Main Image: Jerome Meyer and Alec Snow. All images by Al Caeiro
I confess to loving a good play title; it can occupy a fruitful seminar for ages – that’s the recovering academic in me talking.
I’m also very fond of theatricalism in design and execution – the challenge and frisson created when it bumps up against realism in a production and, as it pulls naturalistic acting into its embrace, gets to be over the top and obvious, understated and true. Sometimes you can be wrong-footed but the dance is always enjoyable. And so, on opening night of La Boite’s latest Season 2013 offering Holding the Man by Tommy Murphy and directed by David Berthold, I found a lot to like.
Mr Murphy’s much-admired play has a new production by Mr Berthold who has directed it previously to great acclaim: at Griffin Theatre and the Opera House in Sydney (2006) and subsequently in Melbourne, the Brisbane Powerhouse and in London (2010). This was my first time. The play has been adapted from the late Timothy Conigrave‘s biography of the same name. It is also unknown to me though it’s gone to the top of the must-read list. I want to hear more of the singular voice of Conigrave who, in the play at least, is not the most likeable of characters but certainly a most compelling, and isn’t that the way with so many of the best roles going?
Alec Snow, making his professional debut at La Boite, is cast as the man who is held by John Caleo (Jerome Meyer) the light to his dark, the chalk to his cheese, the athlete to his artist. Mr Meyer is also making his first professional appearance in this production. And here’s where the play’s title is food for thought. ‘Holding the man’ is a term taken from AFL football – it defines a transgression that incurs a penalty. Conigrave the actor and Caleo the footballer (and Essendon fan) were lovers. The many personal and societal transgressions that accompany the lives of the protagonists from childhood through adulthood provide the narrative with its subject matter and tension. Continue reading Review: Holding the Man – La Boite Theatre at the Roundhouse
!Metro Arts Brisbane’s latest offering in its 2011 Independents program is Empire Burning, a most intriguing and, it has to be said, much-anticipated new work from writer, actor and director Eugene Gilfedder. Mr Gilfedder is a fine actor held deservedly in high esteem in the industry; the range of his work during the past 12 months alone is impressive. For this premiere season of his own play he has gathered a top-notch cast which includes himself as Seneca, the Roman statesman, philosopher and playwright.
Empire Burning is a mighty big work which runs at around 75 minutes’ playing time. It encompasses the rise to power of the boy-Emperor Nero, his relationship with his tutor Seneca and mother Agrippina, and nasty goings-on in the upper echelons of Rome. It’s all set against the mysterious fires that engulfed the city in AD64. Empire Burning suggests these are the work of the people ‘who come through the flames’ – what we now called terrorists. Apparently the religious extremists of the time – the Christians – were blamed for the fires back then. Not much changes it would seem.
I came away from this first production of the play with mixed feelings. I was engaged by the breadth of the subject matter and with the way the writer has taken the stuff of ancient Rome and found such a clever and frighteningly snug fit with contemporary world politics. I love the singularity of the voice in Gilfedder’s text – his poetic and intelligent writing. He has written some great roles for actors who, in this production, are very well cast and take to the material with relish. However, there is a problem in the density and scope of the play’s subject matter which feels as though it’s been compressed and forced into an all-too-short playing time. This is a triple-decker work if ever there was one, and the play’s contents burst the seams of the production. Continue reading Review: Empire Burning – !Metro Arts & Eugene Gilfedder
As I Skype with Niki-J Price she tells me she is enjoying a little stillness in the Brisbane rain – ‘a bit of a homesick moment,’ she says – she’s Welsh by birth. Niki-J’s taking a short break from rehearsals as part of the Empire Burning company. There’s a run-through that night, ‘and it will be my first ever appearance on the Sue Benner stage.’ Niki-J is one of the cast in Eugene Gilfedder’s new play which opens on Friday at !Metro Arts as part of their Independents’ season for 2011. ‘I’m more than thrilled to be working with such an amazing cast. What a gift it is to be sharing the stage with some of Queensland’s finest male actors – including young Finn (Gilfedder-Cooney) who is not afraid to take such bold steps.’ I think to myself that she is probably going to be right at home in this company. Niki-J herself is a fine actor – on stage as bold and courageous as they come.
I’m keen to find out more about her and to find out what feeds her artist’s imagination. I begin by asking her a question that’s been puzzling me for ages. What’s the ‘J’ in Niki-J stand for? She tells me it’s for ‘Jayne’ but she only added it when she was 18. ‘At the time I thought a second name would be nice,’ and so she became Nicola Jayne Price – a good Welsh name, I note and one that morphed over time into Niki-J.
As a child, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. ‘It was a small, mid-Wales country town – all a bit incestuous; you’d walk down the street and see someone you were related to.’ When she was 13 she discovered the local youth theatre, and that was it. It was there that her eyes were opened to a wider world, and where, she confesses, she learned to drink and smoke. The first play she appeared in happened to be Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, the same play, incidentally, in which she appeared in December last year for Fractal Productions in Ipswich and at the Old Museum in Brisbane. Continue reading Niki-J Price (Interview 18)
Written and Directed by Eugene Gilfedder
SEASON: Friday 13 to Saturday 28 May
WHEN: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm
BACKCHAT: Wednesday 18 May, Artist Q&A after performance
WHERE: Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre
TICKETS: Adults $20 Concessions $16
PERFORMERS: Damien Cassidy, Dan Crestani, Michael Futcher, Eugene Gilfedder, Finn Gilfedder-Cooney, Sasha Janowicz, Niki-J Price and Steven Tandy
SOUND DESIGN BY John Rodgers and Ken Eadie
LIGHTING DESIGN BY Geoff Squires
VISUALS/PROJECTION DESIGN BY Freddy Komp
Groups 10+ $12 Cheap Tuesdays $12 door sales only
Preview $12 (Tuesday 10 May)
My theatre companion and I are currently trying to get through burgers the size of our heads before we attend this evening’s performance of Waiting for Godot. It’s been a long week, and we’ve spent the last half an hour whinging at each other about work. There’s a pause in the conversation and a thought rises to the surface: ‘I’m not sure if I really want to sit through Beckett tonight,’ I proclaim with a sigh.
This is nothing against the Queensland Theatre Company production team. Joe Mitchell, the director, has already proven he’s a deft hand with Beckett in the past. The line-up of the cast is tremendous, and I’ve heard nothing but good things. But I’m slightly hesitant because I’ve fallen victim to the most common misconception held around Beckett: that I’ll leave the theatre wanting to kill myself. A synopsis of Waiting for Godot reads like a guaranteed boring night out. Most beautifully described as the play where ‘nothing happens, twice’, the play concerns itself with two men waiting for the mysterious Godot to show up. And that’s it. Continue reading Review: Waiting for Godot – Queensland Theatre Company
Let it be known, nothing sums this show up better than its poster: a soaking wet Toby Schmitz (very Trainspotting) arms raised as he pulls his hair back … with just a fine whisper of pubic hair on show. Whilst grabbing my tickets from the box office to see this not-so-subtle erotic piece of marketing on sale for three dollars a throw, I could understand how (if I were a Year 11 school girl) I’d have begun hungrily digging through the bottom of my school bag, gathering change from my tuckshop visit in order to pick up a copy. You get this feeling throughout the show: it’s sexy, cutting, and brutal, and it’s made for the 21st Century Twilight obsessed kid.
Ophelia is seen texting on her mobile phone, the Gravedigger grabs a quick digital pic with Hamlet, letters and messages are sent over an odd Star Trek-like video system. In addition (and I promise I’ll get to the finer points of the actual performances in a moment) it would be hard to find a group of more beautiful actors without resorting to Photoshop. Berthold has assembled a sexy cast, and he knows it. Skin (and on one occasion, full frontal nudity) is shown without hesitation, often in pairing with the four or five rock-opera style contemporary songs.
Hamlet’s play, in particular, makes you feel like you’re at some kind of incestuous drunk dance concert, and I’m not totally certain that this isn’t exactly how Shakespeare would have liked it.