Review: Man=Man & The Elephant Calf – Queensland Theatre Company

Trimmed version of photograph released into th...
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Photo: Amelia Dowd (Bille Brown Studio – after the flood)

Off to the theatre last night to see QTC Ed’s (the Company’s education ‘wing’) production of two small Brecht pieces: Man=Man and The Elephant Calf. The mostly grown-up audience responded well to Director Joe Mitchell’s cleverly recalibrated, joyously performative and wonderfully funny examination of Brechtian theatre techniques.

If you have been as underwhelmed as this theatre-lover has been over the years at the near-veneration afforded Brecht, especially in the state’s drama syllabus, then this production is a revelation. It’s irreverent and also Brechtian-authentic to the core. The pickiest of drama teachers are going to love the way it ticks all the boxes in the Brechtian Performance Techniques check-list. It’s also set to stir their classes to ask ‘WTF?’ Oh, and speaking of ‘WTF’ – the text is visibly strewn with the ‘F Bomb’; do schools still have to vet shows for the kind of  language found in the playground and on the school bus? I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some of the classrooms where this production is being discussed. I’ve attended several QTC Ed shows over the years with audiences of upper high school-age students. Each time I have been astonished and delighted at the level of sophistication and maturity displayed by these young people during the post-show Q&As.

The ensemble cast of six (Chris Vernon, Helen Cassidy, Nick Cook, Anthony Standish, Leon Cain and  Kevin Kiernan-Molloy) are uniformly excellent. Mitchell has set the play in some middle-eastern war zone and the hapless civilian Galy Gay (Vernon) a kind of opportunistic Everyman figure finds himself buffeted by the winds of politics and macho posturing by the soldiers who take him in. The cast are aided and abetted in the onstage mayhem by a very visible crew (led by SM Christopher Horne at the desk). ‘The Director’ remains as an offstage and nicely nameless authoritarian figure who is finally challenged by the team of ‘actors as actors’ in the last 10 or so minutes of the program. This section kicked over any remaining vestiges of the wall separating audience and performer. The meshing of form and content and examination of the nature of reality and performance was, for me, the most interesting and alienating (in the best Brechtian sense of the word) part of the program. Chatting to a cast member afterwards I learned that it had been created in the last week of the rehearsal period. Bravo!

As the standard bearer for a much wider program of education services, QTC’s Ed productions in the Bille Brown Studio, all under Joe Mitchell’s direction, have been one of the best kept secrets for far too long amongst the city’s post-school theatre-going crowd. It’s good to see the Company including one or two of these intelligent and excellent productions in their new Studio program series this year. Joe Mitchell will be missed; he is leaving QTC to take up a new position in the Brisbane performing arts industry. Good luck Joe!

This production (approx 95 mins without interval) plays at the Company’s home premises at 78 Montague Road, South Brisbane until March 12. Check the showtimes from the QTC website. You’ve got a week – give yourself a treat.

Disclaimer: I am currently the Chairman of the Board, Queensland Theatre Company. 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.


Theatre jargon – what’s your favourite?

Just hanging out this morning on the Twitter stream, and especially with the #2amt crowd, when the always interesting @DramaDaily wanted to know what ‘to dry’ meant. The information came back fairly quickly.

She’s based in the US and apparently that term isn’t well known there. It means to forget your lines and is quite a common bit of theatre jargon in Australia and the UK. I recall working on a show in the US years ago when they started talking about the ‘get-in.’ I hadn’t a clue at first what this meant, but then realised it probably had something to do with what we call the ‘bump-in.’ Sure enough – same thing.

@DramaDaily then found the term ‘to corpse’ or ‘to go up’ – uncontrolled laughing on stage when you shouldn’t be – and started on a hunt to find where these terms had come from. It all started a bit of a flurry of interest and so I asked what people’s favourite bits of theatre jargon were. Here are some of the responses. What are yours? Add them below or tweet on!

Mine, by the way, is ‘bump-in’

[blackbirdpie id=”!/DramaDaily/statuses/43450344654651392″]


[blackbirdpie id=”!/HESherman/statuses/43480856651767808″]


[blackbirdpie id=”!/stevenmitchellw/statuses/43480789379317760″]


[blackbirdpie id=”!/meganshorey/statuses/43477171045531649″]


If you’re on Twitter and you don’t know about 2amt (‘2 am theatre’) you can follow them @2amt on Twitter and read some of the more thoughtful, extended conversations on the 2amt: thinking outside the black box blog.

The World Theatre Day Message for 2011

It’s been a tradition for the International Theatre Institute to ask a leading theatre practitioner to create the message for World Theatre Day. It’s also something of a tradition for companies to read the message before the curtain on performances on WTD and/or to post it on callboards or in foyers. This year WTD falls on Sunday March 27.

Last year it was Judi Dench’s turn to meditate on theatre; the year before – Augusto Boal. This year it is from Jessica Kaawha from Uganda. It’s sobering, uplifting and inspirational.

I was alerted to it this morning via a tweet from the World Theatre Day blog.
[blackbirdpie id=”!/WTD11/statuses/43051833698160640″]

Do read it, consider sharing with your company either by linking to it on your Facebook page or retweeting or …

And, speaking of WTD, do you know about this this year’s ‘meme’? It’s called ‘This is my theatre.’ Read some more about it on the WTD Blog, get some ideas, and get going on sharing what you’re going to do on March 27. There’s a link and submission page on the blog site. NYC, Chicago, Vancouver, London … come on Brisbane, Toowoomba, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Rockhampton, Townsville, Cairns (add your place) ! We’ve done it before.

A system made for actors: Nigel Poulton (Interview 14)

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As we chat last week about his latest project, I begin to wonder whether Nigel Poulton’s been working too long with ballet companies; he’s got his current company – the Dead Cargo cast – training at 5.30am during the rehearsal week. Now, that’s intriguing in itself. How has this come about, I wonder.

Nigel is one of Australia’s – and possibly one of the world’s – busiest fight directors for the stage. Recent gigs abroad have taken him to the NYC Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Washington Opera as well as to assignments closer to home like Opera Australia, Circus Oz, MTC, STC, QTC, Belvoir, Kooemba Jdarra and Playbox. For Bell Shakespeare he has been the Company Fight Director since 2003. He’s the past President of the Society of Australian Fight Directors Inc., and a respected, meticulous, and very patient teacher who demands the best of his students. I can attest to this having studied under his direction some years ago. Continue reading “A system made for actors: Nigel Poulton (Interview 14)”