Review: The WonderWombs

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Review: The WonderWombs

Circus has moved forward; it is no longer just simple juggling, acrobatic or other skills in a big top. The power and intensity of circus skills are now used to illustrate all manner of contemporary stories and issues. The Wonderland Festival has brought together some wonderful examples of such ‘serious circus’, including Jess Love’s Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl (using circus to chart her journey through addiction and heritage) and Alex Mizzen’s Invisible Things (peeling back the layers and overcoming her demons).

The all-female New Zealand based Dust Palace combine circus, dance and poetry to highlight feminine issues and gender stereotypes—all performed with a great sense of humour and a rocking soundtrack.

The show opens with a seemingly pregnant woman, dressed as a man, welcoming us to the performance. Or that’s what he might be doing, as he seems unable to utter a word. And is he/she really pregnant or is it part of the show? (actually yes, it is the pregnant Director/Performer Jess Holey Bates).

  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

This slight sense of bewilderment and confusion is sustained as you watch a series of amazing circus acts, toned bodies, sensual dance and comedy pastiche. Do I take this at face value or is there a deeper meaning?

I’m sure everyone will have had their own highlights from the performance. For me, the take-off of stereotypical male macho behaviour in the gym, an ‘orchestrated orgasm,’ and an aerial pole dance were all memorable. And if it’s just one, well then it would have to be the aerial pole dance—which elevates the form from a sleazy nightclub performance to a powerful demonstration of strength, artistry and skill.

  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Whether you come for the feminist politics, or just to see the talented performers and some stunning aerobatics, you will enjoy this well-paced show. The hour goes too quickly. As my companion for the evening said, “I’m not sure what that was about but I loved it.”

Verdict: Feminist politics meets serious circus. Worth seeing for the aerial pole dance alone.

Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre (18+. Coarse language, strobe lighting, nudity, and adult themes). There are only three performances of The WonderWombs in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (7:30pm, 29 November until 1st December 2018). Tickets may still be available: $45 ($39 concession, and pp for a group of 6+) plus $5.95 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the website, and see what else might tempt you at the 2018 Wonderland Festival.

Geoff Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 29th November 2018 performance (7:30pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

 

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Review: Happily Ever After

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Review: Happily Ever After

Conjuring their inner Rapunzel/Goldilocks (Judy Hainsworth), wicked step-mother/Queen (Alicia Cush), and Little Red Riding Hood (Bethan Ellsmore), the three Babushka divas have concocted a delightfully-distorted and ever-so entertaining reworking of many well-known fairy tales. Hats off to the performers, and to Penny Challen, designer and co-director of Little Match Productions. Think popular music, inverted and re-worked with different musical styles, add in a sparkle of fantastic styling, and tie it all together with humorous dialogue from a highly-professional team. Or what Cush described as “musical mashups, quirky humour and simple choreography”. It works. And don’t just take my word for it. This was one of the few cabaret shows I’ve been to where the evening ended with a standing ovation.

Fairy tales are cautionary myths. In Happily Ever After many of our favourite stories (and songs) are reinterpreted and postmodernised with great style.  Twisting everything from the Snow White & Seven Dwarfs’ I’m Wishing ( ‘the story of the girl who swiped right’) through to the audience-pleasing Umbrella (‘Dirty Little Cinderella’) Babushka’s mashups had us all captivated. The talented Luke Volker (Musical Director, ‘narrator’ & Piano) introduced each chapter (or song) of their anthology of fairy tales, all were reinvigorated into what Volker referred to as “marvellous morals for modern maidens.”

 
  Pictured  (L to R): Judy Hainsworth, Bethan Ellsmore, and Alicia Cush.  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Judy Hainsworth, Bethan Ellsmore, and Alicia Cush. Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

If opera isn’t really your ‘thing’, don’t be put off by description of operatic skills. Cush, Hainsworth and Ellsmore are three talented divas with fantastic voices. Not only can they produce some stunning close harmonies, but they also add to the musical diversity of the evening with piano accordion, kazoo, violin, triangle and drum. And they selected an eclectic collection of material, twisting and transforming songs that spanned many decades.

