Lady Beatle love love love

Lady Beatle (The Little Red Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

August 7 – 10


When The Little Red Theatre Company first bought “Lady Beatle” to La Boite, the show soon became one of my favourites of 2017. And from the moment Naomi Price bursts forth with the penultimate ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ it is clear that the tradition is set to continue with the smash hit cabaret’s return to Brisbane. Her appropriate dress of military-style jacket, retro round John Lennon mirrored glasses and fabulous boots (Costume Designer Leigh Buchanan) simultaneously sets the tone of swinging sixties London, but also the everywhereness of Liverpoolean grey. With the brilliant, virtuosic lonely hearts club band in accompaniment, we are thrown straight into the show’s journey through the Beatles’ immortal catalogue. And with reimagined and reinterpreted songs featuring sparkling original arrangements, what a ride it is set to be, both over the course of the opening night performance and for the duration of the show’s Australian Magical Mystery Tour.


If great cabaret is about taking people on a journey and giving them an experience as opposed to just singing some songs, then “Lady Beatle” is cabaret at its greatest and all you need for a wonderful night out. The songs are threaded together by a story of sorts and knowing how they will eventually unite does not diminish the show in re-experience. While the aha moment of revelation of the identity of Price’s character is lost, in its stead is an appreciation of the clever craftedness of its story’s tapestry throughout the show’s duration.

Like the collection of music we are celebrating, “Lady Beatle” is far from being one-note in its approach. Reimagining of the Fab Four’s songs bring them to new life in accompaniment of its tender and personal story. The musicians work wonderfully together to realise the show’s bold and diverse soundtrack and are also fittingly given their own times to shine. Most notably, on guitar, Jason McGregor’s solo makes ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ complete, while, on drums, Mik Easterman belts us into an upbeat, eclectic medley of ‘Love Me Do’, ‘Revolution’ and ‘Let It Be’.


Price’s voice is also as on-point as ever, ranging from rich reverberation in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (also featuring a stunning string arrangement by Bass Guitarist Andrew Johnson) to the gentle emotion of a stripped-back ‘With a Little Help From My Friends” and the stirring strength of a poignantly heartfelt ‘Don’t Let Me Down’.


Jason Glenwright’s impressive lighting is as kaleidoscopic as the night’s soundtrack and represents a key component of the show’s experience, from its sparking accompaniment to ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ to bathing the Roundhouse Theatre space in blue for later yearning. And while lighting band members in separate colours seems like such a simple idea, it works perfectly to invigorate peppy early-career numbers of the ‘Twist & Shout’ sort. Indeed, lighting is integral in emphasising the musical mood throughout the show to its ‘Here Comes The Sun’ concluding celebration.

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The Little Red Theatre Company’s story of the Lady Beatle may not be the one you expect, but the show is all the better for this, especially given Price’s genuine charm as a performer. She is playful with the audience, often taking herself into the crowd, including to make a paired-back ‘Penny Lane’ an early highlight, and her energy is infectious. Even in the show’s emotional moments, in her hands, the experience still resonates with joy… because who doesn’t feel good in clap and sing-a-long to classics like ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘Hey Jude’.

It might be 50 years since The Beatles’ historic final rooftop concert, but with creators Adam Brunes and Naomi Price’s “Lady Beatle”, the band’s biggest chart toppers are able live on anew. As its yellow submarine-sized tour across the country is sure to be, its experience seems to be over all too soon, leaving audience members departing with smiles on their faces, warmth in their hearts and wish for a soundtrack release in order to keep relieving its joy.

Youth truths

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

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

September 26 – 29


What do you get when you combine over 3000 responses, 18 young performers and a whole lot of confetti? It sounds like the start of a riddle, but the answer, “I’ve Meaning to Ask You’ is far from a punchline or non-committal response. The latest innovative work from experimental theatre collective The Good Room ensembles an eclectic group of young performers to pit their wonders against the explanations of the older generation. As such, it is a unique intergenerational show for adults that is full of questions asked by young people and answered by adults.


Questions are more than just the perennial “but why?” of early infantry, rather ranging from the frivolous to the provocative. We start with ask as to favourite songs and drinks and then there are embarrassing moments and pop-up illustrations of go-to dance moves. From these emerge adult’s own reflections of youth with questions about at-school bullying and the real-world value of maths and then more global concerns about gender, power the environment and the future, which do not always come with easy answers.


