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Review: #FirstWorldWhiteGirls Spirit Animal

The Brisbane Comedy Festival is certainly not going out with a whimper, with a final week program that includes Judy Hainsworth’s #FirstWorldWhiteGirls: Spirit Animal—a parody of the narcissistic Instagram-able world, featuring two self-obsessed rich white girls. BFF’s Tiffany (Judy Hainsworth) and Maddison (Kyra Thompson) share some legit first world probs—from the heartbreak of Harry marrying Meagan (“I didn’t love him; I just wanted to be a Princess”) to the challenge of creating the perfect flat lay (that’s an Instagram board of your fave items for sale, photographed from above, for those who don’t know).  

 
Picture (L to R): Tiffany (Judy Hainsworth) and Maddison (Kyra Thompson). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Picture (L to R): Tiffany (Judy Hainsworth) and Maddison (Kyra Thompson). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

 

Occasionally “cray,” Spirit Animal is a fascinating review of everything the self-obsessed millennial is likely to care about: the right outfit, the must-have operation, the latest on-trend food to eat (or avoid), and the newest mindfulness and meditation trends… as well as the ongoing demands of Instagram-ing, blogging and YouTube-ing the lot. All interwoven with a darker #MeToo undercurrent, and references to the mental health impacts of trying to live the perfect life in a far-from-perfect world.

The tightly-written 60-minute show (written by Judy Hainsworth, and directed by Lewis Jones) centres on a number of original pieces—with Disney Princess-style songs (albeit with very ‘contemporary’ lyrics) as well as sprinklings of grunge and rap. Highlights included the crowd-pleasing “I’m better than you,” and the ‘flat lay’ song. Thompson is an excellent foil to Hainsworth’s Tiffany, and the show provides each performer with solos as well as providing some close harmony. I last saw Judy Hainsworth’s work in the fabulous Happily Ever After, and Hainsworth’s versatility and harmonies were also on show in Spirit Animal (both shows under the Musical Direction of Luke Volker).

Some of the older members of the audience might have needed an urban dictionary, but I think they got the message (David even stepped bravely on the stage to learn more about creating the perfect flat lay—one of the highlights of the Tuesday night show).

 
Picture: Drawing on the “7% Indian” in  #FirstWorldWhiteGirls Spirit Animal  (Judy Hainsworth) Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: Drawing on the “7% Indian” in #FirstWorldWhiteGirls Spirit Animal (Judy Hainsworth) Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

 

I have a feeling that the show would be better-suited to a later evening slot, as the audience energy seemed to drop a little in the second-half of the opening night of this run. #FirstWorldWhiteGirls Spirit Animal is a closely-observed satire that may occasionally step close to the line between humour and offensiveness (such as the “Little Black Babies” song?). But then, that is when satire is working well: constructively criticising, and drawing attention to  issues across society.  Go along and see what you think.

Verdict: Def one for millennials/Gen WE everywhere.

 
Picture: Kyra Thompson. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: Kyra Thompson. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

 

Audience tip: 60 minutes, Brisbane Powerhouse Rooftop Terrace (15+. Sexual references, coarse language, drug references and adult themes). There are six performances of #FirstWorldWhiteGirls Spirit Animal in the 2019 Brisbane Comedy Festival program (6:45pm, 19-23 March—and 5:45pm on 24 March). Tickets $20-$29 ($20 on 19 March, $25 on 20/21/24, & $29 on 22 & 23 March) plus $6.60 transaction fee. Why not keep an eye on the Powerhouse website, and see what else might tempt you (2019 Brisbane Comedy Festival: 22 February-24 March).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Tuesday 19 March 2019 performance (6:45pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: 'BrisFest2018'

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Review: 'BrisFest2018'

September 2018 is over, and it seems to have passed in a flash—probably because of the 22 days of Brisbane Festival. Sadly I only saw about 20% of the shows & events (I’ll try to do better next time)… but here’s my #BrisFest2018 ‘wrap.’ Hats off to Festival Director David Bertold for a clever-crafting of an epic program into three ‘acts.’ It’s been hard to pick my top three festival experiences, so here’s my 3 lists of 3: memories, picks, and what I am looking forward to in 2019.

My top three memories are the spine-chilling performance of Jocelyn Pook’s score in Memorial, rainbows in the rain at Qweens on King, and the exceptional aerial tube act in Life—The Show.

  • Qweens on King, was one of the official opening events of the festival, complete with opening speeches and a range of musicians, as well as boylesque, drag and comic performers. At its heart was the first mass wedding of LGBTIQ couples in Australia—complete with laughter and tears of joy.

  • Memorial,  is a stunning piece of musical ‘dialogue’ with the performer (a fantastic feat of memory by Helen Moore) of Alice Oswald’s epic poem. Sublime vocals, and congratulations also to the 215-strong chorus for bringing each of the memorialised soldiers briefly to life.

