Posts Tagged ‘hayden spencer

08
Aug
18

Jasper Jones

 

Jasper Jones

Queensland Theatre & MTC

QPAC Playhouse

August 3 – 18 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED……………

 

In the sizzling summer of 1965, a bookish 14 year-old boy flees from the boredom and bullying of small-town life by burying himself in stories of epic adventure. He never thought he’d find himself living one. Charlie Bucktin lives in a tiny, insignificant bush town where nothing happens. Nothing, that is, until Jasper Jones stumbles upon a gruesome crime out by the dam. Who else would he call on for help but the sharpest kid around?

 

A midnight tap at Charlie’s window sparks a race to solve a murder and clear Jasper’s name.

 

JASPER JONES IS AT MY WINDOW

 

A superb re-staging of the MTC production, adapted by Kate Mulvany and directed by Sam Strong, this Jasper Jones will satisfy. Brisbane’s opening night audience leapt to their feet, in the stalls at least, not even waiting for the final moment to sink in, in appreciation of the talent on stage and off. This tends to happen on opening night! And sometimes it’s best to see a different performance, once the season has started. With a stellar cast and creative team, Strong’s telling of Craig Silvey’s darkly disturbing small town story of intolerance, abuse, suspicion and suicide, is made surprisingly light and broadly appealing. It’s chilling in its true-crime flavour, but a distinctly Australian sense of humour prevails, both in the book and on stage, largely due to Kate Mulvany’s instinctive adaptation.

 

 

I miss the underlying moodiness of the novel at times and the eerie sense that a constructed eucalyptus forest on stage might bring to the live performance, with moonlight shining through branches rather than, as it is here, sensibly, through a fast and functional scrim, which is flown in and out to change our location in an instant, wasting no time to take us to the scene of an unspeakable crime, a place that’s so special to the titular character. The scrim has its place and yet it’s my least favourite aspect of the Helpmann Award winning design, which has come from the incredible imagination of Anna Cordingly, incorporating water and using tiny houses set around the outer edge of a revolve to bring to life the insular town of Corrigan. The revolve and the actors’ excellent timing allow for seamless transitions between scenes and brings some of the pivotal action centrestage, to the cricket pitch, the town’s common ground. Matt Scott’s inspired lighting states and Darrin Verhagen’s bushland soundscape help to transport us back in time and out of the city to a typical Australian town. This creative team’s close attention to detail, from the street lights to the gutters, to the louvres to the sandals and to the dirt beneath them, may have you convinced that this is in fact your place, your childhood neighbourhood. 

 

I spoke with someone recently again about the importance of memory, personal associations and adding scent to the live theatre experience to support a properly multi-sensory way into a story – remember, we’d diffused rose oil during our La RondeErotique and Diabolique, and then there was the breakfast cooking offstage during Neil Armfield’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – anyway, without it being incorporated in the design, during Jasper Jones I could nevertheless smell the eucalyptus, the wattle, the creek, and the dust of Stringybark Road. It’s always amusing to see the look on students’ faces at school when I start a story with, “Before this school was built…” or “Before this road went through…” and watch their eyes widen before one of them invariably asks, “How old ARE you, Miss?”

 

 

Nicholas Denton’s embodiment of Charlie Bucktin is one of the most searingly honest, and sensationally funny physical performances we’ve seen on this stage in a long time. It’s an endearing performance, his ability to go from awkward and gangly to grown up, wise and worldly within seconds giving us a sense of an old soul in an adolescent body. His love of literature feeds his reality and his relationships, and helps us navigate our way through the mystery as he narrates. It’s through the use of gesture and the manipulation of spatial relationships that we gain additional insight into Charlie’s world, and the people inhabiting it. That comment obviously for the students… Denton takes special care as Charlie, to establish a lovely, awkward, guarded rapport with his strikingly beautiful, strong and stubborn mother, Ruth, the sensational Rachel Gordon. In this role she is somehow a symbol of the era’s frustrations and feelings of isolation, sharing repressed rage and grief, and personifying a similar lingering discontent and sense of disempowerment to Carita Farrar Spencer’s poignant performance in Ladies in Black. I feel like she’s every woman before me, and also me. Charlie also has some weightier moments with his dull and detached, determined-to-do-better father, Wesley. A sensitive Ian Bliss, with just a dash of Doug Hastings/Barry Otto, complete with shameless combover, earns our sympathy and eventually, our admiration too. 

