Superstar spectacular

Jesus Christ Superstar (The Arts Centre Gold Coast)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast

June 20 – 29

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Since it first opened on Broadway in 1971, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been interpreted in many ways, including in a number of touring and local productions. In The Arts Centre Gold Coast show, the classic rock opera gets a makeover; the setting is a celebrity obsessed Jerusalem Shore world of hyper reality. In the neon-ness of leather and sequined debauchery, the buzz around the titular Jesus is one of a celebrity, billed to make appearance at the Cobra nightclub. This bold and grand setting is realised though the creativity of optikal bloc, whose innovative work brings the seedy and corrupt world to explosive life with an aesthetic akin to the Verona Beach of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie “Romeo + Juliet”. Indeed, the seven meter high LED panels that dominate the backdrop, not only bring the work to explosive life, but enable emphasis on the show’s rock roots though the incorporation of religious quotes from modern music royalty as part of the projections.

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The combination of pulsating music, video backing and energetic lighting take the audience to a place that is almost overwhelming, especially given the size of the ensemble (at times with over 30 crowding the small stage). The numerous dancers are a distraction and although the choreography is good, timing is not always synchronised, which only serves to highlight a mismatch of professional and amateur performers. And the final number of Barberella-esque pink and gold costumes, is just a jazz hand away from being more cheesy than celebratory.

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The cast matches the vibrancy of the show’s aesthetic in terms of dynamism; however, the star of this show is undoubtedly Dash Kruck, who sounds utterly spectacular as Judas. From his first scene, he takes a commanding place on stage and holds it throughout, playing Judas with righteous indignation and fiery anger in his dissatisfaction with the directions in which Jesus is steering his disciples. As leather-clad, rock god, Jesus, Stevie Mac is also impressive in his emotion and vocal intensity, particularly in the powerful anthem “Gethsemane”.

The musical based on the Gospel’s accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life, from the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem through to the crucifixion. It is a loose and highly dramatised account, focusing on political and interpersonal struggles not included in the Bible narratives. And this reimagining is particularly transformative, casting both disciples and Pilot as females. And in the case of Pilot, it is a choice that works, for indeed, in Pilot (Angela Toohey), we trust, full of intensity and fury as she is, in both word and song.

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This modernised production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is one of much passion and many strengths; it not only alters the hippy aspects of the classic production in favour of contemporary styling, but it provides the chance to witness a performer deliver an excellent enactment. And, in live theatre, there is nothing more exciting than that.

Fair is foul and foul is fair

Macbeth (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

March 24 – April 13

Queensland Theatre Company’s flagship 2014 show is an ambitious production. Directed by lauded UK director Michael Attenborough (son of Richard Attenborough), “Macbeth” is presented in association with veteran Brisbane theatre troupe Grin & Tonic and features one of QTC biggest casts of recent years, with 16 actors taking to the stage. The result is an epic production that honours Shakespeare’s work with an impressive design aesthetic that, like “The Mountaintop” and “Mother Courage” explores the depths and possibilities of The Playhouse stage.

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It is a thrilling beginning, when from amidst the misty, primitive darkness of the gnarled forest of a civil war ravaged wasteland, three witches appear to seduce Macbeth into acceptance of their prophecy that he will be king. It is a dark and dangerous place for as Macbeth himself notes, “let not light see my black and deep desires”. Foul in sisterly weirdness, these secret, hostile, midnight hags (Ellen Bailey, Lauren Jackson and Courtney Stewart) lithely limber over each other with an air of ethereality, like feral Tempest Ariels. Their writhed dance (choreography by Nerida Matthaei) is complemented by their breathy proclamations as they spit out the prophecies that inspire Macbeth’s vaulting ambition.

Other members of the all Queensland cast project similar dynamism in their darkness. Jason Klarwein is commanding in the titular role of the famed General Macbeth, a man of ambition, but also insecurity. Indeed, it is as the newly-crowned, but increasingly paranoid Scottish king that he truly shines, as his tragic hero seeks to ensure his kingship is safely thus through ordering Banquo’s murder. Klarwein’s imposing presence on stage is complemented by Veronica Neave, who delivers a determined, interpretation of the role of Lady Macbeth. Though they are both at home with Shakespeare’s challenging text, however, their Act One soliloquies sometimes appear to be fourth-wall break speeches to the audience, rather than vehicles for their characters to reflect, which is enhanced though the lack of gesture in seminal soliloquies such as Lady’s Macbeth’s plea for the spirits to fill her top-full of direst cruelty.

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The ensemble is strong, and features some effective doubling. Eugene Gilfedder is perfect as the meek and gentle Duncan, before being reincarnated the Doctor, observing Lady Macbeth’s incriminating recollection that she never knew the old man to have so much blood in him. And Lauren Jackson also shows versatile prowess playing a witch and Lady Macduff. Lucas Stibbard, enlivens his scenes as the Porter, bringing out the only humour in the production when playing the crude, jester-like character and Thomas Larkin (for what would the Bard in Brisbane be without him) gives an impressive performance as a proud Prince Malcolm.

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This is a testosterone-driven play of grimy, muscled men, bloodied from their war wounds. And it features impressive stage combat, including a final blow in the Macduff and Macbeth battle scene that brings a collective gasp from the audience. Everything about the design of this “Macbeth” is notable. David Walter’s lighting design achieves a stunning presence whether warming the banquet scene, shadowing the violence or illuminating Birnam Wood’s approach arising from within the stage itself. Phil Slade’s composition and sound design is similarly impressive in its ability to capture the grand heraldry of this epic work. Costuming too is effective, with the wash of cold charcoals and greys enhancing the ruling metaphor of darkness down to the smallest of details, like the mud-stained hems of the servant garb.

QTC have created a passionate production of Shakespeare’s psychological horror. If you like the Scottish play, you will like this production. And if you aren’t a fan, this won’t necessarily make you fall in love with it, but it will give you plenty of moments to appreciate, especially in the wild darkness Simone Romaniuk’s imaginative design element in which fair is foul and foul is fair.