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Review: Retail Therapy

Pictured, above,         CeCe (Cassandra Croucher,    “  Retail Therapy  ”   ): “You see, there’s a reason why people in retail smile so much. It’s not because we’re happy, it’s not because we like you. It’s because secretly, we’re dying inside and we don’t want you to know it.”    Picture credit:  Geoff Lawrence ,  Creative Futures Photography

Pictured, above, CeCe (Cassandra Croucher, Retail Therapy): “You see, there’s a reason why people in retail smile so much. It’s not because we’re happy, it’s not because we like you. It’s because secretly, we’re dying inside and we don’t want you to know it.” Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

For only five performances (24-27 November, 2016), the Brisbane Powerhouse Graffiti Room (aka the Wonderland Festival ‘Leopard Lodge’) is transformed into the changing room of a major clothing store. Once through the curtain, hangers full of garments in hand, you can learn more about the experience from the other side of the counter. If you are really, really quick, you may just snare a bargain. Get in there now for an enjoyable 50 minutes of music, song and witty observation.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘retail therapy’ as the act of buying special things for yourself in order to feel better when you are unhappy.” Cassandra Croucher’s Retail Therapy takes us into the changing room—and mind—ofCeCe, store manager extraordinaire. In doing so, Croucher redefines the well-worn ‘retail therapy’ phrase. Here we discover the destructive impact of customers on retail staff. Given a chance to look behind the thin veneer of the “retail face,” we learn just what the store experience can do to previously happy, optimistic souls. Yes, I am talking about retail employees here. Before we, the customers, entered the shop staff were once real people, with their own hopes and dreams.

Retail manager CeCe’s advice is to “try not to end up in retail.” In this one-act, one-woman show, we learn that everything we thought was true of the shop assistant is true. Favourite time of day? Before opening (“no customers”). Favourite drink? “Alcohol.” CeCe’s trade secrets include everything from selecting the best new items for herself, through to ‘making friends’ in order to upsell, and hiding from the weirder regulars. Clearly, over time, the customers have driven her to it. The descriptions of customer stereotypes amuse (and occasionally horrify) as we learn a few home truths about how retail staff are put upon during their daily life: from the creepy customers who ‘check in’ with their captive audience, through to the often vile activity of the “fitting room terrorists.” Some people clearly find difficulty distinguishing between changing rooms and public toilets.  

The songs are entertaining and the music easily recognisable: 90s popular songs (think Gloria Estefan and Madonna) interspersed with tunes from shows such as Cabaret, Chicago, and Les Miserables.  But the words are new versions of everything from Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ through to my personal favourite of the evening, a reworked LesMis ‘Master of the House.’ I loved the singing and the rewording of the songs. But, I’d also liked to have had more time hearing the conversational thoughts of the brave, funny, and observant CeCe.

Croucher is a talented performer—not only author and co-producer of this one-woman show, but also a character actress with a great singing voice. The reality of the retail world is not always pretty, but in these expert hands, we experience the highs and lows of the retail experience. Croucher is witty and downright funny in her observations of life on the shop floor. She is also able to bring us snapshots of the full gamut of retail emotion—from real anger and vitriolic bile, through to pathos.

This store manager presents a feisty persona. But, behind that name-badge and loud hailer, is a sadness, when CeCe confesses, “this place is turning me into someone I don’t want to be.” Recognising that her retail face, name badge and (CeCe’s own special addition) the loud hailer have protected her from the reality of retail work, we realise she is moving toward facing up to being honest with her family about her real life.

Accompanied by the talented David Mibus (Music Director), and with the support of Danielle Carney (Director), Retail Therapy is a perfect show for a festival program. If I have a criticism, it’s that the ending leaves us wanting more—the first 50 minutes of what could be a longer show. I felt I’d seen the first act of what would be a great two-act show. Perhaps the next iteration of Retail Therapy might take us to a slightly larger space, with dedicated sound and lighting support. A chance to hear more about the life of CeCe. Then again, having wanted to study psychology, her close observation of the retail world leads us to think CeCe has just taken her skills into direct field observation. After all, there’s enough material in there for a longer play—or a thesis?

