Review: Pale Blue Dot – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse

Images: Dylan Evans

Brisbane’s winter theatre season is in full-swing each year come July. I often remark to fellow theatre-lovers that we’re spoiled for choice these days – halleluia! It hasn’t always been this way, of course.

Wednesday night last week and we had a world premiere of Kathryn Marquet‘s entertaining new work PALE BLUE DOT, directed by Michael Futcher. It was also the first opening night for new La Boite Artistic Director Chris Kohn and the first time we’ve had a play set in Toowoomba. (Cheer for the home town.) Continue reading Review: Pale Blue Dot – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse

Review: Tequila Mockingbird – shake & stir theatre company and QPAC at Cremorne Theatre, QPAC

Photo credit: Dylan Evans

We’ve written before about the work produced by the people involved with shake & stir theatre company, surely one of the most impressive and successful arts companies currently in operation in Queensland and, indeed, around Australia. (Type ‘shake and stir’  into the Search box to see what we’ve had to say over the years.)

Like many, I suspect, I had assumed we’d see the company’s signature physical story-telling at work on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee in much the same way they’d crafted George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, although the poster image of a very sultry Nelle Lee had me puzzled. Tequila Mockingbird breaks some exciting new ground for shake & stir who have  labelled this work, ‘a new Australian play created by shake & stir theatre co,’ and that it certainly is folks. Continue reading Review: Tequila Mockingbird – shake & stir theatre company and QPAC at Cremorne Theatre, QPAC

Review: Animal Farm – shake and stir theatre company: Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Images: Stephen Henry

shake and stir are no strangers to Queensland theatre and, now that they’ve completed two national tours, are becoming familiar to audiences Australia-wide.

Last week I caught up with their latest production, a re-staging of their 2011, award-winning production of Animal Farm.  Adapted by Nick Skubij from George Orwell’s 1944 satirical novel about the horrors of totalitarianism under Stalin and directed by Michael Futcher, this production includes Nelle Lee, Ross Balbuziente, Tim Dashwood, Bryan Probets and Mr Skubij.

Toowoomba’s gorgeous Empire Theatre was the 27th venue in what has been a 5-month national tour for the company and, as you might expect of a well-run in production, the full house of young and old (over 1300) on Thursday night was treated to a polished, tight as a drum performance by the ensemble. I’ve made no secret elsewhere of my love of theatricality in the service of great story-telling, and this production exemplifies it with economy and clarity. Continue reading Review: Animal Farm – shake and stir theatre company: Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Nick Skubij (Interview 36)

Nick Skubij is one of the artistic triumvirate that heads up the enormously successful shake and stir theatre company. Their name may be minimalist lower case but there’s nothing small-scale any more about this company that has been in business since only 2006. Its operations are compact – they work from a small office in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and call no theatre space their own – but they’ve made a huge impact with the quality of their work, and the scale of reach throughout the state and now national touring circuit with their in-school work and their inventive, award-winning productions of classics.

I caught up with Nick via Skype – they’re in Maryborough tonight – as they approach the final leg of their  current national tour of the George Orwell classic, Animal Farm. In 2011 they took Statespeare beyond the state for the first time.  Nick has adapted Animal Farm for the stage – it premiered in Brisbane in mid-2011.  Michael Futcher has again directed the play which has seen the addition of a new cast member, Tim Dashwood. Next year they’re planning to show the rest of the country their other Orwell – 1984. Funding by Playing Australia (the only funding they’ve ever received) for three national and state-wide tours in three years is not a bad strike rate at all.  “We like being commercially independent,” Nick tells me. Continue reading Nick Skubij (Interview 36)

Review: 1984 – Shake and Stir at QPAC Cremorne Theatre

I’ve come late to 1984; it’s well into the second week of a season that was sold out two weeks before opening.  Most of the reviews are in and they are unusually fulsome in their praise for a local production. I’m certainly not going to be different in that regard.

1984 is a cracker of a production – intelligent and theatrically clever as are all of Michael Futcher’s creations as stage director.

Orwell’s horror story of a society diseased by totalitarianism (of either the left or right variety) has been adapted for this production by two of Shake and Stir’s Artistic Directorate: Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij. Both Ms Lee and Mr Skubij are part of the first-rate onstage cast of five which also includes Ross Balbuziente, Hugh Parker and Bryan Probets, who is truly excellent as the hapless and doomed Winston Smith. His skull-like image and haunted eyes are projected large on the huge screen that backs and enlarges the stage action. It complements that of Big Brother and, for those who know the novel, is used in a device at play’s conclusion that perfectly captures the tragedy of Orwell’s novel. The production also features screen and audio appearances from Alexander Butt, Veronica Neave, Naomi Price, Matthew Welsh and Walt Webster. Continue reading Review: 1984 – Shake and Stir at QPAC Cremorne Theatre

Review: Vikram and the Vampire – Zen Zen Zo at the Old Museum Building

I need to start this off with the confession of a cardinal sin of Brisbane theatre. I haven’t seen a Zen Zen Zo show in a very, very long time. My omission hasn’t been deliberate. Nevertheless, the years have slipped by without visiting this Queensland cultural institution. In truth, it was my assumptions about a ‘physical theatre company’ that kept me away. These were fairly predictable. While displaying admirable and impressive physical skills, these productions too often leave narrative far behind, creating works that are inaccessible. I’m very pleased to say that this is not at all the case for Vikram and the Vampire, the first production overseen by the company’s new Artistic Directors, Michael Futcher and Helen Howard.

Indeed Vikram and the Vampire is all about narrative. The show’s essence is from The Twenty Five Tales of a Baital, a collection of ancient Sanskrit tales from India. The company did a version of this back in 1995, called The King and the Corpse.

Re-imagined by director Michael Futcher and a large ensemble, Vikram and the Vampire is a nod to story telling at its bed-time best.

These are fantastic fairytales largely unknown to Australians, and are an absolute joy to visit.

The story opens on King Vikram (Sandro Colarelli), who longs for power over all the earth. He is visited by a monk, Shantil (Chris Beckey), who promises to grant his wish. But first, the king is instructed to collect a corpse, and walk it back to the burning grounds that Shantil inhabits. The corpse is inhabited by the mischievous spirit Vetal (Lizzie Ballinger). With Vetal strapped to his back, King Vikram begins the lengthy journey back to the burning grounds. Vetal makes a wager with the king. If he should speak, then Vetal will return to where Vikram found her and he will have to begin the journey all over again. And so Vetal distracts the King with stories, played out to us in full colour and spectacle, inevitably provoking a response from King Vikram, who seems unlikely to ever reach his goal.

There are a lot of things this production does right, and the treatment of the narrative here is a big accomplishment. Michael Futcher and Helen Howard are credited as the writers and adapters, with additional credit given to Danny Murphy for material that survived from the 1995 production.

The show manages to straddle both a linear and episodic structure simultaneously, and it works. At an hour and forty-five minutes, the show is a little long, with the first ten minutes seeming to be slightly extraneous. But the magic and beauty of what follows makes this slight indulgence easily forgiven. Continue reading Review: Vikram and the Vampire – Zen Zen Zo at the Old Museum Building