Posts Tagged ‘Brisbane Powerhouse

13
Oct
17

The Last Five Years

 

The Last Five Years

Wax Lyrical Productions

Visy Theatre Brisbane Powerhouse

October 7 – 14 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

Within the first ten minutes of The Last Five Years we know whether or not we’re up for hearing this story and watching heartbreak happen. Wax Lyrical’s production, directed by Zoe Tuffin, and starring Kurt Phelan and Lizzie Moore, is exquisitely sad and beautifully crafted to let some light shine on the perfect imperfections of two people who were once in love.

 

During the opening three minutes we’ve already had our hearts crack irreparably and we realise we’re in for a relentlessly emotional 90-minute ride. If you’re coming in with real, raw, brand new wounds, or savage old ones that you’re not ready to let heal, take a drink or two in; you may feel the need to self-medicate.

 

Jason Robert Brown’s contemporary song cycle boasts a neat structure that sees the two performers share the stage throughout, and yet meet and connect only once, for a moment when they marry (The Next Ten Minutes, ever so delicately crafted and delivered). Despite the clever chronological device, and their continuous comings and goings, these gifted performers retain a deep connection with the material and with each other throughout.

 

 

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the work, it pays to know this much: A novelist, Jamie (Kurt Phelan), shares his story from the start to the finish of a five-year relationship with actress, Cathy (Lizzie Moore), who tells us her side of the same story in reverse, from the end of their relationship to its beginning. The characters are complex, the relationship complicated and it doesn’t end well.

 

 

 

As Phelan and Moore settle into their challenging roles, on opening night of a too-short season in the intimate Visy Theatre, we begin to sense what these two can really do. Phelan (Boys of Sondheim, Dirty Dancing) and Moore (Kiss Me Kate, On a Night Like This) know each other from way back, having met in a bathtub at a surprise party for mutual friend, Lucy Durack. There’s no doubt they’ve attracted attention as individual performers, but if they can perfect Moore’s first couple of numbers (Still Hurting & See I’m Smiling) – and perhaps she’s hit the mark after opening night, letting the emotion drop in, and going to the edge from the outset, as she does a little later – this two-hander will be the smash hit of next year’s national touring circuit.

 

You get to be happy…

 

 

In his most honest and searing work to date, Phelan embraces Jamie’s narcissism, ambition and shifting affection, offering a bold and precise physical performance, buoyed by a deeply committed energy that could be bottled and sold to most undergraduate (and some professional) performers. He’s effervescent, irresistible in this challenging role, which is the perfect vehicle for Phelan, with an impressive vocal range and a cavalry of emotions. From Shiksa Goddess to If I Didn’t believe in You we get the full gamut of emotions. The Shmuel Song – that track that might use a Spotify skip to miss – works so well that I’d happily see Phelan perform it again; he keeps us fully engaged (although the literal aspects, which are mimed, could go). His Nobody Needs to Know is, unsurprisingly, completely devastating. Phelan’s a busy, busy guy, but I hope this role is one he can keep smashing for some time.

 

I open myself one stitch at a time…

 

 

Cathy is one of the more demanding high belt roles for any female vocalist, asking of the performer a massive emotional range, difficult to keep in check, and it’s up to the performer to resist pushing vocally without the inner life to back up the big sound. When Moore settles into the role she nails it, embodying the sweet, insecure Cathy, and able to bring home the big brash open notes (Anna Kendrick doesn’t sell them like that!), as well as more thoughtful, gentle moments. Moore’s comedy is superb, it’s her thing; she’s so funny and cute, and yet, within the world of the show, she gives us reason to understand why Jamie might look the other way. I’d love to see her contain more, especially to begin with, to sit with the shock and immediacy of Jamie’s departure before the hilarity – the Climbing Uphill sequence later, and the little moments and glances that have us giggling during A Summer in Ohio and I Can Do Better Than That. We have to laugh out loud during the multiple failed auditions. We’ve all been there. Fucking shoes. Poor Cathy.

 

I have been waiting…

 

 

Shannon Whitelock (MD and piano), leading guitar (Joel Woods), violin (Ruth Donovan), cello (Wayne Jennings & Ruby Hunter) and bass (Conall O’Neill), plays with conviction and coaxes from his on-stage 5-piece the rich sounds of a much larger assembly of musicians. When I speak to Jennings, with whom I train on Monday nights in Zen Zen Zo’s Dojo, he modestly dismisses what he does so well outside of the training room. But if it were not for the sweet, desperately sad sounds and contrasting upbeat and humorous numbers (and with the hold these musicians have on JRB’s challenging score), our hearts might still be in tact!

