Reworking woe

Romeo & Juliet & Friends (Pastiche Theatre Collective)

Daily Planet Café

May 12 – 20

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Everyone knows the story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. The tragic tale of their untimely deaths reconciling the two households of their feuding fair-Verona families is one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed plays. Its woe has been reworked countless times, on this occasion in Wickham Street’s Daily Planet Cafe courtesy of Pastiche Theatre Collective. Rather than reimagining the classic as so many of its reworks do, “Romeo & Juliet & Friends” gets straight to the core of its acclaim, condensing the two hours’ traffic, balancing its poetic language with contemporary vernacular and adding a musical soundtrack. There are also pauses throughout to make mention of earlier source material of Arthur Brooke et al, in show of how Shakespeare’s work is itself an adaptation. There is even metatheatre consideration of the question of adaptation which turns into an inset affirmative vs negative school debate.

Modern twists appear from the outset of the boisterous take through reappropriation of the prologue as a rap and later as the Nurse banters in text message with her mistress’ bae. Simple additions also establish characters beyond just the white frill collars of each of the four performers. Props serve their purpose too; milk crates are stacked to represent loving Juliet’s iconic balcony and foam swords become makeshift guitars one moment and in the next, Act Three fiddlesticks in the swordfight that sees the witty Mercutio stabbed. The venue itself is of good size for an intimate show of this sort with enough space for not only a decent stage area, but for actors to head into and around the audience to unfold some scenes.

The abridgment obviously means that many scenes are lost. The fairies midwife Queen Mab, for example, barely gets a mention, but the work does not suffer because of it. Wise content choices keep the integrity of the original text while adding interest and momentum. Having the scene of the Friar telling Romeo to flee to Mantua play out physically alongside the Nurse reporting to a heartbroken Juliet about his banishment, works wonderfully, for example.

Appropriately, “Romeo & Juliet & Friends” starts out as a lively comedy before taking a sharp turn into drama. The performers assume multiple roles with ease and there is no confusion around their switches thanks to simple costumes and characterisation. And they are very funny, especially in gender blind casting which sees Daniel Simpson have a great time with his lines as Juliet’s chatty and excitable Nurse and Georgia Nielsen relishing in the comedy of the overly-invested Friar Laurence. Sam Valentine transitions easily a raging Lord Capulet determined to have his daughter married to a charming, lovestruck Romeo, and is excellent in both guises. Similarly, Samantha Sherrin is both the bold, quick-tempered ‘Prince of Cats’ Tybalt and a headstrong Juliet. Both Valentine and Sherrin are at their best in their protagonist roles after Romeo is banished; Sherrin excels, for example, in her emotional monologues.

Like its melodramatic source material, “Romeo & Juliet & Friends” has a lot going on and, as such, a lot to offer. While answer as to the ‘to adapt or not to adapt’ question is answered by the work itself, there is enough of both perspectives within it to keep proponents of either side of argument satisfied. As this accessible examination of the cannon classic shows, clearly, there’s life in the old play yet.

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Seaing comedy afresh

Kiss of the Vampire Squid (Act/React)

Queensland Maritime Museum

May 10 – 20

The ocean is a scary place. The parody novel “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” tells us this. It is this notion that sits at the centre of Act/React’s latest work “Kiss of the Vampire Squid”, an improvised presentation which tells the tale of one of the evil things that lurk in the ocean’s depths. Exactly what that thing is, however, depends upon audience suggestions.

On opening night, based on audience offerings, the nautically-themed myth is of an unusual (6 limbed) lying, deceitful starfish known as Emma. Her story begins not on the sea floor, but rather aboard a ship, The Widow’s Delight, aka HMAS Diamantina, a 1944 Royal Australian Navy frigate, dry docked at the Queensland Maritime museum at Southbank. The Anywhere Theatre Festival work sees the unusual theatre location reappropriated to become a science vessel in uncharted seas. Upon the historic vessel’s quarterdeck, young deckhand Jack is looking forward to a future of adventure beyond book learning. The other able seaman and science officers aboard are more concerned with science (of the putting pins in things sort) because you can do anything in the name of science, as an ongoing show theme and some musical numbers tell us.

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From the moment audience members are welcomed aboard as ‘fresh meat’, there is a relaxed and enjoyable feel to the experience. Unlike their former smash, sell-out hits “Speed: The Movie, The Play” and “Titanic: the Movie, The Play”, there is not active audience participation aside from involvement in a water pistol attack. Rather it is just audience member’s random suggestions that are taken on board (#seewhatIdidthere). The cast (or should I say crew) are full or enthusiastic energy as they guide the audience through what is essentially a quite flimsy storyline. Comparative to their earlier works, it suffers a little from this lack of direction and there are moments when transitions aren’t always fluent, with performers sometimes taking some time to respond to or catchup with each other’s direction, as is a peril of an improvised work. While this may leave audiences a little out to sea (#andagain), this was the first show of its season and I imagine this will only improve.