Clearly Brisbane audiences want to see more of Retail Therapy, as the Anywhere Festival show sold out quickly, and the Powerhouse Wonderland Festival shows are almost completely sold out. Tickets are available via the Powerhouse. But be warned, you may have to start lobbying for CeCe to get that pricing gun out again. As I write, even with an extra show added to the program, there are only 2 tickets left across the remaining 4 shows (yes, literally only 2 tickets available, at $30 each, including booking fee of $3).  Get shopping now!  Oh, and practice those folding skills before you go“neat folds.”

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the 24 November, 2016 performance.

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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: Private Moments

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Review: Private Moments

Pictured: Sarah Clarke (in   Semi Charmed).   Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence,   Creative Futures Photography  .

Pictured: Sarah Clarke (in Semi Charmed). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

One of the many great things about the Brisbane Anywhere Festival is it attracts talented and enthusiastic performers from interstate. Private Moments: A Double Bill  brings two 50-minute solo shows (written and performed by Melbourne residents) to the quirky Southside Tea Rooms.

Pop over to Morningside to see two shows ‘for the price of one.’  An opportunity to engage with the work of two talented and enthusiastic authors/actors/singers in an intimate performance space. In Private Moments the audience have the best of both worlds: two different shows drawing on personal histories and aspirations which address common themes of love, loss, romance and reality through music, drama and comedy. Two twenty-something romantics looking for love: one in real-time, looking forward, and the other in the present, looking back.  Sarah Clarke (in Semi Charmed) locates her story in the presentintroducing us to 50 minutes in the life of Daphne as she looks ahead to a first date. In contrast, in Buried At Sea, Mark Salvestro explores fragments of his great-great uncle’s final years—looking back over his own investigations into his family story and comparing his own experience with that of his ancestor. Anyone who has loved and lost, has wanted to know more about the lives of the men who left Australia to fight in the Great War (and the women they left behind), or is currently looking for romance, should go and see Private Moments.

Picture: Sarah Clarke (in Semi Charmed). Photo Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Picture: Sarah Clarke (in Semi Charmed). Photo Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Semi Charmed is set in Daphne’s bedroom. The love of her life has left (‘I didn't see the end until it was already over’), and she is taking tentative steps toward finding a new soul-mate. A budding author, Daphne works in a book-store—and it appears that she is spending a lot of her time in the romance section. Having ‘met’ the new David through Tinder, she is gearing up for their first encounter: telling her mum, selecting the right outfit, and researching tips as to what to expect. As a ‘fly-on-the-wall we have a chance to hear her hopes and dreams, listen to the development of her ‘romance’ with David “one button at a time,” and enjoy a range of musical interjections. The show is a funny, revealing, and quite touching portrayal—illustrated with a number of very well-chosen songs (Director Emily Joy, Musical Director Janine Atwill). I particularly enjoyed ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’, and I am sure every woman in the room laughed as they recognized their own attempts to fit into the ‘right’ outfit. The comic-timing was perfect and the writing spot-on.

Pictured: Mark Salvestro, with the portrait of great-great uncle George Bradford (in Buried at Sea). Photo credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Mark Salvestro, with the portrait of great-great uncle George Bradford (in Buried at Sea). Photo credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

In Buried At Sea (Director Phoebe Ann Taylor), we journey with the playwright,  Mark  (Mark Salvestro), as he both travels back in time, and within Australia, to discover more about the romance between Ruby and his great-great uncle George. Inspired by a family portrait of George—who died at sea, on his return home to Australia after fighting in Gallipoli—Mark’s journey leads him to reflect on his own life, and the challenges of finding love. Having asked ‘who else is going to tell this story, in Buried at Sea Mark shares confidences and fears with his ancestor (‘I’m lonely George). He also discovers the anguish and loss experienced by George, portrayed through the letters and ‘voice’ of his imagined ancestor. As he comes to feel closer to George, the work becomes ‘a real collaboration’ and an all-consuming pre-occupation (‘I can’t stop thinking about you George’). Buried at Sea also includes a number of musical numbers (with the support of piano accompanist Joseph Durcau), where Salvestro charmed his audience with a number of songs (I particularly enjoyed ‘Honey Dear’). By the end of play, Mark reflects on the loss of George at only 22, and starts to look ahead to all the ‘work [he has] to do’.

