Posts Tagged ‘Queensland Theatre Company

27
Jul
16

The Wider Earth

 

The Wider Earth

QTC & Dead Puppet Society

Bille Brown Studio

July 9 – August 7 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

widerearth_ensemble

The discoveries Darwin made while onboard the Beagle rewrote our understanding of the world.

David Morton

An epic journey, a quest of the soul; a question of creator or creation by nature… Darwin threw his theory of evolution into the mix of Christian faith and fear, and unveiled in 1859 in his book, On the Origin of Species, Darwin’s thinking changed the way we view and understand the world and its inhabitants.

The Wider Earth is a complete and thoroughly complex experience, drawing us into the detail, and the wonder and excitement of Darwin’s discoveries. We journey across the seas with twenty-two year old Darwin as he sets out to observe a whole new world and record his findings, only to leave his detailed notes behind him, in Tasmania, struck by crippling self-doubt, ready to abandon five years of work and his newly formed beliefs about the natural order of things, based on what he’d observed and knew to be true, despite the indoctrination of society at the time by the church. 

Last night I finally realised how I’d been feeling about QTC & Dead Puppet Society’s vivid imagining of The Wider Earth… wonderment. The curiosity and wonder of a child – before she is trained by the adults of her intriguing, impatient world to hurry up, and keep up and stop messing about in the garden – fascinated all over again by story and science presented in this unique way, and completely blown away by the design elements and the manipulation of the puppets, integral in this impressive world premiere.

In fact, this is the first production in a long time in which I’ve felt the entire audience completely immersed in the story from start to finish. A much younger audience than opening night enjoyed, the first Monday evening performance saw a couple of secondary school groups in the mix. And Poppy. This always changes the experience and I know some adults prefer not to hear the self-conscious laughter and the comments that teens whisper during a production but I love to see young people – all people – connecting and engaging with the arts. I love witnessing the moments of enlightenment, when the kids realise how all the elements combine in that mystical, magical, alchemical way of theatre and suddenly, they get it. In this case, an intriguing rom-com lens was cast over the show; I enjoyed hearing the giggles and squeals of delight from the girls, and the hearty applause before the final moments, testament to the entertainment value of this production, as well as its quality and substance (a trifecta rarely seen, if we’re honest). The Wider Earth is living, breathing theatre of the most intoxicating kind. We feel that it’s evolving even as we experience it. It’s the most exciting culmination of brilliant minds and skills, and real support networks in Brisbane in a long time. If only this was the result of every creative process: this feeling of immense pride, and true ownership and sheer joy, shared.

widerearth_tomconroy_laurenjackson

We enter the Bille Brown Studio after catching up in the foyer with everybody else who’d missed The Wider Earth opening night (having committed to the opening night of We Will Rock You – n.b. the early invites, folks!), passing a timber ship-pretending-to-be-a-rock structure that reminds me of the outback texture, colour and shape of the central feature of The Rabbits. It’s necessarily more versatile, serving as an imposing mountain, a gentle slope, a row boat, a number of landscapes, interiors, stormy waves and the deck of the HMS Beagle. It revolves. It’s brilliant. There are few full revolves used to their full potential and this is one design (David Morton & Aaron Barton) that doesn’t disappoint. Above it is a panoramic screen, lashed and hung with ship’s rope. The images cast across it begin as if we’re inside the pages of Beatrix Potter’s journal and become the entire universe. More on this aspect later; Justin Harrison has outdone himself here, muscling in on a space previously occupied by the talented boys from optikal bloc and Markell Presents.

widerearth_tomconroy_susansnaps

Tom Conroy, whom we remember from MTC/La Boite’s Cock, fearlessly embraces the complexities of young Darwin; his vulnerability and fears, his sense of wonder and obsessive attention to detail, his self-loathing, and his ambition and determination to develop his ground-breaking, game-changing theory. This is fine casting and a stand-out performance from Conroy.

On board the Beagle with Darwin is the conflicted Captain Robert Fitzroy (Anthony Standish, in his most impressive role to date, balancing light and dark and various shades of grey to create a commanding presence without losing lightness and genuine human connections towards the end), Father Richard Matthews (David Lynch), John Wickham (Thomas Larkin) and Jemmy Button (Jonty Martin). They are joined by Lauren Jackson as Darwin’s fierce and ambitious, very patient sweetheart (and his eventual wife), Emma Wedgwood, and Margi Brown Ash as both Reverend John Henslow & John Herschel. We hear from the outset the rich tones of Robert Coleby as the voice of old Darwin, landing us in the present with minds open to the stories of the past, and we see the extraordinary prowess and emotional investment of Anna Straker, Puppet Captain and notably, adorably, Polly the beagle. It’s a stellar ensemble, worthy of a new award category nom…

widerearth_iguana

We’re transported across vast seas and exotic lands by a timeless original cinematic score by ARIA Award Winner (and Woodford Folk Festival’s Mystery Bus superstar), Lior and producer/songwriter Tony Buchen, with a sweeping sound design by Tony Brumpton and superb ambient lighting by David Walters. The combination of elements elevates this production not only to national tour but to world tour status, if only someone would invest in this piece of theatre at the same level as men’s sport in this country. (That would also equate to a film option for international distribution, just saying). Justin Harrison’s projection art (with sketches from the original photo-composites by Straker) is an astounding success, taking us from Great Britain to the ends of the earth and back again, and into the mind of Charles Darwin.

widerearth_darwin

I’d love to see inside David Morton’s mind (Writer, Director, Co-Designer and Puppet Designer). I think The Wider Earth is a glimpse at how it works, but no more than The Harbinger or Argus was…there’s obviously so much more to come. It’s quite extraordinary, really. It’s another extraordinary production. It will impress aficionados of old and new theatrical forms and also appeal to those who have never seen anything outside of the cinema or their own living room. The Wider Earth, in one form or another, is destined for a much wider audience. (This season was close to selling out before it opened). 

