Review: The Truth About Kookaburras – Pentimento Productions & La Boite Indie at The Round House Theatre

Images: Kate O’Sullivan

Everything you’ve heard about The Truth About Kookaburras is true. Yes, the cast is over twenty in number. Yes, most of these are men. Yes, almost all of these men appear naked in the first twenty minutes of the show – unashamedly, fully naked. In short, (seriously no pun intended) you get a wrestling wall of penis. And it’s not fleeting. They are touched, fondled, squashed, flicked, twirled and shoved into faces.

It’s good fun. It would be unsettling or slightly weird if perceptions of masculinity weren’t at the absolute core of Sven Swenson’s play. Which they are. Swenson has written, directed (and even features in) this memorable play, which had its first outing back in 2009 at Metro Arts Independents. The Kookbaurras are a fictional Gold Coast footy team, who come under fire when one of the members is killed in their locker room on the evening of a buck’s party. Most of the play unfolds in parallel timelines: the investigation of the murder, and the night it happened. This has some of the structure of a classic whodunnit, but there’s a lot more going on here. Continue reading Review: The Truth About Kookaburras – Pentimento Productions & La Boite Indie at The Round House Theatre

Review: Eve – Metro Arts Independents

I knew very little about Eve Langley before I saw this production. Eve was an enigmatic, deeply troubled Australian poet, seen as mad in her time. She’s often compared to Virginia Woolf. Eve’s poems frequently reflected a struggle between the domestic life that was expected of her and the call to divine artistry that she was no doubt destined for. She was funny, eccentric, and desperate to be acknowledged as a serious artist. At times she took on other names, including ‘Oscar Wilde’, as a way of surviving through the disappointment she had in herself.

Margi Brown Ash brings the life of Eve Langley to the Metro Arts stage. It’s a free adaptation – part memoir, part fiction, part poetry, and quite a significant tribute to a very remarkable woman. Margi devised the work with Leah Mercer (who also directed) and Daniel Evans. The script is beautiful and stylistic, and moves much like poetry itself. This is less of a story and more of an exploration of a life. However, it’s a theatrical journey that’s not for the faint of heart. The stylistic liberties mean that the piece is in danger of being inaccessible for some. Nevertheless, for those who love literature, who know of Eve Langley, or who enjoy brilliant independent theatre, this production is an absolute gem.

The highlight of the entire evening is to see Margi Brown Ash return to the stage. This is almost a one-woman show, with Margi only occasionally interrupted by fellow performer Stace Callaghan, and assisted on stage by a silent husband character, played by Moshio. But this is absolutely Margi’s show. She is comic, tragic, heart-warming, terrifying and beautiful.

Ms Brown Ash’s collaboration with director Leah Mercer has obviously been a fruitful one. It is an absolute pleasure to see a highly trained and experienced actor on stage. Margi’s voice is a marvel. She crafts moments of beautiful intimacy in a near-whisper, and blows the audience away with a guttural screaming. No word is ever lost or confused. Actors, go and see this as an example of what the human theatrical voice should be.

Margi’s assisted by the occasional narration from Stace Callaghan, who plays off Margi beautifully, especially in the closing moments of the play. Moshio’s silent husband is perhaps under-used, but his true gift is the live violin soundtrack he provides. Its solo voice manages to convey full textures and colours that aid Margi’s ‘Eve.’

Frequent visitors to indie theatre will know that the budget often falls short of a truly comprehensive design. Not so here. Eve‘s set is a beautifully constructed hut set in the middle of the Australian bush. Finely crafted candelabras made from branches crown the space and further close it in. It’s a triumph from the team at Backwoods Original, helped along by design consultant Bev Jensen. Equally skilled are the costumes by Kate White and the lighting by Genevieve Trace. The music, composed by Travis Ash, is absolutely fantastic. The sound of a 20’s jazz band, distorted and twisted, gives life and energy to the piece, and serves as another beautiful reflection of Eve Langley’s inner-mind. To see all of these elements working together so well is the result of a seamless production team.

