Posts Tagged ‘ellen bailey


The Forwards


The Forwards

Brisbane Powerhouse, Shock Therapy Productions & Zeal Theatre

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

June 14 – 24 2017


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




You may or may not be a footy fan but The Forwards is for everyone, no matter your feelings about sport or art, or the inconceivability of combining the two in any way in between opening ceremonies…

because it’s about people.

Stefo Nantsou’s latest show for Zeal Theatre and Shock Therapy Productions was originally written for high school audiences, and while there remains a made-for-school-curriculum quality early in the text, in its set up, this and its humour is what makes it accessible; it’s wide open, literally with something for everyone, and like The Apology, my other favourite work from this Gold Coast based collective, it deserves to go far.

The Forwards ticks all the boxes, but more importantly, it tugs at the heartstrings and reminds us, powerfully, of who we are, where we come from, and the reasons we might feel the need to escape. In this highly physical and confrontational drama, Australia’s small town mentality and a number of universal issues go under the microscope.



It might not have been you who grew up in a football obsessed town the size of the fictional Pintoon, but you must know someone who did. The stories we have after spending just three years in Mt Isa would make a disturbing evening too, but we’ll let those sleeping dogs lie a little longer. The panoply of Pintoon characters is impressive, and even more so when we realise that this show is performed in schools by three actors rather than five.

Despite each character coming dangerously close to being a Great Australian Stereotype, the immediate recognition (and the nicknames: Twerk, Hashtag etc), are vital, helping us to get to know everyone in record time. (It’s already a slightly longer than necessary show; we only need to see the first or second, and then the final quarter of the match, or each quarter can be a good deal shorter, more effectively applying the tableaus).



To return to each individual at the end of the play in a beautiful, extended, transformative sequence is a masterstroke, and a masterclass in nuanced physical performance.

Nantsou has shaped the story as if it’s already optioned for a television movie or mini series, and perhaps it might be; there’s certainly a broader audience for this story, and what a refreshing wake up call to see something so Australian, so unforgivably real on our small screens. Using slow motion and choreographed sequences to good effect, we’re sickened by the small-minded, heavy-handed violence throughout – implied and actual – and horrified by the inevitable end.


Spoiler alert: there hasn’t been a more terrifying car crash seen on stage since Fractal’s Anywhere Fest production of My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe (2015), which also benefited from mesmerising slow motion sequences and a lighting design by Geoff Squires. I’d LOVE to see these productions done as a double bill at Brisbane Powerhouse (…and Mt Isa Civic Centre). Can you imagine? And afterwards the drinking culture would continue, because we’re gonna’ need something pretty strong at the end of an evening like THAT. 


Sam Foster, Hayden Jones and Ellen Bailey bring accomplished performances to the Visy stage,  playing all manner of townsfolk as well as the main characters who harness our hearts and would have us take sides, only we can’t because we’re given all angles to consider and compassion is the only way through.

Bailey as both the jock and his girlfriend is inspired casting; it’s a demanding ask of the actor but she delivers, leaving us in the end with a heart wrenching image of desperate hollow grief. 

Rob Diley and Nantsou bring a number of additional roles to life, and from the outset, carry the garage band sound and energy. The original music played live by the entire cast on stage adds another raw, real element to the production. Without it we’d be left wanting.

With Foster and Nantsou’s simple set design, and Squires’ moody lighting, this school show has grown up and graduated to the main stage. 

There has been one other company to have the same powerful impact on audiences of all ages, inside and outside of the school setting. 

Only Nelle Lee’s Tequila Mockingbird has delivered a similar shock to the contemporary collective system. On one hand it’s surprising that there are not more like it, The Apology and The Forwards, and on the other, it’s possible that the code is just too hard for other companies to crack. Or perhaps the others think the scene is stitched up? Or they’re interested in other things. But there is great demand for these works, due to the desperate need in our secondary schools for real life issues to be brought to the table in powerful, transformative ways that teens can relate to.

If you know a teacher or a school administrator, can you make sure they know about this show? We see the impact of theatre on the whole school community; it should never be just for the kids who do Drama.

The Forwards offers a rare opportunity for our youth and the people who care about them to consider the challenging issues of belonging, leaving, the law, loyalty, love, loss, sex, secrets, pride, rules, respect, envy, violence, entertainment, youth, ageing, country towns, clubs, community, the lure of bright city lights and celebrity, alcoholism, addiction, football and rape culture, and what it means to be a man or woman or mother or father or figure of authority in this country. The jury’s still out on that one. Rather than being condescending or irrelevant to kids’ lives outside of the classroom, The Forwards will make them, and their teachers and parents, sit up and see familiar people and familiar problems in a way that demands discussion.



With deep insight, sensitivity and a necessarily light touch at times, Nantsou has written and directed an outstanding, hard-hitting theatrical piece to challenge its actors and audiences.

The Forwards is potent and it has the potential to change lives.

Production pics by Garth Ledwidge


The Forwards


The Forwards

Zeal Theatre & The Arts Centre Gold Coast

The Space, The Arts Centre Gold Coast

July 9 – 18 2015


Reviewed by Katy Cotter




In 2004 founder of Zeal Theatre, Stefo Nantsou, was asked to create a piece of ‘contemporary theatre reflecting the experiences of young people in regional communities.’ The company ran workshops at numerous high schools that revealed common issues surrounding sport, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment and small town rivalries. Nantsou took these stories, transforming them into a play for three actors.


In collaboration with Shock Therapy Productions and The Arts Centre Gold Coast, The Forwards is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, focusing on the Pintoon Parrots, who have made it to the AFL grand final.


The whole town has come to support their boys, in particular the three stellar kickers – Rabbit, Hoges and Tractor. It all begins the night before the big game when everyone is partying hard. The narrative follows the three kickers as they struggle with the pressures of being the best and denying the temptations of alcohol, drugs and reckless behaviour.




The audience is first introduced to Julie, Rabbit’s girlfriend, both played by Ellen Bailey. Julie is worried that Rabbit’s fascination with drugs will jeopardise his chance to prove his sporting talent. Bailey moves between the two characters with ease, playing Julie with a captivating sensitivity that has the audience hanging on her every word, and then switching to the hot-headed Rabbit who keeps his hands in his pockets and eyes to the ground. Hoges (Sam Foster) and Tractor (Hayden Jones) are Rabbit’s best friends and the relationship between the three changes drastically. Foster and Jones, founders of Shock Therapy Productions, are two extremely skilled actors who completely immerse themselves in the physicality of their characters. Jones also plays the role of the Coach, and anyone who grew up watching their brothers play footy, will recognize that Jones’ portrayal is spot on.


There are so many comical characters the actors portray which display their versatility and help build the image of an entire town.


Nanstou and co-founder of Zeal Theatre, Rob Dilley, made cameo appearances as some of the townsfolk when they weren’t playing the musical score for the show. Situated at the back of the stage, Dilley kept the beat on the drums while Nanstou played guitar. Their presence doesn’t pull attention away from the action happening on stage. They keep their focus on the actors and remain within the world of the show.


Nanstou’s performance as Julie’s Dad is distressing and the symbol of the coke can is one I won’t forget.




Zeal Theatre is known for their style of physical theatre and it is one of the play’s greatest strengths.


The choreography of the football game has all the drama and physical finesse as the real thing, and is accompanied by a high intensity drum solo by Dilley. Although some of the sound effects made by the actors and the use of mime were sometimes unnecessary and distracting, the commitment to every movement throughout the entirety of the play made it difficult for the audience to disengage. Without giving too much away, there is a scene where a series of repetitive gestures spoke louder than words, and this is a true testament to Nantsou’s direction. The scene was far more emotional and engaging without dialogue, leaving the audience to fill in the silence with their own experience of grief.


The Forwards explores themes of friendship, betrayal and the disastrous ramifications of binge-drinking.


The story has a perfect balance of drama and comedy and must be told so that history is not repeated. The unbelievable pressure put upon young people to succeed is a harsh reality and the current sporting culture we have in Australia cannot be ignored. You have to be the best otherwise you’re nothing. The Forwards remind us that the upmost importance is nurturing and encouraging our young athletes in positive ways. Season must finish Saturday.








Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore


Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

May 23 – June 13 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward












I never really liked Neapolitan icecream but when we were kids we would have it for dessert sometimes – a special treat – and now I’ll never eat it again.






Daniel EvansOedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s an incredibly fast, funny, deeply affecting piece, which uses the ancient story of Oedipus to look at how we respond to unspeakable tragedy.



The winner of the 2014-2015 Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, the only writing comp in the country that guarantees a fully professional production of the winning work, this Oedipus is a disturbingly accurate contemporary take on Sophocles’ Theban plays. If you’ve never before been able to work out the complex plots, this production gives you all the clues to do so.



Transposed to an outer suburban neighbourhood somewhere in Australia (it’s one we might try to avoid visiting after dark), the unfathomable story suddenly becomes horrifyingly familiar – as familiar as any tragedy involving celebrities or royalty might seem via Facebook – as a chorus of four young actors rise from green plastic chairs and tell us simply and directly where they are and which role they’ll be playing in order to relay the shocking tale.



Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is masterful writing, brought to vivid life by a brilliant team.



And speaking of teamwork, let’s not forget the Dramaturgs: Stephen Carlton, Saffron Benner and Louise Gough, who have helped to nurture the text through many stages of development.



I guess this doesn’t really require a mention either, but something about this production reminds me of another winner of this award so I’m going to remind you of it too. Marcel Dorney created an ancient world for his winning play, Fractions, directed by Jon Halpin in 2011. It had been in development for four years. “We all thought it was pretty special but were worried it was too hard, that the ideas were too difficult and too big and people would just switch off,” Halpin told Cameron Pegg. The boldness paid off, bringing us the big ideas and difficult lessons of an old story in a new framework. Halpin said of Fractions, “It’s set 1500 years ago but it speaks with an urgency and relevance to today’s world with more insight and profundity than any other new work I’ve come across.” I would say the same of Evans’ Oedipus.



The story is inconceivable, the stuff of the inescapable 24-hour click-bait news cycle but told this way, so cleanly and unapologetically, we believe it.



From the outset we’re drawn into a hilarious retelling of events (no really; it’s really horribly funny) with just a couple of amendments to detail, such as the pedophiliac father’s chariot becoming a car in a fatal crash.



A compelling scene toward the end of the play humanises things even more than the humour can do, in case we didn’t already feel something. To set it up, we live through the excruciating tension of a high school shooting orchestrated and executed by Eteocles and Polynices (the sons of Oedipus). The massacre is reenacted on top of a pulled-from-the-wall campus mud map. Again, as we’ve seen before, there is comedy in it that makes us feel inhuman for laughing out loud. It leaves me numb. I’m filled with dread in the moment before the final “bang” is voiced by one of the boys and then I feel sick to my stomach. This slow burn is a master class in tension and restraint, a perfect example of the restraint shown throughout by Director, Jason Klarwein. It’s his best work to date and it thrills me to think of what he might, as Director, be gifted with next.



The beautifully tragic scene-that-shouldn’t-work (and wouldn’t work in the hands of a less intelligent team) takes place in a deserted playground, in which Haemon (Son of Creon and Eurydice, engaged to Antigone, who is dead) sits silently on a swing while an unknown girl chatters away to him under the pretext of sharing the last can of rum from the carton at Haemon’s feet. Eteocles and Polynices have killed everyone else (BANG). The rum is…warm. The mood is…awkward. Burton is superb here, a gangly, desperately frightened teen unravelling for the longest time. She is mesmerising, expertly manipulating pace, pause and proximity. Suddenly, after his eerie extended silence, a single sentence tossed spitefully across the playground by Haemon destroys her completely and he exits and kills himself. It’s brutal, brilliant stuff.



The space is intimate and at the same time retains a vast, empty feeling, as if we are lost in time and space. Justin Harrison’s soundscape, comprising original compositions and precision theatre sound effects (is that even a thing? I’m making precision theatre a thing), matches the text moment-to-moment, beat-by-beat, leaving silences through which we can only breathe…or not dare to breathe. An intelligent lighting design by Daniel Anderson works like a spell to capture and focus our attention; it’s the best example I can offer to tech-obsessed students this year of the way in which the elements are used to enhance a production. That leads me to mention that although it’s a risqué show for secondary schools, that doesn’t mean students should stay away from it. While the school might not be in a position to take you, senior students, you should see this show. You’re welcome.






The design, perfectly realised by Jessica Ross, is spectacularly simple, featuring fluorescent lighting to frame the action and a graffiti wall by Drapl, which is foreboding even in all its colour and humour, warning us like the Oracle and welcoming us like Laius into the cold, hard, clashing world of ancient and modern youth. The overall effect serves to focus our attention on the performers, an astonishing ensemble.






Ellen Bailey, Emily Burton, Joe Klocek and Toby Martin are uncompromising in their multiple roles. If Bailey were a criminal she would be considered a master of disguise. Her ability to switch from one character to the next is impressive and always funny. Burton is a beauty, swinging from hysteria to thoughtful silence in a heartbeat. Martin sometimes shouts a little more than necessary but as Laius, King of Thebes, he successfully harnesses the craziest, creepiest kind of power imaginable over the young boy, Crysippus, and seers his image and evil energy onto our hearts. It’s Klocek we’ll keep an eye on though, because this 19-year-old achieves the same level of depth and nuance and variety with his characters as the others do with far less stage or screen experience under his belt. Here’s his bio:



Queensland Theatre Company: This Hollow Crown, Face It. Other Credits: QUT: Orphans, The Three Sisters. Film: Rome. Training: QTC Youth Ensemble, 2012.






