Posts Tagged ‘christen o’leary

05
Dec
18

North By Northwest

 

North By Northwest

QPAC & Kay McLean Productions

QPAC Lyric Theatre

November 29 – December 9 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

The world’s first slick stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s famous action suspense thriller is not my favourite show this year. I love the sensational design, and I totally get the sense of it; I get the style, I get the humour, I get the cleverness of it, but I don’t love it. BUT EVERYONE ELSE LOVES IT.

 

 

How to meticulously recreate a classic film on stage, anyway? With an eye for detail, a mega-budget and main stage venues from Melbourne to London, that’s how, and Simon Phillips (Director) and Carolyn Burns (Writer) have succeeded in doing so since 2015 with Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. But if you want to read the rave reviews READ EVERY OTHER REVIEW. On the same weekend, I was more engaged and entertained by a 60-minute, low-budget, cute, corny indie comedy that successfully strings together excerpts on stage from Tarantino’s cult films. It was charming, clever, ridiculous and hilarious. Whether or not its next incarnation is intended to more accurately represent the films to which it pays homage (there’s no need!), or simply continue to evolve as an irreverent, riotous tribute (there’s potential!), if that production had even half of a Kay Mclean (Andrew Kay & Liza McLean) or mainstage company budget, you might also have had the chance to consider its merits. But without the marketing slice of a bigger pie, you probably didn’t even know it was on.

 

 

 

 

If it’s what makes you happy, North By Northwest lives up to the hype in so many ways, but it lacks soul. Unlike Ladies In Black, which was so surprising and delightful, the play’s performers don’t dare venture beyond the most obvious role requirements, or make us feel anything. This is a shame for those wanting to be swept up in the romance and the espionage without the distraction of how things are achieved technically. And in saying that, in terms of style and in the interests of experimentation, not much heart or soul is needed to convince us that the substance of the 1959 film has been replicated on stage, and as it is, it’s a fun little ride, a real “comedy of suspense”. Just don’t expect actual suspense, you know, the type you don’t need to leave home for because Netflix.

 

 

 

 

North By Northwest is a smash hit; it’s enjoyed sold-out seasons all over the world and will continue to do so, so don’t believe a word I say, but look instead for the opportunity to find out for yourself, as to whether or not this production exceeds expectations. It’s certainly not just for the film’s fans, although it’s a faithful adaptation, losing none of its light, kitsch, cheekily melodramatic, suit-and-scotch-and-cigarettes Mad Men tone, which is attributed to the original writer, Ernie Lehman. It’s ingeniously designed and deliberately stylised, using the most deceptively simple theatrical devices and cinematic elements to cleverly and playfully reveal the landscape, the auction items and the cropduster in the most contemporary-classic way, on either side of the stage. It’s true. Oui. Tres amusement. The most commonly asked question in the foyer on opening night was, but how will they do the plane? 

 

Well, no spoilers here. It’s the same trick, a neat trick each time, involving the actors as stagehands/film crew and it takes most of Act 1 to accept it. Whether or not you accept Matt Day as George Kaplan darting and diving around on stage beneath it is another matter entirely. And as for the highly anticipated chase sequence across Mount Rushmore? You’ll either love it and laugh hysterically or…not. This is Phillips taking the ridiculous – due to restrictions around the use of actual Mount Rushmore imagery – to new heights. Pun intended.

 

 

 

 

So, despite the cinematic score and dark lighting throughout, the most famous scenes of the film have more a sense of utter silliness than any sort of suspense or fear of imminent death by cropduster. Each stylised sequence relies heavily on the carefully incorporated AV elements that are supposed to help us suspend disbelief…or are they? The distance we feel from the action is also intentional, and this is why I get the impression that Phillips has had some fun with this, without necessarily considering what this show is. And just like anything newish – the surge in the development of new musicals/song cycles is a good example – we’re reminded that perhaps a show does’t need to be any one thing. But it does need to be consistent in its delivery.

 

I love the cars, delightful surprises. This device, used for the taxi and the earliest chase sequence, is simple and clever and precise. The train carriage is also simply and effectively achieved. A row of telephone booths and the precision lighting of this scene elicits appreciative laughter. Flying, gliding, dividing set pieces create each location without question, and the seamless transitions between each. These are the elements, along with Amber McMahon’s styling and not-so-subtle femme fatale performance, that give this production class. See?

 

IT’S JUST AS THEY SAY: A PERFECTLY SLICK, STYLISH, SENSATIONAL ETC PRODUCTION. 

 

Some of the performances are superb.

 

The “cast of thousands”, featuring Amber McMahon, whom I adore, and Matt Day, whom others adore, also includes Brisbane’s Christen O’Leary and Leon Cain, almost unrecognisable in some roles, and even as extras scurrying across the stage beyond the main action in blatant disregard of any old fashioned notion that in the theatre, movement pulls focus. 

 

North By Northwest is to live theatre what Get Smart was to television, what Dick Tracy was to film, and what Avatar was to circus when we first experienced those departures from the way it was always done. North By Northwest is bold and tricky and new and a bit exciting, but it’s not my favourite.

 

 

02
May
16

Much Ado About Nothing

 

Much Ado About Nothing

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 23 – May 15 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

muchado1

Much Ado About Nothing has everything going for it. A stunning design, a stellar cast and deft direction; it’s joyous, genuinely uplifting, entertaining theatre.

