Posts Tagged ‘debase productions


Concerto For Harmony and Presto


Concerto for Harmony and Presto


QPAC Cremorne

March 29 – April 2 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

This is a story of two unlikely friends. One day Presto arrives, bringing with him an astonishing array of bits and bobs that threaten Harmony’s neat and ordered existence. Harmony sees a cart full of junk. Presto sees infinite possibilities – precious things that when put together just the right way can create extraordinary music!



QPAC and debase are partnering with Autism Queensland to present a Sensory Friendly Performance of Concerto for Harmony and Presto.

QPAC acknowledges that individuals with sensory and social disabilities may require support in attending performing arts events. This performance session is specifically designed for children with ASD or other sensory, social or learning disabilities that create sensory sensitivities.

Sensory Friendly Performances involve modifying a particular performance session by adapting the audience environment and providing pre-theatre preparatory activities for the person with a sensory, social, or learning disability so they can understand and anticipate what might happen during the performance.


I missed seeing an excerpt from deBase’s Concerto for Harmony and Presto at APAM16 and Poppy and I thought that maybe this show would be another one billed by QPAC for kids aged 3+ meaning suitable for 3 – 8 year olds, which is a common challenge for parents when contemplating which children’s theatre to take the over eights to. We were pleasantly surprised to find the fun for all ages in it.

Even before the show begins the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.

Gasping in mock horror and scolding each other as we do so, we leap over a row of seats because that’s the quickest and easiest way into our own. We love the sweet 40s & 50s tunes that play before the show and we see a friend to say hello to. It’s Lighting Designer, Jason Glenwright. Poppy is polite, as always, but unimpressed; they’ve met a number of times before and she simply says to me matter of factly, “Good, the lights will be good then”. She and I chat quietly about the lovely muted colours and rich but raw textures on stage while younger children all around us loudly demand snacks and ask, “When will it start?”

We relax into the autumnal colours, brought to life across a vertical surface of muslin and cotton and satin, enchanting colour and texture. A rustic, old-fashioned ambience is created by Glenwright’s gentle golden glow and the upbeat laid back party music of our grandparents: Sweet Georgia Brown, You Made Me Love You and If You Knew Susie… We sing along, playing imaginary spoons on our knees and soft-shoe-ing cool moves beneath the seats.

Old world shadow puppets, beautifully cut, are used to to set up the classic story of a young girl, Harmony, and her parents, who fall on hard times. The father loses his job at the factory and, reminiscent of the story of Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Harmony is sent to market with strict instructions to sell the family’s beloved gramophone, which is symbolic of their joy. As she turns and walks away, she remembers their days and nights of singing and dancing while the silhouette of her father hangs his head in his hands. A small child nearby whispers, “Mummy, he’s crying.”

When the lights came up again after the dimness it was like a sunrise and I felt engaged. The puppets were beautiful.

– Poppy Eponine

The travelling tinker, Presto (Don Voyage), and the little girl, Harmony (Liz Skitch), find that they have set up in the same place, which leads to conflict. Most offended is Harmony, who sets a rope between them. She and her Dead Puppet Society puppet, Lucy, will dance for pennies and Presto can do what he likes, as long as he stays on his side of the rope and doesn’t attract too much attention from the passers by. After all, she is there to make money to help her family, which is far more important than…whatever it is he is there to do.

What will happen to Harmony when she finds herself in a spot of trouble? Will Presto cross the line to help her? He makes it clear that she has made it clear from the beginning that he should stay in his dance space and she in hers. There are lovely subtle nods to some of our country’s biggest issues here… A moment suggests that Harmony might do away with the rope and invite him over but alas, she only moves it nearer to allow him to reach the precious gramophone, which is in desperate need of his unique skill set. (Earlier, perhaps not as subtly, Presto steps near enough to be physically present at Harmony’s tea party, but only as a non English speaking servant to pour the tea…). What follows is a hilarious and chaotic sequence of crazy, zany emergency treatments, with (Dr) Presto and (Nurse) Harmony working together, channelling classic Commedia and clowning energy and antics (Dramaturg Robert Kronk) to bring the broken gramophone back to life.

