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Flowers Theatre Company

Review: Anywhere Festival 2016

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Review: Anywhere Festival 2016

Anywhere Festival 2016: And the winners are…..

 

18 days, 420 performances, and 63 locations.  The May 2016 Anywhere Festival transformed Brisbane—opening up many of the more unusual places across the local area, and giving our ‘creatives’ a chance to shine. Audience members had the opportunity to nominate the shows they wanted to recognise—with eight shows singled out in the inaugural Anywhere Festival awards.  As I only got to see ten events, here are my top ten Anywhere Festival memories. In the tradition of the Anywhere Festival awards, this is not a countdown….

  1. Fantastic costumes, hair and make-up: Kylie Stephenson (as Marilyn Hanold playing Princess Marcuzan)  had the best costume-using-tinfoil of the festival, designed by Kristine Von Hilderbrandt). However (ahh…those aprons!) I loved the attention to detail in the costumes, props, hair and make-up in The Train Tea Society. Congratulations to Jaymee Richards and Kristine Von Hilderbrandt). 
  2. Circus skills: The Circus Claire Show  was a joyous 45-minute performance by a versatile and skilled circus artist.  Claire Ogden illustrated a journey of self-discovery with hula hoops, juggling, partner acrobatics, aerial tissue, physical comedy, and dance—leaving her audience ‘Walking on Sunshine.’ This was a difficult choice, as the Vulcana Women's Circus deserve an honourable mention for their guest performance at the Muses Trio launch.
  3. Risks taken: One of the many great things about the Anywhere Festival is the opportunity to test new ideas.  The team behind Straight On Till Morning perhaps took the biggest risks when inverting the more traditional theatrical experience, complete with an abrupt ending in a bar.
  4. Dance: Candy Shop Show quartet (led by the impressive Jenny Usher) combined close harmonies, and great costumes with some impressive dance moves. Sugar, Sugar! was a slightly cheeky and entertaining way to re-visit times the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.
  5. Inspired CD launchThe Muses Trio  describe their work as ‘celebrating music by women, performed by women.’ It was an inspired idea to launch their debut CD (The Spirit and the Maiden) inside the Boggo Road Gaol—celebrating music by female composers with performances by women (including special guests from Vulcana Women's Circus) taking place inside the women-only wing of a former prison. Christa Powell, Louise King and Therese Milanovic demonstrated their virtuosity in an edgy, compelling, powerful, memorable and often-moving performance.
  6. Sound and light at a whole new level: The Cult fun B-Movies Live! Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster was the first time I’ve seen a production where the lighting (Ghoul Shadows) and Music/Audio (Chris Richards) techs also play such important supporting roles. Shadows created the lighting and a number of different ‘off-stage’ voices, while Richards augmented a fantastic soundtrack of original music and audio with a great narration.
  7. Production & writing:  Honourable mentions to Hannah Belanszky for The Wives of Wolfgang (Work in Progress), as well as to Sarah Clarke and Mark Salvestro (Private Moments – A Double Bill (‘Semi Charmed’ and ‘Buried At Sea’). Belanszky has set the bar high for the future with her first play, while Clarke and Salvestro’s compelling performances created believable characters in an intimate setting. However, I was driven to superlatives by The Train Tea Society—with cups of celebratory tea all round to Emily Vascotto (Writer & Producer) and Gabriella Flowers (Director & Producer).
  8. Entertainment: Gin and Sin Jazz Salon was a standout, thanks to 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.  And there was a lot of fun. Just mention maracas, ukulele’s or ‘lazy’ to anyone who was there and you’ll see a smile.
  9. Memorable ensemble: This was a difficult choice, but the characters created in The Train Tea Society were quite fantastic. From the irrepressible twins Nora & Nellie Cummings (Aimee Duroux and Samantha Bull)’s tapping for the troops through to Julia Johnson’scompelling performance as Mrs J.A. Eliza Cameron. Johnson played the ‘lady bountiful’ role with aplomb, and was a compelling presence on the stage as she observed some of the more reckless and ill-advised exchanges between other characters.
  10. Perfect venues: OK, I give up… to chose just one venue which perfectly suited the  particular production is an impossible task.  My five honourable mentions go to:

But arguably the perfect Anywhere Festival venue was the combination of Chris Osborne and Susan Bennett’s Australian Modern home with talented Jazz musicians, a little gin, and a tiny twist of sin.

