Posts Tagged ‘sue rider





Understudy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

May 25 – June 3 2018


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



BARE in Sydney in 2010 was the first time I’d experienced a professional looking and sounding high school production; it was a fast, shocking, moving show, which Kris Stewart included in that year’s Fringe Festival. It featured a well-trained and super talented young cast, including a couple of triple threats who went on to attend WAAPA. Understudy’s production has its moments, and it certainly doesn’t lack talent (when Oscar’s not playing, Alexander Woodward’s Understudy Productions always attracts the best that Brisbane has to offer), but it’s largely Shaun Kohlman’s show. As seen early in the piece, in Role of a Lifetime, as Peter, the co-ed Catholic schoolboy who falls in love with his best friend, Kohlman captures every nuance of a young gay man in love and in turmoil; he’s completely captivating. Playing opposite him as Jason, the popular athlete and charming leading man in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet, Jason Bentley, with soapie good looks, strong presence, his genuine connection with both the male and female love interests in the story, and his part in the boys’ beautiful duet (Best Kept Secret) can be forgiven for the apparent anomaly of a singular over-the-top anguished moment. I’d prefer to see this underplayed, or managed slightly differently, perhaps giving us less time to question the authenticity and impulse behind his overwhelming emotion. It’s a choice, a Stella moment, and a tough one to sell. 



Other than a quick, very much appreciated nod to the social and political climate of New Farm, other additions or amendments to the book go unnoticed. It’s a pretty ordinary book. Despite its dated, flimsy feel, at the core of the show’s universal themes are the current local pangs of real-life wounds, still raw, and the knowledge that so many individuals in our communities fight even now for their right to be accepted by family, friends, colleagues, corporations and institutions, despite the big picture success of the yes vote.


Claire, and Ivy, played by ABC weather woman Jenny Woodward and Jordan Malone respectively, are considered by others to be perfectly cast. For me, Woodward’s most affecting work is during the heart-wrenching phone call with her son (See Me). Even so, she doesn’t quite go to the edge, and the first phone call at the end of Auditions gives no indication of her long-held maternal suspicion about her son’s sexual preferences, a missed opportunity. Malone’s Portrait of a Girl rings truer than All Grown Up, which is a little forced and nevertheless appears to leave other hearts aching, those hearts having assured me after the show that for them it was raw and emotional and real. Fair enough. We’re probably in agreement over Melissa Western being a pretty fierce and funny Sister Charlotte, delivering razor-sharp one-liners to bring the house down and at the same time, showing genuine sensitivity and concern for the wellbeing of her students. But the music is written for a voice that doesn’t need to flip into a lighter top soprano, and a misguided wardrobe decision makes a distraction of a pair of black pantyhose and a bodysuit in what would otherwise be a sensational Jesus Christ Superstar/Like A Prayer proper gospel number. While Western is the most accomplished performer on stage and delightful in this role, it’s hard to be a sassy and sophisticated Mother Mary in an 80s inspired blue sequinned bodysuit! (Design Raymond Milner). 


Sarah Whalen’s Nadia is sadly, beautifully vulnerable beneath her tough and entertaining exterior, and her singing is spot on. Jonathan Hickey (Matt) and Trent Owers (Lucas) also offer convincing performances with Owers’ rap and his unassuming part in the tragic end to the tale making his character a lighthouse for entrepreneurial kids everywhere.


The company largely comprises Queensland Conservatorium graduates and they bring with them their gorgeous contemporary vocal style, which boasts a more naturalistic tone and approach, in case you haven’t gotten out much lately and still expect to hear a big Broadway belt in a Brisbane show. (You can hear it in abundance when Patti LuPone comes to QPAC). It’s a refreshing pop-rock sound, brilliant for our performers, who need to be as versatile as possible in an increasingly competitive industry. In fact, the ensemble’s vocal work is stunning from beginning (Epiphany) to end (No Voice, a stirring, inspiring finish), with precision harmonies and a heartfelt message a joy to hear. 



Stunningly, simply lit by Daniel Anderson, the action takes place beneath abstract stained glass windows and a white cross, putting us firmly beneath these brightly coloured symbols of the ever-watchful eyes of God. Or is it a cruel joke, as God turns a blind eye? All the questions are asked and painfully, the old-school priest offers only Old Testament answers. James Shaw is rather wasted in this role after his impressive performance in RENT but then who else would do just enough here, just as beautifully?


