Century’s choice

Fortunate as we have been in Queensland this year, I was able to experience exactly 100 shows in 2021 and though I am thankful for every single one of them, there are of course some that stand out as favourites.

1. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The 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.

2. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, Queensland Theatre’s landmark 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.

3. Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

As the Queensland Theatre play that audiences waited a year for, “Triple X” provided a commentary on the complicated issues of gender and sexuality that was funny, honest and powerfully moving.

4. Prima Facie (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre’s production of Suzie Miller’s “Prima Facie” was a riveting 100-minute one-woman tour-de-force indictment of the legal system, appropriately acclaimed by the thunderous applause of three curtain calls.

5. Of Mice and Men (Ad Astra)

Ad Astra’s production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” served as a poignant reminder of not only the heartbreak of its story and themes, but of how classics are classics for a reason.

6. Fourthcoming (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.

7. The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production, “The Producers” was self-aware and hugely entertaining with distinctive musical numbers and laugh-out-louds a-plenty 

8. Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions)

The precision with which all elements of the three consecutively unfolding stories of BC Production’s “Anatomy of a Suicide” unfold made for a powerful exploration of the ideas of family, mental health, love and strong women.

9. Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s dynamic adaptation of Euripides’ classic Greek tragedy “Electra” was elevated in interest through a very clever second-half reversal of scenes, where events occurred in complement to the onstage action alongside the original dialogue.

10. Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, inspired by his real experiences working in a funeral home was not just an examination of what it means to die in the 21st century, but a very funny and moving night of entertainment at Queensland Theatre.

And of particular note….

Best Performance:

Glace Chase – Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

Playwright, Glace Chase was magnetic as the candid Dexi in “Triple X”. Bold but vulnerable, she made Dexi complex in her multi-dimension and identifiable in her inner conflicts, with a portrayal that added immensely to the emotional effect of the show’s unprecedented storytelling about love in the 21st century.

Oliver Childs – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Oliver Childs not only showed a talent for characterisation in his realisation of the two Joe Caseys of the alternative realities of Brisbane Arts Theatre’s “Our House”, but his enthusiastic energy and vocal delivery worked well to encapsulate the spirit at the core of the jukebox musical’s experience.

Best Musical – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Spotlight Theatrical Company)

It was easy to understand why Spotlight Theatrical Company’s season of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” sold out before even opening, given the company’s polished approach to all of its aspects and especially the strong performances of its main cast members.

Best Ensemble – The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

With a cast all pushing their eccentric performances to their full potential, Altitude Theatre’s The Producers was high-energy and immensely entertaining throughout.

Best Music – Creedence Clearwater Inspired Featuring Proud Mary (QPAC)

Proud Mary gave QPAC audiences a reminder of just how good live music is with an infectious 2-hour rock back to a time when the prolific Creedence Clearwater Revival was the soundtrack of a generation.

Best Cabaret – Your Song (little red company)

The little red company’s world premiere of “Your Song” was a lively throwback to rock and roll with an edge of glam in a glitzy rainbow of celebratory colour and unquestionable on-stage talent.

Cleverest – Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions) 

With concurrently played out stories across three generations of mothers and daughters, BC Productions’ “Anatomy of a Suicide” had a lot going on in its Brisbane premiere. As the stories played out side-by-side, switching across stage sections, episodic scenes danced together rhythmically, colliding in synchronisation of key lines to emphasise the commonality of concepts, making for a cleverly crafted provocation around ideas associated with legacy.

Best New Work – Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

While Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, deals with a number of heavy themes, it is a well-written, emotionally rich play that offered a refreshing take on a young man’s story.

Most Fun – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s jukebox musical “Our House”, based on the songs of Madness didn’t take itself too seriously, including through its number of nods to band’s music videos, making its experience all sorts of infectious fun.

Funniest – Fouthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Thanks to performances in the face of its changing narrative, the hilarity of shake & stir theatre company’s “Fouthcoming” never stopped.

Special mention goes to the post show-within-the-show discussion of La Boite Theatre’s “Caesar”, which provided the funniest scene of the year, through its absolutely hilarious TikTok livestream nods to the Brisbane theatre scene.

Most Thought Provoking – Locked In (Shock Therapy)

Shock Therapy’s “Locked In” provided a thought-provoking exploration of experience and impact of living with a rare neurological disorder, for sufferers and their families alike.

Best Stage Design Staging – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Intimate traverse staging allowed audience members to become fully immersed in recognition of the stunningly rich aesthetic and, appropriately for a play set in revolutionary France, its cast of real-life fierce female characters to burst down its fashion runway.

Best Costume Design – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Attention to detail added to the dynamism of the experience of this Curators show with lush pink and red mix-patterned ruffled and frilled costumery conveying a clear sense of opulence befitting the play’s French Revolution setting.

Best Sound Design – Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s adaptation of Euripides’ classic “Electra” was elevated by a vivid, atmospheric sound design that both heightened audience suspense and fevered its story’s foreboding.

Best Video Design – Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

The blockbuster video design of Queensland Theatre’s “Boy Swallows Universe” both gave us Brisbane iconography and nooks and crannies alike, but bled its imagery into the story’s themes.  

Dual of Three

Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

May 18 – 29

With concurrently played out stories across three generations of mothers and daughters, BC Productions’ “Anatomy of a Suicide” has a lot going on from the very outset of its Brisbane premiere. The locations of its stories, 1973, 1998 and 2033 are oriented by video projections above the expanse of the stage (AV Design by Jeremy Gordon), which allows opportunity to reinforce the motifs of nature that hover across all three stories of the traumatic tale by UK playwright Alice Birch.

The stories play out side-by-side, however, are far from static, switching across stage sections and also interestingly taking some scenes to the theatre’s balcony seating area as, for example, Carol (Elise Greig) surveys trees on property just bought with her husband (Daniel Murphy), unknowing of their symbolism to the generations of family to follow.

It is fragile Carol whose story to which we are first introduced in the three successive two-person scenes that orient the audience as to the character and characters of the work. She appears with barely visible bandaged forearms as the relics of a suicide attempt she keeps insisting to her mild-mannered husband John was an accident. Then there is Anna (Rebecca Alexander) Carol’s free-spirited, heroin-addict grown-up daughter trying to solicit some drugs from a doctor she knows and also a scene with Bonnie (Zoe Houghton), Anna’s guarded grown daughter doctor, stitching the hand the hand of a flirty patient (Jodie Le Vesconte).

From their first introductions, they aren’t all entirely likeable, which is one of the show’s strengths; its characters exist in all their humanity and Birch’s script never shies away from the complexity of its tough topics as we see Carol, Anna and Bonnie experience love, loss, grief, laughter and death.

As each respective woman, in each respective time, occupies her own third of the stage, the dialogue of their short, episodic scenes dances together rhythmically, colliding in synchronisation of key lines to emphasise the commonality of concepts like truth, home and happiness. Indeed, words and images recur as they web together and move in time about the space, often in accompaniment of contrasting action, as the scenes chronicle pivotal and often mundane moments in each of their lives, with Phil Hagstrom’s soundscape bleeding across the action.

Having three scenes volley back and forth makes for hard work for its audience, in initial scenes at least as we attempt to decipher identities and relationships, and appreciate the deliberately placed minor mentions, however, the 10 performers of the show’s cast maintain the demands of its pace and precision as if they are effortless. And movement is effectively blocked to invite the audience in to multi-levelled interrogation of what is owed by each generation, what is passed on, the real costs of mental anguish and consideration of where genetics might end and personal choice begin.

While all cast members give thoughtful performances, appropriately, those of the actors exploring its female characters are particularly strong. Alexander and Houghton bring commanding emotional intensity to their roles. In addition, Vesconte is particularly engaging as fisherwoman Jo, intent on breaking down Bonnie’s emotional barriers. Her intonation and patient comic timing ensures she receives most of the night’s laughs (although there is mental anguish to the simultaneously told stories, there are some moments of humour). And Triona Giles is vibrant as both the young Anna and also her forthright and inquisitive cousin Daisy.

Elise Grieg is magnificent as always. She not only displays a compelling emotional intensity, but with feathered Farrah hair, pussy bow of-the-era dress and beige boots, she very much looks the part of desperate 1970s housewife. Indeed, costumes are excellent across the board in reflecting respective eras and also characters, particularly of the three generations of distressed women.

Under Catrina Hebbard’s careful, taut direction, the stories of “Anatomy of a Suicide” soon find their independent rhythms and things move quickly through its 1 hour 45 minute (no interval) run time towards a resting place of legacy, ensuring that emerging audience questions are answered. Not only does it explore the ideas of family, mental health, love and strong women, but it dually touches on notions like the role of place in identity, giving the show an appeal beyond what may be determined from its confronting title. Accordingly, there was much for audience members to talk with each other about as leaving the New Benner Theatre, as everyone grappled with their impressions of the powerful play. One commonality, however, is its provocation and audience appreciation of the unique opportunity to experience the work, which has only ever previously played in London, New York and Sydney.

Photos c/o – Nick Morrissey