Posts Tagged ‘shake & stir

15
Jan
16

George’s Marvellous Medicine

 

George’s Marvellous Medicine

shake & stir theatre co.

QPAC & shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

January 6 – 23 2015

Reviewed by Poppy Eponine

Don’t get up to mischief!

George’s Marvellous Medicine is so funny, it’s the funniest show these school holidays, and I’m lucky enough to have seen them all. Sometimes it was scary but it was always going to be a happy ending, although NOT for Grandma. I won’t tell you what happens to her…

Adapted by shake & stir, it’s like the book by Roald Dahl but it’s shaken and stirred, and fun for all ages, including grandmas and grandpas. Even grandmas and grandpas know the story. Don’t they?

On a good day, George can’t stand his Grandma. She complains all the time, she’s mean and she smells funny. On this particular day, Grandma is much more annoying than usual and George has had enough. “George – make me a cup of tea! George – rub my feet! George – stop growing!” Ugh. Wanting to teach her a lesson and to put an end to her constant nagging, George concocts a special medicine, greater than any medicine in the history of medicines. What he doesn’t expect is that this medicine may actually work – just not in the way he thinks it will…

You must have the RIGHT amount of the RIGHT ingredients!

When they were putting in the ingredients Nugget the chicken pulls out a bottle of Dom Perignon and George’s mother exclaims, “Not that! That’s my special medicine!”. That made the audience laugh. My mum applauded.

RDGMMwebres-179

With all of those messy ingredients, the Stage Manager (Yanni Dubler) has a big job after each show, refilling bottles and pots and jars and resetting them on the stage with the exact same amount of stuff so the actors know they can make the medicine all over again for the next audience. The set is a clever combination of shelves and open doors and windows that are pushed from side to side and back and forth by the actors to create every setting in the show. They are pushed away to reveal Grandma sitting in her chair. She’s in the light of a spotlight so you literally cannot look at anything else. When the chair is turned around Grandma looks and sounds so scary. She is mean to George and sweet as pie when his parents are nearby. She fakes being grateful and treats George badly when they are not looking. She demands her medicine be ready at eleven o’clock so George has a time limit to make it. This builds tension and makes us expect that something bad will happen. Unless of course you’ve read the book, in which case you’ll know that everything will be fine…except for Grandma.

You can tell that the second and third time the medicine is made that it isn’t going to work out because they make it really obvious that something is left out. It’s very funny sometimes to expect things to go wrong. 

RDGMMwebres-293

Josh McIntosh and Jason Glenwright always design the set and lighting for shake & stir shows because they are an excellent team. Mum says the look and feel of each show is largely dependent on what they bring to the table. She loved their design for Dracula but I didn’t see it because it wasn’t for kids.

RDGMMwebres-225

I love all of the music and all of the effects that are so gorgeous, used sometimes more than once yet not used so many times that they become boring. This means Ross Balbuziente has done a good job directing. He has made it a fun and interesting show with lots of tricks and magic. We always notice if the actors are having fun because then we have fun too, and Ross has made sure everyone has a lot of fun.

RDGMMwebres-209

It is good casting, which is really important. Each actor makes their character seem real when really we know they are just the actors in a show. But thank goodness mean old Grandma isn’t real! Leon Cain is hilarious as Grandma. He has curlers in his real hair and his voice sounds like an old lady’s. And Tim Dashwood will be just as good in this role, just different. Nick Skubij is George, very naughty, and Johnny Balbuziente is a very funny chicken. He jumps around a lot and Mum says he is a welcome addition to the mainstage professional company. Nelle Lee is George’s gossipy mother and she wears a very cool, very funny cow hide skirt. It could be the latest and greatest fashion. Mum loves the phone calls she makes, her shoe scene and her love for her chicken. Bryan Probets is her husband, George’s dad, and he is very funny too. They are not really like the parents in the book but the mother is up to date wearing the latest and greatest everything and the father is even crazier than in the book. Mum has seen Bryan in a LOT of shows and he is ALWAYS good.

I love all of shake & stir’s kids’ productions and Mum loves all the adult shows. We are lucky to have shows for kids like this because sometimes companies from other countries make the shows and tour them and they’re not as funny or as entertaining as shake & stir’s shows. 

Our life is anything but normal, in fact it’s quite shaken and stirred! I see a LOT of shows but shake & stir’s shows are aways some of my favourite shows. They are always funny and entertaining. They always make me smile. The actors are excellent and the story on stage brings each book to life so even if you haven’t read George’s Marvellous Medicine you can enjoy the show. That’s IF you can get a ticket and if you can’t you know for next time to book your tickets as soon as possible or YOU WILL MISS OUT.

17
Aug
15

Dracula

 

Dracula

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

August 13 – September 5 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

I will take no refusal…

 

 

dracula_nick

 

 

shake & stir’s Dracula is an ambitious gothic horror piece with spectacular production elements playing the pivotal roles.

 

 

This new version of the Bram Stoker classic, adapted for the stage by Nick Skubij and Nelle Lee, presumes we know Dracula down to its last detail but as I discovered after the show on opening night, of course there are some for whom the story is new. A difficult text to condense – an epic story across oceans, and oceans of time – we miss some early detail, such as Jonathan Harker’s first dreamy, lusty, dreadful encounter with the brides of Dracula, the “devils of the pit” (We hear about it after the fact, as the encounters continue). It’s not a biggie, but it’s typical of this adaptation, which seems to skirt around the themes of female sexuality and the genuine fear during the Victorian era of women awakening to their own sexual power, more so than any power a man might wield.

 

Harker’s narration of strange and supernatural events comes to us in the form of a pre-recorded voiceover that detracts from the overall effect of the production rather than enhances it. (The passage of time is evident in Jason Glenwright’s ingenious lighting states and Josh McIntosh’s spectacular set changes, incorporating a revolving winding stairwell and too many nooks and crannies to list!). Guy Webster’s spine tingling soundscape is otherwise perfect, complete with cracking thunder, buzzing flies, the snarling and howling of hounds outside and the chilling screams and screeches of the devil’s concubines.

 

DraculaHR-8515

 

It’s not the lush, decadent, delicious show I’d expected (although, as I tell everybody whenever I’m off to see shake & stir, these are the beautiful people of Brisbane theatre, gorgeous on stage and off, every one). Their Dracula is a dark and sombre journey, unrelenting, with the only light and shade coming from Glenwright’s lighting design (doors opening with a shaft of light sans door?! It’s really incredible work, his best to date), and David Whitney’s high-energy performance as Renfield and later, as Van Helsing. With his appearance as Van Helsing, Whitney whips up the pace and holds his loyal band of vampire killers at his heels.

 

A great study in status and deadpan delivery, Whitney commands the stage, dominating the narrative and the space.

 

Michael Futcher’s direction is gentle and sure, allowing each member of the company to play to their strengths. His use of the imposing set is brilliant, with the versatile design allowing seamless transitions between rapidly changing scenes and successfully hiding the pale faced, platinum blonde Dracula from us multiple times, causing those around me to jump in genuine fright each time the Count appears from out of the shadows.

 

As Jack, Ross Balbuziente’s confounded game is strong and as Harker, Tim Dashwood offers a genteel, endearing performance, but by the same token doesn’t get a chance to be seduced and subsequently ravished, which seems a shame (although that racy version might require an R-rating. Don’t worry, parents and principals, it’s all very tame, implied rather than made explicit). Some of the most shocking and surprising moments come from the special effects. The flash paper and the blood effects are superb. Likewise, some of Nigel Poulton’s best work is showcased in a no holds barred True Blood style fight scene.

 

DraculaHR-9123

 

Despite the potential to do more (ravishing) within their roles, Nelle Lee (Mina) and Ashlee Lollback (Lucy) rely on some safe choices, however, having said that, feeling less than 100% on opening night, Lollback’s vocal work is strong and her extraordinary physicality is bold and sure (and suitably shocking). Leigh Buchanan’s exquisite gowns on these girls are testament to his intuitive and dramaturgical design sense, allowing full movement and at the same time, constraint of their feminine wiles. Buchanan retains the lavish authenticity of the Victorian times in the gentlemen’s garb too, bringing only Dracula’s street style into the new millennium for the later London scenes.

 

Nick Skubij wears his leather well.

 

He’s as ancient and as alluring and intriguing as he needs to be to convince every senior student in a skirt that it would be just fine to hold her breath through the bite and opt for eternal life by his side. Oh, right. Not very PC to say so? Okay. AND YET.

 

DraculaHR-8452

 

Even without the hedonism I’d expected, Dracula is an accomplished production, with all the hallmarks of “another bloody classic” that teachers and students will appreciate for its astute combination of dramatic elements and entertaining performances; everything in alignment with our Australian Gothic Theatre criteria. The general public will love it because with Zen Zen Zo MIA and Brisbane Festival still a few weeks away, there’s nothing else quite like it, is there? And, look, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a good vampire story? But does it go as far as it could go to seduce, surprise and shock us? No. Why not? Why lead us to the edge of delicious lust and the struggle for power only to pull us back before we experience it? Are we (am I?) so desensitised that this neat, safe staging of sex and blood and gore, and the struggle between the supernatural and the human spirit fails to impress?

 

If theatre isn’t a form of voyeurism, continually challenging and changing our self-perception and our perspective of the world through our imagined experiences, what are we doing in it? What are we doing with it?

 

Why do we ever revisit a classic? Why do we need to see this story brought to life again? Is there a new lesson? Is it challenging the status quo? Is it simply an entertaining story?

 

shake & stir have always set such a ridiculously high standard with their mainstage productions that it comes as a complete surprise to walk away feeling slightly underwhelmed by Dracula. Once again, shake & stir have created a mainstage show that is perfectly tweaked for schools. This has been their strength for some time, but in time for their 10-year anniversary next year, I’m hoping that this exceptional and enduring company considers turning their approach on its head in order to stake a stronger claim in the national mainstage landscape. shake & stir remain one of this country’s most exciting, original, dynamic and dedicated theatre companies. I would hate to see them plateau after they’ve worked so hard to continuously raise the bar.

 

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

 

 

 

dracula_seasonextended

 

06
Jul
15

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts – perfect school holiday entertainment!

