Posts Tagged ‘la boite

17
Feb
17

Single Asian Female

 

Single Asian Female

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

February 11 – March 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

things have to change…

Single Asian Female gives a voice to the voiceless and talks about race and gender in ways we often don’t.

– Director, Claire Christian

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Single. Asian. Female. It’s a joke because, remember the film? But it’s no joke that the truths shared in Michelle Law’s searingly honest and delightfully funny debut are instantly, regrettably, familiar to us. Of course, a lifetime of being on the receiving end means the racial slurs and assumptions to which this piece gives voice and context, are more familiar to some than others. It’s a timely, nicely conceived work, bold and furious and funny, and while it can do with a more discerning dramaturgical touch, on its first outing Single Asian Female wins the open hearts and minds of audiences and artists. Like Future D. Fidel’s unforgettable Prize Fighter, Law’s contemporary timeless story, inspired by aspects of her own, will rightly take its place in this country’s canon of works; it’s not only highly entertaining and moving, but also, another opportunity to open up our performance spaces and school curriculum to people of colour.

La Boite is employing all the colours, telling all the stories. 

I read something about someone wanting to get rid of a particular story. But why would anyone feel the need to do that? Acts of destruction waste so much energy. Challenging and questioning the dominant myth may be useful, but losing it from the conversation altogether? Not so much. It’s true that some stories are lost along the way, but they’re eventually uncovered, or remembered, or replaced by another version that has the same substance and soul message. This is why we persist with telling them, writing them down, putting them on the stage and screen… Isn’t it vital to keep the stories, to share them and not destroy them or discard them just because someone suddenly decides they don’t appear to be relevant to a particular group of people? The stories are another group’s stories. It doesn’t mean they have no value for you, and it certainly doesn’t mean they were created with an intent to offend or to bury any other stories past, present or future, it simply means they’ve come from someone else in another place at a particular time and you have the choice, always, to recognise any value in them from your unique personal and cultural perspective. And to continue to contribute your own version of events. Go on, get creating rather than destroying.

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Let’s keep all the stories and concentrate our efforts on contributing more stories. Stories are for sharing. So we hold space for all of them. There is enough space.

This production, this story, is another hammer, which La Boite rightly prides itself on wielding (this company too, sans hashtag, is all about leading from Queensland) and it will go a long way in continuing to shape our shared reality. 

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These are the stories that are with us and amongst us.

– La Boite Theatre Company Artistic Director, Todd MacDonald

There’s nothing to fault in the wonderful, easeful performances of the three leading ladies, each a fiercely “strong woman”, firm in her resolve to thrive, and funny in her unapologetically wry take on so many situations, which we find equally appalling and amusing. Director, Claire Christian, gives each situation to us straight, trusting the source and allowing her actors to play with the material, resulting in some of the sharpest, most original comedy of the year.

Lana: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR EYES? THEY LOOK HUGE.

Mei: OH … THANK YOU.

In a complex and appropriately cluttered and homely, surprisingly functional multi-level space designed by Moe Assad and lit by Keith Clark, the women revolve around each other and their Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant (amusingly, for long-term Sunshine Coast residents, located in Nambour, but it could be anywhere), which will bring about either fortune or disaster in the end. La Boite feels as festive as ever, with Chinese lanterns hanging in the foyer and the red carpet rolled out for opening night. There’s even cabaret style restaurant seating available inside the theatre so some audience members really get to feel a part of the action, a clever, inclusive design element. We delight in picking up our tickets (for the tiered section) encased in a shiny red and gold embossed envelope before the show, and cracking open our fortune cookies after it. 

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The Wong family women are real to me because they were inspired by people I know: generous, assertive, resilient women who hold the world on their shoulders.

– Writer, Michelle Law

Alex Lee’s Zoe is a superb realisation of the eldest daughter, harnessing the extreme emotions of a young, talented, ambitious creative soul suffering from anxiety, having yet to secure a place in the world outside of her mother’s realm and representing not just Asian young adults but every young woman everywhere. I’d love to see Lee’s solo show sometime – how could I not? It’s called I’m Eating Peanut Butter In The Shower Because I’m Sad And You’e Not The Boss of Me. Lee is a delight.

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Courtney Stewart’s Mei is the younger, impressionable and eternally frustrated, just-wanna-finish-school-and-go-to-the-formal eye rolling second child, on the verge of finding out for herself the truth about her father’s character and her own. (Interestingly, this dad is unseen and painted as the devil, having selfishly, callously caused every problem faced by the family). Stewart was an inspired inclusion in last year’s developmental showing of Soi Cowboy, a commissioned Brisbane Powerhouse production, which we’re sure to hear more about this year. 

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Hsiao-Ling Tang is an ideal Pearl with her frantic gestures juxtaposed against complete stillness (a sense of the sacred self knowledge coming up against the contemporary overculture’s unachievable expectations), her stubborn use of Chinglish and her insistence that shoes be taken off inside the house (and that Chinese snacks be available to friends during study group – how embarrassing – hilarious). Her tiger mother bouts of intense frustration and raw anger at something unseen prompt us to sit up in surprise and sadness and awe before settling back into a place between laughter and tears (of recognition, sympathy, empathy), when she finally reveals the secret that could be the family’s undoing… Tang will appear later in the year in the world premiere of Michele Lee’s Rice, the winner of the Queensland Premier’s 2016 Drama Award, another must-see.

These women, as if they’d been working together for some time already, convey genuine affection and concern for each other. The connections are real, making their stories completely relatable, regardless of our cultural background, a fly-on-the-wall shared experience. Such a magical thing, live theatre…

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Emily Burton is perhaps the most endearing performer I’ve seen on a Brisbane stage (Dash Kruck and Tom Oliver up there also). I adore her, and much more so when she’s perfectly cast, as she is here, as Mei’s lanky, daggy, wannabe Asian misfit friend, Katie. She’s got a bohemian willowy geeky tomboy cosplay comical sad panda thing going on and it works superbly as a foil to mean girl Lana’s constant digs, and Mei’s reluctant rebelliousness and her insecurities about who she thinks she wants to be. A scene in which we see Mei trapped between Katie’s longstanding friendship and Lana’s passive aggressive popularity test is so uncomfortable to watch; it’s probably stingingly familiar to most of us if we’re honest, as is Mei’s choice in the moment and Katie’s reaction. Like similar moments, it could be overplayed but Burton finds a balance between the truth of the character and the tragicomedy of the situation.

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Patrick Jhanur is just gorgeous as Paul. His gentleness though, his subtleties (and some of his words), are at risk of becoming lost in the noise and pace of the women’s world. This is quite probably a deliberate thing and will be more astutely balanced/managed as the season continues. The self conscious banter between he and Zoe is delightful, making us squirm and giggle and smile, and hope that everything will work out for these two. But is this character just the token male, included as a woman might be, to fit that space in a play populated with men, penned by a man? I don’t think so. As we see during a discussion about the chance to have a child, with vulnerability and a tenderness not always afforded a male character, Jhanur steps up for this role, and perhaps there is simply, gradually, a little more flesh to be added to its bones. 

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Emily Vascotto has vibrant, wicked, gleeful Isla Fischer/Lizzie Moore energy and if you don’t know our Lizzie Moore, you really ought to get out…more. A real-life red-headed Bratz Doll, Vascotto embodies the type I’d warn my daughter about, as in, keep your friends close and keep that one closer. With less experience on stage than the other girls but with no less sass, Vascotto walks a fine comical line between being immediately recognisable and so much larger than life that we lose sight of who Lana really is. I think she’ll settle into this role during the season and certainly, will do so without the vignettes involving her character losing any momentum. At least, let’s hope not, with some momentum lacking on opening night. (I think we accept that this is typical of an opening night performance and later, we’re unsurprised by reports of a cracking pace). The occasional lag seems due to The Family Law style episodic structure, each chapter landing with an unapologetically political or moral thud. Like, BOOM. It’s never too much but it’s almost too much at once; it’s almost overwhelming, but then, the reality is that life IS overwhelming. There IS this much blatant racism to deal with in this country, every day. We have ALL of these issues to consider, and more. 

One has to write what one sees, what one feels, truthfully, sincerely.

– Anton Chekhov

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To finish with Tina Arena’s Chains is such a great gimmick (and these girls can really sing it!), but it’s not my favourite closing number. I feel we should be singing along with something…upbeat. Karaoke is gold and if you promise it you need to deliver on it, just as the slinky has its moment on the stairs. (Gun. Bang. Etcetera.)

In the spirit of the current trend to make a short show a good show, it’s worth noting that a discerning dramaturg might take a red pen to the text, make more efficient use of the more stylised moments (a raw, real look at online dating and the daughters’ stories being taken into account by the end), and make it a 90-minute no-interval knockout…but think about that. Would we have quite as much to digest or to discuss? Would we feel as deeply about any of the characters without the time to meander through their world with them? The rich texture of this tale is in its detail and while I’d often prefer to get home earlier (but I know, it’s so interesting to stay for speeches too, so I usually do), by the same token I’d love to see the full length production, as it stands, return with yum cha at interval and actual karaoke afterwards. In fact, let’s make the food together. It’s perfect festival fare.

In the meantime, don’t miss seeing Michelle Law’s personal-universal play just the way it is, at La Boite’s Roundhouse. Don’t miss the opportunity to take part in our nation’s most pressing conversation. Don’t miss being part of the cultural change, the global shift; the impetus behind powerful art and empowered people.

 

Single Asian Female is the baton being passed on. Don’t drop it or decline to take it. Don’t be a dickhead. Don’t be that (white) guy.

 

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21
Sep
16

Snow White

Snow White

La Boite, Opera Queensland & Brisbane Festival

The Roundhouse

September 3 – 24 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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My mother just spent more than 50 days in hospital – two hospitals actually, between two ICUs – and she continues to recover at home from complications following surgery, all due to a bug that travelled with her from one of the 5 Stans. I’ve also been sick since Brisbane Festival opening night and have stubbornly attended as much as possible, in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast, where people forget I’m based, without managing to keep up with the follow up, i.e. writing about what I’ve seen. I have, however, perhaps as some sort of procrastination, insisted on (mostly successfully although the place could be tidier) running a household with two extra people in it, getting to some social engagements, camping at North Shore despite coughing up a bigger storm than the one to hit us on the day we came home, and before that, finishing a 5-week teaching contract because unlike reviewing Brisbane theatre, teaching pays. An exhausting term, physically and emotionally. I’ve missed yoga and coffee dates and drinks and events. Everything online needs an overhaul, the garden needs love, and I’ve been postponing the spring cleaning since this time last year. I need new writers, I need new clothes and I need a new focus. But more on that later.

Luckily, most of the shows I see stay with me. And let’s quietly appreciate the archival value of even a late response. Here’s the first in a succession of catch ups, well overdue. Sorry about that.

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We enter The Roundhouse to a Disney soundtrack and chirping birdsong, eliciting an eerie sense of foreboding and at the same time, a false sense of security. This is a grim tale, much more so than the Grimm tale.