 

 

YOU GOTTA’ GET BRAVE

 

Shaka Cook is a real, raw, intriguing and engaging Jasper Jones. Like a hunted, haunted animal, his vulnerability lies, barely visible, beneath the surface of a tough act that’s become his habitual behaviour. Cook beautifully underplays the complexity and sustains the edgy energy of a thing about to pounce or run away. By the same token he has a languidness about him, unnerving Charlie and suggesting to us that, in possession of this juxtaposition, he might just be the coolest guy in school these days, as opposed to the scapegoat dropout. The unlikely friendship between Jasper and Charlie is handled sensitively, keeping all the nuances intact; it’s a joy to witness this relationship, and their mutual respect, develop before our eyes. 

 

The less subtle friendship is between Charlie and Jeffrey Lu, an animated, dynamic performance by Hoa Xuande, hilarious and at times, heartbreaking. I do wonder if the others were warned during rehearsals that he might steal the show. Melanie Zanetti is exquisitely ageless, playing both the ghost of Laura and her little sister, Eliza, who is very much alive, and coquettishly bold and cute, until her complete unravelling, which also undoes us a little bit. Hayden Spencer, as well as contributing the satisfying thwack! of the cricket ball as Jeffrey finally gets his moment in the sun/on the crease, lets loose as Mad Jack Lionel, Corrigan’s biggest mystery and apparently, most obvious murderer. His truth is revealed beautifully, compellingly, and completely believably, adding rich context to the themes of secrets, lies, love, family and forgiveness.

 

 

Silvey’s novel is a contemporary classic and Mulvany’s stage adaptation, directed by Sam Strong, could tour forever under the same banner, such is its unblinking look into human nature, connection and communication, and the prevailing attitudes of 1960s Australia, which haven’t necessarily changed very much, have they? I love the seemingly low-tech approach, the attention to detail, the unhurried moments spent in Jasper’s sheltered, secret glade, the musings and laughter and delight of the friends, and the days spent outside sans digital devices, as well as the look inside Charlie’s head, and through him, the remarkable insight we gain into the humans that surround him, and that surround us. With the astuteness of To Kill a Mockingbird, the kooky humour of The Goonies, and the casual, lasting impact of Stand by Me, Jasper Jones is easily my favourite Queensland Theatre production this year…perhaps until the final two.

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27
Apr
15

Brisbane

 

Brisbane

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 11 – May 2 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I am absolutely sure – 100% sure – that it (the break down in the development of new Australian works) cannot be solved by just trying to pick winners. I don’t think that that is a viable strategy for horse racing let alone for playwriting. You need some deeper philosophical, political, social and artistic sense of what drama is if you’re going to encourage and develop Australian drama into its next diverse and myriad-formed existence.

Julian Meyrick

 


brisbane_dashkruck

 

 

Drama is like the minute hand of the clock.

Julian Meyrick

 

 

I’ve been thinking about who you are, reading this blog, with pieces that are sometimes so sporadically posted I wonder that you come back at all, and I wonder what you’re seeing in between visiting here. And what does it matter, and what should become of it… I’ve been thinking about not writing but I have to, even when the process of writing something about a show sometimes takes longer than the run of a show. I love the process. I love considering what might be worth mentioning and what might be better left unsaid. I love living through the productions and reliving that journey after the curtain comes down. I love the theatre, the people involved, and this place, where I can share my experience with you, whoever you are, whatever it is you’re here for. I’m not sure what else to do with it – perhaps you have some ideas – and I keep deferring developing this site, and further study and a second blog purely for writing because I’m not sure what to do with all of THAT, what shape everything needs to take, or what any of it will do for me, or for you, but I keep coming back here, as you do, to keep some sort of quiet conversation going, perhaps just so it doesn’t stop.

 

 

{What happens when you have authority speaking about what happens in the theatre?}

We must have a cultural memory.

Alison Croggon

 

 

Over a week ago I saw Matthew Ryan’s Brisbane. Since opening night, I’ve been thinking about how we teach our children about war. It was always the part of studying ancient and modern history that I couldn’t understand. I still don’t understand it. I try to convey the respect and gratitude I feel for those who went to war to protect our right to live in a country of freedom and privilege. I have mixed feelings about teaching the pride part. I’m not even sure how I feel about my grandfather’s role in the war. This week I joined the family at his funeral, which included a full soldier’s farewell, and then I joined the local community at a traditional ANZAC Day commemorative service, sans Welcome to Country and frustratingly prayer fuelled. Okay. I know. We’re still a nation commanded by God. I should get over it. But WAR. LEARNED HATRED. FORCED, RELENTLESS, USELESS KILLING. WTF?

