Fierce feminism

Revolt. Revolt She Said. Revolt Again. (Vena Cava Productions)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

April 19 – 22

At times, Alice Birch’s “Revolt. Revolt She Said. Revolt Again” is quite unconventional, which makes it well suited as a Vena Cava production. The Queensland University of Technology resident student theatre company begins their Metro Arts presentation of the experimental work with a series of warnings, including of its explicit language, partial nudity and sexual depictions, which are immediately proven to be necessary as its first scene opens to a pre-coital couple navigating the explicit intricacies of language around submission. 

This is the first part of Act One‘s revolutionise of the language; although the show runs as 80 minutes without interval, structurally it is served by four fragmented, increasingly furious acts. District and diverse in their forms and use of language, they take us also through revolutionise of the body, the work and the world in a raw and, at times, brutal expression of the female experience.

Staging is ultimately quite vivid and there is a real Brechtian feel to things. Performers remain seated at the side of the stage awaiting their respective scenes, along with racks of costumes at the ready for their use, which is ironic given how scantily clad they are by the latter parts. There is, however, also a clear attention to detail in costuming. Beyond the self-referential sloganised shirts and jackets that signpost the, for example, Company Men that mansplain and spread ahead of a numbed monologue by Keeley Hay of her surrender to society’s awareness of her body, there are costume connections through an angsty back and red aesthetic of safety-pinned plaid and fishnets. 

Coded language serves as a key part of the show’s sensibility, with suggestions of rebellion apparent in the punctuation marks of more than just its title and, as acts progress. we find ourselves being moved from the initial scene of a woman’s (Gillian Thompson) attempt to reclaim her Alfa Male partner’s (an impressive Jamie Dickman) explicit language for her own equally intense (but less comfortable to him) use, to a later ensemble one which includes chaotic civil disobedient collision of contradictory words and imagery. On screen projections also serve as a point of emphasis of the show’s essential themes, even if the ahead of their dialogue appearance sometimes takes us out of character connections, especially in monologue.

Motifs emerge more in latter sections… watermelons and blood for instance, though their symbolism is not always clear. It’s all a bit avant-garde so likely not for all audience tastes. Indeed, as a self-proclaimed theatrical uprising, “Revolt. Revolt She Said. Revolt Again” is provocative in its consolidation of how you are expected to behave, which aligns it with Metro Arts’ mantra of championing contemporary art forms. And its themes are, of course, important ones, particularly later commentary on what is now considered sex and satire of what being a feminist means. 

It also allows for showcase of some of our city’s emerging talents. Karrine Kanaan is a powerful stage presence as Little Miss Independent in share of rant rallying cry against marriage to Mr Nice Guy (Joel Dow) and Madeleine Wilson gives an assured performance as Stone Cold Bitch impatiently trying to coax a Drama Queen (Mia Chisholm) to work through mention of unwanted, unperceived perks… because what woman doesn’t want tokenistic chocolate in the vending machine. 

There is no doubting the energy and passion of all of the show’s performers, which contributes much to its challenge to change the world, starting with destroying the language of society’s failings that has long reinforced violence against women. Under Hannah Barr’s pacy direction, “Revolt. Revolt She Said. Revolt Again” is powerful theatre, loud, angry and unapologetic in its shout out of feminist themes and consideration of what womanhood means now. See it to be provoked but not necessarily provided with solution, because stark statements aside, there is only so much that even the most socially aware theatre can do.

Beret ‘baret celebrations


Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

March 30

“Bisbaret” may be, at is core, a celebration of Brisbane and its artists, but its latest outing at Metro Arts also has a touch of an international feel as performer Thien Pham, embarks on a film noir cold open clip chronicle of his beret-clued search through some of Brisbane’s iconic spots to uncover the city’s artistic degenerate cabaret underbelly. As the beret hunt is brought from screen to stage, we are reminded of our right to be entertained…. and that we are over its coming 90-minute duration.

