Posts Tagged ‘world premiere

24
Dec
12

How to Make Snow

How to Make Snow

 

How to Make Snow

the little red company & St Lawrence’s College

ERPAC St Lawrence’s College

20th – 22nd December 2012

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Matthews

 

How to Make Snow is a wonderfully entertaining production, which follows a young boy’s quest to learn how to make snow for his Grandad.  The journey he goes on brings him into contact with all kinds of colourful characters who reminisce about the time they last saw snow, and give him their advice on how to go about this epic quest… in the 40-degree heat of Australia.

 

HTMS1-350x525

It’s a brand new show, created especially for the Christmas season, by Daniel Evans (Writer & Director) and Naomi Price (Producer and Director of the little red company). How to Make Snow enjoyed a very short, sweet season over just one weekend so if you missed it, I’m afraid that a little piece of magic has passed you by this year. But don’t worry, this creative team will be back again next year.

 

Such talent attracts talent, and this production was enhanced by the honest performances of Marco GhikasBryan ProbetsMirusia Louwerse and Luke Kennedy, of The Ten Tenors fame. With musical direction from Kennedy & Michael Manikus, lighting by Jason Glenwright and design by Josh McIntosh, this production couldn’t fail!

 

I absolutely loved the visual overload that made this production so entertaining for all ages. There was no shortage of clues and visual delights for those who did not get the subtleties of love lost and love remembered in this storyline.

 

The company, which included a sizeable youth ensemble, was great. The choir’s numbers and some of the solos particularly were breathtaking. We may have turned up at a school to see this show but it was, in so many ways, much more than a school production. It was, in fact, exactly what you would expect from a school given the opportunity to work collaboratively with a professional production company. I was sitting there imagining all the hours these kids had given up to perfect their performances and it definitely paid off. I found it inspiring for my own children to see such a wide variety of ages and roles utilised in this play and hoped it might spark something in them; that they might want to be part of fabulous performances such as this in the future.

 

The play gave plenty of time for the audience to reminisce about their own experiences and to remember the good times. Our own white Christmas memories came suddenly and vividly to life, and my boys and I have since talked for days about many a Christmas past, and our family and friends in other places.

 

With the danger of a spoiler alert, let’s just say it was a happy ending and I was the fool in the front row, sobbing; crying my eyes out at the beautiful spectacle of a white Christmas in the searing heat of Australia.

 

When this beautiful little production returns – and it will – go and see it for yourself, take the kids and the grandparents and I promise you’ll be reaching for the sled, and the tissues.

 

How to Make Snow_sled

19
Oct
12

Managing Carmen

Managing Carmen

Managing Carmen

Queensland Theatre Company & Black Swan State Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

13th October – 4th November 2012

  

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

I tell you what. Get your iCal out in front of you, work out when you can go (at least once), get onto the Queensland Theatre Company’s website to book your tickets and then come back to this window to read my review. Otherwise you might miss out on seeing DAVID WILLIAMSON’S BEST PLAY YET.

 

“David Williamson has the ability to pinpoint a societal issue and expose it through his unique satirical lens.”

Wesley Enoch

 

Managing Carmen is outstanding. It’s tighter, funnier, slicker and more satirical than anticipated. The text is peppered with gag lines, perfectly timed; only a master craftsman like Williamson can convincingly achieve this sort of perfect comedy. It’s already on its way to becoming a massive box office success and it’s essential viewing for anyone who loves their footy and/or high fashion. Or who wants to be entertained during a night out at the theatre. Not such a rare thing in Brisbane this year. Aren’t we lucky?!

 

Managing Carmen

David Williamson, in case you’ve been living in a yurt in Turkey since the 70s, is our most prolific playwright, supposedly “retired” in 2005 (Influence would have been his final work!), but in stubborn objection to ill health and with the help of modern medicine, a theme that features prominently in the 2011 work At Any Cost, Williamson has continued to chronicle our country’s social and political history, providing plum roles for Australian actors and consistently offering on a silver platter, script after script to make any director’s mouth water with the rich potential of each dish. Williamson’s list of plays reads like a degustation menu. See below.

With Managing Carmen already under option, I can’t help but wonder who will make the movie that chronicles David Williamson’s extraordinary life and career? But before we get ahead of ourselves let me tell you about the play.

 

Wait. You have booked your tickets now, haven’t you? Okay. Just checking. You know I don’t want you to miss this one.

Tim Dashwood, sculpted, taut and terrific in the role, is Brent Lyall, the extraordinarily talented two-time Brownlow Medal winning 23-year old AFL star player and…cross-dresser. His addiction is “sufficiently unusual for him and his manager and the rest of the team to be terrified if the word gets out” (David Williamson, interviewed by Frank Hatherley for Stage Whispers). Dashwood proves in this role that he is equally at home in heels or football boots. I hope he feels he can share at some stage his recent training program, diet and supplement intake. Every husband needs to know. Not necessarily the heel practicing (well, they’ve all had a go at that, haven’t they? Well, haven’t they?!), but definitely the hard-core training to get in peak physical condition. Just saying. Dashwood’s super confident, relaxed, sexy and stylish performance as Brent-as-Carmen (that’s Carmen Getme) is a much better pitch for a role in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert than any of those seen on I Will Survive and I won’t be at all surprised if his next offer comes from the producers of a revival (the show closed on Broadway in June). Well, you know Dashwood’s also a singer, right? And he can dance! In heels! On a revolving, glossy, black tiled floor! While it struck me that perhaps his monotone was a bit much at first, I realised almost within the same instant that I HAVE HEARD ELITE SPORTSMAN SPEAK THIS WAY. Also, many, many teenaged boys. We’ll just stop for a moment to acknowledge that this play is for all ages and all sorts. I hope that many, many men and women, of all ages, can bring themselves to turn off the TV, get up off the lounge and get to this show. Williamson writes not just for the “elite” baby-boomer theatregoers but also for everyone now. In fact, I’m in awe of the man’s research skills and application of contemporary Australian language to give us beautifully drawn characters that we feel we already know.

Claire Lovering is Jessica Giordano, the corporate confidence boosting, image-grooming psychologist and eventual love interest (no spoiler there, it’s pretty obvious from the outset and you’re in for a delightful surprise when that deal is sealed with a kiss! A little bit of Luhrmann creeping in there. I almost expected to hear the moon singing! It’s a brave ending and I love it!). Lovering’s finest moment is her penultimate one, but only because we go with her, every step of the way, on her journey to that point.

Anna McGahan Managing Carmen

Anna McGahan, who plays the girlfriend, paid to pose by Lyall’s side for the paps by his ruthless, money-hungry manager, Rohan Swift (John Batchelor), totes pulls off saying “totes” and does so while adopting that odd WAGS cum Orange County Housewife accent that we hear on the red carpet when one of the hotter halves has been asked which designer she is wearing and which often indicates a jet-setting vaporous existence amongst those who have more money than (fashion) sense. Of course I’m over-generalising… Anyway, I love the way McGahan changes sides; the alliance between she and Carmen is completely genuine and their beautifully girly BFF behaviour – most of all their outrageous drunken behaviour – has us in stitches. It’s a very funny play and Wesley Enoch’s deft hand and his fearless, fun approach in directing it is obvious.

John Batchelor is, strangely, halfway to being endearing as Swift; we almost believe that he cares a little bit about his client’s wellbeing…until we see time and time again that he doesn’t! We wonder at first at his groovy moves and frustrated antics and vocals (they come across at first as a little too OTT), but because they’re funny they’re easily forgiven and as the character settles they begin to make sense. I won’t spoil the opening for you. Suffice to say, from the outset, Batchelor is the Basil Fawlty of this farce, skilfully, relentlessly driving the action and flawless Williamson brand of comedy as Enoch sees it.

In fact, it takes a little while to accept that we’re in the middle of a modern-day farce. As Kate Foy observed during interval, instead of doors opening and closing all over the place, we have an eleven metre revolve, which helps keep the action fast and funny, as the actors fall over furniture to get to their next scene. It sounds clumsy but it’s not; it’s beautifully choreographed. While we’re on it, the set almost steals the show; it’s truly gasp-worthy. Designed by Richard Roberts (assisted by Isobel Hutton), the use of this stunning black floored revolve in this space is a coup for Queensland Theatre Company and QPAC’s Playhouse. I love it and I’d love to see more of it. Lit by Black Swan’s Trent Suidgeest, we feel at home in Lyall’s apartment, Swift’s office, a bar, a nightclub and out in the open by the sea, with the help of projected images of clouds and the sounds of a seascape (Sound Designer Tony Brumpton). The only let down on opening night was that the first visual failed to appear on the television screen in Swift’s office, however, that’s an easy fix. Not so easy, now that the season has begun, would be to ask a favour of Eddie McGuire and have The Footy Show excerpts pre-filmed. This extra effort, rather than playing the audio recorded by the actors over random mismatched footage, would make this production faultless. (Audio Visual Designer Declan McMonagle). Also, I appeared to be overdressed in an old LBD and new, flat Siren Bolly shoes, however, that’s just a note to self. I am yet to work out the dress code for Brisbane opening nights. Clearly, so are others. What do you wear to opening nights? Do you dress thematically? I’d like to know. The Brisbane theatre scene is evolving and it feels like it’s time to give the social photographers something special to shoot!

Managing Carmen is stylish, slickly designed and superbly written, directed and performed. It places the spotlight unforgivingly over our obsession with celebrity and the insane pursuit of sponsorship and monetary gain over recognition and reward for true talent in just about every arena. Challenging our levels of tolerance, understanding and acceptance of difference in an entertaining, energetic farce, Wesley Enoch’s production of David Williamson’s Managing Carmen is a true blue theatrical triumph.

Anna McGahan & Tim Dashwood Managing Carmen

David Williamson – list of plays

The Indecent Exposure of Anthony East (1968)

You’ve Got to Get on Jack (1970)

The Coming of Stork (1970)

The Removalists (1971)

Don’s Party (1971)

Jugglers Three (1972)

What If You Died Tomorrow? (1973)

The Department (1975)

A Handful of Friends (1976)

The Club (1977)

Travelling North (1979)

Celluloid Heroes (1980)

The Perfectionist (1982)

Sons of Cain (1985)

Emerald City (1987)

Top Silk (1989)

Siren (1990)

Money and Friends (1991)

Brilliant Lies (1993)

Sanctuary (1994)

Dead White Males (1995)

Heretic (1996)

Third World Blues (1997, An Adaptation Of Jugglers Three)

After The Ball (1997)

Corporate Vibes (1999)

Face to Face (2000)

The Great Man (2000)

Up for Grabs (2001)

A Conversation (2001)

Charitable Intent (2001)

Soulmates (2002)

Flatfoot (2003)

Birthrights (2003)

Amigos (2004)

Operator (2005)

Influence (2005)

Lotte’s Gift (2007) – also known as Strings Under My Fingers

Scarlett O’Hara at the Crimson Parrot (2008)

Let The Sunshine[4] (2009)

Don Parties On (2011)

At Any Cost? (2011)

Nothing Personal (2011)

When Dad Married Fury (2011)

Managing Carmen (2012)

Managing Carmen moves to Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Heath Ledger Theatre 10th November – 2nd December and, with an entirely different cast, directed by Mark Kilmurry, Ensemble Theatre presents their production of Managing Carmen 6th December – January 25th.

A live simulcast of the world premiere co-production from the Black Swan Theatre Company (Perth) with Queensland Theatre Company will be presented on 30th November in the Cummins Theatre, WA.

David Williamson’s MANAGING CARMEN is a “laugh-out-loud comedy for anyone who likes who likes football or designer dresses and a crackling funny dissection of stereotypes in sport. Brent is a country boy turned footy star: captain of his AFL team, king of product-endorsements, with a model girlfriend and ruthless sports manager. But Brent’s hiding one little thing that could ruin his career and end the advertising money: his passion for cross-dressing….”

Cast includes: John Batchelor, Timothy Dashwood, Claire Lovering, Anna McGahan, and Greg McNeil

Directed by Wesley Enoch

***This live simulcast event is FREE***

Friday, 30 November at 730pm
the Cummins Theatre
31 Bates Street
Merredin, Western Australia

 

06
Sep
12

Catharsis

 

Catharsis

Catharsis

Jeremy Culver & Charleene Closshey

Friday 10th August 2012

The J, Noosa

This is a show that happened – just once – almost purely out of synchronicity and the momentum of the universe a little while ago and it has stayed with me, tugging at my sleeve and whispering up at me until I could stop everything else for a moment and write about it. I look forward to its return to us and of hearing about its development and success overseas in the meantime.

Catharsis is a fantastic fusion of theatre, music, multi-media and live painting quite unlike anything I’ve experienced. It’s a living, breathing, beating work of unusual proportion and dimension. LA based production team, Jeremy Culver (also Writer and Director) and Charleene Closshey (also Musical Director and Actor), wanted to meld, seamlessly, up and coming Papua New Guinean painter, Jeffry Feeger’s process, with the art forms (drama and music), which they were accustomed to working within. Rather than being, as one might assume, a bio-drama about the artist himself, the play exists on its own and Feeger offers a commentary within it (behind it, around it), on the beauty of humanity. His work adds a deeper visual dimension to the action happening on stage and creates the reason for the work to exist beyond the evening’s performance.

So many elements contribute to this work working. The fact that Feeger paints a stunningly vibrant portrait live on stage in less than 2 hours is, by its own merits, impressive. In fact, for me, this was absolutely the highlight of the evening (outside of saying hello to the artist afterwards, who is brimming with exactly the same level of joy and intensity that we feel him emit during the show). As far as entertainment goes, to watch Feeger at work is almost enough.

A fascinating process, Feeger begins his work by raising a glass in Papua New Guinean tradition, red wine David Hart style, across the top of his canvas, allowing it to run down in rivulets, creating the foundation for a beautiful portrait of a woman, which gradually emerges out of layers and layers of colour. Feeger’s (untrained) approach is to apply the layers and then strip away the paint, much like a sculptor takes the clay or stone away, leaving a figure to appear out of the mass. The painting takes on many forms before we see Moy Sweetman’s strong, stunning face appear – there’s a mess of arteries and veins, the Tree of Life, a man’s haunting expression – but then, suddenly, there is Sweetman and her incredible aura is a rainbow of the kaleidoscopic colour we thought earlier might be a headdress of feathers…and perhaps it is. Feeger appears to know his subject intimately. He paints from a photograph, which he holds as he works.

 

I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set her free.

Michelangelo

 

Moy Sweetman Catharsis

 

Jeffry Feeger

 

Moy Sweetman, the founder of Frangipani Dreams, is the subject of the painting and also, the subject of the play. Within the play, she becomes the subject of a film. There are layers upon layers upon layers to this work, as there are to Feeger’s. For the purposes of plot and content, Sweetman invites documentary maker, Cat (Charleene Closshey) to tell her inspiring story (meanwhile, Cat’s own story gets complicated; her husband, a photographer played by AJ Meijer, is kidnapped and tortured while on assignment). Sweetman’s (real life) story is a tough one too – we’re likely to see it on Australian Story next – containing all the elements to make a great film. It’s incredibly sad and moving and inspiring, largely because Moy is of course, the locally revered angel that Feeger sets free before our eyes. The anticipation is palpable. It’s as if the audience is holding their breath until they see her appear on the canvas.

The concept is a bit of clever capitalisation on a simple idea to localise live theatre. It’s one that Tanya Lee has made successful in this country through touring The Corrilee Foundation productions, such as One Night in Emerald City, which we saw in Noosa in 2010. It makes perfect sense. Localise your characters and the situation so that we care more about the subject of the story. Catharsis contains a massive amount of local detail, which delighted the audience at the world premiere, at The J in Noosa on Friday 10th August 2012. A number of Noosa businesses and locals were used in a considerable amount of footage, filmed over 10 days prior to the performance and projected onto a screen behind the acting space. The footage, as well as featuring and celebrating the local community (where the money raised from ticket sales and the sale of Feeger’s portrait of Sweetman will stay), serves to strengthen the relationship between the two actors’ characters.

Local actor and playwright, Frank Wilkie, joined the Americans on stage in the role of Cat’s boss; he assigns her the job of telling Sweetman’s story. It was a pleasant surprise to see Wilkie, the consummate professional in any role, play a valuable part in this production. His naturally confident manner and his sensitivity added wonderful intimacy and flow to scenes that ran the risk of slowing the pace considerably with some pretty stilted dialogue. His role is the one that will be filled by a local actor wherever the play goes.

It’s a lot to take in at once: a complex double-plot, a musical score (consisting of original compositions by local duo, Nick and Liesl) and a live painting, all staged beneath beautifully evocative lighting by Travis MacFarlane, like some extraordinary extreme physical challenge for artists. (Network Ten will want first dibs on that!). At times I found myself watching Feeger rather than the action out front but perhaps that was the intention. I wish I’d seen Colin Friels in John Logan’s Red about New York’s abstract expressionist, Mark Rothko. I remember reading Raymond Gill’s (The Age) analysis of all the films and plays we’ve seen about angst-ridden, angry artists and I’m relieved that Catharsis does not fall into that trap. Archibald Prize winning painter, Lewis Miller, observed about films that explore the artist’s creative torment, “They all lapse into the same use of the angry artist attacking the canvas with paint. When you see painters work in reality, they usually put it on very carefully.” This is certainly the case with Feeger’s process, which overflows with love and admiration for his subject. There is something incredibly spiritual about it and in fact, fascinatingly (and brilliantly) the play was penned around the process. And by that, I mean that the play runs for the length of time it takes Feeger to complete his portrait.

Catharsis challenges our notion of what theatre is. Sure, the story could do with some tightening and clarity, the vocals could do with some fine-tuning and additional power in parts (the duet that leads into the dénouement is absolutely superb and made me wonder why we hadn’t heard the performers’ voices in full long before that point. Probably a style decision.), and the pieces could all be stitched together a little more seamlessly but this is a show that is destined to be seen by audiences all over the world. We are blessed to have witnessed its first incarnation in Noosa and to have had the opportunity to support local angel, Moy Sweetman, and her Frangipani Dreams. I hope Catharsis returns to us in its next life. I would love to experience this show again, whatever its form.

We do good that the world might see that man is more than he appears to be & can give more than he appears to have.

Mother Rytasha

Frangipani Dreams

Jeffry Feeger Art

10
Aug
12

Catharsis – premieres in Noosa tonight!

Catharsis

U.S. based team brings international artists, three artistic mediums and a local cause together for one night only

Catharsis Synopsis

Los Angeles based production team Jeremy Culver (writer/director) and Charleene Closshey (composer/actress), along with acclaimed portrait artist, Jeffry Feeger will bring the world premiere of a new stage play, Catharsis, to The J Theatre Noosa tonight, Friday 10 August, 2012.

Listen HERE

The Catharsis concept combines drama, music and live painting on stage with each show featuring a unique, local subject angle. After the Noosa show, Catharsis will tour the world with shows planned for New York, Vancouver, Los Angeles and London in 2013. Whilst scripted, due to the unique subject matter in each location no two shows will ever be the same.

“Catharsis fuses the storytelling mediums of film and music with the romance of live portrait painting and drama, and then combines this with a philanthropic aspect to form a traditional theatre experience, said Jeremy.

“Our goal with each show is obviously for the audience to be entertained, but also to have some sort of cathartic experience, which is really the aim of all drama.”

Catharsis Moy Sweetman

Moy Sweetman, Founder of Frangipani Dreams

The inspiration for Noosa’s Catharsis will be the story of local charity founder, Moy Sweetman of Frangipani Dreams. The actors and audience will first ‘meet’ Moy on stage and hear her story via pre-recorded video interviews and audio clips. The narrative will then be integrated into the drama informing the nature of the acting and music. Simultaneously, Sweetman’s image will be painted live on stage by artist, Jeffry Feeger. The painting will be made available for sale at a future date.

Charleene, Jeremy and Jeffry first workshopped the concept of the show last year in California. They decided to premiere the show in Noosa due to the region’s well established reputation as a town both familiar and appreciative of the arts and because of the team’s personal connection with Moy – whom they met through local producer, Rae Smart.

“The unique format of Catharsis means that the audience’s money is retained by the local community and will be used for a greater purpose long after our show leaves town, Charleene said.

“We’ve heard so many wonderful things about Noosa including the community’s love of the arts and its generosity toward local causes.”

CATHARSIS FAST FACTS:

* Drama, music and live painting on stage

* Friday, 10 August 2012

* Play: 8:00PM – 10:PM (with intermission)

* After show soiree. Meet the actors and artist and viewing of Jeffry’s painting. Entertainment by Aussie-Swedish independent duo ‘Nick and Liesl’. Drinks available for purchase.

* The J Theatre * Tickets: $30. Net proceeds of ticket sales and the sale of the painting will be donated directly back to Frangipani Dreams.

* For more information visit www.catharsislive.com

Charlene Closshey

Charleene Closshey

Charleene Closshey (SAG/AEA/BMI) is a performing artist in the truest sense of the word – a classically trained composer, violinist and vocalist, a stage and screen actor, and music and stage producer with training from Juilliard, NYU, and Circle in the Square. Recent screen credits include feature film “A Thousand Cuts”, television pilot “Terminal Kill”, and art film “Walking with Francis”. Stage credits include the original Los Angeles productions of “A War Cycle: Wounded” and “Sherwood Forrest” (world premiere), with lead roles in U.S. productions of “The Wild Party”, “Nine”, “Hair” and “Jekyll & Hyde”. A classically trained violinist, Charleene fuses jazz, rock, pop, blues, and swinging fiddle, sharing the stage with artists including Josh Groban, Charlie Daniels, Frank Sinatra, Jr., and the TransSiberian Orchestra. As a vocalist, Charleene has performed with Operafestival di Roma in Rome, Italy. Various albums available on iTunes.com and Amazon.

AJ Meijer

AJ Meijer

AJ Meijer (SAG/AEA) co-founded the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble and was seen most recently in their productions of “The War Cycle: Wounded”, “The War Cycle: Nation of Two”, and “The War Cycle: Gospel According to First Squad”, for which he was nominated for an Ovation Award. Regionally, he last appeared as Lennie in “Of Mice and Men” at TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley. He has performed at the Ahmanson Theatre (LA) and spent four seasons performing at the Getty (LA), where he worked with the National Theatre of Greece in “Swallow Song” and created the role of Bigbuxo in the hilarious original musical “Tug of War”. AJ earned his theatre degree from the UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. He also co-hosts a weekly, industry-focused podcast called Inside Acting

Jeffry Feeger

Jeffry Feeger

JEFFRY FEEGER – The Painter About Jeffry Feeger: Jeffry is one of the most exciting young contemporary visual artists to emerge from the Pacific region. From Papua New Guinea and largely self-taught, his work in realism has been met with high critical acclaim and has been seen all over the world, including galleries in China, UK, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. As a skilled live performance painter, he is the reigning champion of the Shanghai Artist Battle 2010, a live performance competition including artists from all over the globe. He’s recently taken his exciting brand of live painting into various public spaces, performing in front of Sydney’s iconic Opera House and at the UN Women’s Exhibit during the Pacific Art Festival in Honiara, July 2012. An inspirational young figure for people in his country, Jeffry routinely collaborates with performers from a variety of unique backgrounds to share the stories he finds passionate. Jeffry’s art is sold worldwide. www.JeffryFeegerArt.com

Jeremy Culver

JEREMY CULVER

Jeremy Culver is a Los Angeles-based writer and director known for delving into topics surrounding Truth and Love in environments of change, blending multimedia mediums to explore life’s mythical stories. His most recently completed art film, Walking with Francis, supposes the last days of St. Francis of Assisi, and has already received critical acclaim with Italian audiences. Currently in production is the documentary, Radical Kindness (featuring Martin Sheen), chronicling the life of Monsignor John Sheridan. Concurrently in pre-production is the feature film Evergreen, a romantic comedy about a musician who returns home to life on the Christmas tree farm and finds her true voice (from the Producers of Hit and Run in theatres August 2012), shooting January 2013.

Jeffry Catharsis

Charleene Jeffry Catharsis

Frangipani Dreams

02
May
12

THE NEVERENDING STORY

The Neverending Story

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne Theatre

29th April – 12th May

Nobody alert Tim Burton to this great movie.. he WILL remake it and he WILL cast Johnny Depp in EVERY damn role.

Leew2oo6’s on YouTube

I’ve never read Michael Ende’s book but I grew up watching The Neverending Story. I wanted Fantasia to exist outside of my head and dreaded its demise, if ever my imagination failed me. Now I watch the movie with my five-year old, who feels the same emotions I do, which is perfect because I know when to hold her close. The Neverending Story (1984) is up there with Labyrinth (1986) and The Goonies (1985). They are the classic, cult eighties’ films of my childhood (and I don’t mind betting that O’Connor is at work on the stage adaptions of these two too!). I’m an eighties’ child and proud of it! Now, for a whole new generation of children (and their parents), this wonderful story has been brought to life on the Brisbane stage.

In just 3 weeks, Harvest Rain Theatre Company, known for its family friendly entertainment, has done an incredible job in preparing this show for the stage. From the outset, this production – the first known stage adaptation, thanks to Tim O’Connor’s arrangement with Verlag Fur Kindertheater, of Ende’s book – is magical. With original music from the film by Klaus Doldinger (by arrangement with Constantin Music) and additional original music incorporated seamlessly by the super-talented Maitlohn Drew, I found myself joining the characters on their epic journey, when usually, if I’m reviewing, it’s possible to stay somewhat removed from the production!

Before the show begins, there are hidden elements in the Proscenium for the audience to spot (or not). This is genius, delighting kids and adults alike. We are instantly engrossed and expecting more magic. I was pleased to see that the final moments of the show accounted for those who, like me, appreciate a bit of symmetry and full circle work to their magic. Props to those ensemble performers – second year interns in Harvest Rain’s Full Time training program – who play the supporting roles and become together, a declamatory Greek Chorus, their Greek Guard Steampunk garb befitting of the gates and Sphinxes, whose forms they assume. They are: Casey McCollow (who will play Tracy Turnblad in HR’s upcoming production of Hairspray), Cameron Whitten, Dana Musil, Cassie Dormer, Lauren Heidecker, Morgan Kempster, Danny Lazar, Ebony McGeady and Cameron Rollo. They serve as the narrators throughout the play (somebody sounds surprisingly similar to Melanie Zanetti! Look out!), allowing the action to skip along nicely without the use of a projector and a big screen (how old school! Community theatre groups take note!), as well as all manner of inanimate objects: after the Sphinxes, the remaining two gates through which Atreyu must pass, receive similarly clever treatment. This is not just the stuff of Year 9 high school tableaus and drama games; this is the step beyond, interwoven within the context of the drama, which we’ve been waiting to see for a long time from HR.

Oh. Right. Let’s do a quick check of the story for the newbies, shall we? For those of you who, like me, expect to the letter, the narrative structure of the film, you won’t be disappointed. Everything is there. We don’t see Bastian’s bullies but we know they’re there and rather than reap revenge on them, as he does in the film, Bastian simply walks away, off into the real world, more like his alter-ego, Atreyu, than the Bastian we knew, ready to take on his aggressors, no matter what shape or form; a conclusion I like very much. Is that decision book inspired or O’Connor inspired? It’s a nice touch.

For those who are unfamiliar with Michael Ende’s original, fantastical tale, it’s all made very clear in just 70 minutes. Bastian (David Lawrence) hides out in a big, old bookstore, from a gang of school bullies. The owner of the bookstore is Mr Coreander. In this role, Ron Kelly softens nicely after a deliberately awkward start, eventually connecting with Bastian and allowing us to finally connect with him. He “can’t abide children”, however; he sees something in Bastian that makes him leave a mysterious book within the troubled boy’s reach and Bastian decides to “borrow” it. The only place Bastian can read it undisturbed is in the school attic. What unfolds is the story within the pages of the book, an adventure; a warrior on a mission to save Fantasia.

Economical use of the space allows Bastian to stay in the attic for much of the play. This sounds limiting but it’s not. The action plays out below him, on stage, as he reads aloud from the book. He leaps up often enough and when he opens the heavy cover and turns the pages of the book, we see his lips moving and enjoy watching his beautifully expressive face as he reads, thanks to a perfectly positioned light, placed somewhere, seemingly, within the pages of the book. Incredibly, David Lawrence LOOKS enough like Bastian (Barret Oliver) in the movie to please even the most stoic fans. He’s just a little older, which means his appeal is broader. He’s not just “a little boy”; he’s every boy (and girl) looking for an adventure and avoiding growing up for just a little bit longer. (Did you know you can get your very own Auryn here?).

The Luck Dragon, Falkor, played by Anthony Standish, is tough and gruff and lovable (and apparently loves his blue slurpees) and The Childlike Empress, played by Erika Naddei is regal, graceful and wise beyond her years, just as she should be. Audiences will adore seeing the Rockchewer (an enormous puppet of Woodfordian inspiration and controlled in the same cooperative manner as Dead Puppet Society’s The Harbinger’s Old Man), Morla The Ancient One (another enormous puppet, although she is serpent not tortoise) and the odd travelling companions, Nighthob and Gluckuk. Thenadier-like comic relief comes as we get nearer the southern Oracle, in the hilarious antics of Engywook (Dan Crestani) and Urgl (Cameron Whitten), the quarrelling gnomes. These two are outstanding in these quirky roles and I’m sure there will be parents or grandparents who relate to their bickering… I mean that in the most loving, caring way.

