and that’s a 2018 wrap


A quick pre-Christmas trip to Melbourne this week has not only give me my favourite theatre experience of the year in Calamity Jane, but provided a chance to reflect on a theatre year now done. Although still in the triple digits, I saw fewer shows in 2018 than in previous years, because…. Netflix. And, as usual, there have been many highlights, making it difficult to providing a definitive list of favourites. But reflective lists are what the end of a year is all about, so here is my eclectic top 10 of the memorable, the musical, the moving and the mirthful, and some honourable mentions.

  1. Calamity Jane – Encore Season (Arts Centre Melbourne in association with One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Co)
  2. Hamnet (Dead Centre) as part of Brisbane Festival
  3. Good Muslim Boy (Queensland Theatre and Malthouse Theatre)
  4. Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)
  5. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)
  6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (The National Theatre)
  7. The Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)
  8. Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects) as part of Brisbane Festival
  9. At Last: The Etta James Story (Brisbane Powerhouse)
  10. The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

And mention also to the following highlights:

Best performance:

  • Virgina Gay as the titular feisty frontierswoman in Calamity Jane
  • Paul Capsis as 1970s gay icon, English writer, raconteur and actor Quentin Crisp in Resident Alien at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the 2018 Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture.

Best AV – A Christmas Carol (optikal bloc for shake & stir theatre co)

Most thought provoking –- Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects)

Best new work – The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Best musical

  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)
  • Big Fish – The Musical (Phoenix Ensemble)
  • Bare (Understudy Productions)

Best cabaret:

Best music – The Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)

Best dance – Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)

Funniest – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

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

Cleverest – North by Northwest (QPAC and Kay & McLean Productions)

Most moving – Hamnet (Dead Centre)

Sounds of the city

The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 12 – 16

Australian alternative rock band The Go-Betweens is part of the architecture of this city – not only culturally, but literally, courtesy of the inner city Brisbane toll bridge named in their honour. The indie band found cult fame (but no fortune) with their idiosyncratic music, focussed on the personal rather than the political at a time of political turmoil in the state (the band formed at UQ when Queensland was halfway through Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s almost two decades as Premier). It is appropriate, therefore to have the band’s songs tell the story of a generation and a city that shaped it, which is the tag-line for the world premiere collaboration between acclaimed Brisbane theatre and music companies Now Look Here and Electric Moon, “The Sound of a Finished Kiss”.


At its core, the show, which is written and directed by Kate Wild, is a celebration of the band’s rich musical legacy, frozen in time within the early ‘90s era. It begins however in the less distant past; it is 2016 when one of a now-far-flung group of friends finds a mixtape that transports her from London back to the endless empty days of Brisbane in 1991, when their collective potential still had possibility for fulfillment.

Becky (Kat Henry) has just moved from Toowoomba to the sophisticated big smoke city of Brisbane for university. At O-week she meets Zed (Lucas Stibbard) who has similarly relocated from Mackay, only with a more personal reason driving his desire for a fresh start. For the next two years they hang out as Becky works down a list of coming-of-age milestones and through a series of monologues interwoven with the songs they loved, we see them relive the events which shattered friendships and scattered the four friends of their group across the world. Like the music itself, their stories navigate an array of emotions, from the euphoric to the painful and many moments of humour as snippets of the different perspectives of relationships reveal their distinct characters.

4 characters.jpg

One thing Brisbane does well is tell its own stories, whether in words, through music or on stage. “The Sound of a Finished Kiss” combines all three of these. The show is full of referential fondness for the city and its locations, in descriptions of West End traffic and changes to its landscapes, our slow brown river, its Story Bridge, Queen Street Mall and The Beat. And description of a party in a verandas-all-around-Queenslander in all its swampie, fire-twirling, goon-bladder drinking, literary discussion glory is like a step back in time to a life with a different group of people, with time to spend and squander.

