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: Miss Garland at Twilight: USQ Arts Theatre (Toowoomba)

Image: Cindy Laine, USQ Photography.

I’ve had a lot of chats with a lot of different grandmas over the course of my journalistic career.

Grandmas who sent husbands off to war, never to see them again. Grandmas who survived the Depression, grandmas forgotten by their children, grandmas befuddled by a rapidly changing world.

Some grandmas are funny, some are sad. But spend some time with grandmas – really give them your ear – and they all have a few things in common. They will talk of days gone by, they will reminisce about their childhood, they will tell stories of people you don’t know, they will show you the treasures accumulated over their lives, they will ponder the choices they made and the roads they travelled, they may even break into song.

Now just imagine “grandma” is the icon of long-ago Hollywood, the infamous Judy Garland. We’d all love to have a chat with her, right? Well, Bernadette Meenach gave audiences that chance in her self-devised show Ms Garland at Twilight at the University of Southern Queensland on Wednesday, September 4. Continue reading “Review: Miss Garland at Twilight: USQ Arts Theatre (Toowoomba)”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble at Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre

Main Image: Silvan Rus and Rebecca Murphy – Benjamin Prindable Photography

Perhaps the most-produced and certainly (in this theatre-goer’s humble opinion) the most accessible of Shakespeare’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the latest from the Brisbane-based QSE under the artistic direction of Rob Pensalfini. Rob has also directed and composed the original music for this production but, according to a declaration in a Q&A post-show session he almost didn’t do either.

When the idea first came up at a company meeting, he said he’d rather ‘gouge his eyes out with a spoon.’ The Romantic 19th century fairy ‘sheen’ of most productions that he’d seen or been involved with just hadn’t clicked.  With this production, Rob took up the theme of ‘discord in the land of shadows.’  I’m pleased to report he’s got both eyes still and that his brushed-up Dream is fresh and great fun.

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Matt Gaffney, Laura McKenna, Colin Smith, Brandon Dowery

It’s high-energy with action that never stops till that final ‘Curtain’ – spot on! Some of the ensemble play multiple roles and join in the offstage band that accompanies the action. With choreography and movement by Zoe Tuffin this dream is physical and dance-like helping, as does the music, to manifest the differing tempo-rhythms of the play’s worlds.

The twelve-strong ensemble trip the light fantastic, cavorting, frisking and frolicking their way through the faerie kingdom of Oberon (Zac Kelty) and Titania (Ruby Drewery). Mr Kelty and Ms Drewery double as often happens in productions of this play with Duke Theseus and his Amazon Queen bride-to-be Hippolyta. They are joined by Louise Brehmer as a spring-heeled Puck, Brandon Dowery (in an impressive first showing for QSE)Matt Gaffney, Sam Jeboult, and Laura McKenna as assorted goblins, fairies and mechanicals.  Colin Smith gets to wear the asses’ head as a robust Nick Bottom, and Nick James, Silvan Rus, Rebecca Murphy, and Johancee Theron battle it out – athletically and delightfully – as the quartet of lovers and, of course, end up happily ever. Now, you must know the story, so don’t look for a plot summary. If it’s not familiar to you, go and read it here but, better still, get along to the Roma Street Parklands and see for yourself. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble at Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre”