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.

And….

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.

Yipee-ki-yay again

Die Hard: The Move, The Play (Act React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Platform

December 12 – 23

‘tis the season for Christmas parties and Nakatomi’s is set to be a cracker, hosted as it is by Act React in the return season of the company’s site-specific “Die Hard: The Movie, The Play”. The Brisbane Powerhouse’s Turbine Platform has been transformed into the Nakatomi Plaza of the 1988 action film favourite’s Los Angeles location with its levels adding opportunities to fully experience its explosive unfolding as Nakatomi company’s employees (in this case audience members) gather to celebrate at their annual Christmas party until fanatical terrorists hijack the celebrations.

At the criminal helm is meticulous mastermind renegade German extremist Hans Gruber, played to perfection by James Tinniswood. He not only carries himself with a suave arrogance appropriate to the antagonist’s over-exaggeration, but his smooth-talking showcases a spot-on parody of Alan Rickman’s (in tribute to the British actor’s feature film debut) signature vocal cadences of pitch, pace, emphasis and pro-tract-ed enunciation. 

In keeping with tradition of the Brisbane-based company’s other low-fi film-to-stage pop-culture-inspired performances, the biggest role, however, is left to an audience member, with scaffolded support through the film’s narrative from the Act React team and an inner monologue voiceover. On opening night our white-singlet-clad, bare-footed New York cop John McClane does a marvellous job in dealing with the chaos when all he wants to do is patch things up with his semi-estranged high-powered corporate wife Holly (Natalie Bochenski). With only the dad from TV sitcom “Family Matters” (Simon Chugg) as backup, he throws himself into the role and down and through elevator and ventilation shafts et al, entertaining the audience with his put-on-the-spot dialogue delivery of some memorable wisecracking walkie-talkie one-liners beyond just the Yipee-ki-yay of our expectations. And the consequential improv in response only cements the comic apabilities of the Act React performers.

Experience of “Die Hard: The Movie, The Play” is about little (sometimes unpredictable) moments as much as complete package of its parody of the ‘80s time capsule film franchise. The interactive show cleverly operates on many levels, including through pop culture nods to the bodies of work of the film’s cast of actors. Trademark Act React low-fi special effects and inventive low budget props not only help bring the Christmas classic to stage in a way that ensures all key plot aspects make appearance (extreme acts of violence, impressive pyrotechnics, a helicopter and all), but provide much of its comedy. This is chiefly the case through the antics of 3DS (Ellen Hardisty) in motion capture green skin tight suit, especially in her flirtatious distractions with certain audience members.

“Die Hard: The Movie, The Play” is mindless entertainment of the most enjoyable sort… light-hearted escapism that you don’t have to think about too much in order to enjoy. Indeed, a lot of the show’s charm comes from it never taking itself too seriously, which makes its infectious fun perfect for the festive season for both full-on “Die Hard” fans and those with casual pop culture familiarity alike.

Photos c/o – Images by Anderson

‘tis the season for sexy

A Very Naughty Christmas (Woodward Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

December 9 – 19

Featuring a live band and ten sexy performers, “A Very Naughty Christmas” is the holiday comedy event you didn’t know you had to experience. With Christmas classics as you’ve never heard them before, this show is bound to get you into the holiday spirit. And back as it is for its fifth helping, it really is the gift that keeps on giving…and giving… and giving, for this is Christmas at its most salacious.

The show’s adults-only sentiment is evident from the outset and from the moment things open with Steel Panther’s ‘Sexy Santa’, it is clear that Santa (Stephen Hirst) is the star of Christmas. Saucy from the start, he is down to his underwear within 10 minutes, such has become tradition of the totally inappropriate (#inagoodway) tone of the filthy festive folly. Aurelie Roque is similarly as wonderful as ever in delivery of jaded musical numbers and audience interaction alike, while an Andrews Sisters style bung, bung, bung, bung reappropriation of ‘Mr Sandman’ to ‘Mr Santa’ is full of suggestion. And audience participation in re-enactment of a “The Night Before Christmas” storytelling segment is hilarious as always.