As is so often the case with Anywhere Theatre Festival shows, “Kiss of the Vampire Squid” takes audiences to some very unusual, different places, both physically and in its show’s direction. Having the action play out on board the ship is ingenious, especially in its contrast against the show’s deliberately dodgy props, which are as hilarious as they are inventive. It is definitely still worth a look, if only to sea comedy afresh (#couldnthelpmyself). Rug up though; the promise that cooler nights are coming means that an evening on board with the sea creatures has potential to leave audience members with timbers well and truly shivered (#heeheehee).

Bard style and stuff

‘All the world’s a stage’ we are told by a melancholy Jaques in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. In the coming weeks this is especially true as the Anywhere Theatre Festival offers opportunity for Brisbane audiences to be immersed in theatre anywhere. This is not a normal theatre festival with shows instead taking stage in carparks, heritage homes, bookstores and backyards, amongst other obscure locations…. anywhere but on a traditional theatre stage.

Jaques’ iconic monologue opener is especially apt for this year’s festival, which features a number of Shakespeare works…. of sort. Shakespeare Plugged In’s “Much Ado” is a collaboration in the form of an immersive rock event featuring original tracks adapted from Shakespeare and written by local musicians. Indeed, the epic immersive creation promises killer music as it attempts to fit its witty Shakespearean comedy namesake with original songs, into 90 minute story of competing musicians on and off stage on the night of a home venue gig, performed in and around legendary Brisbane bar and venue, The Zoo.

Amongst other Shakespeares there is also Pastiche Theatre Collective’s “Romeo and Juliet and Friends” at Fortitude Valley’s Daily Planet Café which, rather than serving as an adaption, sets out to explore why we feel the need to keep changing the original tale of woe. And not really using a text at all is “A Midsummer Night’s Whatever” from Edge Improv at Annerley’s Junction Hotel, which every night sees its three actors devise and perform a band new Shakespearean play, based on audience suggestions.

One problem with getting people to see Shakespeare is that it’s often quite long, so these productions, which are of more manageable duration make for excellent either alternatives or toe-dippers to traditional takes. Coming fresh from opening night last week of Queensland Theatre’s “Twelfth Night” I am eager to keep the Shakespeare ball rolling by seeing 400+ year old texts being given new life by practitioners experimenting with dressing them up, stripped them down and turning them inside out.

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While online dialogue of late may be around consideration of it there might be too much Shakespeare, productions continue to show how, even when modernised and recontextualised, his works remain universal in their themes of passion, love, lust, loyalty and vengeance, which, as human emotions are not dependent upon time, place or culture. Certainly there is power in forcing an audience to consider a new take on what they thought they knew. To have the experience unfold in an unusual setting only adds to the curiosity, making the suggestion of shows like those on offer at this year’s Anywhere Festival entirely irrestable to a Bard girl like myself.

This is my fifth (I think) year as a Festival reviewer and, with this repertoire in mind, I know that anything Act/React is also sure to be great. Having brought Brisbane smash, sell-out hits such as “Speed: The Movie, The Play” and “Titanic: the Movie, The Play” and last year’s Anywhere Theatre Festival fun “Let Them Eat Cake”, the improve troupe are back again with “Kiss of the Vampire Squid”, a tribute to nautical myths and legends, and ghost stories of the sea, on-board the HMAS Diamantina at the Queensland Maritime Museum at South Bank. With promise of a live piano accordion soundtrack some marvellous ocean-inspired creature creations in complement to its audience-inspired comedy, it is sure to be heaps of fun when it kicks off on opening night of the Festival on Thursday 10th May for its sixth show run.

This of course, is but a mere snapshot of what this year’s bigger and better Anywhere Theatre Festival has on show. There is so much ado around in Brisbane during May; you just need to look around and, in the case of the Anywhere Theatre Festival, get immersed for unique theatre experiences and Shakespeare like you haven’t seen before.

Tortured treats

Tortured Remixes (Topology)

Vulcana Women’s Circus

May 11 – 12

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Contemporary classical act Topology is cool and clever; in fact, it was clever from before it cool to be so. The quintet has been on the Brisbane scene for 20 years now (with only one member change) and they are celebrating the journey towards the anniversary with their 14th full-length album, Tortured Remixes, launched through this year’s Anywhere Theatre Festival. 

The ‘mixtape’ album is not one of traditional cover songs but ‘tortured’ takes from the creative minds of Topology’s composers, John Babbage, Robert Davidson and Bernard Hoey, who bend, stretch and scramble popular melodies into adventurous songs anew. And the result is as enigmatic as ever thanks to its mostly anagrammed song titles.

Some arrangements such as ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ are instantly familiar, while others take longer to appreciate, such as in the spirited, stylistic ‘Satisfaction’ mashup ‘Fantastic Note Coatings’, which comes complete with the same sense of frustration as its The Rolling Stones original inspiration. From The Beatles to Beyoncé, “Tortured Remixes” offers audiences a trip across continents and decades. Certainly with such a range, there is something for everyone, whether they be fan of Dizzy Gillespie’s modern jazz be-bop or the pioneering Australian punk rock sound of The Saint’s 1976 iconic single, ‘I’m Stranded’ (which serves as a particular show highlight).

Slowed down as many of the arrangements are, also allows for unique appreciation of the nuances of melody, such as in numbers like ‘Whinging Tweet’ which serves as tribute to Cold Chisel’s ‘Cheap Wine’ tell of sitting of the beach drinkin’ rocket fuels. Similarly, the ‘Black to Grey’ two song mashup of Deep Purple’s hard rock number ‘Black Night’ with Visage’s decade-later, new-wave, electronic hit ‘Fade to Grey’, allows for some lovely stripped-back string sounds in evocation of chorus memories. Every piece comes with a clear passion in its delivery. Indeed, right from the opening number’s take of Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’ (‘Two-Punk Fight’), there is an infectious energy to proceedings that permeates the light and shade of individual numbers and Robert Davidson is particularly blistering on the double bass.

Anyone who has ever seen a Topology show knows to expect a treat because everything the group does is good and “Tortured Remixes” is no exception to this expectation. As they continue to go from strength to strength, touring nationally and internationally, Brisbane should not only be proud of them as a home-grown success story, but embrace any opportunity they can to see their sometimes-warped but always wonderful work.

Troubled travel tales

Europe Won’t Fix You (The General Public Theatre Company)

Metro Arts

May 11 – 13

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With milk-crate furniture and clothes strewn about, the initial impression of “Europe Won’t Fix You” is very much of a story associated with a student demographic. Indeed, with the lone character beginning proceedings wearing Doc Martins and overalls, and a copy of Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl” on the coffee ‘table’ alongside a travel guide, it seems to be a show of stereotypes. And it is, beginning with her indulgent opening solo dance number to the explicit-ridden ‘I Fink U Freeky’, before moving into a clever realisation of packing for a big rite-of-passage trip to Europe.

What follows is a series of vignettes taking audiences along on the arduous to-Europe plane trip to a Berlin rave and Parisian love affair. There is no real narrative thread apart from a revisited character’s poo log, which brings with it much humour. Indeed, in many ways, it is crass at times, because that that seems to make art edgy in an undergraduate type way, and, accordingly perhaps, it is easy to appreciate its festival success, having experienced sell-out seasons at the 2016 Sydney Fringe Festival and at this year’s Adelaide Fringe. Certainly many aspects ring true as audiences watch condoms being packed in anticipation of the adventures presumably awaiting along with experience of a white winter, before the later disillusionment of the Christmas in cold-arse countries and the yearn for some green vegetable goodness as opposed to meat and potatoes … again.

Cast members work well together, particularly in relation to the physical comedy aspects, but its troublesome structure means that there is little opportunity to connect with the characters represented. Tasha O’Brien has great comic timing and gives an engaging performance, especially in presentation of some of the show’s in-your-face content. And Caity Booth is very funny to watch, especially in fleeting role as an inflexible German encountered on one character’s European travels.

Those who themselves have ever quit their job and headed over to Europe, only to return broke and broken-spirited to their parents’ couch sometimes later, will probably find much to identify with in its subject matter. While those who have toured in other ways, may look knowingly upon the twenty-something’s ambitions from the comfort of their own recollections, for this is travel, warts and all (and maybe even some other intimate diseases). Indeed, “Europe Won’t Fix You” is a cheeky take of a travel tale you won’t find on Instagram… just an account that could be told better.

Muddled misfortune

The Flood

Queen Alexander House

May 11 – 21

Coorparoo’s Queen Alexandra House is a beautiful heritage building that certainly befits the Anywhere Theatre Festival aim to bring performances from a traditional theatre space into some of the city’s perhaps previously undiscovered nooks and crannies. And in the case of “The Flood”, it suits the play’s setting too, so that, thanks to some inventive staging, it is easy to image the space as a Yeronga Queenslander, filled with brown river sludge.

It is January 2011 and the weather in Brisbane ‘is about to skitz’, but not everyone knows of the misfortune that is on the way. When Sandra (Briellen Juracic) and her boyfriend Damo (Bernard Mina) return from an overseas trip to the remnants of their housemates’ holiday-season antics,  Sandra is more focussed on unleashing her over-the-top temper on fellow twenty-somethings Glenn (Cliff Ellis) and Karl (Jack T Murphy) than reflecting on why all the businesses in the area may be closed. There are obviously strains in the group dynamic, but for now, Sandra (and more reluctantly) Damo must persevere with the situation as the price of seeing themselves get in to the market with the purchase of the property due to suburb’s growth potential.

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The narrative soon shifts from this tension when the next morning they awake to once in a hundred year flood event in their riverside residence’s living room. Yet, reactions are not as may be as expected as they remain in their flood surrounds without much think or escape or discussion of insurance. Indeed, nothing is consistent in this work of wasted opportunities. As a comedy it has some witty lines, but they are all but lost amongst an overwritten script that tells rather than shows, and although the nature of the narrative brings much dramatic potential, this is left unrealised by a weak ending.

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There is a lot going on in “The Flood”, too much in fact, meaning that there is a holistic lack of identity. At times, it seems more like a tour through a tick-a-box list of theatrical techniques, with physical humour sitting uncomfortably aside introspective monologues, meta-theatre mentions, fleeting indigenous themes and the occasional, unnecessary inclusion of a voice-over share of context and stage direction detail.

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Amongst some self-conscious acting, Ellis is excellent as the shallow corporate lawyer Glenn, searching for his place in life. And Murphy makes Carl’s reaction to the salt water crocodile that assumes residence on their kitchen bench, a memorable comic moment (and props to whichever crew member it is that gets to don the onesie croc suit).

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The show’s confused muddle of realism and exaggerated absurdity may be interesting in intent, but unfortunately is not entirely successful in execution. With more judicious editing and a more singular focus, it could be a more rewarding audience experience as either a quality Brisbane story (minus the lapses in logic) or as a light-hearted take of shared house dynamics, but not both.

Photos c/o – Geoff Lawrence of Creative Futures Photography

Inter-dimensional immersion

The Farce Awakens (Folly Games)

The Museum of Brisbane

May 12 – 20

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After six years of growing at the Woodford Folk Festival, The Game World of Folly Games is branching out to defeat dullness in the Museum of Brisbane. And it is here where participants gather for a preshow briefing from The Director as to the unique nature of the immersive theatre experience, which sees the museum reimagined as a smaller-on-the-inside inter-dimensional spaceship, piloted by a group of hyper-intelligent cyborgs on a quest to study the mysterious threat of a terrifying, contagious disease known as the dull.

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With assigned character cards, we are then let loose to seek out our respective character and explore the world by going from room to room in which events and stories are unfolding. What you see is up to you, as is your level of involvement; you may end up putting your life on the line; it’s no big deal if you die, you just surrender your life card and seek out the large black bird of Death (Nick Wiggins) for resurrection for price of a joke or dance).

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My character is actress Marilyn Minuit (Claire McFadyen) who, along with fellow shady character Moby Rick (Josh Nixon), is always on the lookout for a good business opportunity as part of the Big Hat Rail Company. However, I soon find myself instead following the royal rules of the Elizabogans, Queen Champers (Gabbi Davis) and her King Keiff (Tyler Willian Morrisson), complete with right royal thongs, in their quest to respond to the Magician’s (Callum Pulsford) newspaper claims that the King’s reign is illegitimate.

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Once initial confusion passes, it is easy to follow and fall into the rhythm of the intermingled stories and it is wonderful both to see the response of children in the audience to the energy of the characters and the increasingly involvement of bigger kids as they become more comfortable. Unfortunately, my attempts were met with execution from the King for badly written poetry to assist in moving their regal love higher on the loveometer.

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Over the course of the 90 minute(ish) show, there is much to look at, listen to and appreciate, full as it is with pop culture references from “Julius Caesar” to “Star Wars”. In this instance, as the story unfolds (from its multiple possible endings), the Magician takes over from the Game Master as absolute ruler, until challenged by frog Frogo (Josh Bell-Mcnee), with key events bringing all the characters, stories and audience members back to a central location at intervals, ensuring that a clear narrative messages is shared.

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All of the show’s performers are completely committed in their characterisations throughout interactions with audience members as much as each other. However, as the King, Morrison is a most memorable stand-out, always witty in his in-character comebacks and keep of Keiff’s ocker vocal style.

“The Farce Awakens” is unlike anything else, making for a never-dull evening ‘at’ the theatre. Even those unfamiliar with or initially reluctant towards engaging in its immersive nature, will find its spirit infectious. Indeed, its audience interaction should not be shied away from but rather embraced with an open attitude and join in the fun of the parody, pop-culture and puzzle at play.