Review: SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill

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Review: SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill

If the preview night performance of SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill is anything to go by, the 2019 Brisbane Festival is going to be very special. But you have to get in quick, as many of the shows have short runs. SS Mendi closes on Saturday night; so book your ticket now, and then read on to discover why.

SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill is an unsettling tale of a major accident at sea, which happened less than five years after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. In January 1917, 646 people died in the English Channel, following a collision between two ships. Drawing on Fred Khumalo’s novel, the cast of fourteen tell this ‘hidden’ story of the 823 men who were selected for the voyage as a lament for the loss of the 646 souls. And we can all question whether the relative lack of interest in this story has been because, unlike the Titanic, Mendi’s passengers were black South African volunteers, who were travelling to support the Allied forces in France.

Pictured: Brisbane Festival publicity posters, lighting up the city.

Pictured: Brisbane Festival publicity posters, lighting up the city.

Much of the story focuses on the way in which the disparate group, of many tribal backgrounds, were disciplined. Drills are an important method used to train soldiers. The repetition of set movements, under strict instruction and to set timing, are a means of establishing control—shaping individuals into an army or coherent whole. Fred Khumalo’s Dancing the Death Drill—the novel that inspired the show—draws on an oral tradition that Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha, a chaplain on the ship, called the drowning men to attention saying, “Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death.”

Cape Town’s Isango Ensemble has created a powerful theatrical experience, introduced as “our lament for the souls of the dead, to bring them peace.” It is not only a lament, but a piece that challenges the white-washing of cultural memory, and is a production that inspires and entertains. Led by Music Director Mandisi Dyantysis (who also plays Dyobha), and under the direction of Mark Dornford-May, it is a theatrical tour-de-force that blends a variety of musical styles, from the operatic through to Township music—and includes a sea shanty, Gilbert and Sullivan-style operetta, and a traditional Irish ballad. The cast are narrators (often speaking directly to the audience), foley artists (watch for the sounds created for the burial at sea), actors, singers and musicians. And very fine musicians and vocalists they are too—from drumming on the set, through to performing a riveting vocal range. The QPAC stage rings to some very powerful voices as they perform the rigid, and often-restrained, European music—and almost explodes with the joy of the vibrant Township performances.

The SS Mendi story is much less familiar than that of Titanic, but has many powerful lessons for 2019 Australian audiences. Over one hundred years ago, the Master of the destructive cargo ship received a mere one-year suspension of his licence, despite having caused the disaster and failed to rescue any survivors. After the on-stage representation of this ‘whitewashing’, the play draws to a close with the entreaty “not to hate the man, just hate the system that made him.”  This theatrical event—what the Isango Ensemble describes as a ‘dance for truth’—encourages audiences from all countries to question the whitewashing of their own histories, and to seek out other stories from their own country.

Go if you want a thought-provoking theatrical experience. Look out for the superb portrayal of the Ship itself, relish the moments of humour, revel in some fantastic marimba music, and enjoy the dancing. The spine-chilling harmonies, and superb vocal work by this fantastic cast are unmissable. You’ll be pleased you bought that ticket before it sells out.

 Verdict: Not to be missed: spine-chilling song, great humour, wonderful dance moves, and a story that speaks to Australian audiences.

Audience tip: Book a ticket while you can—only 4 performances during the 2019 Brisbane Festival (5-7 September, 7:30pm each evening plus 1:30pm on 7 September only). 85 minutes. 15+ adult themes (suicide and death references), and limited smoke haze. Tickets are $49-$65 (plus booking fee).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 5 September 2019 preview (7:30pm).

Picture credits: Creative Futures Photography (note: images include a picture of a Brisbane Festival poster [design and image created by Brisbane Festival])

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Review: How to Spell Love

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Review: How to Spell Love

How to Spell Love is a compelling spoken word theatre project. Centred on the work of acclaimed poet Anisa Nandaula, How to Spell Love combines Nandaula’s poetry with the free jazz of drummer/ percussionist Benjamin Shannon and musical director Alasdair Cannon, and the dance of Prue Wilson. The work had two performances during the 2019 Queensland Poetry Festival at Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts.

The ‘Judy’ was a perfect location. A little like How to Spell Love, the Judy has been under development for an extended period of time—and although there may still be a little work to be completed, audiences will be rewarded by keeping a close eye on the development (and by planning to visit again).

How to Spell Love is an innovative combination of music, dance, multimedia and the spoken word. Nandaula’s poetry is at the heart of the show, in which Shannon and Wilson respond to Nandaula’s work, drawing out key emotions and enhancing the impact of the spoken word. From the very start, the audience was enthralled—concentrating on every word and nuance of the poetry, and watching as some of the words slowly appeared on the floor of the stage.  

The multimedia crossword was a compelling device (so much so that I missed it when it was paused during the show). Establishing tracks for the poet to walk along, it provided a structure for the piece as the words slowly filled the grid. A list of some of those words might suggest that the focus of the piece was political: Repress, Race, Commodity, Colonised…. But love was an equally important thread within the work.

Demonstrating that the personal is political is not a bad thing. The promotional material notes that the work is based on Nandaula’s personal experience of love and relationships as a migrant woman in contemporary Australia.  It is difficult to pick a highlight, but we all enjoyed the ironic humour of “This Smile,” and the poignant ‘My Number is Still the Same’ touched the heart. Although the poet may “yearn to write happy poems,” the work demonstrates that love is not always the happiest of emotions (“I’m still wearing the trust issues I borrowed from your closet. You’re still wearing the smile you borrowed from my face”). The heartbreak of love can result in a thought-provoking theatrical experience.

The dance-music-poetry intersection was at its strongest for me with the ‘supermarket’ credit card swipe imagery (" The cashier asks if I’d like to pay with cash or card. I give her every second chance I have left in my pocket. She tells me I have overpaid. I say forgiveness is the only currency this world has taught me to use”). Including a dancer in the performance certainly enhanced the spoken word, and often worked well (particularly when Wilson interacted with Nandaula, and also with Wilson’s first piece). I loved the music; Shannon’s performance combined with Cannon ‘s soundtrack to provide a great counterpoint to Nandaula’s poetry.  Just occasionally, I felt that the impact of both music and dance was not fully-realised by their being toward the back of the space. A small point, but perhaps keeping more light on Shannon, or moving the drums slightly forward on the stage, would have allowed the audience to revel in the drummer’s work.

How to Spell Love is a collaboration between the three co-directors (Nandaula, Shannon and Wilson), musical director (Cannon) and production team (Tim Loydell [Producer], Thomas E.S. Kelly [Project Consultant], Toni Wills [Assistant Producer], Peter Golikov [Audio engineer] and Josh Bilyj [AV and lighting]). The creative development of How to Spell Love was supported by the Arts Queensland Judith Wright Showcase Program, and during development the work also benefited from the input of Ayeesha Ash (Blackbirds Theatre) and Sanja Simic (La Boite Theatre). Described as a ‘work in progress,’ the creative team held a post-show discussion, seeking feedback and suggestions. As with the rest of the audience at the show I attended, suggestions for changes are few. Perhaps there is an opportunity to use different colours to punctuate chapters, or to more clearly identify the intersections of the four key themes (for example, coloured light boxes, or projecting the four themes on the walls or stage), or even to project some of the key lines from the poems onto the backdrop.

Nandaula asserts that “Words is currency.” This was certainly proved in How to Spell Love. The artist demonstrated that, in the right hands, words can be used to establish a powerful and though-provoking exchange about the choices we all make. Even if the poems were not all “happy”, the audience was certainly content, moved, and delighted to have experienced this work in progress. I look forward to seeing the show again.

Verdict: Look out for a future iteration of How to Spell Love—or any opportunity to hear Anisa Nandaula’s poetry and the work of Benjamin Shannon.

Audience tip: Unallocated seating, so arrive a little early and aim to sit in the central seats you can. 45 minutes. 15+ Adult themes. Tickets for the 17 August 2019 shows were $15. Look out for future performances of How to Spell Love, and anything including Anisa Nandaula or Benjamin Shannon.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Saturday 17 August 2019 work in progress event (7:30pm).

Photograph supplied by How to Spell Love production team.


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Review: Letters I Never Sent

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Review: Letters I Never Sent

The program for the fifth Brisbane Powerhouse Melt: Festival of Queer Arts and Culture is a chocolate box full of temptations. Killer Queens is certain to rock Brisbane audiences, Yank sounds as if it’s an unmissable musical,  and everyone will want to drag themselves along to the fabulous Melt Beauty Pageant. It’s also great to see that the program is not all about sequinned parties and great music, but also includes drama and comedy.

Magnetic North Theatre Company’s Letters I Never Sent brings the voices of members of the Brisbane LGBTAIQX+ to the stage—or rather to the intimate Powerhouse Graffiti Room. Promotional material refers to the ‘letters’ as having been ‘sourced from queer networks’ to produce a ‘verbatim piece.’ As the audience steps into the space, the five performers (Cecile Blackmore, Sarah Hendon, Brodie Shelley, Ebony Webb, and Joseph Wilson) are busily ‘writing’ letters—all in their individual worlds and words. The set is also decorated with letters, hung above the space, and throughout the show, the actors select different envelopes, from which they read the various letters during the performance. The letters are also interspersed with what the zine-like program describes as a ‘reality check’—quotes from relevant court cases and news reports, including statistics about deaths from domestic abuse—intermingled with a sympathetic soundtrack (music credit: Jonny Easton). As part of the soundtrack suggests, it may be that many of the contributors typed their hearts and feelings out onto the digital page. But, whether written in pen and ink or onscreen, the end result was the same—text that documented the feelings, concerns and experiences of individuals who identify as ‘queer.’

