Posts Tagged ‘jason glenwright


Elizabeth I


Elizabeth I

Brisbane Powerhouse & Monsters Appear

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

December 1 – 3 2017


Reviewed by Rhumer Diball



At a glance, Elizabeth I is a one-woman show about Elizabeth, a seemingly ordinary royal enthusiast from Sydney. When delving a little deeper, it becomes apparent that this production is also a one-woman show about the Virgin Queen’s ghost entering the world of 21st century Australia. When tentative and vulnerable present-day Elizabeth, and fearless, resilient Queen Elizabeth I join forces during an inciting threat of doom, the far-removed females combine the paradoxes of history to present a surprising development of wits and self worth.


Despite all of her endearing qualities and quirky antics, royal enthusiast Elizabeth is introduced to the audience as a faltering woman who relies on small pleasures and simple prospects to fill up her modest life. She loves her pug, is working her “dream job” managing complains at a Sydney pharmaceuticals company, and gains most of her thrills from office parties and unrequited desires for mysterious work colleagues. However, when a number of tragic developments multiply before her, Elizabeth is propelled down a terrifying path that leads to life threatening danger in a single afternoon. Lost and helpless she calls up her love of historical monarchs to source the power needed to face her looming peril. With this comes the hilarious yet harrowing entrance of the infamously powerful Queen Elizabeth I, and with her a split from a single character’s journey to a more complex battle between two women’s considerably conflicting attitudes towards danger and intimidation.


The Virgin Queen enters Elizabeth’s body as a kind of guide to offer commanding counsel and an essence to drive effectual action. With a simplistic, relatively supernatural usurping of Elizabeth’s internal control, the frail and susceptible woman is engulfed and her inner warrior is released. Within moments following her introduction Elizabeth I reveals her dated historical perceptions of gender roles and attitudes towards physicality and its dictation of power. However, her value of inner strength and devotion in times of confrontation is a welcomed reinforcement of modern day empowerment for any woman, let alone one as uncertain and self-doubting as Elizabeth. The contrast between the women through time and stance is an exquisite dynamic that pushes the piece beyond a playful fusing of timelines and closer to a more profound reflection of past, present and future musings.


Sole performer Emily Burton’s performance is rich in personality yet sweet and endearing as modern day Elizabeth. She matches vulnerability with admirable comedic timing and keeps the character entertaining in office-based contexts that could have quickly become tedious. As the two Elizabeths Burton showcases her diversity, combining a meek and charming demeanor with a guttural and commanding presence in a sharp retort. She portrays a delicate amalgamation with a controlled splitting of characters, or personalities if so inclined, while fixated from a singular spot on stage. Burton’s control of movement, body positioning and inner strength is what truly makes this complicated hybridisation work; her ability to bring out the shades of light and dark within both Elizabeth characters is impressive, and it is executed with evident depth during moments that require stark contrast.


Director Benjamin Schostakowski also deserves praise for his ability to lead Burton’s detailed delivery of the two women. Overall Schostakowski manages to embrace the piece’s melodrama and predictable plot developments and harness their impact in a hilarious fusion with effortless style. His control of pace and surprising contrast strengthens the work’s evolution from comedic charm to thrilling theatricality as the plot progresses towards the climactic cliffhanger.


Notable mentions must also go to this production’s stellar design team. Neridah Waters’ choreography and Wil Hughes’ sound and AV design compliment one another fluidly to layer atop the comedic yet intrinsic elements and enhance Burton and Schostakowski’s coordinated craft. Jason Glenwright’s lighting design holds the shows’ realistic beginnings together with imaginative depth, as well as exploiting moments of mystical proportions with sophistication and pertinence. Glenwright goes from creating simple yet beautiful atmosphere to exploring eery environments to differentiate the Elizabeth psyches. Through smooth alterations and understated overlays Glenwright progresses from playing with sparkling disco dance floor or flashing thunderstorm to splitting the stage and the characters’ essences visually through juxtaposing green and orange hues. As distinctly different colours cast across the space and divide Burton’s body, the Burton’s physical performance of the two Elizabeth’s is extended into a purposeful yet beautiful manipulation of space.


With powerful creatives joining forces, Elizabeth I at Brisbane Powerhouse’s Wonderland festival is an exhilarating first instalment of a what looks to be a promising full-length production in the future.




Brisbane Powerhouse & Wax Lyrical Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

November 9 – 12 2017


Reviewed by Barry Stone



Barry maintains that he doesn’t write reviews, but I love hearing what he has to say about what he sees in Brisbane since he sees everything he possibly can, out of genuine support and passion for the Performing Arts. I’m so pleased he’s agreed to allow me to share his thoughts with you here. Feel free to add your own, below in the comments section. Xanthe


Award-winning company, Wax Lyrical Productions, presents the world premiere of Nineteen, a dark comedy about four young men, Noah, George, Adam and Josh, living in a share house. From the outside they seem like fun, loveable larrikins but underneath the bravado and binge drinking lurks something more sinister.


Nineteen – For me, a play that has been needed for a while. Young men deciding if they will make it to adulthood. The trials of insecurity, the passions of relationships, the recognition of urges and the deceit amongst friends and for one’s self. It is a scary world trying to be what you imagine you should be. Will you be ‘like father – like son’. What is love and what is sex. What is friendship and what is a man supposed to be. The obsession with the physical, the boredom and the drugs and alcohol. Escape or pleasure. A lot is there in the loneliness of growing up.


For many years I have bemoaned the lack of suitable role models for the young man. I have a particular abhorrence of several things proposed as that which should be emulated, such as ‘Be a man’, ‘Stand up for yourself’, ‘Did you fight back?’, ‘Did you win?’, Don’t be a girl’ and ‘Don’t be a poofta’. There is always that obsession – which sport do you follow, don’t dress like a sissy, you know nothing about the kitchen, back-slap but never hug, never show or declare your emotions… Add this to the image in American film and television that all is solved with a gun or a punch. Young men in most sit-coms are portrayed as immature idiots, and selfish like Bart Simpson. Some call it satire, but I bet the vast majority see it as an example. Just like 1984 was a warning not a user manual, as it is now seen.


This original play examines the inner workings of a house of young boys. Their closeted affections, homophobia, misogyny, disappointments, and how they cope, or fail to cope. It is about the need they have for each other, but never let it show. The anger is loud and flies rashly and the can or stubby is opened one after another. No, they are not the great successes in life, but our suburbs are full of them and largely they are ignored. Why are they like this and what is society teaching our young men?


There is a line and a common attitude propagated that all men are either ‘Rapists or Paedophiles’. Read your newspapers and listen to your media. Accusation alone is now guilt. Aspirational victims are everyone’s 15 minutes. Vigilante justice, trial by media and innuendo leave everyone feeling guilty. To me, all freedoms require a generation to sink in. Apartheid, recognition of indigenous importance, women’s liberation, gay liberation…all have been taking time and when the world swings from one to another it usually leaves someone else behind.


Kindness and understanding, acceptance and example are better than accusation and revenge.


I seem to have waffled but this is what for me came out of Nineteen. Writer and Director, Shane Pike, has begun a conversation that I hope is joined with true compassion. He has exposed the private life of some of the young Aussie male. The ignored and dismissed. Fewer trips to Bali and more trips to the theatre, where life is thought about.


Jason Glenwright gave a wonderful theatrical focus on the action, the narration , the asides. And the peak performances of the cast were gripping. The silences most effective, as I recognise that state of severe boredom and inability to articulate what I have seen in the flesh. Diverse as any group of people can be, the actors both differentiated the characters and united them in a common confusion, loneliness and simply being afraid. Scared little boys lashing out at each other because they are so disconnected with the reality of the world and exactly what a relationship should be, who they are and where they need to stand.


