Boho virtuoso

Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Global Creatures)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

May 16 – July 27

The dress code for the Brisbane Premiere of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is ‘Spectacular Spectacular’, which is entirely appropriate given what a glorious spectacle the show is in its every aspect. From the moment audience members enter QPAC’s Lyric Theatre, the aesthetic abundance means that there is much to absorb in Derek McLane’s lavish set design, from the balcony level enormous elephant statue and windmill trademark of Paris’ most celebrated cabaret, a cavalcade of overhead chandeliers and pre-show performer provocations as they move about its lush Parisian nightclub staging. And the wonder only elevates in experience of the show proper as the excess of glitz, grandeur and glory transitions into its storyline. 

For all of its splendour, this jukebox musical is also a sophisticated show of incredible calibre, not just visually, but in its add to Baz Luhrmann’s revolutionary 2001 film. Capitalising on any associated expectation, things start off with a burst of songs from its eclectic soundtrack as nightclub owner Harold Zidler (Simon Burke) welcomes us to what he says is a state of mind as much as the eponymous legendary nightclub, where all your dreams can come true. Burlesque and can-can dancers perform in colourful costumes, as we are introduced to the Montmarte Quarter of turn of the 20th Century Paris and many of the story’s major characters in an opening number that begins with ‘Lady Marmalade’ and ‘Because We Can’.

After these songs, things move swiftly in a more dynamic musical direction as the forbidden love story progresses through its telling. Penniless American songwriter Christian (Des Flanagan) falls in love with ‘sparkling diamond’ cabaret dancer Satine (Alinta Chidzey) who is in the sights of the failing club’s new investor, a man of wealth and taste, aka the wealthy Duke (a dependable James Bryers) whose support is needed to save the fading nightclub. 

The range of tones within the ensuing story is reflected in the many different musical moods and choreographic energy (choreography by Sonya Tayeh) conveyed throughout the show’s 2 hours and 35 minutes’ duration (including interval). Its virtuosic musical mash-up extravaganza features over 70 songs including many of the iconic hits from the film, as well as additions from Beyonce, Bowie, Rhianna, Sia, Lorde … and the list goes on. The incredibly clever combinations see mash-ups of not just one, two or even three songs within numbers, but multiple recognisable snippets even just if as bridge. The inclusions are full of surprise appearances such as when the Duke and Satine sing a mash up of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, all by The Rolling Stones.

It is mostly through the music that movie moments are updated for a new generation with recontextualisations making the cocktail of popular songs all feel relevant and fresh. Of course, iconic numbers from the film source material make appearance in the form of, amongst others, ‘Your Song’ and ‘Elephant Love Medley’, the latter of which incorporates 19 themed songs. Ultimately, however, it is the gloriously loud and proud ensemble numbers that remain most memorable after the curtain has fallen on an infectiously energetic extended ‘More More More!’ encore.

Still, Chidzey’s melancholic solo of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, sung by Satine to herself in her dressing room, is a showstopper. Flanagan, too, has his standout vocal moments, such as in Act Two’s ‘Crazy Rolling’ in which, as Christian and Satine prepare for the debut of their show at the Moulin Rouge, they separately sing this medley of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep and Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy. It is Burke, however, who is the clear crowd favourite as the legendary club impresario. Flirty, faithful and flamboyantly full of energy, he gives his bold character some depth without losing the sense of fun that makes you want him to tell at dirty story at your funeral. His famed ‘Lady M’s’ entertainers, Samantha Dodemaide as Nini, Olivia Vasques as Arabia, Chaska Halliday as La Chocolat and Christopher J Scalzo as Babydoll, all give sexy, but also high energy, performances. And from the moment they first proclaim their ideas of truth, beauty, freedom and love, Jarrod Draper and Ryan Gonzalez all bring the bohemia to the supporting children of the revolution roles of artist Toulouse-Lautrec and dancer Santiago, especially in their early attempts to create a play with songs in it, working with Christian in aim of getting their work produced at the Moulin Rouge.

In the show’s opening number, ‘Welcome to the Moulin Rouge!”, the bohemians sing of ‘Burning Down the House’. And this is what “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” certainly do, ablazing the space with a rich aesthetic tapestry of sexy red. Justin Townsend’s lighting design also works to mood us through the story’s romance and bohemian shades alike, with the cautionary tale of ‘El Tango de Roxanne’ and its foreshadowing tell of a story about a man who falls for a prostitute and gets his heart broken, filling the stage with passionate reds in reflection of the rage and lovesick anguish Christian feels in response to being without Satine.

The show is full of memorable visual imagery, including Satine’s grand, glittering entrance which sees Chidzey descending on a swing in ‘Sparkling Diamonds’, an expanded mashup of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ and ‘Material Girl, along with ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and other like-themed songs. Peter Hylenski ‘s textured sound design also keeps things vibrant in their variety. Justin Levine’s incredible and incredibly inventive arrangements and additional lyrics ensure that everything is woven together cohesively and, despite the eclecticism of the score, the 10-piece band brings it to energetic life under Matthew Carey’s musical direction.

There are also some interesting creative choices contrary to typical expectations of the genre that serve the work well, for example, not ending Act One with a whopping big chorus number and instead returning us from interval with the captivating ‘Backstage Romance’ in which, months later, with rehearsals underway for “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Christian and Satine continuing to see each other behind the scenes, Santiago falls in love with Nini. What starts as a steamy duet between the two, soon morphs into a lively ensemble number medley of 5,6,7,8 brass-filled amplification of ‘Bad Romance’ with a touch of ‘Toxic’ and a ‘Seven Nation Army’ bridge, befitting its extended mid-show applause. The fact that the number features some of the more low-key aesthetics in terms of colour, movement and Catherine Zuber’s costumes, illustrates the substance that exists beneath the musical’s spectacle. And swift costume changes and transitions between backdrops to quickly layered Parisian settings, keep things moving at a pace, in keeping with Alex Timbers controlled direction.

Whether invested in the star-crossed lovers’ characters and their supposedly all-consuming affair or not, there is no denying the marvel of this show, or the worth of the musical’s 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Choreography, Orchestrations, and Scenic, Costume, Lighting and Sound Designs. While John Logan’s book brings out some humour from within the story, it’s really all about the music. The soundtrack is addictive and in conjunction with the stunning set design, it brings a palpable energy to experience of the show’s opulence, making it a must see for musical fans. Get tickets to the immersive decadence of its experience while you can can can though as seats for the Brisbane season are selling fast.

Humanity’s heights

Lucie in the Sky (Australasian Dance Collective)

QPAC, The Playhouse

May 5 – 13

“Well that’s different,” comes the comment from someone sitting nearby at the conclusion of Australasian Dance Collective’s (ADC) landmark work “Lucie in the Sky”. The eponymous Lucie is not, the girl with kaleidoscope eyes of the Beatles hit, but rather, and rather inventively, a trademarked micro-drone, one of five with individual anthropomorphic identities developed by Switzerland’s Verity Studios, that feature as a key part of the world premiere production, engaging as characters with the show’s ensemble of six ADC dancers as part of its exploration of the increasingly blurred lines between technology and humanity.

It is a premise that is realised from early scenes as the show takes flight (#punintended) with an industrial soundscape merging with increasingly prominent heart beating sounds as a solo dancer moves in strobe lighting creating a staccato impression (lighting design by Alexander Berlage). And then there are the drones. Six years in the making for the Brisbane-based company’s artistic director Amy Hollingsworth to realise her vision, this is an ambitious work in its core premise of choreographing the drones using the patterns of human movement to encapsulate emotions and personalities. (The drones are even listed along with dancers in the program with Lucie as ‘The Friend’ for example).

This is, however, a world class work in its every aspect, not just its thematic provocation. Harriet Oxley’s costume design features an avant-garde array of earthy tones and costumes of interesting curves and big collars akin to something we could see on a fashion runway… which we even do for a moment. It allows for fluid movement but also arrests our attention as dancers Chase Clegg-Robinson, Harrison Elliot, Taiga Kita-Leon, Lilly King, Jack Lister and Chimene Steele-Priorstrike give snapshot scene poses both solo and with drones and, especially memorably, as a living-art ensemble interaction with the machinery as they illustrate the evolution of movement from floor to full standing in line across the stage, or follow drone lead with slack-limbed apathy.

The colour association of each drone’s emotions and attitudes as friend, jester, leader, innocent, sage or rebel, adds to the aesthetically rich experience on offer over the show’s 60-minute running time, which is enhanced by Wil Hughes’ composition and sound design, cresendoing us through a shadowy unison of dancer and drones to a dramatically red final realisation. Evocative as this part of experience is, however, its entertainment comes from the dancers’ realisation of the essence of their characters in interaction with respective drone counterparts. For example, there is comedy when Elliot, as The Magician, converses physically and in animated interaction with his technological counterpart. And Kita-Leon’s chase scene as The Warrior, is like something from a movie. Such is the attention to detail in all aspects, that we likewise see fight move sensibility of the scissor legs sort referenced within dance moves of another memorable scene.

Detail also comes from the interplay of the choreography of Amy Hollingsworth with the ACD company artists and Verity studios. The intricate choreography goes from grand to intimate and back again as we are ebbed and flowed through the world-first theatrical experience. There is incredible precision as dancers and drones interact in close proximity, with drones, for example, hovering amongst lithe, outstretched limbs and even landing on a dancer’s palm, such as in one intimate solo, so up close and personal to the audience that even the drone’s sounds are heard as part of dynamic soundscape. With evocative sounds in accompaniment, of the focussed visual imagery, it becomes a moving moment of vulnerability.

It really seems like a shared experience between machine and human. This is all in keeping with the work’s obvious consideration of how we retain humanity in a space of increasing technological replication courtesy of robotics and artificial intelligence. The resulting interplay of body and technology in space is complex, but also consequentially exciting, especially as, whether in hover or flight, the drones offer new possibilities for light on stage, operating as a floating light source (each of a signature colour in keeping with its ‘character’) to be used for precise illumination of their human counterparts. 

“Lucie in the Sky” is certainly an unique, original experience in its redefinition of genre and also exploration of what is possible in live performance. Its consideration of the complex relationships and humanisation of technology, means that it is not just about the dancers’ moves, so much as the story being told through their interactions with the drones, and the animated faces of performers, as much as dance motions, add much to the show’s entertainment. While it might be a relatively concise work (#inagoodway), its captivation is such that you will likely have to sit with it for a bit afterwards in contemplation of how something so intrinsically about machinery can also so clearly convey human emotions around connection.

Photos – c/o David Kelly

Rolling Thunder ride

Rolling Thunder Vietnam

QPAC, Concert Hall

April 21 – 22

It can sometimes be difficult to energise a matinee audience. However, from the moment that Christian Charisiou springs onto stage with Steppenwolf’s ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, the rock drama “Rolling Thunder Vietnam” does exactly this, thanks to the exceptional musicianship of its tight band, as much as is stellar vocalists.

The psych-influenced hard rock, heavy bass and funky beat song is the perfect opener to give the audience a taste of the talent to come from members of the legendary John Farnham band (Angus Burchall on drums, Brett Garsed on guitar, Craig Newman on bass, Joe Petrolo on keyboards and James Ryan on guitar). Garsed is especially memorable throughout the show, no more so than in an arresting ‘Black Magic Woman’ evocation of the enticement of Vietnamese bars.

As suggested by its title, the show centres around the turbulent time of the world’s first televised war, showcasing the music and stories that shaped a generation. Writer Bryce Hallett’s story, developed from interviews and conversations with many veterans, and actual letters, is of three albeit archetypal Australians and one American. Whereas Andy (Charisiou) has been conscripted via the birthday ballot, happy-go-lucky Johnny (original cast member Tom Oliver) has enlisted to have an adventure and see a bit of the world rather than work on the family war in Warwick, leaving behind his faithful sweetheart Sarah (Brittanie Shipway). And then there is Johnny’s friend Thomas (Jerrod Smith) who was an exchange student in Australia before becoming a US Marine.

This is a unique show, a decade in the making. While it feels very much like a concert, it is one that comes with distinct narrative threads. There is limited dramatic interaction between cast members, with their dialogue directed, instead, only to the audience. And Director David Berthold easily connects Bryce’s stories and musical director Chong Lim arrangements of cleverly chosen songs of the era, weaving them into the drama of the four principal characters’ stories. Joe Cocker’s ‘The Letter’ concludes a segment of share of homesick letters to loves back home, full of missing, memories and foreshadowed longing for future dreams to be realised as the soldiers promise to be home soon.

It is refreshing to have the story focussed so firmly on experience from an Australian perspective. Similarly, it is an appreciated touch to have iconic American anti-war songs such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ sitting alongside Australian numbers like John Young’s ‘The Real Thing’ and a lively ‘Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy’, which serves as an early highlight as a crisp-sounding Oliver has the audience clapping along.

