Deck the stalls

79939213_10158199950018866_7036287020859129856_n.jpgThe festive season always means a theatre pause and reflection as to the year’s greatest applause. A Broadway break enabled experience of my new favourite thing in Dear Evan Hansen, which is now up there with Rent as my musical mecca, along with other 2019 faves Hamilton and Mean Girls. Closer to home, however, amongst the usual 100+ shows seen, there are a number of memorable mentions.

Most Entertaining

  • The Gospel According to Paul in which Jonathan Biggins brilliantly portrays the love-him-or-hate-him Paul Keating.
  • 100 Years of the History of Dance (as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes with an Energetic Group Finale), another solo show, this time from Australian director, choreographer and performer Joseph Simons.

Best musical:

  • Sweet Charity – the perfect start of year show from Understudy Productions, the little Brisbane theatre company that has very quickly become a very big deal.
  • the ridiculously funny Young Frankenstein, Phoenix Ensemble’s stage version of Mel Brooks’ 1974 horror-movie spoof and parody of both the musical genre and vaudevillian traditions.
  • The Book of Mormon– the ridiculously still so-wrong-it’s-right musical is still the funniest thing around, even in repeat experience.

Best musical performance:

  • Naomi Price as the titular Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity, a role that appears as if written for her.

Best dance

Best cabaret

Best independent theatre

  • Ghosts – The Curator’s homage to great Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen’s controversial play was innovative in its layers of scathing social commentary.

Best comic performance

Best dramatic performance:

  • Patrick Shearer for his powerful and precise performance as the bohemian artist son Oswald in Ghosts.

Most moving

  • Love Letters – the heart-warming story of two people who share a lifetime of experiences through the medium of handwritten letters, presented at Brisbane Arts Theatre by real-life married couple Ray and Melissa Swenson.

Best AV

  • Project Design Justin Harrison’s dynamic projection designs represented a key component of Kill Climate Deniers’ vibrant realisation.

Best new work

  • The relatable guilty pleasure of FANGIRLS – like a witty young adult novel set to music and full of glittery fun, complete with important messages.

Favourite festival show

Notable mention to:

  • Rocket Boy Ensemble’s Reagan Kelly for its killer opening monologue chronicle of night out in the valley
  • Melbourne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for its incredible stagecraft of illusions and magic beyond just that of the expelliarmus sort.

Cursed Child class

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two

Princess Theatre, Melbourne

From February 23

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It is not just excitement that it is in the air before the start of Part One of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”; the sounds of a passenger train station’s movement and announcements add atmosphere in accompaniment of staging that sees a cluster of suitcases lit by a large clock face. The story opens from here with the epilogue of the final in the series of fantasy novels written by British Author J. K. Rowling; couples Harry Potter (Gareth Reeves) and Ginny Weasley (Lucyh Goleby) and Ron Weasley (Gyton Grantley) and Hermione Granger (Paula Arundell) arrive at Kings Cross Platform 9¾ to farewell Albus Potter (Sean Rees-Wemyss), second son of Harry and Ginny, and Rose Granger-Weasley (Manali Datar) for their first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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Instead of being a boy living in a cupboard under the stairs, the titular Harry is now a Ministry of Magic employee, struggling to connect with his son, and so the epic two-part play both continues and honours J.K. Rowling’s world, focusing on the next generation of promising wizards and witches, with visit by some iconic characters along the way (with noteworthy performances from Gillian Cosgriff and David Ross Paterson). The story moves quickly with Harry troubled by the darkness surrounding his son, but a request to #KeepTheSecrets, reiterated in signage, the distribution of post-show badges and even when purchasing a program that comes with its own spoiler warning (down to the character list) means that this is as far as plot explanation can go.

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The surprises keep coming, not just in story but it’s execution. The show’s stagecraft is incredible, full of illusion and magic beyond just that of the expelliarmus sort. Movement is precise and stylised as scenes are flowed together within the choreography of swirling capes while props and people appear. A dense and detailed soundscape (Composer and Designer Imogne Heap) also helps with pacing and takes audiences to all sorts of locations. Neil Austin’s lighting design adds depth to the halls of Hogwarts and the Forbidden Forrest’s danger, and sound and lighting converge brilliantly in reverberated emphasis of story shifts. Katrina Lindsay’s layered costume design not only allows for choreographic facets and conveys much about character and of the story’s changing moods.

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The cast is uniformly excellent. As the handsome Harry, Reeves is particularly memorable in the dramatic and powerful scenes where he is trying to connect with his son. Arundell makes for a feisty Hermione, even if her raging dialogue hurries on top of itself making it sometimes difficult to follow her words.

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The sometimes insensitive and insecure Ron Weasley is well within Gyton Grantley’s range, providing the audience with lots of albeit predictable laughs. Madeleine Jones is a delight in new role of Delphi Diggory, however, it is William McKenna that is the clear standout as Scorpius Malfoy, Albus’ first-day friend, a physical role with significant dialogue given the frequency of his appearance across the two shows.

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As a mere muggle without comprehensive knowledge of the Potterdom realm, I might not have got all the gags and shared in some of the shocked audience reactions, however, knowing something of who is who in terms of characters and relationships, meant that I could easily follow along and readily appreciate the show’s cleverness. This is such a perfect piece of theatre that it can be enjoyed in its own right, however, laughing, gasping, jumping, despairing and shuddering together as audience members certainly gives an added dimension to its experience.

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Part One paces along, however, the show does drag a little in its final stages. Indeed, Acts Two and Three serve as highlights due to their reveals and seeing both shows consecutively in one day is definitely the recommendation given the incredible Part One ending with one hell of a cliff-hanger.

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It seems that in the case of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, the ravers really are right. It is a big show that will surely have a long run at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre (currently its only location apart from West End and Broadway); the show is certainly settled into the venue, which is detailed down to its HP monogrammed wallpaper and carpet design, in reflection of a production detailed down to every possibility, flawless in its production values and faultless in its execution.

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‘It will change the way you think about theatre,’ I was told in advice to see the show, which is the perfect summary of its experience. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is a masterclass is modern theatre and one of the best things I’ve seen on stage, compelling in its creativity and with a real humanity to its storyline so all that really remains is recommendation to #doyourselfafavour.