Review: A Hoax – La Boite and Griffin Theatre Companies

It’s not often that Brisbane sees a ‘world premiere, but the recent partnership of La Boite and Griffin means that Brisbane audiences ar e the first in the world to see Rick Viede’s new play A Hoax. It’s a privilege for which I think audiences will be extremely grateful.

It’s the premise of the play that steals the show for me. Anthony Dooley (Glenn Hazeldine) is a middle-aged white man, and a struggling writer. Anthony pens a beautiful and brutal memoir titled Nobody’s Girl. The only issue is that it’s not his. It’s the memoir of a fictional indigenous woman called ‘Currah’. Anthony employs an enthusiastic indigenous girl, Mirri, (Shari Sebbens) to play the role of Currah, and sets about fooling literary agents, publishers, and eventually, the world. Hilarity and disaster ensue.

Rick Viede’s playwrighting success has been meteoric. His first play, Whore, picked up several awards and toured internationally. A Hoax is his second play, but it is not the work of an immature or inexperienced writer. The satire here is razor sharp and disturbingly true. Viede leaves nothing at the door. There are discussions and debates on everything: the media, truth, identity, sexuality, gender politics, and race. It’s refreshing and smart, and deliberately thought-provoking. In the interval, my partner and I fiercely debated the character’s motivations and morality. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so engaged in the ideas that a play presents.

Viede weaves a complicated web. A brash but damaged publisher (Sally McKenzie) and her flamboyant assistant (Charles Allen), make up a tight four hander. Viede’s brilliant one-liners and beautifully structured scenes are slightly compromised by a slightly dislocated structure overall. The play spans over four years, and character’s motivations and attitudes jump quite spectacularly. Sometimes this is unclear. It’s a lot to ask of the actors. Glenn Hazeldine, playing the ‘real’ author, masters these difficult transitions with ease. The character of Anthony Dooley is asked to rise and fall and rise again. In the hands of a lesser performer, the character of Anthony could be alienating or unlikeable, but Mr Hazeldine’s performance is seamless and compelling.

Sally McKenzie’s performance of the publisher is funny and memorable, and will only grow in the weeks to come. In Currah, Rick Viede has written a theatrical rarity: a complex and contemporary indigenous female character. For this, he must be thanked. Ms Sebbens performs her well, and is strongest in her most vulnerable moments, which arise unexpectedly. Charles Allen has the most difficult journey to travel with his character, but his delivery of the climactic scene is compelling and drew the audience to the edge of their seats.

The director, Lee Lewis, architects the musicality of each scene beautifully. The unexpected climax is particularly stunning. The set, a gleaming and anonymously blank hotel room, is cleverly designed by Renee Mulder. Steve Toulmin, who provides music, sound and AV design, gives a life to scene transitions that keeps the engine of the piece motoring along. For me, the edgy rock soundtrack and slick scene changes were an absolute triumph. It’s an excellent collaboration between Toulmin and Lewis. Jason Glenwright‘s lighting is subtle and incredibly well-conceived.

If you like your theatre raw, book your tickets early. The opening night performance at times felt incredibly fresh and live. There were quite a few hiccoughs along the way, and it seemed a few of the actors occasionally lost their footing. However, a few performances will see the dust settle, and the ensemble will find their groove. This is a great show for senior high school students who don’t mind the occasional swear word, and you could even take your slightly trendy and politically interested parents. A Hoax manages to be both blackly dark and beautifully comic at the same time. For this, and its ideas, it will no doubt have a long and fruitful future.

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Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Main Image: Bryan Probets (Touchstone) | Images: Al Caeiro

David Berthold is quickly setting up a tradition for La Boite: opening a season with a Shakespeare, directed by the Artistic Director himself. As You Like It was preceded by Hamlet (2010) and Julius Caesar (2011), in which Berthold proved he could bend the material to his will, creating sexy and contemporary productions. Make no mistake, As You Like It has a completely different feel, and is a more cohesive production than its La Boite forefathers. Indeed, it feels as though Berthold is infinitely more comfortable in the comedy of Shakespeare, and the result is superb production.

Helen Howard - Rosalind

As You Like It centres mainly around the love quest of Rosalind (Helen Howard), the daughter of a Duke who has been usurped. Rosalind is banished from the new Duke’s court and takes her cousin Celia (Helen Cassidy) and the court’s jester (Bryan Probets) with her. In order to escape persecution Rosalind disguises herself as a man, and leads her band of exiles through the Forest of Arden in an attempt to find her exiled father (Kate Wilson). But the real spice of the plot lies in Orlando (Thomas Larkin) who is forced to flee the court when he is rejected by his older brother Oliver (Luke Cadden) and then upsets the fascist usurper Duke (Hayden Spencer) by challenging and defeating his wrestler, Charles (Thomas Carney). But before he flees, Orlando and Rosalind fall in love, only to be reunited once again in the Forest of Arden, but with Rosalind in a man’s disguise. Commence Shakespearean gender-bending comedy.

