Behind the scenes satisfaction

Scenes from a Marriage (Queensland Theatre)

QPAC, The Playhouse

November 11 – December 3

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Marianne (Marta Dusseldorp) and Johan (Ben Winspear) are cosy in the comfort of their overly-scheduled, boring bourgeois lives … well that’s what they tell a magazine interviewer when being asked about their union. But what lies behind their façade and how long will it be before their imperfect love begins to dissolve? These are the initial questions at the core of “Scenes from a Marriage”, and the answers, as they unravel, are far from comforting.

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Originally a 1970s Swedish television series by accomplished and influential filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, “Scenes from a Marriage” is a beast of a play. The stage adaptation by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith takes audiences behind the scenes into the intimacy of a marriage as it tries to survive secrets and suffering in the shadow of a single event and over-time, innate animosity. With a focus on domestic relationships, it has all the emotional and cognitive ingredients for audience engagement. Yet despite being a polished and visually stunning production with a first-rate cast, its resonance is more satisfaction in a neutrally-beige type way, than standout amongst a sensational season of shows.

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Even to those unfamiliar with the nuance of its Swedish creator, the production is noticeably Bergman. Staging screams Scandinavian in its simplicity, functionality and minimalism, opening as it does to a clinically white and sparely-furnished room. Even when, late in Act One, things open up to the reveal the reality of the couple’s conjoined life in a scene in the their holiday home, it is one of timbre tones affront a tree-lined lake backdrop. The aesthetics are quite stunning, enhanced by lighting that adds a theatricality to the sometimes shocking action on-stage.

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The authentic anatomy of a marital breakdown also comes courtesy of well-crafted dialogue that takes audience members from the light relief of predictable jokes through the devastating dynamics of divorce (and what comes next) and contemplation of if whether dislike is better than indifference.

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Real-life husband and wife Ben Winspear and Marta Dusseldorp are excellent in their respective roles, presenting the couple as two individual and complexly layered individuals. Their chemistry is clear… unsettlingly so in a physical fight sequence in one of the play’s uncomfortable scenes. Winspear’s glib Johan, shallowly self-assured and overconfidently narcissistic, allows Dusseldorp’s intense and ultimately vulnerable performance to take centre stage. And they are both well-supported by superb performances from Hugh Parker and Christen O’Leary as the couple’s mutually, mercilessly bitter, married friends.

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For most of the story, Marianne and Johan are unlikeable people curiously drawn to the mutual misery of their marriage, yet there are also sometimes glimpses of them as ordinary, suffering humans who love each other in their own way…. necessary for audience empathy and investment in their story. Like so often in life, there is no happy ending to “Scenes from a Marriage”, but its experience brings a satisfaction of sorts from the confrontation of its truth.

Photos c/o – Rob Maccoll

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Ambiguity’s absorption

Blackrock (La Boite Theatre Company and QUT Creative Industries)

La Boite Theatre Company, Roundhouse Theatre

July 22 – August 12

Since premiering in 1995, Nick Enright’s “Blackrock” has found a place in both the Australian drama canon and on high school drama syllabuses nationwide. And, 20 years after its first presentation of the play, La Boite Theatre Company’s 2017 production shows just how sadly still relevant its social themes of mateship, misogyny and violence are.

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From the show’s opening scene, the production explodes with energy as teens in the (fictional) Australian beachside working-class suburb of Blackrock welcome home the prodigal, dangerous, local surfing legend Ricko (Karl Stuifzand). After an unsupervised beach party soon afterwards, 15-year-old Tracy Warner is found dead, raped by three boys, her head bashed in with a rock. Having seen the incident and done nothing, proverbial good bloke Jared (Ryan Hodson) is filled with guilt yet remains silent, which leads to the breakdown of his relationships with both his girlfriend Rachel (Jessica Potts) and his mother Diane (Christen O’Leary). Events are made even more shocking by knowledge of the narrative’s origins, based as it is on the real-life rape and murder of a 14-year-old Newcastle girl, Leigh Leigh which occurred during teenage birthday party celebrations at Stockton Surf Club in November 1989.

