Review: The Wizard of Oz – La Boite, The Danger Ensemble and Brisbane Festival at The Roundhouse

Images: Morgan Roberts

Carrying the burden of  iconic stardom has crippled and destroyed many – like Judy Garland. She gets resurrected from time to time in shows that reconstruct or deconstruct the legend of the woman known simply as Garland or Judy. This year alone we’ve had End of the Rainbow from Queensland Theatre Company and, a week or so ago at Toowoomba’s Arts Theatre, the first performance of a one-woman play, Bernadette Meenach‘s Miss Garland at Twilight as part of the USQ Twilight Series.

Judy Garland’s life, film and stage career have been picked over and over, like soothsayers of old delving into the entrails of sacrifices. What are they looking for? We’re less interested in what made her the extraordinarily gifted artist she undoubtedly was. It seems the appetite is for the tragic morsels her life produced.  Some would say Judy Garland (the artist formerly known as Frances Ethel Gumm) became a sacrifice to the insatiable appetite of the crowds who created her as a star and then dined off the many disasters and breakdowns that dogged her life.

Judy Garland’s role as Dorothy from the 1939 MGM classic movie The Wizard of Oz shot her into an orbit that she (and the studios who owned her) fought to control for the rest of her life. The movie was based on one of L Frank Baum‘s popular children’s stories The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first published in 1900. American culture owes Mr Baum much. He went on to write other tales about the people in the Land of Oz, then came the movie and, of course, Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the west the huge musical which owes, in turn, its genesis to Gregory Maguire‘s 1995 novel of the same name. Mr Maguire mined Oz for four more books in his Oz series, and so it goes.

wizardnarrow-300x0Now Maxine Mellor (as Principal Writer), The Danger Ensemble and La Boite have a go in their The Wizard of Oz currently playing at The Roundhouse as part of the Brisbane Festival program.  In Director Steven Mitchell Wright‘s production we meet the old familiar figures: Dorothy (Caroline Dunphy in great form) and her little black dog Toto, the munchkins (Lucy-Ann LangkildeThomas Hutchins and Thomas Larkin) who also play the lion, tin man and scarecrow respectively – and scarily. Of course, there is a beautiful witch (Polly Sara) and Oz himself (Chris Beckey a spectacle in emerald green). Ms Mellor’s tale reframes the original into a contemporary, local setting in order to examine the burden of lost hopes and aspirations so, of course, the Garland persona will get an airing. Continue reading Review: The Wizard of Oz – La Boite, The Danger Ensemble and Brisbane Festival at The Roundhouse

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: 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