Posts Tagged ‘Carol Burns


Happy Days


Happy Days

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio, The Greenhouse

July 18 – August 15 2015


Reviewed by Katelyn Panagiris





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.




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.




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.




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.




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



I Want To Know What Love Is





I Want to Know What Love Is

QTC & The Good Room

Bille Brown Studio

September 4 – 19 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 




“Perhaps we are in this world to search for love, find it and lose it, again and again. With each love, we are born anew, and with each love that ends we collect a new wound. I am covered with proud scars.”

Isobelle Allende


We are a combination of a thousand different experiences (especially when it comes to love).

Deviser/Director, Daniel Evans



Everyone is here. Wesley is playing the role of Glassy and the foyer fills quickly around him with the chatter and laughter of friends, and the clink of glasses and the clatter of heels. I contribute to the clinking and clattering and chattering. I feel like I haven’t seen everyone for such a long time! This is the tribe I know and love! We’ve strolled across the road from Brisbane Writers Festival, where I’ve been hanging with a different tribe and hearing about how challenging it is to get published and get noticed, how courageous one must be to write, and how disciplined. I Want to Know What Love Is is a cleverly devised show, using the written submissions of the general public… YOU. You are the writers! But by giving this glorious little show such a short season within the Brisbane Festival program (it runs for this week only), I feel like QTC is challenging us to demand its return.


Dear QTC,



We all adored I Want to Know What Love Is.






Cheers. x


So it’s a proper Opening Night, with all the bells and whistles (and all the red roses and pink champagne in the world), and all the Industry friends. It feels GOOD. It feels good like it must be the work of THE GOOD ROOM. We know we can trust this collective of creative heads and hearts to entertain us, to challenge us, and to make us leave wanting more. There’s no deprivation about it, in fact our hearts are full…we want more of THAT.


I knew this show would be gorgeous (I was told it would be gorgeous) but I wasn’t prepared for so much of the gorgeousness to be done and dusted before the half way mark. The pure joy of an early succession of exuberant scenes concludes with what I can only presume, is the end of the honeymoon period of the show. We’re left hanging in darkness, in some undefined sad sort of state. I guess it feels like loss. The shock of love gone. Yeah, you know it. The honeymoon period is over, man.


I spoke with Carol Burns after the show about the dramatic mood change; it’s a distinct beat, unmistakably sad; you can’t miss it. I assured Carol that it could be felt! Indeed, it’s a rare thing in the theatre, to feel so strongly, a collective response to a single beat. I joke that I recognise that beat, the turning point in a relationship after the cascades of rose petals have finished raining down and the kisses have stopped meeting you at the door and the fights start about who’ll take out the rubbish. After the extreme highs come the devastating lows. Or, day after day, the plain ordinary. Or, the break up.


It’s a tumultuous journey and no one apologises for the rough bits. We spend just as long as we need to, wallowing, relating, remembering, and commiserating… There are uncomfortable titters from time to time because REALNESS. RECONISABLE. RELATABLE. REALNESS. It’s not all bad; so much of the show is very funny and very moving. I Want to Know What Love Is tastes like a fistful of sticky, sugary, virtual cotton candy goodness, with a bit of harsh reality thrown in.


The stories come from the community. Over eight hundred randoms submitted their stories online via the specially built website




It’s the sort of verbatim theatre I love – not too verbatim – the words are painted in full colour, with layers upon layers of meaning between them and the canvas, the picture almost certainly improving on the telling of the tales. No offence, to you, the writers. Sometimes, the simpler the story, the greater the effect, as when there are no words and we are left to fill in the gaps; an awesome little device. The stories we hear range from love at first sight, I’ll love you forever, happily ever after tales to devastating blame games, plots for revenge and guilt-ridden admissions. Wow, we actually begin to feel like we know these people. We think perhaps we are these people. Not so random after all.


New work needs time and it needs space and it needs trust.

Amy Ingram


We know Amy Ingram’s comedy is excellent, and this production allows her a little tragedy too. It’s clearer, and sadder than ever before. Carol Burns, Caroline Dunphy and eighteen year old Tom Cossattini in his QTC debut, also manage to get the tone exactly right, seemingly effortlessly, taking us on a rollercoaster ride that starts out naively and joyously and finishes with sass and stubborn, glassy-eyed glimmering hope, in spite of the tumult and ugliness along the way. In this way, the show’s structure cruelly and accurately reflects the usual pattern of relationships. We still haven’t come to terms with the life-death-life cycle, have we?


Daniel Evans, not only a published writer and Premier’s Drama Award winning playwright (his work, Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, will be staged by QTC in 2015), is the sort of director who creates work you wish other directors would see. If they did so, perhaps we wouldn’t have to suffer through so much earnest work. Just saying.

What Dan does, with co-devisor, Lauren Clelland on board this time, is take a story, offer it to his actors, and with their help, he passes the story on to us. Dan’s a custodian of stories.




Kieran Swann’s design is nothing less than stunning. He’s humble, paying homage to Feliz Gonzalez-Torres, Tracey Emin and Jenny Holzer in his notes, but what Swann does, just as Evans does, is create worlds that we can’t wait to step into. The simple images of flowers and garbage bags may have come from the punters but it’s Swann who’s conjured the delicate-bold lush effect they make on stage. Lights by Jason Glenwright and soundtrack by Lawrence English support the pace of the production and punctuate the stories, offering us time to breathe and no time at all. A bit like life.


What’s incredible about this production is that a very basic idea has been executed in the most effective way when it could easily have ended up a disaster; a shoddy, tacky, nauseating and seriously awkward and embarrassing high school collage drama. It is none of these things.


I Want To Know What Love Is is elegant, sophisticated, heartfelt, inspiring and uplifting; it’s delicious festival fodder. It’s original, beautiful and unfortunately, it will disappear after this week…or will it?

Go now, just in case. You don’t want to miss this. It’s gorgeous theatre.





Design For Living


Design For Living

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

19 October – 10 November 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



Design for Living

Noel Coward’s Design For Living is Queensland Theatre Company’s final production for the year and I think it’s safe to say they’ve saved the best for last!


I loved QTC’s last offering, Other Desert Cities, and this final show is a sophisticated chaser, and a fitting finish to the 2013 season. Design For Living leaves nothing wanting; it boasts a terrific cast, an exquisite design aesthetic, a swellegant soundtrack and – of course – a laughing-til-you’re-crying typically witty and wicked text from the scandalous banter meister, Noel Coward. No, no relation, Sam’s family were Vikings (no surprises there!).


This is by far the best we’ve seen from Director (and Artistic Director of QTC), Wesley EnochDesign For Living is fast, fun and so cleverly contained that nothing is too OTT, despite some outrageous moments that, in less capable hands, would draw rolled eyes and sighs of exasperation rather than giggles and guffaws.


Jason Klarwein, who we’ll see in the titular role in Macbeth next year (it’s a co-pro between QTC and Grin & Tonic), is perfectly cast as Otto, who is in love with Gilda, played by his real-life wife, Kellie Lazarus. And oh, what a glorious role for Lazarus! She effortlessly embodies Gilda’s energy and effervescence. (Yes, a bit of the Year 5 alliteration coming into play there!), but it’s Klarwein and his antics that fuel the comedy and pace of the play. His is the role that drives this piece, though only by a little. Academic, actor and director, Tama Matheson, is Otto’s partner in crime, the ever-so-slightly more subtle Leo. Perfectly underplayed, I’m reminded (and I had to find it again so I could link to it here) of something Matheson told the SMH earlier this year about directing opera… “You never let the audience off the hook; you never let them sit back.” Matheson’s compelling stage presence ensures this is the case in a straight play too…well, in fact it’s not THAT straight, is it?!


Matheson and Klarwein are perfectly matched and make the greatest theatrical comical duo Brisbane has seen in a long while. Directors and actors alike, do go see these two do their very best “drunk acting”, to spectacular comic effect!


So both gentlemen are in love with Gilda, and she is in love with them both. This makes for a most elegant and exuberant, and ultimately satisfying, ménage-a-trois, with the play traversing years in the lives of these three bohemes, as a tryst becomes betrayal and indecision (or denial, largely due to society’s expectations that one should end up with one other person only) eventually leading to marriage….and its rapid dissolve. The themes, of love and art and freedom, and living by one’s own rules, are timeless, and if it were not for the society manners and sophisticated 1930s style conversation, and the exquisite set and wardrobe by Richard Roberts, one might assume the play had been written only recently.