It’s not the sort of theatre we see often. We often see theatre that is touted, celebrated and promoted as something like this. But it’s nothing like it. This is an epic tale made so intimate that we feel every atom is a part of the storytelling. And why are we even surprised by its stunning success on stage?! Dead Puppet Society have raised the bar – have been raising the bar – in visual theatre since 2009; it’s largely due to the support of our two major theatre companies that we’ve seen the work come this far this quickly, however; the simple fact is that Morton and Dead Puppet Society Creative Producer, Nicholas Paine, see the world differently, and they see the business of putting on a show differently, and they’re able to present their ideas in a complex and highly technical, yet incredibly childlike way, unfolding immense notions and universal truths and heavy moral dilemmas before our eyes, capturing our hearts before we’ve realised we’ve changed and in reflection, remembered how vulnerable we are. This is the little company that could, and does, despite so many major challenges facing artists and producers in this country, which stop others in their tracks.

Meanwhile, only the strongest survive, and Dead Puppet Society continue to prove they are intrepid explorers of the world, forging their own path, reimagining the landscape, terraforming the theatre industry. 

widerearth_birds

The Wider Earth is breathtakingly beautiful, an emotional, visceral theatrical experience. For artists within, and for audiences on the outside of a dynamic and diverse industry that is continuously changing and growing and stalling and starting again, and never quite stepping out of its own way, The Wider Earth is a truly inspiring theatrical event, serving as a gently powerful reminder that we really do exist only to evolve as much as we can before we expire, as artists, and as human beings who share this planet.

You will see nothing more magical this year. The Wider Earth – its vast and intimate beauty – will stay with you long after the lights go down.

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans. Portrait of Tom Conroy by Susan Hetherington. Compilation of projection art by Justin Harrison.

 

thewiderearth_video_underscore

Advertisements
31
May
16

Switzerland

Switzerland

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

May 20 – June 26 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

switzerland5

 

“She was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person…”

– Otto Penzler

“Writing is a way of controlling experience.”

– Joanna Murray-Smith

“I’m going to enjoy what I’ve got as long as it lasts.”

– Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley

 

Patricia Highsmith was a difficult woman.

 

In Joanna Murray-Smith’s brilliant slow-burning two-hander, renowned US crime writer and recluse, Patricia Highsmith, meets her publishing company’s earnest rep, Edward Ridgeway, in a fictional encounter that demands of her a final Ripley novel to put her back on the bestseller list. Ridgeway won’t leave until the contract is signed and the two grapple with power, perception, deception and wit, and drink beers before breakfast (Highsmith hated food) before a sly twist turns the situation on its head.

switzerland2

Steve Toulmin’s creeping cinematic score and Ben Hughes’ moody lighting contribute to the feeling of isolation in Highsmith’s haven near Locarno, Switzerland, where she lived for the last thirty years of her life. The play takes place during the last three days of her life. Despite warm accents in the weapons on display, the soft furnishings and timber pieces (Highsmith had enormous hands and feet, and proudly carved some of her furniture herself), Anthony Spinaze’s design, incorporating cold whites and steely blues, complete with raked ceiling and false proscenium, creates an uncomfortable, open space for Highsmith’s unwelcome visitor, and for us too. Tension seeps into the room with the shadows that stretch across the floor, moonlight leaking in, sneaking in, from beyond authentic French doors. We’re flies on the wall, keeping a safe distance from the intricate web being woven, knowing there is something awful to come, knowing the end will be dire.

switzerland1

When the French doors are thrown open to reveal the contrasting darkness outside, the mood and pace of the piece is dramatically altered. A moment suspended in time sees Highsmith here, moonstruck, moving to music (although we can’t be sure if she’s hearing what we’re hearing or something else entirely), oblivious to everything but her innermost thoughts, having dowsed the rest of her soul and her insecurities with Johnny Walker Red.

Andrea Moor has stepped into Highsmith’s loafers and into this difficult woman’s head, embodying the imagined real-life character and all her complexities. She’s witty and impatient and caustic, rising like a snake in the face of her antagonist, ready to strike, but often taking her time to do so while she sizes up the opposition, considering perhaps, with which weapon she’ll finish him off. Highsmith meets her intellectual match in Ridgeway and Moor meets her on-stage equal in Matthew Backer. In every aspect of his communication Backer encapsulates the initial timidity and gradually gained prowess of a ruthlessly ambitious admirer. He needs few words to make his position known.

switzerland3

It’s thrilling to see two accomplished actors simply acting. Having said that, the greatest compliment we can pay the actors is to not have seen their acting; to know that the work has been done and not see them doing it, only the effects of it, and that is the case here. Murray-Smith’s complex characters are perfectly realised by Moor and Backer, under the watchful eye of Director, Paige Rattray. Deftly fashioned suspense, created by Rattray’s superb manipulation of the text, timing, design features and plot twists, builds a little like the dark, lilting, recurring Norma Desmond theme of Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. Toulmin’s score balances this mysterious and sombre mood with interludes of Hitchcock style high stakes, and to further elevate the mood in that weirdly comically nightmarish horror movie way, we hear the innocent, joyful, slightly absurd strains of South Pacific’s Happy Talk.

switzerland4

The end is not altogether unpredictable but it comes as a shock nevertheless. We’re drawn toward unimaginable horror; the writer’s reality, the inevitable, the loss of control. The actual end.

Switzerland is compelling and richly rewarding. It’s darkly funny, provocative and ultimately terrifying. It’s highly accomplished humble theatre; the strongest we’ve seen from within QTC’s walls this year.

Production pics by Rob Maccoll

Want to learn more about Patricia Highsmith?

Read THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith by Joan Schenkar.

02
May
16

Much Ado About Nothing

 

Much Ado About Nothing

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 23 – May 15 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

muchado1

Much Ado About Nothing has everything going for it. A stunning design, a stellar cast and deft direction; it’s joyous, genuinely uplifting, entertaining theatre.

Jason Klarwein’s mainstage directorial debut marks him as one of our brightest, with an aesthetic that is a breath of fresh air to Brisbane. We’ve seen the commercial appeal of his approach to reimagining the classics with QTC’s production of Dan Evans’ Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and with this take on Shakespeare we’re reminded that there are those who just get it. Klarwein is one of those, with his production demonstrating why it is we still “do” Shakespeare. Klarwein brings an unequivocally entertaining version of Much Ado to the Playhouse stage.

Thanks to Designer, Richard Roberts (Design For Living, Managing Carmen) and Lighting Designer Ben Hughes (The Seagull, Happy Days, Grounded, HOME), the company has the most beautiful Queensland setting in which to play (although, interestingly, it’s contained, rather than being allowed to fill the space). His Messina boasts no Tuscan inspired marble floored mansion or pencil pines out front, but a luxury waterfront home of pristine white, wooden shutters and billowing curtains, wide verandahs, towering palm trees and manicured lawns, and simple, stylish furnishings. We might be on Hamilton Island, overlooking Whitehaven Beach during Race Week, or relaxing in Cato’s during the days and nights of a pre-refurbished Sheraton Noosa. The place feels light and breezy, sophisticated and carefree. A full revolve, as it did for Managing Carmen, allows seamless transitions and amusing stage antics between scenes.

In this serene playground for the privileged, against the beautiful blue hues of the sea and sky (and later, gorgeous dark storm clouds), Shakespeare’s characters chat and frolic, eventually confessing their true feelings, challenging us to consider love and longing, and the value of living in the moment, making every minute count. We don’t have to work hard to work out what’s going on; the language is clear (the cuts to the text are clean) and the contemporary reading makes Shakespeare’s themes as relevant now as they were 400 years ago without labouring any of the political points. But without adding the technological advances (there’s no tinder here, nor does anyone stop to take a selfie or type a status or relationship update – IT’S COMPLICATED), I have a single moment of dissatisfaction when considering the storytelling… And it’s only because I’ve thought about it. During the show I think nothing of it, simply accepting that it’s an unplugged, technology-free weekend away. And don’t we dream of such weekends?!

muchado2

For the bantering, bickering Beatrice and Benedick, love is a battlefield. Once bitten and twice shy, the sharp-witted pair are locked in a verbal fencing match with no quarter asked and none given. Is there any way their friends can open their eyes to their true feelings for each other?

For the starry-eyed young couple Claudio and Hero, love is a many-splendoured thing – that’s if they can take their eyes off each other long enough to avoid being deceived by bitter schemer Don John.

Christen O’Leary’s energy is infectious, her bold Beatrice, on the Saturday evening after opening, achieving the perfect balance of scorn and pixie charm. Emboldened, quickened vocal work and the assured stage presence we’ve become accustomed to makes O’Leary’s performance a stand out. I know it seems strange to mention the stage presence of a seasoned performer (should it not be a given? It’s the confidence in the space that translates to something very difficult to define), however; there are others who, with much the same experience in the industry, still don’t impress upon me such a solid, grounded, glorious energy, and a genuine connection with the actors and audience. Handled beautifully, her later frustration commands our attention.

O’Leary, along with Hugh Parker and Bryan Probets, are among the favourites from QTC’s stables (or should that be staples?), and from their work in this production (let alone their individual bodies of work) it’s not hard to see why. Parker’s Benedick brings great comedy to proceedings, his “skirmish of wit” with Beatrice and his gangly physical comedy delighting the audience. As a QTC statesman, it’s appropriate to see Probets as the statesman here – a wise and reasonable, distinguished and smartly dressed Leonato. Just when we thought we were getting used to Probets-the-comical-and-character-actor, we are shown a completely different aspect to the man. I love it.

You know I love Tama Matheson, exuding natural confidence and charm here as Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon. (I can’t wait to see him again in Don Juan, in Noosa in July). By capturing the very essence of upstanding royalty (and loyalty), Matheson’s performance is a magnificent example of making a character one’s own. In this ensemble he shines, along with O’Leary and Liz Buchanan (Dogberry), who each live and breathe the language fully; their lines coming “trippingly on the tongue”. Interestingly, no vocal coach is credited, though it’s my guess Klarwein felt comfortable enough with the spoken text (and with the support of the singers in the cast and creative team) to omit this role.

muchado6

Hayden Jones (Don John) is appropriately nasty and melancholy and Mark Conaghan (Borachio), the ideal henchman. Buchanan, Megan Shorey (Verges) and Kathryn McIntyre (Margaret) handle their cleverly-revised gender blind comedy superbly, and treat us to entertaining musical interludes with original composition and vocal arrangements by Gordon Hamilton, including a rousing new version of OutKast’s Heya. But it’s the gorgeous Patrick Dwyer (a suitably slightly insecure Claudio) who sings the sweetest treat, with a moving tribute to his love in Act 2. As Hero, Ellen Bailey is the epitome of a modern Shakespearean maid, a joy to watch and a pleasure to listen to. Keep an eye on Bailey this year…

We enjoy wonderful camaraderie between the men in this production, however, this means sitting patiently through a couple of unnecessary moments of high camp in addition to the (presumably) boyish Naval affection. Irresistible perhaps, to include these guaranteed laughs. And a costume change for O’Leary would be appreciated; despite the impact of the red and all its metaphors for her, it seems unreal for her not to have at least one other outfit available. She’d wear a Camilla equally well (the recent Athena or Pirate Heart drops would certainly suit her sensibilities and the resort style setting). Perhaps Roberts’ focus remained squarely on the set rather than the costume design for this one.

muchado4

Having been perfectly cast and playfully prepared for a broad audience, QTC’s Much Ado About Nothing is set to be something that Brisbane talks about well into our state theatre company’s next season, despite this one just beginning. It’s a joy to see any of Shakespeare’s comedies handled so adeptly, with sensitivity on an emotional level, and with a strength of conviction and distinct style, which also delivers the social and political messages with aplomb.

