‘Ella anew

Cinderella (Myths Made Here)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

April 26 – May 5

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Myths Made Here’s “Cinderella” is not about princes, princesses or even a step-sibling, but it does feature a lost shoe as result of our protagonist single, late 30s woman Ashleigh’s (Amy Ingram) startle at seeing the approach of an internet date. Ashleigh is certainly not your typical fairy tale heroine; she’s a bit of a klutz, though not in a neurotic Bridget Jones type way, but she has a unique charm. She’s a little insecure, sure, but also organised with band-aids in her purse and tissues up her sleeve… a real-world representation of one guise of a modern woman.

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From its initial disaster, the evening of her intended date unfolds, after a stranger (Thomas Larkin) chases her to reunite her with her abandoned footwear. And so, as audience members, we voyeur their night together from first encounter through dinner and afterwards until the couple retreat back to her place for a romantic entanglement. Initially this makes for an unhurried narrative as the ultimately likeable characters navigate the awkward banter of favourite movies and dreaded dream recollections. Through the little looks and slight movements of their hesitations, we laugh both with and at them. Indeed, in this regard, things are not overplayed, but rather realised to their full, uncomfortable potential; while Larkin plays smitten moments to coy perfection, Ingram uses every aspect of physicality to show the anxious insecurity of her character’s second guess of herself and her potential new beau’s motivations.

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Playwright Matthew Whittet gives us a very funny but real one act first date in all of its affectionate awkwardness, but also poignancy too as the inevitable midnight comes around. Certainly by showing rather than telling so much of its story, it presents as a story that is intimate and individual, but also universally relevant in its contemporary considerations, for this is Cinderella anew complete with themes of love, loneliness, loss and social anxiety.

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The 70-minute romantic comedy is dynamic from start to finish, as is so often the case in Daniel Evans directed works, making clever employment of a revisit soundtrack of pop classics, vibrant lighting and smart use of its boxed stage space. While, as a two-hander, “Cinderella” may be more intimate than Evans’ other works, it is still entertaining and enjoyable, in a quirkily quaint way, with its talented two performers keeping the audience engaged for the duration of their evening’s emotional journey.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

From forgiveness

I Just Came to Say Goodbye (The Good Room)

Theatre Republic, The Block

September 13 – 23

plane.jpgLike their earlier shows, “I Should Have Drunk More Champagne” and “I Want to Know What Love Is”, The Good Room’s “I Just Came to Say Goodbye” is derived from a deceptively simple premise; shared, anonymous submissions of fragments and memories, confessions and admissions, become the basis of the script. This time it is forgiveness and regret, with the true contributions of forgiveness yearned, earned and unfortunately absent, filing the spaces between tell of a bigger real-life story from recent history. And this is where the show’s strength lies… its basis in truth, even if it is initially diluted by a superfluously long dance sequence by an ensemble of stagehands. Although it is to establish that we are all on a flight together, it’s more dodgy than dynamic and a foil to the force of the story that follows, though that is probably the point.

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When, in 2002, two planes collided over Germany due to human (air traffic controller) error, Vitaly Kaloyeu lost his wife and two children amongst the killed passengers. It is this tragic story upon which the work hangs, leading to an extreme aesthetic experience of full black out, terrifying crash sound blasts and brutal lighting courtesy of Composer/Sound Designer Dane Alexander and Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright.

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Things are fast and furious with an apocalyptic sensibility, but also, at times, tender in heartfelt vulnerability and visually quite stunning as, through share of the anonymous contributions, the audience is sucker-punched with an array of emotions in scenes of anger, intimacy, humour and tragedy, from heavy-duty stories of assault and aids infection to more lighthearted tells of school dance disagreements and karaoke song theft.

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The ensemble cast appropriates every opportunity for connection from the material. Amy Ingram’s forthright delivery of details of the DHL cargo plane and Russian passenger jet collision allows the audience to bring their own emotion to its story. In contrast, Caroline Dunphy is tender in her description of the before and after of the crash site, but powerful too in her share of people’s sometimes shocking contributions. Thomas Larkin and Michael Tuahine bring a dynamic energy to the ensemble’s physical scenes, especially a spectacular, complex fight experience (choreographed by Justin Palazzo-Orr).

