On the town tales

Bouncers (heartbeast Theatre)

Spring Hill Reservoirs

March 10 – 31

Bouncers.jpgIt is with wrists stamped, that audiences appropriately enter into the reckless LED-lit, world of the Brisbane nightclub set that is “Bouncers” all the abandon that the show entails. The observational antic account of a Friday night from heartBeast Theatre, features four male cast members, Chris Vaag, Campbell Lindsey, Peter Condon and Rowan Howard, dressed in suit and tie ensembles, playing all the parts…the four titular bouncers, but also four young men and four young women all out for a night on the town. And just as the four bouncers themselves are very different, so we soon see, every night has its own narrative too. From rugby louts to nights when the over ‘30s are let loose, there is no holds barred in this very funny but sometimes shockingly brutal portrayal.

There is no set as such, which suits both the style of production and its staging in the historic 140 year old Spring Hill Reservoir under Wickham Terrace. This allows the action to move quickly as the actors skilfully convey their locations, from a late afternoon hairdressers to early morning nightclub toilets and all the stops in between. Clearly this is a demanding show with performers barely off stage and frequently switching between characters, and to their credit, the cast all deliver the relentless energy required to bring the ensemble work to life. Under the direction of David Paterson and Sherri Smith, the stage traffic is handled very well, allowing for the four actors to enliven the work with engaging comic timing and sustained physicality, particularly as the female characters strutting hand-on-hip with handbags over their shoulders, and Rowan Howard is particularly memorable as still-teenager, Bicardi-boozing sexy Susie.


From late afternoon anticipation of a big night out to after-midnight woes of running tears and mascara and an early morning taxi (but not Uber?) back to Browns Plains, “Bouncers” makes for an easy-to-follow set of stories that might be small in scale but is most definitely big in entertainment thanks to its multi role playing, along with the use of monologue and the actors directly addressing the audience

When its UK playwright John Godber first wrote the play in the late 1970s, it was from a dissatisfaction with naturalism and a desire to create a piece of work where the audience were not distracted by the design elements but were engaged with the performances of the actors. In consideration of this, heartBeast’s “Bouncers” is a triumph. Although there is still an essential UK feel to it, according to a +1 who knows, updates are seamless, meaning that Australian political mentions and more modern references work well.

The play has a lot of often-laddish comedy in its primal ritual re-enactment, which might not be to everyone’s tastes, but underlying its strong language, and lewd and vulgar humour are some sharp observations about the drunken behaviour on display in the crude carnival of nightlife. Indeed, “Bouncers” is both a warning and a celebration, which in the hands of four versatile actors such as these, makes for an entertaining show to be enjoyed without too much audience effort.

Rhino randomness

Rhinoceros (heartBeast Theatre)

Spring Hill Reservoirs

October 13 – 28


Two men, Jean (Patrick Farrelly) and Bérenger (Brian Bolton) are sitting together talking when a rhinoceros charges past. Soon they find that their friends and colleagues are also transforming into rhinos. With this as its overview, it is quickly apparent that the French avant-garde playwright Eugène Ionesco’s play, “Rhinoceros”, is of the Theatre of the Absurd genre. But even this categorisation is deceptive as the work has substance too, behind its ridiculous foundation, making it easy to appreciate its status as a popular, if not iconic work of the type. And in the hands of heartbeast Theatre, “Rhinoceros” becomes more than just its alleged parable about French collaboration with the Nazis.

The story centres on Bérenger, a man initially criticised for his drinking, lack of punctuality and laissez-faire approach to life. When a herd of rhinoceroses take over the town he is one of many involved in argument over the beasts’ number of horns. A logician is consulted but opinion remains divided… initially at least.

