Review: The Glass Menagerie – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Image: Kathryn Marquet and Julian Curtis | Photography: Dylan Evans

We believe in theatre not just plays. (La Boite: About Us – programme THE GLASS MENAGERIE)

So it comes as no surprise that David Berthold‘s production of Tennessee Williams‘ classic play THE GLASS MENAGERIE (1944) is nothing if not theatrical. Perhaps only radio drama can do it better than the stage – you know, the old line about the pictures in radio being better – but this production takes Williams’ poetic play about memory, loss, and especially illusion and recontextualises it beautifully to give us a boldly fresh take on an old classic. Continue reading Review: The Glass Menagerie – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Review: Holding the Man – La Boite Theatre at the Roundhouse

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_Holding the Man_Image by Al Caeiro
Alec Snow

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

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: Colder – La Boite Indie & Michelle Miall at The Roundhouse

Images: Al Caeiro

The first of the La Boite 2011 Indie season productions, Colder by Lachlan Philpott, opened at Brisbane’s Roundhouse Theatre last week. Directed by Michelle Miall and performed by a cast of six actors, this play is a tonal poem of melancholy. Like slow, sad rain falling on the heart, Colder washes its audience in a threnody of loss.

You’ve got to love the range and confidence of independent theatre in Brisbane right now. Sure, there are hits and misses – as there must be – but, as someone said a while back, it’s indie work with its daring and devilry that’s the life-blood of the wider theatre culture in this country. The indie voice heard in productions around town can be raucous and potty-mouthed, silly or serious. Sometimes the voice is delicate and challenging – as it is in this one.

I’m a sucker for poetic theatre – the theatre of poetry – whatever you want to call it. I fell for the poetry – the beauty and un-selfconscious lyricism – of Philpott’s text in Colder. Having said that and, despite the buzz of the play’s language, the work feels too long in the playing – is this the production’s pacing or the length and structure – even the nature – of the text itself? I wondered at the number of characters in the work and the inclusion of incidental interludes and monologues. Was it these which seemed to be holding up the core narrative?

The play revolves around David (Chris Vernon) the enigmatic central character who disappeared first (and for a few hours) as a child on a visit to Disneyland, and then, never to return, as an adult in Sydney. The play’s action is contextualised within the gay community of Sydney, and was inspired by one of the writer’s friends who went missing some years ago.

The cause of David’s disappearances comes late in Colder. In direct audience address he speaks of being haunted throughout his life in pursuit of the figures of a man and a boy – the father he knew only briefly and the confident boy he could never be. It only hints – but that is enough – at how and why David remains missing.

In any case, Colder is less of a mystery than a psychological exploration of the effect David’s disappearances have had upon his friends and acquaintances (Kevin Spink and Kerith Atkinson in multiple roles), his lover Ed (Tony Brockman) – but especially upon his mother, Robyn, who is played by Alison McGirr and Helen Howard in younger and older versions of the same character. We walk in their shoes wondering why and how for much of the play. The ensemble of six are in fine form and, under Myall’s direction, handle Philpott’s lovely text very well indeed.

Colder is a play that may have some asking how a text which relies more on voice than on embodiment can be improved by staging. Is it better suited for the vocal orchestration of radio where ‘the pictures are better’ for example? Michelle Miall’s production is far from static, but characters give witness, they narrate, and they describe more often than they interact. The play is not particularly dramatic but that’s no burden. This is the nature of Lachlan Philpott’s script, of course and, anyway, hoorah for poetic theatre.

What is gained in its staging – in breathing the same air together in the same room – is the embodied experience of grief and its effects which are as uneasy to watch as any forensic investigation must be. This is what the actors’ physical presence adds.

Design by Amanda Karo, lighting by Daniel Anderson and composition and sound design by Phil Slade mesh beautifully, as they should, for Michelle Miall’s most satisfying production of the difficult and cold road of the grief-stricken.

Colder plays at The Roundhouse Theatre as part of La Boite’s Indie 2011 season until 9 July. Check the La Boite website for session times and booking details.