Bravo to to the great and gripping talents of Daniel Hurst, Leonard Donahue, Jackson McGovern and Silvan Rus, and thank you for a very fine evening which I do hope both lives on and provokes discussion and a real attempt at true understanding, for from truth will evolve genuine progress.


Queensland in particular needs this big discussion. Less talk about how a sportsman is a role model (no matter how many mistakes he makes) and a little less testosterone, greater respect for the arts and acceptance of the rich diversity we do have. The world or the media seems to be promoting a gender war to add to the class war, the race war, the religious war. Calm the fuck down and stop trying to find which persecuted minority you can join. I am over the victim mentality. Be human and cope. You need not be scarred for life. it is not a fate worse than death, it may be none of your business, you are responsible for your own actions. We all have problems but we are all born with the responsibility of developing a conscience. Choose which battles (not all) you want to fight but educate yourself with facts and then give it 100 percent.


As I have said over and over, I do not do reviews, but I record what comes to me by attending a performance. This is just how it affected me. This one really did provoke thought and unleashed me.


P.S. As if that is not enough there is also some nudity.


The Last Five Years


The Last Five Years

Wax Lyrical Productions

Visy Theatre Brisbane Powerhouse

October 7 – 14 2017


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




Within the first ten minutes of The Last Five Years we know whether or not we’re up for hearing this story and watching heartbreak happen. Wax Lyrical’s production, directed by Zoe Tuffin, and starring Kurt Phelan and Lizzie Moore, is exquisitely sad and beautifully crafted to let some light shine on the perfect imperfections of two people who were once in love.


During the opening three minutes we’ve already had our hearts crack irreparably and we realise we’re in for a relentlessly emotional 90-minute ride. If you’re coming in with real, raw, brand new wounds, or savage old ones that you’re not ready to let heal, take a drink or two in; you may feel the need to self-medicate.


Jason Robert Brown’s contemporary song cycle boasts a neat structure that sees the two performers share the stage throughout, and yet meet and connect only once, for a moment when they marry (The Next Ten Minutes, ever so delicately crafted and delivered). Despite the clever chronological device, and their continuous comings and goings, these gifted performers retain a deep connection with the material and with each other throughout.




If you’re unfamiliar with the work, it pays to know this much: A novelist, Jamie (Kurt Phelan), shares his story from the start to the finish of a five-year relationship with actress, Cathy (Lizzie Moore), who tells us her side of the same story in reverse, from the end of their relationship to its beginning. The characters are complex, the relationship complicated and it doesn’t end well.




As Phelan and Moore settle into their challenging roles, on opening night of a too-short season in the intimate Visy Theatre, we begin to sense what these two can really do. Phelan (Boys of Sondheim, Dirty Dancing) and Moore (Kiss Me Kate, On a Night Like This) know each other from way back, having met in a bathtub at a surprise party for mutual friend, Lucy Durack. There’s no doubt they’ve attracted attention as individual performers, but if they can perfect Moore’s first couple of numbers (Still Hurting & See I’m Smiling) – and perhaps she’s hit the mark after opening night, letting the emotion drop in, and going to the edge from the outset, as she does a little later – this two-hander will be the smash hit of next year’s national touring circuit.


You get to be happy…



In his most honest and searing work to date, Phelan embraces Jamie’s narcissism, ambition and shifting affection, offering a bold and precise physical performance, buoyed by a deeply committed energy that could be bottled and sold to most undergraduate (and some professional) performers. He’s effervescent, irresistible in this challenging role, which is the perfect vehicle for Phelan, with an impressive vocal range and a cavalry of emotions. From Shiksa Goddess to If I Didn’t believe in You we get the full gamut of emotions. The Shmuel Song – that track that might use a Spotify skip to miss – works so well that I’d happily see Phelan perform it again; he keeps us fully engaged (although the literal aspects, which are mimed, could go). His Nobody Needs to Know is, unsurprisingly, completely devastating. Phelan’s a busy, busy guy, but I hope this role is one he can keep smashing for some time.


I open myself one stitch at a time…



Cathy is one of the more demanding high belt roles for any female vocalist, asking of the performer a massive emotional range, difficult to keep in check, and it’s up to the performer to resist pushing vocally without the inner life to back up the big sound. When Moore settles into the role she nails it, embodying the sweet, insecure Cathy, and able to bring home the big brash open notes (Anna Kendrick doesn’t sell them like that!), as well as more thoughtful, gentle moments. Moore’s comedy is superb, it’s her thing; she’s so funny and cute, and yet, within the world of the show, she gives us reason to understand why Jamie might look the other way. I’d love to see her contain more, especially to begin with, to sit with the shock and immediacy of Jamie’s departure before the hilarity – the Climbing Uphill sequence later, and the little moments and glances that have us giggling during A Summer in Ohio and I Can Do Better Than That. We have to laugh out loud during the multiple failed auditions. We’ve all been there. Fucking shoes. Poor Cathy.


I have been waiting…



Shannon Whitelock (MD and piano), leading guitar (Joel Woods), violin (Ruth Donovan), cello (Wayne Jennings & Ruby Hunter) and bass (Conall O’Neill), plays with conviction and coaxes from his on-stage 5-piece the rich sounds of a much larger assembly of musicians. When I speak to Jennings, with whom I train on Monday nights in Zen Zen Zo’s Dojo, he modestly dismisses what he does so well outside of the training room. But if it were not for the sweet, desperately sad sounds and contrasting upbeat and humorous numbers (and with the hold these musicians have on JRB’s challenging score), our hearts might still be in tact!


Zoe Tuffin’s poised direction hones in on the detail, the specificity of each intimate moment. Her use of the sparsely configured space and contrasting lighting states, designed by Jason Glenwright, draw us into two completely different worlds, which collide for just a little while, for just as long as they need to, to tell the common tale of two people who are just not meant to be together.


The Last Five Years is quite a journey, for the cast and for us.

My head spins. My heart hurts. The hawk soars forth from my chest.


All I could do was love you hard and let you go…





Queensland Theatre

Queensland Theatre Bille Brown Studio

June 24 – July 16 2017


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Tini biyoyer sathei aasen. She moves with victory. Tini biyoyer sathei aasen. She moves…

Rice is the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winner (2016), a slick and sophisticated two-hander about women, ambition, power, partnerships, love, loss, loyalty, forgiveness and family. Melbourne’s Michele Lee says, “Initially I said Rice was about a plethora of ‘big’ contemporary issues. As if I was some Michael Moore of theatre. Mass agriculture. Super economies. Mercenary corporations. Women in business. Rice is about these things. But it’s partly, primarily, about two women searching for new friendships and new intimacies, new versions of family, however fleeting.”

Lee’s writing is refreshingly real; her characters are recognisable and relatable. The dialogue is fast, funny, and unapologetically localised, a delight for Brisbane audiences, peppered with references to familiar places. Leading ladies, Kirsty Best (Nisha) and Hsiao-Ling Tang (Yvette) also play the incidental characters who come in and out of their lives, including the boss, the boyfriend, the bogan, an Indian widow, a nephew, a daughter… The first of these transitions is a little uncertain but once established, these switches work well, making this play a tidy little touring number. 

Renee Mulder’s sleek, white minimal corporate office set and Jason Glenwright’s bright, spare lighting keep the focus on the performers, who step into a natural rhythm that allows them an easy banter and yet, appropriately uncomfortable silences at times to underpin a few home truths about the world views of the Indian Princess and the Chinese Cleaner.

This is the part of the story where I tell you about an Indian princess.

Nisha (Indian Princess) is a typical young thing in a navy suit who knows everything, until it’s revealed that she doesn’t. Both her undoing and the making of her is her ability to see things for what they really are. Yvette is the Chinese Cleaner who has been bettered all her immigrant life by others, including extended family members. She continues to struggle to maintain a civil relationship with her daughter. Both women have a clear picture of where they’d like to be and they think they know how they’ll get there. But life – a death, a flood, a legal battle – gets in the way and other things along the way become important again.

This is the part where we eat.

There is a delicate balance in the writing between the vulnerability and intimacy of the women’s working relationship and the apparently unavoidable distance – a chasm, in this life at least – between them. This is beautifully measured in the performances when the women are playing their main roles.

Director, Griffin Theatre’s Lee Lewis, has created on the 20th floor of Nisha’s inner city office building, a microcosm of contemporary society, placing the personal worlds of the women squarely inside the bigger global picture. They can’t escape or dismiss the personal. They can’t ignore a connection with another human being and continue to complain about not being noticed or supported…or deeply affected. The women must always, in some small way, be there for each other.

Great theatre allows us to see ourselves in the story. Lee’s universal story of connection, shared via a personal, local lens, doesn’t condescend or compromise or get in its own way.

Its humour, insight and wonderfully engaging personable performances make Rice a lovely easy play to watch. The challenge is in walking away and making the tiny daily changes to the way we do things. Because we can. And we must; ignorance is no longer an excuse for the ill treatment of people in our immediate circles (or outside of them). Was it ever? How often do we consider the way we go about our day? How do we speak to our loved ones, our colleagues, strangers and friends we haven’t met yet? How do we choose to respond to others? How do we choose to treat others, in business and in life? On the train? At the checkout? In our homes and schools and offices? In the street? Can we go forward now, into every situation, with genuine curiosity, dignity and compassion? Can we just take a breath, half a moment, before uttering anything aloud or online to consider the impact it might have on a person? And how far, really, is too far out of our way to give a person a lift home?

Through the strong, vulnerable, wonderful women of Rice Michele Lee asks these vital questions with the utmost respect, and with greater wit and good humour than most.

This is the part where we go.





QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

August 13 – September 5 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


I will take no refusal…






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



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


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




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


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


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


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




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


Nick Skubij wears his leather well.


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




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


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


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


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



Production pics by Dylan Evans








CATS – the arena spectacular spectacular









The closest I will ever get to playing a cat.



Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Brisbane Convention Centre

July 4 – 6 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


When CATS first opened in Australia none of the members of this production’s mass ensemble were born. (When it opened in London I *might* have been just born. Alright, I *might* have been in preschool already but let’s not think too long about that).


CATS has been performed in over 20 countries and in over 250 cities.


The song Memory has been recorded by over 150 artists.


1700 meters of lycra and 2000 metres of faux fur were used to create the costumes.


Over 3000 pots of Kryolan make-up were used to create the make-up designs.


The dance floor comprises over 500 pieces weighing over 10 tonnes.


Over 1500 young performers auditioned for the mass ensemble and 800 were chosen.


The mass ensemble rehearsed on weekends for 6 months and the professional cast rehearsed for 3 weeks.


70 individual body mics were used in this production.


There are over 400 lights in the rig and over 400 stage management cues to call.




This is the second largest production of CATS ever! (The largest featured over 3000 cats in London in 2013). That makes it the largest production ever staged in the Southern Hemisphere. I think I’ve finally worked out Harvest Rain’s caper.




They’ve certainly proved with this super-sized production that they have the team to pitch something!


With more than #800cats on stage in the Brisbane Convention Centre, including a heap from the Sunshine Coast (and you know I know that drive! Well done, Mums and Dads!). At times it felt like we were caught in a musical epic about the bubonic plague, as hundreds and hundreds of cats swarmed into the space, looking for the first few moments more like rats than cats, upon a ship’s deck, which indeed, seemed to be where we were meant to be. That’s right. No garbage heap here. I actually overheard somebody explaining to his companion that the original had been staged on a rubbish heap and I was suddenly reminded that THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO HAVEN’T YET SEEN CATS. I KNOW.