Presto’s sound effects especially are sensational and nothing is safe; every object is a noise-making instrument. (Some objects produce sounds that are more musical than others). He communicates using a language entirely of his own making, using gesture and bird whistle words. He’s very clear and we’re reminded that the challenges we experience when communicating with others is less about what they are saying and more about what we are hearing. 


When Harmony and Presto finally tune in to what the other is saying and discover a way to work together the children in the audience clap and cheer. Harmony invites us, without a word, to be a part of the concerto by handing out colourful toy instruments and prompting us to clap along. Skitch employs every facial expression in her repertoire, Voyage struts and trumpets and the kids love it!

Presto surreptitiously loops the sound effects to create a final multi-layered piece that plays beneath the live trumpet and percussion sounds. What began as a simple kitchen collection of noisy junk becomes a richly textured musical number, the Concerto of the title. A stronger finish will make this show almost perfect.

Directors, Helen Howard and Michael Futcher, expertly manipulate the artists’ playful exploration and their heartfelt communication to transform a simple story into a sophisticated musical extravaganza, which genuinely engages and delights all ages.





debase Productions

Judith Wright Centre Shopfront

November 19 – 21 2015


Reviewed by Meredith Walker




It has been said that one of first things in creating a character is to find their walk. But wigs, it seems, also offer opportunity to easily establish a character… or characters in this case.


As writer/performer Liz Skitch demonstrates in her comedy show “Spoilt”, there are so many nuances to characters. After entering as herself, she transforms c/o five different wigs and a handful of accessories into five entirely distinct but stereotypical female characters, all spoilt in their own way.




Sucking in her cheeks and sticking out her chest, she morphs from bridezilla Sonja to scatterbrain reality tv star Larissa, famous for her burlesque number on “X Factor” and desperate to maintain her tenuous celebrity status. Then, with hunched shoulders and bulky beads, she becomes Sue, a sarcastic wedding co-ordinator, ageing years in a moment. From Botoxed celebrant Jacqui, willing to share her most intimate secrets to anyone who will listen, to Australia’s Toughest personal trainer, Peta Swift, once captain of the Australian Netball Team and now celebrity trainer on “The Biggest Loser”, her energy never wanes in representation of the essential narcissism at the core of each character.




The characters’ clever connection is through a celebrity wedding, at which audience members are also in attendance, including as the mother and father of the bride and bridesmaids crew. Although a lavish affair, complete with New Idea coverage, it is also a very weird wedding, thanks to an unanticipated Act Two twist. Despite only this loose narrative, however, Skitch’s performance is dynamic enough to carry the evening. Her affection for the characters and their quirks is clear. And her impersonations of the exaggerated personalities are as remarkable as they are entertaining.


Beyond just wigs and accessories, down to the finest nuances, her physicality, vocals and mannerisms combine in each instance to create perfect depiction, making audience members spoiled for choice of a personal favourite.




“Spoilt” is a strangely entertaining show: mostly entertaining in Act One but sometimes a little strange in Act Two. Still, with its catchy soundtrack (because what wedding is complete without some ‘Nutbush City Limits’) and many comic moments, it is loads of fun, including through its mild audience participation.


More entertainment than social comment, it includes a stack of silliness that makes it a great, giggly night out.





Fly-In Fly-Out


Fly-In Fly-Out

deBase Productions

Nambour Civic Centre

June 5 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a FIFO family? Is your family a FIFO family?


How do you keep doing what you do every day, at the same time feeling that there must be a better way?


In consultation with community groups, deBase productions developed a light-hearted, hard-hitting show about what day to day living looks like in a small mining town. Together with writer, Robert Kronk and Director & Co-Writer, Howard Cassidy, they spent time talking with people, collecting stories, and creating characters with whom audiences would relate.


flyinflyout_jennyTammy Weller plays a very young sixteen-year-old at first who matures a bit by the end of the show. The first 10 – 12 minutes has me a little worried because each character feels two-dimensional until the actors settle into their primary roles and begin to play a bit. As soon as everybody relaxes on stage they have their audience convinced too. It’s a tough one comprising senior theatre students and general public, but Weller is engaging and energetic as Jenny, who sets up her story as if we are watching a film of her life – the movie in her mind – and this works a treat.


A basic set and lighting design (Josh McIntosh & Jason Glenwright respectively) allows Fly-In Fly-Out to tour to all sorts of spaces everywhere. It has an appropriately tired and faded feel about it, reflecting the tired old state of our mining towns.


