Posts Tagged ‘Sam Strong

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.

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).
21
Jun
17

Noises Off

Noises Off
Queensland Theatre & Melbourne Theatre Company
QPAC Playhouse
3 – 25 June 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

In all probability, an amateur theatre company near you has given Michael Frayn’s classic farce, Noises Off, a red hot go, and perhaps they shouldn’t have. On the other hand, it might be the best thing you’ve seen on a local stage for some time… Anyway, what a joy it is to fall about laughing at a full-scale professional production! This one’s a beauty, with a stellar cast, and a detailed two-storey set and full revolve (designed by Richard Roberts with lighting by Ben Hughes) to reveal the goings on of putting on a show called Nothing On; it’s all very meta.

Under the fearless direction of Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director, Sam Strong, and with many doors and sardines and rewrites involved (it’s all about doors and sardines), this cast tears through the text, slapsticks through the spaces in between, and quells any audience fear of having to lie through their gritted teeth at the opening night party to say we thoroughly enjoyed the three-hours, after it felt like we’d endured five. In bold defiance of the one-act-no-interval entree sized shows that have become popular, this feast is served up in three rich courses, each more complex than the next, and only as successful as each set up. Luckily, the hard work in setting up the many gags appears effortless, although we know it is not; with so many tiny details to remember to attend to, and never actually getting a break offstage, even when they are seen by us to be “offstage”, these performers demonstrate athletic endurance and artistic mastery.

 

It’s a uniformly excellent company. Simon Burke as Lloyd Dallas, the director of Nothing On, leaps up the stairs from the auditorium onto the stage, but only when he feels he absolutely must make an appearance, to coax or console or clarify, as Zach does in A Chorus Line. We hear his voice first, the “voice of God”, a rich, authoritative tone that also captures his enduring kindness and patience, until he lets slip the weary tone of a repertory director who never made it to the West End. At times Burke’s pace is either slightly self-indulgent or beautifully realised – you decide – and when he disappears again, leaving the company in order to direct a highly anticipated production of Richard III (we get a surreal glimpse of the show within the show within the show), you might decide we all know directors like this and it’s the latter; he’s nailed it.

Ray Chong Nee is Gary, a vague actor when talking about the process, but a perfectionist within the process, so that when sardines and phones and bags and boxes are not where they should be, he flips out, unable to improvise or to take the cues from his fellow actors to get through a scene gone awry. We all know actors like Gary. And like Hugh Parker’s hilarious Freddie who plays Phillip, prone to nosebleeds brought on by the demands of being an actor. Steven Tandy is the most delightful elderly Selsdon, an alcoholic actor/bumbling burglar, the cause of much distress amongst the cast when he goes AWOL. Emily Goddard is the gorgeous and hopeless Poppy (ASM) and James Saunders is fantastically funny as Tim (SM).

Libby Munro is Brooke the brunette bombshell, who is credited in the program-within-the-program as being best known for roles such as the girl wearing nothing but ‘good, honest, natural froth’ in an unpronounceable lager commercial. Her fictional bio gives us an idea of the pretty, vacuous thing Munro gets to play as Brooke playing Vicki, proving her versatility after fierce performances in Disgraced, Grounded and Venus in Fur, and also the results of intensive physical training for her first feature film, recently wrapped in LA, Wild Woman. Louise Siverson is sensational as Dotty Otley/Mrs Clackett and Nicki Wendt as Belinda as Flavia adds a distinctly bohemian diva element to this dysfunctional theatrical family.

 

There really is nothing funnier, or more impressive, than witnessing such disastrous results so brilliantly orchestrated and delivered by skilled performers. Nigel Poulton (Movement Director) has had a field day with complex choreographed sequences of fast and furious physical comedy, and Strong’s attention to detail means that no plate of sardines is left behind…except when it is supposed to be left behind…or is it supposed to be? As well as executing some precision direction, Strong has promoted a generous sharing/mentoring culture throughout the process, having been ably assisted by Leith McPherson (Associate Director/Dialect Coach) and Caroline Dunphy (Assistant Director), with Emily Miller having been invited to share in the artful chaos (Director Observation). Our leading companies, becoming more transparent and accessible each season not only help themselves to promote the magic and wonder of the theatre, but also engage audiences earlier, earning loyalty through genuine relationships between patrons and creatives.

