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.

And….

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

47571287_10157114405603866_7251915501767491584_n.jpg

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.

download.jpg

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-3.jpg

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.

Dd6dI75UQAAk6MU.jpg

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.