Jason Klarwein’s mainstage directorial debut marks him as one of our brightest, with an aesthetic that is a breath of fresh air to Brisbane. We’ve seen the commercial appeal of his approach to reimagining the classics with QTC’s production of Dan Evans’ Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and with this take on Shakespeare we’re reminded that there are those who just get it. Klarwein is one of those, with his production demonstrating why it is we still “do” Shakespeare. Klarwein brings an unequivocally entertaining version of Much Ado to the Playhouse stage.

Thanks to Designer, Richard Roberts (Design For Living, Managing Carmen) and Lighting Designer Ben Hughes (The Seagull, Happy Days, Grounded, HOME), the company has the most beautiful Queensland setting in which to play (although, interestingly, it’s contained, rather than being allowed to fill the space). His Messina boasts no Tuscan inspired marble floored mansion or pencil pines out front, but a luxury waterfront home of pristine white, wooden shutters and billowing curtains, wide verandahs, towering palm trees and manicured lawns, and simple, stylish furnishings. We might be on Hamilton Island, overlooking Whitehaven Beach during Race Week, or relaxing in Cato’s during the days and nights of a pre-refurbished Sheraton Noosa. The place feels light and breezy, sophisticated and carefree. A full revolve, as it did for Managing Carmen, allows seamless transitions and amusing stage antics between scenes.

In this serene playground for the privileged, against the beautiful blue hues of the sea and sky (and later, gorgeous dark storm clouds), Shakespeare’s characters chat and frolic, eventually confessing their true feelings, challenging us to consider love and longing, and the value of living in the moment, making every minute count. We don’t have to work hard to work out what’s going on; the language is clear (the cuts to the text are clean) and the contemporary reading makes Shakespeare’s themes as relevant now as they were 400 years ago without labouring any of the political points. But without adding the technological advances (there’s no tinder here, nor does anyone stop to take a selfie or type a status or relationship update – IT’S COMPLICATED), I have a single moment of dissatisfaction when considering the storytelling… And it’s only because I’ve thought about it. During the show I think nothing of it, simply accepting that it’s an unplugged, technology-free weekend away. And don’t we dream of such weekends?!

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For the bantering, bickering Beatrice and Benedick, love is a battlefield. Once bitten and twice shy, the sharp-witted pair are locked in a verbal fencing match with no quarter asked and none given. Is there any way their friends can open their eyes to their true feelings for each other?

For the starry-eyed young couple Claudio and Hero, love is a many-splendoured thing – that’s if they can take their eyes off each other long enough to avoid being deceived by bitter schemer Don John.

Christen O’Leary’s energy is infectious, her bold Beatrice, on the Saturday evening after opening, achieving the perfect balance of scorn and pixie charm. Emboldened, quickened vocal work and the assured stage presence we’ve become accustomed to makes O’Leary’s performance a stand out. I know it seems strange to mention the stage presence of a seasoned performer (should it not be a given? It’s the confidence in the space that translates to something very difficult to define), however; there are others who, with much the same experience in the industry, still don’t impress upon me such a solid, grounded, glorious energy, and a genuine connection with the actors and audience. Handled beautifully, her later frustration commands our attention.

O’Leary, along with Hugh Parker and Bryan Probets, are among the favourites from QTC’s stables (or should that be staples?), and from their work in this production (let alone their individual bodies of work) it’s not hard to see why. Parker’s Benedick brings great comedy to proceedings, his “skirmish of wit” with Beatrice and his gangly physical comedy delighting the audience. As a QTC statesman, it’s appropriate to see Probets as the statesman here – a wise and reasonable, distinguished and smartly dressed Leonato. Just when we thought we were getting used to Probets-the-comical-and-character-actor, we are shown a completely different aspect to the man. I love it.

You know I love Tama Matheson, exuding natural confidence and charm here as Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon. (I can’t wait to see him again in Don Juan, in Noosa in July). By capturing the very essence of upstanding royalty (and loyalty), Matheson’s performance is a magnificent example of making a character one’s own. In this ensemble he shines, along with O’Leary and Liz Buchanan (Dogberry), who each live and breathe the language fully; their lines coming “trippingly on the tongue”. Interestingly, no vocal coach is credited, though it’s my guess Klarwein felt comfortable enough with the spoken text (and with the support of the singers in the cast and creative team) to omit this role.

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Hayden Jones (Don John) is appropriately nasty and melancholy and Mark Conaghan (Borachio), the ideal henchman. Buchanan, Megan Shorey (Verges) and Kathryn McIntyre (Margaret) handle their cleverly-revised gender blind comedy superbly, and treat us to entertaining musical interludes with original composition and vocal arrangements by Gordon Hamilton, including a rousing new version of OutKast’s Heya. But it’s the gorgeous Patrick Dwyer (a suitably slightly insecure Claudio) who sings the sweetest treat, with a moving tribute to his love in Act 2. As Hero, Ellen Bailey is the epitome of a modern Shakespearean maid, a joy to watch and a pleasure to listen to. Keep an eye on Bailey this year…

We enjoy wonderful camaraderie between the men in this production, however, this means sitting patiently through a couple of unnecessary moments of high camp in addition to the (presumably) boyish Naval affection. Irresistible perhaps, to include these guaranteed laughs. And a costume change for O’Leary would be appreciated; despite the impact of the red and all its metaphors for her, it seems unreal for her not to have at least one other outfit available. She’d wear a Camilla equally well (the recent Athena or Pirate Heart drops would certainly suit her sensibilities and the resort style setting). Perhaps Roberts’ focus remained squarely on the set rather than the costume design for this one.