 

This production of Noises Off, probably the funniest meta-farce ever, while not a direct reflection of all that goes on in a theatre company (I guess it depends on the company!), certainly gives us a moment to reflect on why we do what we do, and why as creative types, we need to keep doing it, and guarantees all, whether or not you consider yourself to be a creative type or a comedy type or a trip-to-the-theatre type, an evening of raucous laughter and good old fashioned fun.

07
May
17

Once In Royal David’s City

Once In Royal David’s City

Queensland Theatre & Black Swan State Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 22 – May 14 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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THE THEATRE IS THE THEATRE. THE CHARACTER IS THE CHARACTER. THE ACTOR IS AN ACTOR. THE STORY IS A STORY.

 

Great art is as multifaceted as life: sometimes perplexing, sometimes heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes, it is all of these things at once.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director, Queensland Theatre

 

Sam Strong’s directorial debut for Queensland Theatre is powerful, affecting, and lingering, leaving us with the essence of Michael Gow’s most recent work long after we leave the theatre, wondering, just as Professor Julius Sumner Miller did, “why is it so?” This great play hasn’t been touched since its Belvoir Street premiere (2014)…

Once In Royal David’s City is cleverly Brecht at its contemporary best. This seems an odd thing to say, because Brecht done properly is contemporary, challenging us to recognise the message in the story, and question what we see on stage, and go away and affect social change in our current contemporary context.

Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Berthold Brecht

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In case you don’t know anything about Brechtian theatre though, the protagonist, a slightly disillusioned middle-aged director of theatre, Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein in his most compelling performance to date), will explain everything. You’ll also find Michael Beh’s notes in the program. It’s a style created by German director, Bertolt Brecht, so often misconstrued, and messed up in the process, making whatever tale is being told lifeless and meaningless on stage, when its purpose is to be anything but. BUT Strong’s stark and sincere production puts political theatre back on the agenda and reveals the machinations behind the boldest sort of theatrical storytelling. It’s very Brecht.

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Beautifully and simply lit by Matt Scott (the exposed lights rigged in plain sight are a work of art in themselves), an expansive stark white set by Stephen Curtis uses every inch of the stage, its depth a particular point of interest since the initial hospital scenes are staged there, as if to allow a slightly more comfortable distance between the audience and the awkward events and unbearable emotions of staying, while a loved one is lying there, quietly, patiently dying…

We will all lose – or will have already lost – a parent, and it’s something we don’t necessarily talk about. It’s one of those things we go through and we know others go through, and we send love and light and hugs and emojis in a comment thread on Facebook, and yet it remains a very personal, often very lonely experience. Once In Royal David’s City reminds us that no matter how compassionate we think we are, we can never know quite what another person feels or thinks at this time. At any time… Will is, understandably, in complete denial at first, witness to the excuses his father makes when he can no longer recognise or correctly form the words he needs, and when his mother makes excuses for him (he’s had a cold for so long!), and when she falls ill shortly after his father’s death (she’s always so tired! And her aching back!), and is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (spoiler alert!), which leads to her rapid demise during the Christmas holiday. Will is determined to make a difference in the world, and eventually, he resigns himself to teaching. His faltering confidence, after failing an actor in his company during a doomed production of The Importance of Being Earnest, a delightfully funny scene and a masterclass in posture and articulation, leads him home for a Christmas unlike any other.

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There is such beautiful attention to detail, in the nuanced performances and also, in the way Strong has pieced together the bits of story, the bits of these untidy lives and neat-as-a-pin seamless transitions, using curtains to separate the spaces on stage.

It’s a uniformly excellent cast, a terrific combination of some of our established and emerging talent; a meeting of minds and hearts and skill sets from across the companies. Joining Klarwein on stage are Penny Everingham (a beautifully transparent Jeannie), Steve Turner (Bill/Wally/Ensemble), Toni Scanlan (Gail/Ensemble), Adam Sollis (Boy/Ensemble), Kaye Stevenson (Molly/Ensemble), Adam Booth (Andrei/Doctor) and Emma Jackson (Jess/Ensemble). Each has an opportunity to shine, bringing beautifully developed fully alive characters to the story. Sollis is memorable as the boy, in a moment imbued with hope, human kindness and acceptance, and Jackson gives a very funny, very accurate depiction of a reality television star turned manufactured superstar in the Christmas Eve Carols By Candlelight lineup. Will’s disparaging remarks about the programming and the talent involved (or the lack thereof), delivered from the comfort of a green beanbag on the floor as he flicks from one channel to the next as he gradually gleans some understanding of the cancer his mum has developed, elicit sniggers, and groans of recognition and sympathy because GOW IS SO RIGHT ABOUT THAT. And so many other things. 

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The magical thing is this: it’s almost so familiar that it’s actually incredibly un-theatrical. And at the same time, it’s the most masterfully constructed and manipulated meta-theatrical work we’ve seen in several years. A must-see, Once In Royal David’s City is warm and funny, and real and alarming, and richly rewarding. It closes, appropriately, on Mother’s Day.

18
Mar
17

Constellations

Constellations

Queensland Theatre

Bille Brown Studio

March 9 – April 9 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Humans are meaning makers.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director QT

 

You may have had to learn the dance routine slowly and in its component parts, but in the end, you had to let go and dance.

Howard Fine

 

The universe doesn’t care about time…

Kat Henry, Director

 

We have all the time we’ve ever, and never had.

Marianne, Constellations

 

Nick Payne’s award winning Constellations is an extraordinary play, and Kat Henry’s world class production for Queensland Theatre and Queensland Museum (and a major coup for the World Science Festival) is nothing short of astonishing, challenging actors and audiences to truly be present, live in the moment, and make the connections between seemingly random occurrences before opportunities (and loved ones) become lost to us.

Essentially, Constellations is a beautiful and complex love story, but it’s also about the choices we make and the infinite possibilities presented across ‘multiverses’.

Historically, physics has explained time chronologically, as in the “arrow of time”, charging forward in a single trajectory, however; an alternative view sees time as something immediate, infinite, without beginning or end, presenting endless opportunities. In A Time Apart, Paul Chan describes the quality, not quantity, of time as “A kind of time charged with promise and significance.” Upon further reading it becomes clear that the two types of time are entangled and while some may regard time as something to be kept, others derive greater satisfaction in its release…

The creative team behind Constellations is a scintillating meeting of minds, bringing the abstract and complexity of quantum mechanics, string theory and relativity, and the challenges of the unlikely relationship between an apiarist and an astro physicist into a reality accessible to all. (Can you lick your elbow? Try it!).

Within a deceptively simple design lies lots of clues: the dots we connect to make meaning from the play, in the same way, if we’re living mindfully, that we’re able to make meaning of our lives. Anthony Spinaze’s design draws on the visual representation of the scientific theories, the hexagonal spaces of bee hives and a smooth, shiny, deep blue undulating surface, beneath which we sense a tumultuous emotional landscape. At any given moment, the actors appear to be standing in space, or on the peak of a mountain, or within any interior indicated in the text. We are anywhere and everywhere all at once. Spinaze’s aesthetic is one of the most inspired, intelligent and effective designs we’ve seen for a long time, and so useful in terms of giving the performers a real-surreal place in which to play. 