Age interacts though omnipresent experience in the revealing one-hour tell-all, as the group of eager early-teens are given agency to speak their truths. And they are more than up for the task, bringing big personalities that enliven and entertain in their energy. Indeed, all the young actors are impressive in the timing and perfect tone of their performances.


It starts with them in line across the stage behind microphone stands. They aren’t still for long though as this is far from a static show; it is wonderfully dynamic, full of fun, colour, movement and pure joy. Its soundtrack is lively too, packed with sing and clap along moments to lots of fabulous retro songs of the Roxette, Bon Jovi and B52s sort.



And still the surprises keep coming, starting with shift in tone courtesy of some lyrical choreography, Jason Glenwright’s intricate lighting and unexpectantly at-once striking and moving video design from optikal bloc’s Craig Wilkinson, which adds an entirely new dimension to the already extraordinary work, as audiences are guided towards some genuine compelling and poignant adult confessionals of insecurity and regret.


The combination of notable performer stage presence and a stellar creative team led by Director Daniel Evans, means that the youth truths are dropped in the most wonderful of ways, including with entertaining little inset re-enactments and even additional audience involvement beyond just the initial contributions. And the result is perhaps the best The Good Room project realisation yet.

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In keeping with the popular formula that has served them so well with past productions, “I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You” has been created using audience and anonymous stories and the consequence is genuine audience engagement in ponder not only of its targeted central questions about, for example, what day you would like to go back and change, but the value of communication between generations that typically don’t interact with such honesty and consideration, and the benefit of wisdom and advice in our world. Indeed, after experience the night prior of the similarly world premiere production of Dog Spoon’s “A Coupla Dogs”, it seems that at this year’s Brisfest the Theatre Republic is the place for to be for Week Three think pieces.

The mortal of the monster

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

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

May 21 – June 11

William Shakespeare’s most famous historical play “Richard III” is a classic of the stage, revered by historians and Shakespeare purists alike and recognisable by the endurance of its protagonist’s valiant declarations. So when Naomi Price begins “The Tragedy of King Richard III” with the word ‘Now’, audiences may assume they know where things are going.

While the work does include some sections of Shakespearean dialogue, its opening lines are not authentic to the Bard’s iconic depiction of England’s last warrior king. But what does authentic mean anyway? This is, as Price implores, an imaginative experience. The raised rectangular centre stage needs to be reimagined as the municipal carpark in Leicester, under which the villainous monarch’s skeleton was discovered in August 2012. And who says that our reviled regard for him is deserved because, as Price surmises, nobody knows history due to stories’ silences, gaps and biases. And with this, the show’s title assumes meaning anew.


This is not Shakespeare’s depiction of King Richard III’s Machiavellian rise to power and short reign (for a mere two years, two months in the 1480s) as a “tyrant rudely stamp’d”, “deformed, unfinish’d”. Rather the show sits in the divide of what Shakespeare wrote and who Richard actually was. And from the outset its creative choices show that there is a moral behind the monster. Rather than allowing the character to be defined by the lead actor’s physicality, there is no hunch or leg encased in a calliper splint like in Kevin Spacey’s realisation at London’s Old Vic. Rather, there is just an early visual impression of the deformity through clever use of shadow as projection of his body’s shape.


Intent on bringing the narrative’s players out of the shadows, “The Tragedy of King Richard III” finds new depth in its characters. As Richard (a role shared with Peter Rowland), Atticus Robb is appropriately initially hesitant but after a while arrogant in his quest for the throne, yet so sympathetic is his portrayal when he unleashes his furious wrath in a standout monologue, that it is met with a whoop of support from invested audience members. His brilliance is made all the more impressive by the fact that this represents the young Brisbane actor’s (he was born in 2002) first profession stage performance.


Although the fearlessly talented Atticus dominates the stage, this is far from a one-man show. The cast is excellence, as expected. Particularly as Richard (and England)’s Queen, Anne Neville, Amy Ingram confettis the stage with sass, bringing many of the show’s biggest laughs in articulation of her modern teenage sensibilities in initial interaction with a young Richard.


Another silence filled in realisation of the show’s sometimes feminist discourse, is that of Margaret of Anjou, another English Queen, the wife of King Henry VI, whose husband was killed by Richard. Helen Howard gives a powerful, unrelenting performance, vehement in her passion but also cement of an angry feminist stereotype.


