BTG’s notorious BNC

Bonnie & Clyde (Beenleigh Theatre Company)

Crete Street Theatre

November 15 – 30

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“Bonnie & Clyde” starts at its end, with the image of its titular American criminal couple sitting in a car, dead, accompanied by some energetic Bluegrass sounds (‘Prologue’). Before long, however, we are transported from the Louisville location of the folk hero couple’s final run’s end to their younger, hopeful Texas selves. At 10-year-old Bonnie’s (Denyella-Sophia Duncan) father’s funeral, the young girl shares her fantasy movie-star ambition, which is inset with young Clyde’s (Kieran McGinlay) juvenile delinquency and career criminal aspirations through idolisation of Billy the Kid and Al Capone (‘Picture Show’). Fast forward five years to the meeting of the car loving criminal Clyde (Connor Hawkins), just escaped from prison with his brother Buck (Brad Kendrick) and Rowena waitress Bonnie (Lauren Conway) and the rest, as they say, is history… only a history about whose detail we perhaps know very little. And so we discover the lover’s story as they journey from robbery to murder and folk hero status.

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Depression times are tough in the 1930s of Bonnie and Clyde’s two-year crime spree, with the businesses failing, banks collapsing and many people out of work. Still, as Clyde graduates from theft to murder, Bonnie agonises back and forth about following him down a fatal path (‘Too Late to Turn Back Now’), ultimately finding herself seduced by her growing fame as a ‘ravishing redhead’. As the tag-line from the also-named “Bonnie and Clyde” 1967 movie surmises, “they’re young, they’re in love, they kill people”. This also aptly sums up what goes on in the musical realisation of Bonnie and Clyde’s story. Still, under Kaitlyn Carlton’s strong direction, it is a pacey and engaging show, helped along by multi-media display of real-life newspaper headlines in chronicle of the ill-fated couple’s robbery spree and on-the-run rampage.

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While there are no real standout songs with the score, the music of “Bonnie & Clyde” (Composer Frank Wildhorn) works well in telling the show’s story, with its smooth combination of rockabilly, blues and gospel numbers. Under Musical Director Julie Whiting, the polished orchestra is flawless in its musical transitions. ‘God’s Arms Are Always Open’ conveys an infectious gospel energy courtesy also of Preacher Stuart Fisher’s compelling vocals (wonderfully revisited in Act Two’s opener ‘Made in America). And Act One’s finale, ‘This World Will Remember Us’, which sees Clyde convincing Bonnie to smuggle a gun into his cell so he can break out of prison, is a jaunty showcase of the talents of Liam Madden (drums/percussion) and versatility of Annie Silva (fiddle/mandolin/banjo) who both impress as standouts from the show’s very first number. Well-balanced orchestrations lay a solid foundation for the singers, never overpowering the vocals. And the beautifully orchestrated score is complimented by the honesty and emotion that the performers find within the music.

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Bonnie and Clyde’s mutual infatuation is obvious in their unquestionable loyalty; they convey a chemistry even as they quarrel (their favourite form of foreplay). Connor’s Clyde may be no bed or roses but he is charismatic. Indeed, despite his unlikeable actions and sometimes questionable treatment of Bonnie, audience members are on his side thanks to Hawkins’ magnetism. And his prison cell lament towards the end of Act One, ‘Raise A Little Hell,’ is a powerful moment thanks to his strong vocals. Conway, too, is vocally impressive, especially in her delicate Act Two solo, ‘Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad’, in which Bonnie passionately declares that she’d ‘rather breathe in life than dusty air’.

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Conway also impressively overcomes the inherit challenge of eliciting audience emotional investment in a character that spends the entire show making poor choices and determining herself to die by Barrow’s side. Indeed, there is much to like about the vigour she brings to the character, as her zealous anti-heroine rebellion is also boldly that of a woman in a time when women were not afforded equal rights. Kendrick captures the juxtaposition of Buck simple, but simultaneously complex supporting character, devoted to his wife Blanche (Katya Bryant) yet also eager to conspire with his daring brother. And Bryant gives a measured showcase of Blanche’s morality, love for her husband and fear for his safety, particularly platformed in the honest and heartbreaking ‘That’s What You Call a Dream’.

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Simple yet inventive staging (Production Design by Bradley Chapman) allows for swift set changes, although cohesion sometimes suffers due to missed sound cues and severe lighting switches. Mary Oliver’s costumes are, however, a standout. Outfits are era-evocative without being clichéd and appropriate to history’s most stylish bank robbers, with channel of Bonnie’s iconic beatnik beret and striped sweater blouse alongside general 1930s form-fitting, softly tailored style pieces.

“Bonnie & Clyde” is an interesting exploration of an infamous couple we know but not really. It’s also, however, a story about American dreams, giving it an ongoing resonance beyond its depression era setting. While its songs aren’t particularly memorable in and of themselves, this musical serves more as a complete experience than a sum of its parts. While, as Clyde’s sister-in-law observes, the characters deserve each other, Lauren Conway and Connor Hawkins give us memorable portraits of the notorious duo, making this “Bonnie & Clyde” quite the triumph.

 

Chicago showcase

Chicago

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

November 1 – December 7

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Even before the QPAC curtain raises on “Chicago”, its experience is evocative, with a black derby hanging on the back of a black downstage chair, as signpost to the show’s indelible choreographic style and Fosse-esque attention-to-detail sensibility. The story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery (as its opening lines impart) may be set in the pre-depression, Prohibition-era 1920s in the corrupt city of its title, but it is soon apparent that its satirical look at the cult of celebrity and the media is incredibly timely and so still feels fresh, especially given the current media and political climate. Indeed, despite its sensational aesthetic. there is a clear authenticity to both the show’s story and themes. Based on real-life cabaret singers Belva Gaertner (who inspired the role of Velma) and Beulah May Annan (who inspired the role of Roxie), the work draws on the burgeoning Jazz age of vaudeville’s evolution into risqué cabaret clubs.

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We begin when Roxie Hart (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) shoots her lover Fred Casey (Andrew Cook). Her long suffering, devoted husband Amos (Rodney Dobson) initially offers to take the fall for her, believing her initial claim that Casey is a burglar, but soon the truth emerges and Roxie is sent to Cook County women’s jail, run by the crooked Matron ‘Mama’ Morton (Casey Donovan). Here she meets a lot of women of similar scenarios (cue the iconic ‘Cell Block Tango’), including famous vaudeville actress Velma Kelly (Alinta Chidzey) who murdered her own sister and husband. As Roxie changes into a calculating survivor, she soon deposes Velma to become infamous defence lawyer Billy Flynn’s (Tom Burlinson) new star client of the moment. …. all set to a hot jazz score.

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As always, the show’s iconic soundtrack is integral to its success; the Kander and Ebb classic has a score full of iconic, toe-tapping tunes in homage to the music of the 1920s, presented by a 15-piece orchestra under the baton of Musical Director Daniel Edmonds. There is a vaudevillian style to its realisation through the band’s positioning on stage and involvement in the action as part of the story. Sounds levels are generally appropriate, although they do compete with the vocals of Burlinson’s ‘All I Care About is Love’, but the big band instrumentation with lots of brass is delightful in its appeal, especially in Act Two’s ‘Entr’acte’, which results in its own deserving ovation.

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While tenacious but soft-hearted crime reporter Mary Sunshine’s (J. Furtado) optimistic Act One number ‘A Little Bit of Good’ drags a little (pun not intended) up until this, things power along through a strong Act One, full of highlights. And when Dobson delivers Amos’s plaintive ‘Mister Cellophane’, its tone is not one of sadness but mourning of mediocrity and a relatable regard of how others view him (or rather don’t). This is not the withdrawn and depressively dejected Amos that is so often seen and the audience loves his genuineness in contrast to wife Roxie’s insatiable desire for fame. And his solo number brings us another delicious choreographic call-back in his don of white gloves to enhance the expressiveness of his hands, a classic Fosse move.

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Although the sexy work was written almost 40 years ago, its music and choreography are also as fresh as ever, thanks to its minimal but considered staging, with its use of stage levels reminding us that we’re watching a vaudevillian version of a musical. Not only members of the ensemble assume roles without change of costume, but they become part of the set, sitting along the side of the stage, sometimes as part of the fabric of a scene, interacting with the conductor for example, but always in character. The smoky atmosphere is akin to that of a jazz club and lighting is an integral part of the experience, especially in the Pop! Six! Squish! Uh-uh! Cicero! Lipschitz! Of ‘Cell Block Tango’ (cleverly without any sign of a cell) where it isolates each of its six women in turn as they explain their presence in the jail and how he had it comin’.

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There is an exception detail to the show’s choreographic realisation, which showcases dancer strength and agility while honouring choreographer Bob Fosse’s distinctive style of finger-snapping, scrunched shoulders, thrusting pelvises and small movements in emphasis of the words and rhythms of the songs. The dancers are absorbing to watch, from the very first step of the ‘All That Jazz’ opening welcome. Every detail is exceptionally executed with impeccable less-is-more 5,6,7,8 precise isolations. Contrast and formation variety also add interest, with smoothly fluid aerials sitting comfortably alongside sharp staccato jazz moves.

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Costumes may play within a seductive black palette, but the aesthetic is far from dull, with a gold frame edging enhancing its razzle dazzle atmosphere. Still, this is a “Chicago” that doesn’t take its self too seriously. Roxie’s ‘Me and My Baby’ is wonderfully vaudevillian and Billy Flynn’s first appearance is in song from behind a gathering of feather-paddled chorus girls, Busby Berkeley style. And humour features heavily, especially in Roxie’s fourth wall breaks and the animated ventriloquism of ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’ in recall of vaudeville’s requisite specialty acts of the era.

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Chidzey is a dynamic as viper Velma, impeccable in the timing of her dance and delivery, however, the name of everybody’s lips has to be Bassingthwaighte. She gives the ditzy Roxie a personality beyond just selfish self-absorption, making her at once foolishly naïve and overly worldly, and yet also sympathetic in her lack of malicious intent. In terms of support players, while Burlinson’s Billy Flynn is more cringy showman than charismatic legal player, Casey Donovon demands attention whenever she is on stage, especially in the sassy and solid ‘When You’re Good to Mama’.

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“Chicago” stands as the second longest-running musical in Broadway history (after “Phantom of the Opera”) and this production shows why. Whether you only know of the show through its 2002 film adaption or “Chicago” is one of your all time musical theatre favourites, this is a slick showcase of all of its aspects, set to sizzle into your memory. It is sin styled exactly, infectious in its energy and compelling in its choreographic character.

Photos c/o – Jeff Busby

 

 

Antigone afresh

Antigone (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

October 26 – November 16

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Sophocles’ Angione is more than two million years old, yet as a story with conflict at its heart, it is still relevant today as Queensland Theatre’s epic season finale, “Antigone”, written by Merlynn Tong, illustrates. While there is a clear 2019 resonance to Antigone’s (Jessica Tovey) passionate activist rebellion and rejection of authority, however, the Greek tragedy is presented not so much as her story as much as that of the new leader of Thebes, Creon (Christen O’Leary). Indeed, while young Antigone is a fierce and powerful female who stands up for her values despite powerful criticism, hers is not the main conflict of this play as her power struggle with Creon morphs into one between Creon and her son Haemon (Kevin Spink), who is engaged to Antigone.

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Having Creon played by a woman breathes new life into the text. Not only is the character transformed from a weary man suffering the burdens of rule to an alert and assertive political powerhouse, but it means that the play is no longer just about a woman challenging the patriarchy. Tong has written an adaptation for modern times in many ways, not just through its feminist representations. “Antigone” leads us to consideration of the parity of sorrow as only those whose lives are given in service of the ruler are worthy of mourning; because Eteocles died that way in a civil war, he is afforded a state funeral and a public display of grief, whereas because his brother Polyneices was killed fighting on the other side in recent hostilities, his body has been left to rot and his soul forbidden to be put to rest. By order of Creon, anyone who honours Polyneices with burial does so on pain of death.

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The grieving, heartbroken Antigone, sister to the dead men (sons of Oedipus and Jocasta) and niece to Creon, is determined to do right by both of her brothers and so the epic argument rages on in realisation of the prophet Tiresias’ (Penny Everingham) foreboding forecast. And as Antigone challenges Thebe’s leader for the right to bury and mourn her dead brother with dignity, the great city of Thebes, as well as a family looks set to be torn apart.

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Rather than a Greek chorus, at the play’s opening, we were presented with one of many operatic musical moments from Shubshri Kandiah (as Antigone’s radiant sister Ismene), which elevates the tragedy’s emotion. Despite a lengthy opening song and monologue from Creon, the show is pretty tight, thanks to the excellence of its cast, as compelling performances cut through the sometimes lengthy monologues to engage the audience.

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Tovey’s Antigone is strong and purposeful… a determined young woman who believes nothing is more important than the debt owed to family and the dead. Spink is also impressive as her ill-fated fiancé Haemon. It is O’Leary, however, who delivers the show’s standout performance. Her scenes of eloquent political oration are riveting in their authenticity down to the nuance of gesture as she channels the confidence, passion and voice modulation of the most purposeful of political speakers. Rather than just conveying stubborn calculation, she infuses the character with a vulnerability the elicits our empathy.

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Staging is deceptively simple but effective, as Queensland Theatre continues to show audiences new ways in which the Bille Brown Theatre space can be used. Ben Hughes’s rich lighting design befits the story’s big theme and Tony Brumpton’s sound design assists in amplifying the drama. And costumes are creatively detailed, but, like other creative aspects, allow performances rooms to resonate at the forefront of the production’s impression.

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“Antigone” is a strong show, but its’ short and sweet 70 minutes’ duration, leaves some characters unexplored. Still, Tong has done an admirable job of not only refreshing the story while remaining true to the original text, but making it accessible to people who are not necessarily familiar with the classic. Under Travis Dowling’s direction, the story is clear and easy to follow with no prior knowledge of Sophocles’ play, though, of course, familiarity does allow for the fostering of deeper connections. The show’s traditional touch stands it in impressive stead; it is full of drama as all the best theatre should be.

Jellicle joy

Cats (Queensland Musical Theatre)

Schonell Cinema and Live Theatre

October 25 – November 3

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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” is a show that polarises musical theatre fans; people either love it or hate it, but are rarely ambivalent, which alone makes it an ambitious choice for any production company, aside from it being so heavily grounded in dance. On the heels of their accomplished “Annie”, Queensland Musical Theatre are, however, more than up for the task, given its expandable cast of different age groups.

Based on the poetry of T. S. Eliot, the anthology-style, fully sung-through musical takes place over the course of one night, telling the story in song and dance, of the annual junkyard gathering of Jellicle cats, during which one special cat is selected to ascent to the Heaviside layer. Most people probably know the musical, however, because of its operatta-ish ‘Memory’, one of the only songs that doesn’t come from a T.S. Eliot poem and one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous compositions, which represents the story’s climax as the character Grizabella, engages in a melancholic remembrance of her glamorous past as a plea for acceptance. And, appropriately, the numbers stands as one of this production’s standout moments as Alison McKenzie’s deeply rich and mellow take, moves the audience to goosebumps in its power and impressive key-change sounds during the number’s Act Two reprise.

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The show’s music is a significant part of its success. From the overture, the band, under Conductor Julie Whiting, is excellent in its execution of the eclectic score, even if, on opening night, things were a little loud at times, making it difficult to understand performer lyrics in the softer moments. Still, ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ is a magnificent introduction to the multi-faceted but melodic score, full of layered tones that take audiences from playful prance to poignant dignity and back again.

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Any good “Cats” has to create a visual spectacle, and with over 40 performers on stage at times, this is certainly the case with this production, starting with its cats’ purr-fect pre-show audience interactions as they sneak and strut throughout the stalls, making the memory of my first experience of the show on London’s West End live again. Schonell Theatre’s large stage allows for Jo Badenhorst’s dynamic choreography, which is strong and engaging but general enough to allow for all levels of participation. Still, numbers ebb and flow as each individual cat tells the audience their backstory.

This “Cats” is characterised by an impressive attention to detail. Costumes capture the individual characters of the cats, beyond just their different fur patterns, especially in the case of the befallen Grisabella, however, no costume (except maybe a cane prop addition) can make the wise patriah Old Deuteronomy appear appropriately elderly when he is moving so nimbly across the stage.

The complex set, which serves as the backdrop for the entire musical, is complex, with built-in entrances and exits, and also platforms and levels on which the performers can stand and move around. The oversized junkyard staging also contains many Easter-egg details like graffiti from the mystery cat Macavity (Christopher Morphett-Wheatley), a monster of depravity of which there is no like, and a book pile that includes ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and The Bible (the musical is full of religious symbolism beyond just the Moses-like leader of the cats, Old Deuteronomy’s share of name with the fifth book of The Bible). London mentions are effectively peppered through things, but the Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer’s number is oddly over-accented, meaning that the athletic and playful young cats’ antics as knockabout clowns and quick-change comedians are overshadowed by lost diction

As anyone familiar with the contentious show knows, its structure is quite unique, as an anthology rather than through-lined plot, with each cat getting opportunity to introduce themselves and share the story of their life, loosely tied together by narrator and second-in-command of the Jellicle tribe, Munkustrap (David McLaughlin). As the storytelling tomcat, McLaughlin is able to direct audience attention at will, thanks to his commanding voice and physicality, even when just in unmoving stance.

It is the leather-clad Darcy Rhodes as rebellious alpha loner ladies man and lime-light lover Rum Tum Tugger, however that gives the most engaging and memorable of performances, and not just in his song, ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’ and his ‘Magical Mr. Mistoffelees’ number, which both radiate with infectious energy (and vocal talent). Even when he is not center stage, he absorbs audience attention in his unfaltering commitment to his flirtatious, swaggersome character, down to the littlest nuances of gesture, movement and stylised changes of position. And how wonderful it is to see him returned to rockstar status after the 2014’s revival’s reimagining of him as a ‘street cat’ rapper. Also noteworthy is the delightful, measured performance of Eric James as Asparagus, (Gus) the elder Theatrical Cat with shaking paws, reflecting with reverence upon his life on the stage.

It is so unfortunate that, on opening night at least, the cast was let down by the show’s lighting and especially sound, which, dropping in and out as it did, effectively ruined Act Two’s ‘Growltiger’s Last Stand’ music hall drama tribute as part of Gus’ reminiscence about his favourite role in the old-fashioned melodrama, as well as sections of other songs. For audiences unfamiliar with the musical, the lyrics lost due to microphone lapses in early numbers would assumedly make the story more difficult to access.

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There are still some standout numbers, however, such as Skimbleshanks The Railway Cat’s (Jonathan Taufatofua) tell of being unofficially in charge of the night train to Glasgow, during which a moving locomotive train is formed out of objects in the rubbish dump. The ensemble number is not only full of fun, but it represents the energy and spectacle that is at the core of this production, which is visually lavish and joyously dynamic in intent and realisation… mostly.

Dynamic doctoring

Jekyll and Hyde (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavillion Theatre

October 18 – November 9

In each of us there are two natures. If this primitive duality of man, good and evil, can be housed in separate identities, life will be relieved of all that is unbearable. It is the curse of mankind that these polar twins will be constantly struggling…. It is this understanding, as outlined in the prologue of “Jekyll and Hyde” that forms the basis of the musical’s action; obsessed with the ability of one person to be both good and evil, driven Doctor Henry Jekyll develops a potion to rid humanity of evil. Although he has the support of his loving fiancé, Emma Carew and her father and his trusted friend John Utterson, his proposal is denied by the Board of St Jude’s Hospital, so he sets about experimenting on himself and so becomes Edward Hyde.

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It’s a story based on the 1886 gothic novella “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, which has been adapted many times for film and stage. This interpretation, first seen on Broadway in 1997 with music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, takes some creative license on the original story, but still serves up a darkness that is far from usual musical theatre fare with a death toll of the Titus type. And Phoenix Ensemble effectively handles the confrontation of its many murders, which are well-realised through Dudley Powell’s fight choreography in balance against playful lyrics of the ‘they’ve murdered dear old Bessie, I hear it was extremely messy’ sort.

Lauren Conway’s choreography is vibrant and engaging, which is no better seen than in Act Two’s catchy entire company opening number ‘Murder, Murder’. Simple but effective staging also serves the show well, allowing Justin Tubb-Hearne’s vivid costume palate the opportunity to shine. Indeed, from Act One’s rousing ‘Bring On the Men’ introduction to the rough Red Rat establishment, the atmosphere is set as a visually rich experience in its tartaned take of cabaret complete with fishnets, lace, corsetry and ruffles of red and black in contrast to the purples of respectable society.

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The seedy Red Rat is where Dr Jekyll (Michael Mills) has a chance meeting with lady-of-the-night Lucy (Ebony Hamacek), which results in his decision to self- experiment and a grim Act Two journey through the crimes of the unpredictable Edward Hyde within Dr Jekyll himself. It also facilitates Hamacek’s strong entrance, positioning her in contrast to Jekyll’s poised and elegant fiancé Emma (Kelly Cooper), whose operatic voice is simply beautiful alongside Mills’ in ‘Take Me as I Am’, in which Emma and Henry pledge their love and allegiance at their engagement party, one of many showcases, also, of the talent of the show’s musicians (Musical Director Trenton Dunstan).

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This is, however, Mills’ show. Not only does he realise both the misguided but well-meaning scientist and the demonic, beastly Hyde with captivating confidence, but his voice is gorgeously musical theatre. In the musical’s most enduring hit, the ballad ‘This is the Moment’, when Jekyll is about to test his formula on himself, he passionately soars the number towards its requisite key change before impressively holding its final notes in triumph.

Doing double duty as Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde is no easy feat and Mills’ embrace of the energy required is to be celebrated. He switches between the characters with ease, especially in duet with himself, Act Two’s ‘The Confrontation’, where, aided by Jason Gardner’s on-point lighting design (and Stephen Eggington’s lighting operation), he flawlessly transitions between the two in illustration of his internal struggle, to jaw-droppingly good effect. Under Elodie Boal’s strong direction, each member of the ensemble also gives a committed, focused performance, leading to a very cohesive whole, even if the start of some scenes stall a little without dialogue or song.

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As one of the most polarising of all Broadway musicals, “Jekyll and Hyde” is perhaps an acquired taste type of show, however, in Phoenix Ensemble’s hands, the evocative tale of the epic battle between good and evil is given a dynamic realisation. This is a show for theatre-goers who enjoy something different, when different is done well…. it is all about looking behind the façade of expectations that might be associated with its subject matter.

007 sounds

The Music of James Bond

QPAC, Concert Hall

October 18

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“The Music of James Bond” begins, appropriately, with multi award-winning singer Kate Ceberano slinking onto the Concert Hall stage in a sparkling gown befitting her opening number, ‘Diamonds are Forever’. It is a look and belting sound very much suited to Shirley Bassey’s smash hit and with delivery of its tremendous expression, dramatic flair, soulful emotion and intrinsic glamour, the audience is easily assured as to the quality of the show to come. When Luke Kennedy appears to deliver a crisply crooned ‘From Russia with Love’ (stepping up from guest appearance role due to original performer Michael Falzon’s ill-health), the stage is well and truly set for an evening of entertainment in celebration of the spy film franchise’s music.

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For over 50 years, the thrilling exploits of the world’s greatest spy have been accompanied by the world’s finest theme songs, making the night’s set-list a spoiled-for-choice scenario. With the full live symphonic sound of a 20-piece orchestra, every number is elevated in its experience, especially our revisit of the ubiquitous main signature James Bond theme, which allows for audience appreciation of how its instruments layer atop each other and especially of its percussive notes and the distinctive rhythm of its famous guitar riff.

As thorough as the Bond theme collection is, however, time is also taken to visit some other spies with a dynamic instrumental “Mission Impossible” theme, complete with rollicking urban samba sounds, and jaunty “The Spy Who Shagged Me” spoof theme song. Even Kate Ceberano’s own ‘Untouchable’, written with Paul Kelly, makes an appearance within the repertoire as her version of a Bond song.

The comprehensive catalogue of the Bond collection means that we hear the songs of a range of artists over the course of the evening… Gladys Night, Nancy Sinatra, KD Lang and Carly Simon, amongst others, and experience songs in a range of styles. From the light touch of Burt Bacharach’s ‘The Look of Love’ delivered in duet, complete with a little cha cha across the stage, to the bombastic rock of Paul McCartney’s epic ‘Live and Let Die’, orchestrations are a treat for the ear, aesthetically enhanced by gorgeous stage lighting.

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“The Music of James Bond” has all the ingredients for a superb, nostalgic celebration of an iconic film franchise, starting with its ‘quantum of soloists’, conducted by Mr 007 himself, the always charismatic Guy Noble, who bring the brilliant arrangements of the world’s finest theme songs to life. They add a light touch but also symphonic grandeur to Kennedy’s romantic ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and pair Ceberano’s powerful ‘Goldfinger’ with lush brassy orchestrations and horn sounds.

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Ceberano is sensational. Her vocals are on-point, making for many standout moments, such as her ballad ‘Skyfall’, in which she succeeds in making abstract lyrics emotionally moving. Kennedy, too, delivers some tender moments in ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, although it is his Act Two opener, catchy ‘80s classic ‘A View to a Kill’ (the only Bond song to hit Number One of the charts) that serves as the real highlight, full of dancey fun and very Duran Duran.

With all of its components considered, “The Music of James Bond” cannot be anything but a joyous experience of shared celebration of timeless hits. Its only pity is its one night only programming.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

The Eyre affair

Jane Eyre (shake & stir theatre company)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

October 18 – November 9

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There is a chill in the air of the Cremorne Theatre as “Jane Eyre” begins. It’s an affair that befits the gothic terror of Charlotte Bronte’s sophisticated 1847 novel (originally published under the male pseudonym Currer Bell), represented in the stage’s steely blue aesthetic. Not only does it capture the miserable gothic dampness of the northern English landscape of its setting, but its shadows allow for unobtrusive execution of many of its cast’s multi-roles. Jason Glenwright’s lighting design is also used to great effect to later equally evoke the flickering of fire and the shadowy secrets of Thornfield Hall in this hybrid story of gothic romance.

The mistreatment of spirited orphan plain Jane Eyre (Nelle Lee) begins in earnest when as a 10-year-old she is cruelly confined to the novel’s notorious red room by her venomous aunt. She is soon shipped off to Lowood Institute, a religious boarding school for orphans, where she discovers Victorian class and gender hierarchies through the abuses of the headmaster, evolving into an educated young lady of conviction.

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This is just the start of what is an epic story so a long show and at times during Act One it feels this way, despite the considerable cut-down of the Lowood sections of the novel. However, the story’s early scenes are important to help the audience get to know Jane better to understand her plain-speaking pragmatism and righteous determination despite it being 1800’s England and, therefore, a time of strict and rigid societal structure.

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After leaving Lowood, Jane assumes employment at Thornfield Hall, the impressive yet mysterious home of Edward Rochester (Anthony Standish). As governess to young Adele (Sarah McLeod), the French daughter of Rochester’s opera dance mistress, she is given opportunity to show her compassion and soon Jane and Rochester become inexplicably drawn to each other as the dark secrets locked within Thornfield’s walls begin to unravel, forcing Jane on a journey towards commanding control over her own life. It is in this, Act Two, component of the narrative, that the production is heightened by its original music, written and performed live on stage by multi ARIA Award-winner and frontwoman of The Superjesus, Sarah McLeod.

The most astonishing thing about this “Jane Eyre”, however, is that the dedicated cast contains only four members, such is the detail that they bring to the array of characters they portray (especially the supremely talented Helen Howard). And their constant choreographed movement around the set is also impressive. The staging is deceptively complex; it looks minimal, a structure of ladders and platforms, however, it gives the actors a, dynamic space in which to showcase their craft and they utilise every nook and cranny of it over the course of the story.

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As Jane, Nelle Lee is the only actor to play just one character, although she still needs to embody both the unruly child of Act One and the later mature governess, which she does well. Her Jane is an isolated but bold and brave heroine, with care at the core of her being, seen in her consideration of Adele’s circumstances as being no fault of her own. As the mostly-silent Adele, McLeod is appropriately animated in doll-like demeanour, which adds some light-hearted relief to a show heavily weighted in expectations as much as subject matter. And while not understated, her take on the show’s madwoman in the attic, is wildly dark and terrifying, her head and face covered by her untidy hair.

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In true shake & stir style, the production maintains the integrity of the classic novel while emphasising its feminist themes. This is a fiery Jane and a fiery story, literally in an impressive feat of staging. Standish’s Rochester may be a little less commanding, but still as impatient. as his novel self, however, he is humanised so as to make the audience eager for his and Jane’s romantic relationship to succeed despite its obstacles. Authentic language and conversation between the two evokes the emotive tone and stylistic devices of the novel’s connotative language, and convey a genuine connection. As always with the company’s page-to-stage adaptations, this “Jane Eyre” not only caters for fans of the fiction, but makes the story accessible to those new to the work.

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Certainly, there is much to celebrate in this adaption by shake & stir co-Artistic Directors Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij. The stagecraft is intelligently considered, with, for example, stylised movement between characters who never really connect, adding new interest to one of the most iconic pieces of English literature. Indeed, this is a powerful original adaptation, characterised by integrity and intelligence, set to sell out and then rise from it ashes to take Brisbane’s best out in tour of the country.

Photos c/o – David Fell