Posts Tagged ‘todd macdonald

04
Aug
17

Blackrock

 

Black Rock

La Boite & QUT Creative Industries

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

July 26 – August 12 2017

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter

 

 

Cast your memory back to when you were young(er). Was there a secret you kept for someone? A secret that twisted your insides, and opened your eyes? You saw a person you thought was your best friend in a different light. And you told their secret…

Black Rock is a beachside suburb where Jared (Ryan Hodson) welcomes home his friend Ricko (Karl Stuifzand). Ricko is wild and speaks before he thinks. He’s the guy who walks that fine line of having a laugh, and throwing the first punch. There’s a history between Jared and Ricko. They’re mates, till the end of time, yeah? And the boys have each other’s backs. Toby (Tom Cossettini) is turning 18 and his party turns into a welcome back for Ricko. All the kids from Black Rock are there, and you bet the alcohol is flowing!

Tracey Warner was found dead on the beach that night. She had been raped and her skull bashed in. Toby’s sister (Jessica Potts) found her. Rumours were going around that Tracey was a slut. She asked for it. Three boys were questioned, and one of them was Toby. Who killed Tracey Warner?

20 years have passed since Nick Enright’s Blackrock was produced at La Boite. This show presented by the company and QUT Creative Industries AND directed by AD Todd MacDonald is spectacular. It not only introduces amazing performances by the third year acting students from QUT, but also three incredibly talented and established actors, Joss McWilliam, Christen O’Leary and Amy Ingram.

The revolving set, designed by Anthony Spinaze, looks like a mix between a lifesaver tower, a sun-bleached jetty and coastal lookout, giving the audience an intimate insight into a beachside community. It exposes the actors, though being in the round allowed the audience to capture different moments. A subtle touch, a look of guilt…

The entire cast is captivating and vulnerable, and though I know the play I delighted in watching the action unfold. I had forgotten how powerful this work is and how confronting the themes are. Victims today are still silenced, their stories scrutinised, forgotten in the mess of it all… Todd MacDonald did not steer away from the darkness, showing the cracks in relationships, the violence, but also the tenderness and heartache. You melt into the scenes with O’Leary and Ingram as they show raw human emotion without any frills. You believe them completely. McWilliam moves seamlessly from character to character, leaving you in stitches one minute and your stomach burning with rage (on purpose) the next.

There’s no question that it’s the QUT actors who bring this show to the next level with their adventurous physicality and youthful spontaneity on stage.

Yes, there are moments of melodrama but that’s teenagers, right? To see young people at the beginning of their careers giving it their all makes this show a cracker! Karl Stuifzand is a stand out as Ricko. He is both playful and menacing, leaving you on the edge, unsure of what he’ll do next. I look forward to following this young man’s career; he has something electric.      

After the show, I heard mixed reviews and opinions. Why are we watching this work now? It was written in 1995. Nothing has changed and it’s 2017. The power of theatre is to bring light to important issues and demand change. It’s disgusting how relevant the themes explored in this play still are; such as victim shaming and the “boys will be boys” attitude. Isn’t that the point of revisiting these iconic works, and particularly Australian work? We are making and watching this work to educate young people, to start a conversation with both young and old, to teach them (and ourselves) about the importance of self-worth, respecting others and speaking the truth. 

La Boite and QUT Creative Industries have presented a challenging and exciting production, throwing you straight in the deep end. Go and support the third year acting students as they make a tremendously loud and vibrant debut. 

29
May
16

The Tragedy of King Richard III

 

The Tragedy of King Richard III

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse

May 21 – June 11 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.

– Napoleon Bonaparte

After a questionable start to the 2016 season, La Boite triumphs with The Tragedy of King Richard III – affectionately referred to here as Dick3 – the most intriguing, challenging and satisfying theatrical event of the year so far. An exhumation, a thorough examination by brilliant minds, Queensland Premier Drama Award winners, Marcel Dorney and Daniel Evans, this production not only brings together two of the country’s best writers, but gathers together on stage and off, a truly formidable team of creatives.

Undoubtedly our most fearless director, Evans is able to find compassion in raging fury and irreverent fun in serious ethical and political discourse, creating a new form of theatre; a new style of conversation that challenges and rewards deeply, actors and audiences.