There are many simple comparisons to be made: 2 one-act solo shows written, sung and performed by 2 drama school graduates. 2 stories of personal exploration which touch on issues of love and romance, dating and loss, the traditional and modern, the spoken and sung word. 2 talented young playwrights who combine songs with their words and acting skills to create believable characters in an intimate setting. Go along while you can. It’s great value.

VerdictCompelling (AND it’s effectively two for the price of one. Only $20 to see two plays!)

Audience tipPop into the neighbouring Death Valley bar for a drink before the show. Near to bus stop and lots of street parking right outside this Morningside location.  

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 19th May performance of Private Moments: A Double Bill (Semi Charmed & Buried At Sea). The shows end on 22nd May 2016 (only three performances remaining— 20th, 21st and 22nd). Tickets are available at the Anywhere Festival website or on the door.

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Review: The Wives Of Wolfgang

Pictured  : Winona (Hannah Belanszky), Wilhelmina (Paige Poulier) and Willow (Caitlin Hill).   Picture Credit  : Geoff Lawrence,   Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Winona (Hannah Belanszky), Wilhelmina (Paige Poulier) and Willow (Caitlin Hill). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

It is a privilege to see any ‘work in progress’. As I said last year, a chance to look behind the curtain, be exposed to the creative process, and see the tentative early steps of new artists, producers, and authors. The Wives of Wolfgang is promoted as a work in progress in the 2016 Anywhere Festival program, but appears to be a production at an advanced stage in its development. 21 year-old Hannah Belanszky has set the bar high for the future if this is her first play.  

Before I go any further yes, when you look at information on the venue, the production does take place in the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Fortitude Valley. Don’t go to the church hall next door—unless you want to help out at the Anglicare Pantry, or  join the parishoners (on Wednesday, enthusiastically participating in a swing dance class). The 18th May première attracted a large ‘congregation’ of ‘mourners’—friends, family and strangers—who loved the show. Butit is worth mentioning  that not everyone will be comfortable with seeing a church handed over to a production—particularly where one actor climbs up and over the pulpit, and others occasionally sit on the ‘coffin’ placed in front of the altar. Just bear in mind this is a play, and not a real funeral or memorial.

Cast: Winona (Hannah Belanszky), Wilhelmina (Paige Poulier) and Willow (Caitlin Hill). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Cast: Winona (Hannah Belanszky), Wilhelmina (Paige Poulier) and Willow (Caitlin Hill). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The production is described as being ‘co-devised’ by the three actors. This is no mean feat, and I was impressed with much of the blocking, the use of the space, and the careful attention to the needs of audience sitting in a church. The actors moved around and through the space to ensure that, for the majority of the performance, we had a clear view (for example, by standing on chairs, using the pulpit etc). However, there were moments when I felt that the team are ready to bring in a director—as a fourth collaborator, contributing to the further development of the piece.

 Of course, there is a fourth presence on the ‘stage’; the ‘dear departed’ Wolfgang. As the Anywhere Festival information outlines: Dear Friends, Family, Colleagues, Acquaintances and Perfect Strangers, It is with great sorrow that we must inform you of the death of Wolfgang. Your presence at a memorial service in his honour is most humbly requested. A loving man, Wolfgang is survived by three former wives. They pray his soul will rest, somewhat, in peace.  You may go with the expectation of a tussle between three competing loves, but may leave feeling that each is happy to leave him behind at the church.  

