Review: Waiting for Godot – Queensland Theatre Company

Originally published 30 April, 2010

My theatre companion and I are currently trying to get through burgers the size of our heads before we attend this evening’s performance of Waiting for Godot. It’s been a long week, and we’ve spent the last half an hour whinging at each other about work. There’s a pause in the conversation and a thought rises to the surface: ‘I’m not sure if I really want to sit through Beckett tonight,’ I proclaim with a sigh.

This is nothing against the Queensland Theatre Company production team. Joe Mitchell, the director, has already proven he’s a deft hand with Beckett in the past. The line-up of the cast is tremendous, and I’ve heard nothing but good things. But I’m slightly hesitant because I’ve fallen victim to the most common misconception held around Beckett: that I’ll leave the theatre wanting to kill myself. A synopsis of Waiting for Godot reads like a guaranteed boring night out. Most beautifully described as the play where ‘nothing happens, twice’, the play concerns itself with two men waiting for the mysterious Godot to show up. And that’s it. Continue reading “Review: Waiting for Godot – Queensland Theatre Company”

Review: Hamlet in the box ‘Ugly-beautiful’ La Boite Theatre

Originally published 15 February, 2010

Toby Schmitz as Hamlet Photo: Amelia Dowd

Let it be known, nothing sums this show up better than its poster: a soaking wet Toby Schmitz (very Trainspotting) arms raised as he pulls his hair back … with just a fine whisper of pubic hair on show. Whilst grabbing my tickets from the box office to see this not-so-subtle erotic piece of marketing on sale for three dollars a throw, I could understand how (if I were a Year 11 school girl) I’d have begun hungrily digging through the bottom of my school bag, gathering change from my tuckshop visit in order to pick up a copy. You get this feeling throughout the show: it’s sexy, cutting, and brutal, and it’s made for the 21st Century Twilight obsessed kid.

Ophelia is seen texting on her mobile phone, the Gravedigger grabs a quick digital pic with Hamlet, letters and messages are sent over an odd Star Trek-like video system. In addition (and I promise I’ll get to the finer points of the actual performances in a moment) it would be hard to find a group of more beautiful actors without resorting to Photoshop. Berthold has assembled a sexy cast, and he knows it. Skin (and on one occasion, full frontal nudity) is shown without hesitation, often in pairing with the four or five rock-opera style contemporary songs.

Hamlet’s play, in particular, makes you feel like you’re at some kind of incestuous drunk dance concert, and I’m not totally certain that this isn’t exactly how Shakespeare would have liked it.

You can’t begin to truly look at the show without placing it in its larger context. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet in the box ‘Ugly-beautiful’ La Boite Theatre”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar: Harvest Rain Theatre

This review refers to Harvest Rain’s recent ‘first’ production of JCS and was originally published on August 26, 2010

And so, finally, to the theatre last night for Jesus Christ Superstar at QPAC …

From the moment those unforgettable screeching guitar riffs at the top of the show break the silence, you know you’re in for a wild ride.  At its inception JCS was a brilliant, irreverent break with tradition and, given its subject matter, which brought protesters out with placards (yes, really), it was a triumph for a musical theatre which had got used to sweetly melodic, fairly safe and predictable plotlines in mostly Broadway shows – as well as the fact that Brits couldn’t write blockbuster musicals.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice put paid to that with their second biblical opus – the first was Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. JCS is arguably their freshest and best – Cats notwithstanding. It’s the gutsiest and was, and still is, a big show on all fronts. It brought rock rhythms and song lyrics that shocked and delighted with their contemporary edge: ‘Hey JC, JC’ you’re all right with me’; ‘I couldn’t cope, just couldn’t cope’; ‘Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool’ are just a few. At the time, the show’s self-styling as a rock opera took a lot of people by surprise; we’d not heard those words before, although Pete Townshend and The Who had produced the first of the genre (Tommy) a couple of years before. The rock part of the name provided the sounds, the style, the gutsiness, whilst the opera gave the drama and the gravitas with, in the case of Jesus Christ Superstar, subject matter straight out of the New Testament.

