Making right out of wrongs

The Sublime (No Interval Actors Theatre Co)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

August 30 – September 2


Brendan Cowell’s “The Sublime” is a very Australian play, unfortunately not in a good way. This, however, is a reflection of what is wrong in our contemporary culture rather than comment on the controversial work itself, which is a sad, shocking and formidable theatre experience that crams much into its unrelenting and absorbing 70 minute running time.

25 year-old Dean (Tom Yaxley) is a Brownlow-bound AFL star, seemingly single-minded in his devotion to his sporting career because there will be plenty of time for life and a wife after his time at the top. His more happy-go-lucky brother Liam (Bradley Watt) is a league player of some controversy, trying to come back after a suspension, but easily led-astray by his new captain and NRL superstar, Nick. Despite their differences, the two brothers are united in emotion towards their respective games, because ‘footy’ is the name for whatever code you follow.

As the more responsible older brother, Dean not only obliges their mother’s request for him to watch over the laddish Liam, but seems like a sensible mentor for 17-year-old Olympics-bound athletics star Amber (Ellen Bailey) so much so that her parents suggest that he takes her and friend Zoe along on the boys’ rowdy end-of-year footy trip to Thailand. Although Dean’s intentions towards Amber are apparently innocent (he’s attracted to her athletic ability and determination), she is not looking for him to be a mentor. As an audience, we recognise the concern oblivious to Amber’s footy-fan parents and sure enough frivolity soon turns to a rip and tear tale of good times gone bad. Yet, the story takes still further turns as, after Liam rapes the ‘up for it’ teenage Zoe, the complicated fallout threatens to destroy all of their futures.

The play is well cast and the three performers are all superb in their comic timing and compelling commitment to flawed characters. Bailey is engaging as the chameleon-like Amber, juvenilely-naïve, but not-so, initially a victim but later instigator in the complicated media game. And Yaxley, is memorable as the seemingly-sensible but ultimately-troubled Dean. It is their skilled performances, in particular, that succeed in shifting audience sympathies throughout the show.

The simplest of staging makes the play even more unsettling as the story is told as three intertwining monologues from Amber and the brothers, each seated at a spot-lit table and chair. The writing is excellent. The anecdotal nature of the early dialogue delivery, for example, allows for a natural humour to engage the audience. It is initially light and playful banter about footy code rivalry, Sydney vs Melbourne preferences and the complexity of AFL scoring. But this is all in belie of its disturbing later scenes. When it does go there, there it is with contrasting offensive language and confronting imagery that fits the intensity of its narrative.

“The Sublime” is a powerful piece of storytelling that offers audiences much to think about around hypocrisy, moral corruption, the media, sporting hero worship and rape culture. It is far from thematically simple, leaving audiences conflicted by grapple with questions about the extent to which circumstance can create victims and anger about the complicity of all of its players. Yet it is this moral ambiguity that makes it so worthwhile. Indeed, if theatre is valued by its incite of audience reaction, then “The Sublime” is theatre done right.

Slick social shocks

Viral (Shock Therapy Productions)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast, The Space

September 1 – 10

“Viral” begins as audience members enter the theatre; the scene unfolding is of a hospital room featuring a woman (Ellen Bailey) in delivery while the father-to-be (Sam Foster) preoccupies himself on his phone. A nurse (Merlynn Tong) is in initial care until she too poses in a photo for the husband to upload…. because sharing is caring, right? So it is pretty clear, even to those who haven’t familiarised themselves with the show’s blurb as to what its focus will be.


The new work, written and devised by Shock Therapy Productions explores the role of social media and technology and how it impacts the way we record, communicate and think about events of racism, abuse, violence and sexual assault in the community. It is a thought-provoking, dynamic and entertaining piece that incorporates a range of performance styles and influences, fusing physical theatre, verbatim text, multiple role-sharing, multimedia and political theatre into an intense but highly entertaining piece.


It beings light-heartedly; the narrative that frames the series of inset vignettes tells of two socially-isolated schoolboys (Writer/Directors Sam Foster and Hayden Jones), who spend lunchtimes alone glued to their smart-phone screens watching the latest viral video on YouTube. To ‘go viral’, is defined as achieving a least a million hits in a week we are told by a Siri as part of an opening announcement. But the boys think this is nothing and are convinced that they can do better, setting up their own YouTube channel and brainstorming what content will serve them best. Initially, the considerations are harmless amalgamations of popular clips featuring top 10s, fails, pranks and of course cats. Along the way they enact famous clips from Gangnam Style to Charlie Bit My Finger and even the more recent Chebacca Mom. They never miss a beat as the two jump in and out of character to mime along in these high energy and highly-engaging scenes.


But the ‘clips’ become less comfortable as they highlight the lack of humanity of music festival goers filming a girl dying of an overdose, bringing tears almost to eyes. When audience members initially react with laugher, despite foreshadowing of the outcome, the most-through provoking aspect of the show is revealed. This is similarly so during an uncomfortable re-enactment of a rude and racist rant on a train. Indeed, there is much to complete in the both the show’s concept and realisation, and the cast and creatives more than do this justice, making for an absorbing experience the flies by as the boys make unwise content choices and suffer the significant consequences.


When the work climaxes in a scene of humans, led by Kristian Santic, becoming vultures upon a human with horse head (Reuben Witsenhuysen), things go to a more macabre place, however, the provocation of its confronting imagery and meaning in juxtaposition to the earlier narrative structure is lost in the puns that pepper its narration by a reporting newsman.


All performers are skilled in characterisation, jumping, within scenes even, between multiple characters of different ages and sensibilities with ease, always making it easy-to-follow thanks to considerations as simple as a collar turned up or down. Ellen Bailey, makes a particularly memorable transition between enthusiastic festival fanatic to stern school Principal with ease. But the works hangs on the excellence of Foster and Jones, and the vitality of their performances together make for the show’s most appealing aspect.


“Viral” is a slick show, as you would expect in consideration of Shock Therapy’s previous, acclaimed works. It features a cracking soundtrack and vibrant sound and lighting design courtesy of Guy Webster and Jason Glenwright. Nathan Sibthorpe’s AV Design also serves the show well, particularly in delivery of a slam poetry masterclass on social change from Luka Lesson.

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Certainly “Viral” is aimed at younger audience members, although it does also cleverly contain early subtle comment on parental on-line role modelling. At the start of the show the audience is encouraged to leave phones on (silent) and take photos and videos (hashtag Shock Therapy Productions) and it is interesting to see the number and demographic of those that do. It is aspects like this that work so effectively with what is presented on stage to make the production one of such note, hopefully to also be brought to Brisbane in outing soon.


 Photos c/o – Saffron Jensen

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The excellence of Oedipus

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Queensland Theatre Company)

The Greenhouse, Bille Brown Studio

May 23 – July 13

I first ‘saw’ Daniel Evans’ “Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” at the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award finalist play reading nights last July. It wasn’t my favourite of the finalists, but I could see why it was named as the winner to be staged as part of QTCs 2015 season. And having seen its full realisation on stage, I am spellbound by its blistering brilliance.

Performed by an ensemble of four actors “Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” re-imagines the classic Greek tale of Oedipus as a contemporary tragedy told in modern language and transposed to the sleepy suburban cul-de-sacs of modern Australian. As the title suggests, Oedipus himself is long gone (cleverly, we don’t ever encounter him on stage). So the story is told through the eyes of the young people left behind to recount the rumour and gossip of the salacious scandal. For while the story may be old and from a now non-existent culture, it contains many themes that are applicable to our modern world.

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There is not denying that this is a confronting narrative. Accidently fulfilling prophecy, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, thereby causing his family tree to detonate and bringing disaster to his city. But what if Oedipus and his mother wife Jocasta lived next door? This is the question that represents the play’s central premise. And, as one of literature’s oldest family tragedies is mashed with modern mores of a media saturated world, the answer is perhaps not what you might expect, for the end of Oedipus’ story is, in fact, just the beginning.