For the record, Disney’s classic animated Snow White unnerves me to this day.

The forest is inside, on the ceiling. The darkness is broken by fairy lights. Mirrors, the autumn leaves, the branches, a blood stained timber floor, musical instruments and kitchen chairs hanging from the forest canopy. Later, rose petals, sparkles… A tree house, the stairs running up the middle of it, musicians beneath it (the evocative space designed by Sarah Winter & striking lighting designed by Ben Hughes). I recognise Kanen Breen, like a lithe, glittering, corseted Cabaret Emcee, swanning around with his glass of red until it’s drained and settling next to a member of the audience for an intimate chat. He grins like The Cheshire Cat and moves on to the next victim, seated in front of us. I love Breen’s sparkling red nails and mouth, the essence of the infamous red apple, a reminder of the inherent evil and glamorous violence of this fairytale. He’s The Mirror. Of course he is.

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The Queen (Silvia Colloca) epitomises everything we love to loathe and fear and admire about the evil stepmother stereotype / ancient mother archetype. She’s sophisticated and sexy, intimidating, alluring…actually, she’s intoxicating. Colloca’s voice is a fallen angel’s, her lower register particularly rich and warm. Scintillating in black and red lace like a Spanish lady of the night, she’s exquisite, a Diva, seducing us effortlessly. As per the original version, without differentiation between biological mother and stepmother, she is one, she is all. Mother. Woman. Crone. Queen. Her tango with The Mirror is a luscious, almost lascivious affair. Choreographed by Rosetta Cook and Gavin Webber it’s the perfect vehicle to set these two up early as the stars of the show.

Zulya Kamalova’s compositions – enchanted swirling, pulsing, living, breathing things – take us out of ourselves and into this dark, dangerously glistening, shifting world of elegance, innocence and broken trust. A waltz spells out the mother-daughter relationship more clearly and succinctly than a few shouted lines of dialogue can do. We feel for them both. None of us actually want to grow old and weary and weathered, after all. Suzie Miller’s libretto succeeds in capturing varying perspectives on the power and fragility of women and the way we can examine our potential, our power, our perceived limitations, our ambitions, and what it is we’re prepared to do to be “happy” when we dare to look at ourselves in the mirror.

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This Little Lolita Snow White, the fairest of them all, is an innocent princess turned teen seductress. An innate talent, an inevitability; the product of her environment, perhaps… In her last desperate attempt to escape the clutches, and the axe, of The Hunter (Michael Tuahine), this Snow White becomes every mother’s worst nightclubbing, shame-walking nightmare. Steph Pickett gets the mix just right – she’s ingenue and expert, and sings like Fiona Apple/Jesska Hoop/Katie Noonan (and I see Katie in the bank of seats opposite us but miss her later to say hello to). It’s Act 1’s most contemporary piece, reminding me of the first 16 bars of Katzenjammer’s Hey Ho On the Devil’s Back in both its shape and tone. This is the moment the little girl becomes a woman, beautifully, frighteningly, authentically captured. The most amazing, game-changing piece of the show though is The Queen’s lament, truly exemplary vocal work, which must be heard to be believed. Colloca’s wailing resonates with us no matter how great or small our individual losses, and becomes a cry of utter despair for all mothers everywhere, for all humanity. She wails and groans her immense grief, singing over the unmoving body of her daughter. Singing over the bones. Lost. Empty. Willing her flesh and blood, her little Snow White, to come back to life, even when it will bring about her own undoing. This extended moment in time holds us in collective stillness, breathlessness, until the final haunting note fades. It’s the greatest Medea moment we’ve seen yet. This is an indescribable ache, which I’ll retain from this show for years yet. 

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The production continues past its perfect end though, redundantly taking us ten years into the future, when Snow White is with child and we see the pattern repeating. The story goes on… I would love to have left the story to go on unseen, leaving us hanging, after the devastating look that is exchanged between the two once the girl has realised her mother has tried multiple times to kill her. The rest amounts to the beginning of a poor sequel and undoes a little bit of the brilliance that is this new extraordinary work, so funny and lovely, and witty and gritty and gory.

I also enjoyed less than others may have, the opening of Act 2 involving Colloca-as-performer-as-The Queen, wrapped in her iconic cape, gliding down the stairs and moving through the audience to offer an apple to bemused audience members – “It’s not poisonous” – and sitting on stage to share a story from between the pages of Grimm’s Fairytales before morphing back into The Queen proper to go on with the tale. A gimmick that seems unnecessary in a work of such quality but one that must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Think about it. Do audiences need these breaks from the narrative to connect, to relate, to remember they’ve come here to experience another world? To help them recognise their world? Despite my questions, I see the opening night audience embrace every element of the production and so I muse, again, who am I to find fault with any tiny thing? Snow White is truly a work of art and I hope we see the original cast recording soon, if not a beautifully filmed version of the show at some stage.

Masterfully directed in this space by Lindy Hume, Snow White is an important, potent new work that reflects our enduring obsession with beauty, power, the mystical feminine and the wonder and majesty, the vital lessons of storytelling. An accomplished piece for a world premiere and perfect festival fare, Snow White is destined for lands far, far away. I hope you saw it here at least once. 

03
Aug
16

Straight White Men

 

Straight White Men

La Boite & State Theatre Company

The Roundhouse

July 27 – August 13 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Because to acknowledge that privilege exists is to acknowledge that we live in an unkind, unfair and oppressive world.

