Posts Tagged ‘MTC


Jasper Jones


Jasper Jones

Queensland Theatre & MTC

QPAC Playhouse

August 3 – 18 2018


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward





In the sizzling summer of 1965, a bookish 14 year-old boy flees from the boredom and bullying of small-town life by burying himself in stories of epic adventure. He never thought he’d find himself living one. Charlie Bucktin lives in a tiny, insignificant bush town where nothing happens. Nothing, that is, until Jasper Jones stumbles upon a gruesome crime out by the dam. Who else would he call on for help but the sharpest kid around?


A midnight tap at Charlie’s window sparks a race to solve a murder and clear Jasper’s name.




A superb re-staging of the MTC production, adapted by Kate Mulvany and directed by Sam Strong, this Jasper Jones will satisfy. Brisbane’s opening night audience leapt to their feet, in the stalls at least, not even waiting for the final moment to sink in, in appreciation of the talent on stage and off. This tends to happen on opening night! And sometimes it’s best to see a different performance, once the season has started. With a stellar cast and creative team, Strong’s telling of Craig Silvey’s darkly disturbing small town story of intolerance, abuse, suspicion and suicide, is made surprisingly light and broadly appealing. It’s chilling in its true-crime flavour, but a distinctly Australian sense of humour prevails, both in the book and on stage, largely due to Kate Mulvany’s instinctive adaptation.



I miss the underlying moodiness of the novel at times and the eerie sense that a constructed eucalyptus forest on stage might bring to the live performance, with moonlight shining through branches rather than, as it is here, sensibly, through a fast and functional scrim, which is flown in and out to change our location in an instant, wasting no time to take us to the scene of an unspeakable crime, a place that’s so special to the titular character. The scrim has its place and yet it’s my least favourite aspect of the Helpmann Award winning design, which has come from the incredible imagination of Anna Cordingly, incorporating water and using tiny houses set around the outer edge of a revolve to bring to life the insular town of Corrigan. The revolve and the actors’ excellent timing allow for seamless transitions between scenes and brings some of the pivotal action centrestage, to the cricket pitch, the town’s common ground. Matt Scott’s inspired lighting states and Darrin Verhagen’s bushland soundscape help to transport us back in time and out of the city to a typical Australian town. This creative team’s close attention to detail, from the street lights to the gutters, to the louvres to the sandals and to the dirt beneath them, may have you convinced that this is in fact your place, your childhood neighbourhood. 


I spoke with someone recently again about the importance of memory, personal associations and adding scent to the live theatre experience to support a properly multi-sensory way into a story – remember, we’d diffused rose oil during our La RondeErotique and Diabolique, and then there was the breakfast cooking offstage during Neil Armfield’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – anyway, without it being incorporated in the design, during Jasper Jones I could nevertheless smell the eucalyptus, the wattle, the creek, and the dust of Stringybark Road. It’s always amusing to see the look on students’ faces at school when I start a story with, “Before this school was built…” or “Before this road went through…” and watch their eyes widen before one of them invariably asks, “How old ARE you, Miss?”



Nicholas Denton’s embodiment of Charlie Bucktin is one of the most searingly honest, and sensationally funny physical performances we’ve seen on this stage in a long time. It’s an endearing performance, his ability to go from awkward and gangly to grown up, wise and worldly within seconds giving us a sense of an old soul in an adolescent body. His love of literature feeds his reality and his relationships, and helps us navigate our way through the mystery as he narrates. It’s through the use of gesture and the manipulation of spatial relationships that we gain additional insight into Charlie’s world, and the people inhabiting it. That comment obviously for the students… Denton takes special care as Charlie, to establish a lovely, awkward, guarded rapport with his strikingly beautiful, strong and stubborn mother, Ruth, the sensational Rachel Gordon. In this role she is somehow a symbol of the era’s frustrations and feelings of isolation, sharing repressed rage and grief, and personifying a similar lingering discontent and sense of disempowerment to Carita Farrar Spencer’s poignant performance in Ladies in Black. I feel like she’s every woman before me, and also me. Charlie also has some weightier moments with his dull and detached, determined-to-do-better father, Wesley. A sensitive Ian Bliss, with just a dash of Doug Hastings/Barry Otto, complete with shameless combover, earns our sympathy and eventually, our admiration too. 





Shaka Cook is a real, raw, intriguing and engaging Jasper Jones. Like a hunted, haunted animal, his vulnerability lies, barely visible, beneath the surface of a tough act that’s become his habitual behaviour. Cook beautifully underplays the complexity and sustains the edgy energy of a thing about to pounce or run away. By the same token he has a languidness about him, unnerving Charlie and suggesting to us that, in possession of this juxtaposition, he might just be the coolest guy in school these days, as opposed to the scapegoat dropout. The unlikely friendship between Jasper and Charlie is handled sensitively, keeping all the nuances intact; it’s a joy to witness this relationship, and their mutual respect, develop before our eyes. 


The less subtle friendship is between Charlie and Jeffrey Lu, an animated, dynamic performance by Hoa Xuande, hilarious and at times, heartbreaking. I do wonder if the others were warned during rehearsals that he might steal the show. Melanie Zanetti is exquisitely ageless, playing both the ghost of Laura and her little sister, Eliza, who is very much alive, and coquettishly bold and cute, until her complete unravelling, which also undoes us a little bit. Hayden Spencer, as well as contributing the satisfying thwack! of the cricket ball as Jeffrey finally gets his moment in the sun/on the crease, lets loose as Mad Jack Lionel, Corrigan’s biggest mystery and apparently, most obvious murderer. His truth is revealed beautifully, compellingly, and completely believably, adding rich context to the themes of secrets, lies, love, family and forgiveness.



Silvey’s novel is a contemporary classic and Mulvany’s stage adaptation, directed by Sam Strong, could tour forever under the same banner, such is its unblinking look into human nature, connection and communication, and the prevailing attitudes of 1960s Australia, which haven’t necessarily changed very much, have they? I love the seemingly low-tech approach, the attention to detail, the unhurried moments spent in Jasper’s sheltered, secret glade, the musings and laughter and delight of the friends, and the days spent outside sans digital devices, as well as the look inside Charlie’s head, and through him, the remarkable insight we gain into the humans that surround him, and that surround us. With the astuteness of To Kill a Mockingbird, the kooky humour of The Goonies, and the casual, lasting impact of Stand by Me, Jasper Jones is easily my favourite Queensland Theatre production this year…perhaps until the final two.