Luke Volker (MD and keys) leads a tight band, hidden from sight but who make their presence felt, particularly with the inspired inclusion of cellist, Kate Robinson. Contemporary pop choreography by Madison Lee makes every company number a Britney Spears’ video, with the angst and frustrated aggression of a couple of these numbers, including Confession, suiting some performers better than others. Variations in tempo and dynamic make the rave scene’s Rolling multi-layered and more visually exciting than anticipated. Director, Sue Rider, manages with more aplomb and sensitivity than at other times, these tricky transitions between music video moments and the continuing drama. 


BARE is a polished and emotionally charged production, thanks to the high calibre of artists on stage and off, and it feels like the next stepping stone for this ambitious company. It was an ideal inclusion in this year’s MELT Festival program. The too-brief season concludes tonight with an extra performance due to solid bookings before the show had even opened. We are clearly craving more of this style of work, and happy to embrace the stories selected by savvy young indie producers as our own. I can’t wait to see what Woodward does with his Spring Awakening (we saw Oscar do it best in 2011). Book early for it because going by the general response, Understudy Productions continues to challenge and satisfy both artists and audiences. 











Stradbroke Dreamtime

Out of the Box

Stradbroke Dreamtime

QPAC Studio 2


12th – 16th June

Reviewed by Michelle Bull


Actors: “Who here has been to Stradbroke Island?”

Audience: “me!”

Actors: “ What did you see when you were there?”

Audience: “Sand!” “Shells!” “Water!” “Crabs!” ”Monkeys!”


The scope of a child’s imagination is something that I am inherently jealous and in awe of. The limitless possibilities and their ability to invest into a story unconditionally is something truly wonderful. Sitting alongside these young adventurous minds in an audience on Wednesday I found encouraged me to also reconnect with my imagination and allow myself to be taken on a journey, into Stradbroke Dreamtime.

Directed by Sue Rider, and presented by QPAC and Queensland Theatre Company as part of the Out of the box Festival 2012, Stradbroke Dreamtime is a collection of stories adapted from a book by poet, artist and author Oodgeroo (Aunty Kath Walker). It tells the stories of her childhood growing up as a young Aboriginal girl on Stradbroke Island. Told through traditional storytelling, physical theatre, dance and song, each story takes the audience on a journey through the beauty of the Island, everyday life, Aboriginal culture and Dreamtime stories. Staged in the round, with lots of opportunity for interaction with the audience, the biggest strength of this production was the way in which it actively engaged it’s young audience for the duration, allowing them to be swept up in the wonder of the world being created.

The three performers were equally responsive and dedicated to their roles, encouraging the young audiences involvement in the telling of the stories through interactive soundscape activities (making the sound of water, trees, frogs and kookaburras) and questioning to make personal connections to place and the characters in the story. This was an affective way to both engage and hold their attention allowing them to invest into the stories of life on the Island.

The performers’ honest approach to the delivery of text and physicality of their roles aided their ability to recreate the scene using the basic yet colourful set (Bill Haycock). Simple props added a sense of culture and visuals to the performance, without detracting from the essence of the story. A painted ‘dingy’ sat central to the action, drawing ‘oohs and ahhs’ from its audience as its underside (painted in elaborate Aboriginal design) was revealed. Likewise, a painted sheet became water; a dilly bag, a baby’s swaddling and a schoolroom cane, while more fabric became charred fire sticks, Dreamtime stories and paper bark.

The choreography (Gail Mabo) of this production also served to create a seamless energy that allowed for a wonderful flow through and between stories. The young audience particularly enjoyed the performers recreation of animals like the Kangaroo, Reptiles and Chickens that also acted to showcase the performers diverse abilities and cultural understanding, along with a few giggles from the audience.

The production did not shy away from often confronting truths and themes such as Oodgeroo’s punishment for being left handed, the meagre food rations provided by the ‘white people’ and the unbending rules regarding Aboriginal law of “killing for food”. This gave the production just enough depth to balance its storytelling nature with ideas to provoke thought and questions, which I could almost see formulating in the young audiences minds during these moments. Another effective tool was the use of a theme song, Stradbroke Home to bookend the production. All three performers sang simply and honestly and it was a nice moment to connect with the sentiment at the core of the show.

This is a great show to introduce young audiences to Aboriginal culture and history. Accessible, engaging and entertaining, this adaptation of Oodgeroo’s Stradbroke Dreamtime is one that will encourage an awareness and appreciation of the stories and culture that have shaped our nation.

Final 2 shows today at 10am and 12:30pm. Book online.

Illustration by Bronwyn Bancroft