Review: Which Way Home

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Review: Which Way Home

Which Way Home is a funny, touching and richly layered play. If you get the chance to see it, you may just find yourself wishing you’d booked tickets for the next night too.

Road trips are a great format. Characters travelling from a to b (frequently with a time pressure), spending hours in close proximity in a vehicle (perfect for intimate discussions, reflections and revelations). The landscape is often an important ‘character,’ and reaching the destination can be a moment of catharsis or revelation. Unsurprisingly, road trips are often used in films or television but, as the Ilbijerri Theatre production Which Way Home demonstrates, it can also be used to create great theatre.

Writer and actor Katie Beckett, has produced a clever work using this established format to great effect (with the support of Jane Bodie, dramaturge). The 65-minute play incorporates fragmented conversations, quiet times of reflection, and episodic ‘flashbacks’—complete with references to the which-came-first-chicken-or-egg debate, individual and shared memories of childhood experience, and nagging about the consumption of sweets and the latest boyfriend. 

Tash (Katie Beckett) has “only got the weekend off” for a trip back to Country with her father (Kamahi Djordon King). Having grown up in a Queensland town, Tash expresses concerns as to whether “the mob” will recognise her. But perhaps there is something more than just a concern about being welcome, or recognised—suggested in her opening “Step one: Always add an extra hour before departure to avoid being late.” As the play unfolds, there are references throughout to lists, steps, plans, and schedules—coping mechanisms which include Dad’s repeated “Open. Listen. Breathe.”

The versatile Djordon King has what can only be described as the gift of a part: the ‘daggy dad’ (gambling, eating sweets, thinking tv characters are ‘real’, wearing a toupee) who clearly adores his daughter. The audience connected with his challenges as a single parent, felt a sense of the pain of his being alone, and enjoyed his protective pride in his daughter (the great shared memories of his rescuing her on the beach from knee-high water). But it was Beckett who held the show in her hand, and captivated the audience as the daughter who seeks to find out more about her mother (with so many unanswered questions her father finds too painful to discuss)—recalling childhood memories of time with her dad, of her mum, and even of a wonderfully-recreated ‘Nan’ (who took her to the ‘fancy side of town’ and shopping at Target Country).

Great direction (Rachael Maza) and a set that works really well (Emily Barrie). I loved the simplicity of the map and the use of the tea chests. No unnecessary steering wheel manipulation was a bonus, and just wait until you see the driving on gravel road. The show was beautifully lit (Niklas Pajanti), which was particularly important with the steady pour of sand onto the stage. 

The continuing flow of sand is a vital allusion to many of the issues raised in this play—an hourglass reference to mortality and the passing of time, and a reference to the importance of Country and connection. As Beckett observes, “the past is always with us.” Beautifully crafted, the play is a clever weaving together of past and present, demonstrating how time is not always a linear journey from a to b (past-present-future), but can also be circles and layers of memory, stories, and experience (the past in the present).  The show is funny, touching, and occasionally powerful. Definitely worth an hour of your time.

Verdict: Great writing, and a funny and sometimes touching show.

 Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Audience tip: Make sure you arrive early; the Visy Theatre is an intimate space and you will disturb other members of the audience if you arrive after the lockout period starts. Unreserved seating with doors opening 15 minutes before the Show so pick up a drink to take into the space. Parental Advisory (website suggests 15+): Some strong language and adult themes. 65 minutes (no interval). The Show is almost at the end of a national tour (ends 18 August 2018), with a short run at Brisbane’s Powerhouse (8-11 August 2018, 7:00pm each evening plus a 2:00pm matinee on 11th August).  Tickets and information via the Brisbane Powerhouse website or at the Box Office ($49 Full, $35 Concession. Note: Additional $5.95 transaction fee).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 9 August 2018 performance.

 Ilbijerri Theatre production image (L-R: Kamahi Djordon King and Katie Beckett).

Ilbijerri Theatre production image (L-R: Kamahi Djordon King and Katie Beckett).

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Review: Letters to Lindy

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Review: Letters to Lindy

Letters to Lindy is an important reminder that so many lessons can be learned from history: ‘trolling’ is not a contemporary phenomena, appearances can be very deceiving, and the ability of people to overcome deep personal tragedies can be inspiring. At the heart of Letters to Lindy is the tragic death of 9-week old Azaria Chamberlain, and the ensuing 30-year battle of trials, coronial inquests, and public commentary. Interwoven with the recollections of the bereaved mother are extracts from unsolicited letters sent by members of the public. Everyone, it appears, had a view as to who or what killed Azaria. Letters to Lindy is a masterclass in verbatim theatre. Alana Valentine (playwright) combines extracts from the National Library of Australia (NLA) archive of letters with excerpts from her own conversations with Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton. Punctuated with dates and facts, the play also incorporates some of the testimony, ‘evidence’ and trial deliberations, augmented with two short imagined conversations between observers. In a little over two hours, the cast of four transport the audience from the present back to 1980, and then forward to the present-day.

Jeanette Cronin, Glenn Hazeldine, Phillip Hinton, and Jane Phegan bring the verbatim piece to life. As the lights come up, Chamberlain-Creighton's home is circled by tormentors, shouting abuse at the window and coming into the house. “I thought we’d start with the comic relief” are the first words spoken by Cronin, who gives a superb performance as the resilient Chamberlain-Creighton. To survive such pressure over a 30-year period clearly requires a unique ability to accentuate the positive, as “comic relief” is Chamberlain-Creighton’s own way of referring to the 3% or so of letters which are the most hostile. Not every voice is so critical. Hazeldine, Hinton, and Phegan create a cast of hundreds, touching on responses that included accusations that the Chamberlain’s wanted money, through to items sharing offerings of art and poetry. Many letters were of support: expressing sadness or apologising for her treatment, sharing experiences of wild dog attacks, or difficult personal experiences. And a much smaller number, which were clearly greatly treasured, were written to entertain.