The show’s 90-minute running times flies by, despite the simplicity of its narrative, which is appropriate given that at the age of its characters, everything seems immense. What is big, however, are the sounds of the show’s live five-piece band and four talented actor/musicians. Musical director James Lees of Electric Moon effectively unites the music of The Go-Betweens with Wild’s original story. Although some songs go on a little bit longer than necessary, they all fit effectively into the narrative, especially given the different song writing styles of the band’s two front men, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. As an opener, the heartfelt ‘Cattle and Cane’ for example, written by McLennan as a longing for his boyhood Rockhampton farm home while homesick after relocation to London, evokes an identifiable recall of wanting to venture forth to a bigger, brighter world and later nostalgia for what has been left behind, in words like ‘I recall coming home through fields of cane… the sky a rain of falling cinders’, especially to those, like me, whose own hometown memories include the evening haze of cane fires and their black cinder burn off.


All members of the ensemble cast deliver in every respect. Kat Henry is a naively-optimistic Becky in counter to Lucas Stibbard’s eyes-downcast, hands-in-pocket loner, Zed, yet together they make ‘Right Here’ an at-once cutesy and heartfelt duet. Lucinda Shaw is a tour-de-force as Karla, Becky’s indie spirit guide. Vocally she is magnificent, moving from husky smokiness to screaming heights in the post-punk B-side ‘Karen’ (written by Robert Foster as a tribute to University of Queensland Library staff). And her later ‘Bye Bye Pride’, about the humility of healing and moving on with life is a memorable combination of vulnerability and vocal power.


As the self-assured and almost larger-than-life Mike, Sandro Colarelli is just as compelling. In ‘Drive for Your Memory’, a song Robert Forster wrote reflecting about his break-up with the band’s drummer Lindy Morrison, he is an irresistible force in description of how Mike is affected by a love that couldn’t be, yet almost was… ‘Deep down I’m lonely and I miss my friend’. And in ‘The House Jack Kerouac Built’, recognition of a bad situation becoming worse, his rich, tremulous modern-day crooning sounds are delicious in their Morrissey shades, especially as he laments his loneliness in the number’s final lines. The song is also unforgettable due to its full band arrangement and it is wonderful to often see its musicians Ruth Gardner, Richard Grantham, Brett Harris, James Lees and Karl O’Shea revealed from behind the back-of-stage scrim screen in some numbers.


Like the breezy, melodic mid-tempo number ‘Spring Rain’ which looks back on living in Brisbane suburbia and ‘driving my first car, my elbows in the breeze’ “The Sound of a Finished Kiss” has an essentially-beautiful simplicity to its experience. As celebration of The Go-Betweens’ rich musical legacy, it is worthy enough in its revisit of Grant McLennan’s melodic genius and Robert Forster’s evocative lyrics. But with its backstory of the city and some of its people, it is simply superb.

The music conjures up the past, as only music can do, beyond just the summer sounds of their most commercial hit ‘Streets of Your Town’. As a then NQ swampie who road-tripped from Mackay to Brisbane in a Datsun Sunny listening to The KLF for life-anew at the University of Queensland, it not only made me sentimental, but left me lamenting about youth being wasted on the young. Indeed, so powerful is its evocation of era, that it can make theatregoers nostalgic for a time and place they didn’t personally encounter.

Regardless of your experience, or otherwise, of Brisbane’s unique subculture in the early 1990s, however, it still offers examination of some resonate, universal themes that will leave audiences with urge to reconnect with friends from long-ago lives. This is a show with an all-too-short initial run whose virtually sold-out season stands as testament to its need to return its sounds of our city to a stage. In the meantime, we can await another viewing with revisit of old ‘Tweens albums and re-read of “He Died with a Felafel in His Hand” and “Zigzag Street”.

Playing with political power

Spendour (Now Look Here)

Metro Arts, Sue Brennar Theatre

March 29 – April 8

While civil war rages outside in a snowy Eastern European-ish country, four women from very different backgrounds are bunkered in a lavish drawing room, waiting for a dictator to return home. As things deteriorate outside, so too does their civilised cordiality. There is an intensity to the tension that results as the dictator’s wife Micheleine (Pip Boyce) awaits her husband’s return, in the company of her supposed best friend Genevieve (Luisa Prosser), British photojournalist, Kathryn (Kerith Atkinson), who has arrived to photograph Micheleine’s husband, and her sly interpreter Gilma (Ngoc Phan). As they wait, they drink chilli vodka, eat oranges and talk … and things unravel.

