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: 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

Review: Man=Man & The Elephant Calf – Queensland Theatre Company

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Photo: Amelia Dowd (Bille Brown Studio – after the flood)

Off to the theatre last night to see QTC Ed’s (the Company’s education ‘wing’) production of two small Brecht pieces: Man=Man and The Elephant Calf. The mostly grown-up audience responded well to Director Joe Mitchell’s cleverly recalibrated, joyously performative and wonderfully funny examination of Brechtian theatre techniques.

If you have been as underwhelmed as this theatre-lover has been over the years at the near-veneration afforded Brecht, especially in the state’s drama syllabus, then this production is a revelation. It’s irreverent and also Brechtian-authentic to the core. The pickiest of drama teachers are going to love the way it ticks all the boxes in the Brechtian Performance Techniques check-list. It’s also set to stir their classes to ask ‘WTF?’ Oh, and speaking of ‘WTF’ – the text is visibly strewn with the ‘F Bomb’; do schools still have to vet shows for the kind of  language found in the playground and on the school bus? I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some of the classrooms where this production is being discussed. I’ve attended several QTC Ed shows over the years with audiences of upper high school-age students. Each time I have been astonished and delighted at the level of sophistication and maturity displayed by these young people during the post-show Q&As.

The ensemble cast of six (Chris Vernon, Helen Cassidy, Nick Cook, Anthony Standish, Leon Cain and  Kevin Kiernan-Molloy) are uniformly excellent. Mitchell has set the play in some middle-eastern war zone and the hapless civilian Galy Gay (Vernon) a kind of opportunistic Everyman figure finds himself buffeted by the winds of politics and macho posturing by the soldiers who take him in. The cast are aided and abetted in the onstage mayhem by a very visible crew (led by SM Christopher Horne at the desk). ‘The Director’ remains as an offstage and nicely nameless authoritarian figure who is finally challenged by the team of ‘actors as actors’ in the last 10 or so minutes of the program. This section kicked over any remaining vestiges of the wall separating audience and performer. The meshing of form and content and examination of the nature of reality and performance was, for me, the most interesting and alienating (in the best Brechtian sense of the word) part of the program. Chatting to a cast member afterwards I learned that it had been created in the last week of the rehearsal period. Bravo!

As the standard bearer for a much wider program of education services, QTC’s Ed productions in the Bille Brown Studio, all under Joe Mitchell’s direction, have been one of the best kept secrets for far too long amongst the city’s post-school theatre-going crowd. It’s good to see the Company including one or two of these intelligent and excellent productions in their new Studio program series this year. Joe Mitchell will be missed; he is leaving QTC to take up a new position in the Brisbane performing arts industry. Good luck Joe!

This production (approx 95 mins without interval) plays at the Company’s home premises at 78 Montague Road, South Brisbane until March 12. Check the showtimes from the QTC website. You’ve got a week – give yourself a treat.

Disclaimer: I am currently the Chairman of the Board, Queensland Theatre Company. My opinions are entirely my own and should be understood as distinct from any affiliation I hold with this or any other business or arts organisation. The only barrow I push is that of theatre per se.