Posts Tagged ‘dracula

17
Aug
15

Dracula

 

Dracula

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

August 13 – September 5 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

I will take no refusal…

 

 

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shake & stir’s Dracula is an ambitious gothic horror piece with spectacular production elements playing the pivotal roles.

 

 

This new version of the Bram Stoker classic, adapted for the stage by Nick Skubij and Nelle Lee, presumes we know Dracula down to its last detail but as I discovered after the show on opening night, of course there are some for whom the story is new. A difficult text to condense – an epic story across oceans, and oceans of time – we miss some early detail, such as Jonathan Harker’s first dreamy, lusty, dreadful encounter with the brides of Dracula, the “devils of the pit” (We hear about it after the fact, as the encounters continue). It’s not a biggie, but it’s typical of this adaptation, which seems to skirt around the themes of female sexuality and the genuine fear during the Victorian era of women awakening to their own sexual power, more so than any power a man might wield.

 

Harker’s narration of strange and supernatural events comes to us in the form of a pre-recorded voiceover that detracts from the overall effect of the production rather than enhances it. (The passage of time is evident in Jason Glenwright’s ingenious lighting states and Josh McIntosh’s spectacular set changes, incorporating a revolving winding stairwell and too many nooks and crannies to list!). Guy Webster’s spine tingling soundscape is otherwise perfect, complete with cracking thunder, buzzing flies, the snarling and howling of hounds outside and the chilling screams and screeches of the devil’s concubines.

 

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It’s not the lush, decadent, delicious show I’d expected (although, as I tell everybody whenever I’m off to see shake & stir, these are the beautiful people of Brisbane theatre, gorgeous on stage and off, every one). Their Dracula is a dark and sombre journey, unrelenting, with the only light and shade coming from Glenwright’s lighting design (doors opening with a shaft of light sans door?! It’s really incredible work, his best to date), and David Whitney’s high-energy performance as Renfield and later, as Van Helsing. With his appearance as Van Helsing, Whitney whips up the pace and holds his loyal band of vampire killers at his heels.

 

A great study in status and deadpan delivery, Whitney commands the stage, dominating the narrative and the space.

 

Michael Futcher’s direction is gentle and sure, allowing each member of the company to play to their strengths. His use of the imposing set is brilliant, with the versatile design allowing seamless transitions between rapidly changing scenes and successfully hiding the pale faced, platinum blonde Dracula from us multiple times, causing those around me to jump in genuine fright each time the Count appears from out of the shadows.

 

As Jack, Ross Balbuziente’s confounded game is strong and as Harker, Tim Dashwood offers a genteel, endearing performance, but by the same token doesn’t get a chance to be seduced and subsequently ravished, which seems a shame (although that racy version might require an R-rating. Don’t worry, parents and principals, it’s all very tame, implied rather than made explicit). Some of the most shocking and surprising moments come from the special effects. The flash paper and the blood effects are superb. Likewise, some of Nigel Poulton’s best work is showcased in a no holds barred True Blood style fight scene.

 

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Despite the potential to do more (ravishing) within their roles, Nelle Lee (Mina) and Ashlee Lollback (Lucy) rely on some safe choices, however, having said that, feeling less than 100% on opening night, Lollback’s vocal work is strong and her extraordinary physicality is bold and sure (and suitably shocking). Leigh Buchanan’s exquisite gowns on these girls are testament to his intuitive and dramaturgical design sense, allowing full movement and at the same time, constraint of their feminine wiles. Buchanan retains the lavish authenticity of the Victorian times in the gentlemen’s garb too, bringing only Dracula’s street style into the new millennium for the later London scenes.

 

Nick Skubij wears his leather well.

 

He’s as ancient and as alluring and intriguing as he needs to be to convince every senior student in a skirt that it would be just fine to hold her breath through the bite and opt for eternal life by his side. Oh, right. Not very PC to say so? Okay. AND YET.

 

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Even without the hedonism I’d expected, Dracula is an accomplished production, with all the hallmarks of “another bloody classic” that teachers and students will appreciate for its astute combination of dramatic elements and entertaining performances; everything in alignment with our Australian Gothic Theatre criteria. The general public will love it because with Zen Zen Zo MIA and Brisbane Festival still a few weeks away, there’s nothing else quite like it, is there? And, look, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a good vampire story? But does it go as far as it could go to seduce, surprise and shock us? No. Why not? Why lead us to the edge of delicious lust and the struggle for power only to pull us back before we experience it? Are we (am I?) so desensitised that this neat, safe staging of sex and blood and gore, and the struggle between the supernatural and the human spirit fails to impress?

 

If theatre isn’t a form of voyeurism, continually challenging and changing our self-perception and our perspective of the world through our imagined experiences, what are we doing in it? What are we doing with it?

 

Why do we ever revisit a classic? Why do we need to see this story brought to life again? Is there a new lesson? Is it challenging the status quo? Is it simply an entertaining story?

 

shake & stir have always set such a ridiculously high standard with their mainstage productions that it comes as a complete surprise to walk away feeling slightly underwhelmed by Dracula. Once again, shake & stir have created a mainstage show that is perfectly tweaked for schools. This has been their strength for some time, but in time for their 10-year anniversary next year, I’m hoping that this exceptional and enduring company considers turning their approach on its head in order to stake a stronger claim in the national mainstage landscape. shake & stir remain one of this country’s most exciting, original, dynamic and dedicated theatre companies. I would hate to see them plateau after they’ve worked so hard to continuously raise the bar.

 

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

 

 

 

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06
Jul
15

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts – perfect school holiday entertainment!

 

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts

shake & stir

Roundhouse Theatre

July 4 – 11 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

It’s a rock concert, a Hip Hop film clip, a fairytale, and a favourite book brought to vivid life, all rolled into one and all PG-Rated. It’s the perfect solution for some school holiday fun that the whole family will enjoy, really. 

 

 

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More a reflection of my lack of conviction in a situation as a parent than any annoyance at the response of a volunteer at the venue, I found myself, in teacher tone, addressing an usher about a drink before taking our seats at The Roundhouse on Saturday. I’m accustomed to pouring wine from a glass into a plastic cup in order to take it into the theatre, but I was surprised to be told that Poppy would need to do the same for her drink, which was in a pop-top sealed plastic bottle. I almost laughed out loud. Seriously?! You want my jumping-up-and-down-excited nine-year-old to take her seat in the theatre with an open cup of diluted juice? (Don’t ask! We are having sugar talks at the moment). As Poppy dutifully uncapped the bottle and poured her juice-water into an enormous plastic party cup (she’s an excellent pourer and transferrer), I wondered what other mamas would do. I can think of a couple that would simply say, “No. No thanks, I think I know my child” and another couple who would actually laugh and say, “Are you joking? THINK about what you’ve just said!” And I wish I’d said something other than okay and put the bottle-with-a-lid-shut-tight in my bag because sure enough, right at the end of the show, Poppy accidentally kicked the cup, spilling the remaining slightly sticky contents over the floor beneath her seat. OH, OOPS, WHAT A SURPRISE (I said sarcastically, silently in my head).

 

As a fairly conscious parent and a first aider from way back, my immediate response is always to check for danger, assess any injuries and avoid further catastrophe while keeping anyone involved calm and quiet. There are times when Sam makes it clear that this is not the correct response, that it’s too calm and without consequence for the culprit (he is referring to our child). But more often than not, the consequence is in the disaster, and in this case, Poppy was embarrassed and upset because she knew I had felt the better option was to not do what the usher had told her to. Also, she slipped and fell against her seat BUT IT’S OKAY SHE’S OKAY.

 

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Why am I telling you this? Because going to see live theatre is about the whole experience, and often parents tell me it’s too hard to take their kids to see a show. If the venue makes it harder than parents already perceive the trip to be, who can say when they’ll be back?! Fortunately, nothing has ever deterred me from taking anyone to the theatre and Poppy is a resilient child, so despite her moment of mini-trauma (not only is she resilient but she’s also very dramatic. I don’t know where she gets it from), we agreed that Revolting Rhymes was the BEST EVER! AGAIN! Perfect school holiday entertainment for the whole family, nothing should keep you from enjoying this show.

 

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If you’ve been around for a while you’ll know how much I love shake & stir, one of the country’s most professional and engaging theatrical teams, with such broad appeal they can consistently sell out work that reinvigorates the likes of Roald Dahl, Shakespeare, George Orwell, Harper Lee, Emily Bronte and Bram Stoker (trust me – there’s no doubt Dracula will sell out!).

 

It seemed unlikely that shake & stir could make a slicker, funnier show than last year’s Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts but that’s exactly what they’ve done. Having had it on the road for some time (they just returned from a sell-out season in Hobart at the end of a national tour), the team has cranked up the pace and polished every aspect until this production sparkles even more brilliantly than before.

 

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With the A-Team of design teams on board (Josh McIntosh, Jason Glenwright & Guy Webster), this show was always going to look and sound fabulous. The colours and textures – rich, warm autumnal tones, tulle and brocade – are vaguely reminiscent of the curtains in Captain Von Trapp’s house, which Maria makes into play clothes for the children. Yes, I know those are greener, but don’t tell me you didn’t think of them too. The overall aesthetic is one of magical rainy day dress ups and cubby house construction using tablecloths and sheets and pillows for hosting soft toy high tea parties. Perfect!

 

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shake & stir think of everything.

 

The wonderfully talented, comical ensemble comprising Judy Hainsworth, Leon Cain, Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij strikes the right chord with an audience who are already vocally ready to participate, having sung at the top of their little voices before the show, “I GOT BILLS I GOTTA PAY!” (shake & stir always have the best pre-show soundtrack!).

 

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Thenadier style, the actors pop up from under trapdoors in the revolve – the only set piece, brilliantly designed and utilised – and each performer tells us, “You think you know this story… You don’t!” There are giggles and then shrieks of laughter, from kids and parents (and from Leigh Buchanan, next to me, and Billy Bouchier and Paul Dellit in front!), as small bold voices call out, “Yes we do! YES WEEEEE DOOOOOO!” The atmosphere is vibrant and silly and fun. It feels like so many children’s birthday parties when at any minute things could turn to utter chaos, but a pretty distraction or little bit of structure is re-introduced at precisely the right time in order to avert disaster.

 

Director, Ross Balbuziente, like the perfect host, cleverly manipulates every moment of Revolting Rhymes, from the grisly to the ridiculously funny.

 

With the opening sequence setting a cheeky tone and a cracking pace, we can’t wait to see what comes next…again!

 

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It was fun. It was hilarious. My favourite was Little Red. She was awesome. She was really funky, a tomboy instead of being a pretty little girly-girl. It was funny when she took the pistol out of her knickers. She was funny but you couldn’t trust her.

 

The porcupine one was funny and it was funny how she was so scared of the dentist, which was quite like real life because most people are actually scared of the dentist.

 

It was funny when the man dressed up as one of the ugly sisters. And Cinderella had to run home in her underwear and that’s just so different. In the Cinderella we are all used to her gown turns into rags so it’s much funnier to see her in her underwear.

 

And I loved the three bears, especially the mum because of her accent. This mum is my mum’s favourite character. She says Nelle is a scream. That’s something her mum, my Nanny, would say.

 

Mira said the crunching noises were a bit disconcerting…

 

It tells you more about the stories, like there is more to the stories, like the secrets of the stories.

 

It’s sometimes scary but not too scary.

 

It’s important that it looks good, that theatre looks good – the lights and the costumes are gorgeous, awesome – otherwise we’ll stop watching and just talk because we haven’t seen each other in such a long time.

 

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Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts is holiday money well spent, perfect entertainment for all ages. You don’t need to be a child or take a child to enjoy this one. You just need to stick to your guns if challenged by an usher over a drink! Must close Saturday July 11!

 

 

07
Oct
14

Wuthering Heights

 

Wuthering Heights

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

October 1 – 18 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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Time stagnates here.

 

 

“…everything anyone other than an english professor knows about Wuthering Heights at all happens in the first half. Then it drags on and on, focusing mainly on how handsome AND EVIL Heathcliff is, and how twisted he is, and how he’s just going to keep on ruining the lives of basically everyone around him.”

 

From Krypton With Love

 

 

 

#ohheathcliff

 

If it’s a gorgeous, dark, desperate, thrilling thing you’re after don’t miss this Wuthering Heights.

 

One of my favourite companies, shake & stir, continues to come up with some of the most challenging and engaging original live theatre in Brisbane. Their adaptations of classic literature are all superb (1984, Animal Farm, Tequila Mockingbird), and their latest production, a new version of Emily Bronte’s classic gothic masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, is no exception.

 

Adapted and directed by Nick Skubij, this production has a slightly different feel to shake & stir’s previous works, which have been less subtle, and somehow lighter, though no less complex, confronting or shocking in terms of their themes and the impact of each on their audience. This time – it must be the moody design inspired by the eerie moors on which the story takes place – it’s a spectacular looking production and the drama follows suit.

 

 

Terror made me cruel.

 

 

We have come to expect extraordinary beauty from this brilliant creative team: shake & stir, optical bloc and – I’m sure I’ve said it before – Brisbane’s hottest design team comprising Josh McIntosh (Set Design), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Design) and Guy Webster (Sound Design). These guys seem to split up and flit about a bit, but every time they come together with shake & stir, theatre magic happens. It’s as if they come home to play at shake & stir, and out of pure joy and surrender comes their best work. Adding to the mix this time, Leigh Buchanan’s delicate-dramatic touch (Costume Design), makes Wuthering Heights a dark and stormy (yes, you can taste it), sexy and sumptuous production.

