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.


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.

Goodes store goodness

Ladies in Black (Ipswich Musical Theatre Company)

The Old Ipswich Courthouse

April 26 – May 5

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The award-winning Australian musical “Ladies in Black” by Carolyn Burns and Tim Finn may be relatively new, but it comes with an acclaimed reputation. Accordingly perhaps Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s production of the work is enjoying a sold out season even before its opening night. And experience of the show confirms that this is for good reason.

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The heartfelt coming-of-age story is of a clever, bookish young woman, Lisa (Bailee Scott) working as a Christmas casual at the imagined Sydney department store Goodes in the 1950s while she waits for her Leaving Certificate results, and the lives of the other women workers she meets there. And through its pleasant presentation, it is easy to get caught up in its world, familiar though now foreign, as seen by the audience reaction to Lisa’s father’s response to her desire to go to university (for this is a time when girls don’t dream of education beyond maybe Teaching College or Secretarial School).


Charming as the story is, however, what makes or breaks this show is its music. Matthew Semple’s Musical Direction is solid and the band does an excellent job in realising the challenging score, particularly given the venue necessity to have them doing so from a different room. And the songs are as joyous as even. Catchy melodies mean that tunes like ‘I Got it at Goodes” and the catchy, titular ‘Ladies in Black’ linger long after the show has finished.

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Tim Finn’s songs cover all range of musical styles, from the sway of melodic ballads like ‘Summer Afternoon’ to the energy of Broadway-esque ensemble numbers like ‘Pandemonium’, which is wonderfully choreographed to capture the madness of the January sales experience. They are all seamless in integration into the dramatic action and the comedy of their lyrics is very clever, with lines like “I just kissed a sweet Hungarian … he’s not like all those Aussie barbarians” (‘I Just Kissed a Continental’) and “They need a break from 9 to 5 and golf’s such a gripping game” (from the ockerish ‘He’s a Bastard’, which is always a hoot of a highlight).

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The cast includes some fine musical theatre performers, all well cast in their respective roles but also easily able to harmonise well together. Bailee Scott is perfect as the wide-eyed Lisa, and conveys an endearing comfort within the role from the very first share of her musical anthem using the words of William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’. Though husbands and beaus appear, this is the story of the store’s ladies and in their respective roles, these actors all more than rise to the occasion.

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As the looking for love in all the wrong places but eager to settle down Fay, Harriet Jackson showcases a compelling voice, particularly in her Act Two duo with Phillip Fitzjohn as her ‘continental’ boyfriend Rudi. Lauren Roche, too, gives a memorable performance as the childless Patty, with revealing sadness behind her smile as husband Frank goes about his weekend pub visits and golf game routines.


Danika Saal gives the ‘crazy continental’ European Magda of Model Gowns an endearing nature, rather than slipping into a ethnic stereotype as could so easily occur, which makes it easy for the audience to appreciate the appeal of her worldly lifestyle to the eager-to-experience-life Lisa. And Chris Kellett transitions in an out of his roles as Lisa’s traditional ‘when I say no, I mean no’ father and Magda’s adoring husband Stefan, with ease. Indeed, together Saal and Kellett present a genuinely delightful duo of the #couplegoals sort. And Fitzjohn is the best Rudi I have seen yet.

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With many, many musical numbers the task of staging this production is certainly an ambitious one and under Tammy Sarah Linde’s direction, it is an ambition well-realised, with good reinterpretation of the just as many scenes to account for space limitations. In fact, the work is only improved in some instances, for example in edit down of the post-interval Anna Karenina inspired dream sequence. The boutique production suits the subject matter and offers many highlights, including a stunning array of authentic 1950s frocks and alike. Even the few lighting false starts and microphone cue misses don’t detract too much from the overall impression. However, it is a shame that some of the action is difficult to see due to a combination of its presence on the stage floor and the lack of a raked stage in the heritage venue.

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This is a highly-entertaining show in all regards, experience of which flies by, even for those, like me, who have seen the show more than once before. While “Ladies in Black” is not particularly thematically innovative, in the Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s clearly capable hands, it is still full of feeling, musically well-realised and wittily presented, making it worth even a trip from Brisbane to experience its goodness.

