Courtly comedy and cake

Let Them Eat Cake (Act/React)

Golden Pig Cooking School

May 11 – 13

madame.jpgUpon leaving “The Play That Goes Wrong” opening night last week, I didn’t think I could even laugh quite so hard at a show… then along came “Let Them Eat Cake”, a slice of silly improvised shenanigans presented as part of the 2017 Anywhere Theatre Festival. The work comes from the creative minds of those at Act/React, the improv troupe responsible for the smash, sell-out hits “Speed: The Movie, The Play” and “Titanic: the Movie, The Play” at the Brisbane Powerhouse and it is just as funny as its predecessor works, making it a clear Festival highlight. It is not a movie re-imagining this time though, but rather a farce which sees all sorts of French court characters revealed in all sorts of scandalous and hysterical situations.

Versailles can be a tough place, especially for a mime, we learn as the show begins with lone mime, Pierre (Dan Beeston) on stage. And though the front row of the audience may occupy his predominant interest, there really is no hiding anywhere as audience belongings are reappropriate to become the show’s religious relic props. It is soon apparent that he is not an ordinary mime.

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Pretty Pierre has the pottiest of mouths (despite never speaking) and he may have done pornography. He is servant to the ambitious widow Madame Celeste (Natalie Bochenski, with a wig as large as her dress’ bussle) and so, spends initial scenes penning a dictated letter to her niece. Madame Celeste has money problems so quests to wed a wealthy, but boring, aristocrat Hugo (Wade Robinson), who may be after a top level wife but settles for Celeste, despite her having a little bit of the plague.

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Gossipy court news travels fast and a Cardinal is soon also on the scene to stake his claim and confess his from-afar love for Celeste. It’s far from a France of polite parlour games with trickery, theft and bribery unfolding as audience suggestions contribute to the spontaneity of the largely ad-libbed show, ensuring that it travels in directions so random as to leave the actors themselves sometimes struggling to maintain composure. The deliberate overacting only adds to the exaggerated, improbable and farcical situations. But the absurdity is all part of the fun, especially when mention is made of chicken grenades.

Relent from the riotous laughter comes with interval, when, courtesy of the host venue, the audience is treated to rose water cupcakes, in honour of Queen Marie Antoinette’s supposed quote upon learning that the French peasants had no bread. The Golden Pig Cooking School is a wonderful venue for the experience too, full of atmosphere, enhanced by the show’s ongoing musical accompaniment from Richard Grantham on viola. Still, nothing is as memorable as the unfolding hilarity, thanks to the comic skill and timing of its players, vocally overemphasising where necessary as signpost to the weird and wacky directions of the plot and bouncing good-naturedly off each other and the audience. And in Dan Beeston’s hands, this mime needs no words to make many of the show’s funniest jokes.

“Let Them Eat Cake” is clever comedy all around. With its revisits to previous mentions and provision of associated puns, it shows that sometimes spontaneous can be best.  This is funny in its purest form as the dialogue, action, story and even aspects of the characters are created by the players and audience in collaboration and it is not only its abrupt ending that will leave its audiences wanting more. Hopefully Brisbane will see more of the show soon because as comedies go, this interactive farce really takes the cake.

All aboard for amusement

Titanic The Movie The Play (Act/React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Plaza

September 29 – October 22

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Just when you thought it was safe to return to the Powerhouse Plaza, the unsinkable RMS Titanic is ready to set sail for its second season in the immersive “Titanic The Movie The Play”. The show, which gives audience members opportunity to strap on a life jacket and jump aboard in shameless homage to the epic ‘90s romance of aristocratic Rose and lowborn Jack, comes complete with deliberately low-budget special effects and non-stop laughter for those lucky enough to have booked a berth.

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Guided by Old Rose (Natalie Bochenski) reminiscing for the first time (for a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets) about when, years earlier, she got on a boat and had sex in a car, the audience is taken aboard the wannabe passenger liner.

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As her story unfolds, a bunch of roses are selected from the audience to don big-brimmed hat and imitation Le Cœur de la Mer Heart of the Ocean blue diamond necklace (as was the fashion of the time) to feature as fiancé to hilarious sleazy dudebro Billy Zane (Daren King) or get steamy with the poor artist Jack (co-writer Dan Beeston), who has boarded the board with a bindle packed with an academic award.

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Intertextual and pop culture references pepper the piece. A ‘Pretty Woman’ montage, complete with musical accompaniment that sees Molly Brown (Elizabeth Hannah) helping Jack to dress to dinner with options, including a pink Gatsby-esque suit, serves as particularly highlight. And dialogue is packed with Billy Zane movie title puns. In every aspect, the versatility of the show’s performers is undeniable, evidenced in their improvised responsiveness to the audience, the outdoor setting and on-stage participants.

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As the world’s greatest story of ill-fated love, loss and lifeboats (courtesy of the Queensland Maritime Museum), Act/React’s cheeky, energetic parody picks up where their 2015 smash hit “Speed The Movie The Play” (set aboard a vintage bus) left off and, is guaranteed to have audience in fits of often-snorty laughter. Be warned though. Along with its all sorts of amusement, “Titanic The Movie The Play” contains dodgy special effects, that Celine Dion song from atop the show’s custom-built replica of the Titanic’s iconic bow and jokes about Billy Zane’s career that never grow old.

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Ready for the ride?

Speed the Movie the Play (Brisbane Powerhouse and Act/React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Plaza

September 30 – October 17

Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?

Well, first you need to get on the bus in the first place, which is what we eventually do, after first experiencing the elevator and other initial scenes from the 1994 American action film “Speed.” This is interactive theatre at its most interactive and the result is a whole lot of fun for everyone involved.

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“Speed the Movie the Play” is, as the title suggests, a recreation of the crazy movie ride in which a young, hotshot cop must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph (or whatever that is in the metric system, we are told). Condensing the movie down to a 60 minute show length means that the tempo never wanes. Indeed, it is controlled chaos as audiences experience surround-sound-style Hollywood-ish special effects to inventively bring so many of the movie’s moments to plastic, cardboard and projected life.

The show’s accessibility certainly comes from audience familiarity with its source material. Jokes about Keanu Reeves’ career also feature throughout, however, the funniest thing of all, is Keanu himself. As protagonist pitted against the villainous former bomb squad technician played on screen by the late Hollywood legend Dennis Hopper, Dan Beeston does a perfect caricature of the hotshot Canadian actor Keanu Reeves, complete with over-exaggerated, dumbfounded quizzical looks and dopey delivery of lines “Bill and Ted” style. And every time he makes confused comment or gives witless look, especially in ad-lib to the unique audience reactions and comments of each show, he has the passengers in stitches.

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“Speed the Movie the Play” is indeed, a hilariously funny show. It is easy to see why the show’s 2015 Brisbane Comedy Festival season was a sellout. And from the size of the crowd gathered upon their other-show exits in the Brisbane Powerhouse Plaza in attempt to observe from afar what was happening on the vintage B59 Volvo, tickets are sure to be snapped up quickly again.

When it comes to movie homages, you probably can’t get more madcap. If you like your nostalgia ‘90s show, are sure to love every moment of this non-stop, riotous ride. But be ready to have a blast (#punintended) as you join in a narrative that features Keanu, Dennis, a Sandra and you. It’s sure to be an excellent adventure (whoops, wrong movie) if you are ready for the ride.