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.

And so this was…

As John Lennon asks in his now Christmas standard, “so, this is Christmas and what have you done?” Reflection becomes par-for-the-course at the tail end of the holiday period, including of shows seen during the year passed and in what has become typical, my favourites are a little off-kilter from the perhaps usual list of big-budget showcases.

Local shows aside for a moment and 2015 allowed me opportunity to see the London productions of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “The Book of Mormon”. I am yet to hear of anyone who has seen the Dog in the Night-Time on stage and not raved about the experience. And justifiably so; it is the best dramatic production I have ever seen, anywhere. And as for “The Book of Mormon”…. is there any feeling better than being able to tick from an in-mind list of shows you want to see. For me, this musical had been at the top of my to-see list for a number of years, replaced now by “Something Rotten” and while the show is shocking in its satire, it’s quite brilliant and definitely up there as one of my favourites.


But that is not say that Brisbane has not seen its share of great shows of all sorts, from which my favourites would be:

  1. All My Love (HIT Productions) – the story of Australia’s best-known poet and writer Henry Lawson and his relationship with fellow poet Mary Gilmore.
  2. The Confidence Man (Side Pony Productions) – a choose-your-own-adventure of the theatrical kind as audience members use smartphone to flick between the characters’ stories, tuning in on their innermost thoughts as the action unfolds.
  3. The Importance of Being Earnest (W!ld Rice) – a witty all-male telling of Oscar Wilde’s immortal play, as part of the Brisbane Festival.
  4. Candide (Opera Q) – opera at its most accessible, merging music and comedy in a colourful and energetic search for Eden.
  5. Tiptoe (Pentimento Productions) – Two timeframes unfold simultaneously on stage in this Australian psychological thriller with a twist from acclaimed playwright Sven Swenson.

With appreciation of the notion that theatre-going begets theatre-going, I am also confident, however, that 2016 will bring with it a range of shows and potential new favourites. So, as Lennon also says…. “Let’s hope it’s a good one”.

The love of literary lives

All My Love (HIT Productions)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast

September 16 – 19

Like that of most nations, Australia’s history is filled with interesting stories. Our literary history has its heroes and right up there at the apex is the larger-than-life writer and poet, Henry Lawson. But what of his love, radical socialist and literary icon Mary Gilmore, who ironically replaced him when our ten dollar note moved from paper to polymer. Surely theirs must have been fascinating relationship. This is the assumption realised in the sensitive new Australian work “All My Love”, which brings to life their little known passionate love affair on the professional stage for the first time.

From the outset it is clear the work is intent on preserving the original sensibilities of its subject matter, with period furniture setting the scene in the intimate space. Tanned in tone and warmed by dim and cozy lighting, it languishes in a Tennessee Williams type way, as well a memory play should. More sentimental than realistic, it takes audiences along an evocative journey of the duo’s relationship, through Mary’s narration inset with action and correspondence, in a “Love Letters” type way (including excerpts from the couple’s surviving letters).

Memorable days sometimes occur during miserable weather, she observes in introduction. And for Henry and Mary, their memorable day of meeting comes as arranged by their journalist mothers. As they walk and talk through a courtship, their topics of politics and feminism are illustrated by use of projection of the images of their observations. More equal than muse, she reads his work, correcting his spelling and commending his writing and he transitions from poetry to prose and soon solidifies a voice beyond just the anti-bush sentiment for which he is remembered in contrast to our other literary greats. But as circumstances conspire against them, most obviously as consequence of the motherly interference of the unseen but ever-domineering formidable feminist Louisa Lawson, Henry descends into drunkenness and the two, although they remain as friends, never see their secret engagement realised.

“Writers sometimes make poor pen friends,” Henry comments in response to their lapsed correspondence upon marriages to others (both outlived by their essential connection). Yet it is the writing of “All My Love” that is one of its most notable features. Its title cleverly come from the typical closing from Henry’s letters to Mary and its dialogue reflects the intellect and descriptive articulacy of the two as writers both ahead of their time, while also remaining engaging through its infusion of sly humour and, particularly, in Act Two, eloquent inclusion of Lawson’s real-life words within his declarations.

all my love pic

At its core, however, this is a story about the people beyond their written words. And particularly for a country whose premier annual literary prize emerged from the bequest of Australian writer and feminist, Miles Franklin, it is sad that so little is widely known of Gilmore. Indeed, one of the production’s many strengths is it presentation of the potentially larger-than-life literary characters as real, identifiable people within a fateful relationship. And thanks to some stellar performances, it is in a way that audiences will never forget.

Dion Mills brings an essential humanity to the stern but somewhat insecure figure of Lawson, even in his brutally honest declarations about needs of a man. And he transitions from giddily in want to introspective and then intoxicated with ease. As Gilmore, Kim Denham shows an enduring strength of character befitting a good woman of that certain time. And, combined their talent engages the audience along on an emotional journey from smiles in empathy at their awkward attempts at declarations to tears of despair in realisation that there are no lessons to be learned and that this is perhaps just the story of lives that could have been written so differently had their love not be lost so tragically. This combines with simple shifts in costumes to show the passing of time and versatile staging that see set segments reimagined as, for example, a cruise ship and gaol cell, to create an outstanding theatrical experience of the type of greatness that sneaks up on you, resulting in shared post-show audience comments like “it was fabulous” and “I love it” from all around.

The rule never really changes. If you want a great show it’s: story story story. While more focussed on sentiment than historical re-enactment, “All My Love” is certainly a fascinating story of an Australia people will recognise and should want to see realised on our stages. The gentle production presents not only a remarkable tale but enduing themes that can make you only but wonder what the landscape will be like in a future world in which the permanency of heartfelt handwritten correspondence will be but a distant memory.