Dan Venz is the boy warrior, Atreyu (we last saw him as the Tinman in The Wizard of Oz and we’ll see him next as Link Larkin in Hairspray) and while Venz looks quite perfect (as a Plains Person rather than the book’s Greenskin, just as the impassioned Noah Hathaway portrayed him in the film), his vocals are unconvincing. I strained at times to hear Venz and I felt the voice should more honestly reflect Atreyu’s feelings throughout his difficult journey. Particularly towards the end of the show, I felt that there was a great deal left undone…or not quite offered. Acting is giving. With only three weeks to rehearse, perhaps a little more vocal authenticity and a greater investment in the role will show itself during the run, as Venz realises the impact that this show is having (I’m predicting) on its audiences.

When the vocal work can extend to the delivery of the narrative (let’s not forget that we are, after all, communicating a story and if it must be told it must be told clearly), this show will want for nothing (CUE Vocal Coach. Nothing wrong with a mid-season rehearsal!). What already works wonderfully, is the ensemble’s vocal underscoring, Ron Kelly as the terrifying (and wonderfully dread-locked!) werewolf, Gmork, and Crestani as Artax, reminding us that the human voice is, indeed, capable of making, literally, thousands of sounds.

The difficult trek made by Atreyu and Artax through the Swamps of Sadness is impressive in its theatricality, using eerie vocal work and lighting, minimal cloth, space and perspective and, as you would expect, is devastating in its theatrical context. There were, understandably, whimpers and tears from the children (including my own) in the opening night audience. Crestani brilliantly uses the simplest movements and a free, confident voice to bring us “horse”. It’s an impressive performance and a devastating moment.

The fear factor too, is impressive, largely due to Kelly’s uninhibited portrayal of Gmork and less to do with the incoming The Nothing (my imagination needed a little more help with the latter. Was there no smoke machine?!). After the show, people wanted to know if my daughter had been scared. Yes, she had been. And what an achievement it is to create a terror on stage so vivid and real that genuine fear is generated amongst audience members!

If you are taking younger children to the show, do expect to hold them close to you throughout this scene (and throughout the fight scene, choreographed by Niki J-Price, between Atreyu and Gmork, one which I hope will pick up, pace-wise, as the season continues) and be prepared to talk about Ende’s many challenging themes of life and death and love and apathy on whatever level your child proposes. The beauty (and the bonus) of theatre designed to entertain all the family is that it has an entirely different impact on each individual and inspires intriguing discussions and wonderful memories for a long time after the show is over.

Of course, it’s the combined elements that make this story come alive. In addition to the evocative music (Amanda Tio on double bass, Sunkyoung Kim  and Naomi Otto on violin), Glenwright’s lighting is a work of art in itself, offering light and shadow to support the changing moods of the hero and his challenges. Josh McIntosh has created a set that is filled with wonder and yet never actually needs us to leave the confines of the old bookstore. This is a lovely piece of design work, with a curving staircase and shelves upon shelves of books. Design like this, which takes into account everything we see the director trying to achieve, must come from the implicit understanding of a shared vision amongst great friends and colleagues.

The end of this show is like enough The Lorax to mention it here (I bet The Lorax is on O’Connor’s To Do List too!).

I was dreading an ending that failed to make me feel like it was my responsibility to keep Fantasia and its inhabitants alive and I wasn’t disappointed. With Bastian, we make a promise to keep our feet off the ground more often. We saved Fantasia and we can do it again! Yeah! You just can’t beat a triumphant happy ending. Happy tears are the best.

Harvest Rain is getting better and better at staging family shows. By this I mean, they’ve always done them; now they’re doing them for the whole family. Tim O’Connor, a Brisbane Person of the Year Nominee, is making bolder choices and they’re paying off. I think it’s safe to say that Harvest Rain is the premiere provider of family friendly theatre in Brisbane.

Regardless of your age or your affiliation with b-grade adventure films or the eighties, you will enjoy The Neverending Story. And your kids will enjoy it even more. In fact, I’m prepared to bet that they talk about it for the rest of the year, after they tell their friends, “Yeah, I saw ANNIE…but did you see The Neverending Story?!” Don’t let any of the kids – big or little – miss this bit of magic.

While you’re booking your tickets online, enjoy this bit of magic, from LIMAHL. Ha! Laugh it up, fuzzballs!

Production Images by Josh Woning