After Act One ends with reminder of the realities of the horrors of war, the social scene of protest become a more prominent theme after interval as Sarah begins to embrace the anti-war sentiment. Act Two provides some powerful moments as, for example, Smith leads a mighty ‘War’, full of striking visuals in contrast to the coming more serene numbers of ‘What’s Going On’ and also ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, which is beautifully sung by a quietly-assured Oliver.

The talented primary cast is well-supported by artists Imogen Moore and Sam Richardson. Smith’s voice is particularly textured in lead of many belting rock numbers and the male voices harmonise especially well in a pumping ‘Born to be Wild’ signpost of changing aggression and increasing question of the war’s worth. It is Shipway, however, who carries most of the show’s emotional weight. Her ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ is a soaring conclusion to Act One and in the later poignant and particularly gripping ‘Killing Me Softly’, she holds audience in the palm of her hand.

The provision of light and shade serve the show’s uniqueness, reminding us that for all of its commanding rock show feel, that it is also stemming from real stories. Video images (screen and lighting design by Toby Harding) across four screens shows archival footage of war ships heading from Australia, of life in ‘The Dat’ military base that becomes the soldiers’ temporary home and the small town life on the land that Johnny has left behind, and while there are some distracting technical issues in Act One, these are soon sorted. Archival audio and video, similarly, reinforces the complex, changing political climate of the time, in emphasis of Sarah’s letters from home about the societal attitudes and experience of families on the home front.

Much as it is about the music, “Rolling Thunder Vietnam” is also about the ravages and causalities of war. The theatrical concert is thoughtful, but also an uplifting, entertaining magic ride through the music and politics of a distinctive time in history, that, thanks of the immense talent of its cast and creatives, continues to roll along almost ten years after its world premiere at QPAC in 2014. When a late show share of The Animals’ anthemic ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ enlivens us towards the show’s conclusion, it is met with calls of “do it again”. Luckily there is an encore of numbers to get audience members on their feet before post-show rave about how welcome its return Australian tour is.

Very Valkyrie

The Mystery of the Valkyrie (Woodward Productions)

QPAC, The Playhouse

March 11 – 19

The highly anticipated “The Mystery of the Valkyrie” is quite different from Woodward Productions’ usual “A Very Naughty Christmas” type fare, yet its grand world premiere, (presented in association with Powerarts) proves the company’s versatility and gives audiences a show of immense calibre in its every aspect. The game is afoot from the opening atmospheric scene, which drips with foreshadowing sounds of its full detail once the narrative is played out to return us to it towards the show’s end. It is an appropriate opening, not just narratively but in signpost to the integral role that the production’s stagecraft has in realisation of it story.

The fast-paced dramatic thriller begins in London in 1891, thereafter following the story of beloved sleuthing duo Sherlock Holmes (Eugene Gilfedder) and Dr. John Watson (Anthony Gooley) trying to save the world from criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty (Bryan Probets), who has created a deadly pathogen as a tool for his evil intents. While writer and director Michael Futcher’s standalone Sherlock Holmes mystery is engaging in and of itself, with resonance emerging though its simultaneous feet in the past and present in talk about a deadly laboratory-created pathogen and life-saving anti-toxin, its nods to the tropes of a familiar genre add its entertainment value. And it is told with the help of some spectacular stagecraft as the surfaces of rolling set pieces are used to reflect projected images, adding further dimension to the story’s telling. Craig Wilkinson’s video footage affords a cinematic perspective and allows for point-of-view shares, such as when a show motion projected recount of how a series of events have unfolded accompanies Holmes’ attempts to talk other characters through his thinking.

Audience conversations at interval are all about the show’s extraordinary staging (set design by Isabel Hudson), given Act One’s quick shifts throughout to create, for example, stairs to nowhere to push action along within and between settings as pieces are efficiently moved in and out of place to give us the locations of Moriarty’s lab, Holmes’ iconic 221B Baker Street London address and a theatre setting of emerging murderous actions. The best, however, is at that point, still yet come as Act Two features the incredible choreography of set piece movement in an extended energetic chase scene, which garners its own mid-show applause. Dan Venz and Andy Fraser’s respective movement and fight direction also contribute to the fluidity of such scenes, with David Walters lighting design and Phil Slade’s sound and music also occupying vital roles in creation of the dynamic on-stage spectacle, especially as the action is taken from atop to within a waterfall with surround sound and vision.

The show’s stellar team of creatives is matched by its all-star cast. Proberts is a crowd favourite, not just as Holmes’s evil nemesis, but bumbling, long-winded and eager-to-help servant Ames, also receiving his own mid-show applause following Ames’ enthusiastic recreation of Holmes’ imagined pre-crime events. The always reliable Helen Cassidy is solid as very Scottish Inspector Macdonald, while Kimi Tsukakoshi effectively rounds out the main cast.

This is, however, a Sherlock Holmes story and veteran performer Gilfedder is absolutely absorbing in his realisation of one of the most legendary characters of literature and screen. His is a nuanced performance of cold dispassion, but also exaggerated excitement and showmanship during an investigation. Indeed, his animated gestures and varied vocal cadence enliven the story more than any words of dialogue. Meanwhile, although his comic timing is spot-on, Gooley’s Watson is less bumbling sidekick and more loyal friend; while the duo’s banter back and forth adds to the show’s entertainment value, the restraint in also allowing focus on their bond, adds an appreciated depth to things, as summed up by the show’s final shadowed side-by-side image of the two together.

“The Mystery of the Valkyrie” is a hugely successful production of a new-but-old story that has everything going for it, apart perhaps from its 2.5 hours running time (with interval). As its short but popular season at QPAC show, Sherlock Holmes can certainly stand the test of time, especially when given a multimedia ​zhoosh up. And much as it leaves its audience entertained by its performances and wowed by the very-ness elevation of its stagecraft, the question that resonates most after its conclusion is ‘what will Woodward Productions do next?’

Photos: c/o Joel Devereux

Soulful school sounds

Choir Boy (Riverside National Theatre of Parramatta)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

March 15 – 18

Pharus Young (Darron Hayes) is blessed and highly-favoured; the choir boy of the play’s title is not just a member of his school’s singing group, but its newly-elected lead by an almost unanimous vote. Pharus has an intense passion for singing and motivation to be the best choir leader in the 50-year history of Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. And it is his story is the focus of the 1 hour and 40 min highly-acclaimed coming of age drama “Choir Boy”, playing at QPAC for a limited season, direct from its Australian premiere in Sydney.

When legacy student Bobby (Zarif) disrupts Pharus’ debut performance as choir leader with a whispered racial and homophobic slur, assumption is that Bobby’s punishment from his also-uncle Headmaster Marrow (Robert Harrell) is Pharus’ doing. Did he snitch against student code of never telling on a brother? Is his lying in response to accusations of the students he needs to lead? How can he continue to manage his Choirboy peers of the tradition-bound institution? These are the questions that begin our experience of what is ultimately a much more layered show.

Academy Award-winning writer Tarell Alvin McCraney’s script is delicate, but also, at times, brutal in its coverage of big issues around young Black people dealing with the very real world issues of homophobia, classism, and gender expectations, serving, the playwright notes, “as a reminder of how far we’d come, but … still, as an immediate lament on how very far we have to go”. Conflict is inbuilt in the story as Pharus tries to maintain his shine in a world of expectation around masculine conformity, yet still, as an audience we experience its narrative without any real idea of where it is going to take us. Even our anticipation around the play-out of hinted-at story threads is not necessarily realised according to expectation, which adds to its engagement along with education.

When former teacher Mr Pendleton (Tony Sheldon) comes out of semi-retirement to guide students in preparation for College essays worthy of early acceptance, discussion in his course in creative thinking around liberal arts takes us to some of the show’s surprisingly profound moments. Explanation of the need for language modification around terms associated with enslavement, for example, leads into an eloquent, affecting almost-monologue from passionate Pharus in evaluation of the liberation of spirituals that is thought-provoking in its consideration of the worth of aesthetic value comparative to pragmatism. Hayes inhabits the amplified, but also genuine, character of the story’s scholarship student protagonist, in so many ways, but mostly in his determination to be ‘just Pharus’. Perfect timing ensures his sassy delivery lands with the right effect, but still allows room for vulnerability to peak through. And his voice is of an-angel in the show’s choral numbers.

Hayes’s is one of many fine performances from the accomplished Australian and International cast. Also of particular note is Zarif as antagonist Bobby, increasingly angular, angry and askew in his accelerating aggression and homophobic hate towards Pharus. Theo Williams gives an appropriately quietly-layered take on pressured David, and, Quinton Rofail Rich gives us a measured, well-rounded performance as AJ, Pharus’ boarding school best friend. Indeed, it is refreshing to see this supportive roommate relationship play out in such a lovely, loving way without being made into more than it is.

Soaring music (Music Direction by Allen René Louis) uplifts experience of the show and elevates its calibre in a number of ways. Soul-stirring a cappella tones accent themes and character journeys, starting with opening of the 49th commencement ceremony with the choir singing ‘Trust and Obey’. Directors Dino Dimitriadis and Zindzi Okenyo give audience members a production of much light and shade from cast and creatives alike. Just as there are moments of pathos as Pharus pleads to be left to lead, there are also vital occasions of much energy, such as when chairs are thumped in percussive ensemble emphasis in a dynamic ‘Rockin’ in Jerusalem’. No opportunity is missed as even the move of set pieces on and off stage is stylised.

“Choir Boy” is a moving story of sexuality, race, hope and a young gay man finding his voice, elevated by its unique blend of the candid language of high school hallways with the soulful sounds of gospel music. The Tony Award nominated musical drama represents a rare, but first-rate, mixture of spirituality and sexuality in its focus. And while the entertainment value is certainly high throughout, it also includes educative moments, meaning there is much for audiences to take away from its experience.

Photos c/o – Phil Erbacher

Catching the break

Breaking the Castle (Breaking The Castle Productions)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

February 24 – March 4

Peter Cook’s one-man play features a number of mighty moments. The most pertinent perhaps comes with statement to its protagonist that there is power in owning your story and owning up to who you are. The work, written and performed by Brisbane’s Cook is inspired by true events, and its protagonist, David, played by Cook himself, is based very much on him.

David is a struggling actor, never quite good enough, battling debilitating mental health, and descending into drug and alcohol abuse. That is until he is thrown an unlikely lifeline and offered a chance at redemption in a rehabilitation centre in Thailand. It is not an easy story, considering, as it does, issues around drug addiction and mental illness, but it is a well-told one. The well-crafted tale is bravely shared like a 90-minute monologue, inset with play-out of a variety of scenes and characters all played by Cook, with choices of physicality and accents working well to differentiate as much as establish individual characters. Without missing a beat, even in quick back and forth conversation between his portrayal of distinctly different characters, Cook not only humanises his protagonist through articulated dramatisation of his dilemmas, but shares as to his inner critic thoughts, around the shame attached to the stigma of addiction and lack of connection apart from when on-stage.

There is a real honesty to a story that could easily have emerged as a clichéd take on its subject matter as David loses control while attempting to convince himself of justification for each day’s substance abuse, however, its lived experience authenticity ensures that this is never the case. Rather, as David begins to reveal his feelings to a tough-love counsellor rather than in ritual group rehab situations, the work in entirely compelling.

A metatheatre touch to early scenes see David telling of his passion for acting and love of the feeling of being on stage, alongside recollection of pre-rehab life getting-on in Kings Cross, recalling its rituals and the feelings it engenders. It’s a vital framing device, given art’s essential role in facilitating consideration of big ideas around what it means to be human, and it reflects the craftedness of themes and motifs that are interwoven through the work.

The steady direction of internationally acclaimed theatre-maker Leah Purcell AM, also serves to ensure a seamless flow between the play’s humorous and heartfelt sensibilities. Design features humanise its ultimate themes, especially as we are granted glimpses into David’s childhood and Ben Hughes’s lighting design both heralds some haunting imagery as light cracks into David’s darkness and sparkles things towards revelation of the work’s otherwise enigmatic title, in a culmination of its slow reveal as elements jigsaw together before our eyes before we even catch on that they are doing so.

“Breaking the Castle” is a journey of a story, in sensibility too as in some of its funniest moments, Cook hilariously recalls humiliations at the hands of casting directors, finding the humour even in a meth bender as David urges along horses in a race upon which he has placed a bet. The show is built upon its well-written script, which easily slips between language tones as much as thematic moods, and by we make it to its profound final moments, it is easy to appreciate its three critically acclaimed interstate seasons ahead of its Brisbane homecoming.

Despite its undeniable comedy, there’s no getting away from the earnestness that underlies it as a moving play about being human and looking for the humanity in others. And it is this that provokes the conversation that follows on from the audience members’ united rise to their feet in acclaim, for as Purcell notes in the show’s program, “it is one man’s experience, but we can all take something away from witnessing this work”.

Photos – c/o Darren Thomas