Posts Tagged ‘lee lewis




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.


The Truth About Kookaburras

The Truth About Kookaburras

La Boite Indie & Pentimento Productions

The Roundhouse

6th – 23rd June 2012

On Saturday night, the men in the audience at The Roundhouse far outnumbered the women. Had they seen The Truth About Kookaburras at Metro Arts in 2009? Had they heard about it? What had they heard? I’d heard that there would be many naked men on stage but that the play “isn’t about the nudity”. It’s about a murder that occurs during a buck’s party, held in the locker room of the Gold Coast Kookaburras Football Club and the mystery of “what it is to be a man”.

I daresay I’ll be the only person in the world to feel this way about this incredible play. Or perhaps I’ll be the only one to say so. You see, it’s absolutely brilliant. But it’s not quite there yet. It seems it’s esteemed playwright, Edward-Who’s-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-Albee, who is to blame for the issues I have with this, the first production of La Boite’s Indie program for 2012, Sven Swenson’s re-worked epic, The Truth About Kookaburras.

Apparently, when workshopping the play with Albee, Swenson was advised, “Never permit it to be done without nudity. Don’t allow yourself to be talked into cleaving it into two acts. Don’t ever shorten it. Don’t become convinced to amalgamate roles and reduce the cast.”

Let’s look at these pearls of wisdom, shall we?


The play opens on an empty locker room at the Gold Coast Kookaburras headquarters, which gradually fills with naked men. And by fills, I mean that there are enough of them to literally fill the small space that is the La Boite Indie stage. The play would work better in the round (or in Jupiter’s Casino) but that means – surely – another creative development phase before it earns a mainstage season. It’s an indulgent but rather clever, multi-layered text that you can read yourself, thanks to Playlab’s new digital publication series (Playab Indie).

For fifteen minutes, naked men appear from out of the showers, one after the other after the other and we look at – or try not to look at – the many, many flaccid penises on stage. It’s not a pretty sight. Sorry, boys but it’s not. Swenson recently told Zenobia Frost, in an interview for RAVE magazine that he believes “the most compelling and arresting visual image of masculinity is surely an army of naked men.” Perhaps it is…if that army of naked men is as ripped as QTC’s Romeo and Juliet boys were (credit where credit’s due) and their members stand as erect as the men themselves, sure. But try putting an erect penis on a Queensland stage. Twenty-two of them in fact. And for fifteen minutes! In this case, the “army” more closely resembles a sad, impotent, insecure gang of little boys who need to perform dick tricks and indulge in gratuitous antics to prove their (false) bravado to the fellas who are supposed to be their “mates”.

The Truth About Kookaburras

Image by Kate O’Sullivan.

And I’m sorry but I don’t get the penis humour. I don’t understand the culture of the male locker room. I know that there’s a demographic in every city who do appreciate this brand of comedy – I used to sell cigarettes to them in dodgy clubs and pubs – but personally, I’ve never understood how people can speak to each other the way that these guys do, with so little regard for another person’s feelings. What does it prove? What sort of man is it that treats a person so appallingly? I can see that we’re trying to understand men and their insecurities. I can see that it takes time to establish the confusion and complexities of being a man. We don’t often talk openly about the way men fit into the world and clearly we need to. But is this play the vehicle for it? Will it reach enough people? Would it work better as a screenplay? Would it get closer to the truth if it were Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman discussing the big issues on the big screen? (Well, of course it would!). Does it really get us any closer to, “What it is to be a man”? As it is, it certainly gets us talking so perhaps, on that point alone, it serves a valuable purpose and the potential to take it to the broader market will be recognised eventually.

It certainly reveals more than you might expect but if it’s really just the full frontal nudity you’re after, I think your money might be better spent on a night with the Chippendales or on some of the better Internet porn sites. (Trekkie Monster was right all along!).

For me, Kookaburras contains too much nudity for too long without good reason. It doesn’t last long enough “for people to realise what a big deal it isn’t,” it lasts long enough to be ineffective dramatically. It loses impact. The dick tricks, the narcissistic mirror play (do let me know if all that mirror acting works for you), the play fights and the real fights are quite simply uninteresting after the first six or seven minutes. (That’s not to say that the simulated footy, choreographed by Brian Lucas and the fight sequences, choreographed by Justin Palazzo-Orr are lacking in any way. They just need more space to make them look spectacular). And while I appreciate that there has been some research done and that conversations with legitimate footballers have taken place, I find it hard to believe that there is not even a modicum of modesty amongst this group, who are not, as we discover, all that they seem. So many characters and so little, when they are naked, to differentiate one from another; I would just like to have seen the extent of male nudity be used to better effect than to try to prove a political point.

On that (political point), I was surprised to see later, the female stripper do her thing…topless. Only topless. Now, I know this play is not about her (far be it from the stripper to become a distraction in the midst of all that male soul-searching) and I know Swenson feels that women and not men have been made to get their gear off in plays for too long (“He didn’t think that was fair.”) but I think an entire truth was missed there. Again, dramatically, it was an interesting choice. “Perhaps having more male nudity on stage might legitimise the relative frequency with which we ask it of women.” No, Sven, the authenticity of the story telling and the believability of the acting within the context of whatever story is being told is what legitimises female nudity in the theatre.

Warning: shameless self-promotion.

For a case in point, if it interests you (call it “research”), see Erotique at Noosa Arts Theatre during the Noosa Longweekend, in which nudity is not gratuitously used but, within the context of the story telling, becomes a vital element, both in character and plot development. Right. Shameless self-promotion over. Back to Kookaburras, which is not even about the nudity but phew! What a relief it is to see everybody dressed! “We see much more clearly who each character is once they are dressed and wearing the garb that identifies them to the outside world.” True. The stellar performances in the end come from Cameron Sowden (Mick), Jason McKell (Two-Shoes), Zachary Boulton (Goony) and Kieran Law (Toaster). You can read the complete biographies of all cast members by downloading the online program.

Jason McKell. Image by Kate O’Sullivan.

Don’t allow yourself to be talked into cleaving it into two acts. Don’t ever shorten it.

Mr Albee, why would you say that?! The play is too long! Act 2 is superfluous and once the premise has been established during the opening fifteen minutes of the play, it is reinforced ad nauseam for the next fifty! Seriously, an hour of swinging dicks and putting down mates is too long! With a more concise story, the police investigation incorporated as it is – a clever device and less of it would work even more efficiently – one interval would suffice.

When we were in Sydney in 2011 for the Sydney Children’s Festival, I booked tickets and took our troupe to see Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s production of Alex Broun’s 10 000 Beers, directed by Lee Lewis (Director of La Boite’s last production, A Hoax). Other than my husband, who grew up in a sports-mad household, none of us even knew which code we were about to see. Football is football is football, right? That’s right. Footy novices. Mixed reviews, from us and from the Sydney critics, discussed the value of accurately reflecting the typical Australian loutish and lewd behaviour on stage (ie what can be gained from it apart from appealing to base humour?) and dispelling the myths of men in sport. Neither Broun’s 10 000 Beers nor Swenson’s Kookaburras successfully dispel any of the myths or media hype (both perpetuate the myths and reinforce the stereotypes), however; the latter tries harder. Without offering an answer, in Kookaburras, we take a look at male identity, feminine and masculine roles in society, pack mentality, the notion of mateship, male depression, homophobia and homoeroticism. This piece could start with Act 3 and delve deeper into some of these issues.

Image by Kate O’Sullivan.

Don’t become convinced to amalgamate roles and reduce the cast.”

If I were producing, I would want the roles amalgamated and the cast size reduced. Why not cast fewer actors who can capably play multiple roles? (Some of the actors in this production, unfortunately, struggle to believably portray just one). In its current form, Kookaburras is positively Chekhovian and it need not be. We might get to know the characters a little better and care a little more for them, if we see fewer of them, in greater detail, for (just a little bit) longer.

The strongest of the three acts, the final boasts the best acting of the night and allows us to get to the bottom of the story and understand more about the lives and motives of a couple of the characters. It’s what we’ve been waiting for! The mystery is solved but nothing is really resolved. Men (particularly men involved in sport) are still a mystery and will continue to behave badly, despite their private revelations and their efforts to nurture healthy relationships and a noble – or something – identity. What is it to be a man? Well, I don’t know. And I don’t think you’ll know either, from seeing this play but at least you’ll be challenged to think on it and discuss the big issues with some mates over a few beers.


A Hoax

A Hoax

La Boite & Griffin Theatre company

The Roundhouse 

5th – 26th May 2012

In a pristine white setting (Designer Renee Mulder), against a photographer’s backdrop used in conjunction with images projected onto 2 screens (Music, Sound & AV Designer Steve Toulmin) to create “hotel room”, we meet four mismatched characters, each with their own issues and their own perfectly acceptable selfish agendas. One is a literary agent and one is her PA. One is a writer. No one has heard of him because he’s a middle class, white skinned social worker. One is an Aboriginal girl. No one has heard of her because she’s a lower class, black skinned Indigenous chick. They are all desperately unhappy in their ridiculous situations (ie normal life) and seek success and happiness via that dodgy vehicle, fame. And why not? Everyone’s a star! Aren’t they?

Now, don’t go blaming Andy Warhol! He was talking about 15 minutes. 15 MINUTES, PEOPLE!

(Thank you, that’s all we need today).

If you must create this future for yourself, here is what you’ll need:

  • A bit of ambition (it doesn’t take much, just enough to make you brave enough to take the first steps towards your new, incredible life as a famous person)
  • A supportive somebody (it doesn’t matter who it is as long as they promise to stick to the script)
  • A tough skin (never mind those cynics, they’re delusional themselves. Don’t they see what the public sees?)
  • Access to the media (and a YouTube account, a Twitter account and a Facebook page that are all regularly updated by your brazen manager, agent or their PA. See below)
  • A brazen manager or agent and their marginalised-in-whatever-way PA (none of them have to believe in you they just have to make others believe in you. They’re probably jealous of you anyway and will skim as much as they can off the top so you’d better be famous AND crazy wealthy)
  • A story to make ‘em weep (or cringe in horror. n.b. it doesn’t need to be true it just needs to be SOLD)

So, you see? Achieving fame and notoriety is easy! Everyone’s a winner! So we are led to believe. This modern restoration comedy smashes that perception and then, strangely, disturbingly, reinforces it.

The star of the show is the brilliant premise and it’s a doozy! Inspired by some of the great contemporary literary hoaxes (the misery memoir or fake autobiography), A Hoax proves that Rick Viede was not a one hit wonder with his Premier’s Literary Award winner in 2010, Whore but an up and coming ROCK STAR. I can perfectly envisage his career catapulting, at the same rapid pace and in the same general upward direction, as the fictitious character Currah’s does during the course of the play. Let’s hope there’s no mistaking his identity though!

Remember Barry Levinson’s 1997 film, Wag the Dog, about the creation of a war hero? A Hollywood producer and a spin-doctor dream up a fictitious war to distract the American public from a presidential sex scandal. It works! It’s marketing! It’s ALL marketing. Of course, on the other end of every successful hoax, there’s human nature. In any context, we all want to believe.

I love the play – with some reservations because any variation on Stockholm syndrome is unnerving and the notion of anyone taking delight in the horrendous abuse she’s suffered is completely unsettling – it’s refreshing, raw work of heightened realism, allowing a great deal of profanity and non-PC-ness (sexism, racism and issues surrounding homophobia are rife), which means it is bound to work equally as well, if not better, as a screenplay. Viede states in the program notes that he is happy with the political shocks in the play but at times the heightened delivery does him (and the play) a disservice by sanitising the shocking truth of our modern media-run world.

I found the world premiere a little clunky. We could feel the gears shifting, as if a Learner driver had gotten their hands on a shiny new Ferrari! Shame! A week into the run, I have no doubt that this will have been remedied. I feel that, in its baby state, the piece is overwritten and I expect the red pen will come out before A Hoax goes on in Sydney. Interestingly, in conversation during the interval, with Griffin’s Artistic Director, Sam Strong, he commented that it was good to see the work getting “a bit of a clean up” on the Brisbane stage. Director, Lee Lewis, has clearly allowed for some play time during the rehearsal process and now her actors need to settle in and play!

Overwritten, slightly self-indulgent scenes in Act 1, that languish over a singular point, sometimes feel drawn out and a little repetitive. Act 2, at a cracking pace, works better. The climatic scene works like a shock to the system and it visibly affected the audience on opening night. In an instant, uncanny silence replaced uneasy laughter. We know what is going to happen, we’re dreading the cruel inevitability (it’s set up extremely well) but even just the sense of it is enough for me, without having to sit through the entire humiliating scene. Truly squirm-worthy, perhaps that’s the point. Overload the senses, boost the shock factor, get the people talking and get the sales!

Shari Sebbens is a wonderful, real and really pretty shocking Currah. She’s the brash, loud-mouthed (foul-mouthed) stereotypical Indigenous kid, with a fabricated past and a bright future, as long as she can gain – and retain – control of it. Sally McKenzie is at her best, in her driest version of the stereotypical Sydney literary agent, Ronnie Lowe. There’s a plum role for Sally in David Williamson’s play, Emerald City. I know because I played opposite Robyn Nevin in the role in Noosa for a special event produced by the Corrilee Foundation and Noosa Longweekend. Interestingly, Glenn Hazeldine directed the Melbourne production of One Night in Emerald City at the Malthouse.

The arc of A Hoax gives Tyrell Parks the biggest journey and Eric Morris trained Charles Allen doesn’t let up or let us escape from his side for a moment. He gets under our skin as we bear witness to his meteoric rise from rags to rehab to riches. He who dares wins! There is some brilliant, crude comedy from Allen before he reveals Tyrell’s darker side. It’s Hazeldine however, as Dooley, who impresses most, quietly simmering and staying hidden in the shadows, supporting his “ward” as far as the public are concerned but sticking his white, middle class nose in where it’s not wanted, according to Tyrell and Lowe. In this role, Hazeldine demonstrates how to beautifully underplay the pivotal character.

It’s taken me almost a week to write this review (sorry), because I really loved it but didn’t really LOVE it, you know? But A Hoax is so real and at the same time, so OTT that others are bound to love it. If you don’t, let me know and we’ll discuss it over a drink. Viede has my utmost respect and A Hoax gets my vote for most surprising new work – there’s no doubt it’s a sure-fire hit – but it hasn’t got all my love…yet.