Posts Tagged ‘zac boulton


Pocketful of Pebbles

Pocketful of Pebbles

The Arts Centre, Gold Coast & White Rabbit Theatre Ensemble

The Arts Centre, Gold Coast

July 6 – 7 2017


Reviewed by Claire Harding




Aspiring, as all good fairy tales should, to teach children a moral, Pocketful of Pebbles delivered an important message to its family holiday audience at The Arts Centre, Gold Coast…


Stories can only exist when they are shared.


A funny and entertaining show with a darker edge, the collaborators on this unique project drew inspiration from traditional folk and fairy tale traditions that didn’t shy away from reminding younger audiences that life is not always sunny. Co-written by White Rabbit Theatre’s Lisa Smith (Playwright, Director, Producer and last minute Actor), Victoria Carless (Playwright The Grand, 2015 and Novelist The Dream Walker, 2017) and Tammy Weller (Playwright and Actor), show us that before Disney, not all good stories ended in happily ever after.




However, it’s not all doom and gloom. This tension is juxtaposed with a whimsical delivery of stock characters and Puppets, such as the main character Mr Phoenix; a giant Phoenix bird designed by Graeme Haddon (Director of Puppetry for The Wiggles and Jim Henson’s Farscape). He is a humorous bird whom, with his companions, delivers some great commentary and witty one liners, which keep the adults just as entertained as the kids.



Performers, including Puppeteer Master Anna Straker, with Zachary Boulton and Louise Brehmer, had three short weeks to prepare and master their puppeteering techniques. Each actor plays many different characters, giving this simple production a much grander feel. The script doesn’t shy away from villainous characters or scary situations, but skilfully uses humour to ensure that the play remains light-hearted and fun, including the inclusion of sock puppet twins, Detectives Burp and Fart. The use of audience interaction, stylised movement and sound effects, give the piece a cartoonish feel, without slipping over into the pantomime realm.



Three traditional stories are skilfully woven together through the narration of Mr Phoenix, who is a magical storytelling bird played by the gracious Brehmer. Mr Phoenix’s comedic commentary is reminiscent of the Grumpy Old Men on The Muppet Show. A bird who is destined to be born again but just wants to die, his morose complaining, used to add humour, drive the story and break the fourth wall, reminding the audience that they are just watching a silly story. The minimalist setting is engaging for the audience as it invites us to fill in the blanks and use our imagination, further investing in the reality skilfully created by White Rabbit Theatre Ensemble.



A year in the making, Pocketful of Pebbles is a unique, dark and funny tale that delivers a positive message as Mr Phoenix challenges the audience to become the keepers of the stories so that the stories live on, and storytelling traditions be continued. A very entertaining and, at times, moving piece of family theatre. A too-short season on the Gold Coast means we can only hope that this touring production makes its way to a theatre near you.



A Slight Ache & The Lover


A Slight Ache & The Lover

now look here

Metro Arts

March 8 – 19 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.

– Santideva


Who are you?

– Edward, A Slight Ache, Harold Pinter

RICHARD Is your lover coming today?


… It’s the husband asking and it’s the husband who returns at three, as the leather jacket clad lover, for a little bit of afternoon delight. We realise that this English middle class married couple, in an effort to spice up their love life, enjoy some regular role play, and in-role erotic games of cat and mouse in the parlour, frequently ending up under the table. I vaguely worry that a vase of fresh flowers on the tabletop above them will come crashing to the floor during a fit of cloth-concealed passion. But there is something very reserved about their fantasies. Everything left to the imagination. And certainly nothing broken. Imagine! There’s something generally very reserved about the couple and despite Kerith Atkinson’s beautifully prepared 1950s housewife contrasting nicely with her whore, I don’t feel convinced that Danny Murphy is the ideal husband and lover for her, which makes it impossible to believe the relationship. I should be swept up in the couple’s absurd antics, and a little shocked and delighted by their coping mechanisms, and I’m not.

Everything is funny; the greatest earnestness is funny; even tragedy is funny. And I think what I try to do in my plays is to get this recognisable reality of the absurdity of what we do and how we behave and how we speak.

– Harold Pinter

It’s very clear that Pinter admired women, and saw that society, in general, too often does not. Or didn’t in 1963 when The Lover was written, originally for TV. In The Lover, Pinter shows us that women can successfully fill multiple roles and men – this man at least – cannot. After a time, Richard becomes frustrated, tired and confused, and simply wants, once again, to come home to a wife, not a whore or a mistress. (He goes to great lengths to explain the differences between them. It’s very simple, really).

SARAH I must say I find your attitude to women rather alarming.

RICHARD Why? I wasn’t looking for your double, was I? I wasn’t looking for a woman I could respect, as you, whom I could admire and love, as I do you. Was I? All I wanted was…how shall I put it…someone who could express and engender lust with all lust’s cunning. Nothing more.

Like Albee’s earliest plays, Pinter’s early work sits on the Absurd shelf, right by Realism, with its uncanny insight into human paranoia, projection, dissatisfaction and assumption. Yes, it’s Realism, but not as we know it.   


An African drum ritual is appropriately odd (but not). It precedes a flashback to another time, another place, another rendezvous… The beat starts slowly, quietly, intensely before quickening; they both play – she scratches the skin with her nails – and it’s strange, unsettling, and hilarious. I’m not sure it should be quite so amusing. Pinter’s comedy is subtle, tucked away into the dark corners of his Realism, but Director Kate Wild has teased it out into the open, like a daydream, giving her actors some opportunities to play. But I’m unconvinced and this production is frequently funny because the chemistry between Atkins and Murphy is so awkward… Of course, others consider it the perfect casting, which is fine. And intriguing.          


Why do you think the conversations in your plays are so effective? 


I don’t know. I think possibly it’s because people fall back on anything they can lay their hands on verbally to keep away from the danger of knowing, and of being known. 

Zac Boulton – the milkman, John – appears at the door with the milk, although it’s clearly cream he’d like the housewife to take. He’s quite persistent! It’s a distraction, and one we can’t help but imagine she’ll go for, but no; it’s Pinter, not a Hollywood team of writers, and she remains faithful to her husband, her lover.


Is there more than one way to direct your plays successfully? 


Oh, yes, but always around the same central truth of the play—if that’s distorted, then it’s bad. The main difference in interpretation comes from the actors. The director can certainly be responsible for a disaster, too…

Zac Boulton is the mysterious Matchseller in A Slight Ache (written originally as a radio play and adapted for the stage); it’s Boulton’s most disciplined performance to date, without dialogue yet demanding intense focus. There is very little movement involved but his deflated, decrepit posture and noisy shuffling is a perfect capture of sadness, and his shaking is the whole world imploding. Of course we have to wonder if he’s real, or if he might be a figment of Edward’s imagination. Murphy is far better suited to this role and brings to it a measure of consideration, calculation and inner terror that prompts us to consider our own imminent death. His perspective on the wasp’s purpose in the world, and his rather cold treatment of it in the opening scene serves as a neat summary of the themes in the play. (He traps it in the marmalade pot, while the wife watches on, alarmed and grateful to her husband and protector for keeping them out of danger. Because so much danger in their hum-drum lives).

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

– Gautama Buddha

Pinter demands that we consider our mortality and our identity by drawing attention to the mundanity and imagined menace of the every day. Murphy’s Edward is suitably suspicious and increasingly terrified of the Matchseller, an imposter, eventually rising and filling the role that Edward relinquishes. Of his two roles in this double bill, Edward is the character that Murphy embodies and delivers in the most affecting way. And by the end, when he is crazed and confused and drained of all life force, we feel more for him then for Flora, who doesn’t miss her husband and protector because either he is replaced by the Matchseller or he has become the Matchseller. We’re never really certain but I decide that he has become the man, who becomes younger and stronger as Flora’s attention is lavished upon him. As Flora, Atkinson offers on a silver platter, vivid descriptions of her well-kept garden, and the oddly seductive imagery of the final interior scenes; she’s a 1950s housewife after Salome.


Wild has assembled a creative team (including Costume Designer Penelope Challen & Lighting Designer Christine Felmingham), to take the muted colours and larger pieces of a comfortable middle class life – a table, a sofa, a hat stand, a chair – out of their natural surrounds and position them on stage beneath gentle light and within a soundtrack of too-cute tunes. As much as we enjoy the music though, scene transitions (the passing of time, the changing of clothes) needn’t take an entire track… Atkinson’s wardrobe is noteworthy, the very essence of classic Chanel meets contemporary Marc Cain (The Lover) and Burberry (A Slight Ache). 

It’s rare to see Pinter done well so if it’s your bag, baby, see this double bill before it finishes on Friday.

Excerpts from The Paris Review


Heavenly Bodies and Beautiful Souls


Heavenly Bodies & Beautiful Souls

Pentimento Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

November 18 – 28 2015


Reviewed by Katy Cotter 




Heavenly Bodies and Beautiful Souls features, yet again, exquisite writing by Sven Swenson that brings to life afflicted and loveable characters, making us reflect on our own human existence. Each play is an hour long, allowing the audience a brief glimpse into the lives of one particular family, four generations apart.


The stage design by Ray Milner is stunning; as the audience enters the Visy Theatre, they are transported to a den of iniquity in Singapore, 1942. Heavenly Bodies opens with Laidie (Regan Lynch) a woman of hidden talents preparing her boudoir for the next soldier and trying desperately to block out the sound of artillery shells exploding outside. She makes the bed and then reclines on a chaise lounge, surrounded by lavish rugs and precious trinkets that comfort and make her feel desirable in a time of war. The stage is surrounded by debris; broken furniture, crumbling brick and all covered in a ghostly white sheet of dust. As beautiful as Laidie’s world appears to be, a brutal reality is ever present and creeping through the cracks in the window.


She is soon joined by Australian solider Cutty Cutler (Sam Ryan) who is quick to express his love for his wife, Ruby, and that he only requires friendly company and conversation.


The narrative unfolds into a sweet, confronting and transformative encounter between two people searching for inner peace and acceptance in dark times.




Ryan’s performance of the “joker from the scrub” is jovial and endearing. The writing includes brilliant moments of Aussie slang and hilarious anecdotes that Ryan handles with ease. Lynch has an incredibly difficult role, with Laidie by the end completely and unashamedly revealing her true self to Cutty. Whether or not it was opening night nerves, it seemed that Lynch’s performance was bubbling on the surface. His restraint captured Laidie’s discomfort but there were times I wanted more! I wanted to see her harrowing struggle with the person she use to be, is now, and who she yearns to become. The text is so rich and desperate that more weight and time needed to be given to certain lines.


Heavenly Bodies explores themes that are still (unfortunately) relevant today.


This play reminds us of the importance of being vulnerable; that it’s ok to be scared but not to be controlled by our fears. It is imperative to look upon someone with love, without judging them too quickly; to see them for who they truly are. Perhaps then, our own true selves will be revealed.




From the beginning, Beautiful Souls thrusts the audience into a cage of regret, loneliness and uncertainty. This story introduces David Cutler (Zachary Boulton) who travelled to Asia with his intellectually disabled brother, Justin (Peter Norton) and companion, Beth (Casey Woods). After David convinces Justin to hide the remains of their marijuana on his person, the three are convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death.


Swenson has mentioned that at the time of writing Beautiful Souls, no Australian had been on death row since drug offenders Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986. He has also refrained from altering the script due to recent events.


The stage is surrounded by debris with the actors standing on three raised platforms with a wall of thick barbed wire behind them; above each hung a noose. It is a stark and terrifying design that allows the audience to draw their focus to the actors. All three performances by Boulton, Norton and Woods are raw and completely harrowing, each leading to a defeated acceptance of a grim end.




There are moments when it seems the text does not sit well with Beth, that the character would not utter particular words given to her, though Woods has everyone on the edge of their seat. She speaks with such sincerity and moves honestly through moments of grasping for hope, lost in memory and wallowing in despair. Boulton plays David as a broken man tormented by the past and fighting against the inevitable future. Due to the fact he is continually battling with his raging emotions, his quick acceptance of his fate at the end is somewhat abrupt. On opening night I was yearning for glimpses of light in this dark character. Perhaps this resistance was a conscience decision, a reminder of those who fight and fight and fight till the very end.


Norton’s performance is a standout. He is completely charming, providing the right amount of comedy when need be, and also an incredible depth and knowing, allowing the audience to delight in the many facets of the character.


Beautiful Souls forces you to reflect on the history of humanity.


While our world can be cruel and relentless, this play reminds us of the beauty found in minute moments, and in the company of those closest to us.



The Fever


The Fever

A to Z Theatre

West End Markets Warehouse

May 8 – 17 2015


 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward










You might not recognise the name but you’ll certainly remember Wallace Shawn’s presence in Vanya on 42nd Street and The Princess Bride – brilliant! Also a brilliant writer, Shawn has been performing his extended monologue, The Fever, since 1990.


Zac Boulton has brought it to vivid life in a most amusing and disturbing way for Anywhere Theatre Festival.



While visiting a poverty-stricken country far from home, the unnamed narrator of The Fever is forced to witness the political persecution occurring just beyond a hotel window. In examining a life of comfort and relative privilege, the narrator reveals, “I always say to my friends, We should be glad to be alive. We should celebrate life. We should understand that life is wonderful.” But how does one celebrate life—take pleasure in beauty, for instance—while slowly becoming aware that the poverty and oppression of other human beings are a direct consequence of one’s own pleasurable life?


There’s a new breed of performer emerging in Queensland and I’m gonna’ give a shout out to the agency who represents a few of them because people often ask us who they should approach about management. BMEG’s Directors, Rowena Mohr and Mary-Ann Vale, must have recognised a little while ago what we’re seeing now on stage and screen. Some of the names on their books include Dash Kruck, Emily Burton, Amy Ingram, Erica Field, Cienda McNamara, Lizzie Moore, Sam Plummer and The Fever’s Zac Boulton…performers with an entirely different energy, who each have a very real sense of leaping, whole body and voice and heart and head and soul, into a role.