Favourite moments? Ellsmore’s princess and the pea references had the audience in fits, Cush was absolutely compelling with her reflections of a bitter queen (‘I’ll put a spell on you” tango, sung to the apple, of course). And I’d happily buy a copy of the Babushka re-working of Lordes’  Royals (great performance by Hainsworth, but also for the memories of the disdainful triangle-playing by Cush). Certain songs just lend themselves to this show of twisted fairy-tales—memorably Umbrella and the Hungry Like a Wolf/Like a Virgin medley (for the vocals, and for Hainsworth’s performances). If you only go to see one cabaret, make it a Babushka show like this (and ideally one that includes their performance of Sweet Dreams are Made of This).

  Pictured : Judy Hainsworth.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Judy Hainsworth. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

  Pictured : Bethan Ellsmore. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Bethan Ellsmore. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The ‘peasants’ from the ‘Fabled Kingdom of New Farm’ had a ball. All too soon it was time for Mr Sandman to send us on our way, after a deserved standing-ovation. I’ll certainly be following Little Match on ‘fairybook’ for details of future shows. And looking out for the 2019 Wonderland Festival program.

Verdict: Standing ovations all round. Look out for future Little Match Productions. You’ll be enthralled, enchanted and entertained.

Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre (15+. Limited coarse language and adult themes). There are only three performances of Happily Ever After in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (9pm, 29 November until 1st December 2018). Tickets were $32 ($30 concession, and pp for a group of 6+) plus $5.95 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the Powerhouse website, and see what else might tempt you (and plan your festive celebrations around the 2019 Wonderland Festival).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 30th November 2018 performance (9pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

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Review: Elixir

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Review: Elixir

First, book this show. Then, pop back here to read the review before you get down to the Brisbane Powerhouse. Elixir is a great tonic, with a mesmerising mix of acrobatics, balancing, beatbox, breakdance, comedy, cyr wheel, dance, juggling, ladder, physical theatre, slapstick, strength, teeterboard, trapeze, tumbling and even whip-cracking. Old-style circus given a very contemporary twist, and all presented as a cautionary tale of how testing your hoped-for ‘elixir of life’ concoctions may have dramatic consequences.

So it’s likely to have sold out already. In which case, here’s an idea of what you have missed.  

 
 Pictured: Thomas Gorham ‘head first’ balancing on Cal Harris. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Thomas Gorham ‘head first’ balancing on Cal Harris. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

Melbourne-based Head First Acrobats have a winning formula—combining the talents of Cal Harris, Thomas Gorham, and Rowan Thomas to produce a number of internationally-successful shows. Elixir presents the tale of three scientists who are now engaged in clinical trials of what they hope will be an elixir of life. The disembodied voice of ‘control’ at the ‘research facility’ warns the audience that those using flash photography ‘may die’; or those not turning their phone to silent ‘may die’; and that those testing the ‘drug’ may suffer the consequences. I didn’t hear any phones ring, but the ‘scientists’ do go ahead with their tests.

Each variant of the ‘drug’ has differing results, giving Harris, Gorman and Thomas to showcase their individual and collective talents. And they are certainly multi-talented.

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Harris demonstrated some amazing & often quite spectacular ladder, incredible balance, and fantastic strength work. Gorman’s breakdance was superb, as were his acrobatics and highly-memorable trapeze work (that headstand… on a trapeze…). Thomas relished the comedic role, and I’ve never seen the cyr wheel worked with quite such style before—just… wonderful.

The circus skills are definitely the reason to go. But Elixir is more than ‘just’ circus. The dance moves were entertaining (look out for the Thriller piece), the story held the show together, and with some old-fashioned slapstick, audience-interaction, and ‘Australian humour’ this is a show that has something for almost everyone. Oh, and did I mention that shirts are removed?

The Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre is a flexible space, and it was interesting to see it set up in a slightly different way, giving the performers a three-sided stage to work within (all set against the backdrop of the Powerhouse brick). A perfect choice and space for this production. But if you can’t get tickets for the Wonderland Festival show, then Elixir is worth travelling to see.

Verdict: Love circus? Go. Looking for a good night out? Go. Not quite sure if this is for you? Go.

Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre. There are only three performances of Elixir in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (9:30pm, 29 November until 1st December 2018). Tickets may still be available: $45 ($39 concession, and pp for a group of 6+) plus $5.95 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the website, and see what else might tempt you at the 2018 Wonderland Festival.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 29th November 2018 performance (9:30pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: Love Hurts

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Review: Love Hurts

A comedy cabaret show about love and sex, at 6pm on a Thursday evening in Brisbane, is a hard ask. But Emily Kristopher and Katrina Davidson are an excellent duo. Katrina Davidson is a well-known comedienne and radio personality, and makes an excellent sparring partner for this show with the multi-talented Emily Kristopher. They really succeeded in getting the audience “in the mood” right from the start in the intimate space of the Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio.

The show is based around stories, gleaned from the internet, about the highs, lows and pains of love. Categories such as “First Dates”, “Pickup lines” and “Cheating” inspire some very funny tales. Each subject is are chosen at random by spinning a wheel. Amazingly, each category came up during the performance on the opening night (!). It’s a great device, giving these two talented performers ample opportunity to ad lib and interact with the audience.

 
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And this is a show where the audience are inspired to share some of their own stories. Tales about painful relationships or sexual injuries, were also very funny. With prizes of “Adult Toys” for the best.

The laughter is sustained throughout the one-hour show. But a definite highlight had to be the “Song and Dance-offs” between Emily and Katrina. Each song was chosen to illustrate the pain and joy of dating, where the audience were asked to vote on their individual performances.

This all works to create a very funny hour of entertainment. Don’t go if you’re a bit prudish—and leave the parents at home if they’d be offended by the sachets of “Intimate Lube” or “Arousal Cream” (which were scattered on the tables and chairs when we arrived). But it would be a pity if you missed this one.

The Wonderland Festival is a great opportunity to catch up with friends for a festive drink. Chatting between shows on the Bar Alto terrace (arguably one of the best places for a Brisbane catch-up, with that great river view) we all agreed that Love Hurts was a really entertaining way to start the evening. A fellow member of the audience re-told some of the stories from the Show with great glee, commenting that the performances had made them roar with laughter.  A great recommendation to go.

 Katrina Davidson

Katrina Davidson

 Emily Kristopher

Emily Kristopher

And if you’re looking for additional ideas… Emily is in three shows at the Brisbane Powerhouse over the next few weeks—two of which are this weekend at the Wonderland Festival (not only Love Hurts, but also Two-Man Tarantino), with the third starting on 6 December (A Very Naughty Christmas). So, lots of opportunities to have some great festive nights out.

Verdict: A really funny way to start your evening. See it if you can.

Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio (15+. Coarse language, adult themes and sexual references). Drinks purchased at the bar can be taken into the show. There are only three performances of Love Hurts in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (6pm, 29 November until 1st December 2018). Tickets may still be available: $30 ($25 concession, and pp for a group of 6+) plus $5.95 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the website, and see what else might tempt you at the 2018 Wonderland Festival.

Geoff Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 29th November 2018 performance (6pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

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Review: Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl

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Review: Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl

Jess Love has written and performs a courageous solo piece that is one-part family history, two-parts circus skills, and three-parts humanity. Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl is a postmodern mashup of circus, physical theatre, family history research, audience participation, genetics/science education, comedy, and raw human emotion. A personal testimony, and exploration of nature vs nurture, all wrapped up in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

 
  Picture : Jess Love (“My Name is Jess”). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: Jess Love (“My Name is Jess”). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

The title of the show is taken from the report of the Providence ships’ surgeon, writing in his log during the journey to Australia about Love’s ancestor Julia Mullins. The numerous reports of Mullins’ transgressions provide a picture of a feisty and determined woman who sought escape from her conviction for theft, and deportation to Tasmania, in sex and alcohol. Discovering that Mullins was her great (x4)-grandmother, led to Love’s research—not only into her own family history, but into thinking about the DNA ‘lottery’ of life.

Don’t look away now, or think that this show isn’t for you. It’s funny, witty, honest, skilful and thought-provoking art.

 
  Picture : Jess Love (bingo-calling the DNA Lottery). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: Jess Love (bingo-calling the DNA Lottery). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

Yes, there are ‘science-y bits’ (multimedia is mainly used to provide science education that even I understood…and the ‘Boozy Bingo’ was a very funny way of illustrating the DNA-lottery that can lead to a pre-disposition to alcohol addiction). There is history and academic research. And there is some very honest disclosure and raw human emotion...as Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl interweaves Love’s story of addiction and personal decline—from illicit first nips of booze from the dusty family drinks cabinet, to a cocktail of drugs and alcohol leading to sleepless nights and blackouts.

But the show also features a range of very impressive circus skills—including disaffected and funny extreme hula hoop, hardcore dancing, trashy trapeze, spectacular skipping, and remarkable bottle-walking. As Love demonstrates, people can do amazing things. Including hitting rock-bottom and then working their way toward recovery, one step at a time.

Deadly serious, intoxicating and sometimes dizzying (each in more ways than one), Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl is one of the most memorable shows I’ve seen in the last five years.

Verdict: Compelling. Brave, powerful, raw emotion—which entertains, educates, and enthrals. Hunt this show down.

Audience tip: 70 minutes, Powerhouse Theatre (18+. Nudity. Drug, sexual, suicide and alcohol references). There were only two performances of Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (22 & 23 November, 2018—tickets $39 [$34 concession and/or groups of 6+] plus $5.95 transaction fee). Why not keep an eye on the website, and see what else might tempt you at the 2018 Wonderland Festival?

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday, 23rd November 2018 performance (9pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.  

 

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Review: Beer Drinking Woman

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Review: Beer Drinking Woman

Who better than a vaudeville vamp to chart the life experiences of a self-proclaimed “lush,” and the lifestyle choices of a dive bar diva? Christa Hughes creates a highly-believable character: the woman at the bar who wants you to buy her another drink, who has been the life and soul of the party, and who is gradually falling off the bar stool of life. All in one night. Think the best of German cabaret, with a good dose of Australian self-deprecating humour and close observation; add an experienced pianist and serve with a great voice.

The show is well-researched and, as Hughes notes, “educational” (particularly when it comes to describing the hangover experience). The extent to which alcohol references dominate popular film, television and advertising are ably demonstrated—requiring a depth of research, and perhaps being one of the better sobriety tests around. Indeed, the rapid-fire lip-synch of alcoholic references from film and TV we know and love (although only the most devoted of fans will have been able to identify the films) was only surpassed by the advertising-medley encore.  

The set list includes a number of songs written by Hughes, including a version of My Favourite Things that Julie Andrews definitely would not recognise. Whiskey Trail and The Stink of Desperation are unlikely to be chart-topping, but both were beautifully-crafted and performed.

  Pictured : Christa Hughes, with pianist Leonie Cohen. Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Christa Hughes, with pianist Leonie Cohen. Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Hughes’ own songs were good, but her performances and reinterpretation of some classics were definite highlights. It is difficult to identify a single favourite among the songs, but Lilac Wine (Shelton) had to be in the top three—showing off the skills of pianist Leonie Cohen, as Hughes brought out the meaning of the song in a poignant and heartfelt way. Cheap Wine (Cold Chisel) was an audience favourite, and Hughes’ performance brought the words to life in a very funny way.  Is That All There Is? (Peggy Lee) and The Piano’s Been Drinking (Tom Waits) were funny and sad in equal measure.

  Picture : Christa Hughes. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Christa Hughes. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Amazing to discover that this show was first written by Hughes back in 2000. Let’s hope that the final show in the 2018 Wonderland Festival is not the last time this Beer Drinking Woman is garnishing cabaret calendars. If you don’t have plans for tonight, book your ticket now.

Verdict: Funny, bawdy, boozy—mixed together with a great voice.

Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre (15+. Light smoke/haze effects, coarse language, sexual and alcohol references). Drinks purchased at the bar can be taken into the show. There are only three performances of Beer-Drinking Woman in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (22-24 November, 2018). Tickets may still be available for the 24th November show (7:30pm) $39 ($32 concession, $35 pp for a group of 8+) plus $5.95 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the website, and see what else might tempt you at the 2018 Wonderland Festival.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 23rd November 2018 performance (7:30pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: Bombshell Burlesque: Heatwave!

