Life’s legacy live

The Story of the Miracles at Cookie’s Table (Queensland Theatre)

June 2

If you are missing live theatre productions since the advent of social restrictions, then it is time to join the club… Queensland Theatre’s Play Club to be precise, which in its most recent event featured a live reading of “The Story of the Miracles at Cookie’s Table”, Wesley Enoch’s universal love story about the destructive and restorative relationships between generations.

In the 1870s a girl is born under a tree — her birth tree — chosen to give her strength and wisdom. When the tree is cut down she follows it into the white man’s world, working as a cook for the big house on the island. Her tree has become a miracle kitchen table, one she will pass down through successive generations as a legacy — a way of carving out her family stories. Now, generations later, a young man and his mother fight for ownership of the table and audiences get to hear all about it in a lived streamed play reading of a domestic drama spanning four generations of a Stradbroke Island family’s history.

The titular table serves as a solid motif throughout the work, as a symbol of sharing but also separation. And the play is crafted to be equal parts beautifully-moving and wickedly-funny as it unravels what is essentially a universal story about the relationships between generations, at times heartbreaking in its emotions. The three-hander is full of flashbacks and stories of the past, and even without staging in support, the story sits easily between eras, thanks to the skill of its performers under direction of Isaac Drandic.

Despite not being buoyed along by audience reactions, the actors all play off each other expertly, capturing the moments of their relationships despite their few rehearsal opportunities. Their pacing also reflects their characters; in her share of extended family stories, Roxanne McDonald’s god-fearing Faith is considered in juxtaposition to her energetic but also damaged daughter Annie, (the spirited singer who has been estranged for many years) but is also fiery in confrontation of her daughter’s parenting. McDonald captures the essence of grandmotherly care and concern, but even in memory all is not necessarily as it seems as daughter Annie’s stories embellish their way around the underlying secrets that create the story’s tension. Indeed, there is more than one side to a story and as we work through the layered tale. Even with just her words, Ursula Yovich gives a charismatic performance, complete with precise comic timing in banter with her bureaucrat son Nathan, (an assured and versatile Guy Simon), the last in the family’s line. Her pitch-perfect delivery procures comic potential from every line, especially in her frank discussion and questioning of her son’s sex life.

Abandoned by his mother Annie and raised by his grandmother, Nathan left the island for university and a government career, until his grandmother’s funeral brings him back to country and family for the first time in years, evoking themes akin to those of Enoch’s “The Seven Stages of Grieving”. Whereas Annie just wants her son to talk to her, he just wants the table and won’t stop asking about it. Cue the conflict and insult trades of the ‘I brought you into the world and I can take you out’ type, but also realisation, for audience members, of the similarity of their stories and reasons for turning away from their island home.

“The Story of the Miracles at Cookie’s Table” is entertaining but also thought-proving theatre and, even in this format, it is easy to see why the play won the 2005 Patrick White Playwrights Award. The fact that its powerful storytelling transcends so easily into the virtual realm is testament to the universality of its themes of legacy, lineage and life’s memories and also serves a topical reminder of the inter-generational legacy of past traumas.

 

NYC seclusion songs

From NYC with LOVE (Kurt Phelan)

May 22

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From the moment Queensland-born performer Kurt Phelan shares weird puppet musical “Avenue Q” song ‘Purpose’ as one of the opening songs of his “From NYC with LOVE” show from COVID-19 seclusion, it is clear to his online audience that his purpose is to entertain. As his love letter show from inside the epicentre progresses, this truth is realised, and not only through his tell of how he was just days out from directing and choreographing a now-on-hiatus show in Kansas City when the pandemic hit.

Phelan, who been living and working in New York for the past year, has not only been experiencing “Rent” in real life courtesy of the city’s East Village setting, but the charismatic NIDA graduate has played both Mark and Roger in various productions of Jonathan Larson’s generation-defining musical. And his thoughtful ‘One Song Glory’ certainly recaptures the first moment we all fell in love with struggling musician Roger, even when cleverly inset with some “American Idiot” moments. Indeed, there is a clear comfort in Phelan’s musical theatre numbers, and pleasingly, amongst anecdotes of side-hustles from while in upstate New York quarantine, the musical memories keep coming courtesy of “Tootsie” number ‘I Won’t Let You Down’.