Also commanding in her performance is Naomi Price, particularly as the show’s ringmaster of sorts, engaging audience members in her collective self-referential proclamations and reflections, and later as incantation of Queen Elizabeth 1st (granddaughter of Henry Tudor, Richard’s killer) in illustration of our proximity to the problem. And having Price in the cast allows for the wonderful inclusion of live musical numbers. Whether in Whitney Houston mode popping out soundtrack to a disco-balled dance off between the young Richard and Anne or belting in exploration of the nature of power in ‘No Church in the Wild’, she more than delivers vocally, adding another layer to the already intricate story.

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Todd Macdonald also shines with a superb performance, firstly as the father Richard barely knew and then later as Master Shakespeare at the Globe theatre, revelling in the power of his creative realisation of Richard III. His embodiment of the Bard delighting in his dramatic powers is energetic and invigorating as he leaps about with jester-like frivolity, drawing the audience into his verve. Then things turn darker as he morphs into the monster who created the monster, envisaging the king as a sinister comic performer just four coffins away from the throne.


The fourth wall breaks in these scenes, indeed throughout the entire show, are not just for comic effect but add to the drama of the piece, enticing audience consideration of its core questions. And when Pacharo Mzembe and Robb discuss the representation of murder on stage, as themselves not their characters, it takes the audience to an intimate and affecting place.


The technically ambitious design is captivating in its realisation, full of powerful visual imagery thanks to Jason Glenwright’s smooth lighting design. The stage is filled with blood and water in nightly ruin of its stunning costumes. This is physical theatre and dramatic movement at its best courtesy of Movement and Fight Director Nigel Poulton.


And when Mzembe raises sword in final duel in a rainy Battle of Bosworth Field, it is an evocative experience. While the show is filled with bloody mayhem, however, its presentation of the violence and discomfort is deliberately desensitised, contrasting, for example, impression of animal torture against bubbly teen talk of Euro Disney in comment perhaps upon modern world sensibilities.


While feasibly more enduring than the historical character, Shakespeare’s ill-famed Richard III is a fictional realisation, motivated by a playwright championing the King’s heroic vanquisher, Henry VII, as founder of the new Tudor dynasty which took England from the Middle Ages into our modern world of grim fascination. In challenging this, co-writers Daniel Evans (Winner – Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2014/2015 for Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and Marcel Dorney (Winner – Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2010/2011) provide a bold play packed full of stimulating ideas about how bad history often makes for the best stories. In lesser hands this notion could have been lost to subtly, but under Director Daniel Evans, “The Tragedy of King Richard III” emerges as a first-class theatre experience that exposes the truth of the statement that you don’t know what you don’t know.

While new work is always exciting, the appeal of this work is so much more than just its novelty. Its ideas are so invigorating that they almost demand a second viewing to fully grapple with the show’s unexpected provocations. It has been said that the best indicator of a show’s calibre is if a reviewer will return independently to see it again; I’m planning my next visit now.

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans

The tune of teen trauma

Carrie The Musical (Wax Lyrical Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

January 21 – 30


The story of “Carrie the Musical” begins humbly enough: its titular 17 year-old-high school senior, sheltered by her hyper-religious mother is ridiculed by her peers. Bullied to breaking point, she lets her teenage telekinesis evoke her revenge. The resulting bloodshed makes for a prom night to remember, and not in a good way, as most people will already know. Indeed, when the newly-named prom queen Carrie White (Sophie Perkins) celebrates next to her prom king Tommy Ross (Alex Woodward), audiences know what is coming next. Sure enough the bucket of pig’s blood teetering above is soon released, and credit to Wax Lyrical Productions for actually dumping the liquid on her head rather than resorting like some previous productions to using lighting to try and represent this most important part of the show.

As to be expected in its transition to theatre, the carnage following the pig’s blood climax is a far cry from the bloodbath of Stephen King’s debut novel. Rather, this version of the story has far less focus on scare factor, resulting in a reduction of suspense. Its emphasis is instead on the theme of bullying with Director Zoe Tuffin trying to turn attention to the timelessness of the story’s humanity. The result is a familiar high school scenario, with some added supernatural stuff. Although Carrie is the victim of her mother’s (Jacqui Devereux) religious mania, there is less monstrosity to her mother’s portrayal than in the story’s previous incantations, which is particularly evident in the pair’s shared sympathetic scenes and duets.


In a nod to the novel’s device of using excerpts from books and articles supposedly written about Carrie White and ‘that night’, the work is bookended by extracts from interviews with the decent Sue Snell (Georgina Hopson). The story then follows as flashback, interjected with many songs of a range of musical styles to reflect different characters. The ballad-heavy result is a soundtrack that fails to deliver any particularly memorable songs to ear-worm their way into your memory, although the grand operatic numbers of Carrie’s mother Margaret are impressive, thanks to Jacqui Devereux’s powerhouse presence.

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The main players are all of strong voice. Perkins is perfect as the story’s complex female protagonist. She gives a staggering standing-ovation-worthy performance, soaring vocally in ‘Why Not Me?’ and capturing the Act Two innocence and nervousness of a sheltered teen finding her confidence after receiving a gentle but genuine prom invitation from Tommy, at the direction of his empathetic girlfriend Sue.


As alpha mean girl Chris, Tori Bailey is another standout, delivering a consistent, assured and energetic performance, particular in lead of some of the show’s pop-rock numbers. And Hopson is a likeable Sue Snell, sweet but not obnoxiously so. The show’s staging is also notable in its use of both the depths of the Visy Theatre stage and its ventures into the audience. And Jason Glenwright’s lighting evokes easy transitions between frivolity and fear.

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Certainly, “Carrie The Musical” is a brave project, especially given its legendary 1988 failure on Broadway, closing after only a handful of shows. Stephen King’s book is widely known and Sissy Spacek’s career-defining performance in Brian de Palma’s film version is iconic. It is a text full of familiar imagery, not particularly suited to a musical adaptation, and especially not one featuring such a buoyant score. Although Wax Lyrical Productions has created a wonderful work in celebration of some outstanding talent, to reduce its horror to story of high-school bullying with some special effects, seems like an opportunity lost.

Photos c/o – Joel Devereux

An audience with Adele

Rumour Has It (Queensland Theatre Company and The Little Red Company)

The Greenhouse, Bille Brown Studio

October 7 – 17


People have been raving about “Rumour Has It” for years; the Matilda Award winning show has toured Brisbane four times. And by two songs in, it is easy to appreciate the hype, for only the highest of praise is apt for Naomi Price’s intimate tongue-in-cheek tribute to British singer/songwriter superstar Adele. Indeed, as creator/performer Price moves from the initial title track to the powerhouse ‘Rolling in the Deep’ it is difficult not to feel goosebumpy as she belts out the song that represented Adele’s international commercial breakthrough.

Commanding performances aside, this is also an intimate cabaret experience during which the songstress, sporting trademark ginger-beehive hairstyle, shares anecdotes of her life so far, from hurts to highs, in between an array of songs including a memorable mashup medley of Spice Girls tracks inset into ‘Chasing Pavements’. There is a dusky glow to the Bille Brown Studio space, which she jokingly refers to as the milk factory theatre in reference to its proximity to Paul’s. A mismatched collection of lamp shades hangs from the ceiling and when bubbles fill the air in accompaniment to her ‘Daydreamer’ lament of first love, it is a truly magical few moments.


Often the cabaret comes across more as conversation about her humble beginnings as Adele Laurie Blue Adkins. Price has a clear stage presence and is cheeky as ever in role as the chatty, likeable singer, ad-libbing sassy responses to audience interactions and including quips about reality tv talent shows like “The Voice” on which she was a 2015 semi-finalist. She shows an uncanny skill for mimicry and accents. Just as she ably channelled Miley Cyrus in “Wrecking Ball”, she not only presents perfect cockney accent as she tells of her time growing up in Tottenham but incorporates perfect imitation of Celine Dion and Amy Winehouse.

Act One finishes on a high with an upbeat ‘Right as Rain’ and after intermission  the audience returns to an initially melancholic second act with dark and moody lighting from Jason Glenwright to accompany a spectacular rendition of her Academy-Award-winning ‘Skyfall’ (the theme song of the 2012 James Bond film of the same name) and, after much teasing, the show-stopping song everyone came for, ‘Someone Like You’, the emotional performance of which makes you almost afraid to breathe, lest you become no longer entranced in the moment.


This is Price’s vocal prowess; through songs of heartbreak and hope she shares a soulful voice beyond her years. She is a generous performer too, including spotlight on the band and backing singers who each get 32 bars to strut their own good stuff. And well should they be celebrated; Michael Manikus is a maestro on piano, expertly supported by Jason McGregor (Musical Director & guitars), Andrew Johnson on bass, Mik Eastman on drums and vocalists Rachael Everett-Jones, Tom Oliver and Luke Kennedy.

This show is acclaimed for good reason; it is richly composed and effectively balanced to cohesively pull together both big numbers and running conversation. Naomi Price is not only one of Brisbane’s best musical voices but an extraordinary entertainer able to take audiences along for the ride with foot-stomping pop anthems and big, beautiful ballads alike. In “Rumour Has It” she is able to showcase this through the range of Adele’s music, from her earliest to most recent works, all cleverly interwoven in the narrative of her life. While you don’t have to be an Adele fan to enjoy the show, you will no doubt be a Naomi Price fan by the end, if not earlier.

Another bloody (good) classic

Dracula (shake & stir theatre co & QPAC)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

August 13 – September 4


‘Another bloody classic’ is how shake & stir’s “Dracula” has been aptly marketed. And certainly there is a lot of blood in the company’s retelling of Bram Stoker’s now legendary 1897 novel. But there is also much more as the multi-award winning company brings a finesse to the fright.

“Dracula” represents shake & stir’s most technical show, a fact that that is easily appreciated upon view of the stage. However, this is a view not granted upon entry into the theatre whose stage remains shrouded in misty darkness until the show begins with the boom of the vampire’s menacing prologue. Indeed, this is a “Dracula” full of atmosphere thanks to its bold staging and Guy Webster’s electrifying, eerie sound design. Lighting represents some of Jason Glenwright’s best work. As white light pours through windows and doors to puncture the darkness, a sense of space is created that belies that Cremorne theatre’s small stage. Of most significance, however, is the versatility afforded by use of a large revolving stage, complete with tall stairwell to assist in creating a range of settings, including some for conversations high above the audience. Leigh Buchanan’s costumes, heavy in ornamentation and layers, also contribute considerably to the authentic aesthetic. And Dracula’s coat is simply majestic and sure to be the envy of everyone with a Gothic sensibility.

No member of the cast disappoints. As Jack Seward, Ross Balbuziente delivers the appropriately formal dialogue with aplomb and when attacked by Dracula, Lucy (Ashlee Lollback) and Mina (Nellie Lee) respond with reactions that represent fusion of fear and desire, in keeping with the reading of the text’s portrayal of vampirism as a metaphor for sexuality in the repressive Victoria era in which the novel was written. However, ultimately this is Nick Skubij’s show, despite being barely present in the second half of the play. The portrayal of one of the most famous characters in popular culture, could easily tip into the territory of parody, however, this is far from the case. His performance as a brooding, sinister title character and primary antagonist is entirely riveting, adding a fearful chill to the show’s highly-charged atmosphere as he creeps around the darkened corners of the stage, sometimes appearing in the glimmer of half-light as if from nowhere to startle the audience and characters alike.

The story is of young lawyer Jonathan Harker (Tim Dashwood) who visits Castle Dracula in the Carpathian Mountains. Alone and trapped within the castle walls, he discovers that his host Dracula wants more than just his presence at the dinner table. Leaving Jonathan and his castle behind, Dracula travels to London on a quest for seduction, true love and above all blood. And while remaining true to its origins, this “Dracula” is a mastery of theatrical momentum, emphasising intense emotion as the source of aesthetic experience as it brings to life the moments so vividly described in the novel. The suspense, although prevailing, is tempered by some superbly choreographed action, including a fantastic fight scene, and there are even some surprise comic comments courtesy of David Whitney’s deadpan delivery of Van Helsing’s observations.

Although Bram Stoker did not invent the vampire, he defined its modern form, to the risk of audience members being potentially de-sensitised to the story’s original horror. However, this is a risk without realisation in this version, which is, rather, a fitting, gripping tribute to this classic Gothic text. The production is uncompromising and uncomfortable (#inagoodway). The design is stylish, yet also conveys an overwhelming horror to creep into your bones, sure to satisfy audience members wishing to sink their teeth into this flirtation with the dark side. And it is easy to see why the season has already been extended, including for a unique midnight show experience (#ifyoudare).