 

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts

shake & stir

Roundhouse Theatre

July 4 – 11 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

It’s a rock concert, a Hip Hop film clip, a fairytale, and a favourite book brought to vivid life, all rolled into one and all PG-Rated. It’s the perfect solution for some school holiday fun that the whole family will enjoy, really. 

 

 

fbHR-7601

 

More a reflection of my lack of conviction in a situation as a parent than any annoyance at the response of a volunteer at the venue, I found myself, in teacher tone, addressing an usher about a drink before taking our seats at The Roundhouse on Saturday. I’m accustomed to pouring wine from a glass into a plastic cup in order to take it into the theatre, but I was surprised to be told that Poppy would need to do the same for her drink, which was in a pop-top sealed plastic bottle. I almost laughed out loud. Seriously?! You want my jumping-up-and-down-excited nine-year-old to take her seat in the theatre with an open cup of diluted juice? (Don’t ask! We are having sugar talks at the moment). As Poppy dutifully uncapped the bottle and poured her juice-water into an enormous plastic party cup (she’s an excellent pourer and transferrer), I wondered what other mamas would do. I can think of a couple that would simply say, “No. No thanks, I think I know my child” and another couple who would actually laugh and say, “Are you joking? THINK about what you’ve just said!” And I wish I’d said something other than okay and put the bottle-with-a-lid-shut-tight in my bag because sure enough, right at the end of the show, Poppy accidentally kicked the cup, spilling the remaining slightly sticky contents over the floor beneath her seat. OH, OOPS, WHAT A SURPRISE (I said sarcastically, silently in my head).

 

As a fairly conscious parent and a first aider from way back, my immediate response is always to check for danger, assess any injuries and avoid further catastrophe while keeping anyone involved calm and quiet. There are times when Sam makes it clear that this is not the correct response, that it’s too calm and without consequence for the culprit (he is referring to our child). But more often than not, the consequence is in the disaster, and in this case, Poppy was embarrassed and upset because she knew I had felt the better option was to not do what the usher had told her to. Also, she slipped and fell against her seat BUT IT’S OKAY SHE’S OKAY.

 

rr_nellelee_wolf

 

Why am I telling you this? Because going to see live theatre is about the whole experience, and often parents tell me it’s too hard to take their kids to see a show. If the venue makes it harder than parents already perceive the trip to be, who can say when they’ll be back?! Fortunately, nothing has ever deterred me from taking anyone to the theatre and Poppy is a resilient child, so despite her moment of mini-trauma (not only is she resilient but she’s also very dramatic. I don’t know where she gets it from), we agreed that Revolting Rhymes was the BEST EVER! AGAIN! Perfect school holiday entertainment for the whole family, nothing should keep you from enjoying this show.

 

fbHR-8183

 

If you’ve been around for a while you’ll know how much I love shake & stir, one of the country’s most professional and engaging theatrical teams, with such broad appeal they can consistently sell out work that reinvigorates the likes of Roald Dahl, Shakespeare, George Orwell, Harper Lee, Emily Bronte and Bram Stoker (trust me – there’s no doubt Dracula will sell out!).

 

It seemed unlikely that shake & stir could make a slicker, funnier show than last year’s Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts but that’s exactly what they’ve done. Having had it on the road for some time (they just returned from a sell-out season in Hobart at the end of a national tour), the team has cranked up the pace and polished every aspect until this production sparkles even more brilliantly than before.

 

leoncain_nickskubij_piggy

 

With the A-Team of design teams on board (Josh McIntosh, Jason Glenwright & Guy Webster), this show was always going to look and sound fabulous. The colours and textures – rich, warm autumnal tones, tulle and brocade – are vaguely reminiscent of the curtains in Captain Von Trapp’s house, which Maria makes into play clothes for the children. Yes, I know those are greener, but don’t tell me you didn’t think of them too. The overall aesthetic is one of magical rainy day dress ups and cubby house construction using tablecloths and sheets and pillows for hosting soft toy high tea parties. Perfect!

 

keepcalmandmakecurtainclothes

 

shake & stir think of everything.

 

The wonderfully talented, comical ensemble comprising Judy Hainsworth, Leon Cain, Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij strikes the right chord with an audience who are already vocally ready to participate, having sung at the top of their little voices before the show, “I GOT BILLS I GOTTA PAY!” (shake & stir always have the best pre-show soundtrack!).

 

fbHR-8450

 

Thenadier style, the actors pop up from under trapdoors in the revolve – the only set piece, brilliantly designed and utilised – and each performer tells us, “You think you know this story… You don’t!” There are giggles and then shrieks of laughter, from kids and parents (and from Leigh Buchanan, next to me, and Billy Bouchier and Paul Dellit in front!), as small bold voices call out, “Yes we do! YES WEEEEE DOOOOOO!” The atmosphere is vibrant and silly and fun. It feels like so many children’s birthday parties when at any minute things could turn to utter chaos, but a pretty distraction or little bit of structure is re-introduced at precisely the right time in order to avert disaster.

 

Director, Ross Balbuziente, like the perfect host, cleverly manipulates every moment of Revolting Rhymes, from the grisly to the ridiculously funny.

 

With the opening sequence setting a cheeky tone and a cracking pace, we can’t wait to see what comes next…again!

