Posts Tagged ‘theatre republic

20
Sep
18

Mother’s Ruin

 

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin

MILKE & The Ginstress

La Boite, QUT & Brisbane Festival

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

September 18 – 22 2018

 

Reviewed by Nicole Reilly

 

For one week only, as part of Brisbane Festive 2018, La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre has been transformed into a boozy, magical gin joint. The cheekily self-proclaimed ‘threesome’, Maeve Marsden, Libby Wood and Jeremy Brennan, take their audience on a hilariously whirlwind, hazy and musical journey through the history of ‘mother’s ruin’, AKA gin.

 

The show begins with Maeve and Libby performing a Prayer to Gin, with Jeremy accompanying on piano, amidst the clutter of gin bottles of every shape and size strewn across the set. Don’t let the amount of empty bottles surprise you, the trio manage to pull gin bottles from anywhere and everywhere, with several hiding in the cleavages of Maeve and Libby to be retrieved mid-song.

 

Though the history of gin, and its reputation as a depressive tipple, is quite a downer, mostly due to the mistreatment of women throughout history, the expertise of these rising cabaret stars is in their ability to not take their narrative or themselves too seriously. As they race us through 18th century London, Libby confesses that it’s probably best for everyone if she just doesn’t attempt the accent, while Jeremy later remarks that he desperately wanted to do an accent because he’s “from NIDA!”. The songs and on-stage antics are equal parts cheeky, sexy and grotesque – with a memorable rendition of Fever by Libby ending in her dying of malaria after suffering from a range of delightfully disgusting symptoms on-stage – always with gin in hand. 

 

 

Both Maeve and Libby are incredibly dynamic performers, and unashamedly themselves (albeit heightened for stage), as they banter with the audience. They exude sexy, and their voices, together and individually, are mesmerising. Towards the end of the show, Maeve takes the microphone at the front of the stage and the other two disappear into a fiercely blue lit stage. I cannot even recall the song, it’s irrelevant, but Maeve’s ability to hold an audience, to captivate us with her authenticity and vulnerability was utterly engrossing. The audience was completely immersed in her world, which is a credit to her formidable skills as a performer.    

 

 

The passion and enthusiasm for their drink of choice, including the inclusion of a certified gin expert to their creative team, is infectious – if the gin bar of the Theatre Republic post-show is anything to go by! And so finally, after critically acclaimed sold out seasons at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, London Underbelly Festival, Sydney Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Fringe World Festival Perth, Adelaide Fringe and Festival of Voices, Mother’s Ruin has landed in Brisbane!

 

With a gin in hand, don’t miss this wonderfully silly and informative cabaret.

15
Sep
18

YUMMY

 

YUMMY

Yummy Productions

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

September 12 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Anthony Borsato

 

 

I was pleasantly surprised to see a drag cabaret take pride of place in Theatre Republic this year. I was even happier when I got to go along to this absolutely fabulous night out. After seasons in fringes around the world, YUMMY brought its campy humour and sequins to La Boite’s stage this week – Act 1 of Brisbane Festival – what a week! 

 

Featuring seven amazing performers – Karen from Finance, Benjamin Hancock, Valerie Hex (Producer, Director and BRIEFS performer, James Welsby), JandruzeZelia Rose (recently seen with Dita von Teese), Hannie Helsden and Joni in the Moon – YUMMY is a night of drag, circus, cabaret, burlesque and comedy. Each performer clearly has their own style and personality that is allowed to shine throughout the entire show. What is unique to this drag show is that YUMMY features both male and female performers, showing us more than just the traditional gay-man fuelled drag culture. I would love to have seen drag kings in the performance as well – but the night felt like a celebration of the ‘yummy’ nature of the camp and the feminine.

 

 

 

Was it the most cutting edge drag? No. Was it the best cabaret or circus? No. But it doesn’t need to be because it’s a fun night. Drag is, by its very nature, a political act – tearing down the walls of traditional gender roles and performativity but there is no doubt that the night is all about entertainment. The key to any drag show is that throw yourself into the nature of the night and if you do that you will have a truly fun time. This cast knows how to work a crowd and get the audience eating out of their hands. The audience was ingratiated into the scene by our MC for the night, a queen with one of the funniest names in the business; Karen from Finance. Karen told us at the very beginning to clap, cheer, scream, stamp the floor for everything we love – and then each act encouraged that. It is the oldest and most effective technique in the book – get the audience hooting and cheering for what they like, and the adrenaline and endorphins carry them through the rest of the great performance. It keeps you in the mood.

 

YUMMY pulls in the audience expertly; so much so that the show seems to be over before you know it and you are left wanting more. The cast isn’t afraid to look silly and don’t take themselves too seriously.

 

YUMMY offers no journey or transformation for audiences; it is pure entertainment. And sometimes, that’s refreshing in such a dark, bleak evil world.

 

 

With so many unique acts it’s hard to pick a favourite. Stand outs include a mash-up of Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money and ABBA’s Money, Money, Money by Karen From Finances, Benjamin Hancock’s lipsync with a smart-phone muzzle, and maybe one of the best acts I’ve ever seen; Valerie Hex tap dancing to heavy metal/screamo music.

 

The demographic of YUMMY’s audience is unlike any I have ever seen at a drag show. They are likely drawn in by the Brisbane Festival and La Boite marketing, but what is great about YUMMY is that it works as an entry level performance into the drag world for those who know little about it. It has the traditional camp comedic elements that many would recognise as drag, an introduction to more experimental drag performance art, and burlesque/cabaret acts, which mainstream theatre audiences would be used to experiencing. It also provides more context to audiences whose only knowledge of drag comes from Rupaul’s Drag Race. Audiences enjoy the energy and the spectacle of YUMMY, from costumes to rival Lady Gaga’s, to acts that are well thought out and fun to watch.

 

YUMMY leaves the Theatre Republic tonight. If you get a chance to get along, sit back, have a couple cocktails, and throw yourself into the fun of the night. Switch off and be entertained.

 

 

 

13
Sep
18

FAG/STAG & BALI

 

FAG/STAG & BALI

The Last Great Hunt

Theatre Republic La Boite Studio

September 11 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Anthony Borsato

 

 

It is not very often that we get to revisit the same characters again in theatrical work, but that’s what you get in this double bill from Perth’s The Last Great Hunt. It is also not often that shows in which actors predominately sit and monologue at the audience hold my attention for long. But that was not the case with FAG/STAG and BALI written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs. These are pieces that show you don’t need much to make good theatre, or tell good stories.

 

Staged in La Boite’s small studio, these performances use basic chair and table settings, simple lights, and well timed and chosen sound, and hold the attention of the entire audience.

 

 

Both pieces follow best friends, Jimmy, a gay man, and Corrigan, a hetero man. Jimmy (Jeffrey Jay Fowler) and Corrigan (Chris Isaacs) tell the same stories from their own points of view. Both unreliable narrators of their own stories – both representing themselves as their best selves. We often see unreliable narration in one-man or narrated theatrical pieces but both FAG/STAG and BALI plays exceptionally with this trope and it is only through others’ retelling that we learn some of the hard truths, omitted by the friend. They try, like all of us, to hide their flaws only to be called out by their best mate. This is a source of great humour and poignant reveals as this fast-paced narrative unfolds from both perspectives.

 

 

FAG/STAG follows the duo in the time leading up to the wedding of ex-girlfriend Tamara. Jimmy has just broken up with his boyfriend and Corrigan is still clearly still in love with Tamara. It is slice of life realism – no convoluted plot, just the ups and downs of life. The audience is taken through a trying time in both of their lives and in their friendship. There is conflict and drama like in all good theatre but even a big fallout between the boys, after Corrigan calls Jimmy a ‘faggot’, feels natural and not forced or overplayed. But the narrative throughout is entrancing. It feels like you are being told a story by a mate – all we needed was a beer in our hands and you could almost forget you were seeing theatre.

 

The script is fast paced, witty, and at times poignant. The loneliness the two feel resonates with the audience. Both Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs are superb in these roles, sitting wholly in their emotions and allowing them to play out.

 

 

As a queer artist myself, it was refreshing and heart-warming to see a piece that I could identify with so strongly. Jokes that were relatable to my experiences, heartbreak that hit close to home, and a friendship that I feel is often overlooked. Gay men and hetero men can be friends – GASP! Shocking but true. It is often that gay men are shown as the best friend, exclusively of women or other gay men. It is uplifting to see this close friendship in all its glory – struggles and all. Even as best friends Corrigan is still uncomfortable with some aspects of Jimmy’s homosexuality. Especially when Jimmy is hanging out with his ‘the boys’ and the judgement Corrigan has for Jimmy’s sexual encounters. It shows a true struggle that many gay men face with friendships with heterosexual men – that even though it is usually subconsciously, there is a judgement or a perceived judgment by the heterosexual man, and that they think less of us.

 

The subtleties and nuances of this friendship as a vessel to explore toxic masculinity and homophobia had me thinking for a quite a while after the shows. Where Jimmy is able to explore his emotions more vocally and open up to the audience in both shows; Corrigan doesn’t. Corrigan describes his surroundings and you feel his emotions through Chris Isaacs’ performance, but the character keeps a tight lid and doesn’t name his feelings. Even though it may not register with all audience members, I loved this nod to the status quo of men and their emotional intelligence, especially amongst heterosexual men. Jimmy as a gay man has more ‘permission’ to express his emotions, where Corrigan doesn’t, because it threatens masculinity.

 

 

Even though BALI didn’t live up to the stellar script, performance, and impact of the first show of the night, FAG/STAG, I still found myself having a great time with the continuation of Jimmy and Corrigan’s story. It felt like I was catching up with friends. I still laughed, listened intently, and recoiled in my seat as the hard-hitting moments resonated with my own experiences. BALI finds the boys travelling, as the title suggests, to Bali for Corrigan’s mum’s 60th birthday. There is a clear strain in the friendship that both want to fix but are stubborn about. Jimmy has a holiday romance with a younger man and Corrigan struggles with communication with his girlfriend back in Australia. The humour, like in FAG/STAG, was found through contrast in situation, mood, language, and pace.

 

BALI is a great performance as a part of a double bill however as a standalone show it lacks. I don’t think I would have enjoyed BALI as much as I did if I hadn’t seen FAG/STAG immediately before. See both.

16
Sep
17

I Just Came To Say Goodbye

 

I Just Came to Say Goodbye

The Good Room

Theatre Republic – The Block

September 13 – 23 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

EVERYTHING IS NOT OKAY.

 

Strangely, forgiveness never arises from the part of us that was actually wounded. The wounded self may be the part of us incapable of forgetting, and perhaps, not actually meant to forget, as if, like the foundational dynamics of the physiological immune system our psychological defences must remember and organize against any future attacks — after all, the identity of the one who must forgive is actually founded on the very fact of having been wounded.

 

Stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt…

 

David Whyte

 

In 2002 a DHL cargo plane and a Russian passenger jet collided in Swiss-controlled airspace over southern Germany, killing 68 Russian school students, two pilots and Mr Vitaly Kaloyev’s wife and two children. This story is told plainly and simply, chillingly, in tiny pieces, using surprisingly little text. Intricately interwoven along the way are numbered anonymous apologies and offers of forgiveness (or refusals to forgive or to be forgiven) selected from hundreds of online contributions to The Good Room’s website for their newly devised show, I Just Came to Say Goodbye. All the elements come together perfectly, which is no surprise to those who know The Good Room’s previous productions. We know the formula works; we adored I Want to Know What Love Is, which premiered during Brisbane Festival 2014 and enjoyed a return season at Brisbane Powerhouse in 2015, and I Should Have Drunk More Champagne at Metro Arts in 2013.

 

The Good Room has never let the vampires get in the way of making an original show.

 

Directed by Daniel Evans and co-created with Amy Ingram, Caroline Dunphy, Lauren Clelland and Kieran Swann, this is the work that’s consistently disrupting Queensland’s arts’ ecology, demanding more from artists and audiences, and offering a richer, more complex, lingering and affecting theatrical experience.

 

I would like to have the time to sit in on the company’s creative process and tell you more about it because not enough theatre is being dreamed onto our stages in this way, and not enough of our theatre makers believe they can do likewise. This is largely because our training and our theatrical tradition is still so text-based. (We could argue that The Good Room’s trilogy of shows is text-based, but that would be over-simplifying the work and under-valuing the creative process).

 

 

The company’s next work (I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You) will involve young people in its creative development and performance. For some, it may be their first foray into devising from scratch. (Can we note, it’s simply not soon enough to be exploring the work of companies such as Gob Squad, Frantic Assembly and Complicite at a Masters level!). I hope The Good Room’s process becomes a preferred model of devising theatre with students especially, so we might see the process included in the curriculum for Years 10 – 12. Sure, something like it, within “physical theatre” vaguely happens now, depending on the awesomeness of the teachers involved and the cooperation of admin, however; even with an abundance of new work, we’re still seeing chasms in this country between theatre, physical theatre and dance. (Within an intelligently programmed arts festival the gap is less apparent).

 

The truth is, rarely can a response make something better — what makes something better is connection.

– Brené Brown

 

Despite closing with a burst of silver glitter and opening with an eighties’ daggy dance team dressed in Brisbane Festival hot pink (choreographed by Nerida Matthaei, hysterical!), I Just Came to Say Goodbye is necessarily dark. It delves into a place we don’t like to go, exploring the vulnerability that lies at the heart of our anger and our resistance to forgiveness. Can we ever really forgive another? Can we ever forget the things another has said or done to make us feel such anger/betrayal/bitterness in the first place? What happens when we choose not to forgive? In the case of Mr Kaloyev and – spoiler alert – the family and friends of his victim, there’s no happy ending.

 

 

To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt.

 

The inability to forgive seems more often than not to lead to violence, a person lashing out against another, staged literally by The Good Room in an impressive extended fight sequence. Choreographed by Justin Palazzo-Orr it must be the longest continuous fight sequence we’ve seen on a Brisbane stage. It’s violent and tender and funny and tragic. Caroline Dunphy’s movement is always captivating but this performance is next level neo-butoh. She’s a wicked nymph, leaping and climbing and crawling all over Thomas Larkin (who has his own stunning image making moments at the beginning of the show), and hanging from him to create a disturbing, broken picture, to be read as a moment of grief, or the resolve of a ghost, or simply, and complicatedly, a reference to some degree of Stockholm Syndrome in the relationship. (Are there degrees of Stockholm Syndrome?). Or it’s something else entirely, depending, I suppose, on what sort of day/week/month/year/life you’ve had. The intimate moment that precedes this suffering though, is unmistakably a representation of the couple’s abject despair, beautifully, tenderly realised. This sort of intimate connection between performers takes time to develop and direct, and skill to replicate, or discover again, each and every night of the season. It’s so desperately sad. Meanwhile, Amy Ingram is a wildcat, and Michael Tuahine is both fierce and funny in attacking and being attacked. Satisfyingly, everyone ends up fighting everyone; it’s horrifying and highly entertaining. There’s certainly a little schadenfreude at work here.

 

 

Anger truly felt at its center is the essential living flame of being fully alive and fully here; it is a quality to be followed to its source, to be prized, to be tended, and an invitation to finding a way to bring that source fully into the world through making the mind clearer and more generous, the heart more compassionate and the body larger and strong enough to hold it. What we call anger on the surface only serves to define its true underlying quality by being a complete but absolute mirror-opposite of its true internal essence.

– David Whyte

 

Jason Glenwright’s apocalyptic lighting comprises search lights and pin spots and a whole lot of blackness. At times, through the haze, we barely see faces but the voices and the silences between the words convey anything we think we might have missed with our eyes. And played in traverse with the audience seated on two opposite sides, we may well miss something from time to time. Just as in life, this is okay; we see what we want to see precisely the way we want to see it. At the other end of the technical spectrum and across the Theatre Republic at La Boite are the bright lights of Laser Beak Man, also designed by Glenwright. The guy is versatile to say the least! Underscored by Dane Alexander, I Just Came to Say Goodbye wouldn’t work nearly as well without its lights to pierce the darkness and a soundscape to scrape our souls (it’s absolutely terrifying, jarring; try not to be affected).

 

FORGIVENESS is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, it not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source. To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to reimagine our relation to it.

– David Whyte

 

I Just Came to Say Goodbye is a stunning result from what would seem a simple process on paper, but actually, in anyone else’s hands could be a colossal disaster. What Daniel Evans and Amy Ingram appear to do is to throw everything onto the floor – a vast collection of ideas and feelings and responses to real events and crowdsourced verbatim material – pour fuel over it, and set it on fire to create a spectacular event and food for thought, for a life outside the theatre that demands our burning presence.

 

21
Sep
15

The Theory of Everything

 

Brisbane_Festival_Generic_2015

 

The Theory of Everything

Brisbane Festival & Nuala Furtado

La Boite Studio

September 15 – 19 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Ants have had a bad wrap in this show.

 

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I’ve been listening to Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators, a fascinating account of some of the greatest minds of our pre-digital age. This has everything and nothing to do with the show I saw on Friday night.

 

It is destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens. What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

 

I raced down to Brisbane Festival’s Theatre Republic on Friday evening to see the sold-out The Theory of Everything instead of staying at school to see a student’s debut cabaret production that night. I was seeing The Theory of Everything instead of sending another writer to review it because the show’s creators wanted to be considered for Matilda Award selection. Originally, I’d planned to see it on the Wednesday night but it clashed with another consideration, ACPA’s SOUL cabaret at The Coffee Club in West End. (To clarify, student productions are ineligible for the Matilda Awards but we are looking at entertainment options for the Awards evening in March). So I went and enjoyed some great company and a relaxed evening of soul music, a mixed bag of performances, directed by their groovy tutor and Music HOD, Nathaniel Andrew, and ended up at The Theory of Everything on Friday night.

 

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Thomas Quirk’s The Theory of Everything sold out before it opened and on the strength of the artists involved, and due to its inclusion in the Brisbane Festival program, I had high expectations. Others may not be quite as disappointed but I feel this production misses the mark. I also feel really, really old in saying so because younger people will likely love this show and say I’m on crack. I know the artists involved love this show because it comes through without exception in their delightful, vibrant performances and that, at least, is something. This collective represents the next wave of talented and hardworking performing artists in Brisbane. They’re honest and bold and brilliantly ambitious, but despite their individual and collective readiness to bring us something new and amazing, the show falls well below expectations.

 

It’s enjoyed a development phase already and this season is perhaps necessarily its second. At worst, it’s prime material for a culminating event at a senior drama workshop and at best, an interesting theatrical experiment. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, it just isn’t mind blowing.

 

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Staged in the intimate surrounds of La Boite’s rehearsal studio within the partial timber framework of an unknown structure, the performers mill around as the audience enters, stretching, preparing, and shredding what appears to be the pages of the script…

 

We’re actors. Standing in a line.

 

Actors standing in a line in an array of Mix Apparel style pastels (Yvette Turnbull). Um… Anyway, in a Horrible Histories/Epic Rap Battles of History segment, we hear from famous historical figures including Aristotle, Einstein, Freud, Warhol and Hitler about their theories on life and the universe. In what I thought was sure to be a segment inspired by the opening number in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, we get a painstaking re-telling of Cain and Abel, which would be unbearable if it were not for the comical request from one of the actors to stop, clarify, and repeat the entire scene from the start! N.B. no singing happens during this segment. This reminded me of the absurd nature of Sunday school tasks, having to learn the books of the Bible in the correct order. There were stickers and bookmarks and other prizes up for grabs. I don’t remember winning them or not.

 

 

Can we just go back? Back to the beginning?!

 

The most memorable moments of the show come from Katy Cotter, during an eloquently penned and delivered monologue contemplating language (this is one of the more accomplished of the written pieces), and later, a light-hearted and yet deeply soulful dialogue with Chris Farrell, sitting on the floor in near darkness discussing the speed of light and eternal happiness. These moments carry more weight than the earlier extrapolation on any theory in particular, and are genuinely affecting.

 

The use of sound (Wil Hughes) and light particularly (Daniel Anderson) is simple and effective. Anderson’s design uses caged light bulbs manipulated by the actors, and headlamps worn by the actors in an otherwise dark space. Outer space has never been so simply created, with the employment of slow motion lifts and a well choreographed sequence of headlamps flicking on and off to shift focus. Again, an interruption, and the consideration and verbalisation of the theatrical devices in use – the meta-chat – incorporated to make us feel…something.

 

The Theory of Everything certainly works on some levels and it’s an excellent example of a near pitch-perfect ensemble but it was probably a mistake to make sure Matilda Award judges got to this version of it. It’s so important that we support new, experimental theatre, but it’s not essential that we award it or rave about it. When the raves come unwarranted it can do more harm than good. The Theory of Everything will have divided audiences and there’s nothing wrong with that. For me, it was an appropriate end to a week of student theatre, which included yr10 theatresports, yr12 absurdist assessment and SOUL. There’s another week of Brisbane Festival events to come but I presume my experience this year has finished with Quirk’s undercooked production.

 

theory_pawpaw

 

There is always such a fuss over Brisbane Festival tickets. The venues, companies and individual presenters all year round are very accommodating; everyone appreciates a timely and thoughtful review. But the Brisbane performing arts scene becomes a vastly different landscape each September when one publicity agency holds all the cards and deals them indiscriminately.

 

I don’t begrudge the interstate writers being accommodated – of course their voices are a vital part of the broader landscape and a bigger conversation, hopefully attracting further interest in the program and greater numbers of attendees from outside Queensland. But for the past three years, despite a number of shows professing to be “sold out”, we’ve seen many empty seats in venues rather than reviewers or Matilda Award judges filling those seats. It’s astounding. Considering the amazing publicity the same company does to promote the festival there should at least be some truth to their “sold out” claims. It just doesn’t make sense to have empty seats.

 

The Theory of Everything genuinely, actually SOLD OUT. If it comes around again, better book early and let me know what you think.

 

13
Sep
15

Prize Fighter

 

Brisbane_Festival_Generic_2015

 

Prize Fighter

Brisbane Festival & La Boite

Roundhouse Theatre

September 5 – 26 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

These are the shows we don’t get to see… We don’t get to see these shows on the Australian stage.

Future. D. Fidel

 

These are the stories that are with us and amongst us.

Todd Macdonald

 

 

September sees Brisbane immersed in the most incredible, inspiring and life-affirming stories, with a Brisbane Festival prelude brought to us by Brisbane Writers Festival, which I’ve enjoyed for the last three years, thanks to Cinnamon Watson Publicity (#tweetingit #xsneverstops). One of the highlights of this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival was hearing Somalian refugee, Abdi Aden, speak about his incredible journey from Mogadishu to Kenya and back to Mogadishu before escaping the horrors of his home country and travelling to Australia via Romania and Germany without family, friends, money or any knowledge of the English language. Abdi not only survived, he thrived. You can read his inspiring story in Shining The Story of a Lucky Man. Like Abdi, La Boite’s Artist-in-Residence, Future D. Fidel, has come from the most frightening of circumstances to settle in Australia and succeed in creating a new life in a safe haven.

 

His story is one of resilience, endurance, ambition and humble gratitude.

 

When you come into the theater, you have to be willing to say, “We’re all here to undergo a communion, to find out what is going on in this world.” If you’re not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.

 
― David Mamet Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama

 

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Prize Fighter is powerful beyond measure, affecting each of us differently and challenging us to consider the stories that are the newest strands of the cultural weave of our community. This is a “mythical” story tense with the knowingness of the past, and the anticipation of what might happen in the future. It’s not a call to action or a cry for sympathy, but more a long, low sigh of personal pain and regret. It’s heavily weighted with themes of ambition, redemption and forgiveness but it’s not all miserable. It’s about recognising our starting and finishing points and doing the best we can in between. It’s about the choices we make and the paths our choices put us on.

 

On opening night the show starts late, a little later than usual in fact (you can usually count on a 6-8 minute delay getting into the Roundhouse), but bearing in mind we’ve enjoyed drinks and canapés for the last hour in Brisbane Festival’s funky Theatre Republic precinct, everyone is relaxed and chatty on their way in. The beautiful up-cycled space (designed by Sarah Winter) has proven difficult to leave – the vibe is fresh and fun with plenty of food and drink and friends, and live music and inspiring conversations. There are other shows opening nearby tonight too because BRISBANE FESTIVAL.

 

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The action has already started as we file in to take our seats, and for fifteen minutes we sit in awe of the intense focus and physical activity at our feet. It’s actually mesmerising. In the front row of the Roundhouse, ringside, we see the first drops of sweat start to catch the light on well-toned black backs as the company warms up with an informal circuit session supervised by trainers from Brisbane Boxing. These guys have been an integral part of the rehearsal process but when they suddenly disappear we know the show is about to start.

 

A talented young boxer, Isa, is preparing for the biggest fight of his career. On the line is the national title and the promise of fame and riches beyond his wildest dreams. What unfolds is a modern-day fable of a Congolese boy orphaned by war and forced to become a child soldier by the very people who killed his family. His powerful left hook offers a new life in Australia, but his greatest obstacle is not his opponent – it’s his past.

 

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Prize Fighter is loud and bold, with video projected onto a seamless in–the-round canvas surrounding the raised boxing ring (design by Bill Haycock & video design by optikal bloc. Sound design & original compositions by Felix Cross and lighting design by David Walters). We strain to see the images from where we are but they must be at eye level for the upper rows of the Roundhouse. From the very top rows the experience might be akin to watching ancient gladiatorial combat, the original popular art/entertainment. Movement & Fight Director, Nigel Poulton, has had his work cut out for him on this production and he doesn’t disappoint. Even without being a fan of boxing the fight sequences are exhilarating.

 

The final match features a live HD camera feed, as well as a logo and a hashtag. Throughout the show bright white light exposes the desire to win and the dedication to training, and a much darker state employing a red wash takes us back to Africa, when our prize fighter is just ten years old, learning to kill or be killed.

 

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The development of the text has enjoyed support from Dramaturg, Chris Kohn, as well as other stakeholders including Michael Futcher. The structure of the work allows us to gain insight into both time frames, with the fights stopping to allow flashbacks utilising the same versatile actors in multiple roles. The technical precision from the box allowing this magic to happen is impressive and without it (and Stage Manager, Heather O’Keefe) I doubt the show, in terms of its storytelling, would work as well.

 

But the joy and pathos of this production is ultimately in its beautifully gauged performances (the acting is strong – it’s real, raw and honest), tenderly crafted by Director, Todd Macdonald. We know Pacharo Mzembe from The Mountaintop (also directed by Macdonald), and it’s a pleasure to see him in this role, literally flexing his muscles to play a prize fighter who doesn’t necessarily feel the need to be a champion, unlike his coach, Luke. Margi Brown Ash glows with motherly/trainerly pride (there’s nothing typically male about her apart from the name), and she grimaces for only half a moment, before compassion takes over, when overwhelming fear, guilt and the grisly past gets in between her own ambition and Isa’s success in the ring.

 

The tough love is real and the moments of understanding between them, the nuances of the relationship, are a joy to witness.

 

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The ensemble is a good lesson in casting with Gideon Mzembe (yes, the just-as-gorgeous and super talented brother of Pacharo), Thuso Lekwape (a standout with that rare star quality; there is such intensity and brilliant energy in his performance), and the beautiful, soulful Sophia Emberson-Bain (she sings superbly too and presents on a silver platter some of the sweetest and cheekiest comical moments of the show). They contribute enormously to the storytelling, switching between roles at a rate of knots and taking care to show us sufficient contrast between characters. Kenneth Ransom shines as an old “Aunty” particularly, offering a perfectly timed and nicely shaped momentary breath of comedy where it’s needed to break up tragic events. There are times when the actors’ words are not as clear as they should be, but the voices are so beautiful I have to forgive them their accents (talk about authentic), and stick to absorbing the story, its melody, and the impact of what, by the end of it, is left unsaid.

 

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In Prize Fighter, we experience one man’s personal struggles and the horror of a war affecting so many, but one which we continue to hear little about. It’s a terribly tragic and shocking story, to which most of us can’t possibly relate, but that’s why it’s vital. Prize Fighter is full of heart. It’s a story that can be appreciated for its authenticity and contemporary relevance. It might even help us to welcome other prize fighters into our communities rather than shrug our shoulders and be content to do nothing at all when they have nowhere else to go. We’re not yet so desensitised that we can walk away and forget about this one. And that makes it not just interesting festival programming or great entertainment, but life-affecting art.

 

…in a very real way this story is now our own.

David Berthold

 

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And there are plays – and books and songs and poems and dances – that are perhaps upsetting or intricate or unusual, that leave you unsure, but which you think about perhaps the next day, and perhaps for a week, and perhaps for the rest of your life.

 

Because they aren’t clean, they aren’t neat, but there’s something in them that comes from the heart, and, so, goes to the heart.

 

― David Mamet Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama

 

 

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Production pics by Dylan Evans Photography