Posts Tagged ‘Eugene Gilfedder

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

DON’T EVEN READ THIS. JUST BOOK THE TIX ALREADY.

 

Brisbane has seen three Christmas shows run simultaneously this year in a bid by leading companies to capture the Christmas market by encouraging us to establish new yuletide traditions. It’s a no-brainer, brilliant; everyone’s a winner. Give heart-warming, life-affirming, amazing experiences created especially for you by artists who stay employed right up until the end of the year in our venues that, by being filled to overflowing for every show, reinforces the case for our need for new venues so more humans get to enjoy live entertainment. This is what it’s all about. 

 

All three productions are of the highest quality, but it’s A Christmas Carol that exceeds expectations. It’s not only a compassionate take on the timeless tale, and performed with ease and extra sparkle by a stunning cast, but it’s truly visually spectacular. It’s not overstating the fact to say that the combination of visual elements surpasses anything we’ve seen before, with the exception of a flying carpet perhaps. You’ll get no spoilers from me, however; you’ll have to see the theatrical magic for yourself. 

 

shake & stir’s superb retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and directed by Michael Futcher, might not appear to be for everyone; at first glance it looks dark, sombre and a little bit scary. But it’s also very funny and completely family friendly (QPAC and shake & stir recommend the family members be 8 years and older), and as set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh reminds us, in the end, light wins.

 

Josh Mcintosh has actually outdone himself with A Christmas Carol’s seamlessly shifting set design of Neo Victorian Gothic walls and windows and staircases and balconies, creating imposing movable pieces that come together like a jumbo 3D puzzle in a whirlwind of choreography, and in true Gothic style, create an additional character in its own right, of 1800s Victorian London. Somehow there are spaces that also seem cosy and reassuring, and this is helped by Jason Glenwright’s stunning lighting states, bringing daylight into the darkest corners of the world without losing the sense of the shadows we see at the edges.

 

In amongst the moments of Christmas cheer, the mood is eerie, foreboding, suspenseful; everything that the mega smash hit next door offered to deliver and didn’t. Unsurprisingly, because this company goes to such lengths or because the theatre ghosts kindly arranged it, air con colludes with creatives, chilling us to the bone so that a shiver runs down the spine even before we catch our first a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Past. And is it really the actor on stage? Or an apparition? It’s the magic of theatre, created by Craig Wilkinson of another Brisbane based creative company steadily taking over the world, optikal bloc.

 

Despite some highly physical characterisations, particularly in Eugene Gilfedder’s Scrooge, and in Bryan Probets’ Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future (if it is indeed his elegant gesture inside the sleeve of the Elder-esque figure), there’s actually very little pageantry or pantomime involved. These heightened performances are delightful, and comparatively naturalistic when we remember perennial favourites, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes

 

The real secret to the success of this production lies in its magical alchemy behind the scenes, in the spaces between shake & stir’s founders and Artistic Directors, Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente, and the phenomenally talented creative team they assemble each time. Honestly, how we still have them in Brisbane is beyond me. Like those of The Little Red Company, shake & stir’s mainstage productions are truly world class, and they could choose to be based anywhere in the world. However, a beautiful producing and presenting partnership with QPAC and finding your work so brilliantly realised by the likes of director, Michael Futcher, and the design team would make anybody reluctant to leave the nest.

 

Original, whimsical musical arrangements performed live by wandering minstrel Salliana Campbell add festive spirit and fun to an often haunting soundscape. Campbell is a natural addition to the shake & stir family, fitting into every scene with her easy, relaxed manner and accomplished musicianship, and even brightly, unfalteringly, returning Scrooge’s Christmas morning greeting. The lovely Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is another new addition, however; we will need to wait for the next production to see her potential more fully realised.

 

 

Futcher is one of my favourite insightful directors, his light touch able to take on board the bleak tone of the original material and its central unlikeable character, but also dispel any dark power that it may hold over us by excavating the inherent beauty and kindness of human nature, and the nuances in each moment of joy, in this case, the simple message of peace and goodwill. So while this is a dark and sometimes terrifying story, the light really does win in the end. Some lovely, typically shake & stir comedy comes through, and this is also testament to Lee’s ability to adapt a complex classical text that on stage becomes suitable for almost all ages. I will mention that a particularly terrifying projected image stayed with Poppy throughout the rooftop party and lingered during the drive home, so that we had to hear Dear Evan Hansen twice more. This is not a terrible thing. The current detour due to roadworks takes us home via Forest Glen, an extra twenty minutes down the road, so the deluxe album, including deleted songs and Katy Perry’s curious rendition of Waving Through A Window, was perfect. And Poppy remembers a perfect evening out!

 

This company is well known for its founding artists’ ability to turn a hand to just about anything, and their performances don’t disappoint. Lee offers a gorgeous and gratitude filled, bubbling, bustling Mrs Cratchit, which is supported by the heartfelt, heart-warming performances of the boys (Skubij and Balbuzienti, two of the few amongst us who can convincingly play much younger than they are). And in his shake & stir debut, Lucas Stibbard is a particular Mr Cratchit, not dithering, not obsessive, not quite frightened rabbit…but there’s a sense of the downtrodden, the underdog, and he harnesses this energy beautifully to turn around each low point for the sake of his family and the youngest boy, the cripple, Tiny Tim. I won’t spoil it, but this character is a little bit of quiet genius, which may or may not make perfect sense to you, depending on your imagination and compassion. (And if you really want the spoilers, simply read the other reviews. What is it with this frantic, desperate need to reveal all?). 

 

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A Christmas Carol is the new next best beautiful annual tradition after The Nutcracker – many will say it’s their preferred option – if the presenting partners can make it work. If so, I’d like to see the ticket prices reflect the nature of the gift this show would be to so many families – and not only families – that would otherwise miss out.

 

There will always be artists and sets and spaces demanding payment (actually, the artists are usually the least demanding), and there will always be a demographic that can’t even entertain the possibility of taking themselves, let alone a family of four or five to a show, especially at Christmas time. So let’s find a way to make this brilliant, beautiful, uplifting, thrilling and life-affirming experience more accessible. Would you gift a ticket? Keep letting our companies and venues know that when you book your seats, you’d like to Pay It Forward rather than Pay A Booking Fee. 

15
May
15

My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe

 

My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe

Fractal Theatre Productions

The Hut, Jean Howie Drive

May 13 – 23 2015

 

 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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Love me, love my Holden.

 

Cars and Australian suburban culture go hand in hand. In 1973, author Henry Williams was working in Brisbane’s Acacia Ridge when he wrote the novel, My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe, an ode to the Holden Monaro centred around a racist, misogynist bully named Ron who’s more than a little obsessed with his dream set of wheels.

 

Fast-forward to decades later, and the lost Australian classic has been doing the rounds on stage for a few years. If you’ve previously missed what amounts to a black comedy of circus, mime, body percussion, film and car-porn poetry, here’s your chance to check it out. You’ll laugh, and you’ll see the iconic Monaro presented as a living, breathing organism.

 

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Refreshingly, My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe doesn’t contain too much obscene language or the graphic sex and violence that so many writers and directors insist on shoving down our throats at the moment (yes, until we’re gagging on it #sorrynotsorry), yet it’s hard-hitting enough to challenge us on all levels.

 

Brenna Lee-Cooney’s adaptation of Henry Williams’ classic ode to a car is hardcore Australian theatre at its best. Just as well it’s an intelligent company staging it, or we might miss the awful truth behind its bleak, blokey humour and be left with too-obvious crass nothingness.

 

Deeply entrenched in our culture, and highlighted by the black comedy in this piece, is the insidious dislike of and blatant disregard for anyone who is not regarded as one of our own. Migrants and the wife (and women in general) cop a hiding in this production, and we never see them get their own back because the revenge plot revolves around racist, misogynist Ron and his need to maintain his unique worldview.

 

Eugene Gilfedder played the multiple roles at La Boite in 2002 as part of The Holden Plays for the Brisbane (Energex) Festival, with Ian Lawson in the directors’ chair. I suspect this production is slightly different…

 

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It’s a tough little show with moments of fluid, silvery, abstract perfection (in case we weren’t getting the correlation between car bodies and womens’ bodies). The physical theatre is at once strange and perfectly suitable, executed with skill and precision by Vanja Matula, Zoe DePlevitz & Beth Incognito. There’s an element of mime, which brings the action at times to a slow dream-like state – is this really happening?! Hot tip: sit towards the front of the room because there ain’t no tiered seating in the hut on Jean Howie Drive.

 

Colarelli is in fine form as the abhorrent Ron (don’t call him Ronald!), beautifully weighing up some difficult choices in life, like whether or not to ever speak to the “commo” neighbour again, after he’s unable to identify a 5 / 8 ring spanner. I love Ron’s private moments of contemplation, bathed in deceptively soft white light, little philosophical soliloquies (some are pre-recorded and come across with even more menace as he glares at us), which lead us to gasp or groan aloud at his ignorance and intolerance of others – OH MY GOD. Did he really say that?! Yes. Yes, he did.

 

Having never read the original text by Henry Williams, the end comes as a complete surprise. The lengths to which the man goes to to exact revenge upon the poor souls who don’t fit his worldview… Really, we should have known. But who could imagine? In the first five minutes of the show we see exactly what sort of man Ron has been taught to be. He’s truly appalling but what the WHAT? WOW.

 

A lesser actor would make a dog’s breakfast of this role, rushing through the crass comparative comments and hurling rather than snarling insults, or indulging in the wrong moments, missing the point entirely.

 

The violence of the text is juxtaposed against pure poetry in the movement of DePlevitz, Incognito and Matula. Matula is at his best here, in multiple roles, but especially as that annoying neighbour, Mel Moody.

 

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The ensemble’s strength and poise, and their ability to work in perfect synchronicity (in fantastic shiny speedway gear) underscores some of the most beautiful (and comical) moments in the show. Yes! Despite the dark content and shocking conclusion, My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe is, in parts, actually hilarious…well, horribly so.

 

Side note: Since I finished feeling sick to my stomach through much of Christos Tsiolkas’s Dead Europe, in the car now I’m listening to Jon Kakauer’s Missoula – Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. Some of the accounts send shivers down my spine. It’s the same discomfort I experience while watching Ron run his hand down the torso of his wife, Rose, as the actor backbends into position to become the car’s gearstick.

 

DePlevitz is wholly Rose and whatever else is required, in terms of car parts, machinary parts, etc, which gives her reading of the role of Wife-with-a-capital-w a deeply disturbing underlying awareness that maybe, just maybe, she deserves more. Have I ever seen this actor in anything before? If not why not? DePlevitz’s performance is heart-achingly on point.

 

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I can’t imagine what this production would be like without its hardcore garage party soundtrack (with voice/guitar/lyrics & additional music by Finn Gilfedder-Cooney), the sound effects and pre-recorded soliloquies, and strangely colourful lighting states (Sound by Michael Bouwman. Lighting by Geoff Squires. Design Nicole Macqueen). I can’t picture a one-man show now that I’ve seen this ensemble’s polished body percussion and streamlined movement applied in the most imaginative ways I’ve seen outside of an actors’ workshop.

 

As we realise with horror what’s going to happen, and the play accelerates to reach its inevitable grisly end, I forget for a moment where I am. I’m surprised to find I’m exactly where I started, I haven’t moved, perched on the top of my seat with my feet on the actual seat in order to better see the performers who had begun on the black & white linoleum looking floor. I’m gripping the metal top of the chair.

 

 

“I watched my Monaro move off like some proud, doomed galleon…”

 

 

Terror. Horror. Unspeakable. I CAN’T EVEN. And then the epilogue. And then a rousing curtain call. And then the cold air outside.

 

I’m so impressed with this slick production. Lee-Cooney has assembled a stellar cast and turned some old-school theatrical tricks to create a deeply affecting, genuinely thrilling production, which I feel should be re-staged in front of the towering brick walls of Brisbane Powerhouse, filmed professionally and distributed to schools and theatre groups everywhere as an example of LOOK WHAT CAN BE CREATED WITH BODIES AND VOICES AND SOUND AND AN EMPTY SPACE.

 

Be one of the lucky few to see My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe during Anywhere Theatre Festival and you’ll be hearing for years to come about how so many others regrettably missed it.

 

 

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28
Jun
14

The Effect

 

The Effect

QTC & STC

The GreenHouse Bille Brown Studio

June 7 – July 5 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

Depression and anxiety are common conditions.

 

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

 

On average, 1 in 6 people – 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men – will experience depression at some stage of their lives.

 

Anxiety is the most common mental condition in Australia. On average, 1 in 4 people – 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men – will experience anxiety.

 

Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the year following birth. Almost 1 in 10 women experience antenatal depression, and 1 in 7 in the postnatal period. Anxiety is likely to be as, or more, common.

 

At least six Australians take their own lives every day.

 

Source: beyondblue.org.au

 

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Dee and I have joked about our chemical imbalance; as if it’s a collective thing from which women-who-do-too-much suffer (of course it’s not just the women). When I remember the stats and think of everybody I know I have to wonder…which of us are NOT depressed!?

 

 

Act 1 of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is upbeat, fun and funny. It doesn’t take long to establish the four characters that tell an amusing and then very moving tale about a highly controversial couple of subjects. Despite everybody being a little too sharply drawn to begin with, it takes just ten minutes for the production to settle and for the characters and their relationships to develop into warm and interesting enough stories. And I love getting not-quite-the-full-story. There is much to establish in the first act – the participants of a clinical drug trial, the trial itself, the clinicians, and the premise – can happiness (and depression) be attributed to an altered chemical state in the brain?

 

By the end of the production there are almost two plays at work, which seems to be a sign (or symptom) of new work. I wish I’d written enough to tell you that from personal experience, but it’s only through seeing the work of other new playwrights that I can safely say we’ve seen before, two tales in one.

 

Act 2 takes a (not entirely unexpectedly intense) turn, challenging us to consider more seriously our choices and the ensuing consequences. It balances dangerously between conversational and preachy tone, with an extended scene between the medical professionals almost giving us too much of the debate, and repetitively so. I notice myself beginning to turn off, tune out and think, “So when is the pedophile thing going to come up? (This is not my spoiler. It’s within a quote in Prebbles’s bio. This marks the first time ever I wish I hadn’t read the program notes before seeing the play). The debate itself is an oldie but a goodie: do we medicate for depression or not? If not, why not? Can we heal ourselves of the epidemic sadness sweeping the world? You could get depressed just thinking about it! Or you could come up with, let’s say, a lucrative online project and collaborate with a popular stationary line. Yes, of course I have the books!

 

 

The space is glossy; so glossy it’s highly reflective and we see ourselves in the sterile black walls. White floors are harsh, cold, and blue shiny chairs offer a false sense of security and a superficial level of calm around the edges. Cruel fluro light is emitted from above and a light box dance floor features below. I’d love to put it into my kitchen (we’ve always danced in the kitchen). But more on lighting later.

 

Eugene Gilfedder, in one of his strongest roles to date, gets the balance just right. He’s the once flirtatious, now serious, always ambitious professional medic turned motivational speaker, Toby (a phone call away from a TED Talk!), and he makes a good case for the sensitive, older, Noah style long-term love interest. If you ever picked up the sequel to The Notebook (no, it’s not a film; you’ll have to read the book), it’s to that Noah I refer, the Noah who quietly, persistently and courageously conspires to reignite his wife’s love for him after many years of a “happy” marriage.

 

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Toby’s foil is Dr James (Angie Milliken), who has endured childhood abuse and feels as if her old flame has done her a rather ironic favour by putting her in charge of the clinical trial of a new super anti-depressant. Her story, I think, is the second tale told and could be more sensitively treated under its own title.

 

Anna McGahan (always gorgeous to see her on stage) and Mark Leonard Winter (bringing gorgeous, lively new energy to this stage) are the unlikely punters who enter into an agreement with the imagined pharmaceutical company Raushen to trial for four weeks, a so-called happiness drug. Winter’s character, Tristan, has done this before – the money the drug companies pay him per trial allows him to travel the world – but for McGahan’s character, Connie, this is the first time, perhaps as some sort of escape or respite. But who is actually on the drug and who is given a placebo or some other concoction? How do we know if the emotions are real or merely the side effects of the drug? And if everybody is happy, in love, does it even matter?

 

What price happiness?

 

The relationship between Connie and Tristan comes across as a warm, immediate and very genuine thing, despite its corny start in the waiting room of the facility they share for the duration of the trial. It’s actually every girl’s worst waiting room nightmare, trapped in a small public space with a random trying to crack onto her. But love – or the effect of the drug – brings them together and we enjoy some lovely early dialogue to establish the attraction and later, a choreographed sex scene that depends as much on its lighting states as its posturing.

 

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These two handle it well and the scene becomes very cinematic, beautifully so, but it’s still so strange to watch even a slightly dressed sex scene, isn’t it!? I know, I know, what do you do? It kinda’ works!

 

Much of the effect of the drama can be attributed to Sarah Goodes’ astute direction and the collaboration with lighting designer, Ben Hughes, who creates with Designer Renee Mulder, a dream-like version of a hospital nightclub. It exists somewhere between a mental asylum and a sci-fi galaxy government headquarters, ideal in this studio space, especially after relaxing pre-show in the gorgeous, cosy new library area of The GreenHouse. Guy Webster’s soundscape keeps us in a perpetual state of nothingness, or as I like to think, openness, and I love it and loathe it, like Camille’s album. It’s fascinating that not everybody hears it – Dee didn’t until I mentioned it – it’s that inner ear vibration that exists behind everything else and if it’s the wrong pitch (for you) it might override everything else and become seriously irritating. There are times when I blame it for the onset of a migraine, but not this time.

 

As much as I love the fun and vibe (and Veuve) of opening nights, I don’t mind seeing a production a week or so into its run, when all the elements have settled and the actors are well and truly back into storytelling mode, rather than, “Aargh! It’s opening night!” mode. You have until July 5 to catch The Effect before it heads to Sydney and you should, not just for the challenging conversation it will spark during the days following but also, for the private thoughts conjured as you catch yourself in the mirror it holds up to each and every one of us.

 

22
Feb
13

Holding the Man

 

Holding the Man

 

Well, some of us have waited a long time to see David Berthold’s acclaimed production of Holding the Man. And the Brisbane audiences are loving it, believing in the relationships, crying in the closing moments, struggling to express their emotional response afterwards, and feeling that they understand its themes and delicate issues; that they can relate to the difficulties faced by Tim (Alec Snow) and John (Jerome Meyer) and their families and friends. But there might also be those who walk away cold, completely unaffected by the emotion that is manipulated by production elements thrown generously at a script that centres around a relationship strong enough to stand on its own. Of course, essentially, what’s evident in the writing is that this is Tim’s story, the way he wrote it, and playwright, Tommy Murphy, has beautifully realised and theatricalised the memoir so that we can take an entire life’s journey with Tim and John in just over two hours. Without the additional cast of intriguing characters, and hilarious scenes involving the NIDA students and staff, parents and potential gay partners on the dance floor of a seedy night club, all plucked out of real life, it would make an entirely different play, and we wouldn’t have the context, or the vital characters who support the boys during their 15-year relationship.