This revival nearly 40 years on by Tim O’Connor for Harvest Rain Theatre at QPAC’s Playhouse takes on the 1971 breakthrough musical, and gives it a good run for its money. The epic nature of the work is reflected well in the production’s staging. Visually it’s a treat, and musically – well, for a start those those melodies just won’t go away will they – stunning stuff. Many of the musical stylings have been reworked and reworked well under the musical direction of Maitlohn Drew. It’s a big, big cast of talented, good looking principals and an energetic all-singing, all dancing chorus; set and lighting are terrific. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar: Harvest Rain Theatre”

Review: April’s Fool – Empire Theatre Projects Company at Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Originally published August 12, 2010.

A disclaimer: I serve on the Board of Empire Theatres Pty Ltd. My opinions are entirely my own and should be understood as distinct from any affiliation I hold with this or any other business or arts organisation. The only barrow I push is that of theatre per se.

At the Ekka last week, and quite by chance, I came upon a sign with an arrow pointing up some stairs. It said something like ‘Queensland Quilters’ Association.’ My sister, who knows about such things, insisted we investigate, so I dutifully trotted up the stairs to find a quite superb exhibition of quilts large and small. Now, I know only a bit about quilting: it’s traditionally a woman’s craft, and that quilts can tell a story – they can be in honour of a cause or a special event like a birth or wedding. Quilts are often worked in a communal setting, are usually composed of patches drawn from various sources, and each one is done with extraordinary care. One of the most beautiful pieces in this particular exhibition was done by a woman during the time that her husband was being treated for terminal cancer. She embroidered his favourite rose on each square of the quilt. I imagine this unknown woman stitching piece after piece, keeping busy, staying focussed on something apart from awful reality – at least for a time. It now remains as a chronicle of a life event and will endure as a testament of her love.

As a piece of art and in form and intention, David Burton‘s play April’s Fool reminds me of nothing so much as a quilt – one created out of pieces of grief, regret, anger, guilt and love. The scraps and fragments are drawn from interviews with friends and family, as well as extracts from David Terauds’ diary, kept as his son lay dying in hospital in the first week of April 2009.  Using the diary’s timeline as the thread to bind the patchwork together, David Burton has skilfully assembled these pieces into a quilt that enfolds family, friends and, indeed, the entire community.  For anyone who has wondered why or how this family could permit, even encourage the telling of events surrounding the death of their eldest child Kristjan from complications following prolonged and excessive drug use, there is, perhaps, the Greek word: katharsis. More directly, perhaps: The story that lets us laugh and cry begins our healing. April’s Fool in its creation and, especially, its telling provides a healing. Continue reading “Review: April’s Fool – Empire Theatre Projects Company at Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)”

Review: The Timely Death of Victor Blott – Dead Puppet Society at !Metro Arts Independents

Originally published May 5, 2010

Puppet theatre (~ Punch and Judy), c.
Image via Wikipedia

What is it about puppets? Doesn’t matter what form they take, what cultural background they spring from – and they’ve been all over the place for milennia – puppetry remains one of the most popular and compelling performance forms in world theatre. It’s probably an extension of our fascination with the craft and art of human representation, and provides the comfort of a more innocent age of amusement, harking as it does back to childhood. Not all puppetry is playful, however. Some of the world’s great puppet theatres contain terrifyingly blood-thirsty plotlines and special effects designed to shock and scare the audience silly; Mr Punch from the British tradition is no exception.

In Australia we’ve run the gamut from quaint to quirky. Our most famous puppeteers include Peter Scriven, the creator of The Tintookies who toured for the Australian Elizabethan Trust in the 1950s, and Richard Bradshaw, whose whimsical shadow puppetry owes much to the great European shadow plays as well as the Indonesian Wayang Kulit. Currently touring Australia is the Erth Dinosaur Petting Zoo with its giant dinosaur puppets delighting and scaring the littlies silly, if this video is any indication. Definitely not for the small folk, though possibly even more terrifying is the … ahem … artistry of the hugely successful Puppetry of the Penis duo, Australians Simon Morley and David Friend.

Meanwhile, another home-grown troupe of live actors and puppeteers, accompanied by a little friend are currently playing in the !Metro Arts Independents Season in Brisbane. In a westernised version of the grand traditional Japanese Bunraku or ‘doll theatre’ (which we saw most recently at work in the touring Avenue Q), Dead Puppet Society under the direction of David Morton bring us The Timely Death of Victor Blott written by Maxine Mellor. This is one definitely not for the faint-hearted. Audiences are warned in a foyer notice that the play contains themes that may ‘shock and offend.’ Continue reading “Review: The Timely Death of Victor Blott – Dead Puppet Society at !Metro Arts Independents”