Restrung release

Killing Music (Topology)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre 

October 15

Brisbane’s Restrung Festival offer of three days of exhilarating music performances, visual art, workshops and conversations offers a valuable opportunity to showcase the city’s celebrated and emerging talents in bespoke events, unique collaborations and bold new works. It only seems fit, therefore, that its program includes a show from Topology, one of the country’s finest contemporary ensembles whose original, innovative theatrical performances have been showcasing their work since 1997.

“Killing Music” serves dual purpose; it both offers a collective post-2020 release and prompts a renewed, optimistic energy, and this is reflected in its setlist. After a moving Welcome to Country by Aunty Delmae Barton and William Barton, things kick off with the excitement of the show’s electronica-esque title track. In what then follows, the group’s distinct sounds feature in an evocative mix of piano, strings and sax, made all the more appealing by the intimacy of its New Benner Theatre staging, which allows us to experience that talents of  Principal Artists John Babbage (composer/saxophone), Robert Davidson (composer/bass) Christa Powell (violin), Bernard Hoey (composer/viola) and also Liam Viney on keyboard, up close.

Iconic previous works from the indie classical quintet’s extensive repertoire also features throughout, however, it is an eclectic mix of numbers and surprising combinations of genres that ensures a nice balance between considerations for the heart and mind as we are in-turn challenged, uplifted, entertained and reassured by its landscapes. In the necessary interests of light and shade there’s a strings-heavy version of the Saints’ punk anthem of alienation, ‘(I’m) Stranded’ and also laid-back instrumental and easily-recognisable sounds of a ‘tortured remix’ tribute to Cold Chisel’s ‘Cheap Wine’, entitled ‘Whinging Tweet’, double definition style. Meanwhile, the glorious angry energy of Julia Gillard’s impassioned misogyny speech set to classical music, as featured in “Unrepresentative Swill”, is nicely balanced by the essential wistful sadness of John Babbage’s ‘Lost at Sea’, bedded on a slew of slow meditative piano and string sounds. And it is always lovely to revisit previous Topology experiences such as ‘Static’ from the group’s 2014 ‘70s instrumental opera ‘Share House’.

The specially-curated collection of Topology tunes that is “Killing Music” is likely to be the group’s final show in Brisbane this year, and, as always, it certainly leaves audience members awaiting what the innovative collective will turn their creative attention to next. In the meantime, however, Killing Music is now available for streaming or as physical CD through the group’s website.

R&H homage

The Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein (Lynch and Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

October 15 – 16

Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein were two of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. Together, they created 11 musicals amongst a body of work in the 1940s and 1950s that has become known as the golden age of musical theatre. More so than any composer and lyricist who have written for the stage, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s songs have become standards of musical theatre repertoire and celebration of some of these beloved tunes is at the core of Lynch and Paterson’s “The Classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein”, which sees these treasured musical theatre songs performed alongside Cadenza Chamber Players.

From the outset, the concert’s overture sweeps us into the mood for its melodies as we are reminded of the smash hit songs from the duo’s string of hit musicals such as “The Sound of Music”, “South Pacific”, “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel” and more. The musical sensibility is also clear from Act One’s outset with soprano soloist Samantha Paterson connecting immediately with the audience in a lively ‘Getting to Know You’ from “The King and I”. Indeed, the light-hearted charm that typifies a musical’s appeal is evident throughout, from the playful whistling of a happy tune to the in-turn vocal sequencing of musical tones to each performer in ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and its exploration of the major musical scale. And then we are taken to the South Pacific with mezzo soprano soloist Meg Hamilton leading ‘Wonderful Guy’ with humour, heart and vigour, before the male chorus launches into the playful and plucky companion number ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’, further reminding the audience of the unique fusion of Rodgers’ musical comedy and Hammerstein’s operetta that characterise their work.

Bringing Broadway’s legendary musical showstoppers to life, is a cast of four dazzling vocalists and a powerful professional chorus. The lead vocalists, Samantha Paterson, Meg Hamilton, Travis Holmes and Elliot Baker are talented and charismatic. In particular, tenor soloist Holmes is a resonant presence. His ‘Soliloquy’ from “Carousel” in which the now-jobless antihero reveals his inner passions and fears upon learning he is about to become a father, is an epic musical monologue of humour and pathos and he handles its emotional transition with aplomb, connecting with the audience through his strong, but also sensitive voice. Its resulting momentous applause could well be the show’s highlight… until his climatic ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ from “The Sound of Music”. The inspirational song about discovery and following one’s dream is delivered with a vocal drama that complements its slow musical build from hopeful searching to rewarding happiness. And Elliot Baker’s rich baritone sounds effortless wrap themselves around ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, making the love-at-first-sight song, smooth, but also sincere, in its romantic sentiments.

