Posts Tagged ‘brisbane festival

24
Sep
18

DUST

 

Dust

Dancenorth & Liminal Spaces

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

September 19 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

Upon birth, we arrive into a world in which those who precede us determine everything.

 

From this lottery of birth we inherit the architecture of both restriction and opportunity in countless manifestations. Structures, barriers and borders pre-exist, and past tense illuminates both our present and future thinking…

 

Dancenorth

 

Dancenorth’s work Dust premiered at this year’s Brisbane Festival. It is inspired by weighty and solemn concepts, outlined by directors/choreographers Kyle Page (Dancenorth’s Artistic Director) and Amber Haines (Associate Artistic Director) in their program notes.

 

Page and Haines are married and have a baby son, whose birth last year led them to contemplate ‘the architecture of inheritance’, and to think about the present, past and future worlds, and how we shape these worlds and they shape us.

 

In the post-performance Q&A on opening night, Page referred to the set for Dust, designed by Liminal Studio, as ‘another performer’. It dominates this work. At first, a large, wedge-shaped wall looms over the performers. Angled across the stage, it separates one dancer (Ashley McLellan) from the six others (Samantha Hines, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Georgia Rudd, Felix Sampson and Jack Ziesing). The themes of barriers, restrictions, insiders/outsiders and inclusion/exclusion continue throughout the work.

 

The power of the soundscape matches that of the set. Created by composer/sound designer Alisdair Macindoe and Canadian composer/musician Jessica Moss, it surges, booms and pounds, ebbing to quieter moments with sounds like bells, harmonic chanting, droning, and distorted voices calling.

 

Threading their way among the recorded electronic sounds are echoes of Middle Eastern and Eastern European music. Moss plays the violin live during the show, electronically modifying the sound of her instrument.

 

Early on, the dancers dismantle the wall into its constituent box-like blocks. As the work progresses, they move the boxes into various configurations: a ramp, a pile of rocks, a low wall around the stage perimeter, and parallel rows of columns.

 

The action continues with duos and solos while this happens, but shifting the boxes takes up much of the dancers’ time and effort. (The dancer representative at the Q&A, Felix Sampson, confirmed the impression that the blocks are heavy.)

 

 

Once the arrangements of blocks are in place, striking images are created by the dancers moving and posing on and round them. A group moves and stands on a ramp, while a lone man creeps alongside. A woman stands and lifts her arm, like a priest or an ancient oracle. A group of dancers bow and abase themselves to a pile of blocks; one woman walks slowly among them and they follow her.

 

It is as if we are witnessing some ancient ritual in a sacred space. This effect is accentuated by the configuration of the Powerhouse Theatre, with the audience in tiers of seats rising above the stage, as in an Ancient Greek theatre.

 

The dancers perform heroically, and one can only wonder at their energy. The quality of movement is athletic and grounded, fluid at times and jerky and robotic at others. McLellan in particular impresses with her intensity, strength and fluidity.

 

The pattern of the movement is full of circles: for example, using the impetus of whirling around in lifts, or rotating on the spot like a dervish, or running in circles, and people circling each other. The group of dancers sometimes huddle in a circle, moving in close action and reaction to each other, like a flock of birds. They also undulate in slow motion, like a group of sea creatures. There is a great deal of floor work.

 

 

The lighting (Niklas Pajanti) is subtle, often quite dim, with simple minimal colours that correspond well with the cosmic soundscape and the monumental set – such as gold, and pink strengthening to red. These are the only touches of colour other than shades of grey (for the backdrop, the wall, and the costumes).

 

The costumes (Harriet Oxley) are lovely. In contrast to the dominating set and the sound, and more aligned with the mood of the lighting, they are delicate and almost transparent. Of fine, pale, lightly patterned fabric, the combinations of tunics, wide pants, long skirts, and sleeveless tops are reminiscent of Ancient Greek or Roman draperies.

 

The whole creative team was represented on the 9-strong panel for the Q&A (facilitated by Bradley Chatfield, formerly with Sydney Dance Company, and more recently with Dancenorth and the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts). All were very passionate about their particular discipline and about the collaborative process of creating Dust.

 

The different creative elements in this work all make a powerful impression. However, for me they did not gel as a whole: rather, they seemed to be struggling for dominance, a struggle won by the set. At around 70 minutes, the work is not over-long, but is repetitious in parts.

 

In the current drought, the title Dust might first suggest clouds of windblown particles of soil. However, on reflection, the biblical idea that we are all made of dust seems more relevant: ‘… out of [the ground] wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return’ (Genesis 3:19).

24
Sep
18

Peter Grimes

 

Peter Grimes

Brisbane Festival, Opera Queensland, Philip Bacon AM

QPAC & QSO

QPAC Concert Hall

September 20 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Matthew Hickey

 

 

THE centrepiece of the Brisbane Festival Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes fell apart on Thursday night when the star couldn’t sing due to illness.

When the internationally renowned Australian heldentenor, Stuart Skelton, was wobbly in the high register during the first act, everyone thought it was just the histrionics of the part. But after the interval, Brisbane Festival artistic director David Berthold emerged to tell the audience the bad news that some in the concert hall at QPAC had already guessed, that Skelton, 50, was ill and would be unable to continue singing.

 

Phil Brown, the Courier Mail

 

Art criticism is fundamental to a healthy arts scene.

 

Informed and considered criticism applies a torch to artists’ feet. Dialogue between critic, artist and audience is central to the development of great art. When done well, there is nothing like arts criticism. Sadly, the Courier Mail’s criticism of the premiere of the semi-staged production of Peter Grimes, which forms the centrepiece of this year’s Brisbane Festival, was nothing like arts criticism done well.

 

Peter Grimes is an opera by British composer, Benjamin Britten. Here, it is sung (as originally composed) in English. The story is set in a Suffolk fishing village. It centres upon Peter Grimes, a troubled local fisherman, of whom insular locals are suspicious. His young apprentice has recently died, “in accidental circumstances”, during a misadventure at sea.

 

Contrary to the Courier Mail’s hyperbolic clickbait headline, last night’s production did not “fall apart”. It’s lamentable that Phil Brown’s piece ignored entirely the many positive things that deserved to be acknowledged in print. Before addressing those, one must speak about the obvious.

 

 

The star, internationally-acclaimed Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton, was unwell. As much became concerningly obvious when the achingly glorious moment, which usually arrives in the first duet between Peter Grimes and Ellen Orford – when they sing “your voice, out of the dark” in a leaping ninth – frankly, didn’t.

 

For those close enough to the stage to see him well, it was obvious that Skelton was working hard, very hard, to produce his sound. But, despite the odd crack here and there, in a narrow part of the voice where Skelton seemed to be struggling to get his vocal folds to come together, in the first act the audience received a thrilling demonstration of why this man is the best Peter Grimes on the planet right now. His singing was exciting and powerful and his hulking physicality brought equal parts menace and pathos to the role.

 

After the first interval, it fell to David Berthold, Brisbane Festival’s Artistic Director, to gingerly take to centre stage (where his awful task was prolonged by darkness until someone found the light switch) to tell the audience what many had already guessed: Skelton was ill; he would be unable to sing the rest of the performance; the understudy (to whom I will return) would sing the performance from the side of the stage; and Skelton had “generously” agreed to act out the role.

 

Berthold’s use of the word “generous” seemed initially an odd choice. But, by the end of the performance, it made complete sense. It was an act of generosity for Skelton to walk through the role. Grimes is a dramatically challenging character. Complex, brooding, dysfunctional, tortured, despised, shunned and, ultimately, cast out by a community disappointed in him. One couldn’t help but feel, observing his personal anguish during the bows at the end of the performance, that Skelton had begun to personalise Grimes’ pain, by transmogrifying the Borough’s hate into (what his mind might have convinced him was) the audiences’.

 

But there was no hate from the audience. Only admiration. Those who were there were treated to a tantalising (and satisfying) glimpse of the voice that has made the Australian heldentenor a star on mainstage opera houses abroad.

 

It fell to Skelton’s understudy Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, a Welsh tenor, to sing the role of Grimes from a music stand at the side of the stage while, from time to time, leaping back onto the stage proper to sing the role of Reverend Adams, in which he had been cast. His singing was clear and powerful. He is a very fine singer and, as may be seen from his leaping into the fray without any real time to think about it, a courageous one.

 

Other notable international guests included British soprano Sally Matthews, who sang the role of the schoolmistress, Ellen Orford, with great control and line, and British baritone, Mark Stone (who, interestingly, read mathematics at Cambridge University) sang the role of Balstrode. I can’t remember being more excited by a baritone’s performance since hearing Simon Keenlyside sing at the Opera House, in the mid-90s. Even without Skelton, the price of admission is worth it to hear those singers alone.

 

But they were not alone. Through the musical and dramatic skill of the rest of the featured cast, the Suffolk fishing village came to life on the Concert Hall stage.

 

 

Andrew Collis was steadfast as the dour Swallow, with his drunken dancing a particular highlight. The nieces were played to trashy, fish-netted, stiletto-heeled perfection by Katie Stenzel and Natalie Christie Peluso. Jacqueline Dark’s portrayal of the laudanum-baked Mrs Sedley was beautifully nuanced. Michael Honeyman’s cheeky turn as Ned Keene, the pill-pushing apothecary, in particular when leading a pub-full of tense drunks in the ditty “old Joe has gone fishing”, was great fun. Brad Daley again showed why he remains among the best-known tenors in this country. His voice remains bright and strong, and from the moment he “started shouting” as the dishevelled bible-basher Bob Boles, he made the character his own. Jud Arthur (whose biography records an unsurprising history as a rugby player) provided wonderful physical menace as the performer of “dirty jobs”, Hobson the carter.

 

 

A particularly poignant moment in this production is the quartet in the first scene of act two, between Ellen Orford (Martin), Auntie, played stoically by Hayley Sugars, and the nieces (Stenzel and Christie Peluso). They sing despondently of the role women play in supporting men. “And should we be ashamed because we comfort men from ugliness?” they sing. In the era of #metoo, that quartet resonates like never before.

 

The Opera Q Chorus, supplemented by talented students from the Queensland Conservatorium, again revealed astonishing vocal polish and discipline, and dramatic commitment. That so much is accomplished by this ensemble, year in, year out, when they are retained on an ad hoc, casual basis, is testament to their collective talents. We are lucky to have them. They sang their hearts out. The power of the moment at the end of Act 2, when they stormed the front of the stage, with flame torches aloft, a terror-inducing, frothing-mouthed mob, baying for Peter Grimes’ blood, was especially confronting.

 

Finally, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of the baby-faced Scottish conductor, Rory Macdonald, has rarely sounded better. Their performances of the famous four sea interludes, in particular, were evocative and atmospheric.

 

While it was disappointing he couldn’t sing the second and third acts, to suggest the production “fell apart” is to do a grave and thoroughly unjustified disservice to the rest of the performance.

 

It was, simply put, a remarkable evening in the Concert Hall.

 

 

 

20
Sep
18

Mother’s Ruin

 

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin

MILKE & The Ginstress

La Boite, QUT & Brisbane Festival

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

September 18 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Nicole Reilly

 

For one week only, as part of Brisbane Festive 2018, La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre has been transformed into a boozy, magical gin joint. The cheekily self-proclaimed ‘threesome’, Maeve Marsden, Libby Wood and Jeremy Brennan, take their audience on a hilariously whirlwind, hazy and musical journey through the history of ‘mother’s ruin’, AKA gin.

 

The show begins with Maeve and Libby performing a Prayer to Gin, with Jeremy accompanying on piano, amidst the clutter of gin bottles of every shape and size strewn across the set. Don’t let the amount of empty bottles surprise you, the trio manage to pull gin bottles from anywhere and everywhere, with several hiding in the cleavages of Maeve and Libby to be retrieved mid-song.

 

Though the history of gin, and its reputation as a depressive tipple, is quite a downer, mostly due to the mistreatment of women throughout history, the expertise of these rising cabaret stars is in their ability to not take their narrative or themselves too seriously. As they race us through 18th century London, Libby confesses that it’s probably best for everyone if she just doesn’t attempt the accent, while Jeremy later remarks that he desperately wanted to do an accent because he’s “from NIDA!”. The songs and on-stage antics are equal parts cheeky, sexy and grotesque – with a memorable rendition of Fever by Libby ending in her dying of malaria after suffering from a range of delightfully disgusting symptoms on-stage – always with gin in hand. 

 

 

Both Maeve and Libby are incredibly dynamic performers, and unashamedly themselves (albeit heightened for stage), as they banter with the audience. They exude sexy, and their voices, together and individually, are mesmerising. Towards the end of the show, Maeve takes the microphone at the front of the stage and the other two disappear into a fiercely blue lit stage. I cannot even recall the song, it’s irrelevant, but Maeve’s ability to hold an audience, to captivate us with her authenticity and vulnerability was utterly engrossing. The audience was completely immersed in her world, which is a credit to her formidable skills as a performer.    

 

 

The passion and enthusiasm for their drink of choice, including the inclusion of a certified gin expert to their creative team, is infectious – if the gin bar of the Theatre Republic post-show is anything to go by! And so finally, after critically acclaimed sold out seasons at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, London Underbelly Festival, Sydney Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Fringe World Festival Perth, Adelaide Fringe and Festival of Voices, Mother’s Ruin has landed in Brisbane!

 

With a gin in hand, don’t miss this wonderfully silly and informative cabaret.

17
Sep
18

Stalin’s Piano

 

Stalin’s Piano

Robert Davidson and Sonya Lifschitz

Brisbane Festival and Griffith University

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

Friday September 14 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

I think everyone is a composer, at the very least through endless spoken melodies

Robert Davidson

@robcomposer

22 Jan 2015, Twitter

 

You and I may not have noticed before, but there is music in everyday speech. According to Brisbane composer Robert Davidson, we are all composers, creating and performing music every time we speak.

 

Davidson is fascinated by politics, the connection between politics and art, and by the music of speech. These preoccupations fuse in Stalin’s Piano, a multimedia work developed in collaboration with pianist Sonya Lifschitz, and premiered at the Canberra International Music Festival 2017. Together, Davidson and Lifschitz uncover the music in the speech of 19 famous artists and politicians, creating musical portraits of them in a powerful piece of theatre.

 

The 19 range from Bertolt Brecht, to John F Kennedy, Joseph Stalin, Robert Helpmann, Mao Zedong, Gough Whitlam, Percy Grainger, Ai Wei Wei, and Jackson Pollock. Particularly memorable were Percy Grainger, with his astringent description of music as ‘the art of agony’ and ‘derived from screaming’; EE Cummings, with a lyrical reading of one of his love poems; Robert Helpmann, with stories about his early life; and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, with the surprising and stirring music of her anti-misogyny speech to the Australian Parliament.

 

Lifschitz is centre stage at the piano, with video clips playing on a large screen behind and above her. In this performance lasting just over an hour, she is playing or speaking almost constantly.

 

She gives an awe-inspiring performance of great warmth, playing music of varying styles, from lyrical to frenetic, martial to Latin jazz.

 

Her timing is uncannily precise, with the piano exactly echoing the musical notes of speech from the video soundtrack. The listener feels a sense of discovery and illumination in response. At other times the piano is in counterpoint to the voice and connects with the images on the screen, or it elaborates on or accompanies the music of the speech.

 

 

The composition, the images and the performance of Stalin’s Piano arouse many emotions: it is by turns lyrical, fierce, horrifying, funny, chilling, sad, and nostalgic.

 

The film clips are often sampled and looped, with the repetition and rhythm reflected in the music. This has been used to create comic effects, for instance in the portrait of JF Kennedy, with exhilarating Cuban-influenced rhythms and choppy film echoed by the piano, and contrasting with the tension of the Cuban missile crisis.

 

As part of her spoken performance, Lifschitz talks about Stalin, Shostakovich, and Russian pianist Maria Yudina. The story of Yudina and Stalin is central to the work, as reflected by its title. The story is of two absolute opposites: the dictator who destroyed millions of lives, and the pianist who championed artistic freedom and openly defied Stalin’s regime, yet survived.

 

Stalin loved Yudina’s playing and demanded a recording of her performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, which was made especially for him in a late-night recording session by terrified conductors and musicians. This recording is said to be the last music he listened to before he died.

 

Yudina was revered in Russia, and a huge influence on Lifschitz and her contemporaries as students. In a poignant tribute during Stalin’s Piano, Lifschitz plays some Mozart along with the recording of Yudina.

 

Davidson and Lifschitz both spoke in a relaxed and friendly way to the audience about the work beforehand, and took part in a Q&A after the show (chaired by Brendan Joyce, Artistic Director of Brisbane chamber orchestra Camerata). The show certainly stands alone without the Q&A, but this added some fascinating insights (such as revealing that Gough Whitlam spoke in B flat major, and explaining how Lifschitz manages to synchronise her playing with the spoken words and moving images).

 

 

 

In discussing the comedy of Stalin’s Piano, Davidson said that manipulating sound and image, as in the JFK portrait, is only one element of the comedy in the work. Sometimes comedy lies in what the person is saying, as in the portrait of Percy Grainger, with his spiky response to an interviewer echoed by the piano. Humour also comes from the realisation that there is inherent melody in speech, which was borne out in the frequent laughter from the audience.

 

Davidson said that while music isn’t as precise as words, it enhances what is underneath them, ‘where the real punch comes in’. Stalin’s Piano certainly does that, amplifying the feeling in the spoken words of 19 people. The show is intense, entertaining, and completely absorbing.

 

There was only one performance of Stalin’s Piano at Brisbane Festival. If it ever comes back, or you can see it somewhere else, don’t miss it!

 

14
Sep
18

Biladurang

 

Biladurang

Joel Bray

Art Series Hotels –The Johnson

September 12 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

 

Melbourne-based artist and Wiradjuri man, Joel Bray, gives audiences a uniquely immersive and intimate encounter with his work, Biladurang, which is part of the 2018 Brisbane Festival.

 

From the bar of The Johnson in Spring Hill, we’re told that Bray has invited us all back to his room. He meets us at the door, scantily clad, and clutching a white towel to himself, coy and filled with false modesty and playfulness. Asking us to wait 10 seconds, he returns slightly more modest, and is at once gregarious and effervescent.

 

And as we enter, he continues to fawn upon us, handing out glasses and tumblers into which he pours for us champagne, branding it ‘student chic’. Urging us to don white bathrobes and be seated across the lounges and chairs of the intimate hotel room, we quickly take up the role as his would-be props, and no doubt co-performers.

 

 

The hotel room’s iconography is deliberately unremarkable. Cold off-white walls and prosceniums of hotel curtains and shades lit by warm lamps all create a lonely resort mise en scene interrupted later by a blinking neon city light from outside – a hint of the urban desolation Bray’s character is seeking solace from. He is charming, witty and welcoming; at pains to ensure our comfort and that we are connected to him.

 

Once settled our host abandons social pleasantries. His body twitches and relaxes and moves through a series of subtle and expressive rhythms, glitches, and representations as he attempts, through dance, to inhabit the socially awkward clichés and superficial strata of a “hook up”. We, the audience, are the objects of his desire. The choreography, while beautiful and transcendent, draws on mannerisms of coyness and seduction and as the dance takes over in its growing complexity, the hotel room is immediately transformed.

