Photo credit: Dylan EvansWe've written before about the work produced by the people involved with shake & stir theatre company, surely one of the most impressive and successful arts companies currently in operation in Queensland and, indeed, around Australia. (Type 'shake and stir' into the Search box to see what we've had to say over the years.) Like many, I suspect, I had assumed we'd see the company's signature physical story-telling at work on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee in much the same way they'd crafted George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, although the poster image of a very sultry Nelle Lee had me puzzled. Tequila Mockingbird breaks some exciting new ground for shake & stir who have labelled this work, 'a new Australian play created by shake & stir theatre co,' and that it certainly is folks. Continue reading Review: Tequila Mockingbird – shake & stir theatre company and QPAC at Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Image: Queensland Theatre CompanySometimes you see a production that so beautifully pulls form and content together that it becomes the perfect icing on a delicious cake. This is the way I feel about Queensland Theatre Company's first for the 2013 Season, a double-bill by Peter Houghton: The Pitch (directed by Catarina Hebbard) and The China Incident (directed by Daniel Evans). Both plays are about role-playing. To hit their marks both require actors of imagination with a mastery and control of stagecraft - the key ingredients for great role-playing. Both plays are monodramas - extended monologues - requiring stamina and all the power of concentration their cast can muster. The one-person play is the supreme test for the actor; the risks are high but the rewards marvellous if it all works. Fortunately and marvellously for us Barbara Lowing and Hugh Parker fit the bill and their roles like a glove. Two characters Bea Pontivec (Ms Lowing) and Walter Weinermann (Mr Parker) are under pressure: he's a writer preparing to pitch a new movie to potential producers; she's a high-level, political PR consultant jockeying clients and a family wedding. Their respective clocks are ticking - Walter's got an hour to get his movie together; she to wrangle a genocidal African general, the President of the US, the UN, her in-laws, stroppy daughter and .... you get the idea? Continue reading Review: The Pitch and The China Incident – Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC Cremorne
Image: Kathleen Iron - Photography: Al CaeiroIt seems the Dead Puppet’s Society’s success was written in the stars. In just a few years they’ve leap-frogged from independent stages to their first main house production. During that time they’ve managed to build an unmistakable aesthetic and style, and (I would guess) a sustainable audience as well. Their latest outing, a revised mainhouse production of The Harbinger for La Boite Theatre Company, is almost a guaranteed success. The Harbinger was part of La Boite Indie last year. I attended that show as well, and while I appreciated the mastery of the puppets, the show had a lot of problems. I was pleased to discover this version of the show is very different. It has similar genetics, but it’s almost an entirely new play.
It’s a beautifully choreographed ensemble, with frequent staging surprises. A rich and lush design makes this production a delight to watch.Chased by an anonymous and dark figure, a young girl (Kathleen Iron) takes shelter in an old book shop. It’s owned by local curmudgeon Old Albert. The girl is amazed at Old Albert’s books (objects that are no longer found in this decaying world), and pesters him for stories. Slowly, Old Albert’s past unwinds itself, and we discover the romance at the heart of his bitterness. As with the company's past works, it’s a a dark and predictable fairytale. But the real joy of these shows is, of course, in the puppets. Old Albert is a gigantic puppet, handled by four actresses, led by Barbara Lowing. Old Albert spends the majority of the play sitting in his wheelchair. He is the absolute star of the show. While he’s no doubt a spectacle, I found him extremely difficult to connect to. His head (from what I could see) was only moveable at the neck, jaw and eyelids. Old Albert is called upon to express many nuanced emotional states, and his size and mechanics seem to restrict him from doing so. I found myself looking to Barbara Lowing, placed just behind the head and providing Old Albert’s voice. I’ve worked with Barbara extensively before, and found her performance to be predictably astute and generous. Old Albert is the pinnacle of an absolutely sumptuous and gorgeous design. Led by David Morton and assisted by Noni Harrison (costume design), this is a beautifully defined world. This play is consistently wonderful to look at, supported by rich lighting and sound. (Provided by Whitney Eglington and Tone Black Productions) Co-directed and co-written by David Morton and Matthew Ryan, the staging is frequently ingenious and surprising, and is completely integrated into the design. The five local actresses (yay!) are a tightly synchronized ensemble that deliver fantastic performances. Kathleen Iron is comedic and cute as the young girl, and plays off Lowing well. The remaining three cast members (Niki-J Price, Anna Straker and Giema Contini) are given full voice in Old Albert’s memories, where smaller and equally spectacular puppets come out to play. Price and Straker are particularly accomplished as the young, doomed lovers. There are some core problems at the heart of The Harbinger. The piece lacks enough forward momentum to keep an audience fully compelled. The tension of the piece is reliant on the anonymous and dark dystopia outside, personalised by a cloaked figure. This is terrifying at first, but the stakes are never raised, and as the play goes on it is barely mentioned. So we come to rely on the young girl’s curiosity to keep us interested. Her suspicions are occasionally dark, but these threats are never realised, and so lengthy interactions between her and the enormous puppet seem to repeat themselves and lack direction. It’s a shame, because a thrilling narrative is all that’s stopping this show from being a truly wonderful night out. Nevertheless, you should go see it. It’s a beautifully choreographed ensemble, with frequent staging surprises. A rich and lush design makes this production a delight to watch. It’s another exciting development in the growth of the unmistakably recognisable Dead Puppet Society. The Harbinger plays at The Roundhouse. For session times and dates, check La Boite Theatre's website.
Image: Katy Curtain and Norman Doyle - Photography: Amelia DowdIn a city that looks remarkably like Brisbane, cameras are watching your every move. Riots are escalating beyond control. More and more people are disobeying curfew. In an unremarkable cinema, a political (or pornographic?) film is shown to an ideologically divided crowd. It’s the beginning of an evening that will spin out of control. This is the world of He’s Seeing Other People Now, written by theatrical rising (and shooting) star and actress Anna McGahan. This is Ms McGahan’s first work as a playwright, and it's directed by well-known local emerging director Melanie Wild. Overall, the play is dangerously under-developed. The ideas and characters that are presented here seem half-formed and often superficial. Navigating the expositional landscape is difficult. I think the central premise of the play is that the citizens aren’t allowed to touch, but I’m still uncertain. Unfortunately, Ms Wild’s direction does little to help the audience out. The two performers are asked to play a variety of characters. Some are recurring, others don’t appear more than once. Figuring out who is who is a confusing process. In addition, the staging means a small and two-dimensional performance space. What should be a physically tense hour ends up not packing a punch. But all of that out of the way, this is a play you should see. I need to admit a bias here: I’m very good friends with optikal bloc, the team behind the projection design. This bias unfortunately means that you may interpret my following comments as disingenuous. I promise I’m being sincere when I say that this is one of the slickest audio visual designs a Brisbane stage has seen in years, let alone for an independent theatre program. The transitions between scenes are sublime and are the hi-light of the production. The lighting design from Daniel Anderson is beautifully under-stated and intelligent. Phil Slade’s compositions are predictably accomplished and lush. Jessica Ross’ design binds these elements together into a seamless technical package that is simply outstanding. Norman Doyle and Katy Curtain, the two performers, do their best with what is given to them. Katy Curtain does particularly well to find fantastically comic moments for her characters that give life and badly needed energy to scenes. Barbara Lowing and Lucas Stibbard provide well-performed, funny voice-overs. There’s a strong theme of meta-theatricality running through the play that I can’t really comment on without spoiling wonderfully surprising elements of the show. The show’s attempts to didactically link its themes to reality lack a clear direction and purpose. I will say this: the final five minutes of this show are worth the ticket price alone. It’s ambitious. Successful or not, it’s sure to be a conversational landmark within the theatre industry for years to come. He’s Seeing Other People Now is sure to start an interesting debate about the limits and purpose of meta-theatre. Go and see this show if you like to be surprised and you’re part of the Brisbane theatrical community. Being theatre-literate isn’t compulsory, but it certainly helps. If you’re a theatre student, you should absolutely see this piece for its important and unique contribution to new Queensland works. The play’s deficiencies are compensated with a short run time and exquisite technical design. He’s Seeing Other People Now will certainly be talked about. He's Seeing Other People Now by Anna McGahan plays at Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre till 21 July. Details on website.
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)