There are, of course, several additional characters, including Ernest, Gilda’s other-other-other male friend, brought to us by Trevor Stuart, and in a strange sort of gesture, we see Fez Faanana play both Miss Hodge and Matthew. I think Miss Hodge works very well for him. Matthew, not so much. I loved the reporter, Birbek, played by the incomparable Andrea Moor; it’s a comprehensive character study and a coup for the transgender casting effort, which, a little like neon, should not be worn by everyone just because it’s once again become the current season’s trend. It certainly suits some better than others. Just saying.


Speaking of the latest trends, if you’re seeing Design for Living on a Friday night, remember to frock up! FROCK UP FRIDAY is the follow up to FUR FRIDAY, which was enjoyed by so many during QTC’s run of Venus in Fur.


If all the world is a stage, then it must be a catwalk too…


Do frock up, drink up, and enjoy the swell party that is QTC’s splendid Design For Living. Be quick! This is one that you’ll be truly sorry to have missed!




QTC’s enormous rocking horse up for sale!

How cool is THIS?

QTC Rocking Horse

Want to buy your very own piece of Queensland Theatre Company memorabilia?

Be ready to make some room for it! It’s BIG!

QTC’s enormous rocking horse, which we saw used in Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman is up for sale, on EBay!

I hope this begins a whole new upcycle trend for theatre companies, bringing theatre and all of its BIG, FUN PROPS to the people! Literally!

You’ve got 9 days to bid! GO!

(and if you win it, be sure to send us a picture of your new, enormous rocking horse in its new home!)

QTC Rocking Horse


Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman

Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman

Queensland Theatre Company & QPAC

Brisbane Powerhouse

26th May – 24th June 2012

How strange, to pit the fragility and reality of a fascinating woman against a comedic mashup that distracts and detracts from the fragility and reality of the woman!

Nobel Prize winning playwright, Dario Fo, has done just that with Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman and Director, Wesley Enoch, has had a field day with it. Freely adapted and translated by Luke Deverish and Louise Fox (who were commissioned by Malthouse Theatre for their production at the Merlyn in 2010), this version is updated and localised to an even greater degree by the most vocal and forward thinking Artistic Director our state theatre company has seen. A champion for local audiences as much as for local artists, Enoch has glued together so many different elements in staging this outrageous production that there is surely something for everyone.

Bawdy comedy and ludicrous antics fill the guts of what would otherwise be a pale, skinny corpse of a drama. I’m not a Fo fan, however, I marvel at the cunning way so many political entrails are unmercifully tossed at us throughout his plays.  (And I do love a bit of commedia dell’arte, some good old slapstick and bold, brash, silly comedy from time to time!).

Despite comedic influences ranging from farce to pantomime to commedia to slapstick (Scott Witt, as Clowning/Slapstick Consultant, has a hand in this and Enoch’s Bonzani troupe experience is obvious), the work avoids getting stuck in any one form for long. It remains unboxed, resisting packaging or prettying up. (It IS pretty, though, thanks to Simone Romaniuk’s sumptuous design; the lavish costumes and simple set are magnificent). It is what it is and we either love it or hate it. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. My first thought was that the show begs a stricter hand…one to pull it back a little. A fabulous and fun rehearsal strategy, we often let the actors take things as far as they are willing to go. It’s sometimes a challenge to put a stop to it and ask that they back off a little. Indeed, you may well ask, “WHY?” when what is happening on stage is clearly working for the vast majority of the audience. I suspect that the question more often asked in the rehearsal studio was, “WHY NOT?” When you see this show you might be convinced that the lewdness and bawdy humour is at precisely the right level, if not slightly underdone! For me, it is too many things at once and often just too, too, too OTT. But look, it’s mostly hilarious and I laughed a LOT.

The updated political gags are quick, witty and localised, thanks to the free reign given any company with the rights for this show; Fo wouldn’t have it any other way. His political theatre is continuously evolving, challenging and inspiring public thought and action. These local references will have you chortling (or wondering what everybody else finds so amusing, depending on your knowledge and understanding of current affairs of state). Well, we do love a “CAN DO” moment at the moment, don’t we?!

Updating a theatrical work is a bit like creating your own promotional images, inspired by the originals, in order to publicise your show, or the liberty taken by anybody ever, when re-writing I’ve Got a Little List for The Mikado. It’s absolutely intended and indeed, it’s necessary, to keep the content fresh, accurate and relevant. In his Director’s Note, Enoch explains, “Dario Fo believes in engaging in the world and allows the artists involved to improvise and modify the scripts to reflect their socio-political environments.”