  • Life—The Show is the newest Strut & Fret cabaret show. If, like me, you’ve seen Club Swizzle, La Soirée, and La Clique, then your very high expectations may first need to be dropped a little. For me, Life had a little too much of the ‘international clowning royalty’  and not enough of different cabaret acts. But it is worth the ticket price to hear Fantine Pritoula, and to see ‘Banana Boy’ (Tim Kriegler), in a spectacular aerial tube act (created by Nick Beyeler and performed by Kriegler with Elke Uhd). 

Picture:   Qweens on King    memories. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Qweens on King memories. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

 
Picture:   Qweens on King    memories. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Qweens on King memories. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

My top three festival shows are Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin (which has been on the festival circuit since 2016, and deserves a legendary run), and two new works, A Coupla Dogs and Dust. All three deserve to sell out every time. I hear from Geoff (Creative Futures photographer) that I would have included Rovers in my top three list—but as I missed it, I will have to track it down in a future run (congratulations to Belloo Creative)

  •  Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin is an unmissable evening: three expert cabaret performers who offer a feminist perspective on the history of gin, with good humour and fabulous close-harmonies. What’s not to love? 

  • A Coupla Dogs combines thinking about fear, desire, hope, and mortality with some very funny moments. A strong team for this world premiere, and I hope that it tours to festivals large and small. A well-written and directed new play, with compelling performances by Ron Kelly and Tom Oliver.  See it if you can.

  • Dancenorth's Dust was a thought-provoking collaboration between cast and creatives: superb dancers and a fabulous soundtrack, with a set and costumes that are works of art.

Pictured: The fabulous cast of   Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin  .  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: The fabulous cast of Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Tom Oliver and Ron Kelly at their canine best in   A Coupla Dogs    Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Tom Oliver and Ron Kelly at their canine best in A Coupla Dogs Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

There are also a number of shows or events I was really pleased to have seen, even if they didn’t make it to my top three. Many of them are likely to be ‘coming to a festival or theatre near you.’ If you get the chance to see Kaput! or California Crooners Club, or David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom, my advice is GO.

  • Thomas Flanagan’s Kaput!  is a marvellous tribute to silent film, and an impressive show that entertains both the under-10s and over-30s.

  • California Crooners Club is a Hollywood-style party, complete with live music led by a quartet who are determined to ensure everyone has a good time. Try to see it while Maiya Ociean and Johnny Manuel are in the mix.

  • David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom was one of the many festival events held at the Tivoli. A searingly honest, and very funny sharing of many aspects of Baddiel’s family-life, with a little bit of social media education thrown in for good measure. Inspired by the 2014 death of his mother, and his father’s dementia, the show was both enlightening and downright funny.

I would also recommend considering Man With The Iron Neck, and you may enjoy Home or En Masse more than I did:

Pictured: Entranced at the QSO playing of the  New World in    Symphony for Me   .  Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Entranced at the QSO playing of the New World in Symphony for Me. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

  • Man With The Iron Neck is a compelling piece of theatre which provokes debate about the rate and clustering of suicide in Indigenous communities. Writer/actor Ursula Yovich gave a powerful performance as the widow who lost both a husband and son to suicide, with some spectacular physical theatre work by the cast and marvellous audio-visual design by Sam James. The focus of the piece is in finding hope through trauma, and I commend the team for encouraging those who feel lost to reach out for help, and for partnering with Balunu Foundation (who provide tools and support).

  • Home was a fascinating blend of mime, physical theatre, dance, slapstick, immersive performance art, and Ikea-style house construction which encouraged audiences to reflect on the nature of ‘home.’

  • En Masse was arguably the most heavily-promoted of the 2018 Brisbane Festival events, which brings challenges in the preconceptions and expectations of the audiences. The show included some great performances: a fabulous tenor voice and some exceptional strength, lifts, jumps and balance. We certainly saw a lot. But all together? Not for me.

So… only 11 months until BrisFest2019… Three things I am hoping to see in 2019? Symphony for Me (a symphony for everyone, and I can see why there was an outcry when it took a break in 2017), the local buskers and performers at Arcadia and Theatre Republic, and festival conversations following new works.  

Pictured: Theatre Republic. P icture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Theatre Republic. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

The festival had four main locations across Brisbane. The Tivoli and Brisbane Powerhouse are well-known and loved Brisbane icons which needed little festival ‘dressing.’ But in recent years the producers have also created two special festival spaces: the Southbank Arcadia and Kelvin Grove Theatre Republic. In 2018, Arcadia was buzzing all day and into the evening. A great space to relax, to visit some of the food and beverage outlets, watch the free #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light show and enjoy the buskers (some great local acts, although just occasionally too loud for the paying Spiegeltent audiences). Theatre Republic, at QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus and La Boite, was a popular evening hangout, with a number of free ‘activations,’ and occasional free music performances. All of these spaces would not have worked so well without the hard work and enthusiasm of over 300 volunteers—with everything from flash mobs and back-of-house input, to the all-important information and usher work. And occasional dog-minding!