I remember the first time I experienced CATS, at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in 1989 (the Australian and New Zealand tour), in which Trevor Green played Skimbleshanks to great acclaim. We were sitting next to Trevor on opening night of Harvest Rain’s CATS and I thought I noticed the same consternation on his face that I too was feeling during Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, as the pace began to lag a little. Perhaps it was a trick of the light; Jason Glenwright’s rock star lighting design is a show unto itself! Anyway, what I remember most about that first experience was that the cats actually came through the stalls, purring and climbing all over us! Also, we were allowed on stage at Interval to see the set up close. Unheard of! Years later, Sam played Old Deuteronomy in a local production with Nathanael Cooper as Munkastrap. (Nathanael would probably prefer you didn’t know about that but I’m telling you because he did real GOOD!), and I’ll never forget my first singing teacher, Judy, who wore face paint and cute little cat ears to sing Memory at a closing night party at our place in Buderim. I think it was after a very successful Buderim run of Waltzes From Vienna.


These cats did not disappoint either, settling into various reposes upon the floor and on the stairs at points throughout the show when not dancing, keeping character all the while and delighting patrons with their cheeky grins and fabulously feline characters, upheld by all within my scope at least. Paired with the synchronised moggie moves of over 800 performers, including fifteen or more legit tap dancers, it’s a totes impressive effort!


MD Maitlohn Drew leads a confident lot of cat wig clad musos, and the music, which is usually easy to get sick to death of – c’mon, be real, it is – was actually really enjoyable. I even loved lots of little moments largely because of the music. Mostly, if I’m completely honest, I ACTUALLY LOVE CATS. I love CATS because of Sarah Brightman, Elaine Paige, Macavity the Mystery Cat and RUM TUM TUGGER. Unfortunately, HR’s Rum Tum (Ethan Jones) gave us more Ty Noonan than Mick Jagger and you know I’m a big fan of Ty’s stuff but it has its place, and it’s place is not in Lloyd Webber’s CATS. (WE LOVE YOU, TY!). That’s not to say that Jones disappointed anybody else on opening night – he was a hit! Mungojerrie (Callan Warner) and Rumpleteaser (Hannah Crowther), though a bit breathless, wowed us with their acrobatic song and dance routine and it’s testament to Harvest Rain’s training program that these two – two of the strongest of the core ensemble, along with Munkastrap (Dean Vince), Mr Mistoffelees (Stevie Bishop) and Jennyanydots (Astin Blaik) – are stand outs in terms of their performance flair, energy and vocal and physical prowess. (It should be noted that I felt Jones redeemed himself in his rich contribution to Magical Mr Mistoffelees). CATS is considered a dancers’ show, sure, but it’s a much more entertaining dancers’ show when the dancers can hold a tune and convey character.


Steven Tandy makes a delightful Bustopher Jones and a lovable Gus. Our leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, is an apt choice for Grizabella, giving the famous role a beautiful blend of fragility and fallen grace, not to mention making a pristine appearance in her Wheels & Dollbaby at the after party.





Choreographer and Director, Callum Mansfield has always worked meticulously and he had his work cut out for him on this one – we know that CATS is really the choreographer’s show – and word is that Mansfield started work on this production a year ago. Actually, Mansfield choreographed Harvest Rain’s 2007 production of CATS, at their teeny tiny Sydney Street theatre in New Farm, with Designer Josh McIntosh and Producer, Tim O’Connor. Mansfield was 17 years old. During that original run he’d said, “For a choreographer and dancer, Cats is THE dream gig. It’s athletic, energetic and joyful and it’s a challenge to ensure that the choreography reflects the feline movements of the characters while also communicating with the audience.” He also played Mr Mistoffelees in that production. We can only imagine his horror delight when O’Connor suggested staging the show again but this time, on a much larger scale! This time Mansfield says (and this I LOVE), “…here was my chance to provide 800 young performers with the same kind of opportunity that was given to me. Whether they were eight or eighteen years old, I set out to make this experience an enjoyable journey of music, dance and storytelling that would solidify their passion for performing and help them on their way.”


Mansfield has BOOKS of choreography – I’d love to see those – and this time he engaged two assistant choreographers (Jennifer Miller& Courtney Underhill), and thirty-nine dance captains to lead the mass ensemble in “tribes” of different colours. Wow! And yikes! And it’s because of these sorts of logistical nightmares that no one else comes close to even attempting anything of the size and scale of this production. I’m not even joking about the Olympics’ bid.


I’m actually convinced now that Harvest Rain can (and will) do anything.


Look, if you hate CATS you would still have hated it after seeing this production – just face it, you’re a Hater and not even Harvest Rain’s eight million cute kids in furry costumes can cure you – it’s still a whimsical non-story using the poems by T.S. Eliot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, about a bunch of cats with human qualities who come together for the Jellicle Ball, the cat event of the year, akin to Damien Rossi’s Oscars’ party, obviously, during which (the Jellicle Ball, not the Oscars’ party), one cat will be chosen to become elevated to somewhere vaguely above us. Of course that cat is Grizabella, an outcast and set up beautifully to be the underdog who comes out on top, literally, disappearing via smoky scaffolding into the mystical realm of the Heaviside Layer. The tales within the tale are beautifully realised, allowing for the most plot-like non-plot I’ve seen in a production of CATS.




Apparently, without Marina Prior signing on as the Glamour Cat, this production would never have gone ahead, and whether or not her star power has attracted just as many audience members as family members of the kids involved, what it does do is this – it reaffirms Harvest Rain as one of our premiere performing arts companies, giving them the sort of street cred that only Prior’s sort of star power can buy (check out the cast of Spamalot!), and it gives the younger members of the company a legit role model and mentor. Just as those of us who are *slightly older* looked to Sarah Brightman before her crazy-ass experimental pop chart electronica era (I saw her live on stage, y’all. She sang off key), these aspiring performers look to Marina and her industry peers. It’s obviously been such an awesome opportunity, on so many levels, to be part of Harvest Rain’s Wakakirri Creative Generation Arena Spectacular Spectacular Rock Challenge CATS! Congrats, all! I’m looking forward to seeing all your lovely new faces, although perhaps not all at once, on a stage somewhere again soon!




Tequila Mockingbird


Tequila Mockingbird

shake and stior theatre co & QPAC

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

22 August – 7 September 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 


The creative powerhouse behind the smash hit, sell out productions Animal Farm and 1984, return in 2013 with a new Australian play.


Directed by Michael Futcher and featuring a cast of some of Queensland’s finest actors,Tequila Mockingbird visits themes of racial prejudice, the perversion of justice and the consequences of alcohol abuse, all in a uniquely Australian context.


After a woman is attacked in a remote Australian town, the racist underbelly rears its head as the community targets a young Indian Doctor who has recently relocated to the area. Only one local man possesses the strength to uncover the truth and defend the accused in the ultimate fight for what’s right but first, he must take care of other matters, a little closer to home. 


Don’t miss this bold, brave new work examining a darker side of Australian culture lurking just below the surface.




There are so many reasons to love shake and stir but first, before you keep reading, book your tickets for their Tequila Mockingbird or you’ll miss out! This is a heart-smart and thought provoking contemporary take on the Pulitzer Prize winning classic novel by Nelle Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Kids, if you haven’t read it you’ll want to, after experiencing this production. This is a company consistently bringing us cross-curricular current political and dynamic work – it’s literally breathing new life into old work – and from what I can see, they’ve pretty convincingly cornered the market. If you’re teaching at a school that hasn’t booked them yet, do it. If you’re at a school and your teachers haven’t booked them yet, bug them until they do.


With Nelle Lee’s razor sharp recontextualisation of the original story, in the hands of Director, Michael Futcher and brought to us by one of my favourite combinations of talent on stage, not to mention the same gun creative team, shake and stir have done it again.