 

 

Although the pace lags at times due to Gerry Connolly’s stilted delivery (at times the pauses are effective and at other times, not so much), his characterisation of Nelly Dean and his/her oddly measured phrases remind me of my Aunty Lorna, who has seemed eternally elderly to me, and yet has always been the most lively and strongly opinionated of the relatives I visited with as a child, with the keenest powers of observation and the longest memory. It’s as if Connolly has studied Aunty Lorna’s conversation. I always remember though, in stark contrast to Connolly’s static state, Lorna’s hands shaking to match her voice as she talked about whichever book she was devouring at the time, or the latest horror on the news, or her favourite British TV crime series. She would always insist on pouring the tea for us, in her own kitchen, in her own house, for years and years, before finally moving to a high care facility. She’s ninety-something.

 

In his Director’s Notes, Skubij reminds us that guilt doesn’t only lie with he who sinks the knife in. “Heathcliff has copped a lot of flack over the years and has been hailed as the personification of evil in this tale but what if the real devil wears a housemaid’s outfit?” It’s an excellent point and I feel like this aspect of evil, left to fester and subliminally feed the minds and hearts of others, although hinted at in this adaptation, remains largely unexplored. By Chapter 7 of Bronte’s novel Heathcliff is being advised by Nelly Dean. Sam thinks she is the mastermind and Heathcliff her pawn, though to what end he can’t say. (“Some people are just twisted!”).

 

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I love Connolly on the ivories, the accompaniment lends such a disturbing, penetrating, haunting air to proceedings, and his presence overall as Nelly Dean, particularly as her figure looms overhead, projected across fluttering silk curtains, is eerily omnipresent. (And to throw each character’s image, cleverly consumed by mist and fog early, and then later by curling flames against the flimsy fabric to demonstrate their downfall and their ultimate demise, is an inspired dramatic choice). Without the expertise and creative flair of Projection Designers, optikal bloc (and also, of Photographer, Dylan Evans), this version of Wuthering Heights would not be nearly as powerful.

 

Not quite as inspired, it has to be said, are the wigs selected for use in this production, but now that we’ve mentioned it we’ll just leave that one alone.

 

 

We cannot escape each other.

 

 

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I love Nelle saintly-blonde-bombshell Lee’s Isabella Linton, whose self destruction, in its naivety, is always so much sadder than mad, stubborn Catherine’s, isn’t it? And as Catherine AND Cathy, allow me to rave for a moment about Melanie Zanetti. I’m sure you don’t mind because, having seen her before, you know she is absolute perfection. If this is your first time with Zanetti, enjoy (and make sure it’s not just a one night stand!). She’s a wild, free heart (but not free at all, of course she’s not), like Charlotte Riley in Goky Giedroyc’s 2009 version for PBS. Zanetti transfixes her tall, dark, brooding, vicious vagabond Heathcliff (Ross Balbuziente) and also, every single member of the audience on opening night. What? Am I wrong? She’s absolutely captivating; in both roles emitting the essence of beautiful, alluring girl-child-grown-woman, like a heady fragrance worn lightly, of which we get a sense before the show even starts; I could be wrong but I feel it’s Marc Jacobs’ Oh Lola! (If so, thank you cosmetics training). If indeed it were deliberate, this subtle addition to the theatrical experience is absolute genius. On the other hand, perhaps it’s pure coincidence (if so, thank you unsuspecting audience member), but regardless, we get a sense of it at the beginning of the show, as the scent is carried on the cold wind in the created storm. And what a storm! The opening moments of Wuthering Heights are up there with The Lion King and Les Miserables for unforgettable entry points into the story. The final moments too are breathtaking, stunning, all the superlatives… Anyway, Zanetti’s ability to balance wide-eyed innocence with mad, obsessive passion makes me fear – and relish – having a daughter.

 

She burned too bright for this world.

 

 

In their debuts for shake & stir (though they are no strangers to the stage and screen), Anthony Standish and Julian Curtis are also impressive. This is most interesting and engaging work from Standish (Hindley/Hareton), and it’s the second time I’ve seen Curtis (Edgar). The first was in The Glass Menagerie and I hope there will be many more opportunities to see what he can do. Let’s keep him here a little longer, shall we?

 

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Ross Balbuziente – he of the poster, which has had high school girls and boys stopping in halls and swooning all year – presents a sultry, stormy Heathcliff straight from the pages of the book. I think it’s fair to say it’s likely we’ve never seen the full extent of this performer’s range, or perhaps it’s a lack of total surrender to each role, though what he’s doing always seems to be enough. Even so, there’s an electric undercurrent here that makes me want to slap him and say, “GO THERE” …er, see more from Balbuziente.

 

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Oh, Heathcliff. Are you really as evil as all that? I’ve never believed it! (Save me right now). Let’s call you misunderstood, a product of your environment, and without the consciousness or awareness to meditate on your destructive hatred and your desperate revenge-seeking in order to realise an alternative path.