Posts Tagged ‘nelle lee

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

DON’T EVEN READ THIS. JUST BOOK THE TIX ALREADY.

 

Brisbane has seen three Christmas shows run simultaneously this year in a bid by leading companies to capture the Christmas market by encouraging us to establish new yuletide traditions. It’s a no-brainer, brilliant; everyone’s a winner. Give heart-warming, life-affirming, amazing experiences created especially for you by artists who stay employed right up until the end of the year in our venues that, by being filled to overflowing for every show, reinforces the case for our need for new venues so more humans get to enjoy live entertainment. This is what it’s all about. 

 

All three productions are of the highest quality, but it’s A Christmas Carol that exceeds expectations. It’s not only a compassionate take on the timeless tale, and performed with ease and extra sparkle by a stunning cast, but it’s truly visually spectacular. It’s not overstating the fact to say that the combination of visual elements surpasses anything we’ve seen before, with the exception of a flying carpet perhaps. You’ll get no spoilers from me, however; you’ll have to see the theatrical magic for yourself. 

 

shake & stir’s superb retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and directed by Michael Futcher, might not appear to be for everyone; at first glance it looks dark, sombre and a little bit scary. But it’s also very funny and completely family friendly (QPAC and shake & stir recommend the family members be 8 years and older), and as set and costume designer, Josh McIntosh reminds us, in the end, light wins.

 

Josh Mcintosh has actually outdone himself with A Christmas Carol’s seamlessly shifting set design of Neo Victorian Gothic walls and windows and staircases and balconies, creating imposing movable pieces that come together like a jumbo 3D puzzle in a whirlwind of choreography, and in true Gothic style, create an additional character in its own right, of 1800s Victorian London. Somehow there are spaces that also seem cosy and reassuring, and this is helped by Jason Glenwright’s stunning lighting states, bringing daylight into the darkest corners of the world without losing the sense of the shadows we see at the edges.

 

In amongst the moments of Christmas cheer, the mood is eerie, foreboding, suspenseful; everything that the mega smash hit next door offered to deliver and didn’t. Unsurprisingly, because this company goes to such lengths or because the theatre ghosts kindly arranged it, air con colludes with creatives, chilling us to the bone so that a shiver runs down the spine even before we catch our first a glimpse of the Ghost of Christmas Past. And is it really the actor on stage? Or an apparition? It’s the magic of theatre, created by Craig Wilkinson of another Brisbane based creative company steadily taking over the world, optikal bloc.

 

Despite some highly physical characterisations, particularly in Eugene Gilfedder’s Scrooge, and in Bryan Probets’ Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future (if it is indeed his elegant gesture inside the sleeve of the Elder-esque figure), there’s actually very little pageantry or pantomime involved. These heightened performances are delightful, and comparatively naturalistic when we remember perennial favourites, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Revolting Rhymes

 

The real secret to the success of this production lies in its magical alchemy behind the scenes, in the spaces between shake & stir’s founders and Artistic Directors, Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente, and the phenomenally talented creative team they assemble each time. Honestly, how we still have them in Brisbane is beyond me. Like those of The Little Red Company, shake & stir’s mainstage productions are truly world class, and they could choose to be based anywhere in the world. However, a beautiful producing and presenting partnership with QPAC and finding your work so brilliantly realised by the likes of director, Michael Futcher, and the design team would make anybody reluctant to leave the nest.

 

Original, whimsical musical arrangements performed live by wandering minstrel Salliana Campbell add festive spirit and fun to an often haunting soundscape. Campbell is a natural addition to the shake & stir family, fitting into every scene with her easy, relaxed manner and accomplished musicianship, and even brightly, unfalteringly, returning Scrooge’s Christmas morning greeting. The lovely Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is another new addition, however; we will need to wait for the next production to see her potential more fully realised.

 

 

Futcher is one of my favourite insightful directors, his light touch able to take on board the bleak tone of the original material and its central unlikeable character, but also dispel any dark power that it may hold over us by excavating the inherent beauty and kindness of human nature, and the nuances in each moment of joy, in this case, the simple message of peace and goodwill. So while this is a dark and sometimes terrifying story, the light really does win in the end. Some lovely, typically shake & stir comedy comes through, and this is also testament to Lee’s ability to adapt a complex classical text that on stage becomes suitable for almost all ages. I will mention that a particularly terrifying projected image stayed with Poppy throughout the rooftop party and lingered during the drive home, so that we had to hear Dear Evan Hansen twice more. This is not a terrible thing. The current detour due to roadworks takes us home via Forest Glen, an extra twenty minutes down the road, so the deluxe album, including deleted songs and Katy Perry’s curious rendition of Waving Through A Window, was perfect. And Poppy remembers a perfect evening out!

