Posts Tagged ‘QPAC

16
Jun
18

4Seasons

 

4Seasons

QPAC, Expressions Dance Company & City Contemporary Dance Company 

QPAC Playhouse

June 14 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

 

The Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project is more than just a dance exchange. It is an exchange of ideas and an intertwining of culture, with an enormous amount of generosity and respect between everyone involved.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company

 

 

A collaboration between Expressions Dance Company (EDC) and Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), 4Seasons is the latest development in EDC’s Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project. Presenting three very different works by three choreographers, it premiered in Hong Kong last month.

 

First on the program is Summer, created by independent choreographer Kristina Chan for the CCDC dancers. She has imagined a future world of fierce heat as global warming worsens, exploring how people react to changed climate.

 

The dancers are already on the stage when we enter the theatre, slowly walking, crouching, and writhing on the floor in silence, under a burning orange light shining through a silk canopy above. They are dressed in black and grey.

 

This is an ensemble work, with no individuals singled out — it is as if we are watching a community of organisms from a distance as they are burnt by fierce heat, blown by gales, and fearfully watch the orange sky.

 

The dancers move in slow motion with great fluidity and control — a population weighed down, moving through an oppressive atmosphere. They huddle together, shielding each other, entwining, collapsing, recoiling, and occasionally running.

 

The music, James Brown’s Summer, is ominous, with long drone-like notes humming and blaring, pounding beats, noises like a helicopter, rumbling, the sound of the wind, and rasping breath.

 

An endpoint seems to arrive when the sky falls and envelops the dancers in a silvery shroud. However, in an anticlimactic final section after a short stillness, some people extricate themselves and crawl away. Others survive to struggle on, with eventually only a lone figure left standing.

 

This work is intense and, despite its apocalyptic vision, at times hypnotically beautiful in a minimalist way.

 

 

Following a very short break (when the audience remains in darkness), the second work on the program begins. Dominic Wong, Assistant Artistic Director of CCDC, created Day after Day on the six EDC dancers and one CCDC dancer, using music by Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter and Patrick Ng.

 

Focusing on partings and reunions, in analogy with changing seasons, it opens dramatically with the group entering quickly, carrying Alana Sargent above them as if she is swimming through waves. Their transparent white pants and blazers contrast with the darkness of the previous work, and accentuate the rapidity and detail of the movement.

 

The EDC dancers dived into this work with great energy and commitment, meeting the demands of an astonishing variety of movement. In a complete change from Summer, this is frenetic and tic-like at first, with scratching movements, heads jerking like birds, little jumps and wriggles, nodding and head shaking. In one section, the thrashing music, white suits and high-energy movement are reminiscent of a nightclub.

 

Behind the EDC dancers, Bruce Wong of CCDC is walking in ultra-slow motion across the back of the stage. With shaved head and almost naked, he is a complete contrast to the other dancers. He suggests the passage of time, or an underlying reality of life with non-essentials stripped away.

 

When Wong turns towards the front of the stage and begins to walk forward towards a column emitting bright white light, the mood changes. The music becomes plaintive and has a singing piano-like tone. The movement of the EDC dancers changes pace, with slow-motion lifts and slow turns. As Wong reaches the column, the work ends. 

 

 

The culmination of the program is the signature work 4Seasons, choreographed by EDC’s Artistic Director, Natalie Weir, for all 20 dancers of both companies. Weir’s music choice is Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, ‘recomposed’ in a contemporary and compelling interpretation by Max Richter.

 

The costumes are in soft colours of pale pink, pale grey-green, burgundy and dark blue that reflect the seasons and look lovely together. In this work, as in the other two, the visual and costume design by Cindy Ho, and lighting by Lawmanray contribute hugely to the different moods and styles.

 

Duos representing each season are punctuated by interludes for the full ensemble. Alana Sargent and Ivan Chan evoked spring and youthful romance, entwining around each other. Bobo Lai and Richard Causer projected the sensuality and storms of summer, matching their power and energy. Elise May and Yve Yu, with long extensions and coiling embraces, savoured the richness and fulfilment of autumn.

 

The winter duo for Qiao Yang and Jake McLarnon was electrifyingly beautiful from the instant it started. In its expression of longstanding love, coupled with a poignant realisation of time running out, the couple seemed to melt and soar in intertwining and folding lifts. It was as if the movement itself had become embodied, rather than bodies putting effort into making movement.

 

Qiao is an extraordinary dancer, whose every move is viscerally expressive. In McLarnon she has an extraordinary partner whose strength, line and feeling complement her perfectly. Their interaction is in essence like that between the two companies: the fluidity, control and speed of the CCDC dancers and the athleticism, attack and broad-brush fluidity of the EDC dancers melding and influencing one another.

 

In full circle, the winter couple is followed by a look back at youth. Felix Ke, one of dancers representing spring, dances a lovely solo with a yearning quality, and many slow-motion acrobatic movements. Rousing ensemble work end 4Seasons on a high note. With the pace and variety in this work, and the quality of the performances, it flew past, ending too soon.

 

The whole program is an inspiring celebration of dance, music and the spirit of collaboration, drawing together so many different elements: Vivaldi, Max Richter, the climate apocalypse, romance, passion, fierce athleticism, transcendent beauty, meditative slowness …

 

Production pics by Cheung Chi Wai

 

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08
Feb
18

Black Is The New White

 

Black Is The New White

Queensland Theatre presents a

Sydney Theatre Company production

QPAC Playhouse

February 3 – 17 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Two politically powerful families at war. A son and daughter helplessly in love, defying their parents. You’ve heard this story before – but what if Romeo was white, Juliet was black and the war mainly fought on Twitter?

 

“It’s about a successful Aboriginal family called the Gibsons who are activists and very proud to be Aboriginal and who also happen to be quite financially successful,” Lui says. “Their youngest daughter, Charlotte, is just back from being in Europe for three-and-a-half months and she’s bringing home her boyfriend for the first time – he’s white and a poor, struggling musician who also happens to be the son of her father’s arch nemesis. “It’s kind of what happens when you get together with family over Christmas – you laugh, you fight and you talk about all the things you’re not meant to talk about in a very intimate and flippant way.” – Nakkiah Lui

 

Nakkiah Lui’s script is razor-sharp in its unbridled observations of race and human nature, and Paige Rattray’s precision production is masterfully handled, fast-paced, funny and highly entertaining. There’s a dance break AND a dance off AND a food fight! I wonder what this work would look like, sound like, without Rattray’s light hand? The characters are heightened, delightful and painful, completely believable, (mis)behaving exactly as our family members (mis)behave at Christmas, and the sense of the work is at first light-handed, hilarious. But don’t think that means you won’t cringe at times, faced with your own pre-conceived notions and beliefs. Is this just a mirror of Australian contemporary society or a hammer to shape it? No stone is left unturned, with each character either delving into or narrowly avoiding addressing the misconceptions surrounding the mistreatment of our Indigenous peoples, privilege, gender roles, rich vs poor, cultural sterotypes, the courage of individuals and the common interests of communities – and sparking bold conversations around the emergence of an Aboriginal middle-class and the re-rise of a feminism that sees an older generation of women – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – claiming their sexual identities and political ideas.

 

Unless you’re at a Williamson, you might not think it possible to pack such a wealth of material into 2 hours and 20 minutes of theatre, and yet there it is, and with deep insight, the off-hand and humorous remarks hitting hard, getting under our skin and challenging everything we think is Australian. Human.

 

 

Luke Carroll (the Spirit of Christmas disguised as the Narrator) is probably the least essential element, and tells us more than we need to know, particularly in the second act. His performance though is highly entertaining, and I come to love his omnipresence and subtle interactions with the family members. However, it must be said that Carroll’s perfectly clipped consonants are either the stuff of over articulated nightmares, or that he’s the very model of a trained-within-an-inch-of-his-life stage actor (no comment on his screen performances, which have been well received, earning him Deadly Awards and a Bob Maza Fellowship). This is not to be unkind, but to make a point: Carroll is excellent and can afford to employ a more relaxed vocal style. Once the initial nerves/disparate energy of opening night disappear there’s not one amongst this stellar cast whose performance misses the mark. Comic timing is spot on, beautifully crafted by Lui and polished by Rattray, leaving us in no doubt of the fun and playfulness of the creative process.

 

Tony Briggs (Ray Gibson) and Geoff Morrell (Dennison Smith) narrowly avoid playing political enemies for laughs, and leave us in horrified hysterics from the outset of their ongoing sandbox dispute. Briggs brings particular wit and wry humour to this role, which could just as easily have turned into caricature.

 

 

Melodie Reynolds-Diarra, as wife, Joan, reaches our hearts on multiple levels. It’s she who has penned her husband’s speeches, and she finally feels she deserves some recognition for her part in his story. Vanessa Downing as Dennison’s wife also steps up at a crucial moment, demanding that her life preferences be respected.

