Posts Tagged ‘ben elton

14
Jul
16

We Will Rock You

 

We Will Rock You

John Frost

In Association With Queen Theatrical Productions, Phil McIntyre Entertainment

& Tribeca Theatrical Productions

QPAC Lyric Theatre

July 10 – August 20 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Both on and back stage the Australian musical theatre community is quite simply second to none…

Ben Elton

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We Will Rock You isn’t just a title, it’s a promise.

The time is the future, in a place that was once called Earth. Globalisation is complete.

We Will Rock You has strong Australian roots. Some of the book was written in Fremantle and some of the enduring memories of the show for many in this country at least, are the characters created by Amanda Harrison (Oz) and Michael Falzon (Galileo) in the original Australian production. Prior to its first season here though, the show ran for 12 years in London and continues, somewhat inexplicably, to tour internationally. To the consternation of many critics, audiences love Ben Elton’s Queen musical!

The global obsession with this show can’t be attributed to its wafer thin book or its sparse set, which – for this tour at least – comprises Grease style bleachers, and a massive screen beneath a rock concert lighting rig. The lighting at least is impressive.

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The stars of this show are few but they are big, bold technicolor characters; larger than life and unforgettable. I love Erin Clare (Scaramouche) and Jaz Flowers (Oz) – we saw them both in Heathers – and MD David Skelton’s musicians: a 12-piece hard-core rock band that hangs out on the mezzanine and successfully bring Queen’s songs to life. Strangely, Don’t Stop Me Now is omitted…can anyone explain that?   

Jaz Flowers, with her powerhouse vocals and fierce energy effortlessly steals the show. When Flowers is on stage I can’t take my eyes off her. She is well matched in energy by Thern Reynolds, as the amusingly misnamed Britney Spears.

As the sassy Scaramouche Erin Clare shines. Is she not the most exciting next big thing?She’s gorgeous in this gutsy role and doesn’t shy away from the character’s rebellious nature; in fact, she relishes it. She even brings some sweetness and light to Somebody to Love and You’re My Best Friend (added to this reincarnation of the show) without losing the full extent of her vocal power or a tough chick exterior. Gareth Keegan appears to put a slightly gentler spin than expected on Galileo, The Dreamer, but it works well enough and together the pair creates some super cute romantic moments, whilst maintaining the sense of rebellion the show demands. It’s this real rockstar energy that drives the show and to their credit, it never feels as if the company is trying too hard.

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It’s a strong ensemble, young and cute; they’re our rising stars, but they don’t get much to work with here. They must wonder what-the-what they’re doing from time to time, surrounding Killer Queen (a killer thriller Casey Donovan) with Simply Irresistible attitudes and hot pink feather dusters in hand and who knows where else, but at least they’re committed.

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Brian Mannix has little to do in Act 1 but comes into his own after Interval with some of the show’s best one-liners. Perfectly cast, he has as much fun as we do. And that’s key to the success of this show. We Will Rock You is about disregarding everything manipulative and oppressive in our world, and finding the fun and irreverence in every moment. It’s a little reminder to keep our hold over technology, our independence from industry, religion and state, and hearts pumping with our favourite ancient smash hit rock song lyrics.

Featuring some of the best real rock music of all time, with its mass appeal spanning multiple generations, We Will Rock You is a bold, proud crowd pleaser.

 

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23
Nov
14

Gasp! and a chat with Ben Elton

 

Gasp!

Queensland Theatre Company & Black Swan Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

November 17 – December 7 2014

 

 Review by Xanthe Coward

 

Interview by Guy Frawley

 

Imagine a world in which the air we breathe is just another commodity like food and fuel. Something that can be bought and sold according to market forces…

 

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You must be quite excited. It’s been 24 years since Gasping opened. I’m quite interested in hearing why you decided to rework the piece into Gasp! for 2014 and why the choice of Australian setting?

 

It’s very much the other way around, I didn’t choose to rewrite the show and use an Australian setting. It’s more the Australian setting just kept bringing me back to that show. I’m pretty fortunate, I have a pretty big back catalogue and there’s a lot of it that I could do with revisiting and could probably be improved. But you don’t normally do that, you just go forward. But with Gasping, my first professional play, I always thought it was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had.

 

Using this grand conceit of air that becomes this attainable, mineable commodity, resource as we call our planet. It was performed several times around the world and I never thought I’d revisit it, although I always thought it would be nice to and I’ve occasionally played with the idea of a movie. I talked at some length with Russell Crowe about it, who also liked the idea of it for a movie.

 

Anyway, I now live in Australia and am Australian and for the last few years I’ve been very fortunate in that Kate Cherry at the Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth has often said to me, “When are you going to write an Australian play?” I thought about it and thought how lovely it would be to write an Australian play and I wondered what is it that we feel about Australia?

 

What’s moving me? What’s getting me excited? What’s getting me angry? What am I passionate about?

 

And basically for the five years we’ve been living in Oz with our kids as a part of the society, well it’s been the bloody resources, the mining boom! That’s all anybody ever talks about! With the exception of Jihad taking over. All we talk about is the carbon tax, the mining tax, global warming, the resources industry, is it good? Is it bad? Gina, Twiggy, Clive. It just looms so large, that I started to think about a play that talks about our duties and our responsibilities and the grand comedy that has been the public debate about these topics over the last decade. I kept going back to Gasping and thinking, well I’ve already written the bloody play it’s just set in the wrong time, in the wrong place and with the wrong dialogue. But it was the right idea! So I went to Kate and told her I’d like to rewrite my first play and take that idea of air as a resource and set in in Australia in 2014, she was very excited about it. And that’s why Gasp! has a new title, because it is an entirely new play, although still very similar. It’s a weird hybrid but I think it’s a much better play; it has much better dialogue, a few new characters, a love interest, subtler sort of development although it’s still a very broad comedy. It’s a reimagining of a comedy about answers. So yes…a long answer!

 

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Ben Elton’s Gasping (1990) was his first play and GASP! is a solid attempt to breathe some new life into it.

 

Given the same sleek and easy “it’s funny, it can’t fail” treatment by Director, Wesley Enoch, as QTC’s production of Williamson’s Managing Carmen and with the same smooth, slick looking set design by Christina Smith as Other Desert Cities (I love the gliding scene changes), this rich excuse for a satire is simply overcooked. Elton’s writing is known for its witticisms and political and social stings, and for its PLAIN FUNNY STUFF. THIS IS NOT THAT WRITING. I loved Maybe Baby and watched the VHS tape until it stopped working one day. I still love Popcorn, The Young OnesWe Will Rock You (Silly Cow not so much) and I’m a loyal Blackadder fan. Unfortunately, Gasp! is overwritten, over directed and over acted, with little allowance for nuance. Written for laughs, it needs thinning, like a cool, clever summer haircut.

 

The cast give accurate portrayals in essence but they have so many gags to get through! Oh my goodness, I almost feel sorry for them! I feel they are waiting for us to laugh out loud! Exhausting! And frustrating…

 

You talk about Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth and the show is then transitioning to QLD to QTC. Considering the content of Gasp! and the impact of the mining boom in both of these states specifically, was there a conscious decision to premiere the show in these states?

 

Absolutely, it wasn’t my idea, it was Kate’s. She liked what I was talking about and the first thing she said was that this would be a great co-production with the other great ‘mining state’. QTC and Black Swan have a great relationship, they’ve had a number of collaborations and this one struck her as the most obvious collaboration. So she approached Wesley Enoch with my idea, and much to my great delight, he wanted to bring QTC into it. It’s been rehearsed in Brisbane before opening in Perth, and we hope the rest of Australia at some point will get the chance to see it as I think it is that rare thing, a very topical satire about what’s going on right now. It’s unashamedly contemporary, there are gags that if the play has legs I’ll have to rewrite in a year or two because the PUP’s latest successes will be history by then.

 

Perhaps a small project here for posterity then, that you can keep updating as the show travels.

 

Well that actually slightly scares me as it’s exactly what I’ve had to do with We Will Rock You, which has taken over my life! It was written many years ago and obviously jokes about Boyzone and a young Britney just don’t work any more. We’ve now got a middle aged Britney, which shows just how long We Will Rock You has been going. But look, if it turns out that people like the show, if the show has legs, I’d happily keep it current. It’s a satire, not a polemic.

 

The original Gasping used the caricature of the new ‘Yuppie’ in the early 1990s as a central part of the show and also handled the concept of environmentalism very much from the perspective of it’s own time. I’d suggest that both of these concepts have developed and changed quite drastically over the past 24 years and the conversation today is markedly different. How, when taking your original inspiration, Thatcher, the UK of the late 80s etc have you adjusted this to suit a contemporary Australia?

 

Well you know the more things change the more remain the same. When I was writing Gasping Thatcher was in power and now when I write Gasp! Abbot’s in power, so there are some things that are quite similar. Mind you there are some things that are quite different. As you say, a lot of the humour of Gasping was a sort of jolly take on the Wall Street Wanker London Brits pretending they were brilliant, pin stripe suited Americans in that Yuppie explosion of the late 80s. That’s all comic history now! I was saying at the rehearsals how I’d changed the description of a trendy advertising exec, in the original show he drove a 10-speed racer and now he’s a hipster with a fixie. But actually, the much broader context is that whilst with Gasping I was dealing with a very fictionalised comic world of Yuppies as the cartoon image of Thatcherised horror, I’m now dealing with a real world. I’m now dealing with the real world, I’m talking about the mining sector which isn’t peopled with cartoon villains. It’s the real world, with real resources, real jobs. I think it’s now much subtler, not really subtle, but much more so than Gasping was.

 

Throughout the rewrite I’m interested to know how much the actual characters themselves have been adjusted. Are these primarily superficial updates that leave the original motivations and personalities quite similar?

 

It’s the same play and it’s completely different. All the characters from the original are still there, with the addition of one very significant new one, which is Phillip’s (the lead protagonists) emotional life, Phillip’s love interest. She gives a little bit more emotional reality to the reason he makes the moral compromises that he does and gets tied up in the moral dilemmas that he gets tied up in. It’s more of a character driven story and narrative than an ideas driven polemic, which it was originally. A load of gags with a big satirical sledge hammer point to make at the end of it, which is what the original play was.

 

It’s still not Chekov in terms of psychological astuteness but it’s got more to offer the audience in terms of character development. But then I’ve really learned more as a writer. When I was writing my first professional play I’d never written a novel, we’d only just started on Blackadder, I was mainly a sketch writer and a stand up comedian, and I’ve learned quite a lot about story telling and characterisation since then. There’s not many writers that get the privilege that I’ve been given to take something they wrote as a young man and to be able to rewrite it as a middle aged man.

 

I know that Hugh Laurie originally played Phillip when the show first opened. Had you originally envisioned him as your Phillip and did the spectre of Hugh hang over Phillip as you re-wrote the play?

 

Well there’s no doubt when I wrote Gasping I wrote it with Hugh in mind, there’s no doubt about that. We worked together very closely throughout the 80s and when I was writing the play I had his voice, as almost a modern Bertie Wooster figure, an imbecilic enthusiast but placed in an 80s, yuppie, Thatcherite Britain and I very much had his voice in mind. But with Gasp! as I say, I think it’s a little subtler, it’s more open to interpretation, the character isn’t so sketch like in his qualities. I think that offers the actor more room. It’s fun to have the play now being cast and played by actors that I haven’t cast, Wesley’s cast, and it’s a really interesting exercise for me to let the characters breathe more and not just make them ciphers for my own comedic voice. Losing the voices of the late 80s was actually joyful for me, because the ideas of the play are interesting and it was fun to be able to write them with a little more care. I just sort of dashed Gasping off. I was young, exuberant!

 

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Phillip (Damon Lockwood – also a director & writer – watch this space) reminds Sam of John Tuturro; the lanky, awkward, unusually bold nerd, and Kirsten (Caroline Brazier) reminds us both of a gorgeous, gun publicist we know and love. Chifley Lockheart (Greg McNeil) is everything a mining magnate needs to be and Sandy (Steven Rooke) goes above and beyond to bring us the suited up stereotype of an actual noughties Mad Men man. Peggy (Lucy Goleby) sneezes and sniffles to death in too abrupt an end! (Also, is 2014 the year we started shouting to be heard in the Playhouse?!).

 

Nobody really gets a chance to shine, but everybody gets a chance to bedazzle. We’re not fooled. Gasp! is the Payless pair of shoes once you’ve been wearing Jimmy Choos. You can’t go back, baby.

 

You’ve been a citizen now for over a decade but have been travelling back and forth from the UK for much longer than that. How have you witnessed the growth of the theatre scene over this period?

 

Well call me a bit naughty, but I’m only just now really getting into the Australian theatre scene. In the old days I’d visit and there wasn’t really much going to the theatre, my girlfriend was a professional musician and when we’d go out it was mainly to her gigs, then we got married, based ourselves in Britain and didn’t see a lot of Australia during the 90s, and when the kids were born around the turn of the millennium we remained based in Britain. Even though we constantly came back to see the family, again it wasn’t really about going to the theatre. We did a bit more of that when we were in London. Then we came here in 2010 to live and that’s when I started to really take a broader interest in Perth’s cultural life. That’s when I met Kate Cherry and we started going to the theatre and really there’s a very hot scene going on in Perth. We’ve got two fringe theatres, we’ve got two theatre companies, Perth Theatre Company and Black Swan and it’s a very vibrant time!

 

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While the premise is well established (it’s so crazy it just might work and truth is stranger than fiction and all that stuff), the cogs don’t turn together. The pieces don’t quite fit. Seeing Gasp! is like punching into the wrong place the piece of a puzzle that doesn’t look right, but you try it anyway. It’s forced and it’s not as funny as it should be. Still, some will enjoy the references to local bits and pieces and people. I guess Elton proves with this piece that he knows – no, he KNOWS – Australia.

 

06
May
13

RATS: Rowan Atkinson Tribute Show

 

Rowan Atkinson Tribute Show

Stephen Carnell & Blancmange Productions

Stage Door Dinner Theatre

2nd – 11th May 2013

 

Reviewed by Maree Butterworth

 

RATS Think blue, sheer tights, awkward, silly antics, and humour that you would expect from an assortment of skits from Rowan Atkinson’s illustrious career – most drawn from 1981 to 1986.

 

Of course there are also a few recognisable scenes from Atkinson’s early nineties’ series, Mr Bean.

 

Depending on whether you and Atkinson’s humour have been acquainted will be a defining factor of whether you leave the show with a newly defined six-pack on your stomach from laughing, or whether you leave somewhat underwhelmed.

 

Fortunately for me, I was somewhere in the middle. Having been brought up on Mr Bean shows (particularly remembering the Christmas episode) I entered the cosy auditorium of the Stage Door Dinner Theatre at Bowen Hills, anticipating something reasonably hilarious.

 

Sydney actor, Gabriel McCarthy, took the stage a short time later and delivered the Welcome to Hell skit and from that moment, I could hear the crowd getting involved and waiting between chuckles for the punch lines they knew so well. A reminiscent spark had been lit in their minds, sometimes taking them back almost 30 years.

 

Highlights of the evening include the Pink Tights and Plenty of Props sketch where McCarthy takes on a number of characters satirising Elizabethan royalty. Watch for the characters of the king’s twin brother and the messengers defined by the sentiment of the memo they deliver to the king.

 

A Rowan Atkinson Tribute Show would not be complete without a little bit of a “cringe-factor”. This comes into play with several references to indiscretions of the Catholic Church, the discomfort of the lack of a hankie in the church episode of Mr Bean and the scene where McCarthy, as Atkinson, roll calls a class with a straight face – the students are each indecently named.

 

The lighter humour takes the form of Atkinson’s piano and drum playing sketches which McCarthy has mastered right down to the timings and quirky expressions, only before witnessed on the rubbery faced man himself.

 

McCarthy effortlessly delivers the tribute show that was written by Richard Curtis, Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson himself, and if I can give you any advice of how to maximise your enjoyment of this clever collation? Grab a seat at the front of the room so you don’t miss any of McCarthy’s excellent “Atkinson – like” expressions…oh and cradle a glass of wine!

 

Rowan Atkinson Tribute Show runs until May 11 with tickets available from http://www.stagedoordinnertheatre.com.au or by calling (07) 3216 1115