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Having been perfectly cast and playfully prepared for a broad audience, QTC’s Much Ado About Nothing is set to be something that Brisbane talks about well into our state theatre company’s next season, despite this one just beginning. It’s a joy to see any of Shakespeare’s comedies handled so adeptly, with sensitivity on an emotional level, and with a strength of conviction and distinct style, which also delivers the social and political messages with aplomb.

Whether or not you know the 400-year-old work of The Bard, Klarwein’s astutely reimagined production will delight, and will definitely have you asking for more of the same. So be sure to ask.

30
Nov
15

Ladies In Black

 

Ladies In Black

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

November 16 – December 6 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Kate Cole, Christen O,Leary, Naomi Price, Lucy Maunder, Deidre Rubenstein, Carita Farrer Spencer

 

She was fifty-two when The Women In Black was published in 1993 and it is one of her four novels to be set in Australia. It is difficult not to see Madeleine herself in the clever and sensitive young heroine, Lesley Miles, though the well observed lower middle class family background she describes with such affection was certainly not her own, as she grew up in the smart suburb of Castlecrag, on Sydney’s North Shore.

 

The interplay of the saleswomen (who dressed in black in 1960, when the novel is set, just as they do now) is so convincing, so comprehensively realised, that I assumed Madeleine had a holiday job there while a student, but she insisted this was not the case, ‘although I often went shopping there with my mother’.

  

Bruce Beresford – Madeleine and Me (Foreword, The Women In Black)


Deidre Rubenstein, Naomi Price, Kathryn McIntyre, Kate Cole, Sarah Morrison, Christen O'Leary, Lucy Maunder, Carita Farrer Spencer

 

Mum had Madeleine St John’s novella on her Kindle and neglected to mention the fact until a week out from opening night of QTC’s brand new musical based upon the text…a busy week! I read it in tiny snippets between everything else happening and loved it! Without even trying to imagine how the light-hearted look at the women of Sydney’s (imagined) Goodes department store could ever be turned into a musical, I enjoyed St John’s candid writing. When Tim Finn read it, having picked up a copy one day at Brisbane Airport, he was inspired to write a musical.

 

With its catchy tunes, intriguing characters, witty lyrics and fabulous frocks, Ladies In Black is an instant classic.

 

Finn’s score is a satisfyingly contemporary mix of pop, rock, jazz and musical theatre, and the book by Carolyn Burns retains the social political thread and lovely laconic wit of the original text. Simon Phillips’ savvy direction and a stellar cast bring the sweet stories of the ladies to life.

 

ladiesinblack_wide

 

The show opens with an elegant riot of vivid colour and a catchy little tune, I Got It At Goodes, which not only reminds me of another (actual) department store’s jingle but also, for some reason, of Katie in Calamity Jane, singing Keep It Under You Hat. It’s cute, and sets the tone for something not nearly as serious as we might have expected. That’s not to say Finn hasn’t addressed a multitude of national sins, it’s just that it doesn’t delve deeply, darkly into them. Why should it? We’re merely obliged throughout to glance at the inherent misogyny and casual racism of our country and at the very least, asked to question it. With a deft hand, a full heart and a mischievous wink, Finn has neatly interwoven all the issues still relevant today.

 

Kathryn McIntyre, Deidre Rubenstein, Kate Cole, Lucy Maunder

 

Another little ditty, Bastard, is set to become an Australian classic. In the context it comes complete with precision teacup choreography and an ire that seems to have faded with the curtains, leaving a sort of 1950s secret women’s business resignation (and plenty of eye rolls) in its place. The audience is in fits of laughter. What a beauty!

 

ladiesinblack_incolour_nim

 

I Just Kissed A Continental is a favourite on opening night too, and one of the show’s highlights; a gorgeous, giggle inducing ensemble number that showcases the delectable voice and style of Naomi Price.

 

If you’ve seen her before you know she’s a standout and it’s this role that reaffirms what Brisbane has known for some time now – she’s a shining star with a very bright future. Price positively glows, and despite the number of amazing women on stage my eyes are drawn to her. She’s completely bewitching.

 

ladiesinblack_incolour_kate

 

Kate Cole has a similar magical presence on stage, relishing the role of the Buyer, Miss Cartridge, her uber confidence and staunch support of the sisterhood at once formidable and awe-inspiring. I can see now the basis for the rave reviews and Green Room nom for her performance in Grounded (Red Stitch) and I wish I’d seen it too.

 

Carita Farrar Spencer succeeds in making memorable and very moving, the most unrewarding role in the show. Lesley’s Lisa’s mother is a quiet champion of women’s rights, or at least of her daughter’s rights if not her own, and so beautifully and delicately captures the qualities of every ordinary housewife and mother of the fifties, I feel it’s her story that could be afforded more time and care. Think Pleasantville…or the quieter moments of Mad Men. The tone is exactly right. Let’s see more of her story in future developments.

 

ladiesinblack_incolour_christen

 

Christen O’Leary is Magda, the Slovene who cares for the Model Gowns of Goodes and the women who can afford to take the best dresses out on the town. She’s the uptown Rizzo of the “reffos”, with snazzy style and the sassy attitude to match. She’s intimidating until you get to know her (few are bold enough to do so), and in the most efficiently fairytale godmotherly way, she takes Lisa under her wing to groom her for the real world. O’Leary brings the gowns to life, endowing them with individual personalities as she introduces them to us by name. They become characters themselves and we grow so fond of “Lisette” – the gown that Lisa has her eye on – that, surprisingly, the stakes are raised sufficiently to set up a truly happy ending.