Photos c/o – Kenn Santos

LBD ladies live on

Ladies in Black (Queensland Theatre in association with Queensland Performing Arts Centre)

QPAC, The Playhouse

January 28 – February 19

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The critically acclaimed “Ladies in Black” features over 20 original songs written by legendary singer songwriter Tim Finn, so it is of little surprise perhaps that 14 months after its debut season, its soundtrack is memorable even just in anticipation of its encore season as part of a national tour.

The story, adapted from Madeleine St John’s 1993 novel, “The Women in Black” and brought to life by Australian screenwriter Carolyn Burns tells of an innocent and bookish but ambitious (against her father’s wishes) school-leaver, Lisa, who lands a coveted job on the sales team at one of Sydney’s most stylish department stores, Goodes, for the Christmas holiday period. It is the late 1950s and with the city contemplating cosmopolitanism, Lisa’s world is expanded as she befriends the unlucky-in-love Fay, the frustratedly childless Patty and particularly exotic European refugee, Magda of model gowns.

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The department story setting gives the show some stunning visuals. The costumes, which include a range of some 30 custom-designed and created dresses and suits, all created at Queensland Theatre, are spectacular, which is entirely appropriate for a store in which the dresses are not just beautiful but have their own names and personalities.


Opulent drapery, glass and mirrored pillars evoke the glitz of a high-end department store shop floor. The use of revolving platforms allows for seamless scene transitions and David Walters’ lush lighting illuminates proceedings. Every aspect of the production is electrified with lively energy, and dynamic musical numbers, such as Act Two’s ‘Pandemonium’ illustration of the January sales onslaught on the shop floor, are enhanced by clever choreography.


Every musical number is on-point in its combination of melody and lyrics, despite the soundtrack’s varied sensibilities. From the incidental music of background Christmas carols to the laid-back languish of ‘On a Summer Afternoon’ the live band is excellent in every instance and it is wonderful to see them at-times showcased on stage, behind a scrim screen. And the strings, in particular add enormous emotion to wistful numbers such as ‘The Fountain’. However, the most memorable of musical numbers are so because of their witty lyrics. ‘The Bastard Song’ shared tongue-in-cheek chastise of how all men as bastards is met with exuberant response, even when only in reprise. And Fay’s frank reflection ‘I Just Kissed a Continental’ is an Act Two highlight in its catchy melody and humour as much as its still-relevant social commentary about Australian xenophobia.


While there have been some cast changes since its first Brisbane outing, Sarah Morrison remains as ingénue Lisa, innocently wide-eyed but with a soaring soprano sound. Musical star Bobby Fox, who wowed audiences playing Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys” also returns to nearly steal the show as Rudi (the ‘continental with whom Fay is sharing kisses) along with the award-winning Carita Farrer Spencer who plays Lisa’s torn-between mother.


New to the cast for the 2017 Australian tour is Natalie Gamsu as ‘crazy continental’ Magda, who dominates the stage in her ever presence. Also joining the show are Madeleine Jones as Patty and Ellen Simpson as Fay. Jones, in particular, is of excellence voice, from start to finish, as evidenced in her ‘Try Again’ tell of attempt to start a family. And all characters bring believability to their roles, capturing the Aussie vernacular and accents of the time and bringing witty delivery to the script’s many dry-humour moments.


“Ladies in Black” is an utterly charming show that represents the renaissance of the Australian musical and it is easy to appreciate its win of the Helpmann Award for Best New Australian Work. More than just a stylish frock fest, its experience is lots of fun with some inspiring underling messages about female empowerment. And audiences should be flocking to it either in remind of its greatness or as introduction to this wonderful Australian work.

LBD ladies

Ladies in Black (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

November 14 – December 6

It’s nearing Christmas sometime in late 1950’s Sydney. Leslie Miles is the tops – top of multiple subjects in completion of her leaving certificate. The literature-loving bookworm is now looking for a new chapter in her young life so, having studied the staff etiquette guidelines, is ready to begin work as a lady in (sensible and chic) black in the cocktail dress section at the prestigious Goodes Department Store.

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(Whatever you want you will get it at Goodes, audience members are told in the show’s opening number.) While Lisa (Sarah Morrison), as Leslie prefers to be known, appreciates it as a magical place, she doesn’t want to work there for keeps; the budding poet hopes to go to university, which creates conflict with her traditional parents (Greg Stone and Carita Farrer Spencer) who don’t believe women need higher education when a secretarial course could suffice.


Fortified by an opt-reprised musical anthem of the words of William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’, Lisa embraces the new friendships and experiences that come with the employment, mostly courtesy of the co-workers who let her into their lives. Patty (Lucy Maunder) finds herself drifting away from husband Frank (Andrew Broadbent) after a decade of trying to fall pregnant. Fay (Naomi Price) is sick of enduring disastrous dates with sometimes married men so contemplates a relationship with the sweet Hungarian Rudi (Bobby Fox), friend of European refugee Magda (Christen O’Leary) who hosts the store’s salon for special customers in search of new fashion and extraordinary gowns.

Magda takes Lisa under her wing, introducing her to an exotic lifestyle of salami and scarves, leading to clichéd ugly-duckling-into-swan scene when the protagonist loses her bookish glasses and sophisticates her style, just in time for the end of Act One. This also allows for touch on the text’s feminist themes when Magda’s husband Stefan (Greg Stone) shares with Lisa with a copy of “Middlemarch”, with explanation that although Mary Ann Evans had to write under the pseudonym of George Elliot in order to be taken seriously, such things are no longer necessary.


O’Learly barely misses a beat as the vibrant and stylish Magda, a credit surely to dialect coach Melissa Agnew, even if her energetic Act Two monologue narration of New Year’s Eve party guest arrivals and interplay does drag a little. Newcomer Morrison is appropriately innocently wide-eyed as the bookish Lisa, showcasing a standout soaring soprano, and Price brings a wink and smile to Carol Burns’s often deliberately blunt Australian dialogue, culminating in the catchy Act Two number ‘I Just Kissed a Continental’. But the ultimate star of the show is Tim Finn’s lyrics and music and it i appropriate perhaps the band should receive the evening’s most rapturous applause.


Songs are plentiful, in full form or fragment (a set-list would have made for a welcomed program addition) and are filled with clever lyrics and catchy rhythms. Some of the best come from the secondary Patty storyline. After an argument, Patty’s mum and two sisters sing the memorable “The Bastard Song” and when the couple meet up again and sing of their feelings, the lyrics are full of everyday vernacular, Australian humour and lines like ‘Frank, you’re an idiot!’. Even when Frank sings of wanting to be a proper family man, there is a rich bluesy tone to his lavatory lament.


The music is performed by a live six piece band, led by Musical Director Isaac Hawyard. Appropriately positioned behind sheer curtains at the rear of the stage, they are ever-present, not just physically but through their contemporary sounds, ranging from banging bass to ballads of lighter touch such as Act One’s Irish-toned ‘Glorious Day’.


Gabriela Tylesova’s design is visually impressive without being at the expense of functionality. Lush drapery, glass and mirrored pillars evoke the glitz of a department store shop floor. And the use of revolving platforms not only allows for in-scene changes but seamless choreography, reminiscent of ‘The Girl on the Magazine Cover’ number from Irving Berlin’s 1948 movie musical “Easter Parade”. Because then there are also the costumes and display dresses … fabulous frocks that garner gasps of their own when they make appearance on stage.


As a story of fashion, friendship and 1950s Australia (“a moment in Australia’s adolescence” as described by Burns in the program’s Playwright’s Note), “Ladies in Black” is a triumph that capitalises on the wave of nostalgia which has led to so many recent musical revivals, yet does so though presentation of a new and fresh Australian story. Although the coming of age tale based on Madeleine St John’s novel “The Women in Black” is weighted by feminist discourses and themes surrounding national identity and xenophobia, it remains playful in its touches, which befits its musical genre.

The show is QTC’s first original musical in 16 years and well it might be said that it has been worth the wait for a homemade musical (with QPAC funding the first development, it has been a totally Brisbane show from the very start) of such calibre. Not only is its humble, heart-warning story brought to delightful life by an accomplished cast, but its creatives have given it an enduring appeal beyond just evocation of its era. For some singing, a bit of dancing and a dash of sentiment, make sure you book an appointment with the LBD ladies of Goodes.