 

 

Miranda Tapsell joined this cast for the Brisbane season, and she brings hilarious headstrong energy to Rose, the millennial entrepreneurial sister of Charlotte (Shari Sebbens, straight up and sensational) and wife of Sonny (Anthony Taufa, in his element here), as does Tom Stokes as Francis, the (wonderfully awkward!) struggling artist and fiancé of Charlotte.

 

Renee Mulder’s stunning design, beautifully enhanced by Ben Hughes’ lighting, is a pristine playground for these Christmas shenanigans, with Steve Toulmin’s soundtrack an easy invitation to simply enjoy the ride….for now.

 

This crafty contemporary farce – poised for a film option – has a strictly limited Brisbane run. See it, and join the conversation.

 

Production pics by Prudence Upton

30
Jan
18

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show

 

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show

Gordon Frost Organisation, GWB Entertainment and Howard Panter Ltd

QPAC Concert Hall

January 19 – February 11 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Don’t dream it, be it.

 

The message has never been clearer: you can be whatever you want to be. But somewhere along the way, has Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show taken this lesson a little too literally, and lost some sense of self?

 

It’s still a ridiculously fun, kitsch show (a ridiculous, fun, kitsch show) – it’s even retained a little bit of its naughtiness (the bed scene is still hilarious, although, thank Adam, not quite as lewd) – but it seems it’s not only the size of the production that’s been scaled back. With Craig McLachlan’s departure from this slick little mini-production from London and even less time allowed than in 2014 for the double entendres and sight gags to sink in, it’s no longer a wild and untamed thing. Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show is practically PG.

 

 

In London, in 1973 the very first Rocky Horror Show genuinely shocked audiences, and with the 1975 release of the film (a dismal failure at first, and let’s not even speak of the appalling remake from 2015), based on the stage production by Richard O’Brien, this strange encounter of virgins and phantoms and aliens quickly became a cult classic. The show has played all over the world non-stop for 45 years, and in case you were unaware, an audience participation ‘script’ informs both screenings and live performances, although the Brisbane Cards 4 Sorrow crowd (if that’s who they were. Incidentally, their next floorshow is in March; check it out here) didn’t get much of a look in this time, the couple of determined callouts deflected without hesitation by Narrator, Cameron Daddo, superbly and very suavely his natural self in this coveted role). Perhaps they felt, after the initial bold outburst, that QPAC’s Concert Hall was not the place for it…

 

Tim Curry remembers the moment he realized that his performance as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show,” the London stage precursor to the 1975 cult film, was no longer his alone.

 

David Bowie and his wife at the time, Angela, were in the audience that night in 1973. Onstage, Frank, the hypersexual alien mad scientist, was being held at ray-gunpoint by his former servants, Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien) and Magenta (Patricia Quinn). They were about to shoot when Ms. Bowie shouted, ‘‘No, don’t do it!”

 

Indeed, the Concert Hall feels like the least likely space in which to experience Rocky Horror, but Mamma Mia! continues to claim the Lyric until February 4. According to one of the venue’s producers, we’ll likely see more of this use of the Concert Hall, which has historically been home to artists and acts of a slightly different ilk. Perhaps the precedent was set by Harvest Rain, with their full-scale musicals in this space before a move across the road, or had it been set already? It’s truly magnificent to have so much coming to Brisbane that QPAC (booked ahead for years you understand), must utilise every space, but by the same token, it’s a firm reminder that we are in desperate need of another performing arts venue in Brisbane that doesn’t also serve as a convention centre or conference location.

 

In exciting news for independent artists, presenters and producers seeking a brand new and intimate performance space, XS Entertainment is issuing an invitation to come play with us on the Sunshine Coast. 

Email xanthe@xsentertainment.com.au for available dates and details. 

 

It could be said that this version of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show continues to suffer from its smaller scale, although probably not if you’ve never seen it live on stage before…

 

 

A couple of Rocky Horror virgins joined me on opening night, and despite some confusion surrounding the story and some horror/mock horror moments – cold blooded murder and beneath-the-bed-sheet sight gags – they enjoyed the show and the performances from a cast rocked by allegations against the previous leading man, made before the Brisbane season commenced, by Christie Whelan Brown, Erika Heynatz and Angela Scundi, cast members from the 2014 production and, for the record, as far as I can see, all without reason to fabricate anything against anyone to further their careers. (Honestly. The things people say). Regardless of our understanding of the facts, the women experienced something that negatively affected them.

 

It doesn’t matter if we would not be affected in the same way. What happens to a person happens to them in a way that no one else can ever fully appreciate. It is a person’s right to feel the way they feel about a situation. 

 

The producers had told us in the early press, “this is sure to be an even wilder and sexier night out than ever before…” and perhaps it is, if you don’t get out much. The reward this time, if you’ve seen the show before, is in the night out itself, the whole event of going to the theatre with friends, a bit of fun, and also, thankfully, in solid performances across the board.

 

 

The standout, however, is Kristian Lavercombe, with more than a thousand performances to his name as Riff Raff. Again, he’s absolutely sensational, building vocally on the work we’d heard previously and deceiving us into thinking we’re witnessing Richard O’Brien’s soul take up residence in another body. Amanda Harrison holds her own as the Usherette and Magenta. (It’s a really tough gig to keep us enthralled throughout that opening number of obscure sci-fi references and plot points!)

 

 

It seems appropriate to note that one of the best ever in this dual role, Jayde Westaby, can be seen across the hall until February 4 as Tanya in Mamma Mia!

 

 

Brendan Irving is, once again, just beautiful as the all-singing, all-posing, all-glittering and glistening Rocky, bringing to life a scene that threatens to slow the bull-in-a-china-shop pace if it were not for his impressive posturing. The hand mic, used inexplicably by both Rocky and Frank-N-Furter for this scene and the following, loses its potency after about three seconds, becoming a distraction. I’ve never understood its inclusion. Also, Irving’s an aerialist and I’m still confounded as to why his considerable skill in the air hasn’t been incorporated by Director, Christopher Luscombe. The bizarre interruption of Eddie (James Bryers) also lightens the mood before it turns gruesome, with Frank’s response to the appearance of this unwelcome guest. Unfortunately, Hot Patootie is turned into an untidy non-event rather than featuring as the fully choreographed showstopper it might be (and wasn’t it, in 1992?). This time the morbid game of chainsaw cat and mouse played out across the stage is chaotic, but doesn’t add to the excitement of the show. This oddity, common in blockbuster smash hits demanding more of the marketing and publicity teams than of the touring company, occurs across the entirety of the show, with the exception of Lavercombe’s Riff Raff and Rob Mallet’s (adorable) Brad. The ensemble is rounded out by Michelle Smitheram as Janet, Nadia Komazec as Columbia and Phantoms, Bianca Baykara, Ross Chisari, Hayley Martin and Stephen McDowell. The on-stage band is ably led to light speed by MD Dave Skelton.

 

As for Australia’s newest superstar, Adam Rennie turns the role on its head to become the sweetest transvestite we’ve ever seen. It’s true, he’s missing some specificity and physical extravagance (Tim Curry speaks about creating the character here), at least on opening night, although he may have spiced things up and nailed more precise movement (and electrifying stillness) towards the end of the season, but he’s gorgeous and he makes it his own. His is a thoroughly entertaining performance, marked especially by sensational singing and his unique sweet and cheeky take on the role. In fact, whether or not he means to, Rennie comes across as just about the antithesis of McLachlan’s leering hyper sexual alien scientist. And despite being at odds with the character’s placement and purpose in the story, it’s refreshing, perfectly non-threatening, and perfect for this (political climate) light, fun, smash-hit re-staging, which really does appear to assume we’ve seen it all before, and also, that its audiences will continue to get younger and younger… (The film retained its R-Rating in some countries for the single silhouetted sex scene). QPAC advises: This show has rude parts…parental guidance recommended.

 

Why go back again and again to Rocky Horror? It makes little to no sense, neither its costumes (Sue Blane) nor its fluid sexuality are particularly shocking anymore, and we can watch the original film, which is arguably the best version anyway, whenever we like. But there’s something irresistible, isn’t there, about the electric energy of a live glam rock infused performance, and the permission to relinquish judgment and inhibitions, as well as the fleeting connection with strangers in a dark space, lost in time, and lost in space. And meaning.

 

 

Enjoy the ride and take what you will, again, from Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show.

23
Dec
17

Humans

 

Humans

QPAC & Circa

QPAC Playhouse

December 6 – 9 2017

 

Reviewed by Analiese & Henry Long

 

The latest production to land in Brisbane from world touring Queensland company, Circa, is a ferocious journey into athleticism and quirkiness.

 

It’s believable that the show might have been inspired by a number of dares and physical games, although that assumption has no base in anything concrete. 

 

Director, Yaron Lifschittz, has asked his ensemble, What does it mean to be human? How can you express the very essence of this experience with your body, with the group, and with the audience? Where are your limits, what extraordinary things can you achieve and how can you find grace in your inevitable defeat?

 

 

Never before have I seen artists actually try to throw themselves at the floor so wholeheartedly. The usual idea is to throw yourself at the floor but cleverly miss it. Nope. These guys are hitting, skimming, bouncing and skidding all across the stage with a thin mat as their only buffer.  Technical Director and Lighting Designer, Jason Organ has kept our attention to this investigation. There is no set and Circa have relied on very clever lighting in this intimate performance.

 

And bodies.

 

The human form is a wondrous thing and the small company of ten artists show it off with gusto. Hand to hand and contortion is explored in countless combinations.

 

I dare you to do it without your legs.

 

What if you are the puppet, and I manipulate you.

 

Can you lick your elbow…?’

 

One of the striking things about this piece is the focus on strength and skill. Of course, we all know and assume the feats shown to us by circus artists are not easy. This production glorifies how difficult it actually is. A real gutsy display of strength with all the sweat and strain is magnified for us here.

 

Static trapeze was interestingly used more as a compliment to the rest of the action onstage.

 

 

Humans didnt appear to have a musical theme to connect the individual acts. Perhaps it was to reflect the different musical preference and taste among these Humans. It is frenetic, wonderful strings, an old standard, a motivational theme song and techno pop. Funny, sensual, inquisitive, the artists played with it and carried the audience along regardless.

 

Libby McDonnells costumes were complimentary to the action and certainly complimented the wonderful bodies onstage. Good use of a theme created an individualised ensemble.

 

Created by Yaron Lifschitz and the Circa Ensemble

Performed by Caroline BaillonMarty EvansScott GroveKeaton Hentoff-KillianBridie HooperTodd KilbyNathan KnowlesCecilia MartinDaniel O’Brien and Kimberley O’Brien

12
Nov
17

The Wizard of Oz

 

The Wizard of Oz

John Frost & Suzanne Jones

QPAC Lyric Theatre

November 10 – December 3 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.

– Marilyn Monroe

 

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s London Palladium production of The Wizard of Oz hits the right glittering rainbow tone for its Australian premiere in Brisbane. L Frank Baum’s beloved story, enjoyed by generations since 1900, is brought back to life in a revel of colour and rich scenery. While it seems remiss to miss making more of the famous field of poppies and the flying monkeys, particularly with such talented aerialists amongst the cast, we’ll remain focused on the otherwise visually arresting aesthetic and enduring appeal of the show!

 

 

However, we’ll also just take a moment to note that some of Jon Driscoll’s digital design appears to be used in lieu of  – or in front of – old-school scene changes during blackouts, which others love but by which I’m unconvinced. Without having the same effect as the original film’s black-&-white-to-Technicolor wow moment (remember when you thought the TV must be broken?), it lacks the edgy sophistication to put it at the same level as the rest of the design. The visual impact of both the Emerald City and the witch’s tower for example, reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, is more lasting. Perhaps, like a lot of things Lloyd Webber, it seemed like a good idea at the time and even just a few years later – this version of the show premiered in the West End in 2011 – the projections, including the pre-show scrim design – feel dated. Fortunately, none of these quibbles detract from the overall effect, which is supported by Hugh Vanstone’s cinematic lighting design.

 

 

Director and Co-Adapter Jeremy Sams has worked with Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to bring the YES vote boldly to the stage, which in and of itself is nothing new, The Wizard of Oz (1939) having been claimed long ago as a gay fave film, and Judy Garland the global gay community’s kween. The updates are witty and funny and apt. When the Lion (John Xintavelonis) declares, “I’m proud to be a friend of Dorothy,” he earns heartfelt applause from Brisbane’s loud and proud opening night audience. For some reason the Lion has become that camp character, and Xintavelonis gets the balance just right, without us feeling we’re being beaten over the head with a blunt object.

 

 

He’s an adorable, loveable Lion and with Alex Rathberger as the tap-dancing Tinman, and Eli Cooper as the vague, scrappy, very funny Scarecrow, these three make the iconic characters their own. The very definition of ensemble, they generously support Samantha Dodemaide in her breakout role. (Yes, you might argue that her breakout role was Kathy Seldon in Singing’ in the Rain but I’d maintain that more people will see and retain a lasting memory of her beautifully realised Dorothy).

 

 

Dodemaide is sweet enough and strong enough vocally to make this iconic role her own; she represents all the misunderstood little girls who run away from home and grow up into their big, full, open hearts along the way to their Emerald City. Somewhere Over the Rainbow is sincerely, superbly delivered to us in the most beautifully measured mix, to us and to Toto (this coveted role shared by the most well behaved and affectionate Australian Terriors we’ve ever seen, Trouble and Flick, trained by Luke Hura).

 

To sell a song that’s been over-sung for decades is a tough gig and Dodemaide, with perfect optimism, nails it.

 

 

The indomitable Jemma Rix reprises the green skin and ghastly cackle of Wicked’s Elphie, but this Wicked Witch is the original, and she’s comic book kind of nasty rather than really vulnerable and vengeful, her unforgettable lines delivered with fresh, fun, mischievous energy, and without a spit of sarcasm. In anyone else’s hands this could be the less meatier role and while it’s lacking depth on the page, Rix gives the Witch multiple dimensions and emotions, making her a proper James Bond movie worthy megalomaniac. Her black feathered gown is the fantastic creation of Scenic and Costume Designer, Robert Jones, reminiscent of Maleficent’s high fashion look, and with her conical high hairdo rather than the black peaked witches’ hat of old, this is a savvy and stylish design choice.

 

 

And is there a better fit in all the world for a good witch other than our beloved Lucy Durack? She’s as Glinda as Glinda gets, and again, reminiscent of the role in Wicked, Durack is just as sweet, but without being saccharine, and gentler and kinder from the outset. This role too contains less depth on the page and as testament to the skill sets of both these leading ladies, the characters are made just as relatable as their contemporary counterparts.

 

Also, Durack’s spectacular sparkling gown allows her to enter from above, in full flight, descending like some glorious faery queen, and then the length of skirt, part of the scenery only seconds before, is whipped away to allow her to step into Munchinland. It’s a dazzling effect, but then Durack’s appearance always is.

 

 

Anthony Warlow is in top form as both Professor Marvel and The Wizard, bringing us an original wizened man of many tricks, with a genuine attitude of concern and care for Dorothy’s wellbeing (and, eventually, for her friends). Warlow emanates a warmth that makes both Marvel and The Wizard absolutely loveable.

 

 

The company includes the Sunshine Coast’s Rachael Ward, which is not the only reason she gets a special mention (although we’ll continue to claim her!), but also because our eyes are drawn to her every time she appears on stage. This is an exceptional ensemble – every performer looking and sounding sharp – so it’s no easy task to be a standout amongst them and yet, the statuesque Ward shines.

 

John Frost continues to bring the biggest and best looking musical productions to our venues, and I’ll be genuinely surprised if there’s anyone who is left unmoved by The Wizard of Oz this time around, with its updates and upscaled set (obviously, such a sap is in need of a heart). It’s retained a sense of nostalgia and allowed a whole new generation to see the land beyond the rainbow, and the love that – we have to hope – surrounds them at home.

 

14
Oct
17

Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories

 

Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories

QPAC Presents A Barking Gecko Theatre Company Production

QPAC Playhouse

October 11 – 15 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

How does a story write itself?

 

It only takes a wish…

 

How weird theatre is, or my head while I’m in it. The ancient Greeks recognised the River Styx as the point between this world and Hades, and this with its ferryman, Kharon, is the image that fills my head as we watch Bambert, an impossibly small man with an enormous love for writing, cross over to the other side of the dream.

I cry, and usually I can brush away any tears before the house lights come up but something is different and I let them fall. Poppy hugs me – she’s almost as tall as me and as skinny as my grandmother, her great-grandmother, Ena; I’ve been thinking about her – and we don’t hang around, even though my friend knows this cast and I could race around with her to Stage Door to give every one of them a huge hug to say thanks for stopping by and stopping other things happening in my life for a little while. Katie Noonan’s exquisite cover of River Man, from Elixir days, haunts me for the next few hours, despite Poppy’s insistence that we listen to Next to Normal all the way home – I will keep the plates all spinning – and then, when we get home, the noise of the neighbours’ parties pervades our house, and our little street. This used to be a neat street…

 

 

Children’s stories make us think of other children’s stories, and this one, a Helpmann Award winner in 2016, brings up all sorts of stuff, including my hero, Mr Plumbean, and for some reason (because we get a sense of how simple and complex death is?), a favourite Little Golden Book about the changing of the seasons, The Four Puppies. And always, The Neverending Story. ALWAYS The Neverending Story. Some stories stay with us…

 

Child-like, old man Bambert lives in the tiny attic above Mr Bloom’s grocery store, writing his stories beneath the gaze of his friend, the moon.

 

 

“He realised that all his stories were just words on a page. All these years he thought he was writing himself into the world but the truth was, if Bambert knew nothing of the world then the world knew nothing of him.”

 

One day Bambert sends his stories out into the world, tearing the pages from his book and attaching each to a balloon, with instructions for the reader to send the story back so that he may use the postage stamp to give each story a location.

 

Bambert’s stories are rich with meaning. I enjoy the first one the most, about a headstrong, and socially, politically and environmentally conscious princess looking to appoint the next leader of her kingdom. She sees through the gimmicks of potential suitors who have been asked to give her the key to truth, exposing their flaws and fake news, and we are left to assume that she herself will take the reigns. Frightening tales follow this one, in which a pigeon woman in London, Lady Brompton-Featherly-Poselthwaighte-Huntington-Moore the Third, finds lost and hungry people to add to her collection of living wax figures, another in which two writers will have to put their faith in an imaginary child to escape their prison cell on a ray of light, and a brother and sister who will have to find their way through the stark winter forests of Poland before the Dark Angels (no, not those who frequent the fetish club, but something more like Dementors, or…Nazis), find them and force them into a deep hole in the freezing earth. And finally, it’s the tale of Taruk, whose drawings come to life as he completes them, reinforcing Bambert’s wish that creativity and good choices will change the world.

 

Directed by Dan Giovannoni and Luke Kerridge, who came across a copy of Reinheldt Jung’s book in a London bookstore and carried it with him for years of backpacking around the world before returning home to turn it into this show. (Kerridge’s other favourite book is The Little Prince). In these sophisticated stories, Kerridge recognised Jung’s simple storytelling device, that it’s the children who are the protagonists and the children who can save the world.

 

It’s a much darker show than you might expect to be seeing with the kids, but here are 5 things I noticed during the Friday night performance at QPAC’s Playhouse, which makes me consider how much we need darker stories told in a theatrical context, and how much we need kids to continue taking their parents to experience live theatre.

  1. we need darkness to see the light
  2. kids are more prepared to hear difficult stories than their parents appear to be
  3. kids are more comfortable hearing difficult stories than their parents appear to be
  4. kids and parents experience similar difficulties trying to quietly consume hard candy in boxes
  5. theatres should resist selling hard candy in boxes if they would like to maintain a particular quality to the storytelling and audience experience
  6. parents should resist accompanying their kids to the theatre unless they are going to follow their own advice, including not speaking or using phones during the performance because as well as being distracting to those seated nearby, the performers, who all real people exisiting in real time in front of you, can hear you and see you.

 

Of course most of the kids work out how it works before the house lights have dimmed.

 

 

The magic of Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories is not only in the allegorical tales themselves, but in the telling of them. Igor Sas is the thoughtful, gentle Mr Bloom, who intercepts Bambert’s stories in favour of seeing his small friend’s delight rather than disillusionment with the world. A talented ensemble play the roles required to bring the story characters to life. Tim Watts is Bambert’s gibberish voice and head and heart (and also, Lord Byron and the princess’s tall, gangly, funny father, the king). Amanda McGregor, Jo Morris and Nick MacLaine are exceptional across multiple roles demonstrating their versatility and flair for comedy and Bunraku puppetry.

 

 

Designer, Jonathan Oxlade, has created a beautiful, intimate two-storey set of intricate detail, which we would ideally have seen in the Cremorne Theatre, only somebody probably thought they could sell every Playhouse seat to any production from this award winning company (I would have thought so too). With ever-changing evocative lighting by Chris Donnelly, and a cinematic soundscape and original music by Ian Moorhead, there’s nothing about this show that’s not perfectly crafted and polished for audiences of all ages and sensibilities. I’ve seen nothing on this scale, of this calibre, for young children since Slava’s Snowshow and Wolfe Bowart’s suite of works. We miss so much as adults (and with an older child now), not even trying to get to similar work at QPAC’s Out of the Box festival for under eights or so-called “children’s theatre”. If only we could get to everything, and if only everything was this sweet and enthralling and entertaining. 

 

While you’re at QPAC, drop in to see Puppet People, a free exhibition in the Tony Gould Gallery with extended opening hours during the Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories season:

Saturday 10am – 6.15pm and Sunday 10am – 1.30pm

03
Oct
17

Under Siege

Under Siege

Brisbane Festival & Philip Bacon Galleries

In Association With QPAC

September 27 – 30 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

underseige

You are surrounded by enemies you cannot see.

 

You ambush me. I ambush you.

 

Yang rewrites the epochal tale known in Chinese opera and lore as Farewell My Concubine with a high-octane mix of performers from ballet, hip-hop, kung-fu and Peking opera. Under Siege is an extraordinary feat of theatre, a visual and kinetic treat that sears the senses.

 

Under Siege is her stunning vision of the climactic battle between Chu and Han armies – an encounter that changed the course of Chinese history – and a love story between the besieged warlord Xiang Yu and his self-sacrificing concubine that would transcend death.

 

Beneath thousands of suspended steel blades a climactic battle rages; the Battle of Gaixia will change the course of Chinese history. Two mighty, ambitious warlords stake everything for the ultimate prize. A legendary beauty will prove that love and loyalty outlive death.

 

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20 000 pairs of scissors hang and clank and descend and rise and bend and arc above the stage, inciting a gamut of emotions and creating all the settings of an epic story across time and space until – spoiler alert – thousands fall to the floor, clattering and settling amongst nearly naked bodies and delicate red death feathers.

 

Yang Liping (Artistic Director / Choreographer) worked with Oscar winning designer, Tim “costume is always related to movement” Yip (Visual Director / Set & Costume Designer), to create her first full-length work, a visual degustation befitting a Chinese battle tale told through contemporary dance, martial arts and delicious design aspects you won’t see anywhere else.

 

Under Siege is undoubtedly the most visually arresting show of the year, premiering here for Brisbane Festival before it moves to Melbourne Festival. The changing colours of the sea of scissors, and the final spectacular image of flailing, dying bodies falling beneath a flurry of feathers are just two of the moments to leave a lasting impression.

 

The visual splendour and physical specificity of this production is unparalleled, featuring elegant balletic traditions, blurring the lines between Eastern and Western styles, juxtaposed against fierce, angular sequences, which to my eyes are more in keeping with Wayne McGregor’s second instalment of Woolf Works, but which draw from ancient Chinese operatic, martial arts and dance traditions. There are fluid formations created by an ensemble of warriors, in all-black-everything, moving as one, twisting and somersaulting and throwing themselves across the space and over one another. And there are the tribal tendencies and shadow selves / bipolar characters of others (Han Xin, for example, the brilliant tactician who struggles with opposing loyalties), lunging and reaching across the floor, holding the liminal space and our wonder…are they even really there?

 

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A virtuosic physical performance is delivered by the tall, slim, graceful He Shang as the Western Chu’s Xiang Yu; he presents just like Dairakudakan’s principal dancer, Daiichiro Yuyama, who made such an impression on us in Japan. The Han’s Liu Bang (Gong Zonghui) is shorter, cheekier, and bounds around, playing games with his rival that involve balances and counter balances, and stomping one foot in front of the other’s, to get ahead of one another, eliciting delighted chuckles from the audience.

 

The Concubine, a role traditionally played by a man (and yet, unforgettably by Gong Li in the 1993 film Farewell My Concubine), is the sublimely beautiful male dancer, Yu Ji (Hu Shenyuan), dressed ceremoniously in red by (her) attendants. He’s an astounding, contorting, arresting physical beauty, almost defying description and leaving us quite breathless with the performance of the night.

 

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Wang Yan, a woman in white sits downstage in one corner for the duration, cutting masses of paper into snowflakes and Chinese symbols depicting the names of the characters, while the Narrator, Qiu Jirong, also clad in white, leads us across time and space into the epic battle and safely out of it again. There’s an element of The Never-ending Story and the Empress here, although the story is their own and in fact, there are never enough surtitles to tell the non-Chinese audience exactly what’s happening. Does it matter? Not really. It’s enough to take in the beauty of each stunning  image, and understand that the rivalry for power and prestige has existed for an eternity. It’s precisely what we continue to witness in contemporary contexts around the world, without the elegance and ravishing beauty of a full-scale theatrical production.

 

With a shorter opening sequence (we sit and listen to the overture for eight minutes or more while the house lights stay up, surely an oversight), and a story made more accessible to Westerners, Liping’s first full-length piece might enjoy a broader audience here. As it is, 100 minutes of Under Siege reminds us just how exquisitely beautiful the violence of past events can be made to appear.




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