Posts Tagged ‘QPAC

10
Dec
18

A Christmas Carol

 

A Christmas Carol

QPAC and shake & stir theatre co

QPAC Playhouse

December 8 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

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

– Charles Dickens

 

And in the end, light wins.

– Josh McIntosh

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

15
Oct
18

Everyday Requiem

 

Everyday Requiem

Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

October 12 – 20 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

I have tried to approach this work with a sense of nostalgia for the past, but even more, with a sense of what is important in moving forward for a 70-year-old man. Forgiveness, acceptance, love and family — surely that is what is important.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, EDC

 

 

In making Everyday Requiem, the singers and I have aimed for simplicity and beauty, interacting with jarringly everyday imagery.

Gordon Hamilton, Artistic Director, The Australian Voices

 

 

Everyday Requiem is choreographer Natalie Weir’s final signature work for Expressions Dance Company as Artistic Director. After 10 years, in which the company has grown and developed under her leadership, and in which she has created a string of outstanding works, she is moving on to a new phase of her life and career.

 

Everyday Requiem is the story of 70 years in the life of an ‘ordinary man’, reflecting the way our lives are complex mixtures of mundane routine, everyday joys and disappointments, ecstatic happiness and shattering tragedy.

 

 

Vocal ensemble The Australian Voices is an integral part of this work, performing an a cappella vocal score by their Artistic Director and composer, Gordon Hamilton. The six singers not only sing with a moving purity of tone and faultless diction: they also act, they engage with the dancers, and perform some demanding choreographed movement while singing. Isabella Gerometta, one of the singers, subtly conducts the ensemble.

 

Their vocal performance includes interesting effects and techniques such as harmonic chant, and singing while gargling. Snatches of text from the traditional Latin requiem appear in among more banal, everyday words, such as lists of items from a schoolbag, and pet names used by lovers. A song by Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal also runs through the work.

 

The focal point of Everyday Requiem is the Old Man, played by guest artist and veteran dancer, choreographer and actor Brian Lucas. He looks back on his life, seeing its progression from childhood to youth and first love, to maturity, marriage and fatherhood, and on to middle and old age.

 

 

Lucas is a tall and commanding figure, but projects great warmth and tenderness in this role, conveying a wisdom born from hard experience, and a yearning for happy moments in the past while appreciating the present. He has a powerful stage presence.

 

The choreography for dancers playing the roles of people in the Old Man’s past is intensely athletic, fluid and expressive, with duos full of inventive lifts that flow naturally out of the movement. Mixed in with the complex movement are repeated motifs of simpler, more everyday ones, such as slow dancing, and playing the child’s ‘hand over hand’ game.

 

Jag Popham is a playful incarnation of the character’s Infancy and Childhood, showing a strong bond with his Mother, Australian Voices member Sophie Banister, who evokes a tender affection that is one of the enduring themes of the life story. (There is no Father character.) Humour springs from the playfulness in the movement and music, the vocal text introducing the refrain of names of items in a child’s schoolbag.

 

Jake McLarnon is strong and intense as the Adolescent and Young Man, very much resembling a younger version of Lucas. His duos with Isabella Hood, as his Young Love, are athletically lyrical, showing an awakening passion. The duos become trios when the Brother (Scott Ewen), compounding earlier sibling rivalry, steals the girlfriend. Ewen plays the cocky, bullying brother with relish, and portrays a later reconciliation with great sincerity.

 

The Young Man marries The Wife, played by guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis. Vilmanis is EDC’s Rehearsal Director, a former company dancer, and also now an independent artist. Standing in for an injured Elise May, she is wonderful in this role. Technically strong, fluid and precise, she expresses all the emotions of the role without histrionics, but making a powerful impact.

 

As the Mature Man, Richard Causer projects a brooding physicality and frozen anguish on his return from war. While his relationship with his wife remains strong, the difficult relationship with his daughter (Alana Sargent) is a key part of the ongoing story. Causer and Vilmanis are well matched, and generate a heart-wrenching intensity of emotion. The daughter is the character most overtly expressing emotions, which Sargent does with speed and abandon.

 

There is a note of optimism and recovery all through Everyday Requiem, and it finishes with a moving 70th birthday party. The large group of nostalgic and happy party guests are older dancers from WaW Dance (a Brisbane ensemble of mature-aged dancers led by Wendy McPhee and Wendy Wallace).

 

The set and costume design (Bill Haycock) and lighting design (David Walters, assisted by Christine Felmingham) are simple and very effective: a dark backdrop is sometimes lit to glow dark gold, and tables and chairs are shifted around in different configurations.

 

The singers wear white, and the male dancers wear conservative pants, shirts and jackets in neutral colours with touches of black, and jungle greens for a war scene. The women’s costumes stand out as touches of colour: a salmon-pink cardigan for the Mother, a full-skirted 1960s yellow dress for Young Love, a dark-red plaid dress for the Wife, and a light denim blue for the Daughter.

 

 

On the first night, the performance was briefly interrupted by a fire alarm at a significant moment. However, this was soon forgotten as everyone involved in the performance drew us straight back into the story.

 

After the emotional and celebratory conclusion of Everyday Requiem, the first-night audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation, clapping, whooping and cheering in response to the performance, and to Natalie Weir in particular. It was a well-deserved acknowledgement of a stunningly beautiful work that pierces the heart with joy, sadness, and ultimately celebration. It was also a fitting tribute to Weir herself and her achievements as a choreographer and Artistic Director.

 

03
Oct
18

Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff

 

Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff

Lunchbox Productions

QPAC Playhouse

October 2 – 7 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward and Poppy Eponine

 

 

Discover your Hogwarts house here

 

It’s not essential but it’s nice to know which house you’re in prior to seeing the smash hit Potted Potter, an unauthorised parody of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts’ experience, attempting to condense all seven Harry Potter books live on stage in 70 minutes. Actually, it’s just two funny British guys telling us what we already know about the boy wizard defeating the evil Lord Voldemort, and unashamedly failing to fill in the gaps. That’s it! That just happened!

 

Because we’d missed Potted Potter at the Powerhouse a few years ago, we walk in not knowing what to expect and walk out loving every bit of whatever irreverent clever comedy that was. 

 

The first thing to realise is that it doesn’t feel like 70 minutes because it’s so much fun. And the second thing to realise is that it’s so much fun because what seemed a solid plan, to recount Harry Potter’s adventures as they occur chronologically in J.K. Rowling’s famous series comprising seven books, is thrown out the window when it’s revealed very early in the piece that one of the two performers hasn’t actually read any of the books. Nor did he secure any actors to play over 300 roles, or get the set and props required to accurately represent the story on stage for a discerning audience of Potterheads and their parents.

 

While Scott is a legit Potterhead, the authority figure to Dan’s little boy persona, super serious at first and intent on sharing his knowledge with us, all Dan wants to do is play quidditch. He’s obsessed! Like a kid who’s been promised a trip to the beach after a week of rain, he can’t let quidditch go. For Dan, quidditch is the answer to everything. Interestingly, without reading the books, and without being familiar with the characters, quidditch-obsessed Dan manages to nail a Powerpoint presentation summarising Book 3 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), before the quidditch World Cup has even occurred! It’s a mystifying muggle miracle! 

 

Dan’s quidditch match, played live in the theatre with the audience divided into Gryffindor and Slytherin fans, is an absolute highlight for most, it’s so much fun. As silly as it is, there’s just something about a big inflatable ball being shared with the audience, isn’t there? And a special side note from Dan to everyone seated above in the balcony might have them booking earlier in future, in order to secure seats in the coveted stalls where all the action is! These offhand comments, obviously irresistible, and usually coming from naughty, distractible Dan, are typical of the frequent funny hooks for the “casual fans”, who may miss some of the actual Potter references. Rather than admonishing him, Scott just about falls about laughing with him, which makes the whole experience even more relatable and enjoyable, although we’re quite sure there are some cynics in the crowd thinking, “Get on with the storytelling!” and “I thought this was a Harry Potter show!” 

 

 

Other hilarious meta-references are at the expense of teachers and Trump’s America. After Dan questions the greatest wizard in all the world choosing to become, of all things, a teacher, an awkward silence follows and he fills it by innocently observing, “Who knew there were so many teachers in Brisbane!?” We all remember when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the Americans, giving Dan licence to admit that it’s a pleasure to be back in an intelligent country. Further political references ensue, including a dire warning that “Donald Trump is coming for you, Australia!” These jokes (however terrifyingly too-real!), are met with cheers and applause from an appreciative audience. The prepared improvisation is exceptional, and exceptionally funny. These guys gain the respect of the Potterheads and the casual fans, appealing to all ages and sentiments. 

 

 

Dan’s interpretations of the characters are deliberately at odds with the original characters, which is very funny. Ron becomes Gangsta’ Ron in a bright orange wig and Hermione sports blonde schoolgirl plaits beneath a straw hat, more Hanging Rock than Hogwarts, and a baritone voice; there’s room for a Priscilla style drag queen act here. (Of course, no spoilers re the finale, but we also enjoy plenty of Priscilla-playing-next-door references, ie. “You won’t see that in Priscilla“)! Lord of the Rings, Narnia and even (the “inappropriate, Scott!”) Fifty Shades of Grey get a nod, as do Star Wars, Shrek, Wicked and little orphan Annie – not Ginnie – introduced as the youngest of the Weasley family. Unsurprisingly, Scott recoils when Dan-as-Ginnie-not-Annie tries to give him a kiss.

 

The running joke, repeated ad nauseam (almost too often, just as the set up appears to run too long before the show really starts), remains stubbornly focused on the amount of production money spent not on actors or scenery or props, but on the fire-breathing Hungarian Horntail dragon featured in Book 4 (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), not an enormous animatronic King Kong creation but a hand puppet accompanied by Dan’s vocal effects and sweeping gestures. Scott Hoatson is the perfect foil to Daniel Clarkson’s ridiculous antics throughout, always trying to get the show back on track and simply tell the story. We love his Scottish accent, his undying trust of Dan and the constant deferrals to him, and his determination to honour his “close friend” J.K. Rowling’s storytelling. These guys are a super talented pair and it’s a delight to see them work so effortlessly at this style of comedy. It’s even funnier to share the jokes and the happy accidents with them, as they lose it and laugh on stage. It makes the whole experience special, just for us, and totally relatable, as if we’re sharing our favourite Harry Potter moments amongst friends.

 

The clever incorporation of props at precisely the right time helps to punctuate the most dramatic or poignant moments from each book. When Dan opens the coffin on stage to take two hats for our quidditch seekers (willing volunteers from the crowd), from a skeleton’s hand, he addresses the skeleton as Cedric, thanking him as he takes the hats. Complete silence follows. “Too soon?” he asks. More uncomfortable silence. Still in shock, we miss the Twilight reference that follows but others laugh hysterically. We always notice that we like to laugh during uncertain times, don’t we, and this show is just the thing. Whether or not you’re a Potterhead is irrelevant; the laughs are in the polished-unpolished, superbly confident and cheeky, transparent performances more than in the content.

 

Nevertheless, our own memories of reading the books for the first time, of seeing each film, of sharing our favourite moments with family and friends who are just as obsessed (or not!) with Harry Potter as we are, come flooding back during the show and afterwards, as we recall the funniest scenes on stage, either very loosely handled or very precisely manipulated – who can say? – by Director, Richard Hurst. 

 

Potted Potter relies on a relaxed sense of humour and our knowledge of Harry Potter’s world, or at least the knowledge acquired through osmosis by those who live with Potterheads, and follows a deceptively simple formula of broken expectations. It’s the sort of childlike, improvised, never-to-be-repeated genius that you might expect to see in the living room around Christmas time, a play put on by the kids, involving every stuffed toy and unassuming adult in the house. This show is so crazy it just works. You can’t help but love it and laugh out loud.

24
Sep
18

Peter Grimes

 

Peter Grimes

Brisbane Festival, Opera Queensland, Philip Bacon AM

QPAC & QSO

QPAC Concert Hall

September 20 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Matthew Hickey

 

 

THE centrepiece of the Brisbane Festival Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes fell apart on Thursday night when the star couldn’t sing due to illness.

When the internationally renowned Australian heldentenor, Stuart Skelton, was wobbly in the high register during the first act, everyone thought it was just the histrionics of the part. But after the interval, Brisbane Festival artistic director David Berthold emerged to tell the audience the bad news that some in the concert hall at QPAC had already guessed, that Skelton, 50, was ill and would be unable to continue singing.

 

Phil Brown, the Courier Mail

 

Art criticism is fundamental to a healthy arts scene.

 

Informed and considered criticism applies a torch to artists’ feet. Dialogue between critic, artist and audience is central to the development of great art. When done well, there is nothing like arts criticism. Sadly, the Courier Mail’s criticism of the premiere of the semi-staged production of Peter Grimes, which forms the centrepiece of this year’s Brisbane Festival, was nothing like arts criticism done well.

 

Peter Grimes is an opera by British composer, Benjamin Britten. Here, it is sung (as originally composed) in English. The story is set in a Suffolk fishing village. It centres upon Peter Grimes, a troubled local fisherman, of whom insular locals are suspicious. His young apprentice has recently died, “in accidental circumstances”, during a misadventure at sea.

 

Contrary to the Courier Mail’s hyperbolic clickbait headline, last night’s production did not “fall apart”. It’s lamentable that Phil Brown’s piece ignored entirely the many positive things that deserved to be acknowledged in print. Before addressing those, one must speak about the obvious.

 

 

The star, internationally-acclaimed Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton, was unwell. As much became concerningly obvious when the achingly glorious moment, which usually arrives in the first duet between Peter Grimes and Ellen Orford – when they sing “your voice, out of the dark” in a leaping ninth – frankly, didn’t.

 

For those close enough to the stage to see him well, it was obvious that Skelton was working hard, very hard, to produce his sound. But, despite the odd crack here and there, in a narrow part of the voice where Skelton seemed to be struggling to get his vocal folds to come together, in the first act the audience received a thrilling demonstration of why this man is the best Peter Grimes on the planet right now. His singing was exciting and powerful and his hulking physicality brought equal parts menace and pathos to the role.

 

After the first interval, it fell to David Berthold, Brisbane Festival’s Artistic Director, to gingerly take to centre stage (where his awful task was prolonged by darkness until someone found the light switch) to tell the audience what many had already guessed: Skelton was ill; he would be unable to sing the rest of the performance; the understudy (to whom I will return) would sing the performance from the side of the stage; and Skelton had “generously” agreed to act out the role.

 

Berthold’s use of the word “generous” seemed initially an odd choice. But, by the end of the performance, it made complete sense. It was an act of generosity for Skelton to walk through the role. Grimes is a dramatically challenging character. Complex, brooding, dysfunctional, tortured, despised, shunned and, ultimately, cast out by a community disappointed in him. One couldn’t help but feel, observing his personal anguish during the bows at the end of the performance, that Skelton had begun to personalise Grimes’ pain, by transmogrifying the Borough’s hate into (what his mind might have convinced him was) the audiences’.

 

But there was no hate from the audience. Only admiration. Those who were there were treated to a tantalising (and satisfying) glimpse of the voice that has made the Australian heldentenor a star on mainstage opera houses abroad.

 

It fell to Skelton’s understudy Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, a Welsh tenor, to sing the role of Grimes from a music stand at the side of the stage while, from time to time, leaping back onto the stage proper to sing the role of Reverend Adams, in which he had been cast. His singing was clear and powerful. He is a very fine singer and, as may be seen from his leaping into the fray without any real time to think about it, a courageous one.

 

Other notable international guests included British soprano Sally Matthews, who sang the role of the schoolmistress, Ellen Orford, with great control and line, and British baritone, Mark Stone (who, interestingly, read mathematics at Cambridge University) sang the role of Balstrode. I can’t remember being more excited by a baritone’s performance since hearing Simon Keenlyside sing at the Opera House, in the mid-90s. Even without Skelton, the price of admission is worth it to hear those singers alone.

 

But they were not alone. Through the musical and dramatic skill of the rest of the featured cast, the Suffolk fishing village came to life on the Concert Hall stage.

 

 

Andrew Collis was steadfast as the dour Swallow, with his drunken dancing a particular highlight. The nieces were played to trashy, fish-netted, stiletto-heeled perfection by Katie Stenzel and Natalie Christie Peluso. Jacqueline Dark’s portrayal of the laudanum-baked Mrs Sedley was beautifully nuanced. Michael Honeyman’s cheeky turn as Ned Keene, the pill-pushing apothecary, in particular when leading a pub-full of tense drunks in the ditty “old Joe has gone fishing”, was great fun. Brad Daley again showed why he remains among the best-known tenors in this country. His voice remains bright and strong, and from the moment he “started shouting” as the dishevelled bible-basher Bob Boles, he made the character his own. Jud Arthur (whose biography records an unsurprising history as a rugby player) provided wonderful physical menace as the performer of “dirty jobs”, Hobson the carter.

 

 

A particularly poignant moment in this production is the quartet in the first scene of act two, between Ellen Orford (Martin), Auntie, played stoically by Hayley Sugars, and the nieces (Stenzel and Christie Peluso). They sing despondently of the role women play in supporting men. “And should we be ashamed because we comfort men from ugliness?” they sing. In the era of #metoo, that quartet resonates like never before.

 

The Opera Q Chorus, supplemented by talented students from the Queensland Conservatorium, again revealed astonishing vocal polish and discipline, and dramatic commitment. That so much is accomplished by this ensemble, year in, year out, when they are retained on an ad hoc, casual basis, is testament to their collective talents. We are lucky to have them. They sang their hearts out. The power of the moment at the end of Act 2, when they stormed the front of the stage, with flame torches aloft, a terror-inducing, frothing-mouthed mob, baying for Peter Grimes’ blood, was especially confronting.

 

Finally, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of the baby-faced Scottish conductor, Rory Macdonald, has rarely sounded better. Their performances of the famous four sea interludes, in particular, were evocative and atmospheric.

 

While it was disappointing he couldn’t sing the second and third acts, to suggest the production “fell apart” is to do a grave and thoroughly unjustified disservice to the rest of the performance.

 

It was, simply put, a remarkable evening in the Concert Hall.

 

 

 

17
Sep
18

Stalin’s Piano

 

Stalin’s Piano

Robert Davidson and Sonya Lifschitz

Brisbane Festival and Griffith University

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

Friday September 14 2018

 

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

 

 

I think everyone is a composer, at the very least through endless spoken melodies

Robert Davidson

@robcomposer

22 Jan 2015, Twitter

 

You and I may not have noticed before, but there is music in everyday speech. According to Brisbane composer Robert Davidson, we are all composers, creating and performing music every time we speak.

 

Davidson is fascinated by politics, the connection between politics and art, and by the music of speech. These preoccupations fuse in Stalin’s Piano, a multimedia work developed in collaboration with pianist Sonya Lifschitz, and premiered at the Canberra International Music Festival 2017. Together, Davidson and Lifschitz uncover the music in the speech of 19 famous artists and politicians, creating musical portraits of them in a powerful piece of theatre.

 

The 19 range from Bertolt Brecht, to John F Kennedy, Joseph Stalin, Robert Helpmann, Mao Zedong, Gough Whitlam, Percy Grainger, Ai Wei Wei, and Jackson Pollock. Particularly memorable were Percy Grainger, with his astringent description of music as ‘the art of agony’ and ‘derived from screaming’; EE Cummings, with a lyrical reading of one of his love poems; Robert Helpmann, with stories about his early life; and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, with the surprising and stirring music of her anti-misogyny speech to the Australian Parliament.

 

Lifschitz is centre stage at the piano, with video clips playing on a large screen behind and above her. In this performance lasting just over an hour, she is playing or speaking almost constantly.

 

She gives an awe-inspiring performance of great warmth, playing music of varying styles, from lyrical to frenetic, martial to Latin jazz.

 

Her timing is uncannily precise, with the piano exactly echoing the musical notes of speech from the video soundtrack. The listener feels a sense of discovery and illumination in response. At other times the piano is in counterpoint to the voice and connects with the images on the screen, or it elaborates on or accompanies the music of the speech.

 

 

The composition, the images and the performance of Stalin’s Piano arouse many emotions: it is by turns lyrical, fierce, horrifying, funny, chilling, sad, and nostalgic.

 

The film clips are often sampled and looped, with the repetition and rhythm reflected in the music. This has been used to create comic effects, for instance in the portrait of JF Kennedy, with exhilarating Cuban-influenced rhythms and choppy film echoed by the piano, and contrasting with the tension of the Cuban missile crisis.

 

As part of her spoken performance, Lifschitz talks about Stalin, Shostakovich, and Russian pianist Maria Yudina. The story of Yudina and Stalin is central to the work, as reflected by its title. The story is of two absolute opposites: the dictator who destroyed millions of lives, and the pianist who championed artistic freedom and openly defied Stalin’s regime, yet survived.

 

Stalin loved Yudina’s playing and demanded a recording of her performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, which was made especially for him in a late-night recording session by terrified conductors and musicians. This recording is said to be the last music he listened to before he died.

 

Yudina was revered in Russia, and a huge influence on Lifschitz and her contemporaries as students. In a poignant tribute during Stalin’s Piano, Lifschitz plays some Mozart along with the recording of Yudina.

 

Davidson and Lifschitz both spoke in a relaxed and friendly way to the audience about the work beforehand, and took part in a Q&A after the show (chaired by Brendan Joyce, Artistic Director of Brisbane chamber orchestra Camerata). The show certainly stands alone without the Q&A, but this added some fascinating insights (such as revealing that Gough Whitlam spoke in B flat major, and explaining how Lifschitz manages to synchronise her playing with the spoken words and moving images).

 

 

 

In discussing the comedy of Stalin’s Piano, Davidson said that manipulating sound and image, as in the JFK portrait, is only one element of the comedy in the work. Sometimes comedy lies in what the person is saying, as in the portrait of Percy Grainger, with his spiky response to an interviewer echoed by the piano. Humour also comes from the realisation that there is inherent melody in speech, which was borne out in the frequent laughter from the audience.

 

Davidson said that while music isn’t as precise as words, it enhances what is underneath them, ‘where the real punch comes in’. Stalin’s Piano certainly does that, amplifying the feeling in the spoken words of 19 people. The show is intense, entertaining, and completely absorbing.

 

There was only one performance of Stalin’s Piano at Brisbane Festival. If it ever comes back, or you can see it somewhere else, don’t miss it!

 

14
Sep
18

Memorial

 

Memorial

Alice Oswald & Brink Productions

QPAC Playhouse

September 7-9 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

our tragedy is everything, and yet nothing…

 

Only during Brisbane Festival would we have the opportunity to experience a deeply moving and heartfelt piece as grand in scale and as poetic in nature as Memorial, involving accomplished musicians, large scale, event style, precision choreography and 215 local community choral members in the staging of, not the retelling of (it’s an important distinction: we know the story), the staging of the atmosphere of Alice Oswald’s Memorial: An Excavation of the Illiad.

 

Oswald’s epic poem, to which she herself refers to as an “oral cemetery”, shares the human aspects of death and dying during the ten-year war that famously ended in Troy, located just 75km from Gallipoli. Two months out from the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War, we are plunged into the imagined memories, and shown the shallow graves of those who fought and fell in ancient battle. In any battle. Director, Chris Drummond, successfully translates the atmosphere of Oswald’s poem to the stage, inspired by critics’ appraisal of The Illiad, in terms of its ‘enargeia’ – its bright unbearable reality. How I love the images conjured by the use of this word!

 

It’s the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves. This version, trying to retrieve the poem’s enargeia, takes away its narrative, as you might lift the roof off a church in order to remember what you’re worshipping. – Chris Drummond, Director

 

 

Consider the roof lifted. Our beloved Helen Morse is poet, actress, enchantress, finding the breath and sinew of Oswald’s text, drawing on masterful vocal and emotional work, harnessing all the human aspects and the elements of the earth, conjuring the vivid images and wrought emotions of the battlefield and the aftermath of war as powerfully as if we were there, sitting and shedding our tears over the bloodied bodies of the fallen, or opening our arms and offering our embrace to the shaking, or silent and still, desperately empty shells of those who loved them, left behind.

 

There are other opportunities to pause and ponder but the most beautiful, memorable moment of intimate connection occurs when an ensemble member steps across the stage bearing a small bowl of water from which Morse will sip. She stands close, patient, reserved and respectful, pleased to simply serve – such an effortless act of kindness – and before taking the bowl away, holds the gaze offered by Morse: deep gratitude and mutual respect in this single moment. It’s so intimate an exchange we feel privileged to have had a part in it simply by being present. Other exchanges of energy, some languid, others frenetic, create poignancy or excitement. A number of brief, fluid segments are certainly not intended to be as accomplished technically as the Royal Ballet, of course, yet feel vaguely reminiscent in terms of energy and floor patterns, entrances, exits and frozen time, of Wayne McGregor’s time-bending Orlando act in Woolf Works.

 

 

Macedonian and Bulgarian vocals (Tanja Tzarovska and Belinda Sykes) weave beneath and in between the complex layers of a rich musical tapestry brought into living, breathing, haunting existence by an orchestra seemingly suspended above the mortals on stage, thanks to Michael Hankin’s design lit by Nigel Levings, then soar beyond that negative space and into the skies above. The original transcendent score composed in response to the text by Jocelyn Pooklifts us into whatever heaven we perceive there to be above us, with exquisite strings and reeds, and given additional gravitas by the combined voices of Exaudi Australis and the Queensland Festival Chorus, Vocal Manoeuvres Academy Youth Ensemble, and singers from Access Arts and Emma Dean’s Cheap Trills, coordinated and coached by Alison Rogers. The music is truly something else. 

 

 

Movement conceived and coordinated by Circa’s Yaron Lifschitz (the world premiere of his En Masse next week is a must-see) features some superb complex sequences performed by just a few ensemble members. The last of these seems particularly significant, shared via a dancer on either side of the stage, building on familiar gestures and morphing them into a strange and mesmerising dance of love and loss. A jarring hip movement juxtaposed against fluid, sweeping arms and the natural curves of the body speak volumes about the discombobulation of those lost in their longing, and the getting-on-with of their life. The large-scale choreography is designed to move hundreds across the space and freeze in more geometric formations to support the images from Oswald’s text and direct our attention back to Morse, and to the individuals representing the soldiers of whom she speaks. The Soldier Chorus used in this way, within the vast space of QPAC’s Playhouse stage, is a powerful reminder that the inescapable reality of war, its horror and its desperate sadness imprints on us all.

 

 

 

 

Somehow, magically, time is stretched and we may have been sitting here, in a dream, for three, or four or six or eight hours, but in fact it’s just 90 minutes and we remain fully present and at times, hyper alert. Intriguingly, with each gentle lull in the action, during more descriptive passages, there might be a tendency to sink deeply into a meditative listening state, a similar state common in audiences of the durational performances of other ancient cultures; think of the Ramayana or Mahabharata, or Japanese Noh theatre, where we surrender to the power, and ebb and flow of all the elements, transfixed over hours…or days. And we come out of this 90-minute-decade-long experience with a semblance of awareness that we’ve been changed somehow, and now our heart is murmuring its own condolences and gentle comfort to the world.

 

Memorial is an epic production with a humble heart. Truly, incredibly, transcendentally magnificent. Helen Morse, with her otherworldly musicians and 215 barefoot strangers, in a masterful performance supported by every detail of Chris Drummond’s production and ably assisted by Benjamin Knapton, brings us to our knees in the face of death, dying, and that smallest and simplest of human kindnesses, remembering, in the event of their death, the details of a person’s life.