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In a unique collaboration between La Boite and QUT Creative Industries, the play presents the impact of a violent crime on a close-knit community as an engrossing and moving experience thanks to powerful performances from a talented cast of established actors and QUT near-graduates alike. The script is action packed in its initial scenes as the talented cast brings Enright’s characters to vivid life, even if the deliberate colloquial language of g-dropping initially jars in its over-emphasis.

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Powerful performances from across the large cast make for a moving experience of a story in which everyone is a victim, with the third year QUT actors allows for fresh audience responses. Thomas Cossettini gives a considered performance as Toby, torn in his determination of the difference between a friend and a mate. So too, as the victim’s friend Cherie, Ebony Nave shows compassion and emotion, especially in an initial, absorbing monologue. And Christen O’Leary and Amy Ingram show their experience as Toby’s fraught mother Diane and Cherie’s well-meaning, bordering on overbearing, mother Glenys.

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Given its morally-ambiguous and thus compelling story, “Blackrock” is a demanding play to present and Director Todd Macdonald meets the challenge by giving the work plenty of pace. Transitions are swift and effective, and digital projections add much to the initial party atmosphere, however, while staging some scenes upon a raised wooden platform works well for those seated high in the theatre-in-the-round stalls, at other times it compromises vision and thus detracts from immersion in the play’s moments.

Sadly, twenty years after “Blackrock” was first published, its themes remain relevant, cementing its worth as a modern Australian classic, as shocking, emotional and confronting as ever and not in need to overt attempts to emphasise relevance with incorporation of deliberate Queensland references. In its exploration of the impact of the story’s brutal crime on a small community and, in particular, on the only witness as he wrestles with his conscience and the laws of loyalty considered sacred among male teenagers, the show offers audiences a gripping theatrical experience but also much to talk about afterwards regarding youth culture, cyclical violence, peer pressure and the objectification of women.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans

Ado anew

Much Ado About Nothing (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

April 23 – May 15

Compared with other Shakespearean plays, the plot of “Much Ado About Nothing” is comparatively simple and orthodox. A nobleman, Leonato (Bryan Probets), agrees to the engagement of his daughter, Hero (Ellen Bailey) to Claudio (Patrick Dwyer), a lord in the entourage of Don Pedro (Tama Matheson). But Don Pedro’s bastard brother Don John (Hayden Jones) is intent upon disrupting proceedings. Meanwhile, Leonato’s niece Beatrice (Christen O’Leary) is embroiled in a merry war of wits with another of Don Pedro’s lords, Benedick (Hugh Parker), until others trick the pair into realising their love for each other.

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On the surface level, at least, the play is commonly perceived as a frivolous comedy of nothingness, the selling point of which is usually the playful banter between Beatrice and Benedick and perhaps the comic buffoonery of Dogberry. And in Jason’s Klarwein’s first directorial foray into main-stage theatre, it is this focus that sees audience members frequently responding with riotous laugher. Indeed, rather than presenting a formal society overly concerned with outward appearances, which the play intimates, The Queensland Theatre Company production exploits the work’s word play for every comic possibility, balancing its puns, malapropisms (mistakenly using one word for another that sounds similar) and innuendo, with physical performance and slapstick, all to audience delight.

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The setting is deliberately ambiguous in a sometimes bothersome way, with original text mentions of Messina and ducats referencing Italy, alongside the use of Australian currently and mention of the Commonwealth, that jar with its Palm Springs sensibility of golf games and ladies tennis. Regardless, the indulgent lifestyle is brought to life through lusciously-lit tropical sunsets, as well as a night-time fireworks display and an Act Two tropical storm.

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Staging consists of a simple pallet of whites upon which to lay the performances, with a revolving stage. Not only does this allow for seamless transitions between inside and outside scenes, but affords plenty of places for Beatrice and Benedict to skulk about in attempt to overhear the deliberate declarations of the others regarding the pair’s supposed love for each other, allowing comedy to come from their respective reactions as much as their attempts to remain hidden, unlike other productions that have relied solely on slapstick in these sections of the play.