Mutual mistrust and misunderstanding aside, however, there are still many moments of comedy as respite to the friction, which make Abi Morgan’s “Splendour” such a memorable audience experience of privilege and power. Unfamiliar with the language, Kathryn has to reply on Gilma, whose deliberate mistranslations make for many of the early laughs. Then the opportunistic interpreter begins to pilfer from the opulent surroundings, stuffing her pockets with everything from china teacups to children’s movies.

Micheleine carries a regal confidence and patronising demeanour in contrast to her modest friend Genevieve. And Boyce and Prosser play the dynamic to perfection. Boyce is particularly impressive in her stoic realisation of what awaits once the revolutionaries reach her, and esteem about being ‘history under their noses’. These are all strong women in their own different ways and it is wonderful to see a play that gives them a stage unto themselves. Although seemingly stereotypical, under Kate Wild’s direction, all are multifaceted, real and interesting to watch.


We never see the city that is being seized by revolution, nor is the country specified, which evokes some audience frustration, because this is a show that leaves you wanting to know more about its everything. It is a demanding but riveting experience, enhanced by its simple staging and stark soundtrack of haunting piano sounds. Its fragmented structure, too, provides much fascination as different perspectives are offered on the same events and characters reveal their inner thoughts and shifting emotional perspectives through interior monologue asides, almost as a running commentary on the action.

“Spendour” is an intricate and complex piece of storytelling. Indeed, it is a bold, beautifully-realised play, enhanced by some stellar performances. Its commentary about the fallibility of power is made all the more engrossing by its fractured form and claustrophobic feel, meaning that after some initial confusion due to translations when all dialogue is English, its dramatic 90-minute journey flies by despite being a slow burn of strained relationships and political uncertainty.

Pensive Pinter

The Lover and A Slight Ache (Now Look Here)

Metro Arts, The Lumen Room

March 8 – 19

Following the success of last year’s production of “The Seagull”, Now Look Here presents two plays by Harold Pinter to take the audience on two very different journeys through the essence of the work of one of last century’s most influential playwrights.

The more light-hearted of the pieces, “The Lover” focuses on the pretence of properness, and fear and jealousy within commitment. While Sarah (Kerith Atkinson) and Richard (Daniel Murphy) appear to be happily married, behind their facade of propriety, lies frank acceptance of infidelity, soon revealed to be a fantasy role play.

The work is filled with the volleys of witty dialogue, punctuated by typical Pinter prolonged pauses afforded by Kate Wild’s indulgently languid pacing, making for a marriage in which both parties are more believable than in their fantasy roles. Atkinson, in particular, is poised in her portrayal of Sarah. Her charismatic presence carries each scene and her comic timing is spot on in banter with Murphy.

lovers.jpgChristine Felmingham‘s pastel lighting hues paint a delicate design picture. Staging is functional, setting the piece in time as much as place, and Penelope Challen’s costumes effectively serve as reflection of the intended era of marital conservatism in which all is not necessarily as it seems. In combination, the elements all serve to paint an appropriate initial portrait of life in Pinter’s pensive world.

Less elaborately staged is the second of the night’s one act plays, “The Slight Ache”, appropriate so given its origins as a radio play. Transferred to the stage play format, however, the work is somewhat unsatisfying, despite the best efforts of the cast.

slight ache

It begins with a conversation between middle-aged Edward (Daniel Murphy) and his wife Flora (Kerith Atkinson) in a country garden over breakfast. Befitting his years as an essayist, Edward is eloquent even in his dithering obsession with ordinary trivialities such as garden plants. But all is not as it seems, with a silent, sinister Matchseller lurking at their garden gate. As the morning morphs into afternoon, Edward becomes increasingly suspicious and Flora urges the stranger into their home for interrogation by her husband.

What follows is a series of increasingly unsettling monologues from Edward, met only with silence from the Matchseller. It is a silence and unresponsiveness filled with assumptions in move towards the play’s final moments when the mysterious Matchseller prophetically trades places with Edward. Clearly there is a metaphor for the taking from amongst the piece’s beautiful writing, however, it is not entirely clear as to what it is. With little visual interest to maintain audience engagement, it is hard work to decipher, in stark contrast to the double-bill’s initial piece.

Atkinson again is skilled in her performance, showing a touching compassion in her one sided conversation of urge for the man to join her inside the house and then upon taking the stranger’s arm to tenderly lead him along. As the mute Matchseller, Zachary Boulton is initially vulnerable and then threatening. When after much silent standing, he eventually takes seat to face the audience, he expresses volumes through only his eyes.

Pinter’s work can be comic or dark, such is the versatility of his drama. In “A Slight Ache” and “The Lover”, Now Look Here presents audiences with both. By once again placing the actor and the playwright at the centre of their work, they have taken audiences into the essence of these classic of the stage and their questions about the complication of life.

Desperation, despair and damn good drama

The Seagull (Now Look Here)

Metro Arts, The Warehouse

March 3 – 14

“Why do you wear so much black?” 

“I’m in mourning for my life.”

There could perhaps be no better opening line to epitomise the tone of Anton Chekhov’s acclaimed dramatic work. And, in “The Seagull”, one of his greatest plays, the mood is certainly one of despair, even when transported to a rural Australian property.

Now Look Here’s reimagining of the Russian classic certainly presents a fresh take on its famed naturalism, drawing upon its family dysfunction and flawed characters as it brings the work to life within Metro Arts’ cosy Warehouse space. Indeed, when crowded by the dozen strong ensemble, cast, the effect is quite suffocating and confronting, especially for front row audience member recipients of direct eye contact monologues. This emphasises the essence of the work, for in Chekhov, nothing is grand. Yet it would also be wonderful to see the production realised in a more mainstream venue, sans the sometimes crude lighting and backstage distractions that come as consequence of the intimate space.

seagull 2

“The Seagull” examines the unravelling of a group of family and friends’ desperate, tangled lives. Within the sorrow, however, there is a sense of humour and certain degree of absurdity. The show begins with a play within a play as the sulky, snarky young Kostya (Thomas Hutchins) presents his pretentious, self-indulgent work whose clichéd devices cause derision from his far-from-maternal ‘national treasure’ actress mother Irina (an Artist with a capital A, played by Louise Brehmer). His star is young Nina (Lizzie Ballinger) with whom he is infatuated (oddly gifting to her a dead seagull), but Nina is starstruck by Irina’s new love Boris (Matthew Filkins), a famous novelist who would prefer to spend time alone fishing rather than talking about his work. This is made into a love triangle by Masha (Ayeesha Ash), who is in love with Kostya. Indeed, if it weren’t for Kostya’s moments of madness and ultimate outcome, it could just as easily be fodder for a fabulous Noel-Coward style farce. Himself a doctor by profession, Chekhov was ‘sympathetic, but unsentimental’ in his treatment of what is, essentially, quite banal subject in the lives of ordinary people. But this is the beauty of his work, which speaks in fractured images.

“The Seagull” is a play full of drama, of those whose lives are lived (as Thoreau proclaimed in “Walden”) in quiet desperation. To bring this character driven intent to life on stage, requires tight direction and tremendous performances, and this version has both, making it a damn good drama. As an ensemble, the actors serve the source material well, exhibiting a sense of pre-occupation and selfishness, the motivation for which the text gives little explanation. In particular, Hutchins acquits himself well as Irina’s tormented son Kostya, a playwright prone to despair, presenting a sympathetic portrayal as he tries to cope with the loss of first his mother and then his love to a more successful artist. Kevin Hides also gives a memorable performance as the doctor, Dorn a figure of measured calm in the middle of all of a frenzy of frantic behaviour.

Although Chekhov’s work is masterful in its examination of the human condition, it is natural to be dubious about a modernised version of any classic. This is a worry without merit in the case of this work, which effectively updates the 120 year old text without destroying its anguished foundations. Director, Kate Wild presents audiences with a production that has much to say about dreams, disappointments and despair and even theatre itself (beyond its Shakespearean plot suggestions). As a disillusioned theatre maker Kostya observes about the need for new forms of theatre, “if we can’t find them, we’d be better to have nothing at all”. Thankfully now look here has found it and the Brisbane theatre scene is, accordingly, all the richer.