Great Scott spoofing

That 80s Time Travel Movie

Brisbane Arts Theatre

February 11 – March 27


The 1980s were simultaneously awesome and awful, as those who lived through the years will know. But, with simultaneous climax of story writing and special effects, they did produce some of the best movies of all time, including the cheesy sci-fi flick “Back to the Future” and its subsequent two sequels.

If you thought that your memory of the whimsical adventure comedy film had faded, its experience is soon brought back in an opening on-screen montage that brings Marty McFly to Brisbane to the sounds of its anthemic ‘Power of Love’. And so Brisbane Arts Theatre’s musical parody “The 80s Time Travel Movie” takes audiences back to the totally rad decade that taste forgot, evident in the authentic, over-the-top costumes and hair of the mediocre McFly family

Son, Marty (Aidan Hodder), a skateboarding, guitar-playing teen, watches his dad George (William Toft) be pushed around by his boss, Biff (Tyler Stevens) while his mum Lorriane (Lara Boyle) drinks away her sorrows, so he turns to eccentric Emmett (Doc) Brown (Alex Lanham), who’s just fashioned a time machine out of a flux capacitor-equipped DeLorean which takes Marty back to 1955, the year that his parents fell in love. After he accidentally sets history upon an alternative path, he must figure out not only how to get back to future, but how to transfer his mother’s affections from himself over to his father, otherwise he and his siblings will never be born. Along the way, there are laughs aplenty in the Australian premiere of this mother-kissing adventure.

Live music enhances the appeal of songs like its pre-intermission melodic title track ‘Back to the Future’, but really sight gags and dialogue provide so much of the humour that songs aren’t even that necessary. Giving even characters like Biff their own number sometimes drags an already quite long show, yet others are more than memorable such as when Marty sings of the ‘Serious Shit’ metaphysical conundrum of having a younger version of his mother attracted to him or she sings explicit share of her sexual desire for him in ‘My Calvin Cline’. The shock value of some of the lyrics not only adds to the humour but cements this as a not-for-children show.

Hodder is energetic in the demanding protagonist role, on stage almost non-stop. As his dweeby dad George, Toft is excellent in gangly geekery and over-the-top mannerisms, giving what is perhaps the best performance I’ve ever seen at the Arts Theatre, especially in the Hill Valley High school dance scene crescendo of his new found confidence asserted to anyone to dares to interrupt his time with future wife Lorraine. Boyle is of excellent voice throughout, right from her 1985 reminiscence of life in 1955 when she met George. Doc Brown is wonderfully played to madcap perfection by Lanham. Although some Marty and Doc scenes lag a little indulgently, his spot-on comic timing adds much glee to the show’s experience, often allowing the pause itself and his character reactions, to become a source of humour beyond the original joke.

Narrative exposition is sometimes deliberately clunky, but this at least adds to the frenetic, farcical feel of the spoof and topical Trump mentions feel jarringly like unnecessary easy-attempts a laughs in an already humour-filled show. Still, the loving lampoon is a totally rad and at-times random pop-culture trip down memory lane. With a dancing DoLorean and even a touch of ‘Chariots of Fire’ its sense of fun is very much like that of last year’s “Jurassic Park The Musical”, leading to the question of when is Part Two?


Fabulous family feuding

Black is the New White (Queensland Theatre presents a Sydney Theatre Company production)

QPAC, The Playhouse

February 1 – 17

“Black is the New White” has been billed as being a new blend of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” which is a perhaps clichéd but totally correct descriptor of Nakkiah Lui’s fabulous new play about the discomfort of contemporary Australian life.


A joyous whirlwind romance sees successful Aboriginal lawyer Charlotte (Shari Sebbens) returning to a family Christmas at her parent’s lavish open-plan holiday home to introduce her new and very awkward experimental classical musician fiancé Francis. As the daughter of Ray Gibson, the self-proclaimed Martin Luther King of the Australian political landscape, Charlotte’s choice of partner couldn’t be worse. Forget that she is black and he is white; he is the son of Ray’s long-time, ultra-conservative rival Denison (Geoff Morrell).

Along with Dension and his wife Marie (Vanessa Downing), joining Ray and wife Joan (Melodie Reynolds-Diarra) for the festivities are Charlotte’s sister Rosie (Miranda Tapsell), returning from her successful fashion business in Los Angelas with her retired Wallaby captain husband Sonny (Anthony Taufa). Cue also charming nameless narrator/Christmas Ghost (an underused Luke Carroll) and the assembly is set to become an absolutely hilarious holiday from hell.


Act One begins with the comedy of embarrassment. With Francis fumbling through repeated foot-in-mouth politically-incorrect comments, and his failed attempts at jokes about the Stolen Generation et al often see audience members with hand-to-mouth in shared aghast reaction.  The action proper centres on a bigger series of conflicts, so engaging that intermission comes as an inconvenience to a thoroughly-absorbed and wanting-more audience. And when secrets spill out as characters’ journeys of identity are revealed in its final act, they are unsurprisingly surprising.

There is a serious side too as some big ideas are played out through the complex dynamics within the everyday scenario of family squabbles heightened by the festive season. Uncomfortable questions around class, social dynamic, cultural identity and male-privilege add complexity and intellectual rigour to its food flinging, secret-spilling comedy, making for a razor-sharp modern examination of whether race is a value like other social constructs.

Writing is clever and pacy, and Paige Rattray’s nimble direction allows for later tonal shifts to sneak up upon the audience. Indeed, it is superbly directed to exploit its frenetic pace. And while everyone on stage gives an excellent performance, it the ladies’ late-in-show monologues that stand out, prompting moments of spontaneous mid-show applause. Reynolds-Diarra gives a multi-layered performance as the down-to-earth, heart-of-her-family Joan and Downing is hilarious when she breaks free of her white passive aggression.

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“Back is the New White” is a very clever, original show, which appropriately left its opening night audience raving about it being the funniest in recent memory. Its edgy, energetic and quick-witted approach to a classic family comedy is modern and highly entertaining, and it is easy to appreciate its sold out world premiere season at Sydney Theatre Company last year. With confetti, male nudity, a figurative and literal lettuce war, a dance-off between political rivals and Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’ anthem, it is certain to leave lasting memory of its joyfulness, but also hopefully its thematic heart about race, class and community changes.

Allegorical excellence

Lord of the Flies (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

January 19 – February 3


Appropriately heralded by an air raid siren, audience members at The Beenleigh Theatre Group’s “Lord of the Flies” enter to an opening scene of schoolboys on a plane trip somewhere. Happily, they jaunt along to the sounds of ‘Run Rabbit Run’ in juxtaposition to the brutality of what is to come as in a stylised scene, they are crashed to an island.


The group of boys from a mix of schools survive the crash, but find themselves deserted in the uninhabited location. Without adult supervision or guidance, they struggle in their abandon. The very-British and intelligent Piggy (Levi Rayner) advocates democratic rule and order through the symbolic use of a conch shell, but is disregarded by the others due to his physical deficiencies and muddle of words. Ralph (Jayden McGinlay), meanwhile, begins with an air of carefree adventure before becoming an initial leader. While his sensible priority is to maintain a signal fire (started by Piggy’s surrendered glasses), antagonist Jack (Nic Van Litsenborgh), a militant choir leader, is intent on hunting, using his chants to stir those in his tribe towards a savagery of self-indulgence in the absence of social mores and control to the contrary.


Without societal or adult influence, the boys decide upon their own rules in initial attempts at remaining civilised but soon order begins to break down and barbarism starts to take over with the boys reverted to their base instincts under Jack’s autocratic leadership. And when anarchy reins, things move quickly; the boys’ uniforms are soon dishevelled as shirts come off, faces are war-painted and school ties become headbands and buffs “Survivor” style, in show of their decline into cruelty.


William Golding’s 1954 classic but verbose story of civilisation in reverse clearly relies on some significant themes with its allegory about human impulse towards savagery. And its cast of adolescent boys more than rise to the occasion in their representation of Nobel Prize winning work. As the touted protagonist, reasonable and well-intentioned Ralph, McGinlay takes audiences on a tempered journey from boyish charm to deep despair in desperation to cling to his ideals.


As his antithesis, Jack, Van Litsenborgh dominates with a gripping performance of menacing physicality and imposing vocals, especially in Act Two when he is appointed as the Chief. Although nobody from his choir boys faints under his initial command to march in line, he presents as a tantrum-throwing bully from the start in his antagonism of the whimpering Piggy, who appears more as a caricature than naïve intellectual.


Other standouts include Elliot Hanscomb and Fraser Anderson as twins Samneric, especially in their attempts at rationalisation about the feared ‘beast’ in the jungle (really a dead parachutist hanging from its trees). And Liam Pert is an excellent Simon, understated in his essential symbolism of spirituality and human goodness, although his connection with nature and insight into mankind’s essential illness of latent evil is largely restrained.


“Lord of the Flies” is a difficult play to stage, yet with minimalist set this imagining works well, allowing a lot of the intended symbolism to speak freely. Wood crates become multi-use props and multiple levels allow for action to take place in a variety of the island’s locations. Inventively, some of the most intense action takes place not on the stage, but on the carpeted area just in front of the audience, creating an intentionally uneasy intimacy during a viciously bloodthirsty scene in which a pig is ritualistically hunted and its head symbolically impaled upon a stick. Fighting scenes (choreographed by Justin Palazzo-Orr) work well, lighting accompanies stylised slow motion movements and a dynamic soundscape effectively signposts the boys’ decent to savagery.


Under Bradley Chapman’s direction, Beenleigh Theatre Group have produced an excellent and entertaining production of a challenging text. It not only does justice to the main themes of Golding’s tale, but it intensely illustrates how even over six decades later, aspects of its themes remain relevant through its show of the extreme consequences of peer pressure unchecked. Is evil inherent in human nature or is it a learned trait? This is a question audience members will perhaps still be left pondering after the play, lingering in recall as is the case in experience of all the best types of theatre.

Photos – c/o Turn It Up Photography

Over at the Frankenstein place

The Rocky Horror Show (Gordon Frost Organisation, GWB Entertainment and Howard Panter Ltd)

QPAC, Concert Hall

January 18 – February 11

Before it was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” film of 1975, “Rocky Horror Show” was already a cult classic, at once a humorous tribute to science fiction and B grade horror movies and a culturally iconic examination of empowerment and fluid-sexuality. The adults-only musical written by Richard O’Brien tells the story of newly engaged conservative couple Brad and Janet fleeing from a storm to the home of a mad transvestite scientist from transsexual Transylvania, Dr Frank-N-Furter, who is unveiling his new creation, a “Frankenstein” sort of monster in form of a fully grown, physically perfect muscle man named Rocky, complete ‘with blond hair and a tan’.

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A whirlwind Act One, where the best songs dwell, is full of introductions as the apprehensive and uneasy couple Time Warp their way into the unfamiliar world of mayhem and even murder. After intermission, things get down and dirty and very naughty as the fishnet-stocking-wearing scientist (Adam Rennie) introduces the oblivious Brad (Rob Mallett) and ever-so-sweet Janet (Michelle Smitheram) to a world of fluid sexuality and excessive indulgence, starting with a very cheeky Act Two opener bed scene.


Any Frank-N-Furter is going to suffer the burden of comparisons to Tim Curry’s career-defining role and stepping into the heels after Craig McLachlan’s exit, Rennie is no exception. Yes, he is glam-rock-star like, but he is also youthful, fun and flirty, bringing a lot of humour to the role in his energetic performance, making it very much his own in blend of menace, vulnerability, desire, scorn and impeccable comic timing. Also outstanding is Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff, reprising his 2014 role as the hunchbacked handyman and live-in butler. From the moment of his first at-window appearance in ‘There’s a Light’ his Riff Raff never wanes from high-octane, despite him having well over a thousand performances of the show across Australia, New Zealand and Asia under his belt.

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Amanda Harrison is similarly strong in the dual roles of the initial Usherette who introduces the night’ ‘film’ in ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’ tribute to and sendup of various B movies and serials parodied in the show itself, and mainly as maid Magenta. Her presence is exuberant. Also especially wonderful to watch is Rob Mallett as the mild-mannered Brad, detailed in his performance down the most minor of mannerisms. And as the show’s suave narrator, Cameron Daddo is most deserving of his applause upon entry. His interaction with the audience is terrific, especially as he digresses in response to the show’s trademark audience participation and their shout outs of the ‘say it, say it…’ sort.


Musically, ‘Time Warp’ and ‘Sweet Transvestite’ are expected highlights. Smitheram and Mallett are both excellent in their solo numbers ‘Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me’ and ‘Once in a While’, but it is Rennie’s swan song ‘I’m Going Home’ that resonates the most as, in contrast to the spirited strutting of his earlier songs, he sings with soulful and haunting poignancy in attempt to explain his actions.


Really, “Rocky Horror Show” is bigger than any one performer, which is affirmed by the excellence of this ensemble who seem to be having a great time together on stage. Their animated synchronised choreography, in ‘Eddie’, for example, is all kinds of camp fun. Indeed, this show has naughtiness and adult amusement in abundance. Its strange and pleasurable journey is fast-paced and faithful to the original, making for a highly-entertaining night of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery, only not for all the family.

Clockwork changes

A Clockwork Orange (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre

January 6 – February 7

Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, which is part of the final movement of his last, and arguably most famous symphony, Symphony No. 9, composed in 1824, is a thorough examination of the emotion of joy as being heavenly in origin and available to mankind through a loving God. In “A Clockwork Orange”, however, it represents a thematic extension of 15-year-old protagonist Alex’s psychological conditioning.  As the vicious leader of a gang of criminals who beat, rob and rape, he is the antithesis of society. Such is the provocative premise of the classic confronting 1962 short novel by prolific writer Anthony Burgess.

It is the repressive totalitarian super-state England of the future where the despicable Alex gives free rein to his violent impulses and thus is jailed for bludgeoning a lady to death. Here, he volunteers for an experimental aversion treatment (the Ludovico Technique) to earn his freedom and is conditioned to abhor violence so that, returned to the world defenceless, he becomes the prey of his prior victims. The controversial work is a bold choice as a season opener, but a rewarding one due to its experimental nature. Even with a cast of 17, multiple roles are often required. More notably though, each performance alternates between male and female droogs (to use the novel’s teenage slang narration, which incorporates elements of Russian and Cockney English).


The result of the gender-blind casting is negotiable. The narrative’s ultra-violence may not be as potent in the changes, but it is still shocking. In female cast rotation, however, it becomes Melanie Bolovan’s show, not just narratively but through her blistering performance within the physically demanding role. Not only is she excellent in the torture scenes that show shades of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and its Room 101, but her changed physicality as the character morphs from foul-mouthed thug to reformed formal criminal with an instinctive abhorrence to violence, shows incredible nuance and an energy to which audience members cannot help but respond.

The use of comedy to slightly lessen the blow of its strong themes is also appreciated, although sometimes jarring. Although sexually aggressive, Alex is a cheekily charismatic criminal. Humour also comes from obvious malpropisms like referring to the Minister of the Interior who determines that Ludovico’s technique will be used to reduce recidivism, as Minster of the Inferior. But even with a bit of “Weekend and Bernie’s” ‘corpse’ comedy and a chorus line of a different sort, it doesn’t always feel right to laugh given the prevalence of its simulated and alluded to extreme violence.

Although it could have been tighter in terms of timing, there is much to appreciate about this production of “A Clockwork Orange”. Simple staging sees an imposing clockwork clog providing occasional nook into which characters cranny. And in on-stage realisation, the narrative is much easier to follow that in its original novel form.

Certainly, female actors in the principal roles bring an alternate-night new perspective to the brutal dystopian satire. Although still chilling and confronting, however, this take appears more fable than extravagant story, which gives it a unique appeal and enhanced resonance of its big moral themes around goodness, evil, self-control, and the individual versus society. With such as strong start to the year, one can only await the eclectic mix of shows to follow as the 2018 unfolds.

Much (Ado) merriment

Much Ado About Nothing (shake & stir theatre company)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

January 10 – 11


When the show starts well before the play begins with comic duo Constables Dogberry (Mckeira Cumming) and Verges (Cleo Taylor) leading the audience in Mexican wave and beach ball game to the sounds of Daddy Yankee’s ‘Gasolina’, it is clear that with this “Much Ado About Nothing” we are in for a good time. The vaudevillian clowning from the ockerish couple is the perfect preamble to the Queensland Youth Shakes Fest celebration of the works of William Shakespeare and share of their contemporary take of one of the Bard’s classic comedies.

“Much Ado About Nothing” tells the tale of returning war heroes and their fortunes and misfortunes in love. Decorated veteran Claudio returns to Messina and soon sets to woo host Don Pedro’s daughter, Hero. They are engaged to be married, but in the short period between the proposal and the wedding many misunderstandings and misleadings occur. The most prominent of these is the wedding party’s secret attempts to inspire passion between the quarrelling Benedick and Beatrice. From here one would hope for a double marriage ceremony but Shakespeare is rarely so simple.

The proverbially titled comedy is an excellent choice for this year’s production. It is easy to follow and gives opportunity for a large cast involvement. And this “Much Ado About Nothing” is certainly a crowd pleaser as it plays up the fun through song, dance and heaps of humour. Although this is an abridged version, the production retains all the wit and emotion of the original script. With a strong ensemble, clever direction and an effective design, it is fresh, exciting and impressive.

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Chelsea Dawson and Callum Ford are equally excellent as the modern, mature ‘rom-com’ sparing partners, Beatrice and Benedick, last to know they are in love, although perhaps more convincing as their individual characters than as part of the couple. Fittingly for the text-driven comedy, their delivery of the Shakespearan dialogue is eloquent and poetic, despite being mostly of insults, and together than provide an apt contrast to the more conventional courtship of Claudio (Charles Platt) and Hero (Megan Dale). Plus, their comic timing is highly entertaining.

Ford is particularly versatile, taking Benedick from roguish joker in his distain towards love to commitment in choice of love over friendship, so that we absolutely believe in the better version of himself that he becomes. Similarly, Dawson’s ability to portray Beatrice’s defensive wit alongside her genuinely heartfelt scenes such as in share of her sadness about never finding the right man, make her performance memorable in all of its moments. Also of note is Harlee Timms’s perfectly-pitched performance, as the nefarious Don John, the manipulative bastard half-brother of Don Pedro (Liam Wigney). His powerful portrayal of the trouble-making villain gives the audience a needed thought-provoking glimpse at the play’s sometimes darker themes.


With staging full of bright colours and summer costumes, it takes the audience longer than usual to transition to the text’s darker later tones, despite the deliberateness of Director Johnny Balbuziente’s decisions to signpost character transitions as the plot progresses from silliness to seriousness (although unnecessary and easy-laugh stereotypes do not help).

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Delivered by some of Queensland’s brightest young actors, dancers and musicians, this is a most accessible Shakespeare. And to have put the work together to such a high standard in a matter of days is an amazing feat. The knockabout passion of the creative cohort energises the text and the manner in which the entire cast plays off the audience adds another level to an already fast-paced and funny piece of entertainment, showing that Shakespeare can still be as merriful as ever.

Considerations of quality


A couple of months away travelling and a couple more laid up with pneumonia and I saw fewer shows in 2017 than in recent years (but still well into the double digits). Reflecting, it is clear that quality over quantity can be incredibly rewarding. And what quality there was on offer… so much so that my usual top five favourite, has been blown out to the following ten:

  1. Torch Songs (Mama Alto, Brisbane Powerhouse, Wonderland Festival)
  2. Lady Beatle (the little red company, La Boite Theatre Company)
  3. My Name is Jimi (Queensland Theatre)
  4. Once in Royal David’s City (Queensland Theatre)
  5. The Play that Goes Wrong (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, QPAC)
  6. Chef (Persona Inc & Atobiz Ltd, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Festival)
  7. Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications (Nigel Kennedy, QPAC)
  8. Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel in association with Cameron Mackintosh, QPAC)
  9. Spectate (Counterpilot, Metro Arts)
  10. Humans (Circa, QPAC)

And honourable mention to the UK’s National Theatre Stage to Screen show Yerma… Gut-wrenching, phenomenal theatre thanks to Billie Piper’s devastatingly powerful performance.

And mention also to the following highlights:

  • Best performance:
    • Elaine Crombie as a hilarious house-slave in Queensland Theatre Company’s An Octoroon.
    • Merlynn Tong in her intimate and vulnerable one-woman work, Playlab’s Blue Bones
    • Cameron Hurry as badly behaved brother Valene in the darkly irreverent The Lonesome West by Troop Productions
  • Best AV – Spectate (Counterpilot, Metro Arts)
  • Most thought provoking –- Octoroon (Queensland Theatre, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best new work – Merlyn Tong’s Blue Bones (Playlab, Brisbane Powerhouse)
  • Best Reimagining – Signifying Nothing (Macbeth) (Hammond Fleet Productions, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best musical – Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel in association with Cameron Mackintosh, QPAC)
  • Best cabaret:
    • Torch Songs (Mama Alto, Brisbane Powerhouse, Wonderland Festival)
    • Lady Beatle (The Little Red Company, La Boite Theatre Company)
    • Song Lines (Michael Tuahine, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Cabaret Festival)
    • Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs (Alan Cumming, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Cabaret Festival)
  • Best music – Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications (QPAC)
  • Best opera – Mark Vincent Sings Mario Lanza and the Classics (Lunchbox Productions, QPAC)
  • Funniest – The Play That Goes Wrong (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, QPAC)
  • Most fun – Let Them Eat Cake (Act/React, Anywhere Festival)
  • Most madcap – Chef (Persona Inc & Atobiz Ltd, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Festival)
  • Most immersive – Trainspotting Live (In Your Face Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse)
  • Most moving – Once in Royal David’s City (Queensland Theatre)

2018 looks set to continue to showcase both the wonderful work of this state’s creatives and innovative works from both here and further afield. Festivals will continue to punctuate the cultural calendar, serving to oscillate audiences between feast and famine like a cultural bulimic… although with Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt Festival moving to May (maybe at the same time as Anywhere Festival) it may be a shower than usual start to the year.