Viewing entries tagged
Cabaret

Review: Happily Ever After

Comment

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.

 

Comment

Review: Beer Drinking Woman

Comment

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.

Comment

Review: Lady Sings the Blues

Comment

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.



Comment

Review: Screw Loose

Comment

Review: Screw Loose

Screw Loose is fast, funny, and often quite fabulous. Emily Vascotto showcases her witty writing, funny moves, fantastic voice, and comic characterizations in this over-too-soon cabaret act. A few tickets appear to be on sale for the last night in this oh-too-short run. Buy now.

Screw Loose is what the advertising promises: “a comedy cabaret [and] delectable smorgasbord of musical numbers and moves,” and “one woman’s unwavering quest for love in all the wrong places.” Vascotto introduces us to the probably neurotic and definitely melodic ‘Emily’ (yes, I'm drawing on one of the songs here). And, in just under 50 minutes, we have a whistle-stop tour of her search for ‘the one.’  With a sprinkling of anecdotes, and a feast of songs to illustrate the tale, there are even a few tips along the way (who knew language lessons were a way to hook up, and don’t forget to watch out for how to create the “sexy face”).

Pictured: Emily Vascotto ( Screw Loose ). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Emily Vascotto (Screw Loose). Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

I was captivated from the get-go with the fantastic portrayal of the 5 year-old Emily and her first love, Tommy.  I hope you enjoy the version of Hello (“from the outside”) as much as I did... move over Adele. But, too soon, we were on to another highlight in the dating catalogue, and the hugely enjoyable song that accompanies the tale of Daryl and the closet. Sadly there was a hiatus in the dating from grades 3-10, but it was worth the wait for the anecdote about the “Surprise Attack” double date and Saw 2. It was at this point in the show that the inner stalker really came out into the open, with the first tale of car keying and general destruction.

Only in the last 25 years has the word ‘stalker’ transitioned from referring to a poacher or hunter to the more ominous connotations of the harassment and persecution of a human target. For the object of desire, stalking can generate a range of emotions: from irritation and confusion through to a genuine fear of the femme/homme fatale. But the stalker can also be an object of pity—particularly if motivated by a desire for intimacy. In Screw Loose the portrayal of Emily allows the audience a chance to see behind the sexy face, and to gain some insight into the depth of a desire to be loved—particularly with Vascotto’s poignant change of tempo in the title song, which ends on the plaintive “I’ll be here if you need a loose screw.”

Cabaret is a great vehicle to convey a serious message. Screw Loose highlights the inherent danger in wishing for a ‘Disney-style’ fairy-tale ending. Not all whirlwind romances end happily ever after (probably too early to be selecting wedding dresses three days in to any new relationship), the way to a new partners’ heart is not necessarily to lock them in a castle (in Emily’s case, read closet), and not every prince will hang around once he’s had that first kiss. And, when it comes to smooching, Screw Loose certainly underscores that there can be a lot of frog-kissing to be done before finding your prince/ess.

Screw Loose is written and performed by Vascotto. I’d love to know who wrote all of the music as it sounded as if there may have been some original pieces in the mix. A number of the choices fitted so very well to the new and repurposed words—from the Disney-style theme tunes, to Adele’s Hello and Kooman and Dimond’s ‘In excess.’ Vascotto not only makes some great musical choices, but has a fantastic team along for the ride. The work of director Gabriella Flowers, and support of accompanist Ben Murray, ensured I enjoyed every moment.

It would have been great to see this show as part of a double bill (perhaps an idea for future Queensland Cabaret Festival programs), and I would love to hear a couple of further anecdotes (in particular, perhaps one inserted between the last two songs). But, really, Vascotto's performance is “absolutely gorgeous” (to quote from one of the final songs). The Queensland Multicultural Centre provides a fantastic venue for theatre and cabaret: centrally located, and in close proximity to a popular ‘watering hole.’ I am certain that most of the customers at the Story Bridge Hotel would have really enjoyed Screw Loose—even if not fans of music theatre or new to cabaret. So stop on your way to your favourite hotel, buy a ticket now, pick up a drink at the bar, and select a seat at one of the cabaret tables. It’s sheer fun.

