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)

Review: Out Damn Snot – Shake and Stir at La Boite Theatre Roundhouse

Images: Dylan Evans

Let me get one thing out of the way up front. I’m not at all keen on shows where adults play kids. The sight of 20-somethings leaping around pretending to be children can be embarrassingly awful, twee, and an insult to kids who just don’t behave the way they are often portrayed on stage. I wondered how kids felt about this and thought about sending along another reviewer to get a different perspective. However, Miss 8 was not available for the opening night of Shake and Stir’s Out Damn Snot directed by Ross Balbuziente. That left me to face my misgivings. Whilst I still think there’s a missed opportunity here to use children to play children in plays for children (some company care to have a go?) there is no doubt that this hilarious, very physical, beautiful-looking show written and created by Shake and Stir’s artistic directors Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij is great fun for kids and their adults.

I wasn’t sure what the kids in the audience would make of the two sisters Mackenzie (Amy Ingram), Kimmy (Nelle Lee) and little brother Heath (Nick Skubij). Given that they knew the actors were grown-ups, would they buy into the game that these were kids like them? Given their own capacity to role play on the fly, I’d say the young audience were perfectly accepting of these mad adults releasing their own inner kids and mucking about cartoon-style in a magic world. Buy this and it becomes a different experience. I really did enjoy the simplicity of the actors’ child-like (not childish) observations of game-playing and one-upmanship. My favourite is the one where we both try to tell a story simultaneously; you start and I have to join in and do it with you. Know the one? Magic! Ms Lee and Ingram release their inner-child with this lovely little slick schtick. Continue reading Review: Out Damn Snot – Shake and Stir at La Boite Theatre Roundhouse

Life’s Good: Nelle Lee (Interview 19)

Life is very good right now for Nelle Lee,  producer-actor, writer and one of the artistic director triumvirate of the very successful independent theatre company, Shake and Stir.

She and the rest of the company are on the first leg of their national tour of Statespeare and, earlier this week in a special ceremony, she was awarded the University of Southern Queensland‘s Young Alumnus of the Year Award and Faculty of Arts Prize. We catch up at Jilly’s coffee shop, just round the corner from Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre where Statespeare is playing this week.

Nelle arrives in a flurry, a bit late from an interview with a local television crew. It’s good to see her so energised and happy and confident. We eschew the contents of Jilly’s famous wicked-cake case, settle on coffee and start to talk. It’s been a while since we did this – apart from quick ‘hellos’ in theatre foyers across the years since her graduation from the Theatre program at USQ in 2004. It seems there hasn’t been a spare moment for her since then. Shake and Stir started (in a part-time way) in 2006, but has been going flat out since 2008-09, she tells me – not bad going. She’s modest about her achievements: ‘I have a lot of people to thank.’ She’s not yet 30, I think, and she can already claim to have a huge career hit on her hands with the theatrical start-up company that is Shake and Stir. The company gets no government subsidy or philanthropic money, and is entirely self-supporting.

Shake and Stir employ over 20 actors a year with 8 full-time positions. All actors are paid at above-Equity rates.

In addition to their mainstage performances in Brisbane and on tour – they do not have a home theatre base – Shake and Stir also run teacher professional-development workshops and after-school and holiday classes for kids either in-school or at Brisbane’s Old Museum. Whilst the focus of their performance work is on introducing young people to Shakespeare, they are also keen to do the same for other classic works. Their production of Animal Farm (another school syllabus favourite) is programmed for production later this year. But for now and for the next four months as they tour Australia, it’s Statespeare which was commissioned by the Festival of Cairns in 2008 and which has been hugely successful for the company ever since. Continue reading Life’s Good: Nelle Lee (Interview 19)

Review: Statespeare – Shake & Stir and La Boite Theatre @ The Roundhouse

Images: Al Caeiro

Prologue:

This is not a Shakespeare production. It’s a play about the problem of studying Shakespeare’s plays in high school or, as the programme has it, ‘Studying Shakespeare sucketh.’

Statespeare, written by Nelle Lee with material from a range of Shakespeare’s plays, is all about the relevance of the works for kids who are dragged, often kicking and screaming, to study the plays – or bits of the plays – as the syllabus demands. The premise of Statespeare is that the plays are hard, studying them really doth suck and that people who like Shakespeare are most probably drama nerds or losers. At one of yesterday’s schools’ performances I heard an audible gasp from a few quarters in the audience at a line about Drama not counting for an OP score. There were clearly some Drama geeks (old and young) in the house. PS tell me it isn’t so – about Drama not counting for the OP!

For a good 40 or 50 years now – and probably well before that – Australian school kids have been introduced to the plays in the Shakespeare canon via small, touring companies of actors. I remember the Young Elizabethan Players – the ‘Young Lizzies’ – when I was at high school. They were all serious in black before it became de rigeur in theatre circles, and we duly fell in love with at least one of the young male actors in tights – I think they really did wear tights back then. Then came the famed Grin and Tonic 1.0 (recently 2.0) and now there’s Shake & Stir theatre company. Continue reading Review: Statespeare – Shake & Stir and La Boite Theatre @ The Roundhouse

This Week in Queensland Theatre: April 5-11

Queensland Theatre Company Banners
Image by Dramagirl via Flickr

Check company websites for details

Click a date on Greenroom’s home page calendar to see what’s on and to go to more details on each event.

It’s the Easter school holiday break this week, so look out for workshops in your town.  There’s something for everyone.

Opening:

Blackbird by David Harrower – 23rd Productions at the Roundhouse Theatre (La Boite Indie #2)

Single Admissions by Tammy WellerLazy Young and Talented and The Good Room at the Sue Benner Theatre, !Metro Arts.

Continuing:

Thom Pain by Will Eno – Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio (closes Saturday)

Workshops:

Easter Stoush: Basic and Intermediate Stage Combat with SAFDi (Society of Australian Fight Directors) at Court Theatre, Townsville. Details call Jason King 0412313653.  Supported by Tropic Sun Theatre.

Shake and Stir’s Cabaret Workshops at the Judith Wright Centre.  This looks good!

Circa’s circus fun workshop

Harvest Rain has something for dancers at their Velocity Dance Workshop

La Boite’s School Holiday Workshops – all ages.