Whether or not you know the 400-year-old work of The Bard, Klarwein’s astutely reimagined production will delight, and will definitely have you asking for more of the same. So be sure to ask.

25
Apr
16

Motherland

 

Motherland

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

April 22 – 30 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

QTC_MOTHERLAND_event

Based in fact, the epic and intimate Motherland intertwines the sweeping stories of three very different women from different times, united in the heartache of exile from their homelands.

From the chaos of a Russian military coup, through the hell of Nazi-occupied France to a turbulent Brisbane in the throes of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, Brisbane playwright Katherine Lyall-Watson has penned a painstakingly researched historical drama about how world-changing events can ripple out and take a terrible toll on everyday lives.

Motherland was first produced by Metro Arts and Ellen Belloo at the Sue Benner Theatre, Brisbane on 30 October, 2013.

Motherland is a sweeping family saga, shifting across time and oceans to bring us three richly textured stories that make our hearts sigh and sing.

If you haven’t seen Motherland, you’ve missed a bold step forward in the shaping of Australia’s theatrical landscape. The sophistication and complexity of its storytelling, and a strong, clear narrative voice gives a nod to our ‘post dramatic’ writers, the likes of Tom Holloway and Daniel Keene.

Having seen the original production at Metro Arts, I miss the darkness and shadows and ambiguity of the first design, which you see in the trailer below (Annie Robertson is Associate Designer this time), but what I love about this version, reworked for QTC, is its clean, slick approach to the storytelling. Writer, Katherine Lyall-Watson, has sufficiently reworked the text to tell the tale without superfluous detail. Using slightly less text, each character is more fully formed than before, and each performer embodies their role with greater depth and empathy than before. Director, Caroline Dunphy, has sensitively and skillfully shaped this piece for a new audience.

Despite David Walters’ fine lighting, against Penny Challen’s squeaky clean all-white set I feel some of the original intimacy is lost, but we’re in the Bille Brown Studio now; it’s difficult to create a small space for a larger audience, and a larger, broader audience is what I wished for Motherland the first time.

Belloo Creative is a marvellous company of four talented and deeply connected women; their work is vital, bringing us stories we may never have known without them. And with the injection of state theatre company funds and a safe, supportive environment, this quietly determined indie company has had the opportunity to stretch their legs. And now we see they’re in for the long run.

The actors are poised to tell a story from the outset, entering from out of the initial darkness and stoically taking their places in the light to the beat of Piaf’s swirling, stirring “padum padum padum”. They never leave the space; everyone is in the story all of the time. And it takes several minutes to establish each story, and for us to focus and settle into each era, and its characters and their accents. The slower pace at the outset is likely deliberate, to allow our ears and eyes to adjust. We do so, quickly becoming immersed in the interwoven stories, the seamless transitions made all the more effective by the old world elegance of Dane Alexander’s cinematic underscore.

motherland

One of my favourite Queensland performers, especially after sharing the stage with her during GAYBIES, Barbara Lowing, is Nina, the 90-year old Russian writer; hot tempered, outspoken and often in trouble for speaking her mind…and her fierce heart. Lowing gives a gutsy, beautifully measured performance, taking this thick-skinned, complex character into a grey and gentle space between oppression and self realisation. Nina cares for Slav for years (he’s a weak, sickly, petulant poet) until she can do so no longer, finding freedom in independence. But is it the freedom she’s yearned for?

There’s something fantastic and liberating about playing such a flawed character and Lowing sinks her teeth into this woman whilst retaining a devastating vulnerability. It’s a superb performance; we are transfixed.

Daniel Murphy brings to life both Slav and the boy, Sasha, both difficult and dangerous roles for an actor, with the temptation to overact ever-present. But Slav is as irritating and as brilliant as any self-destructive artist, and the boy like any other boy, uprooted and displaced without a common language or a circle of friends to help him fit in. Murphy perfectly channels the young boy’s mistrust, his discontent and ultimately, his love for his mother.

The inner conflict and sheer strength of every mother is captured more confidently than before by Rebecca Riggs as Alonya, the “lioness”. Riggs has discovered something more to this role and offers a richly informed performance (her warmth emanates fully in the final moments of the play). She falls in love with an Australian businessman and his promise of a place of refuge for her and her son, a new motherland down under, as well as a visit home to Moscow each year. It all seems too good to be true…

motherland_Kerith Atkinson

Peter Cossar (Chris/Kerensky) has sharpened the Russian accent and let loose on the Aussie twang. The dinner scene, in which we witness both his characters occupying one chair, was the first to be written by Lyall-Watson, and its skilful shape and pace is testament to the success of the connection here between writer, director and actor. The staging is simple, with Cossar seated between Riggs as Alonya and Kerith Atkinson as the Australian journalist, Nell, who seeks the hand of Kerensky. The seamless transition of characters and the clarity of the overlapping, interwoven stories, due largely to Cossar’s ability to switch between his two roles, is outstanding. I’ve not seen more solid or more confident work from Cossar.

motherland_Barbara Lowing and Kerith Atkinson

Atkinson’s Nell is almost a duel role in itself, as she convinces herself of the life she feels she must lead until her death gives us cause to ponder the connection between self-denial and self-inflicted emotional pain, and the slow demise that comes with chronic illness. Atkinson’s vocal work is precise and her characterisation is vibrant and energetic, wilful and wonderful, making the news of Nell’s passing all the more moving.

Nina’s final words are more fitting than before, simpler and less flowery, reflecting the overall tone of the reworked text, which is sharper and clearer. It’s the truth and tone of the piece now, more than any massive rewrites (although the writer may correct me on that point!) that makes Motherland a defining work, bringing our focus back, again and again, to the incalculable value of our own stories. 

The re-writing process fascinates me, and I know it started at Metro Arts, with audience feedback offered directly to Lyall-Watson as writer/usher at the time. I understand that audience members had no idea she was the writer, so offered their thoughts freely on their way out the door; a fantastic opportunity for a writer, to gain insight from the immediate and emotional response from audience members and actors. Lyall-Watson has no doubt spoken on this, but I particularly remember reading what Matthew Ryan had noted about being in the room with the actors for the first reading of his seminal work, Brisbane:

“It never fails to surprise me the difference that a reading can make. You can convince yourself 100% that your script works. But until you have actors saying the lines you’re not really hearing the play. You’re just hearing (in your own head) what you hope it is.

I make a point of not looking at my script at a reading. I watch the actors. I already know what’s on the page. It doesn’t interest me. The best lessons are on actors’ faces and in their eyes. When they connect with each other. When they struggle. A good actor is the writer’s best friend. They will give it their all and tell you what they struggled with. I always try to get the most opinionated actors. The ones who won’t just accept what I’ve done but challenge me with questions and observations of where it fell short. They are in the moment and can often feel the bumps better than I can.

The reading of BRISBANE was a real eye-opener around the structure. What I thought would resonate didn’t. What I didn’t care that much about was bouncing off the walls. The first Act needs a polish but the second Act needs to be completely re-written. Before the reading I was sure it was fine. I was sure it all worked. Now I know how far I have to go. You can never tell the geography until you send out the scouts to see for themselves. If you’re smart, you listen to what they found out there.”

motherland_barblowing

Motherland’s director, Caroline Dunphy, has caressed this text and coaxed this cast out of their original raw performances into another realm altogether, facilitating closer connections and new resolutions within more naturalistic performances. (I imagine this company must have become closer than most; we feel such genuine history in the relationships and we retain such hope for each individual’s future). Dunphy’s talent is this emotional precision: her attention to the delicate detail of each individual in each relationship, though her gift might masquerade as merely* the competent manipulation of the elements and the actors in the space. She’s very humble, and what we see is that there is so little, and yet so much of her in this production… What a beautiful thing for a director to be able to claim.

*As we appreciate, directing is no easy task; there’s really no “merely” about it, but still…

motherland_Barbara Lowing

These stories will make you curious about your own… And just imagine if you could have your family’s stories told. Would you not want that history to remain this intriguing, and shared this respectfully, this lovingly?

Motherland is the most beautifully crafted and intelligently delivered story you’ll see on stage this year. Its passion and fierce beauty will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

And once you’ve lived through it you might like to read it. I forgot to pick up a copy of the updated text but I’ll be back at the Bille Brown next month to see Andrea Moor & Matthew Backer in Joanna Murray Smith’s SwitzerlandIf you have time to read Motherland before then, get your copy from Playlab. And if you’ll miss seeing it in Brisbane, book now and catch the production at a venue near you. You’ll be a richer person for it.

2016 TOUR DATES:

Queensland Theatre Company, Brisbane (April 20 – 30)

Maleny Community Centre (May 4) + meet the cast for drinks on the deck

The Arts Centre Gold Coast (May 6 – 7)

Ipswich Civic Theatre (May 11)

Redland Performing Arts Centre (May 12)

Gladstone Entertainment Centre (May 14)

Glen Street Theatre, Sydney (May 17 – 22)

Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre (May 25 – 28)

11
Feb
16

QTC is opening doors and dissolving borders

 

This is so exciting. Some of the best heads and hearts in the biz involved!

 

Queensland Theatre Company’s new Artistic Director Sam Strong is wasting no time in propelling the company onto the national and international stage in announcing the groundbreaking National Artistic Team.

 

nationalartisticteam

 

As a new Artistic Director, the most important thing you can do before your first season is to choose your artistic team.

– Sam Strong

 

Featuring an extraordinary lineup of artists from a deliberately eclectic mix of disciplines including actors, writers, directors, designers, dramaturgs, devisors, programmers and provocateurs, the QTC’s National Artistic Team includes: the next Chief in line of a Torres Strait Island; the director of the smash hit feature film The Sapphires; a leading New York literary director who now calls Australia home; the curator responsible for one of the most fertile periods of independent theatre in recent years; three great Brisbane artists who have been carving out careers interstate; one of the most important next generation voices on race and identity in Australia; and artists who between them have decades worth of commitment to the Brisbane scene. They are Jimi Bani, Wayne Blair, Margi Brown Ash, Marcel Dorney, Christie Evangelisto, Kat Henry, Nakkiah Lui, Annette Madden, Renée Mulder and Lucas Stibbard.

 

“We are throwing open the doors of QTC and involving more artists than ever before in key leadership positions in the company. This is sending a message about our commitment to lead from Brisbane and do things differently,” said Strong.

 

“This is a unique leadership team comprising 60% women, 30% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and 70% Queenslanders. They are the eyes and ears paying genuine attention to artists and their work in various cities throughout Australia, and overseas. They are the brains and hearts thinking about what Australian theatre needs, and sharing their intense passion for its magic.”

 

Strong will unveil his first Season (2017) this coming September, with all members of the National Artistic Team present.

 

Sam-Strong

 

“The National Artistic Team is a living, working example of the key principles of the new regime at QTC: combining great local and interstate talent as a means of nurturing both; bringing Queenslanders back to their home State; continuing the Company’s commitment to Indigenous voices (and embracing the next generation of those voices), and providing a first home for the brightest new talent from around the country.

 

“Especially important is the idea of thinking more expansively about theatre in Australia. I think it is fair to say that Australian theatre has occasionally been too pre-occupied with State borders, inter- and intra- city rivalries, and owning talent rather than collaborating to develop it. I want to change that.”

 

Strong also announced QTC’s new approach to auditions.

 

“In a few weeks we will throw open the doors of the Company to see the work of hundreds of actors. But, for the first time, we will do this together with our Brisbane colleagues La Boite, sharing resources, time, Artistic Directors and the challenge of developing careers.”

 

He said creating career pathways for artists was another key area of focus for the new National Artistic Team.

 

“A core part of the National Artistic Team’s role is to create opportunities for others and do more to look after people at all stages of their careers. While they are a form of inner sanctum, part of being in that inner sanctum is devising ways to make QTC as inclusive as it can be for artists and audiences.

 

“Leading the nation in the creation of career pathways for artists is also a means of addressing, concretely and from the ground up, the vital question of the diversity of voices on our stages. Every theatre company wants to narrow the gap between the people inside theatres and the people on the street outside. How that is achieved is the rub. QTC led the industry with the groundbreaking Reconciliation Action Plan developed by my predecessor Wesley Enoch and Executive Director Sue Donnelly. We want to build on that work and extend it.”

 

“This year we have National Artistic Team members in Far North Queensland, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and wherever else they might happen to find themselves – and …. we are paying attention. So if you are making a show anywhere in Australia, let us know.”

 

nationalartisticteam_qtc2016

 

QTC’s National Artistic Team:

 

  1. Jimi Bani – Torres Strait Islander performer and writer living in far North Queensland and working around the country and the world. Won acclaim for his performance as Eddie Mabo in the famous ABC TV series, and this year will perform at Belvoir in Sydney and the Barbican in London.
  2. Wayne Blair – actor, director and writer of stage and screen originally from Rockhampton. Director of the smash hit feature film The Sapphires and Redfern Now.
  3. Margi Brown Ash – Brisbane theatremaker and educator with a special interest in Artist Pathways. She has nurtured countless generations of Queensland artists and arts workers.
  4. Marcel Dorney – Brisbane writer, director and dramaturg now living in Melbourne and a previous winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award. Creator of award-winning work around the country with Elbow Room.
  5. Christie Evangelisto – former Literary Director at Signature Theatre in New York and director of Musical Theatre/Resident Dramaturg at Playwright’s Horizons. A world class dramaturg now living in Sydney.
  6. Kat Henry – one of Australia’s next generation directors and the former resident director at MKA New Writing Theatre in Melbourne and Alumni of MTC Women Director’s program.
  7. Nakkiah Lui – writer, performer and cultural commentator, Nakkiah penned Kill the Messenger and This Heaven at Belvoir. Also writer and performer for ABC’s Black Comedy.
  8. Annette Madden – curator, programmer and producer, former director of BSharp at Belvoir and executive producer of thePerth International Arts Festival.
  9. Renée Mulder – one of the country’s leading theatre designers, and former resident designer at STC, returning to her hometown Brisbane.
  10. Lucas Stibbard – actor and director known for his innovative body of work with the Escapists. A long-time contributor to Brisbane’s cultural landscape, he is currently undertaking his inaugural Masters of Cultural Leadership and is on stage in MTC’s production of North by Northwest.
30
Nov
15

Ladies In Black

 

Ladies In Black

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

November 16 – December 6 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Kate Cole, Christen O,Leary, Naomi Price, Lucy Maunder, Deidre Rubenstein, Carita Farrer Spencer

 

She was fifty-two when The Women In Black was published in 1993 and it is one of her four novels to be set in Australia. It is difficult not to see Madeleine herself in the clever and sensitive young heroine, Lesley Miles, though the well observed lower middle class family background she describes with such affection was certainly not her own, as she grew up in the smart suburb of Castlecrag, on Sydney’s North Shore.

 

The interplay of the saleswomen (who dressed in black in 1960, when the novel is set, just as they do now) is so convincing, so comprehensively realised, that I assumed Madeleine had a holiday job there while a student, but she insisted this was not the case, ‘although I often went shopping there with my mother’.

  

Bruce Beresford – Madeleine and Me (Foreword, The Women In Black)


Deidre Rubenstein, Naomi Price, Kathryn McIntyre, Kate Cole, Sarah Morrison, Christen O'Leary, Lucy Maunder, Carita Farrer Spencer

 

Mum had Madeleine St John’s novella on her Kindle and neglected to mention the fact until a week out from opening night of QTC’s brand new musical based upon the text…a busy week! I read it in tiny snippets between everything else happening and loved it! Without even trying to imagine how the light-hearted look at the women of Sydney’s (imagined) Goodes department store could ever be turned into a musical, I enjoyed St John’s candid writing. When Tim Finn read it, having picked up a copy one day at Brisbane Airport, he was inspired to write a musical.

 

With its catchy tunes, intriguing characters, witty lyrics and fabulous frocks, Ladies In Black is an instant classic.

 

Finn’s score is a satisfyingly contemporary mix of pop, rock, jazz and musical theatre, and the book by Carolyn Burns retains the social political thread and lovely laconic wit of the original text. Simon Phillips’ savvy direction and a stellar cast bring the sweet stories of the ladies to life.