 

Zoe Tuffin’s poised direction hones in on the detail, the specificity of each intimate moment. Her use of the sparsely configured space and contrasting lighting states, designed by Jason Glenwright, draw us into two completely different worlds, which collide for just a little while, for just as long as they need to, to tell the common tale of two people who are just not meant to be together.

 

The Last Five Years is quite a journey, for the cast and for us.

My head spins. My heart hurts. The hawk soars forth from my chest.

 

All I could do was love you hard and let you go…

 

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29
Sep
17

The Last Five Years – a little chat with Kurt Phelan & Lizzie Moore

 

Wax Lyrical Productions Present The Last Five Years

Brisbane Powerhouse October 7 – 14 2017

 

 

Wax Lyrical Productions bring Jason Robert Brown’s acclaimed 2001 musical, The Last Five Years, to Brisbane with a duo of music theatre heavy-weights.

 

It’s easy to fall in love with Kurt Phelan (Dirty Dancing) and Lizzie Moore (Kiss Me Kate) in this heart-breaking musical two-hander, as they re-trace their relationship from opposite ends. Jamie (Phelan), an up-and-coming writer, struggles to balance his sudden success with his increasingly tumultuous love life.

 

Meanwhile Cathy (Moore), an aspiring actress, deals with the frustrations of her own career while watching her husband from the sidelines in this story of two twenty-somethings who fall in – and out – of love over the course of a five-year relationship.

 

From the director and company behind the Matilda Award Winning Carrie the Musical, Wax Lyrical’s The Last Five Years is an intensely personal look at the rise and fall of a relationship told from both points of view.

 

Let’s just get this one out of the way…did you like the 2014 film starring Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick?

Kurt: I liked it a lot. I was worried when I first heard about it and they would destroy it like they did RENT the film. But I thought it translated well and Michelle who re-choreographed Dirty Dancing for us in Australia was the choreographer.

Lizzie: I didn’t see it and by the time we found out we were doing this musical I felt like I shouldn’t. But I have seen clips for it and heard some of the tracks and I thought it was done really well but they have the advantage of being able to show two people together.

 

Tell us what’s a) universal and b) unique about these characters and their stories?

Kurt: everyone has been in love and everyone has had a break up. Everyone has been at fault and everyone has been hurt. And it’s also about who you resonate with and there are two sides to every story.

Lizzie: And Cathy is an actress full of self-doubt so you know…

 

What do you love about this show and about JRB’s work in general?

Lizzie: The music and the musical themes that continue through the show, the musical motifs.

Kurt: The man knows how to write a song. It’s also a beautiful piece that speaks to almost everyone who has ever heard it. And some of the most challenging music I have ever had to learn. So once you master it is such a joy to perform.

 

Any particular reasons for the super traditional wedding promo shots for the show? 

Kurt: It is the only time the show is written with them in the same time and space. But we wanted to choose an image that would resonate with people, intrigue them and encourage them to find out more.

Lizzie: And reflect that it is a show about two people – love! But also, to reflect the reason they got together.

Kurt: A lot of the time when the show is done it focusses on the heartache but actually, sometimes no one is right or wrong, two people just aren’t suited to be together.

 

 

What’s the relevance/significance/urgency of staging this show this year?

Kurt: I’ve wanted to do it since it came to off-Broadway in 2002 and if I didn’t do it soon I would explode.

Lizzie: And then we had a perfect storm of both being in town and available and Zoë being available too.

Kurt: Also, all of Australia is locked into a conversation around marriage and equality and it’s important, even though this is a heterosexual couple, that people realise that love is love and everyone should have the same opportunity, even if it only lasts five years.

 

What do you hope audiences get from this production?

Kurt: A beautiful night in the theatre where they can marvel how simple storytelling can strike you right to the core.

Lizzie: Yeah you don’t need bells and whistles. Musical theatre can and should be really truthful.

 

What’s the connection between you two and how do you work together?

Kurt: Lizzie and I met in a bath tub at Lucy Durack’s surprise birthday party.

Lizzie: Kurt was wearing her novelty shower cap and we were trying to be quiet but we weren’t very good at it.

Kurt: And it’s from that moment on we were friends. It wasn’t until years later doing GAYBIES at MELT Festival, that we worked together and realised our voices blended perfectly.

