Posts Tagged ‘tim hill

05
Sep
18

Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening

Underground Broadway

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

August 23 – September 8 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

A Children’s Tragedy…

 

What serves each of us best is what serves all of us…

 

Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Spring Awakening, based on the controversial drama by Frank Wedekind, written in 1891 though not staged until 1906 (and not performed in English until 1917 in New York City, when it was deemed pornographic and closed after just one show), successfully opened on Broadway in 2006.

 

Directed by Michael Mayer and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, the acclaimed original production went on to win eight Tony Awards including Best Original Score and Best Musical, and launched the careers of Lea Michelle and Jonathan Groff as Wendla and Melchior, doomed teens drawn to each other in a world where parents, ministers and teachers smother that next generation in silence and shame. With its themes of puberty, fantasy, masturbation, depression, death, grief, sex, suicide, abuse, forced teen abortion, control and censorship (ironically, the 2006 Tony Award performance was heavily censored!), it’s no wonder schools opt to stay away from this dark show. Originally much darker, since the NYC workshops preceding the Broadway opening, there’s no longer a rape implied at the end of Act 1. Instead, this issue, as prevalent as ever, is addressed by Ilsa (Ruby Clark, lovely in this role, proving her versatility after a couple of turns at Maureen in RENT and Rizzo in Grease: The Arena Experience), and Martha (Jordan Malone, back after Understudy Productions’ BARE and next, joining the professional touring cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) in The Dark I Know Well.

 

 

Tim Hill’s Spring Awakening opens innocently, quietly and gently leading us into the sneaky little showstopper, a highlight of this production, Mama Who Bore Me, featuring the entire fierce female contingent of this stellar cast from Underground Broadway, coming together in solidarity to stomp and sing and state their place, i.e. their confusion and frustration as young women in the world without the knowledge they need to stay safe and strong. Ruby Clark, Jordan Malone, Jacqui McLaren, Monique Dawes and Maddison McDonald are uniformly excellent in this powerful and inspiring anti-anthem of the sisterhood. We get the sense that nothing can stop them but…

 

BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH

 

Jacqui Mclaren (Wendla) elicits shivers in her first simple moments on the small Sue Benner stage, sitting as still as a porcelain doll, seemingly just as fragile, but not, building up the courage to ask Mama to let her in on the secrets of life, and later discovering the ecstasy and horror for herself. In McLaren’s take on Wendla we see the embodiment of the maiden archetype and sadly – spoiler – she never has the chance to fully embrace that energy, or to get a look in on the mother or crone. 

 

Not condoning or encouraging any more boot Broadway footage online ever, of course, but watch Deaf West’s opening minutes here to experience additional layers to this and every other scene. Seriously. Deaf West will change your musical theatre life.

 

 

No more spoilers, but Mclaren is missing a final scream of terror as she’s taken away; this omission is likely the director’s call. There are other missteps, including a slap across the face that fails to make us squirm, the birch branch caning that  fails to make us gasp, and a gunshot represented by a snap to black, without the sound effect…a-hem. Chekhov, anyone? Even with Wes Bluff’s lights, Ben Murray’s sound and choreography by Deanna Castellana, sans these disturbing images, some of the pivotal moments, landing like stones in the pit of our stomachs, this production lacks a little intensity. I came away with a similar feeling after Hill’s RENT. Is it just me? Is it just a matter now though, of trusting the actors to delve deeper, push further, play around a little more, take a little more time in the process to discover the full extent of the breath, and the actual natural responses and timing for the stage? This does take time, a careful eye and brave hearts – guts – all round. Despite its slightly lighter, nicer treatment (others will certainly consider it a shocking show, sure, of course), Spring Awakening is undoubtedly Hill’s most astute direction to date, with Act 1 offering the most attention to detail. Having said that, the reprise of The Word of Your Body and the fraught scene embedded within Whispering are both beautifully precise. Dominic Woodhead’s musical direction perfectly supports both the upbeat and more measured, melancholy pieces.