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In Director Daniel Evans’ hands, “I Just Came to Say Goodbye” avalanches the audience in sound, lighting and emotion, with a pumping soundtrack to boot. Some moments lag a little indulgently, but when it is at its ferocious best, it is a beast of a show that deserves experience more than just read of its description. As is often the case with the best theatrical events its craftedness is only really appreciated upon reflection of its heartening final, positive message about the power that can come from forgiveness and the importance of finding ways to move forward.

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We do get it

We Get It (Elbow Room)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 15 – 25

To oblige an individual to represent – merely by their existence – any group smaller than the human species is, in itself, an act of oppression. Their actions, however, are another matter.

The quote projected as backdrop in the Visy Theatre as patrons enter the space for opening night of Elbow Room’s “We Get It” evokes much pre-show discussion… can you oblige anyone to do anything? What about the notion of free will? It is all very intellectual for a Thursday night but entirely appropriate given the weighty themes tackled by the subversive satire of theatre’s double standards.

It is not all heavy going though. There is much humour, particularly in early segments where the familiar concept of a reality TV contest drives the action. Five actors Tamiah Bantum, Amy Ingram, Kasia Kaczmarek, Maurial Spearim and Sonya Suares – are competing to play classic roles from the theatrical cannon. And after a bump and grind opening number from the initially lycra-clad ladies, the competition begins at direction of the slick compare (co-creator, with Marcel Dorney, Emily Tomlins)

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Wearing label sashes to identify them each by type (funny bitch, token, Muslim doctor etc), the actors must rank themselves on graded platforms in response to a number of statements. They begin innocently enough but soon become discomforting in their confrontation. There is even a diary room for not-so-private honest confessionals about what women go through in order to make it in the industry, including what is expected of them when auditioning.

The premise of this early part is obviously crafted towards establishing an ambiguity between actor and character. And the term ‘part’ is used very deliberately, for this is a show of a number of distinct parts. The next section of the clash sees the actors discussing the essentially unlikeablity of the monstrous great heroines of Western drama: This is interesting given that all have been seen in some way on Brisbane stages in recent years, Lady Macbeth in QTC’s 2014 take, Antigone as part of their 2015 “Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, Medea at La Boite last year too, Nora there in 2014’s “A Doll’s House” and Blanche Dubois later this year in La Boite’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

Knowing their stories is certainly helpful and it often seems that this is a show for theatre folk rather than everyday patrons to whom it perhaps should instead be pitched. There are moments of Brechtian discomfort to its experience, including its length, with a number of scenes going on for far too long past when we’ve got it already. In this regard, it appears that the show suffers from its own ambition in attempt to tackle both sexism and racism within the entertainment industry.

Still, despite its lack of conciseness, “We Get It’ is thought-provoking in its stimulation of consideration and conversation about its issues. And its talented cast all give outstanding performances. Of particular note is Kaczmarek’s performance of Lady Macbeth’s ‘unsex me’ soliloquy in Polish. And Amy Ingram’s dry humour is a highlight within early sections.

“We Get It” is a landmark theatrical work that will surely continue to do great things. With more judicious editing of its later parts its message may effectively reach the general public in need of contemplation of its important ideas.

The mortal of the monster

The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite Theatre Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

May 21 – June 11

William Shakespeare’s most famous historical play “Richard III” is a classic of the stage, revered by historians and Shakespeare purists alike and recognisable by the endurance of its protagonist’s valiant declarations. So when Naomi Price begins “The Tragedy of King Richard III” with the word ‘Now’, audiences may assume they know where things are going.

While the work does include some sections of Shakespearean dialogue, its opening lines are not authentic to the Bard’s iconic depiction of England’s last warrior king. But what does authentic mean anyway? This is, as Price implores, an imaginative experience. The raised rectangular centre stage needs to be reimagined as the municipal carpark in Leicester, under which the villainous monarch’s skeleton was discovered in August 2012. And who says that our reviled regard for him is deserved because, as Price surmises, nobody knows history due to stories’ silences, gaps and biases. And with this, the show’s title assumes meaning anew.

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This is not Shakespeare’s depiction of King Richard III’s Machiavellian rise to power and short reign (for a mere two years, two months in the 1480s) as a “tyrant rudely stamp’d”, “deformed, unfinish’d”. Rather the show sits in the divide of what Shakespeare wrote and who Richard actually was. And from the outset its creative choices show that there is a moral behind the monster. Rather than allowing the character to be defined by the lead actor’s physicality, there is no hunch or leg encased in a calliper splint like in Kevin Spacey’s realisation at London’s Old Vic. Rather, there is just an early visual impression of the deformity through clever use of shadow as projection of his body’s shape.

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Intent on bringing the narrative’s players out of the shadows, “The Tragedy of King Richard III” finds new depth in its characters. As Richard (a role shared with Peter Rowland), Atticus Robb is appropriately initially hesitant but after a while arrogant in his quest for the throne, yet so sympathetic is his portrayal when he unleashes his furious wrath in a standout monologue, that it is met with a whoop of support from invested audience members. His brilliance is made all the more impressive by the fact that this represents the young Brisbane actor’s (he was born in 2002) first profession stage performance.

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Although the fearlessly talented Atticus dominates the stage, this is far from a one-man show. The cast is excellence, as expected. Particularly as Richard (and England)’s Queen, Anne Neville, Amy Ingram confettis the stage with sass, bringing many of the show’s biggest laughs in articulation of her modern teenage sensibilities in initial interaction with a young Richard.

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Another silence filled in realisation of the show’s sometimes feminist discourse, is that of Margaret of Anjou, another English Queen, the wife of King Henry VI, whose husband was killed by Richard. Helen Howard gives a powerful, unrelenting performance, vehement in her passion but also cement of an angry feminist stereotype.

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Also commanding in her performance is Naomi Price, particularly as the show’s ringmaster of sorts, engaging audience members in her collective self-referential proclamations and reflections, and later as incantation of Queen Elizabeth 1st (granddaughter of Henry Tudor, Richard’s killer) in illustration of our proximity to the problem. And having Price in the cast allows for the wonderful inclusion of live musical numbers. Whether in Whitney Houston mode popping out soundtrack to a disco-balled dance off between the young Richard and Anne or belting in exploration of the nature of power in ‘No Church in the Wild’, she more than delivers vocally, adding another layer to the already intricate story.

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Todd Macdonald also shines with a superb performance, firstly as the father Richard barely knew and then later as Master Shakespeare at the Globe theatre, revelling in the power of his creative realisation of Richard III. His embodiment of the Bard delighting in his dramatic powers is energetic and invigorating as he leaps about with jester-like frivolity, drawing the audience into his verve. Then things turn darker as he morphs into the monster who created the monster, envisaging the king as a sinister comic performer just four coffins away from the throne.

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The fourth wall breaks in these scenes, indeed throughout the entire show, are not just for comic effect but add to the drama of the piece, enticing audience consideration of its core questions. And when Pacharo Mzembe and Robb discuss the representation of murder on stage, as themselves not their characters, it takes the audience to an intimate and affecting place.

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The technically ambitious design is captivating in its realisation, full of powerful visual imagery thanks to Jason Glenwright’s smooth lighting design. The stage is filled with blood and water in nightly ruin of its stunning costumes. This is physical theatre and dramatic movement at its best courtesy of Movement and Fight Director Nigel Poulton.

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And when Mzembe raises sword in final duel in a rainy Battle of Bosworth Field, it is an evocative experience. While the show is filled with bloody mayhem, however, its presentation of the violence and discomfort is deliberately desensitised, contrasting, for example, impression of animal torture against bubbly teen talk of Euro Disney in comment perhaps upon modern world sensibilities.

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While feasibly more enduring than the historical character, Shakespeare’s ill-famed Richard III is a fictional realisation, motivated by a playwright championing the King’s heroic vanquisher, Henry VII, as founder of the new Tudor dynasty which took England from the Middle Ages into our modern world of grim fascination. In challenging this, co-writers Daniel Evans (Winner – Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2014/2015 for Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and Marcel Dorney (Winner – Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2010/2011) provide a bold play packed full of stimulating ideas about how bad history often makes for the best stories. In lesser hands this notion could have been lost to subtly, but under Director Daniel Evans, “The Tragedy of King Richard III” emerges as a first-class theatre experience that exposes the truth of the statement that you don’t know what you don’t know.

While new work is always exciting, the appeal of this work is so much more than just its novelty. Its ideas are so invigorating that they almost demand a second viewing to fully grapple with the show’s unexpected provocations. It has been said that the best indicator of a show’s calibre is if a reviewer will return independently to see it again; I’m planning my next visit now.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans

Believe the roomers

The Odd Couple (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

October 17 – November 8

Who would have thought that the comedy of the much-loved 1968 film “The Odd Couple” could be as fresh today as it ever was? Outgoing Queensland Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, that’s who. And the result is a stellar show of non-stop humour and a lot of heart.

It’s Friday night at Oscar Maddison’s (Jason Klarwein) place and an assortment of his friends are gathered for their ritual poker game. Talk soon turns to the absent Felix (Tama Matheson) and in particular, his artisan sandwiches. Clearly it is unlike him to be a no-show. And before long the reason emerges as to why. Suddenly single after his wife has kicked him out, the news journalist soon turns up on the doorstep of his friend. Cleary the men are absolute opposites in lifestyle and disposition; Oscar lives in a cigar-hazed Hawaiian shirt world away from Felix’s highly-strung mannerly presence of pastels and bow ties. Empathetically in response to his friend’s woe, Oscar offers Felix a room in support of his transition to new-found bachelorhood. Besides which, unlike Oscar, Felix clearly knows his way around a ladle so can save them money by cooking at home.

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And so begins the soap opera of their merged worlds of cold-cuts and coasters. Oscar thinks Felix needs to loosen up (even his hair is uptight), while control-fiend Felix just wishes Oscar would call if he’s going to be late for dinner. As the duo bicker like husband and wife the story gains momentum until after intermission when Oscar celebrates some payback for Felix’s first Act annoyances in quest for a breakup of their bromance. Initially their co-habitation conflict is passive-aggressive but things soon escalate almost into full farce and as truths are told, pasta is flung and the apartment upturned in a hilarious sequence of events

Christina Smith’s styling is deliberately ambiguous. Instead of cut off rooms, the retro renovated New York apartment set is open plan in nature, but still full of distinct sections and doorways to allow for slapstick elements. To also enhance its New York setting, all of the accents are consistent and easy-on-the-ear, particularly from the poker players Tim Dashwood as Roy, Steven Rooke as Speed, Colin Smith as Murray and Bryan Probets as Vinnie. Each represents a sliding scale between Oscar and Felix and they bring their different representations of masculinity to life in distinct but equally noteworthy performances, clearly comfortable in their individual and combined roles in the narrative. Indeed, the poker scenes are a real treat in their comfortable capture of typical male reactions to problems.

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As the ‘sweet bits of crumpet’ from the apartment upstairs, the two Pigeon sisters, Gwendolyn (Lauren Jackson) and Cecily (Amy Ingram), in Oscar Wilde tribute,  appear almost like an over-the-top French and Saunders type giggly double-entendred caricature sketch, however, are gleeful editions to Act Two. Indeed, Ingram shows some of her best work when though mere glance or ordinary word she elicits some of the biggest audience laughs.

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Clearly, however, the show belongs to the charismatic coupling of Klarwein and Matheson sharing the stage again after 2013’s “Design for Living”. Physically the two project perfectly into the roles and their natural rapport and synergy is immediately evident. As the Mary-Poppins-male Felix Ungar, Matheson is simply fantastic:  fastidious, uptight and full of compulsive neurosis. And as happy-go-lucky but slovenly sports writer Oscar Madison, Klarwein is likeable, especially in his attempts to convince Felix that they need to get out and meet people, which reveals a certain vulnerability in his reflection that it is the lack of female company (“something soft”) that is getting to him most. Indeed, he brings a lot of charm to the role, despite being, at times, sarcastic and unapologetic, thanks to a high-energy performance that never wanes but rather goes from strength to strength as the story progresses.

Playwright Neil Simon is an American institution and there is certainly no doubting his position as one of the wittiest writers of the twentieth century. The fact that a show that is familiar can still generate such spontaneous laugher is a testament to this. And audiences will adore it accordingly. In this final directorial work, Enoch has created a charming piece of entertainment, full of nostalgia but also brisk and upbeat in nature, making it one of 2015’s highlights about which audiences are sure to be sharing suggestion with everyone they possibly can.

Conversing the fine line

Awkward Conversation

Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre

November 18 – November 29

There is a fine line between ‘in your face’ and ‘f**ked up’ and it is a line that “Awkward Conversations” sometimes spills over in its presentation of intimate, yet bold works. But what else can be expected from a Week One marathon that begins with two of the most tragically confronting stories from the cannon of classic Greek literature?

First there is “Medea Redux” by Niel LaBute, a reimagined version of the classic tale, told in monologue revelation. The story of a mother who kills her children as means of reeking revenge isn’t the easiest material to make sense of for a modern audience, yet it works, told as it is from Medea’s confession to police tape recorder.

As Medea, Amy Ingram more than does justice to one of the greatest female roles in the theatrical canon. Teetering on the edge of audience empathy throughout she shows not only a heartbroken woman hell-bent on a revenge plot 14 years in the making, but also something of the giddiness of the undying infatuation and naïve innocence that attracted the high school teacher who became her exploitative childhood partner. And while Ingraham does bitter better than anyone, it is her initial vulnerability that is the most memorable aspect of her performance. Squirming, but never really moving beyond the confine of her confessional chair, she reluctantly recalls her story of teenage-hood stolen with the benefit of adult hindsight and it is in these reflections, rather than her story recount in the moment, where La Bute’s script really shines. There is even some well-placed humour mixed in with the shocking statements regarding her murder of her child, however, a plentiful placement of ‘ya’ and dropped g’s at times feels forced and detracts from chances to be caught up in her moments.

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Medea is regarded by many as being a feminist text, due to its sympathetic exploration of being a woman in a patriarchal society and it is interesting to ponder whether the motivation for her crimes matters. Indeed, it is something to prompt consideration long after the show has come to its shocking conclusion, which makes it a perfect inclusion for a curation of theatre works focussed on rattling and reeling audience members through its unflinching subject matter.

And the unspeakable tragedies continue with “Yokastas Redux”, the story of the Oedipus myth reimagined from the point of view of Yokasta, Oedipus’ wife and mother. When it comes to tragedy’s baddest mummas, you can’t go past Yokasta … or can you? (A show highlight is a Jerry Springer style character confrontation, in attempt to answer this.) Classic Greek figures abound and Yokasta features in three self-aware forms (the youngest her, middle ‘chip on her shoulder’ her and older ‘perpetually blissful’ her) so it can be difficult to follow for the uninitiated, hence the need for the ‘Oedipus the King’ cheat sheet that is provided to audience members.

At its core, “Yokastas Redux” is the narrative of a woman who loves her child and the man in her life (specifics of his same-identity aside) and Jane Barry gives a standout performance as the titular character, finally given the chance to clear the air and tell her side of the story. As the swollen-footed boy gifted to her by Zeus for her to teach to be king, Thomas Hutchins is also an imposing figure, aiding in the audience want for more of the story and the change to perhaps see the work developed further into a full-length show.

Dysfunctional family stories continue with “Debris”, the tale of two forsaken children searching for humour in the brutal world of their abandonment in the garbage that is their lives. And humour there is, with many laughs coming from the delivery of everyday lines within such a bleak and shocking story and Katy Cotter engaging in her realisation of child-like Michelle’s persona. The striking opening image, which sees the two protagonists amid a sea of garbage bags, makes for a promising beginning and interest continues as bags are shaped into make-shift props, however, this is a long and repetitive show in need of an edit. Clearly many of those in the sold out Week One marathon audience disagreed. I don’t care who you know in the show, however; to be taking even one photo with flash during a live performance is just plain rude. #whatiswrongwithpeople.

“This Child” is another gritty exploration of family relationships, explored in a volley of varied vignettes between parents and children, each packing an emotional punch, despite their gender blind presentation. Although this aspect is initially distracting, once Reuben Witsenhuysen brings to life a highly-strung mother character, it is soon easily forgotten. Character dynamics are engrained in the dialogue, however, there just needs to be more of it. Long pauses while the performers, all wearing varied basketball uniforms, stand and stare down the audience or chat amongst themselves to the pumping sounds of “Turn Down For What” make an indelible impact, but not always in a positive way.

If the inherent values of good theatre are exploration and challenge as much as entertainment, then “Awkward Conversations” is very good theatre. In bringing ancient work into focus for contemporary society, it certainly gives audiences much to talk about. Although there is little escape from the discomfort of its conversation starters, I don’t know that we would want it any other way.