Eve is not for everyone, but if you frequent independent theatre then it should absolutely be on your to-see list. I went with a group of people, and one friend left in tears, substantially moved. Another left with some indifference, marvelling at the performance and skill, but not feeling terribly affected. I was somewhere in between. While occasionally inaccessible, Eve is never pretentious. This is totally thanks to Ms Brown Ash’s charming and compelling performance. Go see Eve if you love literature, theatre, or Australian history.

UPDATE: Received from the producer. ‘There was … a change to the team after the marketing materials were released, and so Bev Jensen wasn’t merely the design consultant, but actually created the costume design, not Kate White’

Review: A Hoax – La Boite and Griffin Theatre Companies

It’s not often that Brisbane sees a ‘world premiere, but the recent partnership of La Boite and Griffin means that Brisbane audiences ar e the first in the world to see Rick Viede’s new play A Hoax. It’s a privilege for which I think audiences will be extremely grateful.

It’s the premise of the play that steals the show for me. Anthony Dooley (Glenn Hazeldine) is a middle-aged white man, and a struggling writer. Anthony pens a beautiful and brutal memoir titled Nobody’s Girl. The only issue is that it’s not his. It’s the memoir of a fictional indigenous woman called ‘Currah’. Anthony employs an enthusiastic indigenous girl, Mirri, (Shari Sebbens) to play the role of Currah, and sets about fooling literary agents, publishers, and eventually, the world. Hilarity and disaster ensue.

Rick Viede’s playwrighting success has been meteoric. His first play, Whore, picked up several awards and toured internationally. A Hoax is his second play, but it is not the work of an immature or inexperienced writer. The satire here is razor sharp and disturbingly true. Viede leaves nothing at the door. There are discussions and debates on everything: the media, truth, identity, sexuality, gender politics, and race. It’s refreshing and smart, and deliberately thought-provoking. In the interval, my partner and I fiercely debated the character’s motivations and morality. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so engaged in the ideas that a play presents.

Viede weaves a complicated web. A brash but damaged publisher (Sally McKenzie) and her flamboyant assistant (Charles Allen), make up a tight four hander. Viede’s brilliant one-liners and beautifully structured scenes are slightly compromised by a slightly dislocated structure overall. The play spans over four years, and character’s motivations and attitudes jump quite spectacularly. Sometimes this is unclear. It’s a lot to ask of the actors. Glenn Hazeldine, playing the ‘real’ author, masters these difficult transitions with ease. The character of Anthony Dooley is asked to rise and fall and rise again. In the hands of a lesser performer, the character of Anthony could be alienating or unlikeable, but Mr Hazeldine’s performance is seamless and compelling.

Sally McKenzie’s performance of the publisher is funny and memorable, and will only grow in the weeks to come. In Currah, Rick Viede has written a theatrical rarity: a complex and contemporary indigenous female character. For this, he must be thanked. Ms Sebbens performs her well, and is strongest in her most vulnerable moments, which arise unexpectedly. Charles Allen has the most difficult journey to travel with his character, but his delivery of the climactic scene is compelling and drew the audience to the edge of their seats.

The director, Lee Lewis, architects the musicality of each scene beautifully. The unexpected climax is particularly stunning. The set, a gleaming and anonymously blank hotel room, is cleverly designed by Renee Mulder. Steve Toulmin, who provides music, sound and AV design, gives a life to scene transitions that keeps the engine of the piece motoring along. For me, the edgy rock soundtrack and slick scene changes were an absolute triumph. It’s an excellent collaboration between Toulmin and Lewis. Jason Glenwright‘s lighting is subtle and incredibly well-conceived.

If you like your theatre raw, book your tickets early. The opening night performance at times felt incredibly fresh and live. There were quite a few hiccoughs along the way, and it seemed a few of the actors occasionally lost their footing. However, a few performances will see the dust settle, and the ensemble will find their groove. This is a great show for senior high school students who don’t mind the occasional swear word, and you could even take your slightly trendy and politically interested parents. A Hoax manages to be both blackly dark and beautifully comic at the same time. For this, and its ideas, it will no doubt have a long and fruitful future.

