Considerations of quality

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A couple of months away travelling and a couple more laid up with pneumonia and I saw fewer shows in 2017 than in recent years (but still well into the double digits). Reflecting, it is clear that quality over quantity can be incredibly rewarding. And what quality there was on offer… so much so that my usual top five favourite, has been blown out to the following ten:

  1. Torch Songs (Mama Alto, Brisbane Powerhouse, Wonderland Festival)
  2. Lady Beatle (The Little Red Company, La Boite Theatre Company)
  3. My Name is Jimi (Queensland Theatre)
  4. Once in Royal David’s City (Queensland Theatre)
  5. The Play that Goes Wrong (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, QPAC)
  6. Chef (Persona Inc & Atobiz Ltd, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Festival)
  7. Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications (Nigel Kennedy, QPAC)
  8. Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel in association with Cameron Mackintosh, QPAC)
  9. Spectate (Counterpilot, Metro Arts)
  10. Humans (Circa, QPAC)

And honourable mention to the UK’s National Theatre Stage to Screen show Yerma… Gut-wrenching, phenomenal theatre thanks to Billie Piper’s devastatingly powerful performance.

And mention also to the following highlights:

  • Best performance:
    • Elaine Crombie as a hilarious house-slave in Queensland Theatre Company’s An Octoroon.
    • Merlynn Tong in her intimate and vulnerable one-woman work, Playlab’s Blue Bones
    • Cameron Hurry as badly behaved brother Valene in the darkly irreverent The Lonesome West by Troop Productions
  • Best AV – Spectate (Counterpilot, Metro Arts)
  • Most thought provoking –- Octoroon (Queensland Theatre, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best new work – Merlyn Tong’s Blue Bones (Playlab, Brisbane Powerhouse)
  • Best Reimagining – Signifying Nothing (Macbeth) (Hammond Fleet Productions, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best musical – Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel in association with Cameron Mackintosh, QPAC)
  • Best cabaret:
    • Torch Songs (Mama Alto, Brisbane Powerhouse, Wonderland Festival)
    • Lady Beatle (The Little Red Company, La Boite Theatre Company)
    • Song Lines (Michael Tuahine, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Cabaret Festival)
    • Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs (Alan Cumming, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Cabaret Festival)
  • Best music – Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications (QPAC)
  • Best opera – Mark Vincent Sings Mario Lanza and the Classics (Lunchbox Productions, QPAC)
  • Funniest – The Play That Goes Wrong (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, QPAC)
  • Most fun – Let Them Eat Cake (Act/React, Anywhere Festival)
  • Most madcap – Chef (Persona Inc & Atobiz Ltd, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Festival)
  • Most immersive – Trainspotting Live (In Your Face Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse)
  • Most moving – Once in Royal David’s City (Queensland Theatre)

2018 looks set to continue to showcase both the wonderful work of this state’s creatives and innovative works from both here and further afield. Festivals will continue to punctuate the cultural calendar, serving to oscillate audiences between feast and famine like a cultural bulimic… although with Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt Festival moving to May (maybe at the same time as Anywhere Festival) it may be a shower than usual start to the year.

Lonesome laughs

The Lonesome West (Troop Productions)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

November 8 – 18

“The Lonesome West” is one of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy which also includes “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “A Skull in Connemara”. However, it doesn’t take this pre-knowledge to know that the show is set in a tiny village in County Galway on the West Coast of Ireland. The scene is set not only by its pre-show Celtic soundtrack, but the staging, which includes portraits of the Pope and JFK hanging on the wall of the rundown-farmhouse set.

The bleak dwelling is the home of the adult Connor brothers Coleman (Christopher Story) and Valene (Cameron Hurry). After the death of their father, the vindictive Coleman and miserly Valene are thrust upon each other to endlessly bicker, squabble and fight over anything and everything, from Valene’s collectable figurines to who is the bigger virgin. The animosity is long-standing, but has been revived by Valene’s sole inheritance of the dwelling as part of his father’s estate, leading to his gleeful withhold of money, moonshine poteen and even packets of Taytos potato ‘crips’, from his brother and to him marking all his belongings with a big ‘V’.

Putting aside another crisis of faith, troubled but well-meaning and gentle priest Father Welsh (Derek Draper), attempts to reconcile the brothers, fearing their violence will spiral towards a bloody end. Girleen, (Eva McGillivray) a beautiful young school girl, provides hope for a brighter future, if only the men can find compassion in their hearts. But soon we realise their feud is about more than just Coleman’s disrespect of Valeen’s new stove.

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The more-marathon-than-sprint result is, perhaps surprisingly, a darkly irreverent but uproariously funny black comedy full of political incorrectness in the brothers’ interactions. And as the two grown-up brothers still stuck in a cycle of adolescent squabbling, Story and Hurry are excellent. Indeed, all members of the cast give impressive performances, mastering the Irish accent, which becomes easier of ear with every ‘feck’ exclamation. Hurry, in particular, give a dynamic (and very funny) performance as Valene, who can’t help but react to his brother’s every little antagonism.

The two make the first act, in particular, absolutely entertaining. After intermission, things stall a little as the story drags with too many too-long pauses and unnecessary staging faffs, extending the show’s duration by almost an additional hour beyond the advertised running time as old ground is recovered, albeit wittily. Still, as the brothers’ cyclical behaviour sees moments of hope emerge only to be then snatched away as outrageous apologies serve to open old wounds, entertainment turns to introspection as audience members are guided to consideration of when it is no longer ok to laugh at someone’s selfish behaviour.

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Director Keiran Brice ensures that, initially, at least, the production uses pace and physicality to escalate the brothers’ acts of aggression. Comparatively, things falter when the tone shifts jarringly, with the revelations that come from both Girleen, the only female character in the story, and Father Welsh. Even considering its shifting sensibility, this initially funny but ultimately grim show is certainly worth the effort of its lengthy duration for a sometimes touching and often laugh-out-loud funny show, but maybe not on a tired school night.