How exciting and frightening that the story of Oedipus who kills his father, sleeps with his mother and rips his own eyes out (the “professional opinion” here is a killer), can feel new and fresh and raw and completely relevant. I won’t give away the final moment but IT BITES. THIS PLAY BITES. WHO COULD WRITE SUCH A THING?



Well, Daniel Evans could and he has done, and if you miss it you miss bearing witness to a new, living, fire-breathing brand of Australian theatre that other writers are trying desperately to master.



Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is an exceptional play and this is an electrifying production, which must be supported to have a life beyond its World Premiere run.





5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche


5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche

Imprint Theatricals

Powerhouse Visy Theatre

February 3 – 8 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Earth may be on the brink of destruction,
 But NOTHING could be worse than…


It’s 1956 and the Cold War is at it’s peak. Western civilisation is under constant threat of Communist attack, and Nuclear War is an ever-present fear for most citizens of the United States of America. But even total annihilation won’t stop the charming widows of the Susan B Anthony Society For The Sisters of Gertrude Stein from getting together and celebrating at their annual Quiche Breakfast.



What a great night! It’s taken me a while to get back to it!

Sorry for the delay; there’s a LOT to catch up on before February finishes. (After February, IT REALLY WILL BE 2015. So I’d better get a move on).


5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche was nothing like I had expected it to be – I don’t know what I had expected it to be – and I’m glad we got to the final show of the season, having left Noosa rather late (for Sunday afternoon southbound traffic that is), at 4:15pm. Incredibly, we had time to spare, and picked up a couple of drinks from Bar Alto before making our way downstairs to the Visy, where we were promptly greeted by primped and preened cast members in gorgeous 50s pinup frocks, pumps and red lippy. Exquisite! The premise is simple and the set is plain. We’re welcomed by members of the Susan B Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, and given a sticker with a name printed on it (I’m Joyce. Sam is Evelyn. Some poor sod in the front row is Marjory, the brunt of all the best jokes), and ushered into the theatre, which is our bomb shelter…for the next four years.




I was thrown, I’ll admit, not by hugs & kisses because long lost friends you guys; we only see some of them in theatre foyers, but by our name tags. Everyone knows that Nathanael Cooper dislikes audience interaction as much as I do. MAYBE EVEN MORE THAN I DO. SOOOOO… WHAT THE?! 


5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche seems a strange, but not, first option for a producer’s Brisbane debut (if I were to tell you the full story, it ain’t the first choice, but these things happen for a reason). This show boasts a stellar all-girl cast and it’s very funny, but it’s not an obvious winner due to its style and content.


Imprint Theatricals (Nathanael Cooper and Sean Bryan) are new on the scene but they are certainly not newcomers to our local industry. This is a bold, calculated debut and one which proves they’re here to stay, come hell or, dare I say it, high floodwaters.


I will admit, I know 3 of the 5 cast members, and I’ve seen a 4th gorgeous gal before so only Ginny is new to me. (Ginny was new to the show, having stepped in and saved the day with only two or three days to rehearse! Impressive!). It’s a terrific, fun, free and wild-at-heart tied-to-the-kitchen-sink ensemble; these girls sure know how to party put on a show! If it were not for Sam’s early on-air start, I would have been more than happy, after the 75-minute performance, to fangirl for a good long while over Lauren Jackson, Samantha Turk, Catherine Alcorn, Ellen Bailey and Meghan Clarke. Offers of overnight accommodation always welcome. Rydges? Emporium? Anyone?



As matriarch and founder of the association, Alcorn is a comedic force, effortlessly bringing the funny and the element of surprise to proceedings. But she’s not alone and Jackson, with just one of her eyebrows, almost steals the show. Her character is so fearsome and so delicious, that even if you are not inclined, I’m sure you could be persuaded to sample some of what’s on offer here (IT SEEMS IT’S NOT JUST THE QUICHE)… And THAT is the mark of a good performer. Oh yes, sometimes there is quite simply magic to behold.




Turk weaves her own subtle magic. We’ve not seen her for a while but we’re glad she’s back! Turk has a way of stepping assuredly in and out of the foreground that swings our focus between whatever is happening and her part in it. Her comic timing is exceptional.




