Rock on!

We Will Rock You (John Frost in association with Queen Theatrical Productions, Phil McIntyre Entertainment and Tribeca Theatrical Productions)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

July 10 – August 14

In the dystopian future of the I-Planet, ‘Honkey Tonk Woman’, ‘Dirty Diana’ and ‘Fat Bottom Girls’ are poetic text relics of the past, as rock has been replaced by a mix of social media and manufactured computer generated pop. Despite expectations of mindless conformity, dreamer Galileo (Gareth Keegan) wants to break free and, not being like other (gaga) girls, the smart-mouthed, assertive Scaramouche (Erin Clare) just wants someone to love. The pair unite to escape from the evil Killer Queen (Casey Donovan) and her henchman Kashoggi (Simon Russell) to join a group of bohemians (lead by Brian Mannix as Buddy) to release the hidden ‘axe’ and bring down the evil GlobalSoft regime.

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It is a flimsy narrative clearly conceived as convenient vehicle to its soundtrack of Queen classics. And that is ok, because, as is announced pre-show “We Will Rock You” serves as a promise as much as a show title. And rock audiences they do, thanks to the band’s brilliant recreation of Queen’s iconic sound. Indeed, at times the show appears more concert-style in its presentation, with songs performed directly to the audience rather than as onstage interactions.

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As the naïve Galileo, Keegan showcases an able rock tenor voice that only really rises to occasion during its ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ encore. Eric Clare, meanwhile, is sensational as the sarcastic and cynical misfit Scaramouche, showing great comic timing and powerful and controlled vocals. Alongside Bohemian boyfriend Brit (Thern Reynolds), Jaz Flowers is another dynamic stage presence as Oz, equally impressive in her delivery of rock numbers like ‘I Want It All’ as in poignant performance of ‘No-One But You’ in Bohemian tribute to the legends who have died young.

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Casey Donovan is an intimidating Killer Queen, brought to life by uploading herself from a computer game, full of fierce facial expressions that add to the show’s initial pantomime feel but make for a vocally inconsistent performance. Uncanny X-Men’s Brian Mannix, however, is a likable chief of the Bohemians, engaging the audience with his often self-deprecating humour and mispronunciation of words as part of the group’s muddled mythology of cherished artefacts from the analogue past.

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Sparse staging and simple choreography serve to showcase the sanitisation of the show’s dystopian world from the opening ensemble number ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and later effectively construct the Hard Rock Café rebel headquarters. Bohemian costumes in this section are also interesting in their detailed nods to iconic rock fashions. There is attention too in the not-so subtle littering of song references throughout the show’s dialogue (as Galileo shares the rock lyric fragments he hears in in his head), with mentions ranging from the Beatles, Stones, Springsteen and U2 to Brtiney, Gaga and even our own Farnsy . Though perhaps overdone, they are amusing enough and serve to widen the show’s appeal to a younger audience.

While the plot remains largely unchanged, this “We Will Rock You’ offers a new incarnation of Ben Elton’s 2002 work as it accounts for modern technology to include references to hashtags, lols and alike and morphs ‘Radio Gaga’ into ‘Internet Gaga’. The inclusions are often overdone to the point of distraction. Also, many scenes are simply too long thanks to unnecessary songs, tenuously forced into the narrative at the expense of its overall cohesion.

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Despite its ongoing flaws and initial-release critical panning, “We Will Rock” remains a popular jukebox musical, with good reason. At the core of its opportune narrative is a classic tale with Arthurian legend echoes. Sure its story is played out in all sorts of silliness, but that it what makes it such a magnifico-o-o-o-o-opportunity to rock on.

Homegrown hil-AIR-ity

Gasp (Queensland Theatre Company and Black Swan State Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

November 17 – December 7

“Gasp” is a reworking of the first play by internationally renowned comic writer Ben Elton, originally starring Hugh Laurie… and it shows … #inagoodway. So fans of Elton’s sitcom “Black Adder” will surely delight in the show’s sharp, irreverent humour. More than this, however, the work is filled with accessible political and social satire to engage even the most causal of theatre goers; it’s like a more vibrant David Williamson work.

“Gasp” (originally “Gasping”) has been reimagined in a contemporary Australian context (Elton’s homeland of the last 25 years), where the country has gone giddy on the resource boom. Mining is the only game in town and Lockheart Industries is leading the pack (if god wanted to buy into Lockhart he’d have to think twice and talk to his people). Inspired by the asthmatic Peggy (Lucy Goleby), clever, low-level executive Phil (Damon Lockwood) impresses company head Chifley Lockheart (Greg McNeill) when he creates the ‘Suck & Blow’ filter machine to produce clean air because ‘if you don’t have suck and blow, the rest is just hot air’. As sales skyrocket, Phil becomes a corporate superstar. So slick is the ensuing advertising campaign that there are times within Act One where you might find yourself considering the merits of a better class of oxygen (because other people’s air just gets right up your nose), ahead of the government’s announcement of a national suck and blow network.

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Staging of this QTC/ Black Swan State Theatre Company co-production is as slick as a steam room big business deal. The opening image of a red Arne Jacobsen chair centre stage against gleaming white corporate surrounds sets the aesthetic tone and a luscious lighting design fills the space with floods of glorious colour. The multi-media screen backdrop is used with versatility to allow for inclusion of media snippet insights into how the world beyond the Lockheart offices is reacting to the innovation and subsequent division of the planet into the haves and the have-nots (if you can’t pay, you don’t breathe). The dynamism that this brings to the story again cements the brilliance of production designer Optikal Bloc’s Midas theatrical touch.

As protagonist Phil, Lockwood eases into a performance that is sometimes reminiscent of Prince George (Hugh Laurie’s loud mouthed idiot “Blackadder” character) especially in the delivery of lines about “women all round the world walking around with Aussie beaches in their boobies” (thanks to silicon from sand), however, his dialogue is sometimes encumbered by long and obscure analogies. There is also an inherent humour to Steve Rooke’s portrayal of the smarmy Sandy, Phil’s initial superior at the firm. His dramatic nature and libertine tendencies are are played to perfection (reminiscent of television’s Douglas Reynhold character in “The IT Crowd”) in physicality and vocal inflection. As a muppet of marketing, where nothing goes without saying, Caroline Brazier is a delightful business-class babe; her matter-of-fact delivery and the comic timing of her bitchy comments provide some of the biggest laughs of Act Two as she sets her sights on the naïve Phil and reveals in air snob superiority.

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Despite its sharp humour, “Gasp” is not without conscience and moral questions feature at its core as the environmental impacts of oxygen stockpiling and privatisation begin to emerge. Indeed, its final moments of salvation are a comforting conclusion after two hours of unscrupulous corporate corruption and unethical behaviour, as big business goes bad, prioritising profit over humanity, which is, unfortunately far too recognisable. This topicality is what gives the play so much of its appeal; it is a show rooted in time and place due to its plentiful pop culture references. From Tony Abbot and Joe Hockey to Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart, Lara Bingle, Miranda Kerr, Tim Tams, Target and “Farmer Wants a Wife”, to “QandA”, “The 7.30 Report” and Tassie tree huggers, this essentially corporate comedy includes a favourite line for everyone, making this a perfectly placed end to the 2014 QTC season. While its wit makes it quite a talky play, its razor sharp humour makes “Gasp” quite hil-AIR-ious.