Review: Managing Carmen – Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC Playhouse

Opening nights can be times of high anticipation or high anxiety depending on which side of the stage you happen to be. They are never dull and are usually also suffused with excitement especially if it’s a world-premiere and, in Australia, if it’s a new David Williamson play.

So it was on Thursday at the Playhouse in Brisbane for Managing Carmen which we all knew well in advance from the marketing is a play about a champion AFL football player who likes dressing up in frocks. Cue dozens of blokey jokes …

The fact that Williamson has written a sweet and clever morality tale with tolerance at its heart is a measure  of how the big man of Australian drama can catch a moment in that fabled zeitgeist out there and spin it into a yarn that’s funny and true. He’s done that throughout his career, been labelled at one time as ‘the Chekhov of Australian drama’ for the way he lines up aspects of Australian culture and its middle-class foibles and then pokes mullock. The comparison, like all such, are odious. He’s Williamson and critics have had their way with him over the years. Like his work or not, consider it trite or profound, berate him for the lack of epics or large-scale social criticism in his astonishing output, Williamson’s work is something to celebrate. His latest is a gem to treasure. Continue reading Review: Managing Carmen – Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC Playhouse

Review: The Removalists – Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio

It’s been a while since I’d last seen one of David Williamson‘s best plays, The Removalists – 36 years, in fact, in an opening night performance of a production by QTC at the old La Boite Theatre in Hale Street. I took the opportunity this week to see a matinee performance once again at Queensland Theatre Company. I was surrounded by kids, and seniors like me; weekday matinees tend to be like that.

The current production, directed by Michelle Miall for the Studio program, was a bit of a nostalgia trip in many ways, and I wondered how the high school students around me would react to a period piece – for such it is. The first production of the play in Melbourne in 1971 featured David Williamson as the removalist, and his wife to be, Kristin. This production marks the play’s 40th anniversary. Still hard to believe …

Back in the early 1970s Australian drama was going through its heady nationalist phase. The Ocker figure made his appearance over and over, the women’s liberation movement was getting an exploratory nod (here and there) on stages, and more than a fair sprinkling of vulgarity and violence was the norm. Lots of beer cans were popped on stage and the male vernacular ruled. They were exciting theatrical times and it was all exhilarating stuff, although female characters tended to be short-changed in what was an overwhelmingly masculinist world on stage. More often than not, these productions shocked the socks off seniors at matinee performances back then. These plays hadn’t made the schools’ syllabus list – these too were awaiting liberation.

Williamson’s text is tight, entertaining realism in the service of a good yarn; this much hasn’t changed at all. The twin protagonists – Sgt Dan Simmonds played by Chris Betts and Kenny Carter by Steven Rooke – are terrific, layered characters which remain a challenge and, I imagine, a delight to play for any actor. They are two of the great roles in modern Australian drama. Both Betts and Rooke are well matched here and in good form as they spar verbally and physically.

As I watched, I was reminded of something that was obvious in a lot of Australian plays from the 1970s: Williamson wrote awful roles for women. Until later on, when complex, central characters like Frances (Travelling North) or Barbara (The Perfectionist) appeared in his works, this lack of meaty roles for women in his plays was a bone of contention amongst female actors. In this production of The Removalists (one of those plays) two fine actors Emmaline Carroll (Fiona Carter) and Natasha Yantsch (her sister, Kate) are constrained by roles which are as slight as the male roles are rich; they are almost entirely satellites and supports to the males. Peter Cook as Rob, the Removalist, and Anthony Standish who plays Simmonds’ foil, the new cop on the job, Const Neville Ross round out the cast.

Michelle Miall’s production keeps the pace up – 1 hr 44 mins with no interval – and she lets more of the comedy show. Chris Betts’ Simmonds is less the sinister, terrifying thug than comic, lecherous braggart circling Kate in hopes of some overtime fun. Steven Rooke is excellent as Kenny; it’s some of his best work, and he’s always good. Anthony Standish is terrific too as Ross; he’s the embodiment of a boofhead – all nervous, try-hard precision. In a weird way, even after you know he’s committed an appalling crime, you just can’t help feeling sorry for the guy. Kenny’s the same. He’s unlikeable but sufficiently complex to grab our interest and our sympathy. ‘I’m unpredictable. It’s part of me charm,’ he notes cannily of himself. Williamson may well have written the role of Rob knowing he was going to play it himself in that original production. It was a smart move either way; it’s an unforgettable little pearler of a role. Once heard, you never forget that defining mantra from the guy who knows he’s the real man in charge, ‘I’ve got $10 000 worth of machinery ticking over out there in the drive.’ Peter Cook fills this smartypants Everyman role with relish – and a smirk.

In the post-show Q&A session the kids asked about the props: ‘Were they real?’ they asked. There’s a television audience for you! It turns out that the labels and packaging, uniforms and set dressing were all of period in which the play is set. Lit by Jason Glenwright,  Simone Romaniuk‘s wonderfully-awful-70s (you can still get that wallpaper?) set design works well for police station (Act 1) and Kenny and Fiona’s living room (Act 2.) I’m a sucker for those soundscape atmospheric mixes of music and popular culture from a period. Here, Sound Designer Tony Brumpton gathers snatches of television and news broadcasts from the early 1970s and gets the sound of the times spot on as well. By the bye, hasn’t the style of VO announcers changed?

Whilst the student audience asked about the police corruption portrayed in the play, no one talked about how the actors had worked on the violence which made The Removalists such a shocking piece when it was first produced on Australian stages; there’s that television audience again. Whilst I recall squirming during the onstage violence – choreographed by Scott Witt – I found even more revolting the perverted mateship that plays out over a beer and a cigarette. Kenny drags himself back from the kitchen where Ross has beaten and kicked him to a bloody mess, and, in the scene that follows, Williamson sets up one of the most violent and disturbing endings in Australian drama. Beer can in hand Kenny dies from a massive cerebral haemorrhage and, in what the stage directions describe as ‘a frenzied ritual of exorcism,’ both police officers beat each other senseless over his body. It’s truly brilliant, ghastly stuff.

When it first appeared to great acclaim, the black comedy and the horror of The Removalists was undeniably shocking. Whilst it may not have the visceral impact of the original productions in their own time, there is no doubting its dramatic power.

The Removalists by David Williamson Directed by Michelle Miall for Queensland Theatre Company plays at the Bille Brown Studio, 78 Merivale Street, S Brisbane until 6 August. Check the Company website for details.

 

This week in Queensland theatre: April 26-May 2

Empire Theatre
Image by Dramagirl via Flickr

For further details on individual performances dates and showtimes check company websites

Opening:

  • Disney’s High School Musical, dir Lewis Jones Empire Theatre, Toowoomba (Wednesday)
  • Stockholm by Bryony Lavery, Dir and Choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, Sydney Theatre Company for La Boite Theatre at Roundhouse Theatre (Thursday)

Continuing:

  • Let the Sunshine by David Williamson Dir Michael Gow, Queensland Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett Dir Joseph Mitchell, Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio
  • Spamalot Dir Ellen Casey, Blue Fish Theatrical, Schonell Theatre UQ

Reviews:

High School Musical, Dir Lewis Jones: Empire Theatre, Toowoomba (Kate Foy)

Let the Sunshine: Queensland Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC

Check company website for show times and further information

Let the Sunshine by David Williamson

Director: Michael Gow
Designer: Robert Kemp
Composer: Peter Farnan
Lighting Designer: Ben Hughes
Cast includes: Paul Ashcroft, Robert Coleby, Rachel Gordon, Andrea Moor, Jacki Weaver, John Wood

Interview with David Williamson: ABC Sunshine Coast

Reviews:

Let the Sunshine Reviewed – OurBrisbane.com (Katherine Lyall-Watson)

Left v Right in Black and White – The Australian online (Bree Hadley)

Let the Sunshine – BrisbaneCritiques.com (Kellie Scott)

Let the Sunshine – RAVE Street Magazine (Emma Bell)

Let the Sunshine – ABC (Nigel Munro-Wallis)

Let the Sunshine: Wine and Cheese – The Blurb (Lisa O’Donnell)

This Week in Queensland Theatre: March 8-14

Image via Wikipedia

For show times check company websites

The big wet continues in the south-east and west of the state. Wonder how, if at all, this has affected box-office figures for companies.

There’s one week to go for Hamlet for La Boite and The Little Dog Laughed for Queensland Theatre Company; both close on Saturday. Avenue Q at QPAC has had an extension to its season.

Click the date on Greenroom’s home page calendar to go to more details on each event.

Opening:

Flicking the Flint by Kate Lee !Metro Arts Independents (Brisbane) – Tuesday

Macbeth by William Shakespeare Jute Theatre (Cairns) – Thursday

Continuing:

Avenue Q the Australian touring production at QPAC (Brisbane)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare dir David Berthold at the Roundhouse (Brisbane)  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane dir Michael Gow at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC  Check the updated Greenroom reviews index.

Other:

Staging Lives: in conversation with Michael Gow, Will Eno, and David Williamson. State Library of Queensland – Tuesday.

See QSE’s training program which continues throughout the month (Brisbane)

It’s QPAC’s 25th Birthday this year.  While you’re on the South Bank in Brisbane head into the Tony Gould Gallery for the QPAC 25 Exhibition.

… and check out the recently-opened Edge space further upstream – near the fabulous GOMA.