The story is specifically crafted for young people, but the gist of it is for all ages. Since their mother died in a car crash it’s just the two girls, aged 12 and 16, and Dad (Peter Cossar). Jenny (Weller) and her little sister, Angie (Stephanie Tandy) don’t see much of Dad and when they do he just wants to relax. Jenny feels as if she does all the work at home, which is probably true. We see her picking up after the other two, organising dinners and offering to take on additional shifts at work to try to make ends meet. All of this whilst juggling schoolwork and friends and friends-who-are-boys (not to mention the usual predators, who make it known that they are, cruelly and more than a little bit inappropriately, interested in the younger sister).


David (John Russell) is a typical cringe-worthy teen, an ordinary high school student with all the insecurities and a tough, almost uncaring act, which masks his true feelings. Yes, he’s THAT guy. We really feel for him at first – a collective pity starts to amass in the room – but then I just want him to take a deep breath, step up and give the other guy a run for his money. The other guy, Seb (Patrick Dwyer), is a cute, calm, confident and very mature blow-in, visiting town for just as long as his father has work there. He effortlessly romances Jenny out from underneath David, and tension and confusion (and hilarity) ensues. Poor David. He doesn’t stand a chance and the romance blossoms between Jenny and Seb, leading to the most delightful, most awkward scenes ever, alone together at the lookout above the dump (how romantic indeed!) and later, at a party. Seb has all the cool moves and the inept David misses out and develops dangerous pent-up resentment as he looks on.


At the same party, little sister Angie attracts the unwanted-but-desperately-wanted attention of the predator, Chris (it’s Dwyer, cleverly double cast), and an entire sub-plot goes unattended when she is almost whisked away and assaulted by Chris and his mates. Perhaps this would be too much stuff at once, considering the original school-age audience intended for this show, or perhaps it’s another show, in which case I hope it’s the next to be written. As a mother and educator, I hope to see the issues of unwanted male attention and peer group pressure addressed whenever the opportunity presents itself. Within the bounds of theatre and literature, kids (and their teachers and parents) are generally more comfortable to talk about their fears and experiences, and more open to discussing choices that will help them to avoid getting into uncomfortable situations. Sure, there’s a punch up but there’s an ideal opportunity to intelligently investigate the themes of power and sexually aggressive party behaviour missed.




Kronk and Cassidy’s best-penned scenes are the more intimate dialogues, between Jenny and David, Jenny and Seb, and Jenny and Dad. The driving lesson is hilarious and when Jenny stands up to Dad, explaining that she’s not his wife and she misses her mum, and it’s all difficult for everyone, we get razor sharp insight into the highly-strung emotions of a FIFO household…of any household. This is also the moment we see the necessary depth of character from Weller, who depends a lot on the comedy of the piece but clearly has more to offer.


Fortunately, the show’s pace is furious and its characters are easy to recognise, easy to relate to. (You’ll see David and know him. You’ll meet Seb and know him. You’ll look the owner of the Chook Nook up and down and laugh because she’s so trashily familiar).


Fly-In Fly-Out narrowly avoids the condescending tone of so many productions “created for young people” and gives us a look beyond the frayed edges of families who struggle to communicate. Its themes of loss, grief, love, school, work and community are captured nicely, believably, and get us talking about the complexities of such a life – any life – and have us feeling grateful for our own.



Fly In Fly Out – Trailer from debase productions on Vimeo.


The Furze Family Variety Hour




The Furze Family Variety Hour

deBASE Productions

Judith Wright Centre

September 2 – 7 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


The Furze Family Variety Hour promises pies in faces. And it’s pies in faces we get, even if for no other reason than “pies in faces are funny.” Also, nakedness is funny. But this kind of family friendly “nakedness”, and a wild rumpus dished up as the finale, are even funnier than you’re imagining…


It purports to be a family show – or does it? It’s the Furze Family’s Ginger and Red taking to the stage to entertain us in the best way they know how. It goes along the lines of, “Make ‘em laugh!” And they do. In the timeless tradition of the likes of Lucille Ball and Jerry Lewis, this duo appeared to be testing the waters with their opening night audience on Tuesday night. One of the first comedy cabs outta’ the rank this Brisbane Festival, the pressure to impress is real, but the season is relatively short, so I imagine the rewards will be great, regardless of critical opinion. The general response is already favourable because PIES IN FACES GUYS. And there’s a lot more besides.



