Posts Tagged ‘leon cain


North By Northwest


North By Northwest

QPAC & Kay McLean Productions

QPAC Lyric Theatre

November 29 – December 9 2018


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




The world’s first slick stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s famous action suspense thriller is not my favourite show this year. I love the sensational design, and I totally get the sense of it; I get the style, I get the humour, I get the cleverness of it, but I don’t love it. BUT EVERYONE ELSE LOVES IT.



How to meticulously recreate a classic film on stage, anyway? With an eye for detail, a mega-budget and main stage venues from Melbourne to London, that’s how, and Simon Phillips (Director) and Carolyn Burns (Writer) have succeeded in doing so since 2015 with Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. But if you want to read the rave reviews READ EVERY OTHER REVIEW. On the same weekend, I was more engaged and entertained by a 60-minute, low-budget, cute, corny indie comedy that successfully strings together excerpts on stage from Tarantino’s cult films. It was charming, clever, ridiculous and hilarious. Whether or not its next incarnation is intended to more accurately represent the films to which it pays homage (there’s no need!), or simply continue to evolve as an irreverent, riotous tribute (there’s potential!), if that production had even half of a Kay Mclean (Andrew Kay & Liza McLean) or mainstage company budget, you might also have had the chance to consider its merits. But without the marketing slice of a bigger pie, you probably didn’t even know it was on.





If it’s what makes you happy, North By Northwest lives up to the hype in so many ways, but it lacks soul. Unlike Ladies In Black, which was so surprising and delightful, the play’s performers don’t dare venture beyond the most obvious role requirements, or make us feel anything. This is a shame for those wanting to be swept up in the romance and the espionage without the distraction of how things are achieved technically. And in saying that, in terms of style and in the interests of experimentation, not much heart or soul is needed to convince us that the substance of the 1959 film has been replicated on stage, and as it is, it’s a fun little ride, a real “comedy of suspense”. Just don’t expect actual suspense, you know, the type you don’t need to leave home for because Netflix.





North By Northwest is a smash hit; it’s enjoyed sold-out seasons all over the world and will continue to do so, so don’t believe a word I say, but look instead for the opportunity to find out for yourself, as to whether or not this production exceeds expectations. It’s certainly not just for the film’s fans, although it’s a faithful adaptation, losing none of its light, kitsch, cheekily melodramatic, suit-and-scotch-and-cigarettes Mad Men tone, which is attributed to the original writer, Ernie Lehman. It’s ingeniously designed and deliberately stylised, using the most deceptively simple theatrical devices and cinematic elements to cleverly and playfully reveal the landscape, the auction items and the cropduster in the most contemporary-classic way, on either side of the stage. It’s true. Oui. Tres amusement. The most commonly asked question in the foyer on opening night was, but how will they do the plane? 


Well, no spoilers here. It’s the same trick, a neat trick each time, involving the actors as stagehands/film crew and it takes most of Act 1 to accept it. Whether or not you accept Matt Day as George Kaplan darting and diving around on stage beneath it is another matter entirely. And as for the highly anticipated chase sequence across Mount Rushmore? You’ll either love it and laugh hysterically or…not. This is Phillips taking the ridiculous – due to restrictions around the use of actual Mount Rushmore imagery – to new heights. Pun intended.





So, despite the cinematic score and dark lighting throughout, the most famous scenes of the film have more a sense of utter silliness than any sort of suspense or fear of imminent death by cropduster. Each stylised sequence relies heavily on the carefully incorporated AV elements that are supposed to help us suspend disbelief…or are they? The distance we feel from the action is also intentional, and this is why I get the impression that Phillips has had some fun with this, without necessarily considering what this show is. And just like anything newish – the surge in the development of new musicals/song cycles is a good example – we’re reminded that perhaps a show does’t need to be any one thing. But it does need to be consistent in its delivery.


I love the cars, delightful surprises. This device, used for the taxi and the earliest chase sequence, is simple and clever and precise. The train carriage is also simply and effectively achieved. A row of telephone booths and the precision lighting of this scene elicits appreciative laughter. Flying, gliding, dividing set pieces create each location without question, and the seamless transitions between each. These are the elements, along with Amber McMahon’s styling and not-so-subtle femme fatale performance, that give this production class. See?




Some of the performances are superb.


The “cast of thousands”, featuring Amber McMahon, whom I adore, and Matt Day, whom others adore, also includes Brisbane’s Christen O’Leary and Leon Cain, almost unrecognisable in some roles, and even as extras scurrying across the stage beyond the main action in blatant disregard of any old fashioned notion that in the theatre, movement pulls focus. 


North By Northwest is to live theatre what Get Smart was to television, what Dick Tracy was to film, and what Avatar was to circus when we first experienced those departures from the way it was always done. North By Northwest is bold and tricky and new and a bit exciting, but it’s not my favourite.




The Furze Family Variety Hour




The Furze Family Variety Hour

deBASE Productions

Judith Wright Centre

September 2 – 7 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


The Furze Family Variety Hour promises pies in faces. And it’s pies in faces we get, even if for no other reason than “pies in faces are funny.” Also, nakedness is funny. But this kind of family friendly “nakedness”, and a wild rumpus dished up as the finale, are even funnier than you’re imagining…


It purports to be a family show – or does it? It’s the Furze Family’s Ginger and Red taking to the stage to entertain us in the best way they know how. It goes along the lines of, “Make ‘em laugh!” And they do. In the timeless tradition of the likes of Lucille Ball and Jerry Lewis, this duo appeared to be testing the waters with their opening night audience on Tuesday night. One of the first comedy cabs outta’ the rank this Brisbane Festival, the pressure to impress is real, but the season is relatively short, so I imagine the rewards will be great, regardless of critical opinion. The general response is already favourable because PIES IN FACES GUYS. And there’s a lot more besides.



These two multi-faceted performers are old-school style truly delightful; they’re cheeky and a little bit naughty. Leon Cain (Red) and Helen Cassidy (Ginger) are the brother and sister team that offers, true to form, a variety of vaudeville inspired entertaining acts. At times I feel the pace lags a little but nobody else seems to notice. Anyway, I’m convinced that Helen Cassidy has one of the most radiant faces in the world so whenever I start to feel a little impatient I look at her and she glows in a genuinely born for the spotlight sorta’ way. Cain manages to keep a wicked gleam in his eyes even when, or perhaps especially when, a scene requires some pretend pathos, so it doesn’t hurt to glance his way either.


A classic picnic skit, perfectly measured and polished, allows a new relationship to blossom and honours the timeless comic traditions of slapstick, surprise and the sharing of secrets or asides with the audience. This sequence highlights the director’s light hand and her trust in the actors, as well as her attention to minute detail and comic timing. A more relaxed musical interlude indulges our tendencies towards sibling rivalry, and a traditional lion tamer act turns into a Thank God You’re Here segment when a member of the audience is called upon to play the role of, you guessed it, the lion. “He’s so beautiful. But so stoopid!” He did very well in fact! Was he a plant? It doesn’t matter! We don’t care because FUNNY.




And my favourite act; Wendy the blow up doll becomes a stand in for Jennifer Grey in a riotous Dirty Dancing send up. For those of you sharing a cabaret table with kids (#isitjustme), you may wish you’d accepted the Furze Family part of the title for what it was, rather than assume this would be a “family” show. I got out of answering any tricky sex accessory questions because Poppy simply thought this sequence was hilarious. And it was! She recognised all the moves! That’s my girl! Cain’s commitment to this scene, his manipulation of his dance partner, and his mastery of the iconic choreography makes this the highlight of the night.


Poppy said The Dance of Love was funny too, when the boy played the girl and the girl played the boy until we got dizzy watching their clever coat changes. She loved Cassidy’s many voices, including her sweet singing voice, and having just come from Opera Australia and John Frost’s Anything Goes launch event at QPAC, at which we had heard from Caroline O’Connor and Claire Lyon, that is high praise indeed! And the use of song, or as Poppy puts it, poems sung – some we knew, like Moses supposes his toeses are roses but Moses supposes erroneously (she said to write the whole thing and embed the video, Mum; it’s so good!) – and some we didn’t (original music composed by David Megarrity & Samuel Vincent with Kellee Green). It was so funny because they would be talking and suddenly they would start singing a song.



Also, the (balloon) sword-swallowing act was hilarious yet it didn’t seem quite real… #theadventuresofpoppy


But the show splits itself right down the middle. On one hand we have our skits; a collection of mini narratives with pie-in-the-face punchlines (metaphorically only until the finale), and on the other hand we have a formally introduced segment, “The Rules of Comedy”, which could almost be the premise that got lost along the way. The structure of this segment could potentially serve to strengthen the entire show. Alternatively, put a red pen to it and keep this part short and sweet like everything preceding it (and get to the pies!).


I’m delighted to relay that the opening night crowd on Tuesday filled the Judith Wright Centre’s Shopfront with laughter but I fear I may need a slightly more sophisticated return season before I’m completely convinced about this one. It’s possible that the Furze Family simply needs to find new audiences for a while in our favourite regional centres. There’s no doubt they’d develop a following, and easily give the cousins, Ivan and Juniper, a run for their money in the sprint to host industry events each year. It would also be interesting to gauge the response of the after dark Woodford Folk Festival crowd. I ‘reckon Director, Bridget Boyle, and deBASE Productions are onto something but I don’t think this is it…yet.


It’s the cheeky and charismatic camaraderie, as well as the extraordinary individual comic talents of Cain and Cassidy that win me over in the end. And it’s for the entertainment value of these two talented performers that you should see The Furze Family Variety Hour in this format during this festival. Next, I’d love to see some stronger material delivered at breakneck speed to turn this hour of vaudevillian fun into a classic smash hit!








Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

15th September – 20th October 2012


Reviewed by Matty Gharakhanian


Almost all of the facts in the script surrounding Ned Kelly are as true as possible. But the real history is a bit murky anyway. Keep in mind Ned was a notorious liar, mainly because most of what we have him on record as saying he was saying to the police – whom he had no qualms in lying to. And the police at that time would often lie to make themselves look better so no one really knows for sure. My goal with Ned is simply to capture the spirit of the man. To make audiences feel they’re really in the room with him. I don’t think anyone’s successfully done that yet.

The real Dan Kelly is something of a mysterious figure and there isn’t a lot of information about him in the history books. He tends to pop up in the confrontations, completely fail to do what is asked of him and Ned then has fix things. I used this idea as a building block to create the fictional character but took a lot more artistic license with him than Ned. Dan carries more of the folklore side of the story.

Do I think Dan escaped? I think it’s a fifty-fifty call. There are eye-witnesses that say he died. And there are eye-witnesses that saw Dan in the weeks after Glenrowan, heading for Queensland. There’s a grave with an unrecognizable body in it in Greta. And there are reports of a man named James Ryan out at Ipswich who claimed to be Dan and told stories about The Kelly Gang that no one else should know. I like the uncertainty of it all. It’s ripe geography for fiction. Matthew Ryan



“Shotguns and body bags.”


Directed by Todd Macdonald, Matthew Ryan’s Kelly is a brilliant re-telling of Ned Kelly’s story, played out in the outlaw’s final moments. Kelly sits in a small jail cell, drunk and feeling sorry for himself until his brother visits and their shady past comes back to haunt them.

Simone Romaniuk’s set, lit by Ben Hughes, consists of a raised square platform with a dangling cage, ceiling and a tiny bed to represent a basic jail cell.  Nothing more was needed.  Why?  The entire show was one scene.  A single 90-minute scene with rapid lines, witty repartee and a cohesive story.  Sounds boring?  Are you asking, “How could this possibly remain entertaining for that long?”  Fear not, for not a dull moment was had.  Kelly integrates fact and rumour, such as Dan Kelly’s death and homosexuality, the family history and their many run-ins with and harassment at the hands of the law.

The acoustics are exceptional and Guy Webster’s eerie soundscape complement the show and its vibe. Having a limited and minimalistic stage, the cast show us that they don’t need fancy props or an elaborate set design to tell a story.  All that is needed is a little imagination and the ability to enjoy being taken on a journey through the words of less than a handful of talented actors. Before you know it, the stage is a ghostly replica of a grimy old jail cell containing a man about to be executed.



“It’s your spirit they’re after.”


Now, if anyone reading this is sceptical about another story on Ned Kelly and the Kelly clan, they should feel free to leave said scepticism at the door.  For an old tale, this new spin on the Kelly story is nothing but fresh.  Matthew Ryan’s script is the key to this, injecting occasional humour into a play that boasts witty dialogue and a fluid, considered story.


I’m mostly known for my comedy so I think this one is going to be a shock for some people. My work tends to be very story driven. I’m very structured. I’m much more interested in the action of a piece and what’s happening between the characters than I am in any grand political explorations. I tend to just let that stuff bubble up gently. Matthew Ryan


Hugh Parker plays the role of the spiteful prison guard exceptionally well and Steven Rooke (Ned) and Leon Cain (Dan) are outstanding. Dare I say, Cain as Dan stole the show.  This production delves into the story of the weaker, lesser-known Kelly who lives in Ned’s shadow. The actors play their roles superbly, with such strong conviction.  Some throwaway lines have us chuckling while other lines leave us stunned into silence.  Their performances are intense and raw and their anger palpable and believable. Their booming voices and confident, no-holds-barred performances grasp the audience’s attention and wouldn’t let go.  Rooke is the bleary-eyed and angry imprisoned man, accepting of his fate. Cain is powerful as the complex, gutless and conflicted brother, posing as a priest and asking for forgiveness and a blessing (something that was not easy to ask for, given the circumstances).



“You came to ask a dead man for the right to live.”


Dan and Ned play the proverbial tug of war between their recollections of past events as well as who was in the right or wrong and who held the moral high ground.  They take family dysfunction to a whole new level.  Problems start seeping through the cracks in their relationship as one big issue is alluded to early on. Eventually, through conversation and re-enactments, we are taken through various moments and past events until finally, we come full circle, back to the original problem and discover the unholy truth of what happened.


The banter between Ned and Dan is based on Irish rhythms of conversation. Their parents were Irish immigrants and while there is some debate as to whether Ned himself had an Irish accent, I really wanted to capture that amazing lyrical quality of the speech patterns – if not in the actual words then at least in the pacing and timing. It seems to be in my own blood because once they started talking in that rhythm I couldn’t shut them up. Matthew Ryan


Kelly is a 90-minute roller coaster ride in a jail cell and every Australian should take it.