In accordance with its genre, there is a lot happening on stage to initially engage and then maintain audience interest. The first half of the play is filled with great comic moments. Characters travel in a huddle and movement is sometimes random and rapid fire. But everything is purposeful in juxtaposition to the on-stage realism audiences are probably use to seeing. Action is of the slapstick sort and creative costuming of oversized suits and fake facial hair create a cartoonish feel, especially when the action is periodically interrupted by the thunderous sounds of rampaging rhinos as cast members interact in the audience space with grunting, snorting sounds. The result is energetic performances of often riddled dialogue.

Often the language lacks any real meaning, but yet dialogue says so much as the ultimately intellectual satire is a play about being and existence. As so, it has much to say about dissatisfaction and disillusionment, and in examination of these themes, Bolton makes for an excellent everyman Bérenger, the last man struggling against the chaos. Also of particular note is Roy Ogden, as the logician determined to expound the logic of syllogisms at every opportunity, leading to some humourous discussion about what makes a cat, a cat, for example. Although Bérenge’s final monologue ponder of the concepts of conformity as opposed to individuality, drags a little, there is much earlier, valuable existential pondering in characteristic absurdist reaction against Christian ideology. And a wonderful sequence emerges in Act Two when a stylised fight is set to an instrumental ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in clever reminder of the fine line between real life and fantasy.

It takes a brave company to tackle a play of such extremes as “Rhinoceros”. heartBeast Theatre both embraces its deliberate break of the norms of conventional theatre and layers it in evolution of the work to contemporary times. Particularly as an introduction to Theatre of Absurd, this is a work well worth seeing. Not only is it easier to unpack than more-dense Beckett, but there is even a raucous rhino song to fill its Spring Hill Reservoirs setting.

D-mark dangers

Hamlet (heartBeast)

Spring Hill Reservoirs

October 7 – 21

At 4000 lines, “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is Shakespeare’s longest and most demanding play. So to have audiences in effect stand for its 2.5 hour duration is asking a lot. Luckily the location of heartBeast’s latest work provides numerous nooks and crannies to add interest in support of its staging, initially at least.

With the world at war, underground, the monarchy of D-Mark faces its final desperate days. In their bunker, audiences come face-to-face with the characters of Shakespeare’s story as they follow its action through the gothic spaces of the Spring Hill Reservoir. It is an engaging premise, organically immersive in the way that characters perform amongst an audience that moves with them between the historic underground chambers to witness each scene and eventually travel full circle back to where it all began, only this time shaded with the silence of a slain protagonist, and others. More than voyeurism, the premise allows audience members to control the level of intimacy, choosing as they may to perch up-close upon the various stools and crates scattered about the space or stand back to observe not just the main action but the other character interactions continuing in the backgrounds.


Ambiance arises from the unique and sometimes shadowy surroundings of the almost 150 year old venue, unused for 50 years until 2014. The reservoir’s acoustics suit, for example, Prince Hamlet’s (David Paterson) shouty Act One angry damnation of his mother Gertrude (Adrienne Costello), who has married his uncle Claudius (Patrick Farrelly) within a month of his father’s death and allow for an effective ghostly intervention from the slain King courtesy of an effective acoustics and lighting mix.

new husband.jpg

Eerie lighting and reverberating sounds suit its futuristic dystopian setting, made clear from Jaqueline Kerr’s punk-inspired Mad Maxish garbage bag costumes. Although Paul Young’s sound design adds tension, unfortunately the soundscape sometimes competes with the language and action on stage, such as in Hamlet’s ‘to be or not be’ soliloquy contemplation of death and suicide, which in interesting in its delivery as he lies upon the floor.


All cast members do a decent job in this physical work. Every Hamlet has a different truth and Paterson’s Hamlet is brattish rather than bitter from the beginning… hardly likeable and eliciting little audience empathy. In contrast to his self-proclaimed teenage misery, his over-the-top enactment of his intent to act ‘strange or odd’  in feign of madness in order to confuse and disconcert those around him, is more droll than determined, contrasting with Jane Schon’s bewitching Ophelia, especially in response to being ordered to a nunnery by her then misogynistic potential husband.