 

As far as the story goes, it really is Lisa’s show though, and Sarah Morrison, in her QTC debut, is glorious as she grows up and into the perfect cocktail frock to conquer the world AND remain the apple of her daddy’s eye.

 

The men play pivotal roles, each responsible for filling in some of the gaps, because has there ever been a shop girl who tells the whole truth to the friends on the floor? Certainly not Patty, whose husband takes off for a little while to leave her to “cope” Lucy Maunder brings grace and gorgeousness to this simpering role. As her husband, Andrew Broadbent enjoys as much as the audience does, an extended moment in the mens’ room, lamenting and singing whilst pissing, as you do.

 

Greg Stone is the delightful foil to O’Leary’s Magda. They have some wonderful moments together, their easy humour and teamwork refreshing. Bobby Fox is Fay’s swoon worthy “sweet Hungarian”, Rudi, perfectly fitting the bill as the intelligent, bold as brass newcomer to the country, on the hunt for an Australian wife. Fox is a dancer and doesn’t miss an opportunity to step nimbly through a couple of outstanding musical numbers.

 

Under MD Isaac Heyward, playing orchestrations by Guy Simpson, the band is present on stage and could perhaps become a more integral part of the mirrored pillared design, which is beautifully, stylishly conceived by Gabriela Tylesova (also responsible for the frocks, with Costume Superviser, Nathalie Ryner), and lit elegantly by David Walters, as opposed to simply sitting upstage, out of the way. This makes perfect sense only for the party scene, which consists of the company providing silhouettes behind a scrim as O’Leary delivers the monologue from the original text, greeting and observing her guests in a civilised flurry of hostess-with-the-mostess excitement and charm. I have to admit, I had expected a big song and dance number at this point!

 

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The fabulous frocks, the detailed score, the beautifully drawn characters and witty scenes, even the funny forced rhymes support a charming tale, insightfully, carefully shaped by Director, Simon Phillips. Set to become part of the lexicon, this is a show that genuinely delights and entertains. See this talented cast bring to life Tim Finn’s Ladies In Black in Brisbane before December 6 and in Melbourne in January 2016.

 

13
Jun
15

Medea

 

Medea

La Boite Theatre Co

The Roundhouse

May 30 – June 20 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

  

Medea is a strategic, ambitious, political woman; sharp, quick and strong. In Jason she meets her ambitious and strategic equal, as well as a lover. The passionate union between the misunderstood foreigner Medea, and the all-Greek golden boy Jason was unlikely, but allows Medea to invest in the very empire building she was made for.

 

When Jason betrays Medea, she is outraged. He has betrayed her as a husband, but more importantly he has also betrayed his oath, their pact, and their very empire. His desertion denied Medea all sources of power in this patriarchal Greek world of Corinth. So too has he set in motion the fate of his sons, who are now, unacknowledged by him, relegated a latent threat in this land.

 

Medea will not abide by injustice or broken oaths and is compelled to balance the scales. So we watch as this modern character plots to cut Jason down and to protect her sons from the horrors of torture and death. 

 

medea_candles

 

 

If Suzie Miller had written a one-woman Medea Christen O’Leary could do it.

 

 

This is O’Leary’s show, with Helen Christinson getting a good look in, thanks to the playwright’s astute version of the story (commissioned by Chris Kohn), and The Australian Voices largely contributing to the atmosphere, pace and shape of this piece. It’s powerful and magical, and it’s the best we’ve seen at La Boite for a long time.

 

 

In Todd McDonald I have found a director who embraced this furious version of Medea, and interrogated it with great insight and talent.

Suzie Miller

 

 

It’s well and truly time to see a production in The Roundhouse that actually fits the purpose built space, and not only does Sarah Winters’ gothic design fit (lit and un-lit superbly by Ben Hughes), it sits so well within the space we almost feel like we’re home again, breathing in the old wooden floorboards of Hale Street. This may be an entirely unrelated design choice but I’m going to imagine that the stripped-back boards are a magical, subliminal message that this Artistic Director is here to stay for a while. If you don’t believe in signs from the universe or the bones of the city telling our story as they’re sung (and smudged) over, you can just appreciate the raw, earthy, honest quality that this floor brings to the production.

 

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Miller’s Medea is a well crafted text with a strong feminist take that sits perfectly with the 16-year-olds we take to see the show a week after opening night. We talk afterwards, as we often do, about withholding judgment of the characters’ actions. Medea’s not mad, she’s vengeful and willful and stubborn and strong. She’s scheming, unforgiving and relentless in her bid to make Jason’s life a misery. She’s a murderer. She’s misunderstood. But she’s not mad. Somebody commented after the show, in true Roxie Hart style, “Why didn’t she just kill the bastard?” Well, because then he wouldn’t continue to suffer, as she has been made to do.

 

 

When we put Medea in a position where her children are about to be torn limb from limb by angry crowds, is it not the most compassionate thing she can offer them – a calm, kind and loving death?

Suzie Miller

 

 

O’Leary is absolutely spellbinding in gorgeous draped and gathered dogstar style garb to perfectly complement the new Ruby Rose/Alan Cumming inspired tough-chick haircut. All the costumes are fabulous, ready to wear, designed by Nathalie Ryner (The Danger Ensemble’s Caligula) and cut by Bianca Bulley & Leigh Buchanan. (I’d wear every piece!). O’Leary captures motherly tenderness and everywoman’s vulnerability, which is so often overlooked by actresses (and directors) who insist on making Medea only angry. In O’Leary, we feel her loss long before she’s committed the crime and whenever we get a glimpse of the love she once felt for her husband, she flips it and tosses it in his face with sharp wit and wicked humour. She’s brimming with brilliant, gleaming, delighted spite, and an indescribable grief that’s so well contained we would naturally think her monstrous if her story popped up in our newsfeed (before clicking “Like” on a friend’s Friday night #styleinspo photo. Just saying).

 

medea_helen

 

Speaking of style, as Nurse (although, perhaps more beautifully, innocently “handmaiden” than “nurse”), Christinson is attentive and warm. In stark contrast, as Glauce she is necessarily cold, overbearing and unforgiving. And wearing a sensational ensemble that I bet our Cate wouldn’t mind throwing on for the school run. Ryner should send it to her after June 20! This is the additional role, which Miller includes to highlight the struggle between powerful women. The scene between them is intense and Christinson shines, but it’s O’Leary, losing her composure and rolling hysterically on the floor at the foot of Glauce’s steps, which creates one of the lasting images from this production. It’s the sound of her laughter as much as the vision that resonates. Is that wrong?

 

medea_theaustralianvoices

 

Composer, Gordon Hamilton, has created the entire eerie soundscape and a stunning Greek Chorus using his own voice, a bit of techie trickery and four exquisite vocalists from The Australian Voices (Annika Hinrichs, Yasmin Powell, Simon Carl & Connor D’Netto). These four figures are present as onlookers, concerned citizens, warning Medea until she can’t stand their foreboding any longer, “Careful, careful, careful, careful!” I can’t explain the technicalities of the musical work as he does so here’s an extract from Hamilton’s blog, which is excellent by the way, and if you’re at all musically inclined you should probs be reading it/him on a regular basis. I love the almost subliminal inclusion of Never Tear Us Apart, working like a haunting and heartbreaking Judas kiss. This is a truly contemporary ancient chorus, used to breathtaking effect. The show would be really dull different without it…

 

 

Our chorus is partially but not completely based on Euripides chorus. They are worried onlookers, on Medea’s side, but not yet aware of her murderous intentions. They sing a mixture of English and Greek. Suzie Miller’s chorus text sometime echoes the lines of the characters, hurled back at the actors. They sing in modern Greek “mitera, politeftis, erastis” (mother, politician, lover), three aspects to Medea’s identity. Todd and I have borrowed the INXS song Never Tear Us Apart to woven into the fleece – usually to ironic effect – as a sad contrast to the literal and metaphorical tearing apart of this family.

 

Some sound is heard from speakers: I recorded myself singing the three aforementioned Greek words on a single tone, then digitally slowed it down to 90 minutes (the approximate duration of the play). We let this recording play for the entire work, at times faded up or down, depending on what’s going on. Thus, all sound heard in the thing is made by a human voice either speaking or singing.

 

I have the chorus sing in Greek scales: aeolian phrygian and dorian. I don’t know how the Athenians preferred their choral tonalities, but for me, the nod to these three Pythagorean tonalities is a satisfying connection.

 

medea_chrsten

 

Damien Cassidy seems a rather bland and gentle Jason, despite his harsh treatment of Medea. I love the moment he is brought undone, pressing himself upon Medea when she calls him out and pushes him away, having given us the silent looks of tedium ad infinitum. Yeah, you know the looks, guys. It’s a brilliant interpretation of the moment, making Jason an absolute rotten fool rather than showing Medea simply as seductress.

 

 

Indeed, it is too easy to make Medea “mad” – it is far more difficult to try to understand or unpack her reality.

Todd McDonald

 

 

medea_milk

 

 

While Miller’s Medea is not new in the way Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore resonates with a new generation via their own (#MOFO) lingo and activity, in the hands of this creative team it’s a version that’s easily taken on board, especially if you’re new to ancient tales theatrically retold, and so beautifully interpreted by O’Leary that it’s certainly worth a look.

 

 

O’Leary, trapped within her sorceress’s circle of curiosities and melted wax, and her mind made up to save her sons from a fate worse than any death she can orchestrate, delivers an incredible performance that shouldn’t be missed. Medea finishes June 20.

 

 

 

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

12
Mar
13

A Chat With Christen O’Leary

A quick chat with the gorgeous and very talented Christen O’Leary, currently embodying Judy Garland in

 

End of the Rainbow

 

the first co-pro of the year from QTC & QPAC

 

 

Christen O'Leary

 

You were Judy Garland in The Boy From Oz. How different is it to take on the persona for End of the Rainbow?

It was quite different preparing for EOTR compared to BFO. In BFO Judy really is a supporting role. A strong force in the piece but with only a handful of scenes and songs. This really was Peter Allen’s story. Quite rightly. Of course I did a lot of research but 2 things struck me. When you’re not onstage all night…you have to hit the ground running from the first moment. I had to hit the audience immediately with my impression of Garland. In some ways I had to be bolder in my interpretation. In EOTR I have all night to play with her. I can let her unfold gradually, steadily…and allow the audience to see further and further into every aspect of this human being.

The second issue was the singing. In BFO Judy sings only Peter Allen songs. No songs she was actually famous for in her career. Gotta say…this is easier on the one hand…because no one can say…”well she didn’t sing that song like that”. BUT you can’t find footage/recordings to study. To sing Garland songs as Garland is very a daunting…and complicated task. Everyone who knows/loves her has an opinion on her sound/style…

but as I studied her more and more I found she shifted as she aged. Her interpretations evolved…her keys dropped. Her voice really did change. I tried to play with that.