MTC & Queensland Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

October 14 – November 6 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




Brené Brown


The moment Disgraced was over I wanted to see it again, right away. It’s the most challenging and confronting play of the year, electric and impossible to leave behind. It’s our past, our present and an opportunity to ponder our future. It serves our confirmation bias yet dares us to see beyond what we think we know and what we keep telling ourselves is important. In the most delightfully bold and entertaining way, Disgraced reinforces everything we’ve been led to believe we’ve got to be carefully taught…and everything we feel sure we’re yet to learn.

The pre-show jazz is deceptively upbeat and sexy, and with Shaun Gurton’s Upper East Side aesthetic, pristine and spacious, and Nigel Levings’ pointed lighting in front of us, we instantly find ourselves not in QPAC’s Playhouse but in a New York City apartment, looking out at the skyline. The mood is privileged, warm; the picture of a perfect life. A perfect couple’s passion is put on hold for the sake of a portrait and plans for a dinner party. Emily is an artist (Libby Munro), and Amir a lawyer (Hazam Shammas). They extend a dinner invitation to his colleague, Jory (Zindzi Okenyo), and Jory’s art dealer husband, Isaac (Mitchell Butel). What begins as a pleasant evening marks the end of an era for these friends. It’s an eventful night!


In this Pulitzer Prize winning text, Ayad Aktar tears open every racial and religious vein, leaving us bleeding on the floor with gaping wounds, our hearts in our mouths, and without answers on our tongues. You might be mistaken for thinking, at first glance, that over its 90 minutes Disgraced barely scrapes the surface of its ancient-current issues, but look closer. Make the decision to engage and really listen. The text is structured so that we get a hint of what’s coming and yet at every turn, at every spike, we’re met with a shocking, unexpected truth. It’s as if we’ve narrowly escaped saying something aloud ourselves during pre-dinner drinks, and we get to stay standing safely on the edge of the group, watching while somebody else squirms in discomfort for committing what might just as easily have been our own social sin.

Hazem Shammas is Amir, the Pakistani-Muslim carving out his success in New York by hiding his heritage to fit in and get ahead in a Jewish law firm. Having recently binge-watched The Fall, I’m reminded that we never completely know someone. The ordinary behaviour packaged neatly within our everyday routines and the original affection we may have felt for a person hides more than we care to uncover, often to the detriment of our own self-discovery, and our mental, emotional and physical state. Shammas fully embraces the complexities of this role, making empathy a possibility and distrust a certainty.


Libby Munro (Grounded, Venus In Fur) worked with this cast for just 2 weeks after seeing the show in Melbourne, and with Director, Nadia Tass, for three hours the week before opening in Brisbane. Munro’s Emily, the white American artist and wife of Amir, is the voice of reason, vulnerability and compassion, exposing enough discrepancies in the popular diatribe to prompt our many questions (and make us think twice before posing them to the opening night after party friends). She is also the figure of appropriation – or misappropriation, depending on your perspective – and with these gentle prods and pokes towards the race, religion and gender politics at play, Munro is striking; poised and precise, and perfectly placed within this stellar cast. When she unravels and suddenly begins to shrink, almost disappearing before our eyes (an incredible accomplishment for an actor, to give up the space and the light and let oneself become less present whilst staying completely present in the story), we’re in the room with her. And we want to leave with her. You can guess the moment. The older woman in front of me gasps, she’s visibly shaken… I wonder, did she read the trigger warning? I also wonder, do we need a trigger warning? Imagine the impact of the truly unexpected! (And the further impact of a perfectly choreographed and executed strike! This far into the season, I’m sure the moment has been remedied). In this role, we see Munro continue to work quietly and humbly at presenting intelligent, fearless, unforgettable women on our stages. This is no rave, it’s just the simple truth, which you can see for yourself. There is no one else on the Australian stage consistently nailing the strength and softness of a woman as well as Munro; she’s in a league of her own. What a complete contrast she must offer in the upcoming award winning one shot independent feature film EIGHT. I can’t wait to see this next incredible work. 


Likewise, Zindzi Okenyo, brings a fierce, self-assured energy into the space as Jory, the lawyer wife of the art dealer, Isaac (Mitchell Butel). With magnificent strength and grace Okenyo’s performance offers another lens, and plenty of razor sharp one-liners in case we forget to remember the history of the black percentage of America’s population. With perfect comic timing and scene stealing stage presence, Mitch Butel is one of the country’s most relaxed and dynamic performers, a superb Isaac. He’s a cliche but he’s not, he’s a Jew but he’s not, he’s afraid but he’s not; he’s a complete anomaly, playing by the rules and pushing all the buttons.


And then there is Abe. As Amir’s nephew, Kane Felsinger represents the worst of humankind: the angry, politically engaged minority, determined to make his mark on the world by transforming it into the vision he’s gleaned from the descriptions found in the Quran. It would be easy to slip into a caricature but Felsinger resists and only gradually allows the true nature of his character to seep through, affecting and alarming us by degrees. His final moments harden us against the stereotype. My heart plunges into my stomach – I feel physically sick – and I wonder what on earth is the writer playing at? Abe represents the extreme violence we’ve been taught to fear. The shock and sadness and confusion and compassion that sweeps across Munro’s face as the final difficult conversation plays out in front of her mirrors my conflicting thoughts and feelings.

The beauty of Akhtar’s text is the ugliness in it and Tass, always the actors’ director, delves courageously into the intricacies and nuances of each human being and their deeply felt – and sadly marred – connections with one another. They are each as real and as flawed as they can be. They insist on blaming and shaming and yet expect to come out unscathed. They are beautifully, brilliantly thrown together into a melting pot that serves to shame us too, or else inspire us (you decide), into making choices every single day that derive from a place of love and empathy, rather than from ignorance and hate and fear. 

Disgraced is a pleasure, a power, and a terror; a terrible and timely reminder that nothing changes unless we show up, speak the words and take decisive and committed action to change what we cannot abide to see in our world.





MTC & La Boite

Roundhouse Theatre

March 27 – April 12 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



“What are you?”



A white cushioned floor and no way out. Bright fight lights and Dad as referee. Trapped. “This isn’t what I want. I think this is easier.”




It’s a shame Mike Bartlett felt that “Cock” was the best title for his superbly crafted play about a young man crippled by indecision, and the people he damages during a soul-searching journey that takes him right back to where he began. At first, the title intrigued me and I very easily accepted that it might imply at least two different meanings but having seen it I wonder if something softer, gentler, and a little more tender might not be more apt.




Cock is a beautiful, beautiful play. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll get away lightly after a night of comedy. It’s funny – really funny – and you’ll be leaning forward and laughing out loud like Sam did (well, perhaps not as loudly as Sam; remember, he’s been on location for a horror film so for him this was an evening of true comic relief), but it’s devastating too, and you might, before you know it, need to swipe a hot tear from your cheek. Bartlett’s writing is real, so real that…it’s almost not like a play at all. At times it’s more like bearing witness to that sort of awkward scene from real life, you know, that takes place in a coffee shop while you’re waiting on your carrot cake and latte, and trying not to stare as a couple discuss in whispers and shouts over the top of a tiny table about who’s to blame for the break up, and please refrain from discussing it in front of the children BUT LET’S TALK ABOUT IT NOW, HERE, IN THIS VERY BUSY PUBLIC PLACE AT LUNCHTIME. I KNOW. AWK-WARD.




Just like life, Cock doesn’t stop for long, not even in its silences. At the same time, the opportunities for contemplation are abundant, coming frequently in the middle of unfinished sentences and defiant statements that sting like a slap to the cheek.



I’ve remembered what I was going to say. You’re not as good looking as you think.




Yes. That’s… You’re lucky to have me. Okay?



The writing is actually brilliant; it’s sharp and smart, leaving nothing to chance and at the same time leaving a considerable amount unsaid. MTC have brought the best people right to the edge of something we see extremely rarely – actual reality in the acting. Although it’s strange to hear the British references to pounds and things in Australian accents, we let it go because for us, here, seeing what we see in this city, in this state, in this country, it’s more important to just take it all in – the language, the structure, the content, the questions… Marg Howell’s design, comprising of masses of cushions, supports the action physically and metaphorically, and allow it to settle. And unsettle. In the hands of a less intuitive director, this set would have presented many problems.


Cock is the most interesting, most intense production I’ve seen in a long time. Director, Leticia Caceres has made sure of it, bringing Eamon Flack into the cast for the Brisbane season. Flack joins Tom Conroy and Sophie Ross in a love triangle fuelled by confusion, indecision and perhaps just a little too much honesty. It feels like we know them and need to protect them…they’re our wonderful, strange, delightful, hopeless friends after all. Yeah, you know them. Tony Rickards brings both warmth and menace to the role of M’s father. You know him too.


Cock is the best live theatre you can expect to see at the moment. Yes, I know what else is on; I’m still struggling to arrange the words to describe how I feel about it. It’s this one that will haunt you. You’ll either be clenching your core and physically hurting by the end of it or trying not to feel at all.


Cock finishes this week. I doubt you’ll get in to see it at this late stage, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to tell you to do so via this blog (if you follow me on Insta and Twitter you already knew how impressed I was by this production), but fight for a ticket if you have to. And if you have a ticket and can’t get to the show don’t be the reason somebody else misses out. A quick call to Box Office to let them know you’re gonna’ be a no show is the right thing to do. I’d go again if I could. But I can’t so I’m going to listen to this and this again instead. It makes my heart ache.





You would rather throw our whole lives away than make a decision.

I just want to be happy.

I can’t.

This isn’t what I want. I think this is easier.


Director’s Top Tips – a chat with the Director of COCK, Leticia Caceres


We caught up with Director of MTC’s Cock – Leticia Caceres



What can you tell us about MTC’s Cock?

Mike Bartlett wrote Cock while in Mexico where they still have ‘cock fights’. He became fascinated with how this blood sport could act as a metaphor for theatre: people gathering in an intimate space to watch creatures tear each other to pieces. Cock captures the spirit of THE cockfight, as three characters battle it out to stake their claim on each other’s hearts.

I’ve tried to honour this through the way we’ve staged this production. It’s very pared back, the actors work their guts out and go at each other with everything they’ve got and the language is used like weapons in this ferocious love triangle.


How did you cast Cock?

I started by casting the male characters first. I wanted to get this relationship right. Tom Conroy (playing John) had blown me away a couple of years back when he performed in Declan Green’s Moth; he was extraordinary. When he delivered his monologue in the audition, I recall being deeply moved by his take on the character of John. He brought something very authentic to the role, and a beautiful mix of sensuality and naiveté, the right touch of courage and fear. He had clearly approached the part with deep compassion. On top of that, he has a wonderful sense of humor and he is quite a looker, so he ticked all the boxes really! Everyone else was cast based on the kind of connection and chemistry they shared with Tom. They needed to not only act with truth, but make us believe that they could have a strong physical connection for each other.


Why led you to directing? Is there anything you wish you’d known or done to make the move from university into the industry easier?

I started directing because I was the actor that was always interrupting the director to ask questions: “why are we doing this? what are you trying to say? what does this mean?”. I drove everyone crazy, so in the end it was easier to direct my own work and answer my own questions.

I wish I’d started directing earlier at uni. I didn’t think about directing as a career option for myself until I was in third year. I wish QUT had of had a more dedicated directing course, I think this could have accelerated things. But I was encouraged by my directing teachers (Sean Mee and Mark Radvan, who were very supportive) and I found my way by making work, and this is really the most effective means of becoming a director.


How did you get your first job as a director?

Michael Gow gave me my first paid job as a director. He offered to be my Mentor soon after he took over QTC. I spent a year following Michael around and then he let me direct a couple of readings. He was very trusting.


Who are your greatest influences? Who do you still want to work with?

