Posts Tagged ‘joseph simons


First Things First


First Things First

Brisbane Powerhouse & Joseph Simons

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

February 10 – 13 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



Joseph Simons is the most extraordinary performer, celebrating in his original one-man show First Things First the human form, and a series of firsts, failures and the simple joy that is to be discovered in the small successes of everyday life. We watch in awe, his fluid movement and subtle transformations revealing a thousand characters in one as he shares engaging and entertaining stories that feel familiar and at the same time are undeniably this performer’s personal experience in the world. 


In First Things First complex choreographic sequences stem from the tiniest observation of the immediate surroundings, the intimate space of the Visy Theatre opened up, stripped back, and baring its soul too. The show was created within the confines of a room during a snow storm in Berlin. So you can imagine. Moments are imbued with frantic pent-up energy and the stunning calm of the artist in contemplation of the world around him.


A white floor is made a work of art before we even enter the space, preset with black pieces of clothing – jeans, leggings, jocks, shirts, a bra, a velvet hat – and one by one the items are tossed into a pile in the corner, just as so many memories and aspects of life are discarded. It might not even be a metaphor… A mobile clothes rack stands empty except for a red t-shirt on a black plastic hanger, and used throughout as if it were the prop selected for a crazy improv game.

Simons is relaxed, greeting us outside the Visy Theatre. OH, HI! We’re wearing sticky name tags and he encourages us to meet someone new, to mingle. I cheat and catch up with Zoe Tuffin, we have a great chat before the show starts. But the show has clearly started already with this easy intro and I’m intrigued by Simon’s effortless engagement with everyone he meets, his openness and the obvious joy he finds in the act of sharing something of which he’s proud, and so humble about.


Last week Simons was our Associate Director on GAYBIES and on closing night I told him that of course he must keep directing; his intuition and care when working with actors are things that can’t be taught. And now I feel like telling him, forget it! Keep performing while you can! Because this is his first gift.

What Simons gifts to us is the experience of life and love and laughter, in every breath, every twitch and turn of his head, every look, every wink, every extension, every pointed toe. He’s simply stunning to watch. 

The intricate choreographic sequences start small, the ordinary made extraordinary through keen observation, bold exaggeration and committed repetition. One particular sequence, more complex and rigorous than the rest, is repeated three times, involving incredibly controlled floor work, and balance and precision to make us marvel at the technique and exalt in the emotion so freely and generously explored.


A tale that we can only assume would be too long and too detailed to tell over drinks becomes a masterclass in the telling, frustrating and hilarious and gorgeous. It’s fine comedy and brilliant theatre, breaking up the demanding physical routines and, as if we were not already enamoured with Simons, successfully drawing us into his world.


Simons takes a “drinks break”, explaining unapologetically that all the best cabaret performers do so, and then opens the camera on his phone to take a photo of the audience. He’s already named individual audience members in the opening sequence, over a pre-recorded list of celebrity names, and he remembers everyone with whom he spoke before the show, greeting them, acknowledging their part in his story all over again. It binds us, bonds us, makes us one person watching another incredible person.

This 80-minute performance is like nothing I’ve ever seen, which in itself is thrilling. Simons is completely charismatic, and ever changing and evolving, challenging us to even try to keep up with his discovery of life’s bewildering and amazing things; he is child-like and wise and cheeky.

An accomplished dancer who can also sell a story vocally and physically, and move an entire audience from laughter to the sting of tears and back again is a rare thing; it attracts attention. Simons demonstrates solid commitment to story and character, and superior talent as a dancer. His experience of “firsts” is a delightful discourse on the simplest, loveliest things in life, and so expertly delivered in such an entertaining and authentic context, I could easily watch it again.





Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

February 3 – 6 2016


Reviewed by Simon Denver




Verbatim theatre. Bite sized morsels of humanity whose sum of all parts give a well rounded theatrical presentation based on a particular event or theme. It can work particularly well, as in this case, when the performers let the words lead. The power will always be in the honesty of the words; overt characterisation mustn’t distract. In Verbatim theatre the actors are the backing and the words are the lead. In GAYBIES we heard the stories of growing up with a same sex parents. (Well – same sex parents, surrogate mums and donor dads). The people interviewed ranged from 4 year old to 40 year old. This gave fantastic scope for the ensemble of 18.


Statistics may say that children of same sex parents make up such a small fraction of society – but that does not detract from the relevance of this work. As I mentioned earlier – society is the sum of all parts. We, as individuals, have an almost moral duty to research, examine or at least familiarise ourselves with as many of those working parts of life as possible – No matter how the findings might be at odds with our “white bread 2.2 children” view of life. In fact, having same sex marriage as a political issue de jour only amplifies this production’s relevance.


For over seventy minutes we were presented with stories. Honest stories and clear memories.


Too embarrassed to tell your friends your parents are gay. An awkward scenario. But then again, lots of people have always been embarrassed to tell their friends that their parents were Nudists / Mormons / Swingers / National Party Members etc. The charades of truth (“If anyone asks I sleep in this room and Bob sleeps in that room”). But then again, what family doesn’t play out its charade of little white lies? The more stories that flooded the stage the more you realised that these stories were running a parallel course to most people’s stories. Finding so many touchstones within such a small statistic can only serve to humanise as oppose to demonise. It was a gentle reminder that whether parents are the same sex, (or from different religions, race, creed or colour for that matter), in the end it doesn’t matter. A house of love and laughter can only come from love at its core.



By default or design the limited two-day rehearsal period meant scripts on stage were going to be a necessity. But a two-day rehearsal period with the calibre of the cast involved was always going to make this a very up-market rehearsed reading. Quite a tough brief really. Find the natural flow and rhythms of the words yet continually have to remind your self what the words are. Personally I thought those almost rhythmic glances at the scripts constantly reinforced the fact that these were someone else’s stories. I suppose its like the subtitles in a foreign film. If the film is good you don’t notice that you are reading. The words are not those of professional writers. They are the words of the average man / woman very creatively “cut and pasted” together by Dean Bryant. It was a great “ensemble” piece. And the ensemble did a mighty job. The direction by Kris Stewart was as much as can be expected from a two day rehearsal. Again, without the time to be flash, complex, personal or brave, the direction seemed to merely be there to set the words free.


All in all it was an incredibly feel good journey.


The Ensemble itself consisted of professional actors and social / media commentators. With that in mind it’s unfair and impossible to single any individual out .. .. .. .. .. (Damn! Can’t back that up! Margi Brown Ash’s four-year-old on a bike was the show stopper for me. Still chuckling at that little gem days later). They were a unified front and they were all on the same page. For that I say to them all – Thank you. So Barbara Lowing, Bec Zanetti, Blair Martin, Kurt Phelan, Libby Anstis, Lizzie Moore, Brad Rush, Brittany Francis, Christopher Wayne, Margi Brown Ash, Pam Barker, Pat O’Neil, David Berthold, Emily Gilhome, Gordon Hamilton, Rebecca McIntosh, Xanthe Coward, Michael James, Dean Bryant, Kris Stewart, Joseph Simons and Jason Glenwright .. .. when you get a moment, give yourselves a pat on the back. You collectively acheived a great thing.


However, (and there are always howevers) .. ..


GAYBIES slapped the face of the economic rational of current theatre. It was the first time for a while where I witnessed a professional stage creaking, groaning and crammed with performers. Does this mean if we want quality and quantity we can only expect it from Verbatim Theatre? Is the future for large cast rehearsed readings? It’s sad that the size of the average cast is dwindling. It’s even sadder that the cast size can dictate any artistic process. So thank you Brisbane Powerhouse for giving us a brief respite from the so-called “economic reality”.


I thought the production was a tad too long and perhaps a couple of performers too many. I thought the music was beautiful and exceptionally well delivered but I had difficulty marrying it to the words and stories. My main criticism was quite simply that it was preaching to the converted. It was a safe option to stage it during the MELT festival (A Celebration of Queer Arts and Culture).

This production needs to jump its rails and be taken to the wider community. It needs to be seen by the detractors not the sympathisers. I feel it is the perfect vehicle to confront those who passively or covertly or overtly demonise anything gay. This plays humanity is undeniable.

Finally I felt it only took or was told good, warm and fuzzy stories. Nothing is perfect, nothing is 100%. I would just liked to have heard one negative experience, as I am sure there are, have been and will be.


But the last few comments aside, it was a great night out. I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect but I left the Powerhouse smiling .. .. and thinking. Thank you to all concerned. Well worth the 200k return trip from the Sunshine Coast.