Pictured (L to R): Emily Vascotto performing to a co-opted audience member (Peter Wood) in  Screw Loose . Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Emily Vascotto performing to a co-opted audience member (Peter Wood) in Screw Loose. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Presented by Queensland Cabaret Foundation (and supported by Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland), Screw Loose had a mere two outings during Queensland Cabaret Festival (7:15pm, 7th & 8th June, 2017). Tickets $24-$35. 48 mins.

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended Screw Loose at the Queensland Multicultural Centre (part of the 2017 Queensland Cabaret Festival), on Wednesday, 7th  June 2017, 7:15pm.

 

 

Comment

Review: Anywhere Festival 2017

Comment

Review: Anywhere Festival 2017

Dear Anywhere Festival Organisers,

Debretts advise that thank-you letters should be hand-written and sent within ten days of an event or gift. Well, I’ve met the ten-day rule, but let me assure you it’s just as well this is typed (otherwise, you’d never be able to read it). Apparently I am supposed to be specific as to what I am thanking you for, to tell you why I cherish or enjoyed it, share some news, and close. So here goes..

May seems to have flown by, and that is largely down to you both. Another Anywhere Festival is behind us, and I am missing it already. So thank you for all that you have done in creating and inspiring the Anywhere Festival concept. And for making it happen again in 2017.

There are so many reasons why Anywhere Festival is a vital part of the fabric of Brisbane (and now in other communities across the coast):

Site-specific: My favourite performances in the 2017 festival were Signs, 2 Across and Oh Lady Be Good. The shows combined fantastic performers and great writing with perfect location choices. The productions were a perfect fit with the venues: 2 Across had two people meeting on a real, moving tram, Signs was set in a classroom, and Oh Lady Be Good was an intimate soirée/house party in a house.

A broad range of work: Great theatre, but also a broad range of circus (from the adult dark clowning and sideshow of Hiraeth, to the more traditional and youthful Fusion) and story-telling through song (including the fabulous Melissa Western’s Oh Lady Be Good, and Bethan Ellsmore… is the Queen of the Night).

Pictured (L to R): Candice Dittmann (She: ‘Rita’/Janet) and Nathan Schulz (He: ‘Tom’/ Josh) in  2 Accross . Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Candice Dittmann (She: ‘Rita’/Janet) and Nathan Schulz (He: ‘Tom’/ Josh) in 2 Accross. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Showcases talented people: Great actors (including Nathan Schultz in 2 Across, and the impressive Brodie Greenhalgh in both Signs and Immaculate Confection), artists (Melissa Western, Bethan Ellsmore), writers (Aimee Duroux, Jerry Mayer), performers (Ty Fitzsimons, Nadia Jade), directors (Samantha Bull), costume-designers, and more.

Incredible value: For example, tickets for Hiraeth were only $15—for a 60 minute show which included standout performances by Ty Fitzsimons (acrobatics and clowning) and Nadia Jade (aerial apparatus and dangerous sideshow). Fitzsimons’ acrobatics were probably the best I have ever seen when climbing up the rope upside down, and some great ‘air walking, and Jade fascinated and revulsed the audience in equal measure with fire-, glass- and balloon-eating, and amesmerising mixture of aerial silk with glass-walking.  You should have been there.

Pictured: Ty Fitzsimons in  Hiraeth . Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Ty Fitzsimons in Hiraeth. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Provocative: New work and new ideas this year included fantastic new writing (Signs), interesting ideas (Immaculate Conception), and fascinating facts (Oh Lady Be Good),  

New places: The Festival introduces audiences to new and old spaces—encouraging spectators to start working through their local bucket lists. This year, fantastic new venues included The Bison Bar at Nambour (an excellent venue for Bethan Ellsmore is… Queen of the Night), and the Brisbane Tramway Museum (a perfect choice for 2 Across). Oh, and of course the Kookaburra Queen Showboat Cruises’ paddle wheeler; it was wonderful to see audiences dressing the part for Cluedo! The Interactive Game.