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Review: Bombshell Burlesque: Heatwave!

The Bombshell Academy has clearly built a devoted following as part of Brisbane’s Wonderland Festival; a run of three virtually sold-out years continuing, as the Friday and Saturday evenings of this year’s run are already sold out. Clearly, audiences know what they like. My three recommendations are: (1) if you want to see many of the Wonderland Festival events, don’t delay: book now; (2) put the 2019 Festival in your diary so you get to see your favourites next year. Oh, and (3) going out on a Thursday night means you get to see shows that otherwise are sold out!

Bombshell Burlesque: Heatwave is a selection of burlesque acts, themed around… heat (unsurprising really, with that title). A great end-of-year showcase for the Bombshells, and the students and tutors of the Bombshell Academy.

Ella Fontaine is a well-chosen MC, keeping the evening on track, as a quick-change host, raconteur and chanteuse (memorably with Hotline Bling and Heat Wave). The talented Lila Luxx (Las Vegas Burlesque Hall of Fame 2016 & 2017) directs the show and was one of our highlight acts of the evening as a devilish ‘tease. Jacqueline Furey showed why she has been recognised as International Sideshow Showgirl (although no sword-swallowing or fire-eating on display this time), with some flowing dance and also making sparks fly. And I believe it was Cello Bordello (Miss Burlesque Queensland 2016) who rocked Highway to Hell with a hoop, attitude and an altitude ‘tease.

  Pictured  :  Jacqueline Furey  (R) in conversation with Kelly Higgins-Devine (Turbine Platform, live ABC Radio 612 Broadcast). Pictures Credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured : Jacqueline Furey (R) in conversation with Kelly Higgins-Devine (Turbine Platform, live ABC Radio 612 Broadcast). Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The music was well-chosen, the show fast-paced (Fontaine commenting on the chaos of behind-the-scenes quick change), the tassels spun, the flesh was revealed, and the audience had a ball. My two highlights were the dance class routine (complete with leg-warmers, to what else but a version of Olivia Newton-John’s Physical), and of course the ‘Bev-in-Accounts’ Hot Summer Nights fun.

The traditional definition of burlesque is an exaggerated parody, or variety show that includes striptease. But it has come to refer to the sequins, strip-tease, and showgirls, as seen at Bombshell Burlesque: Heatwave. If you like contemporary burlesque, are looking to sample a burlesque show, or want to see more of the students and tutors of the Bombshell Academy, them this is for you.

Verdict: If you are a fan of Bombshell Burlesque, and the Bombshell Academy, I’m sure you’ve got tickets already. If you’ve not seen a burlesque show before, this might be a good place to start.

 Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre (coarse language, implied nudity, sexual references, strobe effects, adult themes, and light smoke/haze effects. Drinks purchased at the bar can be taken into the show). There are only three performances Bombshell Burlesque: Heatwave in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (22-24 November, 2018, all 9pm), and it appears that the remaining shows are already sold out. Tickets may still be available or try the box office for returns? $35 ($30 for groups over 10+ concession), plus $5.95 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the website, and see what else might tempt you at the 2018 Wonderland Festival.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 22nd November 2018 performance (9pm).

Pictures Credit:  Creative Futures Photography.

 

 

 




 

 

 

 

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Review: Lady Sings the Blues

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Review: Lady Sings the Blues

As gardenias are now flowering in Brisbane gardens, Mama Alto’s celebration of Billie Holiday, the ‘lady of the gardenias,’ is timely. It’s also a great way to spend an hour; a ‘Diva Show’ that should be on everyone’s list when planning a visit to the 2018 Wonderland Festival. A great selection of songs, with a  number of well-chosen anecdotes and commentary on the life and loves of Billie Holiday, interwoven with the reflections of an artist “of colour.” Oh, and some fabulous sequins, and a supporting musical director (Miss Chief) who enjoys playing the blues.

Mama Alto’s Lady Sings the Blues is everything you might expect from a cabaret show: an audience seated around small tables, in close proximity to the performer. As Mama Alto observed, many members of the audience might have been attracted to the show as a chance to hear a live performance of Billie Holiday’s life and music. Having attended this very intimate soiree, I’m certain that next time this same audience would plan to attend any show which features Mama Alto—in whichever incarnation the Diva chooses to showcase.