The show, which is fast becoming a Brisbane institution, is created and hosted by musical comedian Sophie Banister and musician Pham, and unfolds as a curated variety night bringing audiences a smorgasbord of local talent, in this instance in a one night only return as part of the 2023 Queensland Cabaret Festival. The international flavour continues with its first act and the show’s from-then house band, The View From Madeleine’s Couch (led by Anje West and Kym Ambrose with Owen Newcomb on bass, Lachlan Hawkins/Paul Hudson on drums and Bruce Woodward on guitar), which shares some swaying Portuguese and Brazilian bossa nova sounds to ease us into the show’s easy-going vibe.  It continues, too in later-show appearance of Indian-fusion musician Menaka Thomas, whose catchy original number ‘My Eyes Can See’ is infectiously soul-stirring with audience clap-along in shared celebration, while also allowing feature of talented musicians Meg Burstow on keys and Tsoof Baras on drums.

Audience involvement is a key part of the entire show’s sensibility and success. Dynamic local favourite drag disco gremlin GoGo Bumhole (in some fabulous green boots), has us seat-dancing along in unison to a pumping (#literally) Body Rockers number. And her final act interactions with Whilhelmina bring some great comic moments and all sorts of chaotic energy. Add in some local flora funniness from comedian Taylor Edwards, and this “Brisbaret” does as its promises and gives us a great variety show of some of the city’s talent. ​​​

Energy never wanes, thanks to the upbeat between-act interaction of the show’s hosts. The dynamic duo of Banister and Pham have a natural rhythm to their banter, seen before in “All Day Breakfast With Sophie And Thien”. Their genuine enthusiasm for what they are doing makes in it easy to love it all as they weave local, topical and personal aspects into their own numbers, such as a musical exploration of the problems that come from heading on holiday as part of a bigger than 2 adults, 2 children family and, later, condemnation of the cost of living villain of our times. Indeed, their organic approach is what gives the show so much of its charm, especially in an ad-lib filled facilitation of the audience participation portion of the evening in response to shocking recent retail news. The No Myer, Myer Centre game, complete with bin chicken tokens, is lots of fun in this, and also its nostalgic relatable mentions of the dragon roller coaster, not being able to find a food court table or taking the wrong escalator to the bus stop.

Appropriately given its title, Brisbane is at the core of the fabric of “Brisbaret”, and its embrace of this is what gives the show so much of its unique character. The additional touch of having The View From Madeleine’s Couch as house band, snippetting the songs of Brisbane-based bands like Powderfinger, Regurgitator and The Go-Betweens between sets, shows the attention the detail that is belied by the rough and ready façade and random assortment of performers. The shared space of the “Brisbaret” stage may facilitate an unusual cabaret underbelly mix of local performers, however, its central celebration of their individuality and uniqueness is perfectly aligned with the sentiment of the Queensland Cabaret Festival. Even so, if you missed this March outing, there is always the next “Brisbaret” at the Brisbane Comedy Festival come early May.

Mixtaped memories

Mixtape: Rewind to the 80s (Outside The Jukebox)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

March 9 – 11

A mixtape is a homemade compilation of music, typically from multiple sources, traditionally recorded onto a cassette tape. The songs are either ordered or grouped with a deliberateness in contribution to an overall messaging, usually of love. This is the idea appropriately at the centre of Outside The Jukebox’s “Mixtape: Rewind to the 80s”, which is conceptualised around the idea of its performers finding a box containing clothes from the 1980s and a series of said tapes. By listening to the tapes’ mixes of music, they set about contemplating who might have put them together. Was it chronicle of love blossoming, lost or platonically shared? With each person hearing the songs differently in terms of take-away meanings, there is a lot of room for speculation.

The world-class vocalists of Outside The Jukebox are not only highly-skilled but incredibly versatile as they harmonise in fast-forward suite snippets of songs and present full numbers as part of their determination to convince others as to their imagined backstory behind the mix-tapes’ creation. Each song is a surprise as they restyle, rework, reinterpret and mashup favourite numbers, from Whitney to Wham, sometimes in the most unexpected of ways (an almost-operatic ‘Back in Black’ certainly fits this brief, even though its styling seems somewhat jarring with the sensibility of the rest of the show’s program).

With original arrangements for the production conceived by the group themselves, led by musical director Marcia Penman, and with additional arrangements and tracks created in collaboration with local musicians Tom Collins and Alex Van den Broek, there is much depth to the different musical approaches on offer. The result is something quite special as the group restyles songs to give us a jazzily-provocative version of Olivia Newton John’s Physical, a mournful ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, which allow the audience to consider lyrics anew. While some, like Toto’s ‘Africa’, led by associate producer, creator and performer Oliver Samson, remain quite true to their original layered and anthemic sounds (down even to a synth whistle accent), others represent more substantial departures from their source material, for example, when Penman gives us a whimsical re-take on Prince’s “Kiss” complete with a dainty “I think we better dance now”.

There are also some robust medleys, including of Michael Jackson hits from producer, creator and performer Hayden Rodgers and an ensemble ABBA encore, and surprising mashups, such as of Fleetwood Mac and Survivor. ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Uptown Girl’ seem like an organic fit, while ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ capture the spirit at the heart of the era whose soul was firmly set in its Brat Pack movies. And, the inventive ‘Push It’ merge in and out of ‘Love Shack’ is a genius combination that both showcases the creative, original arrangements that represent the core of the show’s appeal, but also capture its essentially playful spirit.

Numbers showcase a range of rich vocal experience and include opportunities for harmonious unite in ensemble numbers like an early, boppy ‘Take On Me’ retake, and the vocal stylings of each performer are effectively utilised to suit each song’s essential re-imagined messaging. From within a program that features a lot of Madonna and Prince, creator and performer Hannah Grondin gives us a goosebumpy belt of ‘Purple Rain’, full of fierce emotion as much as undeniably skilful vocals, to represent a late show highlight.

“Mixtape: Rewind to the 80s” is a one-of-a-kind concert that is both a unique experience and all sorts of infectious fun. The show’s 80(ish) minutes of high-energy performances, thrilling vocals, and tongue-in-cheek comedy are jam packed with highlights both in musical memory and re-imagination, as Outside The Jukebox finds new ways to interpret things. For those who experienced the ‘80s IRL, it represents opportunity to experience favourite iconic tunes of the era as never heard before. And, as “Stranger Things” has shown, there is always a new generation ready to come Running up that Hill to discover songs anew too.

Photos c/o – Kyle Head Photography

Provocations of power

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes (Offside Theatre Co)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

February 15 – 18

“Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes” is a deceptive show in a number of ways, in terms of expectations around tone, content and conclusion. In essence, it tells the story of an illicit affair between a student and professor, however, in doing so, it takes a scenario we think we know, and in a concise 75 minutes subverts it into provocation of if we really do.

Self-proclaimed ‘rockstar professor’ and famed middle-aged author Jon (Stephen Hirst) is filled with frustrated self-loathing after his third marriage breakdown, when he finds himself drawn to talented 19-year-old Annie (Josie Cross), an inexperienced undergraduate student of his and also a fan of his work. As the sexual tension between the two escalates, themes of sexual consent and power dynamics rise to the fore. The intimate two-hander takes us not on ride through the narrative of an affair between an out-of-reach-older male and a younger female student, however, but, rather through an unpacking of its cliché through a post #metoo filter.

The writing, by acclaimed Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s is appropriately excellent. This is, after all, a layered story with words and writing at its core. They not only bounce off each other in the script’s choreographed interplay, but physically scroll down from high above the stage and out under the set pieces that establish the narrative’s key locations, drafted with scribbled cross-outs and reconsidered suggestions in attempt to tell the story right (set design by Alex Riley).