People of all ages chose to write, and the rendition of some of the children’s stories were both charming and amusing—particularly the memorable performance by Hazeldine of an extended letter from one child. The impact that the case had on the Chamberlain’s own children, in particular on Reagan (Hazeldine), also came through strongly in the show—one of the many poignant moments being where Reagan wanted to stay in Darwin, and another wanting to have “Mummy come home” from prison.

That the letters survive is a result of an initiative of NLA librarians, who first visited Chamberlain-Creighton in 1986. But before handing the collection over, Chamberlain-Creighton acted as her own archivist, creating a unique filing system which Valentine drew on when reviewing the material for the play. No mean feat, as the collection is now estimated at over 30,000 letters, emails and items (with a further 1,000 emails a year still being received). Even if the legalities concluded with the fourth coronial inquest in 2012, it appears that many Australians still feel the need to correspond with Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton. 

The actors were exceptionally well-cast. Cronin peels back the layers of the central character: we enjoy her ability to find humour, are amazed at her faith (particularly at ‘He is able”), and comprehend the climactic “I will no longer.” Hazeldine has some of the best childlike moments and Hinton brings a believable depth to his many characters. Phegan moves seamlessly from the dark moments in the trial, to the raw honesty of many of the letters.

The Powerhouse Theatre is a wonderful space, and the seating layout demonstrated just quite how flexible it can be, on this occasion creating an intimate experience for a large audience. The lighting was occasionally a bit abrupt—but that might have been a feature of the first night in a different venue during a busy tour (lighting design Jasmine Rizk, based on original design by Toby Knyvett). The music was appropriately atmospheric but not intrusive (Co-composer/Co-sound Designer Max Lambert and Roger Lock). But I wasn’t completely on board with the set design.

  Pictured (L to R):  Jane Phegan, Glenn Hazeldine, Jeanette Cronin and Phillip Hinton.  Letters to Lindy , Brisbane Powerhouse, 1 August 2018.

Pictured (L to R): Jane Phegan, Glenn Hazeldine, Jeanette Cronin and Phillip Hinton. Letters to Lindy, Brisbane Powerhouse, 1 August 2018.

As a touring production a set must work in all spaces, big and small. This set created the home where we might imagine Chamberlain-Creighton holding reflective discussions with the playwright, surrounded by the boxes of letters and ephemera which act as what one of the imagined Librarians describes as a steadily-building “memorial” to Azaria. But as the space also works as the Darwin prison where Chamberlain-Creightonspent over 5 years, on this occasion I’d loved to have seen less realism in the set. However, two moments were particularly effective in the staging: the use of the red sand, and the movement of the boxes. The sand was a horrifying reminder of the death of the child. And the use of the boxes established a sense of the role the letters had play in Chamberlain-Creighton’s life—and even the possibility that such ‘possessions’ could have literally boxed her in (suggested in the Happy Days-style staging toward the end of the show, as Cronin sits in the middle of the pile of boxes).

Some of the promotional material describes the show as a long overdue conversation between Lindy and the nation. Letters to Lindy demonstrates that many citizens have been engaged in a long-running conversation with 'Lindy,' with a resolution (of sorts) only beginning with the 2012 coronial verdict. The play encourages a dialogue of the nation with itself—to think about issues of trolling, of expectations that a bereaved mother will behave in a particular way (“she’s way too calm”), and to recognise that appearances can be deceiving. Letters to Lindy is not just a play for those who lived through the 1980s and 1990s. It is a play of our time: thought-provoking, touching, funny, and occasionally inspiring. See it if you can.

Verdict: Superb ensemble work, and a bravura performance by a leading lady who is hardly ever off stage.

Audience tip: Additional rows of seating added for this performance, adding to the intimacy of the experience (so if you usually prefer row E, consider row C). Drinks can be taken into the space, so why not arrive early and visit Bar Alto on your way in. Parental Advisory (website suggests 13+): some strong language and adult themes. 130 minutes (including 20-minute interval).

The Show tours from June-September 2018, with a short run at Brisbane’s Powerhouse (1-4 August 2018. 7:30pm each evening plus a 2:30pm matinee on 4th August).  Tickets and information via the Brisbane Powerhouse website or at the Box Office ($45 Full, $36 Concession, $25 Student. Note: Additional $5.95 transaction fee for ticket purchases).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Wednesday 1 August 2018 performance.

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Review: Les Misérables

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Review: Les Misérables

Despite having seen both the original London production and the Hugh Jackman film, I must confess that Les Misérables is not my favourite show. Indeed, it might even vie for the title of my least favourite musical to date. So my congratulations to The Savoyards team for a very professional production, which held the rapt attention of a sold-out audience, and provided some memorable moments for this reviewer—including excellent casting with strong leading performances, solid duets, good diction, and great production design.

Set in revolutionary France, Les Misérables touches on themes of social injustice, hypocrisy, love and compassion. Valjean (Shannon Foley) and Fantine (Sarah Copley) each seek to create new identities in order to be able to work and to gain some semblance of respect—where their respective ‘crimes’ were the stealing of a loaf of bread and being abandoned with an illegitimate child. Fantine is forced into the prostitution that leads to her death, and Valjean then spends the remainder of his life as a ‘free’ man running from the determined Javert (Christopher Thomas) while bringing up Fantine’s child, Cosette, as his own.

 Performance image by Michelle Thomas (Savoyards)

Performance image by Michelle Thomas (Savoyards)

Contrasting the life of the powerful with that of the oppressed and impoverished, the tale includes the failed revolutionary student barricade, and by the end of the show many of the main characters are dead. But it’s not all gloom and doom: the tale includes comedic moments from the scheming inn-keeping duo (Warryn James and Julie Eisentrager) and concludes with the optimism of a new life together for Cosette (Belinda Burton) and Marius (Matthew Geaney) with the coming revolution indicated in the powerful ensemble reprise of Do You Hear The People Sing?  

The leading actors were well-cast, with particularly strong performances by Shannon Foley (Jean Valjean) and Christopher Thomas (Javert). Both roles are challenging, requiring actors with a wide vocal range and the ability to convey moments of realisation and transition. Fortunately, both Foley and Thomas were excellent. The leads were compelling together in The Confrontation, and the audience were enthralled with Thomas’s performance of Soliloquy (Javert's Suicide). But it was Foley who stole the show with his Bring Him Home, showing the full range of his powerful voice. A memorable moment.

Perhaps the most well-known songs from the show are two numbers by female leads—which can prove challenging for actors who are competing with well-loved and well-known recordings. However, we were in safe hands. Erika Naddei (Éponine) was perfect as the inn-keepers daughter, movingly conveying her unrequited love for Marius in On My Own. Sarah Copley’s Fantine was one of the most believable performances of the role that I have seen, culminating in a tender and beautifully-judged I Dreamed A Dream.

It was not only the individual numbers that were well-received. Duets were a definite hit in this show. Not only between Foley and Thomas, but also Fantine's Death: Come to Me (Foley and Copley), A Little Fall of Rain (Naddei and Geaney) and the crowd-pleasing ‘duet’ A Heart Full of Love (Burton, Geaney, Naddei). Equally there was some good ensemble work—including the students’ Red and Black, and the full cast/ensemble Do You Hear the People Sing? And when I say ‘full cast’, I mean full, as the Show had over 50 performers.

Fortunately, the production had a really great set (Raymond Milner) and excellent lighting design (Allan Nutley), allowing the director (Robbie Parkin) to use the stage to great effect. It is marvellous to see 40+ people on any stage, but it can bring its challenges. There were occasions when I’d have liked to see more fluid dancing or movement around the stage in the big set-pieces, but Master of the House certainly got the toes tapping and was rewarded with lots of laughter (great comic work from Eisentrager and James).  

The musical is particularly known for several popular songs, and also for the clever development of key character themes (music by Claude-Michel Schönberg). Geoffrey Secomb (Musical Director) did his best with the orchestra, and I certainly came away reflecting on the way in which the musical themes develop throughout the show. But there were several times when the horns could have been better, and many when pianissimo was called for, to ensure that the actors were not swamped.

The professional approach of The Savoyards team—from media through to program (Sharyn Hall and colleagues) and costume design (Kim Heslewood)—provides a great value opportunity to see some of the classics of musical theatre. It was good to see the work they put into developing new talent, with younger actors (including Giselle Roe, who gave a confident performance as Young Cosette in the 6 July performance), as well as bringing back established performers to the local stage. Long may it continue.

Verdict: Hats off to The Savoyards for bringing this ‘classic’ to the local stage. Can’t wait until September as Chicago is next (29 September – 13 October, 2018). Put 15th August in the diary now to be first in line to secure your tickets.

Audience tip: Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. And don’t forget to take some tissues—it’s a tear-jerker. 2 hours 55 minutes (including 20-minute interval).

The season is now almost complete (the Show opened on 23rd June and closes on 7th July). Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 6th July 2018 performance.

Picture Credits: Production image by Michelle Thomas. Banner image of full cast curtain call by Geoff Lawrence.

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Review: Anywhere Festival 2018, 'Four' Me

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Review: Anywhere Festival 2018, 'Four' Me

And… suddenly… May is over. Hopefully, like me, you have spent the last few weeks immersed in theatre, dance, circus, and music—and have chuckled, cried and pondered your way through many of the works that have been available as part of Anywhere Theatre Festival 2018.

Reflecting on the last few weeks, my fourth Anywhere Festival experience can be summarised in just four words: immersive, involvement, improv, issues.

 Pictured:    Dinopocalypse .  Pictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence,  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured:  DinopocalypsePictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Immersive has certainly been a bit of a buzz-word this, although the experience has not always been quite as immersive as it could have been. Sometimes audiences need a little more encouragement—or direction—as to just how involved they can be. For example, Here Comes the Bride!  was an entertaining show where the audience might have been more fully immersed with tables set around the venue. However, sometimes audiences can become so engrossed that directors do have to step in. At the other end of the immersive scale Dinopocalypse ended the opening night with some of the audience a little too immersed and having to be directed off the stage for the safety of the artists.

 Pictured :  Dale Pengelly in   The Lounge Suite .   Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence,  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Dale Pengelly in The Lounge Suite Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Clearly immersive theatre does rely on audience participation, but many of the events created great opportunities for enthusiastic audience involvement Perhaps unsurprisingly two of these were shows with a musical flavour: The Lounge Suite and To Sergio With Love. Dale Pengelly’s Lounge Suite had most of the audience on stage for two numbers during the show, where patrons clearly loved the chance to be in on the act.  And Chris Osborne and Susan Bennett always make their guests feel that they’ve attended the best party in town at events held at their Carina home (this year hosting The View From Madeleine’s Couch). The third show with some really enjoyable audience interaction was the kid-friendly Super Circus Squad—an action-packed, physical theatre show, combining displays of trapeze, acrobatics, balance and ‘strength.’ Only one audience member got to be a superhero on the day, but the show provided everyone with feisty, feel-good fun.