 

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On opening night I got the impression that the response was mixed…or undecided. For the first time at The Roundhouse in a long time, the house was divided between those who rose to give a standing ovation and those who stayed seated. I must admit, I didn’t feel like the end of the show was a feel-good, leap-to-your-feet-and-applaud kinda’ moment, despite my appreciation for the work of the creative team (Brian Thomson, Micka Agosta, David Walters, Basil Hogios and Guy Webster) and cast (Snow, Meyer, Jai Higgs, Lauren Jackson, Eugene Gilfedder and Helen Howard). Sometimes you sit and continue to feel and to process without feeling like immediately jumping up and down. In fact, I felt like I experienced a more tender, more honest show on Tuesday night. More worthy in my opinion of a standing ovation, but again, I didn’t feel it was the appropriate reaction because of the sombre mood! I can’t wait to hear what you thought of the show. What interesting discussions our diverse responses inspire! I love that theatre has the power to make us feel so strongly about it!

Here are a few fair points from marketing guru Adam Brunes (he’s hopped on over to EDC so you can be sure you’ll know what they’re up to this year!),
“You should all see this. Here are a few reasons why. 1) It’s one of the most beautifully designed shows I’ve ever seen at La Boite. Ever. 2) You will laugh out loud, and probably look to the brightest light in the lighting rig to hold back tears. 3) Helen Howard and Eugene Gilfedder are at it again, this time sharing a circle jerk, and probably a costume or two. 4) It’s a true love story. 5) Four of six actors are making their professional mainstage debuts, and that alone is worth celebrating.”

 

Holding the Man

Agreed… but I can’t review La Boite’s Holding the Man, in fact, I won’t be reviewing La Boite’s main stage shows at all this year. I’d love to, but in my capacity as Learning & Participation Specialist (that’s fancy for education consultant), apparently there’s a conflict of interest. Sorry about that. What I want to do, though, is give you a brief take on each show from a drama teacher’s perspective, and offer up a sort of a Cheat Sheet each time a production opens, in case you didn’t get time to read through the teacher resources. When you do have time, DO read through the Education Notes, which are available online (look, if you get to nothing else, Benjamin Law’s article is ESSENTIAL pre-show reading), and let me know what else you’d like to see addressed in the next document, in preparation for FOOD. You can also get in touch with me via email or phone, to talk about anything you already have planned (or would like support in planning), anything you’re wondering with regard to assessment tasks, or if you have any concerns about a show’s suitability for your students. Sometimes it’s just a matter of putting it all into context and I can help you do that.

 

So on Tuesday night, La Boîte officially launched the Learning & Participation Program, and staged a preview of Tommy Murphy’s adaptation of Timothy Conigraves’ memoir, Holding the Man, just for teachers. It was a decent turn out, with many of the teachers and syllabus specialists in attendance whom I admire and respect, so, you know, no pressure…

 

Artistic Director of La Boite, David Berthold, introduced me and I spoke a little about the main stage program, the professional development opportunities for teachers, the student workshops, and the ambassador program, for which applications have closed TODAY. I do this job outside of the job all the time. When people ask me, “What should we see?” and “What’s good?” I can confidently tell them that La Boîte – our state’s second largest player – is so accessible, enjoyable, and inspires terrific conversations and lasting friendships. I know that’s not just my experience because I talk to so many for whom a trip to La Boite is a regular highlight throughout the year. I’m looking forward to hearing from teachers this year, and seeing some of you again already at the Drama Queensland State Conference next month!

 

From a drama teacher’s perspective there is so much to Holding the Man.

 

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CONTEXTUALISE: How much do you think your students know about the 1980s and the HIV/AIDS climate in Australia? Don’t assume they know anything just because you remember it (after all, it wasn’t that long ago!). Here are some Youtube clips to get you started (although I couldn’t watch the Challenger explode again). Seriously, if time and headspace allows, start with the original memoir by Timothy Conigrave AND Holding the Man and AIDS in Australia by Benjamin Law. Also, remember there are plenty of crossovers for your English students, even if they’re just analysing film clips…

 

 

 

 

 

DISCUSS: You must have time programmed for both free and facilitated discussions.

 

Holding the Man

WRITE: I love letting students write their thoughts and projections about a show after looking at the marketing collateral. Pick up the Avant Card or get on the website and take a look at the images used to promote the show to the public. I also love giving students time to write their FIRST RESPONSE after a show. It’s not a review – they can dissect and critique the show in the responding task – but it’s the immediate reactions, thoughts and feelings after experiencing somebody else’s world.