The Director (Art Green) and cast have developed a piece which works well within the space—although the Maglite was a little unnecessary, and the regular moving around of the boxes was increasingly distracting. Probably the strongest parts of the show were the ‘court’ piece and the concluding ‘sorry’ build-up. Perhaps I just prefer my theatrical events to have a more distinct narrative flow, but I’d have preferred a piece that took the audience on more of a journey, perhaps with a stronger narrative arc (for example, five core stories which might have been illustrated by quotes from additional letters).

If you are interested in verbatim theatre, you may want to try to catch this 45-minute show before it ends—particularly to see Magnetic North at work, and to listen to the words of their anonymous contributors. My two personal takeaways from this piece are from the performances, and in particular the words. I wasn’t always sure why some of Cecile Blackmore’s characters had to be eating, but this didn’t detract from Blackmore’s interesting work. And Ebony Webb was a standout; I look forward to seeing future shows that feature this versatile artist. Most importantly, it is the letters themselves that have an impact. The piece reinforces the importance of understanding ‘queer’ as a broad spectrum of experience—as seen in writing, dignity, vulnerability, and love of the authors. Words that deserve to be read.

Verdict: Get along to Melt before it closes (Melt runs 27 June-7 July). If you are interested in verbatim theatre, you may be interested in adding Letters I Never Sent to your order.

Audience tip: Unallocated seating. 45 minutes. 15+ (coarse language, adult themes and suicide references). The Brisbane Powerhouse Graffiti Room Show has four performances (27-29 June, all at 7:15pm. An additional show at 9pm on 29 June 2019 only). Tickets $25 ($15 concession) plus $6.60 transaction fee. Presented by Magnetic North Theatre Company in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 27 June 2019 performance (7:15pm).

Image: Brisbane Powerhouse

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Review: Oklahoma!

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Review: Oklahoma!

Oklahoma! is a classic tale of love, hardship and jealousy—interspersed with a death, two marriages, a kangaroo court… and references to the oncoming wave of modernity. A 1940s musical, set in the American ‘south central’ State, and based on a 1931 play, might not appear to be something that would entertain a contemporary crowd. But Oklahoma! is an all-round musical entertainment, peppered with songs that are familiar to modern audiences (possibly due to the large number of revivals, and to the success of the 1955 film).  

The plot centres on the annual town picnic. A fundraiser for the yet-to-be-built local school, the much-anticipated event creates opportunities for dancing, flirting, and matrimony. Ado Annie (Gemma Hansom), Laurey Williams (Chloe Makiol), and Gertie Cummings (Emma Markham) are three of the local girls who are deciding on who they wish to marry. Laurey and Gertie are both ‘sweet’ on Curly McLain (Joshua Thia); Jud Fry (Kyle Fenwick) and Curly are competing for Laurey’s attention; and Ado Annie Cain’t Say No as she tries to decide between the exotic charms of Ali Hakim (Warryn James) and the love-struck Will Parker (Tristian Vanyai).

Oklahoma! is a ‘musical play’ in the truest sense; a story told through speech, song, dance, and comedy. The orchestra and performers worked well under the baton of Jacqueline Atherton (Musical Director), and the production is a visual feast: a sensitively lit and beautifully-created set, with some great costumes, and highly-photogenic blocking (creative team led by Robbie Parkin, Artistic Director).

If you like dance, you’ll love Laurey’s dream sequence (featuring Jessica Boersen and Simon Lyell as the Dream counterparts of Laurey and Curly), and really appreciate the set-piece ensemble numbers (hats off to the full cast and Choreographer Natalie Lennox—from young to old, the full cast really entertained during the song and dance numbers). If musical numbers are your ‘thing’, then you’ll particularly enjoy the duets between Thia and Fenwick, Thia and Makiol (just wait for them singing People Will Say We're In Love) and Hansom and Vanyai—as well as the fabulous harmonies in the full cast performances of the title number. If you are looking for solid dramatic performances, you’ll savour the work of the leads (watch out for Jacqui Cuny’s sensitive portrayal of Aunt Eller, and the shotgun-toting cameos of the hard-working fathers). And of course everyone will be thoroughly entertained by the indecisive Hansom, giggle at James’s long-goodbye, cringe at the toe-curling laugh of Markham’s Gertie, and love Vanyai’s recounting of his experiences in the big bad city of Kansas.

The show does have its darker side, centred on the unfortunate Jud. Fenwick created a highly-believable, frustrated, misunderstood and lovelorn outsider—a perfect foil to the ‘hero’ figure of Curly. Pore Jud is Dead was a definite highlight of this production—with superb vocal and dramatic work by Thia and Fenwick.

Picture (L to R) : Curly McLain (Joshua Thia) and Jud Fry (Kyle Fenwick). Picture supplied: Savoyards Musical Theatre (Christopher Thomas).

Picture (L to R): Curly McLain (Joshua Thia) and Jud Fry (Kyle Fenwick). Picture supplied: Savoyards Musical Theatre (Christopher Thomas).

The audience got a lot for their money (the Film and Broadway shows have generally run for around 150 minutes, including any intervals, but this show is advertised at 2 hours 45 minutes plus an interval).  This reviewer attended the Preview, and it may be that my personal (short) wish list will be addressed in the run. I am sure that the Savoyards cast and creatives will up the pace just a little, and perhaps move toward 2.5 hours (plus interval). Occasionally it was a little difficult to hear all of Makiol’s contribution, and perhaps a little less of the TV meerkat in Ali Hakim’s first half will also ensure that all of the comedy is more accessible. But that’s what a Preview is for. I look forward to hearing that Oklahoma! has been another sold-out success for the Savoyards.

Verdict: A visual and aural feast - particularly with the superb vocal and dramatic work by Thia and Fenwick.

Audience tip: 2 hours 45 minutes (plus a 20-minute interval), and note the advisory (suicide references, staged fight/death, ‘gunshots’, and limited smoke haze). Oklahoma! has only 8 performances (the Show opens on 22 June and closes on 6 July). Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior). Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. Seats in row I & J might be preferred (or H for those requiring mobility assistance), but all seats appear to provide an excellent view. It is always worth buying ahead for a Savoyards production, so make a diary note as the final production for the 2019 season is the much-anticipated Boy From Oz (tickets for performances in September & October are available from 14 August 2019).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 21 June 2019 Preview (7:30pm).

Roger & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Music by Richard Rogers, Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs. Original dances by Agnes de Mille. “Oklahoma!” is presented by permission of Origin™ Theatrical on behalf of R&H Theatricals.

Picture Credit: Savoyards Musical Theatre (Christopher Thomas)

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Review: Magpie

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Review: Magpie

In Magpie, Mordecai (Barb Lowing) is making a reluctant return to Brisbane, having left many decades earlier. Estranged from her recently-deceased Romani father, she is only returning to handle the sale of the family home to ensure she receives her much-needed inheritance (as his Will requires that she disposes suitably of his ashes and of his belongings). The action centres on the family home—where flashbacks to 1961 are interspersed with grumpy (and occasionally downright nasty) contemporary telephone conversations with her UK-based daughter, Fortuna (voiced by Luisa Prosser).

The discovery of her 1961 journal (and also a notebook of her late-Mother), inspires a sequence of revelatory flashbacks. She recalls her parents (Kathryn Marquet and Julian Curtis) as having a tempestuous and often violent relationship, where she felt excluded from their family history (and even from understanding what they said, when speaking in Romani). Through reading the journal, and recalling her attempts to investigate what really had happened, we see an unravelling of Mordecai’s misunderstanding of what led to their move to Australia—and an eventual realisation of quite how wrong she had been.

The naive, playful, flirtatious, and inquisitive Splinter (Michael Mandalios) was a standout character in the play, and his sad story was arguably more powerful than Mordecai’s family misunderstandings. Lowing and Mandalios’ interchanges were both poignant and funny; I really did feel the summer sun and enjoyed their child-like determination to discover the story behind her parents’ arguments. Lowing flicked with ease between the inquisitive Magpie and the grumpy older woman—although I didn’t always buy in to the oncoming thunderstorm, or feel that Mordecai deserved much sympathy.

It is always great to see ‘Brisbane stories’ on the local stage, and new writing (Elise Greig, Playwright) which explores outsider or marginalised communities is important. Romani are one of the smaller groups of people who have migrated to Australia, where Scottish Romani are an even smaller proportion. The Romani traditions were beautifully interwoven into the story—from the role of the shawl, and the ever-present security and warmth of the vardo, through to understandings of what is polluted, what can and cannot be spoken about, and what is a suitable way to deal with the belongings of the deceased. However, the ‘Scottish’ issue was a bit too much of a barrier for me—particularly distinguishing between when the parents were speaking privately, in Romani, and when they were arguing in often thick Scottish accents. This led to a period of initial confusion for some of audience members (including me), which distracted from early involvement in the story. And that was a pity.

Magpie references abound in the play. Magpie is Splinter’s nickname for Mordecai, and her mother feeds a magpie in their garden (until her father finds it, dead). Magpies are also an interesting choice when establishing a story about Australian outsiders, and the contrasts between Australia and Europe (Australian Magpies have beautiful song and are often hand-fed in domestic gardens, whereas European Magpies are regarded as inquisitive predator and are frequently associated with trickery, theft and bad news).  Perhaps there is more to be teased out of this script in a future production?

Magpie is an enjoyable 90-minute show, but I left wishing for more lightness and dark (and certainly less of Scotland). It’s an interesting idea, and an intriguing, well-written story. It was also great to see a different use of the Visy Theatre space (Josh McIntosh, Designer). I’d certainly look out for it again.

Verdict: Go for the ‘Splinter’ story, Romani references, and childhood memories.

Audience tip: Unallocated seating, so arrive a little early and aim to sit in the central seats you can. 90 minutes (lock out, and ‘lock in’, with no break). 15+ (two short complete blackouts, coarse language, adult themes, violence and suicide references). The Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre Show runs until 9 June, 2019 (7:30pm—with a 2pm performance also on 8 June 2019 only). Tickets $45 (student, concession and group discounts) plus transaction fee. Presented by Metro Arts, Playlab and E.G., in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse.

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Thursday 30 May 2019 preview (7:30pm).

Production Image (supplied): Mordecai (Barb Lowing), with Mother and Father (Kathryn Marquet and Julian Curtis) in the background. Picture credit: Stephen Henry

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Review: High School Never Ends - A Double Bill

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Review: High School Never Ends - A Double Bill

It’s always great to see new work in an Anywhere Festival, and particularly in a venue that enhances the experience. Tremayne Gordon’s High School Never Ends: A Double Bill included two short, one-act plays (High Hopes, and the longer Book Return), both performed by Izzy Cameron and Jordan Jeckells. Both plays are set in high schools, which meant that the Montessori International College Pavilion provided an excellent setting for the double bill. And both plays reminded us that the lessons with most impact are not always learned in the classroom—and that the shortest of friendships can have the longest impression on our future.

Arriving in the dark, it was a little difficult to read the carefully-placed chalkboards that set the scene for the first of the two plays. Walking along the candle-lit boardwalk, we followed the timeline that had taken school friends Addy and Drew from their first meeting through to being ‘Prom’ King and Queen. So we were primed and ready for the first piece, and the countdown to the end of high school, and what might happen next. Cameron and Jeckells created a highly-believable duet—from the fascination with the frantic kissing going on just off-stage, through to the difficult decisions facing new high school graduates (uni or not, home or travel, study or work…).

Pictured (L to R): Izzy Cameron and Jordan Jeckells in High Hopes (High School Never Ends: A Double Bill). Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured (L to R): Izzy Cameron and Jordan Jeckells in High Hopes (High School Never Ends: A Double Bill). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

After a 15-minute interval, the stage was reset for Book Return and the audience were invited to return to the Pavilion. This second play was also about the impact of school, and of a short friendship that had a significant impact—told from the perspective of Andy (Jordan Jeckells), and illustrated with flashbacks to his short time getting to know a new student (Izzy Cameron), and the lessons Andy learned from their very different life experiences.

Pictured (L to R): Jordan Jeckells and Izzy Cameron in Book Return (High School Never Ends: A Double Bill). Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured (L to R): Jordan Jeckells and Izzy Cameron in Book Return (High School Never Ends: A Double Bill). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The two plays provided an enjoyable contrast, and Cameron and Jeckells were well-cast, creating four believable characters with a lightness of touch and command of the ‘stage.’ And they were both adept in drawing out the humour from each script.

Any non-theatre space can  offer some challenges. Covering the breadth of the room did distract a little from the opportunity to build toward the conclusion of Book Return, and  I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the red smoke haze in the countdown for High Hopes. Perhaps in a future iteration, the Director (Daniel Dosek) might reconsider the use of the two sets of louvres, and find another means of highlighting the pressure of the ‘countdown’ in High Hopes, and a different venue might allow for a less linear blocking of Book Return. Each change might increase the intensity of the experience of the two short plays for future audience.  And I would love to have seen perhaps a triptych of plays, with a third one-act piece rounding out reflections on different aspects of the school friendships.

Verdict: Tremayne Gordon’s entertains with reflections on learning from the high school experience, and solid performances by Izzy Cameron and Jordan Jeckells

Pictured: Jordan Jeckells in Book Return (High School Never Ends: A Double Bill). Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Jordan Jeckells in Book Return (High School Never Ends: A Double Bill). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Audience tip: 60 mins, including a 15 minute interval. 12+. Smoking and some haze/smoke effects. High School Never Ends: A Double Bill (High Hopes & Book Return) ($20) had only three performances during the 2019 Anywhere Festival (7pm, 24-26 May, 2019). Drinks available for purchase on-site, and can be taken into the performance.

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Saturday 25 May 2019 performance (7pm), at The Pavilion, Montessori International College, 880 Maroochydore Road, Forest Glen.

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

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Review: Jane Austen, Action Figure

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Review: Jane Austen, Action Figure

The Girl Guides Hut was a great choice of venue for Jane Austen, Action Figurea feminist 36-scene play that touches on the challenges of identity, working motherhood, love, the female orgasm, heartbreak, leaving home, travel, reputation and being a writer. I am certain there are many occasions where women feel that they need superpowers, which might have accounted for an audience that was almost 90% female at the performance I attended—or perhaps the reputation of 3B Creative, and of Anne Grant (Director), drew a strong local following for this sold out show?  

The idea of a play about Jane Austen, where the reviewer refers to the play as being feminist and with 36 scenes may fill some readers with dread. But playwright Elaine Avila has crafted an entertaining play, interweaving many stories from different generations that frequently drew chuckles of recognition from the audience (male and female).  Anne Grant has created another Anywhere Festival success.

Pictured: Jane Austen (Louise Tasker) in Jane Austen, Action Figure. Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Jane Austen (Louise Tasker) in Jane Austen, Action Figure. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Each of the 13 actors had the opportunity to shine. I particularly enjoyed the story arc that included the challenge of being a single mother (Libby Glasson created a beautifully-judged, hard-working Mother, during her interactions with Sahana-Rose Hoare’s suitably-childlike Daughter). Equally, the scenes that featured Jane Austen (Louise Tasker)—particularly when with ‘Grey Matter’—were enjoyable and memorable.  Jude Pippen (Left Brain) and Joy Marshall (Right Brain) were funny, and absolutely on-point as the voices of doubt and encouragement—and Tasker’s performance was a delight. We saw how Jane Austen could be understood as a heroine as she juggled the frustrations of being a writer in an era where she was expected to provide free child-minding and find a suitable match. Sharon Grimley played a number of roles to great effect (including as a funny Guide [conjuring stereotypical Guide leaders perhaps?], and an entertaining Agatha), and I particularly enjoyed her scenes as Aprhra Behn, with Lover (David Readett).

Pictured (L to R): Child (Sahana-RoseHoare) and Mother (Libby Glasson)) in Jane Austen, Action Figure. Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured (L to R): Child (Sahana-RoseHoare) and Mother (Libby Glasson)) in Jane Austen, Action Figure. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The Director (Anne Grant) used the space to great effect, the costumes and props were perfect (Stage Manager, Robin Hungerford, no doubt supporting the fantastic quick-change work by the cast), and the sound provided a suitable backdrop without being too invasive (Bruce Hamilton, Errol R J Morrison). Of course working in a Girl Guides Hut has limitations )perhaps a few additional/alternative light sources next time?), but this didn’t affect the experience for the audience.

I’d love to have had the chance to attend a ‘Q&A’ with the creatives and cast, and to hear more about their work on the piece. Perhaps an idea for any future Anywhere Festival shows produced by 3B Creative? Oh, and if you are interested, a quick internet search will get you a gift-boxed Jane Austen action figure, complete with quill pen… to sit alongside your Shakespeare action figure, of course… But seeing the Show may have made a more lasting impression.

Pictured: Just look at those costumes! Jude Pippen (Left Brain) and Joy Marshall (Right Brain). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Just look at those costumes! Jude Pippen (Left Brain) and Joy Marshall (Right Brain). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Verdict: Great performances, and excellent use of the space, in this thought-provoking (and funny) show.

Audience tip: 90 mins. 15+ (some sexual references).  Toilet facilities are only available outside the performance space (adjacent portaloo), so ushers do encourage patrons to ‘visit’ before taking their seats. Wheelchair access across grassed area. Jane Austen, Action Figure ($22) had a total of six performances during the 2019 Anywhere Festival (17,18, 24 and 25 May, 2019).  If visiting another show at this venue, arrive early, BYO snacks and enjoy the stunning view.

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Saturday 25 May 2019 performance (2pm), at the Buderim Girl Guides Hut (111, Burnett Street).

Pictured (L to R): Jane Austen (Louise Tasker) watching Jane’s Brother (William Wallace) ‘editing’ her letters Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Jane Austen (Louise Tasker) watching Jane’s Brother (William Wallace) ‘editing’ her letters Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.





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Review: Mary and the Murderer

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Review: Mary and the Murderer

Mary and the Murderer is a pleasant way to spend an hour at UQ’s St Lucia Campus. Four actors perform a short play, set against the iconic sandstone walls of University. Aside from it not being in the Wild West (they probably didn’t have too much Helidon sandstone to call on for building materials in the American Wild West), the Show is exactly as advertised. A gun-toting vigilante captures a travelling musician who has been accused of murder. As news breaks that the Marshall will not be arriving with the promised bounty, the local townsfolk intervene, and the audience is called up for ‘jury service,’ with the opportunity to decide on how the play ends.

Pictured: Mary (Stephanie Dwyer). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Mary (Stephanie Dwyer). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Congratulations to Lonnie Gilroy and Senaai Chapple for co-writing and producing the play (co-produced with Joanna Lyon), and to Gilroy for also acting as Director. The play is well-cast,  and provides an opportunity for each of the four actors to enjoy interesting cameos, duos, and even audience interaction. I loved the costumes (the heart-shaped blood markings at the centre of ‘Colin’s’ shirt were a nice touch), the use of personal microphones meant that everyone could hear all the words, the show was well-lit, and the accents were suitably Ye Olde Wilde Weste. The audience interaction was enjoyable (including the cast members’ in-character questioning, pleading their case, and general involvement).

I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: those who can, direct…and those who don’t, review. I’d probably have called this Mary The Murderer? And where the show touches on many contemporary preoccupations—from domestic violence and child abuse, through to #MeToo—occasionally the language is a little too contemporary. But these are minor issues. In a future development, I’d also love to see a clearer staging of place, and a less linear blocking of the action —perhaps having the audience sitting around a saloon bar, and being drawn into the action as onlookers when Mary chases her prey into the space (bringing the ‘bar’ from the back of the room to perhaps stage right/ or on the side of the audience space)? And a longer version of the action might also include a first act that sets the scene of the relationship with the unfortunate Betty-Lou and our ‘hero’, Colin (Nicolas Angelosanto)—and gives more of a backstory to the interesting Mr Gallagher (Chris Slater) and his relationship with Mary (Stephanie Dwyer).

Pictured: Mary (Stephanie Dwyer).Colin (Nicolas Angelosanto), and Mr Gallagher (Chris Slater). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: Mary (Stephanie Dwyer).Colin (Nicolas Angelosanto), and Mr Gallagher (Chris Slater). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Congratulations also to Angelosanto (definitely hero material), to Dwyer (an interesting presentation of a complicated character, conjuring Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling), and to Slater (a suitable counterpoint to the vigilante Mary). And thanks to Tammy (Rosie Anderson) for keeping in-character throughout—from bar-tending to declaring the results of the vote.  It’s a pity that the performances fell at a time when many assignments appeared to be due, so there weren’t too many students able to  take time out to see this work of this Gilroy Chapple Lyon Production Team.

Verdict: Only one more show. Your final chance to decide on the outcome.

Pictured: What did you decide? Colin (Nicolas Angelosanto) and Mary (Stephanie Dwyer). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured: What did you decide? Colin (Nicolas Angelosanto) and Mary (Stephanie Dwyer). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Audience tip: 50-60 mins. Suitable for all ages. The performance is outside, so take a blanket and wrap up warm. Mary and the Murderer had a total of six performances during the 2019 Anywhere Festival (7:15pm. 15, 16, 17, 22, 23 and 24 May, 2019). Information at https://anywhere.is/listings/Mary/ and the Show is also part of the UQ Theatre Festival ($15).  Paid parking available on-site. If you don’t know the campus very well, aim for the Great Court, take the Forgan Smith Tower exit, and turn right at the bottom of the steps. Walk toward the Library, and the ‘Duhig Gardens’ are on your right (close to the Library Book Return chute and fountain).

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Thursday 23 May 2019 performance (7:15pm), at Duhig Gardens, The University of Queensland St Lucia Campus, Brisbane.

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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Review: B Movies Live!

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Review: B Movies Live!

It’s always great to see a team which was responsible for a previous Anywhere Festival success make a welcome return with a new Show. In 2016, the B Movies Live team produced what I described as “a must-see for fans of the classic genre.” Three years on, Willem Whitfield (Director) and Kristian Fletcher (Producer) have returned, bringing an ambitious program of three triple features back from the vaults, and each for one night only at the Fortitude Valley Heya Bar: bugs (12 May), dinosaurs (19 May) and vampires (26 May). Perhaps I didn’t choose wisely enough. It may be that the 26 May Dracula-esque ‘vampires’ night would have been a better choice. However, although many of the audience got into the spirit of the triple bill of Godmonster of Indian Flats, The Valley of Gwangi, and The Lost World, it wasn’t as enjoyable (or anywhere near the same standard) as the 2016 Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster.

There was much to like about the 2019 Show. The concept is great, with opportunities for entertaining send-up (identifying awful, and unsurprisingly ignored, B-Movies and bringing them back onto the stage). The goodie bags and opportunities for audience participation added to the fun (if you have a group of friends looking for an enjoyable ‘team’ event, you might enjoy it). The venue worked well, and I should imagine ensures that, whether at capacity or playing to much smaller audiences, everyone gets the same experience (drinks and food are on hand and, although there was noise from the neighbouring spaces, it didn’t distract). The costumes were suitably home-crafted (best costume of the night had to be Ghoul Shadows’ sheep monster), the retro use of the overhead projector for the silent film captions was a nice touch, and the soundtrack was well-chosen and managed (Stephanie Williams). The actors’ enjoyment kept the audience engaged and entertained—particularly with the great circus star accent by Hannah Mason, Cecile Blackmore’s various cameos (absolutely on-point, from the fantastic silent movie participation through to the entertaining old crone), Willem Whitfield’s cowboy, Kristian Fletcher’s informative narration, and Ben Kasper’s kazoo work.

However, the overall result just wasn’t to the standard of the 2016 Show. Perhaps my expectations were just too high, having previously seen Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. On Sunday, the Show started late and finished early, and I left wishing that the team hadn’t spread themselves quite so thinly. Perhaps a return to having no more than two movies on any evening, and investing the development time to have a better result, would have led to a better experience for this audience member. Perhaps it needed to be worse in order to be more enjoyable (it was advertised, after all, as 'the worst show on earth!'). Or perhaps I should just have planned to see the 26 May vampire night. If you’re going along, let us know what you think.

Verdict: Some highlights, but I hoped for more. Certainly not to the standard of their 2016 Anywhere Festival Show.

Audience tip: Food and drink available at the Heya Bar on the night. Tickets for B Movies: Live! available on the Anywhere Festival Website ($25). Advertised as 15+ and 120 minutes (approx. 90 minutes for the ‘dinosaurs’ show on 19 May). The final B Movies Show in the 2019 Festival takes place on 26 May (7:30pm).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Sunday 19 May 2019 performance (7:30pm), Heya Bar, 351 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley.

Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

 

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Review: Inertia, The First Law

Congratulations to the team at Anywhere Festival for attracting interstate and international acts for the 2019 Festival. The program for 2019 included a new work by Sydney-based RelativityMC. Inertia: The First Law is set in the Plant Room at Flipside Circus, which provides a pared-back environment and an intimate space in which to experience the Show. The three performers—Fin Casey (Moose), Maddison Costello, and Megan Casey—have together developed a piece is part circus (strength, acrobatics, dance, and balance), part original music and song, and part science lesson.

Don’t be put off by my mentioning science. This is a compelling piece of circus that demonstrates their combined versatility; from the raw energy required for some very taxing pieces of balance, through to their controlled ability to sing and share facts about laws of motion.

Pictured: Fin Casey jumping onto Megan Casey's back in   Inertia: The First Law   .  Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: Fin Casey jumping onto Megan Casey's back in Inertia: The First Law. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

And it all made for some very memorable moments.  I winced as Moose jumped onto Megan’s back (twice), I marvelled at Moose’s jump from the top of the piano, I was impressed by Megan’s ability to sing after a particularly strenuous piece of acrobatics, and I enjoyed Maddison’s ability to do the splits (or balance on fellow performers’ heads) as well as to play the piano while balanced on her head.

The lighting was well-thought through (a nice touch with the red gel for Casey’s standing back-flip), the music added to the experience (with the home-built piano very literally incorporated in many of the moves), and I came away reflecting on the laws of motion, of balance and of circus. Yes, as an Anywhere event it would have been great to experience this in a music room or a science classroom—but perhaps this will come in a future development of the Show.

It’s a pity that Brisbane audiences only have three opportunities to see this new work. I am sure Sydney audiences will be lining up to see the piece when the performers return home.

Pictured: The cast of  Inertia: The First Law  (Megan Casey and Fin Casey, supporting Maddison Costello). Picture credit:  Creative Futures Photography .

Pictured: The cast of Inertia: The First Law (Megan Casey and Fin Casey, supporting Maddison Costello). Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Verdict: Circus as science lesson, music as circus, science with song. A fascinating exploration of balance and motion.

Audience tip: Tickets for Inertia: The First Law available on the Anywhere Festival Website ($18). The 40-minute Show has a very short run of only three nights (15-18 May, 2019: 7pm).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 17 May 2019 performance (7pm), Flipside Circus, 117 Mina Parade, Alderley.

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

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