Posts Tagged ‘pacharo mzembe

10
Aug
19

L’Appartement

 

L’Appartement

Queensland Theatre

QPAC Cremorne

August 3 – 31 2019

 

Review by Shannon John Miller

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

29
May
16

The Tragedy of King Richard III

 

The Tragedy of King Richard III

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse

May 21 – June 11 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.

– Napoleon Bonaparte

After a questionable start to the 2016 season, La Boite triumphs with The Tragedy of King Richard III – affectionately referred to here as Dick3 – the most intriguing, challenging and satisfying theatrical event of the year so far. An exhumation, a thorough examination by brilliant minds, Queensland Premier Drama Award winners, Marcel Dorney and Daniel Evans, this production not only brings together two of the country’s best writers, but gathers together on stage and off, a truly formidable team of creatives.

Undoubtedly our most fearless director, Evans is able to find compassion in raging fury and irreverent fun in serious ethical and political discourse, creating a new form of theatre; a new style of conversation that challenges and rewards deeply, actors and audiences.

This is the sort of show we expect to see come to us direct from an acclaimed season overseas, and perhaps premiere at Brisbane Festival (September brings Snow Whitethis Shakespeare, and a whole lot more to the table). It’s the sort of show that makes us question everything we thought we knew about theatre and history, and the way we continue to look at the world. It’s a show that turns you inside out, slams you upside down and spits on you, laughing, before reaching out to help you get to your feet again, asking with genuine concern, “Do you want a Milo?”

It’s lucky/exciting/apt for Queensland that our top two companies are starting to make a habit now of giving wings to slightly more unconventional ideas and the support to help them take flight. This one soars and I won’t be at all surprised if, just as La Boite’s Edward Gant did, Dick3 attracts the attention of some of the nation’s other major players. In fact, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t.

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Dick3 is one of the most designed productions we’ve seen in this space (Designer Kieran Swann, Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright, Composer Guy Webster), utilising the very air that exists between light and rain, and the cold, wet ground, surrounding the raised floor with a black catwalk containing hidden trap doors storing a stash of props and wardrobe pieces inside each space, and having performers take hold of lights for good reason, rather than as a token effort to involve them in the meta layers of the storytelling. 

Because this is certainly not Shakespeare. This is very un-Shakespeare – next level Shakespeare – and it comes with the confident “fuck you” of a generation of genuinely passionate theatre makers who strive for a little more than mediocrity (unlike the next), brilliantly combining box office appeal with original experimental storytelling, questioning far more than they end up divulging and forcing us to reconsider the known “facts” of the history of the world and, in this case, one of the most infamous of Shakespeare’s historical characters. 

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I’m gazing into blue space when Naomi Price appears in front of me, in a Kate Middleton inspired ensemble, with a hand held mic, which she raises to her mouth after pronouncing very loudly and clearly and properly and powerfully and Shakespearingly, “NOW…”  She firmly, politely tells us to turn our mobile phones to Off not Silent and asks that those who insist on leaving their phones on Silent, raise their gadget in the air and admit it. She asks those who didn’t decide – neither switching to Silent or admitting doing so – WHY? There is laughter and we are immediately relaxed and somewhat thrown by this direct address…

Price proceeds to stride around the catwalk and paint a picture that is so vivid, so real, we feel as if we’re in the carpark in Leicester in 2012, standing, shivering, wondering what’s come before us, and looking down upon the reviled bones of King Richard III.

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There is the smell of burning rubber, steam rising, mist swirling, rain falling, blood pooling, blue pouring and splashing and emptying across the stage, the concrete that becomes marble before our eyes, the sponge hump, the gnarled hands, the buckets, the handhelds, the dagger, the sword, the paper crown, the tarp, the blank pages of the book – it could be Harry Potter, an empowering choice for a child actor (he’ll take what he can) – and there is us. Always us, purveyors and interpreters and interlopers; I actually feel unwelcome at times, as if I’m at the wrong dinner party. And this is deliberate, because ultimately, who cares about so much of the history we’re told is true? Is it? If it is, what of it? If we’re sitting there, attempting to intellectualise or justify or reframe in a postmodern context anything that comes from the annuls, it’s shot down in flames and we’re offered an alternate view that suddenly seems more reasonable than our originally held belief. 

Always surprising, this show is the one extra Tequila shot at the end of the night that sees us agreeing with someone we’d presumed would never even make the guest list. Dick3 is an equaliser, a game changer. If the national culture leaned more towards arts than football, this is the match of the season, and could just as easily be seen in a stadium. Imagine that!

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It’s difficult to understand the reluctance to more reasonably support arts and culture. More Australians go to art galleries each year than go to the AFL and NRL combined. The creative industries employ more people than agriculture, construction or even mining, and indeed contribute as much as 75% of the economic benefit of the mining sector…

Let’s talk about STEAM rather than STEM. Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics should all be key parts of our education curriculum. Decades of research shows that artistic engagement nourishes all learning, so if we want an innovative, imaginative and well-rounded nation, let’s have one…

People have a right to arts and culture.

 

David Berthold, AD Brisbane Festival

 

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Price is so powerful in this space, with the vocals and stage presence to knock you flat. She sets the scene and establishes the connection with the audience, which the performers maintain throughout. We connect with each of them. We’re part of this story, part of history. Amy Ingram is a seductive, deliciously wicked delight, and Helen Howard an articulate, elegant, fearsome creature, just as she should be. In Howard’s hands, the act of lifting a chainmail sleeve from a bucket of blood and putting it on, blood dripping down her flesh and soaking into the fabric of her dress, becomes a fine art, pure (horrifying, mesmerising) seduction. Pacharo Mzembe is a prince, giving everything in this performance, which, having now seen so much of NT Live, appears to have come directly from the West End, such is his mastery of voice and movement, particularly in the thrilling fight sequences choreographed by Nigel Poulton (Assistant Fight Director Justin Palazzo-Orr). These are Poulton’s best bloody, sweaty routines to date, executed with ferocious intent by Mzembe and MacDonald. Todd MacDonald commands the space, his return to the stage a triumph in itself. When he’s not fighting or plotting or spilling blood he’s bringing to life a previously unknown version of William Shakespeare – a very funny one – and allowing himself to be directed by the actors who sit, watching critically, in the corners.

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But it’s 14-year old Atticus Robb, in his professional stage debut, who stuns us with a performance that is mature beyond his years, bringing passion and ambition, sincerity and vulnerability to multiple roles, including that of The Actor, Atticus. His is thrilling natural talent, most evident in a Richard III rockstar monologue that steals the show. This kid’s got it.

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The Tragedy of King Richard III is bold and brilliant, death-of-theatre-defying stuff, giving the Australian theatrical landscape permission to change again, to carry on evolving, despite its current challenges.

Without bringing Shakespeare to the stage, Dorney and Evans have brought Shakespeare’s essence and centuries of society’s most deeply held beliefs about ambition and power and connection and the human condition to an audience who thought they’d seen everything. Everything that is, until Dorney and Evans’ astute take on anything at all.

NOW… We’ll see if there are others who can keep up with the exhilarating pace set here.

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

13
Sep
15

Prize Fighter

 

Brisbane_Festival_Generic_2015

 

Prize Fighter

Brisbane Festival & La Boite

Roundhouse Theatre

September 5 – 26 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

These are the shows we don’t get to see… We don’t get to see these shows on the Australian stage.

Future. D. Fidel

 

These are the stories that are with us and amongst us.

Todd Macdonald

 

 

September sees Brisbane immersed in the most incredible, inspiring and life-affirming stories, with a Brisbane Festival prelude brought to us by Brisbane Writers Festival, which I’ve enjoyed for the last three years, thanks to Cinnamon Watson Publicity (#tweetingit #xsneverstops). One of the highlights of this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival was hearing Somalian refugee, Abdi Aden, speak about his incredible journey from Mogadishu to Kenya and back to Mogadishu before escaping the horrors of his home country and travelling to Australia via Romania and Germany without family, friends, money or any knowledge of the English language. Abdi not only survived, he thrived. You can read his inspiring story in Shining The Story of a Lucky Man. Like Abdi, La Boite’s Artist-in-Residence, Future D. Fidel, has come from the most frightening of circumstances to settle in Australia and succeed in creating a new life in a safe haven.

 

His story is one of resilience, endurance, ambition and humble gratitude.

 

When you come into the theater, you have to be willing to say, “We’re all here to undergo a communion, to find out what is going on in this world.” If you’re not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.

 
― David Mamet Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama

 

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Prize Fighter is powerful beyond measure, affecting each of us differently and challenging us to consider the stories that are the newest strands of the cultural weave of our community. This is a “mythical” story tense with the knowingness of the past, and the anticipation of what might happen in the future. It’s not a call to action or a cry for sympathy, but more a long, low sigh of personal pain and regret. It’s heavily weighted with themes of ambition, redemption and forgiveness but it’s not all miserable. It’s about recognising our starting and finishing points and doing the best we can in between. It’s about the choices we make and the paths our choices put us on.

 

On opening night the show starts late, a little later than usual in fact (you can usually count on a 6-8 minute delay getting into the Roundhouse), but bearing in mind we’ve enjoyed drinks and canapés for the last hour in Brisbane Festival’s funky Theatre Republic precinct, everyone is relaxed and chatty on their way in. The beautiful up-cycled space (designed by Sarah Winter) has proven difficult to leave – the vibe is fresh and fun with plenty of food and drink and friends, and live music and inspiring conversations. There are other shows opening nearby tonight too because BRISBANE FESTIVAL.