 

 

If you’d like some more ideas, or you’d like to offer some feedback and ideas for the next lot of Education Notes, email me xanthecoward@gmail.com

 

Images by Al Caeiro

 

02
Jun
12

Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman

Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman

Queensland Theatre Company & QPAC

Brisbane Powerhouse

26th May – 24th June 2012

How strange, to pit the fragility and reality of a fascinating woman against a comedic mashup that distracts and detracts from the fragility and reality of the woman!

Nobel Prize winning playwright, Dario Fo, has done just that with Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman and Director, Wesley Enoch, has had a field day with it. Freely adapted and translated by Luke Deverish and Louise Fox (who were commissioned by Malthouse Theatre for their production at the Merlyn in 2010), this version is updated and localised to an even greater degree by the most vocal and forward thinking Artistic Director our state theatre company has seen. A champion for local audiences as much as for local artists, Enoch has glued together so many different elements in staging this outrageous production that there is surely something for everyone.

Bawdy comedy and ludicrous antics fill the guts of what would otherwise be a pale, skinny corpse of a drama. I’m not a Fo fan, however, I marvel at the cunning way so many political entrails are unmercifully tossed at us throughout his plays.  (And I do love a bit of commedia dell’arte, some good old slapstick and bold, brash, silly comedy from time to time!).

Despite comedic influences ranging from farce to pantomime to commedia to slapstick (Scott Witt, as Clowning/Slapstick Consultant, has a hand in this and Enoch’s Bonzani troupe experience is obvious), the work avoids getting stuck in any one form for long. It remains unboxed, resisting packaging or prettying up. (It IS pretty, though, thanks to Simone Romaniuk’s sumptuous design; the lavish costumes and simple set are magnificent). It is what it is and we either love it or hate it. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. My first thought was that the show begs a stricter hand…one to pull it back a little. A fabulous and fun rehearsal strategy, we often let the actors take things as far as they are willing to go. It’s sometimes a challenge to put a stop to it and ask that they back off a little. Indeed, you may well ask, “WHY?” when what is happening on stage is clearly working for the vast majority of the audience. I suspect that the question more often asked in the rehearsal studio was, “WHY NOT?” When you see this show you might be convinced that the lewdness and bawdy humour is at precisely the right level, if not slightly underdone! For me, it is too many things at once and often just too, too, too OTT. But look, it’s mostly hilarious and I laughed a LOT.

The updated political gags are quick, witty and localised, thanks to the free reign given any company with the rights for this show; Fo wouldn’t have it any other way. His political theatre is continuously evolving, challenging and inspiring public thought and action. These local references will have you chortling (or wondering what everybody else finds so amusing, depending on your knowledge and understanding of current affairs of state). Well, we do love a “CAN DO” moment at the moment, don’t we?!

Updating a theatrical work is a bit like creating your own promotional images, inspired by the originals, in order to publicise your show, or the liberty taken by anybody ever, when re-writing I’ve Got a Little List for The Mikado. It’s absolutely intended and indeed, it’s necessary, to keep the content fresh, accurate and relevant. In his Director’s Note, Enoch explains, “Dario Fo believes in engaging in the world and allows the artists involved to improvise and modify the scripts to reflect their socio-political environments.”

Enoch has assembled intelligent actors who love to play. There is a real sense of it and along with the obvious camaraderie; this sense of play will keep the show fresh as a daisy up to and including closing night. I often wonder what a show will be like by the end of its run and if I had the time, this is certainly a show I’d like to see again. It feels like it’s ever changing and almost as if it’s not quite ready for us but, hell, we’ll let you see it anyway. And that’s okay. That’s part of the fun, as if we’d been let into the rehearsal space for a glimpse of how a great story gets put together.

Eugene Gilfedder plays William Shakespeare, who is plotting to kill the queen (and stealing episodes from her life for use in his own plays) and also the fantastic character of Grosslady, which he pwns. PWNS. He is absolutely hysterical in his women’s garb, with his high-heeled gait and that’s before he even utters a word of witty Tranny Speak/Drag Slang, which will have you either in tears of laughter or wide-eyed and quietly, concernedly murmuring to the person next to you, “Whaaaaat the…? What did he say?”

Jason Klarwein plays Elizabeth’s Chief of Police, Egerton, who really does plot to kill Elizabeth, as she desperately, obsessively waits for her lover, the Earl of Essex to arrive. The Virgin Queen? We don’t think so (Dash Kruck’s bare bum soon puts that theory to rest!). Egerton’s news bulletins especially, are brilliant. So slickly delivered on opening night were they that each time Klarwein asked the company whether or not they wanted to hear the report all over again, I wanted to shout in opposition to them, “YES!” His multiple costume changes are baffling though and you just might get a joke that I missed.

The production benefits enormously, as productions do in this town, by having Musical Director, John Rodgers involved. His animated accompaniment is as if we’re sitting in a silent movie theatre, with the movie brought to life before us. Dash Kruck (Thomas, the often ignored and abused Fool) can sing so he does. Although it makes little sense to me to have the songs in the show at all (in the original Malthouse Theatre production they were perhaps better contextualised, rewritten as Elizabethan madrigals), Kruck delivers them well – a little too well for the character – and gives us a reminder of what to expect next from him (no, not necessarily more nudity), as he heads to Sydney soon for a highly anticipated production of the hit Broadway musical, Next to Normal, at the Capital Theatre. I would also like to have heard Kruck’s rendition, from beyond the grave, of The Neverending Story theme song.

But that’s just me.

After only six days of rehearsing with the company in the role of Martha, Sarah Kennedy does her best and it is just enough. She can’t possibly compete with Klarwein and Gilfedder, who have clearly been given a license to party like it’s 1999. At times their relentless antics, like a Battle Round on The Voice, draw attention away from the fragility of the woman whose story it is. Martha brings the focus back to her poor, paranoid mistress each and every time with perfect grace and good humour.

Carol Burns is an absolute treasure and as the aging queen, suffering from paranoia and sleeplessness in the last days of her life, and with the boys club of Gilfedder, Klarwein and Kruck on stage, she holds her own, bounding around the room with her skirts held high and riding atop a giant wooden rocking horse, which Klarwein later sees from a slightly, err, lower perspective (it’s one of the funniest moments in the play). Hers is a highly physical role but Burns impresses most in her final moments, as the frail, brain-addled, heartbroken woman who was Queen. Romaniuk’s imposing quilted white walls and David Walters’ stark white lighting give us the sense that this is indeed – finally – the peaceful end to a mad life. With all the action having happened in Elizabeth’s head, we easily feel empathy for her; a woman who would really probably have preferred, more often than not, to be just a woman, without the royal obligations. This is the magic of Fo’s form, finally revealing once and for all, the humanity of his subject, regardless of class, creed or colour. I found Burns’ performance incredibly moving and I was disappointed that Fo felt the need to bring back his Will Shakespeare character, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Prince in Romeo and Juliet, to close the show. Depicting an ailing, confused queen, her behaviour and emotions moving erratically between polar ends of the spectrum for the duration of the play, Burns delivers what might be the performance of her lifetime and I feel like she should have the final light.

Irrespective of its bad language (remember, this show came with a warning!), and its lewdness, this show is not so shocking or offensive that you can’t take your mum or your sister to see it. I took mine (my sister, that is; my mum is gallivanting around Europe). In fact, I think you could safely take your grandmother too!

Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman is zany, bawdy comedy at its most playful and you’ll either love it or hate it but you must see it to know which it is! Enjoy!

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.

14
May
11

Empire Burning

Co-presented by !Metro Arts & Eugene Gilfedder as part of The Independents 2011

If, as an artist, you were to ask yourself, “What’s the most ridiculously relevant and immensely difficult piece of contemporary theatre I could possibly create and deliver to unsuspecting audiences in Brisbane?” Eugene Gilfedder’s Empire Burning would be it.

The Fall of Rome, under the rule of Nero, a licentious, self-absorbed emperor, who, according to the history books, sought notoriety for his artistic endeavors in an age when an emperor’s involvement in the arts was unacceptable, is a massive narrative undertaking. To attempt to draw the parallels between that chaotic era (circa AD 50 – AD 68) and our current global political climate is truly ambitious. To interweave a wry commentary on the theatre industry and the job of acting itself is the delicious cherry on top.

Poetic, complex language, complex characters, plot twists and layers to rival the catacombs of Paris plus the incredibly challenging, disturbingly current, familiar, fear-inducing themes of terrorism, the abuse of power and the inevitable implosion of any powerful group, all rear their intriguingly ugly heads, forcing us to confront everything we might do our best to avoid hearing about by turning off the TV and logging out of Twitter.

The almost imposing set, of grey Roman columns and white screens between, onto which are projected images of stone, flames and figures clad in gold armour or togas, in their various poses and reposes, almost worked for me. I was unconvinced by the multi-media in this production, as I was by the soundscape. There was something not quite strong enough in the essence of these elements and so they did not, as I had expected, have a powerful impact. At least, not on this reviewer.

Geoff Squires’ lighting design, with its varying degrees of light and shade and the red of the Great Fire (and of passion, discontent and dissent) perfectly encapsulates the heavy mood of the piece.

So with its columns, smoke, screens and its players clad in suits…the political stage is set. Of course, there is no better setting than the dramatic realm of political upheaval for both comedy and tragedy. On this small, grey, smoky stage, in the intimate surrounds of the Sue Benner Theatre at Metro Arts, Gilfedder presents us, as if it were John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter, a world of sinister strategy and status quo trappings that drip blood and reek of betrayal.

The myriad seeds planted throughout the show take their time to germinate. This is a show that will – and must – be discussed long after its conclusion.

Some of the themes – the political, the games that are played for power, the crumbling of an empire – are obvious. Others – the Oedipal complex and abandonment issues, the ineptitude of the bureaucracy, the pursuit of answers, no matter how unsatisfactory – are slightly more shrouded, though no less vital to the turning of this monstrous wheel. Let’s not forget the narcissistic attitudes of the power brokers, their personal agendas and the impact on the people, globalisation and the notion of empires built by power hungry men, the woman with her own ambition left unfulfilled and her power brutally ripped from her grasp, the war on terror, which inadvertently creates a war on ordinary life, mildly asking of us all, “What do we live by? What do we live for?”

All this, from the mind of one man: Gilfedder. He has brought an incredible vision to fruition. Gilfedder is writer, actor, designer, director and producer. One has to admire the genius and commitment and, let’s face it, the pure gall of pursuing the challenge of crafting something so complex, so intriguing, so demanding, that in the hands of lessor actors would be a dismal failure.

This company of actors is very nearly what we might call the collective cream of the crop. Gilfedder, Michael Futcher, Steven Tandy, Sasha Janowitz, Niki-J Price, Dan Crestini, Damien Cassidy…the cast list reads like a who’s who of Queensland theatre.

In a perfect example of art imitating life, his son, Finn, joins Gilfedder; master and apprentice both on stage and off. The resemblance is uncanny; those typical Gilfedder traits – the eyes behind the steely gaze, the stance and sure gesture to support minimal blocking, the strong, set jaw in clear commitment to the character and aiding the vocal choices – unmistakable. The connection between the two did not go unnoticed and nor did the wry humour behind the bitter jabs within dialogue that must have seemed ironic in rehearsals.

Gilfedder-Cooney does a fine job as Nero, the obsessive, self-important, self-destructive, conflicted emperor, torn between the ego-stroking of the senators, invariably leading to the corruption of the power that has been thrust by his mother upon him (absolute power corrupts absolutely) and the wisdom of Seneca’s teachings. And this in addition to his misguided ambition to become a performing artist! It is said that Nero sang (some historical sources say that he sang, others say that he played a fiddle) whilst watching Rome burn to the ground and, before he committed suicide in AD 68 (rather than be flogged to death by order of the senate), Nero’s last words were, “Qualis artifex pereo.” (“What an artist the world loses in me.”)

As his tutor, Seneca, Gilfedder is the most comfortable on this stage, delivering a solid performance, particularly in the intense work with the silent Prisoner (Dan Crestini) and in his support of what was, in my opinion, Niki-J Price’s best work in this production, during the demise of her character, Nero’s mother, Agrippina. I was unconvinced by Price’s performance until her break down, at which point, she has survived yet another of her son’s diabolical plots to kill her (according to the sources, there were several; Gilfedder’s text reveals only one). This part of Price’s performance, dripping wet, bedraggled and betrayed by her golden boy finally gone mad, was completely convincing and I would have liked to see the same fearlessness and commitment to the role from the outset.

As the mute Prisoner, Dan Crestini is incredible to watch and I wish it had been easier to see him. As it was, in the third row, I found myself peering around the heads in front of me so as not to miss a moment of his superbly controlled contempt, fear and fierce determination to stay silent (and to a large extent, still). The extreme physicality of this role as created by Crestini, with his gnarled, damaged hands and his severe burns, was intense and tension inducing for the audience and, for the actor, incredibly physically demanding.

Steven Tandy (Burrus) and Sasha Janowicz (Piso) settled into their roles and both gave good performances and Michael Futcher (Rufus), perhaps better known to Brisbane audiences as a director, was all actor on this stage, his presence and easy confidence making his Rufus’s involvement in the schemes to rid the empire of its deficient ruler, unassuming and unexpectedly, almost pleasant.

In this production there is obvious trust and respect for its mastermind who, in his own words, “acknowledges that the difficulty was part of the experiment of this work” (Director’s Notes).

In Empire Burning, Gilfedder has given a wonderful gift to both actors and audiences. We see, through the eyes of those who have gone before us, our own uncertainty, turmoil and disbelief played out on a stage that could be any top strata government office. Regardless of how many times we see it, and regardless of the different guises in which we see it, it’s always confronting and frightening to recognise the fact that over thousands and thousands of years, the parameters may have changed but the politics of the empire have stayed exactly the same.

There is something so incredible about the feat itself, about the successful staging of this production and the fact that Gilfedder is able to attract and assemble some of the most talented actors in this city at this time and, considering the degree of difficulty of his text, or perhaps because of it, they have stretched themselves to the extent that they are able to achieve together, a masterful production that is an absolute treat for those involved on stage and off. That is something worthy of the theatrical history books.

Empire Burning: until May 28th at the Sue Brenner Theatre, !Metro Arts