Accompanied by his husband, Emmy Award-winning composer Lance Horne, Phelan presents a characteristic hour of songs, stories and cabaret cheek, as his versatility takes the audience from a topical ‘Catch My Disease’ and ‘I think We’re Alone Now’ to a reappropriated ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. There are also pop-up Aussie music nods amongst the show’s eclectic set list, courtesy of Divinyls and Peter Allen numbers. In particular, Phelan’s tender and compelling ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ showcases his impressive vocal technique and serves as a touching reminder that we will soon be welcoming the actor, singer, writer and choreographer back home to Australia.

When it comes to intimate shows, one from someone’s Upper West Side home, is about as cosy as it can get, especially when it comes complete with some familiar new-normal shared screen technical issues. Even through these hic-ups, however, Phelan’s infectious energy and character shines through … and that’s the way we like it.

Photo c/o – Austin Ruffer

 

IsoLation appreciation

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 10 (The Little Red Company)

May 29

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Proving that isolation’s more fun when you do it together, the little red company has, for the last 10 weeks, been banding together with other talented performers for an online live concert series to raise money for Queensland’s creative workforce who are facing perilous loss in the wake of COVID-19’s catastrophic hit to the arts industry. The concept concert, “The IsoLate Late Show”, is not only entirely philanthropic, but also immensely enjoyable for audiences watching its weekly Friday night live Facebook broadcast. And appropriately, its final episode sees both a set list of audience requests from the past 10 weeks and the show’s core artists making music in the same (socially distanced) space. Not only are they finally making music together in real life, but they are doing it on the stage at Brisbane’s beloved art-deco music venue the Tivoli theatre. And with tons of tinsel and a razzle dazzle jacket, the atmosphere is sparkling as they set towards an ultimate $100K fundraiser goal for the Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund QLD.

Amongst its reflection on the last ten weeks of shows from home, Episode 10 of “The IsoLate Late Show” enables its own highlights, especially thanks to its bigger space and increased performer numbers. The duets are what make our dreams come true, from Luke Kennedy and Lai Utouvou’s Hall and Oats to Tom Oliver and Irena Lysiuk’s ‘Kids’ and a feel-good ‘Time of My Life’ closer from Kennedy and the show’s host Naomi Price to remind us that nobody puts the arts in the corner.

Numbers also provide opportunity to give live band members their moments to shine. Tom Oliver’s epically-rock ‘My Sharona’ allows Jason McGregor to show some impressive guitar riffs and, helping Luke Kennedy doing what he does best in Farnham’s ‘Age of Reason’, Michael Manikus is a maestro on keys. Naomi Price, too, is on-point in show of her versatility, from a high-energy ‘River Deep Mountain High’ opener to a croony ‘Make You Feel Your Love’ gentle and sweet take back to her Adele cabaret show “Rumour Has It”.

There is eclecticism to the show’s set list of audience requests, curated together in the most magnificent of ways, taking audiences from Rachel Everett-Jones and Lai Utouvou’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’, full of pep courtesy of its quick paced vocals and trademark percussion, to Tom Oliver’s infectious disco energy, being finally allowed to do a Bee Gees number.

Songs are also strategically selected with on-point messages, appropriate for these uncertain times. Quarantine Queen Irena Lysiuk gives audiences another stunning Cher number with a beautifully-arranged ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, while Rachel Everett-Jones offers reminder that it’s going to be bright and sunshiny on the other side of these dark and difficult days, with ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. The strings musicians of Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, remind us of both our wonderful world and the wonderful art form that classical music can be with a moving arrangement of Satchmo’s signature song and, appropriately for the season’s finale, Luke Kennedy and Rachel Everett-Jones’ ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ makes for a spectacular high point.

After ten weeks of tireless effort assembling and delivering theatre to our lounge rooms, the cast and creatives of “The IsoLate Late Show” deserve only the most hyperbolic of acclamation for reminding audiences of both Brisbane’s talent and an industry that is determined to still stand. And for that, we should be we should be dancing in appreciative celebration indeed (#takeitfromTom).

Little red relief’s roll out

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 4 (The Little Red Company)

April 17

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Initially my plan was to just review the first three episodes of “The IsoLate Late Show”, but then the little red company took things to another level, rolling out episode four from the show’s new La Boite Theatre home, still sans audience obviously, but with some bang-on production values, especially considering the challenges of the current situation.

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Immediately, the night’s dancing theme is evident with a ‘Shut Up and Dance’ duet from Luke Kennedy and Naomi Price, with guitar hero Jason McGregor’s accompaniment making the power pop song all the more irresistible for a sing-a-long. And, in keeping with the theme, the audience is also treated to a dance number from The Dream Dance Company, to remind us of the self-reward of aesthetic appreciation in disposition development, such is the little red company’s commitment to showcasing a wide range of talented creatives in whose hands our artistic future lies.

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Lai Utavout continues to set the tone with a visual extravaganza to disco anthem ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, complete with remote musical accompaniment, however, the show is, as always, far from one-note. Irena Lysiuk again gives us some light and shade in a stripped-back Jonas Brothers number and Naomi Price chanteuses us through Norah Jones’ jazzy ‘Turn Me On’, showcasing her vocal versatility and eclecticism, while McGregor and Bobbie Lee Stamper join in guitar collaboration to share a flawless take of the gorgeous Beatles classic ‘Blackbird’, bring back memories of Price’s La Boite show “Lady Beatle”.

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Stamper also continues the dancing theme with some smooth Springsteen sounds, live from Sydney. Everyone’s favourite elf (courtesy of “Christmas Actually”), Tom Oliver gives us harder rock in a comfortable robe and slippers with a bitter but groovy ‘Lonely Boy’, before joining with Kennedy for a standout, soaring ‘As The Days Go By’ duet of towering vocals, because Braithwaite makes everything alright.  Indeed, it’s a show of duets this week with Kennedy and Price also giving a spectacular ‘Shallow’ of moving melody in accompaniment of the powerful and poignant pop ballad’s stunning musical contrasts. Things never drift too far from the dance theme though with a socially (distancing) responsible version of ‘Dancing in the Street’ teasing us into a lycra and leg-warmer ‘Physical’ from Lysiuk and Price before a ‘Toxic’ extravaganza home school of rock showcase sees even members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata bringing us Britney as we’ve never before seen.

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The arts sector being unsupported by the government stimulus package means an uncertain future for creatives and the industry itself for the foreseeable future. Tuning in to “The IsoLate Late Show” and donating to the Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund QLD allows audience members to show this suffering industry that though they have been ignored, they are not forgotten. Not only do we get to share in celebration of the evolution of this show over such as short amount of time, but we are treated to a weekly reminder that as the days go by we do get a bit closer, even if we are still socially distanced apart.

Little red relief 3.0

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 3 (The Little Red Company)

April 3

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Continuing with its new Friday night tradition, episode three of “The IsoLate Late Show” feature throwback to some of performer Naomi Price’s previous shows, this time from its very first number, which sees the acclaimed performer delivering a ‘Rumour Has It’ that you might not have heard before, even if you have seen her portrayal of pop idol Adele in the celebrated show of the same name.

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The Little Red Company’s online live concert series for a covid-19 world also again features Luke Kennedy on vocals and Jason McGregor on guitar banding together with some virtual-world guest drops-ins as they aim to raise money for Queensland’s creative workforce who are facing perilous loss in the wake of the virus. Rather than Johnny Farnham, this week it is ‘Johnny Be Good’ (with energetic guitar from McGregor) that showcases Kennedy’s vocal versatility, especially when considered in conjunction with his later stripped-back, bring-on-the-feels ‘Time After Time’. The Queen of quarantine, Irena Lysiuk gives us a less angsty take of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ than audiences may be used to, while Mat Verevis shares a tender take of Billy Joel’s ‘Just The Way You Are’.

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Among others, Tom Oliver returns to remind us that everything is gonna be alright with a catchy Thirsty Merc number and Lai Utavout and Rachel Everett-Jones come out of their cabin fever to share a melodic ‘Put a Little Love in Your Heart’ singalong, complete with cameo from baby Zion. Indeed, the performers present a diverse set list, which evens includes some country stylings from Price with ‘Follow Your Arrow’, Kacey Musgrave’s now-trademark song about self-acceptance and not worrying about whether others judge your life choices.

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Members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata, are again on-hand as part of a collaborative finale take of the ultimate Starship anthem. There is even a spot of magic, quite literally, as Christopher Wayne of The Naked Magicians joins in from quarantine after return from the group’s US tour, to showcase a trick. And Brisbane indie pop band Sheppard share their new number ‘Somebody like you’, as well as their debut album’s infectious first single ‘Geronimo’.

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Until such time as curtains rise again, “The IsoLate Show” is there for everyone to join together for both entertainment and fundraising purposes. All funds raised are administered by the Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund QLD – Queensland’s leading performing arts charity – and go directly to a suite of actors, singers, musicians, directors, writers, designers and more who have been affected by this catastrophic hit to the arts, so why not spend your Friday night knee deep in the hoopla with, and helping ,some theatre friends?

Little red relief 2.0

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 2 (The Little Red Company)

March 29

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Fresh from last week’s first IsoLate Late Show, the little red company were back on Friday night with episode two, albeit in a more striped-back format, thanks to updated social distancing and gathering requirements, because as experience continues to show, a lot can change in a week. Staying in may be the new black, but particularly for those who live alone, it can be an unusually lonely occurrence, especially if it is in contrast to typical time out theatring, which makes the experience of this new concept cabaret show all the more rewarding.

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It’s like an unplugged version of a performance proper, coming to us from another lounge room, but while the number of performers may be lessened, the entertainment is still as present as ever as Naomi Price and Luke Kennedy are joined by superstar guitarist Jason McGregor to share some creatives vs corona love. While the 90-minute show includes cabaret classics, there is also a covid19 twist to some of its numbers, including ‘Penny Lane’ appearing as dedication to the essential workers of our new-normal society. And reappropriated Katie Perry lyrics see Price bopping us through ‘Quarantine Dream’.

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While last week’s performers drop in via video, including members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata, in accompaniment to Luke Kennedy’s epic ‘Into the Unknown’, this week’s show is really about Price and Kennedy. The pair is in fine vocal form, showcased particularly in gleeful (#seewhatIdidthere) duet + dog share of Journey’s cheesy but convincing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. They lift the classic rock number’s sing-along melody to become a spiritual anthem for people not to give up, which is obviously an important message during this current crazy time of coronavirus.

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Another highlight comes courtesy of the peak harmony of Kennedy’s crisp vocals in The Doobie Brothers’ ‘Give Me the Beat Boys’, which easily carries at-home audience members away in drift-away sing-a-long. And Price’s ‘Valerie’, done properly, the only way to do it, Amy Winehouse style, is enlivened with jazzy riffs and electrifying high-tempo guitar rock-out courtesy of McGreggor. Light and shade comes from McGreggor’s emotion-filled accompaniment to ‘Songbird’, to take us back to Price’s recent, but now a lifetime ago encore run of “Christmas Actually”. Throwback to Price’s other 2019 encore show at La Boite Theatre, “Lady Beatle”, comes courtesy of a final, vibrant Beatles mix, cresendoing into ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ to let the evening go.

As its finale surmises, “The IsoLate Late Show” is guaranteed to raise the smile because, let’s face it, isolating is more fun with friends. Not only this, but it serves as an important ongoing reminder, also, about how arts matter and how members of this crippled industry need our support. With that in mind, you can continue to enjoy the full show, knowing that donations are still welcome at www.theisolatelateshow.com.