 

ladiesinblack_wide

 

The show opens with an elegant riot of vivid colour and a catchy little tune, I Got It At Goodes, which not only reminds me of another (actual) department store’s jingle but also, for some reason, of Katie in Calamity Jane, singing Keep It Under You Hat. It’s cute, and sets the tone for something not nearly as serious as we might have expected. That’s not to say Finn hasn’t addressed a multitude of national sins, it’s just that it doesn’t delve deeply, darkly into them. Why should it? We’re merely obliged throughout to glance at the inherent misogyny and casual racism of our country and at the very least, asked to question it. With a deft hand, a full heart and a mischievous wink, Finn has neatly interwoven all the issues still relevant today.

 

Kathryn McIntyre, Deidre Rubenstein, Kate Cole, Lucy Maunder

 

Another little ditty, Bastard, is set to become an Australian classic. In the context it comes complete with precision teacup choreography and an ire that seems to have faded with the curtains, leaving a sort of 1950s secret women’s business resignation (and plenty of eye rolls) in its place. The audience is in fits of laughter. What a beauty!

 

ladiesinblack_incolour_nim

 

I Just Kissed A Continental is a favourite on opening night too, and one of the show’s highlights; a gorgeous, giggle inducing ensemble number that showcases the delectable voice and style of Naomi Price.

 

If you’ve seen her before you know she’s a standout and it’s this role that reaffirms what Brisbane has known for some time now – she’s a shining star with a very bright future. Price positively glows, and despite the number of amazing women on stage my eyes are drawn to her. She’s completely bewitching.

 

ladiesinblack_incolour_kate

 

Kate Cole has a similar magical presence on stage, relishing the role of the Buyer, Miss Cartridge, her uber confidence and staunch support of the sisterhood at once formidable and awe-inspiring. I can see now the basis for the rave reviews and Green Room nom for her performance in Grounded (Red Stitch) and I wish I’d seen it too.

 

Carita Farrar Spencer succeeds in making memorable and very moving, the most unrewarding role in the show. Lesley’s Lisa’s mother is a quiet champion of women’s rights, or at least of her daughter’s rights if not her own, and so beautifully and delicately captures the qualities of every ordinary housewife and mother of the fifties, I feel it’s her story that could be afforded more time and care. Think Pleasantville…or the quieter moments of Mad Men. The tone is exactly right. Let’s see more of her story in future developments.

 

ladiesinblack_incolour_christen

 

Christen O’Leary is Magda, the Slovene who cares for the Model Gowns of Goodes and the women who can afford to take the best dresses out on the town. She’s the uptown Rizzo of the “reffos”, with snazzy style and the sassy attitude to match. She’s intimidating until you get to know her (few are bold enough to do so), and in the most efficiently fairytale godmotherly way, she takes Lisa under her wing to groom her for the real world. O’Leary brings the gowns to life, endowing them with individual personalities as she introduces them to us by name. They become characters themselves and we grow so fond of “Lisette” – the gown that Lisa has her eye on – that, surprisingly, the stakes are raised sufficiently to set up a truly happy ending.

 

As far as the story goes, it really is Lisa’s show though, and Sarah Morrison, in her QTC debut, is glorious as she grows up and into the perfect cocktail frock to conquer the world AND remain the apple of her daddy’s eye.

 

The men play pivotal roles, each responsible for filling in some of the gaps, because has there ever been a shop girl who tells the whole truth to the friends on the floor? Certainly not Patty, whose husband takes off for a little while to leave her to “cope” Lucy Maunder brings grace and gorgeousness to this simpering role. As her husband, Andrew Broadbent enjoys as much as the audience does, an extended moment in the mens’ room, lamenting and singing whilst pissing, as you do.

 

Greg Stone is the delightful foil to O’Leary’s Magda. They have some wonderful moments together, their easy humour and teamwork refreshing. Bobby Fox is Fay’s swoon worthy “sweet Hungarian”, Rudi, perfectly fitting the bill as the intelligent, bold as brass newcomer to the country, on the hunt for an Australian wife. Fox is a dancer and doesn’t miss an opportunity to step nimbly through a couple of outstanding musical numbers.

 

Under MD Isaac Heyward, playing orchestrations by Guy Simpson, the band is present on stage and could perhaps become a more integral part of the mirrored pillared design, which is beautifully, stylishly conceived by Gabriela Tylesova (also responsible for the frocks, with Costume Superviser, Nathalie Ryner), and lit elegantly by David Walters, as opposed to simply sitting upstage, out of the way. This makes perfect sense only for the party scene, which consists of the company providing silhouettes behind a scrim as O’Leary delivers the monologue from the original text, greeting and observing her guests in a civilised flurry of hostess-with-the-mostess excitement and charm. I have to admit, I had expected a big song and dance number at this point!

 

ladiesinblack_incolour

 

The fabulous frocks, the detailed score, the beautifully drawn characters and witty scenes, even the funny forced rhymes support a charming tale, insightfully, carefully shaped by Director, Simon Phillips. Set to become part of the lexicon, this is a show that genuinely delights and entertains. See this talented cast bring to life Tim Finn’s Ladies In Black in Brisbane before December 6 and in Melbourne in January 2016.

 

24
Oct
15

The Odd Couple

 

The Odd Couple

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

October 22 – November 8 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

theoddcouple_ladle

 

 

Tama Matheson (Felix Ungar) and Jason Klarwein (Oscar Madison) ARE The Odd Couple.

 

The successful pairing of these two, after their hilarious antics in Design For Living (2013) make Neil Simon’s sharply penned, fast paced classic comedy the funnest and funniest night of the year.