 

 So… thanks to all of the volunteers, artists, cast, creatives, venue-owners and Anywhere Festival Producers (particularly Paul Osuch and Ally McTavish) for the … the winners are…. Brisbane… and the audience.

Which means that yes… I can’t wait until May 2017 !

Catherine Lawrence

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Review: The Train Tea Society

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Review: The Train Tea Society

Five stars: Chuffed, stoked … and driven to superlatives!
Pictured (L to R): Samantha Bull, Aimee Duroux, Julia Johnson, Wendy Spencer, Olivia Hall-Smith, Casey McCollow, and Madison Kennedy Tucker. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Samantha Bull, Aimee Duroux, Julia Johnson, Wendy Spencer, Olivia Hall-Smith, Casey McCollow, and Madison Kennedy Tucker. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Arriving at the picture-perfect Swanbank Rail Station—complete with cream wooden-slat walls, green window-frames hooded in matching tin, and a red tin roof—we knew we were in for a treat. Sitting on the small train platform, overlooking a lake, the Flowers Theatre Company placed their audience in an intimate space within which they brought an important local story to life. In a highly-enjoyable one-act play we grew to admire the work of The Train Tea Society—an organisation that was “the warm beating heart of Ipswich” during World War One. We also got to know and love some inspiring women, and chuckle as they shared a few important life lessons: about friendship, honesty, compassion… and the importance of tea.

As the lights dimmed, and the air-raid siren rang out, we were immediately taken back to the terrors of war. Members of the cast fled across the stage—only gradually coming together around a lace-covered table.  And so the scene is set. Over the next 75 minutes we experience some of the highs and lows of the Train Tea Society’s work—from meetings to fund-raisers.

There are many parallels between the Flowers Company production and the original Train Tea Society they so wonderfully brought to life. Contemporary newspaper reports praise the earnest enthusiasm and efficient organisation of the original Ipswich society—which was a focal point for patriotic fund-raising, often through morale-boosting entertainments. In June 1920, the Queensland Times (Ipswich) encouraged readers to join them at the Town Hall for a varied evening of entertainments—an “ambitious presentation” that “should be an unqualified success”. Monies raised were used to send ‘comfort packs’ to the front line, and to pay for refreshments served to returning soldiers. Bringing the Train Tea Society story to Brisbane’s 2016 Anywhere Festival, Emily Vascotto (Writer & Producer) and Gabriella Flowers (Director & Producer), created an ambitious presentation which was an unqualified success. I only wish that more local audiences had an opportunity to experience this wonderful (sold out) production.

As you might expect, the story focuses on tea and a train. In particular, we learn more about the society around the time of the visit of Nora (Aimee Duroux)and Nellie’s (Samantha Bull’s) elegant cousin, Margaret Pierce (a beautifully-judged performance by Olivia Hall-Smith), who travels to Ipswich for her nurse training. On arriving, the visitor is astounded that more young women are not joining her in front line nursing—incredulous that her cousins are only raising money and offering cups of tea when naively asserting “no-one has ever been saved by a cup of tea.” Naturally, we learn quite how wrong she was.

