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Metro Arts

Review: Magpie

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Review: Magpie

In Magpie, Mordecai (Barb Lowing) is making a reluctant return to Brisbane, having left many decades earlier. Estranged from her recently-deceased Romani father, she is only returning to handle the sale of the family home to ensure she receives her much-needed inheritance (as his Will requires that she disposes suitably of his ashes and of his belongings). The action centres on the family home—where flashbacks to 1961 are interspersed with grumpy (and occasionally downright nasty) contemporary telephone conversations with her UK-based daughter, Fortuna (voiced by Luisa Prosser).

The discovery of her 1961 journal (and also a notebook of her late-Mother), inspires a sequence of revelatory flashbacks. She recalls her parents (Kathryn Marquet and Julian Curtis) as having a tempestuous and often violent relationship, where she felt excluded from their family history (and even from understanding what they said, when speaking in Romani). Through reading the journal, and recalling her attempts to investigate what really had happened, we see an unravelling of Mordecai’s misunderstanding of what led to their move to Australia—and an eventual realisation of quite how wrong she had been.

The naive, playful, flirtatious, and inquisitive Splinter (Michael Mandalios) was a standout character in the play, and his sad story was arguably more powerful than Mordecai’s family misunderstandings. Lowing and Mandalios’ interchanges were both poignant and funny; I really did feel the summer sun and enjoyed their child-like determination to discover the story behind her parents’ arguments. Lowing flicked with ease between the inquisitive Magpie and the grumpy older woman—although I didn’t always buy in to the oncoming thunderstorm, or feel that Mordecai deserved much sympathy.

It is always great to see ‘Brisbane stories’ on the local stage, and new writing (Elise Greig, Playwright) which explores outsider or marginalised communities is important. Romani are one of the smaller groups of people who have migrated to Australia, where Scottish Romani are an even smaller proportion. The Romani traditions were beautifully interwoven into the story—from the role of the shawl, and the ever-present security and warmth of the vardo, through to understandings of what is polluted, what can and cannot be spoken about, and what is a suitable way to deal with the belongings of the deceased. However, the ‘Scottish’ issue was a bit too much of a barrier for me—particularly distinguishing between when the parents were speaking privately, in Romani, and when they were arguing in often thick Scottish accents. This led to a period of initial confusion for some of audience members (including me), which distracted from early involvement in the story. And that was a pity.

Magpie references abound in the play. Magpie is Splinter’s nickname for Mordecai, and her mother feeds a magpie in their garden (until her father finds it, dead). Magpies are also an interesting choice when establishing a story about Australian outsiders, and the contrasts between Australia and Europe (Australian Magpies have beautiful song and are often hand-fed in domestic gardens, whereas European Magpies are regarded as inquisitive predator and are frequently associated with trickery, theft and bad news).  Perhaps there is more to be teased out of this script in a future production?

Magpie is an enjoyable 90-minute show, but I left wishing for more lightness and dark (and certainly less of Scotland). It’s an interesting idea, and an intriguing, well-written story. It was also great to see a different use of the Visy Theatre space (Josh McIntosh, Designer). I’d certainly look out for it again.

Verdict: Go for the ‘Splinter’ story, Romani references, and childhood memories.

Audience tip: Unallocated seating, so arrive a little early and aim to sit in the central seats you can. 90 minutes (lock out, and ‘lock in’, with no break). 15+ (two short complete blackouts, coarse language, adult themes, violence and suicide references). The Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre Show runs until 9 June, 2019 (7:30pm—with a 2pm performance also on 8 June 2019 only). Tickets $45 (student, concession and group discounts) plus transaction fee. Presented by Metro Arts, Playlab and E.G., in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse.

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Thursday 30 May 2019 preview (7:30pm).

Production Image (supplied): Mordecai (Barb Lowing), with Mother and Father (Kathryn Marquet and Julian Curtis) in the background. Picture credit: Stephen Henry

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Review: Reagan Kelly

Reagan Kelly is a play set in 2013 Brisbane. Focused on one slightly dysfunctional family, the plot incorporates divorce and threatened suicide, all framing a story about the development of new relationships, and seen through the microscope of millennial angst. Although the title suggests that it is all about Reagan (Emily Carr), the most interesting characters are those in her orbit. The most interesting parts of the evening were the interactions between her parents, and the struggles faced by her twin brother (Jeremiah Wray), who so desperately wishes to conform—when announcing his engagement to his girlfriend (Lisa Huynh) while actively pursuing a relationship with Reagan’s ‘gay best friend’, Hugh (Jackson McGovern).

Reagan Kelly is a show of great promise. Advertised as a ‘bitterly hysterical comedy,’ the cast and creatives include a number of people who have worked on other great shows: Producer, Danielle Carney (Retail Therapy), as well as Director Tim Hill and actor Elise Greig (both most recently in the excellent Wheel of Fortune).

The writing was interesting, and it is always great to see ‘Brisbane stories’ on the local stage. Lewis Treston (playwright) melds millennial dilemmas with a touch of farce, and has created a work that deserves better.

There were some highlights. The set and costume design worked well (in particular the costume choices for Kristy!). I liked the use of the videography, and it was a pity that the show didn’t blend more of these images into the performance (for example, as in the Wheel of Fortune). Scenes of the evening were those featuring the divorcing husband and wife, Ewan (Chris Kellet) and Kristy (Elise Grieg). Greig gave a compelling performance as the slightly neurotic mother figure, where the sauce bottle/frenzied fridge-cleaning scene was entertaining and memorable. Jeremiah Wray’s portrayal of the conflicted twin brother, Oliver, was relatable and sensitive.

But perhaps in a future iteration, a director might debate some cuts to Regan’s monologues, move away from stereotyping gay characters, and consider how to better integrate videography in the show?

The audience response was fascinating. If you want to giggle at every swear word and laugh hysterically at sexual references, then this is a show you will find entertaining. But this production didn’t hit the spot for me. Sitting watching Reagan Kelly in the Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre, I reflected on some of the many great shows I have seen in this building. I hope to add a few more wonderful memories before the building closes—but sadly Reagan Kelly is not one for the great-shows-I-have-seen-at-Metro-Arts list.

Verdict: One for Millennials, perhaps.

Audience tip: 150 minutes (including 20 minute break), Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts (16+. Sexual references, coarse language, portrayal of drug use, and suicide references,  and adult themes). The show opened on 20th March and closes 30 March 2019. Tickets $25-$31 plus transaction fee.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 28 March 2019 performance (7:00pm).

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Review: We Live Here

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Review: We Live Here

Deathfest, first seen in 2016, returns in a 2.0 version—Deathfest 2.0: A Duel with Death. Described as Australia’s first arts and culture festival on death, dying and the best way to live, the Metro Arts team has curated an important artistic response and provocation, designed to encourage discussions and reflection on dying and living. Central to the project, is We Live Here: commissioned by Metro Arts and developed by Flipside Circus (from an original concept by Jo Thomas), in conjunction with Hummingbird House, Robert Kronk (Dramaturg & Creator), with Natano Fa’anana and Bridget Boyle (Directors & Creators). It is an inspired commission.

Circus and death may appear an unlikely pairing: circus has connotations of life and laughter, in contrast with the sorrow and pain associated with death. But, as the Flipside Circus team so ably demonstrate, there are many parallels. Both depend on trust and determination, and require care and trained support. And just as Hummingbird House is clearly so very much more than ‘just’ a hospice, We Live Here is more than a catalogue of impressive circus skills.

We Live Here is a theatrical event: combining the work of five talented circus performers and creators (Indra Garvey, Mia Hughes, Amy Stuart, Skip Walker-Milne and Luke Whitefield), with great time-focused video projection and a moving soundtrack that included the words of parents, staff and supporters associated with Hummingbird House (Mik La Vage, Audio and Projection Designer). I have previously seen the talented Hughes, Whitefield, and Garvey as three members of the cast of eleven performers in Fusion (Flipside Circus’ 2017 Anywhere Festival production). And, again, they didn’t disappoint. From the compelling beginning of the show—where one of the younger performers portrayed the experience of being a child requiring complete care and support to move, manipulated and moving with the support of the rest of the cast—we were hooked.

Time, as the production reminds us, marches on. For the parents of life-limited children, time moves exceptionally fast—memorably demonstrated by Stuart on the clock-face treadmill of parental tasks accounting for every minute in a morning, concluding with “and it all begins again.” And this was not the only moment where Stuart, as a ‘mother figure,’ held the family together — often quite literally a circus tower of strength.

 
Pictured : Amy Stuart (strength), Skip Walker-Milne (handstand), with Mia Hughes, Luke Whitefield, and Indra Garvey. Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Amy Stuart (strength), Skip Walker-Milne (handstand), with Mia Hughes, Luke Whitefield, and Indra Garvey. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

Stuart gave a compelling central performance, not only with some of the best hoop manipulation I’ve seen in a long while, but also in producing some wonderful strength work. Indeed, Stuart often seemed to have the rest of the cast on her shoulders, including a great ‘duet’ with Walker-Milne, who walked the Loose Rope. But every member of the cast worked well in the ensemble, and also had the opportunity to shine and demonstrate their individual skills, with every move connecting with the audio and illustrating aspects of the Hummingbird House story. Walker-Milne’s work on the Chinese Pole was a fluid, and fabulous highlight. But we were equally impressed with the balance work on the seats of the chairs, the humorous interchanges between the younger members of the cast, the climb up the stairs on the backs of fellow cast members, and the range of circus abilities on show.

Life-limiting conditions, respite and hospice care are connected with images of sorrow and death. But, as the audio and performance reminded us, families also seek ‘ordinary’ memories of love and laughter; of parties, hair-braiding and of playing together. One of the funniest parts of We Live Here had to be the creation of the ‘family’ playing in the pool, complete with goggles and a rendition of their own version of synchronised swimming Swan Lake cygnets (although we also enjoyed the performance of the romantic rooftop ‘date,’ created by the Hummingbird House team to provide respite for one couple).

Hummingbird House is one of only 3 hospices for children in Australia, and the only facility providing respite and end of life care for Queensland children. The organisation seeks toprovide best practice short break stays and care at the end of life for children with a life-limiting condition and their families, and to help families discover moments and create memories to last a lifetime.’ In We Live Here, the Hummingbird-Flipside collaborators have created wonderful memories that will live for many lifetimes, and deserves to attract more supporters for both organisations. The Metro Arts commission is an inspired jewel in the Deathfest 2.0 program, bringing stories and experiences of the families of younger people with life-limiting conditions to life through the work of young circus performers. We Live Here is a fruitful and inspiring collaboration—illustrating the vital work of Hummingbird House and the skills of the Flipside Circus creatives, creators and performers.

Verdict: Exceptional. I really hope this show gets more than the scheduled three performances. See it if you can. Look out for future productions by Flipside Circus, and why not find out more about the much-needed work by the Hummingbird House team.

Audience tip: 55 minutes There are only three performances of We Live Here in the 2018 Deathfest program (2nd November, 7pm, with two shows on 3rd November at 3pm and 7pm) Tickets $10. Why not keep an eye on the website and book ahead for future events in the Metro Arts program.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 2nd November 2018 performance (7:00pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

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Review: Wheel of Fortune

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Review: Wheel of Fortune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 1st June 2018 performance.

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Review: The Eisteddfod

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Review: The Eisteddfod

Brisbane is managing to attract some blockbuster shows to our major venues—productions requiring major investments that demand high ticket prices. But if you are looking for a show that is challenging and occasionally confronting, and which will keep you all talking about the messages and ideas presented by the creative team, then make sure you visit some of the smaller venues around town.  And keep Room to Play on your shortlist. The latest work produced by this local creative team is now on at the Metro Arts Sue Brenner Theatre.

Imagination has a lot to answer for. Essential in learning and development for children and adults alike, imagination can also spark illness or phobias (which can then be exacerbated by what the sufferer imagines will happen to them). Imagination is also vital for successful theatre. Directors, playwrights and actors toil to create an imaginary world that will inspire, challenge or entertain their audiences—which is generally watched through the ‘fourth wall.’ Imagination is at the heart of Lally Katz’s The Esiteddfod: agoraphobic (or are they?) orphaned children (or are they now adults?) play out fantasies and rehearse (Macbeth!) for a (real or imagined?) theatrical competition. And if we are in any doubt as to whether this is real or not, the playwright-as-narrator interjects, reminding us that this is a play ("I'm Lally Katz, and I wrote it!"), and that the characters are now lost somewhere in her computer.  

The synopsis describes The Eisteddfod as a “suburban absurdist work, comic and disturbing.” Fortunately for Brisbane audiences, the Metro Arts/Room to Play production is in the hands of Director Heidi Manché. As a student of Dario Fo, Manché ably ‘treads the tightrope’ in a show that is an often-disturbing journey into issues of anxiety, abuse, fantasy and control.  

Much of the tension in the play comes from the Abalone’s (Matthew James French) struggle to retain control of their shared fantasies (often parodies of the suburban lives of their deceased parents) and his frustration that Gerture (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) is increasingly spending time “working in the classroom.” He tempts Gerture back to rehearsals with the prospect of winning the top prize in the theatrical competition (Eisteddfod): a one-way ticket to Moscow.

Picture (L to R): Abalone (Matthew James French) and Gerture (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) . Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Picture (L to R): Abalone (Matthew James French) and Gerture (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) . Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Luckily the casting is excellent, as this two-handed play places great demands on the actors. Kennedy-Tucker draws out the vulnerabilities and strengths of Gerture (as abused lover, as aspiring teacher, and as a sister who aims to please), so we are not surprised when she wears the blue ribbon to indicate she has won the much-prized trip to Moscow. French rises to the challenges of the desperate, controlling and yet vulnerable Abalone, while at the same time repulsing with his sexual preoccupations and bullying.

The Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre is a great venue for this production, as the audience look down on the often-confronting and uncomfortable fantasies of the two characters. Congratulations to David Walters (Lighting Design), Chelsea Jewell (Production Designer), for creating a cell-like space, complete with barricades of paper. The play is not for the faint-hearted, with childish preoccupations to shock including sexual references and frequent coarse language.  But if you are up for a challenge, you only have until 24 March to see The Eisteddfod.
 

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the opening night performance, Thursday 15 March, 2018 (7:00pm).

NB Parental advisory (15+ suggested): swearing or offensive language and adult themes.  Please note that there is no latecomer entry. 

Venue:  Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts, 109 Edward St Brisbane (www.roomtoplay.com.au/whats-on/; https://www.metroarts.com.au/events/the-eisteddfod/)

Tickets: General Admission $28, Concession (& Preview) $20, LOCAL Season Pass $60 (or $40 for concession season pass),

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