 

Over 30 000 Australian servicemen were taken prisoner in the Second World War. Two-thirds of those taken prisoner were captured by the Japanese during their advance through south-east Asia within the first weeks of 1942. While those who became prisoners of the Germans had a strong chance of returning home at the end of the war, 36 per cent of prisoners of the Japanese died in captivity.

 

mervhenrygrulke

 

My grandfather, Merv Henry Grulke, was a Sparrow Force guerilla soldier and a (POW) Changi survivor. He was three years off receiving his telegram from the queen when he died last week, just six months after my grandma left us. It’s a well-deserved rest for someone who, like so many, endured years of physical and mental anguish during and after the Second World War. During, after any war…

 

Brisbane, 1942: a big country town jumping at shadows, never knowing if that buzz in the air is a cicada or a squadron of merciless Japanese Zeroes. World War II took the city’s innocence, and that of 14-year-old Danny Fisher.


Danny’s dashing pilot brother has been killed in the Bombing of Darwin. As Danny’s devastated family unravels, the teen finds a surrogate sibling in Andy, one of the Americans stationed in Brisbane. The American pilot takes Danny under his wing, and as the tension begins to rise between the Yank and Aussie servicemen, Danny hatches a reckless revenge plan against those who took his brother.

 

Until I was four years old I lived in an old Queenslander just like fourteen-year-old Danny’s. (And then again during uni days, with actors, actually in Brisbane, but that’s another story). I don’t know if my memories of that first house in Emerald are from being there, or from the photos and stories stashed away in albums and minds since. I think I remember the smell of the dust, and spider webs and shadows and cricket balls and suitcases and appliances, and piles of things that didn’t belong anywhere else.

 

brisbane_ladder

 

Designer, Stephen Curtis has perfectly realised the freedom, the playful sense of growing up in an old Queenslander, recreating the immense space of the high ceilinged house and its nether regions beneath. The same space becomes the famous, much loved Brisbane dance hall, Cloudland, and later across the river, the Trocadero. Lit bewitchingly by David Walters, the house itself is full of potential and/or missed opportunity, an undercurrent of the play, and underneath exists a magical space where anything is possible. No missed opportunities here, the set is in synch with every aspect of the story. There are not too many main stage productions that get it THIS right.

 

There is a good side to not being crushed by culture… there’s a tremendous freedom in Australian performance and a huge intelligence, and a kind of disrespect that’s really healthy.

 

The air is thick and wet and the sun burns your skin like it hates your guts. January’s got it in for everyone. It has a temper that builds and builds, until it’s had enough of you and dumps a mountain of water and electricity on your head to end it quick. Then it starts over again. The smell of the dirt road mixes with the pong of dead fruit that falls from the trees. Houses sit on stilts, breathing the cool air beneath them. Street after street. Streets that make up suburbs. Suburbs that make up Brisbane…

 

I’m sure the haters will say, “Oh, C’MON!” but for me this is magnificent, evocative, poetic writing. I love it. I love the feeeeel of it, the energy of it, the cheeky pointers and the gentle, quiet gaps, which Matthew Ryan is confident to leave for director, designer, actors and audiences to fill. I loved Kelly (currently enjoying a national tour), and Brisbane now puts Ryan in a unique position as a writer in this country, sharing our cultural and historical stories in a way we haven’t yet heard. We’ve read something like it – there are similar insightful voices on the page – but his is a theatrical narrative voice that’s refreshing and magically real on stage (and it’s so suited to Australian film; I hope we see something on screen soon). It’s a more personal, more poignant, more cleverly critical style, supporting our fondest memories and challenging notions of what’s already been recorded. The balance of light and dark is just about perfect, and except for the thank-god-bless-us-and-bathe-us-in-light moment at the end, it strikes all the right chords. (Oh dear, but that major chord! That golden light through what might as well be stained glass windows! An eye roll moment indeed!).

 

The text highlights the national state of mind at the time, which reflected our notions of “mateship”, machismo, fearful and unforgiving parenting, and our attitudes towards war, women and foreigners.

 

brisbane

 

A comical “cringe” moment in the play (as in, “We probs shouldn’t be laughing at this”) serves to challenge our current notions too, and it reminds me of that terrible episode of Popeye, you know, The Sailor Man, which never aired but had been included in a DVD box set, which I innocently put on for Poppy one day. In Brisbane, the kids of the neighbourhood play at shooting down the Japanese, as kids were wont to do at the time. In the black & white classic series, Popeye defeats the entire Japanese army, referring to the enemy as “slant-eyed, buck-toothed, yellow-skinned Japansies”. By making light of the ugly truth about human nature it’s even more disturbing to recognise it! Still! Art is a mirror. Or a hammer… Yes. You’ve got to be carefully taught.

 

artisnotamirror_mayakovsky

 

 

There musn’t be one single discourse.

 

 

These characters are so familiar yet we are able to stay safely, emotionally, distant from them. It’s the comedy and the abstractness of the storytelling, switching between real events and what Danny sees is his world that challenges us to consider another point of view. It’s magic realism at play, and it’s not to say we don’t care about them – far from it – we feel deeply for Danny (Dash Kruck), who loses his older brother, Frank (Conrad Coleby perfectly double cast as the American ex-pilot, Andy), and for Frank’s father (Hayden Spencer at his most brutal best), who essentially loses both sons when Frank dies. As for the broken mother, Annie (Veronica Neave), we recognise her deeply personal grief and the embodiment of the women of the era; their ability to pick up the pieces, step into traditionally male roles and “get on with it” while their men either crumble around them or don’t return home. It’s not entirely surprising that it’s she who finally finishes a mini reno on Frank’s room. We see similar resilience in the “big sister”, Rose (Lucy Goleby, luminescent in this role).

 

brisbane_harrietdyeranddashkruck

 

Kruck has been gifted the role of a lifetime in this production. Because Ryan has made the most of his knowledge of Kruck’s physicality and natural vocal cadence during the rehearsal process, the character, as it’s written, is a perfect fit. Under Iain Sinclair’s bold direction, Kruck clearly relishes the opportunity to stretch his wings. He is perfectly matched by the fierce and very funny Harriet Dyer as the best friend, the “cripple”, Patty. I adore Patty, in a way that I would never dare to in real life because I’d be terrified of her! Of course there have always been women learning on their own to be THAT strong (and THAT feared! Ha!). Kruck and Dyer and Goleby develop close connections that are highly entertaining and deeply moving. The moments of sexual awakening are hilarious and the unrequited love, treated so sensitively and tenderly, is actually heartbreaking.

 

brisbane_bullies

 

Our history has such dark moments but there is good, gorgeous, wicked humour here too; the comedy is intelligently written and unashamedly playfully delivered. So much of it comes from the familiar colloquialisms and the childish behaviour of the school bullies and the country’s politicians. We enjoy razor sharp parodies of the leaders at the time, like grotesque tongue-in-cheek comic strips brought to life. This comical theatrical style, thrown casually in amongst the rest, won’t please everybody but it’s a deliberate device; it highlights the propaganda of war and lightens the heavy mood. Matthew Backer, Daniel Murphy and Hugh Parker play these multiple roles (to the hilt!), alerting us to the similarities between the bullies in government and in the street.

 

cloudland_thesundaymail

 

Nothing is lost on the opening night audience. The first reference to Cloudland is a sentence completed in an anticipatory whisper by the audience before the actor can do so and there is an awesome moment of collective pride, the nodding and smiling of people in The Playhouse as they remember… It’s a magical moment – the magic of live theatre – and it’s not lost on those who weren’t there to see the real thing. We get it.

 

The mere presence of new Australian work is no guarantee of cultural health; it has to be Australian work that matters.

 

Dramaturg, Louise Gough, has obviously had a hand in making this work one that matters. It’s one thing to be making and staging new Australian work; it’s another thing entirely to be contributing to the canon of work that informs our history. These stories have come from the truth told by so many. We must keep hearing these stories, seeing them, sharing them. We must try to learn from them. History repeats itself because we don’t learn from it! I hope this is a version of our history you’ll get to experience before it finishes here. I’ll experience it again this week with our students, and I look forward to hearing (reading, marking…) their take on it.

 

What is not being said, what is not being written down, what is not recorded, what is not even noticed?

 

Slouch hats off to QTC’s World Premiere production of Matthew Ryan’s Brisbane; it’s set to become a true blue Australian classic. You must see it.

 

 

Additional quotes taken from AUDIO | STAGE Episode 2 Alison Croggon / Writing History

09
Mar
13

End of the Rainbow

End of the Rainbow

Queensland Theatre Company & Queensland Performing Arts Centre

QPAC Playhouse

2nd March – 24th March 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Christen O’Leary is the gold at the End of the Rainbow

Christen O’Leary effortlessly channels Judy Garland in the first 2013 co-production between Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. It’s a perfect vehicle for O’Leary, showcasing her superior vocal and acting ability, and her solid commitment to character, of which we saw glimpses in Bombshells last year.

 

Christen O'Leary & Hayden Spencer

Christen O’Leary & Hayden Spencer.

