Posts Tagged ‘Professional Theatre

23
Nov
13

The Stars Shine Bright in Brisbane: Harvest Rain Season Launch 2014

 

Harvest Rain Theatre 2014 season launch

QPAC Playhouse

18th  November 2013

Attended by Meredith Walker

 

Harvest Rain stars shine in 2014

 

After 18 days of social media clues, Harvest Rain Theatre Company revealed its 2014 season in an all-singing, all-dancing launch at QPAC’s Playhouse. For the company’s 2014 season, its first as a fully professional company*, Harvest Rain will be continuing what it does best, presenting a trio of big musicals featuring an impressive list of Australian stars. The season features a golden oldie, a modern Broadway classic and a Broadway hit musical, ranging from the sublime to the silly, but all with promise of maximum entertainment.

 

Harvest Rain is fast developing a reputation for effectively reviving and recreating the classics.

 

The company’s 2013 Oklahoma proves that classic musicals can still be popular and the company aims to recapture the magic when it reintroduces the delightful musical Guys and Dolls to a modern audience in March.  After their acclaimed performances in Oklahoma, Ian Stenlake and Angela Harding will reteam in the show and the audience was reminded of their vocal talents, including through Stenalke’s dynamic performance of Luck be a Lady. The really big news, however, was that the company has recently signed Gold Logie winner Daryl Somers to play Nicely Nicely Johnson, a role made famous on the Australian stage by the late Ricky May. And Somers was in full schick mode as he hammed it up about his preparation for the weighty role. Auditions for professional ensemble roles are to be held in December.

 

Image by Nick Morrissey

 

Everyone is invited to the Jellicle Ball when the company presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats in an arena spectacular style show at the Brisbane Convention Centre for five performances in May. With over 500 performers taking to the stage, Cats promises to be a glorious production of immense scale. Indeed, it will be the largest production of Cats ever staged in the southern hemisphere. While the whimsical cats shone both on stage and as they slinked about the post-launch function, the highlight was undoubtedly headliner Marina Prior’s goosebumpy performance of Memory, the show’s haunting anthem.

 

Audiences are guaranteed a good time when Simon Gallaher and Jon English reunite thirty years after their Pirates of Penzance romp for the Tony Award winning Monty Python musical Spamalot, based on the cult 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After rousing renditions of Knights of the Round Table and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Lady of the Lake Julie Anthony revealed how she was coaxed out of retirement for the show, which will be staged in QPAC’s Concert Hall in October.

 

Harvest Rain has not only earned its place at QPAC, but its energetic approach to theatre making makes its works valuable resources for school groups. Indeed, shows such as Cats, provide an exciting access point to for school students to engage with a classic text, wether that text be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved musical or its genesis, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Elliot, in a welcoming context. Not only this, but the company offers students the opportunity to engage with the arts on a practical level though their musical theatre internship program, in keeping with its aim to nurture young artists in their passion for the performing arts. Harvest Rain will also be conducting auditions for the Cats youth ensemble in early December.

 

The Arts in Australian schools is at a turning point; Australian students now all have an entitlement to education in the five art forms – dance, drama, media arts, music and visual art.

 

Companies such as Harvest Rain, should be commended for the manner in which they encourage young people to participate in the Arts more fully and to understand how the arts provide unique and valuable ways of making meaning.

 

Harvest Rain’s motto for 2014 is ‘the stars shine bright in Brisbane’ and if the 2014 launch is any indication, this is indeed the case, as the company adds to their list of the acclaimed artists who have trodden the boards in a Harvest Rain show over the past three decades.

 

*In 2014, Harvest Rain is giving young amateur performers from across South-East Queensland the opportunity to take part in a large-scale arena presentation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS, the largest production of the classic musical ever staged in the southern hemisphere.

 

Australia’s leading lady of musical theatre, Marina Prior, will star as Grizabella in this record breaking production, along with a core cast of professional musical theatre performers (auditions for the professional adult cast will be held in January 2014). Surrounding this cast will be a large youth ensemble made up of over 500 young amateur performers from across South-East Queensland.

 

If you want to be one of those young performers, then apply to audition today!

 

24
Dec
10

Uncle Vanya

I’ve been catching up on the the last couple of episodes of Rake and whilst watching Richard Roxburgh, it occurred to me that I really should tell you how wonderful it was to see him on stage as Uncle Vanya, for STC, last week. Interestingly, my mum (and others) didn’t agree; she took issue with (Director) Tamas Ascher‘s whole vaudeville-esque approach and is of the opinion that something (or someone) akin to Roxburgh’s Rake character, Cleaver Greene, would make a more likable fellow in the title role in Chekhov’s classic play. To me, Roxburgh played a Vanya on the verge (some would say broken already) and shared with us the full gamut of human emotion, winning our sympathy early…well, clearly, not my mother’s sympathy! But that’s ok! Because this is Theatre! This is Art! And we are each entitled to our own opinions!

Interesting to read, as I do, some other opinions. Let’s look at them later, shall we? The overall impression I got from this production was that it was reinterpreted and staged to entertain, rather than to educate, a new Chekhov audience. This was, I think, Chekhov’s original intent (the humour is very much embedded in the text) and has been forgotten by various companies (and universities) over the decades, who have given us the impression that the classics should be highly regarded, carefully considered and deeply felt, rather than recognised, appreciated and enjoyed. I was so glad to see (IMHO) STC treat it as a gift to be enjoyed.

My opinion about Cate Blanchett hasn’t changed. I admire and adore her. She is surely one of the most consummate actors of our time (this, when Judi Dench has been named best stage actor of all time). Her beauty is incandescent, her voice is sublime and her collective skills – employed seemingly effortlessly – to portray even the slightest hint of emotion, both on stage and on screen, cannot be contested. As Yelena, Ms Blanchett was beguiling and SO beautifully bored. In fact, I have decided that it is my ambition to be that beguiling AND that beautifully bored one day. Also, I would like, one day, to casually and seemingly effortlessly fall backwards through an open doorway without causing any injury or humiliation to myself or to anybody else whatsoever. Just saying.

It was a treat to see John Bell as the Professor, Jacki Weaver as Nanny and Anthony Phelan as Telegin. In fact, Mr Phelan reminded me of a delightful, gentle friend, with whom I used to work, so tender and amusing was he. It was a disappointment to me that Hayley McElhinney, with her long list of credits, including the honour of being one of the 12 contracted to The Actors Company, completely lost the depths and layers and contours of the final monologue, which I have always loved as it is written and loathed as it is delivered, in that classically-trained, dark and dismal, typically university-interpreted Checkhov voice; empty of the hope that underlies the acceptance of the working poor that life does indeed go on and thus, work must also, quite simply GO ON. There was the hard determination in her voice but none of the subtle, gentle joy and love and light simultaneously, which I have always felt needed by the end of Chekhov, in order to let us leave the theatre looking forward to the next day rather than dreading it. And I wanted her to have loved and lost and retained something. I’m thinking of Pippin’s Grand Finale. Not because I think every show should finish with flash pots and glorious death but with the hope that there are still the simple joys to be found in every day, if only we look for them, even in the face of despair. And after her tumultuous journey, I expected more…contrast.

To put Cate Blanchett on stage with Hugo Weaving was pretty much a stroke of genius. For me, the relationship between them MADE this production. What I want to see in any production is the connection between the characters and for each, a clear journey. The connection between Blanchett and Weaving was pure magic. Each had a journey of epic proportions, made up of the most minute detail. To join them for 4 acts meant a masterclass for actors, for the cost of a coveted ticket.

The tickets were booked a year in advance, as part of an annual sojourn to Sydney “to see Cate”, which, each year, involves my mum, my sister, various friends from editing and publishing as well as a bunch of other friends, who are now known in literary circles at least, as The Family Law.

We did not get (we did not try to get) anywhere near Oprah while we were there but we did spend hours wandering through Annie Leibovitz‘s life, at the MCA, which was inspiring and incredibly moving. In a room holding a series of photographs of her dying father and another series of her dying long-time partner, Susan Sontag, I was moved to tears and unable to look away…

This Vanya failed to stir in me the same emotions. Despite this, I loved it. For me, that is great theatre. For Jason Blake, of The Sydney Morning Herald, same (read his review here). Not so, for some of his readers and these are the comments I find fascinating. Hint: read Blake’s review first…

Then read…

Couldn’t disagree more with this review. The production was a travesty of Chekhov’s work.

The adaptation, with indulgent Shakespeare references to boot, managed to lose all the depth of the Russian original replacing it with a Carry On! version full of slapstick. All the beautiful monologues washed over the audience and many of us left feeling gravely disappointed. Checkov should give you a kick in the guts by the end but all the beautiful monologues washed over to nothing and I left the theatre feeling gravely disappointed.

Bill Peters | Sydney – November 15, 2010, 8:29AM

And…

Some sanity – thanks Bill Peters!

I sadly feel as though many theatre makers are guilty of grossly underestimating the sophistication of their audiences and therefore feel the need to ‘panto’ shows up. You do not have to be a theatre buff (which I am not) to realise when you are being condescended to and when this occurs walking through the liminal door that good theatre (so I am told) should open is next to impossible.

The sycophants in the crowd irked me no end. It is as though they are all playing the part of theatre goers, all in on this bizzare conceit instead of ever truly engaging with the work. My relief upon leaving the theatre earned my sanity five stars!

Chris Hanrahan | Sydney – November 17, 2010, 3:51PM

And…

Embarrassingly, those ‘sycophants’ in the crowd were my fellow students from NIDA.

They were laughing up at every opportunity so people would look at them.

I too was bored with this show. If anyone saw the production from Maly Theatre a couple of years ago you’ll know what I mean. That production had me in tears, digging around in my bag for tissues, a cloth, anything.

I think everyone’s a bit starstruck.

NIDA Grad | Sydney – November 19, 2010, 8:07AM

 

I was determined to get over my starstruckedness because, let’s face it, I’m a forum bunny and you can imagine how excited I was about being there on the NwtA (Night With The Actors). I actually had a question! So I asked it! I asked, after a lot of other fussy queries about the inclusion of Shakespeare and about working with a non-english speaking director, about the company’s general approach to text and to working with each other. It was was important to me to verbalise what we have been getting nearer to defining as XS Entertainment‘s approach to our own creative process. Who better to answer than the Co-Artistic Director of the Company, Cate Blanchett?! She said, “Text is the bedrock. And then, as actors, we each bring to it what we will.” And I am so glad it is as simple as that!

After, of course I was totes inspired to spend a heap of money at the bookstore downstairs while my sister and co posed for pics outside by the poster…

I’m finally posting this on Christmas Eve and I hope Christmas and New Year’s Eve are wonderful for you. Poppy and I have just watched It’s A Wonderful Life and it really is the ultimate reminder of the season.

Next week, keep up with what’s happening out at waterlogged Woodfordia by following XS Entertainment on Twitter!

12
Oct
10

Red Sky Morning

Red Sky Morning got me. It really got me. It really got me thinking. About all sorts of things. Bear with me…

THING 1

How close to self-destruction are any of us? Are we not all ever-so-slowly imploding silently over something? No? Not at all? Perfectly, delightfully happy in every way every day? Really? Okay. Maybe it’s just me.

But have you never thought (or not quite thought) while you’ve been driving, about letting the car gradually drift into the other lane entirely? Or off the road entirely and into the scrub and the trunks of the eucalypts? Off a cliffside and into a canyon? You’ve never had a Thelma and Louise moment? Not ever? Just me? No prescriptions filled twice over and no one at home to cook for? No walk-into-the-sea fantasy? No wish for a loaded gun? Just me. Okay. Well, clearly not I’m afraid, because this is something that Red Sky Morning dares to address. Or at least dares to dare you to consider.

Stop. I don’t want you to flood my inbox with ARE YOU OKAY messages because I’M OKAY.

The point of difference of course, between seeing these events in our mind’s eye and taking action to bring about these events must be somewhere vaguely in a place where we remember we are loved and we have an awful lot to live for. Or, if one can’t remember such a poignant thing at that point, perhaps it’s the fear of enduring any sort of real physical pain that stops us. Or the knowledge that those left behind will suffer unbearable anguish, unable to ever understand what it was we forgot there was/is to live for. I’m not sure. I’ve never stepped (or steered) quite that close to the edge. In any case, how do we stop time at that point, in order to reconsider and take that step away from the other place, the place of tragic – not always quite conscious – decisions about finally, one dark day or night, acting out our fantasies of self-harm or suicide? I can’t actually answer that. It’s heavy stuff.

Red Sky Morning is really heavy stuff. Tom Holloway has written nothing and everything about my life. And quite possibly about yours too. His ability as a writer is obvious and something that, during the afternoon’s discussion with the cast and the director, they kept coming back to. I could feel that they were, rightly so, in complete awe of Tom’s lyric. I’m fascinated that from a piece written originally in Word columns, for three characters to speak a monologue each, together in cacophony for the duration, a brilliant composition was structured and workshopped and re-structured and rehearsed and re-structured, to become distinct movements, delivered to stunning emotional effect. Sam Strong is a BIG fan of Anne Bogart’s work. So yes, you got those references there. I knew you would.

In turns, David (company AD), Sarah (company casting), Erin (company admin) and Sam Strong (director), explained the process by which this show came about. It became clear that it has been the collaboration, between writer, director, designer, actors and audiences, over a three-year process, that has made this piece so real and raw and really funny and completely devastating all at the same time. The cast, without exception, were simply outstanding in their vocal work particularly (um, rote learning lines my arse, guys; maybe to begin with, as one might learn poetry in the primary school but then there is talent and intuition and intellect at work!) and in their uncanny ability to match each other’s continuously changing energies, making physical and emotional connections (and complete detachments, sometimes almost within the same instant) without actually connecting with each other through touch, proximity or any eye contact. Ever. Seriously. I’ve only seen that level of intense commitment – I’m talking about that level of extreme character too – in the snippets of Alice Ripley in Next to Normal on Broadway, on YouTube. In actual fact, there are a few parallels there, between mother and mother, which would be apparent if you are a theatrical geek-freak, as I am, and you have perhaps watched said clips of Alice Ripley in Next to Normal on Broadway, on YouTube, something like, ooh, six million times.

I MAY HAVE EVEN POSTED IT ALREADY. HERE IT IS AGAIN BECAUSE IT IS SO GOOD.

BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE. NEXT TO NORMAL IS COMING TO A THEATRE NEAR YOU. That is, if you’re anywhere near MTC and the precinct next year.

THING 2

Red Stitch is my new favourite company in this country. In fact, I will attribute them with validating the way that Sam and I approach our work and with inspiring us to continue down this path, gather the right people around us gradually and produce great theatre in our own time, via our own non-methods, attracting and building our own audiences along the way. It is highly unlikely that anybody will really care about that now, at this point. I’m just saying. For future reference. For, you know, editorial, for when they’re searching desperately at deadline, for quotes and links to include in a feature story about the theatre-makers from Queensland. I’M JUST PUTTING IT OUT THERE. FOR THE UNIVERSE, YOU KNOW?

THING 3

See, now we’ve progressed beyond the Seuss Things.

The touring set is pretty much the original set. It cost the company $1000.

The reddish earth for the floor is sourced locally, wherever they go, immediately giving a great sense of place and somehow – not entirely sure what I mean – a sense of trust or normality (or something) and authenticity (or something) to this production, just by it being there, underfoot. I think it was the reality underneath, if you cared to look through the thick, murky layer of fantasy and smog (hello, Mt Isa memories) that served to ground us again, bringing us back to that safe, child-like place of trust and normality, just as the father craved, grasping handfuls of earth as he lay there upon it, just considering his place in this lonely place and just as the daughter craved, reacting violently to everything happening outside of her control by forcing a fight, in the dirt in the school yard, with her best friend, finally losing all self-control and regaining at least some sort of self-respect in the defense of her mother against the public taunts and accusations, which she had previously ignored.

Then again, the director and the designer may have had a conversation that went something (or nothing) like this:

DISCLAIMER: I did not hear Sam Strong say, “mate” in all the time we were there. It’s late. I’m tired. If it were a show about putting on a show (currently enjoying a Brisbane season), this is how it would play out.

 

 

Timber. Timber floor boards, mate.

No. Too warm, too friendly, too comforting. How about dirt?

Dirt. Soil. The real, red earth. The dust of life

No mate, that’s Bui Doi you’re thinking of; they’re doing Miss Saigon in Brisbane while we’re there, aren’t they? That’s a brave choice.

Yeah, yeah. Brave choice…

Dirt, mate; let’s get the local dirt and spread it across the floor. It’ll be even more comforting than boards.

Yeah, yeah, no boards; local dirt’s good. But you know it’s been done, mate.

No, not for ages, mate; not since Capricornia and that was only seen by the Brisbane peeps. Do the local dirt, mate.

Alright, mate, that’ll be brilliant. And local. Dirt.

 

 

ASIDE: When I notice that in the back of the cute little STC season brochure for 2011, in their clever little SUPPORT US YOU LOVE US YOU LOVE OUR LAVISHNESS (and p.s. don’t forget our efforts to recycle and greenify the company) the donations they received this year covered costume and set costs upwards of $20 000 for multiple productions, I realise what sort of company I would like to work…like. I would say work for, only you would not say no to an STC gig if it were to come up, would you?! Well I certainly wouldn’t. But by the same token, there is something to be said for the humble independents, draining minimal funding and producing exceptional theatrical work for their country, regardless. Hats off, I say.

So within the strict confines of an ingeniously designed venetian-blind-box, a little family, in a typical almost-outback small town struggles to simply be together. On the surface, it’s a play about survival. Under the surface, it’s about questioning the desire to keep trying…fighting to survive. Who can be bothered? And what (or whom) for?

A husband and father convinces himself that he is, in fact, “bloody lucky” and heads off to work each morning before his wife and daughter are even up and moving. They are both, however; wide awake and considering the day before them. The play is, to begin with, surprisingly…upbeat. The daughter, off to high school and, with a crush on her teacher, chatty and looking forward to getting out of the house and being amongst friends. The mother, off to the kitchen to…oh! just grab a beer before breakfast, after seeing an elephant in the hall before getting out of the house and going for a jog. And so it goes…but not like anything I’ve seen or heard before. And I was ready for it! Having spent the same afternoon on the fourth floor of the Judith Wright Centre with the generous cast, stage manager and director, discussing every aspect of the show, it came as an enormous shock on so many levels – and a total sensory overload – to actually hear two or all three of the actors speaking at once!

THING 4

In a dysfunctional family (and, let’s face it, that could be any family, really, depending on just how closely you look at it) how agonising is it to choose to go on with each day rather than to end the pain, frustration, confusion, miscommunication and missed opportunities – for everyone – in a life that hasn’t turned out quite the way you thought it would? (Did I mention boredom, resentment, regret, regression, manic depression and delusions of grandeur? Yep. That’s right. Remember, I’ve lived out west too). Well, we certainly saw the agony. We felt it. I felt it so that I couldn’t breathe. And because I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t sob, which is really what I felt like doing, as if I were in front of that heart-wrenching film, KOLYA, once again with my four-year old daughter asking, through her own desperate tears, “Mama, why won’t the mama take her boy?” (and her absolutely bewildered tears at the end of it, “Mama, how can the mama take her boy back now?!” Her capacity for sympathy and her depth of understanding confounds me).

Anyway, the last theatrical work to really get me like that was Steppenwolf’s production of Stockholm. At the end of it, I was a complete mess. And as an artist, I thought, “WOW…we can do that!” At the end of Red Sky Morning, I fell apart and, as an artist, thought, “WOW. HOW THE FUCK DO WE DO THAT?!”

The academic in me wants to sit in on everything this company does and just observe and absorb…and ask lots of questions about process and write it up for my thesis. The actor in me wants to do their very next production, whatever it may be, and work collaboratively to be a part of something amazing. And the director and teacher in me wants to work with new talent and use my non-methods, which of course pay homage to Bogart, Chubbuck, et al, to continue to introduce actors on the Sunshine Coast to this little world that we are trying to build here. What is, I realise, a microcosm of Melbourne’s Red Stitch community. That is, if I may be so bold as to claim any similarity to their ensemble philosophy and innovative approach whatsoever!

Brick by brick, somebody recently told me, though I think he referred specifically to building the Brisbane theatre scene at the time. Brick by brick. It applies wherever we are. So. I tell you what. We’ll give it another year here. One more year of bricks. Okay? Then…well, who knows? Brick by brick and day by day, I say!

25
Sep
10

Erotique: The Fringe of the Fringe

Finally! Home on the beautiful Sunshine Coast, where the air and the water and the streets are clean, for almost a week and I can tell you this…

Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the goblin city…

Petersham Town Hall. The fringe of The Sydney Fringe Festival. If you were one of the few who found us out there, on the edge, thanks so much for coming; we hope you enjoyed the show.

We figure we’ve earned our stripes now. We were the out-of-towners this year, the interstate visitors, the Sunshine Coast emerging artists; we didn’t know anybody, our support network was small and we had very little local knowledge. We thought, “How excitement! This is what a fringe festival is all about!” We expected to meet a heap of other artists, see their shows, hang out in a chai-type-tent somewhere and talk theatre into the wee small hours.

Well, we met a heap of other artists on the first night of our stay. We met Kris Stewart, Artistic Director of the festival and Meryl Rogers, General Manager of the festival and we also met some of the top peeps in the industry at Mr Anthony Costanzo’s one-night-only show at Notes: Words and music from Life’s a Circus and More. Featuring Lucy Durack, Patrice Tipoki, Chris Parker, Rob Mills, Amelia Cormack, Maria Mercedes and Cameron McDonald, this first show – for better or for worse – served to reinforce my high expectations of what was to come and remained one of the festival highlights for me.

The other was Bare, a newish musical take on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers; in this case, two boys who fall in love at a Catholic High School. Friends there assumed it had been written and developed especially for the festival but I knew this was not so. In fact, I remembered reading that Bare was hailed as “better musically and dramatically than Rent” by Los Angeles Daily News in 2001. That’s a big call. And this production, seen by just 4 full houses at the Newtown Theatre, proved it.

Performed by a cast of senior students and new graduates, Bare was the show that blew me away. The collective talent was phenomenal and the entire production was pared down in order to simply share the heart wrenching story. There was never any question about what was happening where. These kids worked much harder than some of the professional ensembles I’ve seen. This includes the talented young MD and his band. Their energy, their focus and their intent, in most cases, meant passionate and perfectly authentic performances. As performer and performance coach, I was completely inspired and maybe even a little bit envious that these kids have had the opportunity to do a show that, clearly, I am too old to ever be cast in! I know that Ben felt the same way, hearing some of the songs sung in turns, so tenderly and powerfully by Seann Moore and Zac Smith. N.B. Not strictly true (I’ve still got time!) but look, Jenni Little, who played the unfortunate young Ivy, definitely had the show stopper, as her character struggled to come to terms with her roller coaster ride. The other stand out had to be Elyse Atkins, who played the hilariously self-deprecating sister of Jason, Nadia (or, as she self-proclaims throughout one song; “Plain Jane Fat Arse”). Each character’s journey was massive and I cannot stress enough, how professionally these kids delivered a really challenging – on so many levels – show. I hope to see them achieve their goals for this production next year and if possible, I would love to see it again.

Sam and I saw Wicked while we were in town (it closes in Sydney on Sunday). Of course, the production values were spectacular and I loved it because I love the show but I couldn’t help but wonder (and I often wonder about this so bear with me)…why did I feel that there was something missing? If anybody can enlighten me, please feel free to add your comments. I know not everybody loves Wicked but I actually, really LOVE Wicked! Having said that, the book is a little lacking in substance, assuming that we all know what happens next and that we are familiar with the characters. But when we are given a different take on those characters, I would like to see more of the layers, more of the complexities and, especially in Act 1, much more of who Elphie is; I mean, who she is outside of the stereotypical Green Kid who doesn’t fit in. In a spectacular, touring, professional production, just how does one DO that? Is there even room in the rehearsal schedule to work on individual characters to the extent that we will feel empathy for Elphie due to her own actions, reactions and emotions, rather than the simple sympathy that is derived from how she is treated by others? Is it just me? Am I a heartless, shallow soul? Alright, don’t answer that. I probably haven’t explained very well but I’m sure the same point will come up again.

Despite my musings, I came away from The Capitol Theatre (sans green glasses, glitter globe, shirt and cap) impressed with the performances. In fact, I think I am Lucy Durack‘s newest biggest fan. Her interpretation of Glinda was original, not to mention gorgeous and I’m going to say it (I don’t say it often), absolutely flawless. She and Patrice Tipoki, who (we are proud to remind everybody) hails from the Sunshine Coast, were wonderful together. I’m now even more excited about taking Poppy, four, to a matinee in Brisbane in January.

Meanwhile, back at our humble little venue in Crystal Street, Petersham, we had the usual technical hitches before our first show on Wednesday and, as usual, everything was alright on the night! We celebrated at Max Brenner‘s on King St, Newtown (I will write that once but in fact, the same could be said of at least three more “celebrations”! Copious amounts of chocolate was consumed by the cast. What a deliciously decadent discovery)!

Word of mouth, even without a sizable support network, worked and we enjoyed greater numbers at each subsequent performance. On a couple of occasions, we also enjoyed the pizzas from the boys next door, who thought it was about time somebody rocked up to give the topless pub waitresses up the road a bit of competition! That made Sam so proud.

Closing night saw us with an audience that was well over capacity and nothing but praise for the production. And lots of friends and randoms asking, “So how do you prepare to get naked?!” I’m going to put that to the cast and get back to you because I know just my version can get a bit tedious sometimes.

We got to 3 shows at Carriageworks and 1 other at The Italian Forum. At Carriageworks (surely the most under-utilised venue of the festival), A Tiny Chorus, Clammy Glamour and a secret show, upstairs between those two shows: The Nick Cave Murder Ballads. A Tiny Chorus moved me to tears and then later, in retrospect, I decided I would love to work with those girls to get something different from them! Not better, different. It was a superb show and it would be fascinating to see what else can be done with it, especially after winning some of the awards at the other festivals.

Clammy Glamour was tricky and untidy. Others loved it and their closing night sold out. Murder Ballads was mostly disturbing and a little bit amusing. Others would certainly reverse that statement to reflect their enjoyment of the shocking puppetry, like Coraline meets The Corpse Bride meets Team America (FUCK YEAH)!

Pistol Whipped, a dance piece, which was on late one night at the Italian Forum, was not at all what it promised to be. It was a great lesson in marketing.

That is what a fringe festival is all about!

We are still having fantastic conversations about everything we saw- conversations that started over coffee and dessert in various groovy cafes late at night and continued after rising late each morning, over the best breakfasts to be found in Newtown, at El Bahsa/El Basha on King St. The boys there made us feel completely at home and never once looked as if they were even close to throwing us out. No, not once! Clearly we were spending far too much on coffee and chai! I think it’s important to note too, that we helped support several other local establishments, including the cash-only (curses!) Pastizzi Cafe and the tiny Blackstar bakery, which had a selection of pastries and gorgeous sweet treats, including incredible edible-even-after-you’re-quite-full danishes and the most delicate pistachio macaroons. The only place that comes close to Blackstar on the Sunshine Coast is my latest discovery, thanks to the French friends of French friends, Maison de Provence in Cooroy. Now I find out that our composer, Ms Leah Barclay, has known about it all along!!!

We visited STC and pretended we were taking a break from rehearsals to grab a coffee over the water, as you do, feeling totes inspired by the famous names, the stunning photography and the current season’s imagery lining that corridor. As I tweeted, how good would it be to go to work here every day?! I know. There is no tone in tweets. Only some of you who really know me, really got that level of emotion. I know.

For a bit of R & R, we spent a full day in lovely Manly, which we thought felt a bit like Noosa in the old days – no, really – and enjoyed Spanish tapas or steaks, depending on the mood. I was extremely tempted, during both ferry crossings, to belt out a bit of THIS

…but thought better of it. It will make much more sense on the way to New York, obviously.

Um. So Ben was feeling left out of the nudity clause, obviously…

We managed to balance the week quite nicely, between our show, others’ shows and the fun and games. This was possible because we have, as I’ve mentioned before, such a fantastic team. It’s been sad to come home and fully realise that there will never again be a performance of Erotique. Not like this, not with these performers. If you missed it, you really missed it! We didn’t even film it. Not sure why. We’ll definitely regret that, having collected such great footage previously, to give La Ronde some immortality. And that’s the next focus: the DVD, which will give La Ronde a life beyond the sold-out Sunshine Coast seasons. Well, that and the creation of 2 more shows this year as well as 2 shows and a fundraising mega-event next year. A holiday in Greece is also on the list. Or at least one in Sydney.

21
May
10

Not Another Review (Stockholm)

DISCLAIMER: This is not a review.

I guess I am a self-confessed Almost-Critic. I go see theatre and sure, I “review” it; everybody does. Most often, the reviews my friends and I come up with are verbal and held as conversations (and heated debates) over turkish delight, cheesecake and coffee at Three Monkeys. No doubt, many reviews will now happen over at Drift, which celebrates the opening of its long awaited, greatly anticipated supper club tonight and which I am bitterly disappointed to miss. Sorry, friends. Still so sick. I will be there in spirit and honestly can’t wait to see a show and raise a glass!

So, what most of us don’t do with the review of each show we see, is write it and publish it under the guise of “theatre critic”. In order to claim this title, I think one needs a terrific combination of talents, listed below:

  • the time, the energy and the means to see lots of shows
  • the ability to write well (YES. DON’T ARGUE ABOUT THAT ONE)
  • a sound knowledge of theatre and the performing arts in general
  • an interest in research and the acquisition of accurate details and interesting titbits of information pertaining to the show and its performers and creative team
  • a reasonably objective perspective

Which brings me to: if one were to know someone involved in a production one reviews, should one ‘fess up? Or is it possible for a theatre critic to remain objective about a production whilst sustaining a connection with it? I think we like to think (expert readers of critical reviews that we are) that it’s not possible. However, I think it might be that many theatre critics are inextricably linked to their local theatre scene…am I right? It’s a small world, this little local growing theatre industry…perhaps it’s different in New York. Perhaps the New York readers can comment on that. Do I have any New York readers? Anyone? Anyone?

So. Far be it from me to go out on a limb and proclaim that there are really very few good theatre critics around here. If I were to go out on said limb and say so, I’m sure I would not be the first. And yes, of course there are a few very good ones (you will find a few of those links on this page). After receiving great reviews for our recent production of La Ronde, I had been thinking about these things. Actually, I have been thinking about these things since Ian Austin finished up at The Sunshine Coast Daily as theatre critic. Ah-hem.

And then, this morning, on a friend’s Facebook page, I read this

Brisbane needs to invest in some new theatre critics. Just saying. We have a couple of great writers, and a lot of theatre lovers who love talking about their feelings. Quoting song lyrics in a review? Listing the emotions that you felt in Act 2 (‘sadness and happiness all at once’). Really? Who keeps inviting them places?! Ok rant over.

This made me quite determined never to write a review again! Mainly because I think I fall somewhere in between the emotional self-labelled critic and the objective academic critic. So here is Not Another Review (Stockholm). It’s not even very long. No, really. You can go back to whatever it was you were doing in just a minute. Were you making coffee? Go on, put the kettle on first. Right.

The thing is, it floored me. This Stockholm show, which I’d read rave reviews about and heard mixed feedback from friends, absolutely floored me like no other. At times, sitting there, in the dark at the top of the theatre (thank the box office I was not closer to the action) I actually thought I couldn’t breathe. Frantic Assembly‘s production of Bryony Lavery‘s Stockholm is an extraordinary piece of theatre. I cannot imagine sitting through it again, which is just as well because it has sold out. And because it really got me.

I noticed at its conclusion that I was the first out of the Roundhouse Theatre and in front of a mirror to fix my make-up. And then I couldn’t think. I couldn’t think what it was exactly that got me. And it was not immediately, either, let’s just clarify; during the first ten minutes I was wondering if it was going to live up to the rave reviews. I had to climb into the same space and tune in. And into the eleventh minute I was in tune and in love with Socratis Otto and convinced that he and the show were indeed going to exceed all expectations (though I was still fearful of how they – and I – would deal with the subject matter). What my friends and the critics had failed to express was how I would personally respond to this challenging piece. And how could they know? It’s certainly a tough gig those theatre critics have, because without assuming how any theatre goer will respond, they are to present an objective overview of the production, taking into consideration all aspects of the production and yet, at the same time, resist giving away too much (incidentally, this is where a lot of movie critics, IMHO, miss the mark). There’s a fine line between tell-all-know-all summaries of the story and writing to entice, seduce the audiences into our theatres to experience the thing themselves.

If I had been on my own to see it and in another theatre, in another city, I might have left before the end, something I have only ever done at extraordinarily bad productions. So not because it was bad but because it was so good I almost couldn’t bear to see (and feel) the inevitable end of it. But again, I can’t think exactly what it was or at what point I felt so helpless, hopeless and lost and alone. It certainly was not  the actual fight scene, which I felt was over-choreographed and under-rehearsed. There. I said it. In fact, that’s my only criticism. Every other gesture, expression, move (oh! the delicious devouring cutlery debauchery on the island bench), every other word (oh! and how about that Cate Blanchett influenced vocal work, huh?) got under my skin. Let’s clarify again. On the night I saw them, Socratis Otto and his little smile got under my skin and Leeanna Walsman sometimes left me cold and wondering why must we continue to define and justify our behaviour as women by what ails us?! Perhaps that was her intent in the role. Perhaps that was the intent in the writing. Suspicion and jealousy will drive you mad.

I actually can’t remember thinking at the time that a disease or some sort of malady was addling her brain and keeping her there, I just recall that the first thing my husband commented on afterwards was, “Why choose the easy option and make it a disease that holds her there?” Did he/I/we miss something? Seriously! It’s Stockholm Syndrome! It’s already a recognised psychological disorder…isn’t that enough?! I was such an emotional wreck that I’m not sure I got it and if somebody would like to explain why she wouldn’t simply feel enough to want to damage him and why he wouldn’t simply love her enough to keep her/stay regardless, I would appreciate it. Also, was it so clear cut that she was the captor? Really? Did I imagine that he could just as easily be her charming captor, even in all his apparent innocence and when all signs eventually indicated otherwise? Look, I am gonna have to read me some Stockholm script!

When we coach actors, especially younger actors, we tell them to raise the stakes! I actually would see this show again – on the condition that they raise the stakes and show us the relationship as just a relationship. Nothing “wrong” with her, no disease, just a really bad match. And they have captivated and then captured each other. The devastation we witnessed in the various (cyclic) stages of the relationship disintegrating and healing (sort-of but never really healing) just HAPPEN. Hell, Sam and I have our fights. He will tell you he’s the one held captive! I have in fact, stabbed him…out of pure frustration. Not even a big deal. Not due to suspicion or the fact that he still won’t quit smoking or that he never picks up a wet towel (guys, what is WITH THAT?!)  No, no. In fact, he will tell you. He loves to tell that story!

So we were in our old kitchen. Doing the dishes. This was pre-dishwasher days. She’s going to write a book: The Dishwasher Saved My Marriage. It’s true. It did. Anyway, I was flicking her little butt with a tea towel and she’d already told me to STOP IT several times. I love how it starts out as this quiet little “stop it, ok?” and gets to “FUCKING STOP IT OR I’LL FUCKING STAB YOU!” And she did. She fucking stabbed me!

“Told you I’d stab you, didn’t I?”

What the…??? “YOU FUCKING STABBED ME, YOU CRAZY WOMAN! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU ACTUALLY FUCKING STABBED ME!” A huge fuck off carving knife in my chest, blood and everything! She’ll tell you I’m exaggerating. But I’m not. There was blood. She was mad! What? Nah, I was alright. No doctors for me, mate! It was just a little stab wound. Nothing really. Had a scar for years, though. Well, it’s gone now, faded; you can’t really see it now. The real wound runs deep, though…What? Nope, never flicked her with a tea towel again. What, you think I’m stupid, mate?