Pictured: Melissa Western in  Oh Lady Be Good . Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Melissa Western in Oh Lady Be Good. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Fun: Quite a lot of the shows I saw touched on serious themes, in particular about the agony of growing up. But there was a lot of fun, laughter, and fabulous humour along the way. For example, Peter Wood as school Drama President in ‘Signs’ and as Grant in Immaculate Conception certainly made some memorable entrances.

Intimate spaces: In seeking out place that are “anywhere but a theatre,’ performers bring work to new audiences in often intimate settings. The fabulous Australian Modern again hosted fantastic, including the magnificent performances by Melissa Western and her band. Oh Lady be Good is a wonderful show, and the chance to see a jazz band and chanteuse at the top of their game was greatly enhanced by the wonderful hospitality of Susan and Chris Osborne. I can’t wait to see what house parties they host next year.

Community celebration: Not only for the creatives and performers, but also for their supporting casts of families and friends. So great to come out of shows and see the hugs from proud parents, and slightly amazed friends, as they gather round the team.

... To be fair, I didn't enjoy every show I saw this year. There are probably three events that I felt needed significant work before coming back into the light of day again. But I am hugely impressed that everyone put so much effort and energy into making their vision a reality. And that’s because of the festival. And because of the work you do.

Following the specified format for such notes, I know I have to provide some news before I close. My ‘news’ is that I'm gearing up for next year. Only 11 months until Anywhere Festival 2018

So, again, thank you!

Yours sincerely,

 

Catherine Lawrence, Official Anywhere Festival Reviewer

The reviewer attended performances of 2 Across, Bethan Ellsmore is… Queen of the Night, Cluedo! The Interactive Game, The Flood, The Food and Masculinity Double: May Contain Traces of Nuts & Immaculate ConfectionFusion, Hiraeth, The Last Ginger, Oh Lady Be Good, The One Room of the House, and Signs during the 2017 Anywhere Festival (4th-21st May).

Pictured (L to R): Noah (Brodie Greenhalgh), Byron (Peter Wood), Jock (Dean Taylor), Simon (Caeleb Grosser), and Cam (Levi Wilcox) in  Signs . Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures.

Pictured (L to R): Noah (Brodie Greenhalgh), Byron (Peter Wood), Jock (Dean Taylor), Simon (Caeleb Grosser), and Cam (Levi Wilcox) in Signs. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures.

Comment

Review: "Oh Lady Be Good"

Comment

Review: "Oh Lady Be Good"

Melissa Western is not just “good.” Together with her jazz band—Tnee Dyer (music director/piano), Helen Svoboda (double bass), and Lachlan Hawkins (Drums)—Melissa Western is really quite fabulous.

The lights dimmed, the music started, and suddenly the room was filled with a beautiful voice, as Western walked round the audience and along the main aisle into the room, with a very tactile performance of (Romance) in the Dark. The audience was hooked.

During the 75 minute show (just incredible value for money at only $30 a ticket), Weston held the attention of everyone in the room. She introduced stories and information about many of the inspirational leading ladies of jazz and blues, illustrated with some great selections of black and white images and fascinating nuggets of information. Or, in her own words, performed “my love letter to the great chanteuses of the twentieth century.”  Describing Ella Fitzgerald as perhaps her “biggest inspiration,” Western’s second song of the evening was an unsurprising choice; the George and Ira Gershwin’s Oh Lady Be Good (a 1947 hit for Fitzgerald). Western would have delighted her heroine with the performance on Friday night, which included an epic scat ‘trumpet’ solo voiced by our chanteuse.

Pictures: Melissa Western. Photo credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictures: Melissa Western. Photo credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

And then we were on to Marilyn Monroe, and of course it had to be delectable performances of  I Wanna Be Loved by You,  and Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. And a fascinating anecdote about the support Monroe gave to Fitzgerald, ensuring that a career-changing booking was made for Fitzgerald at the previously all-white Mocambo nightclub.

But we didn't have too much time to ponder these insights, as Western was quickly on to talking about Billie Holiday, and performing two wonderful classics (God Bless the Child, and Love for Sale). Holliday’s  performance of her hit song God Bless the Child (written together with Arthur Herzog, Jr) is a difficult one to beat. But Western made the song her own, again with great scat singing.

There were just so many highlights from an evening that also included Carmen Miranda’s I like you very much, Eartha Kitt’s C’est Si Bon, Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman. Beyonce and Bieber weren’t around when Nina Simonne recorded My Baby Just Cares for Me. But if they had been, we were all convinced Simonne would also have worked them into her song.

Not all of the stories were uplifting, sexy or fun. Bessie Smith’s story was one of many sad tales during the evening, but selecting two of Smith’s songs gave Western an opportunity to add some humour into the mix, with the highly entertaining Just Give me a Man. And then the tempo slowed, as Western talked about Edith Piaf; and you could have heard a pin drop during a mellifluous performance of La vie en rose.

Picturesd (L to R): Helen Svoboda, Lachlan Hawkins, Melissa Western and Tnee Dyer. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Picturesd (L to R): Helen Svoboda, Lachlan Hawkins, Melissa Western and Tnee Dyer. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The band were excellent—playing together as only the best jazz performers can. I loved Svoboda’s solos, in particular in Western’s version of Peggy Lee’s Fever, and was thrilled by Dyer’s solo in Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies (a la Fitzgerald), and each of the spotlight performances by all three members of the band were so very memorable in both Route 66 and Caravan.

Favourite song of the evening? Possibly Etta James’ Cry me a river (performed in honour of Chris and Susan Osborne). It was great to hear the compliments about the venue, and hosts, from Western and her fellow musicians. An invitation to perform at Australian Modern has to be on the ‘bucket list’ of any musician. Chris and Susan Osborne are wonderful and generous hosts—turning their home into a fantastic location for intimate music events, and throwing what have to be among the best parties in Brisbane. For 4 of the 7 Brisbane Anywhere Festivals, Chris and Susan have transformed their lounge and kitchen into an exceptional performance space. Welcoming guests on 12th May, Chris modestly described this hospitality as being due to their shared vision, and that they simply “love to support the arts and the artists.” And support them they do. With style. Where else can you experience live music up close and personal, and do so with a glass in your hand? And having a chance to step inside the Osborne’s Carina home is the icing on that particular cake (check out the website to learn a little more about Australian Modern).

Pictured: Kitchen art at Australian Modern. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Kitchen art at Australian Modern. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Sadly Melissa Western’s shows at Australian Modern ended on 13th May. Look out for her at Brisbane Jazz Club and other great venues far and wide. And my advice for future Anywhere Festivals? If it’s on at Australian Modern, then book it. You’ll have a fabulous evening.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the 12th May 2017 (7:30pm) performance.

Tickets $30  https://anywheretheatre.com/listings/lady/.  75 minutes.  The show had only 2 sell out performances during the Anywhere Festival (12th & 13th May).

 

 

Comment

Review: Bethan Ellsmore is… Queen of the Night

Comment

Review: Bethan Ellsmore is… Queen of the Night

There are a number of things I love about the Anywhere Festival. In particular, I get to visit some really great spaces, and I have the chance to ‘find’ performers or works I might not otherwise have spotted. But one of the greatest risks at venues which are not typical theatres is that sound quality can be poor: too difficult to catch every word or music ramped up too loud, even to the point of distortion. There is clearly no risk of sound malfunctions happening at The Bison Bar. The Bison Bar is an intimate coffee and cocktails bar which evokes the glamour and style of the 1920s, and provides a great space for cabaret and live music (lucky Sunshine Coast residents and visitors). And the owners also run a recording studio (lucky Nambour artists), so they ensure that the sound support is exceptional. 

