Posts Tagged ‘queensland theatre

23
Mar
19

Hydra

 

Hydra

Queensland Theatre & State Theatre Company of South Australia

Bille Brown Theatre

March 15 – April 6 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

There is this woman, Charmian Clift. And I have to dress up as her and go out and be her.

 

 

A sea change. A haven for creatives. Heaven on earth. Until it’s hell.

 

Sue Smith’s Hydra is the new work we’ve been aching for. More than a simple drama built around the words of one of our most under-appreciated female writers, Hydra is a haunting, unsung song cycle actually, the imagery so Australian in its detail yet so universal in its broader sense. Its glittering prose wakes something. Inner eyes flash open, inner ears tune in and we become aware again of that sleeping voice inside beginning to growl and hum and trill with possibility, and also of that other voice reminding us, be careful what you wish for.

 

On the Sunshine Coast, we are the sea change that others crave. We never wanted to feel as if we were stuck in the city without space and sea and sky all around. It’s a choice to stay here. It’s why we live here. But the lure of the Greek islands remains real to us too, just as it must have been to Charmian Clift and George Johnston then, in the fifties; an ideal expat island lifestyle promising escape from the uninspiring daily drudgery of Australia.

 

 

Smith writes about artists as fallible human beings and not as mythical creatures, capable of changing the world one word, one song, one picture at a time, although once they believed they could. These are the artists who support artists. The women who support their men. The addicts supporting, and enabling, the addicts. And the friends, like family, who make a choice to walk away, finally, after nothing more can be done for the ones we love. And what makes us love them, anyway? Do we even remember? When the end comes, did we ever really know what it was that caught our attention, our whole heart? Does it even matter, when a connection runs so deep, when there is so much scar tissue, when there are so many stories to tell, that the wounds won’t ever heal while we insist on retelling them?

 

It’s not a happy story, although there is joy, wonder and contentedness in the tiny moments.

 

 

Anna McGahan shares Clift’s wounds and words in a way that fills us with wonder, delight, and yes, some despair. Her precise vocal work and the cadence of her speech is naturally lilting and wonderfully poetic without being predictable or pointed or laboured, finding entries into Clift’s language and imagery as if she is opening doorways to a fairy realm. And perhaps she is, giving us a peak inside her bohemian faery bower. Bryan Probets breathes a full life into George Johnston, her famous husband (the author of My Brother Jack), even as the character’s breath fails him. On multiple occasions I wish him ill, hoping his breath will catch for the last time, long before it is destined to do so. At one stage I think he’ll stumble into the sea and drown. Good! No. He stays and lingers, and seethes and rages, and slowly, too slowly, he rots and Clift remains by him.

 

Incredibly, Clift helps her husband to write the great Australian novel in lieu of her own, finally physically placing a canvas cover over her typewriter at one end of the table. The metaphor is plain, as she dulls her light to allow his to shine. And so it is in creative partnerships. Yet her turn will never come. Not really.

 

Narrated by Martin, the couple’s omnipresent Greek Chorus son ( a gentle, patient and emotional performance from Nathan O’Keefe), this tragedy of quite ordinary proportions – excepting the proportion of gin consumed, which is quite extraordinary indeed – is elevated by its language and the intensity of the relationships at stake. Vic, better known as painter, Sidney Nolan (Hugh Parker) and wife, Ursula (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight) are the best buddies who become distant friends, opting for sanity and a life beyond the heady days and nights on Hydra, rather than a sad extension of that period, which is impossible to transfer. The romantic artist’s existence becomes the nightmare of every waking hour; the mythical, miserly struggle just to survive, even in Australia, the lucky country. Let’s leave the discussion surrounding the inexplicable miscasting of the French and Greek roles until another time. Let’s simply agree that it’s always a delight to see Ray Chong Nee.

