Posts Tagged ‘the independents





Elbow Room & Metro Arts The Independents

Metro Arts Basement

20 November – 7 December 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Prehistoric is a story about Brisbane in the 11th year of the Bjelke-Petersen administration – a very different place from the Brisbane of 2013… OR IS IT?


In the late 1970s, the relationship of young Australians to culture, society, politics and technology went through changes that were quick, profound and – most importantly – intimately connected.  This era was the turning point in Brisbane – whether or not we realise it – becoming one of the most interesting cultural incubators, not just in Australia, but in the Anglophone world.

Purchase Prehistoric


Prehistoric Kathryn Marquet Image by Leesa Connelly


You live at the remote edge of a civilisation in economic free-fall, about to destroy itself in a nuclear war.

(Like anyone, you’d rather not think about that.)

You live in one of the most corrupt cities on the planet, under a state government elected by a minority who mostly live elsewhere.

Again, you’d rather be having fun. Maybe making some noise.

Except the government has significantly expanded the powers of the police to stop you.

Also, all the computers are owned by corporations, and all the phones are tied to the wall.

It’s 1979.

Love you, Brisbane.




Whether or not you come away thinking the title is apt, this is a play about Queensland that begs immediate viewing by Queenslanders. It’s a look inside the Bjelke-Peterson police state years and yet it’s all too familiar. What happens when police name badges become optional and officers detain a guy after dropping a tissue in Queen Street Mall? No, this is not ancient history, but recent events recorded in Brisbane.


Backbone Youth Arts originally developed Prehistoric, firstly via a commissioned draft and then in two successive creative developments in 2012 with Kathryn Marquet, Anthony Standish, Melanie Zanetti and Steve Toulmin. Writer and Director, Marcel Dorney notes, “We weren’t ‘there’ in 1979… So we formed our own band, and played our own music, because we could think of no better tribute.” Dorney asks the tough questions, and without providing all the answers, offers us multiple veiled (and not so) warnings about history repeating.


The band of which Dorney speaks comes together, as bands do, when a group of friends (or strangers) have something to say. Their message is loud, and if you can make out the lyrics, which are mostly shouted in an appropriately antiestablishment manner by Anna Straker, it’s pretty powerful. Joining Straker in her punk band are Kathryn Marquet, Anthony Standish and Steve Toulmin. The original music, by Toulmin and Dorney, might be for some the most challenging aspect of this production. But it shouldn’t be. There’s a whole heap of intelligent raging going on beneath the clanging, clashing sounds of amplified instruments and “Fuck yous”. It’s a play with punk and spunk! There are perhaps two songs too many – the show runs a little longer than it needs to (for me, without delving deeper into one particular story or another, ninety minutes would be ideal) – and by the last couple of songs I’m thinking, “Okay, I get it!” The action is well punctuated by the music though – and the climax counts on it – and it’s not to everyone’s taste, but nor was it when punk became popular in Brisbane…or anywhere else.




It’s a time of rebellion, despair and desperation, of “ministerial corruption, the demolition of our heritage architecture, stories of police brutality…” (Metro Arts Programming Manager Kieran Swann), and it’s an era that we’d rather not be reminded of. Unfortunately, many of the play’s issues are, once again, all too familiar. The actors bring their characters to life after they’ve entered the basement space to inform us that they weren’t there to witness events, but they can certainly share a version of what happened, so if when it happens again we can see it coming, and boy, do we see it!


Prehistoric is a strong ensemble piece, giving voice to each character and ultimately, giving many opportunities for the voices to join together in poignant protest. Characters are nicely drawn and intelligently realised.


Dorney has written and directed a vital play; I expect to see an adaptation of Prehistoric on our small screens at some stage, as well as on the main stages. It deserves a broader audience, and despite – or because of – its specific setting and political references, looks set to serve us as a contemporary example of the way good theatre has always recorded a version of historical events, and tested popular opinion and the establishment. A less-explicit (but does that make it less powerful?) adaptation for senior students would be an excellent resource for schools.


Whether you were there at the time or not, you should live through Prehistoric.





the nest ensemble & Metro Arts Independents

Metro Arts’ Sue Benner Theatre

9th – 26th May

the nest ensemble’s EVE opened last night at Metro Arts and today the social media is all a-flutter over it!

EVE is a work of incredible passion, delving into the notions of obsession, genius and madness. It’s a fascinating, devastating story about an Australian writer who we like to call our own Virginia Woolf, one Eve Langley (1908 – 1974). It’s intense and even, at times, a little bit delightful. A rare show, it induces more than most, the magic of genuinely mixed emotions and a sense of bewilderment. Margi Brown Ash, who plays Eve as if she were never anybody other than she, is a tour de force. Allow me to put that term into context a little bit later.

As the five year old and I walked away from the theatre and up Edward Street, she told me that the play we’d just seen was, “strange and very frightening.” When I asked her if she thought Margi (Brown Ash) did a good job showing us how the writer, Eve Langley, went mad she replied, “Do I have to answer that? Of course she did! That’s what was so frightening!”

This morning, before the school run – some of you will think this is quite mad – as I consulted my Mayan Oracle Cards about how I might approach the writing of this review, I pulled the Spectral (Tone 11) card, which represents release and liberation, in terms of letting go of long-held beliefs and behavioural patterns.

Are you living your life on what it has been, instead of accepting the moment as it is now? Release yourself and others from the confines of expectation and inflexibility. Allow the grand plan to unfold in its beautifully perfect, chaotically random way!

In other words, what would Eve do?! This message is as much about the direction in which my life is going at the moment (that’s beautifully, chaotically and randomly, in case you were wondering!), as it is about viewing this show with a completely open mind and letting the events unfold in front of you, leaving judgment outside, which is what we always try to do at the theatre: we relinquish any control we thought we had to the storytellers. We trust them. We go with them on an incredible journey, in this case, much deeper into a troubled mind than we might feel comfortable going.

As Poppy and I continued walking away from the theatre and back to “reality”, right by RM Williams’ window in the Mall (I’d parked in the Wintergarden. Old habits die hard.), listening to a guy at the old Jimmy’s Downtown singing my favourite version ever, of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, we noticed the latest (very definitely non-RM Williams’ looking) design and I thought if I were going mad, I would wear those fancy RMs and not the sensible, round brown classic style, which Margi donned as Eve, refusing to tip-toe through her life in the blue Mountains.

The new RM Williams boots and bag #wishlist

We skipped along after that, singing and pushing away the thought of potential (inevitable?), madness of the writer. If your child is not accustomed to hanging out with the grown ups and seeing and talking theatre, I would recommend you book a babysitter. I’m grateful that Poppy’s favourite part turned out to be the re-telling by the enigmatic Stace Callaghan, of Oscar Wilde’s, The Selfish Giant, which was interwoven beautifully, helping the nightmarish outbursts from Margi and Moshlo (via voice and violin respectively) melt away that much more quickly.

Stace Callaghan – a beautiful, whimsical storyteller – gives generously, youth and all of its magical belief, innocence and hope. Moshlo, with his violin (and a broken string 20 minutes in) plays the devil incarnate, the husband, though his role is more musical than literal and I cannot imagine the soundscape (Design by Travis Ash) existing without his often-jarring compositions and superb execution. The play benefits enormously from his energy on stage.

Eve, like Wilde, was a brilliant writer. Norman Lindsay praised her debut novel, The Pea-Pickers (published in 1942), which won The Bulletin award. Even so, unlike Wilde, she attained comparatively little notoriety and died alone in her bush hut near Katoomba in 1974, after an upheaval rather than a life, during which she spent seven years in Auckland Mental Hospital (she had followed her mother there in 1932), was removed from her children and abandoned by her husband, an artist, Hilary Clark, who had committed her after he failed to continue coping with, among other things, her hermaphroditic ways and refusal to make his tea. As she observes during the final moments of the play, if she were alive today, no one would consider her mad, eccentric perhaps but not mad.

Co-devised by Margi Brown-Ash, Dan Evans and Leah Mercer, who stepped into the director’s shoes after original director, Doug Leonard sadly passed away late last year, the story is largely projection, inspired by Eve’s fiction and letters, of which we hear fragments. It’s nicely put together so that even knowing nothing about Eve Langley, you’ll feel like you know her before the conclusion of the play. And you will feel for her. Poor Eve. Her words are hard and sharp and, for the most part, completely unforgiving. Her warmth comes through only at the thought of stars and planets (until they fill her mouth and become the stuff of nightmares). She was a woman trapped in her own skin, unable to care for her own children and out of touch with “reality”. Eve’s reality consisted of days and nights of babies screaming and a husband who had to be told to shut up so she could write! Artists (and mothers) particularly, will relate to Eve’s pain and endless frustration. However, the chasm between normal disparities of roles (becoming the domestic help and wife and not the career woman) and entering into an actual state of madness is played out nicely so that only some of us (the writers!) are actually worried about suffering a similar fate in the end.

Genevieve Trace has gone straight to the top of my watch list with this show. I won’t give away the opening, which is a complete creative team accomplishment and a full assault on the senses (be ready!), but I will tell you that Gen’s evocative lighting design, working inherently with chunky intricate (I’m coining the phrase) set design by Backwoods Original and costumes by Bev Jensen, is something out of the pages of Frankie, inspired by some random European style magazine, with its perfectly placed subtle colours, underpinned (or overlaid) by the stunning effect of lit twig orbs and chandeliers. A simple but effective focus allows us to share Eve’s torment inside the confines of the mental institution. An interesting warning appears on the material outside the theatre, to let you know that “organic matter” will be used in the production. Obviously, this is in case of allergies, however; I thought that perhaps other, more sterile productions should probably come with the warning that no organic matter will be used. Perhaps this is a trick the state theatre company can keep in mind for future productions. It’s sensory theatre and we’re craving more of it. The team at Metro Arts has no qualms about letting the outside in and, just like the set of The Raven, EVE boasts more organic material than you will have seen used by local council workers to top up suburban roundabouts (the money is better spent in The Arts IMHO. Who really appreciates the bark as they’re driving by? Be honest!).

This is a show not to be missed. In particular, there is something so bold and fearless about Margi’s performance as Eve Langley that it almost defies description. But there it is. She is bold and fearless, powerful and vulnerable, passionate and selfish, determined and defiant and absolutely bloody marvelous. She’s the closest thing this town has to Robyn Nevin when Robyn Nevin is not in town.

Now. That term. What about it? Well, the term tour de force is bandied about quite often these days. Not until this intense and incredibly emotional performance by Margi Brown Ash, has it been applied appropriately thus far this year to describe a leading lady in Brisbane. I know. It’s a big call. Go see her become Eve and watch the transformation, as Eve becomes Wilde. Acting students and theatre lovers must not miss this opportunity to watch one of the masters at work in what will surely be one of the most memorable productions of the year.


Sunny Drake’s X


Sunny Drake, Contact Inc & The Independents

Metro Arts’ Sue Benner Theatre

Featuring Sunny Drake

Reviewed by Michelle Bull


Sunny Drake. Image by Leesa Connelly.


I perched alone on a stool in the foyer of Metro Arts, I busied myself looking over emails (I’d already read), texting and checking my facebook messages (again) while I waited for the doors of the theatre to open.  I was here for the premiere of ‘X’ by Sunny Drake, directed by Therese Collie, a show exploring the idea of addiction (hmm…), and part of the 2012 The Independents series at Metro Arts.

Upon collecting my ticket I was immediately given a slip of paper that asked me to write down a judgment I held or had heard about someone with an alcohol addiction. This was a thought-provoking introduction to the show that left me thinking perhaps there might be a message here that would send me pondering and questioning into the wee hours, and possibly updating my Facebook status accordingly in the morning.

‘X’ explores the idea of addiction, through the journey of best friends ‘Jamie’ and ‘Caitlin’, alongside puppets ‘Naked’ and ‘Fancy’. Encompassing varied theatrical elements including animation, puppetry and live performance, Sunny Drake delivers a captivating look inside the struggles and obsessions of the four characters in a transparent and effectively abstract fashion. The work is centered specifically on alcohol addiction and is told from a lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ transgendered/ intersex/ queer perspective, fundamental to the experiential nature of the works formation. The collaborative nature of the work is acknowledged as Drake gives a personal welcome and introduction to the show, suggesting that addiction is a ‘human condition’ and one that affects us all in one-way or another, whatever the catalyst may be.

The set, designed by Georgina Greenhill is cleverly constructed both for theatrical impact and functionality, allowing Drake to blur the lines of puppetry and animation seamlessly. Animator Ingrid K Brooker is to be applauded for creating a surrealist world that exists alongside that of the set giving it a magical quality and multiple dimensions for the characters to play in.

I felt the strongest aspects of the show included this integration of stop animation, multimedia and puppetry as a means of communicating difficult emotions and symbolism of the internal state of the characters. The design and execution of these elements gave a real sense of humanity to puppets ‘Naked’ and ‘Fancy’ as under Drake’s hand they seamlessly merged with the other characters and battled their addictions in heartbreakingly real and identifiable fashion.

Although each of the characters portrayed by Drake were likeable and seamlessly introduced, I did feel they could each be further developed to give a clearer distinction between each archetype. I was at times left behind as Drake flipped from one to the next, which, while not distracting from the quality of the performance, did disconnect me from its sincerity. That being said, some characters were more refined than others, which made more obvious those that would benefit from some development.

The use of multimedia as a vehicle for expression in this work was a wonderful choice. There were moments where projection and music were used in tandem to great effect, creating conversations onstage that let the audience in on private moments of self-evaluation, indulgence and reflection. From the escapist pop stylings of Kylie Minogue to a soothing Irish lullaby, each moment captured a sense of the internal state of being in a way that unveiled its poignancy for each of the characters.

Never one to shy away from audience participation, I was unconvinced by its use in this show. Upon entering the theatre we had each been given another patron’s anonymous judgment they had written on the little slip of paper handed out in the foyer. At one point in the show we were asked to read aloud what was written, an action that caused the character to shy away from the onslaught. I thought this was an insightful and connecting moment in the show but one that left me wondering if it could have been executed differently to greater effect.

Overall, ‘X’ is a thought-provoking piece of theatre that asks questions about an issue that touches each of us in one way or another, be it an addiction to alcohol, sex, chocolate or even Facebook. Sunny Drake is an engaging performer offering up a challenging and honest performance that entertains and makes use of various theatrical elements to communicate in a way that is honest and engaging. ‘X’ asks us to question and challenge our own beliefs and judgments about addiction and how this affects our relationship with others and ourselves, and offers up an accessible piece of theatre that will surely strike a chord with many audiences on its journey.

Premiering as part of The Independents 2012 ahead of its North American tour to the USA National Queer Arts Festival.

Written, Created & Performed by Sunny Drake Director & Dramaturg / Therese Collie Stop Motion Animator / ingrid k brooker Set and Props Designer/ Georgina Greenhill Lighting Design / Andrew Meadows Composer & Sound Designer / Brett Collery Creative Consultants / Brian Lucas & Candy Bowers

This project has received financial assistance from the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. X was developed with the support of Metro Arts and premiered as part of The Independents 2012. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. X was also sponsored by Health Communities.



The Raven

The Raven

Laura Kwiatkowski and Metro Arts Independents

Sue Benner Theatre 

07th – 31st March 

We’re at Metro Arts Theatre, where we know from experience that anything can happen. We’ve been asked to follow the producer, Laura Kwiatkowski, around to the back of the theatre. Cool. Following instruction, we remove our shoes and toss them, along with phones, bags and any other personal items, into milk crates before we enter the dark space. And by dark, I mean uneasy pitch black. QTC’s Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, is the (un)lucky sucker to go first. I follow him and, as well as thinking of that terrific TED talk about how to start a movement (it’s ME they’re following, now that I’m following the leader), that little ordinary audience member’s voice in my head says, “Holy crap, it’s dark in here!” It also occurs to me that we’re on the stage. Well, we must be, because we’ve come in via the Tradies’ Entrance…and stepped directly into the MUD. That’s right. I was prepared for it but not, you know? Like the shock of seeing and squelching into DRIFT restaurant last year, after the floods, the mud across the bridge reaching the tops of my wellies as I walked comically through it; this mud was not so deep but it’s funny, isn’t it? The way your senses recall more of an experience before your head does? Beneath my bare feet was the cold, wet, compressed earth and my immediate thoughts were, “God, what a mess. What have they had to suffer?”

I almost expected to smell that same stench again. Feeling ready now, listening to the first strains of the live-mixed soundscape (Daniel Huey), processing all of that in a couple of moments, I decided to breathe and surrender (something my beautiful hippie healer friends keep telling me to do this year. I was quite pleased then – proud of myself – to surrender so early in the piece). Speaking of which, I don’t know if anybody else noticed, but it was the eve of the full moon and this had the potential to be a real earthing experience.

As soft light comes up (Lighting Designer Whitney Eglington), I become aware of sculptural structures all around me; ornately twisted and tangled wire designs, reaching cylindrically towards the ceiling and placed randomly like trees, in the way I imagine a “contemporary” version of Where the Wild Things Are might be staged…by an extremely ambitious and resourceful teacher in Julia Creek perhaps, with its jungle of chicken wire and white boxes. Appropriately, Melody Woodnutt is listed as Installation Artist in the program, rather than being awarded the more usual title of Designer.

Edgar Allan Poe (Robbie O’Brien), our host for the evening, welcomes us, his voice coming from somewhere in the semi-darkness. He invites us to sit and sup with him. The dinner table is such an intimate setting, don’t you think? The setting for all manner of sins and any depth of sadness, surrounded as we are, by the chaos of Poe’s kitchen and drawing room furniture, haphazardly placed alongside one length of the table and covered in books and pages. Tattered, yellowed pages are also strewn across our table, making an odd centrepiece, the likes of which would never be sanctioned by Better Homes and Gardens. Not only has Poe invited us to sit with him but also, to contribute to the creation of a masterpiece, his latest poetic piece. With this device, commonly referred to in The Biz as Audience Interaction 101, we are ready to take a journey of a different kind.

Lulled into the first of a number of participatory moments, we offer gifts of words, thoughts, images…Poe is so humble and lovely we can’t help but help him in his task. He accepts some offers and responds almost violently to others; “You don’t know about it!” About what? Love? Death? Loneliness? I don’t remember. It was important to Poe and has left us a bit bewildered.

Robbie O’Brien & Erika Field. Image by Leesa Connelly

Lenore (Erika Field); has been sitting behind us on top of a cupboard, in the darkness the whole time (she must have been or we would have heard the rustle of her taffeta frock as she entered). She brings child-like playfulness and a sense of innocence to all that is dark and death-like. Time stretches, skips a beat (or is it a decade?), turns back on itself and reveals, in twists and turns, the extent of Poe’s loneliness, having lost the love of his life, his wife, Virgina.

The Raven (Amy Wollstein) is at once the physical presence and destructive force that is needed. Props to the Body Artist, whose black and green design Wollstein paints upon her own skin in preparation for each performance. Her physicality is Butoh influenced and her intense energy drives much of the action. We are invited to get in on the action too, though only just; a game of Marco Polo and then one of hide and seek become opportunities to take up a different viewpoint of the chase that ensues. We leave our seats, move to another place and continue to watch the action. Darting between the guests, the set pieces and in and out of the space, Fields and Wollstein tease O’Brien and blur the boundaries between those tricky remembered relationships: friends, lovers, cousins…in the hands of another kind of director, we might have born witness to a lesbian tangle of limbs and lips! What? Well, we might have! My point is that at this point, the play (and the playfulness within it) could have gone anywhere.

As the games begin to imitate life, we are left just outside of them, to witness events, my hope that we might develop further, any empathy for the characters, dashed. I feel like I’m Abi Kirk, standing in a strange old house in The Rocks, staring at Beatie Bow and not sure how to get home but happy to be a part of the family while I’m here.

This theatre is not so experiential. Not as much as we’ve been led to believe anyway, but even so, it makes for great interactive theatre for beginners. As director, Thomas Quirk explains to me after the show, it’s “audience considered theatre”. If you’re an impro pro or accustomed to being the front row volunteer, it’s really just a bit of gentle voyeurism for those who don’t mind getting their feet dirty (don’t worry, you get the chance to cleanse them, as ritualistically as you like, at the conclusion of the performance). And that’s fine. But it’s a shame that so few people will see it and what I’d like to see in a future creative development phase (as I feel sure there must be another due), is the theatre opened up so those who prefer the voyeur role can choose to play it and purchase a ticket to sit and watch the piece, without the confrontation that comes from closer proximity. The Raven, its content and its gothic style are indeed, for a select audience. It’s not a commercial enterprise; it was never going to be and sure, it need never be.

The most important and exciting thing about this show is that it would not have happened if it were not for Metro Arts and their Independents program. This producer and director, supported by Liz Burcham and her team at Metro Arts, are willing, after ten years of the program, to take the “bigger, braver risks”, which have been so much the topic of local conversation lately. In a pretty conservative mainstream landscape, Metro Arts provides the only independent voice who is ceaselessly shouting out loud and, with fire in their bellies and a mischievous gleam in their eyes, standing proudly behind a dedicated policy that supports the ongoing development of bold, brave, interesting and amazing IDEAS.