Michelle Miall (Interview 23)

Image: Elleni Toumpas

It’s a cold, wintery day as I speak with Michelle Miall, director and Matilda Award-winner about her work – her current production is Colder for the 2011 La Boite Theatre Indie season which opens next week.

Michelle is a QUT graduate with a BA Drama Hons (Theatre Studies). By her third year, she found herself focussing on directing and writing, and this prompted a decision to continue on to an Honours year in Popular Theatre. ‘I was (and still am) interested in bringing audiences to the theatre who don’t normally go, who feel excluded by it or like it is irrelevant to their lives.’

By the end of that Honours year Michelle confesses, ‘I was jaded, as though I had intellectualised everything I loved about theatre. It was as if I had this tiny view of the world from my little place in it. I wanted to go out and experience more.’ Feeling she needed a bigger palette from which to draw her passion and, like many Australian artists before her, she headed overseas to London.

After working on one production as a stage manager (from which, she adds,’ I got a very cool eyebrow scar from a falling lighting rig during bump out’) I moved outside theatre and got caught there for some time.’ She travelled, worked in fashion, then advertising, then investment banking.  The work funded her travel, and the travel fuelled her imagination. Continue reading Michelle Miall (Interview 23)

Review: Faustus – Queensland Theatre Company & Bell Shakespeare @ Brisbane Powerhouse

Michael Gow has not so much adapted Marlowe’s and Goethe’s pre-existing Faustus texts as editorialised them with a whole range of other western cultural materials – poetry, drama, music, song and film. He’s woven them together with his own words into a contemporary take on the man who bargains his soul away to the devil in exchange for power and youth.

Gow directs this new play in a highly theatrical realisation that calls upon all the traditions of story-telling: mask, puppetry, song, and multiple role-playing by the ensemble. It’s absolutely 21st century theatre, but this production retains the earthy flavour and naiveté of the medieval theatre’s Morality plays and their lively playing out of the forces of good and evil in the world.

Apparently the devils, imps and vice figures were hugely popular in these early pieces, and so it is here. From the outset we know it’s not going to be a good ending for Faustus (Ben Winspear) but rather his sparring with Mephistophilis (John Bell) and the journey along the way to Hell’s Mouth that will provide the thrills for an audience.

With design by Jonathon Oxlade and lighting by Jason Glenwright the playing space fills the main stage of the Brisbane Powerhouse. Production design supports a range of theatrical delights which include Phil Slade‘s musical composition and Chris More‘s video designs. Continue reading Review: Faustus – Queensland Theatre Company & Bell Shakespeare @ Brisbane Powerhouse

Review: Water Falling Down – Queensland Theatre Company

The time has come to declare the ubiquitous ’75-110 minute full-length play-without-an-interval’ as the norm on local stages. The hefty play from not all that long ago – the ones with an interval and sometimes even two – seem to have gone. The really old ones – the classics – are more likely to make their appearance in a ‘movie-length’, reworked adaptation like La Boite’s Julius Caesar or Belvoir Street’s recent The Wild Duck. Soon interval drinks will seem quaintly old-fashioned, something which front-of-house bar managers may, or may not appreciate. Of course, it makes for an earlier night than used to be the case, opens up getting home by public transport, and there’s more time for after-show get togethers. Such was the case last night at Queensland Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of Mark Swivel’s Water Falling Down (running time 90 minutes). QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre did the honours, and it was just about the perfect size and space for what is a very intimate take on love, loss and rocky father-son relationships.

Last night also marked Andrea Moor’s professional debut as a director with the state theatre company. Ms Moor is an accomplished actor and teacher of acting and, for the past couple of years, has been honing her directorial skills as an emerging artist with QTC as well as with independent productions in Brisbane. Greenroom had the pleasure of doing an interview with Andrea in 2010. Water Falling Down is Sydney-based playwright Mark Swivel’s fifth work presented first at the National Play Festival in 2010. The play’s subject matter reminded me, albeit briefly, of the bittersweet comedy of the television series of Mother and Son. It plays out in the same territory but in a more sober key – an ageing parent and adult child negotiating a relationship that changes by turn as child becomes parent and parent child. Water Falling Down features Ron Haddrick and Andrew Buchanan in two plum roles as the father and son on a literal and metaphoric journey together. The play’s events are sparked by the increasing frailty and aphasia of the father and by the son’s desire for love and understanding. The setting is a trip to Europe designed to bring the pair together and to revive memories before the progress of the father’s condition removes words and communication forever.

A side note – I must confess to being somewhat in awe of Ron Haddrick. He was one of the actors whose names were very familiar to me when I was growing up as a child of radio drama and black and white television back in the 60s. His voice and acting were always thrilling, and Mr Haddrick’s reputation in the Australian theatre industry remains second to none. He is greatly admired and loved by colleagues and was also a terrific cricketer – he represented SA in the Sheffield Shield competition in the 1950s. Last night I very much enjoyed seeing Mr Haddrick, one of our best senior artists working side by side with one of our best younger ones, Andrew Buchanan. Messrs Haddrick and Buchanan were beautifully cast in their respective roles and they brought their considerable individual and collective acting skills to bear on the work.

Andrea Moor’s directorial vision has wrapped Water Falling Down in a production which provides the dynamic missing in Mark Swivel’s play. The text is essentially a collage of scenes which seem very often repetitious and which don’t take the opportunity to examine further the relationship between father and son. As a result the action feels static, and dramatic tension dissipates in a series of stops and starts. This could also be part of the reason why the play feels longer than its 90 minutes of playing time.

Water Falling Down has a tender heart and it contains many beautifully written and nuanced scenes. I was greatly moved by one towards the end of the play when the father finally opens up to the son in a fleeting moment of lucidity – the words flow as he speaks of his limitations, lifelong fears and especially of the comfort of an understanding wife.  The richness of the writing here was matched by the finesse of the playing by both Haddrick and Buchanan. At the end however, there’s a feeling that the individual trees are more interesting than the whole wood which is Water Falling Down. It just doesn’t pull together.

Andrea Moor has picked an excellent production team for her debut for Queensland Theatre Company – some are collaborators from previous productions. Production values are always high with QTC and this production is no exception. Design for Water Falling Down by Ross Wallace and lit by Jason Glenwright is minimalist-elegant and visually very stylish. Mr Wallace’s video and still images are projected on to a giant bank of sliding screens and help situate the play’s locations. Along with Phil Hagstrom’s music, these contribute to the play’s atmosphere. A revolve enables ‘travelling’ and scene changes without hands-on assistance. Scene changes felt a little long, but perhaps this is something which the season will rectify as backstage changes speed up in what I understand is pretty much a black-out state.

For many in the audience the subject matter of the play will resonate strongly. Mr Swivel himself wrote the play out of the personal experience of his own father’s failing health and Andrea Moor writes in her director’s note of the relationship that was forged as she nursed her own mother in the last year of her life. The subject matter of the play is rich and affecting but, if I had a wish, it would be that the writer looks again at the resolution in the play’s final moments. For my taste, at least, this moment is overly-sentimentalised and reductive. Endings of all kinds are hard.

 

Water Falling Down plays at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane until 7 May

A correction brought to my attention by Ross Wallace, the designer of Water Falling Down – video and still images were created by Mr Wallace as the Designer and not by Declan McMonagle who is, as the program notes, attributed as ‘Assistant Video Editor.’ Greenroom apologies for this confusion and has made the appropriate correction above.

 

 

 

Kat Henry (Interview 16)

Photo: Kat Henry

Much of the talk in town and on the interwebs right now concerns gender equity in the theatre. Women playwrights and directors and actors continue to battle what many are calling, perhaps intemperately – but who can blame them – ‘the boys’ club.’ It’s not just here either; American and British women have their dander up as well.

When a woman succeeds in securing a paid job as a director or actor, or when she wins an award for playwrighting, then it’s cause for celebration. So it was last week when expatriate Brisbane writer (she now lives in Melbourne) Shannon Murdoch won the prestigious Yale Drama Series award for her play New Light Shine. As they used to say before digital technologies arrived to spread news in a flash, ‘the wires hummed’ with the news. Shannon was congratulated, contacted, and readings were being set up just-like-that. Hoorah! I’m told New Light Shine was one of the ‘must see’ works at this year’s National Play Festival. I wonder if it has been secured for an Australian production yet and, if so, who will direct? Whatever the answers, it’s a thrill to see Shannon Murdoch’s work being recognised in this way.

There are two women directors currently at work in Brisbane on productions: Andrea Moor on Water Falling Down for Queensland Theatre Company, and Kat Henry on The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg for the independent company 23rd Productions.  Greenroom interviewed Andrea last year when she was working on Tender – you can read the review here. I was delighted to meet Kat Henry a week or so ago at the theatre and to get her to agree to an interview. Continue reading Kat Henry (Interview 16)

Review: Man=Man & The Elephant Calf – Queensland Theatre Company

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Photo: Amelia Dowd (Bille Brown Studio – after the flood)

Off to the theatre last night to see QTC Ed’s (the Company’s education ‘wing’) production of two small Brecht pieces: Man=Man and The Elephant Calf. The mostly grown-up audience responded well to Director Joe Mitchell’s cleverly recalibrated, joyously performative and wonderfully funny examination of Brechtian theatre techniques.

If you have been as underwhelmed as this theatre-lover has been over the years at the near-veneration afforded Brecht, especially in the state’s drama syllabus, then this production is a revelation. It’s irreverent and also Brechtian-authentic to the core. The pickiest of drama teachers are going to love the way it ticks all the boxes in the Brechtian Performance Techniques check-list. It’s also set to stir their classes to ask ‘WTF?’ Oh, and speaking of ‘WTF’ – the text is visibly strewn with the ‘F Bomb’; do schools still have to vet shows for the kind of  language found in the playground and on the school bus? I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some of the classrooms where this production is being discussed. I’ve attended several QTC Ed shows over the years with audiences of upper high school-age students. Each time I have been astonished and delighted at the level of sophistication and maturity displayed by these young people during the post-show Q&As.

The ensemble cast of six (Chris Vernon, Helen Cassidy, Nick Cook, Anthony Standish, Leon Cain and  Kevin Kiernan-Molloy) are uniformly excellent. Mitchell has set the play in some middle-eastern war zone and the hapless civilian Galy Gay (Vernon) a kind of opportunistic Everyman figure finds himself buffeted by the winds of politics and macho posturing by the soldiers who take him in. The cast are aided and abetted in the onstage mayhem by a very visible crew (led by SM Christopher Horne at the desk). ‘The Director’ remains as an offstage and nicely nameless authoritarian figure who is finally challenged by the team of ‘actors as actors’ in the last 10 or so minutes of the program. This section kicked over any remaining vestiges of the wall separating audience and performer. The meshing of form and content and examination of the nature of reality and performance was, for me, the most interesting and alienating (in the best Brechtian sense of the word) part of the program. Chatting to a cast member afterwards I learned that it had been created in the last week of the rehearsal period. Bravo!

As the standard bearer for a much wider program of education services, QTC’s Ed productions in the Bille Brown Studio, all under Joe Mitchell’s direction, have been one of the best kept secrets for far too long amongst the city’s post-school theatre-going crowd. It’s good to see the Company including one or two of these intelligent and excellent productions in their new Studio program series this year. Joe Mitchell will be missed; he is leaving QTC to take up a new position in the Brisbane performing arts industry. Good luck Joe!

This production (approx 95 mins without interval) plays at the Company’s home premises at 78 Montague Road, South Brisbane until March 12. Check the showtimes from the QTC website. You’ve got a week – give yourself a treat.

Disclaimer: I am currently the Chairman of the Board, Queensland Theatre Company. My opinions are entirely my own and should be understood as distinct from any affiliation I hold with this or any other business or arts organisation. The only barrow I push is that of theatre per se.