 

 

As the audience, we are also an element in his design, and he uses us, too, playing with our self-consciousness, our laughter, drawing us out of our shells as the colours of his palette. And despite the unpredictable improvisation, the work also maintains a structure. The audience is receptive to this, and we’re entreated to answer his questions; flirt even. He’s able to stage manage our social dynamics effortlessly, as if he’s directing us while playing his part, again emblematic of the engineering that goes into a first date, or the preluding foreplay to a one night stand.

 

 

Bray shares an engaging series of fractured narratives, punctuated at times by reveries of dance and movement. He shares his stories, which are sometimes funny, endearing coming-of-age tales, sometimes candid disclosures of grotesque sexual encounters hinting to a loss of self and escape into a hedonistic pleasure culture. The stories are sometimes foregrounded as profound reckonings, which explore themes of digital isolation, queer sexuality, shame, voyeurism, consumer culture, Indigeneity and lost ancestry.

 

Bray’s work is loosely based on the dreamtime legend of Biladurang, in which a displaced duck, subdued by a villainous water rat, gives birth to a platypus: a hybrid creature whose genetic legacy belongs to neither origin. Similarly, Bray’s character – a fair-skinned Indigenous man living in a post-colonial society – draws connections with the parable as a displaced cultural hybrid himself who uses the hotel room as a private space to reconcile inconsistencies within himself. And he successfully creates a third language, which is deeply engaging, entertaining and graceful.

 

Hand-in-hand, Bray leads the audience down his difficult path, and we come along willingly.

 

The choreography and text work well together, and some multi media and social dynamics further enrich audience experience. The show is innovative as it is experiential, funny, but also a deeply serious work of fantastic realism, and human vulnerability.

 

Biladurang TEASER from Joel Bray on Vimeo.

14
Sep
18

Memorial

 

Memorial

Alice Oswald & Brink Productions

QPAC Playhouse

September 7-9 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

our tragedy is everything, and yet nothing…

 

Only during Brisbane Festival would we have the opportunity to experience a deeply moving and heartfelt piece as grand in scale and as poetic in nature as Memorial, involving accomplished musicians, large scale, event style, precision choreography and 215 local community choral members in the staging of, not the retelling of (it’s an important distinction: we know the story), the staging of the atmosphere of Alice Oswald’s Memorial: An Excavation of the Illiad.

 

Oswald’s epic poem, to which she herself refers to as an “oral cemetery”, shares the human aspects of death and dying during the ten-year war that famously ended in Troy, located just 75km from Gallipoli. Two months out from the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War, we are plunged into the imagined memories, and shown the shallow graves of those who fought and fell in ancient battle. In any battle. Director, Chris Drummond, successfully translates the atmosphere of Oswald’s poem to the stage, inspired by critics’ appraisal of The Illiad, in terms of its ‘enargeia’ – its bright unbearable reality. How I love the images conjured by the use of this word!

 

It’s the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves. This version, trying to retrieve the poem’s enargeia, takes away its narrative, as you might lift the roof off a church in order to remember what you’re worshipping. – Chris Drummond, Director

 

 

Consider the roof lifted. Our beloved Helen Morse is poet, actress, enchantress, finding the breath and sinew of Oswald’s text, drawing on masterful vocal and emotional work, harnessing all the human aspects and the elements of the earth, conjuring the vivid images and wrought emotions of the battlefield and the aftermath of war as powerfully as if we were there, sitting and shedding our tears over the bloodied bodies of the fallen, or opening our arms and offering our embrace to the shaking, or silent and still, desperately empty shells of those who loved them, left behind.

