Review: The Wizard of Oz – La Boite, The Danger Ensemble and Brisbane Festival at The Roundhouse

Images: Morgan Roberts

Carrying the burden of  iconic stardom has crippled and destroyed many – like Judy Garland. She gets resurrected from time to time in shows that reconstruct or deconstruct the legend of the woman known simply as Garland or Judy. This year alone we’ve had End of the Rainbow from Queensland Theatre Company and, a week or so ago at Toowoomba’s Arts Theatre, the first performance of a one-woman play, Bernadette Meenach‘s Miss Garland at Twilight as part of the USQ Twilight Series.

Judy Garland’s life, film and stage career have been picked over and over, like soothsayers of old delving into the entrails of sacrifices. What are they looking for? We’re less interested in what made her the extraordinarily gifted artist she undoubtedly was. It seems the appetite is for the tragic morsels her life produced.  Some would say Judy Garland (the artist formerly known as Frances Ethel Gumm) became a sacrifice to the insatiable appetite of the crowds who created her as a star and then dined off the many disasters and breakdowns that dogged her life.

Judy Garland’s role as Dorothy from the 1939 MGM classic movie The Wizard of Oz shot her into an orbit that she (and the studios who owned her) fought to control for the rest of her life. The movie was based on one of L Frank Baum‘s popular children’s stories The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first published in 1900. American culture owes Mr Baum much. He went on to write other tales about the people in the Land of Oz, then came the movie and, of course, Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the west the huge musical which owes, in turn, its genesis to Gregory Maguire‘s 1995 novel of the same name. Mr Maguire mined Oz for four more books in his Oz series, and so it goes.

wizardnarrow-300x0Now Maxine Mellor (as Principal Writer), The Danger Ensemble and La Boite have a go in their The Wizard of Oz currently playing at The Roundhouse as part of the Brisbane Festival program.  In Director Steven Mitchell Wright‘s production we meet the old familiar figures: Dorothy (Caroline Dunphy in great form) and her little black dog Toto, the munchkins (Lucy-Ann LangkildeThomas Hutchins and Thomas Larkin) who also play the lion, tin man and scarecrow respectively – and scarily. Of course, there is a beautiful witch (Polly Sara) and Oz himself (Chris Beckey a spectacle in emerald green). Ms Mellor’s tale reframes the original into a contemporary, local setting in order to examine the burden of lost hopes and aspirations so, of course, the Garland persona will get an airing. Continue reading Review: The Wizard of Oz – La Boite, The Danger Ensemble and Brisbane Festival at The Roundhouse

Review: Home – Nest Ensemble and La Boite Indie at Roundhouse Theatre

Just to the left of centre, but endearingly universal, sits Home, the new production from the Nest Ensemble, and the latest addition to the La Boite Indie season. There are many astonishing parts to the production, not least of which is that Home is the second outing for the Nest Ensemble in the last six months. It was only in May that they premiered Eve as part of Metro Arts Independents. For those that see both, it represents an interesting discussion about the difference between the two venues and their indie programs.

Home premiered last year with Metro Arts. I didn’t catch it then, but I’m grateful to see it now. The premise is simple. Margi Brown Ash tells us stories from her life as an actor, wife and mother. She travels to Egypt, New York, Sydney and Brisbane. At the heart of every tale are questions of belonging. These are stories you want to hear. Continue reading Review: Home – Nest Ensemble and La Boite Indie at Roundhouse Theatre

Review: Eve – Metro Arts Independents

I knew very little about Eve Langley before I saw this production. Eve was an enigmatic, deeply troubled Australian poet, seen as mad in her time. She’s often compared to Virginia Woolf. Eve’s poems frequently reflected a struggle between the domestic life that was expected of her and the call to divine artistry that she was no doubt destined for. She was funny, eccentric, and desperate to be acknowledged as a serious artist. At times she took on other names, including ‘Oscar Wilde’, as a way of surviving through the disappointment she had in herself.

Margi Brown Ash brings the life of Eve Langley to the Metro Arts stage. It’s a free adaptation – part memoir, part fiction, part poetry, and quite a significant tribute to a very remarkable woman. Margi devised the work with Leah Mercer (who also directed) and Daniel Evans. The script is beautiful and stylistic, and moves much like poetry itself. This is less of a story and more of an exploration of a life. However, it’s a theatrical journey that’s not for the faint of heart. The stylistic liberties mean that the piece is in danger of being inaccessible for some. Nevertheless, for those who love literature, who know of Eve Langley, or who enjoy brilliant independent theatre, this production is an absolute gem.

The highlight of the entire evening is to see Margi Brown Ash return to the stage. This is almost a one-woman show, with Margi only occasionally interrupted by fellow performer Stace Callaghan, and assisted on stage by a silent husband character, played by Moshio. But this is absolutely Margi’s show. She is comic, tragic, heart-warming, terrifying and beautiful.

Ms Brown Ash’s collaboration with director Leah Mercer has obviously been a fruitful one. It is an absolute pleasure to see a highly trained and experienced actor on stage. Margi’s voice is a marvel. She crafts moments of beautiful intimacy in a near-whisper, and blows the audience away with a guttural screaming. No word is ever lost or confused. Actors, go and see this as an example of what the human theatrical voice should be.

Margi’s assisted by the occasional narration from Stace Callaghan, who plays off Margi beautifully, especially in the closing moments of the play. Moshio’s silent husband is perhaps under-used, but his true gift is the live violin soundtrack he provides. Its solo voice manages to convey full textures and colours that aid Margi’s ‘Eve.’

Frequent visitors to indie theatre will know that the budget often falls short of a truly comprehensive design. Not so here. Eve‘s set is a beautifully constructed hut set in the middle of the Australian bush. Finely crafted candelabras made from branches crown the space and further close it in. It’s a triumph from the team at Backwoods Original, helped along by design consultant Bev Jensen. Equally skilled are the costumes by Kate White and the lighting by Genevieve Trace. The music, composed by Travis Ash, is absolutely fantastic. The sound of a 20’s jazz band, distorted and twisted, gives life and energy to the piece, and serves as another beautiful reflection of Eve Langley’s inner-mind. To see all of these elements working together so well is the result of a seamless production team.

Eve is not for everyone, but if you frequent independent theatre then it should absolutely be on your to-see list. I went with a group of people, and one friend left in tears, substantially moved. Another left with some indifference, marvelling at the performance and skill, but not feeling terribly affected. I was somewhere in between. While occasionally inaccessible, Eve is never pretentious. This is totally thanks to Ms Brown Ash’s charming and compelling performance. Go see Eve if you love literature, theatre, or Australian history.

UPDATE: Received from the producer. ‘There was … a change to the team after the marketing materials were released, and so Bev Jensen wasn’t merely the design consultant, but actually created the costume design, not Kate White’