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Theatre Republic

Review: You & I

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Review: You & I

You & I is a great concept, and an excellent piece of theatre. The premise of the show is deceptively simple. It’s raining, which means that plans to go out are abandoned and you’re stuck at home with your husband. Fortunately, this is not a day for household chores, as this particular couple spend a loving and tender hour tumbling, hooping, lifting, spinning, dancing and playing together.

Circus certainly lends itself to providing a window into a loving relationship—particularly if you are a married couple, and are two of the co-founders of Casus Circus.  Jesse Scott and Lachlan McAulay’s partnership extends beyond the professional to the personal, which means that the You & I includes powerful strength, great tumbling and control, amazing and memorable trapeze, and a very special twist on the stacking chairs. This piece is also funny, playful, and tender; after all, who hasn’t struggled to walk in heels, had fun exploring dress-up boxes, or wanted to tango in quite such an intimate way.

You & I is a highly-personal piece,  as it is co-created by the two performers in every sense of the phrase. From lighting and soundtrack choices through to trick selection and set design, Scott and McAulay are in control, which means the piece is authentic and every detail thought through (even down to the careful wood-carving and rope-splicing). The lighting, soundtrack and set all complemented the work. The soundtrack is well-chosen (for example, Jamey Johnson’s version of You Are My Sunshine was a perfect choice for  Scott’s solo trapeze piece), and the set establishes a home environment that is used to great effect.

 As skilled circus performers, McAulay and Scott have ensured that this personal show is jam-packed with tricks—drawing gasps of delight, amazement and even incomprehension from the audience (look out for Scott’s walking on ‘top-toe’—a whole new spin on the traditional tip-toes). It’s difficult to choose just one high-point, but I’m certain that everyone went way talking about the trapeze duet that culminated in McAulay’s exceptionally fast spin below Scott.  

Serious circus is a welcome trend, moving away from the trick—ta-dah—applause model, to storytelling through circus. In the last few years, I have seen some very serious circus pieces that have been used to consider many challenging subjects. It’s refreshing to see how McAulay and Scott push the boundaries by creating a story that is positive, loving, and full of hope. Audiences are all the richer for a show which provides a highly-relateable window into a loving relationship. Few of us will live in a yurt, and even fewer will have two trapeze bars hanging from the ceiling. And none of us are likely to even be able to tango with the same precision and focus. But we can all relate to a love story.

 A year on from its first performances, the show continues to evolve. So definitely one to look out for again. Just make sure you get to see it during this short 2019 Brisbane Festival run.

 Verdict: You & I is a show for all audiences. A great piece of theatre, with some exceptional circus skills.

Audience notes: 60 minutes. All ages. Seating at The Block (Theatre Republic) is theatre-style, raked seating. Consider queueing to sit nearer to the front if you can. Strictly six performances only during the 2019 Brisbane Festival performances—24-28 September 2019 (1:00pm & 5:00pm shows on 28 September 2019; 7:30pm shows 24-27 September). Tickets are $20-35 (plus booking fee, note that the Festival uses ‘airline pricing’ for the Show, so select the lowest available price on booking).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Wednesday 25 September 2019 performance (7:30pm), and post-show Q&A.

Q&A Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography

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Review: Orpheus

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Review: Orpheus

Brisbane Festival’s Theatre Republic is this week visited by two troubadours—newly arrived from the UK to retell a tale of love and loss, trust and colour, youth and age, spring and winter. In this case, the lyric-poet is Tom Figgins (performing a role written and created by Alexander Wright), and the poet-musician is Phil Grainger. In the true style of the troubadours of old, Figgins and Grainger switch between performing and chatting directly to the audience. So we are quickly warned that Eurydice will die, that if we came to the show because we wanted to hear Bruce Springsteen then there is only one of his songs that evening and, finally, that a knowledge of Greek mythology is not a prerequisite. There is a smattering of Bruce Springsteen (Dancing in the Dark, of course), but most of the music is composed by Grainger. Knowing Greek mythology is neither a help nor hindrance, as this love story is beautifully told.

Picture : The tools of the troubadours.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: The tools of the troubadours. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Also in the style of the traditional troubadours, Figgins and Grainger rely on few props. As the audience walks into the La Boite Studio, a single book and a guitar are on the floor, and the two performers are chatting. But then that is all they really need to create a world of pubs, mates, karaoke bars, new love, hell and a world that can be transformed into vibrant, living colour: words, song, a book and a guitar. And a story about Dave.

The technical touches were light, and worked well. Simple lighting, but we really felt the warmth when the colour came into the room, and into Dave’s life. The space worked well for the sound-levels (make sure you concentrate on the words), and I loved the musical choices as we filed into the room (what’s not to love about a soundtrack that includes “I want you back” and “I’m coming up” as a prelude to a story about trying to bring someone back from hell?).

The switching between performance and chatter is a great way to relax the audience, to build rapport, and to encourage some laughter. The chatter was also used to great effect when Grainger called a mini interval—encouraging the audience to briefly stand up, but not to leave the room. This ‘tension break’ was a great idea, as there were times during the show when the audience was completely spellbound—listening so carefully to the words of the story and song that a pin dropping would have crashed to the ground.

The applause was warm and well-deserved. Having heard the story from Orpheus’ perspective, I’ll just have to make time to see the companion piece (Eurydice) to hear her side of the story.

Verdict: We all need more of such modern troubadours in our lives—or at least, on our stages. One to look out for.

Audience notes: 70 minutes. Seating at the La Boite Studio (Theatre Republic) is on two sides of the space. Don’t worry, you’ll get a great experience from either side, but try to sit in the first four rows if you can. 13+. Consider booking tickets for both Orpheus and the companion piece, Eurydice; conveniently the two shows run concurrently in the same space. The two shows are part of the 2019 Brisbane Festival, 17-21 September 2019 (7:15pm or 9pm—Orpheus timing alternates with Eurydice). Tickets are $20-35 (plus booking fee, note that the Festival uses ‘airline pricing’ for the Show, so select the lowest available price on booking).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Tuesday 17 September 2019 performance (7:15pm).

Note: Promotional material for the festival includes pictures of Wright, but the show is performed by Figgins (pictured, promoting Eurydice) and Grainger.

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Review: Team Viking (Songs of Friendship)

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Review: Team Viking (Songs of Friendship)

If you enjoy stand-up comedy that is more than a stack of one-liner’s, you’ll love this show. If you are looking for a theatrical event that makes you laugh, flinch and may even make you cry, then you’ll want to see this performer. And if you’re yet to go along and see something from the 2019 Brisbane Festival, then I’d suggest you book a ticket to see James Rowland’s Team Viking. Don’t worry if it’s sold out; try at least one of the other two shows in this Songs of Friendship ‘storytelling cycle’ (Songs of Friendship comprises Team VikingA Hundred Different Words for Love, and Revelations).

The premise is deceptively simple: a man dressed in slightly-shabby funeral attire walks into a theatre, decides to do all of his own technical support, uses his favourite Casio keyboard to set up a looping soundtrack, and addresses the thorny question of just “what do you say when a friend tells you they have 3 months to live. And they want a Viking burial?”

And as with William Blakes’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the style may be simple, funny and direct; but the show is carefully crafted, the language is beautifully chosen, and the ideas explored go to the heart of what friendship is. As with the musical ‘interludes’ (each chapter is punctuated with a slowly-building musical loop), the layers of the story are laid down with meticulous care. The 2019 Brisbane Festival hosted the Australian premiere of Team Viking, but this is a show which has already received rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, and been finely-tuned through many hundreds of performances.

At the end of the 70-minute opening night show, we came away feeling as if we’d listened to the revelations of a new friend, and wondering if any of it was true. Rowland had introduced us to his two best friends, and shared some very funny memories of their time growing up together and of his family (wait until you see the Parkinson’s Christmas Pudding sketch). Of course it wasn’t all funny. At one point, the opening night audience was so wrapped-up in the tale, that many literally flinched on hearing one memory of loading the van. Not everyone in the stories lives, and Rowland is painfully honest as to how he didn’t always cope very well with the challenges that life threw at him.

Assuming this is Rowland’s personal story, of course. After all, this is a show that has a director (Daniel Goldman) and tour manager (Tom Hall)—and comes from the Tangram Theatre Company (which is ‘dedicated to creating theatre that breaks the fourth wall in order to tell life-affirming stories full of hope’, and has so far produced 15 shows). But then it doesn’t matter if this is all true or not. Rowland (as performer and writer) and his colleagues have produced a truly memorable and enjoyable show.

Don’t miss Team Viking because you’ve heard that the stories focus on dying, death and funerals. The show is also about love, friendship, and the everyday. Which is why I am strongly recommending it to everyone I know.

Verdict: Virtuoso performance of a beautifully-crafted (and often very funny) tale of love, friendship and death. Don’t miss it.

Audience tip: Aim for the first four rows, and arrive early enough to avoid the lockout. Warnings: 13+ (some coarse language, sexual references and adult themes), and Lynx is sprayed at the start of the Show (away from any asthmatics). The 70-minute show is one third of the Songs of Friendship storytelling cycle. Only 3 performances of Team Viking during the 2019 Brisbane Festival (10 & 11September 7:00pm, plus 14 September 5:30pm). The complete cycle is performed on 14th September 2019. Team Viking tickets are $32-35 (plus booking fee).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the opening night performance (7pm, Tuesday 10 September 2019).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography

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Review: A Coupla Dogs

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Review: A Coupla Dogs

One cage, two dogs and five days of hope—all in just 60-minutes. A Coupla Dogs interweaves many adages about ‘man’s best friend’ in a tightly-written play (co-written by Sue Rider with Director, Andrew Cory).

Dogs are in rescue kennels for a variety of reasons: the abandoned ‘Christmas dog,’ unwanted litters, victims of cruelty, or those surrendered on the death of their owner. A Coupla Dogs presents life from the dog’s perspective. Or rather, that of the two dogs who share a cage at Beryl’s Kennels—receiving second-rate care while they wait for rescue or the inevitable ‘backroom’ death. Humans only appear as disembodied voices, mainly over the crackly holiday-camp-style speaker system (Beryl, voiced by Barb Lowing, with Fred and others performed by Andrew Cory, Noah Cory, Sue Rider, and Peter Crees).

 
Pictured (L to R) : Compelling performances by Tom Oliver (Young Dog) and Ron Kelly (Old Dog).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Compelling performances by Tom Oliver (Young Dog) and Ron Kelly (Old Dog). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

The dog aspects of the production are often quite brilliant, and very entertaining. Everyday sayings are beautifully placed throughout the show (‘every dog has his day,’ ‘let sleeping dogs lie,’ ‘play dead,’ ‘It’s a dog’s life’ to include just a few). The musical choices are a nice touch. And the canine characteristics are entertainingly portrayed—from turning circles before sleep, to eating food and of course the wagging of the ‘tails’ (Movement Director/Assistant Director Matt Dear)

But this isn’t merely a tale (or even two tails) about the ways in which ‘man’s best friend’ is abandoned, imprisoned and even re-programed. Or how society treats its most vulnerable. It is also an opportunity to delve into some of the deeper philosophical questions of life. In the words of Young Dog (Tom Oliver), ‘what am I doing here?’ Compassion, fear, love, desire, hope and mortality wrapped up in thinking about the meaning of life. Think Animal Farm (George Orwell) meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard) and Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett). Two animal characters, dependent on powerful controlling outside forces, waiting to be ‘rescued’ and filling their time with discussions of philosophy, life and survival.

Don’t let me give you the impression it’s all gloom and doom. There are some very funny moments in this production—from the stage business (that squeaky tog, the tail-wagging, and those outfits) to the news-reporting/distortions by the ‘Channel Four’ reporter (“sponsored by Hard Force Dog Catchers”). And at the end we have a glimmer of hope…or is it just a flame for the moth to die in?

 
Pictured (L to R) : Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog).  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R) : Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog) in chains.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog) in chains. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Dog Spoon Theatre has assembled a strong team for this world premiere, and I hope that it tours to festivals large and small. Great casting and absolutely compelling performances by Ron Kelly (Old Dog) and Tom Oliver (Young Dog). Fabulous Production Design (Josh McIntosh), lighting (Jason Glenwright), and Sound Design (Peter Crees, with intern Isabella Hall). And a well-written and directed new play. See it if you can.

Verdict: Great to see new, local work in the 2018 Brisbane Festival. See it while you can.

Audience tip: Go—but make it an evening for friends rather than younger members of the family. Book a babysitter so you can relax and enjoy the show (suitable for 16+, with adult themes, sexual references, and coarse language). Tickets $24 - $32 (25-28 September 2018 at 7:15pm, and 29 September at 4:30pm). A Coupla Dogs is at The Block, located in Theatre Republic, QUT Kelvin Grove. Make sure you spend some time in Theatre Republic to visit the various free ‘activations’ (including the book exchange and seed library) and enjoy the occasional free music performances. For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Tuesday 25th September 2018 performance (7:15pm).

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