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Review: Symphony For Me

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Review: Symphony For Me

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

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

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Review: Home

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Review: Home

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Verdict:  Fascinating.   

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

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

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

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

 

 

 

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Review: Memorial

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Review: Memorial

Memorial is a stunning piece of music, which enters into a dialogue with the performer (Helen Moore) of Alice Oswald’s epic poem. War and poetry may seem strange bedfellows, but war poetry is among the most powerful and cherished of the form (I’m thinking here of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est, Henry Reed’s Naming of Parts, and even Homer’s The Iliad). Oswald’s Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Illiad has been described as a remarkable, luminous, and affecting obituary, and a poem which is “a meditation on the loss of human life.” Oswald distils and reimagines Homer’s Illiad, touching on the over 200 soldiers who died in battle—capturing our attention from the opening line, “The first to die was PROTESILAUS.”

Composer Jocelyn Pook has produced a spectaular piece of music, which enters into an inspiring dialogue with the spoken word. Under the leadership of Jonathan Peter Kenny (music director) the musicians and singers were more than up to the challenges of the score—particularly thanks to the sublime voices of Loni Fitzpatrick (soprano), Jonathan Peter Kenny (counter tenor), Kelly McCusker (soprano), Melanie Pappenheim (mezzo soprano), Belinda Sykes (Bulgarian singer) and Tanja Tzarovska (Macedonian singer). I really hope that the team produce a recording for sale which combines the music, song and spoken word.

As the many recordings of the great Richard Burton demonstrate, the spoken word, particularly when illuminated by a great score (who can forget War of the Worlds), makes compelling listening. Helen Morses feat of memory, performing the poem throughout the 105-minute show, held the rapt attention of the preview audience. At times, the only sound to be heard was the squeak of stalls seat L29 (hint to QPAC—oil needed!).

The staging was epic in scale, and certainly aimed high (director Chris Drummond, concept Chris Drummond & Yaron Lifschitz, and producer Lee-Anne Donnolley). Fantastic lighting design (Nigel Levings) and some striking aspects to the set design (Michael Hankin)—particularly the blue water. However, I found some of the repetitive marching distracting, and felt that Morse’s performance was better-served when speaking directly to the audience (memorably when stepping over the footlights to engage with us) or when round the ‘campfire’ with smaller groups from the chorus.  Congratulations to each of the members of the 215-strong chorus for bringing each of the memorialised soldiers briefly to life. Perhaps a future staging might more directly link each member of the chorus with the names memorialised in the poem—building the on-stage presence to a crescendo? A greater focus on naming each person might enhance the re-telling of each character and their death. And I’d love to have seen the musicians and singers in more of a direct dialogue with the performer—perhaps stage left to the performers stage right movements? But then… those who can, do, and those who review… dream.

Me? I’m off to buy a copy of the poem, and will watch out for the CD of the music and speech.

Verdict: Go. Revel in the music, marvel at Helen Moore’s compelling feat of memory—and then reflect.  

Audience tip: Linger after the Show to visit the Brisbane Festival Arcadia, and perhaps catch the free #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light shows (three shows daily during the festival until 29th September 2018).

Memorial ran for 4 shows during the opening weekend of Brisbane Festival 2018 (Friday 7th & Saturday 8th  7:30pm performances, in addition to matinees on Saturday [1:30pm] and Sunday 9th [3:00pm]). For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Friday 7th September 2018 preview.

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Review: Once in Royal David's City

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Review: Once in Royal David's City

Once in Royal David’s City by Michael Gow. Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) and Black Swan Theatre Company co-production, at Playhouse QPAC, 22nd April to 14th May, 2017.

 

Michael Gow’s Once in Royal David’s City centers on the Christmas death of Will Drummonds’ recently-widowed mother Jeannie. Less than 2 months after the lingering death of his father, Will (Jason Klarwein) arranges a Christmas holiday with his Mum; a chance for an idyllic rest, and some beachside relaxation. But instead the planned break rapidly turns into a bedside vigil.

During the short period from diagnosis to death, we reflect with Will on key scenes from his life, and join with him as he grapples with how to ‘deal’ with the death of his mother such a short time after she is widowed. We see and experience characters through Will, and also through their connection with Jeannie. For example, the seemingly uncaring Doctor (Adam Booth) is humanised when he relates an earlier conversation with Jeannie.  We also begin to question why we might expect the dying to embark on a deathbed process of unburdening close-held secrets; as Jeannie’s close friend Molly (Kaye Stevenson) suggests, it is for the living to say what they need to, and the dying to say only what they wish.

We also learn much about perspective, misunderstandings, and misreading of people and situations. Perspectives are a central part of the production, particularly when mother and son separately recall a Bondi beach visit, and temporary misplacing of the 6-year old Will. Jeannie recalls ‘losing’ him, but Will’s recollections are of ‘finding’ himself (or at least recalling enjoying his time with the hunky lifeguards). Equally, misunderstanding or misreading of characters and situations is a recurrent theme. Does the preacher (Wally, played by Steve Turner) have any faith at all? Is the hospital visitor (Gail, played by Toni Scanlon) really a nurse or professional carer?

This sounds like it is all serious stuff but—as in real life—even in death, there is usually humour. There are certainly some funny bits in this production, which is beautifully directed by QTC Artistic Director Sam Strong. This is particularly the case in the ensemble work of the cast: the Christmas eve switching between the ‘Dr Google’ prognosis and treatment options and the red-dressed TV star in the TV special (beautifully played by Emma Jackson), Steve Turner “on wheels,” and the poignant humour in Adam Sollis’ skateboarder's description of his fractured family Christmas.

Pictured: A scene from  Once in Royal David's City . Picture credit: Philip Gostelow.

Pictured: A scene from Once in Royal David's City. Picture credit: Philip Gostelow.

The QPAC Playhouse is a battleground that has claimed the heads of many set-designers, so hats off to Stephen Curtis, who used the space with economy and style. In particular, I loved the creation of the airport arrivals area, and of the utilitarian hospital room, at the back of the cavernous stage. That’s not to say I didn’t have a couple of minor quibbles with the setting. I have to admit I found the frequent “swipe left, swipe right” movements of the curtain a little irritating, and was a increasingly concernedat the ominous forward progress of the deathbed (had someone forgotten to put the brake on?). But I was in a minority in our group on both niggles.

Be warned, however. Will is a middle-aged theatre director, and fanatical about Brecht (so much so thathe is invited to teach at a private school—to the delight of his mother, who clearly sees teaching as a higher calling than theatre direction). Audiences are increasingly used to warnings such as those in the QTC program: about coarse language (limited), adult themes (death), and even of smoke and haze (limited smoke). But perhaps we have to introduce a new category, as the QTC promotion doesn’t warn you of a high Brecht content. If you have time before you go, skim Michael Beh’s program notes, which highlight the fusion of “elements of Brechtian theatre with contemporary realism” (and provide a few reminders about Brecht’s theatrical style that may be helpful in your own post-theatre reviews).

Chatting about the play with my fellow theatregoer, I was asked if I felt the play was autobiographical. I understand that Michael Gow was drawing on the loss of his own parents when he wrote this play, but I think the autobiographical question was more as a result of the compelling performance by Jason Klarwein. Despite the Brechtian alienation, for many of us Klarwein is William Drummond (who may in turn be Michael Gow). Klarwein’s superb performance alone is worth the price of entry.  From the opening welcome (“thanks’ for coming... I'm in an airport”) it is perhaps not surprising that we found ourselves questioning if the play was autobiographical.

Gow ends the work by posing the question “why is it so?”  We can of course wonder what the “it” is that is: that we expect certain behaviours or experiences at the time of death, that our plays have to be heart-rending or wildly amusing, that….?

Reflecting on Once in Royal David’s City, I’d also add my own question; when is a theatre not a theatre? Answer: when it’s a lecture theatre. If you prefer your lectures to be just that (at School, college or University)… and want to go to the theatre for entertainment or to relive life experiences and connection… then Once in Royal David’s City is not for you. But if you want to be provoked, to come out of a theatre thinking about what the playwright and Director were ‘trying to say’—and/or just want to see a powerhouse of a performance by Jason Klarwein—then go. And then tell me why you think it’s so.

Once in Royal David’s City is in Brisbane for just over three weeks (22nd April to 14th May, 2017). Tickets $55-$86 (plus $6.95 fee per transaction). 95 minutes, no interval.

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended Once in Royal David’s City at Brisbane’s QPAC Playhouse, on Tuesday, 2nd May 2017, 6:30pm

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