Cast: Winona (Hannah Belanszky), Wilhelmina (Paige Poulier) and Willow (Caitlin Hill). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Cast: Winona (Hannah Belanszky), Wilhelmina (Paige Poulier) and Willow (Caitlin Hill). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

All the best fairy tales combine a simple story with dark undertones. The production team describe the show as a merger of the real and imagined, of light and dark, and of poetry and everyday language.  The technical team, including Daniel Endicott (lighting designer, Odyssey Entertainment), ensured we had light and dark, creating an atmospheric staging from the start: recorded organ music playing, with the red lights on the altar and coffin picking out the swirling dry ice ‘smoke.’ The script certainly delivered on occasional black humour and comedic cat references, the simple rhymes, and the real and imagined. However, by the end of the 45-minute show I was not convinced I’d shared in the interactions, thoughts, feelings and memories of three former wives. More, a chance to see into the minds of the three loves of Wolfgang— Winona (Hannah Belanszky), Wilhelmina (Paige Poulier) and Willow (Caitlin Hill). For me, the cat, the wife and the mistress. The three performers created distinct characters, each sharing their motivations for their relationship with Wolfgang. The first partner being a true cat in her independence (loving and leaving), the second settling for the ‘perfect’ life (where being a wife requires a certain amount of ‘blindness’ to her husband’s behaviour), and the third thinking that being a mistress is a route to long-term happiness with ‘BigBadWolf51.’  

There were some great moments in the production. The cast worked well together, but for me the memorable moments were when each took centre stage. I particularly enjoyed the skilful enactment of the cats’ first meeting with Wolfgang—with her ‘acceptance’ of the collar she was prepared to wear for him, for a while—as well as the sheer fun of a cat-like prowling, scratching, and general independence. The second love, as the ‘perfect wife’ with the ‘perfect life’, had some of the best lines, which were delivered with relish and panache. I enjoyed her journey of self-realisation—even if I felt she was leaving merely to find the next man to mow the perfect lawn. And the trio was completed with a believable portrayal of the needy and desperate mistress.  

As with all the best fairy tales, the big bad wolf is left behind. But don’t take my word for it… go along and see what you think.

Verdict: A great chance to see a work in progress—before the team are ready for a bigger stage (and higher ticket prices). The original plan to sell tickets at $20 was withdrawn. Tickets are free, with a ‘retiring collection’ donations box at the door. 

Audience tip: If you are not comfortable with actors climbing on/over a pulpit, or occasionally sitting on a coffin in front of an altar in an Anglican church, then this may not be for you. There is some off-street parking and (if you arrive early enough) parking on the street. 

The Wives of Wolfgang is a work-in-progress from Girl Who Cried Wolf Productions, with the support of Visible Inc and the Anywhere Festival.

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the 18th May performance. The show ends 21st May 2016. FREE Tickets are available at the Anywhere Festival website.

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Review: Straight On Till Morning

Picture:   Peter (Grace Finley).    Picture Credit:   Geoff Lawrence,   Creative Futures Photography  .

Picture: Peter (Grace Finley).  Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Twenty-two people gather, rather nervously, outside the entrance to Foundry Records. It’s Friday 13th, and we’re in Fortitude Valley. We all think we’re in the right place, and wonder quite what we are letting ourselves in for. The Anywhere Festival program leads us to expect a night in a mental asylum (‘Morning’), populated with characters which sound slightly familiar: Wendy (Anastasia Benham), Tink (Chloe Hambleton), and Peter (Grace Finley).

The door opens, and the Orderly (Bethany Latham) instructs us to form a line, give our names, collect a badge (and a drink voucher for later), and we’re in. The enigmatic Dr. Harken (Myles Hornstra) is already multi-tasking: playing the pianola, reading a book, and generally ignoring his audience. Dr Bell—aka Tink (Tinkerbell)—appears, and so we start our ascent into the asylum. Or rather, into the labyrinthine dark corridors of the upper rooms at The Foundry.

 Ruckus Poetry Slam’s co-creators (Director Kiah Latham, together with co-creator Cameron Cliff) have drawn on elements of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and a New York experience of site-specific theatre, to create an immersive theatrical event.  The production has a hard-working cast. Bethany Latham kept everyone under control as a believably competent Orderly. Dr Bell fluttered around as a petulant and entertaining recreation of Tinkerbell as a medical doctor. And the interactions between Anastasia Benham and Grace Finley were the highlights of Straight On Till Morning.   

