Review: Cosi – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse Theatre

Images: Dylan Evans Photography (Main Image L-R: Trevor Stuart, Jessica Marais, Amy Ingram, Anthony Standish, Benjamin Schostakowski, Jennifer Flowers, James Stewart)

Cosi by Louis Nowra is a much-loved and, by now, a classic in the canon of modern Australian plays. According to David Berthold, it’s also the playwright’s personal favourite. It’s certainly admired by La Boite Theatre Company who have produced it three times over the years. The latest has just opened at the Roundhouse under the direction of Mr Berthold and it’s a production that finds the rhythm of the play’s compassionate heart.

Filled with marvellous characters, and set in an asylum during the Vietnam War, Cosi follows the adventures of young Lewis (Ben Schostakowski) a uni student, who gets a job helping the inmates “put on a show.” He’s all for a bit of Brecht but Roy (played with glorious gusto by Trevor Stuart) is adamant that the music of the spheres must be heard in their shabby little theatre, and so it’s Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte that gets the nod. It’s as nutty an idea as is possible to imagine, and perfect given the play’s setting. No one can sing, one can hardly speak – all are damaged and apparently incapable of any kind of cooperative activity. Young Lewis (‘Jerry’ to Roy’s ‘Martin’) is clearly out of his depth.

Aaron Davison and Benjamin Schostakowski - Photo by Dylan Evans
Aaron Davison and Benjamin Schostakowski

‘Putting on a show’ plays are ready-made for comedy. Typically we are treated to agonising (hysterical) auditions; shambolic (hysterical) rehearsals and, finally, awful (hysterically awful) performances. There are often great one-liners and in-jokes for the theatre crowd so there’s a lot to laugh at. By the way, the little theatre that designer Hugh O’Connor creates in the big room at the Roundhouse is just delightful. Cosi is no different in this regard, but there’s a whole lot more going on.

One of the great strengths of Nowra’s play is its ability not only to make us laugh but also to make us feel the hurt of those we’re laughing at. Cosi also makes plain the importance of so much we take for granted. As we watch the hapless troupe and their director grope and stumble around it’s clear that they are, perhaps for the first time ever, rediscovering what it means to be useful. No longer isolated they come together squabbling, arguing points of view finding a kind of collective wisdom and joy on the fly. Continue reading Review: Cosi – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse Theatre

Review: The Wizard of Oz – La Boite, The Danger Ensemble and Brisbane Festival at The Roundhouse

Images: Morgan Roberts

Carrying the burden of  iconic stardom has crippled and destroyed many – like Judy Garland. She gets resurrected from time to time in shows that reconstruct or deconstruct the legend of the woman known simply as Garland or Judy. This year alone we’ve had End of the Rainbow from Queensland Theatre Company and, a week or so ago at Toowoomba’s Arts Theatre, the first performance of a one-woman play, Bernadette Meenach‘s Miss Garland at Twilight as part of the USQ Twilight Series.

Judy Garland’s life, film and stage career have been picked over and over, like soothsayers of old delving into the entrails of sacrifices. What are they looking for? We’re less interested in what made her the extraordinarily gifted artist she undoubtedly was. It seems the appetite is for the tragic morsels her life produced.  Some would say Judy Garland (the artist formerly known as Frances Ethel Gumm) became a sacrifice to the insatiable appetite of the crowds who created her as a star and then dined off the many disasters and breakdowns that dogged her life.

