Merry Widow magnificence

The Merry Widow (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

June 22 – 20

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From the raise of its curtain, it is clear that Opera Queensland’s production of Hungarian composer Franz Lehár’s popular musical “The Merry Widow” is a lavish one. The dramatic set is of an opulent French Art Nuevo period as Act One takes audiences to a Paris embassy ball, where gold glamours in the bold geometry of the decor’s decadent act-deco detail, but also the epaulettes et al of the military costumes of Pontevedrian diplomats and the gorgeous gown of the titular Hanna Glavari (Natalie Christie Peluso)

The beautiful widow Hanna is from the tiny Balkan state of Pontevedro (a stand-in for Montenegro) and her homeland is approaching bankruptcy. The story follows the efforts of Pontevedrin officials at the embassy, primarily the ambassador, Baron Zeta (Jason Barry-Smith), to compel her to marry one of her fellow citizens rather than an enamoured Parisian. And despite his now self-distructive life swimming in pink champagne with the grisettes of Chez Maxime’s supper club, the idealistic Count Danilo (David Hobson) is deemed to be the most fitting suitor. But Hanna and Danilo have a history that sees the story of love in its many guises take some twists and turns (including an expected wedding of the Parisian sort, but not to whom you may expect) along their road to falling in love again.

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Like an Astaire/Rogers Hollywood movie, the narrative is filled with feisty exchanges, mistaken identities and misunderstandings as much as love scenes, with the comedy of confusion cresendoing in Act Two. It’s like a comedy of Noel Coward type manners with operatic melodies… light-hearted and a little bit naughty in its risqué innuendo.

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Justin Flemings adaptation of the libretto is wickedly witty in both its sentiment and creative Cole-Porter type rhymes. And its pithy one-liners are deliciously realised in Hugh Parker measured delivery as Embassy Secretary, Njegus, who mocks the French before becoming ‘Quite Parisian’ himself. Hobson is a humorous drunk when the audience is introduced to the hot-tempered diplomat Danilo and Sam Hartley and Andrew Collins add vaudevillian laughs as Huey and Duey duo, embassy attachés Bogdanovitsch and Pritsch. Then, when a male septet performs ‘Women’ (wonderfully also later reprised by the full ensemble), it is a highly entertaining Monty Python meets MGM musical moment.

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Peluso is captivating as Hanna, easily conveying both her elegance and cheeky spirit. Her crisp soprano sounds soar through the Lyric Theatre, yet she is also affecting in the sentimental love song ‘Vilja, o Vilja’. Opera veteran Hobson is a dashing and suave Danilo, bringing a solid but sweet lyric tenor to his numbers. Together they work well, both theatrically and in vocal duet, most memorably in ‘I Love You So’, the famous Merry Widow Waltz. Also of note is James Rodgers as Camille, French attaché to the embassy and romancer of Barones Valencienne (Katie Stensel). His smooth vocal sounds are richly romantic in capture the character’s blindly-devoted love.

Musically, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra achieves a delightful bright and dynamic Viennese sound, particularly in its strings. The operetta is, however, more than its famous waltz and the orchestra also more than rise to the occasion of its rich and colourful European folk tunes.

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The almost three-hour show, includes two 20 minute intervals, which may seem indulgent, but only until the distinct aesthetic of each act is revealed (Set Designer, Michael Scott-Mitchell). Act Two in Pontevedro is stunningly set against the impressive impressionist backdrop of a Monet waterlily painting with the women dressed in florals and soft colours. Then there is Act Three’s mirrored, metallic-silver shine of Maxine’s where Hanna is hosting a party.

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Not only does the shorter final act feature Hanna’s stunning cabaret-esque entrance, but it opens with an exhilarating, energetic dance number which see dancing waiters with champagne-laden trays can-caning and the club’s girls funning about in frou-frou pink peekaboo tutus. The chorus line numbers not only showcase the dancers’ excellent execution but also the work’s impressive choreography (Graeme Murphy Shane Placentino). Indeed, it is a show of interesting routines that, although eclectic in range from elegant waltzes and folk-inspired routines to sultry Cabaret teases and a Fosse-like while glove showcase circle around Hanna, are all outstanding.

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“The Merry Widow” is a feast for the senses thanks to its considered approach to every aspect of the glamourous production. When, for example, nightclub scene action freezes behind front-of-stage interaction, it creates a sumptuous tableau. Jennifer Irwin’s costumes are also richly realised as part of a bigger aesthetic. Ladies sweep about Act One’s ballroom in fishtail evening gowns on the arms of dapper gentlemen, without any restriction to their moment.

There is a reason why “The Merry Widow” is not only a staple of most opera companies, but the fastest-selling Opera Queensland production in over a decade. The work is extravagant to hyperbolic degrees, yet also highly accessible in its narrative, including a twist in the tale of the widow’s millions, and as it is both sung in and has subtitles in English. Under Graeme Murphy’s direction, it represents collaboration of the very best sort. Indeed, with a cast of around 50 singers and dancers, the opulent operetta is certainly magnificent, both is in its vibrant realisation and playful, irreverent tone. It is lively and entertaining down to smallest detail, so serves both as an ideal introduction to the artform, and confirmation of its beauty, especially in its breathtaking full ensemble numbers.

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Happy housewifery

The Real Housewives of Brisbane

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 24 – August 6

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Joanne (Jessica Meyer), Gillian (Babette Bellini), Lulu (Hayley Fielding), Beezus (Elizabeth Horrowitz) and Penny (Lauren Evans) are the equally loved and feared glamourous Real Housewives of Brisbane. One by one they introduce themselves at the start of the Brisbane Arts Theatre musical of the same name, in parody of the US media franchise of shows that document the lives of a city’s affluent housewives. In the true tradition of the franchise, one day the women are besties, the next day, enemies. And they all have secrets, beyond just their ages and details of their cosmetic works.

The story starts with the group taking time out of their brunching and ladies-lunching lives, to gather at on-the-outs housewife Poppy’s final soiree. The funeral home doesn’t only serve as the perfect selfie backdrop (#amen) but also the location of Poppy’s beyond-the-grave decree that Joanne is the new head housewife. Though the most senior of the ladies, Beezus is shocked, Joanne is not surprised at all; her life is so amazing that even she’s jealous of it.

The resulting narrative unfolds with authentic nods to the motifs of the guilty-pleasure genre that trashbaggery tv tragics will appreciate. On-screen snippets of interview/confessional moments punctuate the on-stage action to assist in transition between scenes and add an appreciated touch through their Brisbane scene backdrops to the ladies who are, of course, always plugging a latest endorsed product of the ‘face yoga mat’ sort. These form an integral component of the reality genre and therefore a necessary part of the storytelling process, however, once the backstory of the ladies’ complicated relationships, both within the group and with others, is shared, things move from the tv show structure to a narrative of its own making, albeit with some recognisable plot lines such as when, like Teresa from “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” a Brisbane housewife and her husband are charged with fraud. Not only that, but there is the intrigue of infidelity and a rat in the ranks of the group, spilling their sex, lies and secret lives online.

Musically, the show is a mixed bag. The irreverence of songs with lyrics like “we tuck and then we nip… sometimes we skinny dip” suits the show’s fun feel, but, ensemble songs like ‘Bully Them Back’, as well Act One’s introductory number, fail to realise their potential due to a lack of collective vocal power. In solo numbers, there are some celebratory moments; Jessica Meyer finishes Act One strongly with sing of the tragedy of her life and, after intermission, Elizabeth Best delivers a strong, jazzy number to open Act Two to her fundraising charity Bitch Ball for deaf dogs.

“The Real Housewives of Brisbane” is full of funny moments and, of the ladies, Elizabeth Best is a standout as the straight-faced, cynical housewife-elder Beezus. In character contrast as Lulu, Hayley Fielding is also dramatically very good in conveying the cavalier ‘new-nose, new-you’ attitude of the always-medicated, newly-divorced housewife Lulu.

It is the supporting cast who are given the most to work with in terms of character though, and Reagan Warner and James Burton make a meal of even the smallest of comic opportunities. Proving his versatility, Warner goes from playing John Proctor in the theatre’s recent “The Crucible” production to becoming, amongst other things, a funeral director, apathetic shoe store worker, Moroccan spiritualist (because every Real Housewives season has a sun and fun vacation trip away) and most memorably an over-the-top fitness instructor leading an absolutely hilarious bouncing ball routine as a show highlight. Burton is similarly very funny in his various roles, particularly in show of lap dance boot camp moves as part of sex therapy with his Christian wife Penny, who remains oblivious to his flamboyance. Unfortunately, the men’s characters also showcase the dodgy wigs that seem to be trademark for an Arts Theatre show, though at least in this instance they sort of fit with the stereotypes that populate the parody.

Unfortunately, another staple of Arts Theatre shows seems to be sound issues and opening night of “The Real Housewives of Brisbane” is no exception to this. Indeed, significant sound concerns sometimes detract from overall enjoyment, especially in Act Two where a chunk of time is spent with songs and dialogue shared in competition with crackling audio static.

Although not the slickest of shows, “The Real Housewives of Brisbane” has a tongue-in-cheek appeal that makes it perfect for an easy-to-watch girls night out. It is full of fun and comfortable humour with digs at Ipswich and the Gold Coast, and a cat-fight of course. Like the tv genre it parodies, it is a wonderful guilty pleasure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is, therefore, recommended as a very happy couple of light-hearted hours.

The reign of rebel rock

We Will Rock You

Brisbane Arts Theatre

June 2 – July 28

“We Will Rock You” is an ambitious show, especially for an independent theatre company. Yet, despite the accordingly variable talent levels on stage, Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production serves as a treat for classic-rock fans.

The Orwellian-esque dystopian rock musical, which is filled with about two dozen Queen songs, takes place 300 years into the future of earth, now named the iPlanet, controlled by Globalsoft leader Killer Queen (a fabulous Natalie Mead), where everyone dresses, thinks and acts the same, rock is unheard of and all musical instruments have been banned. Enter hero Galileo Figaro (William Toft), who just wants to break free and, after dreaming of a world with rock music, sprouts the lyrics of past songs without knowing their meaning or origin, including the first few lines of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (a device which adds much humour to Ben Elton’s tongue-in-cheek script, before becoming overdone).

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When the rebel is captured by the Killer Queen and her chief crony, Police Commander Kashoggi (Liam McDonnell) he meets the sassy, smartmouthed Scaramouche (Katie Rouston), another rebel thinker who won’t conform to Globalsoft’s ways so is mocked by her peers for just wanting somebody to love. After escaping, they team up with a rebel gang of Bohemians, including Brit (Mackenzie Kelly) and Oz (Row Blackshaw), who are searching for items they think will make a musical instrument.

It is a narrative of convenience to allow for inclusion of feature of some of Queen’s all time biggest hits because, as a jukebox musical, “We Will Rock You” is all about the music and while some members of the ensemble project a lacklustre lack of energy, there are a number of strengths from the lead performers.  William Toft brings an impressive vocal range to Gallileo’s songbook, rocking with bombastic sounds to the famous one-two-three beat of ‘We Will Rock You’, but also offering a soft, soulful touch in uplifting duet with Scaramouche, ‘You’re My Best Friend’. Row Blackshaw, too, is vocally very strong as Oz, but nobody else has the commanding stage presence of Killer Queen Natalie Mead, and not just due to her amazing costume pieces (costume design by Erin Tribble and Frankee Walker). She simply ignites the lyrics of the band’s first international hit, ‘Killer Queen’ with soaring vocals.