 

Elise Grieg affirms her place towards the top of the Brisbane tree, playing every female adult (as Melchior’s mother, refreshingly real), and as every male adult, James Shaw demonstrates again that he can play the pious, the ridiculous and the serious with aplomb. Their elderly scholarly characters are deliberately larger than life, terrifying and amusing in that sickening what-are-you-gonna’-do-about-it way. I don’t love them; it could be considered another missed opportunity to highlight the subtle horror of the reality these kids are in, no need for caricatures but instead, an undercurrent…

 

Meanwhile, poor Moritz.

 

 

Oliver Lacey is a properly despairing and angst-ridden Moritz in the best British punk rock way (at the root of anger and sadness there is fear), Michael Nunn a beautiful, sensitive Ernst and Tim Carroll a delightfully wicked and seductive, street smart Hanschen. Harrison Aston, fresh from 8 months of touring life with Brainstorm Productions, has a distinctly Credence look and manner about him, as he navigates his way through the mire of adult expectations. Not a single member of this company goes as far as they can go, but this slightly sanitised staging is typical of what we’ve been seeing for a little while again, in fact, since Oscar Production Co was Oscar Theatre Co, and presented both Spring Awakening and Next to Normal in the most nonchalant and quietly confident way, challenging performers and patrons to take a good, hard look at themselves – ourselves – by taking those stories into a place of extreme discomfort. If you were there, you know. If not, if you’re a snapchatcat/millenial, perhaps this Spring Awakening is the most disturbing, and darkly exciting and challenging thing you’ve seen in a theatre. And that’s fine. 

 

 

Claire McFadyen’s beautifully realised Tim Burton-esque silently screaming lightbulb tree also points to the desire of this company to really provoke, and like the maiden / crone optical illusion, we can only see what we see in it, in the same way we each have our unique experience of every live show. So I want to be clear that it’s not a case of the talent not being evident, but of the impact of the storytelling falling short of expectations.

 

I feel like we’ve seen the prelude now; this year has been just the beginning for this company, and for these performers, who are able and probably willing, to go deeper and darker yet. Whether Tim Hill is prepared to take them there, or go there himself remains to be seen. There’s no denying that Underground Broadway has been blurring the lines between amateur and professional performance with regular industry nights since 2016 featuring professional performing artists and local emerging stars, making this company well worth following.

 

We’re certainly ready for what’s next.

 

 

09
Jun
18

Wheel of Fortune

 

Wheel of Fortune

Metro Arts & Tam Presents

Metro Arts Lumen Room

June 1 – 9 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

LOCAL, NAUGHTY AND FUN.

Tim Hill, Director

 

Highly anticipated, Troy Armstrong’s Wheel of Fortune, directed by Tim Hill, promises the real and scandalous, weirdly erotic, ugly, obscene, beautiful, strange and sometimes disturbingly lustful adventures of several individuals during the heat and humidity of a Brisbane summer, and at times it delivers. It could be heralded as the new La Ronde if it had that seminal play’s wit, eroticism and intrigue. This production, and all of its potential, will have been embraced by those who support our local talent without question and by those who know little of the original text. Penned in 1897 by Arthur Schnitzler, it was immediately banned due to its controversial content, addressing the spread of venereal disease through all levels of society at a time when those in positions of privilege and power believed themselves to be above infection, responsibility and reproach. The stories are updated and localised, and despite feeling a little outdated at times, at the core is the connection between characters; think one degree of separation and the mysteries of the multiverses.

 

 

 

Wheel of Fortune’s form is beautifully supported by its cinematic component, placing the intertwining tales squarely in Brisbane. Optic Archive’s AV contribution here is integral; we see locations and characters on screen before any live action takes place below it. The transitions are well rehearsed with timing almost perfect. The show must have been a nightmare to tech! Interestingly, the preferred option to address the more delicate aspects of the script appears to be a big-screen, super-soft-porn approach, with the steamiest action taking place above the stage. A post-crossfit shower scene is actually about as steamy as it gets, but perhaps there is more in other scenes for some, and it’s likely that the actors have embraced racier moments with more gusto as the season continued. In spite of Richard Jordan’s involvement – I’ve really loved his writing in the past – it all feels a little overwritten and obvious (the other writers are Jacki Mison & Krystal Sweedman). Most scenes lack nuance, pointing to each hot topic and then pointing again in case we missed it. There’s a distinct lack of electricity in the air, and very little bare flesh, even when a scene begs for it. No, I don’t want to see gratuitous nudity for the sake of it (we’ve had to address that before, haven’t we?), but I won’t object to the beauty and sensuality of bodies on stage should the material and a sensitive director, respectful lighting, and the acting chops of the cast support its inclusion for good reason. 

 

 

So. Schnitzler’s soldier is made a marine (we can tell, because Richard Lund wears blue jeans, white shirt and dog tags, and speaks with what he claims/explains is a Tennessee accent), the prostitute becomes public servant (Meg Bowden), the parlour maid an au pair (Jacqui McClaren), and the young gentleman a schoolboy (Brendan Lorenzo). His biology teacher is the original young wife (Jacqui Story), and her husband the lawyer (Ron Kelly). His mistress, Schnitzler’s Little Miss, is referred to as the socialite: AKA Social Media Influencer/Collaborator (Ruby Clark). Clark is cute and funny as she casually climaxes at the dinner table and just as casually seduces another woman in the following scene, but like Story, the new wife, in both the gym and at home, she’s dressed in the most unflattering and ordinary sexy lingerie we’ve seen on stage in a long time. Having weaned our Sunshine Coast and Brisbane audiences off modest attire for the stage a decade ago (thank you, Honey Birdette), I wasn’t the only one on opening night wishing we could go away claiming to have been a little more voyeur than viewer, however; of course there were others who were completely happy with every aspect of the production, including the everyday briefs and bras on display. And yes, of course there are times when the most ordinary can be made extraordinary and no, this was not one of those times.

 

 

 

In the most naturalistic and welcome performances of the night, the poet is made portrait photographer (Elise Grieg) and the actress stays an actress (Veronica Neave), to be caught out by the end with the count cum politician (Stephen Hirst). Grieg and Neave demonstrate with ease exactly the style and sensibilities we wish could be so natural for every other performer on the intimate Lumen Room stage.

 

 

 

 

My experience of this production can be considered fairly biased but unfortunately for those involved, it’s not in their favour, because one of our first sold-out shows on the Sunshine Coast was an adaptation of La Ronde, re-staged in a surf shop in Mooloolaba after its Noosa season (long before Anywhere Festival arrived on the scene) and followed by original works, Erotique (Noosa Long Weekend Festival, Sydney Fringe Festival) and Diabolique (Noosa Long Weekend Festival). The beauty of all three productions was that the director didn’t shy away from the really dark, disturbing aspects of human nature, successfully balancing these moments with wry wit, black comedy and unnerving silences, and added Leah Barclay’s incredible original musical compositions to evoke mood, which was necessarily nightmarish or desperately sad at times.

 

 

What I love about Wheel of Fortune is that it’s brought so many of our newer heads and hearts together, without masses of money or the allure of a bigger venue and a broader audience, the very things that can so often see the artistic vision compromised before it’s realised. Here we see accomplished actors and relative newcomers working together in one of the most supportive spaces in the city for new work, and we see the creative team, steered by Armstrong, working collaboratively to offer something new and exciting to a younger demographic, and with a particularly local flavour. The best advice I was ever given in terms of seeing and considering work was to see everything. That way – we hope – a singular opinion has at least a little credibility to it, and the work is supported, whether or not we are all in agreement about its impact.

 

Wheel of Fortune enjoys its final performances at Metro Arts this weekend. You should see it. 

 

Production pics by Deelan Do