I spent six months in Argentina studying under one of the great directors of Latin America (Juan Carlos Gene who passed away two years ago). He was my master. He deeply influenced how I direct. He taught me how to talk to actors. I hear his voice all the time when I’m working. He is unquestionably my greatest influence.

I would love to work with Robyn Nevin.


How does directing for the stage differ to film/television directing?

The stage is much more about language and the body. This means we are asking of the audience to really listen and be much more active in using their imagination. This is why language is so important on the stage and why the body (gesture, shape, spatial relations) becomes so critical. The audience is reading interactions on stage and filling in the gaps, making up the story in their heads, imaging locations, time, mood etc . Theatre can’t afford to be prescriptive as film, its much more evocative and that’s what makes it such a unique art form.


How do you communicate your vision to designers and actors?

We have long conversations about the themes of the work and what we want to say through it. This becomes a very shared process where we all agree on what we all want to say, how we want the world to be reflected through this story on the stage. Sometimes, what translates is a very emotional landscape, that’s abstract and distilled (as is the case with Cock) sometimes, it’s about functionality (we might need a literal representation of a space).


What do you look for in a text to help fuel your vision? How much do current events and your own experiences influence a piece?

I ask three things of a text – Is it entertaining? Is it political? Does it have heart?


What have you learned from previous productions about working with actors?

Semantics is everything.



What do you expect from your actors?

A sense of humour, patience, generosity and a physical precision. I can’t stand it when actors are not in their bodies.



How much do you “direct” your actors and how much do you let them “play”?

It’s always a combination of both. I try to let them play as much as possible. It’s no use if an actor can’t find a moment organically; if you tell them what to do and how to do it, it always looks and feels contrived. What I do is give specific actions to play “attack, distract, seduce, antagonize, vilify”. If you are specific about the intention and the action, then all else is up for grabs.


Can you tell us about RealTV?

We are still very much in operation! We’ve been making work for over a decade together, and we have lots of exciting projects on the boil. We are currently under commission from Belvoir St, working on a play about drugs and globalization. Angela Betzien is really pushing her writing into really extraordinary territory. She’s one of the fiercest playwrights in the country.


Do you prefer to work on classic or contemporary texts?



What are your thoughts on new Australian plays and our upcoming writers and directors? What do our writers need to be writing? What roles/stories do you want to see and direct?

There is some phenomenal new writing at the moment. I’m excited by the way Australian writers are tackling big ideas and contemporary concerns. Savages by Patricia Cornelius which was recently staged in Melbourne and is sweeping all the major awards in Victoria at the moment is an extraordinary piece of writing inspired by the murder of Dianne Brimble on the P&O a couple of years back. She wrote the whole thing in imperfect prose, the actors (five males) morphed in and out of blokes and dogs, and the whole thing was both funny and intensely uncomfortable. It was a fascinating investigation of the male psyche and misogyny in contemporary Australia. I’m still affected by this production, almost a year on. This is exactly the kind of work I crave to see on the stage.


What’s your view of Australian theatre right now?

There is so much great work being made at the moment. I can list a bunch of companies from around the country and artists whose work I wouldn’t miss for the world. Great writing, bold visions, wonderful acting, stunning design.



What are top tips for aspiring theatre directors?


Make work you want to see and don’t worry about anything/anyone else. Build a strong creative team who all share a language. See as much theatre as you can. And direct like a motherfucker. What that means is up to you.




MTC’s Cock continues at La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre until April 12 2014. If you can still get a ticket it will be here.




The Mountaintop


The Mountaintop

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

February 22 – March 16 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 


The baton passes on.


A rainy April night in Memphis, 1968 – and Dr Martin Luther King Jr doesn’t know it, but it will be his last night on earth. Wearied but resolute after his years-long march at the head of the Civil Rights Movement, the preacher checks into room 306 at the modest Lorraine Motel.


Before the sun sets again, he will be shot and killed. 


Candy Bowers and Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll


I saw MTC’s production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop last year and was struck by the magic created by the actors in that production, Bert LaBonte and Zahra Newman, who had been paired after appearing on stage together a few times already. There I saw the show at the end of the season and here I saw opening night of QTC’s production, directed by the company’s Associate Director, Todd MacDonald, starring a new pair, Pacharo Mzembe and Candy Bowers. By the end of the season these two are going to be magnificent; in fact from about 15 minutes in they are pretty damn good! However, it took that long for Mzembe to look really comfortable as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the man; the sinner. When Camae, the flirtatious maid (another self-proclaimed sinner), stepped into King’s shoes, the shift in energy and focus from Bowers was also noticeable, and once both performers settled and relaxed, resuming the play between them that comes straight outta’ the rehearsal room, the show really started and the opening night audience lapped it up.


For me, the writing is less convincing than the end result, in this case, of some lovely gentle direction and two intuitive, eventually very natural performances, which make us catch our breath more than once, and sit up straighter and taller at the challenge to pass the baton on. The final minutes are really something. Hall’s play about Martin Luther King Jr’s (imagined) last night on earth impressed the Brits and divided American critics, some of whom, like Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar haters, probably preferred to remember the martyr, not the man.


Candy Bowers and Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll


But it’s with the man we sympathise, though not completely, since he’s a chain-smoking womaniser with stinky feet! It’s the real (imagined) view of a weary man at his most vulnerable, confronted by a sassy motel maid that makes the piece interesting, as well as the casual and comedic repartee between a philanderer and a woman who is not all she seems. Camae cleverly represents a fierce, Oprahfied black woman, and at the same time, the sadder image of the oppressed; it’s a wishful feminism. I can’t give away how Camae has reached her enlightened state, but as someone who believes that there have always been strong women around, whether they’ve been noted or not, I’m all for this aspect of Hall’s fiction. Indeed, it’s what makes the play possible.


No spoilers here, but some of Camae’s tricks don’t quite work, and the fault may be in the writing more than in the production elements (when this play grows up it will be a movie). It’s easy enough to skip past these effects and appreciate the magic for what it is – a reminder that, as much as we like to think it so, we don’t know all there is to know.


Candy Bowers. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll


The highlight of this production is the delivery upstage, of Camae’s “The baton passes on” speech/rap/song/performance art piece by Bowers, supported by flickering images – a brilliant historical montage by optikal bloc – thrown across the motel windows and walls, not unlike Melbourne’s version of the play but with greater colour and immediate impact, paired as it is with Kieran Swann’s unassuming set, which moves and opens wide just as our hearts do. Layered within and around composition by Busty Beatz, Ben Hughes’ lighting and Tony Brumpton’s sound add to the extraordinary effect of a brilliantly conceived full-blown biblical ghetto sequence.


Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll


The most startling difference here is that Bowers makes the list of names and historical events mean something even more than they did already. She commands the space, driving the energy and bringing the message home to multiple generations, to those who remember events, and those who should never have to see history repeat itself. Mzembe’s final address is poignant and despite the playwright’s determination to drive the point home once again before we go home, he is able to keep it real rather than maddening, genuinely challenging us to keep changing the world.



The Mountaintop gives its performers the chance to breathe, flex their muscles and fly. This is truly inspirational theatre; a call to action, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick up the baton and pass it on.




RED (and the emperor’s new clothes)



QPAC Playhouse

27th April – 19th May


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 


“Have you noticed just how often the critics disagree with one another? And how often they’re just wrong?”

Seth Godin


In the 1950s, Rothko took a commission that would set him up for life. He was showered with money by Manhattan’s elite in return for a series of paintings that would decorate the swanky Four Seasons Restaurant in the brand new, soaring, steel-and-glass monument to corporate modernism, the Seagram Building on Park Avenue.

Rothko forged his art into a weapon against the richest bastards in New York, vowing clandestinely to create stomach-turning crimson canvases that would “ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who eats there” – but in 1959, out of the blue, he stormily reclaimed the paintings and gave back the money. The catalyst of that event went with the abstract expressionist to his grave. It’s this mystery that is explored with stunning intensity in Red, along with the relationship between master and protégé, art and commerce, artist and audience. From the pen of John Logan – acclaimed screenwriter of Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo and forthcoming James Bond film Skyfall this six-time Tony Award winner is a true masterpiece.


Colin Friels breathes life into tortured artist Mark Rothko as he broods and seethes in his Bowery Studio, literally painting himself into a corner, in RED.


The Emperor's New ClothesI COULD BE WRONG BUT…


I’m watching a parade pass by – the town has been painted RED – and I want to point and whisper, “Look! He’s not wearing any clothes!” But no matter what I whisper, people will love this show. The ARTISTS will love this show. And thank goodness for that! Art is so personal! When we look at art we each see something completely different! Art has the power to unite or divide! That’s what art does! (Art can probably even reverse the effects of global warming!). Well, everyone in Brisbane appears to be gushing about RED and I feel like I’ve seen a different show. And that’s okay. Isn’t it?


QTC have brought MTC’s production of John Logan’s RED to the Playhouse stage. I can’t help but wonder what the result might have been if they’d presented it themselves. Seriously. I think the question has to be asked. What would Michael Futcher, or Todd MacDonald, or Wesley Enoch do?! What more would anybody else do with this difficult script? This version, directed by the Australian film industry’s “Prince of Darkness” Alkinos Tsilimidos surprised me because I expected…more.


On our way home from Brisvegas, after stopping for chai and New York Baked Cheesecake at The Three Monkeys, as we do, I checked my bloglovin’ (as I do) and read a post by Seth Godin. You can read it here. I guess if you’re able to trust the opinion of a particular critic then GREAT! Go ahead and book tickets – or not – based on that opinion. By the same token, if the general (“mass”) opinion suits you, by all means be informed by it. My guess is that the general consensus in this case will be that RED is brilliant, inspiring, riveting and challenging, however; for me it was not so. And here’s the telling thing: a few days later, the fact that I was underwhelmed by it still ANNOYS me.


MTC RED Colin Friels

While I feel there’s something dynamic missing from the master-student relationship, which I suspect is (not) in the writing, I enjoyed Colin Friels’ performance. I love his characterisation (Mark Rothko, tortured artist) and I love his vocal work, which is perfectly placed, coming from deep frustration and that easily recognisable trait (!) the stubborn arrogance of the artist. In short, his is a fine study of a man who believed no one worthy of his paintings. Likewise, Tom Barton as the assistant, Ken, does a fine job, stepping up to argue Rothko’s points, and to deliver a suitably dramatic monologue, which describes the gruesome discovery years ago, of his parents, murdered in their bed. Of course Rothko can’t help but challenge Ken to see his crippling memories as inspiration for his own artistic endeavours! We must suffer for our art, and all that stuff! Both actors do what they can with material that doesn’t give them too many opportunities to go any deeper than the epidermis.


It’s Sam’s opinion that, in either a directorial masterstroke or by complete accident, Ken comes to life in the very scene that Rothko states he’s done just that.


The script deals in age-old ideas; the classic arguments about art (WHAT IS IT?), and yes, it’s absolutely fascinating, I love it, but there’s no new treatment here; we’ve heard it all before. And… IS THAT ALL? Much of it is delivered in wonderful clichés and quotable quotes, which we might see and share as Facebook memes, or hear in our favourite TED talks. I don’t tire of it! AND I WANT MORE. I don’t mind the heightened dialogue, the quotable quotes and the grandiose speeches. I grew up in a household that talked talks – still – about art in grandiose speeches. At the dinner table at Mum’s, over cups of tea on the verandah, and during the ad breaks of any program we watch together (we haven’t had “real TV” at our place for a year again so we do twilight TV visits from time to time. We go through these phases…), there is always something to be said about art…or politics or history or religion. ART IS SO VERY PERSONAL. Yes, yes it is.


The studio space – a replica of Rothko’s rented Bowery space – looks fabulous (Set Designer Shaun Gurton) but the set is underutilised, with a massive shelf structure wasted (a staple gun was pushed along the floor offstage to…where exactly?!), and instead, a teeny, tiny art/tea type trolley, you know the sort, is used at vital points of the play. It’s set so far back that we watch for ages, trying to work out what it is Friels is mixing back there with his paint and eggs. (Oh right, it’s the primer. They’ll throw it around on a canvas later, remember?). And why put Friels in an unflattering mustard coloured shirt? Perhaps that’s as it was, sure, but C’MON! IT’S THEATRE! Take some artistic liberties; if you haven’t got an Alfred Molina, who looked, in the original Donmar Warehouse production pics, remarkably like the artist himself, at least put your Rothko in a great shirt! (Costume Designer Jill Johanson). When we have to suffer it for ninety minutes we can only care so much about authenticity. Too harsh? Probably. My suffering was, indeed, less than Sam’s.


Luckily for us, Friels does his utmost in this production to keep the momentum going, keeping us pretty captivated throughout. But the play only gives us so much. And the direction seems intent on slowing up the minimal action and stubbornly, insists on looking at the piece from behind the lens of a single camera, from right out front.


In theatre, the film director loses his best friend, the editor. In Tsilimidos’s RED we get a string of pictures without the satisfying transitions in between. It’s the links that are missing, in both the writing and direction. It feels like each change in pace, which really doesn’t vary much, should be as smooth as the juxtaposition of so many film scenes, but on stage these transitions only translate as clunky, old school scene changes (performed by stage hands during lengthy – some might say languorous – blackouts), and apart from the creation of natural daylight (Rothko abhorred natural light!) and a couple of mandatory pieces of stirring classical music, the lighting design (Matt Scott) and sound design (Tristan Meredith) seems just as unsupportive of the play. (I think most high schools have the very same city traffic sound effects CD!). This is a character-driven play and we’re asked to follow its plot. We vaguely get some sense of time passing, but it’s just as well Ken reminds Rothko he has worked for him for two years or we’d never know, not from the state of the paintings, nor from the growth of the characters or relationship between them, nor from any other clue. Logan might have written about any artist preaching to any student over the course of an hour, a day, a month or a year! And what of the actual painting, live on stage; the priming of the canvas, so talked about in reference to other productions, and so anticipated in the lead up to this one? A total non-event! It felt rushed and gimmicky (and on opening night we listened and watched as Friels listened to the music for his cue to put brush to canvas!).

You gotta’ have a gimmick.


Do I expect too much? I don’t think so.


The thing is this: Brisbane audiences are discerning enough to expect more than an award winning script, a celeb in the lead role and a bit of paint splashed about on stage. We are also respectful and appreciative enough to offer applause for three curtain calls, regardless of individual opinion. I could be wrong but I’ll finish with Sam’s opinion again, because I’m accustomed to walking out of the theatre with a completely different view but for once we agree: he says the curtain call was like the pat on the back of a NSW jersey. “You did your best but you’re a long way from winning.”


I’d love to know what you thought of RED. Are you an artist? Do you just love this play? Could this production have been any better? Did I miss something? (Oh, right! Stupid question! Of course I MUST have missed something! Everyone knows a reviewer who didn’t love the work didn’t GET the work!).


Now you’d better have a listen to this. Because no matter how I or anybody else receives this production, RED deserves your attention and your personal response to it. Sharing art (sending it out into the world) IS hard. “Are you supposed to please people?” Not at all. Should we share the same opinions about art?  Of course not. Let’s at least agree on that!




QTC Season 2013

QTC Season 2013

Queensland Theatre Company announces Season 2013

the journey continues…


Love, art, laughter, drama, catharsis, glamour, song and adventure in the spotlight


Just days before the official world premiere of David Williamson’s new play, Managing Carmen heralds the close of Queensland Theatre Company’s blockbuster Season 2012, the company has unveiled Season 2013 to a capacity Playhouse at QPAC.

If you were following @qldtheatreco or @xsentertainment on Twitter during the launch you will have got a sense of the excitement this new season brings to current subscribers (and reviewers! I have to admit my excitement about Red and Venus in Fur particularly. This may or may not have everything to do with my current explorations into working with visual artists live on stage or my totally professional critic’s crush on Associate Artistic Director, Todd MacDonald, who has just blown us away with his performance in Bare Witness. Keep an eye out here for my review of the show and an interview with Todd, and get to Bare Witness if you can. It goes to the Gold Coast next)…

QTC’s Artistic Director Wesley Enoch said QTC’s onstage journey would showcase a range of works that take ticketholders around the world, shine the light on home grown talents and create theatrical moments of national importance across a world of love, art, laughter, drama, catharsis, glamour, song and adventure.

Enoch’s inaugural Season 2012 has proven a bestseller. His invitation for patrons to join him on a journey into the theatre this year, led by a mix of classics, new comedies and big theatre experiences has proven a winning formula – 1000 new subscribers; 10,000 more tickets sold; a 13 percent increase in box office revenue, and a range of new works that challenged, entertained and enlightened; all in a year of buyer caution and a show stopping competitive set.

Season 2013 promises to be even bigger with the cultural journey continuing in full force. “In 2013 we invite our patrons to seek out interesting stories, engage in discussion and debate, step out of their comfort zones, get excited by artistic daring and genuinely seek more out of life,” said Enoch.

The Mainstage Program in 2013 features seven productions, including the acclaimed and six-time Tony-award winning masterpiece Red starring Colin Friels;  David Ives’ deliciously sassy, tony award nominee Venus in Fur with Todd MacDonald & Libby Munro; the blockbuster End of the Rainbow with powerhouse actor Christen O’Leary brilliantly cast as Judy Garland in her final troubled days, and the epic morality tale Mother Courage and Her Children in a stunning new translation with Ursula Yovich & David Page.

Continuing the exploration of relationships and reality, Other Desert Cities (five-time nominated 2012 Tony Awards and a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Drama finalist) will star Robert Colby and Rebecca Davis in the family drama where hidden secrets are laid bare; while popular Noel Coward comedy Design for Living will see Jason Klarwein and partner Kellie Lazarus form a “gentleman’s agreement” with Tama Matheson.

Opening Season 2013 on February 2 is the hilarious The Pitch & The China Incident. These two companion pieces written by acclaimed Australian writer Peter Houghton are an actor’s dream; two  tour de force roles with Hugh Parker fresh from rave reviews in QTC’s Kelly in The Pitch and Barbara Lowing in The China Incident.

