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Review: Happily Ever After

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Review: Happily Ever After

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Pictured : Judy Hainsworth.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Judy Hainsworth. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine Lawrence

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

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

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Review: Elixir

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Review: Elixir

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine Lawrence

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

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: Love Hurts

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Review: Love Hurts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katrina Davidson

Katrina Davidson

Emily Kristopher

Emily Kristopher

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

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

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

Geoff Lawrence

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

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

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Review: Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl

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Review: Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine Lawrence

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

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.  

 

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Review: Beer Drinking Woman

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Review: Beer Drinking Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture : Christa Hughes. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Christa Hughes. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

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

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

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

Catherine Lawrence

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

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: Bombshell Burlesque: Heatwave!

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Review: Bombshell Burlesque: Heatwave!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine Lawrence

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

Pictures Credit:  Creative Futures Photography.

 

 

 




 

 

 

 

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Review: Lady Sings the Blues

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Review: Lady Sings the Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine Lawrence

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

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.



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Review: 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: 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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