Posts Tagged ‘clue

23
Apr
19

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game

Brisbane Immersive Ensemble

Baedeker Wine Bar

April 17 – May 25 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

CLUEDO! The Interactive Game is the most fun you’ll have outside a theatre until Anywhere Festival takes over all the unlikely performance spaces in Brisbane and across the Sunshine Coast (May 9 – 26). Since its humble beginnings during the 2017 Anywhere Festival, with just two performances on board the Kookaburra Queen, the award winning interactive game / show CLUEDO has continued to attract capacity audiences, and also serves as an attractive corporate option, by special arrangement.

 

This Baedeker Wine Bar season is Brisbane Immersive Ensemble’s third, returning to delight audiences who come to collect clues and assist the iconic board game characters to solve a murder mystery by the end of the night. Ultimately, we don’t actually care who it was, or with what, or where; but others do and either way, the fun is in the chase. We follow our favourite suspects curiously, to see how well they hold up under interrogation. And by that I mean, who here has the sustained focus, and the rather unique skill set required for the successful navigation and manipulation of this style of entertainment and its audience? Not only that, do these performers have the energy and ability to genuinely connect with their audience in this close-up context? No pressure. 

 

CLUEDO is undoubtedly Brisbane’s best improvised immersive dinner theatre experience, encouraging dress ups, dancing and mingling – as much or as little as we like – as we hear from characters made famous by the classic board game (1949) and the film it inspired, starring Tim Curry, Madeleine Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp and Lesley Ann Warren (1985). A cast of thousands appears to be on hand for each season of the live show, and testament to the nature of the production and this far-reaching yet tight-knit ensemble, a number of past and present players attend on opening night just for fun, including Chris Kellett, Jonathan Hickey, Aurelie Roque (on alternate nights playing Madame Peacock), and Damien Campagnolo (credited with a variety of roles).

 

 

The current season sees the debonaire Colin Smith (Kelly, Nearer the Gods, An Octoroon), step into the role of Dr Black, perfectly suiting both the suave attire and high society demeanour as the host of a 1930s style cocktail party in the beautiful Baedeker building. 

 

The stock characters are variously informed by the experience and confidence of the performers. Most notably, Madame Peacock (Elizabeth Best) and Reverend Green (Tristan Teller) hold their own no matter what’s thrown at them by the punters. Best struts and postures, relishing the bold and brash Americanisms and eroticisms of the role, as well as the effect on guests of her towering headpiece. (Standing at almost 6ft tall even without this plumage, for Roque to don it on alternate nights must make her Madame Peacock the most imposing character of the night and possibly, with the exception of Joanne in RENT, of Roque’s repertoire to date). Best’s version of Madame Peacock has a sense of the Unsinkable Molly Brown about her, and she won’t be beaten. Likewise, Reverend Green has all the answers and when for an instant he almost appears not to, he conveniently and appropriately passes the buck to God. And in a neat casting trick of the Gods, we think that Teller, surely the most accomplished performer here, having previously been cast opposite Tom Hiddelston and Eddie Redmayne, and with a list of special skills too long to mention (I resist including his CV), could actually be Jude Law’s long lost brother, such is his precise and very lovely vocal work, distinct look, and with a devilish glint behind them, his distinct looks. For a man of the cloth, the shifts between pious and wicked are too deliciously easy, and if he can be kept in Brisbane, we can look forward to Teller’s next captivating performance, in a mainstage production, or a commissioned festival piece, or in a staged reading, just of some memes or something somewhere. Or just sitting, reading, silently. Or drinking coffee, or anything, actually. Seriously. Someone. Anyone. Give him work. Make him stay.

 

 

Professor Plum (Joel O’Brien) and Colonel Mustard (Zane C Webber) provide wonderful contrasts in their statures, mannerisms and banter, leaving Mrs White (Jessica Kate Ryan) and Miss Scarlett the least memorable guests on the list. Ordinarily, the latter role is in the hands of Geena Schwartz, however; due to unforeseen circumstances, was filled at the last minute by Director, Xanthe Jones. In her ill-fitting red satin, designed and made for Schwartz (and we love Kaylee Gannaway’s designs – remember, I own one – everything else here is perfection), the stand-in Miss Scarlet’s simpering, and her protestations to the accusations made against her, lack light and shade, and Jones misses many opportunities to keep us engaged with her story, however; there are others who remain entranced with her from start to finish. Perhaps they knew she had thrown herself into the mix, or perhaps they are granted eye contact, which we are not. She only looks up in passing to compliment me on my stole, which I would love to tell you is faux fur but it’s properly vintage so… Mrs White, a character informed neither by Madeleine Kahn nor Colleen Camp in this case, is not attuned to the offers from her fellow performers, and despite her efforts to cut through the noise of the crowd or the quiet intensity of a scene, Ryan fails to make an impact as Dr Black’s German hausfrau. However, had we seen her in a scene rather than in between scenes, we might gain a more complete picture of both the character and the actor. More on this later.

 

 

Patrick Aitken gallantly strides in to save the day – or at least, to facilitate and wrap up the investigation of the crime committed while we had enjoyed jazz and booze in the ballroom, driving a challenging scene that amounts to wrangling cats since most of the guests are by this time happily holding their third or fourth glass of wine. He is assisted by prettily named detectives, Carmine, Periwinkle, Dove, Moss, Cobalt and Honey (James Elliot, Johanna Lyon, Julia Pendrith, Tom Harris, Patrick Shearer and Matthew Butler).

 

Genevieve Tree and Samuel Valentine sing up a merry storm with the band led by MD Jye Burton (I would name the talented musicians if they were credited). This aspect of the evening is so enjoyable that if solving the crime doesn’t interest you, you’ll have a decent night out just sitting and listening, or dancing to the band! All the players can carry a tune and when I mention my surprise to Chris Kellett, because here we are with the Immersive Ensemble and not Oscar Production Company, he laughs and tells me, “Yes, it’s what we do!”.

 

Written by Xanthe Jones and directed by Jones and Ben Lynskey, CLUEDO makes the most of the superb Heritage listed space in which its staged. It relies on clearly drawn characters and mostly audible instructions to move punters through a range of interesting rooms, and a story full of intrigue and action, but therein lies the challenge. The construct itself is problematic, allowing us so much freedom during the evening that we miss vital scenes. Is it enough to get a version of events from other guests? I would like to have seen more for myself, particularly from Mrs White, and Miss Scarlett. Perhaps their scenes are more engaging than those moments in-between. A solution might lie in a ‘menu’ of appointments, a card in the style of the original game if you like, or iPads – so good for the company’s socials and data collection too but then, how would one hold one’s drink? – distributed to guests upon arrival to ensure they know where to be and when to be there, in order to witness each conversation or altercation in turn. Ensuring that everyone is an eye witness to everything will invariably lead to more efficient and more relevant lines of questioning. Some of the questions! Be patient with your friends, friends! Also, another point of conversation and certainly a more glamorous offer, befitting of the surrounds and the style of the party, would be a generous grazing table in the dining room, rather than the plates of food currently available, which you won’t feel the need to photograph. Anyway, after running such an event for two seasons, I know that I would start to want more control of the crowd (think of the Divergent trilogy; Poppy is obsessed with it!), but such solutions are less obvious from the inside. And drugs are bad. 

 

Despite a sense of chaos during the time allowed for questioning suspects, and a few loose ends here and there, what makes this immersive and quite sumptuous version of the much loved CLUEDO a winner is its perfect location and its cast, and their genuine interactions with members of the audience. If you’re prepared to interact, it can be a very personal theatrical experience, as if what you imagine to be true will make all the difference to the outcome! You might not feel quite as satisfied at any other show after this one, or quite as willing to sit still in the audience and stay mute. Go with a group and work together in a team or go rogue like we did, and investigate from the fringes to solve CLUEDO’s mystery – or not – and have a swellegant, elegant time of it. 

10
Apr
16

Banquet of Secrets

Banquet of Secrets
Brisbane Powerhouse & Victorian Opera
Brisbane Powerhouse Performance Space
April 7 – 9 2016

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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Featuring David Rogers-Smith, Dimity Shepherd, Michael Carman, Kanen Breen and Antoinette Halloran.

 

I wasn’t going to publish this review because everything I’ve seen about Banquet of Secrets is amazing; it’s been exceptionally well received by everyone in the country except me…and Sam, who has since referred to it as “Banquet of Boredom”.

As a reviewer, I often wonder about the value of putting my opinion out there at all.

When we write for free, we write for ourselves. And yes, while it would be nice to at least cover the cost of fuel, parking and dinner, and while we’re at it, a lovely little Wheels & Dollbaby number every month, I’m also just putting here for later, something that might be useful or interesting one day about Queensland theatre. Live performance disappears once it’s done, but some sort of intelligent or heartfelt response to the work is a worthwhile record of what our creatives are doing, and how they’re doing it, and where we’re heading together, surely.

I don’t know. It probably doesn’t help that I’m terribly inconsistent, and I continue to resist further tertiary study and the sort of academic writing that appears to be the only way to add any sort of gravitas to a body of work, and instead stay stubbornly more or less within my own little world. That’s right. Write for free, but only for yourself…….

In the case of Banquet of Secrets, I’d decided that since this year has been challenging enough already (and it’s only April!) it was hardly worth making a comment about it. Who am I to say it’s anything less than brilliant? I’ve wondered, “HAVE I MISSED THE POINT?” (if you loved it you will answer yes, yes I have) and, “WHAT IF I’M WRONG?” (if you loved it you will answer yes, yes I am) and, “WHO EVEN CARES?” and, “WHO WILL EVEN NOTICE IF I SAY NOTHING, OR IF XS DISAPPEARS FOR A WHILE?”, which is something I’ve been wondering a lot about lately. At the same time, on several different occasions, I’ve been told by industry friends that they always look forward to reading what’s here and I must publish this review because…well, perhaps other (louder) voices have offered accolades with which they also disagree.

So I persist with this blog (and the reviews that are not as favourable as some) because who even am I if I quit responding honestly to what I’m seeing? 

This work is certainly challenging. It’s probably some of Paul Grabowsky’s best work, brilliant by design, comprising complex orchestrations that boast multiple layers (and he conducts from the piano); entire worlds exist beneath discordant harmonies. I don’t mind a bit of discord (life is dishing up plenty of discord!), but it’s not my favourite new work and it might not be yours either… But will you say so? 

The reason musical theatre and opera remain separate is because they are separate entities. Each form has its merits and the two haven’t mixed well here.

Actually, they’re calling it “chamber music theatre” but chamber is more lilting and haunting, opera is slicker and music theatre more entertaining. The dialogue is cliched, uneventful, the banter not witty enough. The only real comedy comes from the waiter, who describes each course of a ridiculously decadent dinner in flowery language and declares triumphantly each time, “You’re welcome, thank you very much!” before exiting. He is clearly relieved not to play a larger part in the evening’s proceedings.

Kaneen Breen’s character, the host Jean Pierre, is the next best established (and next best dressed) character but he can only do so much with what he’s been given. Breen’s first solo, establishing that everything must be perfect, reveals the Last Supper premise and his final piece confirms it; it’s the only musical number to make me feel anything; his love, and admiration and appreciation for the friends is touching.

The opening scene however, a thunderstorm (Sound Design Jim Atkins, Lighting Design Matt Scott & Set Design Christina Smith; we’ll say nothing more of her costumes), does little to establish each of the four characters and doesn’t make us keen to hear more from them. The first ten minutes of the classic comedy Clue, inspired by the board game, should have provided Director, Roger Hodgman with some sense of setting up a similar story. Yes, yes, it’s all there, but we don’t believe a word of it. It’s a shame because they are such beautiful, accomplished vocalists and clearly capable of tackling meatier roles.

Unashamedly contrived, Banquet of Secrets makes a mockery of the quest to discover, develop and disseminate “new” art to intelligent audiences. While other writers struggle to garner support to bring their work to the stage, Steve Vizard and Grabowsky over promise and under deliver in this poor excuse for a musical theatre / opera hybrid. They’ve created an elitist monster, which rears its ugly head in a landscape that consistently offers more interesting and challenging work. It’s simply not audience friendly.

We see each secret coming and feel nothing for any of the four characters; predictably, a lawyer, a writer, a doctor and the collector, our host. We can’t ever be sure whether or not the friends meet in a restaurant, despite the program notes advising that this is the case according to the friends’ tradition. (It might have been a more intriguing night had events taken place in Jean Pierre’s home). Apart from the immediate breathtaking impact of the overhead ornate mirror, which is not used to its full effect, the staging is arbitrary, with musicians to one side and an under-utilised upright piano and bar setting opposite. The singers either stand across the downstage space or sit at the dining table. Quite often there is some aimless wandering around the table and through the space. Characters connect with each other by placing a hand on another’s shoulder as they pass, or holding a gaze for a moment too long… Oh! And one number is staged on the table top. Nuance is lost or never there to begin with.

The music is mostly jarring, largely repetitive (Sam enjoys it much less than I do; clearly the world of commercial radio is beginning to have an effect), and it doesn’t help the performers to embrace their characters in order to give us the guts (or hearts) of the people they claim to be. It’s all rather surface level, like a dinner with strangers might be. We never feel as if we get to know them and because we don’t know them we don’t feel any sympathy for them. As each secret is revealed we feel nothing. Transitions are slow and mostly awkward. There is polite applause at the end of each number,although a substantial number of older audience members give much more generous applause during the curtain call. I’m pleased that they’ve enjoyed it! Do we recall any of the melodies at this point? No. In fact, during the curtain call Sam reminds me: even CATS has a memorable tune…

And why didn’t we see them eat? And why didn’t the food on the plates match the foodie photos projected across the mirror’s tilted surface? Perhaps it’s okay to gloss over these details in “chamber music theatre”???

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As an experiment, Banquet of Secrets is an interesting attempt to seek a broader audience but sadly, it’s self-indulgent and reeking of desperation, like the mediocre children we insist – not all of us insist – have what it takes to “make it”. Ugh.

 

Banquet of Secrets appears to have been written for the elite old-school upper classes; the Racer Cruisers. They spend vast amounts of money on well appointed, comfortable racing yachts, defeating both purposes and impressing those who know no better.

 

 

Read Grabowsky’s tribute to Prince.

 

Hear more of Grabowsky’s work at QPAC this week.