 

 

Director, Sam Strong, breathes gentle, respectful life into this version of events, crafting each of Smith’s scenes to stand alone in the storytelling, as well as adding, piece by piece, the detail that will urge us to look more closely at our own lives, our choices, our commitments…our worth. Almost in three parts, the journey for which we join these characters traverses oceans and years, and delves into their heaving, sighing, cracking, crumbling hearts. While it takes almost a third of the performance for the actors to settle and simply share their story, this is (unfortunately for first audiences everywhere) a bit typical of opening nights. The last couple of chapters of the story, set in Australia once the couple are perceived to have achieved a modicum of success, offers the most real, raw and honest performances of the evening. It’s almost as if we suddenly reach the real story. These are breath-holding, heartbreaking moments, and there are tears. It’s the women in the audience who are visibly affected. And McGahan’s gin-drunk dancing and weeping and collapsing will be mentioned in our Women in Theatre Bridge Club and various book clubs and other women’s circles, going down in Australian theatre history as one of those, “I was there. I saw her do that” moments.   

 

 

Vilma Mattila’s simple and elegant white design is a dream, so pleasing to those who have been to the islands of Greece and seen it before them, as much as to those who have not, and still long to. Nigel Leving’s darkness, creating the purity and peacefulness – and longing – of nights on the island, and sparkling white daylight, despite the perfectly timed thunderstorm outside in real life, which acts like a footnote from the gods at a crucial moment. Quentin Grant’s composition and sound design lures us into the dream before startling us out of it.

 

These words, though. These words of Clift’s, stitched seamlessly into the text by Smith, are like pieces of glass worn smooth by the sea. The memories of jagged edges are so distant that the gems they’ve become might never even have existed in that form, like somebody else’s version of past events.

 

There’s a deeply felt need here for the woman to exist on her own in order to create, just as Virginia Woolf wrote. For a woman’s most authentic work to be conceived and completed, she must exist in space and time for some time, supported, and utterly alone.

 

There is a sort of dreamlike quality in returning to a place where one was young. Memory is as tricky as a flawed window glass that distorts the view beyond according to the way one turns one’s head. Charmian Clift.

 

27
Feb
19

Death of a Salesman

 

Death of a Salesman

Queensland Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

February 9 – March 2

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

THE REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM THAT DEFINED THE 20TH CENTURY

 

What is a human life worth?

 

I saw the very first preview performance (this is the first time the play is seen by an audience outside the privacy and security of the rehearsal room) and two and a half weeks later, one of the final performances of the season. Despite my knack for writing really interesting and insightful and particularly generous preview reviews because I can imagine that a show will be exactly where it needs to be by opening night (I keep telling them that!!!) we tend not to write up previews – in fact, we’re asked not to – because at this stage the production is still in its infancy, and things can be a little clunky, or not quite clear. There’s still time before opening night to make changes and tweak things, and this is why you’ll often pay less for a preview ticket…and why it’s often a good idea to make a return visit to experience the show all over again, as the director intends it to look and feel, before closing night.

 

 

And so, in true teacher guise, I experienced Queensland Theatre’s first offering for the year, Death Of A Salesman, not once but twice: the first time, at the end of an excellent and entertaining day of professional development with Andrea Moor, analysing the text and remembering tricks to try with drama students to get realistic scenes on their feet without any fuss or (ironically) theatrics, and the second time, with our senior drama students after a chat with the director in the Playhouse Lounge. As  you can imagine, if you know the play at all or anything of it, there were some strong reactions to the matinee performance on Wednesday February 27, and some tears.

 

 

Arthur Miller’s seminal text from the 1940s remains as disturbingly relevant now as ever. With society’s emphasis on mental health, the worth of a man or woman, our best advice coming to our newsfeeds in the form of funny memes, the #metoo movement, and the somewhat token efforts to overhaul our education and health systems, Jason Klarwein’s faithful production for Queensland Theatre stands firm and strong. This version is a towering warning sign, as we continue to veer towards our own self-destruction as a workaholic, weary society. Sounds dismal, doesn’t it? Well, we know there’s not going to be a happy ending. Willy Loman is not a happy man. His failure to attain for himself, and deliver to his family the fabled American Dream sees him broken, unable to celebrate the success of others or relinquish his stranglehold on the past, defeated and eaten up by envy, self-loathing and regret, unable to go on.

 

 

Peter Kowitz lives and breathes every complex, tragic aspect of Willy Loman. Every haunted look comes from somewhere we wish we could see into more clearly so that we might know the ways to help him to see for himself the good that his long-suffering wife, Linda (Angie Milliken), still sees in him, and that we want to believe is at the core of every man. It’s a slow-burning, heartbreaking performance, challenging us to withhold judgement and simply accept that he’s always done only what he’s always felt he had to do. Kowitz has boundless energy in the moments spent in Willy’s mind, literally leaping and dashing about the stage, in stark contrast to his downtrodden state each time he returns to reality. Kevin Hides leaves his indelible mark on this production as the distinguished, rich, dead, older brother, Ben, and what a settle-back-in-your-seat pleasure it is to hear his beautiful, distinctive vocal work again. Likewise, elevating this role into another realm entirely, Charles Allen holds our attention, and in his voice and powerfully still presence, brings both ancient wisdom and boyish joy to the role of the neighbour Charley, the man whom Willy recognises – while Charley does not – as his only friend. “Now, isn’t that remarkable?”

 

 

 

Thomas Larkin’s finely layered performance – perhaps the best we’ve seen from him; certainly it’s the most demanding role he’s been gifted and he rises to every challenge – is just as heartbreaking, the measure of a man made clear to Biff by his father and Biff’s perception in turn made clear to us, that he will forever fall short of expectations. Larkin and Kowitz find something so raw and real in their father-son relationship that even the toughest teenaged boys in the audience are visibly affected, finally shifting in their seats after their perfect stillness throughout the savage shouting, and tears around the kitchen table, and awkward embraces by the sink, and end-of-the-night promises on the stairs.

 

 

Jackson McGovern, the perfect foil for Larkin’s Biff, is his younger brother, Happy (really, this is such superb casting, these two), and for a whole disquieting scene, he is also Willy’s heartless employer, Howard.

The audience reaction to this scene is something else, taking the travesty of Willy’s situation beyond even the mood the actors have established.

Each of Willy’s offers to take a pay cut are met with audible sighs of disappointment, shock, immense sadness. The air in the Playhouse gets heavy. The pauses on stage start to get uncomfortably long and it’s perfect. I’ve never heard or felt anything like it. The energy of the entire audience is with Willy, wanting desperately for him to see his worth and to sell that.

 

 

I always feel when I read this play on the page as if not enough attention is paid to Linda, who chooses her suffering and enters graciously into a life of it. (Imagine the contemporary sequel! Again I say, Bubnic it!). She can get a bit lost, but attention must be paid to Milliken, whose magic is in her seemingly effortless embodiment of the woman behind the man and the mother of their two hopeless, lovely boys. Her attempts to gently influence, and interrupt and disrupt the train wreck of family events / non-events are well measured, and her outbursts are as magnificent as her quieter, more nuanced, more devastating moments. We feel kids and adults alike, all around, cringing and squirming, and the couple in front include me in their parenting discussion during interval (they’d seen on the news that our College has banned mobile phones on campus).

 

Meanwhile, Miller’s words out of Milliken’s mouth have never been truer. 

 

 

The slightly jarring, suddenly changing lighting states to signify Willy’s altered state of mind happen seamlessly now, making what has always been a little confusing in the text abundantly clear on stage. The new wave design team here include: Verity Hampson (Lighting Designer), Justin Harrison (Composer/Sound & Projection Designer), Anthony Spinaze (Associate Designer/Costume Designer) and Richard Roberts (Set Designer). No, no one is new to their job but there might be a lovely new combination of aesthetic and abilities right there.

 

If I could, I would even see this production a third time. The play is a masterpiece. By leading us into their world and onwards to the crescendo of their lives, we recognise something of ourselves in these characters – these humans – and in their choices, and in the story they tell. It’s actually our story and there is medicine in its darker aspects, its shadows, if we are willing to look beyond what we are led to believe is best and real and right.

 

25
Aug
18

Queensland Theatre 2019 – A Season of Dreamers

 

Australia’s fastest growing theatre company launches 2019:

a season of dreamers

 

 

A record five world premieres, a record number of interstate performances through co-productions, Queensland exclusives, Australia’s newest theatre – the Bille Brown Theatre – industry leadership via gender parity of writers and directors and four new women in artistic leadership positions, the first Principal Partnership in the Company’s history, and eight unforgettable shows.

 

2019 will be Queensland Theatre’s biggest year yet.

 

Artistic Director Sam Strong has taken Queensland Theatre to unprecedented levels of success and 2019 will be even better.  “In 2017 Queensland Theatre was the fastest growing major theatre company in Australia and the most watched performing arts company in Brisbane. In 2018, we grew our audience again and will open Brisbane and Australia’s newest theatre. And now, in 2019, we will take shows across Australia while also creating Queensland exclusives that will be the envy of the rest of the country,” said Strong.

 

“Queensland Theatre will present an unprecedented five world premieres in 2019.  We begin with the world premiere of Hydra, award-winning playwright Sue Smith’s portrait of writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston. This is followed by the world premiere of the most provocative play to hit the Australian stage in years, City of Gold by electric young actor Meyne Wyatt. Next, in a coup for Queensland, we will be home to not just the world premiere of Joanna Murray-Smith’s latest play, but her world directorial debut, with the wickedly funny L’Appartement. Add to this the world premiere of hilarious new musical Fangirls by the unfairly talented Yve Blake, and the world premiere of award-winning Brisbane writer Merlynn Tong’s adaptation of Antigone, and you have Queensland Theatre’s most urgent, ambitious, and entertaining season yet,” said Strong.

 

The season is rounded out by one of theatre’s biggest classics, Death of A Salesman, performed by an all-star cast of Queenslanders (both resident and returning), the rock’n’roll family reunion Barbara and the Camp Dogs by the brilliant Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine, and a landmark new production of Tom Holloway’s adaptation of Colin Thiele’s cherished story Storm Boy, bringing together the creative forces behind Jasper Jones and The Wider Earth.

 

Season 2019 features the best local talent like David Morton of Dead Puppet Society, Emily Burton, Ray Chong Nee, Jason Klarwein, Thomas Larkin, Pacharo Mzembe, Christen O’Leary, Hugh Parker, Bryan Probets, and Melanie Zanetti. It also continues Strong’s ‘State of Origin’ approach of attracting leading Queensland talent home, actors like John Batchelor, Peter Kowitz, Angie Milliken and Anna McGahan, and one of Australia’s most in demand directors, Leticia Caceres.

 

 

Strong said 2019 was a season defined by the variety of experiences it gives audiences. “Between the book-ends of two of the greatest plays ever written, we have an exquisitely observed relationship portrait, a rock and roll road trip, a provocative political battle cry, a heart-warming family classic, a wicked social comedy, and even a joyous new musical. Theatre-goers can be part of the extreme passion that only teenage years can induce, the disillusion that can accompany the end of a working life, the idealism of young adulthood, the ebbs and flows of a long relationship, and the bittersweet passage from childhood to adulthood.”

 

Strong said it is a “season full of dreamers – of people who confront even the darkest of times with a faith that life can be better. If there is diversity across the eight shows, they are unified by a spirit of optimism. Even if the stories occasionally break our hearts with tragic circumstances, they are all shot through with hope.”

 

In 2019 Queensland Theatre will once again traverse the rest of the country. Through co-productions with the state theatre companies in Adelaide and Melbourne, as well as two companies in Sydney, the work of Queensland Theatre will be seen on interstate stages for a record 129 performances.

 

2019 is a significant year for many reasons. Next year Queensland Theatre will start the celebrations for the company’s 50th anniversary season in 2020, and it will see the first full year of programming in its own home theatre. The Bille Brown Studio is currently undergoing a $5.5million-dollar transformation and in October 2018 will take on a new life as the 351 seat Bille Brown Theatre – a state-of-the-art corner stage, designed to be the perfect place for stories, artists, and most importantly – audiences. “We are tremendously proud of the community effort that has made the dream of our own theatre a reality,” said Executive Director Amanda Jolly. “We set ourselves our most audacious fundraising target ever, and with the help of the Queensland Government’s Arts Infrastructure Fund and our many generous and visionary donors we have succeeded. We thank each and every supporter. We can’t wait to share one of Australia’s best theatres with our audiences.”

 

In a continuation of the Company’s national industry leadership, Queensland Theatre has once again programmed a season that has achieved gender parity of writers and directors. In addition, in 2019, Queensland Theatre will add to its reputation for revolutionising artistic leadership by appointing award winning Brisbane independent company, Belloo Creative, as resident company. All four women who make up Belloo -  Caroline Dunphy (co-artistic director, director and performer); Katherine Lyall-Watson (co-artistic director and writer); Kathryn Kelly (dramaturg), and Danielle Shankey (producer and general manager) – will become an integral part of Queensland Theatre’s leadership team. They will also create a work for the 2020 season. In a final coup for the Company, Queensland Theatre announced that from 2019 RACQ will become Queensland Theatre’s Principal Partner (the first for the Company). According to Strong, “Such partnerships are only possible when two companies share a profound alignment of purpose. Both of us are about improving the lives of Queenslanders.

 

 

QUEENSLAND THEATRE SEASON 2019:

 

9 Feb to 2 Mar:                              Death of a Salesman

9 Mar to 6 Apr:                              Hydra

1 May to 25 May:                           Barbara and the Camp Dogs

29 Jun to 20 Jul:                            City of Gold

29 Jul to 17 Aug:                           Storm Boy

3 Aug to 31 Aug:                           L’Appartement

7 Sept to 5 Oct:                             Fangirls

26 Oct to 16 Nov:                          Antigone

 

08
Aug
18

Jasper Jones

 

Jasper Jones

Queensland Theatre & MTC

QPAC Playhouse

August 3 – 18 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED……………

 

In the sizzling summer of 1965, a bookish 14 year-old boy flees from the boredom and bullying of small-town life by burying himself in stories of epic adventure. He never thought he’d find himself living one. Charlie Bucktin lives in a tiny, insignificant bush town where nothing happens. Nothing, that is, until Jasper Jones stumbles upon a gruesome crime out by the dam. Who else would he call on for help but the sharpest kid around?

 

A midnight tap at Charlie’s window sparks a race to solve a murder and clear Jasper’s name.

 

JASPER JONES IS AT MY WINDOW

 

A superb re-staging of the MTC production, adapted by Kate Mulvany and directed by Sam Strong, this Jasper Jones will satisfy. Brisbane’s opening night audience leapt to their feet, in the stalls at least, not even waiting for the final moment to sink in, in appreciation of the talent on stage and off. This tends to happen on opening night! And sometimes it’s best to see a different performance, once the season has started. With a stellar cast and creative team, Strong’s telling of Craig Silvey’s darkly disturbing small town story of intolerance, abuse, suspicion and suicide, is made surprisingly light and broadly appealing. It’s chilling in its true-crime flavour, but a distinctly Australian sense of humour prevails, both in the book and on stage, largely due to Kate Mulvany’s instinctive adaptation.

 

 

I miss the underlying moodiness of the novel at times and the eerie sense that a constructed eucalyptus forest on stage might bring to the live performance, with moonlight shining through branches rather than, as it is here, sensibly, through a fast and functional scrim, which is flown in and out to change our location in an instant, wasting no time to take us to the scene of an unspeakable crime, a place that’s so special to the titular character. The scrim has its place and yet it’s my least favourite aspect of the Helpmann Award winning design, which has come from the incredible imagination of Anna Cordingly, incorporating water and using tiny houses set around the outer edge of a revolve to bring to life the insular town of Corrigan. The revolve and the actors’ excellent timing allow for seamless transitions between scenes and brings some of the pivotal action centrestage, to the cricket pitch, the town’s common ground. Matt Scott’s inspired lighting states and Darrin Verhagen’s bushland soundscape help to transport us back in time and out of the city to a typical Australian town. This creative team’s close attention to detail, from the street lights to the gutters, to the louvres to the sandals and to the dirt beneath them, may have you convinced that this is in fact your place, your childhood neighbourhood. 

 

I spoke with someone recently again about the importance of memory, personal associations and adding scent to the live theatre experience to support a properly multi-sensory way into a story – remember, we’d diffused rose oil during our La RondeErotique and Diabolique, and then there was the breakfast cooking offstage during Neil Armfield’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – anyway, without it being incorporated in the design, during Jasper Jones I could nevertheless smell the eucalyptus, the wattle, the creek, and the dust of Stringybark Road. It’s always amusing to see the look on students’ faces at school when I start a story with, “Before this school was built…” or “Before this road went through…” and watch their eyes widen before one of them invariably asks, “How old ARE you, Miss?”

 

 

Nicholas Denton’s embodiment of Charlie Bucktin is one of the most searingly honest, and sensationally funny physical performances we’ve seen on this stage in a long time. It’s an endearing performance, his ability to go from awkward and gangly to grown up, wise and worldly within seconds giving us a sense of an old soul in an adolescent body. His love of literature feeds his reality and his relationships, and helps us navigate our way through the mystery as he narrates. It’s through the use of gesture and the manipulation of spatial relationships that we gain additional insight into Charlie’s world, and the people inhabiting it. That comment obviously for the students… Denton takes special care as Charlie, to establish a lovely, awkward, guarded rapport with his strikingly beautiful, strong and stubborn mother, Ruth, the sensational Rachel Gordon. In this role she is somehow a symbol of the era’s frustrations and feelings of isolation, sharing repressed rage and grief, and personifying a similar lingering discontent and sense of disempowerment to Carita Farrar Spencer’s poignant performance in Ladies in Black. I feel like she’s every woman before me, and also me. Charlie also has some weightier moments with his dull and detached, determined-to-do-better father, Wesley. A sensitive Ian Bliss, with just a dash of Doug Hastings/Barry Otto, complete with shameless combover, earns our sympathy and eventually, our admiration too. 

 

 

YOU GOTTA’ GET BRAVE

 

Shaka Cook is a real, raw, intriguing and engaging Jasper Jones. Like a hunted, haunted animal, his vulnerability lies, barely visible, beneath the surface of a tough act that’s become his habitual behaviour. Cook beautifully underplays the complexity and sustains the edgy energy of a thing about to pounce or run away. By the same token he has a languidness about him, unnerving Charlie and suggesting to us that, in possession of this juxtaposition, he might just be the coolest guy in school these days, as opposed to the scapegoat dropout. The unlikely friendship between Jasper and Charlie is handled sensitively, keeping all the nuances intact; it’s a joy to witness this relationship, and their mutual respect, develop before our eyes. 

 

The less subtle friendship is between Charlie and Jeffrey Lu, an animated, dynamic performance by Hoa Xuande, hilarious and at times, heartbreaking. I do wonder if the others were warned during rehearsals that he might steal the show. Melanie Zanetti is exquisitely ageless, playing both the ghost of Laura and her little sister, Eliza, who is very much alive, and coquettishly bold and cute, until her complete unravelling, which also undoes us a little bit. Hayden Spencer, as well as contributing the satisfying thwack! of the cricket ball as Jeffrey finally gets his moment in the sun/on the crease, lets loose as Mad Jack Lionel, Corrigan’s biggest mystery and apparently, most obvious murderer. His truth is revealed beautifully, compellingly, and completely believably, adding rich context to the themes of secrets, lies, love, family and forgiveness.

 

 

Silvey’s novel is a contemporary classic and Mulvany’s stage adaptation, directed by Sam Strong, could tour forever under the same banner, such is its unblinking look into human nature, connection and communication, and the prevailing attitudes of 1960s Australia, which haven’t necessarily changed very much, have they? I love the seemingly low-tech approach, the attention to detail, the unhurried moments spent in Jasper’s sheltered, secret glade, the musings and laughter and delight of the friends, and the days spent outside sans digital devices, as well as the look inside Charlie’s head, and through him, the remarkable insight we gain into the humans that surround him, and that surround us. With the astuteness of To Kill a Mockingbird, the kooky humour of The Goonies, and the casual, lasting impact of Stand by Me, Jasper Jones is easily my favourite Queensland Theatre production this year…perhaps until the final two.

08
Feb
18

Black Is The New White

 

Black Is The New White

Queensland Theatre presents a

Sydney Theatre Company production

QPAC Playhouse

February 3 – 17 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Production pics by Prudence Upton

22
Aug
17

Queensland Theatre Season Launch 2018

 

Queensland Theatre Season Launch 2018

Queensland Theatre

Monday August 20 1017

 

Attended by Nicole Reilly

 

Sam Strong Leading From Queensland –

Including four world premieres and six new Australian stories, eight extraordinary plays headline Queensland Theatre’s Season 2018.

Leading from the stage, last night QT Artistic Director Sam Strong unveiled the season to a capacity crowd, as the company’s current season experiences a record-breaking artistic and commercial wave of success. The selection of plays on offer next year traverse centuries of time, the breadth of our country, the expanse of the globe, and the inner workings of diverse and brilliant minds. To quote Australia’s preeminent storyteller, David Williamson, during his introduction, “I don’t think you’re going to be bored!”
Black is the New White + The 39 Steps + Twelfth Night + The Longest Minute + Good Muslim Boy + Jasper Jones + Nearer the Gods + Hedda
The most equitable and diverse season yet features a roll call of theatre greats and emerging stars, the likes of Matthew Backer, Jimi Bani, Liz Buchanan, Leon Cain, Danielle Cormack, Tim Finn, Jason Klarwein, William McInnes, Joss McWilliam, Andrea Moor, Rhys Muldoon, Veronica Neave, Christen O’Leary, Hugh Parker, Bryan Probets, Osamah Sami and Jessica Tovey, as well as continued commitment to no male-only design teams and more opportunities for female directors and playwrights.
The crowd was especially excited by director Paige Rattray’s introduction to Hedda, where she expressed her intent to take ownership of the female voices in the canon and “throw them up in the air and spin them on their heads”, reimagining them for continued relevance in contemporary theatre. This adaptation of Ibsen’s classic promises to be a highlight of the 2018 season.
The year opens on February 1 with the Queensland premiere of Black is the New White, followed by The 39 Steps. In April Twelfth Night opens featuring a suite of new original songs by maestro Tim Finn. In May Queensland Theatre presents the world premiere of The Longest Minute, a story about football and family and one unforgettable NRL grand final. The award-winning story Good Muslim Boy takes on the monumental question of faith, before Strong’s multi-Helpmann-nominated and winning Jasper Jones opens in July.
On October 6 the world premiere of acclaimed playwright David Williamson’s Nearer the Gods will take place, with Matthew Backer, William McInnes and Rhys Muldoon. To close Season 2018 Logie Award-winning actor Danielle Cormack will become the Hedda audiences have all been waiting to see in Melissa Bubnic’s local version of the Henrik Ibsen classic that is as dangerous and surprising as its heroine. Cormack is joined on stage by powerhouses Jimi Bani, Jason Klarwein, Joss McWilliam and Andrea Moor.
“Like all great theatre, the 2018 season transports us to places we wouldn’t otherwise encounter – or even imagine,” said Strong who will direct three of the eight mainstage plays. “In the coming year, audiences can be at the centre of a food fight at the Christmas dinner from Hell, evade pursuers across the Scottish highlands, wrestle with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy in Iran, help solve a 1960s murder mystery in the Western Australian Wheatbelt, become entangled in a 17th Century scientific feud, or sing melancholy love songs to the exotic Duke of a mythical realm,” he said. “In May, one of the most dramatic sporting moments of all time will form the springboard for a new play about football, family and faith and in November, Ibsen’s classic heroine Hedda Gabler will splash down poolside in a new version set on the Gold Coast.”
“All of this transportation will take place via the magic of theatre. And in 2018, our home venue will itself be the subject of a dramatic reveal. When it re-opens in August, the Bille Brown Studio will have been transformed – via a new stage, new seating and a new foyer – into the Bille Brown Theatre. The best thing about theatre is that the work is never finished. In 2018 we continue our exploration of what theatre does best. If somewhere extraordinary is the destination, the magic of theatre is the route.”
Strong said in 2018 audiences were set to experience:
  More Queensland exclusives, including David Williamson’s newest play, a new version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with songs by Tim Finn, a new play about the 2015 NRL Grand Final, and a re-imagined version of Hedda Gabler set on the Gold Coast.
  More national reach through relationships with Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Malthouse and State Theatre Company of South Australia among others.
  More leadership in equality, with gender parity of writers and directors for the second consecutive year – a continuation of the 2017 commitment; no all-male design teams; and Queensland Theatre working with more than a dozen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
  More commitment to North Queensland and its stories with a play about the North Queensland Cowboys to premiere in Cairns and Townsville before coming to Brisbane.
  More local stage stars including Jimi Bani, Liz Buchanan, Leon Cain, Jason Klarwein, Joss McWilliam Andrea Moor, Veronica Neave, Christen O’Leary Hugh Parker and Bryan Probets.
  More national cast coming to Brisbane including Matthew Backer, Danielle Cormack, William McInnes, Rhys Muldoon, Osamah Sami, and Jessica Tovey.
  More of the most successful work from around the country, including sell out hits from Melbourne Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company directed by Sam Strong and Paige Rattray.
  More state-wide engagement through relationships with QPAC, debase production, JUTE Theatre Company and Dancenorth.
  More new stories, with four world premieres and six new Australian stories (2/3 of the season).
30
Jul
17