 

This company is well known for its founding artists’ ability to turn a hand to just about anything, and their performances don’t disappoint. Lee offers a gorgeous and gratitude filled, bubbling, bustling Mrs Cratchit, which is supported by the heartfelt, heart-warming performances of the boys (Skubij and Balbuzienti, two of the few amongst us who can convincingly play much younger than they are). And in his shake & stir debut, Lucas Stibbard is a particular Mr Cratchit, not dithering, not obsessive, not quite frightened rabbit…but there’s a sense of the downtrodden, the underdog, and he harnesses this energy beautifully to turn around each low point for the sake of his family and the youngest boy, the cripple, Tiny Tim. I won’t spoil it, but this character is a little bit of quiet genius, which may or may not make perfect sense to you, depending on your imagination and compassion. (And if you really want the spoilers, simply read the other reviews. What is it with this frantic, desperate need to reveal all?). 

 

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A Christmas Carol is the new next best beautiful annual tradition after The Nutcracker – many will say it’s their preferred option – if the presenting partners can make it work. If so, I’d like to see the ticket prices reflect the nature of the gift this show would be to so many families – and not only families – that would otherwise miss out.

 

There will always be artists and sets and spaces demanding payment (actually, the artists are usually the least demanding), and there will always be a demographic that can’t even entertain the possibility of taking themselves, let alone a family of four or five to a show, especially at Christmas time. So let’s find a way to make this brilliant, beautiful, uplifting, thrilling and life-affirming experience more accessible. Would you gift a ticket? Keep letting our companies and venues know that when you book your seats, you’d like to Pay It Forward rather than Pay A Booking Fee. 

17
Aug
15

Dracula

 

Dracula

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

August 13 – September 5 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

I will take no refusal…

 

 

dracula_nick

 

 

shake & stir’s Dracula is an ambitious gothic horror piece with spectacular production elements playing the pivotal roles.

 

 

This new version of the Bram Stoker classic, adapted for the stage by Nick Skubij and Nelle Lee, presumes we know Dracula down to its last detail but as I discovered after the show on opening night, of course there are some for whom the story is new. A difficult text to condense – an epic story across oceans, and oceans of time – we miss some early detail, such as Jonathan Harker’s first dreamy, lusty, dreadful encounter with the brides of Dracula, the “devils of the pit” (We hear about it after the fact, as the encounters continue). It’s not a biggie, but it’s typical of this adaptation, which seems to skirt around the themes of female sexuality and the genuine fear during the Victorian era of women awakening to their own sexual power, more so than any power a man might wield.

 

Harker’s narration of strange and supernatural events comes to us in the form of a pre-recorded voiceover that detracts from the overall effect of the production rather than enhances it. (The passage of time is evident in Jason Glenwright’s ingenious lighting states and Josh McIntosh’s spectacular set changes, incorporating a revolving winding stairwell and too many nooks and crannies to list!). Guy Webster’s spine tingling soundscape is otherwise perfect, complete with cracking thunder, buzzing flies, the snarling and howling of hounds outside and the chilling screams and screeches of the devil’s concubines.

 

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It’s not the lush, decadent, delicious show I’d expected (although, as I tell everybody whenever I’m off to see shake & stir, these are the beautiful people of Brisbane theatre, gorgeous on stage and off, every one). Their Dracula is a dark and sombre journey, unrelenting, with the only light and shade coming from Glenwright’s lighting design (doors opening with a shaft of light sans door?! It’s really incredible work, his best to date), and David Whitney’s high-energy performance as Renfield and later, as Van Helsing. With his appearance as Van Helsing, Whitney whips up the pace and holds his loyal band of vampire killers at his heels.

 

A great study in status and deadpan delivery, Whitney commands the stage, dominating the narrative and the space.

 

Michael Futcher’s direction is gentle and sure, allowing each member of the company to play to their strengths. His use of the imposing set is brilliant, with the versatile design allowing seamless transitions between rapidly changing scenes and successfully hiding the pale faced, platinum blonde Dracula from us multiple times, causing those around me to jump in genuine fright each time the Count appears from out of the shadows.

 

As Jack, Ross Balbuziente’s confounded game is strong and as Harker, Tim Dashwood offers a genteel, endearing performance, but by the same token doesn’t get a chance to be seduced and subsequently ravished, which seems a shame (although that racy version might require an R-rating. Don’t worry, parents and principals, it’s all very tame, implied rather than made explicit). Some of the most shocking and surprising moments come from the special effects. The flash paper and the blood effects are superb. Likewise, some of Nigel Poulton’s best work is showcased in a no holds barred True Blood style fight scene.

 

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Despite the potential to do more (ravishing) within their roles, Nelle Lee (Mina) and Ashlee Lollback (Lucy) rely on some safe choices, however, having said that, feeling less than 100% on opening night, Lollback’s vocal work is strong and her extraordinary physicality is bold and sure (and suitably shocking). Leigh Buchanan’s exquisite gowns on these girls are testament to his intuitive and dramaturgical design sense, allowing full movement and at the same time, constraint of their feminine wiles. Buchanan retains the lavish authenticity of the Victorian times in the gentlemen’s garb too, bringing only Dracula’s street style into the new millennium for the later London scenes.

 

Nick Skubij wears his leather well.

 

He’s as ancient and as alluring and intriguing as he needs to be to convince every senior student in a skirt that it would be just fine to hold her breath through the bite and opt for eternal life by his side. Oh, right. Not very PC to say so? Okay. AND YET.

 

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Even without the hedonism I’d expected, Dracula is an accomplished production, with all the hallmarks of “another bloody classic” that teachers and students will appreciate for its astute combination of dramatic elements and entertaining performances; everything in alignment with our Australian Gothic Theatre criteria. The general public will love it because with Zen Zen Zo MIA and Brisbane Festival still a few weeks away, there’s nothing else quite like it, is there? And, look, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a good vampire story? But does it go as far as it could go to seduce, surprise and shock us? No. Why not? Why lead us to the edge of delicious lust and the struggle for power only to pull us back before we experience it? Are we (am I?) so desensitised that this neat, safe staging of sex and blood and gore, and the struggle between the supernatural and the human spirit fails to impress?

 

If theatre isn’t a form of voyeurism, continually challenging and changing our self-perception and our perspective of the world through our imagined experiences, what are we doing in it? What are we doing with it?

 

Why do we ever revisit a classic? Why do we need to see this story brought to life again? Is there a new lesson? Is it challenging the status quo? Is it simply an entertaining story?

 

shake & stir have always set such a ridiculously high standard with their mainstage productions that it comes as a complete surprise to walk away feeling slightly underwhelmed by Dracula. Once again, shake & stir have created a mainstage show that is perfectly tweaked for schools. This has been their strength for some time, but in time for their 10-year anniversary next year, I’m hoping that this exceptional and enduring company considers turning their approach on its head in order to stake a stronger claim in the national mainstage landscape. shake & stir remain one of this country’s most exciting, original, dynamic and dedicated theatre companies. I would hate to see them plateau after they’ve worked so hard to continuously raise the bar.

 

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

 

 

 

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07
Oct
14

Wuthering Heights

 

Wuthering Heights

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

October 1 – 18 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

wutheringheights_header

 

 

Time stagnates here.

 

 

“…everything anyone other than an english professor knows about Wuthering Heights at all happens in the first half. Then it drags on and on, focusing mainly on how handsome AND EVIL Heathcliff is, and how twisted he is, and how he’s just going to keep on ruining the lives of basically everyone around him.”

 

From Krypton With Love

 

 

 

#ohheathcliff

 

If it’s a gorgeous, dark, desperate, thrilling thing you’re after don’t miss this Wuthering Heights.

 

One of my favourite companies, shake & stir, continues to come up with some of the most challenging and engaging original live theatre in Brisbane. Their adaptations of classic literature are all superb (1984, Animal Farm, Tequila Mockingbird), and their latest production, a new version of Emily Bronte’s classic gothic masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, is no exception.

 

Adapted and directed by Nick Skubij, this production has a slightly different feel to shake & stir’s previous works, which have been less subtle, and somehow lighter, though no less complex, confronting or shocking in terms of their themes and the impact of each on their audience. This time – it must be the moody design inspired by the eerie moors on which the story takes place – it’s a spectacular looking production and the drama follows suit.

 

 

Terror made me cruel.

 

 

We have come to expect extraordinary beauty from this brilliant creative team: shake & stir, optical bloc and – I’m sure I’ve said it before – Brisbane’s hottest design team comprising Josh McIntosh (Set Design), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Design) and Guy Webster (Sound Design). These guys seem to split up and flit about a bit, but every time they come together with shake & stir, theatre magic happens. It’s as if they come home to play at shake & stir, and out of pure joy and surrender comes their best work. Adding to the mix this time, Leigh Buchanan’s delicate-dramatic touch (Costume Design), makes Wuthering Heights a dark and stormy (yes, you can taste it), sexy and sumptuous production.

 

 

Although the pace lags at times due to Gerry Connolly’s stilted delivery (at times the pauses are effective and at other times, not so much), his characterisation of Nelly Dean and his/her oddly measured phrases remind me of my Aunty Lorna, who has seemed eternally elderly to me, and yet has always been the most lively and strongly opinionated of the relatives I visited with as a child, with the keenest powers of observation and the longest memory. It’s as if Connolly has studied Aunty Lorna’s conversation. I always remember though, in stark contrast to Connolly’s static state, Lorna’s hands shaking to match her voice as she talked about whichever book she was devouring at the time, or the latest horror on the news, or her favourite British TV crime series. She would always insist on pouring the tea for us, in her own kitchen, in her own house, for years and years, before finally moving to a high care facility. She’s ninety-something.

 

In his Director’s Notes, Skubij reminds us that guilt doesn’t only lie with he who sinks the knife in. “Heathcliff has copped a lot of flack over the years and has been hailed as the personification of evil in this tale but what if the real devil wears a housemaid’s outfit?” It’s an excellent point and I feel like this aspect of evil, left to fester and subliminally feed the minds and hearts of others, although hinted at in this adaptation, remains largely unexplored. By Chapter 7 of Bronte’s novel Heathcliff is being advised by Nelly Dean. Sam thinks she is the mastermind and Heathcliff her pawn, though to what end he can’t say. (“Some people are just twisted!”).

 

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I love Connolly on the ivories, the accompaniment lends such a disturbing, penetrating, haunting air to proceedings, and his presence overall as Nelly Dean, particularly as her figure looms overhead, projected across fluttering silk curtains, is eerily omnipresent. (And to throw each character’s image, cleverly consumed by mist and fog early, and then later by curling flames against the flimsy fabric to demonstrate their downfall and their ultimate demise, is an inspired dramatic choice). Without the expertise and creative flair of Projection Designers, optikal bloc (and also, of Photographer, Dylan Evans), this version of Wuthering Heights would not be nearly as powerful.

 

Not quite as inspired, it has to be said, are the wigs selected for use in this production, but now that we’ve mentioned it we’ll just leave that one alone.

 

 

We cannot escape each other.

 

 

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I love Nelle saintly-blonde-bombshell Lee’s Isabella Linton, whose self destruction, in its naivety, is always so much sadder than mad, stubborn Catherine’s, isn’t it? And as Catherine AND Cathy, allow me to rave for a moment about Melanie Zanetti. I’m sure you don’t mind because, having seen her before, you know she is absolute perfection. If this is your first time with Zanetti, enjoy (and make sure it’s not just a one night stand!). She’s a wild, free heart (but not free at all, of course she’s not), like Charlotte Riley in Goky Giedroyc’s 2009 version for PBS. Zanetti transfixes her tall, dark, brooding, vicious vagabond Heathcliff (Ross Balbuziente) and also, every single member of the audience on opening night. What? Am I wrong? She’s absolutely captivating; in both roles emitting the essence of beautiful, alluring girl-child-grown-woman, like a heady fragrance worn lightly, of which we get a sense before the show even starts; I could be wrong but I feel it’s Marc Jacobs’ Oh Lola! (If so, thank you cosmetics training). If indeed it were deliberate, this subtle addition to the theatrical experience is absolute genius. On the other hand, perhaps it’s pure coincidence (if so, thank you unsuspecting audience member), but regardless, we get a sense of it at the beginning of the show, as the scent is carried on the cold wind in the created storm. And what a storm! The opening moments of Wuthering Heights are up there with The Lion King and Les Miserables for unforgettable entry points into the story. The final moments too are breathtaking, stunning, all the superlatives… Anyway, Zanetti’s ability to balance wide-eyed innocence with mad, obsessive passion makes me fear – and relish – having a daughter.

 

She burned too bright for this world.

 

 

In their debuts for shake & stir (though they are no strangers to the stage and screen), Anthony Standish and Julian Curtis are also impressive. This is most interesting and engaging work from Standish (Hindley/Hareton), and it’s the second time I’ve seen Curtis (Edgar). The first was in The Glass Menagerie and I hope there will be many more opportunities to see what he can do. Let’s keep him here a little longer, shall we?

 

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Ross Balbuziente – he of the poster, which has had high school girls and boys stopping in halls and swooning all year – presents a sultry, stormy Heathcliff straight from the pages of the book. I think it’s fair to say it’s likely we’ve never seen the full extent of this performer’s range, or perhaps it’s a lack of total surrender to each role, though what he’s doing always seems to be enough. Even so, there’s an electric undercurrent here that makes me want to slap him and say, “GO THERE” …er, see more from Balbuziente.

 

darlingbutwhatifyoufly

 

Oh, Heathcliff. Are you really as evil as all that? I’ve never believed it! (Save me right now). Let’s call you misunderstood, a product of your environment, and without the consciousness or awareness to meditate on your destructive hatred and your desperate revenge-seeking in order to realise an alternative path.

 

18
Oct
13

Statespeare

 

Statespeare

Shake & Stir Theatre Co and Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse

16 October – 17 October 2013

 

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

 

Does Shakespeare really sucketh so much?

 

Is Shakespeare still relevant? It’s the first rehearsal for the year 12’s Performance Task and Lachlan and Nerys know that with their knowledge of The Bard they cannot fail. Their allocated group members Jay and Rob don’t know the difference between Shakespeare and Schwarzenegger.

 

As this mismatched foursome battle it out on the drama room floor they surprise and shock themselves as they gain a greater understanding of Shakespeare’s most famous plays including Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello,The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet.

 

STATESPEARE is part of the 2013 Inaugural QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival. The Festival gives high school students the chance to compete against other talented Shakespeare fans for the chance to be part of a live Shakespeare stage show. The general public is encouraged to come along to the finals and see the students competing for this exciting opportunity.

 

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Tomorrow (Saturday) is the final day of the QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival! It’s competition day! Get there is you can!

Sat / Competition Sessions 1–4

Session 1 / Duologues 9am
Session 2 / Dance, Music, Photography & Design 11am
Session 3 / Scene Part 1 1pm
Session 4 / Scene Part 2 3pm

 

(each session runs for 90 mins)

 

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At first I balked at the plot of this show. The blurb claimed to keep Shakespeare relevant to adolescents and more specifically, Year 12 students. That in itself is fantastic but what about the audience that isn’t a year 12 student stressing about their O.P.? Is the show still relevant for them? Fortunately, I can say that it is.

 

Whether you’re a student, a drama teacher or a general theatregoer, the quality of Statespeare is remarkable.

 

The performers; Ross Balbuziente, Judy Hainsworth, Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij were all fantastic in their own roles. These four were the original cast. They each seemed made for the part.

 

But credit should go to the two writers of this production too. Nelle Lee, current artistic director of Shake and Stir Theatre Co. originally brought this script to life in 2009. It’s a refreshing take on the “school setting” you might find in a lot of theatre.

 

But she must thank her co-writer as well. He’s been around for a while now. Most people are aware of his work these days. He had biting wit and a great sense of iambic pentameter. Yes, I’m talking about Nelle’s friend William Shakespeare.

 

You don’t need to be a Shakespeare buff to enjoy the show. Nelle Lee and the team select all the best scenes for you, and demonstrate them in humourous and chilling ways.

 

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What I loved about this production is that they actually explain some of the dialogue and scenes in an entertaining way. No one will admit they had no idea what Demetrius in Midsummer’s Night Dream for example might be talking about, but then we don’t have to, after the cast comically demonstrate what’s going on in a modern setting.

 

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This show proves that Shakespeare is relevant for today’s students, and anyone who cares to enjoy a good show. If this were a Senior Drama Performance Task it would easily receive an A+.

 

28
Aug
13

Tequila Mockingbird

 

Tequila Mockingbird

shake and stior theatre co & QPAC

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

22 August – 7 September 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

The creative powerhouse behind the smash hit, sell out productions Animal Farm and 1984, return in 2013 with a new Australian play.

 

Directed by Michael Futcher and featuring a cast of some of Queensland’s finest actors,Tequila Mockingbird visits themes of racial prejudice, the perversion of justice and the consequences of alcohol abuse, all in a uniquely Australian context.

 

After a woman is attacked in a remote Australian town, the racist underbelly rears its head as the community targets a young Indian Doctor who has recently relocated to the area. Only one local man possesses the strength to uncover the truth and defend the accused in the ultimate fight for what’s right but first, he must take care of other matters, a little closer to home. 

 

Don’t miss this bold, brave new work examining a darker side of Australian culture lurking just below the surface.

 

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There are so many reasons to love shake and stir but first, before you keep reading, book your tickets for their Tequila Mockingbird or you’ll miss out! This is a heart-smart and thought provoking contemporary take on the Pulitzer Prize winning classic novel by Nelle Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Kids, if you haven’t read it you’ll want to, after experiencing this production. This is a company consistently bringing us cross-curricular current political and dynamic work – it’s literally breathing new life into old work – and from what I can see, they’ve pretty convincingly cornered the market. If you’re teaching at a school that hasn’t booked them yet, do it. If you’re at a school and your teachers haven’t booked them yet, bug them until they do.

 

With Nelle Lee’s razor sharp recontextualisation of the original story, in the hands of Director, Michael Futcher and brought to us by one of my favourite combinations of talent on stage, not to mention the same gun creative team, shake and stir have done it again.

