Review: >< R&J - La Boite Indie and the Breadbeard Collective with the support of QPAC at The Roundhouse

Image: Al Caeiro
I was pretty suspicious about and very prepared to dislike this show before I even got there. Its self-conscious title (requiring a sub-title to explain itself) flashed a pretension alert. It was a great relief to be as pleasantly disarmed and delightfully entertained as I was across the 100 or so minutes of The Breadbeard Collective's latest offering and final production from La Boite's Indie series for 2014. Inhabiting the liminal space between an illustrated lecture on the methods of Post Modernism and a chilled-out theatre laboratory ><R&J directed strongly and inimitably by Lucas Stibbard, takes Shakespeare's play and wittily deconstructs it. The experiment: to see (as his foot-noted Director's Notes have it) whether or not a new theatrical creation can assist in saving the star-crossed lovers from themselves, or whether audiences and performers have a need for the particular narrative that is baked into this story. Narrative wins - yes, it is inevitable. Shakespeare trumps again - how can he not - but then so does the production whose content is gloriously geeky and methods deliciously cheeky. But it has a surprise up its sleeve, a sting in its tail - what you will - and is all the more affecting and dramatically satisfying for it. I'm referring here to the deaths of Romeo and his Juliet which are horrific in their naturalistic presentation. After all the madcap interventions, role and gender swaps, sweet sexiness and sweaty physicality, the ending comes at you like a bucket of iced-water. The tragedy is potent and gut-wrenching. The Roundhouse is in Studio Mode for this production which means the playing space is 'front on' and more intimate than usual. I loved the relaxed, strong physicality of the 10 performers, the way they inhabit the stage as actor and as character slipping freely from role to role. Some of the speaking needs more work - rushed, flat lines in text-dense passages and underpowered throw-away lines are easily fixed with attention or some intensive coaching. I want to see more of their work and hope ><R&J gets another outing after this season at La Boite Indie. The Breadbeard ... is new to me although I have heard of them and seen some of their current members at work elsewhere. They play together in the best sense of the word - loosely and freely, sparking off and supporting one another like a group of old friends. At times you feel the action has broken out into free association and improv - maybe it has - but the laid-back atmosphere belies a discipline that surely underpins the focus, pace and beautifully-crafted structure of this intelligent and sophisticated new work. Hats off to Mr Stibbard and to his team - onstage and off. PS  Shakespeare & (ampersand) physical theatre together! #Queenslander. THE BREADBEARD COLLECTIVE Creative Producer Matthew Higgins; Associate Producer Kat O'Sullivan; Artistic Associate Sarah Winter; Designer Yvette Turnbull Cameron Clark, Luke Constable, Julia Forsberg, Essie O'Shaughnessy, Steph Stainlay, David Stewart, Steph Tandy, Brett Walsh, Reuben Witsenhuysen, Bianca Zouppas Music Arrangements by Luke Constable, Matthew Higgins and Reuben Witsenhuysen Audio Mixed by Brett Walsh Animation by Luke Constable Original Dance Choreography by Neridah Waters Original Fight Choreography by Niki-J Price Production and Stage Manager Matthew Seery Technical Coordinator, Lighting Designer, Set Builder Joel Redding      

Review: He’s Seeing Other People Now – Metro Arts | The Independents at Sue Benner Theatre

Image: Katy Curtain and Norman Doyle - Photography: Amelia Dowd
In 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.

Review: Funny Boys – Empire Theatre Projects Company at Empire Theatre Studio (Toowoomba)

This one left me wondering about the kind of theatre audience that likes what I think of (snootily, perhaps) as playground humour. I’ve seen glimpses of it on the Footy Show while channel surfing - of course! You know the kind of stuff: mildly offensive boob jokes, cross-dressing, lip-sync musical numbers ... Well, clearly there are lots who do, or so it would seem from the many young and not-so-young in the audience around me last night at Empire Projects Company’s brand new, sold-out production Funny Boys directed by Lucas Stibbard and devised by Lucas, the actors, and Claire Christian, a Creative Producer at the Empire. You are going to love or loathe this juvenile silliness or dismiss it as trite and not worth an hour of your time in the theatre. That would be a shame because the central idea and the talent behind the grab-bag collection of crass and coarse skits, songs, magic tricks, dance routines and other oddities which include (amongst a whole lot more ) audience participation, nudity, and an eating competition is all rather sweet and affecting, really! The aforesaid ‘boys’ Steve Pirie, Dan Stewart, Josh Doyle and Matt Collins have delightful stage presences.  I’ve seen Dan, Steve and Matt on stage before in mainhouse Empire productions; all are undoubted talents. Funny Boys marks a departure in the kind of work these actors have attempted. I haven't seen Josh Doyle's work before. His relaxed, easy stage demeanour is charming. He's an authentic Aussie bloke - my favourite, I think, despite his character’s seriously weird obsession for Dannii Minogue, boobs and other ummm ... bodily parts. Funny Boys is an ensemble piece  - the boys (Dan Maximus Funny, Steve Titus Funny, Josh Batman Funny, and Matthew Bartholemew Funny) are the sons of circus performers who have run away (from them). The boys sing, dance, play silly buggers and generally amuse themselves with routines they've worked up over years in their rumpus-room back home in Cecil Plains and which is now recreated (complete with bunk-bed) in the studio. They wait to show the result of their efforts to their parents; a couple of empty seats remain (hopefully) at each performance just in case ... One of the problems with Funny Boys is that it has smart young men, sharp actors playing likeable dopes, and they don’t always pull it off. There is a sense at times of straining and even of trying too hard. The play takes a while to get going, and some of the comic timing needs tightening up.  The material they have to work with doesn’t help; it is slight (intentionally so - that's part of the joke) but it also contains a through-line that revolves around sexual obsession, loss, sibling rivalry, and the desire to please (read 'loved'). Comedy is, after all, serious stuff as Charlie Chaplin once sagely noted. And it's serious stuff that runs through all the nonsense that the Funny Boys spew; I use that word advisedly, be warned! I wonder whether a reworking of the piece might reveal a bit more of the pathos at the work’s heart. Certainly, when the piece swung briefly out of performative into real-life territory it came alive, as did the actors. More of this, I think will make for a more affecting play and, certainly, a more varied one. The script really does need further development, something I am sure the group are well aware of. Whatever direction Funny Boys takes, it’s great to see the investment by local companies in local artists and in new and risky material. I understand the plan is to take the show to fringe festivals and, I suspect, this is where it and the ensemble will be further honed and developed. Meanwhile, they are playing again tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at the Empire Theatre Studio. The first three shows sold out fast, so you will have to get in quickly today if you want to catch this first season of Funny Boys. I have a feeling they will be back. We have all been warned!  

Review: boy girl wall – La Boite Theatre & The Escapists

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 review

It 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!  

Boy Girl Wall (Review): The Escapists @ !Metro Arts (2010)

Spring is just round the corner; love is in the air - along with deadly magpies - so it's a perfect time for a new, one-man show all about romance and other local hazards, natural or man-made. With no more than a stick of chalk, a couple of puppet socks, a few props and an overhead projector, Lucas Stibbard creates and embodies the entire world of Boy Girl Wall in the bare, black-walled box of the !Metro Art's Sue Benner Theatre.  It's a sweet, very funny and touching confection, and a quite splendid night in the theatre from The Escapists.  This is the same creative collective that brought you The Attack of the Attacking Attackers a year or so back. The Escapists' manifesto: imagination, theatricality and the joy of play are all joyously present in Boy Girl Wall. Floppy haired, chalk-stained-suited and bare-footed, Stibbard, like his quirky imagination, takes flight through the tiny space of the inner city's favorite theatre haunt. 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.  Continue reading Boy Girl Wall (Review): The Escapists @ !Metro Arts (2010)