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Liam McDonnell gives his dialogue an appealing Riff-Raff-like sinister slink, but is underused in duet with Mead of the funky ‘Another One Bites the Dust’.  Mark Tuohy’s appearance as Buddy Holly, leader of the archeologically-clueless bohemians, whose literal interpretations muddle the mythology of the analogue past’s cherished artefacts, appears all too short. His wistfully reflective delivery of ‘These Are the Days’ equips the ballad with much melancholy, making the audience want to hear more of his smooth vocals.

“We Will Rock You” requires a big musical sound and in this regard the show generally delivers, although some sound issues affect the fluency of transitions. There are lighting lapses too, like missed spotlights and combining stage lighting with shine-out to audience during moments of musical emphasis which seems a little amateurish.

“We Will Rock You” has always been an audience favourite, since it opened in London’s West End in 2002 without critical acclaim. It’s certainly contrived and overlong, but still an enjoyable night out in either reminiscence of or introduction to the many beautifully crafted and unapologetically bombastic songs of the iconic four-piece hard rock band, even if the show has moved its setting to the USA and, accordingly, worship of Elvis rather than Queen lead singer and flamboyant showman Freddie Mercury as messiah. Indeed, as audience members clap, swap and sing along, it is clear that Queen’s kind of magic still reigns for many.

4Seasons display

4Seasons (Expressions Dance Company, City Contemporary Dance Company Hong Kong and QPAC)

QPAC, The Playhouse

June 14 – 22

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“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like,” the old saying goes. With some tweaking, this pretty much describes my approach to Dance… “I don’t necessarily know what exactly they are always doing, but I do know what I find interesting”. And fortunately, there is a lot of interesting things happening in the tapestry that is Expressions Dance Company’s triple act collaboration with Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), “4Seasons”’

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It starts from audience entry into the Playhouse Theatre space, which is bathed in the blare of ‘Summer’. Under a stark sun-like light, 13 performers in muted costumes, move against an increasingly menacing musical score as the ‘sun’ fades. After an early technical fault is fixed, we see order emerge from that chaos as subtle, but uniform transitions signpost to a motif of heads turned to the top in recognition of the sun’s subjugation.

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A feeling of oppression features throughout the piece, created by Kristina Chan by CCDC, in its foreboding for a global warming future, not just through the routines themselves, but also lighting and staging, which sees fabric dramatically canopied from the ceiling (the cause of opening night’s false start) not only increasingly rippling, but slowly unfurling as burden upon the dancers. This is a dystopian future and in its extreme atmospheric conditions, suffering bodies cluster together and connect through the swell of canon moves, including on the ground, as they move languidly, as if in slow motion.

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In contrast, the night’s second piece, Dominic Wong’s ‘Day After Day’, sees side-of-stage lighting replaced by panels, in transform of the aesthetic. Dancers erupt in a frenzy of acrobatic energy and strength, which sees, for example, see a dancer impressively walking over the top of others and then down another’s chest.

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With a fast-paced soundtrack and modern, translucent white costumes, the feel is a lot cooler, especially when Bruce Wong, breathes his way around the set in the slowest of motions, walking to eventually embrace a block of ice before the piece concludes with the sound of falling rain.

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Although, like the first work, it drags on a little too long to maintain absolute audience engagement, its repeated movements, intertwined asymmetrical clustering and then explosions punctuate its course with some memorable moments.

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Comparatively, Natalie Weir’s ‘4Seasons’ (danced to Max Richter’s recomposed version of Vivaldi’s best known composition) appears to begin traditionally, with dancers appearing hued together (thanks to beautiful, coloured costumes) on stage like something from the Barn Raising Scene of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. What follows is a lot more sophisticated than the Pontipee brothers’ attempt to woo women with their newfound manners, but no less athletic in its physicality. Indeed, its blend of the classic and contemporary creates an exciting aesthetic, especially as movement waves across the ensemble with a progressive series of lifts, jumps and kicks in canon.

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Inspired by the seasons of life, it stunningly shows fours couples at different stages of their lives, love and relationships. It could be one couple or different pairings, but the distinction does not matter. What is significant is the humanity of the emotions of the experience being shared. It begins with the pure blush and intimacy of a new relationship between Alana Sargent and Ivan Chan. Things become more urgent then as they move from the eternal youth of spring to the energy and storm clouds of summer. Richard Causer and Bobo Lai convey a torn reluctance as he focuses intensely and possessively on her. With Elise May and Yve Yu, love becomes more consuming in the crimson shades of autumn as impressive lifts give way to domination. Finally, there is the mutual love of Jake McLarnon and Qiao Yang moving together in unison, but not losing their individuality.

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Amid these, there are bursts of performers running across the stage, grabbing others as they go and it is nice to see male duos and masculine energy being showcased during this, from a cast of men and women. Along with its crescendoed urgency in its conclusion, this display represents a real highlight, that leaves you lamenting that Act Two feels like it is over far too soon.

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As a celebration of the power and splendour of all things contemporary dance, “4Seasons” represents a wonderful experience for dance knowers and lay-audience members alike. And as if the beauty and grace on stage is not enough, Max Richter vibrant melodies liberate Vivaldi’s signature work from elevator musicality to a bold and virtuosic aural experience.

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Impressive attention to detail features across all pieces. Indeed, there is a connectedness both within and through all three works, which are also remarkably distinct. Sightline issues are always disappointing, but these are compensated by the fascinating fluidity of the contemporary dance on show, especially in its titular piece. With such a big aesthetic on display there is much to take from the show’s experience, which should be celebrated for its bring of the best of international dance to Brisbane.

A show about a dog… and more

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

QPAC, Concert Hall

June 12 – 24

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“I’m here to see a show about a dog,” an audience member obviously unfamiliar with Mark Haddon’s much-loved novel was overheard saying pre-show at opening night of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. Dogs do bookend the show’s narrative, but the National Theatre of Great Britain’s acclaimed production is about so much more than this, or even the unusual event of its title.

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The story is of Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins), a 15-year-old boy from Swindon, England with autism spectrum disorder and a passion for mathematics, who finds his neighbours’ dog Wellington, dead on their front lawn, impaled by a garden fork. This kick-starts a series of events as Christopher makes it his mission to solve the crime of Wellington’s murder. While detectiving, he notes his findings in a journal that his teacher Siobhan (Julie Hale) has encouraged him to write. When his frustrated father Ed (Stuart Laing) confiscates the diary, a determined Christopher not only recovers his writing, but letters that reveal previously-unknown information about his dead mother.

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Rather than tell the story in first-person narrative, like the original novel, the segmented story is largely recalled by his teacher in share of Christopher’s writing, inset with moments in illustration and explanation of his unique world view, presenting like a play-within-a-play. This bring much humour as Christopher explains his dislike of metaphors and need for truth and predictability, and pathos too as he matter-of-factly describes how he hates being touched as much as the hates the colour yellow.

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Just like its literary source material, the play provides an unparalleled insight into the mind of someone living with an autism spectrum condition. In its original, award-winning London production in West End’s Gielgud Theare, the show had an essential intimacy that suited the story of the socially–challenged young man finding his place in the world. However, even within QPAC’s Concert Hall, its subtle soundtrack allows for moments of audience absorption, such as when Christopher’s dad tells his story.

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In many ways, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a small story, conveyed in a big show and, accordingly, Act Two is much louder… deliberately so in contrast to the comfort of Christopher’s familiar life as his internal experience of catching a train to London with his Pet Rat is captured in an aesthetic offensive thanks to remarkable Lighting (Paule Constable), Sound (Ian Dickinson) and Video (Finn Ross) Design that has not decreased in its impact in the six years of the show’s life.

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Trains feature as an ongoing motif. In Act One, while talking to his teacher and us as an audience, Christopher progressively constructs an impressive train set around the stage, despite the quick scene transitions that occur throughout the show. Mathematics as a way of understanding and describing the world also features throughout the production. It not only serves as one of Christopher’s strengths but also becomes a perfect metaphor for his quest to make order and make meaning out of a confusing world.

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Like in the novel, Christopher uses drawings, diagrams and equations to explain himself. On stage this comes courtesy of Bunny Christie’s impressive design, which sees the floor and all three walls of the boxed-in set transformed into mathematical graph paper, meaning that Christopher can draw all over the set through the power of video projections. In one of the most visually memorable moments, Christopher’s attempt to escape his isolation through the imagined experience of flying as an astronaut in space, is impressively brought to life through incredible lighting and projections.

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Inventive, imaginative staging later sees boxes within the boxed-in stage transform into train seats, luggage and alike. And the ensemble of performers not only often operate with stylised movement, but become props themselves, serving as everything from a door to an ATM.

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Each member of the touring cast is solid in their variety or roles. Debra Michaels endears Mrs Alexander, an elderly resident of Christopher’s street, with warm, grandmotherly tendencies and Julie Hale is wonderful as the teacher all teachers want to be, caring and compassionate in her response to Christopher’s unique needs.

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Stuart Lang gives a measured performance as Christopher’s patient and protective, but emotionally-devastated single father and, as the boy’s mother Judy, Emma Beattie has us feeling at her inability to touch her own son. But “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is Christopher’s story and Joshua Jenkins gives a perfect performance down to the protagonist’s smallest nuance. He not only captures the part’s physicality and dialogue verbosity, but infuses it with honesty and great heart.

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Sometimes what, over time, what one builds up in recollection as the best theatre show ever experienced, upon revisit, ultimately leads to comparative disappointment. Four years after seeing the show in London, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” remains the best theatre I have ever seen. The Australian touring production may not celebrate the prime number seats within its audience, but it still has a treat in its tail, worth staying for beyond the curtain call.

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“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” treats audiences with an unforgettable viewing experience. With props and pyrotechnics that, although impressive, do not overpower its story’s emotional core, it represents a perfect combination of theatrical ingredients in a page-to-stage retelling that is both true to its source material but also adds so much more. And it is easy to appreciate how it won both the Olivier and Tony awards for Best Play, Director, Actor, Lighting and Set Designs. Although Christopher only understands what is immediate and what is the truth, experience of his show will certainly linger long for fortunate audience members.

Sounds of the city

The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 12 – 16

Australian alternative rock band The Go-Betweens is part of the architecture of this city – not only culturally, but literally, courtesy of the inner city Brisbane toll bridge named in their honour. The indie band found cult fame (but no fortune) with their idiosyncratic music, focussed on the personal rather than the political at a time of political turmoil in the state (the band formed at UQ when Queensland was halfway through Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s almost two decades as Premier). It is appropriate, therefore to have the band’s songs tell the story of a generation and a city that shaped it, which is the tag-line for the world premiere collaboration between acclaimed Brisbane theatre and music companies Now Look Here and Electric Moon, “The Sound of a Finished Kiss”.

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At its core, the show, which is written and directed by Kate Wild, is a celebration of the band’s rich musical legacy, frozen in time within the early ‘90s era. It begins however in the less distant past; it is 2016 when one of a now-far-flung group of friends finds a mixtape that transports her from London back to the endless empty days of Brisbane in 1991, when their collective potential still had possibility for fulfillment.

Becky (Kat Henry) has just moved from Toowoomba to the sophisticated big smoke city of Brisbane for university. At O-week she meets Zed (Lucas Stibbard) who has similarly relocated from Mackay, only with a more personal reason driving his desire for a fresh start. For the next two years they hang out as Becky works down a list of coming-of-age milestones and through a series of monologues interwoven with the songs they loved, we see them relive the events which shattered friendships and scattered the four friends of their group across the world. Like the music itself, their stories navigate an array of emotions, from the euphoric to the painful and many moments of humour as snippets of the different perspectives of relationships reveal their distinct characters.

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One thing Brisbane does well is tell its own stories, whether in words, through music or on stage. “The Sound of a Finished Kiss” combines all three of these. The show is full of referential fondness for the city and its locations, in descriptions of West End traffic and changes to its landscapes, our slow brown river, its Story Bridge, Queen Street Mall and The Beat. And description of a party in a verandas-all-around-Queenslander in all its swampie, fire-twirling, goon-bladder drinking, literary discussion glory is like a step back in time to a life with a different group of people, with time to spend and squander.

The show’s 90-minute running times flies by, despite the simplicity of its narrative, which is appropriate given that at the age of its characters, everything seems immense. What is big, however, are the sounds of the show’s live five-piece band and four talented actor/musicians. Musical director James Lees of Electric Moon effectively unites the music of The Go-Betweens with Wild’s original story. Although some songs go on a little bit longer than necessary, they all fit effectively into the narrative, especially given the different song writing styles of the band’s two front men, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. As an opener, the heartfelt ‘Cattle and Cane’ for example, written by McLennan as a longing for his boyhood Rockhampton farm home while homesick after relocation to London, evokes an identifiable recall of wanting to venture forth to a bigger, brighter world and later nostalgia for what has been left behind, in words like ‘I recall coming home through fields of cane… the sky a rain of falling cinders’, especially to those, like me, whose own hometown memories include the evening haze of cane fires and their black cinder burn off.

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All members of the ensemble cast deliver in every respect. Kat Henry is a naively-optimistic Becky in counter to Lucas Stibbard’s eyes-downcast, hands-in-pocket loner, Zed, yet together they make ‘Right Here’ an at-once cutesy and heartfelt duet.Lucinda Shaw is a tour-de-force as Karla, Becky’s indie spirit guide. And vocally she is magnificent, moving from husky smokiness to screaming heights in the post-punk B-side ‘Karen’ (written by Robert Foster as a tribute to University of Queensland Library staff). And her later ‘Bye Bye Pride’, about the humility of healing and moving on with life is a memorable combination of vulnerability and vocal power.

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As the self-assured and almost larger-than-life Mike, Sandro Colarelli is just as compelling. In ‘Drive for Your Memory’, a song Robert Forster wrote reflecting about his break-up with the band’s drummer Lindy Morrison, he is an irresistible force in description of how Mike is affected by a love that couldn’t be, yet almost was… ‘Deep down I’m lonely and I miss my friend’. And in ‘The House Jack Kerouac Built’, recognition of a bad situation becoming worse, his rich, tremulous modern-day crooning sounds are delicious in their Morrissey shades, especially as he laments his loneliness in the number’s final lines. The song is also unforgettable due to its full band arrangement and it is wonderful to often see its musicians Ruth Gardner, Richard Grantham, Brett Harris, James Lees and Karl O’Shea revealed from behind the back-of-stage scrim screen in some numbers.

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Like the breezy, melodic mid-tempo number ‘Spring Rain’ which looks back on living in Brisbane suburbia and ‘driving my first car, my elbows in the breeze’ “The Sound of a Finished Kiss” has an essentially-beautiful simplicity to its experience. As celebration of The Go-Betweens’ rich musical legacy, it is worthy enough in its revisit of Grant McLennan’s melodic genius and Robert Forster’s evocative lyrics. But with its backstory of the city and some of its people, it is simply superb.

The music conjures up the past, as only music can do, beyond just the summer sounds of their most commercial hit ‘Streets of Your Town’. As a then NQ swampie who road-tripped from Mackay to Brisbane in a Datsun Sunny listening to The KLF for life-anew at the University of Queensland, it not only made me sentimental, but left me lamenting about youth being wasted on the young. Indeed, so powerful is its evocation of era, that it can make theatregoers nostalgic for a time and place they didn’t personally encounter.