Pictures of some of the many hard-working volunteers.  All pictures credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictures of some of the many hard-working volunteers. All pictures credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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One of the great features of the Brisbane Festival program is the opportunity to attend a ‘conversation’ with the cast and creatives behind the major productions. We managed to miss every single one of the official festival conversations this year, but each work prompted our own debates after every performance. Arcadia, Theatre Republic and the Powerhouse were perfect for such deliberations with bars, deckchairs and nooks for post-show reflection. I wish I was there now. Roll on 2019…

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

For more information on Brisbane’s 2018 events, check out the Brisbane Festival website.  Individual show reviews also available at perspectives.

 

 

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Review: A Coupla Dogs

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Review: A Coupla Dogs

One cage, two dogs and five days of hope—all in just 60-minutes. A Coupla Dogs interweaves many adages about ‘man’s best friend’ in a tightly-written play (co-written by Sue Rider with Director, Andrew Cory).

Dogs are in rescue kennels for a variety of reasons: the abandoned ‘Christmas dog,’ unwanted litters, victims of cruelty, or those surrendered on the death of their owner. A Coupla Dogs presents life from the dog’s perspective. Or rather, that of the two dogs who share a cage at Beryl’s Kennels—receiving second-rate care while they wait for rescue or the inevitable ‘backroom’ death. Humans only appear as disembodied voices, mainly over the crackly holiday-camp-style speaker system (Beryl, voiced by Barb Lowing, with Fred and others performed by Andrew Cory, Noah Cory, Sue Rider, and Peter Crees).

 
Pictured (L to R) : Compelling performances by Tom Oliver (Young Dog) and Ron Kelly (Old Dog).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Compelling performances by Tom Oliver (Young Dog) and Ron Kelly (Old Dog). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

The dog aspects of the production are often quite brilliant, and very entertaining. Everyday sayings are beautifully placed throughout the show (‘every dog has his day,’ ‘let sleeping dogs lie,’ ‘play dead,’ ‘It’s a dog’s life’ to include just a few). The musical choices are a nice touch. And the canine characteristics are entertainingly portrayed—from turning circles before sleep, to eating food and of course the wagging of the ‘tails’ (Movement Director/Assistant Director Matt Dear)

But this isn’t merely a tale (or even two tails) about the ways in which ‘man’s best friend’ is abandoned, imprisoned and even re-programed. Or how society treats its most vulnerable. It is also an opportunity to delve into some of the deeper philosophical questions of life. In the words of Young Dog (Tom Oliver), ‘what am I doing here?’ Compassion, fear, love, desire, hope and mortality wrapped up in thinking about the meaning of life. Think Animal Farm (George Orwell) meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard) and Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett). Two animal characters, dependent on powerful controlling outside forces, waiting to be ‘rescued’ and filling their time with discussions of philosophy, life and survival.

Don’t let me give you the impression it’s all gloom and doom. There are some very funny moments in this production—from the stage business (that squeaky tog, the tail-wagging, and those outfits) to the news-reporting/distortions by the ‘Channel Four’ reporter (“sponsored by Hard Force Dog Catchers”). And at the end we have a glimmer of hope…or is it just a flame for the moth to die in?

 
Pictured (L to R) : Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R) : Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog) in chains.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog) in chains. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Dog Spoon Theatre has assembled a strong team for this world premiere, and I hope that it tours to festivals large and small. Great casting and absolutely compelling performances by Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog). Fabulous Production Design (Josh McIntosh), lighting (Jason Glenwright), and Sound Design (Peter Crees, with intern Isabella Hall). And a well-written and directed new play. See it if you can.

Verdict: Great to see new, local work in the 2018 Brisbane Festival. See it while you can.

Audience tip: Go—but make it an evening for friends rather than younger members of the family. Book a babysitter so you can relax and enjoy the show (suitable for 16+, with adult themes, sexual references, and coarse language). Tickets $24 - $32 (25-28 September 2018 at 7:15pm, and 29 September at 4:30pm). A Coupla Dogs is at The Block, located in Theatre Republic, QUT Kelvin Grove. Make sure you spend some time in Theatre Republic to visit the various free ‘activations’ (including the book exchange and seed library) and enjoy the occasional free music performances. For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Tuesday 25th September 2018 performance (7:15pm).

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Review: Kaput!

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Review: Kaput!

Thomas Flanagan delivers with Kaput! For many of us who grew up with variety acts on television and in films, the slapstick silliness, acrobatic humour, and well-observed wonder of Kaput! is a welcome return. And for the younger members of the audience? Let’s just say there was fascination and giggling in equal measure. Children young and old were enthralled and entertained (with occasional hysterical laughter from the adults in the room).

Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin would have been proud of this tribute to silent film. The attention to detail is perfect, with beautiful observation of all aspects of the genre creating much entertainment: popcorn, mime, gestures, intertitles, piano accompaniment, and even ‘no smoking.’

The story is a simple one. A cinema projectionist who has a love-hate relationship with his old-time projector, and who works hard to try to ensure his audience get to see the ‘Love Story’ film they have bought tickets for. As fans of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Norman Wisdom, and Laurel & Hardy will anticipate, all does not go smoothly for the ‘little man’: the screen collapses, the projector expires, and rain falls on his love story. But of course, the clown triumphs: the audience get their show, he wins his ‘girl’, and who cares if the stage is destroyed in the process?

 
Pictured: Thomas Flanagan ( Kaput! ).  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Thomas Flanagan (Kaput!). Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

 

The audience interaction was perfect, and beautifully-managed. Make sure you don’t have your phone out (he’ll spot you!), put you hand up for the popcorn (you may end up wearing it anyway), be prepared to get involved (you may not have a choice in the matter). Look out for the fabulous acrobatic pratfalls with the step-ladder. And even if you didn’t recall the Wisdom and Forsyth ‘wallpaper (or decorator’s) sketch’, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the silly attempts to ‘repair’ the projection screen.

Silent clowning is an artform that few can excel at. In the 60-minute show Flanagan wordlessly held the attention of his audience (occasionally with the aid of a kazoo…and yes, they are on sale afterwards). “He talks!” was the surprised comment behind me, when he introduced ‘Ernesto’ and encouraged everyone to spread the word about the Show.

Pictured: ‘Wallpapering’ the screen (Thomas Flanagan,  Kaput! ).  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: ‘Wallpapering’ the screen (Thomas Flanagan, Kaput!). Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Thomas Flanagan ( Kaput! ), with a member of the 25th September audience  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Thomas Flanagan (Kaput!), with a member of the 25th September audience Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

I hope they did all tell their friends. It’s impressive to see a show that entertains the under-10s and over-30s—a perfect choice for children as a ‘grandparent-minding’ activity during this mid-term break. ‘Kaput’ may be defined as meaning broken and useless. But with Thomas Flanagan in the spotlight (and Wayne at the piano), Kaput! is a show that works for all the family.

Verdict: 60 minutes of giggles for all ages. Grandparents will be top of the heap with this half-term treat.    

Audience tip: Tickets for Kaput! may still be available (25 & 27 September 2018 at 12 noon, and 26 & 28 September at 10am). $18 - $26 (families $65). Kaput! is at The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent, located in the Treasury Brisbane Arcadia (Southbank Cultural Centre Forecourt). Arrive early as there are usually buskers and other free entertainment, as well as a chance to stock up on fairy floss and popcorn before (or after) the show. For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Tuesday 25th September 2018 performance (12 noon).

 

 

 

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Review: Dust

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Review: Dust

Birth is a time of strength and vulnerability: of hopes and dreams, light and dark, chaos and order. The Directorial team behind Dust (Artistic Director Kyle Page, and Associate Artistic Director Amber Haines) were inspired, by the 2017 birth of their son, to reflect on issues of inheritance and their own roles in shaping the society into which Jasper was born. Drawing on this inspiration, each of the partners in the production have brought their own reflections and talents to the piece. Haines and Page credit Dust as a “true collaboration” between cast and creatives: dancers, set design, music and costume all being highlights.

Picture : Set design by Liminal Spaces.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: Set design by Liminal Spaces. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Picture (L to R) : Samantha Hines, Jack Ziesing and Ashley McLellan.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Picture (L to R): Samantha Hines, Jack Ziesing and Ashley McLellan. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The Dancenorth dancers (Samantha Hines, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan, Georgia Rudd, Felix Sampson, and Jack Zeising) are talented, expressive, controlled and flexible performers. A real pleasure to watch their enthralling conception of the light and dark that creates our society, particularly when working with such a fabulous soundtrack and versatile set, and in such stunning clothing. Harriet Oxley has created stage costumes which really enhance the piece, inspiring delicate other-worldliness references to what a fellow audience member described as stardust. Often appearing quite flimsy and translucent (production warnings suggest partial nudity), the costumes are beautifully created works of art, and perfect for the production. 

The music is worth the price of admission alone, with Jessica Moss’s post-rock violin providing a moving and often ethereal soundtrack for the production (composer/sound designer Alisdair Macindoe and Jessica Moss composer/musician).

Impressive and architectural, the set is a work of art, dominating the piece (set design by Liminal Spaces). In the hands of the cast, the building blocks represent society’s mundane and extraordinary. First appearing as a grey wall or wedge, the set is manipulated by the cast throughout the 70-minute show. Others in the audience had a different ‘take’ on the uses of the set. For me, following the removal of the grey cover, the charcoal or black frame and boxes became a road, river, boat, auditorium/walls, and cityscape.

 
Pictured: The   Dancenorth     ensemble(Samantha Hines, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan, Georgia Rudd, Felix Sampson, and Jack Zeising).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: The Dancenorth ensemble(Samantha Hines, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan, Georgia Rudd, Felix Sampson, and Jack Zeising). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

The initial ‘movement’ of the piece was a compelling separation of the newborn from the adoring supportive family and society. Stage left, the newborn coming to life and learning its place in the new world (a beautiful solo performance by Ashley McLellan). Stage right, the rest of the dancers establishing a sense of the wider society collecting around the new family before moving to and from the ‘wall’ along the centre of the stage—building a tension between the two sides of the stage before a beautiful duet. During the remaining 60-minutes the production created images of work, love, travel—where each dancer came to the fore, engaged in duets, and performed as part of the mesmerising ensemble. In such a collaborative piece it is always unfair to pick out particular solos or duets, but memorable elements of the piece included solos by Samantha Hines, Ashley McLellan and Jenni Large, and also the ensemble spinning which finally left Jack Ziesing dominating the stage.

 
Pictured: Jessica Moss provided a haunting soundtrack  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Jessica Moss provided a haunting soundtrack Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

One of the great features of the Brisbane Festival program is the opportunity to attend a ‘conversation’ with the cast and creatives behind the major productions. It would have been fascinating to attend the Brisbane Festival Conversation (20th September). But we had our own 6-way conversation after the Show. One of the three main centres of the 2018 Brisbane Festival (the others being at QPAC and the Southbank Arcadia, and at La Boite/QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus), the Powerhouse is the perfect venue for this production—a large space, with raked seating offering great views from any seat. It also has a number of bars and restaurants to sit in post-show comfort to reflect on any production.

Each member of our party had a different take on the performance, enthusiastically debating the narrative—framed as everything from dust particles to the stifling impact of society on an individual. And that, to me, is the sign of a great evening, and part of the attraction of this often-moving production. A creative perspective, illuminating the society in which we all live, and provoking a conversation about whether we are leaving the right legacy to future generations.

Verdict: Thought-provoking.  We should all be very ‘regionally proud’ of Dancenorth’s world-class work.

 Audience Notes: Dust has only four performances in the 2018 Brisbane Festival program, including the 19th September preview (19-21 September, 7;30pm). Tickets $35-$38 (plus booking fee). Producers advise partial nudity, sound pressure effects and use of a haze machine and pyrotechnics. Suitable for audiences 12+ years. For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Friday 21st September 2018 performance (7:30pm).

All pictures credit Creative Futures Photography. Main image, the Dancenorth dancers, accompanied by Jessica Moss.





 



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Review: En Masse

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Review: En Masse

Preconceptions can be a big challenge—for performers and audience alike. En Masse was arguably the most heavily-promoted of the 2018 Brisbane Festival events. A featured world premiere, an image of a Circa artiste looks out from the front cover of the main ‘BrisFest’ brochure: a female performer suspended from silk/ropes, dressed in red with one foot arched back behind her head. The website gallery also includes an image of performers suspended from ropes, and the program information categorises the performance as ‘circus, music, theatre.’ I suggest it would have been more accurate to categorise this as opera, music, acrobatics-meets-dance—and exclude any images of the non-existent ropes. But perhaps that is the challenge of preparing publicity material while a work is still in development?

The Circa performers are world-class. During the 80-minute show we were treated to an impressive display of strength, tumbling, and movement. The You Tube link from the Festival website  demonstrates some of their exceptional strength, with impressive lifts (watch for the male performer who holds two female colleagues while standing on the shoulders of another male), jumps (I don’t think I’d have stood quite so still while colleagues was thrown, or jumped, over my head!) and balance (a woman standing on one leg on the head of a performer who is held on the shoulders of another colleague).

Robert Murray has a mellifluous tenor voice—perfect for songs from Schubert’s Winterreise (‘Winter Journey’) and Schwanengesang (‘Swan Song’). Murray’s performance was my personal highlight of the evening (unexpected for me as I don’t have opera at the top of my own list of art forms). The Schubert songs were selected by the director (Yaron Lifschitz) as the music for the ‘end of the world’ first half of the program—interspersed with electronic original music (Klara Lewis), which often prompted jerky movements from the Circa team. In addition, it is always nice to have two grand pianos together on any stage, with compelling work by Tamara-Anna Cislowska & Michael Kieran Harvey. But I must admit to preferring hearing the full orchestra when listening to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

However, together the event was not what I expected from reading the festival brochure and buying my ticket. No anticipated veering between ‘anarchic energy and exquisite loss,’ and I did not come away with the impression of two different ‘visions of humanity.’ En Masse can be translated as a lot, together, or collectively. Separately, great performances. We certainly saw a lot. But all together—I’ll leave for you to decide, if you get to see it...

If I were to go again, at least I’d be better prepared.

Verdict: Individually impressive. All together? not for me.   

Audience Notes: En Messe has 4 performances in the 2018 Brisbane Festival (19-21 September, 7;30pm). Tickets $40-$65 (plus booking fee). For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Wednesday 19th September 2018 world premiere performance (7:30pm).

 

 

 

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Review. Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin

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Review. Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin is a great evening: three expert cabaret performers who re-frame the history of gin through a feminist perspective. A love story about the beverage of choice, enhanced with fantastic harmonies, and great humour by chanteuses Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood—with superb musical direction and performance by Jeremy Brennan. What’s not to love?  

