Jewel box beguile

The Manganiyar Seduction

QPAC, Concert Hall

March 1 – 2


“The Manganiyar Seduction” live music experience has no real break in its performance. This is probably a productive programing decision, as breaks would have afforded opportunity for applause that surely would have been extended and rapturous, assumed by the passionate ovation given after the shows thunderous finale… because this is beguiling theatrical orchestration at its most seductive, both in sight and sound.

The original, intriguing experience comes courtesy of a caste of hereditary singers and instrumentalists from the heart of the Thar Desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The folk performers and players of interesting Indian wind, string and percussion instruments, present a traditional, classical Indian music performance with punch, highlighted with a synchronised light display. Staging is impressive before the music has even begun thanks to an immense onstage jewel box alike Japiur’s Hawa Mahal, from within which each musician is revealed in progression as section curtains open, with lights around each booth lighting when musicians are playing.


It beings slightly, with meditative, slow-tempo sounds from a solo bowed-string-instrument player. Soon he is joined by a single, hypnotic vocalist. Everything is precise in the build of non-western beats and rhythms, seamless segue into percussion, final full ensemble crescendo and beautiful, melodic encore. And QPAC’s Concert Hall proves to be the perfect venue for the rhapsody, with drums literally vibrating through the venue, provoking audience members to be enraptured.

“The Manganiyar Seduction” is a musical experience unlike any you have probably ever seen before. Its light and shade from slight string strumming to almost silence to mad Animal drumming, give it an appeal beyond just world music. As someone who has been privileged enough to experience incredible India, it not only inspired reminiscence of its sounds, but its intense incense and spice aromas, such is the great aesthetic pleasure of this evening of rich culture. Indeed, it is so easy to be swept away in the wonder of its emotional experience, that its 70-minute duration seems like the shortest time.

This stunning theatrical presentation of Rajasthani music is energetic and quirky (often through the moves of its charismatic conductor). Its mesmerising originality makes it a truly memorable spectacle of vibrant and passionate musicianship, that should not be missed.



All that glitters is Aladdin gold

Aladdin (Disney Theatrical Productions)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

February 24 – June 3

Disney’s “Aladdin” is spectacular theatre with aesthetics to awe over even in repeat visit. From the moment the fantastic tale opens to the opulence of colour and movement of an Agrabar street scene, Bob Crowley’s Tony Award winning stage design impresses in its Islamic motifs and skyline of Taj domes. Divine, detailed costumes swish and swirl in abundance and luscious lighting brightens the marketplace and bejewels Princess Jasmine (Hiba Elchikhe) as a pretend-to-be-pauper disguised in escape from her palace confines.

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Strong, independent and determined to marry for love, the Sultan’s daughter declares that she is not a prize to be won. However, the story primarily follows the familiar tale of a poor young man, Aladdin (Ainsley Melham), who is granted three wishes by a genie in a lamp (Gareth Jacobs), which he uses to woo the princess and to thwart the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar (Adam Murphy).


As the titular street rat Aladdin, Melham is as charismatically cheeky in well-balanced portrayal of the character’s innocence, mischievousness and suave confidence. Similarly, on-point in performance is Elchikhe, particularly in ‘These Palace Walls’. And in the melodic ‘A Million Miles Away’, their voices blend beautifully as they dream of a life away from their current troubles, in shared excitement despite barely knowing each other.


This is, however, the Genie’s show. And while Jacobs is no Michael James Scott (who starred in the Sydney and Melbourne run through 2016 and 2017), he is still fabulous in his embrace of the freedom that comes with the role. From his initial fourth-wall break in banter with the audience and set-up for the ‘Arabian Nights’ opening number, he is immediately engaging, and not just because of his nod to local cultural references. As Jasmine’s father, the longstanding Sultan ruler of Agraba, George Henare is a stately Senior statesman.  Adam Murphy is an appropriately panto-esque villain as Aladdin’s nemesis Jafar and Aljin Abella is excellent as his accomplice Iago, whether parroting dialogue or in his comical quips. And, in addition from the original film, Adam Jon Fiorentino, Troy Sussman, and Robert Tripolino are all delightful as Aladdin’s entourage of friends, who provide well-synchronised physical comedy, slapstick adventure and lots of fun, especially in Act Two’s ‘High Adventure’ when they storm the palace in attempt to rescue their friend.


Songs include some highly engaging comedic numbers. Indeed, every number is a delight, including those that are new to the stage-version, which feel like they have been a part of the score from the very beginning. But the most impressive musical moment is still Act One’s ‘Friend Like Me’. It’s a case of all the glitters being absolutely gold as the treasure inside of the Genie’s magic lamp is revealed in spectacular sparkle. The not-to-be-forgotten number, which beings as introduction to the Genie’s wish-granting powers, crescendos into a full-chorus, tap-dancing, pyrotechnic cavalcade of excitement and wonder so magnificent in its hybrid of styles that it is still inspires audience members to leap to their feet in mid-show applause upon its conclusion.

Friend Like Me_Photo By Deen van Meer.jpg

“Aladdin” is a theatrical story whose energy and sense of fun make for a magical experience for all the family, with quick costume transformations, state of the art technology and prop trickery sure to impressive adults and youngsters alike, and the biggest production number you are likely to see. But there are moments of beauty too, such as in the iconic, romantic ‘A Whole New World’ musical number, in which Melham and Elchikhe’s duet while soaring high above a stage transformed into an endless diamond sky, riding on an enchanted carpet, in ‘how did they do that’ spectacle.


Every detail of this lavish show makes for a delightful experience. Indeed, “Aladdin” is quality family-friendly entertainment of the highest order, full of heart and humour. With its simple, moral storytelling, catchy tunes and comic vibrancy, it is an energetic and intoxicating experience that can only really be described as magic.

Photos – c/o Jeff Busby

Fabulous family feuding

Black is the New White (Queensland Theatre presents a Sydney Theatre Company production)

QPAC, The Playhouse

February 1 – 17

“Black is the New White” has been billed as being a new blend of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” which is a perhaps clichéd but totally correct descriptor of Nakkiah Lui’s fabulous new play about the discomfort of contemporary Australian life.


A joyous whirlwind romance sees successful Aboriginal lawyer Charlotte (Shari Sebbens) returning to a family Christmas at her parent’s lavish open-plan holiday home to introduce her new and very awkward experimental classical musician fiancé Francis. As the daughter of Ray Gibson, the self-proclaimed Martin Luther King of the Australian political landscape, Charlotte’s choice of partner couldn’t be worse. Forget that she is black and he is white; he is the son of Ray’s long-time, ultra-conservative rival Denison (Geoff Morrell).

Along with Dension and his wife Marie (Vanessa Downing), joining Ray and wife Joan (Melodie Reynolds-Diarra) for the festivities are Charlotte’s sister Rosie (Miranda Tapsell), returning from her successful fashion business in Los Angelas with her retired Wallaby captain husband Sonny (Anthony Taufa). Cue also charming nameless narrator/Christmas Ghost (an underused Luke Carroll) and the assembly is set to become an absolutely hilarious holiday from hell.


Act One begins with the comedy of embarrassment. With Francis fumbling through repeated foot-in-mouth politically-incorrect comments, and his failed attempts at jokes about the Stolen Generation et al often see audience members with hand-to-mouth in shared aghast reaction.  The action proper centres on a bigger series of conflicts, so engaging that intermission comes as an inconvenience to a thoroughly-absorbed and wanting-more audience. And when secrets spill out as characters’ journeys of identity are revealed in its final act, they are unsurprisingly surprising.

There is a serious side too as some big ideas are played out through the complex dynamics within the everyday scenario of family squabbles heightened by the festive season. Uncomfortable questions around class, social dynamic, cultural identity and male-privilege add complexity and intellectual rigour to its food flinging, secret-spilling comedy, making for a razor-sharp modern examination of whether race is a value like other social constructs.

Writing is clever and pacy, and Paige Rattray’s nimble direction allows for later tonal shifts to sneak up upon the audience. Indeed, it is superbly directed to exploit its frenetic pace. And while everyone on stage gives an excellent performance, it the ladies’ late-in-show monologues that stand out, prompting moments of spontaneous mid-show applause. Reynolds-Diarra gives a multi-layered performance as the down-to-earth, heart-of-her-family Joan and Downing is hilarious when she breaks free of her white passive aggression.

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“Back is the New White” is a very clever, original show, which appropriately left its opening night audience raving about it being the funniest in recent memory. Its edgy, energetic and quick-witted approach to a classic family comedy is modern and highly entertaining, and it is easy to appreciate its sold out world premiere season at Sydney Theatre Company last year. With confetti, male nudity, a figurative and literal lettuce war, a dance-off between political rivals and Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’ anthem, it is certain to leave lasting memory of its joyfulness, but also hopefully its thematic heart about race, class and community changes.

Over at the Frankenstein place

The Rocky Horror Show (Gordon Frost Organisation, GWB Entertainment and Howard Panter Ltd)

QPAC, Concert Hall

January 18 – February 11

Before it was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” film of 1975, “Rocky Horror Show” was already a cult classic, at once a humorous tribute to science fiction and B grade horror movies and a culturally iconic examination of empowerment and fluid-sexuality. The adults-only musical written by Richard O’Brien tells the story of newly engaged conservative couple Brad and Janet fleeing from a storm to the home of a mad transvestite scientist from transsexual Transylvania, Dr Frank-N-Furter, who is unveiling his new creation, a “Frankenstein” sort of monster in form of a fully grown, physically perfect muscle man named Rocky, complete ‘with blond hair and a tan’.

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A whirlwind Act One, where the best songs dwell, is full of introductions as the apprehensive and uneasy couple Time Warp their way into the unfamiliar world of mayhem and even murder. After intermission, things get down and dirty and very naughty as the fishnet-stocking-wearing scientist (Adam Rennie) introduces the oblivious Brad (Rob Mallett) and ever-so-sweet Janet (Michelle Smitheram) to a world of fluid sexuality and excessive indulgence, starting with a very cheeky Act Two opener bed scene.


Any Frank-N-Furter is going to suffer the burden of comparisons to Tim Curry’s career-defining role and stepping into the heels after Craig McLachlan’s exit, Rennie is no exception. Yes, he is glam-rock-star like, but he is also youthful, fun and flirty, bringing a lot of humour to the role in his energetic performance, making it very much his own in blend of menace, vulnerability, desire, scorn and impeccable comic timing. Also outstanding is Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff, reprising his 2014 role as the hunchbacked handyman and live-in butler. From the moment of his first at-window appearance in ‘There’s a Light’ his Riff Raff never wanes from high-octane, despite him having well over a thousand performances of the show across Australia, New Zealand and Asia under his belt.

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Amanda Harrison is similarly strong in the dual roles of the initial Usherette who introduces the night’ ‘film’ in ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’ tribute to and sendup of various B movies and serials parodied in the show itself, and mainly as maid Magenta. Her presence is exuberant. Also especially wonderful to watch is Rob Mallett as the mild-mannered Brad, detailed in his performance down the most minor of mannerisms. And as the show’s suave narrator, Cameron Daddo is most deserving of his applause upon entry. His interaction with the audience is terrific, especially as he digresses in response to the show’s trademark audience participation and their shout outs of the ‘say it, say it…’ sort.


Musically, ‘Time Warp’ and ‘Sweet Transvestite’ are expected highlights. Smitheram and Mallett are both excellent in their solo numbers ‘Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me’ and ‘Once in a While’, but it is Rennie’s swan song ‘I’m Going Home’ that resonates the most as, in contrast to the spirited strutting of his earlier songs, he sings with soulful and haunting poignancy in attempt to explain his actions.


Really, “Rocky Horror Show” is bigger than any one performer, which is affirmed by the excellence of this ensemble who seem to be having a great time together on stage. Their animated synchronised choreography, in ‘Eddie’, for example, is all kinds of camp fun. Indeed, this show has naughtiness and adult amusement in abundance. Its strange and pleasurable journey is fast-paced and faithful to the original, making for a highly-entertaining night of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery, only not for all the family.

Considerations of quality


A couple of months away travelling and a couple more laid up with pneumonia and I saw fewer shows in 2017 than in recent years (but still well into the double digits). Reflecting, it is clear that quality over quantity can be incredibly rewarding. And what quality there was on offer… so much so that my usual top five favourite, has been blown out to the following ten:

  1. Torch Songs (Mama Alto, Brisbane Powerhouse, Wonderland Festival)
  2. Lady Beatle (the little red company, La Boite Theatre Company)
  3. My Name is Jimi (Queensland Theatre)
  4. Once in Royal David’s City (Queensland Theatre)
  5. The Play that Goes Wrong (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, QPAC)
  6. Chef (Persona Inc & Atobiz Ltd, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Festival)
  7. Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications (Nigel Kennedy, QPAC)
  8. Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel in association with Cameron Mackintosh, QPAC)
  9. Spectate (Counterpilot, Metro Arts)
  10. Humans (Circa, QPAC)

And honourable mention to the UK’s National Theatre Stage to Screen show Yerma… Gut-wrenching, phenomenal theatre thanks to Billie Piper’s devastatingly powerful performance.

And mention also to the following highlights:

  • Best performance:
    • Elaine Crombie as a hilarious house-slave in Queensland Theatre Company’s An Octoroon.
    • Merlynn Tong in her intimate and vulnerable one-woman work, Playlab’s Blue Bones
    • Cameron Hurry as badly behaved brother Valene in the darkly irreverent The Lonesome West by Troop Productions
  • Best AV – Spectate (Counterpilot, Metro Arts)
  • Most thought provoking –- Octoroon (Queensland Theatre, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best new work – Merlyn Tong’s Blue Bones (Playlab, Brisbane Powerhouse)
  • Best Reimagining – Signifying Nothing (Macbeth) (Hammond Fleet Productions, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best musical – Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel in association with Cameron Mackintosh, QPAC)
  • Best cabaret:
    • Torch Songs (Mama Alto, Brisbane Powerhouse, Wonderland Festival)
    • Lady Beatle (The Little Red Company, La Boite Theatre Company)
    • Song Lines (Michael Tuahine, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Cabaret Festival)
    • Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs (Alan Cumming, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Cabaret Festival)
  • Best music – Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications (QPAC)
  • Best opera – Mark Vincent Sings Mario Lanza and the Classics (Lunchbox Productions, QPAC)
  • Funniest – The Play That Goes Wrong (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, QPAC)
  • Most fun – Let Them Eat Cake (Act/React, Anywhere Festival)
  • Most madcap – Chef (Persona Inc & Atobiz Ltd, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Festival)
  • Most immersive – Trainspotting Live (In Your Face Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse)
  • Most moving – Once in Royal David’s City (Queensland Theatre)

2018 looks set to continue to showcase both the wonderful work of this state’s creatives and innovative works from both here and further afield. Festivals will continue to punctuate the cultural calendar, serving to oscillate audiences between feast and famine like a cultural bulimic… although with Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt Festival moving to May (maybe at the same time as Anywhere Festival) it may be a shower than usual start to the year.

Here we go again

Mamma Mia (Michael Coppel, Louise Withers and Linda Bewick)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

December 26 2017 – February 4 2018

“Mamma Mia” opening night means a wash of blue hues … from transformation of the usually red carpet of media wall arrivals to Linda Pewick’s on-stage setting of a postcard perfect Greek tavern. It’s a far from melancholy feel though; the light-hearted musical comedy is as fabulously fun as ever in its celebration of love, laughter and friendship.


‘Buildings are like children; you always recognise your own’ architect Sam Carmichael (Ian Stenlake) coincidentally comments when he arrives to the tavern on the idly Mediterranean island of Kalokairi. Along with Harry Bright (Phillip Lowe) and Bill Austen (Josef Ber), he has been invited to the wedding of free-spirited Sophie Sheridan (Brisbane’s own Sarah Morrison) and her fiancé Sky (Stephen Mahy) by the bride-to-be, who wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is, even after reading her mother’s diary, she has no idea which of the three men he might be. Writer Catherine Johnson’s storyline is simple enough, but of course things don’t go exactly to plan as the men are reunited with Sophie’s single-mother Donna (Natalie O’Donnell), two decades after last visiting the island.


“Mamma Mia” is not just one of the first jukebox musicals, but a global phenomenon thanks to its soundtrack of ABBA hits. Dialogue segues naturally into the songs and only minor lyric changes are needed to integrate them into the narrative. (Although the stylised Act Two opening ‘Under Attack’, which sees Sophie having a nightmare, involving her three possible fathers all fighting for the right to walk her down the aisle, although excellent, jars with the feel of the rest of the show).

voulez vous

A brilliant band under musical director Michael Azzopardi brings vitality to the ABBA tunes. Although slower songs like Donna and Harry’s nostalgic ‘Our Last Summer’ reminiscence about their long-ago fling are beautiful, it is the upbeat numbers that serve as crowd favourites, with audience members clapping along as Donna’s carefree friend Rosie (Alicia Gardiner) cheekily implores Bill to ‘Take a Chance on Me’ and bopping in-seat during a fun and flirty ‘Does Your Mother Know’, during which Donna’s other visiting best friend, the thrice divorced and now affluent Tanya rebuffs the advances of  the much younger tavern worker Pepper (Sam Hooper). And Act One’s closing disco-esque dance number ‘Voulez Vous’ is a sensational showcase of the ensemble’s energy. Under Gary Young’s smooth direction, new and fun choreography ensures that that even those who have seen the show in its previous manifestations, will be satisfied with its fresh and joyful energy.


What is particularly wonderful is the manner in which the show celebrates the talent of its trio of older actresses, Natalie O’Donnell, Alicia Gardiner and Jayde Westaby. The former Donna and the Dynamos girl group of long-term best friends enliven every scene in which they appear together. Tanya and Rosie’s ‘Chiquitita’ ask of what’s wrong and attempt to cheer up a crying Donna is absolutely hilarious, with Gardiner (best known to Australian audiences for her role as nurse Kim Akerholt in the award-winning series “Offspring”) bringing plenty of personality to the sassy role. And when they try and convince Donna that she can still be the girl she once was in ‘Dancing Queen’ the result is absolutely delightful.

winner takes it all

O’Donnell, who herself played the role of Sophie in the first Australian touring production in 2001, brings some bitterness but also hearty determination to the stoic single mother Donna. Her ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is outstanding, not just vocally but in the emotion that is brought to its narrative significance of her admission to Sam that he broke her heart. Morrison is marvellous as the young, optimistic Sophie, sharing a convincing chemistry with on-stage mother O’Donnell, as evidenced particularly in their affection during ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ where Donna sings to Sophie about her regret at how quickly her daughter is growing up,, as she dresses Sophie for her wedding. And as the unsuspecting fathers, Carmichael, Lowe and Ber are all also superb.


“Mamma Mia” shows that not everything has to be of “Wicked” scale to be wonderful. Indeed, what this show is most about is its music and what makes this production so successful is its celebration of not just this, but all things ABBA in a performance that warns of its ‘strobe lighting, theatrical haze, spandex and loud music’. The result is a fabulous night out for audiences of all ages. And when ‘Super Trouper’ costumes are revisited in the curtain call with full company renditions of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Waterloo’, and you get the chance to jump up, it will not just be in ovation but in the mood for dance and celebration of having the time of your life.

Courageous capabilities

Humans (Circa)

QPAC, The PlayHouse

December 6 – 9

Given the way they are heralded around the world as an exciting and innovative physical theatre company, Circa is surely one of Queensland’s great cultural exports. And it is always wonderful to have them perform to a home-town crowd, as they will now be doing as part of a multi-year partnership with QPAC, beginning with share of their show “Humans”, an ensemble journey of celebration of what it means to be human.


The work sees 10 acrobats exploring the human form in expression of the essence of the human body’s extraordinary possibilities. As such, it is one of the company’s stripped-back and more organic pieces, which even in the Playhouse Theatre still feels like a more intimate experience than some of the company’s previous works. Mostly the show is floor work but there are still some beautiful aerial displays of trapeze, rope routines and straps segments. This is a wise decision as the limited use of apparatus allows concentration on the performers and the amazing things they can do with their bodies


It begins with a woman twisting out of her clothes, before the entire ensemble join her, spread out around the stage, each in their own space. It’s an engaging introduction that has audience members spoiled for choice in where to look as performers transition from individual movements to working collaboratively in tumble atop and under each other, layering the scene with highly-skilled gymnastic movements. Clearly, this is a work of substance more than showmanship and it is all the better because of it. Even the muted costume tones contribute, adding to the aesthetic without detracting from appreciation of the skills on show. And as its soundtrack transitions from evocative violin to feisty fiddle numbers, this only escalates as bodies are thrown around in tumble, twirl, slide and smash into the floor, in an energetic display to contrast the blank performer faces.

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The high energy scenes are dynamic, but there is vulnerability too and many instances where gasps and applause are equally audible from the audience, in response to the innovative choreography as much as the feats of balance and strength themselves. We see a human jump rope, a performer walking and then rolling across a row of the others’ heads and a three-performer-high human pyramid on which a woman balances one-handed. And when the pyramid is inverted, it sees one man, supporting the weight of five people…. astounding stuff. There is laid-bare and beautifully poetic vulnerability too when a man moves around a female performer as if she’s a limp doll needing to be bent into position.


The inventiveness extends also to the soundtrack, which features an eclectic mix of world sounds such as jaunty gypsy stylings, upbeat electronica, sultry jazz and a folksy Joanna Newsom’s ‘Does Not Suffice’ to finish things off. And ‘The Impossible Dream (The Quest)’ is the perfect accompaniment for a revelry routine in which performers all try, through different contortionism, to lick their elbows. Not only are moves cued to music but the use of tempo works well to draw focus. And so, when speech is used, just once, it seems holistically out of place.


What matters here is just the human body on display and it is a spectacle easily appreciated, particularly as performers freeze in place in the show’s later moments. There are no characters or discernible narrative here, which makes it easy to become lost in the experience of each routine. The show runs for only 70 minutes but it sometimes feels much longer (#inagoodway), given how much is packed into its experience.


“Humans” is an astonishing show that reconfirms Circa’s acclamation as one of the world’s top contemporary circus troupes. Indeed, its experience will have you at once amazed and honoured in acknowledgement of its home-grown success. The playful and powerful physical strength, grace and flexibility of its top-of-their-game performers is as mesmeric as it is breathtaking. In Circa’s hands we can truly see the incredible physical feats of which humans are courageously capable.