 

IMG_1321

 

It was fun. It was hilarious. My favourite was Little Red. She was awesome. She was really funky, a tomboy instead of being a pretty little girly-girl. It was funny when she took the pistol out of her knickers. She was funny but you couldn’t trust her.

 

The porcupine one was funny and it was funny how she was so scared of the dentist, which was quite like real life because most people are actually scared of the dentist.

 

It was funny when the man dressed up as one of the ugly sisters. And Cinderella had to run home in her underwear and that’s just so different. In the Cinderella we are all used to her gown turns into rags so it’s much funnier to see her in her underwear.

 

And I loved the three bears, especially the mum because of her accent. This mum is my mum’s favourite character. She says Nelle is a scream. That’s something her mum, my Nanny, would say.

 

Mira said the crunching noises were a bit disconcerting…

 

It tells you more about the stories, like there is more to the stories, like the secrets of the stories.

 

It’s sometimes scary but not too scary.

 

It’s important that it looks good, that theatre looks good – the lights and the costumes are gorgeous, awesome – otherwise we’ll stop watching and just talk because we haven’t seen each other in such a long time.

 

fbHRN-5946

 

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts is holiday money well spent, perfect entertainment for all ages. You don’t need to be a child or take a child to enjoy this one. You just need to stick to your guns if challenged by an usher over a drink! Must close Saturday July 11!

 

 

07
Oct
14

Wuthering Heights

 

Wuthering Heights

QPAC and shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

October 1 – 18 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

wutheringheights_header

 

 

Time stagnates here.

 

 

“…everything anyone other than an english professor knows about Wuthering Heights at all happens in the first half. Then it drags on and on, focusing mainly on how handsome AND EVIL Heathcliff is, and how twisted he is, and how he’s just going to keep on ruining the lives of basically everyone around him.”

 

From Krypton With Love

 

 

 

#ohheathcliff

 

If it’s a gorgeous, dark, desperate, thrilling thing you’re after don’t miss this Wuthering Heights.

 

One of my favourite companies, shake & stir, continues to come up with some of the most challenging and engaging original live theatre in Brisbane. Their adaptations of classic literature are all superb (1984, Animal Farm, Tequila Mockingbird), and their latest production, a new version of Emily Bronte’s classic gothic masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, is no exception.

 

Adapted and directed by Nick Skubij, this production has a slightly different feel to shake & stir’s previous works, which have been less subtle, and somehow lighter, though no less complex, confronting or shocking in terms of their themes and the impact of each on their audience. This time – it must be the moody design inspired by the eerie moors on which the story takes place – it’s a spectacular looking production and the drama follows suit.

 

 

Terror made me cruel.

 

 

We have come to expect extraordinary beauty from this brilliant creative team: shake & stir, optical bloc and – I’m sure I’ve said it before – Brisbane’s hottest design team comprising Josh McIntosh (Set Design), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Design) and Guy Webster (Sound Design). These guys seem to split up and flit about a bit, but every time they come together with shake & stir, theatre magic happens. It’s as if they come home to play at shake & stir, and out of pure joy and surrender comes their best work. Adding to the mix this time, Leigh Buchanan’s delicate-dramatic touch (Costume Design), makes Wuthering Heights a dark and stormy (yes, you can taste it), sexy and sumptuous production.

 

 

Although the pace lags at times due to Gerry Connolly’s stilted delivery (at times the pauses are effective and at other times, not so much), his characterisation of Nelly Dean and his/her oddly measured phrases remind me of my Aunty Lorna, who has seemed eternally elderly to me, and yet has always been the most lively and strongly opinionated of the relatives I visited with as a child, with the keenest powers of observation and the longest memory. It’s as if Connolly has studied Aunty Lorna’s conversation. I always remember though, in stark contrast to Connolly’s static state, Lorna’s hands shaking to match her voice as she talked about whichever book she was devouring at the time, or the latest horror on the news, or her favourite British TV crime series. She would always insist on pouring the tea for us, in her own kitchen, in her own house, for years and years, before finally moving to a high care facility. She’s ninety-something.

 

In his Director’s Notes, Skubij reminds us that guilt doesn’t only lie with he who sinks the knife in. “Heathcliff has copped a lot of flack over the years and has been hailed as the personification of evil in this tale but what if the real devil wears a housemaid’s outfit?” It’s an excellent point and I feel like this aspect of evil, left to fester and subliminally feed the minds and hearts of others, although hinted at in this adaptation, remains largely unexplored. By Chapter 7 of Bronte’s novel Heathcliff is being advised by Nelly Dean. Sam thinks she is the mastermind and Heathcliff her pawn, though to what end he can’t say. (“Some people are just twisted!”).

 

wutheringheights_gerryconnolly

 

I love Connolly on the ivories, the accompaniment lends such a disturbing, penetrating, haunting air to proceedings, and his presence overall as Nelly Dean, particularly as her figure looms overhead, projected across fluttering silk curtains, is eerily omnipresent. (And to throw each character’s image, cleverly consumed by mist and fog early, and then later by curling flames against the flimsy fabric to demonstrate their downfall and their ultimate demise, is an inspired dramatic choice). Without the expertise and creative flair of Projection Designers, optikal bloc (and also, of Photographer, Dylan Evans), this version of Wuthering Heights would not be nearly as powerful.

 

Not quite as inspired, it has to be said, are the wigs selected for use in this production, but now that we’ve mentioned it we’ll just leave that one alone.

 

 

We cannot escape each other.

 

 

wutheringheights_melaniezanetti

 

I love Nelle saintly-blonde-bombshell Lee’s Isabella Linton, whose self destruction, in its naivety, is always so much sadder than mad, stubborn Catherine’s, isn’t it? And as Catherine AND Cathy, allow me to rave for a moment about Melanie Zanetti. I’m sure you don’t mind because, having seen her before, you know she is absolute perfection. If this is your first time with Zanetti, enjoy (and make sure it’s not just a one night stand!). She’s a wild, free heart (but not free at all, of course she’s not), like Charlotte Riley in Goky Giedroyc’s 2009 version for PBS. Zanetti transfixes her tall, dark, brooding, vicious vagabond Heathcliff (Ross Balbuziente) and also, every single member of the audience on opening night. What? Am I wrong? She’s absolutely captivating; in both roles emitting the essence of beautiful, alluring girl-child-grown-woman, like a heady fragrance worn lightly, of which we get a sense before the show even starts; I could be wrong but I feel it’s Marc Jacobs’ Oh Lola! (If so, thank you cosmetics training). If indeed it were deliberate, this subtle addition to the theatrical experience is absolute genius. On the other hand, perhaps it’s pure coincidence (if so, thank you unsuspecting audience member), but regardless, we get a sense of it at the beginning of the show, as the scent is carried on the cold wind in the created storm. And what a storm! The opening moments of Wuthering Heights are up there with The Lion King and Les Miserables for unforgettable entry points into the story. The final moments too are breathtaking, stunning, all the superlatives… Anyway, Zanetti’s ability to balance wide-eyed innocence with mad, obsessive passion makes me fear – and relish – having a daughter.

 

She burned too bright for this world.

 

 

In their debuts for shake & stir (though they are no strangers to the stage and screen), Anthony Standish and Julian Curtis are also impressive. This is most interesting and engaging work from Standish (Hindley/Hareton), and it’s the second time I’ve seen Curtis (Edgar). The first was in The Glass Menagerie and I hope there will be many more opportunities to see what he can do. Let’s keep him here a little longer, shall we?

 

wutheringheights_rossbalbuziente

 

Ross Balbuziente – he of the poster, which has had high school girls and boys stopping in halls and swooning all year – presents a sultry, stormy Heathcliff straight from the pages of the book. I think it’s fair to say it’s likely we’ve never seen the full extent of this performer’s range, or perhaps it’s a lack of total surrender to each role, though what he’s doing always seems to be enough. Even so, there’s an electric undercurrent here that makes me want to slap him and say, “GO THERE” …er, see more from Balbuziente.

 

darlingbutwhatifyoufly

 

Oh, Heathcliff. Are you really as evil as all that? I’ve never believed it! (Save me right now). Let’s call you misunderstood, a product of your environment, and without the consciousness or awareness to meditate on your destructive hatred and your desperate revenge-seeking in order to realise an alternative path.

 

31
Jul
14

1984: A chat with David Whitney

 

David Whitney took a moment to tell us know about his role in 1984, working and touring with shake & stir, and what it takes to make awesome agents and directors.

 

DavidWhitney_B&W

 

Mister, you’re playing O’Brien in the return season of shake & stir’s 1984 (a production that terrified me)! Tell us about your character, and how you came to join this acclaimed production with one of our favourite Queensland companies.

O’ Brien is a member of the Inner Party and as such part of the ruling class. Our hero Winston, played by Bryan Probets, comes to believe that O’Brien is a friend and ally in his rebellion against the state. Is Winston wise to put his trust in O’Brien? You’ll have to see the show to find out, but clearly the character I play is something of a shape shifter, at times charming, at times menacing, at times brutal.

I had previously worked with Bryan in the QTC/Bell Shakespeare production of The Alchemist, and when the role of the evil, manipulative O’Brien became available for this tour and return season, Bryan thought I’d be perfect! Not quite sure how to take that but it’s been one of the great experiences of my career so I am deeply indebted to shake & stir for welcoming me to their great company. I had seen the archival recording of the 2012 production and immediately recognised that it was something I would love to do. It has come as a bonus to get to know shake & stir – one of the best companies I have ever worked for and clearly destined for a bright future.

 

Can you tell us about working on 1984 and in The Alchemist (2009) with Bryan Probets, who recommended you for the role of O’Brien? How important is your network?

Our characters didn’t actually meet in The Alchemist so this time it is very different in that Bryan and I work very closely, almost intimately together. I had admired his work on The Alchemist and on screen but working so closely with him this time has been such a pleasure. It really is a battle of wills and minds out there between our characters and we are utterly dependent on each other to be present and alive. Our scenes need to be a knife-edge game of cat and mouse (or cat and rat) and so it is deeply satisfying to have played that game with Bryan over the last 5 months.

As far as a network is concerned, this situation is unusual. Yes Bryan recommended me, and Nick, Ross and Nelle had seen some of my work, but they still asked around, as it was important not only that I was right for the role, but also that I would be a good temperament for the tour and to fit into what is a tight company. So I guess in this situation, my network helped. But network is not something I work at. I probably should work harder at it but that’s not really me. I try to do good work and be good to work with and hope that that speaks for itself.

 

We saw you in Mrs Warren’s Profession for STC (2013). How did you prepare for this, er, slightly different role?

Coincidentally, in both cases I was replacing another actor who was unavailable for a return season, so my preparations were quite similar. Both had shorter rehearsal times and I was required to fit in with a pre existing moves and production…quite happily in both cases as I admired both productions enormously. In both cases the directors (Michael Futcher 1984, Sarah Giles MWP) were very respectful and welcoming, as were the casts. I did all the normal preparation of research, understanding the play and the character etc, but the biggest difference was that in both cases I learnt the lines before rehearsal started. Normally I find that over 4 to 5 weeks of rehearsal the lines sort of learn themselves, through discussion, repetition and association with the blocking and interaction with the other actors. With 1984 and Mrs Warren, because of the short rehearsal time, I felt it best to be on top of it from day 1, mainly so as not to hold back the other actors who had already performed these roles numerous times. It still allowed for freedom and new discoveries but it just got everyone up to speed a lot more quickly.

 

Did you ever watch Big Brother?

No. To be willingly observed 24 hours a day is baffling to me. Being locked in that house with those people is my idea of Orwell’s Room101.

 

Did you read Orwell’s 1984 at school? What was your response to the novel and what was your response to this script? How much research do you generally try to do for a show?

I read it at NIDA as research for some show we were devising about alienation and dystopia. I loved the novel then and still do. It’s relevance to contemporary society only increases with time, as surveillance becomes more prevalent and as governments continue to manipulate information to suit their own purposes.

shake & stir’s adaptation is very faithful to the book and has elements of politics and language manipulation (Newspeak) but concentrates on the human dimension…the characters of Winston and Julia and the brief  blossoming of their humanity, before it is stamped out by the state, as represented by my character. It’s that human interaction which is the stuff of drama and so makes it entertaining and involving for an audience. It also makes it very satisfying as an actor to play. I like to do lots of research. Obviously in this case reading the book, but knowing about Orwell and finding contemporary parallels politically and socially. I scour the media for references both literal and visual – anything that helps me enter into the world of the play.

 

When you are asked to audition how do you prepare for that experience? What are your favourite tips for actors?

I think it is all about the preparation – doing as much research as you can to know about the world of the play/film, the character, the director and to know the words (or the song if it’s a musical) as well as you can. The more prepared you are the more likely it will be that you can be relaxed, proactive and importantly, spontaneous in the audition room. The other great tip is to forget about it once it is done. There is nothing more you can do and it is out of your hands. Easier said than done, and not always advice I adhere to.

 

You work in TV and film too – what are the major differences for actors between work on stage and screen and what do you love about each medium?

It is all about story telling and being truthful, clear and interesting. The differences are about adjusting your performance to the appropriate size. You can be huge on film if it is truthful but there is no doubt stillness and economy are usually the way to go. But even in theatre one must adjust to different size spaces, as we have just done in over 30 venues – from 1500 seats down to 250. You keep the truth but play with the size of delivery, in volume, intensity, gesture – every way with mind, voice and body.  I love being able to be simpler on camera and finding intensity and intimacy…but I also love the technical demands of hitting the back row in a theatre and make sure the received truth is strong for every member of the audience.

 

What did you learn from your NIDA training?

It’s a long time ago! I had great teachers and I learnt a lot technically in voice and movement, and I learnt a Stanislavski based method of script / character analysis that I still use today. Most importantly I learnt form my head of acting, George Whaley, that an actor should have an opinion and should have something to say!  Sometimes that means a political or social message; sometimes it is about the human condition. The great plays / films combine both.

 

What’s the best thing you’ve learned outside of your formal training?

To laugh more – to play more and to take risks and be naughty. My favourite actors are the wicked ones. I was too careful and methodical early on. Too safe. I still prepare thoroughly but I try to be more spontaneous as well.

 

What qualities make an awesome agent?

Well my present agent, Mollison Keightley Management are awesome, as was my first agent, the legendary Bill Shanahan. In both cases, I felt as though I could talk to them openly and frankly and that they absolutely had my best interests at heart. The agent should have an insight into the sort of work that you would like to do and would be good for you. We all have different needs and a good agent, like a good director, should be alive to the best way to handle each wonderful, talented, neurotic, difficult individual. A good agent will guide you but the actor is ultimately the one who is in control – hard to remember sometimes when we feel we are completely at the mercy of casting directors and producers – which we are to some extent, but a good agent always feel like they are on your side, and is there to say ” oh well, didn’t get that job, but here’s what’s next.”

 

What makes a director good to work with? Can you tell us about working with Michael Futcher?

See above for my comments about what makes a good director – plus empathy, energy, respect, creativity, humour. The director should know the play better than anyone and have firm ideas while also being completely open to the input of others. They also need the ability to control a room, make and keep a productive schedule and make the rehearsal room as fun and serious as it needs to be. All of which Michael Futcher has in spades. Quite simply one of the best I have worked with. The rehearsal process for me for 1984 was so enjoyable, as Michael was so respectful of me and my situation as the new cast member, gave me really detailed and nuanced suggestions – but also watched what I did and allowed that to generate new ideas. He also loves language as I do, so we very particular about certain words and how to use them. I would work with him again anytime. He should be directing for main stage companies constantly…and I hope when he does I get to work with him again.

