Posts Tagged ‘ben hughes

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

 

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04
Aug
15

Grounded

 

Grounded

Queensland Theatre Company

The Greenhouse Diane Cilento Studio

July 29 – August 22 2015

 

 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Grounded_libbymunro

 

If you want to see this year’s best performance and be part of the crowd who’ll say, “I saw her first” when she accepts an Academy Award one day, don’t miss Libby Munro in Grounded.

 

It’s an intense slow-burn one-woman drama and Munro is thrilling in it.

 

libbymunrohero

2013 WINNER of the Matilda Award for Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

 

You might have missed her in Venus In Fur – directed by Andrea Moor in 2013 – and wondered why ever since, since it’s one of the productions we haven’t stopped talking about.

 

Wesley Enoch explains simply, “A diva is a celebrated woman of outstanding talent…and Libby Munro is such a woman.”

 

George Brant’s brilliant insight into drone warfare from the female fighter pilot’s perspective is the best kind of contemporary poetry, without much of the punctuation you’d expect to see on a page, allowing the actor to find the natural cadence of the piece. On many levels it’s a quietly political piece but Grounded will endure and enjoy greater global success because it keeps the human story, like the heartbeat of Tony Brumpton’s soundscape for this superb production, at its core.

 

We walk into the Diane Cilento Studio – used for the first time in performance mode for Grounded – and hear the low hum of either the air con or the soundscape (it’s impossible to tell) and then see the indelible image of a woman in fetal position at the top of a small raked stage, a flight suit set below her. The suit, just for these opening moments, enjoys the most light. When she puts it on she doesn’t want to take it off, and says so. It’s part of her, her identity. It’s how she knows who she is. Later, she admits to having had sex in it. But only once.

 

The body becomes electric, the face becomes animated, almost like a child’s as she tells us with stars in her eyes, and Maverick arrogance and religious reverence, about the thrill of soaring through “the blue” in her Tiger, and laughing and drinking beer with the other Top Guns, her boys, at the end of each shift.

 

Then suddenly there’s the shock, surprise and delight that comes with love and the pink stripe of pregnancy, and the birth of a beautiful baby girl…who needs “attention”. We feel her confusion and commitment to both the family and the air force as she tries to adjust to the military’s version of “work-life balance”. We watch, dismayed, as she takes her place behind a screen every day for 12 hours at a time to become one of the Chair Force, wirelessly controlling a death-dealing reaper drone from a dark trailer in the Nevada desert. You can’t make out their faces but from their movement you can identify, without any doubt, The Guilty. Suddenly, we miss the blue too.

 

Through vivid description, though without morbid graphic detail (the economy of words and the measured pace saving us from the darkest corner of our imaginations), we see body parts flying through the air and what remains of the bodies merging with the grey sand on the screen as The Pilot “lingers”, safe from death, in her $11 million “eye in the sky”. The threat of death has been removed.

 

Can you imagine? The vivid pictures Munro paints with Brant’s prose will sweep you up and along on the journey so be ready; it’s one hell of a ride. You might feel your stomach turn – it’s the G-Force effect – or feel the need to shake it off and get your land legs back after such a tumultuous storytelling event.

 

Testament to the lasting impression this production leaves, on opening night there were many in the audience who stayed sitting in their seats after the curtain call, just sitting…perhaps hoping to be offered something stronger than champagne.

 

In what must constitute the acting masterclass of the year, Munro expertly shows us every tiny detail of her world, just as a “world builder” novelist does. We get a sense of the vastness, the magic of “the blue”, the comedy and tragedy of trying to schedule TV time, sex, sleep, and daycare drop-off “special time” in between 12-hour shifts surrounded by military males (staring at “military age” male targets). And all of this without the aid of over-zealous production elements, which are wisely kept simple, completely unfettered, thanks to an unassuming and super talented creative team, who have allowed the actor to take centre stage. No fancy projections here, just the blue-turning-grey of a quietly commanding abstract design to literally frame the actor…and the perfectly timed sound of a beating heart. (Designer Georgina Greenhill. Lighting Designer Ben Hughes. Sound Designer Tony Brumpton). Not that we can take our eyes off Munro for long to really study anything else in the room…

 

grounded

 

A flawless brunette beauty, tall, slender and strong, even in the most sensitive, vulnerable moments, Munro has the striking looks and arresting presence of a supporting actress envied by leading ladies who fail to cast a similar spell over captivated audiences and can’t for the life of them understand why. The rich, nuanced vocal work is superb and the pace, as we leap across the hours, days, years, is as real-time as it gets. The performance is beautifully shaped and layered by Director, Andrea Moor. The repetition is almost too much at one point, but it serves to help us appreciate the strange routine of virtual warfare, which allows a fighter pilot to get the job done and make it home in time for dinner.

 

When you see Munro’s tour-de-force performance in the intimate space of the Diane Cilento Studio you’ll understand I’m not exaggerating. You’ll come under her spell and know too that she’s something special. She must be the spunkiest, sexiest, most compelling actress on an Australian stage right now. Hers is a sublime performance of a hard-hitting, game-changing text that could mean we won’t see Munro on a local stage for a little while after this season closes on August 22. Better be quick to book. Grounded is not to be missed.

 

27
Jul
15

Happy Days

 

Happy Days

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio, The Greenhouse

July 18 – August 15 2015

 

Reviewed by Katelyn Panagiris

 

happydays3

 

 

Winnie has a brave heart first and foremost. We are all trying to make our way through life as best we can and Winnie uses all the resources that are available to her, wisely husbanded, to get through the day. This script is like a piece of music and you must let yourself feel it through to the end, and then consider the journey.

– Carol Burns

 

 

Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days centres on a woman in the autumn years of her life buried to her waist – and then neck – in a mound of earth.

 

Joined only by her quiet husband Willie, Winnie passes each “happy day” combing her hair, brushing her teeth and babbling away until the bell for sleep rings. Her plight is familiar – a common theme in Beckett’s work and the work of several other Absurdist playwrights where man (or in this case woman) tries to find meaning in a meaningless world.

 

happydays1

 

In this production, directed by Wesley Enoch, we are once again at the mercy of Beckett’s darkly humorous world. The isolated world of Happy Days is displayed as bleak but warm by Penny Challen’s design: a large rock structure is set against the unchanging backdrop of a sunset, and Ben Hughes’ lighting design evokes images of the scathing sun. These design elements remain true to Beckett’s assertion that the whole setting should present “a pathetic unsuccessful realism” as the backdrop is poorly hung and the stage is quite literally framed by a large golden border. With this we are constantly reminded of our position as a voyeur, hesitantly peering into Winnie’s monotonous life.

 

happydays2

 

Carol Burns’ performance in the demanding role of Winnie is simply phenomenal: she is engaging, versatile and expressive throughout the 90-minute monologue.

 

Her portrayal of the eternally optimistic Winnie is simultaneously heartwarming and harrowing, especially when all that remains of Winnie is her head above the earth. What is most remarkable about Burns’ performance is the meticulousness with which she treats every word, every syllable and every pause, thus unlocking the musicality of Beckett’s text.

 

happydays4

 

Despite the density of the text, Enoch ensures there is never a dull moment, carefully monitoring the ebb and flow of the play and foregrounding Happy Days’ funniest moments.

 

In particular, Steven Tandy’s performance as Willie is playful and humorous, and his presence is always felt even when words fail his character.

 

happydays5

 

Queensland Theatre Company’s Happy Days is an engaging and enjoyable production – and no doubt an authentic realisation of Beckett’s text – however I am left questioning its relevance in our modern age. Why this play now? One could argue the timelessness of Beckett’s exploration of existence, however fifty years on I am left wanting more: what else can be brought to the table? Where else can this play take us?

 

 

Production pics by Rob Maccoll

 

28
Sep
12

KELLY

Kelly

Kelly

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

15th September – 20th October 2012

 

Reviewed by Matty Gharakhanian

 

Almost all of the facts in the script surrounding Ned Kelly are as true as possible. But the real history is a bit murky anyway. Keep in mind Ned was a notorious liar, mainly because most of what we have him on record as saying he was saying to the police – whom he had no qualms in lying to. And the police at that time would often lie to make themselves look better so no one really knows for sure. My goal with Ned is simply to capture the spirit of the man. To make audiences feel they’re really in the room with him. I don’t think anyone’s successfully done that yet.

The real Dan Kelly is something of a mysterious figure and there isn’t a lot of information about him in the history books. He tends to pop up in the confrontations, completely fail to do what is asked of him and Ned then has fix things. I used this idea as a building block to create the fictional character but took a lot more artistic license with him than Ned. Dan carries more of the folklore side of the story.

Do I think Dan escaped? I think it’s a fifty-fifty call. There are eye-witnesses that say he died. And there are eye-witnesses that saw Dan in the weeks after Glenrowan, heading for Queensland. There’s a grave with an unrecognizable body in it in Greta. And there are reports of a man named James Ryan out at Ipswich who claimed to be Dan and told stories about The Kelly Gang that no one else should know. I like the uncertainty of it all. It’s ripe geography for fiction. Matthew Ryan

 

Kelly

“Shotguns and body bags.”

 

Directed by Todd Macdonald, Matthew Ryan’s Kelly is a brilliant re-telling of Ned Kelly’s story, played out in the outlaw’s final moments. Kelly sits in a small jail cell, drunk and feeling sorry for himself until his brother visits and their shady past comes back to haunt them.

Simone Romaniuk’s set, lit by Ben Hughes, consists of a raised square platform with a dangling cage, ceiling and a tiny bed to represent a basic jail cell.  Nothing more was needed.  Why?  The entire show was one scene.  A single 90-minute scene with rapid lines, witty repartee and a cohesive story.  Sounds boring?  Are you asking, “How could this possibly remain entertaining for that long?”  Fear not, for not a dull moment was had.  Kelly integrates fact and rumour, such as Dan Kelly’s death and homosexuality, the family history and their many run-ins with and harassment at the hands of the law.

The acoustics are exceptional and Guy Webster’s eerie soundscape complement the show and its vibe. Having a limited and minimalistic stage, the cast show us that they don’t need fancy props or an elaborate set design to tell a story.  All that is needed is a little imagination and the ability to enjoy being taken on a journey through the words of less than a handful of talented actors. Before you know it, the stage is a ghostly replica of a grimy old jail cell containing a man about to be executed.

 

Kelly

“It’s your spirit they’re after.”

 

Now, if anyone reading this is sceptical about another story on Ned Kelly and the Kelly clan, they should feel free to leave said scepticism at the door.  For an old tale, this new spin on the Kelly story is nothing but fresh.  Matthew Ryan’s script is the key to this, injecting occasional humour into a play that boasts witty dialogue and a fluid, considered story.

 

I’m mostly known for my comedy so I think this one is going to be a shock for some people. My work tends to be very story driven. I’m very structured. I’m much more interested in the action of a piece and what’s happening between the characters than I am in any grand political explorations. I tend to just let that stuff bubble up gently. Matthew Ryan

 

Hugh Parker plays the role of the spiteful prison guard exceptionally well and Steven Rooke (Ned) and Leon Cain (Dan) are outstanding. Dare I say, Cain as Dan stole the show.  This production delves into the story of the weaker, lesser-known Kelly who lives in Ned’s shadow. The actors play their roles superbly, with such strong conviction.  Some throwaway lines have us chuckling while other lines leave us stunned into silence.  Their performances are intense and raw and their anger palpable and believable. Their booming voices and confident, no-holds-barred performances grasp the audience’s attention and wouldn’t let go.  Rooke is the bleary-eyed and angry imprisoned man, accepting of his fate. Cain is powerful as the complex, gutless and conflicted brother, posing as a priest and asking for forgiveness and a blessing (something that was not easy to ask for, given the circumstances).

 

Kelly

“You came to ask a dead man for the right to live.”

 

Dan and Ned play the proverbial tug of war between their recollections of past events as well as who was in the right or wrong and who held the moral high ground.  They take family dysfunction to a whole new level.  Problems start seeping through the cracks in their relationship as one big issue is alluded to early on. Eventually, through conversation and re-enactments, we are taken through various moments and past events until finally, we come full circle, back to the original problem and discover the unholy truth of what happened.

 

The banter between Ned and Dan is based on Irish rhythms of conversation. Their parents were Irish immigrants and while there is some debate as to whether Ned himself had an Irish accent, I really wanted to capture that amazing lyrical quality of the speech patterns – if not in the actual words then at least in the pacing and timing. It seems to be in my own blood because once they started talking in that rhythm I couldn’t shut them up. Matthew Ryan

 

Kelly is a 90-minute roller coaster ride in a jail cell and every Australian should take it.

20
Jul
12

HOME

HOME

HOME

La Boite Indie & The Nest Ensemble

The Roundhouse

18th July – 28th July 2012

Dear Margi,

I just wanted to write and let you know how much I enjoyed the show last night. What a beautiful, beautiful gift you have given us. Thank you for sharing it with us. I know, it’s funny; usually I would simply post a review online but I decided to write you a letter, since I never wrote my letter to a random stranger after the last La Boite Indie production (it was Sarah Winter’s A Dinner with Gravity did you get to it?). Also, it seemed a more personal response to suit the nature of such an intimate show. You don’t have to reply, by the way, but if you’d like to play – and I know that you like to play – I expect I’ll be hearing from you soon!

The most remarkable thing about HOME is that it is all you. We see Leah’s insightful eye, her light hand and her loving heart here and there and we acknowledge that Trav’s multiple roles are implicitly part of the many tales you tell (how talented they both are!) but the fact remains: every piece of this show is you. How proud you must be. I have to tell you, I haven’t known you very long and we’ve never had the chance to work together (though I think we must!), yet the strange thing is I feel like we’ve known each other for a million years…well, at least thirty! It might have been in another life altogether because I think I know these stories. You were right. Your story is my story. Your stories are so familiar and yet… so unfamiliar. They happened and they didn’t happen. I remember and I don’t remember.

I remember sitting each afternoon, after school, with books and pencils spread out on the green laminate kitchen bench, threatening to take over Mum’s cooking space. Our kitchen always smelled of baking. She’d butter some Saladas and slice the cake she’d baked that day (chocolate cake or orange cake or – my favourite – plain butter cake) and I’d do my homework there, chatting about the day over afternoon tea and books and pencils. I told her the other day that Poppy does her homework at the kitchen bench while I bake and prepare the dinner. She doesn’t remember these afternoons, talking together like old friends. I remember.

I remember sitting up in Grandma and Grandpa’s bed, underneath piles of blankets before breakfast, with a proper cup of tea and a biccy – an Arnott’s break-a-finger biscuit – on the cold mornings when we would wake up there, during a visit to Toowoomba to see the relatives. I was little, maybe six, Poppy’s age. I could always smell Grandma’s stew cooking. I love Grandma’s stew. I used to write her letters. Real letters, hand written and with real photos and pressed flowers enclosed. She was so proud of me. She had a fall and was admitted to hospital on Wednesday night. I have Monday free to go visit her. I haven’t seen her for years. She probably won’t remember our mornings, with Roger the cat sitting at our feet. I remember.

I remember running wildly in the rain along Mooloolaba beach with my best friend, her bleached blonde hair streaming behind her as I sprinted past her and back again (I was really fast!), strands of her wet hair beginning to cling to her shoulders so she looked like a mermaid who’d just emerged from the water. She always looked like a mermaid. I always wanted to be a mermaid too. We ran and laughed and stumbled until we fell over each other and collapsed in the sand, in absolute hysterics, gasping for breath. I see my mermaid friend sometimes; a vision dancing in the water but I’m sure she’s actually overseas again, working. She might not remember these crazy days. I remember.

Margi Brown Ash HOME

HOME helps us remember. I remember and I don’t remember. At HOME, we are your special guests. Thank you for inviting us to share your stories, your memories and those of other people’s. When you enter the space everybody feels welcome. Your warmth is infectious and your joy contagious. Your delight is genuine and you are having as much fun as anybody else. Do you know what HOME is? It’s a tea ceremony. A very special, casual and surprisingly upbeat tea ceremony.

I love the way you embrace the audience. Leading them. Guiding them. Involving them. Sharing your applause with them. I’ve never heard such long, warm, appreciative applause! But you are so very generous and applause is our way of giving something back.

I ate up your original telling of the Isis and Osirus myth and then the throwbacks to it. The telling of it drew us in. You are a superb storyteller. The eating of words is such a simple, strange notion. You served up a great big, sumptuous feast of words – a degustation – story after story, in small amounts but giving us so many delectable dishes to sample. I’m full! I feel completely satiated.

Bev’s design is beautiful, her hand-carved Perspex set pieces and props lend a delicate, impermanent air, adding to the feeling that this is precious time, to be treasured. I think visitors to your HOME will be reminded that our time is, indeed, that precious. Perhaps they’ll start asking to hear the stories that are part of who they have become. We get so busy we forget to ask! We do something else instead of really listen! We are too busy. Who will tell the story?

Ben’s lighting is simply gorgeous, perfectly supporting the changes in mood rather than interrupting or distracting from your stories. He’s created sunrises and sunsets, the dawns and dusks of each tale. I’m glad there’s no real darkness in your show. Sometimes we need to forget the darkness and simply be reminded of the scope of the light.

I love the quotes you’ve woven throughout the show, visually and aurally; I love the singing bowl and Trav’s wide range of skills, especially his delivery of other people’s stories, used in such a way as to make us sit up and listen, refocus and remember how lucky we are, here in our home country. Here, home is whatever we desire it to be.

A little while ago (and again last night), you told me thank you for doing exactly what you have done yourself. Thank you for waking us up. Thank you, Margi, for your very special gift to us. Thank you for having us, for letting us in and sharing your HOME.

Love,

Xanthe

P.S. You can eat the chocolates…