 

 

11
Sep
18

Hamnet

 

Hamnet

Dead Centre

QPAC Cremorne

September 8 – 12 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

To be or not to be…

 

There’s a problem when you try to understand big things by looking at small things. You get lost.

 

Hamnet is too young to understand Shakespeare. And he is one letter away from being a great man. We are too old to understand Hamnet. We meet in the middle, in a theatre.

 

A 60-minute monologue from an 11-year-old boy in the guise of Shakespeare’s forgotten son? GOT ME.

 

I love what Brisbane Festival AD, David Berthold, has to say about Ireland’s Dead Centre, this “most alive” of theatre companies. “They approach so-called ‘great’ works from the winking edges, not the sinking centre…”

The winking edges…

 

 

You haven’t heard of me. You’ll think you have at first, but then you’ll realise you were thinking of someone else. It happens every time. 

 

Hamnet is the most ordinary, adorable, unassuming, innocent, curious, quietly grieving, reading, friendly, tech savvy, confident, hoodie clad, backpack carrying kid, convinced that by the time he bounces a ball against the wall infinity times, it will penetrate the wall. This is a concept vaguely known to me as something unfathomable within quantum physics. Hamnet simply continues to pursue the possibility that such a notion might be true, hoping that he will gain access to another dimension. Maybe tomorrow. Hmmm… Maybe in my meditation. In the meantime, he has many questions, which he puts quite candidly to us and later, just as candidly to the ghost of his father, William Shakespeare. When he doesn’t get the answers he wants, he asks Google. In this play we get very few of the answers, and all the questions, about selfishness, sadness, career, choice, pride, parents, absent parents, art, sacrifice, siblings, death, grief, growing up, greatness, and the way we communicate (or not) with our children.

 

Aran Murphy’s manner on stage is completely and utterly relaxed. It’s hard to believe that this is his first professional production. (He loves acting and football; he’s a Liverpool fan). It’s not an easy gig, and Murphy’s performance is flawless.

 

It’s been a little while since I’ve seen an audience so intrigued and delighted and invested in a one-man show, but we’re curious from the outset, seeing ourselves on Andrew Clancy’s mirror-wall behind Murphy, the feature of a necessarily simple design to facilitate the coming and going of the ghost of Hamnet’s father via video, and hearing from Hamnet that a) he shouldn’t talk to strangers  and b) he’s not a great man, before he goes on to tackle the bigger questions in life, and that famous speech…out of the mouth of a babe.

 

Murphy is at ease communicating directly with the audience as well as with the actor playing Shakespeare, and manages a number of props, precisely placing each on the stage in the position we see them on screen, another vital aspect of the video’s authenticity, projected onto the same wall as the live stream of the very performance we’re at. He moves and speaks in perfect synchronicity with his own image and with that of his father. In this live theatrical liminal space, the kid is incredible.

 

 

AV Designer José Miguel Jimenez has a fascinating litany of collaborative works behind him and brings wit, deft timing and a sharp eye to this project, allowing Hamnet and his father to commune, even connecting them physically, or so it would seem, due to the technical precision and astute direction of Bush Moukarzel & Ben Kidd (also the co-writers), the acting and AV.

 

This sweet, short show is surprisingly moving. It might make you consider your every kind or unkind thought, word and action. It might make you question the kind of human you believed you wanted to be, what lasting effect you want to have on your family, your friends, the people you meet. What sort of legacy you want to leave. What impact you want to have on their lives every day, while you’re still here. What you can choose to do and say every day to let those closest to you know you forgive them for their absence and that you love them…before having to test the theory of quantum tunnelling to reach them one day.

 

Adulting is hard. Being a kid is different hard. Dead Centre’s Hamnet gently and playfully peels the skin from our eyelids and invites us to look for a little longer at the thoughts and fears we thought we’d forgotten, or didn’t know we were ever going to have.

 

 

 

Production pics & Youtube footage feature Ollie West as Hamnet