Review: The Empty City – The Human Company at Powerkids Festival @ Brisbane Powerhouse

The Empty City, directed by David Fenton, is based on the picture book of the same name by David Megarrity and Jonathon Oxlade. It explores an idea that has undoubtedly crossed the mind of every child: What if, for one day only, everyone disappeared and the city belonged to you? What would you do? Go on, you’ve already started picturing yourself eating and playing your way through a large department store, haven’t you? Jumping on all the beds, stuffing yourselves with gumballs, pouring your own McDonald’s thick-shake? Thought so.

Tom, our young protagonist, explores his options in the empty city between two projection screens that give the animated metropolis a 3D effect, allowing plenty of room for snazzy tricks and magical sleight of hand. Designer Jonathon Oxlade, lighting designer Freddy Komp, animator Luke Monsour and graphic designer Ray Pittman have done a fabulous job creating a city that is familiar yet mysteriously different; it could exist anywhere. The actors, Tom Oliver and Bridget Boyle collaborate inventively with their surroundings to tell Tom’s tale. Continue reading Review: The Empty City – The Human Company at Powerkids Festival @ Brisbane Powerhouse

Review: Performance Anxiety – Brian Lucas at Turbine Studio Brisbane Powerhouse

Image: Michael Hills

I love that moment an audience shares when they are in the presence of a truly committed performer. It’s a comfortable acceptance, a feeling of safety despite the fact that what you are seeing may be totally unhinged, or bordering on absurd. This was the vibe enjoyed at the opening night of Performance Anxiety, a one-man show that went up at the Brisbane Powerhouse this week.

The Turbine Studio has been transformed by designers Kieran Swann (set) and Andrew Meadows (lighting) into an uber-cool, in-the-round cabaret den, with bare hanging bulbs, festive Christmas lights and rows upon rows of shiny wine glasses propping up a slick barman.

Centre stage is Brian Lucas – writer, performer and all-round visionary. He is the creator of Performance Anxiety a 90 minute foray into the behind the scenes psyche of a performer, juxtaposed with glimpses into the anxiety-ridden lives of us ordinary folk Continue reading Review: Performance Anxiety – Brian Lucas at Turbine Studio Brisbane Powerhouse

Review: A Headful of Love – Queensland Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC

A few months after I was married I happened to be on tour for Queensland Theatre Company in one of their far-ranging theatre in education teams. This is the mid-1970s, by the way. Out little three-person troupe was playing far northern and central Australia in a play about a white boy who had run away into the bush. I remember he faced his demons and a very large (puppet head) crocodile (pre-Dundee days) during his adventures and, by play’s end, returned back home ready presumably to face whatever life threw at him. I remember the kids in the mission stations around Cape York screaming in delighted terror when I would emerge as the crocodile.

So it was at QTC’s latest offering Alana Valentine‘s truly wonder-filled play A Headful of Love directed by Wesley Enoch that I found myself witnessing another Australian play that follows a now-familiar track – the going ‘away’ from the known into the unknown (city to desert heart) to escape something. Typically, protagonists are either destroyed or resurrected in some way. It’s a theme that post-colonial Australia’s still obsessively examining in its navel-gazing, self-identification quest. I remember our primary school social studies courses being jam-packed with stories of doomed and dying explorers who had ventured into the centre of the vast continent without a clue. They were presented to us as heroes, and it was the kind of mad, boys’ own adventure, the sort that had infatuated imperial Britain.

Australian drama across the years has been quite keen on this trope which is, of course, drawn from a far earlier literary theme that examined the differences between city and country and ‘civilised’ v ‘uncivilised’ behaviour. Women and children in the landscape find their way into Australian art and literature in the 19th century. In dramatic terms it’s a set up that just works; the juxtaposition of fragile things against a rugged, harsh, and unforgiving landscape – the ‘feminine’ and ‘domestic’ entering the ‘masculine’ world of colonial pioneering. Putting an outsider into unfamiliar territory can make for tragic or comic material. In the case of Ms Valentine’s play – a little of both. Continue reading Review: A Headful of Love – Queensland Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC

Review: X by Sunny Drake – Metro Arts The Independents 2012 at the Sue Benner Theatre

It was a supportive and packed audience for the opening night of X the latest in the Metro Arts Independents 2012 seasonEach of us was holding an obligatory drink as we entered the theatre but, long before the lights went down, aspects of the show, written, created, and performed by Sunny Drake had already begun.

We’d been asked to write a judgmental thought about alcoholics on our way in. Upon arrival at the door, we were given someone else’s judgmental ‘thought’ in return; they’re used during the show. Mr Drake begins the show saying it’s not at all about him and, by the end of the night the message is searingly clear: this show is about us. It’s about our addictions and our judgements, particularly around alcohol.  In X, the fourth wall is well and truly down.

This one-man show, directed by Therese Collie, doesn’t feel like a one  man show at all

There’s astounding multimedia and projection design, along with a cast of puppets, and it’s the animation and multimedia that steal the show. There are theatrical moments that represent vibrant and imaginative independent theatre at its absolute best.

The puppet characters regularly escape into a blissful, green-tinged, alcoholic world but, as the show goes on, the blissful and the real worlds collide with staggering consequences. Ingrid K Brooker helped along by Georgie Hauff, Taylor Wilson and Jordan Higgins has designed beautiful and enchanting stop-motion animation. Penny Everingham’s puppets are delightful and inventive creatures, although Drake occasionally struggles with his performance of them.

I’d love to tell you more about the plot, but I had extreme difficulty understanding it. There are two central characters: Jamie and Caitlin, although they take a leave of absence in the show’s middle as we focus on ‘Mr. Fancy’. There are also other characters who may or may not have been somehow connected with Jamie and Caitlin. The puppets are initially introduced and performed by Caitlin, but she quickly disappears, and how they’re connected to the real world remains a mystery.

The blurring of the puppet and the real world is at times a deliberate choice, but is also frequently confusing. The central tension of the play is set around a state-wide crackdown on alcohol, but this gets buried and lost, which means the plot’s momentum occasionally slows down. The play’s final five minutes of meta-theatricality become too declamatory to be truly powerful as the character’s we’ve been introduced to are deserted by Sunny for another purpose altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of true wit and satirical mirth here that are fantastic. I haven’t been exposed to Sunny’s work before, and there’s a lot here to like. In so many ways though, X feels like a warm-up to something greater. Mr Drake is an intelligent performer in the making, with plenty of ambition and vision, but he occasionally struggles with the pressures of a one-man show. Ms Collie’s staging has moments of sheer delight and beauty, and the numerous theatrical tricks employed throughout the show are worth the ticket price alone.

Georgina Greenhill’s set, a discombobulated body that is sprawled across the stage, is inventive and detailed. Ms Greenhill manages to mix beauty and surprise into her design, and provides a fertile playground for Sunny. Brett Collery’s soundscape and composition present him at his atmospheric best. whilst the lighting design by Andrew Meadows is incredibly clever and beautiful. Indeed, Greenhill, Collery and Meadows create a production with technical cohesion that is rarely seen on the Brisbane Independent stage.

Greenhill, Collery and Meadows create a production with technical cohesion that is rarely seen on the Brisbane independent stage

As the audience left the theatre, everyone’s glasses were empty, our judgement purged, and our creative brains tickled.  X is a show of invention and imagination, and will give you plenty of moments of delight.

X  plays at Metro Arts from Wed-Sat until 28th April as part of their The Independents 2012 season ahead of its North American tour to the USA National Queer Arts Festival.
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Duration: 60 – 65 minutes

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)