Clearly, there was a lot in Stockholm to recognise, either because something like it has happened or is happening to you or somebody you know or because nothing like it has ever happened to you or somebody you know. Be grateful for that! I think every relationship is just as destructive as the last (or the first) unless we continually work on the communication part. And the healing part. And of course, the sex on the stairs part; now that is always a good therapeutic session…………

The working set, designed by Laura Hopkins, was the best I’ve seen, although I have to be honest, my more macabre, disturbing self was waiting for somebody’s head to be held under the running water and rapidly filling sink (but we’d already had the head-under-water a different way – that desk a freaky genius touch, with astonishingly precise lighting by Andy Purves to guarantee the desired effect) and/or for somebody’s hand to be held down against the stove top (but HOW I hear you ask. I know…I don’t know). Was that just me?! I loved the raised bed, I loved the physical risks the actors took, I loved that it was all for NOTHING. That the way in which they played in that space was an accurate reflection of the futility of trying to mend their broken hearts (and damaged, not diseased, minds) again and again and again. I think I was heartbroken by the end of all that trying and forgiving and trying again and could see so much that I never want to…feel.

And now you see why I can’t write the reviews my friend is wanting more of. Because I FEEL. Because I can’t keep what I feel out of what I’m writing. Or living. And that seems to be a bigger issue at the moment for lots of reasons. And for another post, though they are few and far between at the moment. Now go make your coffee. And go make your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/captor/friend/fuck buddy one too.

And stay if you must. And get out when you can.

12
Feb
10

HAMLET

Hamlet. La Boite Theatre Company’s 2010 season opener, directed by the company’s Artistic Director, David Berthold (who also has a hit, Holding the Man, about to debut in London’s West End), opened on Wednesday night at Brisbane’s Roundhouse Theatre. I saw the preview on Sunday night. And before I tell you anything else, I am telling you, GO SEE THIS SHOW. Regardless of how much you loved or loathed The Bard at highschool, whether or not you’ve seen any of the  film versions (I’m wondering, as much as you are, how The Lion King or The Banquet made it into that list), whether or not you’ve read any reviews or the associated comments, or visited theatres in cities all over the world simply to see their own Hamlet. Oh, yes, people do; I know them! They do it for Les Miserables and no doubt, for Wicked too (but probably not for Oklahoma. Just sayin’)…

The company website will tell you:

HAMLET by William Shakespeare

This is the must-see theatrical event of 2010.


And others are bound to tell you, in greater detail, why they consider this particular production a must-see. Or not. You will find those reviews (and some very interesting comments) here, here, here, here, here and quite possibly, here. Well, at least, these are the places I expected to find them too. I am telling you here, that I consider this Hamlet to be great theatre. Here is a professional production with everything- every element- I expect to see, hear, feel,  experience, discuss, remember, use as an example in my teaching…whenever I see a show, any show. And by professional I mean that, as far as I am aware, Brisbane has two fully professionally-operating theatre companies; La Boite and QTC who should both be getting it right and presenting great theatre for the masses and not necessarily just those who are bound to attend. This is a Hamlet that, one hopes, will bring audiences back to the theatre.

I am well aware that I got more out of this show than did many others. So sue me. I saw a preview. I saw the potential of a few aspects and the clarity and fruition of others. I saw something entertaining. I let go of all preconceptions and assumptions and I let myself be drawn into Berthold’s Denmark, with its arguable inconsistencies. I didn’t care that political details were diluted or by the fact that I was not moved to tears (god, don’t tell me we have to have tears to make theatre great again). Die-hard Hamlet fans would no doubt have missed terribly, some additional sub-plot and mystery and DRAMA. Home and Away? The Bold and the Beautiful?  MASS AUDIENCE APPEAL AND COMMERCIAL SUCCESS (thereby guaranteeing government and public support for the season and securing the long-term future of La Boite at precisely the right time)? OMG. SHOCKING. I feel it might be important to note, for the sake of the future of this blog, that I have never been critical about the popular appeal of shows produced by theatre companies in Brisbane or on the Sunshine Coast, merely the standard of said shows.

I loved the delightful early performances of Eugene Gilfedder and Trevor Stuart and their contrasts later, in the same roles and in their secondary roles. I’m sure these two rate as gods amongst men, as far as the Brisbane acting scene is concerned. It took me a little longer to warm to Helen Howard’s Gertrude – perhaps this was the intent – but I felt as if she also had to warm to the role of sexy, sultry seductress. By the time she got naked I was somewhat more convinced of her character and motives.

Now, let’s just talk about that, shall we? Everybody else has. The nakedness, etc. Interestingly, others have been quick to question whether or not the nudity and simulated masterbation were absolutely necessary. Um. Necessary or not in what sense? All too shocking and should not have been included……….because……….because??? Nope. I’m really struggling with this one. I found this Hamlet to be extremely unsettling, as you would expect it to be and then suddenly upbeat, as you had always hoped it could be. It is intriguing, confronting, unconvoluted and I found it easier to follow than most shortened versions produced especially for highschool students. Tell it to the HOD, kids. But don’t mention the controversial inclusions such as nudity, depravity and the pure EVIL of man. And woman. Mostly of women, it IS Hamlet’s world, after all. In fact, I am going to go so far as to say that this version, with its nudity and its Toby Schmitz (and sorry, it has to be said, there are some of us who are really disappointed about the nudity not being his), should be filmed in HD from several angles and packed up as part of the senior school curriculum, not to mention to distributors who will put it into cinemas around the world on the last sunday of every month. I think you were still thinking/hoping that this was going to be an ordinary, like, a proper review, didn’t you? Yeah, no.

I admired Helen’s naked courage, confidence and elegance. I thought it befitting for the character by that stage, to disrobe in front of us; I thought it made quite a character statement as well as, if it was indeed a gimmick included for the supposed shock value, it was successful! Brilliant! Cheers! I also remembered Kate Winslet’s Ophelia, to which a blog reader referred,  and I thought Gemma Yates-Round was justified in her homage to that performance…I just wanted to see her commit to it rather than fear her own or the audience’s  response to it. Perhaps she will get a little braver about it so we are not at all mistaken about what we see happening. I also think she will learn to take her time and find Ophelia’s desperately sad madness gradually, rather than put it on all of a sudden so we are sure to see it. How lucky Gemma is, in her professional debut, to have Helen Howard by her side. Intriguingly, the two roles were recently played by one actress. You can read that review here. To have a director who trusts his actors is something one cannot explain to non-actors. Well, I will give it a shot another time. Watch this space.

Look, as far as I’m concerned, if you must direct or act a bold and sure-to-be-shocking thing then just make it bold and shocking! Make sure you’re ready for it and follow through. Do it to shock me. Really do it. And do it well. This brings me to: for the life of me, I fail to understand why such things are still so SHOCKING in the theatre. Is not the theatre the place for shocking? Many of you will remember, that the old La Boite (that’s right, kids, the precious, delapidated, much loved space at Hale St) once played host to The Shock of the New festival. It wasn’t a program full of nakedness and debauchery but suffice to say, La Boite has always tried to be a bit brave, bold, new and shocking. Thank God somebody is doing shocking again!

As for school bookings, I know that many school leaders will take issue with full frontal nudity and simulated masterbation in any show, particulalry when it appears in a “classic” (“Oh my! How dare they mess with Shakespeare! What an insult! We can’t possibly expose our students to that! And, more importantly, we just don’t have time to respond to parents’ questions!”). I believe that if teachers and parents are unwilling to discuss the more confronting aspects of a production or they are going to continue to prevent young people from experiencing great theatre, then that is the real shock. I applaud the teachers and principals who continue to support the Performing Arts and the rich education of their students. And so if there is a school requiring a good drama teacher who strongly supports this premise and is not afraid to say so, do call me. I need a real job, having done myself out of several in the last 2 years, due to my strongly stated beliefs that do not necessarily weigh in with those of the particular schools in a certain area that we know well and love very much despite their continual contradictions and miscommunications *smiles sweetly, hands over resume and decides that honesty really is usually not the best policy*

So let’s keep it real, folks. Hate to be the one to tell you but…your students are still sexting and lying about their age on Facebook and seeing far more graphic violence and simulated sexual acts, far more often, on their screens. And by screens, I mean cinema, plasma, PC, Mac and iPhone. Any perceived damage done will be because nothing is said in the debrief. Or because the student misses out on the experience altogether because somebody else has deemed it “inappropriate”. This is how misconception, fear and hype about normal, real, actual things pervade our society. Warning: the following statement may offend some readers due to its blasphemous tone. For God’s sake, people, let the arts change our lives! The whole issue reminds me of a parochial Brisbane type blog post from some time ago…..sigh.

So. Into the Roundhouse via the top doors. Tricky. I noticed the floor. Nice. But ruined. The house lights dimmed and…disappeared completely! We were plunged into total darkness for what seemed like an eternity, well, at least a full minute longer than one would anticipate, in terms of establishing mood and seducing the audience, making us feel comfortable (or not, as the case may be) and drawing us into the sacred space and all that stuff. I would have timed it but I thought the light from my iPhone may incite physical violence from another audience member…

What I got, from those first few moments of blackness and Tibetan prayerness was a sense of DREAD. To the audiences’ credit, had it not been for the oddly dreadful-peaceful opening soundscape of that Tibetan horn we would have heard a pin drop (was it a rkang gling? I’m guessing. I don’t actually know. But I’m not making it up entirely; I googled “tibetan horns” and…voila)!

In the pitch black, Steve Toulmin’s dread-inducing soundscape actually prepared me, more than any other mechanism could have, for the heavy content of the play. I know, I know, some of you think they skipped over the heavy bits. But this production had other merits. To the actors’ credit, they found their first marks in that blackout! I’m afraid this occupied a relatively large space in my head for more than a couple of minutes. It’s not that I’m that easily impressed but more that I appreciate good craft and something as simple as lights up and the play begins can be a disaster! Or magic. Just say those words aloud. Go on, in a mysterious whisper: lights up and the play begins…magic! That was great! It is just always such a relief to me, when I find within the first couple of minutes of a performance that I actually want to STAY and see the WHOLE SHOW. This is important, I think, especially in light of the fact that we just don’t have the time or space here to discuss the shows I would have preferred not to suffer sit through. I’m sure you feel the same. It’s just that some of us are silly honest enough to blog about it. Sometimes. After a scotch. Or two. Just kidding, kids. Don’t drink and blog. As I mentioned I think, in my original post for this blog; generous audience member, harsh critic. This time it seems I have not been so harsh! This reminds me to tell some of you, lay off the other bloggers and reviewers about having a drink before the show! Judgment much? Save it.

So anyway, once I’d suddenly tuned into the language (it takes a moment, a line, a phrase, a Tibetan foghorn to remind you to be ready to focus, this is Shakespeare; it’s different for everybody)…I thought of Pearl Harbor. I’m so sorry, Greg Clarke and David Walters but I did. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that the sparse set, with its towering interior wall (and security cameras) and its hospital bed and its lifting and cracking, once elegant floor under, looked a bit like the interior shots of that (add preferred adjective) film. Not that they had security cameras at Pearl Harbor either. Now that I think about it, it was nothing like it, was it? But these are the images you see in your head and try to separate, as you’re laughing at the sudden hilarity of Toby’s inflection/facial expression/gesture/kinda-funky-without-getting-the-follow-through dance move, the useful from the rubbish. Useful? The hundreds of Hamlets who have only delved as deep as “angst-ridden”, “sullen” and “oedipal” in their character studies and realising within the opening minutes of a performance that this is not one of them. Rubbish? The Pearl Harbor reference, of course. This is embaressing. CAN WE PLEASE MOVE ON NOW?

Toby Schmitz’s Hamlet, with his rock-star-morning-after voice is intelligent, super cool, a little bit cruel and quirky. I liked the Emo/Edward Cullen thing. I loved that his Hamlet was recoiled and delighted by the Hedwig-inspired rock-musical-within-a-play (New concept? Maybe not. Absolute genius version of it and thoroughly entertaining? YES)! I loved that Toby the actor obviously has a wonderful sense of comedy and that he was encouraged to use that to show us his own interpretation of Hamlet the character, after we have seen so many others. I thought he was crush-worthy and I hope the school girls and boys attending with their enlightened and inspiring staff members go away giggling and sighing over him. I just wonder if everything he takes out on Ophelia will become clear before the end of the season…

I’ve been trying to resist but I have to add that it seems to me, from various comments attached to blogs and facebook updates, that it is the local performing arts community who – again – are less than satisfied with this production. The general public want more of the same. So. two things: everybody in Independent Theatre quit griping and criticising and go see a show, produced, designed, performed and directed by your peers, for what it is. Great theatre for the masses. After all, isn’t that how this theatre business began?