This is low brow humour, but crafted with wonderful wit. Indeed, it is surprising how many opportunities there are for punny innuendo around the iconography of this time of year. The scripts and musical numbers alike are full of clever erotic worsmithery, especially in their ability to keep the show fresh for a fifth season. Still, appearance of a “Mean Girls” ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ from Santa and his helpers goes down a treat as it has in the past.

After Emily Kristopher’s play up of the controversial ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ in attempted seduction of Elliot Baker and a desirous duet proposition of Santa in a highly-suggestive ‘Santa Baby’, one of the funniest face-hurting-from-laughter scenes comes from an attempted redirection of the tone of Santa’s message to be 2021 appropriate and inoffensively non-specific.

Directed and choreographed by Dan Venz and Maureen Bowra the energy of the show’s electric performers (Aurelie Roque, Carla Beard, Dan Venz, Elliot Baker, Emily Kristopher, Kate Yaxley, Patrick Whitbread, Shay Debney, Stephen Hirst and Taylah Ferguson) never wanes. And the live band (Chris Evans, David Spicer and Elliot Parker) is excellent in both turning familiar songs like ‘Santa Clause in Coming to Town’ into something never before imagined and adding energy to numbers like an SNL Christmas song classic.

With sexy carollers, a divine disco number and a tap-dancing nutcracker soldier, Brisbane’s favourite adults-only Christmas comedy is sure to have you feeling festive throughout. The now comedy cabaret tradition’s frisky fun is full of highlights, the memory of which will stay with you long afterwards, even if only in consideration of how dirty Christmas talk can literally spice up your life. With its peppering of pop culture references (including Elliot Baker leaning more into mumbling Mr Bean contrivances) and new take on mischievous Christmas concepts, “A Very Naughty Christmas” is sure to take its non-feint-hearted audience members on a sleigh ride to hilarity, regardless if they are on the naughty or nice lists.

Ancient mythology a-mazed

Maze (The Naughty Corner)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Underground Theatre

September 29 – October 2

A good story haunts, it is mentioned late in “Maze”. It’s an appropriate summary of the mythology at the centre of the new work by The Naughty Corner, an emerging theatre collective of Griffith University alumni. The story, which has been developed through the Dead Puppet Society Academy program, is of the Minotaur part man and part bull (to use Roman poet Ovid’s description) creature of Greek mythology… the offspring of Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos of Crete and a snow-white bull sent by the god Poseidon that Minos kept alive, only to have his wife fall in love with it as punishment.

Unfortunately, with the provision of only limited initial context information, it becomes difficult for audience members to all be able to follow the story’s narrative and invest in its characters and relationships. What isn’t lacking however is the work’s amazing aesthetics, which are innovative and exciting. Four handheld custom-made LED light poles are inventively used to create the labyrinth of tunnels below the island of Crete, into which the minotaur is ostracised, shrinking the space within its barriers to creating a feeling of claustrophobia and eventually morphing together to evoke an image of the beast itself. This works well with Ben Mills’ lighting design and Tom Collins’s soundscape, which easily take us into to damp maze of tunnels. Wireless lighting effects by Mark Middleton and Peter Rhoades create visually striking glow-in-the-dark costuming accents, allowing them to become part of the action themselves, along with the well-placed appearance of some puppets to support storytelling.  

The tale of the Ancient Greek monster is told primarily through movement, which is simultaneously the production’s strength and downfall. Liesel Zink’s choreography, for example, sees the performers (Claire Argente, Sho Eba, Mark McDonald, Georgia Voice and Jeremiah Wray) moving together in tight as-one formation, especially in its early attempt to outline the story to the point of Pasiphae’s birth of the cursed child.

In the show’s program, it is noted that The Naughty Corner’s work promises exploration of provocative narratives and in this regard, “Maze” certainly delivers. Its execution, however, is almost too clever, making it best suited to those with previous familiarity with the story of the cursed bastard beast of Crete. Writers Bianca Bality and Joe Wilson’s extensive use of deliberately evasive undefined pronouns in dialogue doesn’t aid audience understanding, particularly in early scenes. Indeed, while design elements contribute considerably to the production’s visual storytelling, there are still lapses in its expression of the Minotaur’s transformation into a monster. Pacing could be tighter with some shortened scenes and less lengthy pausing within them. However, under Jess Bunz’s direction, it touches on bigger themes around perception and what makes a monster, so is certainly still a show of much potential.

Photos c/o – Kate Lund

Bow wow wow!

Let’s Be Friend Furever (The Good Room)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

September 16 – 25

For the uninitiated, The Good Room’s productions can be difficult to define. The celebrated independent company founded by Daniel Evans and Amy Ingram creates unique theatre experiences, often from community crowd-sourced content. Continuing on from its previous Brisbane Festival successes, “Let’s be Friends Furever” follows a familiar format to craft together a celebration and commemoration of all breeds of dogs, meaning that if you ever have or ever plan on owning a dog, this is the show for you.

The work, which has been developed in partnership with fellow Queensland independent theatre makers, The Little Red Company, features faces from social media and even video appearance from Australian writer and presenter Marieke Hardy. There are also everyday stores of everyday people and their extraordinary pets, as every pet dog is extraordinary to somebody… and it is celebration of this that is at the core of the show.

From the very first in the world premiere production’s parade of pooches, you will be hooked as it’s real recollections and stories are recounted on stage. After introduction to retired special ops attack dog Guge, retired Special Forces commando Steve shares story of how he built a bond worthy of gaining Guge’s respect. And as he tells us of this most important relationship of his life with his warrior brother, it is quite moving eliciting more than one audience ‘awwww’. As Afghan show dog Ava takes the stage with owner Jan who tells us all about the unique breed, and amazingly-still-a-puppy, Great Dane Rollo rocks in with his owners Siobhan and Pete, it is quite a transformational experience taking me from pre-show statement of not really being an animal person to mid-way declaration that “I love them all!”

The heartfelt homage to our four-legged friends is about transformation too as owners discuss how their lives have changed for the better through their dog ownership, even sometimes in retrospect, as later scenes respectfully take us into the raw emotion of having to farewell a furever friend after discussion from vet Matt about the multi-faceted nature of his job.

The show’s live sections are often innocently joyous, such as when 11-year-old Henry makes his theatrical debut to deliver a song about his ‘not that bright’ (and apparently eager-to-escape) best friend Cocker Spaniel Roscoe and when we meet the tenacious tongue-out fussy Austin Terrier social media sensation Mr Peanut and his owner Sam. And then there is the high-flying Frisbee hijinks of Blitz and Zoe. As light-hearted and fun as things initially are, however, it’s certainly not all PG-13 as naughty rescue dogs ‘f**king Brett’ and his brother Steven are the first to send things a little awry on opening night.

Punctuating the live guest segments are videos (video production by Optikal Bloc) about dogs and from the company’s hundreds of hours of interviews across Australia.) The segments of love, loyalty and laughter are from dog walkers, obedience trainers and alike, as well as dog owners in discussion of things like their dog parenting styles, the origins of their pets’ names and the fortunes they have spent on spoiling their greatest loves, as well as recall of their funniest experiences. And under the direction of Daniel Evans, everything is seamlessly curated together to maintain momentum and audience engagement. Mike Willmett’s dynamic sound design beds things and the mostly omnipresent ringmaster of sorts Hugh Parker keeps segments moving, with his comic commentary and questioning interaction with and response to what is happening on stage allowing for emphasis of some common themes of resilience in discussion of what people’s dogs have taught them about themselves and their purposes in life.

The Good Room’s “Let’s Be Friends Furever” is a real treat. Its ambitious examination of people’s relationships with their faithful companions and best friends is both fascinating and affirming, and it represents the perfect work with which to introduce someone to the world of what theatre can now be. They might even also end up squealing with wowed delight at the appearance of six-week-old old puppies in its conclusion.

Photos c/o –  Atmosphere Photography

Fierce femme manifest

Demolition (Polytoxic)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

September 4 – 11

Polytoxic has taken over the Brisbane Powerhouse with their world premiere Brisbane Festival show “Demolition”… literally, with the Powerhouse Theatre transformed into a worksite of three story scaffolding, safety tape streamer of the stalls and even ushers dressed in high vis. There’s an energy of excitement to the anticipation enhanced by the spectacle, but also a clear signal as to its metaphoric messaging with site safety warnings about the patriarchy and a pre-show playlist of problematic ‘Blurred Lines’ type tunes, meaning that before its eight diverse, fierce femme tradies starting taking a sledgehammer to the system, we know that this explosion of cabaret, theatre and social activism is clearly not going be a show of subtleties.

After we are Welcomed to Team Demo in call and response from a megaphoned site manager Boss Bitch (Lisa Fa’alafi), it’s all hands on deck to deal with the system that a site survey has revealed is failing from its foundations. This occurs through a variety of musical numbers, poetry, dance and artistic circus type performances of daring aerials, rope acrobatics and alike. The shows of strength and skill include some impressive pole tricks from Leah Shelton, animated by her exaggerated expressions and numbers that take full advantage of the expansive Powerhouse Theatre heights. Danger Zone Mayu Muto impresses with her high rope acrobatics, Fa’alafi flies out to the audience in an aerial hoop routine and Lilikoi Kaos rises into the air while working multiple hula hoops in an extrordinary early number. And they are all cleverly curated together to not only illustrate, but empower as part of the show’s messaging.

From the outset it is clear that “Demolition” is a layered work of much craftedness. There is an initial attention to detail (down to the level of even a typical tradie ice break beverage) to create a memorable experience…. even more so for the handful of audience members seated in the danger zone of the stage’s edge, all also adorned in high vis, who become part of the act in help-out and infectious celebration of being up for the challenge in one of the show’s many clap along moments.

Looking to create a level playing field, Safety Officers and also audience favourites, the forthright Jackhammer (Ghenoa Gela) and spirited High Voltage (Lilikoi Kaos) take us through some the rules for life about not walking alone at night etc al in signpost of the instinctively vigilant lens through which so many women, femmes, non-binary, trans and marginalised people operate day-to-day and night-to-night.

Slippery When Wet (Leah Shelton) gives us dark glimpse into the reality of rape culture with sinister suggestions being pushed in a ‘Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car’ number, featuring an on-stage ute. It’s a moment that serves as a true testament to the company’s cleverness as Billie Ocean’s ‘80s pop number becomes bigger and badder than ever, and its performers all do an excellent job in capturing their male roles in the concerning scenario of attempted lyric enticement into its backseat.

While some inclusions seem a little unclear or are sometimes a little longer than they need to be, such as when we spend a big chunk of time watching Sledgehammer attempt to drag said car across the stage in mirror of the experience of systematic oppression to a tension-filled soundscape. Still, the soundtrack by Musical Director Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers is dynamic throughout with regard to its choices, often pumping us along for its high adrenaline explosiveness, but also allowing for quieter moments of respite during aerial circus numbers and an emotion-filled contemporary dance performance by Ceiling Smasher Zayah Bond.

For all of its cleverness and moments of vulnerability, there is no getting away from the grit at the core of the show’s critique of traditional Australian masculinity. The manner in which directors Fa’alafi and Shelton have crafted together this slick, multi-layered and complex work is to be commended and celebrated because “Demolition” both blows up the system and builds up the community in balance. All elements of its aesthetic are on-point. Costuming takes us from initial high vis jackets to black outfits of various design with cleverly placed touches of caution tape and then some striking leotard garments. And especially, in a late fluro number, lighting works in complement to these.

Polytoxic is in the business of shaking things up and getting shit done, so this is not a show of niceties. Its edgy parodies are over-exaggerated and its hyperreal aesthetic is purposeful. And as such, it serves an overt call to arms to everyone to do better around issues of female oppression… to step up, speak up and be accountable together to tear down the patriarchy.

While its arts-supportive audience buy-in means that we are on-board with its messaging, there are still moments of confrontation such as when a mashup of sound bite snippets already shocking into their sentiments becomes even more so with realisation that the misogynous comments are from within the mainstream media landscape. This makes a late-show slam poetry-esque manifest about the ‘isms’ serving as a barrier to a new reality, even more poignant in its plea for resilience and solidity.

Clearly, “Demolition” is at its core an expression of what we really need to get past the past, but its dynamic realisation equips it with an essential excitement and entertaining appeal way beyond that of traditional political theatre… providing you can handle its daring in-your-facedness.