 

What are your favourite things about working together?

Lizzie: I think it’s a really intense piece and we look after each other, on and off the stage.

 

Are there any infuriating things?

Kurt: Yes, Lizzie’s jaw clicks and that’s my pet hate in any human, but she can’t help it and she’s pretty, so I’m cool with that.

Lizzie: Kurt has been making out with me with a moustache but apparently he’s going to shave it so that’s OK. And Kurt and I met in a bath tub.

 

Is there a personal connection to the show, with the characters or the situations?

Kurt: I just got out of a five year relationship so yes, I’m equal parts Jamie and Cathy at the moment.

Lizzie: I’ve climbed many a hill before.

Kurt: I mean it’s about love, we’ve all been in situations similar to this. We both come at this show with a great depth of understanding of both sides of the story which is what makes it so interesting to work on.

 

We see this couple trying to mend a broken relationship for so long. What do you think makes them keep trying? What do you feel it’s worth? As a performer, how do you keep the stakes high enough to convincingly tell this story?

Kurt: through our extensive analysis of the characters we found very interesting insights to their romance and being so familiar with the story I thought it was all doom and gloom but when you unpick it, there is actually a beautiful, loving, human relationship worth hanging onto. We’re trying to highlight that as much as possible.

 

 

Away from the theatre, what tends to take you off to Kurt-land / Lizzie-land?

Kurt: I have a huge passion for wine and have been training to be a sommelier, so that helps when working with Lizzie, because she loves to drink it!

Lizzie: (While holding a glass of wine) Mmm hmm… I like cooking and gin, and I’m a small, fluffy dog enthusiast.

 

What made theatre your passion / preferred career?

Lizzie: If I’d be as happy doing anything else, I’d do it.

Kurt: Ditto. It’s the only thing I’m good at.

 

What are your favourite moments on stage so far? (in this and in previous productions)

Kurt: Getting groped by an audience member during a matinee of Dirty Dancing in Brisbane was a definite highlight…

 

What’s next for you two? 

Kurt: I’m headed to New York to observe a few physical theatre companies and write my new cabaret, and to hopefully start the next five years…

Lizzie: I’m on tour in Tasmania and WA next as Patsy Cline in The Coal Miner’s Daughter.

 

What would you like to see more of (in local and national theatres and festivals)?

Kurt: New Australian content of a larger scale and the time to create it properly.

Lizzie: Musical theatre with really great acting and directing. We all love spectacle but that isn’t all musical theatre is.

 

Book online for The Last Five Years presented by Wax Lyrical Productions and directed by Zoe Tuffin at Brisbane Powerhouse October 7 – 14 2017

 

05
Sep
17

short+sweet results 2017

 

Short+Sweet Festival 2017

Short+Sweet Qld & Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse

July 19 – August 5 & September 2&3 2017

 

Reviewed by Eleanora Ginardi

 

 

Who is your super hero”, “Mother I think I’m in love”, “Super Mario”,  Got it stuck in my head”, “Good bye Norma Jean”, “This bus is late, uncharted territory”, “Our daughter is an Emo” – Just some of the lines from the collection of 10 x 10 minute shows at Short+Sweet festival, held at the Brisbane Powerhouse in August.

 

This show presented works that were as diverse as a Merthyr road bus shelter. The evening hinged on the unexpected through showcasing local, Queensland emerging talent. Laughter and vulnerability held space together, with highlights being some of the solo acts which were uniquely brave and honest; performers jumping head-first into a sea of emotions and tugging us along for the journey. Many of the acts were inclusive in activating audience participation. As the shows progressed, the audience got more and more involved, immersing and plunging into the stories and experiences of  local artists.

 

The Hope Project, written, directed and performed by Scott Wings, delved deeply into the sense of belonging. Over and over, Scott kept asking and repeating and deconstructing what it means to belong, eventually blowing up the notion of belonging. BELONG, Belong. BEEEELOOONG. Beelong. BLONG BLONG BLONG BANG.

 

Another one act play which touched deeply was the very physical and disciplined performance by Jake Hollingsworth. The Theory of Emotion, written and directed by Jake, gracefully took us on a journey of life, exploring the ups and downs of being a mother from a creature-like world. Retelling the story of human existence and what its like to be a mother from a mans perspective physicalised and contemplated by a young mans body.

 

Another hard-hitter, Good night Daphne by Mathew Filkins explored overcoming abuse, and dug deeper into incapacitating any kind of abuse; be it physiological, emotional, physical, or often difficult to separate, slapping the audience in the face with a topic that is often difficult to talk about.

 

 

The last one act play was Quietus, presented by solo artist Caitlin Strongarm. Caitlin embodied a sadness and cajoled the audience to assist her in turning off an alarm high above her head which she couldn’t reach. Moments of extreme sadness and moments of genuine joy were presented in this solo that deservedly goes into the finals.

 

The stand-out group was Flowers Theatre Company with Murder Mansion, written by Gabriella Flowers, directed by Samantha Bull, assisted by Amy Randall, designed by Jaymee Richards, and performed by Gabriella Flower, Emily Vascotto, Ben Warren and Levi Wilcox. A clever satire with witty dialogue, the performance was exquisitely cast and played, beautifully costumed and fluently delivered by the entire cast.

 

An enjoyable evening with my friend Anne, who abandoned herself in the show along with the younger audience. As we went upstairs to Bar Alta and discussed the show over a hot chocolate we both felt equally as passionate the need to support the arts and give artist this platform to showcase their unique talent.

 

 

2017 RESULTS

BEST OVERALL PRODUCTION

Quietus

PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

Songs For Sarah Connor (A Love Story, TERMINATED!)

BEST PLAY

Murder In The Mansion

BEST CABARET ACT

Shoes Wisely

BEST ACTOR

Caitlin Strongarm (Quietus)

BEST CABARET ARTIST

Drew Lochrie (Rock Pigs)

BEST NEW TALENT

Geordie McGrath (Shoes Wisely)

BEST SCRIPT

Say Yes

BEST DIRECTOR

Samantha Bull (Murder In The Mansion)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE/SONG

This Could Be You! (Sophie Banister)

BEST POSTER DESIGN

Be Entertaining

14
Aug
17

Richard Grantham & ZEN ZEN ZO Present DUSK

RESTRUNG 2017: The Viola Cloning Project & ZEN ZEN ZO

 

Saturday August 19 2017 at 3:45pm & 9pm 

 

Hit pause on your fast-paced hectic life, and take a moment to slow down, breath, and be present at DUSK

 

Restrung 2017 delivers an all-star line-up of more than 50 international, national and local artists to explore the spaces between genres – classical, electronica, folk, jazz, rock, pop, minimalism and more.

 

The three-day program includes The Viola Cloning Project and Zen Zen Zo’s DUSK, and Collusion and Queensland Ballet Academy’s Muscle Memory: Reflex.

 

Third in the series of Restrung festivals, the program offers a joyous explosion of strings-driven music, dance, theatre and art that challenges musical and artistic boundaries: a roller coaster ride through the arcane, the forbidden and the gorgeous.

 

 

 

DUSK is the third collaboration between renowned Australian composer and improviser Richard Grantham (aka The Viola Cloning Project) and leading contemporary performance company, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre.

 

DUSK is a moving meditation, a danced haiku, an opportunity to inhabit the “space between” (day/night; sound/silence; movement/stillness; life/death)

 

a regenerative space of unfolding potential…

 

Performer, Travis Weiner talks about

DUSK, ZEN ZEN ZO & RICHARD GRANTHAM –

 

There are 2 aspects of the show itself I can tell you about.

 

I’ve performed in all of Lynne’s shows since I started with the company in 2014 and this is probably the simplest but the most physically and mentally demanding choreography I can remember. That’s partly because some of it is just hard work and partly because Richard’s original composition can’t be broken into beats of 8. When we dance to his music, which is also in parts just him jamming, we have no musical beat to keep us in sync with each other. So almost the entire show is us kinaesthetically responding to each other. It’s an exciting challenge.

 

From a creative perspective it’s more complicated to explain what’s unique about this show. We were talking about this yesterday and we all see Richard as this god-like maestro summoning us as otherworldly spirits. I would say he deserves such a role. He is a very talented musician, and I wouldn’t say so lightly. The music he is able to create with literally one instrument and a bunch of pedals at his feet is mind blowing. It’s like he takes the concept of a one man band and turns it into a one man orchestra.

 

Our challenge was to create a movement score that kept Richard in focus for the majority of the piece. After watching Richard create his music I don’t think we would be able to steal too much limelight if we tried. His performance is simply fascinating.

 

Working with Zen Zen Zo is always a challenging experience because of the nature and standard of the work, but also very rewarding. Anyone who has trained with the company knows how exhausting an experience it can be. When it comes to a show the bar is set even higher and understandably so. Sometimes we look at each other and go, “can we actually do this for that long?” And then we do. I would say to anyone it is worth coming to see Richard play, even if he was on stage alone. But also to anyone who missed Zen Zen Zo’s sold-out In the Company of Shadows season last year, here is a second chance to see the performers from that show take to the stage again.

 

 

In the Company of Shadows from info@zenzenzo.com on Vimeo.

 

Bring a wine or a green tea and enjoy an afternoon or evening of mindfulness in the presence of these extraordinary artists.

 

DUSK is an exploration of the liminal, the space between, the threshold which facilitates transformation. The dancers move like shamans or spirit walkers between the light and dark, life and death, music and silence, weaving a shadowy web through the bitter-sweet original score of Richard Grantham’s live looped performance.

 

 

THU 17–SAT 19 AUGUST 2017

Two-Show Festival Pass (full)$110*

Two-Show Festival Pass (conc.)$100*

Three-Show Festival Pass (full)$150*

Three-Show Festival Pass (conc.)$135*

*An additional fee applies to each booking transaction. Single tickets $3 / Multiple tickets $6.

 

 

Composer: Richard Grantham


Directors/Choreographers: Lynne Bradley & Jamie Kendall


Lighting Design: Simon Woods


Design Consultant: Rachel Konyi


Costumes: Bill Haycock & Kaylee Gannaway


Performers: Richard Grantham with Jamie Kendall, Gina Tay Limpus, Aurora Liddle-Christie & Travis Weiner

 

 

 

12
Apr
17

I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife

Oriel Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

April 4 – 8 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like during the Third Reich. The Nazis, and then the Communists? It seems to me, you’re an impossibility. You shouldn’t even exist.

Doug Wright, I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife is the most incredible theatrical experience; an intimate and secretive (like, a secret society downstairs underground back room Weimar Cabaret performance…oh, wait), and one of our more memorable evenings at the theatre; it’s one that I’ll treasure not only for its extraordinary story, but more so, for its captivating star performer.

Ben Gerrard saw the Tony Award winning production starring Jefferson Mays, which toured Australia in 2006 and “never in a million years would’ve imagined” that he would one day attempt to do the same, playing more than 30 roles in two acts over 90 minutes, to tell the true story of Berlin’s famous transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

Pulitzer Prize winner, Doug Wright – he also wrote Quills, Grey Gardens and the stage adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid – joined Charlotte in Berlin for a series of interviews over several years, in which she shared her survival stories and precious collection of antiquities, satisfyingly represented in this production by tiny wooden boxes, all of different sizes, hidden intrinsically within the surface of a quaint three-legged table. Against a wall of yellowed official documents, the stories spill forth, in a precise German accent and with a slightly mischievous sense of humour, which makes us wonder how much of any story is actually the truth. Gerrard is so completely convincing as this enigmatic character that I feel as if this is who I would expect to meet after the show. But we know the real Charlotte died of a heart attack in her eclectic downstairs museum, aged 74, in 2002. She had survived the Nazi and Communist regimes, collecting clocks and phonographs and gramophone records (“re-cords”), and other items of interest, and had been involved in the black market before she operated as an informant. She established an underground bar in her basement for Berlin’s LGBT+ community – the last Weimar Cabaret of the the gay 1890s – and dressed as a woman in sensible all-black-everything.

Caroline Camino’s simple, sombre design, Hugh Hamilton’s moody, poor man’s lighting and Nate Edmondson’s evocative soundscape wholly support Gerrard’s multiple voices whilst remaining true to the main character’s obsessions with precious things. Perhaps Charlotte’s love of objects more than people stemmed from the fact that there were very few upon whom she could rely. But then we discover that she betrays a friend and colleague, Alfred, and we understand that her loyalties do indeed lie at home, where she doesn’t need anyone. Proudly and defiantly, she offers the utterance that became the play’s title, “I am my own wife”.

A tender scene depicts the day of enlightenment for he-who-would-be-she, Lothar Berfelde, when the support of a cross-dressing aunt manifests in her wry observation, having caught him wearing one of her frocks, which she’d long since discarded in favour of men’s pants, that “nature got it wrong”. She gives him a copy of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Die Transvestiten, which becomes Charlotte’s bible for her newly self-determined life. It’s a beautiful story in itself, a quiet nod to our instinctual nature, our desire to connect with others – or not – and our need to be seen. This is just one of many moments, so sensitively, meticulously crafted by talented Director, Shaun Rennie, in which Gerrard captures our hearts and our imagination.