 

There are other opportunities to pause and ponder but the most beautiful, memorable moment of intimate connection occurs when an ensemble member steps across the stage bearing a small bowl of water from which Morse will sip. She stands close, patient, reserved and respectful, pleased to simply serve – such an effortless act of kindness – and before taking the bowl away, holds the gaze offered by Morse: deep gratitude and mutual respect in this single moment. It’s so intimate an exchange we feel privileged to have had a part in it simply by being present. Other exchanges of energy, some languid, others frenetic, create poignancy or excitement. A number of brief, fluid segments are certainly not intended to be as accomplished technically as the Royal Ballet, of course, yet feel vaguely reminiscent in terms of energy and floor patterns, entrances, exits and frozen time, of Wayne McGregor’s time-bending Orlando act in Woolf Works.

 

 

Macedonian and Bulgarian vocals (Tanja Tzarovska and Belinda Sykes) weave beneath and in between the complex layers of a rich musical tapestry brought into living, breathing, haunting existence by an orchestra seemingly suspended above the mortals on stage, thanks to Michael Hankin’s design lit by Nigel Levings, then soar beyond that negative space and into the skies above. The original transcendent score composed in response to the text by Jocelyn Pooklifts us into whatever heaven we perceive there to be above us, with exquisite strings and reeds, and given additional gravitas by the combined voices of Exaudi Australis and the Queensland Festival Chorus, Vocal Manoeuvres Academy Youth Ensemble, and singers from Access Arts and Emma Dean’s Cheap Trills, coordinated and coached by Alison Rogers. The music is truly something else. 

 

 

Movement conceived and coordinated by Circa’s Yaron Lifschitz (the world premiere of his En Masse next week is a must-see) features some superb complex sequences performed by just a few ensemble members. The last of these seems particularly significant, shared via a dancer on either side of the stage, building on familiar gestures and morphing them into a strange and mesmerising dance of love and loss. A jarring hip movement juxtaposed against fluid, sweeping arms and the natural curves of the body speak volumes about the discombobulation of those lost in their longing, and the getting-on-with of their life. The large-scale choreography is designed to move hundreds across the space and freeze in more geometric formations to support the images from Oswald’s text and direct our attention back to Morse, and to the individuals representing the soldiers of whom she speaks. The Soldier Chorus used in this way, within the vast space of QPAC’s Playhouse stage, is a powerful reminder that the inescapable reality of war, its horror and its desperate sadness imprints on us all.

 

 

 

 

Somehow, magically, time is stretched and we may have been sitting here, in a dream, for three, or four or six or eight hours, but in fact it’s just 90 minutes and we remain fully present and at times, hyper alert. Intriguingly, with each gentle lull in the action, during more descriptive passages, there might be a tendency to sink deeply into a meditative listening state, a similar state common in audiences of the durational performances of other ancient cultures; think of the Ramayana or Mahabharata, or Japanese Noh theatre, where we surrender to the power, and ebb and flow of all the elements, transfixed over hours…or days. And we come out of this 90-minute-decade-long experience with a semblance of awareness that we’ve been changed somehow, and now our heart is murmuring its own condolences and gentle comfort to the world.

 

Memorial is an epic production with a humble heart. Truly, incredibly, transcendentally magnificent. Helen Morse, with her otherworldly musicians and 215 barefoot strangers, in a masterful performance supported by every detail of Chris Drummond’s production and ably assisted by Benjamin Knapton, brings us to our knees in the face of death, dying, and that smallest and simplest of human kindnesses, remembering, in the event of their death, the details of a person’s life.

 

 

13
Sep
18

FAG/STAG & BALI

 

FAG/STAG & BALI

The Last Great Hunt

Theatre Republic La Boite Studio

September 11 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Anthony Borsato

 

 

It is not very often that we get to revisit the same characters again in theatrical work, but that’s what you get in this double bill from Perth’s The Last Great Hunt. It is also not often that shows in which actors predominately sit and monologue at the audience hold my attention for long. But that was not the case with FAG/STAG and BALI written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs. These are pieces that show you don’t need much to make good theatre, or tell good stories.

 

Staged in La Boite’s small studio, these performances use basic chair and table settings, simple lights, and well timed and chosen sound, and hold the attention of the entire audience.

 

 

Both pieces follow best friends, Jimmy, a gay man, and Corrigan, a hetero man. Jimmy (Jeffrey Jay Fowler) and Corrigan (Chris Isaacs) tell the same stories from their own points of view. Both unreliable narrators of their own stories – both representing themselves as their best selves. We often see unreliable narration in one-man or narrated theatrical pieces but both FAG/STAG and BALI plays exceptionally with this trope and it is only through others’ retelling that we learn some of the hard truths, omitted by the friend. They try, like all of us, to hide their flaws only to be called out by their best mate. This is a source of great humour and poignant reveals as this fast-paced narrative unfolds from both perspectives.

 

 

FAG/STAG follows the duo in the time leading up to the wedding of ex-girlfriend Tamara. Jimmy has just broken up with his boyfriend and Corrigan is still clearly still in love with Tamara. It is slice of life realism – no convoluted plot, just the ups and downs of life. The audience is taken through a trying time in both of their lives and in their friendship. There is conflict and drama like in all good theatre but even a big fallout between the boys, after Corrigan calls Jimmy a ‘faggot’, feels natural and not forced or overplayed. But the narrative throughout is entrancing. It feels like you are being told a story by a mate – all we needed was a beer in our hands and you could almost forget you were seeing theatre.

 

The script is fast paced, witty, and at times poignant. The loneliness the two feel resonates with the audience. Both Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs are superb in these roles, sitting wholly in their emotions and allowing them to play out.

 

 

As a queer artist myself, it was refreshing and heart-warming to see a piece that I could identify with so strongly. Jokes that were relatable to my experiences, heartbreak that hit close to home, and a friendship that I feel is often overlooked. Gay men and hetero men can be friends – GASP! Shocking but true. It is often that gay men are shown as the best friend, exclusively of women or other gay men. It is uplifting to see this close friendship in all its glory – struggles and all. Even as best friends Corrigan is still uncomfortable with some aspects of Jimmy’s homosexuality. Especially when Jimmy is hanging out with his ‘the boys’ and the judgement Corrigan has for Jimmy’s sexual encounters. It shows a true struggle that many gay men face with friendships with heterosexual men – that even though it is usually subconsciously, there is a judgement or a perceived judgment by the heterosexual man, and that they think less of us.

 

The subtleties and nuances of this friendship as a vessel to explore toxic masculinity and homophobia had me thinking for a quite a while after the shows. Where Jimmy is able to explore his emotions more vocally and open up to the audience in both shows; Corrigan doesn’t. Corrigan describes his surroundings and you feel his emotions through Chris Isaacs’ performance, but the character keeps a tight lid and doesn’t name his feelings. Even though it may not register with all audience members, I loved this nod to the status quo of men and their emotional intelligence, especially amongst heterosexual men. Jimmy as a gay man has more ‘permission’ to express his emotions, where Corrigan doesn’t, because it threatens masculinity.

 

 

Even though BALI didn’t live up to the stellar script, performance, and impact of the first show of the night, FAG/STAG, I still found myself having a great time with the continuation of Jimmy and Corrigan’s story. It felt like I was catching up with friends. I still laughed, listened intently, and recoiled in my seat as the hard-hitting moments resonated with my own experiences. BALI finds the boys travelling, as the title suggests, to Bali for Corrigan’s mum’s 60th birthday. There is a clear strain in the friendship that both want to fix but are stubborn about. Jimmy has a holiday romance with a younger man and Corrigan struggles with communication with his girlfriend back in Australia. The humour, like in FAG/STAG, was found through contrast in situation, mood, language, and pace.

 

BALI is a great performance as a part of a double bill however as a standalone show it lacks. I don’t think I would have enjoyed BALI as much as I did if I hadn’t seen FAG/STAG immediately before. See both.