Pictured: Samantha Bull (left) and Aimee Duroux (right). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Samantha Bull (left) and Aimee Duroux (right). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The cast were superb. The program notes highlight that the majority of the characters are fictional, but we know that over 90 years ago Mrs J. A. Eliza Cameron was the President and driving force behind the original society, supported by an “energetic” Miss Berge as secretary. Julia Johnson created a highly-believable Mrs J.A. Eliza Cameron—capable of managing a team of volunteers to best effect, while sharing her wisdom and experience with the younger, more impetuous women around her. Johnson played the ‘lady bountiful’ role with aplomb, and was a compelling presence on the stage as she observed some of the more reckless and ill-advised exchanges between other characters. Equally, the interplay between Johnson and the enthusiastic-but-slightly-ditzy secretary of the Society (Edith Berge, entertainingly played by Wendy Spencer) brought to life the challenges of working with volunteers.

One of the many strengths of Vascotto’s script is this pairing of characters. In addition to Edith Berge’s close shadowing of Mrs Cameron, we meet the irrepressible Nellie and Nora Cummings (“the twins”), as well as Millicent Kellaway (Maddison Kennedy-Tucker) and her companion Bertha Short (Casey McCollow). McCollow’s Bertha is an amiable counter-point to the superior and scheming Millicent (played with great relish and skill by Kennedy-Tucker). Bertha is a patient, hard-working and put-upon companion—beautifully created by McCollow, who managed to turn the stacking of a tea tray into a charming and funny expression of the things she would like to teach her friend (we’ve probably all been there at some point...)[i].

In The Train Tea Society, raising money to providea “piping hot cup of warm wishes” for returning soldiers provides a reassuring and stable program of activity that enables those “at home’ to contribute to the war effort.  This may all sound very serious and worthy. But, just as the original society members clearly had great fun in their social activity, so the Flowers Company created a really enjoyable light comedy. Duroux and Bull were perfect in their portrayal of the bubbly twins: delivering, with excellent comic timing, highly-amusing performances—particularly when ‘tapping for the troops’ (you had to be there).  Flowers demonstrated her strengths as a director throughout, ensuring that every possible line, transition, and move entertained.

Cast and Creatives.  Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Cast and Creatives. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

The other members of the creative team also deserve high praise. I loved the attention to detail in the costumes, props, hair and make-up. It is difficult to believe that this was the first full-scale theatrical project for the talented Jaymee Richards (working alongside fellow costume designer, Kristine Von Hilderbrandt). I was just disappointed that the “TTS” aprons weren’t on sale at the kiosk afterwards. Amy Randall is clearly up to any stage management challenge—having now added cuing a real steam train to her CV. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the evocative soundtrack (thanks to the work of sound designer Daniella Hart), and also the hard-working Assistant Director, Laura Campbell.

A little like the risks of performing with children and animals, there was the potential for the cast of The Train Tea Society to be upstaged by the eighth ‘member’ of the team—steam train no. 448, R.V Armstrong (under the able stewardship of the Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway). After all, it is not every day that Ipswich gets to host a possible world first theatrical event (just how many productions have included a real, operational steam train?). But the cast and creatives ably demonstrated that the train was a bonus—and not the lynchpin of this particular event. I am sure that, in the hands of this team, the play would work equally well in a mainstream theatre. And I’d certainly recommend student and community groups to hunt down the script for their own future performances.

High expectations can sometimes be a burden. But in this case, my high expectations were more than met—and the audience were all equally enthralled. A huge thank you to Gabriella, Emily and the team for creating such a memorable theatrical event. And a big shout out to Ipswich City Council and all of the individual donors and supporters who made the whole event pozible through their donations and funding.  

Verdict: Enchanting. Chuffed, stoked & driven to superlatives. 5 stars.

Audience tip: It is a few kilometres to the end of Swanbank Road. Keep the lake on your left and follow the signs to the power station (the rail station is opposite the power station). Arrive early and take the opportunity to visit the cash bar. Dress for cooler weather, and bring a camera to capture a picture at the end of the show. 

Catherine Lawrence

The Train Tea Society finishes what I hope will be the first of many runs on 8th May, 2016. The production was one of the first to sell out in the packed 2016 Anywhere Festival program.

 

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Review: The Anywhere Festival 2015

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Review: The Anywhere Festival 2015

Pictured: Anywhere Festival at the Toowong Bowls Club. Picture Credit Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Anywhere Festival at the Toowong Bowls Club. Picture Credit Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The last few weeks have been an enjoyable, challenging, enlightening, and entertaining time. No, I haven’t been on holiday. But I have been on a tour of many “new” places in Brisbane—or at least, places that were almost all new to me, and certainly were seen in a new light. Performance spaces I have visited this month included a bowls club, community centre, cafes, rehearsal spaces, pub back rooms, CBD offices, an antiques centre, and a car park. Anywhere. So much so that, when describing the festival to friends, I have taken to describing it as the “Anywhere but”  festival (that is, anywhere but a theatre).

For the Anywhere Festival is a great concept. It reminded me of days past, supporting a student show as we scraped together the money for a production which travelled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In a way, the Anywhere Festival is a fringe festival without the distractions of events taking place in the main stage spaces. A chance for those works in progress to build confidence (and contacts), test the waters, and make changes before they fully step out into the world.

I am happy to report that the Brisbane has an arts community that is alive and kicking, as it steps out into the world. In the case of The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret, definitely high kicking. There are a number of talented playwrights, directors, actors, and performers who have spent the last few months in an intensive period of writing, developing and producing shows to bring many of the nooks and crannies across Brisbane to life.  And, in doing so, managed to entertain audiences, create happy memories, and provoke discussions and debates that have sometimes continued for many days.   

Of course, the 2015 Brisbane Anywhere Festival has not all been local talent. It was great to see that the success of the event has attracted performers from further afield, who have raised the money to bring their shows over to Brisbane. For example, the Perth-based Toy Soldier Children’s Theatre Company brought The Happy Prince to the Parlour at the State Library of Queensland. And I am glad they did, as it appeared to be a perfect transition from family story-time to theatre-going; a charming, gentle, magical event which entertained an enraptured audience.

This was not the only show which took inspiration from history, or from earlier works. The Jazz Age Dance Cabaret delivered on the promise of a “delicious journey through the 20s, 30s, and 40s,” as well as teasing out more contemporary references to the Jazz Age. Students at the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts went much further back in time for their inspiration—bringing a highly physical and fast-paced production of a 1743 play, The Servant of Two Masters , to their car park.  A number of productions I saw drew on 1800’s.  Of course this includes the re-telling of Oscar Wilde’s 1888 short story in The Happy Prince. But also The Poor Slob & The Good Fairy centred on a film re-imagining of an 1899 Parisian cabaret script by Alphonse Allais. And the Flowers Theatre Company production of their new play, The Mayne Effect, also invited us to step back in time; to reflect on the treatment of the Mayne family, and the effect of the rumours swirling around the 1865 deathbed confession of Patrick Mayne.

Many of the shows were new works, often appearing for the first time as works in progress. It’s a brave writer/director/producer/performer who lets us, as audience, take what is almost a look backstage. A time when a new work is taking its first tentative steps out into the world, for feedback and constructive criticism, must be difficult at the best of times. It must be even harder when you have had to put the work together with little or no external funding, prevailing on the support and encouragement of friends and family.

So it was particularly interesting to see that the new works had family and relationships as a recurring theme; what Alexander Bayliss had one of the characters in Learning to Love Gravity describeas  “the ones that complete us: our friends, our family…our gravity.”  I was lucky to see some great new works. Nathaniel Young’s Arrivederci  was probably the funniest show I have seen for a long time.  Alexander Bayliss’s Learning to Love Gravity was fascinating, particularly with the use of physical theatre within a theatrical piece.  Emily Vascotto’s The Mayne Effect challenged us to think about the nature of the rumours that surrounded the Mayne family—and even whether what we know as history might be ‘true.’ And Sophie-Jane Huchet’s Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted) encouraged the audience to reflect on our how we deal with our own “devil within,” and what exactly is “everything” we have “ever wanted.” They were great shows, and I look forward to seeing future developments of each of the productions. I shall be looking out for them.In saying that, I of course also enjoyed the works based on earlier scripts or stories. It was too hard to pick out just one show that I would want to see again. You’d have to go and see them all yourself, and make up your own mind.