Regardless of your experience, or otherwise, of Brisbane’s unique subculture in the early 1990s, however, it still offers examination of some resonate, universal themes that will leave audiences with urge to reconnect with friends from long-ago lives. This is a show with an all-too-short initial run whose virtually sold-out season stands as testament to its need to return its sounds of our city to a stage. In the meantime, we can await another viewing with revisit of old ‘Tweens albums and re-read of “He Died with a Felafel in His Hand” and “Zigzag Street”.

Principles at play

The Mathematics of Longing (La Boite Theatre Company, Gavin Webber and The Farm, and Suzie Miller and The Uncertainty Principle)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

June 3 – 23

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The letter i is the square root of -1, which cannot occur; it is impossible, not because it doesn’t exist as much as because it makes no sense. It is a metaphor, perhaps for theatre, but even more so for experience of “The Mathematics of Longing”, a co-production between La Boite, The Farm and The Uncertainty Principle.

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The above-mentioned imaginary number concept is played with in a scene between a physicist father (Todd MacDonald) in conversation with his daughter (Merlynn Tong) about the world of complex numbers and apparently beautiful equations. The new work comes courtesy of multi-award winning playwright Suzie Miller, who, inspired by her father’s love of maths, want us to see its formulas and equations in a more positive way. The result is a strange and poetic ‘play’ that appears full of contradictions: it is only an hour in duration, but it feels like longer and although it contains a lot of ideas, there is not much of a narrative. Its experience is similarly contentious, with opinion divided even amongst audience member groups as to its merit.

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In its examination of the possibility within uncertainty, “The Mathematics of Longing” is certainly a courageous work, and, its feature of collaborative talents, including those of Gold Coast contemporary dance company The Farm and Ben Ely of Regurgitator (composition and sound design), makes it one of great promise. However, in its mostly-talk and little action approach it does not deliver on this suggestion.

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It begins with the audience being verbally bombarded with ideas, with performers speaking at once before racing us through Newton’s three laws of motion and explaining dark matter and the ultimate, all-encompassing theoretical framework that links together all physical aspects of the universe. From there, ideas merge and a parallel story (or rather, stories) starts to come together, only not in a linear way, introducing us to the synchronicity of lovers (Kate Harman and Gavin Webber) forced together by the intensity of their respective needs and a couple in turmoil (Ngoc Phan and Todd MacDonald, who are equally excellent in their scenes together).

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Each story is based on a formula or scientific principle and later it is illustrated how, in another universe. Some resonate more than others; the theory of separation show of how a splitting couple will always be merged together is a highlight, but one that is over too quickly. And in another high-point, we are offered quick comfort in consideration of how Einstein’s most famous theory of relativity could allow souls to reach infinity. Although the development from scientific principle into story is welcome, however, it not necessarily enough to make the self-described postmodern and post-dramatic work accessible for main-stage audiences.

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Just as the space between two human beings, we are told, can be nothing or everything, this unusual project lends itself to contention. It is a physical work in many ways, featuring as part of this, a series of musical and dance moments. In some respects, the aesthetic works, with installation artist Ross Manning’s set design and Ben Hughes’ lighting uniting in moments of visual artistry to illustrate the layers to the world and our experience within it. More frequently, however, gentle soundscape strains, silences between dialogues and dance sections seem indulgent. Although it does convey a sense of how small and insignificant we are in the vastness of the universe and paradoxically how big we are in the centre of our own lives, its examination of so many theories makes for confusion rather than clarity.

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“The Mathematics of Longing” is an intellectual work full of big considerations about construct vs reality concepts and what may be beyond what we know, and like imaginative algebraic numbers, it won’t make sense to all audience members. I don’t get maths (few English teachers do) and after seeing “The Mathematics of Longing”, I still don’t get it, let alone understand its ‘beauty’, yet I can appreciate that this exists for some. Hopefully, those willing to take the leap of faith in seeing this show will fall into this category.