Posts Tagged ‘zeal theatre


The Forwards


The Forwards

Brisbane Powerhouse, Shock Therapy Productions & Zeal Theatre

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

June 14 – 24 2017


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




You may or may not be a footy fan but The Forwards is for everyone, no matter your feelings about sport or art, or the inconceivability of combining the two in any way in between opening ceremonies…

because it’s about people.

Stefo Nantsou’s latest show for Zeal Theatre and Shock Therapy Productions was originally written for high school audiences, and while there remains a made-for-school-curriculum quality early in the text, in its set up, this and its humour is what makes it accessible; it’s wide open, literally with something for everyone, and like The Apology, my other favourite work from this Gold Coast based collective, it deserves to go far.

The Forwards ticks all the boxes, but more importantly, it tugs at the heartstrings and reminds us, powerfully, of who we are, where we come from, and the reasons we might feel the need to escape. In this highly physical and confrontational drama, Australia’s small town mentality and a number of universal issues go under the microscope.



It might not have been you who grew up in a football obsessed town the size of the fictional Pintoon, but you must know someone who did. The stories we have after spending just three years in Mt Isa would make a disturbing evening too, but we’ll let those sleeping dogs lie a little longer. The panoply of Pintoon characters is impressive, and even more so when we realise that this show is performed in schools by three actors rather than five.

Despite each character coming dangerously close to being a Great Australian Stereotype, the immediate recognition (and the nicknames: Twerk, Hashtag etc), are vital, helping us to get to know everyone in record time. (It’s already a slightly longer than necessary show; we only need to see the first or second, and then the final quarter of the match, or each quarter can be a good deal shorter, more effectively applying the tableaus).



To return to each individual at the end of the play in a beautiful, extended, transformative sequence is a masterstroke, and a masterclass in nuanced physical performance.

Nantsou has shaped the story as if it’s already optioned for a television movie or mini series, and perhaps it might be; there’s certainly a broader audience for this story, and what a refreshing wake up call to see something so Australian, so unforgivably real on our small screens. Using slow motion and choreographed sequences to good effect, we’re sickened by the small-minded, heavy-handed violence throughout – implied and actual – and horrified by the inevitable end.


Spoiler alert: there hasn’t been a more terrifying car crash seen on stage since Fractal’s Anywhere Fest production of My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe (2015), which also benefited from mesmerising slow motion sequences and a lighting design by Geoff Squires. I’d LOVE to see these productions done as a double bill at Brisbane Powerhouse (…and Mt Isa Civic Centre). Can you imagine? And afterwards the drinking culture would continue, because we’re gonna’ need something pretty strong at the end of an evening like THAT. 


Sam Foster, Hayden Jones and Ellen Bailey bring accomplished performances to the Visy stage,  playing all manner of townsfolk as well as the main characters who harness our hearts and would have us take sides, only we can’t because we’re given all angles to consider and compassion is the only way through.

Bailey as both the jock and his girlfriend is inspired casting; it’s a demanding ask of the actor but she delivers, leaving us in the end with a heart wrenching image of desperate hollow grief. 

Rob Diley and Nantsou bring a number of additional roles to life, and from the outset, carry the garage band sound and energy. The original music played live by the entire cast on stage adds another raw, real element to the production. Without it we’d be left wanting.

With Foster and Nantsou’s simple set design, and Squires’ moody lighting, this school show has grown up and graduated to the main stage. 

There has been one other company to have the same powerful impact on audiences of all ages, inside and outside of the school setting. 

Only Nelle Lee’s Tequila Mockingbird has delivered a similar shock to the contemporary collective system. On one hand it’s surprising that there are not more like it, The Apology and The Forwards, and on the other, it’s possible that the code is just too hard for other companies to crack. Or perhaps the others think the scene is stitched up? Or they’re interested in other things. But there is great demand for these works, due to the desperate need in our secondary schools for real life issues to be brought to the table in powerful, transformative ways that teens can relate to.

If you know a teacher or a school administrator, can you make sure they know about this show? We see the impact of theatre on the whole school community; it should never be just for the kids who do Drama.

The Forwards offers a rare opportunity for our youth and the people who care about them to consider the challenging issues of belonging, leaving, the law, loyalty, love, loss, sex, secrets, pride, rules, respect, envy, violence, entertainment, youth, ageing, country towns, clubs, community, the lure of bright city lights and celebrity, alcoholism, addiction, football and rape culture, and what it means to be a man or woman or mother or father or figure of authority in this country. The jury’s still out on that one. Rather than being condescending or irrelevant to kids’ lives outside of the classroom, The Forwards will make them, and their teachers and parents, sit up and see familiar people and familiar problems in a way that demands discussion.



With deep insight, sensitivity and a necessarily light touch at times, Nantsou has written and directed an outstanding, hard-hitting theatrical piece to challenge its actors and audiences.

The Forwards is potent and it has the potential to change lives.