Pictured: Wendy (Anastasia Benham). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Wendy (Anastasia Benham). Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography

The production design ensures that experience of each member of the audience will be different.  In Straight On Till Morning, the ‘medical team (the orderly, Dr Bell and Dr Harken) variously peel spectators off into different groups—with opportunities to be a ‘fly on the wall’ in Gewendoline/Wendy’s bedroom, to observe the therapy session between Dr Bell/Tink and Peter (or is it Peta?),  or to possibly even venture into Dr. Harken’s office. We all have a chance to observe, and to take part… sharing in the ‘pretend’ tea party, suggesting games to play, and taking our ‘medicine’… and also being privy to passing conversations, arguments or analysis. But as we come back together, into the rather sweaty dorm room that is Wendy’s bedroom, we wonder what information we have missed, or that other listeners may have been party to. For example, in the version of the event I experienced, I saw relatively little of the aloof Dr Harken, and was not privy to any discussions behind his office door.  But perhaps this was meant to mimic the experience of inmates who are rarely given access to the secrets of the Morning asylum.

By the end of the performance, we are encouraged to consider whether such controlling treatments can work. Do patients leave because they are ‘fixed’, or because they cannot be fixed? Is to ‘come fly with me’ to go out into the world, or to ‘fly away’ from/off a tall building?

 We can also consider the risks inherent in inverting the more traditional theatrical experience. Audience members may be uncomfortable when being invited in to the asylum, can occasionally derail performances if too engaged with the experience (when to take part? when to listen and observe?), and may be confused by an abrupt ending in a bar with no opportunity to draw a line under the event with applause. Equally, you may enjoy an opportunity for a different experience, and a chance to linger in a busy bar to debate the event you have just attended. 

Verdict: If you like immersive/interactive theatre then you may like to try this.

Audience tip: There are a number of flights of stairs, some dark corridors, and limited seating (the floor and/or dorm beds).  Make sure you pick up your drink voucher at the entrance (the show ends in the bar).

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 13th performance of Straight on Till Morning. The show ends 21 May 2016. 

 

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Review: B-Movies Live! Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

Pictured (L to R):   Princess Marcuzan (Kylie Stephensons as Marilyn Hanold) and Dr Nadir (Trevor Holland as Lou Cutell).   Picture Credit  :   Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Princess Marcuzan (Kylie Stephensons as Marilyn Hanold) and Dr Nadir (Trevor Holland as Lou Cutell). Picture CreditGeoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

For six nights only, Woolangabba’s Padre Bar is hosting a B-movie science fiction feat that is a must-see for fans of the classic genre. Taking us straight back to the 1960s, we see a one-hour extract of the endeavours of the handful of actors brought together to film an extremely low-budget science-fiction film. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster really did make it to celluloid: screenplay by George Garrett, directed by Robert Gaffney, the trailer is available via You Tube (with over 46,000 views), and DVDs of the original 1965 film are available from Dark Sky Films. If you read the Imdb plot outline, you’ll realise just how closely the original film followed all the characteristics of the genre: a solo space mission, an experimental android, a crash-landing, fights and a chase, marauding space aliens who are on a mission to “steal bikini-clad young women to re-populate their nuclear-ravaged planet, a pool party, a space monster… But be warned, it might be a better use of funds to see this Live! production than by the original (the original film was apparently #7 in the 2004 DVD documentary The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, and IMDb score is 3.3/10).

The cast and creatives clearly had a lot of fun pulling the whole event together. The props and costumes (prose by the cast and crew, costumes by Kristine Von Hilderbrandt) are perfect, thanks in particular to liberal dashes of tinfoil. Kristian Fletcher not only produced and co-directed (with Willem Whitfield) the production, but also manages to act as an entertaining stage-hand, clapperboard operator,  and audience manipulator (be prepared to boo! scream!! and applaud when prompted, and take the doll if proffered at the start). And I think this is 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. Ghoul Shadows manages a number of different accents in playing some of the ‘off-stage’ roles, and Chris Richards not only produced a fantastic soundtrack of original music and audio, but also voices a great narration.  

Pictured: Cast and Creatives at the Opening Night of B-Movies Live! Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. Photo Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Cast and Creatives at the Opening Night of B-Movies Live! Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. Photo Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

The cast hammed up their roles beautifully as B-movie actors—desperate for a drink, forgetting lines, smiling for the camera, handing out autographs. In particular, I loved Kylie Stephenson’s portrayal of the actress Marilyn Hanold, who was playing Princess Marcuzan. Great accents, amusing poses, and demanding leading lady. Arguably she also had the best costume. Her able sidekick, Dr Nadir, was played with great panache and concentration by Trevor Holland (as Lou Cutell). Trevor McMillan’s David Kerman/General Bowers entertained as the slightly bumbling alcoholic general, drawing many laughs with his excellent comic timing.  And Cecile Blackmore (Nancy Marshall/Karen Grant) was a feminist ahead of her time in her interactions with the action-hero James Karen/Adam Steele (Willem Whitfield). Blackmore and Whitfield were a great duo—playing the hero/heroine in true B-movie style. 

Cecile Blackmore (Nancy Marshall/ Karen Grant) – the true B-movie style heroine. Photo Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Cecile Blackmore (Nancy Marshall/ Karen Grant) – the true B-movie style heroine. Photo Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Being a supporting player was a thankless task in the B-movie genre, but this production does recognise the group of extras. The original film had two uncredited actors, and the B-movies Live! production respects that aspect of the genre up to a point, but does thank a group of ‘supporting players’ as Truly McCandless, and Earth Women Annaliese McGuire and Anna Reynolds.  Well done to them also, for their supporting roles, and a shout out to Dylan Friedland for managing to watch, drink sideways, and participate as Col. Frank Saunders on the night I saw the show.

 If anyone was going to pull this off, it would be Kristian Fletcher, who certainly has a passion for cult movies. One of the founders of Brisbanes’ cult and classic cinema ‘scene’, Kristian hosts themed events around Brisbane on a regular basis. B-movies Live! has the potential to be a long-running series and not just a one-off (re)production of Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster.  There is a large pool of B-movies to draw on, so taking this format and applying it to other cult classics could be a fruitful and long-running series.

The show only runs Thursday-Saturday for two weeks during the 2016 Anywhere Festival (until 21 May). You don’t have to be a fan of the genre to attend, but there are references to other films and productions to be found. Just as Rocky Horror parodied kitsch science fiction and horror films, so aficionados will pick up Rocky Horror references in this homage to B-movies. We delight in the narration of Chris Richards (who also provides a fabulous soundtrack of original music and audio), while Princess Macuzan and her assistant Dr Nadir adopt the occasional Magenta and Riff Raff moves, and the white-coated Dr Adam Steele and Karen Grant assume intermittent Brad and Janet poses. I am sure the true B-movie/Rocky Horror fans in the audience were picking up every allusion, and revelling in each nuanced reference. Go along and see how many references you can identify.

Verdict: Cult fun (Cosplay outfits optional)—a must-see for B-movie fans, and a fun evening for couples and groups.

Audience tip: The performance takes place in the downstairs room at the The Padre Bar (and is therefore not wheelchair accessible). Make sure you take your drink downstairs with you, and expect that the room may get a little warm (after all, film lights etc!!).

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the opening night performance of B-Movies Live! Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (12 May 2016). B-Movies Live!  has a 6-show run (Thursday-Saturday evenings starting 12th May, ending 21st May) Tickets are available at the Anywhere Festival Website.

 

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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: 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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Review: Mediocrity

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Review: Mediocrity

Pictured(L to R): Harvey (Christopher Batkin), Joker (Callum Pulsford), and Loretta (Jackie Sutton ), Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted), 23 May 2015. Picture credit:          Geoff Lawrence .

Pictured(L to R): Harvey (Christopher Batkin), Joker (Callum Pulsford), and Loretta (Jackie Sutton ), Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted), 23 May 2015. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

One source offers the synonyms of 'patchiness,' 'unevenness,' and 'weakness' for ‘mediocrity’ (and suggests the antonym of 'excellence'). Magnetic North TC’s first work was far from mediocre: a thought-provoking work in progress that was a pleasure to watch.

