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)

Nick Skubij (Interview 36)

Nick Skubij is one of the artistic triumvirate that heads up the enormously successful shake and stir theatre company. Their name may be minimalist lower case but there’s nothing small-scale any more about this company that has been in business since only 2006. Its operations are compact – they work from a small office in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and call no theatre space their own – but they’ve made a huge impact with the quality of their work, and the scale of reach throughout the state and now national touring circuit with their in-school work and their inventive, award-winning productions of classics.

I caught up with Nick via Skype – they’re in Maryborough tonight – as they approach the final leg of their  current national tour of the George Orwell classic, Animal Farm. In 2011 they took Statespeare beyond the state for the first time.  Nick has adapted Animal Farm for the stage – it premiered in Brisbane in mid-2011.  Michael Futcher has again directed the play which has seen the addition of a new cast member, Tim Dashwood. Next year they’re planning to show the rest of the country their other Orwell – 1984. Funding by Playing Australia (the only funding they’ve ever received) for three national and state-wide tours in three years is not a bad strike rate at all.  “We like being commercially independent,” Nick tells me. Continue reading Nick Skubij (Interview 36)

Review: Managing Carmen – Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC Playhouse

Opening nights can be times of high anticipation or high anxiety depending on which side of the stage you happen to be. They are never dull and are usually also suffused with excitement especially if it’s a world-premiere and, in Australia, if it’s a new David Williamson play.

So it was on Thursday at the Playhouse in Brisbane for Managing Carmen which we all knew well in advance from the marketing is a play about a champion AFL football player who likes dressing up in frocks. Cue dozens of blokey jokes …

The fact that Williamson has written a sweet and clever morality tale with tolerance at its heart is a measure  of how the big man of Australian drama can catch a moment in that fabled zeitgeist out there and spin it into a yarn that’s funny and true. He’s done that throughout his career, been labelled at one time as ‘the Chekhov of Australian drama’ for the way he lines up aspects of Australian culture and its middle-class foibles and then pokes mullock. The comparison, like all such, are odious. He’s Williamson and critics have had their way with him over the years. Like his work or not, consider it trite or profound, berate him for the lack of epics or large-scale social criticism in his astonishing output, Williamson’s work is something to celebrate. His latest is a gem to treasure. Continue reading Review: Managing Carmen – Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC Playhouse

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: 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

A system made for actors: Nigel Poulton (Interview 14)

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As we chat last week about his latest project, I begin to wonder whether Nigel Poulton’s been working too long with ballet companies; he’s got his current company – the Dead Cargo cast – training at 5.30am during the rehearsal week. Now, that’s intriguing in itself. How has this come about, I wonder.

Nigel is one of Australia’s – and possibly one of the world’s – busiest fight directors for the stage. Recent gigs abroad have taken him to the NYC Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Washington Opera as well as to assignments closer to home like Opera Australia, Circus Oz, MTC, STC, QTC, Belvoir, Kooemba Jdarra and Playbox. For Bell Shakespeare he has been the Company Fight Director since 2003. He’s the past President of the Society of Australian Fight Directors Inc., and a respected, meticulous, and very patient teacher who demands the best of his students. I can attest to this having studied under his direction some years ago. Continue reading A system made for actors: Nigel Poulton (Interview 14)