Pictured (L to R): Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Jeremy Brennan.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Jeremy Brennan. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Elly Baxter (writer/researcher—aka The Ginstress), and the performers, clearly know everything there is to know about gin. By the end of the 60-minute show we walked out feeling a little thirsty…but also better informed about some of the politics behind our favourite beverage. The Show has been running for three years, following a first outing in 2016. I am not surprised it continues to attract rave reviews around the world. It’s slick, informative, and professional—and yet is funny and feels fresh. For example, it was lovely to hear the occasional local mention—particularly the ‘Drinks for Women” reference to Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor’s 1965 Regatta Hotel Bar protest.

Everyone will have their highlights from the evening. For me, Wood’s version of Sia’s Chandelier—definitely hitting all the right notes. But Marsden’s performance of Lionel Bart’s Oom Pah Pah also left a lasting impression on at least one of our group...

Pictured: Maeve Marsden.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Maeve Marsden. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 
Pictured: Libby Wood.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Libby Wood. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Be assured this will be one of my picks from the 2018 Brisbane Festival—and we are only at the start of Festival Director David Bertold’s ‘Act 2.’ Last night was meant to be my night off from reviewing. But Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin deserves to sell out the rest of this Brisbane run. Book now!

Verdict: Unmissable. Definitely one of my picks of the 2018 Brisbane Festival.   

Audience tip: The La Boite Roundhouse is a great venue for the show, with good views from any seat—but the ‘floor’ and the first row of the raised seating are probably the best. Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin has a six-show season at the 2018 Brisbane Festival, so buy your tickets now ($34-$37). 18th-21st September (7:30pm), plus two shows on 22nd September (6:45pm & 9:15pm). Production suggests 18+ (adult themes, coarse language, and alcohol references) & a smoke machine is used throughout. For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Tuesday 18th September 2018 performance (7:30pm).

All pictures credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: Symphony For Me

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Review: Symphony For Me

Aside from the Royal Albert Hall’s BBC Last Night of the Proms, Symphony for Me must be one of the fastest-‘selling’ classical music events around the globe. Admittedly, the Brisbane tickets are free (which may have something to do with it). But it appears that the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) and Brisbane Festival have a bit of a success on their hands. For each of the three events, all tickets have gone less than 20 minutes after going ‘on sale.’ Such a success, that complaints about not programming the event in 2017 ensured that the concert was programmed for ‘BrisFest 2018’, and is already confirmed for 2019.   

Classical music may have connotations of expense and exclusivity, but events such as Symphony For Me remind audiences of the importance of music in memory and story. We may not think of ourselves as classical music buffs, but certain orchestral pieces evoke memories of advertisements, major family events, fragments of childhood memories, special films, or epic moments in life. Most people, it appears, have a fascinating story linked to certain pieces of music. The 2018 concert included stories of migrants, of new beginnings, of time with Dad, and of much-cherished films.  

Hosted by local TV news presenter, Andrew Lofthouse, the program was well-paced. Community members were brought to the stage to introduce their special piece of music, before greeting the conductor and then sitting stage left on a special bench to hear their music played just for them. Just in case anyone was tempted to shed the odd tear, a box of tissues was strategically placed under the seat, and a number of cameras were on hand to share the moment with the rest of the audience. Most of the tears were shed by the rest of the audience, however, as those on-stage sat in rapt attention, enjoying every last drop of their special music.

 
Pictured: The stage is set (complete with tissues!).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: The stage is set (complete with tissues!). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

Even if you think you don’t really like classical music and believe it’s not for you, I guarantee you would have found a piece to enjoy or that you recognised. It was great to see some of the children who nominated tunes dressed as their favourite film character: ‘Hermione’ (aka Cleo from Chapel Hill) and Jessica both requested Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (John Williams), and ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’ (Anderson, accompanied by his Dad, Karl) and Zara all wanted to hear the Main Theme from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Klaus Bedelt). Stories of new beginnings included decisions to move to Australia (the second movement from Dvořák’s  Symphony No. 9, From the New World), of the fall of the Berlin Wall (the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No.7), and of a wedding day (Alan Silvestri’s Main theme from Forrest Gump).

Pictured: Listening to the  New World. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Listening to the New World. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 
Pictured: Andrew Lofthouse, greeting the first storytellers of the evening ('including ‘Hermione’).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Andrew Lofthouse, greeting the first storytellers of the evening ('including ‘Hermione’). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

It was fascinating to hear each of the stories behind the pieces of music—and my two favourite pieces from the evening program were highlights because of the stories they connected with. It was just wonderful to see Karl sit on stage, lost in memories of time with his late father, as he listened to the fourth movement from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.7 (Tchaikovsky, completed by Semyon Bogatyrev). For the final piece of the evening, Ben and his Mum spoke of how inspired he was by a previous concert, and how he has now taken up trumpet-playing (much to the horror of their dog). The orchestra, conducted by Brett Kelly, seemed to enjoy playing the Main theme from Star Wars (John Williams) as much as Ben enjoyed hearing it.

Yes, it was a selection of pieces selected and performed for the couples, families and individuals who were on stage. But, together, they created a symphony for everyone.

 
Pictured: Karl (on the big screen), listening to the fourth movement from  Tchaikovsky ’s  Symphony No.7  (completed by Semyon Bogatyrev).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Karl (on the big screen), listening to the fourth movement from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.7 (completed by Semyon Bogatyrev). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

I wish QSO and QPAC did this more often—bringing new audiences to classical music and in to the heart of the superb facilities in Brisbane’s Southbank. However, I can see why this is a once a year treat. Even with the challenge of getting tickets in that mad 20-minute scramble once the box office opened, many ticket-holders decided not to turn up on the night. Which was a pity; not only did they miss a great evening, but they prevented others attending. This is always a challenge for any free event, and I wish the organisers well in thinking through how they can achieve 95%+ attendance next year: perhaps entry by donation (I’m sure $10 per ticket would have made a great donation to Queensland farmers, and if people have paid then perhaps they may turn up to the event?), ‘rush’ tickets on the day, or ??? Whatever the solution, I do hope that future events have fewer empty seats.

Verdict: Definitely worth the 20-minute ticket scramble to see Brisbane coming together through story, community and music.   

Audience tip: Symphony For Me is a one-day only event, but organisers have already confirmed that this will return as part of the 2019 Brisbane Festival 2019 program. Watch out for an opportunity to request your personal favourite piece, and get ready to explain why you chose it. And make sure you put the sign-up date for tickets in your diary now, as the event was one of the fastest-selling in the 2018 program. For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Saturday 15th September 2018 performance (7pm).

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Review: Home

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Review: Home

It is always great to see a production that combines, in an effortless way, different dramatic forms and genres. Home is a blend of mime, physical theatre, dance, slapstick, immersive performance art, and Ikea-style house construction—all held together with wandering minstrel-style musical narration (by Elvis Perkins).

From your first home (likely to be “your mother’s house”) to your own family home (“lay your foundation now”), where you spend time sleeping, showering, cleaning, cooking, working and celebrating, home is an important place in everyone’s life. During the 100-minute performance, the cast (Geoff Sobelle, Sophie Bortolussi, Ching Valdes-Aran, Justin Rose, Elvis Perkins, Ayesha Jordan, and Luke Whitefield) encourage us all to reflect on the nature of ‘home.’ They achieve this feat through a gradual building of a house (one of the best uses of the sizeable QPAC Playhouse stage I have seen in a long time), where we experience the passing of time as layers of moments spent using the building—from daily bathroom ablutions through to a major house party (where members of the audience are hosts and guests). At the end of the show, two members of the audience speak about special memories of their first homes, encouraging us all to reflect on the importance of our own houses (as the minstrel sings at the end, “thank heavens for the roof overhead”).

 
Picture: The cast, building the house.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: The cast, building the house. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

It is fair to say this was not the ‘theatre’ production I had expected. Most of the show relies on the choreography/physical theatre, where the occasional musical numbers are the only verbal communication to the whole audience (the quotes in this review are from some of those songs). The exception is where the cast members engage directly with individual members of the audience—coaching them through the production when they are brought on-stage, or encouraging those seated in the stalls to assist with putting up the party lights.  

Pictured: ‘Layers’ of bathroom use.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: ‘Layers’ of bathroom use. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Cast and audience members staging the house parties.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Cast and audience members staging the house parties. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The choreography of movement is superb (particularly when it comes to the bathroom and kitchen pieces), and the incorporation of the audience members kept us all completely fascinated and entertained. Throughout the piece, audiences gasp at some of the illusions, laugh at the moments of celebration, and ponder the process of laying down the rich-layers of memory through which we turn a house into a home.  A fascinating show, and an excellent choice for ‘Act One’ of Brisbane festival 2018. Congratulations to creator/performer Geoff Sobelle, Director Lee Sunday Evans, and their co-creators (in particular the set designer, Steven Dufala, and lighting designer, Christopher Khul).

 
Pictured: Events at the house, including cast members (third from left: Geoff Sobelle) and audience participants.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Events at the house, including cast members (third from left: Geoff Sobelle) and audience participants. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

Verdict:  Fascinating.   

Audience tip: Signs at the entrance alert visitors to what is described as a “10+” rating as there is some full-frontal nudity in the ‘bathroom’ of the ‘house’ (a member of our party commented they wished their parents had let them go to anything with nudity when they were younger, so you may have your own views on the rating). Be prepared to get involved (don’t worry—you will be able to remain fully-clothed)!

Home had only five shows in the September 2018 Brisbane Festival program (12th-15th September, 7:30pm, with a matinee on Saturday 15th September at 1:30pm). For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Saturday 15th September 2018 performance (1:30pm).

 

 

 

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Review: California Crooners Club

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Review: California Crooners Club

Coming out of a California Crooners Club show I felt like I’d just attended a Hollywood-style party, complete with live music led by a vocal quartet who were determined to ensure everyone has a good time. If you are looking for a fun evening, or an event to get the party started with friends or colleagues, then this is for you. And if you’re on your own that particular night then don’t worry—you’ll still feel as if you’d been at a party with some great friends.

Pictured (L to R): Hugh Sheridan, Johnny Manuel, and Emile Welman.  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Hugh Sheridan, Johnny Manuel, and Emile Welman. Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The format might not be new, but Hugh Sheridan has built on a great concept: a changing collection of talented singers who he entices to join him on stage for a fun evening of music that showcases their acapella, r&b, jazz, and salsa swagger (here with a little rap thrown in for good measure). Spicing things up a little, the California Crooners Club members don’t only line-up by the band but spend much of their time on the round central stage, as well as getting up-close-and-personal with their enthusiastic audience. The Club format is perfect for a festival, and very well-suited to a Spigeltent, giving everyone a chance to party along (particularly when the performers roam around the space).  By the end of the night, everyone was on their feet.

 
Pictured: Maiya Ociean. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Maiya Ociean. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

 

Since their first performance, a mere 3-years ago, the California Crooners Club has built an enthusiastic following, and both Sheridan and fellow original Crooner Emile Welman will be well-known to their admirers. Maiya Ociean and Johnny Manuel are a fantastic addition to the mix. Ociean (introduced as the first female member of the California Crooners Club) has a compelling stage presence, and a vocal range that will delight fellow-Aretha Franklin devotees. The 9th September show was the first time I had come across the exceptional talent that is Johnny Manuel—but I may be one of the last to have heard of him, as his 2017 America’s Got Talent performance of I Have Nothing continues to attract millions of views.

Live music is certainly being celebrated at the 2018 Brisbane Festival. The success of the California Crooners Club format is that the singers have a solid band behind them that includes a brass section who are happy to limbo or conga along when needed. In September 2018, the brass section comprised Jamie Kennedy (Trombone), Julian Palma (Sax), and Malcolm Wood, (Trumpet)—alongside Alex Wignall (piano and keys), Milush Piochaud (double bass, electric and synth bass) and Jacob Mann (drums).

 
Pictured: Hugh Sheridan leading the conga limbo.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Hugh Sheridan leading the conga limbo. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

 

Highlights of the 70-minute show included the spine-chilling I Like it Like That (Ociean), Cole Porter’s Night & Day (wonderful harmonies from Manuel), James Arthur’s Say You Won't Let Go (enchanting close harmonies from all four singers), Midnight Train to Georgia (giving Gladys Knight & The Pips a run for their money), Beyonce’s Halo (Sheridan introduced the goosebumps-creating performance of this one) and the wonderful Aretha Franklin’s Respect (Ociean). And of course there was the crowd-pleasing Uptown Funk encore (so make sure you don’t leave without it!).

A great evening. And a bit of a shock to come out of the ‘nightclub’ and discover we were still in time to catch the 6:30pm performance of the free light show. The Treasury Brisbane Festival Arcadia is a great space to relax, to visit some of the food and beverage outlets, and of course to watch the free lighting show that is #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light. A really nice touch to have some local buskers providing free entertainment to the crowds (I hope you get to hear from Lennon Bosschieter who was performing a great selection of music that was just perfect for a Sunday afternoon session—always good to hear a little Tracy Chapman and Johnny Cash in the same set). However, some of the later buskers might need to have their sound system turned down a little lower, as Sheridan commented that the sound outside was not best-suited to their quieter Spiegeltent numbers. But that’s a small inconvenience. Don’t let it stop you catching the show if you can, and enjoy a rich medley of performances that showcase the vocal talent of each of the four members of this latest California Crooners Club combination.

 
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Verdict: Buy tickets if you still can. Everyone loves a party—especially when you can join in the fun with the four charismatic performers (and particularly when you get the chance to hear Ociean and Manuel).  

Audience tip: Linger after the Show to visit the Brisbane Festival Arcadia, and perhaps catch the free #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light shows (3 shows daily during the festival until 29th September 2018), and listen to some of the Arcadia buskers. If you purchased the Premium tickets for this show, be aware there is no separate queue, but there are reserved seats inside for you (closest to the stage). Everyone gets a great view as the performers ‘work the space.’ My personal recommendation is to sit on the first row of elevated seats (the central seats on this row are Premium, and at the side are General Admission). Bring your dancing shoes and perhaps pick up a glass of your favourite beverage from the bar inside the venue.

California Crooners Club has only eight shows in the September 2018 Brisbane Festival program and a number fo the remaining shows are already showing as limited availability (Saturday 8th  was the only 9:30pm show. On 9th, 15th and 16th September, the shows are all at 4:45pm. 11-14th September shows are all at 7:00pm). For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Sunday 9th September 2018 performance (4:45pm).

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