Director, Nescha Jelk

Straight White Men is a powerfully political play without being overtly so. But only if we want it to be. We can walk away considering its content or simply be amused by its characters. The arguments that come towards the end of it are the result of the characters’ musings throughout, not as an attempt by the playwright to punch us in the gut but as a slow burn to destroy us through self-doubt; Young Jean Lee is all about “destroying” her audience. After laughing at the comments and silly antics of three young men who return to their widowed father’s home for Christmas, we’re eventually left to squirm in our own discomfort. The feeling at the end of this piece is the feeling of having said something appalling rather than having stayed within the bounds of polite, politically correct conversation, followed by awkward silence and blank stares. Having uttered aloud many appalling things in my life I recognise the feeling immediately. It’s a guerrilla tactic, gently, subversively forcing the issues in our faces. Which is where they’ve always been, only we’ve turned a blind eye, haven’t we?

The boys behave badly, but not really. Their preconceptions are our preconceptions. Their notions about privilege are our notions about privilege. Their behaviour is so typical, so ordinary; they’re so well read and worldly and witty and they’re just joking – we totally get it – they’re products of their environment and perhaps that’s the problem we too continue to perpetuate. We recognise them (too) easily. We know them. We are them. Everything is assumed, and reinforced by the previous generation, reminding us endlessly, we don’t know how lucky we are. After growing up with far more than they need, graduating from college and navigating relationships and careers of varying degrees of success, Jake (a strong, insightful performance from Chris Pitman), Drew (Lucas Stibbard) and Matt (Hugh Parker) don’t know what it is to do without. And one of them feels bad about that. After years of simply trying to be “useful” Matt suddenly cracks up and breaks down over a Chinese takeout Christmas Dinner around the coffee table, and his family doesn’t understand why. His father, Ed (Roger Newcombe), has long wondered why his eldest child hasn’t put his gifts to good use as his brothers have done. The premise is fine and the context is perfectly acceptable, but has this production missed the mark? Has the playwright written something so blandly American we’re able to walk away from it unaffected? I don’t think so. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s presented nicely, wickedly glaring us in the face and daring us to consider our own cultural privilege.

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I love the way, once the actors have stopped being so earnest and simply settle into the story (typical opening night pitched performances – everybody, chill! We like you, you know), these characters communicate naturalistically, from a place of innocence and genuine antagonism, which we realise comes from the deeply ingrained habits we learn in close living quarters, not to mention the level of intimacy/apathy we invariably develop after years spent dancing together in front of the fireplace in daggy pyjamas. The big questions are asked and no answers are provided here unless we choose to see them for ourselves, veiled as they are behind the boys’ attitudes and behaviour, which becomes progressively childish; unsurprisingly, the brothers quickly revert to their childhood roles. This leads to some interesting oneupmanship and great physical comedy, nicely managed by Director Nescha Jelk, each time somebody presses somebody for answers, or somebody wants to sit in somebody’s chair. We can relate because we’ve all suffered from – or manipulated – the cruel games and power play at alcohol fuelled family reunions. And we all have our favourite chair. The pent up emotions stemming from dissatisfaction with the culture of privilege begin to surface. Designer, Victoria Lamb, invites us into a comfortable middle class home, with an interior of middle class (ie neutral) colours, soft furnishings (ie effortlessly coordinated), and plush carpet. Ben Hughes’ lighting is white with a neat golden glow and it stays politely understated. Privileged. Perfect.

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Young Jean Lee says this work is designed to make us notice our own responses and think about our relationships to our own privilege. Jelk echoes the sentiments of the text. She says feeling guilty about her privilege “isn’t useful – it doesn’t help anyone or do anything.”

Straight White Men has people talking, and appropriately, for the privileged opening night crowd, conversations buzzed over free drinks after the show. In between high praise for the playwright, the performances, the design elements, etc. I heard it’s not clever enough, not subversive enough, not specific enough… Um. Were you not listening closely enough? It’s not my favourite either, but maybe I’ve missed what it is that’s been perceived by some as being so unsuccessful about this show. I love the way we have a heap of stuff we so often avoid discussing thrown in our face without it being discussed. Are we so privileged, having seen so much, that now nothing is good enough?!

If we’re white and privileged, we don’t need to think about being white and privileged, right?

The beauty – and challenge – of this text is that it speaks to the themes of privilege, desire, identity, equality and empathy largely without actually speaking about them.

What we really care about, what we really value, is not being a loser.

Young Jean Lee

The text includes an interesting introduction and subsequent interludes during the scene changes. The device falls flat here, although there is general laughter and congenial nodding of heads in acknowledgment of the dead white male three-act structure being manipulated by a non-white woman, presumably “provocatively” dressed, the stagehand-in-charge, who addresses the audience in her own “voice”. In this case, it’s Merlynn Tong who gives us a beautiful Welcome to Country when the noise of the deliberately offensive pre-show hip hop stops (MD, composer and sound designer Busty Beatz). I think, wonderful; someone has contextualised this American play for Australian audiences. But then the male performers appear, speak in their American accents (Accent Coach Simon Stollery) and it feels like the opening is a token gesture. Why doesn’t that work?

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I can’t help wondering how previous stagehands-in-charge have been received. I don’t find anything particularly provocative about the way Tong is dressed, or the way she speaks to us, or the way she unpacks the meta theatrical before the story begins. No doubt there are others who better appreciate her part in the play. I’d like to see it again without her handing us the context on a silver privileged platter…but perhaps that’s the point. Or perhaps La Boite’s trailer does a more sophisticated job of framing the show than the show does… This is not to say that Tong doesn’t put in a fine performance, more that the writing can do without her introduction or subsequent interruptions. Sometimes it’s more effective to simply tell the story without attempting to break it down or make it…cute.