 

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The action has already started as we file in to take our seats, and for fifteen minutes we sit in awe of the intense focus and physical activity at our feet. It’s actually mesmerising. In the front row of the Roundhouse, ringside, we see the first drops of sweat start to catch the light on well-toned black backs as the company warms up with an informal circuit session supervised by trainers from Brisbane Boxing. These guys have been an integral part of the rehearsal process but when they suddenly disappear we know the show is about to start.

 

A talented young boxer, Isa, is preparing for the biggest fight of his career. On the line is the national title and the promise of fame and riches beyond his wildest dreams. What unfolds is a modern-day fable of a Congolese boy orphaned by war and forced to become a child soldier by the very people who killed his family. His powerful left hook offers a new life in Australia, but his greatest obstacle is not his opponent – it’s his past.

 

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Prize Fighter is loud and bold, with video projected onto a seamless in–the-round canvas surrounding the raised boxing ring (design by Bill Haycock & video design by optikal bloc. Sound design & original compositions by Felix Cross and lighting design by David Walters). We strain to see the images from where we are but they must be at eye level for the upper rows of the Roundhouse. From the very top rows the experience might be akin to watching ancient gladiatorial combat, the original popular art/entertainment. Movement & Fight Director, Nigel Poulton, has had his work cut out for him on this production and he doesn’t disappoint. Even without being a fan of boxing the fight sequences are exhilarating.

 

The final match features a live HD camera feed, as well as a logo and a hashtag. Throughout the show bright white light exposes the desire to win and the dedication to training, and a much darker state employing a red wash takes us back to Africa, when our prize fighter is just ten years old, learning to kill or be killed.

 

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The development of the text has enjoyed support from Dramaturg, Chris Kohn, as well as other stakeholders including Michael Futcher. The structure of the work allows us to gain insight into both time frames, with the fights stopping to allow flashbacks utilising the same versatile actors in multiple roles. The technical precision from the box allowing this magic to happen is impressive and without it (and Stage Manager, Heather O’Keefe) I doubt the show, in terms of its storytelling, would work as well.

 

But the joy and pathos of this production is ultimately in its beautifully gauged performances (the acting is strong – it’s real, raw and honest), tenderly crafted by Director, Todd Macdonald. We know Pacharo Mzembe from The Mountaintop (also directed by Macdonald), and it’s a pleasure to see him in this role, literally flexing his muscles to play a prize fighter who doesn’t necessarily feel the need to be a champion, unlike his coach, Luke. Margi Brown Ash glows with motherly/trainerly pride (there’s nothing typically male about her apart from the name), and she grimaces for only half a moment, before compassion takes over, when overwhelming fear, guilt and the grisly past gets in between her own ambition and Isa’s success in the ring.

 

The tough love is real and the moments of understanding between them, the nuances of the relationship, are a joy to witness.

 

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The ensemble is a good lesson in casting with Gideon Mzembe (yes, the just-as-gorgeous and super talented brother of Pacharo), Thuso Lekwape (a standout with that rare star quality; there is such intensity and brilliant energy in his performance), and the beautiful, soulful Sophia Emberson-Bain (she sings superbly too and presents on a silver platter some of the sweetest and cheekiest comical moments of the show). They contribute enormously to the storytelling, switching between roles at a rate of knots and taking care to show us sufficient contrast between characters. Kenneth Ransom shines as an old “Aunty” particularly, offering a perfectly timed and nicely shaped momentary breath of comedy where it’s needed to break up tragic events. There are times when the actors’ words are not as clear as they should be, but the voices are so beautiful I have to forgive them their accents (talk about authentic), and stick to absorbing the story, its melody, and the impact of what, by the end of it, is left unsaid.

 

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In Prize Fighter, we experience one man’s personal struggles and the horror of a war affecting so many, but one which we continue to hear little about. It’s a terribly tragic and shocking story, to which most of us can’t possibly relate, but that’s why it’s vital. Prize Fighter is full of heart. It’s a story that can be appreciated for its authenticity and contemporary relevance. It might even help us to welcome other prize fighters into our communities rather than shrug our shoulders and be content to do nothing at all when they have nowhere else to go. We’re not yet so desensitised that we can walk away and forget about this one. And that makes it not just interesting festival programming or great entertainment, but life-affecting art.

 

…in a very real way this story is now our own.

David Berthold

 

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And there are plays – and books and songs and poems and dances – that are perhaps upsetting or intricate or unusual, that leave you unsure, but which you think about perhaps the next day, and perhaps for a week, and perhaps for the rest of your life.

 

Because they aren’t clean, they aren’t neat, but there’s something in them that comes from the heart, and, so, goes to the heart.

 

― David Mamet Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama

 

 

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Production pics by Dylan Evans Photography

03
Mar
14

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.