Judy Garland’s role as Dorothy from the 1939 MGM classic movie The Wizard of Oz shot her into an orbit that she (and the studios who owned her) fought to control for the rest of her life. The movie was based on one of L Frank Baum‘s popular children’s stories The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first published in 1900. American culture owes Mr Baum much. He went on to write other tales about the people in the Land of Oz, then came the movie and, of course, Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the west the huge musical which owes, in turn, its genesis to Gregory Maguire‘s 1995 novel of the same name. Mr Maguire mined Oz for four more books in his Oz series, and so it goes.

wizardnarrow-300x0Now Maxine Mellor (as Principal Writer), The Danger Ensemble and La Boite have a go in their The Wizard of Oz currently playing at The Roundhouse as part of the Brisbane Festival program.  In Director Steven Mitchell Wright‘s production we meet the old familiar figures: Dorothy (Caroline Dunphy in great form) and her little black dog Toto, the munchkins (Lucy-Ann LangkildeThomas Hutchins and Thomas Larkin) who also play the lion, tin man and scarecrow respectively – and scarily. Of course, there is a beautiful witch (Polly Sara) and Oz himself (Chris Beckey a spectacle in emerald green). Ms Mellor’s tale reframes the original into a contemporary, local setting in order to examine the burden of lost hopes and aspirations so, of course, the Garland persona will get an airing. Continue reading Review: The Wizard of Oz – La Boite, The Danger Ensemble and Brisbane Festival at The Roundhouse

Review: Trollop – Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio

Some time ago, I pulled this quote from a longer article by John Lahr – The Illumination Business: why drama critics must look at and look after the theatre. I came across it again as I was reviewing another piece I’m working on. It continues to resonate for me, but the quote itself couldn’t have come at a better time as I sat down to record my response to Maxine Mellor’s play Trollop, the winner of the Premier’s Drama Award 2012-13 and receiving its premiere, world performance at Queensland Theatre Company.

Reviewing assumes that the plot is the play; criticism, on the other hand, knows that the plot is only part of a conversation that the playwright is having about a complex series of historical and psychological issues. The job of the critic is to join that conversation, to explore the play and link it to the world. The job of the reviewer is to link the play to the box office.

Mr Lahr is clearly not  keen to be described as a ‘reviewer.’ I don’t particularly care one way or the other; a critic by any other name will smell as pungent. Anyway, I did rather like the bit that notes the critic’s job in joining in the conversation. I’ve always been more interested in conversations with playwrights than budget bottom lines and I agree that plots are not the play, which is just as well. Continue reading Review: Trollop – Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio

Review: Mother Courage – Queensland Theatre Company and QPAC at The Playhouse, QPAC

Images: Rob Maccoll

The last time Herr Brecht and I crossed paths was in a high school drama room, some 16 years ago and, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t taken with his work. Come opening night of QTC’s indigenous production of his most famous play, and all I could remember about Brecht was that I was supposed to remember something about Brecht. Nonetheless, as the corrugated iron curtain flew up on Mother Courage, I was put at ease. These people I knew.

Probably his best known play, Brecht’s epic Mother Courage (1939) is set on the battlegrounds of the European thirty years’ war, 1618-1648. This production, adapted in a new translation by Wesley Enoch and Paula Nazarski, is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, a world where ‘government is lost and human greed takes the form of mining armies.’ The indigenous population is clearly divided and, like the original, this Mother Courage is making her living – surviving the impossible odds – by profiteering from war. Continue reading Review: Mother Courage – Queensland Theatre Company and QPAC at The Playhouse, QPAC

Review: The Pitch and The China Incident – Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC Cremorne

Image: Queensland Theatre Company

Sometimes 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 HoughtonThe 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

Review: Children of War, La Boite indie and The Danger Ensemble in association with the Vanguard Youth Theatre

Image: Courtesy La Boite Theatre

I like the concept. Take a group of young characters pulled out of the myths surrounding the Trojan War and make them the seniors of 2012, complete with impending formal. Writer Chris Beckey and director/designer Steven Mitchell Wright have offered up a media-infused collision of old and new that seeks to highlight that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating itself when it comes to growing up in a war zone. The Danger Ensemble collaborated with the Vanguard Youth Theatre to develop and perform the work, and the cast of eight young actors grab the show with both hands (and at times their bared teeth) and run with it. Continue reading Review: Children of War, La Boite indie and The Danger Ensemble in association with the Vanguard Youth Theatre