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Review: 'BrisFest2018'

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Review: 'BrisFest2018'

September 2018 is over, and it seems to have passed in a flash—probably because of the 22 days of Brisbane Festival. Sadly I only saw about 20% of the shows & events (I’ll try to do better next time)… but here’s my #BrisFest2018 ‘wrap.’ Hats off to Festival Director David Bertold for a clever-crafting of an epic program into three ‘acts.’ It’s been hard to pick my top three festival experiences, so here’s my 3 lists of 3: memories, picks, and what I am looking forward to in 2019.

My top three memories are the spine-chilling performance of Jocelyn Pook’s score in Memorial, rainbows in the rain at Qweens on King, and the exceptional aerial tube act in Life—The Show.

  • Qweens on King, was one of the official opening events of the festival, complete with opening speeches and a range of musicians, as well as boylesque, drag and comic performers. At its heart was the first mass wedding of LGBTIQ couples in Australia—complete with laughter and tears of joy.

  • Memorial,  is a stunning piece of musical ‘dialogue’ with the performer (a fantastic feat of memory by Helen Moore) of Alice Oswald’s epic poem. Sublime vocals, and congratulations also to the 215-strong chorus for bringing each of the memorialised soldiers briefly to life.

  • Life—The Show is the newest Strut & Fret cabaret show. If, like me, you’ve seen Club Swizzle, La Soirée, and La Clique, then your very high expectations may first need to be dropped a little. For me, Life had a little too much of the ‘international clowning royalty’  and not enough of different cabaret acts. But it is worth the ticket price to hear Fantine Pritoula, and to see ‘Banana Boy’ (Tim Kriegler), in a spectacular aerial tube act (created by Nick Beyeler and performed by Kriegler with Elke Uhd). 

Picture:   Qweens on King    memories. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Qweens on King memories. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

 
Picture:   Qweens on King    memories. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Qweens on King memories. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

My top three festival shows are Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin (which has been on the festival circuit since 2016, and deserves a legendary run), and two new works, A Coupla Dogs and Dust. All three deserve to sell out every time. I hear from Geoff (Creative Futures photographer) that I would have included Rovers in my top three list—but as I missed it, I will have to track it down in a future run (congratulations to Belloo Creative)

  •  Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin is an unmissable evening: three expert cabaret performers who offer a feminist perspective on the history of gin, with good humour and fabulous close-harmonies. What’s not to love? 

  • A Coupla Dogs combines thinking about fear, desire, hope, and mortality with some very funny moments. A strong team for this world premiere, and I hope that it tours to festivals large and small. A well-written and directed new play, with compelling performances by Ron Kelly and Tom Oliver.  See it if you can.

  • Dancenorth's Dust was a thought-provoking collaboration between cast and creatives: superb dancers and a fabulous soundtrack, with a set and costumes that are works of art.

Pictured: The fabulous cast of   Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin  .  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: The fabulous cast of Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Tom Oliver and Ron Kelly at their canine best in   A Coupla Dogs    Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Tom Oliver and Ron Kelly at their canine best in A Coupla Dogs Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

There are also a number of shows or events I was really pleased to have seen, even if they didn’t make it to my top three. Many of them are likely to be ‘coming to a festival or theatre near you.’ If you get the chance to see Kaput! or California Crooners Club, or David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom, my advice is GO.

  • Thomas Flanagan’s Kaput!  is a marvellous tribute to silent film, and an impressive show that entertains both the under-10s and over-30s.

  • California Crooners Club is a Hollywood-style party, complete with live music led by a quartet who are determined to ensure everyone has a good time. Try to see it while Maiya Ociean and Johnny Manuel are in the mix.

  • David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom was one of the many festival events held at the Tivoli. A searingly honest, and very funny sharing of many aspects of Baddiel’s family-life, with a little bit of social media education thrown in for good measure. Inspired by the 2014 death of his mother, and his father’s dementia, the show was both enlightening and downright funny.

I would also recommend considering Man With The Iron Neck, and you may enjoy Home or En Masse more than I did:

Pictured: Entranced at the QSO playing of the  New World in    Symphony for Me   .  Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Entranced at the QSO playing of the New World in Symphony for Me. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

  • Man With The Iron Neck is a compelling piece of theatre which provokes debate about the rate and clustering of suicide in Indigenous communities. Writer/actor Ursula Yovich gave a powerful performance as the widow who lost both a husband and son to suicide, with some spectacular physical theatre work by the cast and marvellous audio-visual design by Sam James. The focus of the piece is in finding hope through trauma, and I commend the team for encouraging those who feel lost to reach out for help, and for partnering with Balunu Foundation (who provide tools and support).

  • Home was a fascinating blend of mime, physical theatre, dance, slapstick, immersive performance art, and Ikea-style house construction which encouraged audiences to reflect on the nature of ‘home.’

  • En Masse was arguably the most heavily-promoted of the 2018 Brisbane Festival events, which brings challenges in the preconceptions and expectations of the audiences. The show included some great performances: a fabulous tenor voice and some exceptional strength, lifts, jumps and balance. We certainly saw a lot. But all together? Not for me.

So… only 11 months until BrisFest2019… Three things I am hoping to see in 2019? Symphony for Me (a symphony for everyone, and I can see why there was an outcry when it took a break in 2017), the local buskers and performers at Arcadia and Theatre Republic, and festival conversations following new works.  

Pictured: Theatre Republic. P icture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Theatre Republic. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

The festival had four main locations across Brisbane. The Tivoli and Brisbane Powerhouse are well-known and loved Brisbane icons which needed little festival ‘dressing.’ But in recent years the producers have also created two special festival spaces: the Southbank Arcadia and Kelvin Grove Theatre Republic. In 2018, Arcadia was buzzing all day and into the evening. A great space to relax, to visit some of the food and beverage outlets, watch the free #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light show and enjoy the buskers (some great local acts, although just occasionally too loud for the paying Spiegeltent audiences). Theatre Republic, at QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus and La Boite, was a popular evening hangout, with a number of free ‘activations,’ and occasional free music performances. All of these spaces would not have worked so well without the hard work and enthusiasm of over 300 volunteers—with everything from flash mobs and back-of-house input, to the all-important information and usher work. And occasional dog-minding!

Pictures of some of the many hard-working volunteers.  All pictures credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictures of some of the many hard-working volunteers. All pictures credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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One of the great features of the Brisbane Festival program is the opportunity to attend a ‘conversation’ with the cast and creatives behind the major productions. We managed to miss every single one of the official festival conversations this year, but each work prompted our own debates after every performance. Arcadia, Theatre Republic and the Powerhouse were perfect for such deliberations with bars, deckchairs and nooks for post-show reflection. I wish I was there now. Roll on 2019…

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

For more information on Brisbane’s 2018 events, check out the Brisbane Festival website.  Individual show reviews also available at perspectives.

 

 

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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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