The on-stage storytelling is economical, but not without depth. The work is full of literary references and intellectual inclusions such as discussion of literary motifs like the image of a mysterious girl in a red coat. Imagery and figurative language paint a detailed picture and contribute to the story’s clever ultimate challenge of the preconceived notions of the relationship on show. The sharply observed dialogue is also nuanced both in character exchanges and almost-direct-to-audience delivery, university lecture style at times. Indeed, the play appears more like a witty monologue from Jon, with inset of retrospectively-recalled interactions with the enigmatic Annie.

Stephen Hirst and Josie Cross encapsulate the archetypal student-teacher romance, but with well-rounded performances that elevate it above easy cliché. Hirst’s casual style of self-aware third-person narration of Jon’s experience is infused with comedy of the identifiable as he embodies each hesitant pause, nervous observation and theatrical mocking with comic timing perfection, moving about the space as we all perhaps do in behind-closed-doors behaviour, with words and actions cut short as thoughts are lost or overridden by others. And Cross brings a depth and grounding to the vital, youthful Annie, especially as her agency emerges over the story’s timeline beyond what she describes as ‘the exchange’.

Tim Hill’s considered direction ensures that things move quickly, but fluidly. The story takes us to a variety of places, and later times, as it works through the 11 chapters of its narrative, signposted in early projection along with their apparently evident descriptors, jumping between scenes and stage spaces without jarring our journey. And Wesley Bluff’s lighting design guides us thorough the shades of Jon and Annie’s relationship, most obviously reflecting when she is observed in clichéd red coat imagery that defines her to him.

In Offside Theatre Co’s hands, the Queensland premiere production of this impressive play is clever, gripping and very funny. Its sharp script is enriched by impressive performances and slick direction, and its conclusions about owning a narrative, rather than being a silent player, will leaving you questioning your perception of power. Its only disappointment is the shortness of its season, for as Annie knowingly notes, “these types of things don’t last.”

Who’s the boss?

Hold Me Closer Tony Danza (The Farm)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

January 24 – 28

Previously acclaimed works from Dance theatre company The Farm means that expectations are high for their new subversive piece “Hold Me Closer Tony Danza”, which has been created by Kate Harman, Michael Smith, Gavin Webber and Anna Whitaker. The immersive event is occurring in Metro Arts’ New Benner Theatre, but not as we may know it, with the space opened up and requiring audience members to move about the action, standing, sitting on the ground and maybe even participating in the provocation themselves.

Immediately, we are divided to a chosen side to observe the back and forth interaction of performers committed to their either correct or otherwise share of the chorus of Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’. Like watching a coin being continuously flipped, see them alternate sides to establish the boss as the aesthetic around them slowly adjusts towards proposition about how we form meaning and the flaws that this might expose.

Meaning can be drawn at many levels thanks to the Inception-like layering of the show’s satire and sometimes metatheatrical address to (and direction of) the audience, marshalling the crowd into their dance positions as required. There are clearly multiple levels, with the work evoking, as the creators have summarised, the head, heart and guts of passion.Its focus on misunderstandings that come from contradictions means that the show is filled with binary oppositions across its ever facet, not just the obvious Tiny Dancer / Tony Danza or Star Wars / Star Trek sort, but aesthetically in the silver or gold wrapping of participants and descent of warm golden lighting into murky green blackness (lighting design by Govin Ruben) to transition from the long initial sequence.

Extremes are seen too when the frenzied movements that emphasise a pumping soundtrack, are dialled down to a serene stillness in which we dare not breath too loudly. As frantic as things may seem at times as energy escalates, at its core it is all quite crafted and controlled, even when we are picking our side in a Jetts vs Sharks type dance battle of sorts from growing audience-turned-recruited-performer groups, ably fronted by all-attitude leaders Kate Harman and Michael Smith.

This is a physical and physically demanding, well-choreographed show, and dance artists Harman and Smith push themselves to extremes to create meaning through their bodies, when controlled in close proximity to not collide, but then united in unison when floor work sees them move fluidly as one. The result is unique entertainment in encouragement of consideration if art is life or life is art, through a lens in which the rules of traditional theatre or even dance no longer apply. And while its titular framing device appears less as an integral thread and more as a top-and-tail function, it does lead to joyous ultimate shared celebration (and sing along) to the misquoted line from Elton John’s song, during whichTony may just make an en masse appearance.

As a bold, brash and non-conforming piece, “Hold Me Closer Tony Danza” serves to challenge theatre norms and showcase some fine dancing skills. Indeed, with an ambiguous start and false finish, it will keep you guessing throughout and on-your-toes in wonder about what has just happened, what is currently unfolding before you and where things may be going, as much as appreciation of the obvious dance skills on display.

Un-Santa-mental celebrations

Babushka Regifted (Little Match Productions)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

December 14 – 17

While its set is adorned with festive baubles, an elf on the shelf and a giant advent calendar, the ‘ding, dong, here comes the bells’ arrival of the three wise women of Babushka (Judy Hainsworth, Laura Coutts and Alicia Cush) signposts that “Babushka Regifted” is very much an anti-Christmas Christmas show. Soon thereafter, ‘Wake Me Up When September December Ends’ cements the show’s sentiment as an 18+ celebration of everything we love to hate about the holly jolly season.

The trio of performers is joined in their irreverence by accomplished jazz trio Jake Bristow (Musical Director along with Alicia Cush) and the Baby Cheeses band and, after the show’s initial numbers, things settle into a comfortable banter that moves us between segments. As with previous Babushka shows, there is plenty of audience participation, this time through Grinchy games organised around the share of Festivus airing of Christmas grievances and about the worst ever received presents, which works well in the intimate venue of Metro Art’s New Benner Theatre.

Variety ensures that “Babushka Regifted” is a fun-filled ride for everyone. The eclectic mix of musical genres includes features of some classic seasonal standards from The Pogues and Spinal Tap, however, a Madonna mashup also sits comfortably alongside Nick Cave’s classic ‘Red Right Hand’, reappropriated as a warning about Santa lap sitting. In all instances, the musical arrangements from Cush and Bristow serve as perfect vehicles for the slick vocals, quirky comedy and unapologetic sass that have come to characterise the Matilda Award winning cabaret trio’s work.

This is not a santa-mental show in any way. There’s not a Mariah song to be heard. And the familiar numbers that do make appearance are not as we usually would know them. The  problematic ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is amusingly shifted in focus to tell the tale of Hainsworth’s obviousness to her prowling of Bristow, yet it still allows us opportunity to appreciate her consummate vocals. And the three songstresses harmonise together beautifully in a ‘We Three Kings Queens’ accompaniment to the story of travel to the real Christmas charcuterie Mecca. And in their serene share ‘Walking in the Air’ from UK Christmas Day staple, the enduring animated classic “The Snowman”, their voices blend beautifully (with lovely accompaniment especially from Bristol) as the trio of singers literally bounce off each other in full snowman regalia.  

A sleigh-the-patriarchy theme adds another layer to things as they sing from a hymn him her book with holy PowerPoint accompaniment. Clever lyrics give carols like ‘Deck the Halls’ and alike a rework, and then there is ‘Good King Queen Wenceslas”, because who is Stephen exactly and more importantly, who is cooking his feast!

With all that is has to offer, “Babushka Regifted” may well be your new favourite festive tradition. Unlike the silly season, however, these Babushka shenanigans will be over in a flash so you will need to don your dodgy Xmas jumpers and get along quickly to experience what is a rollicking adults-only romp laden with tinsel and tunes, especially if you want to find out why Laura’s fruit cake brings all the boys to the yard.

Photo – c/o Penny Challen