (hopeful?) image from the book.

The Rabbits, in story and style, is truly for all people. If only we can learn from this rich and challenging sixty-minute tale, and from so many more, and move forward together, hand in hand. This feeling, long after the curtain has properly come down, is the power of theatre, of storytelling, and why our stories must be told and treasured, and questioned, and told again and again.

Who will save us from the rabbits?


Comments on (the book) The Rabbits 

The parallels with a real history of colonisation in Australia and around the world are obvious, and based on detailed research, in spite of the overt surrealism of the imagery and the absence of direct references. It was named Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council, which in part generated some controversy due to it’s confronting themes, and was attacked on several occasions for being ‘politically correct propaganda’, but only by right wing conservatives of course. In spite of this (or because of it), the book went on to win numerous awards in Australia, the US and UK, and is studied widely in secondary schools. It would seem that some of my concepts and designs were unacknowledged inspiration for a section of the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, although I’ve never been able to find out if this is true.

One reason for the initial controversy is that The Rabbits is a picture book, and therefore thought to be children’s literature, and wrongly assumed to be didactic, whereas it had been originally conceived as a book for older readers, and generally difficult to categorise. Some children may get a lot out of it, but generally it defies most picture book conventions and is not necessarily a good choice for pleasant bedtime reading!


Piece For Person And Ghetto Blaster


Piece For Person And Ghetto Blaster

Brisbane Powerhouse & Mobile States

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

February 25 – 27 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Nothing happens if you always do things the same way…

– Marina Abromovich


Consider for a moment this moral conundrum. You’re a woman… (that’s not the moral conundrum)

You’re a woman and you’re in a foreign country…

Enter the eccentric, charming and mischievous world of creator Nicola Gunn as she navigates the complexities of trying to be a better person in this critically acclaimed new work.

Are you willing to take part in conflict in order to transform and change the future for the better?

An incident lasting all of ten minutes is told from three different points of view: a woman is out running and sees a man throwing stones at a sitting duck. What happens next leaves the woman coming to terms with the event and its consequences.

It dissects the excruciating realms of human behaviour in an attempt to navigate the moral and ethical complexities of becoming a better person.

As acclaimed writer and performer Nicola Gunn recreates scenarios on stage, she will attempt to dissect our motivations for conflict and ask the big question: why can’t we all just get along?

Again, I arrive late to Brisbane Powerhouse and the Turbine Studio downstairs. I’d raced over from QPAC (by raced I mean drove, through six o’clock city traffic, which is not nearly as bad as five o’clock city traffic), where I’d stayed to see Triumphs And Other Tribulations in the Cremorne, following an afternoon of production excerpts in the Concert Hall and The Stance outside in QPAC’s Cultural Forecourt for the Australian Performing Arts Market: APAM2016. It was a big day! And bigger – much, much bigger – for some than others. In retrospect I can say I wisely went home earlier on the evening of DAY1 rather than stay for opening night drinks. One of the delegates informed me that each year it was generally agreed everyone would try not to go too hard on the first night but each year it seems that this was generally forgotten. I proposed a leisure day on DAY2 in 2018 to break up the program and give everyone the opportunity to catch a Citycat or visit the galleries (or the shopping end of James Street) but was promptly reminded that everyone at APAM is working.

I find Ruth in the crowd outside the studio doors. Shimchong has already gone in (a couple of delegates have been locked out of the Visy and are now trying to gain access to “What is it in the studio?”), and Dave Sleswick, with his clipboard list of delegates, announces that Presenters have first right of refusal. It’s a marketplace after all, so we wait. We look around. No Presenters present! Luckily for us I’d actually registered to see the show and we were allowed to find seats…yes, that old chestnut. We walked past the entire seated audience, past Nicola Gunn, bright-eyed and beaming warmly at us from a corner of the performance space, and up the little steps to THE BACK ROW, BABY.

The house lights stay up. Gunn begins moving and speaking, speaking and moving, seemingly randomly, often quite rhythmically, and at times very violently, without any apparent correlation between the text and the physical activity she performs…at first. She scuttles and stretches and squats and shakes and shimmies. She steps from side to side, launches into considered commando rolls, purposeful kicks, deliberate backbends, peaceful asanas, and pulls herself along the floor as if she’s an early childhood teacher being a child being a caterpillar on the carpet (back when early childhood teachers were allowed ample time to teach such vital skills as being a caterpillar – I’m so grateful my child got in on the end of those days). Gunn completes entire sequences as she chatters away to us, about David Suchet, Hercule Poirot and Marina Abromovich, about skimming stones (the trick is to skim them at an angle of 20 degrees), the enduring brilliance of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter (it might be one of the greatest love stories of all time) and the man she saw throwing stones at a defenceless duck in Ghent, Belgium… A 10-minute morally challenging moment in life becomes an engaging, entertaining, deeply thought provoking 70-minute physical performance.


Every move and every breath is strictly choreographed (Jo LLoyd), although there’s nothing particularly strict about the way it comes across; it mostly feels almost completely improvised, at times untidy. There are even times when Gunn stops herself, incredulous, disbands whatever movement she was in the middle of and exclaims, “What the fuck am I doing?! Fuck it!” before beginning a new sequence and a new version of the story. These are gorgeous, natural, very funny rehearsal room type moments, which underscore Gunn’s musings about the nature of art and life, and our response to the little things. And the momentous things. The things that matter. Do you know what matters to you? The conversation is fascinating and the execution impressive. Gunn is rarely out of breath and ably manipulates the mood so that we’re laughing one minute and the next, contemplating the meaning of life and right and wrong. She’s intensely focused and yet easily distracted. Extremely disciplined and happily relaxed. She’s a walking, dancing, daring, dialoguing contradiction. 

Gun’s show is a philosophical discussion with strangers in a daggy aerobics class. She brings life and perspective and guts and ridiculous fun to a simple, yet complex, moral dilemma.

The references to performance artist, Marina Abromovich, range from admiration to parody to a final, spectacular homage in a stunning coloured coat and head piece. It makes no sense; it’s the post script that never needed to make it onto the page.

An increasingly layered, synthesised soundscape by composer Kelly Ryall and intense lighting by Niklas Pajanti help to create the hectic atmosphere of a subterranean rave – there are lasers and haze and the electronica and the pulse and the voice, looped and looped upon itself again and again; it’s hypnotic. All of this though is the duck speaking…

It’s amusing (I’m more bemused) and it’s a stunning visual effect, but it doesn’t actually work as the conclusion to this show…or does it? Others ADORE it. Others RAVE about the rave element. Others love watching Abromovich sitting in a chair for eight hours a day too. It’s a real Abromovich moment. With Kate Bush and Lady GaGa looking on, nodding approvingly. Is it Gunn’s final statement (for now) on the state of the arts? Is it a protest? Is it a glorious effort to reinforce the fact that artists can make their art for…themselves? Is it something that seemed like fun so, “Why the fuck not?” Or is it simply that the duck is on acid and we’re along for the trip? It’s a great ride but suddenly we’re in an entirely different theme park.


I want to hear what happened to the duck! And to the woman! And to the man! But there is no neat ending to the narrative, just as there is no neat ending in life, and we are left to dream on what we’ve experienced. I walk out a little bit bewildered. Ruth and I compare notes. We are wondering why the show took the turn it did. One of the delegates bends down to feel the white dance floor… Is this a work of sheer brilliance or another example of too much time and money to create it? I don’t want to see work like this not being able to be created… With so little funding available for the arts in this country already, it seems sacrilege to even pose the question. But one wonders. And one continues to discuss it…

PPGB short trailer – no credits from Performing Lines on Vimeo.

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