Futcher’s light, precise touches are evident throughout, particularly in the little moments of conversation – a pause, a glance; a response that is recognisable and completely human, however horrifying to some of us – and in the flow of the plot, despite dramatic beat changes, punctuated and highlighted by light and sound (Jason Glenwright and Guy Webster), that make us stop and think (out loud, on more than one occasion, enthusiastic front rowers!), “WOW!” These guys really get it. In fact, in each of shake and stir’s mainstage productions (Animal Farm and 1984 preceded Tequila Mockingbird), I’ve wondered whether or not they are selling themselves short by focusing on education instead of world tours (in fact, I’ve asked them about it!), but HOLD ON. STOP. WAIT JUST A GODAMN COTTON-PICKING MINUTE.


How lucky are we that this company focuses on education, and on getting it right for students and teachers?! AND IN JUST FOUR WEEKS?! I know, that’s impressive too, right? The secret? Look, I don’t know, I’ll ask them next time we talk. Maybe they don’t actually sleep. But they are also OLD THEATRE SOULS in new, agile, energetic bodies and minds that can’t stop because they LOVE IT. We see that quite clearly, which makes it a joy to experience anything they do. You think I’m raving? Damn right! Have you booked your tix yet?




Beneath the towering paper walled set, we are introduced to some teeny tiny characters – Australian not American  – all running from something, but only to begin with. They grow and seem to fill the space…until a violent street verdict makes a mockery of the jury’s decision and what was considered a fair trial for an Indian doctor, new to town, accused of assaulting a young girl, and they disappear again. A blatant Bundaberg reference, thrown neatly into the doctor’s opening lines, gets a few gasps and we realise that with this production these guys are here to do business. It’s not just a new take on To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s something else entirely.


Strong performances, and thankfully no stereotypes, and truly delightful in her wicked, trashy ways, was Barb Lowing, like Disney’s stepmother to Rapunzel in Tangled, all bark and all bite. Mother knows best? Terrifying! To balance this dastardly character, and prove once again her versatility and formidable talent (yes, remember you were blown away – but not surprised – by Lowing’s masterful performance in The China Incident?), she draws out two other contrasting characters, the self-righteous neighbour, and the friendly kitchen-fail publican. I always remind students to take note of Lowing’s performances; she’s all class, even when her characters are anything but!




Bryan Proberts takes on the Atticus Finch figure, a Sydney lawyer who’s dragged his son out of his Sydney school before he sells any more pot at school. Hang on, that sounds familiar! But here, on the Sunshine Coast, I guess the easier transfer was to Maroochydore SHS! Ha! Isn’t it great to reconnect with old friends on Facebook?! You know who you are! The son is Charlie, played by Nick Skubij (he also plays Dan, the non-committal mate who props up the pub’s counter), and their relationship is beautifully discovered. It’s a nice role for Skubij, who totally gets the bored teen and plays for long enough around the edges of it so that the maturity and strength of character we see towards the end comes as no surprise. It’s beautifully measured.




Ross Balbuziente gets gruff and grubby, as the recently retrenched outback bastard who shows us how not to treat a girl. He’s frightening and revolting, and entirely recognisable. And not just from a stint in Mt Isa. Nelle Lee is the victim in a relationship she is clearly at odds with; we feel like shouting to her, “GET OUT! GET OUT NOW! HE’S NO GOOD FOR YOU!” and Shannon Haegler the new doctor, in rough-as-guts Stanton (but sadly, it could be any Aussie outback town) that has, proudly and defiantly, only one type of rice. And that’s white.


There is nothing to fault in any of the performances, nor in the design, context or text itself, which I’d love to see on the page. Hello, Playlab? Tequila Mockingbird is indeed, “a new Australian play” in its best form, from our boldest, most confident young company. I hope you see it before Election Day a-hem September 7.


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