Farrelly brings a particular presence as antagonist Claudious, playing him less as conscientious politician and more as passionate man fed up with his nephew, now step-son’s corruption of his newly-created world, at times consuming the space with his reverberating vocals. And James Trigg is a determined Laertes, showing impressive stagecraft in his final avenge of the deaths of his father and sister.


To some degree, any “Hamlet” can be a dangerous undertaking. While, ambitious, this one seems to be a wasted opportunity to bring a traditional Elsinore Castle to life in the aesthetically accommodating surroundings of the Spring Hill Reservoir space. Rather than being absorbed by the skilful language in shape of the story’s reality, audiences can easily be distracted by the unnecessary dystopian devices that see, for example, weapons alternating between modern firearms and those of traditional swordplay. Still, the spirit and energy of the piece are enough to win over many with its up close and personal presentation of this new take on Hamlet’s world.

Characters, comedy and contemplation

Six Characters in Search of an Author (heartBeast Theatre)

Spring Hill Reservoirs

April 15 – 29

Spring Hill’s underground reservoir is the perfect venue for an intimate theatrical production. In the case of heartBeast’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author” it is an intimacy initially disrupted by the sounds of steps on the scaffolded stair entry to the almost 150 year old venue. This is, in actuality, entirely suited to the show’s deliberately haphazard introduction, which sees The Director, (Jaqueline Kerr), for characters are known by roles rather than names, attempting to rally her cast for a rehearsal of a Pirandello play.

Before the rehearsal has begun in any real way, the group is unexpectedly interrupted by the arrival of six grim, mysterious figures, members of one dysfunctional family demanding that their tragic story needs to be heard and told as a play, as if to provide it with completion. They are not people as such but rather characters, cast off of an unknown author’s imagination left to linger as theatrical ghosts and as they skulk towards the stage in a huddle of mourning black, the effect is quite frightful, particularly for those audience members beside whom they silently appear.

6 characters.jpg

What follows in Italian Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello’s seminal theatrical work is a confusing and disturbing story that hinges on The Father’s (Gregory J Wilken)  and Mother’s (Eleonora Ginardi) separation and his, as he proclaims, unwitting, seduction many years later of The Stepdaughter (Jane Schon) before realisation from The Mother. More than just complicated story, however, the absurdist play is an exploration of the world of theatre and contemplation of the nature of drama (is it about words or actions?) Indeed, Act One, in particular is filled with philosophical proclamations, primarily from The Father, in consideration of the relationship between authors, their characters and audience members.

The action increases ahead of the final act’s abrupt ending as the company of actors attempt to bring the character’s tale to theatrical life. There are many satisfying comic moments, often coming from the fourth wall breaks to share the frustrations from within the tension; the fiction figures are not at all happy to be told that their story doesn’t suit ‘drama’ and are resentful of the actors’ interpretation of their never-changing, always-agonising story.

Like a narrator of sorts, Wilken plays The Father with an engaging authority. Part passionate self, part pontificator, he delivers bold statements for contemplation about words and illusions, presenting the audience with many interesting analogies upon which to ponder (such as truth being like a sack). As complement, Schon plays the feisty The Stepdaughter to perfection and Ginardi shows subtlety and nuance in her portrayal of The Mother’s guilt and grief.

Lighting is at times luscious but also often conspicuous in its transitions.  And although the use of mirrors in the corners of the small, square stage area allows for expanded exposure, better blocking during initial scenes could ensure exploitation of all the possibilities created, so that the crowding caused by superfluous characters does not serve as audience distraction.

“Six Characters in Search of an Author” is a dark examination of the differences between reality and illusion. Its meta-theatrical nature makes its material challenging but also rewarding, if audiences are willing to go along with its slow burn approach.