The show is stolen, in my opinion, by an absolutely spell-binding design. Renee Mulder’s costumes and set are absolutely breath-taking.

This is theatre design at its very best, peppered with all sorts of tricks and surprises that the audience never see coming … it’s a spectacular achievement.

Mulder’s work is accompanied by sublime music and sound from Guy Webster, and incredibly clever lighting from David Walters. Together, the trio create a forest of Arden that is warm and inviting. The evocation of a campfire makes the potentially cold La Boite theatre feel small and intimate. The gypsy aesthetic of the the exiled Duke and his kingdom has the appeal of a charming, cleaner Woodford Folk Festival. It’s a spectacular achievement. Continue reading Review: As You Like It – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Review: Ruben Guthrie – La Boite Theatre at The Roundhouse

My local bottle department practically gives away the booze. Pop in any afternoon of the week and there’s almost always a tasting going on – handy little refreshments for drivers heading home after a hard day. The specials are stacked up in tempting piles round the shop. When I remark on the week’s ‘buy one, get one free’ deals, the cheery guy behind the counter tells me that there’s a wine mountain ‘out there’ and that “Someone’s got to drink it.”

La Boite’s latest production, and the last for their 2011 season, is Ruben Guthrie by actor, writer, director Brendan Cowell. In the course of the play Ruben’s Czech girlfriend Zoya refers to Australia as a beautiful ‘alcoholic country,’ and Cowell’s play points its considerable critical armoury right at our culture’s denial of the problem. Someone’s got to drink it after all. Whilst the play is pretty gut-wrenching at times, it’s also wickedly funny. Cowell’s shredding of the ethics of the advertising industry is satirical writing at its best. I think it’s his best play yet.

If this corker of a social satire didn’t make you laugh so much you’d weep. Ruben Guthrie is a tragedy about the fall and fall of a talented young man whose health, career and relationships are ruined by booze and drugs. Ruben creates ad campaigns but wants to be taken seriously as a writer – cockiness masks his insecurity. Ruben’s lifestyle where the ‘caine is freely available and grog flows to inspire creativity, celebrate, commiserate and, well, just because you can, see him sucked under. He loses his girlfriend at the start of the play, gets the wake-up call and decides to go on the wagon. Brendan Cowell’s Writer’s Note speaks of the year in which he gave up alcohol not just because he knew he was drinking too much, but to see what it would be like to go without. The experiences he had, the ‘run-ins’ with his ‘baffled’ friends and family who couldn’t understand his denial of ‘the great drink’ were the inspiration for this play.

David Berthold directs a fine, unvarnished production that takes full advantage of the theatre’s architectural space – we’re back in the round, by the way. Mr Berthold admits to admiring the play greatly, and it’s not hard to see why. Mr Cowell’s witty text flows from the compassion at its heart, and its dialogue springs off the page. Berthold has orchestrated its rhythms and thematics with confidence and sensitivity. The play also needs a gutsy company to have it work the way it needs to, and the director has cast it beautifully.

Caroline Kennison

Ruben Guthrie has a dream team ensemble headed by Gyton Grantley who is on stage as Ruben for all but a few seconds of the action. Mr Grantley’s performance is quite superb; it’s assured and powerful, and his Ruben utterly charming and heartbreaking. He is wonderfully supported by Hayden Spencer as Ray his boss, by Caroline Kennison as his mother Susan, and Kathryn Marquet as Virginia his AA sponsor and lover. New faces Lauren Orrel (Zoya) Darren Sabadina (Damian) and John McNeill (Peter) are terrific as fiancée, best mate and father respectively.

Design by Renée Mulder is stripped back and suggestive of a boxing ring right down to its bright blue squares. It’s absolutely perfect for the no-holds-barred slugfest which is the play. Jason Glenwright (lighting) and Guy Webster (sound) complete the design team with meticulously detailed lighting, composition and soundscapes.

The production is wonderfully theatrical and performative; the audience is brought into the action as Ruben addresses us as fellow meeting attendees. The cast sit around the perimeter of the square within the round and watch the action, setting and striking furniture and props, coming and going into the ring for the ’rounds’ that play out over two acts. Yes, there is an interval where you can get a drink. You are invited to bring it back into the theatre if you wish. As an aside, I asked the bar staff whether sales had been up or down during the season. They indicated rather discreetly that they hadn’t really noticed a difference. You could, however, feel a real tension in the room as Ruben agonises over the temptation of drinks forced upon him by friends and family. I don’t mind admitting my own inner voice was screaming, ‘Don’t do it!’

Don’t miss it. This is an excellent realisation of a very good, contemporary, and very Australian play.

Ruben Guthrie by Brendan Cowell plays at The Roundhouse Theatre for a limited season. Catch it between the time you’re reading this and its closing performance on 13th November. Details on the company website.

Images by Al Caeiro
Main Image: Gyton Grantley and Kathryn Marquet