Posts Tagged ‘ben hughes

18
Feb
20

The Neighbourhood

 

The Neighbourhood

La Boite Theatre Company & Multicultural Australia

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

February 8 – 29 2020

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

Exuberant and revelatory new work gives life to seven marginalised voices who share their experiences growing up in multicultural Australia as either First Nation individuals, first generation migrants, or refugees.

 

Simplistic and minimal in staging, this is however an irreducibly complex ensemble piece in which the sum of its parts is a sociocultural hybrid, a third space of enunciation in which significantly damaging racial tropes are challenged and dispensed with. With human dignity, its hope is to demand recognition, dismantle assumptions of white Australian suburbs and to forge ahead with powerfully transcendent themes of community, home and belonging.

 

Brilliant and hopeful, The Neighbourhood is an olive branch of unapologetic repatriation and optimism written and co-created by the actors themselves. With its finger on the pulse, it’s an upbeat series of overlapping monologues delving into the personal struggles of the players tied together with light movement and incidental live music played by two of its performers, Dr Matt Hsu and Cievash Arean.

 

After surviving parts of war-ravaged Syria, Amer Thabet, moved to Australia in 2019. While funny, bold and resilient, his sense of humour cannot always protect him from being silently destroyed by the memories of family and friends left behind there. With devastating precision, he narrates and enacts a survival story juxtaposed now against his pedestrian life as a newly settled Australian citizen.

 

From Uganda, Amisa Nandaula describes the causal discrimination she endures growing up in rural Rockhampton. As a school girl, she would rub honey in her eyes and exfoliate her skin to lighten its blackness. She heartbreakingly shares a story of how her best friend in a misguided compliment tells her that if she were white she would be beautiful. Amisa talks proudly of her mother’s inspiration of leaving their home in Uganda to start her own business and raise the family in another country.

 

 

Aurora Liddle-Christie is Jamaican and an Australian First National. In a mature austerity beyond her years, she reflects on growing up in the shadow of her father’s loving dysfunction, and of proudly being the loudest family on the street. She follows a literal ancestral path of elders to Alice Springs, exploring a spiritual family legacy, a deeper belonging to a community of First Australians inhabiting these now stolen lands of Australia.

 

Then there is Cievash who was imprisoned in Iran for political insurrection. He later fled to Australia 31 years ago as a refugee. He recounts a story of a doomed man he tried to help hide from authorities, the man’s execution, and the sense he now tries to make of his life in the aftermath of his exile. He is a musician and with his many instruments, the horrors of his torture and the homesickness for his homeland find a new language within the phrasing of his playing.

 

Dr Matt Hsu is also a musician and he reflects on the racial hypocrisies within his own community, the subtle racisms of growing up in the west, the frustrating career expectations of his family and realised dreams of pursuing music and art. He is talented and entertains us with the accordion, the double bass, the clarinet and a percussive ethnic drum.

 

 

Naavi Karan is transgender and non-binary from India. Now living in Brisbane, Naavi opines on the deep faith and tradition of family and oppressive schoolyard bullying. Bejewelled and adorned in traditional golden headdresses and colourful dresses, Naavi dances, and transforms truth and poetry, exploring a beautiful and diverse performative non-conformity.

 

Born during the Iran-Iraq war, Nima Doostkhah grew up witnessing the bombing of his city Esfahan. He is tortured by the memory of being lost as a young child at a mass funeral ceremony and being grasped and held by wailing women, their cries still disturbing to him years later as a young man.

 

And while he grew up watching Rage, listening to hip hop whilst sitting on the back steps composing rhymes, he tries to embrace modernity, and hopes to cloak his ‘otherness’ within its inconspicuous shroud, that carefree nonchalance of his fashionably sensitive generation. Desperate to forge an individual identity, he also just wants what everyone else wants; to be cool and to fit in.

 

 

Spontaneous and innovative, The Neighbourhood has a deliberate an arresting sense of naïve charm. It’s hopeful and while preachy and developing, it feels like the culmination of a highly workshopped experiment which has come together as a well-balanced and authentic mouthpiece for the silent voices in our community.

 

You can see the potential for the work to evolve and strengthen over time. It is a flexible platform to expound a growing movement of social justice, refugeeism and islamophobia all writhing together in the mess of an inevitably globalising newtopia. The Neighbourhood, decries so diligently the pressure on migrants to assimilate, and how the plurality of different ways of life should be encouraged and celebrated. 

 

Co-Created by Todd MacDonald, Aleea Monsour, and Ari Palani with Lighting Design by Ben HughesSound Design Brady Watkins and Set & Costume by Adam Gardnir.

08
Feb
18

Black Is The New White

 

Black Is The New White

Queensland Theatre presents a

Sydney Theatre Company production

QPAC Playhouse

February 3 – 17 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Two politically powerful families at war. A son and daughter helplessly in love, defying their parents. You’ve heard this story before – but what if Romeo was white, Juliet was black and the war mainly fought on Twitter?

 

“It’s about a successful Aboriginal family called the Gibsons who are activists and very proud to be Aboriginal and who also happen to be quite financially successful,” Lui says. “Their youngest daughter, Charlotte, is just back from being in Europe for three-and-a-half months and she’s bringing home her boyfriend for the first time – he’s white and a poor, struggling musician who also happens to be the son of her father’s arch nemesis. “It’s kind of what happens when you get together with family over Christmas – you laugh, you fight and you talk about all the things you’re not meant to talk about in a very intimate and flippant way.” – Nakkiah Lui

 

Nakkiah Lui’s script is razor-sharp in its unbridled observations of race and human nature, and Paige Rattray’s precision production is masterfully handled, fast-paced, funny and highly entertaining. There’s a dance break AND a dance off AND a food fight! I wonder what this work would look like, sound like, without Rattray’s light hand? The characters are heightened, delightful and painful, completely believable, (mis)behaving exactly as our family members (mis)behave at Christmas, and the sense of the work is at first light-handed, hilarious. But don’t think that means you won’t cringe at times, faced with your own pre-conceived notions and beliefs. Is this just a mirror of Australian contemporary society or a hammer to shape it? No stone is left unturned, with each character either delving into or narrowly avoiding addressing the misconceptions surrounding the mistreatment of our Indigenous peoples, privilege, gender roles, rich vs poor, cultural sterotypes, the courage of individuals and the common interests of communities – and sparking bold conversations around the emergence of an Aboriginal middle-class and the re-rise of a feminism that sees an older generation of women – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – claiming their sexual identities and political ideas.

 

Unless you’re at a Williamson, you might not think it possible to pack such a wealth of material into 2 hours and 20 minutes of theatre, and yet there it is, and with deep insight, the off-hand and humorous remarks hitting hard, getting under our skin and challenging everything we think is Australian. Human.

 

 

Luke Carroll (the Spirit of Christmas disguised as the Narrator) is probably the least essential element, and tells us more than we need to know, particularly in the second act. His performance though is highly entertaining, and I come to love his omnipresence and subtle interactions with the family members. However, it must be said that Carroll’s perfectly clipped consonants are either the stuff of over articulated nightmares, or that he’s the very model of a trained-within-an-inch-of-his-life stage actor (no comment on his screen performances, which have been well received, earning him Deadly Awards and a Bob Maza Fellowship). This is not to be unkind, but to make a point: Carroll is excellent and can afford to employ a more relaxed vocal style. Once the initial nerves/disparate energy of opening night disappear there’s not one amongst this stellar cast whose performance misses the mark. Comic timing is spot on, beautifully crafted by Lui and polished by Rattray, leaving us in no doubt of the fun and playfulness of the creative process.

 

Tony Briggs (Ray Gibson) and Geoff Morrell (Dennison Smith) narrowly avoid playing political enemies for laughs, and leave us in horrified hysterics from the outset of their ongoing sandbox dispute. Briggs brings particular wit and wry humour to this role, which could just as easily have turned into caricature.

 

 

Melodie Reynolds-Diarra, as wife, Joan, reaches our hearts on multiple levels. It’s she who has penned her husband’s speeches, and she finally feels she deserves some recognition for her part in his story. Vanessa Downing as Dennison’s wife also steps up at a crucial moment, demanding that her life preferences be respected.

 

 

Miranda Tapsell joined this cast for the Brisbane season, and she brings hilarious headstrong energy to Rose, the millennial entrepreneurial sister of Charlotte (Shari Sebbens, straight up and sensational) and wife of Sonny (Anthony Taufa, in his element here), as does Tom Stokes as Francis, the (wonderfully awkward!) struggling artist and fiancé of Charlotte.

 

Renee Mulder’s stunning design, beautifully enhanced by Ben Hughes’ lighting, is a pristine playground for these Christmas shenanigans, with Steve Toulmin’s soundtrack an easy invitation to simply enjoy the ride….for now.

 

This crafty contemporary farce – poised for a film option – has a strictly limited Brisbane run. See it, and join the conversation.

 

Production pics by Prudence Upton

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

 

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

 




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