Pictured: Bethan Ellsmore is… Queen of the Night. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Bethan Ellsmore is… Queen of the Night. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Cabaret at its best often combines the quirky with a strong and well thought-out theme, great music, solid comedy, and close observation. Bethan Ellsmore really is ‘Queen of the Night’ in this show—and ticks all of the cabaret boxes with this production. The Penny Challen frock is perfect (only midnight blue would do, after all), the tiara well-judged, and Bethan-just-call-me-Your-Majesty-Ellsmore has a wicked sense of humour and a fabulous voice to match. In just one short hour, and with 12 great musical choices, we learned a little about love and loss… and had the opportunity to revel in a spine-tingling voice, hear Ellsmore play the piano and the electric violin, and generally see a cabaret artiste doing what she does best.

Ellsmore was joined for the evening by Luke Volker—a talented and stylish accompanist, who acted as a perfect foil, with suitable interjections and wry asides. Only when Ellsmore introduced one of her own compositions was Volker briefly displaced from the piano stool, for a song which included the poignant ‘line ‘breaking up hand-in-hand.’ So much better than ‘conscious uncoupling.’

Pictured: Luke Volker (Piano) and Bethan Ellsmore. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Luke Volker (Piano) and Bethan Ellsmore. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

The set illustrated the theme with plenty of references to the moon, to Queen and of the night.  The numbers allowed the ‘Queen of the Night’ to demonstrate that she is equally at home with a Czech operatic-style song to the moon, Brecht (Surabaya Johnny), the musical number "I Will Wait for You," and more contemporary choices including songs by Portishead (Glory Box), Kings of Leon (Molly's Chambers). And yes, of course, Queen’s ‘Killer Queen.’ My favourite pieces of the night had to be The Animals’ Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood’, that Czech song to the moon, and the finale (a powerful rendition of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’).

Bethan Ellsmore’s Queen of the Night was part of the 2017 Anywhere Festival program for two nights—at the fabulous Australian Modern in Carina (5 May 2017), and at The Bison Bar Nambour (6 May 2017). If you missed it I’d suggest you follow Bethan Ellsmore (https://www.facebook.com/bethanellsmoreperformer/) and see if you can find a chance to hear that fabulous voice, and to see the Queen of the Night sometime.

Catherine Lawrence.

The reviewer saw Bethan Ellsmore is… Queen of the Night at The Bison Bar, Nambour, on 6 May 2017. Tickets  ($30) were available at http://anywheretheatre.com/listings/queen/.

 

Comment

Review: Bad to Worse

Comment

Review: Bad to Worse

Bad to Worse: That Awkward Moment (Joel O’Brien), The Gospel According to Matthew (Matthew Semple). Cabaret Double Bill, produced in conjunction with Hayward Street Studios and Heaven of Invention, at Hayward Street Studios, 28th and 29th April 2017 (7:30pm)

A cabaret double bill is always going to be good value. You get to see two shows for the price of one (and if you don’t like one show, then another one is along in just a moment). The Bad to Worse combination of That Awkward Moment (Joel O’Brien) and The Gospel According to Matthew (Matthew Semple) was advertised as an “evening of outrageous comedy and musical theatre.” It delivered on both promises.

The two shows have some interesting similarities: both centre on musical theatre actors who perform their own material in a stand-up comedy/cabaret performance that engages directly with their audience. Often self-deprecating and closely observed—for O’Brien, with a focus on social interactions, and for Semple on everything from immigration policy (“Thanks Peter”) to the Bible—the shows intersperse moments of reflection and personal insight with familiar and original tunes sung by two strong vocalists. But the similarities end there, as the two performers have very different styles of comedy.

Pictured: Joel O'Brien ( T  hat Awkward Moment ). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Joel O'Brien (That Awkward Moment). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

I came away from seeing That Awkward Moment feeling I had just seen a stunning audition from a performer who reminded me of Jim Carey. And even though Carey is not a personal favorite, that reference is meant as a compliment. O’Brien captivates his audience. Energetic slapstick moves are complemented with a closely-observed run through a number of awkward and uncomfortable situations: from public speaking competitions and techniques on meeting people at parties (bring a talkative friend), through to dealing with a surly barista. Oh, and then there was the extended set on how to let a couple know you are awake while they are having sex next to you…. The gauche O’Brien progresses through the use of techniques—including turning anger and annoyance into a rap—to demonstrate that awkwardness can be a blessing in disguise. 

O’Brien’s show isn’t strictly a one-man performance. There is a great use of supporting material (from hand-luggage to a telephone), the audience interaction is superb (particularly with the telephone, but also with the rap resolution of the day’s more awkward moments), and then there is the rubber chicken…  Redmond Lopez is a brilliant accompanist, and the show is another great piece of direction from the versatile and talented Gabriella Flowers.

Pictured: Matthew Semple ( The Gospel According to Matthew ). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Matthew Semple (The Gospel According to Matthew). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

The Double Bill is advertised with a warning about coarse language and adult themes. In The Gospel According to Matthew, Semple’s irreverent set pushes the boundaries with his acerbic wit and commentary on freedom of speech, politics, sex and religion. There are moments of attempted innocence—“did I really say that”—and sly asides when the audience ‘catches up’ with what has just been said. His views may not be to every taste, but Semple forces his audience to think, and to consider their own position on some of the more important issues in life. Emphasising the importance of forming your own views (and of finding your own way), life tips range from the advice that a movie is not a good first date choice, to the essential “always be true to yourself.”

Semple is a versatile performer, successful writer, great singer, and able pianist who has been compared to Tim Minchin on more than one occasion. I was reminded more of the young Ben Elton. This show has already had success in Melbourne, and has won awards for Best Director and Best Original Score (Short + Sweet 2016). So congratulations also go to Simon Mason (Director).

I felt that the worst part of the evening (and this is a double bill titled Bad to Worse, so I should consider what the worst might be) was that the venue isn't ideal. Even in the second row, the pre-recorded audio used in The Gospel According to Matthew was often difficult to hear, and occasionally distorted, so it was a distraction from some of the earlier parts of the second half. Appreciating that venues can be hard to find in Brisbane (and are often expensive), it’s a pity that both performers were not at one of the comedy club venues around town. It would be interesting to see both shows in a different venue—and perhaps with longer runs, so that the material will be even more familiar (allowing both Semple and O’Brien to adopt more natural, conversational styles). 

Semple ended the evening with "just go": a message to the audience that they were free to leave, but also perhaps what he hoped we’d say to our friends and colleagues about the show. Comedy that pushes the boundaries is not to everyone’s taste. But if it’s for you, then try The Gospel According to Matthew. And if you want to watch a rising comedy actor then you must look out for anything Joel O’Brien is involved in (including the fast funny and fluid That Awkward Moment).    

Bad to Worse: That Awkward Moment, and The Gospel According to Matthew, two-night run only (28th and 29th April 2017, 7:30). Tickets $25-$30. 120 minutes, including one interval. Warning: Contains strong language and adult content

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Brisbane opening night of Bad to Worse (Double Bill: That Awkward Moment, and The Gospel According to Matthew) on Friday 28 April, 2017 (7:30pm).

 

 

Comment

Review: It's Not Easy Being Green

Comment

Review: It's Not Easy Being Green

 

Pictured:    Jeff Usher (left) and KarenRoberts (right)     Picture credit: Unknown

Pictured: Jeff Usher (left) and KarenRoberts (right)

Picture credit: Unknown

For only two nights this week, Paddington’s Room to Play is home to what the author describes as “a light-hearted trip, deep into the twisted rabbit-hole of the human psyche.”  “It’s Not Easy Being Green” is an enjoyable,  thought-provoking showcase, during which Karen Lee Roberts (Alexandra) and Jeff Usher (Mr Sunshine) perform a collection of eight original songs, interspersed with character-filled snapshots, illustrating aspects of Alexandra’s two-year journey towards “being green.”

Life may be a cabaret (“old chum”)*, but Roberts and Usher ably demonstrate that cabaret is also the perfect form to provoke discussions about life’s highs and lows. Alexandra poses the early question “Is it kosher to speak of subjects like this?” In this show,  Roberts and Usher answer that question in the affirmative.  The majority of cabaret performances across Australia this year are more likely to touch on the racier aspects of life. But It’s Not Easy Being Green demonstrates that cabaret can also entertain, educate, and engage when touching on important issues of “mental wellness.” The emphasis throughout the evening is on entertainment: great music, original songs, delicious characterisation, and some enjoyably comic moments. But, in a thought-provoking 60 minute show, Roberts also offers insights into the challenges and experience of dealing with the manic ups and deep downs associated with mental health issues.

Roberts is a talented performer—not only author and co-producer, but also composer, singer, character actress, and comic. On stage she is well-matched by the evening’s Mr Sunshine. Legendary is an over-used word, but it certainly applies to Usher—who plays some perfectly-judged jazz and blues music, and even provides accomplished beat-boxing accompaniments along the way. Audiences will have their personal favourites from the evening. I found it difficult to pick just one song, but got it down to a top three: the opening “Society’s Blues,” the frenetic “Chameleon,” and the closing “Ever Pure.” Mind you, if I could make it a top four then the beat-boxing exercise rap could be a great addition to anyone’s exercise playlist.

The production has clearly benefited from the direction of IndelABILITY Arts  fellow-professional, Catarina Hebbard. Under Hebbard’s direction, the show works well within the intimate space—aided by the beautiful lighting and great technical support.  As a result, we focus on the writing, concentrating to catch every word.  

One of the great things about cabaret is that the audience is an important part of the evening. The interactions between Alexandra and Mr Sunshine were well-worked (perhaps more would have been even better), and the switch from on-stage to direct audience engagement was beautifully done. London’s Time Out suggests that cabaret can “change the world.” At the end of the show you may leave realising that its ok to venture beyond safe chitchat about “canapés and cocktails” and be prepared to respond to honest conversational openers.

Queensland’s Mental Health week starts on 9th October 2016. Why not invest in your own mental wellness and drop into Paddington’s historic 1930’s Substation this weekend to see for yourself how successful the versatile Room to Play performance space is.  It’s Not Easy Being Green is only at Room to Play, Paddington for two nights (730pm on both Friday 7th and Saturday 8th October, 2016).  Tickets are available at Eventbrite ($26.25 adult, $21 concession—including booking fees) or, if not sold out, may also be available at the door (cash payment only,  $25 full and $20 concession). Arrive at 7pm to take the opportunity to visit the cash bar before selecting your seat.

 

* yes, I am singing Fred Ebb’s words and trying to conjure my inner Liza Minnelli as I write…

 

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended a dress rehearsal of It’s Not Easy Being Green on Wednesday 5 October, 2016.

 

Comment

Review: Gin and Sin

Comment

Review: Gin and Sin

Pictured (L to R): Miss Laine, Alicia Cush, and Zoe Georgakis-Ray. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence  , Creative Futures Photography  .

Pictured (L to R): Miss Laine, Alicia Cush, and Zoe Georgakis-Ray. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

There are some people who just know how to throw a party. Chris Osborne and Susan Bennett certainly know how to mix the perfect ingredients: take one Australian Modern home, invite some of Brisbane’s most-talented musicians, add a little gin, a tiny twist of sin, and you have the perfect Anywhere Festival experience. Saturday 21st May was the final evening of Brisbane’s 2016 Anywhere Festival. I couldn't think of a better way to end the festival than by spending it at the Carina home of Chris Osborne and Susan Bennett, revelling in the fabulous performances by Miss Laine (Laine Loxlea-Danann), Alicia Cush, and Dave Spicer (with special guest Zoe Georgakis-Ray).  For a little over 90 minutes the audience were enthralled, amused, moved and greatly entertained by a well-chosen mix of jazz, mashups” performed by talented musicians who are clearly at the top of their game.

Pictured: Dave Spicer. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Dave Spicer. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

A menu of jazz, with occasional operatic influences, liberal dashes of humour, and tons of style, the Gin & Sin Jazz Salon more-than-delivered on the promised “postmodern Jukebox-inspired mashups.” The 18-or-so song set included original material, as well as reinvented and redefined pieces made famous by Kylie Minogue, K.D. Lang, AC/DC, The Cure... and by Gabriel Fauré. I’d certainly be at the top of any queue to buy a recording of the music, and particularly hope that Alicia Cush and Dave Spicer record their version of The Cure’s In Between Days. Picking out my favourites is a challenge; I’d end up running through the whole set. But I’ll touch on a few special memories of the evening here.

Pictured: Miss Laine. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Miss Laine. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Miss Laine’s set was wonderful—a fantastic selection of contrasting pieces which showed of her jazz abilities.  Let’s be Bad was simply fabulous; the audience were completely enthralled. In her set, Alicia Cush demonstrated that a love of opera is no barrier to some wonderful jazz performances. I absolutely loved Confide In Me—so very much much better as a ‘tango.’ Dave Spicer was variously described as the ‘Mr Music...who wrangles the girls” (Chris Osborne), the man “with the little ‘spicy’ fingers,” and as a great teacher (Miss Laine). In his hands the Kawai keyboard produced some evocative and quite beautiful jazz. A high-point of Dave Spicer’s performance for me was Busy Being Blue. Invited to “tell me a sad song there Dave,” he responded with a truly memorable musical interaction with Miss Laine—matching the evocative performance by a wonderful chanteuse with his skilful playing.

And of course everyone in the audience will come away remembering the fantastic comedic skills of Miss Laine and of Alicia Cush. Just mention maracas, ukulele’s or ‘lazy’ to anyone who was there and you’ll see a smile. Miss Laine’s highly-energetic performance of Boom-Chicka-Boom just had to be seen to be believed (a number of people in the audience were in hysterics). Alicia Cush’s languorous performance of Laziest Girl In Town was lyrical, beautifully judged, and very funny. And when the two artists combined to sing a ‘family piece’ about a fisherman and a fishing trip that went wrong… well...  let’s just say there was a pot and a fish, two ukuleles, and a lot of laughter.

Pictured (L to R): Miss Laine and Alicia Cush. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Miss Laine and Alicia Cush. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Finally, Miss Laine, Alicia Cush and Dave Spicer welcomed Zoe Georgakis-Ray to the stage for four final songs: the lyrical harmonies of the Cole Porter You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To, the entertaining Liquid Lunch, giving the Andrew’s Sisters a run for their money with Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen and the encore One Note Samba. A superb final selection which was perfectly arranged and performed.

Look out for future performances by Miss Laine (Miss Laine & the Odd Sox), Alicia Cush (Babushka), Dave Spicer (Odd Sox). Together or independently they will excite, enthral, and entertain. Hopefully we might see them together in next years' Anywhere Festival. If we're lucky, at Chris Osborne and Susan Bennett’s Australian Modern house, which is the perfect space for an intimate salon performance. On 21st May, each ticket-holder was individually welcomed by the owners and encouraged to relax, enjoy their hospitality, and linger after the show. Make sure you get an early copy of the Anywhere Festival program for next year and identify events taking place at this wonderful Carina home. The five events which took place this year at the Barry Walduck-designed Eisenmenger House all sold out, so you need to book early.  Verdict: Fabulous.

Catherine Lawrence

Gin & Sin Jazz Salon was an exclusive 2-night only event as part of the 2016 Anywhere Festival.

The reviewer attended the Saturday 21st May, 2016 performance.

 

 

 

 

 

Comment