The tales from the time of the ancient Greeks were either comedy or tragedy by nature. And if any story (ancient or otherwise) is the epitome of tragedy, it is the complex piece of literature that is Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex”. Yet through some masterful writing, Evans infuses the tale with a black humour that transitions it from horrific to hilarious. There is a rapid tempo and texture to the script that is brought to life by Jason Klarwein’s deft direction of the talented cast through their fragmented bystander recounts of the neighbourhood scandal.

As they play an array of characters (to the extent that they are each have their role listed as chorus  1- 4 in the program), there isn’t a single weak link in the show’s incredible line-up of performers. The result is intensive and confronting, but also additive to watch. Toby Martin is powerful in his every incantation and from the moment he reluctantly introduces himself as 13 ¾ year old Chrysippus, Joe Klocek is engaging, cementing himself as a standout talent to be watched, assuming all array of roles with relative ease. Emily Burton is absolutely authentic when in flighty, vacuous housewife mode, however, it is Ellen Bailey, who is the show-stealer, slipping effortless between several different severe characters with uproarious effect. From a mouthy, narcissistic nail technician to a foul-mouthed, footy-watching boofhead, she uses every nuance of voice and body language to share characterisation that has been honed to a fine art.

Although there is little in way of set, the simple, functional and structured Bille Brown Studio space is used to great effect, with design elements merging to create an ultra-stylised vibrancy in juxtaposition to the text’s gritty subject matter. An immense, colourful graffiti mural at the back of the stage not only cements its subterranean setting, but also provides the canvas onto which graphics are projected to assist in unspoken narration of the story’s key plot points for those unfamiliar with its specifics. The urban atmosphere created by the backdrop serves also to emphasise the story’s modern transcendence.


Certainly, it is its relatability that makes “Odepius Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” so confronting, because as accusation is thrust back on the audience in the final moments, the original play’s enduring theme of the flawed nature of humanity, is highlighted. For here is a work that speaks volumes about how we as a society respond to tragedy and, sombrely, about how life ultimately goes on and moves on.

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“Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is a fast-paced and bold play. It contains high-level coarse language, adult themes and is grotesquely violent, yet, in its at times playful mix of modern and ancient cultural references, it is original and perfectly executed. Indeed, like the doomed Oedipus’ wedding to Jocasta, incest aside, it is quite wonderful, and an excellent addition to the modern theatrical landscape.

Society sister shenanigans

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche (Imprint Theatricals)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

February 3 – 8

It’s the 1956 annual quiche breakfast of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein and, as fellow widows, audience members are all welcome…. well except for Marjorie, for last year she desecrated the hallowed institution by including meat in a quiche, in violation of the group’s golden rule: ’no men, no meat, all manners’.

To assist in being welcomed as fellow lady sisters, audience members are issued with name tags upon entry to the Visy Theatre; I was Maxine in a sea of Mildreds, Nancys, Normas and Doreens. But despite this light-hearted audience pre-show interaction, the focus is soon firmly on stage as the respectable self-described widows wait anxiously to taste each other’s’ quiches. Nothing could go wrong, right? Wrong. It’s 1956, at the height of the Cold War and a communist attack soon leaves them bunkered together, linked as one, hand in hand, as strong as any man, to confront an apocalyptical future and continue in worship of the humble quiche-producing egg, a food as close to Jesus as any can get.

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As the officer bearer matriarchs of the society, the cast does an excellent job of portraying their tales of repressed Stepford wife life, with carefully curled and coiffed hair (because curls get girls) and flawless Southern accents. Each performer does a commendable job in conveying character commitment to the society’s cause and then confession of their true selves, with Ellen Bailey, in particular, not only looking the put-together bobby-sox part, but delivering a standout, vibrant and engaging performance as Dale, the youngest member of the Executive.

“5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche” is a fast-paced, energetic show, full of double-entendres, sexual innuendo, puns and audience participation as the ladies’ proud proclamations are announced. And given its smash Off-Broadway run and cult hit status, it is a privilege to share in its Australian debut, for while its shenanigans are all quite silly, they are is certainly loads of fun.