Review: At Sea, Staring Up – JUTE at JUTE Theatre (Cairns)

Brett Walsh and Christiaan Westerveld

Main Image: Natalie Taylor

JUTE Theatre Company‘s twentieth year has been marked by the production of a beautiful piece filled with young, talented, regional actors, a meticulous design, and spectacular technical elements. At Sea, Staring Up, which opened late last week in Cairns, really has set a benchmark for the regional theatre company.

Commissioned at the beginning of 2011, At Sea, Staring Up is written by prolific (Irish) Australian playwright Finegan Krukemeyer. Krukemeyer’s script is stunningly poetic; the actors clearly embrace the language, as do the audience. The play tells the story of five distinct and diverse characters. Set over three continents and one vast ocean, the play weaves their stories together resulting in an innovative and thought-provoking production.

Noah (Brett Walsh) is in search of his wife who flew off a bridge and was never seen again. Elise (Ella Watson-Russell) drives each night through the German darkness to lull her baby to sleep but, with dragons snapping at her heels, what secrets does she keep? Caleb (Christiaan Westerveld) is a curious misfit who will swim vast oceans for Sylvia Wist (Laura Pegrum) a young lady who can climb waterfalls and jump through time and space – always a useful skill, in my opinion! The opening night’s performance, however, was stolen by Emma the Greek (Natalie Taylor) who sails the seas forever in fear of her curse.

Ms Taylor has crafted a beautiful character that the audience fell in love with from first laugh to final tear

These five young, very talented actors work beautifully together as an ensemble.

At Sea, Staring Up is directed by Suellen Maunder (JUTE’s Artistic Director/CEO) whose wealth of experience has crafted and woven together the story of five characters scattered across five locations. My initial concerns about the potential clarity of such a diverse piece were overcome, and the specificity of each actor shone through the performance.

The production is remarkable for the work of its creative team. Designer Luke Ede, Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright and Sound Designer Quincy Grant have worked as a dream-team to create the world of At Sea, Staring Up. The set, whilst simple, is stunningly beautiful, and Ms Maunder’s direction enables its multi-levels to become five different worlds. The set is lit beautifully by Mr Glenwright; these two aspects work hand-in-glove. However, it is the work of Quincy Grant which is remarkable. His composition and score for At Sea, Staring Up told its own sweet tale. It’s so subtle that the listener hardly notices it, though the sounds work on the subconscious – like all good soundtracks – reflecting the characters’ pain and love for one another, and engaging the audience on a deep level.

At Sea, Staring Up is remarkable for the work of its creative team.

Opening Night ran so smoothly that we all felt like Sylvia Wist – being whisked around the worlds as easily as she and feeling, as one audience member put it, “transported on a magical journey yet feeling so at home”. With only a couple of moments of confusion, the play comes together beautifully. However, the resolution is sold short by the lack of a solid ending. It feels abrupt, almost an anti-climax. However, this is handled well by the actors who take you into their world and keep you tight in their grip right until the final second.

JUTE has certainly started off its twentieth season with a beautiful piece, and it is one that is not to be missed.

At Sea, Staring Up by Finegan Krukemeyer plays at the JUTE Theatre for its March season (9-24 March). More details – including dates, times and behind the scenes videos, can be found on the JUTE website.

With thanks to JUTE Gallery for the images.

Matthew Church is the artistic director of Half Life Theatre based in Cairns, in FNQ. Greenroom is delighted to welcome Matthew as a contributor.

This Week in Queensland Theatre: March 15-21

For show times check company websites

Click the date on Greenroom’s home page calendar to go to more details on each event.

Opening:

Thom Pain by Will Eno – Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio (in preview Mon-Wed, opens Thursday)

The Bitterling by Sven Swenson – La Boite Indie at the Round House Theatre (in preview Mon-Thu, opens Friday)

Continuing:

Flicking the Flint by Kate Lee !Metro Arts Independents (Brisbane)

Macbeth by William Shakespeare JUTE Theatre (Cairns)

Avenue Q the Australian touring production at QPAC (Brisbane)

Other:

See QSE’s training program and Shake and Stir’s workshop series which continue throughout the month (Brisbane and SE Q)

It’s QPAC’s 25th Birthday this year.  While you’re on the South Bank in Brisbane head into the Tony Gould Gallery for the QPAC 25 Exhibition.

… and check out the recently-opened Edge space further upstream – near the fabulous GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art).

Keeping up: @ the Centre of the Edge independent theatre conference

tweet-writeFor the next few days, from Friday 23 through Sunday 25th October to be exact, Jute Theatre from Cairns are getting together with !Metro Arts and Playlab Press in Brisbane for At the Centre of the Edge, a conference for independent theatre makers from around Australia.  You can read more about it here.  Now we know there were limited places … 100 as it happens … so more missed out than got in, we’d reckon.  Pity that …

Here’s the good news though …  you can keep up with what’s happening via Greenroom’s guest poster for the event – Xanthe Coward from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.  You’ll be able to read Xanthe’s reports from the conference right here on Greenroom,  then if you like, you can add to the discussion with a comment.  If Greenroom noses out any other blogs covering At the Centre of the Edge, we’ll post the links here, as well as RT any tweets that are covering the big issues for the conference.  Those of you who are on Twitter will know that ‘RT’ means ‘re-tweet.’

And speaking of  Twitter, Xanthe is going to live-tweet the Saturday discussion sessions Adapt or Die from 9.30am through to 1pm.  If you don’t already, follow her @xsentertainment so you don’t miss a chirp or shout.  Along with many others, Greenroom will be following Xanthe’s tweets.  We’ll probably also RT some of the more interesting comments.  It will help if everyone sending a tweet puts the hashtag #coe09 somewhere in the post to make searching and archiving easy.

Meanwhile, we’re delighted that Xanthe will be bringing us the conference news, and wish everyone a terrific time.  The weather’s going to be fine … there are lots of shows on to see … check out This Week in Queensland Theatre.  We’d say we’re in for what’s probably going to be a perfect few days in southern Queensland.