Posts Tagged ‘lewis jones

20
Mar
17

#First World White Girls: Botox Party

#First World White Girls: Botox Party

Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Rooftop Terrace

March 8 – 12 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

First World White Girls is a proudly Queensland created phenomenon, inspired by an inexhaustible list of what is commonly referred to as #firstworldproblems

These are the things we should be ashamed of admitting are a problem, but we’re not ashamed because it’s all relative, isn’t it? What we don’t have we desire, and what we don’t have going perfectly for us is nothing less than lamentable, even while others are suffering.

This smash hit cabaret, direct from a sold out season at Adelaide Fringe Festival and Brisbane Comedy Festival, is the realisation of an original concept, which manifested in a little show at the Judith Wright Centre last year.

I didn’t love it, but I love its adopted little black baby, Botox Party. Judy Hains (trust fund princess, Tiffany) and Meggan Hickey (Noosa born and bred Maddison) take us through an irreverent hour or so of social catastrophes and gross injustice from their privileged point of view. From Tinder to Trump to celebrity style and puppies, climate change, labiaplasty and those little black babies (so wrong but so funny), the girls, accompanied by Max Radvan on keys, lead us through a number of hilarious recounts of their first world white girl problems and also, invite the audience to contribute their own issues to the show. This works much better this time, the pace vastly improved and the girls better able to handle the throws from the audience, rather than the original and rather time-consuming awkward reading of what we’d written before the show, the pieces of paper randomly drawn from a bucket (OR WERE THEY?).

The vocals this time are stronger and the harmonies slicker, with Hickey’s versatility a highlight in  multi-tasking singing/tap dancing hilarious new number, Snowflake. Hains giving us new insight into the ageing process via a sensational rendition of Memory. The original numbers, penned by Hains, are witty, catchy ditties with less forced rhyme than before (or are they better selling the songs?) and a greater degree of difficulty, which we see particularly in the satirical tribute to the disaster that is Donald Trump, complete with Patty Simcox inspired cheer choreography. The stakes have been well and truly raised, and we can’t fail to recognise these abhorrent creatures and their complaints, and laugh and gasp for breath with them.

I love that this show continues to evolve and prove itself to be just as current and as relevant as ever, making it much funnier and riskier than it has been before. This is the added value for audiences (and for return audiences), as well as for the artists, who obviously get to work more often doing what they love when we support the arts, so that good things can be made better and tour for longer.

Botox Party is pure fun, very funny entertainment, but the not-so-subtle satirical message marched out alongside every line is nothing less than deeply disturbing if we actually pause to think on it, and this juxtaposition makes for terrific theatre that we can enjoy time and time again, digesting as much or as little as we like. After the balloons deflate, our hangover lifts and our next Botox appointment looms, we might actually consider for a moment longer, what it is we really value in life. Or not. It’s probably too hard to even contemplate, right? Yet another #firstworldproblem #justenjoytheshow

30
Mar
16

#FirstWorldWhiteGirls

 

#FirstWorldWhiteGirls

Judith Wright Centre & WIV

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

March 17 – 19 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

#FIRSTWORLDWHITEGIRLSbeach

Tiffany (Judy Hainsworth) and Kendall (Caitlin Oliver Parker) have enjoyed a sold out debut season (2014), an enthusiastic reception at the Matilda Awards (2015), and a sold out Adelaide Fringe Festival run complete with four and a half star reviews (2016) before their return to the Judy this year.

I’m possibly the only person in the country to not rave about #FirstWorldWhiteGirls

These two incongruous characters introduce themselves as a trust fund princess and a wealthy husband’s trophy wife, yet they fret about paying off their credit cards. They LOL at the thought of op-shopping yet they wear vintage floral frocks, Grandma’s pearls and plain pumps (to hide a bad pedi? Mismatched Shellac? It makes no sense!). While it’s true that vintage fashion never really goes out of style if you know how to accessorise, it’s a bit rich to expect us to believe that these rich bitches would opt for 1950s Tupperware party hostess frocks rather than Kardashian branded (or, I love it but let’s face it, Kookai) once-seen-never-seen-again bodycons, contoured cheek bones, long silk lashes and perfectly Blow Dry Bar(ed) Hollywood hair.  

