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

Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Main Image: Bryan Probets (Touchstone) | Images: Al Caeiro

David Berthold is quickly setting up a tradition for La Boite: opening a season with a Shakespeare, directed by the Artistic Director himself. As You Like It was preceded by Hamlet (2010) and Julius Caesar (2011), in which Berthold proved he could bend the material to his will, creating sexy and contemporary productions. Make no mistake, As You Like It has a completely different feel, and is a more cohesive production than its La Boite forefathers. Indeed, it feels as though Berthold is infinitely more comfortable in the comedy of Shakespeare, and the result is superb production.

Helen Howard - Rosalind

As You Like It centres mainly around the love quest of Rosalind (Helen Howard), the daughter of a Duke who has been usurped. Rosalind is banished from the new Duke’s court and takes her cousin Celia (Helen Cassidy) and the court’s jester (Bryan Probets) with her. In order to escape persecution Rosalind disguises herself as a man, and leads her band of exiles through the Forest of Arden in an attempt to find her exiled father (Kate Wilson). But the real spice of the plot lies in Orlando (Thomas Larkin) who is forced to flee the court when he is rejected by his older brother Oliver (Luke Cadden) and then upsets the fascist usurper Duke (Hayden Spencer) by challenging and defeating his wrestler, Charles (Thomas Carney). But before he flees, Orlando and Rosalind fall in love, only to be reunited once again in the Forest of Arden, but with Rosalind in a man’s disguise. Commence Shakespearean gender-bending comedy.

The show is stolen, in my opinion, by an absolutely spell-binding design. Renee Mulder’s costumes and set are absolutely breath-taking.

This is theatre design at its very best, peppered with all sorts of tricks and surprises that the audience never see coming … it’s a spectacular achievement.

Mulder’s work is accompanied by sublime music and sound from Guy Webster, and incredibly clever lighting from David Walters. Together, the trio create a forest of Arden that is warm and inviting. The evocation of a campfire makes the potentially cold La Boite theatre feel small and intimate. The gypsy aesthetic of the the exiled Duke and his kingdom has the appeal of a charming, cleaner Woodford Folk Festival. It’s a spectacular achievement. Continue reading Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Review: Ruben Guthrie – La Boite Theatre at The Roundhouse

My local bottle department practically gives away the booze. Pop in any afternoon of the week and there’s almost always a tasting going on – handy little refreshments for drivers heading home after a hard day. The specials are stacked up in tempting piles round the shop. When I remark on the week’s ‘buy one, get one free’ deals, the cheery guy behind the counter tells me that there’s a wine mountain ‘out there’ and that “Someone’s got to drink it.”

La Boite’s latest production, and the last for their 2011 season, is Ruben Guthrie by actor, writer, director Brendan Cowell. In the course of the play Ruben’s Czech girlfriend Zoya refers to Australia as a beautiful ‘alcoholic country,’ and Cowell’s play points its considerable critical armoury right at our culture’s denial of the problem. Someone’s got to drink it after all. Whilst the play is pretty gut-wrenching at times, it’s also wickedly funny. Cowell’s shredding of the ethics of the advertising industry is satirical writing at its best. I think it’s his best play yet.

If this corker of a social satire didn’t make you laugh so much you’d weep. Ruben Guthrie is a tragedy about the fall and fall of a talented young man whose health, career and relationships are ruined by booze and drugs. Ruben creates ad campaigns but wants to be taken seriously as a writer – cockiness masks his insecurity. Ruben’s lifestyle where the ‘caine is freely available and grog flows to inspire creativity, celebrate, commiserate and, well, just because you can, see him sucked under. He loses his girlfriend at the start of the play, gets the wake-up call and decides to go on the wagon. Brendan Cowell’s Writer’s Note speaks of the year in which he gave up alcohol not just because he knew he was drinking too much, but to see what it would be like to go without. The experiences he had, the ‘run-ins’ with his ‘baffled’ friends and family who couldn’t understand his denial of ‘the great drink’ were the inspiration for this play.

