Review: cloudCUCKOOland – heartbeast Vicious Theatre at Trinity Hall

A karaoke musical based on Aristophanes’ The Birds entitled cloudCUCKOOland? I don’t really know what I expected.

Stepping out of a rainy night into the beautiful Trinity Hall in The Valley, packed for opening night of this original work, I was excited – as we know, I love a musical. Unlike any of the dodgy joints where my girlfriends have deigned to grab the mic and give Madonna’s Borderline a good flogging, this glittering karaoke bar was shiny and new, complete with slick barman and posh drinks. cloudCUCKOOland was written by Michael Beh (the company’s artistic directed) and co-directed with Michelle Carey who also plays Stevie in the show. It is heartBeast’s eighth show.

Warwick Comber
Warwick Comber

So, a plot: Stevie (Michelle Carey) owns a karaoke bar. A group of odd-bod regulars inhabit the place, and have found a sort of solidarity in calling it their own. Enter the out-of-towners, Jolene and JJ (Jacqueline Kerr and Brian Bolton) to shake up the action and encourage a bit of competition. Zeus (Warwick Comber), a regular (and yes, a Greek god in disguise), puts up some heavy prize money, sending everyone into a flutter. Dawn (Emily Pollard), an angel disguised as a karaoke singer, encourages everyone to be the best they can be. By the by we find out that one of the regulars, Calypso (Karen Dinsdale) is actually Hera, queen of the Gods, in disguise. Hera attempts to convince Zeus to leave the mortals to their folly and return to Olympus; Zeus refuses. The competition takes place, and the audience votes for a winner with a feathered stick. The Angel reappears and issues a decree, and the whole night is capped with a rousing rendition of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold.’

Sound absolutely wild? It was.

There was a point mid-act one where I found myself thinking that these people were nuts! It may have been after Andy and Tiger (Hamish Nicholson and Jacob Paint) duetted their way through Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing which, incidentally, they pulled off in spectacular fashion. Or it could have been when Dawn the Angel appeared for the first time, singing the song that took out the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, Euphoria.

The company’s mission is to “exploit the style of ‘fantastic realism,”’ (programme notes) and they’re well on the way to achieving this. At times the show got bogged down in prose, and the actors, though of mixed ability, were clearly committed to the piece.

As you’d expect of a ‘karaoke musical’ there was a lot of karaoke! Song choices from ‘the forties to the naughties’ were popular, but the vocal quality varied. Stand-out performances came from Warwick Comber, a commanding presence worthy of a Greek god, with a rich warmth to his voice that was divine whilst Emily Pollard, clearly a seasoned singer, is a joy to listen to. Her a capella treatment of the jazz standard, Skylark gave me goosebumps.

Tegan Devine’s choreography was well suited to the style of the piece and managed well by the whole company. As with the last heartBeast show I saw, the costumes were a standout – well made and fabulously entertaining. The lighting was fun but, at times, the mix of the sound was dubious – opening night creases being ironed out perhaps?

Cloud Cuckoo Land runs until Saturday 2nd of March at Trinity Hall, Fortitude Valley. And, just in case you were wondering, CloudCUCKOOLand is suitable for young people over the age of 13.  It does not contain any nudity or offensive language.

Cast includes: Warwick Comber, Michelle Carey, Brian Bolton, Samantha Cable, Tegan Devine, Karen Dinsdale, Anna O’Hara, Jacqueline Kerr, Hamish Nicholson, Jacob Paint, Adrienne Costello and Emily Pollard.

Editor’s Note: Wonderful to see Warwick Comber back on the Brisbane stage. We worked together at QTC in the 1970s.

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