Ben Hughes’ lighting is inherent in the design, built into the landscape and shining like streams of starlight from the wings and the rig above. The side lighting is particularly effective as we settle into the rhythm of the play and watch the relationship dance across various universes, and immensely satisfying is the final effect, covering the floor with the constellations of the title. A swirling black hole exists out of sight and yet right under our noses, continuously appearing in segments during the repeated motifs, the impressive choreography of the performers (how are they finding their marks in the dark?!) incrementally leading Roland and Marianne toward their inevitable fate. Guy Webster’s original compositions and a salient soundscape take this production into another realm, sending us at the speed of light between alternate worlds, poignant moments.

Lucas Stibbard and Jessica Tovey are perfectly cast, generously offering beautifully nuanced, incredibly rich material to one another and making every second vividly real, despite the challenges, which are more often found in film, presented by so much repetition in the text. This play could easily be a disaster of monumental proportions, and boring to boot, but Director, Kat Henry, is in possession of directorial superpowers. She employs a couple of them by crafting just enough of each vignette (we see an extraordinary 59 – or is it 60 – scenes in all), giving the actors clear boundaries, literally, within the space, delineated by lines and light, and also enough space between these boundaries and the actors’ bodies in which to allow them room to recreate each part of the story in a fresh, new way. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it, certainly not on a Brisbane stage. And the blocking! (Because even within these scenes, driven by impulse, there is a certain amount of direction to get them to where they need to go). 

When speaking about working on this play on Broadway, Jake Gyllenhaal observed, “There’s no moment for autopilot. It demands a constant presence,” and while this is true of every acting job, Constellations showcases the incredible skill and highly attuned instinctual natures of these two performers. To put it in a film context again, it’s as if we’re seeing every single take during a shoot, but every single take is being captured for a different film, depending on the choices made by the characters (and by the actors embodying those characters). It’s next level Sliding Doors. Bravo, Kat Henry, for diving in so deeply. We’re able to plunge the depths of human existence with Roland and Marianne, and come up for air at the end of the night in a state of serene acceptance of the tragic circumstances because, as incredibly moving and devastating as this conclusion is, we completely understand the way everything just is…and always was and always will be.

Whether or not you’re a performer, Constellations is a masterclass in staying in the present moment, applying fearless choices and responding courageously, instinctually and intentionally to whatever’s happening in a given moment.

Constellations is astonishing work; it really could change your life.

Special Event
For two evenings only, do not miss the unique opportunity to attend a performance of this critically acclaimed play, accompanied by an onstage conversation between Constellations playwright Nick Payne and World Science Festival co-founder and physicist Brian Greene.  Following the performance, Nick Payne and Brian Greene will delve into our current understanding of the multiverse, the mysteries that remain, and why this theory captivated Payne’s imagination inspiring this theatrical tour de force. This exclusive event is a collaboration between World Science Festival Brisbane and Queensland Theatre. Book online

 

28
Feb
16

The Secret River

 

The Secret River

Queensland Theatre Company Presents A Sydney Theatre Company Production

QPAC Playhouse

February 25 – March 5 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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This place had been here long before him. It would go on sighing and breathing and being itself after he had gone, the land lapping on and on, watching, waiting, getting on with its own life.

– Kate Grenville

 

The Secret River is a difficult story to tell. For all the beauty, dignity and depth of this tale, it leads relentlessly into dark places… We want to sit respectfully and reflectively in mourning the genocide that has occurred across this land, but we also want to celebrate the survival of Aboriginal culture against all the forces of dispossession and denial.

And so we keep searching to make it right.

– Neil Armfield

 

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William Thornhill arrives in New South Wales a convict from the slums of London. His family’s new home offers him something he hadn’t dare dream of: a place to call his own. On the banks of the Hawkesbury River, he plants a crop and lays claim to the soil in which it grows.

But the Hawkesbury is already home to another family. A family from the Dharug people, whose existence depends on that land. As Thornhill’s attachment to the land deepens, he is driven to a terrible decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

There is no shame in this story that we haven’t felt already.

I feel a sense of grief and a deep, deep sadness that’s difficult to put into words. This is our story. This is our story too. I write this as a privileged white woman in the country I was brought up to believe I belong in, a place I’ve always felt is mine too. Not mine exclusively, but mine to share, with those who are descended from the original inhabitants, and those who continue to arrive from other places. I don’t think I feel a greater entitlement to this land than anyone else (why would I?), but I feel strongly that this country is my home as much as it is anyone else’s and that it’s okay to feel that way.

It’s really hard to talk about, isn’t it? And it’s even harder to write about. Because now I’ve gone on record to say, aloud online, that I feel I’m at home in this country that’s not mine to claim. And I don’t like to be made to feel unwelcome here, or to feel as if I’m only visiting. 

The children get it, of course, all existing in the same space together without suspicion or judgement or blame. They play and bicker and sort out their differences and continue talking and playing and… I wish we could all be more like the children.

A multitude of feelings rendered me speechless after experiencing The Secret River. It’s the first time I’ve felt an audience shudder and breathe as one, through a long, still silence at the close of a show, before the thunderous applause and a well-deserved standing ovation. This is a deeply affecting, life affirming show set beneath the enormity of a single white eucalyptus representing the entire country. When Thornhill insists on scratching his fence into it, just as his wife has marked every day on a wall since they set foot there, I can’t help but cringe.

This is the sort of theatre we all strive to make and we all want to see. It’s theatre that scratches at your skin and makes you cringe and maybe cry, and think more deeply than you did before.

Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel makes The Secret River a seminal work, the newest most important story in the Australian theatrical canon, carefully, thoughtfully and authentically presented, telling both perspectives of a tale so often skewed by the storyteller. There are no sides here, no bias. The tragic events unfold over everyone, and we’re immersed in both worlds. We’re not brow beaten, we’re not defeated…no one is forsaken or forgotten. We’re informed, affected and by the end of the story (for now), despite the inevitable, lamentable tragedy, despite a song of grief that will echo in my heart for years yet, we can choose to feel hope. Each soul is indelibly marked by the end of this show, and we feel we must, in real life, keep searching for a way to make our future together work.

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Ningali Lawford-Wolf (Dhirrumbin) “as if called by the song”, appears and shapes the story of the two families at home on the Hawkesbury River, telling it to stir hearts and minds, yes, but mostly so that it is finally told. She is omnipresent, bearing witness to the atrocities against her people instead of turning and running away because “someone had to see it”.

William Thornhill breaks our hearts and mends them with the same ambition, determined to make a home for his family in a land that is already home to so many. Nathaniel Dean nails this role, embodying every aspect of the complex character, from his love for his family and the land, to his pride, his sense of entitlement, his suspicion, compassion, fear, rage, revenge, violence and regret.

London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.

HORROR. BEYOND SADNESS. We’re so close we see Dean’s eyes glisten with the tears Thornhill refuses to shed. His is a measured and masterful performance. When he tosses an old jacket on the ground next to the broken, grieving Ngalamalum it might be the closest he’ll come to making an apology. It goes unnoticed. Ngalamalum doesn’t care. He needs nothing from Thornhill. We have nothing they need.

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Trevor Jamieson (Ngalamalum) hands to us the heart wrenching end to the story in the form of a coda, which used to belong to the narrator, Dhirrumbin (in the premiere season in 2013). Jamieson’s rich, sorrowful singing voice adds gravitas as the lights fade to black. I didn’t see the original production but I feel that this must be the more memorable conclusion. Jamieson is, in this moment, the entire story, his people’s whole history. It’s an incredible moment, truly sensational theatre. No one moves, tears trickle freely down cheeks, mine included. No one cares if they are seen to be crying as the lights come up. It would be weird – monstrous – to remain unmoved.

Iain Grandage’s score is all encompassing and I hope he’ll record it, with the inclusion of some of the Indigenous language, perhaps with the ABC’s support, though STC would be wise to quickly and proudly claim such an album. Isaac Hayward plays a cello, percussion and an open piano on stage, coaxing voices from the keys and strings and hammers as if from the landscape itself. He’s truly gifted and what a gift he’s been given in Grandage’s evocative compositions. I also love hearing the musicality of the Dharug family language. There’s no need for surtitles.

