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Room to Play

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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Review: Red Sky Morning

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Review: Red Sky Morning

Room to Play Productions, collaborating with Lisa Taylor King Gallery & Studio (Mikaela Hollonds, Producer)

Shepherds apparently swear by the old saying that an early red sky indicates a difficult day ahead. Tom Holloway’s Red Sky Morning is the superbly written corkscrew of despair that is one day in the life of a rural Australian household. The play is a window into one family’s desires, thoughts, hopes and misery—bringing the audience into the house that is shared by Woman (Heidi Manché), Man (Wayne Bassett) and Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker). In a mere 70 minutes we traverse 24 hours: from mid-night stargazing through to an evening dinner.

The character names are our first clue as to how fractured this household is. Dysfunctional people who have a desperate need to connect, but who fail to communicate. Director Beth Child reinforces that lack of communication through the isolation of the characters in their own thoughts and spaces on the stage. The scripted three columns of the play are conveyed through the (occasionally simultaneous) performance of the three interwoven monologues. The emphasis is on the thoughts of each character (and reported interactions with friends and colleagues). In stark contrast, household interactions are limited to the essentials (“Steak?” “Dad!”).

Such repression leads to a murderous, and possibly suicidal, rage that bubbles inside—barely kept in check by daily routines and a reliance on alcohol. The man goes to work, the daughter leaves early for school, and the woman drinks her way through daily household chores. Each character speaks of desires to connect, to speak, and to bring matters to a head. But they barely speak to each other, and flinch from contact.

Pictured    (L to R): Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) and Woman (Heidi Manché), Dress rehearsal photography by Richard Barakat. 

Pictured (L to R): Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) and Woman (Heidi Manché), Dress rehearsal photography by Richard Barakat. 

Each of the three actors rise to the challenges of their roles. Manché is a compelling presence on the stage, creating a highly-believable and sympathetic picture of a woman struggling with daily existence. The physicality of her character is fully explored: the enjoyment of the evening fart, the despair at bodily changes and ageing, and the depth of her desire for touch and connection. This is a powerful performance that leads us to ponder what drove Woman to withdraw, to drink, to rage against the church—and just why she doesn't “break the window.”

Kennedy-Tucker delivers a believable portrayal of teenage angst, confusion, desire, fear and rage.  I really enjoyed the flipping between the child-like happiness of watching the “pink” morning sky, the tragedy that is a “zit,” the desire to conform at school (including a rage at the uncaring comments of so-called friends), and the real fear at any expression of emotion by her parents. And, for me, Bassett was at his best when conveying the two extremes of the darkness in his life: the escape and possibility of the night-time at home, and the depression and dark rage inspired by the daily grind at work. We experienced his joy at light of the stars, and his genuine desire to connect with his wife in their bed—and feared for what his depression might lead him to do.

It’s not all depressing. There are moments of humour (and farting), of joy (“I bloody love looking at the stars”), and hope (teenage dreams). The day draws to an end with the possibility of a cathartic conclusion. But we are left wondering if this family will ever achieve a resolution, as “we start” heralds dinner, not conversation. The fragile glass of the window holds until another morning.

Pictured: Exterior, Lisa Taylor King Gallery & Studio, Newmarket (Picture Credit: Catherine Lawrence)

Pictured: Exterior, Lisa Taylor King Gallery & Studio, Newmarket (Picture Credit: Catherine Lawrence)

I must confess to being a fan of Room to Play Productions: a talented team who perform, direct and produce…opening up some great spaces for new theatre in Brisbane. The Newmarket Lisa Taylor King Gallery & Studio provides an ideal setting for this show; a tin-roofed shed that evokes a rural home, where a window takes centre stage. Lauren Salloway’s lighting design is perfectly judged. The Venetian blinds filter in the changing bars of the colours of the vast sky outside: from a midnight blue, to the warning pink of the morning sky ahead of the harsh white of daily reality, before returning to the bleak blackness of the advancing night. The production is equally well-served with the detailed work of Jaymee Richards (Costume), Andre Butterworth (Sound) and the rest of the team (including Delsey Martin, Stage Manager).

In the Director’s program note, Child connects the play with works by Mozart. For me, it’s more Beethoven or Wagner that come to mind. So I would like to have felt more of the passion, and rage, rising above the solos and cacophony. But it is a minor point. The play deserves to be seen by a wider Brisbane audience, and the team are to be congratulated for bringing it to such a marvellous ‘new’ space. This run ends 8th April 2017. If you are quick, tickets may still be available ($28, www.roomtoplay.com.au/whats-on/).

The cast of  Red Sky Morning  (L to R): Man (Wayne Bassett), Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) and Woman (Heidi Manché), Dress rehearsal photography by Richard Barakat. 

The cast of Red Sky Morning (L to R): Man (Wayne Bassett), Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) and Woman (Heidi Manché), Dress rehearsal photography by Richard Barakat. 

NB Parental advisory (15+ suggested): coarse language, sexual references, mental health issues.

Venue:  Lisa Taylor-King Gallery. Shed 1, 16 Thurlow St, Newmarket. On–street parking (plus some spaces immediately outside the entrance). Cash bar opens at 7pm.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the opening night performance, Friday 31 March, 2017 (7:30pm).

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Review: One Was Nude and One Wore Tails

Pictured (L to R) :   Colin Smith, Matthew Filkins, Jack Henry, Elise Grieg, and Ben Warren.   Picture Credit  : Geoff Lawrence,   Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R) : Colin Smith, Matthew Filkins, Jack Henry, Elise Grieg, and Ben Warren. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The Anywhere Festival not only opens up many of the more unusual places across Brisbane, but is also an opportunity for our ‘creatives’ to shine. Room to Play‘s production of One Was Nude and One Wore Tails is a great example of the depth and breadth of skills on our doorstep. Heidi Manché has launched a marvellous new performance space with a one-act Italian farce which plays for nine nights as part of Brisbane’s 2016 Anywhere Festival.

In the program notes, Manché highlights that Dario Fo, is adamant that his works should be made relevant for local people and places. Having studied in Italy—which included both translating works by Fo into English, and working alongside the Nobel Laureate—Heidi is ideally placed to bring (and apply) this work to Brisbane.  Right from the dimming of the lights, the production has a local flavour, as the cast grabs our attention with a rousing performance of What’s In Your Bin? (an original song, lyrics and music by Kate Pascoe)—complete with references to “the Caxton”, Musgrave Park, and Bardon. The song then gives way to the opening dialogue, where the two Garbage men are Brisbane Council employees (Colin Smith and Matthew Filkins).

Farce is difficult to do well. Traditionally fast and furious, humour comes from often crude characterisations, absurd situations, word-play, innuendo, buffoonery and horseplay. The Room to Play production draws on each of these techniques. Crude characterisations include the Patrolman as a grunting pig (Ben Warren), and the scheming Man in Evening Dress adopting a German accent (Matthew Filkins). Innuendo abounds as soon as Woman (deliciously played by Elise Grieg) is on the stage. And of course, what can be more absurd than a naked man in a bin (played, with great relish, by Jack Henry), who manages to convince others that he is an ambassador.  Unless you don’t find it completely ridiculous that a diplomat might take temporary refuge in a council bin, having had his ‘lovemaking’ interrupted by a returning husband?

The production was extremely well-served by Colin Smith (Garbage Man One). Smith played a convincing fall-guy who just wants to do his job well, meet the requirements of his supervisor, and help out someone in need where he can. During the 45-minute play, Smith is convinced he is a deity, persuaded to cover for a colleague, influenced to hand over his wallet to help the fugitive ambassador return home…. and… well, you’ll just have to visit the historic 1930’s Paddington Substation to find out the rest.

The play invites us to question the extent to which clothing is important in issues of identity and self-worth. Under Manché’s direction, we also have a chance to ponder just what it is that makes us laugh, and the importance of humour in conveying thought-provoking messages. For example, guffaws at Warren’s grunting patrolman—as he ran up and down the stairs—turned to uncertain ripples of laughter from the audience.  Manché’s cast want to hear their Brisbane audiences laugh. Hopefully you will join them, before leaving the Paddington Substation with the words of Woman ringing in your ears—reassured that you can laugh, and shouldn't worry that you are “..stupid… you know… always the last person to catch on.”

Congratulations to Danielle Carter (Producer), Heidi Manché, and the rest of the team for a thought-provoking evening. I look forward to seeing future productions from Room to Play, and hope that this theatre company is not the only group to use this great new, multi-level “intimate, industrial and surprising space for hire” in Brisbane.

Audience tipArrive early and take the opportunity to visit the cash bar before selecting your (surprisingly comfortable) seat. And laugh!

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended a preview of the show on 6 May, 2016. One Was Nude and One Wore Tails was on until Saturday 14th May, 2016. Tickets were available via the Anywhere Festival website.

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