Review: 1984 – shake & stir theatre company at QPAC Playhouse

Images: Dylan Evans

It’s tempting to discuss the plethora of socio-cultural themes and talking points that always seem to emerge whenever George Orwell’s, 1984 is rediscovered. However, and in the spirit of sparing our Greenroom readers an exhaustive and exhausting deconstruction of the source material, I want to focus more specifically on shake & stir’s interpretation, appropriation and ultimately adaptation of the classic novel first published in 1948. Continue reading Review: 1984 – shake & stir theatre company at QPAC Playhouse

Review: Animal Farm – shake and stir theatre company: Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Images: Stephen Henry

shake and stir are no strangers to Queensland theatre and, now that they’ve completed two national tours, are becoming familiar to audiences Australia-wide.

Last week I caught up with their latest production, a re-staging of their 2011, award-winning production of Animal Farm.  Adapted by Nick Skubij from George Orwell’s 1944 satirical novel about the horrors of totalitarianism under Stalin and directed by Michael Futcher, this production includes Nelle Lee, Ross Balbuziente, Tim Dashwood, Bryan Probets and Mr Skubij.

Toowoomba’s gorgeous Empire Theatre was the 27th venue in what has been a 5-month national tour for the company and, as you might expect of a well-run in production, the full house of young and old (over 1300) on Thursday night was treated to a polished, tight as a drum performance by the ensemble. I’ve made no secret elsewhere of my love of theatricality in the service of great story-telling, and this production exemplifies it with economy and clarity. Continue reading Review: Animal Farm – shake and stir theatre company: Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Nick Skubij (Interview 36)

Nick Skubij is one of the artistic triumvirate that heads up the enormously successful shake and stir theatre company. Their name may be minimalist lower case but there’s nothing small-scale any more about this company that has been in business since only 2006. Its operations are compact – they work from a small office in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and call no theatre space their own – but they’ve made a huge impact with the quality of their work, and the scale of reach throughout the state and now national touring circuit with their in-school work and their inventive, award-winning productions of classics.

I caught up with Nick via Skype – they’re in Maryborough tonight – as they approach the final leg of their  current national tour of the George Orwell classic, Animal Farm. In 2011 they took Statespeare beyond the state for the first time.  Nick has adapted Animal Farm for the stage – it premiered in Brisbane in mid-2011.  Michael Futcher has again directed the play which has seen the addition of a new cast member, Tim Dashwood. Next year they’re planning to show the rest of the country their other Orwell – 1984. Funding by Playing Australia (the only funding they’ve ever received) for three national and state-wide tours in three years is not a bad strike rate at all.  “We like being commercially independent,” Nick tells me. Continue reading Nick Skubij (Interview 36)

Review: 1984 – Shake and Stir at QPAC Cremorne Theatre

I’ve come late to 1984; it’s well into the second week of a season that was sold out two weeks before opening.  Most of the reviews are in and they are unusually fulsome in their praise for a local production. I’m certainly not going to be different in that regard.

1984 is a cracker of a production – intelligent and theatrically clever as are all of Michael Futcher’s creations as stage director.

Orwell’s horror story of a society diseased by totalitarianism (of either the left or right variety) has been adapted for this production by two of Shake and Stir’s Artistic Directorate: Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij. Both Ms Lee and Mr Skubij are part of the first-rate onstage cast of five which also includes Ross Balbuziente, Hugh Parker and Bryan Probets, who is truly excellent as the hapless and doomed Winston Smith. His skull-like image and haunted eyes are projected large on the huge screen that backs and enlarges the stage action. It complements that of Big Brother and, for those who know the novel, is used in a device at play’s conclusion that perfectly captures the tragedy of Orwell’s novel. The production also features screen and audio appearances from Alexander Butt, Veronica Neave, Naomi Price, Matthew Welsh and Walt Webster. Continue reading Review: 1984 – Shake and Stir at QPAC Cremorne Theatre

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

Where’s a young triple-threat to go?

A few weeks back I found myself in front of a lot of the Harvest Rain interns at one of their regular Friday Behind the Red Curtain seminar sessions. On the panel (chaired by Artistic Director of HR, Tim O’Connor) were three other actors: Steven Tandy, Bryan Probets, and Cameron Hurry.  As you’d expect, the students’ questions and subsequent discussion revolved around the business of acting.

One of the questions put to us was whether, after training, taking work in an amateur theatre production would mean an actor would not be ‘taken seriously.‘  Was there, in fact, a stigma attached to doing amateur theatre? The response to the query was an emphatic ‘No,’ from all of us – with the caveat that an actor needs to seek out work with the best people – especially when getting started. This is what we actually said:

By the way, the Harvest Rain Behind the Red Curtain sessions are good value! Check out the others on their site. But, back to the question …

Each of the actor-panellists at the session had either begun their stage careers in amateur theatre or have returned there from time to time – for various reasons. Bryan speaks most eloquently in the video above about his experience, as do Steven and Cameron. As far as I was concerned, there was no local training when I left school, and the newly-created NIDA was barely a blip on anyone’s radar. I worked with Brisbane Arts Theatre for a few years before going on to train in London. The time I spent at BAT was invaluable to me; watching other, more experienced actors at work focussed my thinking, whilst spending hours and hours travelling by bus and tram to and from Petrie Terrace to Sandgate during the week and at weekends taught me how demanding the work could be. It also hardened my determination to go on. Continue reading Where’s a young triple-threat to go?