Image: Katy Curtain and Norman Doyle - Photography: Amelia DowdIn a city that looks remarkably like Brisbane, cameras are watching your every move. Riots are escalating beyond control. More and more people are disobeying curfew. In an unremarkable cinema, a political (or pornographic?) film is shown to an ideologically divided crowd. It’s the beginning of an evening that will spin out of control. This is the world of He’s Seeing Other People Now, written by theatrical rising (and shooting) star and actress Anna McGahan. This is Ms McGahan’s first work as a playwright, and it's directed by well-known local emerging director Melanie Wild. Overall, the play is dangerously under-developed. The ideas and characters that are presented here seem half-formed and often superficial. Navigating the expositional landscape is difficult. I think the central premise of the play is that the citizens aren’t allowed to touch, but I’m still uncertain. Unfortunately, Ms Wild’s direction does little to help the audience out. The two performers are asked to play a variety of characters. Some are recurring, others don’t appear more than once. Figuring out who is who is a confusing process. In addition, the staging means a small and two-dimensional performance space. What should be a physically tense hour ends up not packing a punch. But all of that out of the way, this is a play you should see. I need to admit a bias here: I’m very good friends with optikal bloc, the team behind the projection design. This bias unfortunately means that you may interpret my following comments as disingenuous. I promise I’m being sincere when I say that this is one of the slickest audio visual designs a Brisbane stage has seen in years, let alone for an independent theatre program. The transitions between scenes are sublime and are the hi-light of the production. The lighting design from Daniel Anderson is beautifully under-stated and intelligent. Phil Slade’s compositions are predictably accomplished and lush. Jessica Ross’ design binds these elements together into a seamless technical package that is simply outstanding. Norman Doyle and Katy Curtain, the two performers, do their best with what is given to them. Katy Curtain does particularly well to find fantastically comic moments for her characters that give life and badly needed energy to scenes. Barbara Lowing and Lucas Stibbard provide well-performed, funny voice-overs. There’s a strong theme of meta-theatricality running through the play that I can’t really comment on without spoiling wonderfully surprising elements of the show. The show’s attempts to didactically link its themes to reality lack a clear direction and purpose. I will say this: the final five minutes of this show are worth the ticket price alone. It’s ambitious. Successful or not, it’s sure to be a conversational landmark within the theatre industry for years to come. He’s Seeing Other People Now is sure to start an interesting debate about the limits and purpose of meta-theatre. Go and see this show if you like to be surprised and you’re part of the Brisbane theatrical community. Being theatre-literate isn’t compulsory, but it certainly helps. If you’re a theatre student, you should absolutely see this piece for its important and unique contribution to new Queensland works. The play’s deficiencies are compensated with a short run time and exquisite technical design. He’s Seeing Other People Now will certainly be talked about. He's Seeing Other People Now by Anna McGahan plays at Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre till 21 July. Details on website.
September 2011 - and they're back! We probably won't see it again this time since the season is sold out, and we hear that Mr Stibbard has added new jokes too! Ah well. Get along to one of the funniest, most inventive pieces of theatre you'll ever see. It's heading off on a national tour in 2012, but Brisbane has a chance to see it again for the shortest of seasons. Get in fast for tickets.
April 2011 - Greenroom loved it last year. We loved it again last night. Apart from a couple of tweaks - mostly to accommodate the fact that there were no walls in the new space of La Boite's Roundhouse - this is the same, joyously abandoned performance by master story-teller Lucas Stibbard which delighted audiences in Brisbane at last year's !Metro Arts season. This reviewer hasn't changed her mind one little bit, and chalked up her latest response (with new pictures by Al Caeiro) for your reading pleasure. How's that for thrift! Original reviewIt may not be spring, but it's always time for the warmth of a love story, especially when the cool winds and showers of autumn sweep around your ankles and make deciding what to wear to the theatre a right pain. So it was a real thrill to head to the theatre last night to welcome back a tale of young love and other local hazards boy girl wall. With no more than chalk, some blackboards, a couple of puppet socks, a few props and an overhead projector, Lucas Stibbard creates and embodies an entire world in the big, comfy room at Brisbane's Roundhouse Theatre. It's a sweet, comic and touching confection from The Escapists who, with this production, have been drawn into the La Boite fold for Season 2011. The boy girl wall team is the same creative collective that brought you The Attack of the Attacking Attackers some time back. The Escapists' manifesto: imagination, theatricality and the joy of play are all joyously present in boy girl wall. Suited up and with a fetching new haircut Lucas Stibbard, like his quirky imagination, takes flight through La Boite Theatre's home room.
Stibbard's is a wonderfully original and intelligent voice, and he leaps and whirls in a non stop, dazzling performance in the best Aussie tradition of yarn spinning. Flicking and switching between characters with the ease of someone totally in charge and on top of his game, it's a 70 minute delight which flies by at full tilt and as nimbly as the story teller himself.There's an entire gallery of characters in boy girl wall but the central protagonists Thom and Alethea, who live side by side in a West End (inner city Brisbane) apartment, are separated by the eponymous Wall. Each is having a bad, bad week; each is attempting unsuccessfully to cope - alone. As narratives go, their individual stories and how they come together - it's a romance after all - is pretty much it. In this production, the great joy lies in the telling of a simple but unforgettable tale. Along the way Thom and Alethea encounter some marvellous characters - my favorites: the Magpie of Montague Road; Thursday - yes the day of the week; and Dan - Apple's thinnest computer yet. There's also the philosophical powerbox, a Gothic librarian, a toffee-chewing Scottish cabbie, the anxious Wall himself and the serial theatre sports junkie/lover of impro - actually, I think I loved them all. Last year after the show at !Metro Arts I chatted briefly with Lucas and his wife, Neridah Waters who accompanies the action fromabove on xylophone and other sound fx. I asked whether Lucas, aided and abetted by the other Escapists (principally Matthew Ryan BGW's co-writer as well as newcomer Sarah Winter), has any other stories to tell. This one had taken a year or more to put together, but I was delighted to hear their treasured notebook is full of more snippets for future delight. Don't lose that notebook! Boy Girl Wall was due to play Brisbane in 2009 but, after two shows, had to be cancelled through Stibbard's then ill-health. The play went on to the Adelaide Fringe Festival in early 2010 where it was well received. A year on this beguiling production is all set to entertain once again and, I'm willing to bet, utterly charm the socks off local audiences during its already almost sold-out season at The Roundhouse. I was reminded as I watched this sharp, classy piece of theatre of the importance of a nurturing gestation period for new work, and especially of the value of second and subsequent productions. Last year at the !Metro Arts season I spoke with a friend who'd seen the play in that original, short-lived season in Brisbane. She was delighted at how much it had grown, expanded and developed, and yet it's actually lost playing time - mostly the jokes - Nerida noted, in the interests of tightening up the central narrative. This production feels a little tighter, faster and funnier without ever losing its freshness or feeling slick.
Get acquainted with the delights of boy girl wall before it leaves town to charm the rest of the world - as it most certainly will!PS ... and just so you know, there's a hidden hommage in the show to one of Lucas' former USQ classmates - the real 'Alethea Jones.' It's a rich confection, indeed!