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: The Truth About Kookaburras – Pentimento Productions & La Boite Indie at The Round House Theatre

Images: Kate O’Sullivan

Everything you’ve heard about The Truth About Kookaburras is true. Yes, the cast is over twenty in number. Yes, most of these are men. Yes, almost all of these men appear naked in the first twenty minutes of the show – unashamedly, fully naked. In short, (seriously no pun intended) you get a wrestling wall of penis. And it’s not fleeting. They are touched, fondled, squashed, flicked, twirled and shoved into faces.

It’s good fun. It would be unsettling or slightly weird if perceptions of masculinity weren’t at the absolute core of Sven Swenson’s play. Which they are. Swenson has written, directed (and even features in) this memorable play, which had its first outing back in 2009 at Metro Arts Independents. The Kookbaurras are a fictional Gold Coast footy team, who come under fire when one of the members is killed in their locker room on the evening of a buck’s party. Most of the play unfolds in parallel timelines: the investigation of the murder, and the night it happened. This has some of the structure of a classic whodunnit, but there’s a lot more going on here. Continue reading Review: The Truth About Kookaburras – Pentimento Productions & La Boite Indie at The Round House Theatre

Review: Romeo and Juliet – Queensland Theatre Company at Playhouse QPAC

This is a big, elemental production. It is austere and physical, stripped back to the essentials. There is no blood, little adornment, no shoes even. The focus is on the actor’s body – its material and vocal expressiveness in service of the text. In so many ways it reminded me of Poor Theatre’s stripping back to the fundamentals of performance in, as Grotowski attempted to describe it, a ‘… discarding of masks, the revealing of the real substance: a totality of physical and mental reactions.’

Director Jennifer Flowers has produced a Romeo and Juliet that will appeal to those who like their Shakespeare and their acting unvarnished and quick. Certainly, this production is all of that. Playing time is under 2 and a half hours with no interval.

The cast of twelve (8 men and 4 women) inhabit a world that is indeterminate; their unadorned costumes are of another time and place although in setting – elemental stone and water – designer Bill Haycock (with lighting by David Walters) has beautifully referenced the coldness of a classical citadel rather than the usual richness and warmth of Verona’s Renaissance city. It fits the rest of the production and provides a new viewing of a play whose story is so well known in our culture that even those who have never experienced it on page, stage or screen feel that they ‘know’ it. Ms Flowers’ production is a bold revisioning, and one that may take people by surprise. That’s no bad thing at all. Continue reading Review: Romeo and Juliet – Queensland Theatre Company at Playhouse QPAC

Review: Colder – La Boite Indie & Michelle Miall at The Roundhouse

Images: Al Caeiro

The first of the La Boite 2011 Indie season productions, Colder by Lachlan Philpott, opened at Brisbane’s Roundhouse Theatre last week. Directed by Michelle Miall and performed by a cast of six actors, this play is a tonal poem of melancholy. Like slow, sad rain falling on the heart, Colder washes its audience in a threnody of loss.

You’ve got to love the range and confidence of independent theatre in Brisbane right now. Sure, there are hits and misses – as there must be – but, as someone said a while back, it’s indie work with its daring and devilry that’s the life-blood of the wider theatre culture in this country. The indie voice heard in productions around town can be raucous and potty-mouthed, silly or serious. Sometimes the voice is delicate and challenging – as it is in this one.

I’m a sucker for poetic theatre – the theatre of poetry – whatever you want to call it. I fell for the poetry – the beauty and un-selfconscious lyricism – of Philpott’s text in Colder. Having said that and, despite the buzz of the play’s language, the work feels too long in the playing – is this the production’s pacing or the length and structure – even the nature – of the text itself? I wondered at the number of characters in the work and the inclusion of incidental interludes and monologues. Was it these which seemed to be holding up the core narrative?

The play revolves around David (Chris Vernon) the enigmatic central character who disappeared first (and for a few hours) as a child on a visit to Disneyland, and then, never to return, as an adult in Sydney. The play’s action is contextualised within the gay community of Sydney, and was inspired by one of the writer’s friends who went missing some years ago.

The cause of David’s disappearances comes late in Colder. In direct audience address he speaks of being haunted throughout his life in pursuit of the figures of a man and a boy – the father he knew only briefly and the confident boy he could never be. It only hints – but that is enough – at how and why David remains missing.

In any case, Colder is less of a mystery than a psychological exploration of the effect David’s disappearances have had upon his friends and acquaintances (Kevin Spink and Kerith Atkinson in multiple roles), his lover Ed (Tony Brockman) – but especially upon his mother, Robyn, who is played by Alison McGirr and Helen Howard in younger and older versions of the same character. We walk in their shoes wondering why and how for much of the play. The ensemble of six are in fine form and, under Myall’s direction, handle Philpott’s lovely text very well indeed.

Colder is a play that may have some asking how a text which relies more on voice than on embodiment can be improved by staging. Is it better suited for the vocal orchestration of radio where ‘the pictures are better’ for example? Michelle Miall’s production is far from static, but characters give witness, they narrate, and they describe more often than they interact. The play is not particularly dramatic but that’s no burden. This is the nature of Lachlan Philpott’s script, of course and, anyway, hoorah for poetic theatre.

What is gained in its staging – in breathing the same air together in the same room – is the embodied experience of grief and its effects which are as uneasy to watch as any forensic investigation must be. This is what the actors’ physical presence adds.

Design by Amanda Karo, lighting by Daniel Anderson and composition and sound design by Phil Slade mesh beautifully, as they should, for Michelle Miall’s most satisfying production of the difficult and cold road of the grief-stricken.

Colder plays at The Roundhouse Theatre as part of La Boite’s Indie 2011 season until 9 July. Check the La Boite website for session times and booking details.

Review: Dead Cargo – !Metro Arts Independents 2011

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Another week, another show – this time from the !Metro Arts Independents 2011 series. It’s always fun to be at the first performance of a premiere play; there are no preconceptions, nothing to prepare you for what is to come. Well, I lie (a little) about this, having chatted last week with Nigel Poulton the director and also co-writer (along with long-time collaborator Tim Dashwood).

Nigel warned me that some audiences may be confused by the play. He went on that it was, among other things, ‘about’ hanging on to things long past their use-by date – whether those things are psychological or material – obsessions, preconceptions, needs, words, things, and even people.  So, as I sat pre-show looking at the dozens and dozens of suitcases on the set of Dead Cargo, I began to start threading together the clues Nigel had given me with what I could see in front of me. I had the suitcases sorted; they were the material expressions – symbols – of the ‘invisible baggage’ we carry about with us. Right.  I was starting to feel a bit more confident – getting my head ready for the kind of play that I’d be seeing. I fancied it would be a bit of psycho-realism with expressive movement.

I knew about the movement – see the aforesaid interview re Meyerhold’s Theatrical Bio-Mechanics in Related Articles (below). I knew the script had been written by Messrs Poulton and Dashwood – what to expect in that regard? No idea – this would be a first exposure to their work, at least for me. The set – great by the way – looked messy, deliberately so. Was it meant to stand for the detritus of our lives, maybe? At this point I ran out of clues and started chatting with a friend. What I didn’t do was to read the program. As it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t because there was a clue in the Director’s note which would have sent me on quite another track to the one I pursued during the show and on the drive home. So I’m going to riff a little in this review on how a play – or this particular play – worked on me, about how it sent me down particular tracks in my head. Continue reading Review: Dead Cargo – !Metro Arts Independents 2011