 

With a superb supporting cast and an impressive inner city design straight out of Tribeca (Orlando Bloom might be a neighbour), Wesley Enoch’s final production for QTC in 2015 is all class.

 

High production values don’t always bring us closer to the action but Designer Christina Smith has considered every detail, inviting us in and making us feel completely at home within the walls and windows of Oscar Madison’s lofty New York City apartment…well, perhaps once it’s cleaned up. (A cityscape scrim works a treat to separate us from lightning quick scene changes). Lighting by Matt Scott (with assistant Daniel Anderson) and sound design by Tony Brumpton help to establish a New York state of mind in the stalls, while the dilemmas of living with anyone else but a cat are universally recognised. (Or say, a canary, although probably not both a cat and a canary at the same time in the same house as those with cats and canaries will attest. Actually, it was a Doberman)…

 

Anyway! Poor slovenly, beer swilling Oscar! His life is suddenly turned upside down by the overbearing presence of his new housemate, his smartly dressed and dangerously depressed, hypochondriac buddy Felix, a stickler for using coasters and ashtrays and doing the dishes before bedtime.

 

The set up is brilliant – the writing is light and lovely, old fashioned yet timeless in its innocence – and the opening scene involving a major disruption to the usual Friday night poker game with good friends is hilarious, establishing wonderful, genuinely interesting characters and firm friendships, delightful to follow. We want to see more of them, get to know them better.

 

Tim Dashwood (Roy), Steven Rooke (Speed), Colin Smith (Murray) and Bryan Probets (Vinnie) all shine, thanks to terrific choices that have clearly come from a playful rehearsal period, and the natural comic timing and well studied accents of the actors (Voice & Accent Consultant Melissa Agnew). This is beautiful ensemble work, showcasing briefly some of our favourite performers at the top of their game.

 

Jason Klarwein has never more fully embraced a role, perfectly channelling every lazy guy ever, all their dreadful habits and their appalling disregard, and truly appearing to live comfortably in the self-made mess, searching for the telephone beneath piles of discarded newspaper pages, leaping on and over the couch and upending ashtrays to make a point. In gorgeous, hilarious (entirely anticipated) juxtaposition, Tama Matheson brings to the role of Felix, as well as a cheeky little tribute to Bloom’s blue blanket, the OCD tendencies that are usually vaguely apparent from the outset of any relationship and which become more and more irritating over time. We could actually be watching any couple hard at work to keep their relationship going. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

 

Particularly enjoyable are the many moments of exquisitely executed reactions to the things we can all relate to, which are necessary to keep a household running reasonably smoothly but are dealt with in different ways by different folks. Despite the physical comedy not stretching quite as far as I’d expected it to (we never reach the point of furniture being overturned during a chase around the apartment for example, or a fully realised food fight following a bowl of spaghetti – sorry linguini – being flung across the pristine kitchen surfaces) there are nevertheless such well choreographed sequences (involving coasters and cushions and cloths and a ladle) that we end up with tears rolling down our cheeks by the end of each one. Some missed opportunities? Perhaps, but the show doesn’t suffer.

 

Here’s something I didn’t think I’d be able to tell you. So many moments in this production are in fact funnier than those in the much-loved film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (1968), which at times, strangely, feels almost laborious when I look back at it now. It sounds like sacrilege to say so until you experience QTC’s cracking production. Each set up is beautifully crafted by Enoch and expertly manipulated by the actors. Their timing throughout is flawless and the punchlines, delivered deadpan, are all dead on. It’s a shame the English girls from upstairs (Amy Ingram and Lauren Jackson) appear to have been directed to take things a little too far over the top, presenting highly animated stereotypes rather than just the lovely silly fillies they are, which prevents these two talented performers from fitting as neatly into this production as they otherwise might.

 

Now. There’s some question again in the foyers and online over the role and responsibilities of reviewers, so often confused with publicists it seems. I’m not sure why this is because I don’t believe the ticket purchasing public is stupid (and nor are the creative teams that work so hard to stage and promote the shows). As theatregoers we can tell the difference between an informed review and a pull quote on a glossy poster, and we pay attention to the opinions of those we respect, which should imply some regard for a writer’s knowledge and experience within theatre making and commentating. (Sometimes the two worlds align nicely, and a pull quote used in the publicity leads to a well informed, well written review! Hooray!). No one needs to be pandered to and an honest response is far more useful than a shiny, simple write up that treats a production and it’s producers as if they are part of a new reality television series or a presidential campaign.

 

I don’t give star ratings and I don’t give a rave review unless a production as a complete package blows my mind. I consider my writing to have gone through many stages but the voice remains the same. I hope I’m getting closer to consistently sharing a reasonable response to a production for all its merit, and considering what hasn’t worked quite as well as it might have done, mostly as part of continuing the discussions in this country around the creation and programming of new work and also, for posterity. And also, because I love reflecting on the way creative people can’t help but tell us their stories.

 

The Odd Couple is a stellar production starring an astutely cast ensemble of some of our most accomplished actors. The comedy is solid and the aesthetic spot on. If you miss this, you will have seen our state theatre company’s AD of five years come and go without enjoying his best work. Don’t do such a disservice to Wesley Enoch, or to yourself and your friends and family. This is a terrific show, to which you can take anyone and come away completely satisfied, happy to have shared in a little bit of lovely, light-hearted theatrical magic. It touches on real issues, reminds us to keep working hard to make real connections with other humans, and does it all in the most delightful, life affirming way. You’ll laugh until your cheeks ache…and then you’ll go home to recognise the familiarity and hilarity of a life lived with your own Oscar Madison or Felix Ungar! Good luck!

 

Use this link to book before October 31 to take advantage of a special offer from QPAC.

 

 




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow on Bloglovin

Follow us on Twitter