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The contemporary production features a number of deliberate attempts to create anew appeal to modern audiences. Tight direction has condensed the work to its core, cutting, for example, the character of Ursula, one of the gentlewomen attending on Hero. Language has been occasionally changed, for example when Beatrice compares courtship and marriage to a series of dances. And buoyancy is added to proceedings courtesy of a bit of Beyoncé and other modern musical additions. The cumulative result is a lighthearted take in which the antagonist, Don John’s motivation (or lack thereof) is murky in its privilege of Beatrice and Benedick’s banter over its primary Hero and Claudio plot.

The cast has been carefully curated to bring the play’s poetry to life. Parker is simply superb as the boisterous Benedick, scoffing of love until its experience, yet always self-aware and able to laugh at himself ‘for man is a giddy thing’. More buffoonish than swaggersome in his determination to remain a bachelor, he shows perfect comic timing, yet he also effectively conveys the character’s transition from self-conscious figure of fun to new maturity and capability for love. And he inhabits the language with a natural affinity.

Comparatively, O’Leary’s performance as Beatrice lacks a little nuance and her character some vulnerability. Her portrayal of Beatrice’s sharp-tongued wit is on-point from her first words (of mockery), so that when Benedick refers to her as ‘my lady disdain’, it rings entirely true, but she never quite captures the poignant pain of a woman whose pathos hides behind her pride. She is, however, at her best in the tragedy, when in reaction to the brutal rejection of Hero, she reveals an impressive depth of emotion in frustration of female limitations and contemplation of ‘If I were a man’, appropriate for portrayal of one of the most independent and modern of Shakespeare’s heroines.

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As the contrasting, conventional, conformist characters of Hero and Claudio, Bailey and Dwyer, do a decent job with what they are given. Although clearly lacking in confidence and, therefore, dependent upon Don Pedro, Dwyer’s Claudio comes across as less shallow and insensitive than he perhaps should, making him almost likeable in his naivety. As the passive, dutiful daughter upon whom events are played, Hero floats about with little to say throughout the play, yet Bailey’s performance presents her as more than just a fragile creature. And while Probets is appropriately patriarchal as the loving father Leonato, he appears less convincing in his wish for his defamed daughter to die rather than live dishonoured.

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Liz Buchanan and Megan Shorey as a now-female Dogbery and Verges Constable and Deputy duo deliver standout comic performances. Eager to assist, they play up all range of moods, grovelling, condescending and outraged, in their mangled language delivery. And as the bawdy Margaret, Kathryn McIntryre is another deserving audience favourite.

This is an energetic and accessible production of one of Shakespeare’s funniest and liveliest plays. Although it minimises the story’s darker strains, this is forgiveable as people will no doubt be attending with expectation of experience of the verbal sparring of its reluctant lovers. And its sympathetic chronicle of the plight of Elizabethan women compelled to acquiesce in a man’s world, gives even modern audiences an added contemplation.

Photos c/o –Rob Maccoll and Queensland Theatre Company

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Ladies in Black (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

November 14 – December 6

It’s nearing Christmas sometime in late 1950’s Sydney. Leslie Miles is the tops – top of multiple subjects in completion of her leaving certificate. The literature-loving bookworm is now looking for a new chapter in her young life so, having studied the staff etiquette guidelines, is ready to begin work as a lady in (sensible and chic) black in the cocktail dress section at the prestigious Goodes Department Store.

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(Whatever you want you will get it at Goodes, audience members are told in the show’s opening number.) While Lisa (Sarah Morrison), as Leslie prefers to be known, appreciates it as a magical place, she doesn’t want to work there for keeps; the budding poet hopes to go to university, which creates conflict with her traditional parents (Greg Stone and Carita Farrer Spencer) who don’t believe women need higher education when a secretarial course could suffice.

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Fortified by an opt-reprised musical anthem of the words of William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’, Lisa embraces the new friendships and experiences that come with the employment, mostly courtesy of the co-workers who let her into their lives. Patty (Lucy Maunder) finds herself drifting away from husband Frank (Andrew Broadbent) after a decade of trying to fall pregnant. Fay (Naomi Price) is sick of enduring disastrous dates with sometimes married men so contemplates a relationship with the sweet Hungarian Rudi (Bobby Fox), friend of European refugee Magda (Christen O’Leary) who hosts the store’s salon for special customers in search of new fashion and extraordinary gowns.

Magda takes Lisa under her wing, introducing her to an exotic lifestyle of salami and scarves, leading to clichéd ugly-duckling-into-swan scene when the protagonist loses her bookish glasses and sophisticates her style, just in time for the end of Act One. This also allows for touch on the text’s feminist themes when Magda’s husband Stefan (Greg Stone) shares with Lisa with a copy of “Middlemarch”, with explanation that although Mary Ann Evans had to write under the pseudonym of George Elliot in order to be taken seriously, such things are no longer necessary.

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O’Learly barely misses a beat as the vibrant and stylish Magda, a credit surely to dialect coach Melissa Agnew, even if her energetic Act Two monologue narration of New Year’s Eve party guest arrivals and interplay does drag a little. Newcomer Morrison is appropriately innocently wide-eyed as the bookish Lisa, showcasing a standout soaring soprano, and Price brings a wink and smile to Carol Burns’s often deliberately blunt Australian dialogue, culminating in the catchy Act Two number ‘I Just Kissed a Continental’. But the ultimate star of the show is Tim Finn’s lyrics and music and it i appropriate perhaps the band should receive the evening’s most rapturous applause.

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Songs are plentiful, in full form or fragment (a set-list would have made for a welcomed program addition) and are filled with clever lyrics and catchy rhythms. Some of the best come from the secondary Patty storyline. After an argument, Patty’s mum and two sisters sing the memorable “The Bastard Song” and when the couple meet up again and sing of their feelings, the lyrics are full of everyday vernacular, Australian humour and lines like ‘Frank, you’re an idiot!’. Even when Frank sings of wanting to be a proper family man, there is a rich bluesy tone to his lavatory lament.

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The music is performed by a live six piece band, led by Musical Director Isaac Hawyard. Appropriately positioned behind sheer curtains at the rear of the stage, they are ever-present, not just physically but through their contemporary sounds, ranging from banging bass to ballads of lighter touch such as Act One’s Irish-toned ‘Glorious Day’.

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Gabriela Tylesova’s design is visually impressive without being at the expense of functionality. Lush drapery, glass and mirrored pillars evoke the glitz of a department store shop floor. And the use of revolving platforms not only allows for in-scene changes but seamless choreography, reminiscent of ‘The Girl on the Magazine Cover’ number from Irving Berlin’s 1948 movie musical “Easter Parade”. Because then there are also the costumes and display dresses … fabulous frocks that garner gasps of their own when they make appearance on stage.

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As a story of fashion, friendship and 1950s Australia (“a moment in Australia’s adolescence” as described by Burns in the program’s Playwright’s Note), “Ladies in Black” is a triumph that capitalises on the wave of nostalgia which has led to so many recent musical revivals, yet does so though presentation of a new and fresh Australian story. Although the coming of age tale based on Madeleine St John’s novel “The Women in Black” is weighted by feminist discourses and themes surrounding national identity and xenophobia, it remains playful in its touches, which befits its musical genre.

The show is QTC’s first original musical in 16 years and well it might be said that it has been worth the wait for a homemade musical (with QPAC funding the first development, it has been a totally Brisbane show from the very start) of such calibre. Not only is its humble, heart-warning story brought to delightful life by an accomplished cast, but its creatives have given it an enduring appeal beyond just evocation of its era. For some singing, a bit of dancing and a dash of sentiment, make sure you book an appointment with the LBD ladies of Goodes.

Photos c/o – https://www.facebook.com/qldtheatreco

Copros, classics and close-to-home tales

The Queensland Theatre Company has announced its 2016 season, the last programmed by outgoing Artistic Director Wesley Enoch who is departing the company to take up the role of Sydney Festival Director for the 2017 – 2019 Festivals. As Enoch noted at the season launch, “we make theatre because we like to tell stories.” And what a bunch of stories he has left as the final component of his legacy… diverse stories of ambition, achievement and bravery.

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The highlight, coming early in the year is “The Secret River” adaptation of Kate Grenville’s multi-award-winning bestselling novel that tells of the bloody beginnings of colonial Australia, when pardoned convicts clashed with the traditional owners of the land they settled along the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Coming off the back of this year’s lavish ABC miniseries and previous Sydney season, the Sydney Theatre Company co-production is sure to be a powerful, epic (featuring 22 actors on stage) experience of a work that will surely settle into the Australian theatrical cannon.

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The provocative themes will continue in October’s “Disgraced” a co-production with the Melbourne Theatre Company of Ayad Akhtar’s debut 2012 play and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The stirring drama promises to challenge notions of Islamophobia and terrorism through its intimate, intellectual Manhattan dinner party setting, (like “God of Carnage” with politics and sans the catalyst children perhaps).

disgracedSimilarly small in scale, will be “Switzerland”, in which Andrea Moor presents a thrilling re-imagining of the last days of crime novelist Patrica Highsmith (author of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and other twisted tales).

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At the other end of the serious scale is the bright and bold “Bastard Territory”, a co-production with Perth’s Black Swan Theatre Company about the 1960s and ‘70s bohemian lifestyle of far northern Australia and the Pacific Islands residents. With soundtrack boasting Shirley Bassey and Suzi Q, it promises to be quite the weird and wonderful ride when it features at the Bille Brown Studio as a Season 2016 Add On.

A comedy of the more classic kind will be Moliere’s “Tartuffe” (starring Darren Gilshenan who was last year seen in “Mother and Son”), a co-production with Western Australia’s Black Swan Theatre Company. The story of the titular brazen conman may have first been performed in the 17th century but promises to be sinfully brilliant and perhaps surprisingly still relevant in its attack on religious hypocrisy and fanaticism.

The season opener at The Playhouse, “Quartet”, Directed by Andrea Moor, also promises to be devilishly funny as it journeys into old age with four feisty ageing opera singers who, having fallen upon hard times, find themselves trying to come to terms with life in a retirement home by headlining a convert to mark composer Verdi’s birthday.

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Fun too, will be the bantering, bickering Beatrice and Benedick, when Director Jason Karwein brings to life the classic romantic sparring of “Much Ado About Nothing”, one of the Bard’s most accessible and enjoyable comic works, when Shakespeare was ‘on his zing’, we are told at the launch. And as the prototypical but also terribly modern rom-com couple: squabbling like children until they realise they’re actually in love and fall into each other’s arms, Hugh Parker and Christen O’Leary promise to make love quite the battlefield. The addition of Ellen Bailey and Tama Maheson in paring as the more traditional Hero/Claudio couple is only added bonus, coming as they both are from some outstanding 2015 Brisbane Powerhouse performances.

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Indeed, it is wonderful to see so much local talent featuring within the season. And also that it will once again feature shows true to the Brisbane experience, whether it be from across the world or around the corner. Brisbane playwright, David Burton’s new work, “St Mary’s in Exile”, to be directed by Jason Klarwein, is one of those stories that would be beyond belief if it wasn’t true, telling the tale of how, in 2009, Brisbane’s Catholic community was rocked when the Catholic Church stepped in to oust beloved priest Father Peter Kennedy from his post at St Mary’s in South Brisbane.

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Motherland” is back too, moving from Metro Arts to QTC’s Bille Brown Studio, for a return season in April. This historical drama by local playwright Katherine Lyall-Watson was a 2014 highlight, telling with delicious language a trio of somewhat true stories: of Brisbane-born Nell who has travelled the world before marrying the Russian Prime Minister and helping him flee the Nazis in World War II, writer and academic Nina who quits her native Russia for Paris, only to return in her twilight years, and single mother Alyona, a Russian museum curator whisked away to Brisbane by an Australian businessman, in search of a brighter future. Both epic and intimate in its sweeping tales of different women from different times, united in the heartache of exile from their homelands, it will take audiences from the chaos of a Russian military coup, through the hell of Nazi-occupied France to a turbulent Brisbane in the throes of the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

And The Dead Puppets Society is also returning, this time for World Premiere of “The Wider Earth”, featuring local talents including Thomas Larkin and Margi Brown Ash, as well as a bevy of astonishing puppets breathing life into creatures great and small. It promises to be an extravagantly beautiful recount of the tale of scientific visionary Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle in The Wider Earth.