The challenge of the classic

Away (heartBeast Theatre)

Trinity Hall, Fortitude Valley

February 12 – March 7

Typically, classic plays can be challenging to stage. Audience members are likely to know at least something about the story, if not have intimate familiarity. Hence, you need to find ways for viewers to reconsider its meaning. Michael Gow’s 1986 work “Away” certainly falls into this category; Gow is one of those few playwrights whose work is repeatedly favoured by theatre companies staging Australian drama, for despite its late 1960s setting, its thematic examination of key aspects of the Australian psyche including mateship and the underdog, make it somewhat universal.

The story is one of sun, sand and sacrifice as it follows the struggles of three families against a backdrop of a traditional Christmas holidays beach break holiday to a non-specific destination ‘up the coast’. But all is not as it seems behind the veneers of their varied lives, with seasonal smiles masking many personal tragedies. Immigrants Harry (Brian Bolton) and Vic (Sherri Smith) are faced with their adolescent son Tom’s illness. Meanwhile, teenage Meg’s friendship with the socially unsuitable Tom is of concern to her henpecked father Jim (David Paterson) and overbearing mother (overplayed by Jacqueline Kerr). And a grief-stricken Coral (Adrienne Costello) recalls the days when husband Roy (Warwick Comber) would compare her to Hollywood starlet Kim Novak. But over their time away, the families are reconciled to face the future anew.

away 2

“Away” is well known for time appropriate language, settings and relationships. And in the case of heartBeast’s production, this is realised not just through maintenance of its cultural references (products like the housewife’s drug of choice, Bex power and personalities like the iconic Australian actor Chips Rafferty), but through a wardrobe of costume choices that effectively recapture this hippie period of utopian optimism. Unfortunately, this realism is juxtaposed with some laborious comic relief scenes and the interpretive dance, frenzied representation of a tempest of a storm whipped up by havoc-wreaking fairies.

It is no coincidence that the storm is pivotal to the action of the play, as in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. “Away” has clear and plentiful intertextual links with Shakespearean drama. The play begins with the final scene of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the play performed at the end of the school year and concludes with the start of “King Lear”, as further evidence of its focus of the eternal nature of journeys. There is also use of character disguise and the inclusion of ‘The Stranger on the Shore’ an allegorical, beautifully staged, play within a play during which Tom shows Coral a way to overcome her grief for her son, lost to the Vietnam war.

As Coral’s husband, school Principal Roy, Comber has a natural stage presence that not only anchors the action, but also highlights the deficiencies of others of lesser experience. But it is Tim’s immigrant parents, played by Harry and Smith, who provide the standout performances, not only maintaining authentic English accents throughout, but conveying content satisfaction in their philosophy of neither looking forward nor back. The problem is the doubling of characters amongst the actors in order bring an ambitious work such as this to life. As Tom, heartBeast newcomer Patrick Bell is engaging in his teenager flirtation with Meg (Johancee Theron), full, as it is, of coy interactions and sideways glances. Yet, as newlywed Rick, with whom the grieving Carol forms an attachment, he appears completely miscast and unimportant to the action.


It is easy to understand why heartBeast has chosen “Away” as its first work of 2015. Since it was first performed on stage in 1986, the play has engaged audiences with its coming of age story, as both individuals and a nation. And its themes are as relevant as ever with its comments on reconciliation and loss. These alone are enough to drive the narrative. To tone down the naturalism and emphasise the play’s over-the-top, dated comic scenes, serves only to labour the point of an already lengthy show.

Michael Gow is one of this country’s most significant playwrights. His often colloquial dialogue and vivid character constructions allow audience members to emphasise with and relate to characters. Indeed, its themes of generation gap differences and class distinctions show similarity with other works of our country’s cannon, such as Alan Seymour’s “The One Day of the Year” and maybe it is this alone, that makes “Away” a worthwhile venture, for as its “Twelfth Night” epigraph asks, ‘what country, friends, is this?

*A review of this show also appears on the XS Entertainment website.