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Review: Vikram and the Vampire – Zen Zen Zo at the Old Museum Building

I need to start this off with the confession of a cardinal sin of Brisbane theatre. I haven’t seen a Zen Zen Zo show in a very, very long time. My omission hasn’t been deliberate. Nevertheless, the years have slipped by without visiting this Queensland cultural institution. In truth, it was my assumptions about a ‘physical theatre company’ that kept me away. These were fairly predictable. While displaying admirable and impressive physical skills, these productions too often leave narrative far behind, creating works that are inaccessible. I’m very pleased to say that this is not at all the case for Vikram and the Vampire, the first production overseen by the company’s new Artistic Directors, Michael Futcher and Helen Howard.

Indeed Vikram and the Vampire is all about narrative. The show’s essence is from The Twenty Five Tales of a Baital, a collection of ancient Sanskrit tales from India. The company did a version of this back in 1995, called The King and the Corpse.

Re-imagined by director Michael Futcher and a large ensemble, Vikram and the Vampire is a nod to story telling at its bed-time best.

These are fantastic fairytales largely unknown to Australians, and are an absolute joy to visit.

The story opens on King Vikram (Sandro Colarelli), who longs for power over all the earth. He is visited by a monk, Shantil (Chris Beckey), who promises to grant his wish. But first, the king is instructed to collect a corpse, and walk it back to the burning grounds that Shantil inhabits. The corpse is inhabited by the mischievous spirit Vetal (Lizzie Ballinger). With Vetal strapped to his back, King Vikram begins the lengthy journey back to the burning grounds. Vetal makes a wager with the king. If he should speak, then Vetal will return to where Vikram found her and he will have to begin the journey all over again. And so Vetal distracts the King with stories, played out to us in full colour and spectacle, inevitably provoking a response from King Vikram, who seems unlikely to ever reach his goal.

There are a lot of things this production does right, and the treatment of the narrative here is a big accomplishment. Michael Futcher and Helen Howard are credited as the writers and adapters, with additional credit given to Danny Murphy for material that survived from the 1995 production.

The show manages to straddle both a linear and episodic structure simultaneously, and it works. At an hour and forty-five minutes, the show is a little long, with the first ten minutes seeming to be slightly extraneous. But the magic and beauty of what follows makes this slight indulgence easily forgiven. Continue reading Review: Vikram and the Vampire – Zen Zen Zo at the Old Museum Building

Review: X by Sunny Drake – Metro Arts The Independents 2012 at the Sue Benner Theatre

It was a supportive and packed audience for the opening night of X the latest in the Metro Arts Independents 2012 seasonEach of us was holding an obligatory drink as we entered the theatre but, long before the lights went down, aspects of the show, written, created, and performed by Sunny Drake had already begun.

We’d been asked to write a judgmental thought about alcoholics on our way in. Upon arrival at the door, we were given someone else’s judgmental ‘thought’ in return; they’re used during the show. Mr Drake begins the show saying it’s not at all about him and, by the end of the night the message is searingly clear: this show is about us. It’s about our addictions and our judgements, particularly around alcohol.  In X, the fourth wall is well and truly down.

This one-man show, directed by Therese Collie, doesn’t feel like a one  man show at all

There’s astounding multimedia and projection design, along with a cast of puppets, and it’s the animation and multimedia that steal the show. There are theatrical moments that represent vibrant and imaginative independent theatre at its absolute best.

The puppet characters regularly escape into a blissful, green-tinged, alcoholic world but, as the show goes on, the blissful and the real worlds collide with staggering consequences. Ingrid K Brooker helped along by Georgie Hauff, Taylor Wilson and Jordan Higgins has designed beautiful and enchanting stop-motion animation. Penny Everingham’s puppets are delightful and inventive creatures, although Drake occasionally struggles with his performance of them.

I’d love to tell you more about the plot, but I had extreme difficulty understanding it. There are two central characters: Jamie and Caitlin, although they take a leave of absence in the show’s middle as we focus on ‘Mr. Fancy’. There are also other characters who may or may not have been somehow connected with Jamie and Caitlin. The puppets are initially introduced and performed by Caitlin, but she quickly disappears, and how they’re connected to the real world remains a mystery.