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With its mix of classic and contemporary works, whimsical trips to the happiest of theatrical places and contemplation of differing opinions, the 2016 season promises to be all sorts of engagement. 3, 5 and 8 Play Packages are available now. Though if you are feeling adventurous, you could always all in to purchase the ultimate 10 Play Package!

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Anton and then some

The Seagull (Queensland Theatre Company)

The Greenhouse, Bille Brown Studio

August 29 – September 26

“This is a story about how we tell stories,” begins Daniel Evans in his Writer and Director’s notes in the program for QTC’s “The Seagull”. And as stories go, you don’t get more robust than the dramatic works of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

Pre-show, the Bille Brown Studio is filled with the grand sounds of operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, however, this is an adaptation that is clearly far from its Russian traditions. Its staging is somewhat Brechtian in nature with exposed backstage wings revealing props table, costumes for changes and actors mingling around a simple wooden stage. The centrepiece is set to become location of a showing of tortured artist Konstantin’s edgy and enigmatic work, presented with his romantic interest Nina to a small audience of family and friends gathered at his fading actress mother’s lake house. The mother-son pair is not quite estranged, but their relationship is clearly troubled by their differences; his yearn is for art whereas hers is for an audience. In short it is one hell of a family reunion than can only be complicated by the romantic and artistic conflicts between its four primary protagonists.

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On the wall of the Studio is a pre-show Chekhov quote: “Art, especially the stage, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling” which is an interesting commentary for a show that never falters in the hands of its accomplished cast of Brisbane theatre stalwarts. Like Chekhov’s other full-length plays, “The Seagull” relies upon an ensemble cast of diverse characters – 10 strong in this instance, not counting Stage Manager/worker Yakov (Dan Sinclair) or Anton the seagull. And each one of them convey with equal effect the passion and empathy that are hallmarks of the playwright’s works.

As the celebrated, melodramatic Irina, Christen O’Leary is not particularly likeable in her driven demeanour and self-centredness. By her own admittance, motherhood is not a role to which she has taken, as the audience sees in her pronouncement to her son Konstantie (Nicholas Gell) that he is full of air and devoid of talent. As her lover, esteemed author Boris Trigorin, Jason Klarwein wears his brilliance quietly, literally not speaking until almost an hour into the show. In intimate scene with his newly-found much younger local girl muse Nina (Emily Burton), he is appropriately both intellectually pretentious and astounding in his observations of life. And together O’Leary and Klarwein play off each other with versatile volatility and passion.

As Konstantin’s uncle Sorin, Brian Lucas gives a similarly memorable performance when Act One sees a terminal illness give him back a zest for life, complete with absurd behaviour and insightful reflection on life’s little missed opportunities. And his receipt of advice from the smartarse seagull Anton represent some of the show’s comic highlights. But there is more here than just humour. Although intermission comes 90 minutes into the 150 minute show, it is well-placed to signal the transition from the first three acts of comedy to its melancholic conclusion, where subtle soundscapes add to its sombre mood and lengthy silences. Indeed, misery ensues in Act Four, most evidently through caretaker daughter Masha (Amy Ingram)’s effectively-grating cynicism and self-medication.

Even in its tragedy, this adaptation is a beautiful story of ordinary people and the challenges (or non-challenges) of their everyday lives. As Evans brings the story to contemporary realisation with help of modern language and a modern soundtrack, his writing reveals scenes full of witty dialogue, such as Irina’s sexual-innuendo-laden jealous confrontation of Boris’ intention to bring Nina back to the city with them. It is clear early on that the setting has been transformed from a 19th century Russian estate to modern Australia, mostly through the references of the “Wicked” musical-loving estate manager Ilya (Barbara Lowing) to Australian TV shows and stars, however, by mention of “Home and Away” this moves more into overwritten, tokenistic territory.

Metatheatre mentions abound in exploration of themes surrounding the conflict between nostalgia for the traditional theatre of Irina’s ilk and the innovation that her son embraces counter to her claims of it being cultural terrorism. From Streetcar’s Stanley, Isben’s Nora and Brecht’s Mother Courage to Hamlet and Chekhov himself, the show is rich with an intertextuality that makes its layers all the more luscious.