Writer/Director Sophie-Jane Huchet is to be congratulated for creating an insightful and provocative window into the mind and insecurities of the newly post-education, let-out-into-the world 20-something’s. A story which is not only that of young adults today, but is one that their parents will also relate to. On their Facebook page, Magnetic North TC describe themselves as “an independent ensemble committed to innovative, insightful theatre telling ‘stories from people like us.'” For me, they told a story that’s about all of us. Or at least stories about all of us who have grown up post-war facing ‘First World’ problems. Having left parental support behind to set up life with the love of our life, we all come to realise that life can soon become filled with the mundane. Those bins need to be put out after all. Having been convinced that we are going to be the next big thing, suddenly we can feel that no matter how hard we try, we are not quite the success we thought we might be.

The show introduces us to what the publicity describes as “two ‘newly adult’ Brisbanites.” Loretta (Jackie Sutton ) and Harvey (Christopher Batkin) have set up home together, sharing dreams of being successful in their chosen careers. Little do they realise that they are actually a household of three—with the constant presence of Joker (Callum Pulsford).

Pictured (L to R): Joker (Callum Pulsford), Harvey (Christopher Batkin), and Loretta (Jackie Sutton ), Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted), 23 May 2015. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

Pictured (L to R): Joker (Callum Pulsford), Harvey (Christopher Batkin), and Loretta (Jackie Sutton ), Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted), 23 May 2015. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence.

The cast were excellent. Not only did they work well together, but I believed in the relationship created between Loretta and Harvey, and how they responded to the nagging doubts and pressures resulting from the hamster wheels they had each selected. Joker was a wonderful contrivance for us to learn more about the pain Loretta and Harvey each felt, and how they responded to the pressure of being seen to be successful. The ‘Facebook’ scene with Loretta and Joker, and the ‘Apple author’ scene with Harvey and Joker were spot on: well-written and beautifully acted insights into the insecurities of each character.

And Callum Pulsford created a mesmerising Joker—clearly having as much fun playing the character as it was to watch. Acting as a disdainful conscience, petulant gremlin, and impatient puppeteer, the Joker was a convincing“devil within.” From the first moment when the audience entered the room, he was a menacing, alert, and compelling figure.

Pictured: Joker (Callum Pulsford) in Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted), 23 May 2015. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence

Pictured: Joker (Callum Pulsford) in Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted), 23 May 2015. Picture credit: Geoff Lawrence

Congratulations also to the team behind the scenes, including Andy Green (AD/producer and Batman—surely one of the best job titles I have seen during the Anywhere Festival), and stage manager/designer Tiff lane. Tiff, I loved your work as you silently mouthed the script to ensure the sound cues were absolutely perfect.

Many of the venues selected for the Anywhere Festival have their challenges. The Toowong Bowls Club is a great venue, and a popular choice on a Saturday night. The Club was hosting a stag party, a number of birthday celebrations, and Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted).  As verandah was full, we were not outside on a suburban porch, but inside the confines of a small apartment. I felt the staging really suited the script. We were drawn into the cramped environment of a small first home, where much of the action takes place on the living room sofa. Despite the rising noise levels from the 40th birthday celebrations taking place next door, the cast drew us in to the show, ensured we could hear what they were saying, and kept our attention.

I left the production reflecting on the final note of optimism: the couple grappled with their Joker, and decided whether they valued success above happiness. During the performance, the Joker had engaged with the audience as well as with the couple. So perhaps some of us left the show reflecting on our how we deal with our own “devil within,” and what exactly is “everything” we have “ever wanted.”

I hope you get the chance to see the show for yourself. Although I saw the production on the last night of this run (23 May 2015), I am sure we will hear more from Magnetic North TC, and will certainly keep a look out for the further development of Mediocrity (Everything You’ve Ever Wanted).

 Catherine Lawrence

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Review: The Poor Slob and The Good Fairy

Pictured  : Lola the Vamp, in   The Poor Slob & The Good Fairy ,    May 2015. Picture Credit:  Geoff Lawrence .

Pictured: Lola the Vamp, in The Poor Slob & The Good Fairy, May 2015. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence.

The Anywhere Festival is a great opportunity to see new work, and visit fresh venues around the city. The Sip Café has a great location, and it looks like it serves a good breakfast: just across the road from the river at 54 Vernon Terrace, Teneriffe. I shall certainly look to pop along again and sample the menu. However, I did wonder what passers-by thought was going on as a dozen or so of us sat in a semi-circle, on Sunday evening, watching what might have appeared to be striptease. Memo to self: re-read the description of an event booked a few weeks earlier before you go.

I was part of the audience on the final night of the short Anywhere Festival Brisbane run of The Poor Slob & The Good Fairy, staring Lola the Vamp. Dr Lola Montgomery is a graduate of Griffith University’s School of Humanities, with a PhD in burlesque—and was film director, film and burlesque performer, and show producer. The show was a combination of silent film (with appropriate background music), interspersed with burlesque performances by one of the film characters ‘in the flesh,’ and concluding with a performance of ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.'

Le Pauvre Bougre et le bon génie, the 1899 Parisian cabaret script by Alphonse Allais is a witty, 600-word, short story about the encounter between a poor chap, absinthe, and what I thought of as the spirit in a bottle (a genie—or in this performance, a fairy). Directed by Lola Montgomery, and starring Lola The Vamp,  Eric Meredith, and Mina Von Lustern, the re-imagining of the story as The Poor Slob & The Good Fairy was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. The audience on 17th May seemed to find some of the earlier lines of the film amusing, but there was less laughter as the story unfolded. I quite enjoyed the film: Mina Von Lustern (William Ferguson) played the character of the waiter with style, Lola The Vamp was a coquettish and alluring 'Good Fairy,' and the sepia tones and typeface for the script were well-chosen.

I also liked the idea of the fairy interrupting the film: bringing it to life, and perhaps also a reference to intervals projectionists needed when changing show reels for early films. I had anticipated that the live performances might link in more closely with the story told in the film (I am guessing that perhaps these were representations of some of the Parisian dancers and performers that the “poor slob” was to spend his last francs on?). But I would suggest that the interjections would be better achieved if there was a corresponding shift in lighting and sound. A fellow Anywhere Festival reviewer commented on lighting and technical problems on the opening night. At the end of the run we experienced fewer technical issues, but I struggled a little with the sound and lighting. For example, I missed most of the short introductory speech. I also felt that the lighting needs to be addressed (even if just with investment in a couple of lamps). I am all for creating an atmosphere, but there is a balance to be had between low light and being able to see (and hear) a performer. Rather than heralding the change in pace with music and lighting, Lola the Vamp had to tell the audience that “this is the burlesque bit.” But perhaps that’s all part of the new burlesque, or retro-burlesque, which I now discover is part of Australian Absinthe Culture (see absinthe.com.au).

I am sure that show will continue to evolve and develop. As Lola the Vamp noted, in the concluding speech, events such as the Anywhere Festival allow performers to test their work out and to experience ‘self-producing.’ Perhaps with a bigger budget, better lighting, and more robust technical equipment, the show will be more successful. For future publicity, I’d suggest that the producers consider adding in a more accurate estimate of running time, and perhaps also make the age guide part of the show description (there was an MA15+ reference, but only next to the running time, under the address). Paying audiences might expect that shows will approximately to the time advertised (17th May was the final night of the short run, when the show ran for half of its advertised time). Of course, if they had noticed the show was advertised as 90min then potential audiences would have also seen the MA15+ guide. And, after all, perhaps few under-16s would be out in Teneriffe at 830pm on a Sunday; they’d be getting an early night before calling in for their Sip Café chia and coconut pud in the morning. 

Catherine Lawrence  

Main Picture: Lola the Vamp, in The Poor Slob & The Good Fairy, May 2015. Picture Credit: Geoff Lawrence.

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