Real talk testaments

She (indelabilityarts in collaboration with the Good Room)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

May 3 – 14

It’s time for real talk, the promotion of “She” (See us, Hear us, Engage with us) promises. From the show’s warnings as to its discussions about self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, abuse and mental health, real talk sounds like a lot … because it is, as it considers women and mental health as curated from over800 real-life survey submissions. The result is a show that cleverly take its audience through their stories and their moments, sometimes told in people’s voiced-over real words, but mostly delivered by the strong cast of Rebecca Alexander, Aurora Liddle-Christie, Morgan Maguire and Jessica Veurman.

The approximately 90-minute collaboration between indelabilityarts (an inclusive theatre company that provides opportunities for artists who identify as having a disability) and The Good Room, presented by Metro Arts, is a thought-provoking new work, curated together in clear phases, including an initial focus on feelings of anxiety and depression … and always exhaustion. Under Amy Ingram and Catarina Hebbard considered co-direction, care is taken in every aspect. Before things begin, the audience is guided through its warning light system to indicate imminent loud sounds and flashing lights or potentially triggering content, and also introduced to the oasis of green and grey curtained-off breakout room created at the side of the stage, for those who may be in need of some respite during its unfolding.

Staging is relatively simple but often used to powerful effect in keep of audience attention. Chloe Greaves’ stage design of various sized muted boxes is simple but very effective. Its initial shades of grey comfort us in a way akin to the pyjamas of the performers as its premise, borrowed from Queensland-based performance collective The Good Room, is outlined… experiences of ordinary people, shared anonymously in fragmented memory, confession or admission, are used to create the work’s share of real-life stories of women’s experiences over the past few years. And Jessica Dunn’s sound design swirls appropriately throughout, especially as lingering backdrop to later talk about being medicated and the everyday idea of death.

Writers Bianca Saez, Karen Lee Roberts, Nici Morey ensure that there is sensitivity in what is said about the feelings of helplessness that are being shared, but more so, in terms of what is not being said, but instead shown through small, nuanced movements or backing away from microphones. It is not all one-note though, as energy is enlivened through a pumping transition through outline of some creative outlets to a high-energy ‘Work Bitch’ exercise-type routine… as reminder of its role a coping mechanism (along with Cheezels) and a core part of wellness.

To its already-on-board audience members, “She” may serve more as a reminder than a revelation, but it still has an important place in our arts landscape in its foster of understanding, empathy and discussion more than just acknowledgement. In indelabilityarts’ hands, it is full of powerful moments, such as evocative description of the little descriptive details of a sad and broken Brisbane public mental health ward central courtyard gathering place, and quotes around the big, but also little moments of mental health struggles such as the sadness that comes when happiness has run out, and the feeling of loneliness to your bones. Indeed, there is an honest insight into what provokes anger as much as sadness in those living with a mental health issues and also the importance of their independence.

While its open up of dialogue around mental illness serves to reduce its stigmatism, “She” goes beyond just this to convey a concluding message of the role of communication and aspiration that there’s always tomorrow, with latter contributions focussing on hope such as that articulated by submission number 458 in statement that ‘nothing lasts forever, not even sorrow’. And as Maguire emerges from under an on-stage shower, we are all with her in feel of its cleanse towards testament of the importance of finding happy places to guide towards discovery of life’s joys.

The language of lemons

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (MixED Productions)

Backdock Arts

April 13 – 15

‘It’s very Orwellian,’ musician and lyricist Oliver (Declan Coyle) notes late in the two-hander “Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons”. The initially enigmatically named social satire is indeed all about the economy of words as it considers how we derive meaning from language through contemplation of if it were to be limited. The scenario, we learn, is that the UK government has brought in a new Quietude Bill (colloquially known as the Hush Law), forbidding all citizens from speaking more than 140 words per day.

The narrative is non-linear with flashbacks and forwards in Oliver and girlfriend Bernadette’s (Grace Teng) relationship, showing how the couple navigate love and intimacy without communication as we now know it (‘maybe they will just have to look into each other’s eyes more’) and how amplifies their differences as things move from flowing conversation to abbreviated or incomplete attempts to communicate.

As hinted at by Oliver’s observation, the law’s implementation affects communication on both a personal and political scale, an idea that has only grown more resonant in the years since the work was written in 2015.  And the play raises some interesting questions about class privileges when exceptions are made to allow people to talk freely in court room and parliament, but not in the creation of art.

The play’s fluid approach to time sequencing means that having some information about its central premise is valuable to assist in appreciation of the character’s sometimes strange speech patterns, but it does also allow the audience to, albeit in non-chronological order, chart the pair’s relationship from first meeting at a pet cemetery through their early courtship at-length talks, to the law’s campaign and then life under its introduction. And cutting across time in the ordering of scenes allows the power of contrast to comment upon the potential impacts of censorship, albeit to a dystopian extreme.

Pragmatic and seemingly insecure divorce lawyer Bernadette seems like hard work at times, especially as we see Oliver’s attempt to save his words for when they are together, matched by her consistently low remaining total upon arrival home (the couple decide to transparently announce their remaining words total to each other when they get home each day), however, audience empathies ebb and flow in change as the story unfolds and her insecurities about their relationship are uncovered.

British playwright Sam Steiner’s work is insightful, especially in early (in chronological sequence) discussion of the unique language of every couple, including some brilliant analogies, and there are plenty of tender moments too as the couple’s relationship starts to fracture as they lose their art of conversation. While there are some gaps in its setup of the premise, ultimately these do not detract from the work’s essential philosophical focus on language and its capacity, as noted by Steiner, “to both liberate and limit us, to connect us and keep us apart”. In fact, this only serves to further foster the contemplative audience conversations that continue after the show.

Coyle and Teng have a charming chemistry and are engaging throughout, expressing their feelings as much in the spaces between their space words, as through the dialogue itself. Their feelings are never unclear even when there is nothing that can be said, whether this be literally or metaphorically. And though Oliver is an idealist activist heavily involved in protesting against the law’s proposal and Bernadette in not as convinced, they are both clearly devastated when the law takes effect.  These are dexterous performers as they dash through the story’s many only-seconds-long scenes to direct the audience back and forth through the many months between the couple’s first flirty meeting and initial ‘I love you’ optimism, to their darker Hush Law life, with only small changes in body language and expression (and precise, slightly-altered blocking) as alert to their shifted emotional landscapes.

Under Triona Calimbayan-Giles’s direction it’s a pacy work and, yet also a show burn, entertaining in its rom-com-ness and profound in its political parable. And in the hands of independent theatre company mIxED productions, this refreshing little gem of a play seems to be a perfect choice as an inaugural production. “Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons” is a thoughtful piece of theatre and those lucky enough to experience its sold-out season should be thankful to have experience of it, for it really deserves a much wider audience.  

Photos c/o – Stewart Tyrrell 

Anywhere but beckon…

Anywhere Festival is theatre quite unlike anything else, featuring a wide range of musical, drama and comedy works occurirng in the nooks and crannies of unusual locations around Brisbane’s city and suburbs…. hence the Anywhere of both the festival’s title and intent. Over the years, I have consequently found myself in pubs, bars, trams, train stations, warehouses, shipping containers, shops, homes, a hairdressing studio and even Musgrave Park Swimming Pool in review of now 52 of this unique festival’s shows.

In all of this variety, what has stood out most is not so much the novelties so much as the creativity and talent so often on show, to the extent that it is relatively easy to recall what would be my top 5 thus far.

  1. Subtext: Love Between The Lines (2015)
    This wonderfully intimate musical theatre experience was in the form of a promenade performance whereby the audience travelled around the garden and veranda of a private house as singers Craig Atkinson and Melissa Western took the audience on a Sondheim type musical journey of their characters’ initial meeting, courtship, marriage and consequential search for self.

  2. The Mayne Effect (2015)
    Flowers Theatre Company continued the intriguing tale of the infamous ‘Butcher of Brisbane’s Patrick Mayne and his family’s contribution to the city and surrounds in its immersive theatre consideration of the five children left as beneficiaries of the Mayne inheritance.

  3. Let Them Eat Cake (2017)
    Where else to present an improvised French farce named after the revolutionary Queen’s famous response to being told that her staving peasant subjects had no bread, than The Golden Pig Cooking School. With spontaneous silliness and collaboration crafting the show, Act React’s interactive comedy fed its audience with an abundance of laughs.

  4. Rebel Tour (2020)
    When the festival went online in 2020, Stephen Vagg’s fictionalised account of the ‘rebel’ cricket tours to South Africa in the early ‘80s, was presented in a rehearsed, public online reading as part of UQ Theatre Festival, to show how the defining parts of our history can be the perfect subject matter for our theatre.

  5. The Importance of Being Wasted (2021)
    The show so lit, it just can’t quit… Returning for four shows only in 2023, Act React’s classic comedy of manners was first given a cocktail twist in 2021, when the company presented Oscar Wilde’s, “The Importance of Being Earnest” with a rotating roster of two cast members getting drunk each performance, making for a truly unique and very funny theatrical experience.

Sure, seeing something different such as these shows are, can be a gamble, however, the elation at experiencing an Anywhere Festival gem can also be quite glorious, As always, the 2023 Anywhere Festival program offers potential discoveries of excitement, innovation, experimentation and engagement, in both Brisbane and Moreton Bay. With music in a cemetery and dance in an airport lounge, just for starters, there is much to be discovered from its over 300 performances of 53 different shows this May.

Classic comedy charm

Mother and Son (Ipswich Musical Theatre Company)

The Old Ipswich Courthouse

March 24 – April 1

Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s production of “Mother and Son” establishes it spirit almost immediately from its outset as the familiar jazz standard sounds of its namesake iconic hit ‘80s sitcom’s theme song take us into the living room of absent-minded widow Maggie Beare (Martie Blanchett) and her youngest son Arthur (Michael Lawrence). Soon after, we see its transition into its more recent setting, as Maggie encounters the first of many confusions in the face of mobile phone types of modern technology.

As audiences of a certain vintage know, the show addresses the problems of ageing and caring for somebody with increasing memory loss, however, it is also about the similarly-universal themes of family dynamics and dysfunction. The focus of this feature-length story is of Arthur’s desperate intent to take a deserved holiday break with his new girlfriend… if the mischievous Maggie lets him and his dentist brother Robert (Shane Mallory) lives up to his end of the deal in terms of Maggie’s care.

Blanchett and Lawrence work well together to present Maggie and Arthur’s relationships in all of its complexity and as Act One progresses towards his departure, we see her eccentric behaviour and emotional manipulation morphing from dependence to exploitation, with some potentially serious consequences.  Taking on the role of everyone’s favourite forgetful mum is no easy task and from the moment the show opens with her atop a ladder in attempt to change a light bulb herself, Blanchett easily wins the audience’s hearts. Her characterisation of the spirited Maggie is finely-tuned in its balance of forgetfulness and sometimes lucid moments, always with retain of her essential impishness. And Lawrence effortlessly captures long-suffering, put-upon Arthur’s constant conflict and desperate attempt to balance his life and his obligations as Maggie’s primary carer.

Maggie’s favourite, however, is her philandering elder son Robert, a man of much leisure adept at providing excuses as to why it is Arthur and not he that must take the primary care of their elderly mother, and Mallory does a good job of not overstepping Robert’s selfish deceit into total dislike. Rounding out the strong main cast are EJ Campbell as the formidable, pretentious Liz and Stephanie Collins as Arthur’s sweet and sensitive love interest Anita. Mary Slattery, Delma Odger and the cast’s costumes are tremendous and serve to help establish character types. And scenes transition smoothly thanks to audio of the telemarketer type phone calls that come in follow-up to Maggie’s previous conversations and her special-occasion video chats with her grandchildren (Shivawn Macdonald-Mall and Jesse Frommelt).

Original creator Geoffrey Atherden, who penned the first episodes of the ABC series in 1984, has penned the story exclusively for the stage, filling it with trademark precise dialogue and sharp-edged humour, yet also immense heart and even a tinge of sadness. Under Adrian Carr’s skilful direction, members of the cast all do well to project the peaks and valleys of its emotions, especially in swelter through a hot Sunday matinee in the Old Ipswich Court House’s intimate (but sans air conditioning) theatre space.

The show is a long one, as we hear Maggie authentically loop around to the same repeated conversations about long-ago holiday memories and alike, however, it is a thoroughly worthy one. While it may be 30 years since the classic Australian comedy fondly occupied our television screens, Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s nostalgic trip down memory-loss lane serves as a light-hearted, but also heartfelt, reminder of its original themes and charms and it is easy to appreciate why additional shows have been added to its season.

Over and over 100 out

With Covid still causing disruptions, I was surprised to ultimately make it along to over 100 shows again this year. Here are my highlights from the 2022 Brisbane theatre year.

1. The Normal Heart (Ad Astra)

The Queensland premiere production of Larry Kramer’s largely autobiographical “The Normal Heart” was absolutely absorbing and inspirational in its unflinching look at the horrific time in our history that was the start of the AIDS epidemic.

2. A Girls Guide to World War (Musical Theatre Australia)

Inspirational, also, was Musical Theatre Australia’s tell of the true story of some amazing women forgotten by our history. The February show, which was my favourite then for most of the year, was richly rewarding in both its entertainment and education about the courageous and compassionate real life humanitarian adventurers at the core of its story.

3. Holding Achilles (Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall)

My 2022 Brisbane Festival highlight, the grand Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall co-production was an exquisite world-class design-led theatre experience, as much a celebration of the craft of storytelling as a retell of one of the Western canon’s oldest narratives

4. The Sunshine Club (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre’s bright revival of Wesley Enoch and John Rodgers’ joyful musical was a historical work of a particular time, but also a story of love, hope, heartbreak and the shared humanity of these emotions, easy to watch and love.

5. 42nd Street (Queensland Conservatorium)

There was much to also love about Queensland Conservatorium’s massive musical production of “42nd Street” as its assured performances, quality orchestrations and show-stopping ensemble production numbers captured the spirit of the show’s era and also the grand musical genre.

6. Oliver! (Savoyards)

Savoyards excellent musical revival was full of highlights and everything needed to entertain its audience around the troublesome aspects of “Oliver!” to a resonance of resilience and hope.

7. The Last Five Years (La Boite Theatre Company) 

La Boite’s two-hander share (in two different directions) of the ill-fated five-year relationship of aspiring artists was certainly clever in its alternate musical narration, however, was also slick in its use of space and tight in its telling thanks to the moving performances of its charismatic performers and musical stylings of its varied, bitter-sweet score.

8. Mary Poppins (Disney and Cameron Mackintosh)

The Disney spectacle that came to life on the Lyric Theatre stage was a celebration of imagination, and, thus, an unforgettable production that could easily be seen again and again, making for a “Mary Poppins” anew for the whole modern family.

9. Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner (La Boite Theatre, Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre)

Just before the floods came, there was this fierce and furious coproduction, sharp in its satire of cancel culture and appropriation in a viral world, but also wickedly humorous.

10. First Casualty (Queensland Theatre)

The hard-hitting storytelling of Queensland Theatre’s landmark blockbuster season closer was elevated by an epic soundscape and dynamic lighting to take us into a world not previously seen on stage…. the last days of Australian troop involvement in Afghanistan.

And of particular note….

Best Drama – The Normal Heart (Ad Astra)

Also the most moving and thought provoking production of 2022, Ad Astra’s “The Normal Heart” allowed us to bear witness to each stage of the play’s centrepiece romance as it played out in unfiltered vulnerability, raw anger, complex beauty and undeniable love, against the backdrop of a community living in fear of AIDS.

Best Comedy – Hidden in this Picture (Villanova Players)

The one act “Hidden in this Picture” (from the pen of Emmy Award-winning playwright Aaron Sorkin), which appeared as part of Villanova Players’ intermezzo series, was full of over and over again laugh-out-loud moments emerging from the increasing hyperbole in share of what was essentially a duologue inset with simple interjections.  

Best Cabaret – Women in Voice

The 2022 outing of this Brisbane institution was the best yet in its curated program of different musical styles from its empowered female performers.

Best Dramatic Performance – Vivien Whittle – Gaslight (Growl Theatre)

Whittle was simply wonderful as the vulnerable, tormented and humiliated Bella, whether bustling about in fleeting, naive belief that all is well or blubbering in flustered confusion after being raged at by her psychologically-torturous husband Jack.

Best Comic Performance – Troy Bullock – Hidden in this Picture (Villanova Players)

Meanwhile, Bella’s gaslighting husband Troy Bullock gave the funniest performance as a first-time director Robert, intent on obtaining an Oscar-winning shot in for his movie’s final scene, until three cows make appearance along with the hundreds of extras.

Best Musical Performance – Priyah Shah – Oliver! (Savoyards)

Shah’s show of strength but also vulnerability ensured that her Nancy was not just a kindly, but a complex character and her strong vocals left the “Oliver!” audience equally impressed in rollicking tavern sing-a-long and torch song numbers alike.

Best duo – Marcus Corowa and Irena Lysiuk – The Sunshine Club (Queensland Theatre)

The chemistry between Corowa and Lysiuk was not only evident in their protagonists’ duets, but warmed the audience into investment into the blossom of their childhood friendship in to more after his post-WW2 return to Brisbane.  

Honourable mention to Christopher Morphett-Wheatley and Darcy Rhodes – Into The Woods (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Morphett-Wheatley and Rhodes were audience favourites as they dynamically pranced about in pantomime-esque play off each other’s bravado energy as two-dimensional princes attempting to one-up each other in argument.

Best EnsembleHeathers: The Musical (Millennial Productions) 

Millennial Productions’ debut musical was a highly professional independent production, in part due to its strong performances, with nobody holding back even in edgier scenes. There were no vocal weak links as each performer was given an opportunity to shine and there was a clear level of focus in all performances, resulting in no missed beats within the show’s tight rhythm. 

Best Independent Production – Boy, Lost (Belloo Creative)

The years-in-the-making tell of the true story of one family’s loss and redemption was also an ensemble production with its actors playing multiple characters (including themselves at moments), jumping in and out of different roles with simple prop or costume enhancements, yet, as an audience, we always knew what was happening as we moved through its tightly-woven emotional journey.

Most fun – All Fired Up (Box Jelly Theatre Company)

The show so nice, I ended up seeing it twice to contemplate if a trip to the ‘80’s and a chat with your 15-year-old self really can solve a mid-life crisis? With a live band perfectly capturing the nostalgic energy of the era it was all incredibly feel good, fun and funny.

Best Staging – Holding Achilles (Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall) 

The mythical magic of “Holding Achilles” may have been multi-layered, but this was built upon a performance space reminiscent of classical Greek amphitheatres with staging exposed to the audience, in contrast to the modern technology used to sometimes literally soar the story along with aerial artistry.

Best Sound and Lighting Design – First Casualty (Queensland Theatre)

The sound and lighting design elements of “First Casualty” were likely worth the price of admission alone. Paul Jackson’s lighting design transformed the space and its surfaces to tell the show’s many multifaceted narratives, while sound design by Brady Watkins and THE SWEATS added to the onstage action, whether dynamic or subtle in tone.

Best Choreography – Mary Poppins (Disney and Cameron Mackintosh)

Matthew Bourne’s and Stephen Mear’s “Mary Poppins” choreography (recreated for the Australian production by Richard Jones) filled the Lyric Theatre stage with a burst of moving bodies, brooms and brushes in spectacular, precise, fast-paced numbers like ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and ‘Step in Time’.

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.