Posts Tagged ‘luke volker

03
Jun
18

BARE

 

BARE

Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

May 25 – June 3 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

BARE in Sydney in 2010 was the first time I’d experienced a professional looking and sounding high school production; it was a fast, shocking, moving show, which Kris Stewart included in that year’s Fringe Festival. It featured a well-trained and super talented young cast, including a couple of triple threats who went on to attend WAAPA. Understudy’s production has its moments, and it certainly doesn’t lack talent (when Oscar’s not playing, Alexander Woodward’s Understudy Productions always attracts the best that Brisbane has to offer), but it’s largely Shaun Kohlman’s show. As seen early in the piece, in Role of a Lifetime, as Peter, the co-ed Catholic schoolboy who falls in love with his best friend, Kohlman captures every nuance of a young gay man in love and in turmoil; he’s completely captivating. Playing opposite him as Jason, the popular athlete and charming leading man in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet, Jason Bentley, with soapie good looks, strong presence, his genuine connection with both the male and female love interests in the story, and his part in the boys’ beautiful duet (Best Kept Secret) can be forgiven for the apparent anomaly of a singular over-the-top anguished moment. I’d prefer to see this underplayed, or managed slightly differently, perhaps giving us less time to question the authenticity and impulse behind his overwhelming emotion. It’s a choice, a Stella moment, and a tough one to sell. 

 

 

Other than a quick, very much appreciated nod to the social and political climate of New Farm, other additions or amendments to the book go unnoticed. It’s a pretty ordinary book. Despite its dated, flimsy feel, at the core of the show’s universal themes are the current local pangs of real-life wounds, still raw, and the knowledge that so many individuals in our communities fight even now for their right to be accepted by family, friends, colleagues, corporations and institutions, despite the big picture success of the yes vote.

 

Claire, and Ivy, played by ABC weather woman Jenny Woodward and Jordan Malone respectively, are considered by others to be perfectly cast. For me, Woodward’s most affecting work is during the heart-wrenching phone call with her son (See Me). Even so, she doesn’t quite go to the edge, and the first phone call at the end of Auditions gives no indication of her long-held maternal suspicion about her son’s sexual preferences, a missed opportunity. Malone’s Portrait of a Girl rings truer than All Grown Up, which is a little forced and nevertheless appears to leave other hearts aching, those hearts having assured me after the show that for them it was raw and emotional and real. Fair enough. We’re probably in agreement over Melissa Western being a pretty fierce and funny Sister Charlotte, delivering razor-sharp one-liners to bring the house down and at the same time, showing genuine sensitivity and concern for the wellbeing of her students. But the music is written for a voice that doesn’t need to flip into a lighter top soprano, and a misguided wardrobe decision makes a distraction of a pair of black pantyhose and a bodysuit in what would otherwise be a sensational Jesus Christ Superstar/Like A Prayer proper gospel number. While Western is the most accomplished performer on stage and delightful in this role, it’s hard to be a sassy and sophisticated Mother Mary in an 80s inspired blue sequinned bodysuit! (Design Raymond Milner). 

 

Sarah Whalen’s Nadia is sadly, beautifully vulnerable beneath her tough and entertaining exterior, and her singing is spot on. Jonathan Hickey (Matt) and Trent Owers (Lucas) also offer convincing performances with Owers’ rap and his unassuming part in the tragic end to the tale making his character a lighthouse for entrepreneurial kids everywhere.

 

The company largely comprises Queensland Conservatorium graduates and they bring with them their gorgeous contemporary vocal style, which boasts a more naturalistic tone and approach, in case you haven’t gotten out much lately and still expect to hear a big Broadway belt in a Brisbane show. (You can hear it in abundance when Patti LuPone comes to QPAC). It’s a refreshing pop-rock sound, brilliant for our performers, who need to be as versatile as possible in an increasingly competitive industry. In fact, the ensemble’s vocal work is stunning from beginning (Epiphany) to end (No Voice, a stirring, inspiring finish), with precision harmonies and a heartfelt message a joy to hear. 

 

 

Stunningly, simply lit by Daniel Anderson, the action takes place beneath abstract stained glass windows and a white cross, putting us firmly beneath these brightly coloured symbols of the ever-watchful eyes of God. Or is it a cruel joke, as God turns a blind eye? All the questions are asked and painfully, the old-school priest offers only Old Testament answers. James Shaw is rather wasted in this role after his impressive performance in RENT but then who else would do just enough here, just as beautifully?

 

Luke Volker (MD and keys) leads a tight band, hidden from sight but who make their presence felt, particularly with the inspired inclusion of cellist, Kate Robinson. Contemporary pop choreography by Madison Lee makes every company number a Britney Spears’ video, with the angst and frustrated aggression of a couple of these numbers, including Confession, suiting some performers better than others. Variations in tempo and dynamic make the rave scene’s Rolling multi-layered and more visually exciting than anticipated. Director, Sue Rider, manages with more aplomb and sensitivity than at other times, these tricky transitions between music video moments and the continuing drama. 

 

BARE is a polished and emotionally charged production, thanks to the high calibre of artists on stage and off, and it feels like the next stepping stone for this ambitious company. It was an ideal inclusion in this year’s MELT Festival program. The too-brief season concludes tonight with an extra performance due to solid bookings before the show had even opened. We are clearly craving more of this style of work, and happy to embrace the stories selected by savvy young indie producers as our own. I can’t wait to see what Woodward does with his Spring Awakening (we saw Oscar do it best in 2011). Book early for it because going by the general response, Understudy Productions continues to challenge and satisfy both artists and audiences. 

 

 

ONE HEART

ONE LOVE

ONE LOVE, ONE LIGHT

ONE LIGHT, ONE TRUTH

ONE TRUTH, ONE LIFE

ONE VOICE