 

How do you connect with the other actors on stage? Do you hang out in between shows or for the sake of this character, and these relationships on stage; do you keep a bit of distance?

Connecting on stage is simply about being present and alive moment to moment. It’s just something one automatically does through focus and concentration, and willingly giving over to the given circumstances. Any moments of self-consciousness, I try to avoid by focusing on the other actors and how I am trying to affect them…what I am doing to them and receiving what they are giving to me.

And yes, we hang out together all the time. The coldness and distance of O’ Brien is only for the stage, as I can’t think of a better cast to socialise with. We have so much fun back stage too, despite the seriousness and dour nature of 1984.

 

How do you survive on tour?

As I said, we socialised a lot and the whole gang, cast and crew were a very happy bunch. There are always times when I need some solitude and everybody was very respectful of that…the hardest thing was saying no when the Shake and Stir guys would try to twist my arm to visit some fabulous bar or restaurant…their energy is so admirable and infectious that we were able to find the positive in just about every town. I also walk a lot, so I would always head for the beach or the river during the daytime and get some exercise and clear my head.

 

What does down time look like?

I teach acting when I am not in a performing role…and I try to read, exercise and stay connected to what is going on in the industry.  Basically I am pretty lazy so I hope down time doesn’t go on for too long as I like the discipline of a long run to keep me busy.

 

What are you working on next?

Well as soon as 1984 finishes I am travelling to the US as my daughter is starting college at NYU and I am going over with her to settle her in as well as see some shows in New York that I will be auditioning for back here. After that I don’t know. There are a couple of things floating around that hopefully will take me through to Christmas…but who knows. I’ve had a great year and something will turn up. It always does, eventually.

 

And what is shake & stir up to next? You know it will sell out, don’t you? Right. So book your tix already!

Wuthering_Heights_header

26
Jan
14

shake & stir’s Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival finalists in The Tempest

 

The Tempest 

Shake & Stir Theatre Co

Brisbane Powerhouse

January 20 – 21 2014

 

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

 

We are such stuff as dreams are made on…

 

BPH_The_Tempest_1_2014-1180x663

 

Shake & Stir are always putting on something daring. These guys make theatre as if it is it’s own living universe and not a show we have to sit back and watch. It feels like the whole show grows and changes with us on the night and we forget that there were rehearsed lines.

 

The top 30 competitors from the Inaugural QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival combine their powers in this multi-arts exploration of Shakespeare’s late great work, The Tempest.

 

So the top 30 Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival Finalists who performed Shakespeare’s Tempest last week were nothing short of what Shake & Stir embodies.

 

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works. Simply put, it is the tale of a great storm bringing two lovers together while a magically enhanced father, with the aid of nymphs and other foolish spirits, makes mischief for all on his island. What made this performance equally incredible was that the display of choreography, lighting, acting and atmosphere was pulled together in one week.

 

Matt Walsh, Shake & Stir’s Resident Company Actor, appeared in this production as the great and powerful (and cheeky) Prospero. This is a role familiar to him, and he delivered it with the awe and wit that Prospero would have had were he real and truly ruling his own bizarre island.

 

The students got to add a touch of their own perception to the play too. The experience and opportunity for them was to really delve into a great play that not many have studied. But in understanding the text they first had to compare it to their own perspective. This was done in humourous ways such as the drunkard character Stephano, played by Liam Soden, carrying a sack of “goon”, and the daughter of Prospero – Miranda, played by India Oswin, telling her father he was embarrassing her in front of her crush. This further confirms the argument, which Shake and Stir tackled last year when they asked, is Shakespeare still relevant?

 

This excellent display of young Queensland talent sadly stayed at the Powerhouse for only two nights. But the glorious, oceanic stage was a wonderful sight for those who did get a chance to see it, and support Queensland’s youth, which hopefully we all do from time to time. They are, after all, the future of our industry.

 

Ed’s note:

 

Hot tip for teachers – don’t let your students miss the opportunity to work alongside Shake & Stir, ever. If we could clone these guys and put them into all Australian schools you’d never hear another kid complain about having to study Shakespeare again. There’s no question that Shake & Stir has helped keep Shakespeare not only relevant but vital to Australian school students.

 

Keep an eye out for details about this year’s Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival and book now, if you haven’t already (you haven’t already?!) for the return season of their fearless and flawless production of Orwell’s 1984 directed by Michael Futcher and featuring Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee, Bryan Probets, Nick Skubij & David Whitney at QPAC 15 July – 2 August 2014

 

 

11
Jan
14

Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts

 

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts

La Boite and shake & stir

The Roundhouse

January 8 – 18 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

This famous wicked little tale
Should never have been put on sale
It is a mystery to me
Why loving parents cannot see
That this is actually a book
About a brazen little crook…

 

You think you know this story… You don’t.

 

In a previous life, Jason Glenwright must have been a rock star because he sure knows how to light one. And if Josh McIntosh did not dress royalty at some stage I’ve got my readings wrong. Whether or not you’re any sort of theatrical aficionado, you’re likely to recognise the design work of both these gentlemen by now; it’s pretty distinctive and I’m not the only one to have raved about it in the past. Also, Guy Webster’s sound design, including perfectly timed sound effects that have the kids in fits of giggles, adds to the wonderful theatricality and simple joy of this production, obviously lovingly inspired by Roald Dahl’s witty words and Quentin Blake’s original delightful illustrations. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts was always going to be a hit with the kids, but to win over the grown ups within the opening ten seconds using music, lighting and a revolving stage is quite a feat! If you’re a stranger to shake & stir’s shows, this one will be the first of many, I guarantee it, and if you miss it, you’ll be doing yourself and your kids a huge disservice. Why not book now and come back to read the rest?

 

It’s a rock concert, a Hip Hop film clip, a fairytale, and a favourite book brought to vivid life, all rolled into one and all PG-Rated. It’s the perfect solution for some school holiday fun that the whole family will enjoy, really.

 

And I mean THE WHOLE FAMILY. REALLY. These four performers are awesome, and the company already has a massive secondary school following so don’t think twice about booking the extra seats for the teens, they’ll love it! And Dads will surely remember fondly, their fave Revolting Rhymes, as well as (and I don’t mind being the one to point it out!), find themselves completely captivated by Nelle Lee, who is always absolutely gorgeous to watch.

 

You might recall last year’s co-pro between shake & stir and La Boite Theatre Company, the sell-out holiday hit Out Damn Snot!, and you might wonder what will come next, because this is a winning formula, and a winning partnership between two of Brisbane’s most progressive and most popular theatre companies. I love that this time slot each year, towards the end of our longest, hottest, sometimes most tedious school holiday run, can feature well-loved children’s stories turned upside down and inside out, challenging and entertaining all ages. Seeing the shake & stir show before school goes back is one tradition I’m more than happy to help establish.

 

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts. Image by Dylan Evans.

 

Despite a couple of gruesome moments, Poppy and the other opening night kids laughed along with their parents at shake & stir’s bold interpretations of Dahl’s updates to the classic fairytales. A self-sufficient, savvy Little Red Riding Hood whips a pistol from her knickers and shoots the wolf that gobbles up her grandmother, in order to make herself a beautiful fur cloak, and later…well, we won’t give that one away but if you love your accessories, you’ll love the haute couture reference. We also see a different side to Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and (naughty, nasty, selfish) Goldilocks. That conclusion is bit of a shocker, be warned, but we can’t help to feel that the “brazen little crook” deserves her untimely end! One of my favourite characters is Nelle Lee’s Mama Bear, of solid New York Jewish stock. But Poppy loved Little Red the most because she was different. “You wouldn’t like it if everyone was just the same as you,” she told me. “She was brave and spunky.” Wait. Does my daughter not consider herself to be brave and spunky? Oh, right. “In a different way. She has to survive in the woods, Mum.” This makes me picture my child having to survive in the woods, and in my vision she is something like Little Red and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Anyway, I equate this to Poppy having a Hunger Games type idol, which concerns me little since the best women in history have always been able to defend themselves, and this Little Red is so reminiscent of Sondheim’s Red Riding Hood in Into The Woods that we can’t help but adore her, admire her, and fear her just a little.

 

They are all absolutely sensational characterisations.

 

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts. Image by Dylan Evans.

 

We love the revolving stage, ideal for The Roundhouse space, although it’s not set completely in-the-round, it’s used effectively to hide and light and reveal performers and props; this is particularly evident in The Three Little Pigs. A single piece of fabric serves multiple purposes, and basic costume additions during the course of the show remind us that it doesn’t take much more than the imagination to conjure a story, but of course the technical and theatrical elements certainly help to make this a slick one. The pace is fast; the script, straight from “the world’s number one storyteller”, is funny and the performers engaging. They are Leon Cain, Judy Hainsworth, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij, a tight, super talented ensemble guided by Director, Ross Balbuziente. We know from the very first moments that this is a clever crew, who get precisely what it is their audience wants; they are up for fun and games, and deliver with ease a multitude of clever and entertaining character voices, sharp moves (choreographed by Sally Hare), and retellings of our favourite Roald Dahl rhymes and stories. The 90 minutes fly by and Poppy whispers loudly to me, “Is that all? Oh.” She wishes there was more to come. And perhaps there will be.

 

When you love a show, do you let the company know?

 

If we keep up with shouting out loud about what’s great, venues and presenters know what they need to keep bringing back! You could email them, but why not leave a comment on their Facebook page or Instagram account? Tweet your 140-character review? The social media presence of both these companies, especially shake & stir’s online presence, is inspiring and heartening. This is a company who hears us and continues to create crowd pleasers without compromising their own artistic objectives. This means we are regularly treated to an incredible selection of top notch theatre in Brisbane, guaranteed quality, for artists and audiences alike. More of this, please shake & stir!

 

Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts. Image by Dylan Evans.

 

In Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts there are some slightly gruesome life lessons and a heap of fun for everyone. It’s a gorgeous looking production, with not a dull moment, but if you hesitate for even a moment you WILL miss out! And that WOULD be criminal. Treat yourself and your kids to this production before the holidays are over and you have to return to the real world!