These two multi-faceted performers are old-school style truly delightful; they’re cheeky and a little bit naughty. Leon Cain (Red) and Helen Cassidy (Ginger) are the brother and sister team that offers, true to form, a variety of vaudeville inspired entertaining acts. At times I feel the pace lags a little but nobody else seems to notice. Anyway, I’m convinced that Helen Cassidy has one of the most radiant faces in the world so whenever I start to feel a little impatient I look at her and she glows in a genuinely born for the spotlight sorta’ way. Cain manages to keep a wicked gleam in his eyes even when, or perhaps especially when, a scene requires some pretend pathos, so it doesn’t hurt to glance his way either.


A classic picnic skit, perfectly measured and polished, allows a new relationship to blossom and honours the timeless comic traditions of slapstick, surprise and the sharing of secrets or asides with the audience. This sequence highlights the director’s light hand and her trust in the actors, as well as her attention to minute detail and comic timing. A more relaxed musical interlude indulges our tendencies towards sibling rivalry, and a traditional lion tamer act turns into a Thank God You’re Here segment when a member of the audience is called upon to play the role of, you guessed it, the lion. “He’s so beautiful. But so stoopid!” He did very well in fact! Was he a plant? It doesn’t matter! We don’t care because FUNNY.




And my favourite act; Wendy the blow up doll becomes a stand in for Jennifer Grey in a riotous Dirty Dancing send up. For those of you sharing a cabaret table with kids (#isitjustme), you may wish you’d accepted the Furze Family part of the title for what it was, rather than assume this would be a “family” show. I got out of answering any tricky sex accessory questions because Poppy simply thought this sequence was hilarious. And it was! She recognised all the moves! That’s my girl! Cain’s commitment to this scene, his manipulation of his dance partner, and his mastery of the iconic choreography makes this the highlight of the night.


Poppy said The Dance of Love was funny too, when the boy played the girl and the girl played the boy until we got dizzy watching their clever coat changes. She loved Cassidy’s many voices, including her sweet singing voice, and having just come from Opera Australia and John Frost’s Anything Goes launch event at QPAC, at which we had heard from Caroline O’Connor and Claire Lyon, that is high praise indeed! And the use of song, or as Poppy puts it, poems sung – some we knew, like Moses supposes his toeses are roses but Moses supposes erroneously (she said to write the whole thing and embed the video, Mum; it’s so good!) – and some we didn’t (original music composed by David Megarrity & Samuel Vincent with Kellee Green). It was so funny because they would be talking and suddenly they would start singing a song.



Also, the (balloon) sword-swallowing act was hilarious yet it didn’t seem quite real… #theadventuresofpoppy


But the show splits itself right down the middle. On one hand we have our skits; a collection of mini narratives with pie-in-the-face punchlines (metaphorically only until the finale), and on the other hand we have a formally introduced segment, “The Rules of Comedy”, which could almost be the premise that got lost along the way. The structure of this segment could potentially serve to strengthen the entire show. Alternatively, put a red pen to it and keep this part short and sweet like everything preceding it (and get to the pies!).


I’m delighted to relay that the opening night crowd on Tuesday filled the Judith Wright Centre’s Shopfront with laughter but I fear I may need a slightly more sophisticated return season before I’m completely convinced about this one. It’s possible that the Furze Family simply needs to find new audiences for a while in our favourite regional centres. There’s no doubt they’d develop a following, and easily give the cousins, Ivan and Juniper, a run for their money in the sprint to host industry events each year. It would also be interesting to gauge the response of the after dark Woodford Folk Festival crowd. I ‘reckon Director, Bridget Boyle, and deBASE Productions are onto something but I don’t think this is it…yet.


It’s the cheeky and charismatic camaraderie, as well as the extraordinary individual comic talents of Cain and Cassidy that win me over in the end. And it’s for the entertainment value of these two talented performers that you should see The Furze Family Variety Hour in this format during this festival. Next, I’d love to see some stronger material delivered at breakneck speed to turn this hour of vaudevillian fun into a classic smash hit!