Having seen Mark Kilmurry’s production of David Williamson’s Odd Man Out (twice!), I was delighted to see Rennie have the opportunity this year to be a “fly on the wall” at Ensemble, under Kilmurry’s expert eye.

My favourite space here, the intimate Visy Theatre in the stripped-back Brisbane Powerhouse is ideal, allowing us to feel as if we’re there in the dingy room with Wright and his subject, peering curiously over his shoulder as he chats with her. The stories – the bits and pieces of them – are incredible, almost beyond belief, as tales of oppression and horror are to those of us lucky enough to avoid similar life experience.

And then came the wall. And for us here in Eastern Berlin, it was finished, gay life. The bars, closed. Personal advertisements in the newspaper, cancelled. No place to meet but the tramway stations and the public toilets?

So I thought to give homosexual women and men community in this house. Yes. It was a museum for all people, but I thought, “Why not for homosexuals?”… And there was over the bar an attic. When a boy or girl met a man, and wanted to go upstairs, they could. Two men, two girls, a boy and a girl? it did not matter….

There’s no rush to get past the uncomfortable details, including a gruesome self-confessed murder (yeah, but did you do it?), but instead, the moments are precisely measured and the mood is mostly constrained. Even in the opening moments, we get a sense of mastery and secrecy, and immense trust when Gerrard enters the dimly lit space to find his light centrestage, and sweeps his eyes over his audience, making eye contact with many of us from just a couple of metres away before he disappears into the darkness again… Something unspoken has happened, a deal has been wordlessly sealed.

Gerrard is a beautifully poised and accomplished actor who knows every trick in the book and still comes across as genuine and whole-hearted, able to make a pact with the audience early, and establish that rare and magical, unbreakable personal connection until the end. Later, Gerrard communicates on the same intimate level; open, curious, completely trusting. The quietest, strongest presence in a foyer full of excited, delighted and completely satisfied opening night chatter.

Who would have imagined that while the wonderful Elise McCann was with Matilda the Musicalwinning a Helpmann Award for her work on stages around the country as Miss Honey, she was simultaneously making this humble little show happen, and having the most profound impact on a whole different sector of the community. If Oriel Group’s I Am My Own Wife comes anywhere near you, you simply must see it.

20
Mar
17

#First World White Girls: Botox Party

#First World White Girls: Botox Party

Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Rooftop Terrace

March 8 – 12 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

First World White Girls is a proudly Queensland created phenomenon, inspired by an inexhaustible list of what is commonly referred to as #firstworldproblems

These are the things we should be ashamed of admitting are a problem, but we’re not ashamed because it’s all relative, isn’t it? What we don’t have we desire, and what we don’t have going perfectly for us is nothing less than lamentable, even while others are suffering.

This smash hit cabaret, direct from a sold out season at Adelaide Fringe Festival and Brisbane Comedy Festival, is the realisation of an original concept, which manifested in a little show at the Judith Wright Centre last year.

I didn’t love it, but I love its adopted little black baby, Botox Party. Judy Hains (trust fund princess, Tiffany) and Meggan Hickey (Noosa born and bred Maddison) take us through an irreverent hour or so of social catastrophes and gross injustice from their privileged point of view. From Tinder to Trump to celebrity style and puppies, climate change, labiaplasty and those little black babies (so wrong but so funny), the girls, accompanied by Max Radvan on keys, lead us through a number of hilarious recounts of their first world white girl problems and also, invite the audience to contribute their own issues to the show. This works much better this time, the pace vastly improved and the girls better able to handle the throws from the audience, rather than the original and rather time-consuming awkward reading of what we’d written before the show, the pieces of paper randomly drawn from a bucket (OR WERE THEY?).

The vocals this time are stronger and the harmonies slicker, with Hickey’s versatility a highlight in  multi-tasking singing/tap dancing hilarious new number, Snowflake. Hains giving us new insight into the ageing process via a sensational rendition of Memory. The original numbers, penned by Hains, are witty, catchy ditties with less forced rhyme than before (or are they better selling the songs?) and a greater degree of difficulty, which we see particularly in the satirical tribute to the disaster that is Donald Trump, complete with Patty Simcox inspired cheer choreography. The stakes have been well and truly raised, and we can’t fail to recognise these abhorrent creatures and their complaints, and laugh and gasp for breath with them.

I love that this show continues to evolve and prove itself to be just as current and as relevant as ever, making it much funnier and riskier than it has been before. This is the added value for audiences (and for return audiences), as well as for the artists, who obviously get to work more often doing what they love when we support the arts, so that good things can be made better and tour for longer.

Botox Party is pure fun, very funny entertainment, but the not-so-subtle satirical message marched out alongside every line is nothing less than deeply disturbing if we actually pause to think on it, and this juxtaposition makes for terrific theatre that we can enjoy time and time again, digesting as much or as little as we like. After the balloons deflate, our hangover lifts and our next Botox appointment looms, we might actually consider for a moment longer, what it is we really value in life. Or not. It’s probably too hard to even contemplate, right? Yet another #firstworldproblem #justenjoytheshow

10
Mar
17

Boys of Sondheim

 

Boys of Sondheim

Brisbane Powerhouse & Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

February 2 – 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I was a little bemused by the collateral for this one, a highlight of this year’s MELT Festival. Surely Stephen Sondheim is only recently recognised as “one of the most significant gay artists of the 20th Century”? I grew up with his music and have always recognised him as an artist. I don’t have people within my circles for whom this distinction is anything other than a source of pride and solidarity. MELT has a sense of wonderful community about it, which is typical at Brisbane Powerhouse, regardless of the programming; it’s my favourite venue as much for its vibe as its unlimited possibilities for performance and socialising, but during this festival there’s always something a little more electric (and eclectic) than usual. The energy is super charged and the collective pride shared by the artists and patrons during this time each year makes for an even more appreciative audience, and closer connections. The ‘standard’ of the stuff on show seems to be largely inconsequential. What it comes down to is this: we just want to hear our stories.

Sondheim’s music is some of the most intricate and difficult EVER. It’s not just about hitting the notes (nothing ever is), and given the chance to perform it, most artists will leap in the general direction and enthusiastically “perform” the piece. Some will even sell their song and earn heartfelt applause, and even fewer will leave someone in their audience in tears, or breathless and aching for…something that’s perhaps just out of reach.

Sometimes I do a heap of research and read about previous productions, and their creators and directors and artists, I peek at what the critics have noted, I ask friends what they think, I catch up with the artists or message them to get a sense of where they’re coming from and what they want us to get out of the work. But this is a brand new work, a world premiere, and there’s no precedent except for every other celebration of Sondheim’s music ever. This is certainly a celebration, a tribute to one of the defining voices of musical theatre and mostly, an interesting and entertaining night out, but it’s not all I’d hoped it would be. After a brief development period, the show lacks the polish it needs to win us over completely. It has some heart and some guts, and it’s a great vehicle for its talented performers, but I’d like to see it again in 6 or 9 months time when it might know better what it wants to be.

A narrative penned by Anthony Nocera offers us mostly amusing fleeting glimpses of some of the joys and pitfalls of gay dating and loving and living. Not unlike Dean Bryant’s GAYBIES, the structure relies heavily on these brief monologues, delivered in turn by the actors, to break up the musical numbers, an assortment of somebody’s favourite songs, loosely stitched together in an it’s-interesting-to-be-gay overarching way. Unfortunately, towards the end, the narrative breaks up one of Sondheim’s greatest accomplishments and Being Alive is brought to a painful death by continual interruptions. This makes it almost impossible for Tim Carroll to build the song and bring it to its bitter sweet soaring end, and makes me wonder, why?

With only a few shows in this short season, the opening number needed to be ready for opening night, and the insecurity or reticence or something of three quarters of the cast members makes the first 8-10 minutes ever so slightly uncomfortable. This is so weird, because they’re all fantastic performers, but the music is challenging and the lesser known songs don’t help to win us over. I love Kurt Phelan’s choreography, utilising the catwalk and the narrow space in front of a gay-mancave-bar, the conceit being that these guys have gathered in someone’s home for a lovely champagne catch up.

Kurt Phelan, Sean Andrews, Stephen Hirst, Alexander Woodward and Tim Carroll certainly go to some lengths to expose the “soulful, masculine underbelly” of Sondheim’s work as well as much of the comedy (Hirst’s (Not) Getting Married Today is sidesplittingly funny), but we know there’s more to this lovely little show and I can’t wait to see it reborn and restaged sometime.