Enoch has assembled intelligent actors who love to play. There is a real sense of it and along with the obvious camaraderie; this sense of play will keep the show fresh as a daisy up to and including closing night. I often wonder what a show will be like by the end of its run and if I had the time, this is certainly a show I’d like to see again. It feels like it’s ever changing and almost as if it’s not quite ready for us but, hell, we’ll let you see it anyway. And that’s okay. That’s part of the fun, as if we’d been let into the rehearsal space for a glimpse of how a great story gets put together.

Eugene Gilfedder plays William Shakespeare, who is plotting to kill the queen (and stealing episodes from her life for use in his own plays) and also the fantastic character of Grosslady, which he pwns. PWNS. He is absolutely hysterical in his women’s garb, with his high-heeled gait and that’s before he even utters a word of witty Tranny Speak/Drag Slang, which will have you either in tears of laughter or wide-eyed and quietly, concernedly murmuring to the person next to you, “Whaaaaat the…? What did he say?”

Jason Klarwein plays Elizabeth’s Chief of Police, Egerton, who really does plot to kill Elizabeth, as she desperately, obsessively waits for her lover, the Earl of Essex to arrive. The Virgin Queen? We don’t think so (Dash Kruck’s bare bum soon puts that theory to rest!). Egerton’s news bulletins especially, are brilliant. So slickly delivered on opening night were they that each time Klarwein asked the company whether or not they wanted to hear the report all over again, I wanted to shout in opposition to them, “YES!” His multiple costume changes are baffling though and you just might get a joke that I missed.

The production benefits enormously, as productions do in this town, by having Musical Director, John Rodgers involved. His animated accompaniment is as if we’re sitting in a silent movie theatre, with the movie brought to life before us. Dash Kruck (Thomas, the often ignored and abused Fool) can sing so he does. Although it makes little sense to me to have the songs in the show at all (in the original Malthouse Theatre production they were perhaps better contextualised, rewritten as Elizabethan madrigals), Kruck delivers them well – a little too well for the character – and gives us a reminder of what to expect next from him (no, not necessarily more nudity), as he heads to Sydney soon for a highly anticipated production of the hit Broadway musical, Next to Normal, at the Capital Theatre. I would also like to have heard Kruck’s rendition, from beyond the grave, of The Neverending Story theme song.

But that’s just me.

After only six days of rehearsing with the company in the role of Martha, Sarah Kennedy does her best and it is just enough. She can’t possibly compete with Klarwein and Gilfedder, who have clearly been given a license to party like it’s 1999. At times their relentless antics, like a Battle Round on The Voice, draw attention away from the fragility of the woman whose story it is. Martha brings the focus back to her poor, paranoid mistress each and every time with perfect grace and good humour.

Carol Burns is an absolute treasure and as the aging queen, suffering from paranoia and sleeplessness in the last days of her life, and with the boys club of Gilfedder, Klarwein and Kruck on stage, she holds her own, bounding around the room with her skirts held high and riding atop a giant wooden rocking horse, which Klarwein later sees from a slightly, err, lower perspective (it’s one of the funniest moments in the play). Hers is a highly physical role but Burns impresses most in her final moments, as the frail, brain-addled, heartbroken woman who was Queen. Romaniuk’s imposing quilted white walls and David Walters’ stark white lighting give us the sense that this is indeed – finally – the peaceful end to a mad life. With all the action having happened in Elizabeth’s head, we easily feel empathy for her; a woman who would really probably have preferred, more often than not, to be just a woman, without the royal obligations. This is the magic of Fo’s form, finally revealing once and for all, the humanity of his subject, regardless of class, creed or colour. I found Burns’ performance incredibly moving and I was disappointed that Fo felt the need to bring back his Will Shakespeare character, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Prince in Romeo and Juliet, to close the show. Depicting an ailing, confused queen, her behaviour and emotions moving erratically between polar ends of the spectrum for the duration of the play, Burns delivers what might be the performance of her lifetime and I feel like she should have the final light.

Irrespective of its bad language (remember, this show came with a warning!), and its lewdness, this show is not so shocking or offensive that you can’t take your mum or your sister to see it. I took mine (my sister, that is; my mum is gallivanting around Europe). In fact, I think you could safely take your grandmother too!

Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman is zany, bawdy comedy at its most playful and you’ll either love it or hate it but you must see it to know which it is! Enjoy!

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