Odd couple contemplations

String: An Odd Evening with Tyrone and Lesley

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

March 12

With cabaret tables in addition to the usual stall seating, Metro Arts’ New Benner Theatre is like a red-door, knock-twice underworld paradise speakeasy for “String”… if speakeasy entertainment was to come from an odd couple like Tyrone (David Megarrity) and Lesley (Samuel Vincent) wearing fez and bowler hats, sharing peculiar songs about bodily functions, peppercorns and the length of a piece of piece of string.

Strung together from original tunes of their past albums, as well as premiering new songs from the forthcoming album ‘String’, the show is presented in accompaniment of vintage slide images of a 1950s day trip around Brisbane (visuals assembled by Nathan Sibthorpe). The flea-market found slides, which come courtesy of a mystery photographer, give us gorgeous images of gardens, roads, the city and suburbia, and work wonderfully as a framing device. It’s like a cross between a concert and slide night. And as if the award-winning duo’s ukulele and double bass big-and-little pairing accompaniment is not interesting enough, there is also the clever irreverence of many of the song’s lyrics and rhymes … think of the “it was ciao bella; now I’m a capella” lament in ‘Unaccompanied’.

It’s all quite cheeky, however, there is also a lovely sentiment to do with moving on around life’s corners and not dwelling in matters of perhaps, which fits with the pairing’s promise of ‘light music for dark times’. Indeed, there is an appealing optimism woven into things, to subtly pull on audience heart strings in stop-and-breathe contemplation of how we spend our time between each day’s sunrise and sunset, supported by accomplished musicality and entertaining stagemanship.

Megarrity and Vincent are absolutely in sync with complementary physical movements, with an intricacy befitting a 20-year collaboration. The celebrated local musicians create some splendid sounds, such as in the instrumental number ‘Roads’. Like a song from an earlier time, ‘Old Fashioned’ starts with a whistle and includes an impressive double bass showcase solo from Vincent. And the hints of other melodies that whisper through numbers like the eponymous hit single ‘Bear With Me’, give a sense of comfort to listeners.

A craftedness of light and shade within the setlist’s curation means that sentimental moments are complemented by a healthy dose of humour. Megarrity has an easy-listening voice (Penn and Teller style we don’t hear from Vincent as Lesley). And even then, he is a man of few words as he throws out concepts to the audience with only the scantest of contextuslisation. The numbers speak for themselves however, (even when with kazoo accompaniment), and, appropriately, it is all about them.

More whimsical than eccentric, the deceptively-simple “String: An Odd Evening with Tyrone and Lesley” is charming avant-garde entertainment, which makes it an entirely fitting inclusion in the 2022 Queensland Cabaret Festival’s celebration of creativity, music and storytelling that breathes new life into the cabaret canon. The gentlemen songsters may appear as if they are from a different era, but their messaging is very aptly of the now. If only their show’s journey and its short and sharp song snippets were just a little longer.

Holidays hope

The Holidays (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

November 14 – December 12

With stone fruit now on sale and schools this week farewelling their Senior students, it is clear that summer holidays are but a whisper away. For many in this COVID-19 year, Christmas holidays will mean a road trip to a regional destination, which makes Queensland Theatre’s world premiere production, “The Holidays” (which was postponed due to the pandemic) now particularly timely. And as the show begins with Dad Bob Holiday (Bryan Probets), his wife Summer (Louise Brehmer) and their son Oliver (Matthew Ianna in a Queensland Theatre debut) embarking upon a hours and hours journey to the beach house of Bob’s unseen eccentric artist father, we are reminded of our own similar summer road-trip experiences, thanks to its Aussie music soundtrack of Chisel and Australian Crawl et al that serves as a through-line from even the pre-show ambiance within the Bille Brown Studio.

What the work also captures is the meander of a leisurely long summer day. Laidback pacing means that while there are hints as to the reasoning behind the trip and the notable absence of Bob’s father from the scene, we are a frustrating two thirds of the way into the 80-minute work before any specifics are revealed. On its own, this could serve as a hindrance to audience engagement, however, storytelling is supported by innovative sound and audio-visual elements that balance the lack of action on-stage once the Holidays arrive at their unspecified Queensland beachside town.  

The beach represents an escape for Oliver and all he wants to do is spend time there. When he does, he speaks directly to the audience, who are transported along with him, in a literally wave of sight and sound courtesy of an all-Queensland creative team. Nathan Sibthorpe’s stunning video projections create a sense of immersion, not only taking the audience to the beach, in work with Sean Foran and Matthew Erskine’s composition and sound design, but elevating on stage action by illuminating it on screen, showing the canvases of artworks being discovered by Oliver as he searches through the mysteries of his grandfather’s seaside shack.

As the story is told through almost-teenager Oliver’s eyes, his parents are not entirely likeable in their constant dismissal of his attempts at communication, clarification and recognition, however, in Probets’ and Brehmer’s hands the characters are given more depth than this just this reading. Probets’ restraint appropriately conveys stern Dad Bob’s complexity and burdensome struggle with becoming engulfed by grief while still fathering within his own family. And Brehmer is a bright as her character, Summer Holiday, as she attempts to support her husband and buoyant her boy.

The standout, however, is Ianna. The newcomer is incredibly talented and easily holds audience command as he breaks the fourth wall for direct address and share of this thoughts and feelings, and guides us through assistance in building his imaginative world through restrained moments of audience participation. He captures Oliver’s feelings of being lost and confused as a consequence of his parents’ attempts to protect him from their family’s reality, however, without any dialogue nod as to his exact age, it is difficult to fully appreciate his turmoil.

The 2019 Queensland Premier’s Drama Prize winner is a tender and hopeful exploration of family relationships and associated notions of connection, memory and legacy. David Megarrity’s writing skilfully take us from the frivolity and humour of dad jokes, mum dances and a pack of puns to foreshadowed poignancy associated with big and deep subject matter. Laidback disposition aside, “The Holidays” is a beautiful play in its account of relationships between a father, son and grandfather and its later scenes are particularly moving as Megarrity draws its strings together in a one-dialogue-line bow to bring tears to many eyes. Indeed, the charming, simple story of real people and their relationships ensures “The Holidays” its own legacy… for shore.  

Photos c/o – Morgan Roberts