(If you’re a performer with an industry referral you can contact BMEG here).





Zac Boulton’s performance of The Fever, Wallace Shawn’s detailed and dynamic text, is intense and excellent.



It’s physically, vocally and emotionally demanding, challenging the actor firstly to seduce us and gain our trust, which he does by making direct eye contact and introducing us to the imagined insects in the room, and then to hold our attention and entertain us for a full 75 minutes. Around the three-quarter mark it becomes difficult to stay focused. Perhaps the piece is 10-15 minutes too long. Perhaps it’s early onset Festival Fatigue.


Boulton has worked closely with Director, Anatoly Frusin, to create a whole world within a room, a West End space I hadn’t known existed. The performance space is literally a black box with a string of fairy lights, a couple of strategically placed reading lamps, a table and a ceiling painted, like Mr Plumbean’s house, with brightly coloured figments of someone else’s imagination. There’s an octopus and a red and white circus tent… I forget to keep looking for anything else. It’s a good find, a building almost hidden behind food stalls in the Boundary Street Markets, like a poor man’s Metro Arts. It’s the perfect space for this feverish and at times very funny one-man show.


Look at yourself. Look. You walk so stiffly in your kitchen each morning, you approach your cupboard. You open it, and reach for the coffee, the coffee you expect to find on its shelf. And it has to be there. And if one morning it isn’t there—oh, the hysteria!—the entire world will have to pay! At the very thought of the unexpected, the unexpected deprivation, you begin to twitch, to panic, to pant. The shortness of breath! Listen to your voice on the telephone, listen to the tone that comes into your voice when you talk to one of your very close friends and you talk about your life and you use those expressions—”what I need to live on . . .”—”the amount I need . . .”—solemn, quiet, no histrionics—the tone of hysteria, the tone of the fanatic—well, yes—of course—it makes sense. You understand your situation. Without a place to live, without clothes, without money, you would be like them, you would be them, you would be what they are—you would be the homeless, you would be the comfortless. So of course, you know it, you will do anything. There are no limits to what you will do. Without the money, your face would become the face of a rat, your hands would be paws—sharp, nimble, ready to scratch, ready to tear.”


Unsettling much?


To experience this show is to step inside the dark, gritty picture painted by Wallace’s words, which come so fast at times from Boulton’s lips that I notice I’m not the only one leaning forward in my seat to catch them. This is a precarious act of commitment to the performance, considering we’re sitting on bar stools in the back row, like late-night gatecrashers to a private party at a random inner city dingy and unidentified location, probs because every other venue in the vicinity applied lockout at 3am. There’s an alluring sense of secrecy and mystery and possible lowbrow criminal activity, as if the regulars at that inner city bar party have suddenly procured drugs to convince us to stay… Well, haven’t you ever accidentally walked into a place you know you shouldn’t be in? I almost feel like I’m still listening to Christos Tsiolkas’ Dead Europe. Yeah. You know it. Some similar moral and ethical questions there. A bit scary. Scary road trip/travelling listening, ideal for late night home to the Sunshine Coast drives through infuriatingly frequent (STILL) roadworks. Not. At. All.


Boulton’s physicality is bold and very disciplined, allowing us to see him sitting in a chair when there is not one beneath him. His use of a single table – upside down, sideways, back to front and right side up – provides almost all the settings required to tell his tale (a portion of wall and a change in lighting states provide yet another). Frusin’s hand in all of this, I suspect, has been light and sure.


We can actually envisage the blood in the streets, the sweat, the stench, the immense suffering on a daily basis, and what are we thinking? Well, you know, I sponsor a child, I click to donate, I support the bake sale to raise funds for African orphanages, I buy Fairtrade tea, I post via Instagram a picture of me wearing my slippers/white shirt/whatever it is to support a worthy cause this month…. WOW. How pathetic am I???


Sympathy for the poor does not change the life of the poor…


And artists who create works of art that inspire sympathy and good values don’t change the life of the poor.


The Fever is 75 minutes of intravenous Viagra. It forces us to take a good hard look at how we conduct ourselves every day. What choices are we making and how do those choices affect the lives and wellbeing of others? You might not want to think about it for too long. Except you have to. You can’t walk out the door and down the stairs and shrug off this stuff!


The ending is not necessarily satisfactory – let’s say if you hadn’t considered your behaviour before you came in, you will do on the way out – and there’s a little bit of hard work involved, in terms of staying focused on the big issues for over an hour, but it’s a compelling performance with enough lighter moments to break up the tough stuff (only there are times when you’ll wonder whether or not it’s appropriate to laugh out loud!).


Don’t let a little bit of hard work discourage you from seeking out this seriously confronting, extremely physical and beautifully self-assured solo performance by one of Queensland’s most exciting and ambitious actors.