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It’s true. Straight White Men might almost be a really bland American piece, from which this Australian cast gets – almost – as much as they can. There’s something lacking within the final moments but again, is it the writing? (Jean Young Lee is a new favourite the world over, and an award winner so, you know…). The text redeems itself somewhat with its persistent, unapologetic approach to its social political themes, showing us throughout what a white man thinks makes a white man successful (or what an American-Korean woman thinks a white man thinks makes a white man successful!), and at the very least, this production succeeds in holding up a mirror. Whether or not we like what we see (or even bother to take a second look) is the most interesting result of this work. It’s entertaining and confronting and challenging in a way most live theatre doesn’t try to be (or isn’t quite bold enough to be). With its undercurrent of polite, privileged restraint, Straight White Men challenges us to think again about the invisible influences: what is it that amuses, inspires and endures? And why?

P.S. And just what do non-white, unprivileged people think about this play and their response to it? Will they ever even see it?

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Production pics by Kate Pardey

29
May
16

The Tragedy of King Richard III

 

The Tragedy of King Richard III

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse

May 21 – June 11 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.

– Napoleon Bonaparte

After a questionable start to the 2016 season, La Boite triumphs with The Tragedy of King Richard III – affectionately referred to here as Dick3 – the most intriguing, challenging and satisfying theatrical event of the year so far. An exhumation, a thorough examination by brilliant minds, Queensland Premier Drama Award winners, Marcel Dorney and Daniel Evans, this production not only brings together two of the country’s best writers, but gathers together on stage and off, a truly formidable team of creatives.

Undoubtedly our most fearless director, Evans is able to find compassion in raging fury and irreverent fun in serious ethical and political discourse, creating a new form of theatre; a new style of conversation that challenges and rewards deeply, actors and audiences.

This is the sort of show we expect to see come to us direct from an acclaimed season overseas, and perhaps premiere at Brisbane Festival (September brings Snow Whitethis Shakespeare, and a whole lot more to the table). It’s the sort of show that makes us question everything we thought we knew about theatre and history, and the way we continue to look at the world. It’s a show that turns you inside out, slams you upside down and spits on you, laughing, before reaching out to help you get to your feet again, asking with genuine concern, “Do you want a Milo?”

It’s lucky/exciting/apt for Queensland that our top two companies are starting to make a habit now of giving wings to slightly more unconventional ideas and the support to help them take flight. This one soars and I won’t be at all surprised if, just as La Boite’s Edward Gant did, Dick3 attracts the attention of some of the nation’s other major players. In fact, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t.

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Dick3 is one of the most designed productions we’ve seen in this space (Designer Kieran Swann, Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright, Composer Guy Webster), utilising the very air that exists between light and rain, and the cold, wet ground, surrounding the raised floor with a black catwalk containing hidden trap doors storing a stash of props and wardrobe pieces inside each space, and having performers take hold of lights for good reason, rather than as a token effort to involve them in the meta layers of the storytelling. 

Because this is certainly not Shakespeare. This is very un-Shakespeare – next level Shakespeare – and it comes with the confident “fuck you” of a generation of genuinely passionate theatre makers who strive for a little more than mediocrity (unlike the next), brilliantly combining box office appeal with original experimental storytelling, questioning far more than they end up divulging and forcing us to reconsider the known “facts” of the history of the world and, in this case, one of the most infamous of Shakespeare’s historical characters. 

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I’m gazing into blue space when Naomi Price appears in front of me, in a Kate Middleton inspired ensemble, with a hand held mic, which she raises to her mouth after pronouncing very loudly and clearly and properly and powerfully and Shakespearingly, “NOW…”  She firmly, politely tells us to turn our mobile phones to Off not Silent and asks that those who insist on leaving their phones on Silent, raise their gadget in the air and admit it. She asks those who didn’t decide – neither switching to Silent or admitting doing so – WHY? There is laughter and we are immediately relaxed and somewhat thrown by this direct address…

Price proceeds to stride around the catwalk and paint a picture that is so vivid, so real, we feel as if we’re in the carpark in Leicester in 2012, standing, shivering, wondering what’s come before us, and looking down upon the reviled bones of King Richard III.

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There is the smell of burning rubber, steam rising, mist swirling, rain falling, blood pooling, blue pouring and splashing and emptying across the stage, the concrete that becomes marble before our eyes, the sponge hump, the gnarled hands, the buckets, the handhelds, the dagger, the sword, the paper crown, the tarp, the blank pages of the book – it could be Harry Potter, an empowering choice for a child actor (he’ll take what he can) – and there is us. Always us, purveyors and interpreters and interlopers; I actually feel unwelcome at times, as if I’m at the wrong dinner party. And this is deliberate, because ultimately, who cares about so much of the history we’re told is true? Is it? If it is, what of it? If we’re sitting there, attempting to intellectualise or justify or reframe in a postmodern context anything that comes from the annuls, it’s shot down in flames and we’re offered an alternate view that suddenly seems more reasonable than our originally held belief. 

Always surprising, this show is the one extra Tequila shot at the end of the night that sees us agreeing with someone we’d presumed would never even make the guest list. Dick3 is an equaliser, a game changer. If the national culture leaned more towards arts than football, this is the match of the season, and could just as easily be seen in a stadium. Imagine that!

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It’s difficult to understand the reluctance to more reasonably support arts and culture. More Australians go to art galleries each year than go to the AFL and NRL combined. The creative industries employ more people than agriculture, construction or even mining, and indeed contribute as much as 75% of the economic benefit of the mining sector…

Let’s talk about STEAM rather than STEM. Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics should all be key parts of our education curriculum. Decades of research shows that artistic engagement nourishes all learning, so if we want an innovative, imaginative and well-rounded nation, let’s have one…

People have a right to arts and culture.

 

David Berthold, AD Brisbane Festival

 

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Price is so powerful in this space, with the vocals and stage presence to knock you flat. She sets the scene and establishes the connection with the audience, which the performers maintain throughout. We connect with each of them. We’re part of this story, part of history. Amy Ingram is a seductive, deliciously wicked delight, and Helen Howard an articulate, elegant, fearsome creature, just as she should be. In Howard’s hands, the act of lifting a chainmail sleeve from a bucket of blood and putting it on, blood dripping down her flesh and soaking into the fabric of her dress, becomes a fine art, pure (horrifying, mesmerising) seduction. Pacharo Mzembe is a prince, giving everything in this performance, which, having now seen so much of NT Live, appears to have come directly from the West End, such is his mastery of voice and movement, particularly in the thrilling fight sequences choreographed by Nigel Poulton (Assistant Fight Director Justin Palazzo-Orr). These are Poulton’s best bloody, sweaty routines to date, executed with ferocious intent by Mzembe and MacDonald. Todd MacDonald commands the space, his return to the stage a triumph in itself. When he’s not fighting or plotting or spilling blood he’s bringing to life a previously unknown version of William Shakespeare – a very funny one – and allowing himself to be directed by the actors who sit, watching critically, in the corners.

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But it’s 14-year old Atticus Robb, in his professional stage debut, who stuns us with a performance that is mature beyond his years, bringing passion and ambition, sincerity and vulnerability to multiple roles, including that of The Actor, Atticus. His is thrilling natural talent, most evident in a Richard III rockstar monologue that steals the show. This kid’s got it.

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The Tragedy of King Richard III is bold and brilliant, death-of-theatre-defying stuff, giving the Australian theatrical landscape permission to change again, to carry on evolving, despite its current challenges.

Without bringing Shakespeare to the stage, Dorney and Evans have brought Shakespeare’s essence and centuries of society’s most deeply held beliefs about ambition and power and connection and the human condition to an audience who thought they’d seen everything. Everything that is, until Dorney and Evans’ astute take on anything at all.

NOW… We’ll see if there are others who can keep up with the exhilarating pace set here.

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

11
Apr
16

When One Door Closes

 

When One Door Closes

La Boite Theatre Company & Circa

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

April 6 – 23 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

breathing. running. pink hair swishing. resting. gasping. pink hair running. falling, clumsily. bewildered. resting, but not. unsettled, but not. unwilling. undone. unfinished.

and then the men…

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It’s Nora Helmer (Britannie Portelli), in sweet pink, hot pink and sparkling, sequinned pink. Pretty, and unpredictable, in pink. One day she decides not to settle for less and she’s gone. In unapologetic orange, Hedda Gabler (Bridie Hooper). In bold red that belies every moment of “hysteria”, every insecurity, Miss Julie (Nicole Faubert). Unless you’re well acquainted with the women, or even if you’re well acquainted with the women, these three are any women. Every woman. Everywoman.

Late in the 19th Century they burst on stage and quite literally changed the world. Their presence called into question assumptions about women and their role in male dominated society.

They were of course written by men. They live within the conventions of the well-made play. In a sense they are trying to escape their forms as well as their men.

The circus we make is definitely not a well-made play. Rather it is abstract, shifting, elusive. Meaning occurs for sure but exactly where or how are mysterious.

– Directors, Yaron Lifschitz & Libby McDonnell

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The problem with abstract, shifting, elusive forms is that we are often left dissatisfied by the lack (or mysterious placement) of dramatic meaning, but the real problem here – if we are to discuss openly and honestly (and we do that here) – is that the product doesn’t match up to the sales pitch. It’s not what I expected. And that’s okay but I’m left feeling slightly confused because the production doesn’t do what I thought it said it would. I think I thought wrong… To be fair, the only claim was that the women would meet in a “visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.” And they do.

A door slams. A shot is fired. On the other side, unseen by the audience or by the befuddled, inconsequential husband and lovers are the three great heroines who created twentieth century drama: Miss Julie, Hedda Gabler and Nora.

What if they all ended up in the same room?

What if they couldn’t speak?

What if the room was full of scratched recordings of A Dolls House, Hedda Gabbler and Miss Julie, plus a dash of Freud?

How would they navigate each other, their own pasts and the future?

La Boite and Circa join forces on this new creation. Three masterpieces of turn-of-the-century drama meet the visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.

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 Circa is one of our country’s most highly regarded contemporary circus companies and at first glance, in this first stage of development (it’s officially a finished product but what is ever really finished?), this work is not nearly as exceptional as we have come to expect from Circa (they raised the bar with Il Retorno), however; presented by La Boite, When One Door Closes is also an experiment, relating the stories of the women – or, their frustrations at least – via varying levels of tension and court jester comedy, through acrobatics and high-risk tricks, some of which are symbolic of what the characters are going through.