The blurring of the puppet and the real world is at times a deliberate choice, but is also frequently confusing. The central tension of the play is set around a state-wide crackdown on alcohol, but this gets buried and lost, which means the plot’s momentum occasionally slows down. The play’s final five minutes of meta-theatricality become too declamatory to be truly powerful as the character’s we’ve been introduced to are deserted by Sunny for another purpose altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of true wit and satirical mirth here that are fantastic. I haven’t been exposed to Sunny’s work before, and there’s a lot here to like. In so many ways though, X feels like a warm-up to something greater. Mr Drake is an intelligent performer in the making, with plenty of ambition and vision, but he occasionally struggles with the pressures of a one-man show. Ms Collie’s staging has moments of sheer delight and beauty, and the numerous theatrical tricks employed throughout the show are worth the ticket price alone.

Georgina Greenhill’s set, a discombobulated body that is sprawled across the stage, is inventive and detailed. Ms Greenhill manages to mix beauty and surprise into her design, and provides a fertile playground for Sunny. Brett Collery’s soundscape and composition present him at his atmospheric best. whilst the lighting design by Andrew Meadows is incredibly clever and beautiful. Indeed, Greenhill, Collery and Meadows create a production with technical cohesion that is rarely seen on the Brisbane Independent stage.

Greenhill, Collery and Meadows create a production with technical cohesion that is rarely seen on the Brisbane independent stage

As the audience left the theatre, everyone’s glasses were empty, our judgement purged, and our creative brains tickled.  X is a show of invention and imagination, and will give you plenty of moments of delight.

X  plays at Metro Arts from Wed-Sat until 28th April as part of their The Independents 2012 season ahead of its North American tour to the USA National Queer Arts Festival.
Book Online or (07) 3002 7100

Duration: 60 – 65 minutes

Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Main Image: Bryan Probets (Touchstone) | Images: Al Caeiro

David Berthold is quickly setting up a tradition for La Boite: opening a season with a Shakespeare, directed by the Artistic Director himself. As You Like It was preceded by Hamlet (2010) and Julius Caesar (2011), in which Berthold proved he could bend the material to his will, creating sexy and contemporary productions. Make no mistake, As You Like It has a completely different feel, and is a more cohesive production than its La Boite forefathers. Indeed, it feels as though Berthold is infinitely more comfortable in the comedy of Shakespeare, and the result is superb production.

Helen Howard - Rosalind

As You Like It centres mainly around the love quest of Rosalind (Helen Howard), the daughter of a Duke who has been usurped. Rosalind is banished from the new Duke’s court and takes her cousin Celia (Helen Cassidy) and the court’s jester (Bryan Probets) with her. In order to escape persecution Rosalind disguises herself as a man, and leads her band of exiles through the Forest of Arden in an attempt to find her exiled father (Kate Wilson). But the real spice of the plot lies in Orlando (Thomas Larkin) who is forced to flee the court when he is rejected by his older brother Oliver (Luke Cadden) and then upsets the fascist usurper Duke (Hayden Spencer) by challenging and defeating his wrestler, Charles (Thomas Carney). But before he flees, Orlando and Rosalind fall in love, only to be reunited once again in the Forest of Arden, but with Rosalind in a man’s disguise. Commence Shakespearean gender-bending comedy.

The show is stolen, in my opinion, by an absolutely spell-binding design. Renee Mulder’s costumes and set are absolutely breath-taking.

This is theatre design at its very best, peppered with all sorts of tricks and surprises that the audience never see coming … it’s a spectacular achievement.

Mulder’s work is accompanied by sublime music and sound from Guy Webster, and incredibly clever lighting from David Walters. Together, the trio create a forest of Arden that is warm and inviting. The evocation of a campfire makes the potentially cold La Boite theatre feel small and intimate. The gypsy aesthetic of the the exiled Duke and his kingdom has the appeal of a charming, cleaner Woodford Folk Festival. It’s a spectacular achievement. Continue reading Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse