Thousand tops

With 2020 being largely taken out of the mix, it has taken me just over 8 years to review 1000 shows as Blue Curtains Brisbane. And my top 10 favourites from within them, appropriately feature shows from 2013 to 2021… a mix of comedy, cabaret, musicals, theatre and festival fare.

1. Delectable Shelter (The Hayloft Project)

The Hayloft Project’s 2013 out-of-the-box black comedy, “Delectable Shelter” literally took place in a box as bunker at Brisbane Powerhouse in its claustrophobic tell of five doomsday survivors planning a utopian society. With ‘80s power ballads and hilarious homages to their ancestors from later descendants, there was so much by which to be entertained in the anarchy of its apocalyptic storytelling, making it my absolute favourite.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National Theatre of Great Britain)

In 2018, the National Theatre of Great Britain provided QPAC audiences with an unparalleled insight into the mind of someone living with an autism spectrum condition with their acclaimed production of Mark Hadden’s much-loved novel. Inventive, imaginative stage design which saw the floor and all three walls of the boxed-in set transformed into mathematical graph paper, provided many visually memorable moments authentic to experience of the show’s London production.

3. All My Love (HIT Productions)

HIT Productions’ sensitive “All My Love” chronicled the fascinating and little-known relationship between the larger-than-life writer and poet Henry Lawson and the radical socialist and literary icon Mary Gilmore, taking its audience along an evocative journey about the people beyond their words, but also their passion in a “Love Letters” type way.

4. Ladies in Black (Queensland Theatre)

The musical so nice, Queensland Theatre programed it twice. With stunning visuals and costumes, a soundtrack featuring over 20 original Tim Finn songs and humour, the Helpman-Award-winning musical took audiences into both the glitz of a high-end 1950s department store shop floor and the personal lives of its employees with infectious wit and charm.

5. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The Curator’s 2021 drama-filled French-revolutionist play about a playwright writing a play was passionate, powerful, political and full of important messaging about women’s importance in history and the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation.

6. The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite Theatre Company)

In 2016, Daniel Evans’ gave meaning anew to Shakespeare’s depiction of the Machiavellian King Richard III through bold exploration of its story’s silences, gaps and biases and dynamic discovery of new character depths and unexpected provocations.

7. Hamnet (Dead Centre)

As part of the 2018 Brisbane Festival, Ireland’s Dead Centre used audio visual technology in combination with live performance to give us the perfectly-pitched and movingly thought-provoking story of Shakespeare’s one son (just 11 when he died), knowing that he is just one letter away from greatness.

8. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

My favourite ever Queensland Theatre show…. More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, the company’s landmark 2021 production of “Boy Swallows Universe”, honoured the original text and transformed it as a work of its own, dynamic in its realisation and anchored around its theme of resilience.

9. California Crooners Club (Parker + Mr French)

The 2016 Spiegeltent saw audiences treated to the first Brisfest appearance of the cool-cat cabaret crooners of the “California Crooners Club”. The energetic and charming show from genuine, generous performers (led by concept creator Hugh Sheridan), was a marvellous mixed bag of old, new and original numbers curated together and harmonised like familiar favourites.

10. Forthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)

Shake & stir theatre company’s contemporary adults-only choose-your-own-adventure romantic comedy “Fourthcoming” not only placed the course of the narrative in the audience’s hands, but provided an avalanche of non-stop laugh-until-you-cry moments.


Special mention to La Boite Theatre Company’s “Still Standing”, which in 2002 and 2003 presented a music-filled immersion into the Brisbane rock scene of the 1980s as counter-culture to the repressive Bjelke-Petersen regime that although I saw before starting reviewing, still stands as my favourite ever Brisbane theatre experience.

and that’s a 2018 wrap


A quick pre-Christmas trip to Melbourne this week has not only give me my favourite theatre experience of the year in Calamity Jane, but provided a chance to reflect on a theatre year now done. Although still in the triple digits, I saw fewer shows in 2018 than in previous years, because…. Netflix. And, as usual, there have been many highlights, making it difficult to providing a definitive list of favourites. But reflective lists are what the end of a year is all about, so here is my eclectic top 10 of the memorable, the musical, the moving and the mirthful, and some honourable mentions.

  1. Calamity Jane – Encore Season (Arts Centre Melbourne in association with One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Co)
  2. Hamnet (Dead Centre) as part of Brisbane Festival
  3. Good Muslim Boy (Queensland Theatre and Malthouse Theatre)
  4. Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)
  5. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)
  6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (The National Theatre)
  7. The Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)
  8. Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects) as part of Brisbane Festival
  9. At Last: The Etta James Story (Brisbane Powerhouse)
  10. The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

And mention also to the following highlights:

Best performance:

  • Virgina Gay as the titular feisty frontierswoman in Calamity Jane
  • Paul Capsis as 1970s gay icon, English writer, raconteur and actor Quentin Crisp in Resident Alien at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the 2018 Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture.

Best AV – A Christmas Carol (optikal bloc for shake & stir theatre co)

Most thought provoking –- Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects)

Best new work – The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Best musical

  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)
  • Big Fish – The Musical (Phoenix Ensemble)
  • Bare (Understudy Productions)

Best cabaret:

Best music – The Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)

Best dance – Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)

Funniest – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Most joyous – I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You (The Good Room)

Cleverest – North by Northwest (QPAC and Kay & McLean Productions)

Most moving – Hamnet (Dead Centre)

Hamnet heartbreak

Hamnet (Dead Centre)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

September 8 – 12

Brisbane Festival’s “Hamnet” is a lock-out show, not for purposes of pretention, but, as is immediately clear to audiences upon entry into QPACs Cremorne Theatre, due to its technical needs; an initially intimidating video image fills the stage wall, screening a live projection of the audience seated in the stalls. As things begin, its titular protagonist appears to enter from the audience, but not really, as Andrew Clancy’s design offers us two images, the boy before us and his video apparition.


The use of ‘live and dead’ video projections is integral to proceedings as the production attempts to bridge the gap between two generations, that of 11-year-old Hamnet (Aran Murphy) and his father William Shakespeare, appearing in video projection. It is all very clever, as experience shows Dead Centre works to be. (The company’s multi award-winning productions “Lippy” and “Chekhov’s First Play” were both featured at the Brisbane Festival in 2016).

This is, as its title suggests, the story of Shakespeare’s one son, named Hamnet, who was just 11 when he died in 1596, while his father was away pursuing his theatre career. Hamnet is too young to understand Shakespeare, but he knows that he is just one letter away from being a great man such as the Danish prince of his father’s 1599 creation, “Hamlet”. It is a limbo existence that is effectively translated using audio visual technology in combination with live performance, yet this is not all that makes the essentially solo work so interesting. Adding to astound is the performance of youngster Aran Murphy as the vulnerable boy looking for guidance of how to grow up, though he never will. Unassuming yet anxious about possibly meeting his father, he introduces himself hesitantly, with hint as to the extraordinary, honest and intuitive, perfectly-pitched performance about to unfold.


Hamnet is a curious boy, not just as to why his father left him. Luckily there is Google to ask about things like quantum physics, especially as his father is away. It’s a sad state of affairs for the young boy and the show is quite poignant in his predominantly apologetic manner, heartbreaking anticipation of possibly meeting his father and sad lament about the weight of legacy (“Will somebody play me one day?”) Even ask to his father about his Hamnet/Hamlet preference does not elicit the straight answer response for which he yearns, meaning that even in recall of the show to another the next day, I found myself becoming emotional, such is its impact.


Layered as it is, “Hamnet” features many Shakespearean quotations and allusions within its dialogue. There is humour too, especially in an early scene which sees an audience member called on stage to help the young boy act out a father-son scene from his namesake tragedy. Mostly though it is just Hamnet and his father’s projection ‘on’ stage together. And the result is at-once technically fascinating and touchingly heartfelt.

“Hamnet” is the type of original and though-provoking work that represents all that is great about festival finds. Indeed, it is theatre at its most riveting, deserving of its extended full standing ovation in acknowledgment of the power of show’s message, the innovation of its execution and also appreciation of experience of its Australian Premiere, exclusive to Brisbane as part of the festival.

Before, after and always Chekhov

Chekov’s First Play (Dead Centre)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

September 21 – 23

From its at-door sign warning of loud, sudden noises, coarse language, nudity, sexual references, pyrotechnics and smoking on stage, it is easy to recongise that Dead Centre’s “Chekhov’s First Play” is going to be take audiences far from the usual Chekov places. Yet still, in its disassembling of the great Russian playwright’s work, as well as theatre itself, the play takes its audiences to some surprising but ultimately superb places.

The show begins somewhat traditionally, apart from the fact that audience members are all wearing headphones in order to obtain Bush Moukarzel’s audio director’s commentary. This allows, he claims, for him to unclutter the complicated work and, accordingly, his words include sippets of explanation of its play’s subtext, highlight the universality and thus modernity of its metaphors about property and clarify the dramatic concept of Chekhov’s gun… providing the cast don’t muck it up by accidently skipping a few pages of dialogue. There is humour too as he makes metatheatrical observations regarding the actors, such as in reaction to their underplay of lines, moving towards offer of his opinion of them, including their flaws.

The soap-opera story of Anton Chekov’s first play, “Platonov”, which he started writing ‘before he was Chekhov’ at just 18 years of age, is of the widowed Anna Petrovna who can no longer afford the upkeep on her giant house (represented by Andrew Clancy’s imposing and immaculate redbrick set) and the benefactor trying to woo her despite her love belonging to another, already married man. At five hours in unadapted form (thanks to 83 scenes) and with a 20 character cast and multiple themes, the ambitiously complicated play is generally accepted as unstageable.

But this is far from a traditional telling, and not just due to the headphones. Things begin to change towards the abstract when the obscure Platonov arrives on stage, with the actors slipping in and out of character. As they await and then laud Platonov’s arrival, the Chekhovian language begins to breakdown; as Chinese takeaway is ordered, mention of traditional superstition is googlised and talk even turns to Kim and Kanye. Chaos soon ensures as the show’s stately staging is wrecked (literally) and the gun reappears. And it works… mainly due to Platonov, the central character, who does not utter a single word as the world implodes around him. To say more would be to ruin the impressive imagery and pack-a-punch impact of the work’s modern application of its after and always themes of ownership, translated too within a feminist discourse. All cast members are impressive, whether performing the naturalism of Chekhov’s original script or when within the heightened melodrama of later lip-synced sections.


“Chekhov’s First Play” is a hugely inventive work, not just in the realisation of its rebuild from the broken down fragments of its source material, but its concept of modern examination of a classic and show that the leading character can be any of us. Like “An Oak Tree” and Gob Squad’s “Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good”, with a bit of last year’s “Confidence Man”, “Chekhov’s First Play” creates a truly memorable and though-provoking theatrical experience through its insightful reconciliation of Chekhov’s trademark naturalism with the commotion of our everyday world. Go for the comfort of its classic premise but stay for the challenge of its shattering of preconceptions. And then share your thoughts so that others might also join in the incredible privilege we have to be seeing such acclaimed work from this year’s ‘Irish Rebellion’ Brisbane Festival Artists in residence.

Limitation of life

Lippy (Dead Centre)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

September 14 – 17

Dead Centre’s “Lippy” is very much a festival show, fascinating in its inception and powerful in its execution, but far from everyone’s cup of tea.

Things begin on a slither of stage ahead of a projection screen. The setup of three chairs and a tech station (manned by Adam Welsh) on stage feels quite Brechtian in a way that suits its later meta-theatre mentions of the work’s one act approach (intermissions seem to be out of fashion these days). But it also suits its clever introductory premise of presuming people are gathered for a post-show discussion led by the work’s writer, Bush Moukarzel as a moderator of sorts. This is perhaps the show’s most interesting section as online and movie clips are shared by Mark O’Halloran in explanation of the nature and limitations of lip-reading (context is of considerable importance). And Moukarzel’s interjection references to the Dublin-based company’s first week Brisbane Festival work “Souvenir” make for a nice touch to those who are seeing the Irish artists in resident’s trilogy of shows.

As move is made from focus on putting fake words in powerful people’s mouths (as seen through a hilarious Mick Romney mashup) to the power of trying to put real words back into the mouths of ‘ordinary’ folk, the work’s premise becomes clearer.  Lip reader O’Halloran, talks about his work with police investigating the extraordinarily strange real-life deaths of four women, three sisters and their aunt, apparently by voluntary starvation after barricading themselves in the house they shared in Ireland in 2000. And when he does an onstage demonstration of his skill in interpretation the work merges into the multilayered women’s story, of sorts, through recreation of a crime scene to be inhabited by the women (Joanna Banks, Clara Simpson, Liv O’Donoghue and Ali White).

There are haunting scenes as the women appear to be attempting to destroy evidence of their earlier lives into garbage bags of shredded documents and shattered plates. When they seek to speak, however, their sounds are disjointed and ultimately overcome by white noise. Indeed, application of this reimagining of the family’s final days, is far from realistic. Staging is precise in its chaos, but intriguing in its imagery, for example, when perspective is played with by positioning a table setting, complete with characters around it, up against a wall. Supported by a dynamic soundscape, this creates some powerful moments, none more so than when performers are dragged about like mannequins.

In the hands of Directors Ben Moukarzel and Ben Kidd, there is immense effect in its silences too, as should be the case in a show of such few words. And often throughout its palatable 70 minute duration, audience members find themselves in shared shock within its economy of words and measured pace; it is uncomfortable, but compelling, almost-voyeuristic viewing.


Things end as the show was conceived, through words, with a final soliloquy shared on screen as just a close up of one of the dead sisters, Catherine’s lips, stimulating memorable imagery (though drawing on Samuel Beckett’s “Not I”) through her evocative statements about being witness to the process as opposed to event of death and of the thoughts of her last living moments.

“Lippy” is far from a joyous work; anticipatory reading of any kind is sure to prepare the audience for its chilly content. And any show with consideration of tough themes like identity and death is sure to give its attendees much to take away in contemplation. The fact that it is based on real-life events, however, not only gives added weight to its ‘art intimating life’ themes, but proves the truth of the adage that truth is often stranger than fiction.

Pondering Proust

Souvenir (Dead Centre)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 6 – 10

“Souvenir” is very festival is its feel (#inagoodway), so perfectly suited to a showing at Brisfest’s Theatre Republic precinct. Pre-show audience members see its performer Bush Moukarzel centre stage but facing the wall, jogging on a treadmill, surrounded by a clutter of cardboard boxes. Even as the boxes tumble, however, and pages are cascaded through the air, there is a clear deliberateness to the mess. The obscurely labelled boxes (‘mum’, ‘the theatre’, ‘bacon’, ‘broken glass’, ‘dust’ etc etc) signpost, in some part, the focus of the story he goes on the share, and also house its range of equally obscure supporting props.

Moukarzel is an engaging performer as the lovelorn protagonist, meaning that never does interest wane, despite its patchy narrative based on the world’s longest book, the French classic, “Remembrance of Things Past (In Search of Lost Time)” by Marcel Proust. The story is of his love and loss of the ambiguous Albertine (to give relatability to the assumed predominantly straight audience), but it is also so much more in its story of exploration of memory, jealousy and time, meaning that familiarity with Proust is no prerequisite to its appreciation.

sands of time.jpg

With a content range from Springsteen to some maths equations, “Souvenir” is a difficult show to define; the fragmented nature of its hour long meditation on personal and social amnesia is reflection of the ideas of time and memory, so core to its premise. It is certainly quirky, featuring as it does, the most memorable of endings as audience members engage in a communal personal experience though the lenses of their very own viewmasters. But beyond its idiosyncrasies it is a very well-written work, clever in its self-awareness with Brisfest references and meta-theatre mentions of, for example of what worked in dress rehearsal, in conjunction with its use of text from all range of other sources from T. S. Eliot and William Shakespeare to Orson Wells and even Charlie Kaufman.

Most of all, “Souvenir” provides insight into human observations and is, consequently, full of ideas for audience members to ponder, especially around the question of ‘what do we really know anyway’, making it a worthwhile festival feature.