Review: The Lady of the House of Love – Queensland Music Festival, Brisbane City Council and Metro Arts – Sue Benner Theatre

You go away for a bit and, when you get home, find out from friends just how many good shows you’ve missed. It’s inevitable, I suppose; Winter is the busiest time of the theatre year in SE Queensland. The indies are out in full force right now joining the main-house and touring productions at QPAC – harbingers for the coming Brisbane Festival and its accompanying fringe events in early spring.

It’s not hard to miss a show or two in Brisbane these days. The range and general quality is impressive. Greenroom has missed a couple or come to them late in their season – no bad thing of course, although it does mean you have rather missed the bus when it comes to getting a review out in the usual time frame for such things. As a side note, I managed to catch the marvellous Venus in Fur from Queensland Theatre Company before it closed last week. The reviews were universally glowing, and deservedly so for David Ives‘ intellectual hijinks superbly directed by Andrea Moor and magnificently played by Libby Munro and Todd Macdonald. People are still talking about it; I don’t think they knew what had hit them. Plays like this confirm why we love theatre. As do productions like The Lady of the House of Love an equally beautifully realised fantasy but in another theatrical key altogether. I also came late to this production and I am so glad I did not miss it. Continue reading Review: The Lady of the House of Love – Queensland Music Festival, Brisbane City Council and Metro Arts – Sue Benner Theatre

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: 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: Rabbit – The Good Room at !Metro Arts Theatre

Bella is entering her 30th year – a dangerous age we used to be told. For the members of Gen-Y (look it up) portrayed in British writer Nina Raine‘s realistic comedy of manners Rabbit (2006), Time’s wingéd chariot is rumbling along all too loudly on the bumpy road. It’s time to take stock, socialise the hell out of the opportunity and, inevitably, get really ugly with your friends. It’s mostly uncomfortable veritas that emerges as the vino flows and vodka and reputations get slammed in what turns out to be a BLOCK CAPS WITH LOTS OF !!!! kind of party for those who turn up.

Bella’s joined by a handful of friends at her small though positively exuberant 29th birthday celebration in a hotel bar somewhere in Brisbane. Director Daniel Evans has relocated the play to the city, and it works well. Guests include Bella’s good friend Emily, a doctor; former lover #1 Richard, a barrister but wannabe writer; former lover #2 Tom, who works in the city – in Brit parlance a stockbroker or banker; and Sandy, a writer.

On the night of the party Bella’s father, played with intelligence and subtlety by Norman Doyle, is hospitalised and dying from a tumor that is gradually wiping away his seat of emotions and memories; he has refused treatment. Bella is angry with her father for his decision, and guilty for not being at his bedside. We learn it’s been a rocky relationship in a series of flashbacks – heartfelt duets between father and daughter.

Designed by Tara Hobbs, with lighting design by Daniel Anderson and sound design from Anthony Ack KinmouthDaniel Evans‘ production of Rabbit for the indie company The Good Room is a sharp, witty, fast-paced interpretation that draws terrific performances from the cast of six, who are just about perfect for their roles. They are as slick and excellent an ensemble as you could want.

The cast is headed by Amy Ingram as Bella, a successful publicist, in a performance that is as robust as it is gentle and nuanced. It’s also in perfect sync with Raine’s shrewd take on friendship and contemporary society. The performances by Sam Clark, Kevin Spink, Belinda Raisin, and Penny Harpham as Bella’s friends are individually and collectively proof of the depth and quality of acting talent we are experiencing right now in this country. Raine writes terrific characters in this – what was her first and an award-winning work for the stage – and the dialogue is hugely enjoyable; I bet the actors loved working on their roles.

Yes, Bella’s Friends are all a whiny, self-indulgent, privileged bunch and, at times, as nasty as they come; with cynical friends like these etc.  At times you want to slap them all in turn and, sometimes, all at once. I went for an interval drink (YES!! THERE IS AN INTERVAL!! AMAZE!!) loathing the lot of them but, as Raine develops the play throughout the second act, we experience its real strength – the development of characters whose directness and brutal honesty are, perhaps, their saving grace. You actually do end up ‘caring’ for them – and I count this as one of the markers of a good play/production.

So, whilst opening night saw a lot of first-night adrenalin pumping on both sides of the fence – there were a lot of friends in the house – and there was probably a little too much SHOUTING AND LOUD, I have no doubt this fine company will continue developing and finessing across its season. The tiny Sue Benner Theatre will get full houses, so get in quick.

Rabbit by Nina Raine for the indie company The Good Room as part of !Metro Arts Allies program plays until July 28th. Get details from the website.

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