This is the sort of show we expect to see come to us direct from an acclaimed season overseas, and perhaps premiere at Brisbane Festival (September brings Snow Whitethis Shakespeare, and a whole lot more to the table). It’s the sort of show that makes us question everything we thought we knew about theatre and history, and the way we continue to look at the world. It’s a show that turns you inside out, slams you upside down and spits on you, laughing, before reaching out to help you get to your feet again, asking with genuine concern, “Do you want a Milo?”

It’s lucky/exciting/apt for Queensland that our top two companies are starting to make a habit now of giving wings to slightly more unconventional ideas and the support to help them take flight. This one soars and I won’t be at all surprised if, just as La Boite’s Edward Gant did, Dick3 attracts the attention of some of the nation’s other major players. In fact, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t.

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Dick3 is one of the most designed productions we’ve seen in this space (Designer Kieran Swann, Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright, Composer Guy Webster), utilising the very air that exists between light and rain, and the cold, wet ground, surrounding the raised floor with a black catwalk containing hidden trap doors storing a stash of props and wardrobe pieces inside each space, and having performers take hold of lights for good reason, rather than as a token effort to involve them in the meta layers of the storytelling. 

Because this is certainly not Shakespeare. This is very un-Shakespeare – next level Shakespeare – and it comes with the confident “fuck you” of a generation of genuinely passionate theatre makers who strive for a little more than mediocrity (unlike the next), brilliantly combining box office appeal with original experimental storytelling, questioning far more than they end up divulging and forcing us to reconsider the known “facts” of the history of the world and, in this case, one of the most infamous of Shakespeare’s historical characters. 

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I’m gazing into blue space when Naomi Price appears in front of me, in a Kate Middleton inspired ensemble, with a hand held mic, which she raises to her mouth after pronouncing very loudly and clearly and properly and powerfully and Shakespearingly, “NOW…”  She firmly, politely tells us to turn our mobile phones to Off not Silent and asks that those who insist on leaving their phones on Silent, raise their gadget in the air and admit it. She asks those who didn’t decide – neither switching to Silent or admitting doing so – WHY? There is laughter and we are immediately relaxed and somewhat thrown by this direct address…

Price proceeds to stride around the catwalk and paint a picture that is so vivid, so real, we feel as if we’re in the carpark in Leicester in 2012, standing, shivering, wondering what’s come before us, and looking down upon the reviled bones of King Richard III.

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There is the smell of burning rubber, steam rising, mist swirling, rain falling, blood pooling, blue pouring and splashing and emptying across the stage, the concrete that becomes marble before our eyes, the sponge hump, the gnarled hands, the buckets, the handhelds, the dagger, the sword, the paper crown, the tarp, the blank pages of the book – it could be Harry Potter, an empowering choice for a child actor (he’ll take what he can) – and there is us. Always us, purveyors and interpreters and interlopers; I actually feel unwelcome at times, as if I’m at the wrong dinner party. And this is deliberate, because ultimately, who cares about so much of the history we’re told is true? Is it? If it is, what of it? If we’re sitting there, attempting to intellectualise or justify or reframe in a postmodern context anything that comes from the annuls, it’s shot down in flames and we’re offered an alternate view that suddenly seems more reasonable than our originally held belief. 

Always surprising, this show is the one extra Tequila shot at the end of the night that sees us agreeing with someone we’d presumed would never even make the guest list. Dick3 is an equaliser, a game changer. If the national culture leaned more towards arts than football, this is the match of the season, and could just as easily be seen in a stadium. Imagine that!

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It’s difficult to understand the reluctance to more reasonably support arts and culture. More Australians go to art galleries each year than go to the AFL and NRL combined. The creative industries employ more people than agriculture, construction or even mining, and indeed contribute as much as 75% of the economic benefit of the mining sector…

Let’s talk about STEAM rather than STEM. Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics should all be key parts of our education curriculum. Decades of research shows that artistic engagement nourishes all learning, so if we want an innovative, imaginative and well-rounded nation, let’s have one…

People have a right to arts and culture.

 

David Berthold, AD Brisbane Festival

 

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Price is so powerful in this space, with the vocals and stage presence to knock you flat. She sets the scene and establishes the connection with the audience, which the performers maintain throughout. We connect with each of them. We’re part of this story, part of history. Amy Ingram is a seductive, deliciously wicked delight, and Helen Howard an articulate, elegant, fearsome creature, just as she should be. In Howard’s hands, the act of lifting a chainmail sleeve from a bucket of blood and putting it on, blood dripping down her flesh and soaking into the fabric of her dress, becomes a fine art, pure (horrifying, mesmerising) seduction. Pacharo Mzembe is a prince, giving everything in this performance, which, having now seen so much of NT Live, appears to have come directly from the West End, such is his mastery of voice and movement, particularly in the thrilling fight sequences choreographed by Nigel Poulton (Assistant Fight Director Justin Palazzo-Orr). These are Poulton’s best bloody, sweaty routines to date, executed with ferocious intent by Mzembe and MacDonald. Todd MacDonald commands the space, his return to the stage a triumph in itself. When he’s not fighting or plotting or spilling blood he’s bringing to life a previously unknown version of William Shakespeare – a very funny one – and allowing himself to be directed by the actors who sit, watching critically, in the corners.

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But it’s 14-year old Atticus Robb, in his professional stage debut, who stuns us with a performance that is mature beyond his years, bringing passion and ambition, sincerity and vulnerability to multiple roles, including that of The Actor, Atticus. His is thrilling natural talent, most evident in a Richard III rockstar monologue that steals the show. This kid’s got it.

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The Tragedy of King Richard III is bold and brilliant, death-of-theatre-defying stuff, giving the Australian theatrical landscape permission to change again, to carry on evolving, despite its current challenges.

Without bringing Shakespeare to the stage, Dorney and Evans have brought Shakespeare’s essence and centuries of society’s most deeply held beliefs about ambition and power and connection and the human condition to an audience who thought they’d seen everything. Everything that is, until Dorney and Evans’ astute take on anything at all.

NOW… We’ll see if there are others who can keep up with the exhilarating pace set here.

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

11
Apr
16

When One Door Closes

 

When One Door Closes

La Boite Theatre Company & Circa

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

April 6 – 23 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

breathing. running. pink hair swishing. resting. gasping. pink hair running. falling, clumsily. bewildered. resting, but not. unsettled, but not. unwilling. undone. unfinished.

and then the men…

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It’s Nora Helmer (Britannie Portelli), in sweet pink, hot pink and sparkling, sequinned pink. Pretty, and unpredictable, in pink. One day she decides not to settle for less and she’s gone. In unapologetic orange, Hedda Gabler (Bridie Hooper). In bold red that belies every moment of “hysteria”, every insecurity, Miss Julie (Nicole Faubert). Unless you’re well acquainted with the women, or even if you’re well acquainted with the women, these three are any women. Every woman. Everywoman.

Late in the 19th Century they burst on stage and quite literally changed the world. Their presence called into question assumptions about women and their role in male dominated society.

They were of course written by men. They live within the conventions of the well-made play. In a sense they are trying to escape their forms as well as their men.

The circus we make is definitely not a well-made play. Rather it is abstract, shifting, elusive. Meaning occurs for sure but exactly where or how are mysterious.

– Directors, Yaron Lifschitz & Libby McDonnell

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The problem with abstract, shifting, elusive forms is that we are often left dissatisfied by the lack (or mysterious placement) of dramatic meaning, but the real problem here – if we are to discuss openly and honestly (and we do that here) – is that the product doesn’t match up to the sales pitch. It’s not what I expected. And that’s okay but I’m left feeling slightly confused because the production doesn’t do what I thought it said it would. I think I thought wrong… To be fair, the only claim was that the women would meet in a “visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.” And they do.

A door slams. A shot is fired. On the other side, unseen by the audience or by the befuddled, inconsequential husband and lovers are the three great heroines who created twentieth century drama: Miss Julie, Hedda Gabler and Nora.

What if they all ended up in the same room?

What if they couldn’t speak?

What if the room was full of scratched recordings of A Dolls House, Hedda Gabbler and Miss Julie, plus a dash of Freud?

How would they navigate each other, their own pasts and the future?

La Boite and Circa join forces on this new creation. Three masterpieces of turn-of-the-century drama meet the visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.

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 Circa is one of our country’s most highly regarded contemporary circus companies and at first glance, in this first stage of development (it’s officially a finished product but what is ever really finished?), this work is not nearly as exceptional as we have come to expect from Circa (they raised the bar with Il Retorno), however; presented by La Boite, When One Door Closes is also an experiment, relating the stories of the women – or, their frustrations at least – via varying levels of tension and court jester comedy, through acrobatics and high-risk tricks, some of which are symbolic of what the characters are going through.

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Not always the case, at times the tricks are arbitrary, included in the show because they can be, and executed in such a literal way as to bring out the comical, as when one of the men tips Nora upside down so that she becomes a broom, her hair used to sweep the stage. It’s a strange way to reiterate what we already know; these women exist in service roles only. No wonder they feel as if they’re choking, hanging, dead…

Oonagh Sherrard’s original compositions lead us in and out of the women’s heads, while at times, it’s odd; the men get comical musical numbers to lip-synch for seemingly no reason other than to provide the girls with a drinks break and the audience with an easy laugh. The collective physical strength and sheer force of the men’s presence underlines the power that men have held within each of these women’s lives. Perhaps the David Armand inspired parodies are an attempt to truly balance the stakes. (I love that the women claim their power, hand-balancing in the end, but I hate the male playwrights using “sickness” and suicide and the abhorrent act of leaving the children to do so).

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Hedda has the strongest presence, her chalk outline creating a devastating, enduring image, as she contorts herself to reach all the way around her body. She marks her own end on the glossy black floor. This routine, and the most arresting, disturbing straps routine I’ve ever seen (that’s a good thing; it’s brilliantly conceived and executed), keep Hedda at the centre of the story-not-story, and for me, provide the strongest thread, that is, if we are determined to see one running through the piece.

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If I’d decided not to write it up, I would have viewed When One Door Closes through a completely different lens, enjoying much more than I did on Opening Night, its circus and its comedy, and not needing any further structure or story. But because, perhaps foolishly, we went in with the expectation that this would be circus that was somehow more “theatrical” in its form and nature, my expectations weren’t met. To put it simply, I would have left feeling more satisfied if I hadn’t had to think too deeply about it! This is often a critic’s struggle, and not something general audiences will experience. It’s important to note because my opinion is no more valid than anybody else’s, but because I choose to share it widely I (mostly) feel the need to justify my conclusions. There are times when I simply respond to the work, without looking at it very critically at all, and this style of “review” could be said to be far more valuable to both audiences and artists. In fact, by not discussing the way the different elements work together, we indicate perhaps even more clearly the success of a piece. (Don’t tell that to the Drama students who must master the art of academically arranging their thoughts and assessing the way in which a director has created meaning by manipulating the Elements of Drama).

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Regardless of the reviewer’s style (and we follow those whose style we like, and whose opinions confirm our bias), a considered written response is always a valuable addition to the conversation. A star rating not so much, but easier, certainly, for publicists to use…

It could be reasonably assumed that because this is a circus show it can be sold under a family friendly banner, but I’d advise parents to consider the meaning that (mysteriously) comes across and ask yourself whether or not your child will question, as my child has done, “Which is the husband and which is the lover?” “Does the chalk outline mean she’s already dead or that she’s dead inside?” and “Are the straps the rope she hangs herself with?” And in response to my whisper, “Well, why does she have a straps routine if she shoots herself?”

If you bring children to the theatre, be prepared to discuss the themes and historical contexts of the original texts as well as those within the final work. Always.

(Or, everyone can simply enjoy the sequins and lifts and balances for what they are and avoid talking about anything else).

Circa is more successful than most in its exploration of blurring lines between forms. And with greater theatrical input (Todd MacDonald as Co-Director – or Director – rather than, or in addition to Dramaturg, for example), When One Door Closes might make more creative and contextual sense. Let’s look forward to the company continuing to experiment with form and style.

Without thinking too deeply about it, or expecting too much from it, the first production of La Boite’s 2016 season is perfectly engaging and entertaining. But let’s hope it’s not indicative of all they have to offer this year.

Performers: Nathan Boyle, Todd Kirby, Martin Evans, Duncan West, Nicole Faubert, Bridie Hooper, Brittany Portelli.

Production pics by Dylan Evans

13
Sep
15

Prize Fighter

 

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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

24
Sep
14

The Button Event

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The Button Event

Brisbane Festival & QTC

Bille Brown Studio

September 18 – 27 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

A high-stakes, high-octane, multi-faceted one-man-show, performed and co-devised by award winning performer and Associate Artistic Director of QTC, Todd MacDonald, The Button Event is maybe missing…somebody. She’s there, in the centre of the front row on opening night. Todd’s wife, Bec, has been a force behind the scenes, and spent time in the studio but she doesn’t appear on stage. During the show we hear her voice and the voices of their girls, Lola and Ruby (they’re seated either side of her); the voices are integral to the storytelling. But strangely perhaps, I’d love to see Bec in it. Impossible for all sorts of reasons and completely unnecessary I hear you say. The show is already a family affair – it has to be – we’re being allowed a glimpse at the most difficult time of their lives.

 

The Button Event is the true story of one man searching for connections in chaos. Juggling the daily grind of home, work and family comes to an abrupt halt when one of his twin daughters is diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis. In the time it takes to push a button the future of his family hangs in the balance between beauty and fear, faith and science – and what it takes to cope with the messy and absurd things life hurtles at you.

 

With him, we catapult into a world of sleep deprivation, seizures, medication, trampolines and home renovations. This one-man tour-de-force fuses physical performance, wry humour, raw emotion and a few hundred tennis balls.

 

Devised by the multi Greenroom Award-winning artist Todd MacDonald and acclaimed director Bagryana Popov, The Button Event is a deeply personal and fearlessly honest work, which ricochets between medical minefields, acts of faith and family counselling.

 

This production mostly works just beautifully. I love the pace, and the changes in pace; the extended pauses while something heavy is left to sink in and the frantic physical effort as MacDonald simply DEALS. A wonderful performer, delightful to watch, MacDonald is honest to the point of matter-of-factness, delivering the facts of an impossibly difficult situation amidst the maelstrom of emotions and tennis balls. There is complex medical terminology to deal with, a marriage, Lola’s twin Ruby, and of course, the many-layered emotional responses to Lola’s diagnosis and the daily challenges that Tuberous Sclerosis presents. MacDonald’s boundless energy in the telling of his story draws us in early, offering a new, unique perspective on human suffering. There’s so much pain and suffering in so many lives, of course there is, but who is fearless enough to write a show about it and share it with the world?!

 

Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC) affects more than 3000 individuals in Australia and New Zealand and thousands more carers, families and friends who live with the impact of the disease.

 

TSC tumours can grow in any organ of the body, commonly affecting the brain, skin, heart, lungs and kidneys. TSC can cause epilepsy, developmental delay and autism. There is no known cure for TSC.

 

thebuttonevent_darkness

Highlights include the highly physical feats of delivering intermittently, successions of witty lines about marriage, twins and the ongoing home reno (what else does a dad do under the circumstances? And is it ongoing still?!) whilst leaping madly about to catch tennis balls spewing forth from a machine, slowing down time to explain in darkness the appearance on the skin of the telltale white lesions, and chanelling Richard III beneath an awkward coat of strung-together tennis balls. The tennis balls, though a simple enough device, are extremely effective in conveying early chaos and later, in helping to shed eerie light on the mysteries of the brain as they are lowered into the space to represent Lola’s ECG. The collaborative efforts of an inspired design team should never be overlooked, and it’s thanks to Deviser/Director Bagryana Popov, Lighting Designer, Ben Hughes, and Composer & Sound Designer, Guy Webster, that this production looks and sounds as intriguing, and remains as compelling as it does.

 

The precarious situation in which the family find themselves is represented eventually a little too obviously, as if we had to have the symbolic for such intensity of emotion, by a “high wire” act, and boxes stacked one on top of the other to create a towering figure, like a Transformer or a Minecraft character. The construction is a little drawn out, my mind drifts, I watch Bec watching her husband recreate a truly intense part of their lives, and I begin to wonder what happens next. How does school work? How do careers fit in? Who makes the tea? Who takes out the rubbish? Perhaps, as Wesley Enoch mentioned after the show, we’ll see an update in another ten years.

 

There’s not the time and space within a festival piece to tell it, but there’s possibly another tale here if MacDonald is THAT brave. This is not that story. What intrigues me is that The Button Event is already an incredible story of trauma and survival and triumph. Theatre should change us, and the point of change occurs for me when out of frenzied energy comes Lola’s ECG wave on the wall. It’s as if her fate, compared to any “normal” child’s fate, for example, that of her twin sister, is literally written on the wall. The realisation that comes to us from seeing the medical evidence in white chalk across the black back wall, combined with Todd’s high-powered energy in explaining everything to this point, is a real knockout, a king hit. A series of ponderings about Lola’s future (she may never go to school, she may never have a boyfriend, she may never…) provides a similar punch. Perhaps even more so for parents, but who can say? We all know and love a child. Luckily there is lovely humour throughout, and the gentleness of a soft-strong hearted father.

