Review: The Lady of the House of Love – Queensland Music Festival, Brisbane City Council and Metro Arts – Sue Benner Theatre

You go away for a bit and, when you get home, find out from friends just how many good shows you’ve missed. It’s inevitable, I suppose; Winter is the busiest time of the theatre year in SE Queensland. The indies are out in full force right now joining the main-house and touring productions at QPAC – harbingers for the coming Brisbane Festival and its accompanying fringe events in early spring.

It’s not hard to miss a show or two in Brisbane these days. The range and general quality is impressive. Greenroom has missed a couple or come to them late in their season – no bad thing of course, although it does mean you have rather missed the bus when it comes to getting a review out in the usual time frame for such things. As a side note, I managed to catch the marvellous Venus in Fur from Queensland Theatre Company before it closed last week. The reviews were universally glowing, and deservedly so for David Ives‘ intellectual hijinks superbly directed by Andrea Moor and magnificently played by Libby Munro and Todd Macdonald. People are still talking about it; I don’t think they knew what had hit them. Plays like this confirm why we love theatre. As do productions like The Lady of the House of Love an equally beautifully realised fantasy but in another theatrical key altogether. I also came late to this production and I am so glad I did not miss it. Continue reading Review: The Lady of the House of Love – Queensland Music Festival, Brisbane City Council and Metro Arts – Sue Benner Theatre

Review: Animal Farm – shake and stir theatre company: Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Images: Stephen Henry

shake and stir are no strangers to Queensland theatre and, now that they’ve completed two national tours, are becoming familiar to audiences Australia-wide.

Last week I caught up with their latest production, a re-staging of their 2011, award-winning production of Animal Farm.  Adapted by Nick Skubij from George Orwell’s 1944 satirical novel about the horrors of totalitarianism under Stalin and directed by Michael Futcher, this production includes Nelle Lee, Ross Balbuziente, Tim Dashwood, Bryan Probets and Mr Skubij.

Toowoomba’s gorgeous Empire Theatre was the 27th venue in what has been a 5-month national tour for the company and, as you might expect of a well-run in production, the full house of young and old (over 1300) on Thursday night was treated to a polished, tight as a drum performance by the ensemble. I’ve made no secret elsewhere of my love of theatricality in the service of great story-telling, and this production exemplifies it with economy and clarity. Continue reading Review: Animal Farm – shake and stir theatre company: Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Review: Out Damn Snot – Shake and Stir at La Boite Theatre Roundhouse

Images: Dylan Evans

Let me get one thing out of the way up front. I’m not at all keen on shows where adults play kids. The sight of 20-somethings leaping around pretending to be children can be embarrassingly awful, twee, and an insult to kids who just don’t behave the way they are often portrayed on stage. I wondered how kids felt about this and thought about sending along another reviewer to get a different perspective. However, Miss 8 was not available for the opening night of Shake and Stir’s Out Damn Snot directed by Ross Balbuziente. That left me to face my misgivings. Whilst I still think there’s a missed opportunity here to use children to play children in plays for children (some company care to have a go?) there is no doubt that this hilarious, very physical, beautiful-looking show written and created by Shake and Stir’s artistic directors Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij is great fun for kids and their adults.

I wasn’t sure what the kids in the audience would make of the two sisters Mackenzie (Amy Ingram), Kimmy (Nelle Lee) and little brother Heath (Nick Skubij). Given that they knew the actors were grown-ups, would they buy into the game that these were kids like them? Given their own capacity to role play on the fly, I’d say the young audience were perfectly accepting of these mad adults releasing their own inner kids and mucking about cartoon-style in a magic world. Buy this and it becomes a different experience. I really did enjoy the simplicity of the actors’ child-like (not childish) observations of game-playing and one-upmanship. My favourite is the one where we both try to tell a story simultaneously; you start and I have to join in and do it with you. Know the one? Magic! Ms Lee and Ingram release their inner-child with this lovely little slick schtick. Continue reading Review: Out Damn Snot – Shake and Stir at La Boite Theatre Roundhouse

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: Hairspray – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Playhouse QPAC

Musical theatre – what some believe to be America’s great gift to the theatre – is as Ronald Harwood puts it, a meeting of realism and razzmatazz. Traditionally musicals have taken social issues and reworked them into a confection of story, song and dance. The musical Hairspray follows in this tradition. With book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Mark Shaiman with lyrics by Scott Whittman and Mark Shaiman, Hairspray is as sweet and light as a root-beer float, and positively dripping in nostalgia for a time that was, perhaps, not as carefree and breezy as the play might suggest.

We’re in 1962 Baltimore, MA. JFK’s the President – for another year or so, anyway – and the Civil Rights movement is gathering momentum. There are pockets of ignorant, outmoded white resistance to what will be a bright, new, integrated tomorrow in the USA. Kids who don’t fit – here black or ‘pleasantly plump’/fat – are figures of fun, bullied by various grotesque authority figures, and excluded by their peers. They long for acceptance, and dream of being part of the great American success story. But never fear, this is musical land and, by the play’s end, all’s right with the world.

No wonder Hairspray has been such a hit on screen (1988; 2007) and stage, (8 Tony Awards on Broadway) and why it’s currently the pinup musical for pro-am companies all over the country. It’s bright and colourful, the music is sweetly nostalgic, the sentiment uplifting and hopeful. It’s no Showboat or South Pacific or Rent any of the other great musicals that took burning social issues and thrust them in the audience’s face, but then, Hairspray doesn’t set out to. What we get is a larger than life – the words ‘fabulous’ and ‘fantastic’ spring to mind – technicolor rendition of a time we wish there might have been. Continue reading Review: Hairspray – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Playhouse QPAC

Review: The NeverEnding Story – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC

Tim O’Connor writes wonderfully lucid Director’s Notes, and a good thing too, because I have always found The Neverending Story utterly confusing. My memories of the 1984 film are of a leather-bound book, a rock-eating mountain and a flying dog (sorry, luck dragon). There may also have been a mulleted David Bowie singing in a maze … or was that Labyrinth? It’s fair to say I’m not a die-hard fan.

So as my little girl and I sat in the foyer on opening night, flicking through the programme of Tim O’Connor’s re-envisioning of Michael Ende’s fantasy novel, The Neverending Story (1979), I read her the story blurb slowly (nothing wrong with being prepared I thought) and, as we walked into the wonderfully intimate Cremorne Theatre, I was confident she would know what was going on. After all, she’s infinitely smarter than I was at six, and loves a good yarn.

Well, by half way through it became clear that the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree; she didn’t have a clue. This is not the type of show where you can break your concentration to unwrap your lollipop. I’m still answering questions two days later – having to explain both the plot and the higher order concepts at work.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely, lovely idea that a child’s imagination can save an entire world from being eaten up by despair. It’s just that, in the telling of it, you meet so many fantastical characters (whose names you can’t pronounce) and your quest takes so many strange twists and turns as you traverse the vast Fantasia, that it can be easy to get a little bit lost. Especially if you’re six. Or thirty.

That’s not to say she didn’t have a marvellous time. It was, after all, a feast for the eyes and the ears. Continue reading Review: The NeverEnding Story – Harvest Rain Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC