On putting the community into theatre

Image: That Production Company (RUINED)

It’s so easy to get caught up in attempting to define and partition off the kinds of theatre we produce. We tend to box, define, create matrices of the way stuff works, test things against check lists of expectations: professional, amateur, pro-am, community, independent …

Western theatre is no stranger to evolutionary processes; it’s one of its great strengths. Right here, right now, it’s clear that, as part of the wider arts-industrial landscape and the generational change in arts leadership, theatre makers are experimenting with the how and where of creating theatre. New alliances that enable greater participation are being thought about and enabled – look at the way the main-house companies like QTC and La Boite are opening the portals – something which, even a few years ago, was unthinkable. Many of the boundaries that used to exist are porous if they haven’t already been dismantled.

The notion of a ‘full ecology’ of theatre existing out there was put by Wesley Enoch (AD of Queensland Theatre Company) recently in a Facebook discussion. But it’s not so much out there as in the things we talk about in foyers, in the rehearsal rooms we occupy, the chat about shows we see. Wesley goes on to compare this ecology with the kind of easy acceptance of the range of activities in sport in this country and wonders why art-making hasn’t been as accommodating. It’s a good question and one that’s part of the thinking I refer to above.

Why no easy access as Wesley asks? It has, I think, as much to do with the ongoing struggle that art and artists in this country have had to ‘prove’ their worth. But it’s a big question that goes to the heart of Australian culture and will continue serving as food for ongoing discussion, but not here right now. I’m interested in the ways and means and the impact this movement is having in and on the wider theatre community here in southern Queensland. Continue reading On putting the community into theatre

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

Season(s) 2012: the new and the independent ftw

Last night La Boite Theatre announced its 2012 or ‘twenty twelve’ season on their fresh look website complete with a maroon coloured (Queensland?) splattered torso – not quite sure what that’s about but, as with the new-look QTC logo (below) your guess as to meaning – if you need that kind of thing – is as good as mine.

The other big house in town, Queensland Theatre Company announced its 2012 season a few weekends ago. Artistic Director Wesley Enoch launched 2012’s mainstage productions along with new logo and website. I was at QTC’s launch but couldn’t make it to La Boite’s despite their generosity of an invitation which, I understood, was a pretty hot ticket – as was QTC’s for their launch. Theatre goers in town are clearly keen to see what the two ADs have in mind. Continue reading Season(s) 2012: the new and the independent ftw

A note from the front lines or Is Winter Brisbane’s theatre ‘season’

Greenroom’s interviews and reviews have been on hold for a bit – as you may have noticed if you are a regular reader here. I’ve been in the trenches known as ‘production week’ for Umber’s production of Water Wars by Elaine Acworth, which played up here on the Darling Downs at Oakey on Wednesday and Thursday. Oh, by the by, there’s nothing quite like an out-of-town opening on a cold winter’s night to bring out theatre’s true believers and supporters – just saying!

The entire company appreciated enormously the effort our stalwart first audiences made to complete the theatre-making circle for us before we head to Brisbane to be part of La Boite’s Indie season next month. Anyway, this post is not about Water Wars butIf you do want to read up on what’s going on, you could check out Umber’s blog or their Facebook page where you will find videos and pictures, and interviews as well as comments on the tech side of things for Water Wars – which are just plain amazing, by the way – definitely more on that to come.

So, the tyranny of distance being what it is, I’ve missed some of the plethora of good things happening on Brisbane’s main stages and in indie theatre this month: Dead Puppet Society’s The Harbinger – sold out much to the glee of La Boite Theatre’s marketing department (good on ’em); some of the Queensland Music Festival‘s offerings including Drag Queensland (where I would have paid anything for a ticket to see a glittery Lucas Stibbard don falsies); the new-in-town-Antix company’s Speaking In Tongues by Andrew Bovell – a chance to see this next week, maybe; Secret Bridesmaids’ Business at the Brisbane Powerhouse; and the 40th anniversary celebration performance of The Removalists at QTC (though I will get to a day-time showing next week). Aside: I got married in the week my husband directed QTC’s first production of this in 1975 – talk about theatre getting in the way of more important life matters – but that’s another post.

Next month rolls out more and more theatre so I’m wondering whether Winter really is Brisbane’s theatre ‘season’. I guess it is.

Oh, and don’t be misled by my use of the word ‘trenches’ above. The experience of working on a new play with everyone involved in the Water Wars production company has been thrilling – hard work, yes – but also a huge buzz. And I got to meet and get to know that lighting genius David Walters. Aside: David is another USQ Theatre graduate from the first year – 1975 – the year QTC first produced The Removalists and my life changed. Loving being back …

Michelle Miall (Interview 23)

Image: Elleni Toumpas

It’s a cold, wintery day as I speak with Michelle Miall, director and Matilda Award-winner about her work – her current production is Colder for the 2011 La Boite Theatre Indie season which opens next week.

Michelle is a QUT graduate with a BA Drama Hons (Theatre Studies). By her third year, she found herself focussing on directing and writing, and this prompted a decision to continue on to an Honours year in Popular Theatre. ‘I was (and still am) interested in bringing audiences to the theatre who don’t normally go, who feel excluded by it or like it is irrelevant to their lives.’

By the end of that Honours year Michelle confesses, ‘I was jaded, as though I had intellectualised everything I loved about theatre. It was as if I had this tiny view of the world from my little place in it. I wanted to go out and experience more.’ Feeling she needed a bigger palette from which to draw her passion and, like many Australian artists before her, she headed overseas to London.

After working on one production as a stage manager (from which, she adds,’ I got a very cool eyebrow scar from a falling lighting rig during bump out’) I moved outside theatre and got caught there for some time.’ She travelled, worked in fashion, then advertising, then investment banking.  The work funded her travel, and the travel fuelled her imagination. Continue reading Michelle Miall (Interview 23)

Review: Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness – La Boite & Sydney Theatre Company @ The Roundhouse

Images by Al Caeiro

Do you long for subversive comedy and theatre with a capital T? Regret the loss of sensation from our stages? Do you love the freakery of the side-show? If you are not troubled by the sight of  pustular eruptions and blood-letting – indeed, if you find that kind of stuff hilarious – then, ladies and gentlemen, step right this way. Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson for La Boite and Sydney Theatre Company could be just the transgressive tonic needed for jaded theatre palates.

If you are a tad squeamish, never did understand all the fuss over Monty Python or, if you like a nice neat slab of realism all wrapped up at night’s end, then stay away; this one is not for you. If, however, you throw caution to the wind and your curiosity eventually leads you to a seat ringside, be warned. You are going to be whirled away by theatre in full outrageous, imaginative flight in the equivalent of a wild fairground ride. There is no stopping and no retreat once the carnivale capers begin and you are invited via the seductive tones of the mysterious, caped and moustachioed Edward Gant (Paul Bishop) to witness his tales of wonder.

Our host and master of the small troupe introduces his Players: Madame Poulet (Emily Tomlins) ‘Little’ Nicky Ludd (Lindsay Farris) and Sgt Jack Dearlove (Bryan Probets). This lineup of Victorian era fringe-dwellers are to be our tale-tellers for the evening. By the way, buy a programme; their backstories are worth the price alone.

The stories the Players enact are the stuff of melodrama: fantastic, grotesque confections like the tale-tellers themselves – but they are marvellously, awe-fully funny too. There are also hints of ripping yarns, nursery tales and Kipling but I’m not going to spoil a minute of the fun ahead of you by spilling the pearls on this neo-Victorian romp. Trust me though – Tennyson it isn’t.

The play reminded me of a couple of books I had as a child. They were full of oddities and cruelty and I’m not exactly sure how I ended up with them – some aunt or uncle with a dark sense of humour, perhaps. Coles Funny Picture Books contained morality tales and creepy poetry where naughty children are whipped (for heaven’s sake) by machines, and family pets die to save the kids – and, and they were ILLUSTRATED! You just never forget some things! These weird and wonderful books were the stuff of the high Victorian age, and had emerged from the fevered brain of Edward William Cole who set up and ran a huge Book Arcade in marvellous Melbourne in the 1880s. Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness has the same kind of very English (and perverse) 19th century sensibility – laced with dirty bits. Despite all the excesses and the cruelty, at the heart of this fable is romance – a lovely pearl just waiting to be set free. You’ll understand when you see the show.

The production, which is directed by Sarah Goodes in her debut for both companies, is spectacular in the real sense of the word. Costume designs by Romance Was Born are just plain dazzling and the best we’ve seen in town for a long time. However (picky time here) I wish the crew had been a bit more motley and moth-eaten, given they’re a travelling troupe of whimsy tale-peddlers. They look like something from the glitzy Venice Carnivale rather than a down at heel bunch somewhere in Victorian England. Renée Mulder‘s clever set design – a fantastic contraption with a nod to steam-punk – and the lighting design by Damien Cooper mesh beautifully together. It looks terrific.

The four-member acting ensemble are uniformly excellent. I’ve always felt Emily Tomlins had an inner clown just waiting to be let out. This play gives her free rein to play across the comic range from gentle, tragic heroine through outrageous freak to a toy bear abandoned in the nursery. She’s a joy to watch. Bryan Proberts is made for this kind of crazy, physical comedy; he doesn’t miss a beat here, bringing a sureness of touch and an aura of melancholy that reminded me of the great Buster Keaton. Who knew he could also play the trumpet? Newcomer (to Brisbane, anyway) Lindsay Farris has a gift of a role as Ludd – the former boy-actor turned radical. He gets to play some wildly funny characters with gusto. And it is Paul Bishop’s ringmaster figure who prowls the performance space spinning these yarns of lost love and loneliness together. His top-hatted, cloaked Gant is a gentle, sad, pot-bellied magician in stripes and, it turns out, the biggest romantic of all. They’re all in top form.

The cast of characters inhabited by Messrs Probets and Farris and Ms Tomlins is vast. I won’t spoil the delight you will undoubtedly have on introduction, but I will just say that my favourite (probably Neilson’s scariest creation for actors anyway) is the Phantom of the Dry. Once met, never forgotten.

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness plays its Brisbane Season at The Roundhouse until 12 June. Details on sessions and booking from the company website.