My Name Is Jimi

 

My Name Is Jimi

Queensland Theatre

Queensland Theatre Bille Brown Studio

July 22 – August 13 2017

 

Reviewed by Ann McLean

 

 

 

The family story that expands on history and contemporary cultural knowledge brings a powerfully close connection and imbues greater respect, warmth and love. Jimi himself and two of his family take the stage, backed by support cast members that come from the top end.

 

My Name Is Jimi in part, tells of the legacy of an honoured Chief, Jimi’s father, and his efforts to repatriate the remains of his tribesmen and women. It is much more than a history lesson or a cultural demonstration. It isn’t a manufactured product either, for example, one that might be shown to any audience in any context. This is bespoke, funny and very specially crafted to be authentic, touching and strongly memorable. 

A simple theatre is transformed through visual effect and carefully crafted miniature sets, to transpose the whole theatre audience to Mabulay in the Torres Strait. We are in the tropical atmosphere of the islanders, visiting them. It is an honour. Through the bold presence of Jimi Bani (Mabo, The Straits, Redfern Now), the connection is genuine from beginning to end. 

This work communicates the way life plays out, how young folks challenge the authority of their parents and the demands of their cultural mentors to keep learning the dances, songs and stories. It is more that familiar though. This work is revolutionary. It allows in narrative and performance for the audience to immerse themselves in lore and the languages of the family, with the familiarity of matriarchal guidance (tea towel of authority in hand), while also letting us understand the fragility of the languages spoken by our elders and the sadness that brings. It lets us in, to see and feel the respect for this tribe. And it has its big bold moments. 

Strikingly familiar disco music delivered via hilarious portable speaker setup, dance moves straight out of 1982, ubiquitous footy shorts and island-associated shirts all bring the audience closer. We lean in, wanting to know more. And we aren’t disappointed. With amazing care, a terrifying fable for keeping children safe is played out for us, delivering the same vibrant shock that impacts the imaginations of children. And then we are sharing a camp fire lesson between father and teenaged son. 

These moments and plenty of lore through story, as well as music and dance with accessible explanations all comes together in a generous, honest performance. The fine art of My Name Is Jimi is very strong. It is pure joy to see to the work of the actors and crafts people who shaped My Name Is Jimi. It gently and warmly reminds us that in the time before archaeology, a long proud history took shape and there are strong families not far from our familiar theatre. Loving families that are bringing up their next generations of Chiefs, and keeping their culture close; people who deserve our respect.  

 

Caveat: As witness, and for perspective, reviewer, Ann McLean is a third generation great grand daughter of white (Scottish and Irish mostly) settlers, a person educated in Queensland in the 70s and 80s. Her enthusiasm for the respect of First Nation people is born of knowing and sharing time with individual friends and colleagues and their people whose family histories go back millenia.