!Metro Arts Brisbane’s latest offering in its 2011 Independents program is Empire Burning, a most intriguing and, it has to be said, much-anticipated new work from writer, actor and director Eugene Gilfedder. Mr Gilfedder is a fine actor held deservedly in high esteem in the industry; the range of his work during the past 12 months alone is impressive. For this premiere season of his own play he has gathered a top-notch cast which includes himself as Seneca, the Roman statesman, philosopher and playwright.
Empire Burning is a mighty big work which runs at around 75 minutes’ playing time. It encompasses the rise to power of the boy-Emperor Nero, his relationship with his tutor Seneca and mother Agrippina, and nasty goings-on in the upper echelons of Rome. It’s all set against the mysterious fires that engulfed the city in AD64. Empire Burning suggests these are the work of the people ‘who come through the flames’ – what we now called terrorists. Apparently the religious extremists of the time – the Christians – were blamed for the fires back then. Not much changes it would seem.
I came away from this first production of the play with mixed feelings. I was engaged by the breadth of the subject matter and with the way the writer has taken the stuff of ancient Rome and found such a clever and frighteningly snug fit with contemporary world politics. I love the singularity of the voice in Gilfedder’s text – his poetic and intelligent writing. He has written some great roles for actors who, in this production, are very well cast and take to the material with relish. However, there is a problem in the density and scope of the play’s subject matter which feels as though it’s been compressed and forced into an all-too-short playing time. This is a triple-decker work if ever there was one, and the play’s contents burst the seams of the production. Continue reading Review: Empire Burning – !Metro Arts & Eugene Gilfedder
As I Skype with Niki-J Price she tells me she is enjoying a little stillness in the Brisbane rain – ‘a bit of a homesick moment,’ she says – she’s Welsh by birth. Niki-J’s taking a short break from rehearsals as part of the Empire Burning company. There’s a run-through that night, ‘and it will be my first ever appearance on the Sue Benner stage.’ Niki-J is one of the cast in Eugene Gilfedder’s new play which opens on Friday at !Metro Arts as part of their Independents’ season for 2011. ‘I’m more than thrilled to be working with such an amazing cast. What a gift it is to be sharing the stage with some of Queensland’s finest male actors – including young Finn (Gilfedder-Cooney) who is not afraid to take such bold steps.’ I think to myself that she is probably going to be right at home in this company. Niki-J herself is a fine actor – on stage as bold and courageous as they come.
I’m keen to find out more about her and to find out what feeds her artist’s imagination. I begin by asking her a question that’s been puzzling me for ages. What’s the ‘J’ in Niki-J stand for? She tells me it’s for ‘Jayne’ but she only added it when she was 18. ‘At the time I thought a second name would be nice,’ and so she became Nicola Jayne Price – a good Welsh name, I note and one that morphed over time into Niki-J.
As a child, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. ‘It was a small, mid-Wales country town – all a bit incestuous; you’d walk down the street and see someone you were related to.’ When she was 13 she discovered the local youth theatre, and that was it. It was there that her eyes were opened to a wider world, and where, she confesses, she learned to drink and smoke. The first play she appeared in happened to be Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, the same play, incidentally, in which she appeared in December last year for Fractal Productions in Ipswich and at the Old Museum in Brisbane. Continue reading Niki-J Price (Interview 18)
Written and Directed by Eugene Gilfedder
SEASON: Friday 13 to Saturday 28 May
WHEN: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm
BACKCHAT: Wednesday 18 May, Artist Q&A after performance
WHERE: Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre
TICKETS: Adults $20 Concessions $16
PERFORMERS: Damien Cassidy, Dan Crestani, Michael Futcher, Eugene Gilfedder, Finn Gilfedder-Cooney, Sasha Janowicz, Niki-J Price and Steven Tandy
SOUND DESIGN BY John Rodgers and Ken Eadie
LIGHTING DESIGN BY Geoff Squires
VISUALS/PROJECTION DESIGN BY Freddy Komp
Groups 10+ $12 Cheap Tuesdays $12 door sales only
Preview $12 (Tuesday 10 May)
As we chat last week about his latest project, I begin to wonder whether Nigel Poulton’s been working too long with ballet companies; he’s got his current company – the Dead Cargo cast – training at 5.30am during the rehearsal week. Now, that’s intriguing in itself. How has this come about, I wonder.
Nigel is one of Australia’s – and possibly one of the world’s – busiest fight directors for the stage. Recent gigs abroad have taken him to the NYC Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Washington Opera as well as to assignments closer to home like Opera Australia, Circus Oz, MTC, STC, QTC, Belvoir, Kooemba Jdarra and Playbox. For Bell Shakespeare he has been the Company Fight Director since 2003. He’s the past President of the Society of Australian Fight Directors Inc., and a respected, meticulous, and very patient teacher who demands the best of his students. I can attest to this having studied under his direction some years ago. Continue reading A system made for actors: Nigel Poulton (Interview 14)
What is it about puppets? Doesn’t matter what form they take, what cultural background they spring from – and they’ve been all over the place for milennia – puppetry remains one of the most popular and compelling performance forms in world theatre. It’s probably an extension of our fascination with the craft and art of human representation, and provides the comfort of a more innocent age of amusement, harking as it does back to childhood. Not all puppetry is playful, however. Some of the world’s great puppet theatres contain terrifyingly blood-thirsty plotlines and special effects designed to shock and scare the audience silly; Mr Punch from the British tradition is no exception.
In Australia we’ve run the gamut from quaint to quirky. Our most famous puppeteers include Peter Scriven, the creator of The Tintookies who toured for the Australian Elizabethan Trust in the 1950s, and Richard Bradshaw, whose whimsical shadow puppetry owes much to the great European shadow plays as well as the Indonesian Wayang Kulit. Currently touring Australia is the Erth Dinosaur Petting Zoo with its giant dinosaur puppets delighting and scaring the littlies silly, if this video is any indication. Definitely not for the small folk, though possibly even more terrifying is the … ahem … artistry of the hugely successful Puppetry of the Penis duo, Australians Simon Morley and David Friend.
Meanwhile, another home-grown troupe of live actors and puppeteers, accompanied by a little friend are currently playing in the !Metro Arts Independents Season in Brisbane. In a westernised version of the grand traditional Japanese Bunraku or ‘doll theatre’ (which we saw most recently at work in the touring Avenue Q), Dead Puppet Society under the direction of David Morton bring us The Timely Death of Victor Blott written by Maxine Mellor. This is one definitely not for the faint-hearted. Audiences are warned in a foyer notice that the play contains themes that may ‘shock and offend.’ Continue reading Review: The Timely Death of Victor Blott – Dead Puppet Society at !Metro Arts Independents