Hats off to Paul, Ruby, Alex, and the Anywhere Festival Volunteers. I hope that the producers, directors, and performers involved in all of the Anywhere Festival Brisbane 2015 shows have had at least as much fun as I did. And are inspired to not only continue developing those ‘in progress’ projects, but to think about where they want to be next.  Brace yourselves … all those involved in this year’s event.. I’m going to say it so no groans please…get planning, fundraising and writing now… roll on Anywhere Festival Brisbane 2016.

Catherine Lawrence  

 

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Review: The Mayne Effect

Walking 500m down George Street on Friday 8th May, 2015—from Brisbane Square, where a local radio station event was in full swing, to the heritage-listed Harris Terrace—I felt I had been taken back to the Brisbane of 150 years ago. The Flowers Theatre Company production of  The Mayne Effect takes place in one of the few tiny pockets of post-colonial heritage buildings still remaining in Brisbane. The director/producer (Gabriella Flowers), and writer/producer (Emily Vascotto), invite us to step back in time and reflect on the treatment of the Mayne family, and the effect of the rumours swirling around the deathbed confession of Patrick Mayne. The production uses the beautiful Georgian Heritage listed building to great effect. Instead of watching the action unfold on a conventional stage, the director moves the audience through a number of the rooms in the property, enabling us to watch life in the Moorlands family home. The play opens a window into the full horror of living under the threat of inheriting the family madness, and living a life where marriage is not an option. The cast drew us in to the motivations and lives of each of the siblings, as we see their own experiences from the inside. The true horror of the pressures faced by each of the siblings was also powerfully shown on the visit of Florence (Olivia Hall-Smith).  Hall-Smith’s portrayal gives us a wonderful insight in an outsiders’ view of the lives the family led, when Florence comes to see her beau, William (Kyle Barrett), and friend, Mary Emilia (Raechyll French).

Many Brisbane residents will be familiar with The Mayne Inheritance, a popular book by Rosamond Siemon which was also adapted by Errol O’Neill as The Mayne Inheritance : A Play (First performed at the La Boite theatre in 2004). The deathbed confession of Patrick Mayne, and agreement by his children that they would not marry, resulted in philanthropy that has had a major influence on Brisbane and Queensland.  The Mayne Effect encourages the audience to reflect not only on the treatment of the Mayne children, but to question the nature of the rumours that surrounded their family—and even whether what we know as history might be ‘true.’

The Mayne Effect is well-served by its cast of seven actors, most of whom take on more than one role. Paul Harper-Green draws out the light and dark of the character of Patrick Mayne—with the tenderness of his relationship with his wife and the robust nature of his life as a butcher. Each of the siblings is created as a believable and distinct character, each with their own approach to dealing with the family tragedy. We feel the joy and pain of William and Florence. I found the act where Rosa (Chloe Ingall) and Issac (Nicholas Ryan) sat around the kitchen table particularly confronting, as we see the frustration and sorrow of the two older children. Equally, the act where James (Marshall Stay) and Mary Emilia are sitting in their parlour as they receive the news of Issac’s death, shows the pressures faced by the two remaining children.

I for one will be popping back in to look at the portraits of James and Mary Emilia Mayne in the The Mayne Centre that bears their name, and be re-reading The Mayne Inheritance. Congratulations to each of the members of the cast, and to all involved with the debut show of the Flowers Theatre Company. I look forward to seeing where their next production in Brisbane takes us.

 Catherine Lawrence

 

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