David Berthold directs a fine, unvarnished production that takes full advantage of the theatre’s architectural space – we’re back in the round, by the way. Mr Berthold admits to admiring the play greatly, and it’s not hard to see why. Mr Cowell’s witty text flows from the compassion at its heart, and its dialogue springs off the page. Berthold has orchestrated its rhythms and thematics with confidence and sensitivity. The play also needs a gutsy company to have it work the way it needs to, and the director has cast it beautifully.

Caroline Kennison

Ruben Guthrie has a dream team ensemble headed by Gyton Grantley who is on stage as Ruben for all but a few seconds of the action. Mr Grantley’s performance is quite superb; it’s assured and powerful, and his Ruben utterly charming and heartbreaking. He is wonderfully supported by Hayden Spencer as Ray his boss, by Caroline Kennison as his mother Susan, and Kathryn Marquet as Virginia his AA sponsor and lover. New faces Lauren Orrel (Zoya) Darren Sabadina (Damian) and John McNeill (Peter) are terrific as fiancée, best mate and father respectively.

Design by Renée Mulder is stripped back and suggestive of a boxing ring right down to its bright blue squares. It’s absolutely perfect for the no-holds-barred slugfest which is the play. Jason Glenwright (lighting) and Guy Webster (sound) complete the design team with meticulously detailed lighting, composition and soundscapes.

The production is wonderfully theatrical and performative; the audience is brought into the action as Ruben addresses us as fellow meeting attendees. The cast sit around the perimeter of the square within the round and watch the action, setting and striking furniture and props, coming and going into the ring for the ’rounds’ that play out over two acts. Yes, there is an interval where you can get a drink. You are invited to bring it back into the theatre if you wish. As an aside, I asked the bar staff whether sales had been up or down during the season. They indicated rather discreetly that they hadn’t really noticed a difference. You could, however, feel a real tension in the room as Ruben agonises over the temptation of drinks forced upon him by friends and family. I don’t mind admitting my own inner voice was screaming, ‘Don’t do it!’

Don’t miss it. This is an excellent realisation of a very good, contemporary, and very Australian play.

Ruben Guthrie by Brendan Cowell plays at The Roundhouse Theatre for a limited season. Catch it between the time you’re reading this and its closing performance on 13th November. Details on the company website.

Images by Al Caeiro
Main Image: Gyton Grantley and Kathryn Marquet 

Review: Orphans – Queensland Theatre Company (Studio) @ Bille Brown Studio

It’s a cool and drizzly Brisbane winter night, the wind is blowing off the river and I’ve scooted back in quick time from my current-neighbourhood playhouse – the Bille Brown Studio at 78 Montague Road. I’ve been disturbed rather more than I would have thought possible by Dennis Kelly’s Orphans, a play out of contemporary Britain that lays bare another part of the barbaric underbelly of the carefully manicured middle class. I wanted to get home, turn the lights on and clear my head.

Orphans‘ action is relentless, and it doesn’t let go for its 105 or so minutes’ playing time. It hooks you from the get-go as the blood-stained figure of Liam bursts in on his sister Helen at home and eating dinner with her husband Danny. Their young son Shane is away – being baby-sat, and they’re having a quiet night at home – a ‘celebratory dinner’ cooked by Danny. We learn Helen is pregnant. The couple appear to be reasonably well-off; they live in a tasteful, beige on beige apartment which is interpreted with spot-on minimalist restraint in Sam Paxton‘s design.

Kat Henry directs this production for Queensland Theatre Company’s Studio with pace and flair. The starkness of Ben Hughes‘ lighting design and the cinematic atmosphere of Guy Webster’s sound composition create a stage world that beautifully complements the play’s dialogue – fragmented, naturalistic sounding yet meticulously crafted to reflect all the tempo-rhythms, poetry and ambiguities of everyday speech. Continue reading Review: Orphans – Queensland Theatre Company (Studio) @ Bille Brown Studio