Outside the Mainstage Program, QTC’s Bille Brown Studio will again host the remarkable transformation in 2013 that is The GreenHouse. The brainchild of Enoch and curated by Artistic Associate Todd MacDonald, The GreenHouse is a visceral incubator of art, ideas and exploration. 1001 Nights and Trollop are two highlights of the 2013 program.

A QTC and Queensland Music Festival co-production in association with Zen Zen Zo, 1001 Nights will be staged in July, starring traditional Persian musicians Pezhvak for an evening of riveting storytelling, dance and song based around Middle-Eastern magic. Full of action, mystery and romance, 1001 Nights has been adapted by husband-and-wife team Michael Futcher and Helen Howard, co-artistic directors of Zen Zen Zo.

In August Wesley Enoch directs Amy Ingram in Maxine Mellor’s Trollop, winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2012-13, in the Bille Brown Studio. Maxine Mellor is a multi-award winning playwright who is well acquainted with Queensland Theatre, winning the Young Playwrights Award in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Enoch, who is directing three productions including Trollop and mainhouse productions Mother Courage and Her Children and Design For Living, said he was looking forward to welcoming eminent directors to QTC this year. “We have three fantastic female directors for 2013. Continuing our partnership with Perth’s Black Swan State Theatre Company Artistic Director Kate Cherry will direct Other Desert Cities, Catarina Hebbard will join us for The Pitch and Andrea Moor for Venus in Fur,” he said. “David Bell will direct the stunning End of the Rainbow; Daniel Evans takes on The China Incident, and Alkinos Tsilimidos will bring us the acclaimed Melbourne Theatre Company production Red.”

“It is such an honour to present a mainhouse program which brings such acclaim to the stage, including the very best from Broadway –Red won six Tony Awards including Best play in 2010, as well as the Drama Desk Award for Most Outstanding Play; Venus in Fur was nominated for a Tony Award this year for Best Play; Other Desert Cities was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, plus has five nominations for Tony Awards with year, including Best Play, and the list goes on,” he said. “Our Season 2013 is a continuation of the journey we started this year, and we thank Queensland for embracing our shows so passionately. Next year is going to be another series of experiences, come on the adventure!”

(Wesley invited some of his 2013 actors and directors to join him for a chat on the lounge, which was in place for Managing Carmen. This – and the opening behind-the-scenes footage – helped to make the whole launch a little more personal and I told Wesley afterwards that I expect to see a season of Wesley’s Couch slotted in there somewhere!).

Season 2013 Ticketing Details

Tickets are available at or by calling 1800 355 528.

14 October – bookings open for current 2012 subscribers taking 7 or 5 Play packages

29 October – bookings open for current 2012 subscribers taking any Season Package

5 November – bookings commence for new season ticket holders

7 Play Packages saves up to 35% off Playhouse premium single ticket prices. 5 Play Packages up to 20% off and 3 Play Packages up to 15%.

15 November – single tickets on sale for End of The Rainbow.

4 December – single tickets on sale for The Pitch & The China Incident.

QTC The Pitch & The China Incident

Queensland Theatre Company presents The Pitch and The China Incident

By Peter Houghton

2 February to 9 March, 2013 at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC


The Pitch


Director: Catarina Hebbard Designer: Simone Romaniuk

Cast: Hugh Parker

Down-and-out film writer Walter Weinermann is psyching himself up for the biggest pitch meeting of his life with a panel of powerful producers. He has an epic idea and a dream cast, but no decent ending.

After moving to Hollywood in the 1920s, screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz sent a telegram to friends back in New York: “Millions are to be grabbed out here, and your only competition is idiots.” It’s still true today; and by the time the credits roll on Peter Houghton’s witty, manic, one-man show, audiences will find out if Walter is destined to be a millionaire – or just an idiot.


The China Incident

Director: Daniel Evans Designer: Simone Romaniuk

Cast: Barbara Lowing

Companion piece The China Incidentis the story of one woman, a perfect storm of crises, and altogether too many phones. Bea Pontivec is a high-flying, highly-strung diplomatic consultant who’s quite literally well connected. She has hotlines to the White House, to the United Nations, to a bloodthirsty dictator. She’s a power-broker, a playmaker, a cast-iron negotiator, a control freak. But as this pin-sharp satire becomes more frenetic, and her personal and professional lives collide, Bea will learn the meaning of the term ‘communications breakdown’.

QTC End of the Rainbow

Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre presents End Of the Rainbow

By Peter Quilter

2 March to 24 March at thePlayhouse, QPAC

Director: David Bell Designer: Bill Haycock

Cast: Christen O’Leary, Hayden Spencer and Anthony Standish

Lighting Designer: David Walters

Musical Director: Andrew McNaughton

It’s Christmas 1968 – and Judy Garland is not in Kansas anymore. The former child star is shacked up in London’s Ritz Hotel with fiancé number five, Mickey Deans, and her loyal friend and pianist, Anthony. A whirlwind success in her youth, the years have been unkind.  As her finances crumble, her celebrity continues to fade and the press savagely turn on her, Garland is clutching at the straw she thinks will save her career: a five-week run of cabaret shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub.  Peter Quilter’s poignant End of the Rainbow paints a warts-and-all picture of the beloved but tortured musical icon, her strained relationships with men, her struggle to stay in the spotlight – and the pill habit that would claim her life. After a show-stopping turn in Bombshells last year, Christen O’Leary returns to QTC Company to fill Judy’s ruby slippers and explore the destructive dark side of worldwide fame.


Queensland Theatre Company presents a Melbourne Theatre Company Production RED

By John Logan

27 April to 19 May at thePlayhouse, QPAC



Director: Alkinos Tsilimidos

Cast: Colin Friels

Set Designer: Shaun Gurton

Costume Designer: Jill Johanson

Lighting Designer: Matt Scott

Composer: Tristan Meredith

Colin Friels breathes life into tortured artist Mark Rothko as he broods and seethes in his Bowery studio, literally painting himself into a corner, in Red. In the 1950s, Rothko took a commission that would set him up for life – a series of paintings that would decorate the swanky Four Seasons Restaurant in the new steel-and- glass monument to corporate modernism, the Seagram Building on Park Avenue.  He forged his art into a weapon against the richest bastards in New York, vowing clandestinely to create stomach-turning crimson canvases that would “ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who eats there” – but in 1959, out of the blue, he stormily reclaimed the paintings and gave back the money. The catalyst of that event went with the abstract expressionist to his grave. It’s this mystery that is explored with stunning intensity in Red. From the pen of John Logan – acclaimed screenwriter of Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo and forthcoming James Bond film Skyfall – this six-time Tony Award winner is a true masterpiece.


QTC Mother Courage and Her Children

Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre present Mother Courage and Her Children

By Bertolt Brecht

Translated by Wesley Enoch and Paula Nazarski

25 May to 16 June at the Playhouse, QPAC

Director: Wesley Enoch

Cast: David Page and Ursula Yovich

Designer: Christina Smith

Bertolt Brecht’s epic morality tale about the ravages of war is given a unique twist by QTC Artistic Director Wesley Enoch and Paula Nazarski in a dazzling new translation.  Instead of the Thirty Years’ War of 1600s Europe, this near-future incarnation of the age-old story is set against the bleak backdrop of a post-apocalyptic desert where Mad Max might be at home – an Australia ravaged by devastating conflict, where life is cheap but business is still business.  Ursula Yovich is the titular canteen-wagon mistress, shrewdly driving hard bargains as she shepherds her brood of three through this unforgiving, harsh wilderness.  With an all-Indigenous cast, this fresh spin on Brecht’s play delicately folds in themes of land ownership, the impact of mining and the Stolen Generation.


QTC Venus in Fur

Queensland Theatre Company presents Venus in Fur

By David Ives

22 June to 27 July at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC


Director: Andrea Moor

Cast: Todd MacDonald and Libby Munro

Designer: Simone Romaniuk

Lighting Designer: David Walters

The end of a long day of casting, and playwright-director Thomas can’t find the right woman. He needs beautiful-sexy-articulate, young, with a “particle of brain”. He needs someone to play a mistress, but has endured a parade of 35 misfires.  Thomas is adapting Venus In Furs, the infamously kinky 1870 novel by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – the etymological father of masochism. It calls for a purring, confident dominatrix.  He gets more than he expected when the raging storm blows in Vanda – late, frazzled, with the very litany of flaws he just decried. She talks of Venus in Furs as one might talk of Fifty Shades of Grey. As the director takes a chance and allows her to read anyway, the balance of power tilts between actress and director, mistress and slave. Thomas and Vanda become two people handcuffed at the heart in David Ives’ deliciously sassy, sexy, character-driven power play.

QTC Other Desert Cities 

Queensland Theatre Company and Black Swan State Theatre Company present Other Desert Cities

By Jon Robin Baitz

10 August to 1 September at the Playhouse, QPAC


Director: Kate Cherry

Cast: Robert Coleby and Rebecca Davis

Assistant Director: Emily McLean

Designer: Christina Smith
Lighting Designer: Trent Suidgeest

Christmas in sun-drenched Palm Springs: a desert tomb, populated by shrivelled mummies with tans.

The Wyeth children are home for the holidays and conversation doesn’t flow easily: politics isn’t fit for table talk in a family as fractious as this. Neither is the war in the Middle East, nor the shadow of terrorism. But there’s one thing everyone wants to chime in on: troubled daughter Brooke has just finished her magnum opus, a tell-all memoir exposing a pivotal, tragic, ferociously-guarded family secret. As a quiet Christmas dissolves into feuding, there’s more than one meltdown brewing in the searing desert heat.

QTC Design for Living

Queensland Theatre Company presents Design for Living

By Noël Coward

19 October to 10 November at the Playhouse, QPAC

Director: Wesley Enoch

Cast: Jason Klarwein, Kellie Lazarus and Tama Matheson

Gilda loves Otto, and it’s entirely mutual. But Gilda is rather fond of Leo as well. Leo adores Gilda – but come to think of it, Leo and Otto have a bit of history, too.  So which of them will pair off, and who’ll be left out in the cold? Anything goes, it seems, when you’re an artistic type slumming it in a garret in 1930s Paris. Noël Coward’s subtle comedy Design For Living was scandalously risqué when it was written, painting a vibrant picture of the machinations of a muddled ménage-à-trois. Are this trio freewheeling, footloose bohemians, or amoral degenerates? Their mutual friend, strait laced art dealer Ernest, has a pretty strong opinion on what’s decent. What’s that all-too-common comment on relationships: “It’s complicated?” This one just happens to be rather more complicated than most.

QTC The GreenHouse 1001 Nights 

The GreenHouse @ Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Music Festival in association with Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre present 1001 NIGHTS

Adapted by Michael Futcher & Helen Howard, featuring the Pezhvak Traditional Music Ensemble

Director: Michael Futcher

18 July to 28 July at the Bille Brown Studio, QTC

Aladdin. Ali Baba. Sinbad. The names are as well-known as the stories behind them. They whisper the promise of adventure, exoticism and romance. Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre joins with traditional Persian musicians Pezhvak for an evening of riveting storytelling, dance and song based around the Middle-Eastern magic of One Thousand and One Nights. Adapted by Michael Futcher and Helen Howard, resident directors of Zen Zen Zo, and backed by the authentic sounds of traditional instruments such as the oud, the dohol and the kamanche, this energetic and enchanting show embraces Zen Zen Zo’s legendary physicality and boundless, joyful imagination.

QTC The GreenHouse Trollop

The GreenHouse @ Queensland Theatre Company presents TROLLOP

By Maxine Mellor

1 August to 17 August at the Bille Brown Studio, QTC

Director: Wesley Enoch

Cast: Amy Ingram

Clara is uncomfortably numb. Cocooned in her spartan home, she wallows in tracky-dacks and the misery of the recently jobless, feeding on apathy and the images of natural disaster piped into her living room the TV.  She’s haunted by what she could aspire to if she could break from her funk. Her relentlessly upbeat partner Erik has devised a plan for her to get back on her feet. Instead, she devises a series of increasingly gruesome ‘quests’ for him.  Then, one stormy night, a stranger calls – and the chinks in the pair’s relationship begin to widen. Uncomfortable truths are revealed and there are hints of horrors to come, as ancient myths are dragged, growling, into the modern day.

What are you excited about seeing?