The cast’s voices combine to produce some wonderful harmonies, such as in support of Hamilton in ‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’ and then all together in encore of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from “Carousel”. It is an appropriate ending, not just due to its dramatic display of complex harmonies but its essentially optimistic message. The emotional peak of Act II in “Carousel” has become a global anthem that strikes a chord during tough times, reminding of the resilience needed. It is a hopeful and emotionally-impactful punctuation of the soaring scores that occupy the bulk of the show’s two acts.  

The Cadenza Chamber Players orchestra conducted by Lucas D. Lynch makes every number lushly memorable, whether it be playful or contemplative in tone. And its string section of violins, viola, cello and bass fuse together to deliver some especially exquisite flighty sounds in later “The Sound of Music” numbers. Strong production values also see Tom Dodd’s lighting design complementing the sentiment of the themes on show, twinkling us into the enchanted evening and warming us into the bright golden haze on the meadow of ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, as Elliot Baker shares Curly Mclain’s enjoyment of a wonderful day out West in “Oklahoma!”

The timeless music of Rodgers and Hammerstein changed theatre forever and Lynch & Paterson’s sophisticated production serves as a reminder of the duo’s cement of iconic status. The joyful homage is also a showcase of the talents of some magnificent vocalists and the stunning live orchestra of Cadenza Chamber Players. Its only disappointment is that there are only two performances.

Cherry red drama

The Very Cherry Project (ARC Acting Studio)

Christ Church Milton

September 28 – October 2

Everything is bathed in cherry red lighting as we enter Milton’s Christ Church for ARC Acting Studio’s production (of sorts) of Anton Chekhov’s final work. It’s not just the aesthetics that place us firmly in the esteemed playwright’s “The Cherry Orchard”, however. “All Russia is our orchard” Trofimov says to Anya in reveal of the cherry orchard’s symbolism of the past. Indeed, the theme of the effects of social change remains at the forefront of the show’s messaging, despite its unique presentation style.

“The Very Cherry Project”, which has been adapted, designed and directed by Michael Beh, features the talents of two ensembles, the Seniors Ensemble for people over 60 and the ARC Professional Training Ensemble of emerging artists, presenting refractions of the play, with words and scenes reimagined, revisioned, re-languaged and reappropriated to different characters. The experimental approach, however, which sees repeat of lines and scene snippets by other actors means that some familiarity with the complex story’s dramatisation of the socio-economic forces in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, is helpful.

The tale is of an aristocratic Russian landowner who returns to her family estate (which includes a large and well-known cherry orchard) just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage, only to allow its sale to the son of a former serf, but, it is also about a large group of characters who have a relationship with the titular orchard. This gives us many diverse and uniquely-flawed characters and the performers are magnificent in their characterisation of these. In particular, Stephanie Williams is vibrant as the attention seeking housemaid Dunyasha, while Jack Dakin brings some David Bowie swagger to the idealistic student Trofimov. And members of the Seniors ensemble are like a Greek chorus of sorts in support of the main action, sometimes even drawing their own focus as they sit as servants on the cherry orchard estate watching the action of characters from their upstairs world, before taking it in turn to contribute to the commentary on the dream-shattering effects of the country’s mass emancipation upon aristocrats and former slavery serfs alike.

A lavish attention to aesthetic detail delights from the very first scene, with the principal cast heeling about in fabulously opulent costumes of lush red and purple fabrics upon fabrics. And even if some conversations occur outside of spotlight sections and the blurred lines of realism result in some strange on-stage occurrences, its Russian sensibilities are clear, providing incentive to see more of Chekhov’s classic theatre works, as well as red-hot opportunity for its group of performers to hone their craft in what is clearly a joyous experience of expression and personal creativity.

Photos c/o – Naz Mulla

Family portraits exposed

Portraits (Observatory Theatre)

The Old Museum

October 1 – 2

Audience engagement in a theatrical work can come from emotional reaction as much as resonance, which means that responses can be evoked from even unfavourable characters. This is what happens in experience of Lachlan Driscoll’s “Portraits”, whose story centres around a family of largely unlikeable characters. The play, which is presented by new independent theatre company, Observatory Theatre reveals their faults from early on; having suffered a stroke, family patriarch Ivan Godbold (James Hogan) is being cared for by his youngest, and in his words, deadbeat, child, son Martin (Emile Regano in a measured performance, very different to his recent appearance in Growl Theatre’s “Boeing Boeing”), who has been living in the shadow of his philanthropist father and now wants to take over the machine that is the family corporation, despite a looming criminal investigation.

Ivan is angry and fearful of the effect of mutinous rats upon his legacy, however, when Martin’s screechy sister Josephine (Rebecca Day) returns to the family fold after an apparent years-long absence, attention turns to issues of family pride and the expectation the comes with the surname Godbold, cemented by years of inter-generational discipline. Clearly, there is a lot going on in the 70-minute work. And all is soon apparently not as it seems, as after some subtle hints, the narrative takes a turn to reveal the reality of what has happened to affect the family dynamic so irreparably. As Ivan foreshadows in an earlier flashback, “time will tell” as to real reason for kindergarten aide Josephine’s visit.

Time is a core component of the work’s themes, effectively evoked by Driscoll’s lighting design which helps transition the audience between the story’s present and its flashback scenes to Ivan’s past rage as a powerful businessman attempting to control the company’s whistle blower situation. Its site-specific staging at the historic, stately Old Museum offers a unique immersive-style experience, with Gabby Fitzgerald’s surround sound design working to construct the fictional Godbold mansion. Impressive as the space is, however, it’s vastness does little to enhance what is essentially an intimate story of a fractured family, disjointed due to domestic abuse.

“Portraits” offers a sophisticated take on complicated and important themes like choices, consequences, regret and even religion. Its script is well written; this is especially evident in its dialogue between the Godbold siblings which naturally transforms from banter to intense confrontation reflecting the range of their emotions as the story’s reality unfolds. More moments of light and shade beyond just their escalating anger could maybe help more clearly establish details of the twisting storyline to aid audience members in appreciating the nuance of its complications, however, ultimately the story of the family’s crumbling empire makes for an intellectually-engaging expose of the price of legacy.  

Photos c/o –  Bethany Moore

Ancient mythology a-mazed

Maze (The Naughty Corner)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Underground Theatre

September 29 – October 2

A good story haunts, it is mentioned late in “Maze”. It’s an appropriate summary of the mythology at the centre of the new work by The Naughty Corner, an emerging theatre collective of Griffith University alumni. The story, which has been developed through the Dead Puppet Society Academy program, is of the Minotaur part man and part bull (to use Roman poet Ovid’s description) creature of Greek mythology… the offspring of Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos of Crete and a snow-white bull sent by the god Poseidon that Minos kept alive, only to have his wife fall in love with it as punishment.

Unfortunately, with the provision of only limited initial context information, it becomes difficult for audience members to all be able to follow the story’s narrative and invest in its characters and relationships. What isn’t lacking however is the work’s amazing aesthetics, which are innovative and exciting. Four handheld custom-made LED light poles are inventively used to create the labyrinth of tunnels below the island of Crete, into which the minotaur is ostracised, shrinking the space within its barriers to creating a feeling of claustrophobia and eventually morphing together to evoke an image of the beast itself. This works well with Ben Mills’ lighting design and Tom Collins’s soundscape, which easily take us into to damp maze of tunnels. Wireless lighting effects by Mark Middleton and Peter Rhoades create visually striking glow-in-the-dark costuming accents, allowing them to become part of the action themselves, along with the well-placed appearance of some puppets to support storytelling.  

The tale of the Ancient Greek monster is told primarily through movement, which is simultaneously the production’s strength and downfall. Liesel Zink’s choreography, for example, sees the performers (Claire Argente, Sho Eba, Mark McDonald, Georgia Voice and Jeremiah Wray) moving together in tight as-one formation, especially in its early attempt to outline the story to the point of Pasiphae’s birth of the cursed child.

In the show’s program, it is noted that The Naughty Corner’s work promises exploration of provocative narratives and in this regard, “Maze” certainly delivers. Its execution, however, is almost too clever, making it best suited to those with previous familiarity with the story of the cursed bastard beast of Crete. Writers Bianca Bality and Joe Wilson’s extensive use of deliberately evasive undefined pronouns in dialogue doesn’t aid audience understanding, particularly in early scenes. Indeed, while design elements contribute considerably to the production’s visual storytelling, there are still lapses in its expression of the Minotaur’s transformation into a monster. Pacing could be tighter with some shortened scenes and less lengthy pausing within them. However, under Jess Bunz’s direction, it touches on bigger themes around perception and what makes a monster, so is certainly still a show of much potential.

Photos c/o – Kate Lund

Looking to ’22

On the Sunday sliver of space between the end of Brisbane Festival and the Tony Awards celebration of Broadway being back, Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director Lee Lewis has launched its 2022 season with promise of continued celebration of the resilience of the arts and cultural sector, and the power of great stories told by talented artists. And season tickets are on sale now!

Finally making its way to the mainstage, after 2020’s false Brisbane start, is the rarely performed and highly anticipated “Othello”. Adapted for the stage by Jimi Bani and Jason Klarwein (who is also the production’s director), the work’s examination of race and gender politics through an Australian lens will be occurring at Queensland Theatre’s Bille Brown Theatre from 10 September to 1 October as part of the 2022 Brisbane Festival. The trilingual (Kala Lagaw Ya, Yumpla Tok and English) production promises illumination of the vital role of the Torres Straight Light Infantry Battalion during World War Two.

Shakespeare also makes an appearance of sorts with Theresa Rebek’s “Bernhardt/Hamlet” directed by Lee Lewis, which, with support by Phillip Bacon Galleries, will be take audiences to the fashion and feminism of late 19th century Paris in the Bille Brown Theatre from 28 May to 18 June. Forget ‘to be, or not to be’, for theatre star Sarah Bernhardt absolutely will when she sets her sights on playing Hamlet because who better to take on the greatest part ever written than the greatest actress of the century?

Classics continue to feature within the season’s framework with a reminder that nothing good ever happens after 3am, courtesy of Edward Albee’s big and bold domestic comedy, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” (most recently seen at Brisbane’s Ad Astra), which will be showing at QPAC’s Playhouse from February 12 – 26. Directed by Margaret Harvey, the fresh State Theatre Company South Australia production, supported by Production Partner Griffith University, promises a fresh and unique vision of the classic portrait of a marriage in crisis in its veer between reality and illusion, and hatred and desire.  

Another highlight comes courtesy of the revival of Wesley Enoch’s joyous Brisbane musical “The Sunshine Club” (with music by John Rodgers) which the Australian playwright and former Queensland Theatre artistic director will direct at the QPAC Playhouse from 9 – 30 July. In partnership with QPAC and supported by Production Partner Ergon Energy, the groundbreaking 1999 show will swing audiences into the titular Sunshine Club of 1946 where everyone is welcome and romances bloom.

Big social themes feature at the heart of many of the season’s works, including with Kendall Feaver’s “The Almighty Sometimes”, a heartfelt family drama that explores the complexities of diagnosing children and raising teenagers towards independence. Under Daniel Evans’ direction, the award-winning play will bring to its audiences serious subject matter with some funny at Bille Brown Theatre from 13 August to 3 September.

March will see the world premiere of the compelling debut work “First Casualty” at the Bille Brown Theatre, supported by Production Partners BDO Australia, the Landmark Productions Fund and Legacy Queensland. The work, written by a serving soldier and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Christopher Johnston, to be directed by Lee Lewis, will, from 12 March to 9 April, take its audiences to the high point of the war in Afghanistan in 2011. The story of soldiers more than war, promises authenticity in its depiction of the triumphs, tragedies, strains and sacrifices of defence force personnel.

Also more intimate in its focus is the world premiere of “don’t ask what the bird look like” by Hannah Belanszky, which will be directed by Isaac Drandic at the Bille Brown Theatre from 30 April to 14 May. This gently funny, almost gothic tale about land, family and reconnection from an exciting new First Nations voice promises to be a heart-warming meditation on the search for identity and belonging with a light touch of humour and a philosophical undercurrent.

The season of complex and richly diverse stories will conclude with a one of home and celebration of immigrant and refugee stories, as well as our common humanity. With hippies, cowboys and a ninja battle on stage at the Bille Brown Theatre, under the direction of Lee Lewis, the wild hip hop romance of Qui Nguyen’s American heartland road trip take “Vietgone” looks set to bring some pulp fiction style surprises along with its humour and songs (original music by Shane Rettig) to its 29 October – 19 November season.

Queensland Theatre’s season of eight plays, including two world premieres, represents a now particularly treasured opportunity to bring community together, regardless of how the reality of the year to come may pan out. And given the vibrancy of its diverse 2022 program, audiences can now only await with fingers crossed anticipation for a fantastic year filled with theatre.