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The setting is far from lavish, with pull-up banners, and token Pellegrino bottles and a Tiffany bag pre-set on a high table. From the outset I’m at odds with the conflicting elements of this production.   

#FirstWorldWhiteGirls looks and sounds like it wants to be an outrageous comedy – it sells itself as such – but it’s not as outrageously funny as it claims to be and it’s not nearly politically incorrect enough or sassy or crass enough, although it seems to satisfy the needs of at least half the second night audience. The first world white girl problems are the sort we see hashtagged on social media, and they’re basic and familiar and funny; you know, too hot without the air con on and too cold in it… But when we realise the girls are not reading the audience contributions (they appear to have the lines memorised), I feel cheated. I think the Tiffany bags have been switched! Perhaps at one stage of the tour they tried to read only the audience’s suggestions and it was difficult to decipher handwriting, or the first world problems just weren’t dramatic / problematic enough.

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Another #FirstWorldWhiteGirl blunder is to have overlooked the need for an accompanist, surely a vital component of Cabaret? Without the musicianship and witty banter of a talented accompanist on stage – a Worboys, as we say (we literally say it aloud, i.e. “What they need is a Worboys!”) would be ideal – we politely sit through pre-recorded tracks, penned by Hainsworth and arranged by the seriously talented James Dobinson (was he unavailable? Unaffordable?), which slow the show, contributing to its clunky feel. A combination of original tunes (most are too long by a verse or two) and re-arrangements of popular songs leaves us without a singular style or theme to the show. The best musical number sheds light on labiaplasty and should set the tone for the rest of the show, but no. It’s a stroke of politically incorrect, hilarious genius that can’t be repeated. The girls close with an amusing number about the importance of acquiring the ultimate accessories: black babies to go with their new Mercedes, but the encore that follows this is subdued and Hainsworth barely whispers, “Thank you” before leaving the stage.

I’m so disappointed. Everything I experience is at odds with what I’d expected.

I’d like to see the stakes raised and bigger risks taken. I’d like to be horrified when I realise I recognise these girls, that sometimes I have to teach these girls! And drink with their mothers!

chardonnay

With a bit more vocal clout and genuine confidence in some more sophisticated material, Hainsworth and Parker will prove themselves even better performers. I wonder… (I wonder how much time this version of the production has had with Lewis Jones, who was passed the director’s hat by Cienda McNamara)… It seems as if a formula has worked in the past and no one feels the need to stray from it…well, clearly, with a history of sell-out shows, it works! But Cabaret and Comedy are evolving genres, which demand high stakes, compelling stories and convincing performances that must grow from authenticity, and the performers’ genuine connection with their character, the audience and each other. This hugely successful show, which will enjoy a regional tour of Queensland in April, is a missed opportunity artistically, and I’d love to see it stripped back and redeveloped to truly reflect the talents of these versatile performers, and the shallow world of the reality TV and social media obsessed, unapologetically self-possessed first world white girls in my neighbourhood.   

firstworldwhitegirls1

15
Aug
15

Judy Strikes Back

 

Judy Strikes Back

Judith Wright Centre

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

August 13 – 15 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Will the real Judy Garland please stand up?

 

 

JudyStrikesBack2

 

 

When you’ve lived the life I’ve lived, when you’ve loved and suffered, and been madly happy and desperately sad – well, that’s when you realise you’ll never be able to set it all down. Maybe you’d rather die first.

– Judy Garland

 

 

Judy Garland wasn’t born in a trunk and didn’t want to be remembered as a tragic figure. Bernadette Meenach’s Judy Strikes Back attempts to dispel the negative stories surrounding Garland’s life and instead focus on her talent, her work.

 

Meenach is a fine Judy Garland – strong and soulful, and very funny – she gives us one of the better versions of the iconic woman with a good balance of fragility and hard won diva sass. She also acknowledges the other versions, and the actors who created them, dismissing them with a toss of her head and half a wry smile. It’s a very good study of the woman we think we know so well.

 

On the ivories, in role as Garland’s musical director, Mort Lindsay, is Morgan Chalmers, who effortlessly creates the opening magical moments to set the scene, as fingertips connect with keys. The rapport between these two feels authentic.

 

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One of the highlights of the show is We’re A Couple of Swells, which, if you can believe it, is just as gorgeous as if it were Garland and Fred Astaire on stage. The success of this number is largely due to the talent and charm of Patrick Dwyer, whose talent and charm I’d missed until only recently, when he visited the Sunshine Coast earlier this year, stepping into the role of Seb in deBase’s touring production of Fly In Fly Out. At the time I wondered where he’d come from…and what he was doing in that show.

 

It’s great to see and hear a little more from Dwyer in Judy Strikes Back. If he were to jump on the cabaret bandwagon next Dwyer would do all right.

 

Unfortunately, a drag duet doesn’t work quite as well (somehow it’s the wrong song choice) but Dwyer struts and snarls spectacularly well and we enjoy the snarky duel between the two Judies nevertheless.

 

Rather than reveal itself as Garland’s “autobiography hot off the heavenly presses”, or a true tribute complete with fangirl scrapbook of stage door selfies and newspaper clippings, the show veers off course and feels less satisfying when Dwyer removes Meenach’s wig and challenges her to sing Over the Rainbow as herself. I know everyone around me is happy with this ending, I can feel it and I overhear it after the show (“Well, it was set up early! The opening number!”), but it didn’t strike the right chord with me. I wanted to leave with Judy Garland indelibly printed in my mind, and not the actor. It’s as if the magician had revealed her secret.

 

I walked away feeling that the story ended tragically after all because who can ever live up to one’s own expectations???

 

With the first half of the show stronger than the latter, I came to the decision before its conclusion that this was not the piece I thought it was going to be and tried not to be disappointed because NOOSA LONG WEEKEND FESTIVAL PROGRAMMING POSSIBILITIES.

 

All the right questions are posed and if you don’t mind the turn it takes, Judy Strikes Back is a deftly directed cabaret (Director Lewis Jones) worthy of a return season. It could enjoy a little more sparkle though, and if the notion is to draw a parallel between artists, it could do so more clearly, in celebration of the talent, the work, without the apologetic end.

 

Always be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of someone else.

– Judy Garland

 

03
Dec
13

Circa Zoo Showcase

 

Circa Zoo

Judith Wright Centre

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

1 December 2013

 
Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

circa-zoo-showcase-34

 

At last month’s World Theatre Festival 2014 launch, Artistic Director  of Brisbane Powerhouse, Kris Stewart, referred to Brisbane as a circus city. It would seem Ruth Hodgman and Lewis Jones at The Judy agree, with leading Australian contemporary circus group, Circa, having made its home there fro some time.

 

Since 2006, Circa has toured its innovative performances across the globe to critical acclaim. Behind the scenes of its mainstage triumphs, however, is a youth workshop program, and it was its youth performance troupe – Circa Zoo – that was on display last weekend, presenting two shows to an almost full house of supportive audience members, as part of its Training Centre showcase.

 

UpDownUp is an out-the-box style of show, literally, as it features nine nimble performers of various ages emerging from a large box to balance, tumble, flip and manically hula-hoop in a series of gymnastic moves. And while ensemble synchronicity may still be developing, the skill of the young performers is undeniable. Then there is Brink which begins with a single spot-lit dancer as hint of the focussed acts to follow.

 

With lithe movements, performers use the traditions of the circus to impress, particularly through their rope and aerial work. Indeed, the whole show is not so much a circus as a celebration of strength and skill (and balance that would impress any yoga guru).

 

While all performers were given chance to showcase their variety of skills over the Circus Zoo’s 85 minute duration, the show could have been more succinct. Choreography is clichéd at times, however, this suits the comic tones of some routines and the consequential vaudeville flavour is playful and fun. The enigmatic soundtrack, which features both artsy and upbeat remixes of familiar songs is another highlight.

 

Though stripped back in its presentation style, the Circa Zoo showcase revealed plenty of compelling moments.

 

The calibre of talent on show indicates that the future of our circus city is certainly in capable hands.

 

06
Apr
12

april’s fool: return season


This April, the powerful production April’s Fool, based on the 2009 death of Toowoomba teenager Kristjan Terauds, embarks on a national tour.

A startling work of sadness, loss and love, while laced with humour and ultimately optimism, April’s Fool has been based on interviews about Kristjan by local playwright David Burton, with friends and family of the popular youth, who died from complications from illicit drug use just two weeks shy of his 19th birthday.

After its debut season in 2010, young people, parents, teachers, youth workers and theatre critics alike, for its honesty and ability to engage its audience without preaching or lecturing, universally praised April’s Fool.

We asked Writer, David Burton, and Director, Lewis Jones, to tell us about what it means to re-visit this moving play and offer it up to a whole new audience. Rehearsals started last week. Jones said, “It is a little surreal coming back to something, where it is almost entirely the same cast – four out of the five cast members are the same.” The only change of cast we’ll see for this tour is Belinda Raisin replacing Kathryn Marquet.

Jones explains, “The initial creative development process came directly out of the events on which the play is based, in that David Burton began conducting interviews on which to base his verbatim work within four or five months of Kristjan’s death. There were then three intense creative developments between then and the final rehearsal period. The show premiered in July 2010, some fifteen months after Kristjan died. It was a very raw and immediate process for all involved, which I think made its impact very raw and immediate as well.”

Writer, David Burton

Burton notes, “It was originally commissioned by the Empire Theatre Project’s Company. So Lewis Jones, the director, is the brains behind this whole project. I quickly caught Lewis’ passion for the piece and ran with it. When you sit down and hear the story for the first time it’s pretty astonishing, and we had Kristjan’s father’s journal as source material too. Lewis’ passion, along with the family’s desire for positive change in the community, really fueled the project and turned it into what it was.”

Director, Lewis Jones

As Director and the person who had to instigate the production – it was a high-risk undertaking – Jones was not sure how the local community would react. “I knew that it was a story that was both innately theatrical but more importantly, it was a story that needed to be shared. And I feel that this is why it has been received so positively by audiences. It is a story that we share with the audience very gently and with a great deal of love. It is not sensational. It is not ‘dramatic’ in the usual sense of the word.

We have found that audiences appreciate the gentleness and the directness of the storytelling and young people respond very positively to the work, because it respects their ability to make up their own mind. At no point does the play tell them whether to take drugs or not to take drugs; it just tells the story of one boy who took drugs.

At a Conference I was talking to Nicole Lauder who is a close family friend of the Terauds family. At the time, Nicole was General Manager of La Boite Theatre and in asking her how she was, she shared that she had just been up in Toowoomba watching the son of a friend die. She asked if it was time to revisit Margery Forde’s X-Stacy and I suggested that it was probably time for a new work within this genre.

She put me in touch with David, Kristjan’s father who had written a journal entitled ‘April’s Fool’ chronicling the last days of his son’s life. It was a devastating read and I asked if it could form the basis of a new theatre work and very generously the Terauds family gave permission for the development of the work.”

Burton interviewed family members and friends to get the full story. I asked if this was a “difficult” process.

“Difficult is too simple a word. It was one of the most beautiful and awful experiences of my life. It’s still haunting. Obviously you’re sitting with people who are going through massive grief, so it’s very sad. But you really become aware of how much love is in a community, and how much a death can affect so many people. It was never difficult finding people. Overall, people were very willing to come forward and talk quite openly. The community was extremely gracious and generous with their stories.”

The result of such generous, courageous community sharing is a new breed of verbatim theatre. Burton notes, “If I can make up an entirely new label, I’d say April’s Fool is a ‘narrative verbatim’. We were always very focussed on the narrative. We don’t stop too often to really stop and smell the roses and reflect in this play. I always wanted to keep the story moving. So in that sense I think audiences shouldn’t expect a ‘discussion’ about the event that you can see in some verbatim plays. April’s Fool tells you a story. That was always it’s main goal.”

Not an easy story to share.

Even so, neither Jones nor Burton had any misgivings and they remained consultative throughout the process, allowing those interviewed to have a seven-day cooling off period. He says that the immediacy of the interviews was of utmost importance to allow it to be part of the grieving and healing process. Jones observes, “I guess that is how the rehearsal process is different this time. There is a distance from Kristjan’s death. The mood in the rehearsal room is somewhat more reflective. The premiere season had an urgency to it, this remount is perhaps a little gentler, though nonetheless powerful, and it is underpinned with the knowledge that this is a show that has proven its artistic merit and its ability to have a positive impact on the communities where it is performed.”

During the original rehearsal process, Burton says he was involved as much as any writer. “I would pop in every week or so to check in, tweak things and make changes. Lewis Jones and I work extremely well together, so there was the occasional phone call where we’d bounce around ideas. I was there when we showed the parents for the very first time. That was one of the most memorable days of my life. But overall, it was such a pleasure to work with the team.  It’s a superb cast and crew.”

“There were a few key people with this script that really bounced it along,” says Burton. “The most influential was Lewis Jones, along with Christie Tickell and Michael Futcher. There was other advice from the cast along the way too. Theatre’s a collaborative art form, and especially with a piece like this it’s important to remember that you (the writer) actually has very little spiritual ownership of it. So if someone suggests an idea that’s brilliant, who am I to complain? Once again, the team behind this was brilliant, so I always felt the script was in good hands.”

As well as holding an open call for actors who would complete his cast, Jones handpicked Barbara Lowing and Allen Laverty, whose work he had known for many years. “I knew I could trust them with the material,” he said. “There is an added dimension to working on material you know to be real and immediate and all the cast met what I will call the main players over the creative development process, with David Burton perhaps operating as a conduit; he had, after all, conducted the interviews and built close relationships with the family and close friends. The most important thing for the family is summed up by Kristjan’s mother, Helena who said, when asked why she was prepared to let this tragic story be shared, said, ‘If I can stop another mother going through what I have been through, then it is worth it.’”

Interestingly, Kristjan does not appear in the play, nor do we hear his voice. Burton says, “It was an instinct. The very first thing I knew about the play was that it wouldn’t feature Kristjan in any real physical sense. The fact he’s not there is what the play is really about. And an attempt to reenact his life or have someone play him flirts dangerously with bad taste. I kind of really like that by the end of the play you feel like you know Kristjan, but you still feel like he’s incredibly mysterious. I think that’s really important to the piece.”

I wondered what that original opening night would have been like, as a member of that community, as a member of that family…

Burton remembers, “The opening night was huge. It was terrifying. But then the lights went down and it all played out and it was one of the best experiences of my life. We all hung around with the family and the cast and it was a really beautiful symbol of a community coming together. Kristjan’s whole community seemed to be really pleased with it. From there, the play’s had pretty amazing affects. We get feedback from every show that blows us away. It’s changing lives, which is what Kristjan’s parents originally wanted.”

I asked Burton if he thought April’s Fool should be mandatory reading/viewing for high school students. He said, “I’m biased, so of course I think yes. But I certainly don’t think it would hurt! We’ve had people come to this show and say things like ‘I never knew theatre could do that.’ We’ve had teenagers come and then go home to their parents and confess their drug problems that same afternoon. We’ve had several local politicians see the show and say that every teenager and parent should be exposed to it. I think it’s a vital issue, and I do think that there’s very little out there that talks about these issues in quite the way that April’s Fool does. I think it’s rare you get a play like this.”

Original audiences might want to see this production again. “They might want to bring a friend or a young person who is now in the age group who are most deeply affected by these issues, but who was not the last time it can around,” says Jones.

The response from school groups has already been phenomenal. When the government doesn’t show their support for the arts, it’s vital that schools and parents do and it’s pleasing to see so many families, teachers and principals prioritising a student trip to this show.

“They witnessed real characters, real feelings and real reactions. It shocked them, it challenged them, it angered them, it saddened them, it made them laugh and it made them cry. This was the first performance my students have been really passionate about.”

Michelle Radunz, Drama Teacher at Chinchilla State High School

“I was amazed by the rapt attention of the large audience of school students. They appeared to hang on every word. For me, this is clear evidence of the play’s success in reaching its target audience who will hopefully consider and discuss the issues long after the season has finished.”

Katherine Lyall-Watson, ourbrisbane.com

April’s Fool is a real, raw, affecting story but Jones would not describe it as “hard-hitting.” Rather, he explains, it is “remarkably gentle – profound, moving, beautiful, sad. From my perspective it is an act of love. The work opens up discussion on a difficult topic. This work will save lives.”

April's Fool is available at australianplays.org

Kate Foy reviewed the world premiere in Oakey, near Toowoomba, in 2010 and likened the play to – “a piece of art and in form and intention” – a quilt, with its fragments of deep feelings and shared history. I was curious about what made the final cut.

“There were long and very confidential conversations between Lewis Jones and I about certain pieces of information. You’re going to encounter that with any verbatim play. There are some moments in the play that we took a small (and very calculated) risk by including, because we felt they were important. There are other moments that we sacrificed along the way. Sometimes this was because it was information that was too sensitive. But almost all of the time it was simply because a moment didn’t work because of fairly mundane theatrical reasons.

We have to wonder if the experience of telling a difficult story is a cathartic experience for those involved in its telling. Burton notes, “The six or so months that I worked with the family was fantastic. I can’t speak on their behalf of what their emotional experience was like, but I know a lot of them felt positively about it. I think it’s dangerous to assume these things can always be cathartic. Grief is a funny and mysterious beast. For one person it may be ‘cathartic’, for another it can be extremely dangerous. The only reason we ever went ahead with the project was that the family (who have been involved in theatre before and understood what would happen) were so enthusiastic for it. They really wanted it to happen. I feel humbled and honored to be a part of it. It remains one of the things I’m most proud of (creative work or otherwise) in my life.”

Burton is currently writing a couple of plays for school audiences with Grin and Tonic Theatre Company. He’s also writing a new work, which will premiere at the Empire Theatre in Toowoomba in September. “I have a weekly podcast that I do with a mate about arts in Queensland (stuffandthings.com.au) and I’m polishing off a couple of novels that will hopefully see the light of day quite soon.”

As Director of Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre, Jones continues to seek out work that “transcends the ordinary by putting us in touch with the intangible.” He points out, “Yes, that last sentence is not logical. Perhaps it sums up my artistic heart.”

Jones’ support for new work, new talent and the growth of the industry in general does not go unnoticed. He says, “I carry with me a belief in the ability of EVERY one – artist or not – to have their life enriched by the arts. There is a lot of shit that goes on around the arts, and so I like to focus on ‘the work’. In the end it is about connecting artists to audiences and audiences are our masters.

There are audiences out there with a hunger for productions that feed them – perhaps – spiritually and it is our task to make work that transcends the ordinary.

My hope for Queensland is that we continue to acknowledge that we have some brilliant theatre makers and that we have the capacity to take that to audiences near and far – and that we do not need to validate what we do by seeking approval from afar.

It’s about the work and supporting artists to develop business models that allow them to build genuinely sustainable practice.”

Book online to see April’s Fool at the Judith Wright Centre or Nambour Civic Centre