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Not always the case, at times the tricks are arbitrary, included in the show because they can be, and executed in such a literal way as to bring out the comical, as when one of the men tips Nora upside down so that she becomes a broom, her hair used to sweep the stage. It’s a strange way to reiterate what we already know; these women exist in service roles only. No wonder they feel as if they’re choking, hanging, dead…

Oonagh Sherrard’s original compositions lead us in and out of the women’s heads, while at times, it’s odd; the men get comical musical numbers to lip-synch for seemingly no reason other than to provide the girls with a drinks break and the audience with an easy laugh. The collective physical strength and sheer force of the men’s presence underlines the power that men have held within each of these women’s lives. Perhaps the David Armand inspired parodies are an attempt to truly balance the stakes. (I love that the women claim their power, hand-balancing in the end, but I hate the male playwrights using “sickness” and suicide and the abhorrent act of leaving the children to do so).

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Hedda has the strongest presence, her chalk outline creating a devastating, enduring image, as she contorts herself to reach all the way around her body. She marks her own end on the glossy black floor. This routine, and the most arresting, disturbing straps routine I’ve ever seen (that’s a good thing; it’s brilliantly conceived and executed), keep Hedda at the centre of the story-not-story, and for me, provide the strongest thread, that is, if we are determined to see one running through the piece.

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If I’d decided not to write it up, I would have viewed When One Door Closes through a completely different lens, enjoying much more than I did on Opening Night, its circus and its comedy, and not needing any further structure or story. But because, perhaps foolishly, we went in with the expectation that this would be circus that was somehow more “theatrical” in its form and nature, my expectations weren’t met. To put it simply, I would have left feeling more satisfied if I hadn’t had to think too deeply about it! This is often a critic’s struggle, and not something general audiences will experience. It’s important to note because my opinion is no more valid than anybody else’s, but because I choose to share it widely I (mostly) feel the need to justify my conclusions. There are times when I simply respond to the work, without looking at it very critically at all, and this style of “review” could be said to be far more valuable to both audiences and artists. In fact, by not discussing the way the different elements work together, we indicate perhaps even more clearly the success of a piece. (Don’t tell that to the Drama students who must master the art of academically arranging their thoughts and assessing the way in which a director has created meaning by manipulating the Elements of Drama).

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Regardless of the reviewer’s style (and we follow those whose style we like, and whose opinions confirm our bias), a considered written response is always a valuable addition to the conversation. A star rating not so much, but easier, certainly, for publicists to use…

It could be reasonably assumed that because this is a circus show it can be sold under a family friendly banner, but I’d advise parents to consider the meaning that (mysteriously) comes across and ask yourself whether or not your child will question, as my child has done, “Which is the husband and which is the lover?” “Does the chalk outline mean she’s already dead or that she’s dead inside?” and “Are the straps the rope she hangs herself with?” And in response to my whisper, “Well, why does she have a straps routine if she shoots herself?”

If you bring children to the theatre, be prepared to discuss the themes and historical contexts of the original texts as well as those within the final work. Always.

(Or, everyone can simply enjoy the sequins and lifts and balances for what they are and avoid talking about anything else).

Circa is more successful than most in its exploration of blurring lines between forms. And with greater theatrical input (Todd MacDonald as Co-Director – or Director – rather than, or in addition to Dramaturg, for example), When One Door Closes might make more creative and contextual sense. Let’s look forward to the company continuing to experiment with form and style.

Without thinking too deeply about it, or expecting too much from it, the first production of La Boite’s 2016 season is perfectly engaging and entertaining. But let’s hope it’s not indicative of all they have to offer this year.

Performers: Nathan Boyle, Todd Kirby, Martin Evans, Duncan West, Nicole Faubert, Bridie Hooper, Brittany Portelli.

Production pics by Dylan Evans

07
Apr
16

When One Door Closes – a quick chat with Circa

 

When One Door Closes opens at La Boite tonight!

Season continues until April 23

 

A door slams. A shot is fired. On the other side, unseen by the audience or by the befuddled, inconsequential husband and lovers are the three great heroines who created twentieth century drama: Miss Julie, Hedda Gabler and Nora.

What if they all landed up in the same room?

What if they couldn’t speak?

What if the room was full of scratched recordings of A Dolls House, Hedda Gabbler and Miss Julie, plus a dash of Freud?

How would they navigate each other, their own pasts and the future?

La Boite and Circa join forces on this new creation. Three masterpieces of turn-of-the-century drama meet the visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.

 

In between rehearsals we asked Nathan Boyle and Todd Kilby some STUFF…

 

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Stretch or cardio?

NB: I’m about 75% stretch and 15% cardio. If i had to run away from something, I would be dead… Should probably change that.

TK: A healthy combination.

 

Base or fly?

NB: Base, although there are some times when I fly.

TK: Another deliciously healthy combination. (Middle)

 

Describe your weekly training routine.

NB: Every week is different, but it is generally along the lines of a 9 to 5 day except I don’t work at a desk. The first hour is a warm up. Then we move into skill training/skill development or we work with our Artistic Director. We have an hour break from 1 till 2 for lunch. Then generally have a light warm up and get back to work either working on specific skills or scenes from shows. At the end of the day we have a 30min cool down which we call ‘Body Love’

TK: My training routine will change a lot depending on where in the world I am, how long I have and what shows/skills I am doing. It usually begins with an hour long warm up consisting of some light cardio, stretches, strength and a bunch of co-ordination exercises/games (fun is very important). Then I usually train through the skills that I need to train for a specific show followed by any other skills and ideas that I am keen to learn and explore.

 

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What if not circus? (And how did you come to it?)

NB: I have only ever done circus, So if I was no longer able to be a performer I would love to get into some sort of design. I love architecture but I also have a passion for costume/fashion design. So maybe that?

