Posts Tagged ‘MELT Festival


Boys of Sondheim


Boys of Sondheim

Brisbane Powerhouse & Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

February 2 – 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I was a little bemused by the collateral for this one, a highlight of this year’s MELT Festival. Surely Stephen Sondheim is only recently recognised as “one of the most significant gay artists of the 20th Century”? I grew up with his music and have always recognised him as an artist. I don’t have people within my circles for whom this distinction is anything other than a source of pride and solidarity. MELT has a sense of wonderful community about it, which is typical at Brisbane Powerhouse, regardless of the programming; it’s my favourite venue as much for its vibe as its unlimited possibilities for performance and socialising, but during this festival there’s always something a little more electric (and eclectic) than usual. The energy is super charged and the collective pride shared by the artists and patrons during this time each year makes for an even more appreciative audience, and closer connections. The ‘standard’ of the stuff on show seems to be largely inconsequential. What it comes down to is this: we just want to hear our stories.

Sondheim’s music is some of the most intricate and difficult EVER. It’s not just about hitting the notes (nothing ever is), and given the chance to perform it, most artists will leap in the general direction and enthusiastically “perform” the piece. Some will even sell their song and earn heartfelt applause, and even fewer will leave someone in their audience in tears, or breathless and aching for…something that’s perhaps just out of reach.

Sometimes I do a heap of research and read about previous productions, and their creators and directors and artists, I peek at what the critics have noted, I ask friends what they think, I catch up with the artists or message them to get a sense of where they’re coming from and what they want us to get out of the work. But this is a brand new work, a world premiere, and there’s no precedent except for every other celebration of Sondheim’s music ever. This is certainly a celebration, a tribute to one of the defining voices of musical theatre and mostly, an interesting and entertaining night out, but it’s not all I’d hoped it would be. After a brief development period, the show lacks the polish it needs to win us over completely. It has some heart and some guts, and it’s a great vehicle for its talented performers, but I’d like to see it again in 6 or 9 months time when it might know better what it wants to be.

A narrative penned by Anthony Nocera offers us mostly amusing fleeting glimpses of some of the joys and pitfalls of gay dating and loving and living. Not unlike Dean Bryant’s GAYBIES, the structure relies heavily on these brief monologues, delivered in turn by the actors, to break up the musical numbers, an assortment of somebody’s favourite songs, loosely stitched together in an it’s-interesting-to-be-gay overarching way. Unfortunately, towards the end, the narrative breaks up one of Sondheim’s greatest accomplishments and Being Alive is brought to a painful death by continual interruptions. This makes it almost impossible for Tim Carroll to build the song and bring it to its bitter sweet soaring end, and makes me wonder, why?

With only a few shows in this short season, the opening number needed to be ready for opening night, and the insecurity or reticence or something of three quarters of the cast members makes the first 8-10 minutes ever so slightly uncomfortable. This is so weird, because they’re all fantastic performers, but the music is challenging and the lesser known songs don’t help to win us over. I love Kurt Phelan’s choreography, utilising the catwalk and the narrow space in front of a gay-mancave-bar, the conceit being that these guys have gathered in someone’s home for a lovely champagne catch up.

Kurt Phelan, Sean Andrews, Stephen Hirst, Alexander Woodward and Tim Carroll certainly go to some lengths to expose the “soulful, masculine underbelly” of Sondheim’s work as well as much of the comedy (Hirst’s (Not) Getting Married Today is sidesplittingly funny), but we know there’s more to this lovely little show and I can’t wait to see it reborn and restaged sometime.


First Things First


First Things First

Brisbane Powerhouse & Joseph Simons

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

February 10 – 13 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



Joseph Simons is the most extraordinary performer, celebrating in his original one-man show First Things First the human form, and a series of firsts, failures and the simple joy that is to be discovered in the small successes of everyday life. We watch in awe, his fluid movement and subtle transformations revealing a thousand characters in one as he shares engaging and entertaining stories that feel familiar and at the same time are undeniably this performer’s personal experience in the world. 


In First Things First complex choreographic sequences stem from the tiniest observation of the immediate surroundings, the intimate space of the Visy Theatre opened up, stripped back, and baring its soul too. The show was created within the confines of a room during a snow storm in Berlin. So you can imagine. Moments are imbued with frantic pent-up energy and the stunning calm of the artist in contemplation of the world around him.


A white floor is made a work of art before we even enter the space, preset with black pieces of clothing – jeans, leggings, jocks, shirts, a bra, a velvet hat – and one by one the items are tossed into a pile in the corner, just as so many memories and aspects of life are discarded. It might not even be a metaphor… A mobile clothes rack stands empty except for a red t-shirt on a black plastic hanger, and used throughout as if it were the prop selected for a crazy improv game.

Simons is relaxed, greeting us outside the Visy Theatre. OH, HI! We’re wearing sticky name tags and he encourages us to meet someone new, to mingle. I cheat and catch up with Zoe Tuffin, we have a great chat before the show starts. But the show has clearly started already with this easy intro and I’m intrigued by Simon’s effortless engagement with everyone he meets, his openness and the obvious joy he finds in the act of sharing something of which he’s proud, and so humble about.


Last week Simons was our Associate Director on GAYBIES and on closing night I told him that of course he must keep directing; his intuition and care when working with actors are things that can’t be taught. And now I feel like telling him, forget it! Keep performing while you can! Because this is his first gift.

What Simons gifts to us is the experience of life and love and laughter, in every breath, every twitch and turn of his head, every look, every wink, every extension, every pointed toe. He’s simply stunning to watch. 

The intricate choreographic sequences start small, the ordinary made extraordinary through keen observation, bold exaggeration and committed repetition. One particular sequence, more complex and rigorous than the rest, is repeated three times, involving incredibly controlled floor work, and balance and precision to make us marvel at the technique and exalt in the emotion so freely and generously explored.


A tale that we can only assume would be too long and too detailed to tell over drinks becomes a masterclass in the telling, frustrating and hilarious and gorgeous. It’s fine comedy and brilliant theatre, breaking up the demanding physical routines and, as if we were not already enamoured with Simons, successfully drawing us into his world.


Simons takes a “drinks break”, explaining unapologetically that all the best cabaret performers do so, and then opens the camera on his phone to take a photo of the audience. He’s already named individual audience members in the opening sequence, over a pre-recorded list of celebrity names, and he remembers everyone with whom he spoke before the show, greeting them, acknowledging their part in his story all over again. It binds us, bonds us, makes us one person watching another incredible person.

This 80-minute performance is like nothing I’ve ever seen, which in itself is thrilling. Simons is completely charismatic, and ever changing and evolving, challenging us to even try to keep up with his discovery of life’s bewildering and amazing things; he is child-like and wise and cheeky.

An accomplished dancer who can also sell a story vocally and physically, and move an entire audience from laughter to the sting of tears and back again is a rare thing; it attracts attention. Simons demonstrates solid commitment to story and character, and superior talent as a dancer. His experience of “firsts” is a delightful discourse on the simplest, loveliest things in life, and so expertly delivered in such an entertaining and authentic context, I could easily watch it again.


Appalling Behaviour


Appalling Behaviour

Brisbane Powerhouse & Wax Lyrical Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio

February 10 – 13 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


We deliberate over sitting in the front row or hiding up the back like naughty school kids on the bus. The back row wins, mostly because the Turbine Studio is such a tiny space and it’s possible to be too close to the performer here. I feel like we’ve made the right choice. We’ll behave. Promise. But wait! I spot our friend seated a couple of rows in front and call out to her. She hitches up her skirt and clambers over the chairs to join us before a couple of the boys from Wax Lyrical’s Carrie settle next to me. It’s practically the after party before the show’s begun. (The boys have brought in a couple of drinks each because ONE MAN SHOW. And who ever knows what we’re in for at a festival?).


We’re laughing and chatting as the lights dim, and I have to turn away from the conversation and tune into the guitar and vocals of Silvan Rus, who has singularly established the Parisian bohemian street scene as we entered the space, without the help of a set or lighting state. The painting propped on an easel on stage is of a Parisian scene, boasting a red umbrella held by a couple in an embrace by the Seine, but we knew we were going to be in Paris and just…why is it there? And why are the Playschool blocks covered in newspaper? The nondescript design has me stumped so I decide to stop thinking about it. Rus continues to play throughout, effectively underscoring the show and providing the backing for well-placed lines of dialogue to be made lyrical. The moments of song break up the extended monologue, which tells the tale of a homeless, friendless, hopeless (hopelessly romantic) junkie.

Tom Markiewicz appears, unfurling from a position on stage, although because we’d been in entertaining (each other) mode in the back row I hadn’t seen him there until now. He’s tall and slender, superbly, elegantly tragic in a long black dress, with mascara tears permanently running down his cheeks and red lippy that’s slipped and smudged. He’s dishevelled without losing all dignity, and would have looked the bomb before the rain and hash and drinks took effect. This proudly worn forlorn appearance sets the tone of the show. We know it won’t be a happy ending…


AWGIE Award winning Stephen House, playwright and the original performer of the piece, offers a voice to the voiceless, the lost, the forgotten… Having lived on the streets of Paris himself, and observing homeless people all over the world, House was able to write with raw honesty and rare insight, and the poignancy of one who is able to empathise.

This adaptation, directed by Wax Lyrical’s Shane Pike, offers a view of homelessness and hopelessness through a younger, brighter (though blurred) lens and the production suffers slightly for it. It has the potential to read as a slower burning, much darker, more devastating and directly affecting piece. It’s not that this reading misses the mark, it’s just that I would like to have seen an even greater challenge tackled by actor and director, to tread warily through this incredible story until we’re taken right to the edge of a precipice… It’s not quite shocking enough to drive home the harsh reality of the story, and the homelessness almost gets lost in the complexities of the issues that contribute to that very state.


Perhaps the interpretation of the text and the creation of the role were challenges enough, and that’s fine. A whole generation might have connected more deeply than I. Having said that, Markiewicz is a charismatic performer, bold and beautiful to watch, and I certainly felt a connection, which is rare because few performers are confident enough to meet your eye. Many will select a spot just above you or beyond you, avoiding committing to gazing right at you. Markiewicz gazes, seduces, locking eyes with me and others a number of times throughout the performance, justifying his existence and lamenting about having nothing more valuable to offer us, with which he might prove his worth, or actually contribute to society. We feel his failures mounting and we recognise, if we stop and reflect, our own gratitude for the people who take an interest in us, for the roof over our heads, the food on our table, the drinks in our hands. It’s not a show that’s unsettling enough to make me shift in my seat – there’s not quite enough light and shade (and less ebb than flow) – but the poetic language jars and shocks us occasionally enough to make us sit up and, without pitying him or feeling as if we can reach out in some way, at least take note of our own fortunate place in the world.


Despite the heavy content there are some lighter moments, quite lovely moments, including fond references to the various people and places of Paris, and enamoured prose describing the object of his affection, a pretty whore he refers to as the “Paris Princess”. As the object of another’s affection – or dubious attention – he falls prey to Romano, who must also…survive.

Pike and Markiewicz have teased out a gentle new take on the text. Within this demanding 55-minute performance there are a number of sublime moments, and yet others that would fall flat if it were not for the conviction of the performer. Let’s see this work developed further, and see it again.





Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

February 3 – 6 2016


Reviewed by Simon Denver




Verbatim theatre. Bite sized morsels of humanity whose sum of all parts give a well rounded theatrical presentation based on a particular event or theme. It can work particularly well, as in this case, when the performers let the words lead. The power will always be in the honesty of the words; overt characterisation mustn’t distract. In Verbatim theatre the actors are the backing and the words are the lead. In GAYBIES we heard the stories of growing up with a same sex parents. (Well – same sex parents, surrogate mums and donor dads). The people interviewed ranged from 4 year old to 40 year old. This gave fantastic scope for the ensemble of 18.


Statistics may say that children of same sex parents make up such a small fraction of society – but that does not detract from the relevance of this work. As I mentioned earlier – society is the sum of all parts. We, as individuals, have an almost moral duty to research, examine or at least familiarise ourselves with as many of those working parts of life as possible – No matter how the findings might be at odds with our “white bread 2.2 children” view of life. In fact, having same sex marriage as a political issue de jour only amplifies this production’s relevance.


For over seventy minutes we were presented with stories. Honest stories and clear memories.


Too embarrassed to tell your friends your parents are gay. An awkward scenario. But then again, lots of people have always been embarrassed to tell their friends that their parents were Nudists / Mormons / Swingers / National Party Members etc. The charades of truth (“If anyone asks I sleep in this room and Bob sleeps in that room”). But then again, what family doesn’t play out its charade of little white lies? The more stories that flooded the stage the more you realised that these stories were running a parallel course to most people’s stories. Finding so many touchstones within such a small statistic can only serve to humanise as oppose to demonise. It was a gentle reminder that whether parents are the same sex, (or from different religions, race, creed or colour for that matter), in the end it doesn’t matter. A house of love and laughter can only come from love at its core.



By default or design the limited two-day rehearsal period meant scripts on stage were going to be a necessity. But a two-day rehearsal period with the calibre of the cast involved was always going to make this a very up-market rehearsed reading. Quite a tough brief really. Find the natural flow and rhythms of the words yet continually have to remind your self what the words are. Personally I thought those almost rhythmic glances at the scripts constantly reinforced the fact that these were someone else’s stories. I suppose its like the subtitles in a foreign film. If the film is good you don’t notice that you are reading. The words are not those of professional writers. They are the words of the average man / woman very creatively “cut and pasted” together by Dean Bryant. It was a great “ensemble” piece. And the ensemble did a mighty job. The direction by Kris Stewart was as much as can be expected from a two day rehearsal. Again, without the time to be flash, complex, personal or brave, the direction seemed to merely be there to set the words free.


All in all it was an incredibly feel good journey.


The Ensemble itself consisted of professional actors and social / media commentators. With that in mind it’s unfair and impossible to single any individual out .. .. .. .. .. (Damn! Can’t back that up! Margi Brown Ash’s four-year-old on a bike was the show stopper for me. Still chuckling at that little gem days later). They were a unified front and they were all on the same page. For that I say to them all – Thank you. So Barbara Lowing, Bec Zanetti, Blair Martin, Kurt Phelan, Libby Anstis, Lizzie Moore, Brad Rush, Brittany Francis, Christopher Wayne, Margi Brown Ash, Pam Barker, Pat O’Neil, David Berthold, Emily Gilhome, Gordon Hamilton, Rebecca McIntosh, Xanthe Coward, Michael James, Dean Bryant, Kris Stewart, Joseph Simons and Jason Glenwright .. .. when you get a moment, give yourselves a pat on the back. You collectively acheived a great thing.


However, (and there are always howevers) .. ..


GAYBIES slapped the face of the economic rational of current theatre. It was the first time for a while where I witnessed a professional stage creaking, groaning and crammed with performers. Does this mean if we want quality and quantity we can only expect it from Verbatim Theatre? Is the future for large cast rehearsed readings? It’s sad that the size of the average cast is dwindling. It’s even sadder that the cast size can dictate any artistic process. So thank you Brisbane Powerhouse for giving us a brief respite from the so-called “economic reality”.


I thought the production was a tad too long and perhaps a couple of performers too many. I thought the music was beautiful and exceptionally well delivered but I had difficulty marrying it to the words and stories. My main criticism was quite simply that it was preaching to the converted. It was a safe option to stage it during the MELT festival (A Celebration of Queer Arts and Culture).

This production needs to jump its rails and be taken to the wider community. It needs to be seen by the detractors not the sympathisers. I feel it is the perfect vehicle to confront those who passively or covertly or overtly demonise anything gay. This plays humanity is undeniable.

Finally I felt it only took or was told good, warm and fuzzy stories. Nothing is perfect, nothing is 100%. I would just liked to have heard one negative experience, as I am sure there are, have been and will be.


But the last few comments aside, it was a great night out. I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect but I left the Powerhouse smiling .. .. and thinking. Thank you to all concerned. Well worth the 200k return trip from the Sunshine Coast.






I Might Take My Shirt Off


I Might Take My Shirt Off

Brisbane Powerhouse & Sharpened Axe

Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Platform

February 13 – 14 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward






Dash Kruck is an absolute starry star. A dead set legend. A really funny, talented guy.


His debut cabaret show, I Might Take My Shirt Off, is by far the best we’ve seen for a loooong time on the scene, which you might be forgiven for feeling, is a little flooded at the moment. Let’s face it. CABARET IS STILL THE NEW BLACK. We see so much of it, and so much of it is raved about that when a particularly well written, tightly structured and superbly delivered show hits our stages it’s noted. Not only duly noted, but already returning to Brisbane Powerhouse later this year it seems, if the Facebook comments are anything to go by…



“I wanna bring your show back, yo.”

Kris Stewart



TRANSPARENCY. SO IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW #teamgooding #illridewithneil


Directed by Emily Gilhome, I Might Take My Shirt Off, shares Lionel’s struggles in love and life, as he pens and performs an original cabaret show at the advice of his hilariously OTT German Nazi-therapist. FACE THE FEAR. Everyone knows cabaret is terrifying, and this is a thrilling show because THERE IS REAL FEAR THERE. Or so it seems. Dash is so convincing in the role that there are times throughout the evening when we actually hold our collective breath and think, “God I hope he’ll get it!”




Stories of sex, booze, boys and mythical beasts abound. Original songs by Dash and Chris Perren are diverse in style and consistent in quality. There’s not a dull number among them, each has its place and purpose. THERE’S EVEN A HIT SINGLE BALLADY TYPE NUMBER. YES, BALLADY IS A WORD. (I expect to see this soundtrack available for purchase on iTunes next year. Yes, I do). Dash is well respected as an actor and singer (we loved him in A Tribute of Sorts, Spamalot, Spring Awakening, Jesus Christ Superstar, [Title of Show] and the Matilda Awards named him Best Emerging Artist in 2007 and Best Actor in 2012). This show is the perfect vehicle to take him to the next level, put him on the circuit, and get him into the elusive, illustrious INNER CIRCLE OF CABARET.


I think I said this about his performance in [Title of Show] –

“On stage, Dash Kruck totes stole the show for me, with his endearingly cheeky, naughty approach to, well, everything in life. His Broadway moves and his ability to connect with those on stage and off. I’m confident I can recommend you go see anything at all that Dash appears in. This includes his kitchen when he is washing the dishes and IGA when he is doing the grocery shopping. Dash is bound to make any event just as entertaining.”






As tender and wonder filled as it is funny, and as skillfully built as any headline act that might come to us with far more fanfare, I Might Take My Shirt Off is a real contender for the bigger festivals, and could do with a return tour after a stint somewhere like, oh I don’t know, OFF-BROADWAY. If you experienced it you know that’s not too far-fetched. It’s so meta too, that theatre and cabaret students (and their teachers) should be in the back row taking notes at every performance. As Lionel ticks off all the elements of the genre, using his devastating break up tale to pull us through the ringer with him, I hear a whispered comment behind me that signals hope for the masses: “So this is cabaret… It’s great! I like it!” HOORAY!




My favourite parts of the show involve a martini and a dragon. Not at the same time. But I love the implicit 007ness of one and I’m swept away by the mythos of the other, not to mention impressed by Dash’s command of the vocals. I think of Anthony Warlow’s performance in The Secret Garden of Race You To the Top of the Morning (just go to the link and let it play while you read on, because there is no I Might Take My Shirt Off Live at Brisbane Powerhouse recording…yet). Like Elise McCann as Lucille Ball, Dash is confident enough to take his time and allow us to suffer vicariously through him. We believe every word…and every strategically placed awkward pause. N.B. Sitting towards the back of the crowd doesn’t mean Dash won’t see you and invite you to be…involved.




Dash demonstrates complete trust in the genre and in his wide-ranging ability. A great director will help a performer to realise the possibility of success from the outset. These two – Dash Kruck and Emily Gilhome – are a good match of talent, intellect and guts. To pull off a first attempt at cabaret so convincingly, is a pretty clear indicator that Dash Kruck is here to stay. But perhaps not here here to stay. Dash can take this show anywhere, and like Rumour Has It, Wrecking Ball, and The Divine Miss Bette, I’ll happily see it again and again. There is substance here, and a magical alchemy, which turns crazy late-night gin-conceptualised ideas into theatrical GOLD. I do hope Dash enjoys performing this show as much as we enjoy seeing it, because we’re going to keep demanding it!




For more outrageously funny stuff at Brisbane Powerhouse check out the Brisbane Comedy Festival! Until March 22 2015.


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