Hilarious Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors (Luckiest Productions & Tinderbox Productions)

QPAC, The Playhouse

June 1 – 12

Typically musical theatre implies a kaleidoscope of colour on stage. But, not so for Act One of “Little Shop of Horrors”. Mr Mushnik’s Skid Row flower shop and surrounds are monochromed to Tim Burtoneque effect. Everything is grey – set, props and costumes alike… everything except for the plant at the centre of the story and the blood of its first human feed.


This film noire feel to its Act One filter reflects the show’s 1960s setting of a run-down florist and also suggests its spoof of B grade horror flicks. The aesthetic shows a notable attention to detail, especially in its perfectly kitsch costuming (courtesy of designer Tim Chappel) and when the colour returns after intermission, this meticulousness is amplified with realisation that costumes have been transformed from shades of grey to cartoonish vibrancy in all of their exactness.

Hapless orphaned botanist Seymour Krelborn (Brent Hill) dreams of a better life with thus-far-unrequited love, beautiful co-worker Audrey (Esther Hannaford), who is, instead, dating the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello (Scott Johnson). When Seymour discovers a strange and interesting plant, which he names Audrey II, his fortunes change, but at a cost, for Audrey II develops a taste for human blood and will do anything to corrupt Seymour into appeasing its appetite.

taste for blood

As the initially meek and mild but then increasingly hungry-for-celebrity Seymour, Brent Hill is endearing in his everyman sensibility. Most impressive, however, is the fact that he not only sings his own role but also voices Audrey II; it is not only a remarkable technical feat but it makes the laughter-filled ‘Feed Me (Git It)’ duet between the two even more memorable. The show’s other hilarious moments come from Johnson’s over-the-top characterisation of Audrey’s evil bully of a boyfriend; although he is a nasty, obnoxious character who enjoys inflicting pain and torture, his noisy and gleeful laugh of self-satisfaction is simply fabulous, helped along by his personal supply of laughing gas.


But the real star is Audrey II, increasingly sassy in demand for food, beyond just the show’s iconic line. The plant is realised through a serious of ever-bigger puppets by Sydney-based company Erth Visual & Physical Inc, eventually taking over most of the stage to dominate Act Two, making for a truly striking spectacle.

full size

Despite its sinister subject matter, this is a show filled with humour. As shop owner Mr Mushnik, Tyler Coppin shows great comic timing and physical engagement, including in accompaniment with Hill in ‘Mushnick and Son’, complete with an energetic folk dance. Kuki Tipoki and Dash Kruck add to the ensemble, with Kruck transitioning between a variety of over-the-top characters with gleeful relish.


Every aspect of “Little Shop of Horrors” is infectiously spirited, especially its music, performed by a five-piece offstage band led by Musical Director Andrew Worboys. Drawing inspiration from its 1960s rock roots, the catchy songs begin with ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, which remains as refrain in mind long after its end.

3 narrators

Punctuating the account with this and other songs, and narration is the impressive harmonised trio of Josie Lane, Chloe Zule and Angelique Cassimatis (with some initial narrational assistance from Lee Lin Chin). But it is Hannaford who soars the most vocally; from the vulnerability of her ‘Somewhere that’s Green’ covet for a suburban life to the yearning of show’s big love ballad ‘Suddenly Seymour’, she is both heartbreaking and animated as the show’s ill-fated heroine.

her yearning

This cult tale of a carnivorous plant is far from usual musical fair; the comedy is dark (faithful to its musical origin and not the sanitised 1986 Rick Moranis/Steve Martin movie), but still full of fun and snappily paced. The creative team behind Hayes Theatre Company’s inaugural, lauded production of “Sweet Charity” two years ago, have again done something very special… special in that strange beautiful and absurd sort of way.

Brisbane’s Matildas

The 2015 Matilda Awards, held at QUT Gardens Theatre on Monday 29th February, shared more than just their timing with the Oscars, with a razzle dazzle opening number of ‘Viva Brisvegas’ from hosts performer Carita Farrer Spencer and fashion designer Leigh Buchanan in guise as their alto egos Larry Paradiso and Barbra Windsor-Woo and a controversial speech from outgoing committee member and awards co-founder Alison Cotes.


Memorable moments also included, more poignantly, an appropriate standing ovation when celebrated Queensland actress Carol Burns was posthumously awarded the Gold Matilda Award for her contribution to the industry and body of work, including her final performance in Queensland Theatre Company’s “Happy Days”.  At the alternate end of the emotional spectrum, the biggest laugh of the often outrageous night came courtesy of the Lord Mayor Graham Quirk in reaction to the attention of Paradiso. There was also much enthusiasm in response to announcement of the future awards restructure of the technical categories, from beyond just Design (Set & Costumes) and Technical Design (lights, Multimedia & Sound).


Putting aside the recent industry criticism of the awards’ format and judges, big winners on the night included Queensland Theatre Company’s “Brisbane” which took out three categories: Best Mainstage production, Best New Australian Work and Best Male Actor in a Leading Role for Dash Kruck. Kruck’s versatility was acknowledged in his receipt, also, of the Award for Best Musical or Cabaret for his one man show “I Might Take My Shirt Off”.


Also, Gold Coast based Shock Therapy Productions’ “The Pillowman”  took out the win in three categories: Best Independent Production, Best Director for Sam Foster and Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role for Tama Matheson.


Shake & Stir Theatre Company’s “Dracula” was also a repeat winner, taking out both technical categories for set design and lighting.


Carol Burns
for an outstanding performance in Happy Days
and an exceptional body of work


Best Mainstage Production
Queensland Theatre Company

Lord Mayor’s Award for Best New Australian Work
(Proudly Sponsored by Brisbane City Council) 
written by Matthew Ryan

The Pillowman
Best Independent Production
Shock Therapy Productions 
in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse

Dash Kruck
Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Libby Munro
Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

Tama Matheson
Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role
The Pillowman

Naomi Price
Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Ladies in Black

Sam Foster
Best Director
The Pillowman

Josh McIntosh
Best Design (Set & Costumes)

Jason Glenwright
Best Technical Design (Lights, Multimedia & Sound)
lighting design – Dracula

Georgina Hopson
Bille Brown Award for Best Emerging Artist
Pirates of Penzance & Into the Woods

I Might Take My Shirt Off
Best Musical or Cabaret
QPAC in association with Queensland Cabaret Festival,
Jai Higgs & Dash Kruck

A town in time

Brisbane (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

April 11 – May 2

“The air is thick and wet and the sun burns your skin like it hates your guts.” From its opening lines, it is clear that “Brisbane” has an endearing authenticity to its representation of the city. Its staging too, is appealing in is actuality, with its split level set showing the detailed under-house of an iconic Queenslander dwelling. Although it is a big set (befitting a big story), it is full of hidden corners, like seeing David Malouf’s “12 Edmondstone Street” brought to life. The result is comforting in its historic nostalgia and interesting in the juxtaposition created between the creative space of its protagonist’s literary imagination and his bleak family life level above.


Set in 1942, a time of street cricket, milkman deliveries and backyard trenches, “Brisbane” tells an epic story of a changing world through lens of 14-year-old Danny Fisher (Dash Kruck) whose pilot brother (Conrad Coleby) has been killed in the bombing of Darwin. As his devastated family unravels, the teen finds a surrogate sibling in the American pilot Andy (also played by Coleby) who is stationed in Brisbane. While the narrative is first and foremost about a family, holistically, the play is about a time of tension when Brisbane went from being a tranquil town to a city worthy of General MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area Allied Forces Headquarters in Queen Street.

As the audience is reminded in the play’s closing moments, “this happened, here, in Brisbane.” And references to the city’s locations, landmarks and institutions abound as Aussie soldiers stand around drinking beer and watching as their women are swept off their feet (quite literally taking flight) by the American GIs with their pleases and thank-yous.


Like all quality theatre, the work becomes a launching pad for much after-show discussion and sharing of stories from the past, with audience members overheard telling others about Cloudland’s coloured history and late night Deen Brothers demolition. Indeed, the show has an appealing authenticity, down to the finest detail, with lighting washing the stage with sepia-tinged warmth and clever use of props and shadow play to conjure images of flying. The soundscape is also noteworthy, especially in Act One’s very funny and inventive newsreel re-enactment.


