Freaky family fun

Freaky Friday (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

June 17 – July 2

The musical comedy “Freaky Friday” is based on the celebrated novel by Mary Rodgers and the hit Disney films of the same name. Though a contemporary update, the mother-daughter body-switching story follows much the same storyline with its rousing opening number ‘Just One Day’ introducing the characters and setting up the narrative.

11th grader Ellie Blake (Carly Wilson) wants nothing more than to participate in The Hunt, an annual all-night scavenger hunt that she’s determined to win because her crush Adam (Elliot Gough) is the new List Master. Her only problem is that it is set to take place on the night of her busy widowed mother Katherine’s (Della Days) wedding rehearsal dinner. As the equally frustrated and angry mother and daughter fight and plead for each other to change, tension crescendos to their shared grip of a giant hourglass and suddenly, neither of them is the same as they once were. And so begins the very freaky Friday that sees them journeying in each other’s bodies (and discovering more about each other’s lives), full of hilarity as the duo scramble to assimilate to the new experiences that ensue.

The supporting cast is excellent. Kirsten Sparks is of particular note as one of Ellie’s best friends, goggle-eyed and jelly-kneed in her own adoration in presence of the adorably cool Adam, while AJ Betts brings a commanding stage presence to villainous mean-girl Savannah. This is, however, Wilson and more so, Days’ show and it is their performances that define it. Days inhabits the role of a mother inhabited by a flanneletted and angsty teenager usually bickering with her younger puppet-obsessed brother Fletcher (Samuel Barrett). Through changing vocal tones and physicality, she captures the hyperbole and chaos of her teenage daughter’s daily dilemmas, but also, as things progress, reveals her growing maturity in appreciation of her mother’s stresses. Indeed, Days demonstrates excellent comic timing in her play of a sassy teenager trapped inside an adult body, especially in Katherine’s resulting attempts to quash shows of affection from her fiancé Mike (Mike Zarate). Days’ vocal prowess is touching and powerful as required, combining wonderfully with Wilson’s equally commanding signing voice for a bluesy ‘Bring My Baby (Brother) Home’, Act Two’s show-stopper.  

Like a Disney style “Heathers”, “Freaky Friday” is full of catchy songs (music by Tom Kitt and song lyrics by Brian Yorkey), brought to versatile life by an accomplished orchestra whose back of stage reveal in encore is to much audience acclaim. Steven Days’ musical direction celebrates the varied sensibilities of the score, such as Act One’s ‘I’ve Got This’, where the two decide that they have to pretend to be one another until a second magical hourglass can be found, both thinking that the other’s life is easier, which has a swaying calyso feel. This makes moments when the music overwhelms ensemble vocals, such as in ‘Oh Biology,’ all the more frustrating.

Clay English’s choreography is lively, elevating ensemble scenes such as school numbers and the second act scavenger hunt. Scenes similarly switch briskly between domestic and high school locations, aided by Sherryl-Lee Secomb set design of simple outlined stage pieces (like in a comic book), which sees kitchen cabinets easily rotate into high school lockers, allowing for both swift transitions and for the strong performances of its two leads to appropriately take centre stage. Attention to detail in costuming is also commendable in its role in conveying the changed personas of mother and daughter, as, for example, the mother in daughter Ellie’s body no longer carries her backpack over one shoulder and the teenager now in her mother’s body doesn’t take long to tie a jacket around her waist.

“Freaky Friday” is a fabulous musical, full of fun for all. Under Secomb’s dynamic direction, the family-friendly show offers Beenleigh audiences a triple treat of talented cast, infectious songs and lively musical numbers. There is some lovely messaging too, not just as the duo discover their unique strengths and learn to love and appreciate each other anew, but through ‘teenager’ Ellie’s urge to her teenage friends not to be ashamed of their bodies, which makes it even more worthy of a visit.

Photos c/o – Vargo Studios

Comedy courting

Summer Wonderland (Mates Theatre Genesis)

Donald Simpson Community Centre, Cleveland

May 5 – 15

With its staged façade of numbers 3,7, and 9 Dickens Court, “Summer Wonderland” could easily pass for a Christmas play… Australian Christmas that is. “Please ring,” number 3’s doorbell sign notes, which doesn’t exactly reflect the sentiment of this suburban cul-de-sac of Matthew Ryan’s creation. Old-fashioned and now-unemployed bogan battler Bob Jones (Dennis Walsh who also doubles as the mad King Ludwig of his son’s imaginary manifestation) is all ocker in his a-quip-for-everything views, like how marriage is like a boil. He is hardly an expert though as the play opens to his unseen wife’s departure, leaving him alone in the house with his son Foster (Ronan Mason) who is in continual financial support of his dad. While Foster’s apprentice mechanic work may pay the electricity and insurance, it is obviously unfulfilling to the young man who dreams of traveling the world, starting with Bavaria.

Loud and obnoxious Bob is a terrible father, spiteful and, at times childish, in his behaviour. In the neighbourhood, this is matched by his nemesis, the snobby, bitchy and self-obsessed Marti (Amanda Lay) whose parenting of her sheltered daughter Demoniselle (Sammy Jo Toussaint Guild) is similarly questionable in its own way. The catalyst of the two’s feud comes in their respective ambitions to win the local radio station’s Christmas lights competition in seek of its substantial cash prize.

Between Bob and Marti lives the downtrodden and emotionally-crippled Eugene (Trevor Sammon), in serious debt after the arrival of his Russian mail-order bride Svetlana (Amanda Lay in double duty). This is from where some of the Mates Theatre Genesis production’s best performances come. Lay is dynamic as the shouty, sexually-aggressive Svetlana, beyond just her exaggerated comedy accent and Sammon, in double as Russian mafia debt collector Gustav, after Eugene for $10 000, brings some interesting layers to a character who comically loves Australian ‘80s tv game show ‘It’s a Knockout” as much as his occupational intimidation of others.

With “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” and Allan Border mentions, “Summer Wonderland” is very much a work of its ‘80s time, yet it is still accessible beyond those familiar with the era, thanks to Ryan’s very funny script. The dialogue is full of clever humour, even though lines are unfortunately not always given space to fully land, meaning that those following are sometimes then lost. And though things will of course settle, opening night sees some stumbles the detract from momentum. Different diction and vocal projections also sometimes undermine cohesion, however, Mason, is an excellent anchor as the entrepreneurial Foster, caught between betraying his family and escaping his father once and for all.

Under Suze Harpur’s direction, the production makes good use of stage space and props, which includes a cardboard cut-out of the long-standing eyesore FJ Holden ute that sits in Bob’s front yard. This suits a show that is essentially built upon caricatures and stereotypes. Indeed, it is both easy to recognise the (albeit amplified) characters on stage and easy to watch their stories unfold amongst the cornucopia of Christmas accessories as houses are decorated and displays are sabotaged.

“Summer Wonderland” is light-hearted entertainment with heart. Though its intended journey is not necessarily apparent at end of Act One, we know it is coming, with early crafted foreshadowing creating the causes of later character epiphanies. While at a more allegorical level, the play delves into bigger picture considerations of the great Australian dream, family dynamics and relationships, at its core, its message is a simple one of hope, even if the storyline is farcical, particularly in scenes featuring the unnecessary character of religious prude Mrs Slade (Anna Bober).

Fight and almost-flight

Peter Pan (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

April 2 – 9

I would say that Beenleigh Theatre Group’s take on JM Barrie’s “Peter Pan” is a strange little show… except it’s not exactly little. With a dog for a nurse, malicious tinker bell puppet, performers facilitating bedroom drawers and the exaggerations of the story’s far-from-perfect father (David Murdoch), there is a lot happening in Act One as the audience is introduced to the show’s protagonist Wendi Darling (Ethan Hill in reappropriation of the traditionally female role), a boy on the edge of adulthood, dreaming of a place to belong.

By Act Two, at the magical boy who can fly’s invitation, the three Darling children, Wendi, Joan (Alyssa Burnett) and Michael (Bailey Ryan) fly skateboard second to the right and straight on ‘til morning to the Never Land island of adventure and fun, realised in a simple graffitied setscape. While there are still some dark moments within the ensuing tale of wonder, Daniel Dosek’s nefarious Hook is more folliful than a fearsome, devilish commander of the Jolly Roger ship and its motley crew of pirates.

All children want to grow up except the captain of the Lost Children, youngsters who fell out of their baby carriages when their nurses were looking the other way, and Dérito da Costa injects dynamism from his first appearance as the animated free-spirited and mischievous Peter Pan. With head tiled upwards and statuesque stance, he captures the classic character’s iconic physicality and brings much joy to early scenes that see the unendingly youthful title character jubilantly jumping about in celebration of having had his shadow sewn back on by Wendie one night in the nursery of the Darling household. And with a child-like lack of emotional complexity, he moves quickly from boastfulness to selfishness and anger at the idea of ever growing up, emphasising the story’s themes of imagination and escapism. Nick Hargreaves, too, brings some wonderful moments of humour to the story in his role as Slightly, Peter’s lieutenant amongst the lost children, with his well-timed, dryly-humorous one-liners bringing many of the show’s laughs.

While the production’s few musical numbers don’t really contribute a lot and, along with Act Three’s mermaid dancers, drag down the story’s momentum, Dudley Powell’s fight choreography enlivens scenes such as Peter’s epic battle with best friend / passionate rival Tiger Lilly (Jai Godbold), which is realised like a hyper-real video game brought to life. Megan Brunett’s sound design also works well to imagine us into the story’s distinct settings, with characters gathered around cracking campfire sounds and Pan’s sworn-enemy Captain Hook commanding a creaking pirate ship across stormy seas.

“Peter Pan” is a show not often performed on stage and it easy to see why. It is a challenging choice for a community based theatre company to bring to life. In this production, which has been adapted and produced by members of the company, Beenleigh Theatre Group makes some clever choices in its attempt to realise this ambition, such as imaginative incantation of the ticking crocodile that took Hook’s hand, in keeping with the celebration of imagination that sits at its core, however, with so many novelties, not everything works. While the production does present as an escapade of sorts, it is just not as big as the awfully big magical adventure story deserves.  

Once upon a twisted tale

Into The Woods (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

February 18 – 26

The late Stephen Sondheim’s works are everywhere at the moment, including a gender-swapped revival of his ground-breaking musical comedy “Company” currently enjoying rave reviews on Broadway. In Beenleigh, however, audiences are heading “Into The Woods” to enjoy one of the greatest musical theatre composer and lyricist’s most enduring and popular works. And from the outset of Beenleigh Theatre Group’s production of the Tony Award winning musical, it is clear that the woods is the place to be. Its epic opening number not only earworms its theme tune into audience hearts, but showcases some of Sondheim’s wittiness lyrics, especially as an immediately-commanding witch (Danika Saal) begins rapping about the virtues of vegetables.

The classic, fairy tale adventure mashup that is “Into The Woods” incorporates plots and characters of several Brothers Grimm stories into an original plot in which a Baker (William Boyd) and his wife (Genevieve Tree) are sent off on a magical quest by the mysterious neighbouring witch to collect various items in order to break a curse that has left them childless. The first act follows their journey as they embark upon the very specific search for a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold, which brings them across Little Red Riding Hood, (Emma Burridge), Jack of the beanstalk fame (Aidan Cobb) and others.

From the moment the story opens once upon a time to its ‘Prologue: Into the Woods’, in which all the protagonists chorus together to explain their motivations for a trip into the forest, music is at the forefront of the show’s success. Indeed, this first taste of the complex score of beautiful, expressive melodies and bold brassing alike, affirms that under the musical direction of conductor Julie Whiting, the band (hidden away at the back of the stage as if in woods themselves), is more than up for the challenge.

At the emotional centre of the action is the hopeless yet hopeful Baker and his Wife. Boyd and Tree have an easy chemistry that endears them to the audience and their ‘It Takes Two’ duet is elevated by some lovely harmonies. Meanwhile, Saal is glorious as the antagonistic evil witch who prompts their scavenger hunt-like journey into the woods so they can reverse a curse to have a child. While ‘Children Will Listen’ is gorgeous, her earlier anthemic Act Two song, ‘Last Midnight’ is passionate and exciting in its dynamism.

Chloe Smith is also in fine voice as Cinderella, who seems to only encounter kindness when it comes from her feathered friends. She has a beautiful vocal tone making her ‘No One is Alone’ one of the evening’s highlights. Christopher Morphett-Wheatley and Darcy Rhodes dynamically prance about in play off each other’s bravado energy as the two (and two-dimensional) princes (Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince), especially in the pantomime-esque ‘Agony’. Their frolic around while attempting to one-up each other in argument over who has it worse receives an enthusiastic audience response. And in his double as the Wolf, Morphett-Wheatley is beguiling in his stalk of Little Red Riding Hood (Emma Burridge) in ‘Hello, Little Girl’.

Burridge makes for a formidable Little Red Riding Hood, livening things with her every appearance, not only through her animated perkiness but impressive vocals. Her voice is consistently crisp and strong, even when with a mouth full of bread (as if Sondheim’s lyrics are already a mouthful!). And, along with Darcy White ‘as’ his emotive cow Milky-White, Aidan Cobb, as young Jack, gives us some unexpected ‘aww’ moments.

Like the realisation of Milky-White, staging effectively accounts for horse and carriage type props and big story aspects, even giving some standout moments such as our glimpse into what is going on inside Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house. While missed microphone cues and static sometimes distract from audience engagement, Perry Sanders and Chris Art’s sound design works with Tom Dodds’ lighting design to effectively mark Act Two’s entrance of an angry giant to threaten the kingdom and challenge characters’ until-then fulfilment.

“Into The Woods” is a big musical of many characters and it takes times to tell their stories and then share the moral to be derived from them. The result is a long running time; Act One is almost self-contained, but then there is more as Act Two flips the story as the central characters are forced to band together in attempt to defeat the Giant. To the company’s credit, this production does well to make the twisted tale’s story somewhat easy to follow, especially as it transforms from a comic misadventure to an exploration of the consequences of actions. Even though it may come with a moral, however, this is no feel-good fairy tale for children, with its darkly humourous consideration of popular cultural myths.

Thousand tops

With 2020 being largely taken out of the mix, it has taken me just over 8 years to review 1000 shows as Blue Curtains Brisbane. And my top 10 favourites from within them, appropriately feature shows from 2013 to 2021… a mix of comedy, cabaret, musicals, theatre and festival fare.

1. Delectable Shelter (The Hayloft Project)

The Hayloft Project’s 2013 out-of-the-box black comedy, “Delectable Shelter” literally took place in a box as bunker at Brisbane Powerhouse in its claustrophobic tell of five doomsday survivors planning a utopian society. With ‘80s power ballads and hilarious homages to their ancestors from later descendants, there was so much by which to be entertained in the anarchy of its apocalyptic storytelling, making it my absolute favourite.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National Theatre of Great Britain)

In 2018, the National Theatre of Great Britain provided QPAC audiences with an unparalleled insight into the mind of someone living with an autism spectrum condition with their acclaimed production of Mark Hadden’s much-loved novel. Inventive, imaginative stage design which saw the floor and all three walls of the boxed-in set transformed into mathematical graph paper, provided many visually memorable moments authentic to experience of the show’s London production.

3. All My Love (HIT Productions)

HIT Productions’ sensitive “All My Love” chronicled the fascinating and little-known relationship between the larger-than-life writer and poet Henry Lawson and the radical socialist and literary icon Mary Gilmore, taking its audience along an evocative journey about the people beyond their words, but also their passion in a “Love Letters” type way.

4. Ladies in Black (Queensland Theatre)

The musical so nice, Queensland Theatre programed it twice. With stunning visuals and costumes, a soundtrack featuring over 20 original Tim Finn songs and humour, the Helpman-Award-winning musical took audiences into both the glitz of a high-end 1950s department store shop floor and the personal lives of its employees with infectious wit and charm.

5. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The Curator’s 2021 drama-filled French-revolutionist play about a playwright writing a play was passionate, powerful, political and full of important messaging about women’s importance in history and the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation.

6. The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite Theatre Company)

In 2016, Daniel Evans’ gave meaning anew to Shakespeare’s depiction of the Machiavellian King Richard III through bold exploration of its story’s silences, gaps and biases and dynamic discovery of new character depths and unexpected provocations.

7. Hamnet (Dead Centre)

As part of the 2018 Brisbane Festival, Ireland’s Dead Centre used audio visual technology in combination with live performance to give us the perfectly-pitched and movingly thought-provoking story of Shakespeare’s one son (just 11 when he died), knowing that he is just one letter away from greatness.

8. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

My favourite ever Queensland Theatre show…. More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, the company’s landmark 2021 production of “Boy Swallows Universe”, honoured the original text and transformed it as a work of its own, dynamic in its realisation and anchored around its theme of resilience.

9. California Crooners Club (Parker + Mr French)

The 2016 Spiegeltent saw audiences treated to the first Brisfest appearance of the cool-cat cabaret crooners of the “California Crooners Club”. The energetic and charming show from genuine, generous performers (led by concept creator Hugh Sheridan), was a marvellous mixed bag of old, new and original numbers curated together and harmonised like familiar favourites.

10. Forthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)

Shake & stir theatre company’s contemporary adults-only choose-your-own-adventure romantic comedy “Fourthcoming” not only placed the course of the narrative in the audience’s hands, but provided an avalanche of non-stop laugh-until-you-cry moments.


Special mention to La Boite Theatre Company’s “Still Standing”, which in 2002 and 2003 presented a music-filled immersion into the Brisbane rock scene of the 1980s as counter-culture to the repressive Bjelke-Petersen regime that although I saw before starting reviewing, still stands as my favourite ever Brisbane theatre experience.

Century’s choice

Fortunate as we have been in Queensland this year, I was able to experience exactly 100 shows in 2021 and though I am thankful for every single one of them, there are of course some that stand out as favourites.

1. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The drama-filled French-revolutionist play about a playwright writing a play was passionate, powerful, political and full of important messaging about women’s importance in history and the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation.

2. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, Queensland Theatre’s landmark production of “Boy Swallows Universe”, honoured the original text and transformed it as a work of its own, dynamic in its realisation and anchored around its theme of resilience.

3. Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

As the Queensland Theatre play that audiences waited a year for, “Triple X” provided a commentary on the complicated issues of gender and sexuality that was funny, honest and powerfully moving.

4. Prima Facie (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre’s production of Suzie Miller’s “Prima Facie” was a riveting 100-minute one-woman tour-de-force indictment of the legal system, appropriately acclaimed by the thunderous applause of three curtain calls.

5. Of Mice and Men (Ad Astra)

Ad Astra’s production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” served as a poignant reminder of not only the heartbreak of its story and themes, but of how classics are classics for a reason.

6. Fourthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Shake & stir theatre company’s contemporary adults-only choose-your-own-adventure romantic comedy “Fourthcoming” not only placed the course of the narrative in the audience’s hands, but provided an avalanche of non-stop laugh-until-you-cry moments.

7. The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production, “The Producers” was self-aware and hugely entertaining with distinctive musical numbers and laugh-out-louds a-plenty 

8. Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions)

The precision with which all elements of the three consecutively unfolding stories of BC Production’s “Anatomy of a Suicide” unfold made for a powerful exploration of the ideas of family, mental health, love and strong women.

9. Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s dynamic adaptation of Euripides’ classic Greek tragedy “Electra” was elevated in interest through a very clever second-half reversal of scenes, where events occurred in complement to the onstage action alongside the original dialogue.

10. Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, inspired by his real experiences working in a funeral home was not just an examination of what it means to die in the 21st century, but a very funny and moving night of entertainment at Queensland Theatre.

And of particular note….

Best Performance:

Glace Chase – Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

Playwright, Glace Chase was magnetic as the candid Dexi in “Triple X”. Bold but vulnerable, she made Dexi complex in her multi-dimension and identifiable in her inner conflicts, with a portrayal that added immensely to the emotional effect of the show’s unprecedented storytelling about love in the 21st century.

Oliver Childs – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Oliver Childs not only showed a talent for characterisation in his realisation of the two Joe Caseys of the alternative realities of Brisbane Arts Theatre’s “Our House”, but his enthusiastic energy and vocal delivery worked well to encapsulate the spirit at the core of the jukebox musical’s experience.

Best Musical – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Spotlight Theatrical Company)

It was easy to understand why Spotlight Theatrical Company’s season of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” sold out before even opening, given the company’s polished approach to all of its aspects and especially the strong performances of its main cast members.

Best Ensemble – The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

With a cast all pushing their eccentric performances to their full potential, Altitude Theatre’s The Producers was high-energy and immensely entertaining throughout.

Best Music – Creedence Clearwater Inspired Featuring Proud Mary (QPAC)

Proud Mary gave QPAC audiences a reminder of just how good live music is with an infectious 2-hour rock back to a time when the prolific Creedence Clearwater Revival was the soundtrack of a generation.

Best Cabaret – Your Song (little red company)

The little red company’s world premiere of “Your Song” was a lively throwback to rock and roll with an edge of glam in a glitzy rainbow of celebratory colour and unquestionable on-stage talent.

Cleverest – Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions) 

With concurrently played out stories across three generations of mothers and daughters, BC Productions’ “Anatomy of a Suicide” had a lot going on in its Brisbane premiere. As the stories played out side-by-side, switching across stage sections, episodic scenes danced together rhythmically, colliding in synchronisation of key lines to emphasise the commonality of concepts, making for a cleverly crafted provocation around ideas associated with legacy.

Best New Work – Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

While Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, deals with a number of heavy themes, it is a well-written, emotionally rich play that offered a refreshing take on a young man’s story.

Most Fun – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s jukebox musical “Our House”, based on the songs of Madness didn’t take itself too seriously, including through its number of nods to band’s music videos, making its experience all sorts of infectious fun.

Funniest – Fouthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Thanks to performances in the face of its changing narrative, the hilarity of shake & stir theatre company’s “Fouthcoming” never stopped.

Special mention goes to the post show-within-the-show discussion of La Boite Theatre’s “Caesar”, which provided the funniest scene of the year, through its absolutely hilarious TikTok livestream nods to the Brisbane theatre scene.

Most Thought Provoking – Locked In (Shock Therapy)

Shock Therapy’s “Locked In” provided a thought-provoking exploration of experience and impact of living with a rare neurological disorder, for sufferers and their families alike.

Best Stage Design Staging – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Intimate traverse staging allowed audience members to become fully immersed in recognition of the stunningly rich aesthetic and, appropriately for a play set in revolutionary France, its cast of real-life fierce female characters to burst down its fashion runway.

Best Costume Design – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Attention to detail added to the dynamism of the experience of this Curators show with lush pink and red mix-patterned ruffled and frilled costumery conveying a clear sense of opulence befitting the play’s French Revolution setting.

Best Sound Design – Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s adaptation of Euripides’ classic “Electra” was elevated by a vivid, atmospheric sound design that both heightened audience suspense and fevered its story’s foreboding.

Best Video Design – Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

The blockbuster video design of Queensland Theatre’s “Boy Swallows Universe” both gave us Brisbane iconography and nooks and crannies alike, but bled its imagery into the story’s themes.