Posts Tagged ‘gardens theatre

26
Aug
19

Spencer

 

Spencer

QUT Gardens Theatre & LAB Kelpie

QUT Gardens Theatre

August 23 – 24 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

One of the final scenes from the 1994 film Muriel’s Wedding has Muriel played by Toni Collette and her father played by Bill Hunter, looking out over a scorched laundry line and backyard in the aftermath of a devastating family tragedy. Her sister appears on the balcony saying, “Dad, the cricket’s started. […] Do you want me to open you a can of beer? Bill responds, “That would be lovely, Joanie. With you in a sec.”

 

While essentially a comedy-drama, Spencer, a new work by award-winning playwright, Katy Warner, much like Muriel’s Wedding, is a dark idiosyncratic work epitomising the cultural cringe of the Australian suburban family. With themes of social isolation, suburbia and family dysfunction, it also touches on how masculine sport culture can serve as a family’s surrogate emotional connective tissue.

 

 

Set over the course of a weekend, Ben (Lyall Brooks) is still living at home; an overweight X-Gen who’s failed to launch and broken up with his fiancé now facebooking from Bali with a guy who was at their engagement party. His sister, Jules (Fiona Harris) has also returned home to live. She’s quit her job and is also in the midst of a messy break up with a married man who has kids of his own.

 

But as far as their single mother, Marylin (Jane Clifton) is concerned they live in the shadow of their younger brother, Scott (Jamieson Caldwell), the white-haired boy. On the precipice of a professional AFL career and while he’s the favourite, he’s also returned home burnt-out and at a crossroads in life. He’s also about to meet the two-year-old son, Spencer, he never knew he had. And while mum’s forgiving and excited in preparing for Spencer’s welcome home-cum-birthday party, things really get going when they receive an unexpected visit from their long-estranged father, Ian (Roger Oakley).

 

 

Clifton is magnanimous in playing the central matriarch, Marylyn; a role certain to become a staple in a contemporary actor’s repertoire. She’s an exhausted Sisyphus, while having spent  her life pushing the heavy boulder of a broken family up hill, she finds herself having to revisit the role as mother and peace-keeper later in life as her failed flock come home to roost, now adults and this time with more complex social baggage than just scraped knees and spilt Coco Pops.

 

While funny and acid-tongued, Clifton is brilliant, lashing out at her disappointing adult-children, and trying to counsel them through an unqualified lens of embittered motherly love. She’s cynical, a misanthrope, however living unrealised dreams naively through her young son, Scott, never realising the crushing burden it causes him.

 

 

This is wildly entertaining and funny stuff though. Brooks as Ben is vivacious as he channels Rick Mayall of the Young Ones and Perry Heslop of Muriel’s Wedding. Now washed-up and coaching a kids footy team, he’s an alternate masculinity in comparison to his more successful, more popular, and fitter younger brother, Scott. Ben’s a mummy’s boy, he grew up crying at everything, and while he isn’t afraid to express his emotions, he wants Scott to succeed where he failed.

 

Scott on the other hand, in his mother’s eyes, is on a pedestal of masculine pride. While seemingly mild-mannered, fit and handsome with a promising career verging on the celebrity, he’s got skeletons, he’s an emotional void, a purposeful blank onto which his mother projects her own ideals.

 

Scott can do no wrong, and his mother, an apologist to his mistakes, cannot see the real Scott due to blinding disenchantments with her own life. Scott, however, is disconnected with the world. He’s unable to articulate his emotions, unable to reconcile past machismo behaviours, and his return home prompts a spiralling identity crisis.

 

 

Playwright Warner isn’t afraid to take her characters where they need to go, tackling men’s mental health and the double standards of sexual politics. Meryl Streep opined recently that terms like toxic masculinity “hurts our boys”, and in the aftermath of the #metoo movement, Warner also raises questions of internalised misogyny, slut-shaming, revenge porn, and the casualised sex-discrimination which pervades the home.

 

It’s also about our identity and how that sits within the family dynamic. And it’s set masterfully against the backdrop of an economic generation of failed social refugees who’ve found themselves returning home in their 30’s.

 

 

Director, Sharon Davis expertly delivers the actors to beautifully crystalised moments of self-reflection or further delusion. She brings them together in remarkably playful and innovative ways, further developing them into full characters with lived-in relationships.

 

Set designers, Rob Sowinski and Bryn Cullen have created a simple diorama of an ancient 80’s/90’s domestic sphere with archways leading into linoleum kitchens, the rattle and slam of the obligatory security screen door, and clusters of family photos while polluting the walls, point to the innocence of once happier days.

 

Much like The Castle and Kath & Kim, Spencer is an exciting and important work which beautifully typifies an Australian domestic heritage; a time capsule of contemporary life as we know it. 

06
Sep
12

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica

Gardens Theatre

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica

Ensemble Theatre

Gardens Theatre

4th September to 6th September 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

In no way does the small cast mean this is a small show. There are big personalities encapsulated in these small moments, and David Williamson is certainly not stingy with these hilarious moments. He has a flair for binary plots. Binary as in the old saying “opposites attract”. Whether or not it’s true it certainly takes effect in Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica. The play even goes so far to have its characters, Gary and Monica, mock this age old saying in heated conversation.

You don’t need to be studying a music degree to enjoy this show. Gardens Theatre’s in-house stereos amp the tunes up regardless of whether you recognise them or not. In fact, it’s a bit of a brief music lesson from time to time with the witty banter of this misfit couple.

I find the best kind of romance is the unconventional kind. The kind of love you find in places you weren’t looking, or even better; the kind of love that comes and finds you. Chases you, no matter how many times you stamp your feet and refuse. “NO!” You might yell out. But love comes a-runnin’ anyway. That’s what it’s like between Gary and Monica. Despite everything Gary, as his radio persona Rhinestone Rex, says. No matter what Monica does, they end up in the same lounge room bickering away.

All the credit can’t go to David Williamson though. He may have penned the witty banter between the two but in this production it is Alexandra Fowler and Glenn Hazeldine who bring them to the stage. Glenn Hazeldine has already performed this role, opposite Georgie Parker, in the original Ensemble production in Sydney. The role fits him like the cowboy hat that sits perfectly on his head. Meanwhile, Alexandra Fowler I have already seen bring Williamson’s creations to life in other plays like Let The Sunshine.

My only grievance with this performance is the ending. I suppose a balance between the real and unreal is my biggest gripe. Maybe I’m too cynical but I felt this production could’ve been concluded ten minutes earlier. A particular scene just feels so apt in describing the human condition. When Monica and Gary’s hands almost touch just as the lights drop. Letting us witness the moments, the unfinished ones, that’s what really represents life for me. Something unfinished, unresolved and understated.

Wrapping things up in a perfect package is to me like telling a bedtime story. The prince finds the princess, the dragon is slain and they all live happily in the kingdom. But life, and especially love, is nothing of the sort. Monica’s dragons will still haunt her, or in the long run she will learn to live with them. Rhinestone Rex or truthfully Gary, the tradesman, will never be the ultimate prince, but he will be the man who cares. Their kingdom may not be glamourous but it will be theirs with all its imperfections. That’s how I like to think of it, but the conclusion to this production just doesn’t measure up to this ideal. But like I said, I’m a cynic who’s never quite satisfied.

Just like this review Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica touches upon sad moments and humourous ones. The mockery between Gary and Monica is both punctual and surprising. Delivered perfectly by Hazeldine and Fowler the theatre is filled with laughter from everyone seated. Whether Monica is hitting Rex where it hurts or Rex is counteracting Monica with his cheekiness the serious and the jovial interact wonderfully. They feel well rounded, funny, but real.

Once again Australian theatre has stepped up to meet the demands. I found myself poised on the edge of my seat during the tension filled moments and flung back laughing during the comical. If you believe in love, if you believe in music or if you believe in something a little in between then Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica is the show you can’t miss.

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica continues on to Nambour Civic Centre this Saturday 8th September at 7:30pm and then to venues across Australia. Check the tour schedule for details.

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica

 

 

 

17
Aug
12

Short & Sweet Brisbane 2012

SHORT+SWEET Brisbane 2012

QUT The Loft

14th August – 19th August 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

Short and Sweet

Titles can be misleading. Named SHORT+SWEET a little over a decade ago for good reason, this only rings true on the surface. Underneath it all is a lot of effort and a long period of preparation. Often and only in the most hilarious ways the performances are not sweet at all. This thoroughfare of performances is in itself something quite monumental.

It’s almost like Russian roulette. You don’t quite know what to expect every time a new gang of vivacious actors leap from The Loft’s curtain. Admittedly, this is not an event for small children but the range of style does bring something for everyone. Whether you prefer crude belt-out laughter comedy or perhaps something of the more dark realism persuasion of theatre, there is not a play that won’t satisfy these curiosities.

The range of talent as well, is something peculiar to watch. Some of the actors will clearly demonstrate their experience and prowess simply by the way they frame themselves on stage. Then just as loud and proud, battling it out against the old timers, are the budding new talents of Brisbane. A few faces I even recognised from around QUT campus. I couldn’t help myself but root for my fellow aspiring university students. It’s part of an unspoken broke uni student code I suppose.

Keep your eyes open for some very promising competitors. The Rental Company will have you running out of breath trying to laugh at each gag. Ben Disteldorf and Matthew Crawford as the doomed customer and the horrifying salesman run together flawlessly.

Written and directed by Bare Bottomed Tea Friends (their name alone lets you know what you’re in for), My Bathroom Musical reveals what every girl is thinking before a night out on the town. Ladies, I warn you now. If you bring him, your significant other will definitely start to feel uncomfortable while you smile to yourself knowing it’s all too true.

But SHORT+SWEET isn’t just a comedy festival. It’s a concept that unites different playwrights, actors and directors around the world. The Pond, performed by Emily Pollard and Sam Ryan is haunting. It is so convincing because you don’t realise what they’re doing to you. In their faces, their words, the way they sit under dimmed lights then stand up and speak honestly. The Pond takes us somewhere dark and lonely without us even knowing until we realise we’re splashing around in the pond with them.

This was by no means interactive theatre, however; the audience is nonetheless something of VIP status for this festival. Not only do we have the top ten performances paraded one after the other to the audience, but you will get to vote too! By choosing your top three you get to decide who will move onto the final round. These actors, playwrights and directors have put their fate into your hands. If you attend the show, by all means, remember to choose wisely.

The man behind the festival is just as warm-hearted and good-humoured as each of the top ten plays. Rather than hiding in the wings with a stony face and shadows over his eyes Sean Dennehy comes out and greets us all. He riles the crowd up like a proper ringmaster with his menagerie of one-act plays.

This particular event is touring Brisbane and Gold Coast but SHORT+SWEET has made it’s own strides since fruition. This year the festival will be taking on international pursuits through Singapore, Malaysia, Taipei, Auckland, Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai.

So what are you after? What are you looking for? Strained for time or do you have time to kill? SHORT+SWEET caters for any and all answers. Make your way to The Loft, at QUT Kelvin Grove, this weekend and see the Top 10 or perhaps you’d prefer their Wild Card event? Be quick, the Gala Final will be coming soon and all the time, effort and amazing creativity displayed will be wrapped up into one last performance. Short and sweet the way we like it.

17
Jun
12

Let the Sunshine

Let the Sunshine

Let The Sunshine

Gardens Theatre

15th – 16th June 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

Since moving to Brisbane I’ve been mostly quiet about my coastie heritage;

Coastie [Coh-stee] noun A person who originates from the Sunshine Coast. Often mistaken for a bogan.

…but I couldn’t help but be a little proud as I laughed at David Williamson’s jabs at the coast. Let The Sunshine is Williamson’s hilarious, satirical play is about two polar opposite couples struggling with their children who have inevitably fallen in love. It’s been described as part Romeo & Juliet, part Meet the Parents. It had me laughing the minute the stage had lit up.

Rick’s parents are a left wing pair played by Toni Scanlan and Dennis Coard. They go by Toby and Ros; Toby’s specialty being documentaries raging against the southeast Queensland coastlines being ruined by development. Emma’s parents on the other hand are Ron and Natasha. Natasha spends her days in gym pants’ getting facials and Ron is a development manager responsible for half the high rises on the Sunshine Coast. The two couples struggle to maintain a healthy state as “frenemies”.

This arrangement seems permanent until Rick and Emma meet at a birthday gathering gone wrong. It’s a case of opposites attract and the rest goes like clockwork from there. The whole concept is a hilarious send-up of some stereotypes that I have to admit isn’t too far off. What stirred in me the most though were the little jabs at Sunshine Coast I couldn’t deny were absolutely true. Noosa and its six-dollar coffees as well as the Sunshine Coast’s club scene or lack there of it had the crowd snickering. But it was the hilarious comments coming out the parents’ stereotypes that have the audience roaring.

The characters of Emma and Rick our star-crossed lovers as it were come off as a little flat. However I find this is no fault of the actors Ryan Hayward and Hannah Norris who do everything they can to make the characters live through the stage. The two-dimensional nature of their characters fall upon Williamson’s shoulders I feel. They are very carved out concepts. Emma, a young lawyer who thinks she wants to achieve but is more or less making the effort for her parents’ approval. Rick, the thirty something failing musician still running on the fuel of his mother and father’s encouragement. They are both truisms of Williamson’s creation.  The platitudes of their psyches, flaws and feelings are nothing new I have come across. But there is hope because we are forgetting this is a satirical comedy. There just isn’t time to develop some deep meaningful pair of lovers before the punch lines hits us. I did take note though of Hannah Norris’s character arc in her role as Emma and how it changes as the play progresses. In a way, character development has been sacrificed for the greater good.

The greater good in question is fantastic. It is projected across the stage and echoed back by the laughter of the audience. The banter of Natasha and Ron, played by Ally Fowler and Peter Phelps respectively, is witty and mocking of many households on the Coast. I must admit I couldn’t help but see a little bit of my own parents in them and found the whole situation even funnier.

Let the Sunshine

The cast as a collective reflects familiar faces. The baby boomer counterparts of the cast have all made a name for themselves through Australian television and overseas. Ryan Hayward and Hannah Norris, our example of opposites attract, have both extensively contributed to theatre down south and internationally.

Having had an interview with Hannah Norris earlier, there were hints that a social message also underlies the jokes in Let The Sunshine. I had been expecting something very singular and straightforward but found flourishes of individual messages are given to the audience behind the sly face of comedy. This isn’t a show parading feminism but it does take note of women in the working environment. It can’t be called a claim for peace but there are references to the summer of love and what that dream means today. This is no meeting for the Greens going on but there are undertones of urbanization and what it means for the Queensland coastlines. You have been warned. This is a satirical comedy and in being such a concept messages are handed to us through the crack of a joke.

It’s not on everyone’s mind I know but I have to say I sighed over the fluidness of the scene changes. For me I get a little shiver of satisfaction when a play runs well. It is never emphasized enough how much a production loses when you notice the stage hands or see the actors bumbling to find their next position. The smooth cog-like manner of Let The Sunshine is a credit to director Denis Moore. Each actor stepping purposely into the shadow then reappearing through another spotlight to signify a transition of scenes without so much as a hiccup between lines gives me goose bumps to watch. Under Moore’s stage direction it’s a clear a working family unit has grown during the rehearsal of this production.

Let The Sunshine is a charming comedy that beguiles the audience with some hilarious actors as well as some cheeky observations. The visuals and the dialogue leave the audience chuckling in their seats. Many times even clapping mid-scene. I hope you were able to catch it during this brief Brisbane visit.


31
Mar
12

the last days of judas iscariot

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Company 08 & QUT Precincts

QUT Gardens theatre

27th – 31st March

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

 

I’m no architect but despite this fault in my knowledge I’ve always loved the Gardens Theatre at Gardens Point. It reminds me of Mary Poppins’ handbag.

 

 

It looks so small on the outside but when you step inside it gets bigger and bigger. There’s a neat front desk, a quaint modern bar around the corner and the stage will pleasure any theatre technician with a soft spot for lighting. However, I am not reviewing the building, which is a shame because I would’ve taken my hat off to it without a second thought. No, I’m reviewing The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, the play I saw in this wonderful theatre the other night.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot can be summed up to many things. Black comedy. Religious parody. Phrases such as these come to mind. Hit show would not be in that mix for me. Looking into the history of this play this was not a clean-cut success. Its original production came with mixed reviews. Some giving appraisal and others asking if it was “too much New York.” It is true that it did begin at off-Broadway and George Street in Brisbane isn’t exactly New York but something in that review did sit with me. It niggled at me during the first act. It hung around the bar with me during intermission and sat next to me a little too close for comfort throughout the rest of the show. Finally, while trying to mind my own business on the train ride home, I couldn’t take it anymore.

 

“What?”

I had to scream to this irritating comment, amongst others from previous reviews.

“Did you enjoy

the show?”

the relentless thought asked me.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t say for the entire duration I did.

The premise is promising enough. In fact I was excited for this production because of the concept it was presenting. The idea that Judas waits in purgatory for a Judge Judy-like woman to decide the verdict; Heaven or Hell seemed hilarious. Having eyewitnesses like friends, family, Freud and even Satan seemed like the perfect spark for a good comedy. In the case of this production there were moments where echoes of laughter bounced off the walls of the theatre. But like I said, they were only moments. There was no consistency. It was a lucky draw waiting to see if this next scene would make me laugh or make me wait.

Although I do have to contend with the thought that it is simply the fault of the script. Regardless of these university students’ talent perhaps it was the original script by playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis, which has let us down. There were recurring moments where I would sit quietly thinking to myself “This skit should’ve ended five lines ago.” There was so much unnecessary banter between characters, jokes repeated for the sake of an extra laugh and persisting moments of characters shouting nothing of use to the audience.

I question Guirgis’ writing because there was one young man who stood out for me in this production. There was constancy in his character that made me laugh every time he spoke. Even his movements relayed those of his role, El Fayoumy: A pseudo-lawyer acting against the defendant, Judas. Thomas Albert played the imposturous disaster of an attorney. The dedication to absurdity in Thomas was impressive. It was his ridiculousness in every wave of an arm or unnecessary shout of “Objection!” that kept me laughing.

Likewise, Leonard Meenach’s direction, despite the content, was a solid result. The use of space on the stage was for lack of a better description how I would’ve done it. This is one of those strange occurrences in life where everything was done well, each line and movement delivered suitably but the results do not match up. A mystery of error that despite a great set-up just didn’t pay off. The concept was there. The arrangement was there but the laugh out loud experience I was building myself up for just didn’t reach the audience.

 

 

Naturally I still have faith in these students. It was clear they had worked hard. As I said there wasn’t consistency but there was, for the most part, humour. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was not a show that blew me away but there was satisfaction in seeing it. As I expected, it was fascinating to follow the narrative of the piece. And besides, we all want to know what happens. Does Judas go to Heaven or Hell? I had to find out, and I did laugh at times while waiting. If you want to be tearing up in your seat from laughing too much, this production is not the show you are looking for. However, if you’re looking for a tongue in cheek observation on the theories that circulate Judas Iscariot’s life then The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a play you should see.