Bailey’s role comes to a strangely shocking conclusion, but she makes her mark well before her mark is left…she’s truly hilarious. Without suspension of disbelief these creatures are altogether a little OTT but each woman, with tongue placed firmly in cheek, makes her story plausible. Or, should we say, tongue in quiche. Ginny gets her delicious tabletop moment (we all need a tabletop moment!), and I notice a minimum of shockwaves coursing through the closing night audience members; more like unexpected, horrified delight! We’re shocked! And intrigued and…wondering, “Wow, how is that quiche feeling right now?” That’s right. EXACTLY what it sounds like. Quiches have needs too, you guys.


This show is fast and fun and really silly; Sam says he is certain there is meaning in it somewhere but really, who gives a quiche?


It’s an irreverent piece, unlike anything we’ve seen, with just enough grit, and the few slow points in the piece more to do with the writing than with anything else. It’s actually terribly American, but not, and we end up standing together – banding together – to proclaim, in the original Spartan manner, “I’m lesbian!”


The abrupt ending is not entirely satisfying, and we are left to wonder who will survive and how, but in the meantime, we are assured that whatever we are feeling is OKAY. AND THAT’S REASSURING, ISN’T IT?


The perfect prelude to the inaugural MELT Festival, 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche has given us a tantalising taste of what Imprint Theatricals can do with a cast of delightful ladies, and I can’t wait for a second helping.


Tender Napalm

Tender Napalm


Tender Napalm

La Boite & Brisbane Festival

The Roundhouse

21st September – 13th October 2012


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


“To think of Ridley is to think of violence and beauty.” David Berthold


Let’s start at the end…the very end. The place we think we’ll never reach because it only ever happens to other couples. Doesn’t it? It’s the place that, when you get to it, doesn’t seem real and makes you think, “How did we get here? We were never going to be like this.” Violent. Erotic. Electric. Every once in a while, there comes along an exquisite piece of theatre that not only asks us to reconsider all our pre-conceived notions of theatre but also, it challenges us on so many personal levels that it makes it difficult to tell about. Easy to talk about. Difficult to tell about. Tender Napalm is that piece.


“I remember…”


Tender Napalm is extraordinarily beautiful. In its staunch refusal to be boxed or categorised, David Berthold’s (Director) and Garry Stewart’s (Choreographer) unique take on Philip Ridley’s new play is a strange concoction of emotion, language and extreme physicality. Two fabulous multi-disciplinary performers, Kurt Phelan and Ellen Bailey, through the telling of fantasy after fantasy after high energy dance infused fantasy – and not always the XXX-Rated kind though there are several of those too – share the story of a young couple at pains after a life-changing event to work out their shared place in the world. Child-like games, tenderness, taunts and one-upmanship make this an evening of contrasts and imaginings that will challenge audiences, daring us to question the roles and responsibilities in our own relationships. Tender Napalm On a metaphorical deserted island, in a dream state, exist the two young people, hell bent on destroying one another and at the same time taking whatever semblance of love and sex they can get from each other. From fantasy comes their ability to deal with reality without ever having to look it square in the eye. It’s the killing of dragons (or, in this case, serpents). It’s violent, sexy and completely captivating. It’s by no means a simple story (are there any simple stories?); in fact it’s reversed (the last scene, revealing the first, is my favourite) and we’re on tenterhooks for most of the 80 minutes, wondering who will be the next to make their move in order to get us (them) back to the actual beginning, the place where it all began, when two people were in love without having to suffer life’s horrific events. Ridley’s poetic language is at times as crude as it is romantic. It seemed for some on opening night that a few words rolled almost too easily off the young tongues but then, as Ridley suggests, our love languages are in need of an update and here it is, in phrases like, “I could push a bullet between your lips”. It’s strangely satisfying to see love and aggression intertwined like this…in somebody else’s imagined life. And in one kiss, suddenly we see everything. The whole relationship; the ecstasy, the tragedy, the grief, the essence of love and life and death and destruction. The whole world in an instant. In that kiss. That kiss is…everything. Within Justin Nardella’s neat set of multiple wooden surfaces there is little distraction from the action and we are able to take in Steve Toulmin’s subtle score and Daniel Anderson’s barely perceptible lighting changes as if we are part of the dream. It occurs to me, during a particularly descriptive and aggressive monologue, that this is the same vitriol, the same implosion we are witnessing, as George and Martha’s bitter destruction of each other in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It’s hard to watch and even harder to look away. In the same way, Tender Napalm will leave you breathless and hurting and haunted. It will sear itself onto the edge of your thoughts and refuse to fade or be easily forgotten.


Tender Napalm. Image by Dylan Evans.

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