 

Can you talk about the challenges of performing a one-woman show?

Ah! The one person show! That beast! I did my first last year with Bombshells and I’ve got to say it was probably the most frightening thing I’ve faced in my career. Jacki Weaver said to me “Oh yes Darling. It’s so lonely.” And it is. If I’m honest…I think I imagined that my ego would soar to new heights…as I tackled it and mastered it! Ha! It became a lesson in humility. I existed in an overwhelmingly vulnerable state throughout. You feel immense pressure to succeed because you appreciate that the company has invested hugely in you making this piece work. They have put their faith and money behind you. I realised after 25 yrs in this industry just how comforting it is to be on a stage…turn your head…and look into the eyes of another actor. Another actor who sees your fear…can hold it…and help carry you thru.

 

I know you feel strongly, as most creatives do, about too-early reviews of productions that are still in preview. Can you talk about why the best time to form an opinion that will be shared with the public is from opening night onwards?

Oh yes. The Previews. I do have strong opinions about them yes. Previews are a vital part of the process in forming a production. But they are part of the process…not the final product. We rehearse for 4 weeks in the room…then hit the theatre where/when all the technical elements of a production are created around the actors and the play. This is a very tricky part of the process for all involved. The Creatives are working round the clock and AGAINST the clock to finally hone their elements for the work. For the actor of course this can be very off putting because you feel like you lose the play as all these outside elements…costumes, set, lighting, sound, music, darkness, revolves…get thrown at you. But that is part of the process. THEN you bring an audience into this mix in previews. These tickets are cheaper for a reason. The production is still being formed. It is not a final product. Audiences are watching a work trying to emerge as a cohesive piece. Through these preview days and nights the production is changing constantly. The audience teaches us so much about what is landing and what is not. Every person involved in the production is changing/honing/modifying the work everyday and every night. I believe preview audiences understand this. They relish the terror and electricity this creates in the theatre. They know they are watching a production flying by the seat of it’s pants. If the piece was really ready to open it would open at full price at this point. The reality is that when the production actually DOES open…it settles. Major changes stop emerging…unless something is really wrong….and that is rare. The written word is a powerful thing. Critics have power and they know it. They believe their opinion matters or they wouldn’t write. I think they should therefore take that responsibility very seriously and let a production open before they offer their opinion on it.

 

To what extent have you trained to prepare physically and vocally for End of the Rainbow?

I of course did a lot of research of Garland when I played her in BFO but for EOTR I studied everything I could get my hands on. Watched, read, listened over and over again. I suppose for about the last year I have just drowned myself in her. I had to build stamina vocally and physically gradually in the months prior to beginning rehearsals. Probably about 6 months out I started to learn the piece…slowly getting it into the voice and body.

 

What are your hot tips for vocal health?

Vocal tips? Mmm everyone who knows me knows I am paranoid about my voice! So I’m probably not a good/sane person to ask! Having said that….

 

Rest/Steam/Water/Never push!

 

How do you get through a demanding season and what do you try to do in your down time?

What do I do in my down time? Ha Nothing!! I don’t speak. At All! I write notes! I live in my pyjamas!

 

With the Academy Award for Best Actor going to Daniel Day Lewis (for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln), and so much focus swinging back again to Method Acting, can you talk about how important is it to be able to step outside of the character and take a break from what you’re doing in the show?

I believe Daniel Day Lewis is very picky about the work he chooses and takes long periods of respite from work. When you see his performances that’s completely understandable to me! I am not a method actor…but….I do feel that I balance a very technical/pragmatic worker with a willingness to plummet the depths of the work. That can take it’s toll if you’re not careful. I have a husband who knows me deeply and draws me home….and 2 children who don’t give a damn about Judy Garland or any other character for that matter!

 

Children remind you that being a brilliant performer is not the most important thing in your life.

Being a brilliant wife and mother is!

 

Which acting methods or approaches have you trained in and what is your default approach to creating (becoming) a character?

Default position when approaching a character? Work!!! Lots of work!! Research. Preparation. Know that play. Better than anyone. Be open to the Director to your other actors. Someone will always think of something you haven’t. Try anything. Aubrey Mellor said to me many years ago…” Any character is capable of doing anything. The important question is…Would she do it in this moment?” Gold! I’ve never forgotten it. We can easily fall into the trap of  “Oh…My character wouldn’t do that.” Be Brave. Go there. Plummet the depths that expose themselves. Be ugly. Be true. You must seek the truth. And find it. You’ll fool no one if you’re faking. It’s Acting! Look into the eyes of another actor….and play with them.

 

Tell us what it’s been like to work so closely with your (husband) MD and musicians on this piece?

Short answer… I could not have got thru this show without my husband Andrew McNaughton (MD). No way in hell. He knows me better than anyone. He knows my terrors and insecurities and he has done everything he can to nurture me thru this. He is always honest…”you know you’re flat there?”…but always supportive and encouraging. Gotta say…it’s been like a 2nd honeymoon. Don’t know if he would say that though! The band? Well…Live musicians bring something to a production and a performance that is magical and intangible. They lift you to a thrilling place. Andrew has assembled a very kind bunch. They know they’re not dealing with a musician in me…but they back me…follow me…save me…always with kindness.

 

What is it about Judy Garland that we love so much? What do you love about her music and the roles she has played in some of our best-loved films?

Why do we love Judy? Talent!! Heart! Vulnerability! Resilience! TALENT! At her best she was breathtaking. At her worst…heartbreaking.

 

What’s your favourite film of all time?

Favourite movie? Sophie’s Choice! Still!

 

What’s on your playlist?

Playlist? Terrible…I don’t have one! I’m banned from playing Judy in the house anymore! My husband is a bit of a music Nazi at the best of times…so….when I’m in the car….alone….I secretly listen to crap pop radio! Clears my head from the absolute terror of going to work every night!

 

Catch Christen in End of the Rainbow at QPAC until March 24th

 

09
Mar
13

End of the Rainbow

End of the Rainbow

Queensland Theatre Company & Queensland Performing Arts Centre

QPAC Playhouse

2nd March – 24th March 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Christen O’Leary is the gold at the End of the Rainbow

Christen O’Leary effortlessly channels Judy Garland in the first 2013 co-production between Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. It’s a perfect vehicle for O’Leary, showcasing her superior vocal and acting ability, and her solid commitment to character, of which we saw glimpses in Bombshells last year.

 

Christen O'Leary & Hayden Spencer

Christen O’Leary & Hayden Spencer.

Peter Quilter’s play doesn’t give a lot of scope for the men in End of the Rainbow to achieve the same impressive heights, though Anthony Standish as Garland’s fifth and final husband (and her manager), Mickey, and Hayden Spencer as her pianist and best friend, Anthony, do all they can with what they’ve been given, and they are just enough, beautifully balanced in their opposing strategies and differing sensibilities, to help Judy rid herself of her demons.

 

The story is Garland’s tragedy and the star is O’Leary. She delivers the ruined performer’s weary words, “I gave them everything. There’s nothing left…” (and the pitch, pause and intonation in songs and speech is spot on, thanks in part to the work of Voice and Dialect Consultant, Melissa Agnew), with all the vulnerability of an actor who imagines she might feel the same way one day.

 

This is the most honest, and the most heartbreakingly damaged embodiment of Judy Garland we are likely to see outside of Bernadette Robinson’s outstanding performance in Songs for Nobodies. Given the tough gig of becoming Judy (we think we know her so well!) for a little over two hours, O’Leary ably switches between the competent, sassy, manipulative and mischievous imp, and the depressed, aggressive, desperate addict. The end of Act 1 comes crashing to a close, and the end of the show is desperately sad, until a curtain call lifts our spirits and reminds us that Judy is a legend, she is immortal, forever caught on celluloid, and sadly, like Elvis, Marilyn, MJ and so many more, along with Superman’s arch enemies, she appears trapped in The Phantom Zone, or the prism, and lost in space and time for our benefit. (Baz McAlister’s program notes are well worth the read at this point, at some stage during the twenty-minute interval anyway, if you didn’t get to them over pre-show drinks and tapas. It would be terrific to see these included on the production page of the website).

 

Anthony Standish & Christen O'Leary

Anthony Standish & Christen O’Leary.

But the time is 1968 and the space is, on one side of a clever revolve, Garland’s elegant suite in London’s Ritz Hotel, and on the other, the stage she inhabits during her final performances. The set is Bill Haycock’s inspired design and perfectly complementing it is David Walters’ sumptuous lighting. With the interesting addition of projected images by Tim Roane, of blossoming flowers and, during a poignant moment late in the piece, the face of Garland’s fiancé, we see far below the seemingly impenetrable surface of Judy, superstar and living legend. We see what gets under her skin, and (it’s a chilling effect) we hear the sounds of the Munchkins’ voices, contextualising perfectly the memories and forced habits of a child star who never had her childhood, and who never really grew up.

 

 

O’Leary’s Ritalin-induced manic performance finally brought the tears to my eyes; they’d been threatening to slide slowly, surreptitiously down my cheeks but the show had been, strangely, so funny, as well as being terribly sad. From the outset I had felt deep despair for this tragic, delicate figure, before finding myself laughing out loud at some outrageous comment or other made by the Judy who always got what she wanted, including the drugs that eventually killed her.  No use reaching for tissues yet though, because Quilty has included Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which O’Leary delivers longingly from behind the scrim, in her immortality, causing me to look up at lights and continue to blink away tears.

“It’s a terrible thing to know what you’re capable of…and to never get there.”

 

So Quilter successfully takes us on Garland’s final five-week roller coaster ride, but not without the help of (O’Leary’s husband) Andrew McNaughton’s adept musical direction and the gentle guidance of Director, David Bell, whose attention to detail rivals only O’Leary’s; together they leave nothing undone. Bell says of O’Leary, “Her performance, while underpinned by meticulous research and an eye for fine detail, is astonishingly brave and painfully human. Her Judy is not a legend but a human being.” And this is why she is able to move us beyond tears and back to rapturous applause – a deserved standing ovation on opening night – because this Judy knows the show must go on. It’s all she has. We believe it because we feel that O’Leary has raised the stakes that high.

 

Christen O'LearyEnd of the Rainbow is somehow the most joyous evening of true-life tragedy you’ll experience this year. It’s theatre making at its best, achieving the perfect balance of fact and fiction, triumphant success and dire failure, addiction, confusion and ultimately, a joy so spectacular your heart will fill to bursting and you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’ve had a drink with a legend, and held the hand of the same dear friend. Whether or not you’re a Judy Garland fan, I guarantee you’ll feel her pain, marvel at her incredible talent and determination, and wonder how we can sit still and watch in awe and horror as our favourite stars, to this day, destroy themselves in front of our eyes.