  Picture : A view from the audience of Mama Alto, in  Lady Sings The Blues . Picture Credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Picture: A view from the audience of Mama Alto, in Lady Sings The Blues. Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

All of the songs were perfectly suited to Mama Alto’s countertenor voice.  Some were new to me, but each showcased different aspects of Holiday’s life (the ups and downs). Highlights of course included the fantastic opening Lady Sings the Blues, and the scat/piano duet and vocal range on display in The Blues Are Brewin.' But Fine and Mellow was also a deserved crowd-pleaser, and the murmurings during the poignant I cover the waterfront reflected the appreciation of the enthralled audience.

Yes, the lighting changes were not always too subtle, and it’s probably best when it runs for a full 2-hours (rather than the 60-minute selection). All too quickly, we were demanding our encore and the evening was over. Or rather, we were off to our next show that’s part of the Wonderland ‘chocolate box’…and wondering when we’d next be able to see the fabulous Mama Alto.

Verdict: An enchanting, enthralling, enjoyable and entertaining 60 minutes. A wise investment of $20 (& booking fee).

Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio (light smoke/haze effects, and drinks purchased at the bar can be taken into the show). There are only three performances of Lady Sings the Blues in the 2018 Wonderland Festival program (22-24 November, 2018), and it appears that the Friday night show is already sold out. Tickets may still be available for the 24th November show (7:30pm) $20 ($15 concession) plus $5.95 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the website, and see what else might tempt you at the 2018 Wonderland Festival.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 22nd November 2018 performance (7:30pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.



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Review: We Live Here

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Review: We Live Here

Deathfest, first seen in 2016, returns in a 2.0 version—Deathfest 2.0: A Duel with Death. Described as Australia’s first arts and culture festival on death, dying and the best way to live, the Metro Arts team has curated an important artistic response and provocation, designed to encourage discussions and reflection on dying and living. Central to the project, is We Live Here: commissioned by Metro Arts and developed by Flipside Circus (from an original concept by Jo Thomas), in conjunction with Hummingbird House, Robert Kronk (Dramaturg & Creator), with Natano Fa’anana and Bridget Boyle (Directors & Creators). It is an inspired commission.

Circus and death may appear an unlikely pairing: circus has connotations of life and laughter, in contrast with the sorrow and pain associated with death. But, as the Flipside Circus team so ably demonstrate, there are many parallels. Both depend on trust and determination, and require care and trained support. And just as Hummingbird House is clearly so very much more than ‘just’ a hospice, We Live Here is more than a catalogue of impressive circus skills.

We Live Here is a theatrical event: combining the work of five talented circus performers and creators (Indra Garvey, Mia Hughes, Amy Stuart, Skip Walker-Milne and Luke Whitefield), with great time-focused video projection and a moving soundtrack that included the words of parents, staff and supporters associated with Hummingbird House (Mik La Vage, Audio and Projection Designer). I have previously seen the talented Hughes, Whitefield, and Garvey as three members of the cast of eleven performers in Fusion (Flipside Circus’ 2017 Anywhere Festival production). And, again, they didn’t disappoint. From the compelling beginning of the show—where one of the younger performers portrayed the experience of being a child requiring complete care and support to move, manipulated and moving with the support of the rest of the cast—we were hooked.

Time, as the production reminds us, marches on. For the parents of life-limited children, time moves exceptionally fast—memorably demonstrated by Stuart on the clock-face treadmill of parental tasks accounting for every minute in a morning, concluding with “and it all begins again.” And this was not the only moment where Stuart, as a ‘mother figure,’ held the family together — often quite literally a circus tower of strength.

 
  Pictured : Amy Stuart (strength), Skip Walker-Milne (handstand), with Mia Hughes, Luke Whitefield, and Indra Garvey. Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Amy Stuart (strength), Skip Walker-Milne (handstand), with Mia Hughes, Luke Whitefield, and Indra Garvey. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

Stuart gave a compelling central performance, not only with some of the best hoop manipulation I’ve seen in a long while, but also in producing some wonderful strength work. Indeed, Stuart often seemed to have the rest of the cast on her shoulders, including a great ‘duet’ with Walker-Milne, who walked the Loose Rope. But every member of the cast worked well in the ensemble, and also had the opportunity to shine and demonstrate their individual skills, with every move connecting with the audio and illustrating aspects of the Hummingbird House story. Walker-Milne’s work on the Chinese Pole was a fluid, and fabulous highlight. But we were equally impressed with the balance work on the seats of the chairs, the humorous interchanges between the younger members of the cast, the climb up the stairs on the backs of fellow cast members, and the range of circus abilities on show.

Life-limiting conditions, respite and hospice care are connected with images of sorrow and death. But, as the audio and performance reminded us, families also seek ‘ordinary’ memories of love and laughter; of parties, hair-braiding and of playing together. One of the funniest parts of We Live Here had to be the creation of the ‘family’ playing in the pool, complete with goggles and a rendition of their own version of synchronised swimming Swan Lake cygnets (although we also enjoyed the performance of the romantic rooftop ‘date,’ created by the Hummingbird House team to provide respite for one couple).

Hummingbird House is one of only 3 hospices for children in Australia, and the only facility providing respite and end of life care for Queensland children. The organisation seeks toprovide best practice short break stays and care at the end of life for children with a life-limiting condition and their families, and to help families discover moments and create memories to last a lifetime.’ In We Live Here, the Hummingbird-Flipside collaborators have created wonderful memories that will live for many lifetimes, and deserves to attract more supporters for both organisations. The Metro Arts commission is an inspired jewel in the Deathfest 2.0 program, bringing stories and experiences of the families of younger people with life-limiting conditions to life through the work of young circus performers. We Live Here is a fruitful and inspiring collaboration—illustrating the vital work of Hummingbird House and the skills of the Flipside Circus creatives, creators and performers.

Verdict: Exceptional. I really hope this show gets more than the scheduled three performances. See it if you can. Look out for future productions by Flipside Circus, and why not find out more about the much-needed work by the Hummingbird House team.

Audience tip: 55 minutes There are only three performances of We Live Here in the 2018 Deathfest program (2nd November, 7pm, with two shows on 3rd November at 3pm and 7pm) Tickets $10. Why not keep an eye on the website and book ahead for future events in the Metro Arts program.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 2nd November 2018 performance (7:00pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

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Review. The Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women

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Review. The Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women

Shakespeare’s work includes many wonderful female monologues—spanning the comedies, tragedies and histories. As the plays were originally performed by all male casts, the staging of these roles by male actors provokes a reconsideration of the works, and can prove popular with modern audiences (as seen in Mark Rylance’s successful all-male casting of Twelfth Night).

The Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women is an interesting concoction of female monologues, extracted from several of Shakespeare’s plays. The lines were all written by Shakespeare, but then ‘mashed up’ by Michael Beh, creating an opportunity for Warwick Comber (Blue Mage), Andrew Fraser (Gold Mage), and Patrick Shearer (Pink Mage) to demonstrate their versatility, and to savour the opportunity to perform extracts from several major roles. During the 70-minute performance, the Spring Hill Reservoir audience were treated to the words of Gertrude, Juliet, Hermia, Viola Olivia, Ophelia, Titania Cleopatra, Queen Margaret, Portia, Miranda, Desdemona, Helena, Rosalind, Beatrice, Nurse, Lady Macbeth, and the Three Witches.

The show opens with the entry of all six performers, in an incense-infused, lace-covered ‘funeral procession.’ As the lace is drawn back, the cast can be seen in their gothic finery: three magicians (each of the three main performers is named a ‘Mage’) accompanied by three ‘Angels.’ The Angels (Gene Banyard, Laura Bissell, and Cullen Trotter) are an important part of the staging of the show. Dressed in black, they move wordlessly around the space in a carefully-choreographed performance that is a mixture of stagehand, prop manager, lighting assistant and dresser. In contrast with the beautiful black gothic costumes of the Angels, the three ‘Mages’ emerge from the black veil in sumptuous, colour-coded Jacobean finery (congratulations to Jan Mandrusiak, ‘costume co-designer & realiser’). During the show, the Mages gradually disrobe, peeling away the layers: first to matching trousers and later removing corsets to show their lighter ‘undergarments.’

Following an initial, whirling frenzy of exchanges—where roles are thrown between the Mages and into the air—the performers promenade through the space, enacting the different texts. The pared-back staging (occasional raised platforms and chairs) includes the use of white feather fans, and balls, but emphasis is on the actors. Many of the early speeches appear to be demonstrations of ability, developing into much more of a competitive exchange or ‘duelling’ between the artists. Although often more frenzied, the ‘duelling’ delivers an intensity which contrasted with some lines which, I felt, occasionally missed the context of the play that they were extracted from.

 Picture: Andrew Fraser (Gold Mage), and promenade audience, in the Spring Hill reservoir.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: Andrew Fraser (Gold Mage), and promenade audience, in the Spring Hill reservoir. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 Pictured (L to R): Andrew Fraser (Gold Mage) and Warwick Comber (Blue Mage) .   Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Andrew Fraser (Gold Mage) and Warwick Comber (Blue Mage). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women is clearly a work of love from Michael Beh—who not only adapted Shakespeare’s text to create the work, but is also credited with production design, and as producing director. The Spring Hill Reservoir is a good choice for the promenade production, offering great acoustics and a chance for the audience to be very close to the performers. Beh surrounded himself with a great creative team: excellent costume, sound design (Peter Crees), and lighting design (Jason Harding, rigger credit). The music was great, and the lighting of the reservoir worked really well—both on arrival and also throughout the show in the hands of the three ‘angels’ (although I’d have preferred not to have had the distracting flashing of lights during the excellent Juliet speech). 

The Curator's website describes a vision of connecting independent, professional artists to “bring classical theatre to new life.” The production certainly created an opportunity for emerging and established artists to work together in a celebration of their shared love of Shakespeare. Shearer, described by The Curator’s as an ‘emerging artist,’ relished the variety of roles (a highlight for me being Portia’s ‘quality of mercy’ speech). Fraser was superb as Lady Macbeth, and Comber gave a compelling and dominant performance in his many monologues. Just occasionally perhaps, a little more ’delicacy in their application’ might have been needed for some of the speeches (for example, there too much emphasis on the articulation or accenting of the text—such as Comber’s rolling of the Scottish rrrr’s). But each of the Mages more-than demonstrated what they are capable of, leaving me wanting to see more work by each of the actors (and definitely wanting to see Comber as King Lear).

 Picture: A powerful performance by Warwick Comber (Blue Mage).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: A powerful performance by Warwick Comber (Blue Mage). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Shearer’s Juliet commented, toward the end of the piece, ”we know what we are, but know not what we may be.” I came away from the performance certain that, although enjoy modern staging and contemporary interpretations, I prefer my Shakespeare plays as originally written—that is, complete. However, I’m glad I saw this production. The Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women encourages reflection on the beauty of the spoken word, and on issues of gender fluidity, as the artists move from their feminine gothic finery to a reveal of their inner-selves.

There is certainly the possibility of engaging in ‘spot the play,’ if you know your Shakespearian texts. But a knowledge of Shakespeare’s works is no prerequisite. Go with an open mind—for a chance to hear extracts from many popular Shakespearean texts, performed by those who love the spoken word, in the fabulous acoustics of the Spring Hill Reservoir space. An opportunity to reflect on the beauty of the words, and also on the nature of beauty itself.  


Verdict: I prefer my Shakespeare as ‘complete’ plays, but this is an interesting idea performed by a strong team.

Audience tip: Promenade performance so bring walking shoes, watch out for uneven surfaces, and be aware that there is no mobility access. There is a warning for strobe lighting and haze.

The production runs for 12 performances, 4-20 October 2018 (13 October 3:00pm, 7 & 14 October 5:00pm. In addition, 9:30pm shows in October on 4, 5, 6, 12, 13, 18, 19 & 20). Tickets available online $28 ($20 Concession—and all tickets at the 3pm & 5pm shows), unless booking the acting workshop & twilight performance (14 October, $75 full, $50 concession).  The show can also be seen as part of a double bill with heartBeast's production of Julius Caesar.

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Sunday 7th October 2018 show (5:00pm).

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