  Pictured : Super Circus Squad at the Queensland Maritime Musuem. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence,  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Super Circus Squad at the Queensland Maritime Musuem. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Done well, improv can also make for a really entertaining evening. I understand that A Midsummer Night’s Whatever hit the spot, particularly on the evening photographer—and reviewer for the night—Creative Futures Photography’s Geoff Lawrence attended “The Merchant of Bunnings: As You Like Charcoal.” And I chose equally well in seeing the improvised Kiss of the Vampire Squid. A fun evening with a chance to really experience Anywhere Theatre Festival at its finest, and the Maritime Museum was a great venue choice for a suitably tall (and funny) seafaring tale.

 Pictured: Kiss of the Vampire Squid. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence,  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Kiss of the Vampire Squid. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Of course, entertainment is not only judged based on the chuckle quotient. Many of the shows I saw this year provoked discussions about very serious issues. Anywhere Festival 2018 included many circus or physical theatre performances which told stories and opened up debate about serious issues. In Invisible Things, Alex Mizzen shared some of the rage and frustration associated with finding her own creative voice, which was inspired by facing up to the possibility of not being able to continue with her chosen career. Kelsey Laura’s Proximity explored issues of consent. And The Box was an inspiring and insightful piece encouraging audiences to reconsider “what stigma is (especially in relation to the actors’ experiences as people living with a disability),” and to respond to the challenge of “why did you assume?”

 Pictured (L to R): Joe Surawski, Niala Lewis, and Alex Procopis in  The Box  at the UQ Pergola. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence,  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured (L to R): Joe Surawski, Niala Lewis, and Alex Procopis in The Box at the UQ Pergola. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

I have tried to summarise my experience in four words and failed (I’m already at over 550…). But when I think back over the last few weeks the most memorable events are not just those which combined improv, issues, and immersion. It is also those productions which had the “right” venue. In 2018, my top four venues were Queensland Maritime Museum, UQ Great Court, UQ Pergola, and Brisbane Modern. Brisbane Modern is always an Anywhere Festival highlight, and inevitably shows there will be near the top of my list.

 Pictured: Gretel. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Gretel. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Inevitably, I have found it difficult to identify my top picks… but the four really memorable shows of my fourth season are also those which took place at some of those top venues: Gretel, Super Circus Squad, The Box and Kiss of the Vampire Squid. Gretel was a great piece of new writing, beautifully directed in a compelling UQ Great Court production. The Box was a cast-devised piece of physical theatre and spoken word in an equally well-chosen UQ site. And the Queensland Maritime Museum was a marvellous venue for a number of festival shows: a great space for Super Circus Squad, and a perfect choice for Kiss of the Vampire Squid. Let’s hope all of these venues are part of Anywhere Festival 2019—and that we get to see much more of these talented performers and creatives. Only 11 months to wait for the next Anywhere Festival…

Catherine Lawrence

 Pictured: Alex Mizzen in Invisible Things. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Alex Mizzen in Invisible Things. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

All Pictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

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Review: Wheel of Fortune

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Review: Wheel of Fortune

Note: Pictures credit Deelan Do (supplied by Metro Arts).

Wheel of Fortune has a number of meanings: a popular American television game show, a tarot card which is apparently interpreted as signifying change, and now the latest play to open at Brisbane’s Metro Arts.

Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 La Ronde, literally translated as “a round dance,” has ten scenes (or duets) between different pairs of lovers, where a character from each scene moves round to be part of the next, until the final pair includes one of the characters from the first pairing. A circular ‘dance’ which challenged the morals of the day when initially published, and which has been used in a number of iterations to continue to explore contemporary moralities and the dance of private (or not so private) lives and relationships. With a first public performance almost 100 years ago, the play continues to inspire creatives, with almost 20 film variations and nearly as many theatrical reinterpretations. The Brisbane Wheel of Fortune is a version written by Richard Jordan, Jacki Mison, Troy Armstrong and Krystal Sweedman (Producer Troy Armstrong and Director Tim Hill), which cleverly integrates audio and visual screen work created by Optic Archive (Joseph Meldrum, Cinematographer & Editor)

As the lights dimmed the play began with film-like credits, featuring an image of the ‘Wheel of Brisbane’ and spiralling camera work that set the scene for a Brisbane Summer evening. Following a woman walking through a public park, the screen (sound and imagery) acted as backdrop for the live action, as The Public Servant (Meg Bowden) calls out “I know you’re there. There’s no use hiding,” to force The American Marine (Richard Lund) to come out of the shadows. With a first sexual encounter that was perhaps not what the audience had initially feared, the screen action then moves to a Brisbane laneway, where the Marine is now outside a Brisbane nightclub with The Au Pair (Jacqui McLaren). The ‘Irish’ Au Pair is then tempted into a poolside encounter with the son of the household (The School Boy, played by Brendan Lorenzo), and the 17-year old boy then has a rendezvous with The Biology Teacher (Jacqui Story), before the Teacher returns home to her husband (The Lawyer/ Ron Kelly). And so we continue to follow each of the changing pairings until the ‘dance’ turns full circle, as The Public Servant and The Politician (Stephen Hirst) watch the sun rise on another new day.

The play combined some really humorous moments with the presentation of a number of confronting encounters. The scene between The Lawyer (Ron Kelly) and The Socialite (Ruby Clark) had When Harry Met Sally resonances which were greatly enjoyed by the first night audience. The strongest pairings in this production were those involving Elise Greig (The Portrait Photographer) and Veronica Neave (The Stage Actress). The seduction of The Politician by Neave’s The Stage Actress was beautifully done, and very funny, creating much laughter on the way to a believable fall from grace. Ruby Clark (The Socialite) was a great foil for Greig’s portrait photography session, which came as close second to what was, for me, the highlight of the Show: the funny and touching encounter between Neave and Greig. I'd love to see more work that brings these two talented actresses together.

 
 Pictured: The Lawyer (Ron Kelly), foreground, on stage, with The Biology Teacher (Jacqui Story) on screen.  NOTE  Picture credit: Deelan Do.

Pictured: The Lawyer (Ron Kelly), foreground, on stage, with The Biology Teacher (Jacqui Story) on screen. NOTE Picture credit: Deelan Do.

 

A second major highlight was the creation of a blended film/theatrical event. I loved the integration of Optic Archive’s audio and visual work with the ‘live action.’ The screen was not merely a backdrop or set in front of which the work took place but was integral to the whole Show. The switching between the audio/visual and the on-stage actors worked well through the performance—particularly in the scene between Kelly and Story.

In creating a contemporary reworking and production of an established play—particularly in a version which included a representation of one sexual encounter that might be described as rape, and another of a relationship of a school teacher with her student—I would like to have seen more exploration of issues of consent, abuse, and contemporary morality. But it’s great to see a reinterpretation of a classic, particularly as a new Brisbane-based work which employs so many local actors and creatives. Hats off to Metro Arts and TAM Presents for bringing this piece to the stage.

Verdict: It is worth seeing the show to see how well the team have integrated the audio and visual work with the live performance, and for the performances by Neave and Greig alone, but note the rating and advice (the producers suggest 15+, highligting swearing or offensive language, adult themes, partial nudity, smoking or smoke effects, strobe lighting, and the portrayal of physical and emotional abuse).

Audience tip: Arrive early to buy a drink to take into the performance. I believe that the only access to the toilets is upstairs and the Metro Arts lift is still ‘work in progress.’ R (strong sexual references and abuse, sexual imagery & occasional language). 90 minutes.

A short season, so book now if you want to see Wheel of Fortune at The Lumen Room, Metro Arts, Brisbane as the season is only 31 May- 9 June 2018 (remaining shows: 4pm matinees on 2 & 9 June; 7pm shows on 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th June). Artist talk follows the 6th June performance. Tickets are available at the Metro Arts Website. $28 ($20 concession).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 1st June 2018 performance.

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Review: Here Comes The Bride!

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Review: Here Comes The Bride!

Weddings are a great place to watch and be watched, and often act as a catalyst for a few home truths and the creation or ending of relationships. Waiting for the return of the bride and groom from their epic photography shoot, guests at this particular wedding begin to share more information than is prudent. The latest gossip, inadvertently overheard by two of the subjects (gossipees?), is that one work colleague is about to propose, while another is about to dump his partner. Confusingly, both men have names that sound the same—a classic basis for a farce/comedy.

 Pictured (L to R): Tahira Appadoo (Vera) and Yasmin Larasati (Rose) . Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Tahira Appadoo (Vera) and Yasmin Larasati (Rose) . Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

In a short piece it is important to quickly establish the characters and their relationships. Victoria Posner—who presented, introduced, directed and wrote Here Comes The Bride?—clearly enjoys writing about strong female characters. Tahira Appadoo leapt with great relish into the nastier side of the rather bitter Vera—rising to the challenge of bossing everyone around (and demonstrating little compassion for anyone else). Yasmin Larasati (Rose) had a great part, believably transitioning from being the downtrodden and put-upon foil for Vera to becoming a feisty, compassionate and caring colleague. Georgia Pontifex (Deb) played the lovable next bride, demonstrating that she was more than just nice (with a strong moral compass).

These three female characters had the best lines, and were therefore the most interesting in the play. The characters of Justin (Stephen Snape), Justyn (Joseph Davissen) and Jenny (Prathana Thevar-Brink) played important roles in the unfolding plot, but perhaps needed more development if a longer version of Here Comes The Bride? were to be produced.

 Pictured (L to R): Prathana Thevar-Brink (Jenny), Stephen Snape (Justin), Georgia Pontifex (Deb), and Joseph Davissen (Justyn). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Prathana Thevar-Brink (Jenny), Stephen Snape (Justin), Georgia Pontifex (Deb), and Joseph Davissen (Justyn). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

There were a number of funny lines, delivered with great relish. But the funniest part of the evening for me was when some of the younger members of the audience made encouraging sotto voce comments to Justin, encouraging him to get on with dumping his long-term girlfriend. But this was one of the few points where the piece was truly immersive (on 26th May). For any future iterations, I’d suggest that more thought is given to the immersive aspect. Although the audience were encouraged to wander and overhear, most elected to stay in their seats which were placed in a conventional arrangement around the ‘stage.’ Perhaps welcoming guests to the event, much as an usher greets guests at a wedding (‘‘Bride or Groom?”), and arranging seating along the lines of a traditional wedding reception, would  encourage greater immersive engagement by the audience. For example, at the spacious West End Sideshow creative hub, there were a number of round tables which would have allowed for seating some of the guests at the ‘reception’ tables, leaving others to float around and ‘overhear’ some of the action.

 Pictured: Anywhere Festival at The Sideshow ( Here Comes The Bride! ). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Anywhere Festival at The Sideshow (Here Comes The Bride!). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The chatter continued as we left the venue, in particular a chance to reflect on some of the more traditional aspects of weddings that still appear to prevail, and what appears to be a continued fixation on the vexed question of “when will HE propose?” Any piece that keeps the audience thinking about the issues raised, and considering the characters and stereotypes, has to have been a good show!

Verdict: Tight writing, and a funny, enjoyable short piece which needs a little more thought on the immersive aspect.

Audience tip: Easy street parking, and great coffee on sale at Sideshow. Dress warmly as the venue is open to the street at the entrance. 40 minutes.

Tickets at the Anywhere Festival website. $18. Friday and Saturday performances during Anywhere Festival 2018 (18, 19, 25 & 26 May, all at 6:30pm). Presented by Victoria Posner at The Sideshow, West End. Suitable for audiences of any age (production company suggested 15+).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Saturday 26th  May performance at The Sideshow, West End. Pictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: The Lounge Suite

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Review: The Lounge Suite

Dale Pengelly’s Lounge Suite is a two-hour song and dance show packed with anecdotes, tap-dancing, high-kicks, and even opportunities for audience participation. The program combines Dean Martin-style/’rat-pack’ classics with a sequence of musical theatre numbers—all threaded together with some of the many highlights from Dale’s 36+ years in showbusiness. 

 Pictured (L to R): Maureen Bowra, Dale Pengelly and Jenny Usher. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Maureen Bowra, Dale Pengelly and Jenny Usher. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The Lounge Suite isn’t purely a one-man show. Hello Dolly was a great choice for the opening number, with close harmonies provided by the Candy Shop Show’s Maureen Bowra and Jenny Usher, who returned to the stage at different points during the evening—including encouraging and leading the audience in two great participation numbers. For example, Everybody Loves Somebody was a fantastic choice as an audience participation number, and everyone certainly had as much fun with the fans as Dale did performing that one.

 Pictured:  Everybody Loves Somebody . Dale Pengelly (centre), with fans. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Everybody Loves Somebody. Dale Pengelly (centre), with fans. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The “story-time” anecdotes were well-chosen and kept the audience enthralled as names were “dropped” left, right, and centre. Great to see both photographs and video illustrating Dale’s cv—in particular, the Paula Yates dance lesson (by Dale and Hot Shoe Shuffle colleagues) which led into the enjoyable performance of  L-O-V-E.  Suitable changes of pace ranged from the entertaining and well-choreographed Sway and the cast having fun with Amore (using the lounge at the back of the stage to great effect), through to the touching Tenterfield Saddler (introduced as “my tribute to Todd McKenney”).

Musical theatre is no easy gig. From his early days in State and National ballet companies, Dale moved on to performing/understudying some of the major roles in musical theatre (with many national and international tours), as well directing and choreographing a number of shows. To maintain a steady program of work over a period spanning almost four decades is impressive—particularly when the performer can still tap dance and high-kick in the way that he does. Just watch out for the high-kicking in New York, New York!  The audience certainly got their value for money, with over 20 pieces including dance solos, a voice solo by Maureen, and two dance duets featuring Jenny (Rich Man’s Frug with Maureen, and You Were Meant for Me with Dale).

 Pictured: Dale Pengelly. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative FUtures Photography.

Pictured: Dale Pengelly. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative FUtures Photography.

I am sure that The Lounge Suite would work well as a Dean Martin tribute show, leaving ‘my life in musical theatre’ as a separate piece. It would have been great to see this Show with a larger audience (but the crew attending on 25th May had a ball), and perhaps better sound monitors onstage for the performers. But at $30 for a 2-hour program of music and dance, I am sure the audience didn’t feel short-changed.

Verdict: I would love to see this with a live band. Look out for future opportunities to see Dale Pengelly.

Audience tip: Easy on-site parking, and great value drinks and food available at the Queensland Russian Community Group, Woolloongabba. A two-hour show (including a 20-minute interval).

Tickets at the Anywhere Festival website. $30. Friday and Saturday performances during Anywhere Festival 2018 (11, 12, 18, 19, 25 & 26 May. All 7:30pm with one 3pm matinee [19 May]. Presented by Pengelly Productions at Anywhere Festival,  at the Kenmore Retro Bar, and Woolloongabba  Queensland Russian Community Group. Suitable for audiences of any age.

Catherine Lawrence

 Pictured (L to R): Maureen Bowra, Dale Pengelly and Jenny Usher. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Maureen Bowra, Dale Pengelly and Jenny Usher. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The reviewer attended the Friday 25th  May performance at the Queensland Russian Community Group, Woolloongabba. Pictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: The Box

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Review: The Box

Dis has so many negative connotations and uses in our language: dislike, discontent, disbelief,  disown... In The Box, the artists created and performed a moving contemporary physical theatre piece, challenging perceptions of people living with disability.  In the promotional material for the show, Screech Arts note that the artists seek to encourage audiences to reconsider “what stigma is, especially in relation to the actors’ experiences as people living with a disability.” Individual performers in The Box may need support to achieve some of their goals, but they all demonstrated a variety of talents, and many great abilities, in their production. Together they have created an inspiring piece that hopefully will not be hidden away in a box but will be shared at future events. It is a work that deserves to reach a wider audience.

 Picture: Danielle Stewart. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: Danielle Stewart. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Campbell Place is a road at the back of the UQ Union complex. It is also a grassed area between UQ Union and the Great Court, 5 minutes’ walk away. I’m sure that the UQ team will work on their naming of places and signage for any future theatre festivals. And I’m delighted the performance was at the grassed area, which has a pergola that makes for a perfect outdoor stage. When I arrived, I worried if I’d missed half of the show because a number of the performers were also in the Screech Arts Dance Troupe, already entertaining an enthusiastic audience with some great dance moves. However, this was a bonus activity: a great way to attract an audience for the theatre piece, to demonstrate some fantastic dance moves, and to warm up on a cool evening.

The Box mixed contemporary dance, spoken word (often through speech synthesizers), song, mime, and theatre. The performance space (using the pergola to create elements of the box, augmented with clingfilm and black tape) was described as symbolic of “society’s treatment of minority groups, where vast assumptions are based on first impressions and appearances.” It was an inspired choice to use the pergola, bringing the piece out of a traditional theatre and into the daily lives of students in the centre of the UQ campus.

 Pictured: Joe Surawski, Amy Lawrence, and Alex Procopis. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Joe Surawski, Amy Lawrence, and Alex Procopis. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

There were so many highlights in the production: dance and mime (unfair to single out two performers, but perhaps most notably by Julie Stewart and Amy Lawrence who created a real sense of the frustrations of ‘inhabiting’ the box), poignant dance and speech (from Dale Gonelli and Danielle Stewart), compelling stage presence and work (by Joe Surawski, Niala Lewis, and Alex Procopis), and a great soundtrack (technical support by Julian Rodriguez Campos). The movement and interactions were well-judged, but it was much of the voice work that will stay with me. I loved the discussion between Amy and Dale (“How are you?”), which led up the poignant story about the experience of the 11-year old Dale at the train station. Danielle’s powerful monologue “I’m an aunt and I babysit” rose to a screech that created a real sense of both the joy and frustrations of a life spent fighting other people’s perceptions. And Danielle and Dale also performed the thought-provoking “just because” duet.

 Pictured: Dale Gonelli, Amy Lawrence, and Alex Procopis. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

Pictured: Dale Gonelli, Amy Lawrence, and Alex Procopis. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

The piece ended on a very quiet note, but if I had to make suggestions for future developments of the work, I might suggest ending on Danielle’s monologue instead. And I found the hospital-style emergency bleep a little disconcerting when played for any length (but that may have been the intent).  My enthusiastic congratulations to all of the team—led by Martina Cross (Director, Screech Arts State-wide Coordinator and Facilitator), and supported by volunteers (in particular Natarsha Wrensted [Stage Manager], and Cate Collopy: [Stagehand and Mentor] and Julian [technical support, as noted above]). Proving that with the right support, they can achieve their collective goals, the performers created a memorable piece. I hope it leads to many more conversations, and a “breaking down the box that is stigma” (to quote Martina).

 Pictured: Julie Stewart. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Julie Stewart. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Verdict: Heartfelt communication. An enthusiastic, enjoyable and insightful piece, which encourages everyone to rise to the challenge of “why did you assume?”

Audience tip: Arrive early and get to cheer on the Dance Squad. Wrap up warm and bring a seat/blanket (UQ did have some deckchairs).

Only five performances during Anywhere Festival 2018 (all 7pm): Mt Ommaney Shopping Centre10, 17 & 24 May) and at The University of Queensland’s Campbell Rd Promenade (16 & 23 May).

Tickets are available at the Anywhere Festival website. Free. Suitable for audiences of any age.

Catherine Lawrence

 Pictured: Dale Gonelli and Joe Surawski. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Dale Gonelli and Joe Surawski. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The reviewer attended the Wednesday 23rd May (7:00pm) performance at The University of Queensland.

Pictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: A Midsummer Night's Whatever (Review by Geoff Lawrence)

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Review: A Midsummer Night's Whatever (Review by Geoff Lawrence)

You know you are in safe hands with EDGE Improv, particularly when the cast includes Anne Pensalfini (“legendary shakespearean actor, teacher and improvisor”), who is also staring in a second show during the Anywhere Festival (I Stand Here Ironing). Anne is joined by Brad Daniels and Marc Buckingham (previously seen in the successful 2017 Anywhere Festival Hard-Boiled dick show), with music by David Peachey.

The Junction Hotel at Annerley, a fairly typical Brisbane pub, is a great choice of location: food and drinks on tap, and a wood-panelled room as to establish a suitably Elizabethan mood. All we really needed was a little sawdust on the floor and we could have been in the Globe Theatre, thanks to the welcome by musician, David Peachy, dressed in suitably Elizabethan garb.

 Pictured: A Midsummer Night's Whatever (cast Anne Pensalfini, Brad Daniels and Marc Buckingham). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: A Midsummer Night's Whatever (cast Anne Pensalfini, Brad Daniels and Marc Buckingham). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Of course, the excitement mounts once the three players join us, announcing that a new folio of Shakespeare works have been found. We are the first to see one of these 6 new plays, as each is to  be  performed for the first time (one a night, during the 2018 Anywhere Theatre Festival). As improv, the audience play a key role in providing information to inspire the cast. On 20th May, The Merchant Of Venice (“it’s about ordinary people”), As You Like It (“the seven ages of man speech”), and ordinary activities (“bought charcoal at Bunnings”). Oh, and “plum.”

Coincidentally, the play we then saw was The Merchant of Bunnings, subtitled As You Like Charcoal—a 40-minute, 4-act love story.

 Pictured: A Midsummer Night's Whatever (cast Anne Pensalfini, Brad Daniels and Marc Buckingham). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: A Midsummer Night's Whatever (cast Anne Pensalfini, Brad Daniels and Marc Buckingham). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Yes, the language and characters were Shakespearean (sort-of), and you can play ‘spot the reference’ if you are up-to-date with the works of Shakespeare. But this is not an evening where you have to know very much about Shakespeare or his plays. This play is new to everyone after all.

As is often the case with this type of improvised theatre there were some moments of hesitation (or ‘pauses for theatrical effect,' as I am sure those in the profession might say). But the performance moved quickly on, and became funnier by the 3rd and 4th acts. My highlight was the serious delivery of “The Seven Ages Of Charcoal.” Quite why Shakespeare ever replaced it with The Seven Ages of Man I don’t know. If you ever get a chance to hear about the seven stages—from The Growth Of The Sapling to The Second Burning on the BBQ, then it’s worth the trip to Alderley (or Stratford-Upon-Avon).

 Pictured: Music by David Peachy, settign the scene before the cast and audience arrived for A Midsummer Night's Whatever (cast Anne Pensalfini, Brad Daniels and Marc Buckingham). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Music by David Peachy, settign the scene before the cast and audience arrived for A Midsummer Night's Whatever (cast Anne Pensalfini, Brad Daniels and Marc Buckingham). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

It can be difficult to attract larger audiences on Sunday nights, but the intimate crowd really enjoyed the show. The new folio deserves a larger audience.

But be warned, the play I saw may (or probably will) not be what is on the next night.  As for reviews, the Bard best sums it up “Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent”

Verdict: Worth a visit.

Audience tip: The Library Room is upstairs in The Junction Hotel. Audience members are welcome to take food and drink purchased at the bar into The Library Room.

Geoff Lawrence

The reviewer/photographer saw the Sunday 20th May performance.

Presented by EDGE Improv, in the Library Room at The Junction Hotel, Annerley. The show has six performances during the Anywhere Theatre Festival (13th-15th May, and 20th-22nd May). The final two shows are on 21st and 22nd May (7:30pm). Tickets are available via the Anywhere Theatre Festival website. $12. 

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Review: Super Circus Squad

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Review: Super Circus Squad

Super Circus Squad is a great idea, well-executed, and just perfect for audiences young and old. Great outfits, good humour, enjoyable audience interaction, and some great physical theatre, trapeze, acrobatics, balance and ‘strength’ along the way. Feisty, feel-good chuckles, complete with a positive message, a strong female role-model, and suggestions as to how to handle those who are being mean to you when a visiting superhero isn’t on hand to come to your rescue.  Perfect for school fundraisers, educational treats, festivals and parties—and a great choice to include in the 2018 Anywhere Festival.

 Pictured: Reece Cooper and Hannah Cryle. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence,  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Reece Cooper and Hannah Cryle. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Hannah Cryle and Reece Cooper—with additional support from superhero Rose and ‘villan-teer’ Matt Rowe—held the attention of their all age audience at the Queensland Maritime Museum on 20th May. The show ran for perhaps 40 minutes although, even during warm-up, Hannah maintained a positive interaction with the audience (an extra bonus, we learned, from watching an Anywhere Festival event).  Having captured the interest of the younger spectators, and explained that Super Circus Squad is a “superhuman story” where the audience get to choose the adventure (and where “everyone is allowed to have fun”), the performers were soon rewarded with squeals of laughter at their “pre-show ritual.”

The ‘opening credits’ for the show are a great idea—demonstrating some of the complementary skills of the performers (with strength and trapeze by Cryle, and acrobatics by Cooper), some well-observed humour, and (of course) superhero poses. The audience were kept on their toes by having to assist in naming their superheros (there is a ‘formula to such things, apparently), before hearing about some of the successful world-saving recently undertaken by (at our show) The Blue Boat and The Purple Blahblah. The ‘slow-motion galaxy’ story was not only great fun, but also an excellent demonstration of Cooper’s headstands and work on the handstand poles—as well as of the comedic skills of Cryle.

 Pictured: Reece Cooper (L) and Rose. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence,  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Reece Cooper (L) and Rose. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

An important part of the show was the selection, naming and ‘training’ of the volunteers. On the 20th May, Rose proved a perfect superhero, great dancer, and future acrobat with charming interactions with fellow superhero The Blue Boat (Cooper). Cryle’s transformation of Matthew Rowe was very amusing, and we all now know the key traits of any cartoon anti-hero (Chief Executive Officer, Queensland Maritime Museum, who proved to be a general good sport as co-opted villan-teer for our show).

The show had a great finale, integrating trapeze, strength and acrobatics in a ‘duet’ between Cryle and Cooper, and closing with a reminder of a useful technique for dealing with everyday villains (or, at least those who are trying to be mean to you). Leaving just enough time for a picture with your favourite superhero before going off to find some ice-cream.

 Pictured: Hannah Cryle and Reece Cooper. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence,  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Hannah Cryle and Reece Cooper. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Verdict: Great fun. Feisty, feel-good chuckles that everyone can enjoy (and a positive message to take away).  

Audience tip: Seek this one out at future festivals.

Only three performances during Anywhere Festival 2018: Montessori International College, Forest Glen (11am on 13th and 19th May), and Queensland Maritime Museum 3pm, 20th May).

Tickets were available at the Anywhere Festival website. $10. Suitable for audiences of any age.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Saturday 19th May (7:30pm) performance.

Pictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

 

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