Peter Quilter’s play doesn’t give a lot of scope for the men in End of the Rainbow to achieve the same impressive heights, though Anthony Standish as Garland’s fifth and final husband (and her manager), Mickey, and Hayden Spencer as her pianist and best friend, Anthony, do all they can with what they’ve been given, and they are just enough, beautifully balanced in their opposing strategies and differing sensibilities, to help Judy rid herself of her demons.

 

The story is Garland’s tragedy and the star is O’Leary. She delivers the ruined performer’s weary words, “I gave them everything. There’s nothing left…” (and the pitch, pause and intonation in songs and speech is spot on, thanks in part to the work of Voice and Dialect Consultant, Melissa Agnew), with all the vulnerability of an actor who imagines she might feel the same way one day.

 

This is the most honest, and the most heartbreakingly damaged embodiment of Judy Garland we are likely to see outside of Bernadette Robinson’s outstanding performance in Songs for Nobodies. Given the tough gig of becoming Judy (we think we know her so well!) for a little over two hours, O’Leary ably switches between the competent, sassy, manipulative and mischievous imp, and the depressed, aggressive, desperate addict. The end of Act 1 comes crashing to a close, and the end of the show is desperately sad, until a curtain call lifts our spirits and reminds us that Judy is a legend, she is immortal, forever caught on celluloid, and sadly, like Elvis, Marilyn, MJ and so many more, along with Superman’s arch enemies, she appears trapped in The Phantom Zone, or the prism, and lost in space and time for our benefit. (Baz McAlister’s program notes are well worth the read at this point, at some stage during the twenty-minute interval anyway, if you didn’t get to them over pre-show drinks and tapas. It would be terrific to see these included on the production page of the website).

 

Anthony Standish & Christen O'Leary

Anthony Standish & Christen O’Leary.

But the time is 1968 and the space is, on one side of a clever revolve, Garland’s elegant suite in London’s Ritz Hotel, and on the other, the stage she inhabits during her final performances. The set is Bill Haycock’s inspired design and perfectly complementing it is David Walters’ sumptuous lighting. With the interesting addition of projected images by Tim Roane, of blossoming flowers and, during a poignant moment late in the piece, the face of Garland’s fiancé, we see far below the seemingly impenetrable surface of Judy, superstar and living legend. We see what gets under her skin, and (it’s a chilling effect) we hear the sounds of the Munchkins’ voices, contextualising perfectly the memories and forced habits of a child star who never had her childhood, and who never really grew up.

 

 

O’Leary’s Ritalin-induced manic performance finally brought the tears to my eyes; they’d been threatening to slide slowly, surreptitiously down my cheeks but the show had been, strangely, so funny, as well as being terribly sad. From the outset I had felt deep despair for this tragic, delicate figure, before finding myself laughing out loud at some outrageous comment or other made by the Judy who always got what she wanted, including the drugs that eventually killed her.  No use reaching for tissues yet though, because Quilty has included Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which O’Leary delivers longingly from behind the scrim, in her immortality, causing me to look up at lights and continue to blink away tears.

“It’s a terrible thing to know what you’re capable of…and to never get there.”

 

So Quilter successfully takes us on Garland’s final five-week roller coaster ride, but not without the help of (O’Leary’s husband) Andrew McNaughton’s adept musical direction and the gentle guidance of Director, David Bell, whose attention to detail rivals only O’Leary’s; together they leave nothing undone. Bell says of O’Leary, “Her performance, while underpinned by meticulous research and an eye for fine detail, is astonishingly brave and painfully human. Her Judy is not a legend but a human being.” And this is why she is able to move us beyond tears and back to rapturous applause – a deserved standing ovation on opening night – because this Judy knows the show must go on. It’s all she has. We believe it because we feel that O’Leary has raised the stakes that high.

 

Christen O'LearyEnd of the Rainbow is somehow the most joyous evening of true-life tragedy you’ll experience this year. It’s theatre making at its best, achieving the perfect balance of fact and fiction, triumphant success and dire failure, addiction, confusion and ultimately, a joy so spectacular your heart will fill to bursting and you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’ve had a drink with a legend, and held the hand of the same dear friend. Whether or not you’re a Judy Garland fan, I guarantee you’ll feel her pain, marvel at her incredible talent and determination, and wonder how we can sit still and watch in awe and horror as our favourite stars, to this day, destroy themselves in front of our eyes.

 

End of the Rainbow closes on March 24th and I hope the short season is indication that the show will hit the road…because this baby’s got legs!

 

 

 

 

 




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