Characters are archetypally recognisable, like Australians of a bygone “Cloudstreet” era, yet never does it seem like the show is re-treading old ground. QTC has garnered quite the first class cast and although beginning scenes are busy with many characters, key players soon emerge. Chief among them is Harriet Dyer as the feisty, foul-mouthed and excitable Patty, Danny’s best friend, who provides much of Act One’s comedy. As an aspiring writer living in a storyteller’s world in which everything is something else, Kruck also delivers a memorable coming-of-age performance of one who begins with innocence, naivety and enthusiasm, not unlike the city itself in terms of its world stage status.


As his earlier works have shown, Matthew Ryan knows how to write about history (“Kelly”) and can easily bring Brisbane to life (“Boy Girl Wall”) and “Brisbane” triumphs in this combination. Although it is clearly evocative of time and place, it is about sensibility as much as setting and characters. Like a sticky-taped scrapbook of memories, “Brisbane” serves as storage mechanism in which stories can be kept and importantly shared. Although the play’s official U.S. Guide to Australia states that Australians typically look to the future and not back to the past, in this instance, we must be thankful that this is not the case for within the nooks and crannies of our history lurk the most absorbing of theatre tales.

Booze, boys and mythical beasts

I Might Take My Shirt Off (Brisbane Powerhouse and Sharpened Axe)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Platform

February 13 – 14

It’s Lionel’s first time at cabaret. As the world premiere of his debut show begins, he explains that it has been developed in response to the suggestion of his therapist. And audiences are invited to share in his terrifying learning experience as he checks off his list of cabaret ingredients, while exploring his feelings in response to a recent breakup. It is a well-crafted narrative arc and the diversity of its songs initially belies the ultimate unity of its story.

Writer/performer Dash Kruck is perfect as the reluctant protagonist Lionel, loveably apprehensive in his delivery of terrible jokes before he gains some martini-fuelled confidence. And he plays discomfort to perfection, all shifting eyes and nervous pauses, with characterisation that immediately engages the audience. Indeed, Kruck is a versatile and confident performer. His soaring vocals fill the Powerhouse’s potentially difficult Turbine Platform space, particularly in his midshow musical story of scary dragon, which, although amusing, also showcases a vocal range from light-hearted whimsy to passionate desperation.

Dash from PH FB

But it is not just Kruck’s singing that makes him such an appealing performer. The original, witty songs, which cover a range of styles, are interspersed with clever dialogue (including some political jibes) and hilarious audience interaction, that, although risqué, is never confrontational or malicious.

For a hysterical, yet thoughtful mix of imaginative, unique storytelling and quirky musical showmanship, do your funny bone a favour do not miss “I Might Take My Shirt Off’. Sex, booze, boys, mythical beasts and glitter … what could go wrong? Not only does it showcase a unique cabaret concept, but it is a work of tremendous heart that will leave you thoroughly entertained and ultimately self-empowered.

Spamalot silliness

Spamalot (Harvest Rain Theatre Company)

QPAC, Concert Hall

October 2 – 5

Finnish fish schlapping, migrating coconut clapping, overconfident Black Knights and crazy killer rabbits; if you don’t recognise British comedy troupe’s Monty Python’s iconic scenes and lines, then “Spamalot” may seem like the most nonsensical of theatre experiences. If, however, you know the Knights who say Ni, then this Camelot spoof is the show for you.


The award-winning musical that brings the cult 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to the stage, tells the tale of Arthur, King of the Britains’ jaunty yet problematic quest to put together his Knights of the Round Table and follow God’s order to find the hidden chalice, The Holy Grail. Arthur (Jon English) is taunted and challenged by his disrespecting subjects, including ‘old woman’ Dennis, which is perhaps understandable given that he arrives riding an invisible horse with faithful servant Patsy (Simon Gallaher) providing the casual canter clip-clop sounds with coconut shells.

Together again, 30 years after the pair official opened QPAC in “The Pirates of Penzance”, English and Gallaher engage in playful banter, clearly having as good a time as the audience. (How unfortunate it was, however, to have microphone issues distracting from the opening night performance.) However, the greatest humour comes from Frank Woodley, who puts his own spin on the ‘totes French’ Taunting Frenchmen, improvising some extra insults by the character made famous by John Cleese.