TK: If not in the circus, I would love to be involved in the worlds of both theatre and music. Working in the creative process and the performance element. I came to do circus when I was 13 through two sources at the same time. One was the guidance of a high school drama teacher and now friend, who ran a circus school and the other was at a Newcastle community circus called ‘Circus Avalon’

 

Favourite place in the world?

NB: Favourite place in the world would be New York.

TK: I don’t have one favourite place as that would be quite rude of me considering that this beautiful planet we are lucky to call home is host to a plenitude of magnificence, but here are three honourable mentions: NEWCASTLE (Home), BERLIN (City of my dreams), Bhutan (Carbon Negative)

 

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What are you reading?

NB: The latest XS Entertainment piece *Wink Wink*

TK: Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan

 

What are you listening to?

NB: I admit, I have the world’s most eclectic and somewhat bad taste in music, I will listen to anything. I basically have Spotify on random and go from there.

TK: Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia by Aram Khachaturian.

 

Define feminism.

NB: That one gender should not be raised above another, they are both equal.

TK: Feminism – The advocacy for woman’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

 

Are there commonalities within the roles you play across the stories of Hedda Gabler, Miss Julie and Nora Helmer (A Doll’s House)? 

NB: Yes and no, sometimes I’m a male and sometimes I’m female. It’s all very gender fluid.

TK: Commonalities are everywhere. I am man. I am woman. I am man/woman. I am woman/man. I am control, freedom and support. At one point I am even Hedda Gabler. This may sound confusing but through the dramaturgy of the show roles are free to exchange and create a whole.

 

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Without dialogue, how much of the original stories & characters will we get? What’s the most important thing for us to get?

NB: There is some text, but instead of being spoon fed the plays we have used our physical bodies to encompass the roles of the women and men from the play. It’s quite obvious who the characters are as they are all so different from each other, come to the show with an active imagination and go with it from there.

TK: The characters, you will definitely get. That much is clear. As for the original stories, we have extended beyond them in time and space, whist exploring the thematics of the three plays.

 

What do we need to teach boys (and girls) about the roles of men (and women) in society?

NB: We need to teach everyone this. Each sex can be just as ignorant as the other. Your sex or sexuality shouldn’t define where you stand in society. If everyone is granted the same rights and same social status that question would be redundant. What a world that would be!!

TK: I’m not too sure about the ‘we’ and the ‘need’ in this question, but my view on our roles as human beings extend far beyond just boys and girls and men and women. Let’s just have care and compassion for each other regardless of gender, race, sexuality and religion. Let’s care for this planet. Let’s make people laugh. Xx

 

Directors Yaron Lifschitz & Libby McDonnell

Dramaturg Todd MacDonald

Lighting Designer Jason Organ

Costume Designer Libby McDonnell

Performers Circa Ensemble 

Composer Oonagh Sherrard

 

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

30
Nov
15

Maximum

 

Maximum

La Boite Indie & Natalie Abbott

La Boite Roundhouse

November 26 – December 5 2015

 

Reviewed by Katelyn Panagiris

 

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Maximum, directed by Natalie Abbott, is a movement piece that interrogates failure, endurance and contrasting physicalities. The work also challenges audience notions of choreography and performance with its series of circuit training and lifts.

 

This challenge presents itself almost immediately as I adjust to the form of the work. The stark lighting and repetitious movement is confronting at first. I am unsure of where the work is leading and how I should respond. As soon as I realise that this is it – that the performance is simply composed of a series of movement tasks without context – I find myself at the mercy of the performance. Repetition is key in this journey from confusion to submission as I observe the performers committing to the constant rigour of the movement.

 

Maximum is at once a highly conceptual and innately accessible performance that places the human body at its centre.

 

My response to the performance is first and foremost visceral. Performers Natalie Abbott and Nathan Daveson are committed in every way. There is no backing away from the physical challenge of the movement and no demand for sympathy from the audience. In this way, I can’t help but sympathise with the performers as they engage in progressively more intense physical activity. I am with them – I feel their pain, frustration and hope – especially as failure becomes inherent to the work. No matter the struggle, they are present at all times, focused only on the task at hand. There is a generosity to this kind of commitment and vulnerability that exists in performance work like Maximum, with a simple and wholesome intent to test the limits of what is possible on stage.

 

With Maximum, Abbott also explores how two bodies with vastly different backgrounds can come together as one. On stage we are presented with a female dancer and male body builder. The act of observing these contrasting bodies is one of the most beautiful aspects of the work. At first the performers appear to be in competition, trying to exceed each other in their endurance. I am interested in who will succeed, who will fail and whose training will serve them best. However, by the end of the performance a question of difference becomes a question of trust. The final lift requires the two performers to move and breathe together, and trust that the other person will be there to support them in this act.

 

In her Director’s Notes, Abbott also speaks of her interest in seeing and being seen. This is enhanced by Matthew Addey’s clean and simple design, which forms a blank canvas pregnant with possibility. The bright white lights and white backdrop combine with Daniel Arnott’s pulsing sound design to increase the intensity and theatricality of the event. At times the design distracts from the rawness of the performers, whilst at other times it enhances the visceral and aesthetic experience.

 

Natalie Abbott’s Maximum is a thoughtful, considered and skillful work.

 

It is challenging to engage with at first, and may present a challenge if your ideal night out at the theatre involves a climactic narrative, well-formed characters and other elements you could usually associate with theatre. Instead this is a work that exists in the realm of performance, with failure clearly on the table but a strength and ferocity of spirit to push beyond personal and artistic limits to interrogate the human body in all its beauty.