Director, Neil Armfield has embraced this cast, this process, and most of all, Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s sweeping story. The result is a rich storytelling experience that leads us gently and firmly to a new foothold in Australian theatre. It’s a place where the Indigenous voice, though it be penned and directed in this case by non-Indigenous artists, rings out loud and clear. And you can say what you will about that, and what needs to happen next (what is already happening, if you’re paying attention, thanks to artists including Stephen Page, Wayne Blair, Wesley Enoch, Bangarra and many more like them), but I say it’s momentous; it’s where empathy and artistry meet.

Armfield has made minute detail epic, framed wretched ugliness within immense beauty, and we see it all through a perfectly clear lens. There’s nothing hidden here. Armfield’s finesse is visible everywhere, from the human connections on stage to the use of the actors as trees and rocks and dogs, to the addition of sound effects created live on stage as the men attempt to dig up the rocky ground. There is further detail in the integral elements of the set (fire, water, earth, flour, charcoal, rope), the smell of the campfire, eucalyptus, gunfire, the inspired costume design by Tess Schofield and lighting design by Mark Howett, and Grandage’s stunning score. The set design by Stephen Curtis cleverly reveals the secrets of the theatre, while retaining the mystery of the land.

The elements combine to create a harrowing, affecting, exquisitely crafted theatrical experience.

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At the Opening Night party, after Sam Strong’s speech (warmly and generously offering insight into the journey the creative team had taken to get to this version of the production, and reminding us of the value of good long-term relationships), it was such a pleasure to speak with some of the cast members, incredible performers and beautiful human beings, all. Trevor Jamieson (Ngalamalum) agreed that it was a challenge to produce theatre to the scale of The Secret River and wishes there was a way to share this story under the stars with the wider community who can’t afford the ticket price. Colin Moody (Blackwood) shared with us some of the ways in which Indigenous culture had permeated the rehearsal process, with the company performing traditional smoking ceremonies to clear each sacred (theatrical) space of its negative energies. We talked about the beautiful, gentle ways that other countries embed their First Nations’ culture into curriculum, and community events. The way the Maori culture has become cool, with every kid learning the Haka and in doing so, learning that pride, not shame, comes with knowing and sharing the traditions of the land’s first inhabitants, whether they share their blood or not.

I saw Okareka Dance Company’s Mana Wahine on Friday, the final fitting offering to over 400 delegates from around the world, gathered in Brisbane for APAM2016. It was a fiercely powerful show, a similar spirit in it, a similar story involving courage, determination and fearlessness, but with a very different ending…

So who will see The Secret River? Who will have the honour and privilege of sharing this story? With such a short season in Brisbane and with such high ticket prices, who will it reach? Those who have seen it will agree it’s vital stuff; it needs to reach everyone, and yet it’s unaffordable for so many. I applaud the high production values but I lament the fact that thousands of people in whose hands the future lies, will miss the opportunity to see this show like this. I wonder if it could be filmed…

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The Secret River is the ultimate theatrical experience, a complete production, perfectly combining all of the elements, down to the child actors, the musicians and the ash in the fire. Its ritual, rich symbolism, its sense of time and place, its gentle tides and powerful currents pulling us in and out of its story, and its light and unfathomable darkness impress upon our hearts, weighing heavily and making us ache long into the night. (There’s no better theatre than that which makes us ache and think and discuss and debate and dare to dream).

And yes, there is hope. It lies in the hearts and minds of the children, and the adults who will learn from them and choose to lead. Because with knowledge comes responsibility. 

We get home at 1am and I hear the sea’s fearless roar. I love its voice. In it is the vastness of this country, its potential, its desire for peace, and all the ancient magic of where we live, where others have lived before us. (We live in Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi country on the Sunshine Coast). We love it here too. How can we all live and love peacefully in this place? Maybe The Secret River has the answer. Maybe we already had the answer. Maybe we have always had the answer…