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: The NeverEnding Story – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC

Tim O’Connor writes wonderfully lucid Director’s Notes, and a good thing too, because I have always found The Neverending Story utterly confusing. My memories of the 1984 film are of a leather-bound book, a rock-eating mountain and a flying dog (sorry, luck dragon). There may also have been a mulleted David Bowie singing in a maze … or was that Labyrinth? It’s fair to say I’m not a die-hard fan.

So as my little girl and I sat in the foyer on opening night, flicking through the programme of Tim O’Connor’s re-envisioning of Michael Ende’s fantasy novel, The Neverending Story (1979), I read her the story blurb slowly (nothing wrong with being prepared I thought) and, as we walked into the wonderfully intimate Cremorne Theatre, I was confident she would know what was going on. After all, she’s infinitely smarter than I was at six, and loves a good yarn.

Well, by half way through it became clear that the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree; she didn’t have a clue. This is not the type of show where you can break your concentration to unwrap your lollipop. I’m still answering questions two days later – having to explain both the plot and the higher order concepts at work.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely, lovely idea that a child’s imagination can save an entire world from being eaten up by despair. It’s just that, in the telling of it, you meet so many fantastical characters (whose names you can’t pronounce) and your quest takes so many strange twists and turns as you traverse the vast Fantasia, that it can be easy to get a little bit lost. Especially if you’re six. Or thirty.

That’s not to say she didn’t have a marvellous time. It was, after all, a feast for the eyes and the ears. Continue reading “Review: The NeverEnding Story – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC”