Room to play games

The Eisteddfod (Room to Play Independent Theatre)

Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre

March 14 – 24

Just as is the case where name recognition means that some novels have author names appearing bigger than the book’s title, so too when promotion of a play’s title includes the playwright’s name, there is implication that the show is going to be something special. This is the case with “The Eisteddfod”, the first play from multi-award winning playwright Lally Katz, being presented by Room to Play Independent Theatre at Metro Arts. Not only is Katz the voice behind the work but the occasional narrator that begins the play with a voice over prologue of sorts introducing its two brother and sister characters, Abalone (Matthew James French), Gertrude (Madison Kennedy-Tucker).

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The children spend their quiet lives playing make-believe games, shielded from the world by protective parents. When, in their late teens, their parents are killed in a freak accident, the siblings are left grief-stricken with only their games of pretend as comfort for their agoraphobia. The parodies of suburban dreams and nightmares takes the audience through to adulthood, where Gertie desires escape from their childhood trauma. While her interest in imaginary worlds is waning, Abalone remains passionate about amateur dramatics and so asks Gertrude to be the Lady Macbeth to his Macbeth at The Eisteddfod, first prise for which is a trip to Moscow. All the while, their dysfunctional fantasy world is enacted, often in the crudest of terms with erotic games, domestic violence suggestions and memory of a suicide, as Gertrude fantasises about a masochist lover. It is an illogical story of characters out of harmony with their own existence, which is reflected in stagecraft with impressive lighting awashing the action in a spray of colours and adding intimacy to scenes conducted with only the touch of torchlight.

Clearly the dark, comic fantasy is theatre of the absurd. Though its response to the destruction and anxieties of the 20th century through question of the nature of reality and illusion, has clear currently climate connections, absurdist theatre is still an acquired taste so its just under an hour running time is perhaps the perfect length to maintain audience engagement given its challenging content. Indeed, the success of this show rides on the intelligent choices made in all areas of the production, on and off stage. While the confronting themes are tempered by comic moments, there isn’t a lot of relief. Gertrude and Abalone’s world is not an easy place to visit, but experience of it is enriched by the expressive performances of Tucker and French, which do justice to the multifaceted layers of their complex characters. Tucker projects Gertrude’s tortured yet optimistic nature, at once childlike and old-soulful and French is a brother full of bravado in the precision of the physicality of his performance.

“The Eisteddfod” is a well-produced piece of theatre, though it will not be to everyone audience member’s tastes. For the theatre-curious, however, its journey will result in much post-show discussion about Gertrude and Abalone’s broken, suburban world, because rather than giving answers and telling audiences exactly how to respond, it challenges them to find their own way through the work.


Behind the curtain cues and clues

Curtains (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

March 9 – 24


As “Noises Off” has shown us, when it comes to theatre, what happens behind the stage curtain can be more interesting that what audiences see in front, especially when it involves murder. And thanks to a revolving stage at Beenleigh Theatre Group’s Crete Street Theatre, audiences are given ringside seats to all the machinations of the musical murder mystery “Curtains”, the last big musical created by John Kander​ and Fred Ebb of “Cabaret” and “Chicago” fame.


The whodunit of cues and clues is not only a spoof of a backstage murder mystery, but doubles as a love letter to the Broadway stage. It is not set in New York, however, but rather 1959 Boston, where, at opening night of the Broadway-bound cowboy musical “Robbin’ Hood of The Old West”, the talentless leading lady, faded film star diva Jessica Cranshaw (Madi Jennings) is murdered during the curtain call. Suspects abound and when the show is critically panned, the producers need to decide whether to proceed with a new lead or shut down. Carmen (Fiona Buchanan) and Sidney Bernstein (Jarryd Pianca) decide to forge ahead with lyricist Georgia Hendricks (Genevieve) in the lead, which results in rekindle of the faded romance between songwriters Hendricks and Aaron Fox (William Boyd). Enter theatre-obsessed but lonely, married-to-his-job Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Tony Campbell) to investigate the by-then series of murders, solve the show’s artistic problems and be enchanted by charming ingénue Niki (Lauren-Lee Innis-Youren) who, as understudy, is eager to make her Broadway debut.

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Although the show is a lightweight romp, as a homage to the golden age of Broadway musicals, with many nods to showbiz clichés and stereotypes, “Curtains” is an ambitious choice for any company. The show requires a large cast and there is always a lot happening on stage. Generally, it works and good use is made of the limited stage area to enable a live music soundtrack. The score has the usual musical mix of comedy, ballad and soliloquy songs and from the ‘Overture’ it is evident that the band, under conductor Julie Whiting is excellent, even if its sound initially overplays the voices on stage. But nothing can detract from the disconcerting sound moments of missed cures and microphone level issues that sometimes presented on opening night.


Quality performances add much to the show’s appeal. Jim Price nails the sarcastic comedy of the bitchy director Christopher Belling with perfectly-timed pithy one-lines. And Buchanan brings a confident humour to the role of sassy producer Carmen Bernstein, with risqué double entendres aplenty regarding her philandering husband Sidney. As the replacement leading lady, Tree is vivacious and vocally very good in the big numbers. As her former husband, Boyd is also excellent in numbers like ‘Thinking of Him’, after claiming that his now ex-wife only wants to rekindle a romance with choreographer Bobby (Dylan Hodge), the actor playing Rob Hood and Georgia’s ex-boyfriend.


“Curtains” includes a number of musical highlights, including fun song and dance numbers with plenty of jokey allusions to hits like “Oklahoma!”, “Annie Get Your Gun” and alike in, for example, the up-tempo square dance number ‘Kansasland’. There is also a wonderfully nostalgic nod to Fred and Ginger greatness in both choreography and charm in the romantic ‘A Tough Act to Follow,’ sung and danced by Campbell and Innis-Youren, in which Lieutenant Cioffi lives his dream of being onstage amongst atmosphere dream-sequence-like design.

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Opening night (which perhaps would have been better as a preview) hiccups aside, “Curtains” is clearly an entertaining night out. Although the whodunnit plot is improbably complicated, its theatrical send-up is so buoyant that it is difficult not be joyously bounced along its duration, especially as a fan of musical theatre from that golden age.

On the town tales

Bouncers (heartbeast Theatre)

Spring Hill Reservoirs

March 10 – 31

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It is with wrists stamped, that audiences appropriately enter into the reckless LED-lit, world of the Brisbane nightclub set that is “Bouncers” all the abandon that the show entails. The observational antic account of a Friday night from heartBeast Theatre, features four male cast members, Chris Vaag, Campbell Lindsey, Peter Condon and Rowan Howard, dressed in suit and tie ensembles, playing all the parts…the four titular bouncers, but also four young men and four young women all out for a night on the town. And just as the four bouncers themselves are very different, so we soon see, every night has its own narrative too. From rugby louts to nights when the over ‘30s are let loose, there is no holds barred in this very funny but sometimes shockingly brutal portrayal.

There is no set as such, which suits both the style of production and its staging in the historic 140 year old Spring Hill Reservoir under Wickham Terrace. This allows the action to move quickly as the actors skilfully convey their locations, from a late afternoon hairdressers to early morning nightclub toilets and all the stops in between. Clearly this is a demanding show with performers barely off stage and frequently switching between characters, and to their credit, the cast all deliver the relentless energy required to bring the ensemble work to life. Under the direction of David Paterson and Sherri Smith, the stage traffic is handled very well, allowing for the four actors to enliven the work with engaging comic timing and sustained physicality, particularly as the female characters strutting hand-on-hip with handbags over their shoulders, and Rowan Howard is particularly memorable as still-teenager, Bicardi-boozing sexy Susie.

From late afternoon anticipation of a big night out to after-midnight woes of running tears and mascara and an early morning taxi (but not Uber?) back to Browns Plains, “Bouncers” makes for an easy-to-follow set of stories that might be small in scale but is most definitely big in entertainment thanks to its multi role playing, along with the use of monologue and the actors directly addressing the audience

When its UK playwright John Godber first wrote the play in the late 1970s, it was from a dissatisfaction with naturalism and a desire to create a piece of work where the audience were not distracted by the design elements but were engaged with the performances of the actors. In consideration of this, heartBeast’s “Bouncers” is a triumph. Although there is still an essential UK feel to it, according to a +1 who knows, updates are seamless, meaning that Australian political mentions and more modern references work well.

The play has a lot of often-laddish comedy in its primal ritual re-enactment, which might not be to everyone’s tastes, but underlying its strong language, and lewd and vulgar humour are some sharp observations about the drunken behaviour on display in the crude carnival of nightlife. Indeed, “Bouncers” is both a warning and a celebration, which in the hands of four versatile actors such as these, makes for an entertaining show to be enjoyed without too much audience effort.

Jewel box beguile

The Manganiyar Seduction

QPAC, Concert Hall

March 1 – 2


“The Manganiyar Seduction” live music experience has no real break in its performance. This is probably a productive programing decision, as breaks would have afforded opportunity for applause that surely would have been extended and rapturous, assumed by the passionate ovation given after the shows thunderous finale… because this is beguiling theatrical orchestration at its most seductive, both in sight and sound.

The original, intriguing experience comes courtesy of a caste of hereditary singers and instrumentalists from the heart of the Thar Desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The folk performers and players of interesting Indian wind, string and percussion instruments, present a traditional, classical Indian music performance with punch, highlighted with a synchronised light display. Staging is impressive before the music has even begun thanks to an immense onstage jewel box alike Japiur’s Hawa Mahal, from within which each musician is revealed in progression as section curtains open, with lights around each booth lighting when musicians are playing.


It beings slightly, with meditative, slow-tempo sounds from a solo bowed-string-instrument player. Soon he is joined by a single, hypnotic vocalist. Everything is precise in the build of non-western beats and rhythms, seamless segue into percussion, final full ensemble crescendo and beautiful, melodic encore. And QPAC’s Concert Hall proves to be the perfect venue for the rhapsody, with drums literally vibrating through the venue, provoking audience members to be enraptured.

“The Manganiyar Seduction” is a musical experience unlike any you have probably ever seen before. Its light and shade from slight string strumming to almost silence to mad Animal drumming, give it an appeal beyond just world music. As someone who has been privileged enough to experience incredible India, it not only inspired reminiscence of its sounds, but its intense incense and spice aromas, such is the great aesthetic pleasure of this evening of rich culture. Indeed, it is so easy to be swept away in the wonder of its emotional experience, that its 70-minute duration seems like the shortest time.

This stunning theatrical presentation of Rajasthani music is energetic and quirky (often through the moves of its charismatic conductor). Its mesmerising originality makes it a truly memorable spectacle of vibrant and passionate musicianship, that should not be missed.


Return to youth

This is Our Youth (Underground Broadway and Between the Flags)

Metro Arts, The Lumen Room

February 28 – March 4

Metro Arts’ converted cinema space The Lumen Room is not the most comfortable theatre for a long show. And “This is Our Youth” is far from concise, especially in Act Two when its conversations circle back over familiar dysfunctional territory as its privileged barely-beyond-teens bicker in between the drug consumption of their consequence free existence. But it is a show worth seeing for its thematic resonance and superb performances.


The story shares two days in the lives of three disillusioned youth as they run amuck in a New York City studio apartment. Warren (Jackson McGovern) has stolen $15,000 from his father, which captures the attention of his selfish and intimidating drug-dealing not-really-friend Dennis (Mark Hill), but provides Warren with the means to impress the quite clever and articulate Jessica (Bellatrix Scott).


It is the Reagan era 1980s we are told. We see touches of it in the set, but don’t always hear it in the dialogue. What we do hear, however, are the impressive cast accents. Thanks to Dialect Coach Melissa Agnew, the actors’ New Jerseyish twangs of diphthong vowels cements the show in place and add to its credibility.


The performers are all excellence. Hill gives Dennis an almost desperate, swaggersome arrogance, evident down to the smallest physical nuance and McGovern is touching as his dispirited ‘friend’ and whipping boy Warren so that we feel for him, his problems and his repeated blows, despite his privilege, and rejoice with him at hint of a relationship with Jessica. And Scott gives the fashion student a charismatic complexity as she moves from self-conscious, nervous interaction with Warren to political provocation with her observations about the nature of youth and its role in defining your later self. Indeed, it is a credit to both the script and its realisation that its clever allusions to political commentary of our time are more subtle than the usual written-to-order type of late.


In Act One, particularly, “This is Our Youth” offers up a razor-sharp comedy-drama about these three unsettled youngsters, who would now be (as it is observed in Director Tim Hill’s program notes), a privileged group of powerful while men today. The engagement it brings is not just through the quality of its performances, but its ask of great questions around these notions. Indeed, its success comes from it examination of the inherent questions in the work and interrogation of them in a way that only theatre can. As such, this deceptively-simple story of 1980s slackers deserves to be seen.


All that glitters is Aladdin gold

Aladdin (Disney Theatrical Productions)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

February 24 – June 3

Disney’s “Aladdin” is spectacular theatre with aesthetics to awe over even in repeat visit. From the moment the fantastic tale opens to the opulence of colour and movement of an Agrabar street scene, Bob Crowley’s Tony Award winning stage design impresses in its Islamic motifs and skyline of Taj domes. Divine, detailed costumes swish and swirl in abundance and luscious lighting brightens the marketplace and bejewels Princess Jasmine (Hiba Elchikhe) as a pretend-to-be-pauper disguised in escape from her palace confines.

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Strong, independent and determined to marry for love, the Sultan’s daughter declares that she is not a prize to be won. However, the story primarily follows the familiar tale of a poor young man, Aladdin (Ainsley Melham), who is granted three wishes by a genie in a lamp (Gareth Jacobs), which he uses to woo the princess and to thwart the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar (Adam Murphy).


As the titular street rat Aladdin, Melham is as charismatically cheeky in well-balanced portrayal of the character’s innocence, mischievousness and suave confidence. Similarly, on-point in performance is Elchikhe, particularly in ‘These Palace Walls’. And in the melodic ‘A Million Miles Away’, their voices blend beautifully as they dream of a life away from their current troubles, in shared excitement despite barely knowing each other.


This is, however, the Genie’s show. And while Jacobs is no Michael James Scott (who starred in the Sydney and Melbourne run through 2016 and 2017), he is still fabulous in his embrace of the freedom that comes with the role. From his initial fourth-wall break in banter with the audience and set-up for the ‘Arabian Nights’ opening number, he is immediately engaging, and not just because of his nod to local cultural references. As Jasmine’s father, the longstanding Sultan ruler of Agraba, George Henare is a stately Senior statesman.  Adam Murphy is an appropriately panto-esque villain as Aladdin’s nemesis Jafar and Aljin Abella is excellent as his accomplice Iago, whether parroting dialogue or in his comical quips. And, in addition from the original film, Adam Jon Fiorentino, Troy Sussman, and Robert Tripolino are all delightful as Aladdin’s entourage of friends, who provide well-synchronised physical comedy, slapstick adventure and lots of fun, especially in Act Two’s ‘High Adventure’ when they storm the palace in attempt to rescue their friend.


Songs include some highly engaging comedic numbers. Indeed, every number is a delight, including those that are new to the stage-version, which feel like they have been a part of the score from the very beginning. But the most impressive musical moment is still Act One’s ‘Friend Like Me’. It’s a case of all the glitters being absolutely gold as the treasure inside of the Genie’s magic lamp is revealed in spectacular sparkle. The not-to-be-forgotten number, which beings as introduction to the Genie’s wish-granting powers, crescendos into a full-chorus, tap-dancing, pyrotechnic cavalcade of excitement and wonder so magnificent in its hybrid of styles that it is still inspires audience members to leap to their feet in mid-show applause upon its conclusion.

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“Aladdin” is a theatrical story whose energy and sense of fun make for a magical experience for all the family, with quick costume transformations, state of the art technology and prop trickery sure to impressive adults and youngsters alike, and the biggest production number you are likely to see. But there are moments of beauty too, such as in the iconic, romantic ‘A Whole New World’ musical number, in which Melham and Elchikhe’s duet while soaring high above a stage transformed into an endless diamond sky, riding on an enchanted carpet, in ‘how did they do that’ spectacle.


Every detail of this lavish show makes for a delightful experience. Indeed, “Aladdin” is quality family-friendly entertainment of the highest order, full of heart and humour. With its simple, moral storytelling, catchy tunes and comic vibrancy, it is an energetic and intoxicating experience that can only really be described as magic.

Photos – c/o Jeff Busby

Tasmanian truths

The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek (Playlab)

La Boite Theatre

February 10 – March 3

La Boite & Playlab. The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek. Pictured Emily Weir. Image by Dylan Evans_preview.jpeg

Kathryn Marquet’s “The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek” begins in darkness. When the stage is lit, it reveals a ramshackle ranger’s station shack somewhere in the wilds of south-western Tasmania. Centre-stage is Dr George Templeton (Emily Weir), cradling an infant devil in her arms. The environmental scientist is determined, passionate and intelligent enough to know that hydrochloric acid alone won’t work to clear away mess created after she encountered Irishman Mickey O’Toole (John Bachelor) poaching the endangered Tasmanian devils.

When fellow ranger, New Zealander, Harris Robb (Julian Curtis), returns, what follows is a fast and furious rant about controversial issues as the zoologist attempts to justify her actions. There are further twists and turns as another unexpected visitor stumbles in to the cramped cabin in the form of high schooler Destinee Lee (Kimie Tsukakoshi) who has her own tirade to impart.

La Boite & Playlab. The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek. Pictured L-R John Batchelor, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Julian Curtis. Image by Dylan Evans_preview.jpeg

As characters engage in some interesting intellectual discussion around corporate greed, climate change politics and, later, the corporate torture of chicken nuggets, the audience is offered many challenging contemplations. Testament to Marquet’s sharp writing style, the real-time story is uniquely uncomfortable and uproariously funny in its unrelenting dialogue and disturbing ending. Confronting simulated violence and frequent coarse language are powerful and unsettling as its Tarantino-in-Tasmania tones are played out.

La Boite & Playlab. The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek. Pictured L-R Emily Weir, Julian Curtis. Image by Dylan Evans_preview.jpeg

Aesthetically, the staging provides a perfect accompaniment to the story’s ultimate brutality. Vilma Mattila’s open hut design is almost cosily simple, with lighting, sound and costume design also adding to the predominantly earthy environmental feel. What really brings the story to shocking life, however, are the powerful and provocative performances. The actors are universally excellent in revealing their characters’ shades of good and evil, and their realisations of their idiosyncrasies are consistently layered, and not just because of their on-point accents. Weir is energetic in her sanctimony in lead of the charge for environmental change and Batchelor commands the stage as the violent O’Toole, despite being tied to a chair for much of the time, creating some of the most hilarious moments in his pithy one-liners. Curtis and Tsukakoshi similarly bring much comedy to the work’s complex contradictions.

La Boite & Playlab. The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek. Pictured L-R Kimie Tsukakoshi, Julian Curtis. Image by Dylan Evans_preview.jpeg

“The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek” is intense theatre at its very best. In director Ian Lawson’s hands, it is in-your-face and remorseless in its raise of important issues, but also reflective in its speak to the truth of confusion and concern of the world at the moment. Indeed, there is no happy ending here, but certainly much humour along the way, making for a memorable theatrical experience.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans