Yipee-ki-yay again

Die Hard: The Move, The Play (Act React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Platform

December 12 – 23

‘tis the season for Christmas parties and Nakatomi’s is set to be a cracker, hosted as it is by Act React in the return season of the company’s site-specific “Die Hard: The Movie, The Play”. The Brisbane Powerhouse’s Turbine Platform has been transformed into the Nakatomi Plaza of the 1988 action film favourite’s Los Angeles location with its levels adding opportunities to fully experience its explosive unfolding as Nakatomi company’s employees (in this case audience members) gather to celebrate at their annual Christmas party until fanatical terrorists hijack the celebrations.

At the criminal helm is meticulous mastermind renegade German extremist Hans Gruber, played to perfection by James Tinniswood. He not only carries himself with a suave arrogance appropriate to the antagonist’s over-exaggeration, but his smooth-talking showcases a spot-on parody of Alan Rickman’s (in tribute to the British actor’s feature film debut) signature vocal cadences of pitch, pace, emphasis and pro-tract-ed enunciation. 

In keeping with tradition of the Brisbane-based company’s other low-fi film-to-stage pop-culture-inspired performances, the biggest role, however, is left to an audience member, with scaffolded support through the film’s narrative from the Act React team and an inner monologue voiceover. On opening night our white-singlet-clad, bare-footed New York cop John McClane does a marvellous job in dealing with the chaos when all he wants to do is patch things up with his semi-estranged high-powered corporate wife Holly (Natalie Bochenski). With only the dad from TV sitcom “Family Matters” (Simon Chugg) as backup, he throws himself into the role and down and through elevator and ventilation shafts et al, entertaining the audience with his put-on-the-spot dialogue delivery of some memorable wisecracking walkie-talkie one-liners beyond just the Yipee-ki-yay of our expectations. And the consequential improv in response only cements the comic apabilities of the Act React performers.

Experience of “Die Hard: The Movie, The Play” is about little (sometimes unpredictable) moments as much as complete package of its parody of the ‘80s time capsule film franchise. The interactive show cleverly operates on many levels, including through pop culture nods to the bodies of work of the film’s cast of actors. Trademark Act React low-fi special effects and inventive low budget props not only help bring the Christmas classic to stage in a way that ensures all key plot aspects make appearance (extreme acts of violence, impressive pyrotechnics, a helicopter and all), but provide much of its comedy. This is chiefly the case through the antics of 3DS (Ellen Hardisty) in motion capture green skin tight suit, especially in her flirtatious distractions with certain audience members.

“Die Hard: The Movie, The Play” is mindless entertainment of the most enjoyable sort… light-hearted escapism that you don’t have to think about too much in order to enjoy. Indeed, a lot of the show’s charm comes from it never taking itself too seriously, which makes its infectious fun perfect for the festive season for both full-on “Die Hard” fans and those with casual pop culture familiarity alike.

Photos c/o – Images by Anderson

Love, lifeboats and laughs

Titanic: The Movie, The Play (Act React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Plaza

August 19 – September 19

The staggered rise again of the curtain of the arts means that the industry still needs our support as much as ever it did in the last year that wasn’t. Attendance at the return, third season of Act React’s “Titanic: The Movie, The Play” represents the perfect opportunity with which to support a Brisbane-based company; it takes place outdoors in the Brisbane Powerhouse Plaza, includes lots of hand sanitiser moments and brings with it bundles of laughs. Indeed, the energetic and hilarious live show guarantees audiences an iconic ‘king of the world’ type experience not easily forgotten.   

While at its core, the show’s concept exists as a homage to the epic ‘90s romance movie “Titanic”, contemporary references abound, and are about more than just things going on in this new-normal time. But first we must make our way to the ship… and so things begin with a submarine safety briefing as we head down into the centre of the North Atlantic in search of the heart of the ocean necklace treasure that the first of many audience volunteers sets out to retrieve.

After an appearance from the elderly Rose DeWitt (Natalie Bochenski), our narrator of sorts, we are whisked back in time to April 1912 to be welcomed by The Captain (Scott Driscoll) and Molly Brown (Johanna Lyon) et al aboard the grandest and most unsinkable ship in history, its bow high above us. Enter a young aristocratic Rose, on the arm of an arrogant son of a steel tycoon, Billy Zane (Christopher Batkin)… because how can you cram a show with jokes about Billy Zane’s career if you know him by his character name of Cal.

Act React specialises in pop-culture inspired performances and along with “Speed: The Move The Play”, “Titanic: The Movie, The Play” endures as one of its best, even upon a third visit, as fourth walls are dropped for immediate engagement as poor artist Jack (Daren King) and a random Mario (Tom Dunstan) excitedly embark upon what promises to be quite the exuberant and sometimes steamy journey, as those familiar with key scenes from the epic 1997 James Cameron source material movie would know to expect.

The always-energetic cast maintains the irreverent approach as a rotation of audience ‘volunteers’ become Rose (using cue cards for stage directions and dialogue) along her journey of love, lifeboats (donated by the Queensland Maritime Museum) and loss, and the performers are expert at responding to the different energies and approaches that these additions bring, with ad libs that contribute much bonus humour. Add to this a pack of puns, some deliberately low-budget special effects and a pile of potential favourite moments … from a sad mainly-audience-member band of triangle, ukulele and recorder player and an animated Mario Kart transition to a rogue (and somewhat persistent) iceberg … and you are guaranteed some cheeky comedy (#literally!)

Lit lit

The Importance of Being Wasted (Act React)

The Lord Alfred Hotel (Petrie Terrace), May 7 – 9

Alliance Hotel (Spring Hill), May 14 – 21

Jumping Goats Bar (Margate) May 22

Act React have always looked at things a little differently, as their previous pop-culture inspired interactive theatre comedy shows have illustrated. Rather than interrogating a movie through their trademark lens, however, at this year’s Anywhere Festival, the company is turning its attention to a literary comedy of manners, only with a cocktail twist. Specifically, their take on Oscar Wilde’s, “The Importance of Being Earnest” sees a rotating roster of two cast members getting drunk each performance, making for a truly unique and very funny theatrical experience befitting the site-specific locations afforded by the core premise of The Anywhere Festival, which aims to connect audiences, locations and shows with local nooks and crannies.

The story of two late Victorian English gentlemen, respectable protagonist Jack (Simon Chugg) and charming Algernon (an engaging Daren King) bending the truth through invented associations to add some excitement to their lives is a wonderful fodder for the idea, particularly as events start to go awry plot-wise. Like a cultured “Drunk History”, the show presents the trivial comedy of serious people in a considered matter that retains its essence but amps up the humour, making it accessible even to audience members without appreciation of the original text. Indeed, while the amount of bunburying within the story brings humour in and of itself, the addition of some music, a cast song and increasingly drunken character commentary, exclamations and expletives make for a very funny experience.

On opening night these come from drinkers, an increasingly bold Jenna Murphy as Jack’s Earnest-obsessed ward Ceciliy and an often giggly Ellie Hardisty as her governess Miss Prism, Algernon’s domineering aunt, Lady Brackell and especially, in later scenes as Merriman, the butler at Jack’s Manor House in the country. Add in the farce that comes from the quick costume changes that accompany required role-swapping (especially from Damien Campagnolo in switches from the rector on Jack’s estate, Dr Chasuable and Algernon’s manservant, Lane to the imposing matriarch Lady Bracknell) and the hilarious feature of a coat rack, and the show is filled with memorable moments.

The premise allows ample opportunity for improvisation as the confusion of inebriated players needs to be redirected by each show’s sober performers (on opening night primarily, Chugg, King and Elizabeth Best as Gwendolen), and performers do well in this regard, ensuring that Wilde’s witticisms are maintained as much as possible, despite being so easy to trip over after a few drinks. Similarly, abridgment of the original play not only maintains its essential sensibility, but offers a shorter, punchier script that allows for players and audience members alike to roll with the resulting chaos.

“The Importance of Being Wasted” is a delightful experience, well-suited to its presentation in the stately surrounds of The Lord Alfred Hotel’s beautifully restored Verandah Bar, meaning that the audience can drink along with the performers, apart from their audience-instigated skols. And it is such infectious fun that you will probably find yourselves wanting to hang around post-show for another drink, or at least wanting to head home for some crumpets.

Act React’s “The Importance of Being Wasted” is a full-of-surprises and Wilde-ly entertaining experience that creates a new comic rhythm to a classic of the theatre. Under Natalie Bochenski’s direction its sense of fun suits it being a festival show, while still honouring the original text and the craft of its author amongst the controlled chaos of its celebration.

Comedy camaraderie

Speed: The Movie, The Play (Act React)

Labyrinth, Brisbane Powerhouse

February 27 – March 22

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There is a moment during Act React’s “Speed: The Movie, The Play” in which the show’s hero (not Jack Travern as in the movie the show is parodying, but instead just Keanu), instructs audience members to “really press yourself in against some strangers and make some new friends”. It comes as the 171 bus in which we are travelling to Venice Beach (in reality a vintage vehicle on loan from the Queensland Omnibus and Coach Society) is about to leap over a missing 50-feet wide (or whatever that is in metres) chunk of interstate, without the ability to slow down, in recreation of the ‘90s action flick’s immortal, dangerous bridge jump. It’s a standout moment of the show (created by Brisbane-based performers Dan Beeston, Natalie Bochenski and Gregory Rowbotham), not so much narratively, but for the way it conveys the community of camaraderie that develops in shared experience of this immersive work in which audience members assume the roles of hostages on the bus.

It’s a shared sense of fun that begins from back in the show’s opening minutes when all forty members of the audience are crammed together in a make-shift elevator, complete with accompanying musak, before police shimmying towards ‘the death bus’ that represents the location of the majority of the show’s action. As those familiar with the work’s source material, the 1994 action movie “Speed”, will know, a bomber, here known only as Dennis (Damian Campagnolo), as in Dennis Hopper, has seized control of the bus and planted explosives set to detonate when the bus slows below 50 miles per hour.

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While Los Angeles cop Keanu (Daren King) soon appears on the scene to save the day, the audience member hostages are very invested in events, serving as heroes in the story through enlistment to help with tasks or deliver lines. It is all very much as it was in the show’s initial sell-out season in 2015, including having an audience member serve as Sandra (as in Sandra Bullock). Since then the Brisbane-based Act/React have developed a growing repertoire of unique, pop culture-inspired immersive comedy experiences and just as their “Titanic: The Movie, The Play” took aim at Billy Zane, in this show it is Keanu who cops it through King’s over-emphasis of his idiosyncratic chilled acting style and the script’s clever incorporation of many Keanu movie mentions and jokes about his career.

Much humour comes from this craftedness, as well as the ad-libbed moments of dialogue from the skilled cast. Another highlight is the company’s inventive approach to recreating the high-octane nature of the explosive ‘90s film event. Indeed, half the fun of the show is seeing realisation of its logistical ambition as large-scale Hollywood-ish stunts, visual effects and memorable movie moments are recreated on a DIY budget of inflatable objects, cut outs and overhead projections.

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“Speed: The Movie, The Play” is a low tech high camp theatrical romp of the most irreverent sort, perfect for appearance at the Brisbane Comedy Festival. The self-described shameless comedic homage to the 1994 action thriller is packed full of puns, cheesy lines and even some innuendo in attempt to diffuse the bomb that threatens us all. Bomb threats aside, experience of the show is a most enjoyable ride that even features a group singalong amongst new-found fellow passenger friends. Only a passing familiarity with the movie is required, which makes it an easily accessible work that serves as an enjoyable gateway to immersive theatre for those who have perhaps never previously experienced this type of work.

Yipee-ki-yay yule

Die Hard: The Move, The Play (Act React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Platform

November 23 – December 1

“Die Hard” is the mother of all Christmas action movies, spawning a five-film franchise, yet even if audience members have not seen the classic since its 1988 cinema release, familiarity soon returns through the meta merriment that is Act React’s “Die Hard: The Movie, The Play”, whose debut features as part of Brisbane Powerhouse’s Wonderland festival.

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It’s year’s end in 1988 and the Nakatomi company’s employees are gathered at their annual Christmas party at LA’s Nakatomi Plaza when terrorists hijack the celebrations. As party guests, the show’s audience members are front and centre to the unfolding action as white-singlet-clad New York cop John McClane (who just wants to patch things up with his semi-estranged corporate wife Holly), with some help from the father from television sitcom “Family Matters” as his main connection, via walkie-talkie, with the outer world, saves the day and delivers some memorable one-liners, such is the inventively interactive nature of the show.

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In Act React tradition, the a lot of the pop-culture-inspired show’s humour is site specific in its nature. Brisbane Powerhouse’s Turbine Platform works well as Los Angeles’ Nakatomi Plaza, allowing for plot play-out all around, including above, the audience, but also by allowing containment of the action’s scope to a single space. Though this adds interest, energy still ebbs and flows more than in the company’s earlier works. Wheras in “Speed the Movie the Play” and “Titanic The Movie The Play”, audience members were chosen to assume the roles made famous by Sandra Bullock and Kate Winslet, picking someone to play the primary part of John McClane represents a significant variable. The company’s performers are earnest in their responsiveness but the result is far from the hilarity of the company’s previous shows. Still, there is much humour to this production; its inter-textual references and pop-culture nods alone are enough to engage audience members.

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Accommodation of technical challenges is, as always, a highlight, as sophisticated special effects of full apocalyptic fire are given the low-fi treatment, meaning that we still, for example, see our protagonist iconically hiding in the elevator shaft (of sorts) to take down smooth-talking renegade German extremist Hans Gruber (overly-accented in a very Alan Rickman way, in tribute to the actor’s movie debut in the role).

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There is a nurtured appeal to the collective experience of the audience, authentic to the premise of being joined together in Christmas party celebration, as the performers make their way around audience tables in pre-show mingle with guests. It’s all very supportive as people are invited to play roles in the story, or even just to hold props, and especially as everyone unites to provide the soundtrack of ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth as the terrorists near their target.

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“Die Hard: The Move, The Play” is a fitting festival show, a bit rough around its edges but with a communal comic appeal, making it a wonderful addition to this year’s Wonderland festival line-up. Its festive face off of shootouts, explosions and smart-alec catchphrases doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it an ideal light-hearted escape from the busy yuletide season.

Actually argued again

Love/Hate Actually (Act React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

November 22 – 25

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I hate “Love Actually” and its inappropriate behaviour and ridiculous logic lapses. My theatre buddy for opening night of “Love/Hate Actually”, meanwhile, loves it actually. So we represented the perfect audience mix for the smash hit Wonderland Festival comedy showdown between long-time creative collaborators Amy and Natalie.

Despite being 15 years old now, “Love Actually”, it seems, is still causing arguments all around. Having a familiarity with the film is needed, however, if you haven’t seen it recently that’s alright as things start with a quick recap of the ‘plot’ and its many interwoven storylines. Natalie Bochenski is passionate in her take-down of the film’s transparent foreshadowing, presenting a convincing argument of Ted-talkish logic, complete with script breakdown pie charts as testament to its problematic content and audience manipulation. Amy Currie is, by contrast, emotionally invested in the sentiment shaped by the heart-warming charm of the film’s bumbling turtle-necked British actors. And there are laughs aplenty as each woman debates her argument.

As with the work’s 2017 Wonderland Festival season, some of the biggest laughs come from when we move from personal disputes to trademark Act React audience involvement in segments such as ‘Art of Porn?’ The funniest section, however, sees audience members on-stage assuming the roles of Alan Rickman’s Harry and ‘sex-harlot’ assistant Mia in enactment of film scenarios from a workplace behaviour training perspective.

“Love/Hate Actually” is what it promises to be, a part double act, part film lecture, part games show. Sure, it is rough around the edges at times and less effective when performer rants stray from the core content of the film, but when opening night plans sometimes go astray, Bochenski, in particular, shows her quick wit with obviously ad-libs that are not only very funny but fit with the show’s organic feel.

Whether you think the movie sucks actually, because of Kiera fucking Knightly or otherwise, or you worship at the altar of all things Richard Curtis, “Love/Hate Actually” has much to offer in its irreverence and humour. As for its verdict about the film’s validity as a Christmas season classic, well that will all come down to an audience vote.