“The Seagull” is a play that literally begins and ends with a bang, well worth the effort for its remix of theatrical styles and modern maintenance of the darkness, death and despair of the original Russian script. The fact that QTC’s production comes six months after now look here’s Metro Arts take on the text is testament to exactly what makes it a classic to which each production can bring its own emphasis. The place of “The Seagull” as one of the most celebrated plays in the European dramatic cannon serves as reason enough for a visit, for a great story will always be timeless. To see this stripped back show is to see a masterclass in quality performance, which can only be an added bonus, for as Chekhov himself noted, “there is nothing new in art except talent.” And talent is something this show has in abundance.

Photo c/o – https://www.facebook.com/qldtheatreco

Mighty Medea

Medea (La Boite Theatre Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

May 30 – June 20

For the over two thousand years since her story was first shared in Greek legend, the character of Medea has reigned supreme as a monster mother. Wronged by her husband Jason who abandons their shared history (and her sacrifices) when he marries Princess Glauce, Medea is exiled with her children, despite her impressive lineage. From here she plots a bloody vengeance against her husband and sets to poisoning his new bride and killing her own children in pursuit of revenge against her husband.

It is an epic drama that hinges of the portrayal of its titular character. And Christen O’Leary more than delivers in the role. Her portrayal is of a passionate woman, outraged, intense, driven and strong. So much more than just rejected wife, she is a powerful presence of her own accord as partner and co-conspirator with Jason (Damien Cassidy) in their joint empire building endeavours.

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O’Leary’s realisation of the psyche of a woman whose identity has been shattered, is incredibility controlled and impressive. From the minute she embarks on her first monologue, delivered almost as manifesto to the audience, through moments of humble vulnerability, self-contended humour and harrowing despair, she takes the audience along on her roller coaster ride of emotions. Helen Christinson too, as the nurse and Princess Glauce is similarly impressive and she transitions easily between the distinct roles of loyal servant and entitled and empowered princess.

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From first entry into the Roundhouse Theatre, the audience is saturated by the spectacle of its staging and a gothic sensibility that encapsulates the darkness of the text’s themes. There is an almost occult-like feel to the tableaux, as if Medea is an apothecary setting to menace her enemy with potions.

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The setting is art; it’s an incredible visual experience, hauntingly beautiful and rich is aesthetic detail, and although the design is minimalistic, every inch is used to effect. Surrounded by a circle of lit candles and melted wax, a gnarled tree sits atop a large wooden table, providing opportunity for characters to climb to its heights, while two diagonally opposite stair sets serve not only as entry and exit points, but, at times, as stages within themselves. Even the walkway around the top of the stalls is used, which serves only to increase audience attention in an already engaging show. And it is wonderful to see a truly in-the-round production again filling the space. This is complemented by a re-imaged Greek chorus in the form of a capella choir (The Australian Voices) who introduce the narrative, comment on the action and interact with the actors. This does much to enhance the requisite mood and their subtle incorporation of modern classics such as INXS’s ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, is inspired.

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Certainly, this is a difficult text for any theatre-maker to tackle. Medea is one of the great dramatic female roles and, as such, the work has much to potentially say from a feminist perspective. Because of this, there can be wide differences in its on-stage interpretations. At its core, however, “Medea” is a story about power and the struggle for power, themes which still resonate today and it is of enormous credit to both playwright Suzie Miller and director Todd MacDonald that this production is so easily able to convey this universality. While it remains a morally challenging tale to tell, this incantation has been crafted so as to afford not just judgement but an attempt to inspire understanding of motivation. The result is an intense night of theatre that is not trying to tell audiences how to think as much as it is just urging them to think.

Attention is a finite resource, but it is one easily surrendered to a production of this calibre. La Boite’s “Medea” need to be commended not just for bringing Euripedes’s tragedy to life, but for doing so in such a mighty manner. The result is a gutsy but beautiful show and one of the highlights of La Boite’s program, not just for the year, but of the past decade.

Photos c/o – https://www.facebook.com/LaBoiteTheatreCompany/