And so this was…

As John Lennon asks in his now Christmas standard, “so, this is Christmas and what have you done?” Reflection becomes par-for-the-course at the tail end of the holiday period, including of shows seen during the year passed and in what has become typical, my favourites are a little off-kilter from the perhaps usual list of big-budget showcases.

Local shows aside for a moment and 2015 allowed me opportunity to see the London productions of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “The Book of Mormon”. I am yet to hear of anyone who has seen the Dog in the Night-Time on stage and not raved about the experience. And justifiably so; it is the best dramatic production I have ever seen, anywhere. And as for “The Book of Mormon”…. is there any feeling better than being able to tick from an in-mind list of shows you want to see. For me, this musical had been at the top of my to-see list for a number of years, replaced now by “Something Rotten” and while the show is shocking in its satire, it’s quite brilliant and definitely up there as one of my favourites.


But that is not say that Brisbane has not seen its share of great shows of all sorts, from which my favourites would be:

  1. All My Love (HIT Productions) – the story of Australia’s best-known poet and writer Henry Lawson and his relationship with fellow poet Mary Gilmore.
  2. The Confidence Man (Side Pony Productions) – a choose-your-own-adventure of the theatrical kind as audience members use smartphone to flick between the characters’ stories, tuning in on their innermost thoughts as the action unfolds.
  3. The Importance of Being Earnest (W!ld Rice) – a witty all-male telling of Oscar Wilde’s immortal play, as part of the Brisbane Festival.
  4. Candide (Opera Q) – opera at its most accessible, merging music and comedy in a colourful and energetic search for Eden.
  5. Tiptoe (Pentimento Productions) – Two timeframes unfold simultaneously on stage in this Australian psychological thriller with a twist from acclaimed playwright Sven Swenson.

With appreciation of the notion that theatre-going begets theatre-going, I am also confident, however, that 2016 will bring with it a range of shows and potential new favourites. So, as Lennon also says…. “Let’s hope it’s a good one”.

Operatic optimism

Candide (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, The Playhouse

July 23 – August 1

From the creator of “West Side Story” and based on Voltaire’s classic novel, Leonard Bernstein’s comic operetta “Candide” combines musical theatre, opera and satire in an original and a thoroughly entertaining show of artistry of so many kinds. The story is an epic one that takes audiences on a trip around the world as our eternally optimistic, in spite of extreme misfortune, hero Candide (David Hobson), initially banished from his baronial home, seeks reunion with his love Cunegonde (Amelia Farrugia)


With war, murder, shipwreck and the Spanish Inquisition, there is much narrative for audiences to absorb in what is a fusion of philosophy and fun, however, the fact that the opera is sung in English ensures that the story retrains its upmost importance, to the point that it appears more like musical than opera. Leonard Bernstein’s score is brilliant and filled with memorably moments such as Cunegonde’s Act One peppy Parisian coloratura aria, ‘Glitter Be Gay’, complete with the bejewelled soprano on swing and glitter cannon sparkle. The show’s final number too, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ leaves audiences on an undeniable high courtesy of its joyous, soul-stirring magic of music and voices combined.


Under the leadership of its energetic conductor Paul Kildea, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra is superb in bringing Bernstein’s beautiful and dramatic score to life. And it is wonderful to see them being showcased on stage amongst the action, rather than hidden away in the pit. Indeed, the staging is impressive, utilising, as it does, the depths of The Playhouse Theatre’s space, yet simultaneously conveying a sense of intimacy through the use of a thrust stage platform.

thrustWith a golden path (representing Candide’s journey) stretching from the depths to front of the stage and a two-tiered scaffold ‘skyscraper’ occupying place behind the bulk of the orchestra, there is much of interest on stage. However, what most effectively brings the story’s journey around the world to such vivid life is the lighting, particularly in Act Two’s South American segment, in which the warmth of Buenos Aires is realised complete with waterfall from the rafters. Costumes also aide in presentation of a strong visual identity, with a range of textures creating a striking, sumptuous aesthetic feast.


Australian tenor David Hobson does a sensitive job in the role of the buoyant hero Candide, with agile and high-flying vocals that can equally linger with the strings in more melancholy musical numbers. As Cunegonde, Amelia Farrugia is simply delightful and her sparkling soprano reaches the heights with ease. It is Brisbane theatre stalwart Bryan Probets, however, who puts on the greatest show in his multi-roles, however, particularly as the story’s narrator. Whether singing song of his syphilis or showcasing a sexy Spanish dance, his comic talents are always engaging.


Hilarious too is Christine Johnston (of The Kransky Sisters fame) in her realisation of the quirky, scene-stealing Old Lady, complete with comical limp. Supported as they are by strong character roles, most notably Sarah Murr as Paquette and Jon Maskell as Maximilian, students of Dr Pangloss’s philosophy that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds’, there appears to be no weak link in the show’s artistic lineup, including the Opera Queensland Chorus which aids in bringing the big numbers to such glorious life.


Opera Q’s production of “Candide” is a real triumph guaranteed to have you leaving on a hopeful high with a smile on your face and a melody stuck in your heart. Purists may be bothered by its musicalness, however, this allows the show to serve as ideal introduction to opera for the uninitiated. Its musical theatre feel, English songs and focus on story combine to give it an accessibility above and beyond traditional operatic fare to even those who think they don’t like the genre. And bringing new audiences to an art form can only be commended.