Posts Tagged ‘Liz Buchanan





Queensland Theatre

QPAC Cremorne

August 3 – 31 2019


Review by Shannon John Miller



On stage of the Cremorne theatre, we see an expansive set courtesy of designer, Dale Ferguson—the cross section of an interior modern apartment; a white, ultra-modern nexus dynamically flattened and yet bubbling with little staircases, mezzanines, doorways to other rooms, impractical geometric shelving and uncomfortable looking modern furniture. It is impressive but sterile and ironically uninhabitable.


Middle-income, generation-X, Brisbane couple, Rooster (Andrew Buchanan) and Meg (Liz Buchanan) have treated themselves, after 12 years of being together, to a well-deserved, dream holiday in Paris; a week away from the daily grind of their lives and their three-year-old twin daughters. They’re hoping to reconnect with each other in the City of Lights— the City of Love; Paris.




Rooster is a physical education teacher. He’s funny, playful and earthy. His wife, Meg is a retail assistant for a business that sells Chinese imitations of contemporary furniture. She’s also familiar with a relatable sense of meekish modesty. They’ve arranged to stay at a classy Airbnb in the heart of Paris, and we’re privy to the handover by the hosts; upwardly mobile young French couple, Serge (Pacharo Mzembe) and Lea (Melanie Zanetti).


Serge is dashing, fit and his work involves curing cancer. Lea, his partner is angelic, sophisticated and happens to be a photographer for National Geographic. Both are attractive, intellectual, well-connected, up-and-coming professionals with an impressive CV of humanitarian and environmental sensitives. They’re millennials living an almost impossible life of affluence and social mobility. Of what their minimalist tastes allow, nothing in their apartment is by chance, everything is carefully selected for its excellence and distinction, including a bottle of valuable wine sourced from a friend’s boutique vineyard which they gift to the Aussies.



Over a couple of drinks, Lea and Serge reveal that they’re going to help build a well for a third world village. They also warn the couple that they’re not to smoke in the apartment and that a package will be delivered while they’re away. They leave, and Rooster and Meg are finally left to enjoy their holiday. However, in the aftermath of the interaction, Meg has been altered, and is sent spinning off in a direction of self-reflective remorse. She’s critical of the French couple’s conspicuous pretentions and sense of style; intimidated by their overachieving and social status.


These petty jealousies however lead to inroads of much darker dissatisfactions as the couple bicker over unresolved conflicts and unrealised, forgotten ambitions. Meg’s unfulfilled, working in an unskilled field, out of alignment with her true purpose. She’s been a devoted wife and mother. One of their daughters has a learning impairment. In comparison, everything seems to have fallen into place for French Lea, a childless millennial who’s followed her dreams and is living her best life.



Meg feels as though she’s compromised and directs this blame at Rooster, chastising him for having too simpler goals; for not being more assertive, further provoking unprocessed issues. Their relaxing holiday soon becomes a miserable exploration of the couples’ loss of self-actualisation.


As Rooster attempts to save the mood, Meg seems hellbent on sabotaging the trip. And perhaps they’ve always argued this way, or perhaps it’s because they’ve momentarily stepped outside the 12-year vacuum of their domestic ignorance to discover in Serge and Lea, parallel versions of what could have been. Nevertheless, a mysterious parcel arrives, and when the French couple return a laughable war of opposing ideologies ensues.



Director and playwright Joanna Murray-Smith has masterfully built a world, which, while it is an ostensible comedy of errors where two opposing forces come together, has much darker satirical undercurrents.


It’s about the language of privilege and the middle-classes arming themselves with moral outrage; the new language of distinction and social mobility. It’s about the west’s pre-occupation with ethnicity, of the casual racism that punctuates our day-to-day interactions, the façade of authenticity in a world of good intentions, fake news and fake furniture, and of misguided understandings of political correctness and indigeneity. Aptly, the program notes say that L’Appartement is a “comedy that asks if good intentions are the ultimate crime of the middle class”.


We see ourselves in every character as the players ride their natural instincts so expertly and as playwright Murray-Smith holds a mirror up to the audience. Characters draw false equivalencies, moralise naïvely on misappropriated indigenous culture, matters of taste, and other currencies of the middle-class. While both couples are just as equally privileged, they fight over the scraps of political correctness, attempting to out-do each other in the arena of virtue signalling.


L’Appartement is a marvellously devilish work, laugh-out-loud funny, wry, cleverly serious, and successfully epitomises the pitfalls of social politics in modern society.




Harvest Rain Theatre Company

22nd June – 1st July 2012

QPAC Playhouse 

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

There seem three certainties when it comes to music theatre

1. The hair can never be big enough

2. The costumes can never be bright enough

(And in the words of Tracy Turnblad),

3.”You can’t stop the beat!”.

Well you most definitely could not stop the toes from tapping at the opening night of Hairspray by Harvest Rain Theatre Company on Saturday night as a packed Playhouse Theatre was swept up by the beat and left dancing in the aisles from the moment the curtain rose.

Set in 1962, Hairspray follows the story of plump teenage dreamer Tracy Turnblad as she realises her dream of dancing on the Corny Collins Show. As a consequence she wins the heart of teen idol Link Larkin and causes quite the kafuffle with her ‘hair-brained’ idea of equality and racial acceptance, inadvertently making her the face of integration. Throw in some catchy songs, good ol’ corny comedy and a whole lot of dancing, and you have an uplifting shout out to love, equality and all things good.

For all its catchy melodies and tongue in cheek humor, there are some pretty strong themes embedded in this production. Director Tim O Conner does not shy away from the more serious side of the musical and for that I am grateful, it adds just enough grit to give the production the weight it needs to legitimise its message and remain accessible and entertaining. It is the universal message of love that permeates the heart of this show however and resonates with its widely diverse audience.

The set design (Josh McIntosh) is the first thing that grabs my attention as the show opens with a cartoon-esque bed from which Tracy sings her opening number, a great visual effect and one that is matched tastefully and effectively throughout the show by a simple yet effective lighting design (Jason Glenwright) and theatrical costuming. Choreographer Callum Mansfied is to be praised for creating an engaging visual spectacle that truly maximizes the talents of the cast and provides a high energy and seamless production, allowing the chorus to bring a vibrant energy and demonstrate some great comic characterization. Likewise, Musical Director Maitlohn Drew delivers a musically vibrant score with drive and sensitivity to both the style and pace of the production.

The principal cast handle the demands of this high energy show expertly and with a great sense of ensemble. Casey McCollow as Tracy Turnblad is an engaging performer with a secure vocal sound and innate comic timing that characterizes the role skillfully. Playing opposite as love interest Link Larkin, Dakota Striplin is equally at ease vocally, with a wonderful timbre and energy to his sound. A capable and practiced performer, Striplin’s teenage-crooner look is a perfect match for the role, and overall he delivers a strong and likeable performance.

Simon Gallaher is a predictable crowd favourite as Tracy’s mother, Edna Turnblad, and has the audience in stitches with his clever characterisation and sharp comic timing. Vocally, he manages the role with poise and refinement, indulging the audience with Edna’s amusing duet with Husband Wilbur (Gary Jones). Opposite Gallaher, Jones gives an entertaining and likeable performance as Wilbur Turnblad, bringing a comic clownish physicality to the role that is balanced by a comfortable vocal.

The charismatic Heidi Enchelmaier is goofily likeable as Penny Pingleton and quickly becomes a favourite with her wonderful physicality and commitment to the role. Playing opposite William Moyunuu as Seaweed is a capable performer with a rich velvety lower register and great commitment to character, although at times I felt a little more energy was needed in his sound and delivery of text, which became a little hard to understand and muffled over the music. Together they create an onstage chemistry that is natural and wonderfully believable.

Astin Blaik plays the ditsy and mean spirited Amber Von Tussle, and is engaging and consistent in her characterization topped with a wonderfully diva-like vocal tone. Playing Amber’s mother Velma Von Tussle; Liz Buchanan is elegantly snooty and possesses a wonderfully smoky vocal colour that gives the character just a touch of the femme fatale. Tod Strike is as cool as Guy Smiley in the role of Corny Collins, and delivers an elegant and refined characterisation of the popular TV host with a vocal presence that is secure and equally as charming.

For me the standout performance from the night was Rachel Dunham in the role of Motormouth Maybelle. Aside from the Act 2 knockout solo I Know Where I’ve Been that showcased her rich, legitimate and heart-wrenching vocal, Dunham consistently gave an honest and vibrant onstage energy that enlivened each of her scenes. An absolutely captivating performer who made this role her own.

So what are my final thoughts? Hairspray is the embodiment of a fun yet socially significant musical. From the spine-tingling moments of sincerity to the sugary sweet and boppy tunes that will be stuck in your head for days on end, it’s a lot of meaningful fun and Harvest Rain do it complete justice. And while driving home I did feel a little nauseous and in need of some heavy metal music or hard core indie art to balance the equilibrium, the closing number kept ringing in my ears and bringing a little smile to my lips…apparently you really can’t stop the beat!


Handle With Care

On Friday night, another little Brisbane company held a big event. Well, it was not as big as I’d expected; not the flash affair I’d imagined (though there was champagne for the mama! And juice and a dance floor – read the floor – for the daughter)! Megan Shorey and Joymas Creative held a launch night for the original cast recording of Megan’s new musical, Handle With Care. This is a show written by a woman, performed by women, for women. I know. Megan and her director, Mr Lewis Jones and their exquisitely collected cast will almost certainly argue that. Regardless, that’s how I’m callin’ it; the men may have to listen a little bit harder to this show to appreciate its many layers. Allow me to challenge me, on what I’ve said there by including here, Megan’s note to ALL:

Handle With Care does not suggest to prove a point or to right any wrongs but rather to pose some questions that may resonate in you, our listener. If you love a woman: mother, sister, daughter, friend or lover, you will have shared at least some of this journey with her. Because although we may confuse you or challenge the world with everything we both desire and deserve, we still just want to be loved and handled with care.

But wait. Before we go any further, just in case you didn’t feel the need to click on the link just there, here’s the preview:

There is SO much in this musical, so many layers, so many roles and stories represented – those mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, friends and lovers – that there really has got to be just about something for everyone. The lyrics are precise, sometimes to the point of too-much-information and they come from that deep place of joy and hurt and rapture and confusion and anger and frustration and elation and JOY. In short, this is a show comprised of four mini musicals…….”Celebrating the beauty and bitch of being a woman”.

N.B. I did not see this show! I wish I had done. I might feel differently about some of the numbers.

The first two tracks disappeared for me, got left behind by the harmonies and collective emotional strength of the third; Invisible. Perhaps it took me that long to get into the form, like reading the subtitles again after you’ve been brain dead (BRAAAAAINS)* in front of Channel 10 for an evening. That’s true. That’s what happened this evening, before the Twitter friends suggested I turn over to see the new Sherlock, which was, incidentally, AWESOME! Anyway, the next track on the album, Ally Hit the Jackpot, reminded me of my cousin’s gorgeous sounds during her days as Aneiki – powerful groovy girl pop with a dash of barely disguised vulnerability and a sense of revenge! Love ya, Jen!

And then we have Easily Bruised, showcasing Kat McIntyre’s real, raw hurt and real strong voice. Incidentally, Kat and Bradley McCaw gave us a sneak preview of Hum – Becoming Bill. See it if you can, next week at the Judith Wright Centre, at this early stage of the creative development process, a-la off-Broadway. It’s so exciting to see somebody committing the time and the energy to do this in Brisvegas. I know I’d love to see Handle With Care re-staged, with the addition of a great book. It’s possible. It may be what they’re working on now. I don’t know, I forgot to ask while Megan was signing Poppy’s CD. But look, anything’s possible; this is the workshop process. Just call the Judy off-off-off-off-Broadway!

I have to say, the Silk Powersuit section, about the (intentionally) stereotypical corporate woman, kinda lost me and I need to listen to it again because the Sunshine Coast’s Sarah Knight‘s voice is just lovely and maybe I’ve missed something in her journey there. Maybe I couldn’t quite relate. Maybe I was too excited in the lead up to Liz Buchanan and Rachel Dunham sharing the last couple of numbers! In the staged production, one woman stands holding a baby in her arms while the other stands holding nothing. I Cry Just Like a Newborn is absolutely beautiful. Almost very Rent. Almost perfect to sing out of context next year for a very special occasion. But more on that later. Leave it with me. I shall first seek permission to use this poignant piece and then let you know more.

This song is the only song that brought tears to my eyes (and you know how I like to get totes involved and walk out of the theatre with tears streaming down my face and…oh, wait. Ok, so I forgot; this time I was in the kitchen just listening to the CD). ANYWAY, the tears stuck around right through the last number: the title track, with all it’s discordant, layered, staggered harmonies from the entire ensemble. I know. There is bound to be a musically correct, technical term for that particular choral trick, which I’m sure Megan will tell me; until then I don’t know it. I don’t do choirs. Anymore.

I love lots about Handle With Care. I particularly love the end of it. The message is clear. There is closure, no matter how confronted or challenged you’ve felt previously.

Because of the show’s strengths, I feel like I need to love the opening of this show a whole lot more. There somehow needs to be a stronger opening – a prelude – and I feel like, at some point in the middle somewhere, my attention lapsed; I was not feeling compassion or empathy or even sympathy. I needed something or someone to break it up again, mix it up again. Something with the harmonies again? Too many layers somewhere? I know I will be asked to pinpoint that part of the show! It’ll come to me…

I also feel like…there should be a film option……SHOTGUN. HA! No, really; just let me do the screenplay. Really.

Clearly, this show made me feel a lot, even without seeing it on stage. It makes me want to see it on stage. Even the soundtrack recordings of Jane Eyre and Grey Gardens don’t make me want to see the shows on stage except to say here that I’ve seen the shows. On. Stage. Wow. My sister will kill me for saying something so sacrilegious about her beloved Grey Gardens!

You can buy Handle With Care at or

I feel like this is just the next big first thing from a very ambitious little company. Keep an eye (and an ear) out for everything Joymas Creative’s Megan Shorey is working on. It’s gonna be good.

* It’s just that Brisbane’s Zombie Walk took place – without me – today.