 

Futcher’s light, precise touches are evident throughout, particularly in the little moments of conversation – a pause, a glance; a response that is recognisable and completely human, however horrifying to some of us – and in the flow of the plot, despite dramatic beat changes, punctuated and highlighted by light and sound (Jason Glenwright and Guy Webster), that make us stop and think (out loud, on more than one occasion, enthusiastic front rowers!), “WOW!” These guys really get it. In fact, in each of shake and stir’s mainstage productions (Animal Farm and 1984 preceded Tequila Mockingbird), I’ve wondered whether or not they are selling themselves short by focusing on education instead of world tours (in fact, I’ve asked them about it!), but HOLD ON. STOP. WAIT JUST A GODAMN COTTON-PICKING MINUTE.

 

How lucky are we that this company focuses on education, and on getting it right for students and teachers?! AND IN JUST FOUR WEEKS?! I know, that’s impressive too, right? The secret? Look, I don’t know, I’ll ask them next time we talk. Maybe they don’t actually sleep. But they are also OLD THEATRE SOULS in new, agile, energetic bodies and minds that can’t stop because they LOVE IT. We see that quite clearly, which makes it a joy to experience anything they do. You think I’m raving? Damn right! Have you booked your tix yet?

 

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Beneath the towering paper walled set, we are introduced to some teeny tiny characters – Australian not American  – all running from something, but only to begin with. They grow and seem to fill the space…until a violent street verdict makes a mockery of the jury’s decision and what was considered a fair trial for an Indian doctor, new to town, accused of assaulting a young girl, and they disappear again. A blatant Bundaberg reference, thrown neatly into the doctor’s opening lines, gets a few gasps and we realise that with this production these guys are here to do business. It’s not just a new take on To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s something else entirely.

 

Strong performances, and thankfully no stereotypes, and truly delightful in her wicked, trashy ways, was Barb Lowing, like Disney’s stepmother to Rapunzel in Tangled, all bark and all bite. Mother knows best? Terrifying! To balance this dastardly character, and prove once again her versatility and formidable talent (yes, remember you were blown away – but not surprised – by Lowing’s masterful performance in The China Incident?), she draws out two other contrasting characters, the self-righteous neighbour, and the friendly kitchen-fail publican. I always remind students to take note of Lowing’s performances; she’s all class, even when her characters are anything but!

 

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Bryan Proberts takes on the Atticus Finch figure, a Sydney lawyer who’s dragged his son out of his Sydney school before he sells any more pot at school. Hang on, that sounds familiar! But here, on the Sunshine Coast, I guess the easier transfer was to Maroochydore SHS! Ha! Isn’t it great to reconnect with old friends on Facebook?! You know who you are! The son is Charlie, played by Nick Skubij (he also plays Dan, the non-committal mate who props up the pub’s counter), and their relationship is beautifully discovered. It’s a nice role for Skubij, who totally gets the bored teen and plays for long enough around the edges of it so that the maturity and strength of character we see towards the end comes as no surprise. It’s beautifully measured.

 

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Ross Balbuziente gets gruff and grubby, as the recently retrenched outback bastard who shows us how not to treat a girl. He’s frightening and revolting, and entirely recognisable. And not just from a stint in Mt Isa. Nelle Lee is the victim in a relationship she is clearly at odds with; we feel like shouting to her, “GET OUT! GET OUT NOW! HE’S NO GOOD FOR YOU!” and Shannon Haegler the new doctor, in rough-as-guts Stanton (but sadly, it could be any Aussie outback town) that has, proudly and defiantly, only one type of rice. And that’s white.

 

There is nothing to fault in any of the performances, nor in the design, context or text itself, which I’d love to see on the page. Hello, Playlab? Tequila Mockingbird is indeed, “a new Australian play” in its best form, from our boldest, most confident young company. I hope you see it before Election Day a-hem September 7.

 

14
May
13

Mud, Sweat and Tears: shake and stir’s Nick Skubij pigs in part 2

Four legs good, two legs bad.

 

Animal Farm, one of the most controversial and studied political commentaries returns to Brisbane in a multi-award winning, physical theatre production. Playing for a strictly limited season, George Orwell’s simple yet intensely powerful fairy tale illustrates with stunning clarity and grotesque beauty how greed and power corrupts and with devastating consequences, can change the course of history.

 

Revolution has taken place at Manor Farm. The pigs have assumed control and under the principles of Animalism a better life free from human service is promised to all. Guided by a simple set of rules and an unrelenting respect for authority, it is not long until the rules that promised freedom become the chains that bind the animals once again.

 

Directed by Michael Futcher and realised by shake & stir and a cast of Queensland’s most dynamic actors, Animal Farm promises to be one of the most shocking, relevant and wickedly funny theatre events of 2013.

 

Nick Skubij

Nick Skubij (Adaptor / Napoleon / Jones) took some time out during shake and stir’s national tour of Animal Farm to tell us about the show, the tour, the company, social media, Shakespeare, Orwell, and the state of arts education in Australia, before the show returns to QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre this week! Animal Farm previews Wednesday and opens Thursday. See you there.

 

Read Part 1 here

 

Part 2

 

Animal Farm is coming to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast as part of a National tour. So is shake & stir reaching regional Australia each year now?

We sure are. With both our in-schools and our mainhouse work. Each year shake & stir perform for over 180 000 people all across the country. In 2011 we hit the road on a three-month national tour of our production Statespeare. We are currently on a similar tour with Animal Farm (36 national venues) and will be heading out again in 2014 with 1984. These tours are a great way for us to get QLD theatre into other states but also to increase the access that people living in regional areas have to high quality live performance. Our in-schools program tours extensively each year through regional QLD, VIC and TAS.  As a Cairns boy who loved to act, sing and dance but didn’t always have the professional opportunities to do so – getting out to the regions and providing these chances for students will always remain high on my priorities for shake & stir. We are also giving regional students across Drama, Dance, Art, Music and Photography an opportunity to interact with professional artists via our freshly launched QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival – but that’s a whole other interview! J

 

Nelle LeeCan you tell us what happens on Manor Farm and what we might, hopefully, take away from this interpretation of Animal Farm? Should we have read the book first?

Ok… Basically we have a bunch of unhappy, mistreated animals on Manor Farm, who are abused daily by their master/farmer– the dreaded Mr. Jones. One evening, the animals gather in the barn to hear Old Major, the sort-of patriarch of the farm, deliver a speech about how the animals hold the power in themselves to overthrow Jones and run the farm much better – in a way that ensures abundance and equality for all. The animals do so – they successfully expel Jones from the farm and start self-governing. They soon learn that every society needs leadership so the pigs appoint themselves as the key decision makers and decide on a set of unbreakable rules (the seven commandments) that shall define their new way of life. Over time, things start to take a turn and, well, I’ll stop there so as to not give it away for those that haven’t read the book! Our adaptation is very faithful to the book. It is not necessary to have read it before you see the show.

 

Have there been any changes since the original production?

The production has changed a little bit – we have a new cast member, Tim Dashwood who brings a whole new energy to the piece. It was really important for us to retain as much as possible from the original but still take the invaluable opportunity to revisit moments that could benefit from a bit of tweaking. We also had to redesign some elements to make the show more ‘tourable’ while retaining the spectacle of the original.

 

Ross Balbuziente

What sort of actors’ preparation or approach has led to the dynamic portrayal of the pigs on Manor Farm?

A big portion of our first week of rehearsal was literally spent work shopping animal movement and watching a lot of youtube clips of pigs, horses, sheep, hens, cows… Initially, we had no limitations on how far we wanted to take the physicality but we did know that we wanted to avoid heading into really obvious ‘animal acting’ territory. We wanted the piece to be very physical but not to alienate the audience. What we found helpful was starting from a literal place and then stripping back until we agreed on the essence of the animals and what was absolutely necessary to get the idea across clearly, quickly and not in a way that distracts from what they are saying (which is where the REAL piggish character comes from). We had the additional challenge in this piece of also having to portray humans – we quickly explored the concept of animalizing the humans and humanizing the animals.

 

What has it been like to work with Director, Michael Futcher, on this production? He speaks so highly of shake & stir. Is this a long-term relationship based on mutual admiration?

Michael is a perfectionist and we love working with him! He brings a meticulous eye for detail and story into the rehearsal room and prior to that, the dramaturgy of the script. He is a very trusting Director and a lot of the time is not interested in dictating movement and blocking but will literally sit back and observe while we all get stuck into working our way through the text on the floor. After absorbing all this, he has an astute way of retaining the good and tossing away the not-so-good. He is very patient with ironing out kinks in the script and suggesting judicious snips and cuts – he shares our vision for short and sharp theatre. We have always very much admired the work that Michael has done in the past and our professional relationship has developed into an ongoing one – Tequila Mockingbird will mark our third production together. We have a fantastic creative dialogue now and we know and respect what each contributes to the mix.

 

Tim Dashwood

I’m a big fan of your design team; these guys are a force to be reckoned with! What do Josh McIntosh (Designer), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer) and Guy Webster (Sound Designer/Composer) bring to Animal Farm?

They are awesome! Each has a very clear aesthetic that works for what we want to artistically achieve and they all work so well together. The beauty of our design team is that they reinvent themselves each time we create a new work – Out Damn Snot! and 1984 are two very different looking and sounding shows! But what is most fantastic about our team is their work ethic. Each will work relentlessly to pull off their designs when it comes to getting the show up and what they achieve in the time they have is extraordinary. We also had the great pleasure of collaborating with the boys from optikal bloc on 1984 and anyone who saw the show will agree that their av work spread over 12 60inch plasma screens was pretty special.

 

You guys are a tight-knit team and you’ve worked together for a while. Can you tell us about building the company with Ross Balbuziente and Nelle Lee?

We started this adventure seven years ago now and it seems like yesterday. Everyday I go to work with them, whether it is to our office, into the rehearsal room, into a workshop, performance or national tour, it is like going on a new adventure with my two best friends. Corny – yes, but true. Back in 2006 when it all started (fueled by a lot of cheese platters and wine if memory serves me correct) it was the same thing. I think what makes this work is that we understand each other so well and we respect each other. While we don’t always see eye-to-eye on certain things, there is a huge amount of trust that we have for each other’s decisions and artistic ideas. Between Nelle, Ross and myself, all major business decisions are shared equally as are all creative decisions. I guess we are unique in this respect in that we each jointly wear the ‘Artistic Director’ hat but then individually have so many other unspoken roles vital to the sustainability of a commercial company.

 

Bryan ProbetsBryan Probets and Timothy Dashwood are a couple of Brisbane’s favourite performers. What qualities do they bring to this production? 

We pride ourselves on providing employment for QLD artists and we are thrilled to be working with two of the best in this show. Again, there is a lot of trust in the ensemble, five actors giving it their all for 85 minutes – physically, vocally and emotionally. Bryan and Tim are two very generous and committed performers in every sense of the word. We are also fortunate that the company really enjoys each other’s company – we have had many memorable moments on tour both on and off stage. But of course, what happened on tour stays on tour 😉 Also, it would be remiss of me not to give a big shout out to our crew who are also some of our state’s best – Our Stage/Tour Manager Dan Sinclair, our Technicians Scott Barton and Clark Corby and our Drivers Speedy and Frank – they all bring a wealth of experience and like Boxer – they always work harder!

 

How does shake & stir cast their shows? Is it invitation only or do you hold general auditions?

Most of the time, our mainhouse shows are cast by invitation. When programming or discussing our future productions, we usually have an actor in mind who we think would be ideal who we chat with very early on to gauge their interest in collaborating. That said, if we get stuck, we hold specific auditions based on recommendations from our Director. Each year, the company holds General Auditions for our annual schools touring program. On offer is a full-time year of work for energetic, enthusiastic actors keen to work with young people. Details about these auditions are announced via agencies and our website and social networks. Auditions are then by invitation only based on the strength and suitability of their application. We have to do this as we get a couple of hundred applications from people all across QLD/NSW.

 

What are your top tips for aspiring actors? Do they still need to leave Brisbane to train, or to get a foot in the door? What are the advantages of staying?

My top tip is that an actor who succeeds in creating a career in the arts is an actor who is capable of creating their own opportunities. Whether you ever actually need to create your own work is irrelevant but having as many skills up your sleeve as possible is the key. You definitely don’t need to leave Brisbane to find work, but you can’t sit around waiting for work to come and find you. I think the best training institutions are the ones that place this idea on par with the actual actor training! Brisbane is great in that it has a flourishing independent theatre scene as well as two fantastic funded companies each programming diverse, exciting work and each with very clear pathways to connect with them. There is huge support available right now for artists wanting to get out there and make theatre – support that ranges from financial or government grant support to venue support for both rehearsal and production.

Tequila Mockingbird

I’m excited about your next adaptation too, Tequila Mockingbird, which opens in August. Can you tell us about it?

Another much loved, iconic story retold for today. It is a show we have sat on since we began the company waiting for the right time. We step away from a straight adaptation and move toward a contemporary retelling, inspired by the legendary novel by Nelle Harper Lee, written by our very own Nelle Lee! It’s going to be gutsy, confronting, honest and will certainly push some boundaries. We welcome back our powerhouse team of regulars and add a couple of new artists to the mix – the fabulous Barbara Lowing and recent USQ graduate Shannon Haegler. The show is in co-production with QPAC and tickets are selling fast. We have challenged our team to reinvent themselves to create another theatre piece that is unmistakably shake & stir but continues to push the company in new directions and challenges the audiences’ expectation of what to expect when coming along to see one of our shows.