 

End of the Rainbow closes on March 24th and I hope the short season is indication that the show will hit the road…because this baby’s got legs!

 

 

 

 

 

31
May
12

Tonight! Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman…

Queensland Theatre Company

Opening officially tonight, for a four-week season at the Brisbane Powerhouse, Queensland Theatre Company presents a new translation from Nobel prize-winning Italian playwright Dario Fo, of the fabulous monstrosity which is Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman starring Carol Burns in the lead.

This is not the Elizabeth I as you think you know her – pure with virginity, loved by the people and mythic mother to the nation… instead you are invited, by Her Majesty’s appointment, to a right royal arse-kicking.

An ailing Elizabeth clings desperately to her throne and her sanity. She hasn’t slept for 11 days and to make matters worse, her love, The Earl of Sussex, is busy in an attempted coup d’état against her.  There are boob lifts and leech-o-suctions, ripping bodices, hearts held in treacherous hands, assassination attempts and constant conspiracies. Elizabeth suspects everyone is out to get her, even William Shakespeare, who in her mind, seems to be basing all of his plays on her life. And then there’s that ghost of her beheaded cousin Mary Stuart. It’s not easy being Queen.

Inspired by historical accounts, and drawing on all the energy and spirit of original commedia dell’arte, ‘historical factionalist’ and Master Italian playwright Dario Fo has created an Elizabeth of our nightmares – pompous, potty mouthed, paranoid and certainly no virgin!

Wesley Enoch, QTC Artistic Director, and Director of this comic gem, says Nobel Prize Winner Dario Fo has drawn on the spirit and spontaneity of original 16th century commedia dell’arte, to offer up a modern stage masterpiece. His works are often translated into other languages with a local twist, and such is the case in this new adaptation of Elizabeth: almost by chance a woman (1984), by Luke Devenish and Louise Fox for Queensland Theatre Company.“Although the obvious route to take would be to draw on Elizabeth’s ‘accidental’ throning, Dario instead draws on her womanhood as the quirk of fate,” he said. “He paints an all-too-human portrait of Elizabeth, as frightened, flawed, ferociously foul-mouthed, and quite unlike any other version seen of the Virgin Queen.”

Starring Logie award-winning Carol Burns as Elizabeth in her final hours of life, this farcical and yet strangely moving production is at once a gloriously wicked satire on the insanities of power, and a paean to human mortality. Its equal parts a bawdy burlesque, riotous nosethumbing of authority, and a surprisingly touching insight into the challenges of womanhood.

Warning: there is some incredibly naughty language in this production – 52 f***s and 4 c***s

Elizabeth – almost by chance a woman

by Dario Fo

26 May – 24 June

Brisbane Powerhouse

Directed by Wesley Enoch

Featuring Carol Burns, Eugene Gilfedder, Jason Klarwein, Dash Kruck

Sarah Kennedy, John Rodgers

Monarch. Maiden. Superfreak.

 BOOK ONLINE

For those who didn’t pay attention at school… 

Elizabeth 1 – her accession to the throne:

–       Elizabeth was born with an older sister, Mary, who was an illegitimate child due to Henry having annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

–       This means Elizabeth is the legitimate heir to the throne at this point…

–       However, when Elizabeth was two years old, Ann Boleyn, her mother, was beheaded, and therefore giving Elizabeth the status of an illegitimate child also.

–       A year later, Henry remarried and produced a male heir, Edward.

–       Edward became King at age nine, after Henry died.

–       Edward died at age 15 – leaving Elizabeth and Mary (his half sisters) out of his will – he excluded them from being able to succeed the crown.

–       He appointed someone else, who soon lost public support.

–       Mary then came along to succeed the crown, with Elizabeth at her side.

–       Mary jailed Elizabeth some time later, for suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.

–       Mary later died and Elizabeth succeeded the crown.

–       All this before Elizabeth had turned 25, at which age she became Queen!

DARIO FO    

Writer, Actor, Director and living Master of World Theatre          

Dario Fo (1926 -) is a recognised master in world theatre, and is reputedly the most performed living playwright of the last 40 years. His works draw heavily from the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition – a vibrant, improvisational style of theatre popular in the Renaissance, where troupes of actors would travel the country providing free entertainment, relying largely on donations to survive. Their performances would combine instantly recognisable stock characters and familiar storylines with topical additions and local references to add some spice for audiences.

Inspired by the circus and carnivals, his theatre uses slapstick, puns, ridicule and parody to explore social and political issues and to criticize authority of all kinds. Fo’s politics lean decidedly to the left and his works are highly critical of those elements in society who abuse their power: politicians, royalty, the upper class, the church.  In 1997 he famously received the Nobel Prize for Literature for “emulating the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.”

Outside of his home country of Italy, it is perhaps his 1970 work Accidental Death of an Anarchist which has brought him most recognition. But within Italy, he is best known for his legendary production of Mistero Buffo, in which he also performed, and which enjoyed an astonishing 5000 performances. The play, a satirical take on the medieval mystery plays, once aired on television and was labeled by the Vatican as “the most blasphemous show ever transmitted.”

In keeping with the commedia dell’arte tradition, and with Fo’s approval, his works are often translated into other languages with a modern local twist, and such is the case in this new adaptation of Elizabeth: almost by chance a woman (1984), by Luke Devenish and Louise Fox for Queensland Theatre Company.