3of them

The show’s standout is legendary soprano Julie Anthony brought out of retirement to play ‘watery tart’, The Lady of the Lake, who Arthur repeatedly encounters along the way to finding the shiny metal cup. In full voice, she does not falter in her delivery, garnering audience applause virtually every time she takes to the stage and, in her outrageously diva-esque standout numbers such as ‘The Song that Goes Like This’, a wonderful parody of the sentimental Broadway ballad, she delivers much hilarity. And she gives a mighty memorable Miley Cyrus impression too.

‘You do not stand a chance if you don’t have any stars’, Woodley sings as Sir Robin in ‘You won’t succeed in Showbiz. And “Spamalot” has no shortage. I am yet to be anything less than impressed by Dash Kruck or Chris Kellett’s stage efforts and this show is no exception. As the big strong and hot, gay Sir Lancelot (who likes to dance-a-lot), Kellett shows self-effacing versatility. And Kruck is not only of solid voice, but entirely engaging as he camps it up as delicate, fragile and very pale, musically-inclined Prince Herbert, imprisoned in a tall tower. The unlikely lovebirds’ scenes together are absolutely hilarious and one of Act Two’s highlights.


Much of the joy of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” lies in its imaginative use of its low-budget locations and homemade props, and, in its homage, “Spamalot” more than does justice to this style of sketch comedy, not just through its ‘very expensive forest’ but its witty word plays, sight gags and historic anachronisms. There’s a lot of ad-libbing, some good-humoured ribbing (of ‘tight bastard producers’) and a peppering of political references, but it is all with a resplendently silly sense of fun for all ages.

Like a group hug of happiness, “Spamalot” will leave you sore from smiling as you hum ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ all the way home. High-end theatre, this is not, but wildly entertaining? Judging by the thunderous audience applause, absolutely.

Superstar spectacular

Jesus Christ Superstar (The Arts Centre Gold Coast)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast

June 20 – 29


Since it first opened on Broadway in 1971, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been interpreted in many ways, including in a number of touring and local productions. In The Arts Centre Gold Coast show, the classic rock opera gets a makeover; the setting is a celebrity obsessed Jerusalem Shore world of hyper reality. In the neon-ness of leather and sequined debauchery, the buzz around the titular Jesus is one of a celebrity, billed to make appearance at the Cobra nightclub. This bold and grand setting is realised though the creativity of optikal bloc, whose innovative work brings the seedy and corrupt world to explosive life with an aesthetic akin to the Verona Beach of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie “Romeo + Juliet”. Indeed, the seven meter high LED panels that dominate the backdrop, not only bring the work to explosive life, but enable emphasis on the show’s rock roots though the incorporation of religious quotes from modern music royalty as part of the projections.


The combination of pulsating music, video backing and energetic lighting take the audience to a place that is almost overwhelming, especially given the size of the ensemble (at times with over 30 crowding the small stage). The numerous dancers are a distraction and although the choreography is good, timing is not always synchronised, which only serves to highlight a mismatch of professional and amateur performers. And the final number of Barberella-esque pink and gold costumes, is just a jazz hand away from being more cheesy than celebratory.


The cast matches the vibrancy of the show’s aesthetic in terms of dynamism; however, the star of this show is undoubtedly Dash Kruck, who sounds utterly spectacular as Judas. From his first scene, he takes a commanding place on stage and holds it throughout, playing Judas with righteous indignation and fiery anger in his dissatisfaction with the directions in which Jesus is steering his disciples. As leather-clad, rock god, Jesus, Stevie Mac is also impressive in his emotion and vocal intensity, particularly in the powerful anthem “Gethsemane”.

The musical based on the Gospel’s accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life, from the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem through to the crucifixion. It is a loose and highly dramatised account, focusing on political and interpersonal struggles not included in the Bible narratives. And this reimagining is particularly transformative, casting both disciples and Pilot as females. And in the case of Pilot, it is a choice that works, for indeed, in Pilot (Angela Toohey), we trust, full of intensity and fury as she is, in both word and song.


This modernised production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is one of much passion and many strengths; it not only alters the hippy aspects of the classic production in favour of contemporary styling, but it provides the chance to witness a performer deliver an excellent enactment. And, in live theatre, there is nothing more exciting than that.