 

It’s a strong premise, it’s a real story after all – it’s actually really still happening – and I want to care more, to feel closer and leave feeling even more moved, but I leave feeling a little frustrated, like I can’t get quite near enough to this beautiful, fighting family’s journey. Perhaps that’s the way they want it. It’s as if the dread of knowing the story itself is more affecting than hearing the telling of it. Get close, but try not to get THAT close.

 

There is perhaps some safety in not feeling too much.

 

What I’ve come away with is this: Todd MacDonald is an incredible performer, the production in any guise will have all the elements and all the support it needs to tour (and it should), and there is no stronger couple in the world than MacDonald and his wife, Bec. How lucky Ruby and Lola are to have chosen them.

 

 

03
Mar
14

The Mountaintop

 

The Mountaintop

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

February 22 – March 16 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

The baton passes on.

 

A rainy April night in Memphis, 1968 – and Dr Martin Luther King Jr doesn’t know it, but it will be his last night on earth. Wearied but resolute after his years-long march at the head of the Civil Rights Movement, the preacher checks into room 306 at the modest Lorraine Motel.

 

Before the sun sets again, he will be shot and killed. 

 

Candy Bowers and Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

I saw MTC’s production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop last year and was struck by the magic created by the actors in that production, Bert LaBonte and Zahra Newman, who had been paired after appearing on stage together a few times already. There I saw the show at the end of the season and here I saw opening night of QTC’s production, directed by the company’s Associate Director, Todd MacDonald, starring a new pair, Pacharo Mzembe and Candy Bowers. By the end of the season these two are going to be magnificent; in fact from about 15 minutes in they are pretty damn good! However, it took that long for Mzembe to look really comfortable as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the man; the sinner. When Camae, the flirtatious maid (another self-proclaimed sinner), stepped into King’s shoes, the shift in energy and focus from Bowers was also noticeable, and once both performers settled and relaxed, resuming the play between them that comes straight outta’ the rehearsal room, the show really started and the opening night audience lapped it up.

 

For me, the writing is less convincing than the end result, in this case, of some lovely gentle direction and two intuitive, eventually very natural performances, which make us catch our breath more than once, and sit up straighter and taller at the challenge to pass the baton on. The final minutes are really something. Hall’s play about Martin Luther King Jr’s (imagined) last night on earth impressed the Brits and divided American critics, some of whom, like Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar haters, probably preferred to remember the martyr, not the man.

 

Candy Bowers and Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

But it’s with the man we sympathise, though not completely, since he’s a chain-smoking womaniser with stinky feet! It’s the real (imagined) view of a weary man at his most vulnerable, confronted by a sassy motel maid that makes the piece interesting, as well as the casual and comedic repartee between a philanderer and a woman who is not all she seems. Camae cleverly represents a fierce, Oprahfied black woman, and at the same time, the sadder image of the oppressed; it’s a wishful feminism. I can’t give away how Camae has reached her enlightened state, but as someone who believes that there have always been strong women around, whether they’ve been noted or not, I’m all for this aspect of Hall’s fiction. Indeed, it’s what makes the play possible.

 

No spoilers here, but some of Camae’s tricks don’t quite work, and the fault may be in the writing more than in the production elements (when this play grows up it will be a movie). It’s easy enough to skip past these effects and appreciate the magic for what it is – a reminder that, as much as we like to think it so, we don’t know all there is to know.

 

Candy Bowers. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

The highlight of this production is the delivery upstage, of Camae’s “The baton passes on” speech/rap/song/performance art piece by Bowers, supported by flickering images – a brilliant historical montage by optikal bloc – thrown across the motel windows and walls, not unlike Melbourne’s version of the play but with greater colour and immediate impact, paired as it is with Kieran Swann’s unassuming set, which moves and opens wide just as our hearts do. Layered within and around composition by Busty Beatz, Ben Hughes’ lighting and Tony Brumpton’s sound add to the extraordinary effect of a brilliantly conceived full-blown biblical ghetto sequence.

 

Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

The most startling difference here is that Bowers makes the list of names and historical events mean something even more than they did already. She commands the space, driving the energy and bringing the message home to multiple generations, to those who remember events, and those who should never have to see history repeat itself. Mzembe’s final address is poignant and despite the playwright’s determination to drive the point home once again before we go home, he is able to keep it real rather than maddening, genuinely challenging us to keep changing the world.

 

 

The Mountaintop gives its performers the chance to breathe, flex their muscles and fly. This is truly inspirational theatre; a call to action, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick up the baton and pass it on.

 

 

29
Jun
13

Venus In Fur

Venus In Fur

Queensland Theatre Co

QPAC Cremorne

27 June – 07 July 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Vanda: You dare to resist me?

 

Thomas: Yes, I dare.

 

Vanda: You little piece of nothing! You dust! You dare to resist a goddess?

 

 

“BRAVERY, WILL, AND COMMON SENSE ARE ALL AN ACTOR NEEDS.”

                                                                                                                 David Mamet

 

 

Libby Munro Vens In Fur

Libby Munro has all this and more. Much, much more. She’s the complete package, a goddess, which is so exciting; especially at this stage of QTC’s 2013 season, in this highly anticipated Australian premiere of David IvesVenus In Fur. Quite simply, actors of Munro’s calibre don’t come around often…and it was time. Just saying…no, but really! Wow! What a find! (Can we keep her?)! As Vanda, Munro completely spoils us; she’s the ultimate seductress, with strong principles and a Pilates-toned Honey Birdette clad bod to make even this gym bunny think about upping the weekly classes. If only I had the time to keep up with that kinda’ tone! If only I had the energy! That is commitment to the role.

 

Munro is the unequivocal star of this two-hander, and although Todd MacDonald does everything within his power to balance the power on stage it’s as if he can never do quite enough to get our attention for very long, David Ives has written Thomas this way and MacDonald does all he needs to as the adaptor and director of the play inspired by the erotic 19th century novella by Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch. When Vanda bursts in late for her audition, she brings with her a new perspective on the play, and the power struggle – and incredibly cleverly the play within the play – begins. The transformation takes place magically, in a single breath at the top of the stairs in a perfectly functional and evocative set designed by Simone Romaniuk (beautifully evocative lighting, including lightning, by David Walters and soundscape, complete with actors’ beats and thunderstorm by Guy Webster). When you see it you’ll see it. The transformation. And you’ll realise in that instant that this is the most perfect piece of casting we’re likely to see on a Brisbane stage this year.

 

Venus In Fur

Director, Andrea Moor, who brought William H. Macy and David Mamet’s Practical Aesthetics actor training to Australia in 1988, has taken such a bold, intelligent approach that we can’t fail to get every message here, however; ultimately the corny conclusion lets us down on one level, reducing the entire brilliantly layered gender argument to a comic book style statement (It’s Barbarella Barbie proclaiming, Spice Girls style, “Girls rule!” I was going to pop in an image here, actually, but Google gave me some of the most disturbing Barbie images ever, and Munro presents a much better picture in the end, regardless of my opinion on the statement she makes!). This image appears to please the majority but I was left wanting more, which, like all good erotica, may well have been the intention. I felt her win would have been even more momentous if these two had had their night of passion. AND THEN SHE LEAVES HIM. But no, not even a pash at the post! You can only imagine my disappointment! The gun was on stage without being fired! I’d love to know what you think about the final moments of the play.

 

David Ives has threaded throughout the text, the most enticing political tidbits; nothing new, timeless in fact, which is why the sentiments seem to ring so true. It has always been thus! But what if Vanda were to return the following day to continue working on the production? I can’t help but wonder. What fantastic theatre it is, making us laugh and gasp and talk for days afterwards about so many different aspects of the production (including, to my surprise, the notion of offering a program to every patron, included in their ticket price, which astonished my sister from Melbourne, where coffee is cheap and programs are not!).

 

What a beautifully captured production, to make me want to read the original novella, the play, AND the director’s notes in the margins of her copy of the script. Each time I see something of Andrea Moor’s head and heart on stage I do wonder why we’re not seeing more from her. More Moor, please. It’s rich, intelligent, actors’ acting that appeals just as much to the masses, who are getting so used to seeing good live theatre in Brisbane we can’t expect anyone to accept anything less.

 

Venus in Fur is a coup for Brisbane and for our state theatre company. Let’s hope our friends in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide (at the very least) demand to see it too!