Production pics by Garth Ledwidge


The Forwards


The Forwards

Zeal Theatre & The Arts Centre Gold Coast

The Space, The Arts Centre Gold Coast

July 9 – 18 2015


Reviewed by Katy Cotter




In 2004 founder of Zeal Theatre, Stefo Nantsou, was asked to create a piece of ‘contemporary theatre reflecting the experiences of young people in regional communities.’ The company ran workshops at numerous high schools that revealed common issues surrounding sport, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment and small town rivalries. Nantsou took these stories, transforming them into a play for three actors.


In collaboration with Shock Therapy Productions and The Arts Centre Gold Coast, The Forwards is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, focusing on the Pintoon Parrots, who have made it to the AFL grand final.


The whole town has come to support their boys, in particular the three stellar kickers – Rabbit, Hoges and Tractor. It all begins the night before the big game when everyone is partying hard. The narrative follows the three kickers as they struggle with the pressures of being the best and denying the temptations of alcohol, drugs and reckless behaviour.




The audience is first introduced to Julie, Rabbit’s girlfriend, both played by Ellen Bailey. Julie is worried that Rabbit’s fascination with drugs will jeopardise his chance to prove his sporting talent. Bailey moves between the two characters with ease, playing Julie with a captivating sensitivity that has the audience hanging on her every word, and then switching to the hot-headed Rabbit who keeps his hands in his pockets and eyes to the ground. Hoges (Sam Foster) and Tractor (Hayden Jones) are Rabbit’s best friends and the relationship between the three changes drastically. Foster and Jones, founders of Shock Therapy Productions, are two extremely skilled actors who completely immerse themselves in the physicality of their characters. Jones also plays the role of the Coach, and anyone who grew up watching their brothers play footy, will recognize that Jones’ portrayal is spot on.


There are so many comical characters the actors portray which display their versatility and help build the image of an entire town.


Nanstou and co-founder of Zeal Theatre, Rob Dilley, made cameo appearances as some of the townsfolk when they weren’t playing the musical score for the show. Situated at the back of the stage, Dilley kept the beat on the drums while Nanstou played guitar. Their presence doesn’t pull attention away from the action happening on stage. They keep their focus on the actors and remain within the world of the show.


Nanstou’s performance as Julie’s Dad is distressing and the symbol of the coke can is one I won’t forget.




Zeal Theatre is known for their style of physical theatre and it is one of the play’s greatest strengths.


The choreography of the football game has all the drama and physical finesse as the real thing, and is accompanied by a high intensity drum solo by Dilley. Although some of the sound effects made by the actors and the use of mime were sometimes unnecessary and distracting, the commitment to every movement throughout the entirety of the play made it difficult for the audience to disengage. Without giving too much away, there is a scene where a series of repetitive gestures spoke louder than words, and this is a true testament to Nantsou’s direction. The scene was far more emotional and engaging without dialogue, leaving the audience to fill in the silence with their own experience of grief.


The Forwards explores themes of friendship, betrayal and the disastrous ramifications of binge-drinking.


The story has a perfect balance of drama and comedy and must be told so that history is not repeated. The unbelievable pressure put upon young people to succeed is a harsh reality and the current sporting culture we have in Australia cannot be ignored. You have to be the best otherwise you’re nothing. The Forwards remind us that the upmost importance is nurturing and encouraging our young athletes in positive ways. Season must finish Saturday.








The Apology


The Apology

Zeal Theatre Queensland & Shock Therapy Productions

Boggo Road Gaol

May 12 – 23 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward











People think I run away after a show if I’ve hated it but that’s not always true. It’s sometimes true, but not always. On Tuesday night I was so affected by The Apology that I ran away so no one would see how upset I was. I was overwhelmed, on the verge of tears…






Unfortunately, we’d been locked in. The gate through which we’d entered Boggo Road Gaol was locked and barred from the inside (keeping inmates safe since 1883?), so I composed myself for a moment while the lovely box office girl raced up to let me out. I had to smile and say something so I thanked her and said I’d email Sam the following day. (And I did so because PRODUCTION PICS!). And then I let the tears fall, all the way to Aspley before I knew where I was. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at navigating Brisbane at night during Anywhere Theatre Festival, I can tell you.



I wasn’t sobbing, don’t worry; it wasn’t a desperate outpouring of something so intense or personal only live theatre could unlock it (but that’s happened before). It was an overwhelming feeling of responsibility (well, it’s impossible to teach kids without investing emotionally). Also, contributing factors including I was really tired and feeling fed up with driving and road works and well, young men in utes on the freeway are just so RUDE sometimes, aren’t they? And I’d been to dinner the night before with the awesome Matty Anderson and his Melbourne Storm Development Academy boys and I looked up at those young faces and their wide eyes full of high hopes, and talked with those who have been around a bit longer than they have been about footy, bullying, rape culture, human trafficking, daughters and… I HAD A LOT ON MY MIND.



ANYWAY, I suddenly felt really strongly that everyone everywhere needed to see this show.






Well, thanks to Artslink Qld it’s been happening, during an extensive schools’ tour since 2004. I hadn’t realised, having not heard about it, which is unusual and adds weight to the discussion about the need for a Sunshine Coast secondary drama teachers’ network-not-just-panel.



So students and teachers from Weipa to Warwick, Mt Isa to Mackay, and Gladstone to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast have already experienced (Writer & Director) Stefo Nantsou’s hardcore two-hander, The Apology, but somehow I’d missed it until now. Other Zeal Theatre Queensland productions have been touring and winning great acclaim for years too. Who knew?






The Apology is an example of Zeal Theatre’s signature style of doing as much as possible with as little as possible.



The infamous Brisbane Prison features in the show – it’s the setting for an incident that occurs during a Year 9 excursion, a terrifying experience that alters the course of a young boy’s life. What was intended as a cruel “joke” ends up having horrific repercussions…repercussions that we know really happened. The Apology is based on a true story.






The text is fairly authentic without being offensive; the language, including those relentless and so-called “innocent” jibes uttered “just for fun”, which kids learn from somewhere (where do they learn to speak to each other that way?!) are delivered slowly and tauntingly, like a knife being removed from the spleen, or as quick, sharp stabs straight to the heart, depending on the character involved.



Just two actors, Sam Foster & Hayden Jones, perform all the characters (and Foster plays a pretty mean guitar too, the compositions and volume ideal in this haunted, haunting space).



This accomplishment is so much more impressive than I can write about here. The mastery with which these two employ the slightest change in vocal and facial expression, posture, gesture and gait (or adjust the angle of a baseball cap) to keep the story moving at a rapid pace will win over even the most skeptical non-theatre-attending fourteen year old!






As exhilarating as the pace might feel at times (and not forgetting it’s very funny), there’s not an empathetic moment missed. And this is the magic. A less confident team might gloss over critical moments but instead we are left sitting in silence and stillness for juuuuust long enough to start to feel uncomfortable…and inexplicably guilty.



Shouldn’t we be doing something?! Somebody tell him to stop it! STOP!



I’ve never sat in an audience and felt so conflicted about sitting still and paying attention without interjecting. Well, there have been committee meetings that have come close but…there were times when I wanted to sit “the Eneme” (Foster) down and tell him, “You don’t need to be that guy” and times when I wanted to give Ray Bones (Jones) a big hug and tell him, “You don’t need to be that guy!” by which he would have been discomforted and unresponsive, walked away. I know this because we feel as if we know the characters well enough to do this; to intercede, to protect, to prevent harm… N.B. At no point did I feel compelled to punch the Eneme in the head. I think that’s important, don’t you?






The personality and family history brought to the story by Ray’s character is typical and really worrying. His parents are continuously fighting and repeatedly splitting. He has no friends and no sense of self-worth, and his dad’s one hot tip is to pick the right time and fight back! WTF?! And then there’s the downward spiral at school and the principal’s completely inappropriate lectures, the adult behaviour demonstrating the insidious bullying that happens systemically from the top down. Who can even consider getting near enough to him to be able to help Ray? It’s heartbreaking. And then, even more heartbreaking, he picks his moment.



Within a cleverly styled satirical segment, which is surprisingly upbeat, though it’s just as hard-hitting, we are given the opportunity to stop and consider how we feel about this story and its stakeholders when a television journalist presents the “facts” of the case. A similar device is employed in The Stones, when the boys stand on trial and the audience becomes the jury. To frame the case and recap the story in this way makes it easier for teachers to talk about the themes of the show with their students but it’s probably not necessary to include it for the general public…or is it? Do we need a framework such as this, using comedy and the familiar news report or reality television format, to be able to talk about the too-hard issues? Is it in fact precisely the way we need to frame these serious issues, which are not being treated seriously enough by so many people in authority and in roles that require the care of children?






And what about those adults who are speaking to each other in this manner? What about workplace bullying and “mates” who won’t let up? What about the jostling and hustling in the locker room and on the sports field? What about the graduation party that becomes a dangerous game of Truth or Dare? What about the tough guy or girl who doesn’t like what you’re wearing (or “misinterprets” what you’re wearing)? This show could be the precursor to a whole series of hardcore shows that challenge us to reconsider the way we communicate with each other. Perhaps we could have each play filmed and available to download or purchase on DVD. Perhaps we might see the ABC produce a series of episodes for prime time viewing. I’m not kidding. Can you help to make that happen? Let me know if you can.



Imagine if actually believable stuff using our most talented actors, writers and directors became the new reality TV. (I have wide eyes and high hopes too. Let’s change a culture, kids).



So now I’m looking out for those other productions in Zeal Theatre’s repertoire, including The Forwards, coming soon to The Arts Centre, Gold Coast. The season runs during the intense lead-up to Noosa Long Weekend Festival (I think it’s actually during my rehearsal week!), but Sam and I are determined to see what Lowdown Magazine says is the company’s “most powerful play”.





The Apology is by far the best that Anywhere Theatre Festival has to offer this year, not only because of its perfect placement on the lower floor of Boggo Road Gaol’s historic Number Two Division but because it goes where other shows fear to tread. The writing is unwavering, the direction insightful and unapologetic, and the acting fearless, focused and intelligent.



I’d love to see this production again if I could, and you shouldn’t miss seeing it at least once.



You could let a show like this change your life…



Images by Peter Cabral Photography


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