Celtic cravings

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The popular, patriotic and heart-felt song ‘Scotland the Brave’ is an unofficial Scottish national anthem that not only stirs the soul of Scots worldwide, but evokes transport to the world of its Edinburgh Military Tattoo where it features as a program highlight. It is more than appropriate therefore that it should also serve as the title of the celebration of the best of traditional Scottish music, song and dance, coming to QPAC’s Concert Hall for one night only on Saturday 21st October.

The production features not just brave rousing anthems, but hymns too, such as the melodic ‘Highland Cathedral’, the redemptive ‘Amazing Grace’ and, of course, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, the Scots poem written by Robert Burns, now known more for its bid of farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight… so it promises something for everyone with a Celtic craving. Indeed, with a production featuring singers, dancers, and musicians, performing popular works, it sure to be spectacular, especially given its line-up of soloists includes the internationally acclaimed soprano Mirusia and popular tenor Gregory Moore.

There will be tartan, kilts, bagpipes and highland dancers … all wonderful icons of Scotland’s sprightly heritage, to set the heart a-dreaming, combining for a ceilidh-like experience of transformation to a world of all things Scottish in either memory of, or as motivation to attend Edinburgh Festival’s Military Tattoo.

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Tickets are available now.

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Courting Terror

Terror (Lyric Hamersmith)

QPAC, The Playhouse

September 19 – 23

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A hijacked Lufthansa Airbus is heading towards a packed Munich football stadium. Ignoring the orders of his superiors, a fighter pilot shoots the passenger aircraft down, killing the 164 people on board in order to save the 70,000 at the stadium for the Germany vs England football match. As he is put on trial and charged with murder, the fate of the pilot is in the audience’s hands. … Clearly, “Terror” is quite different from last year’s Brisfest hilarity from the UK’s Lyric Hammersmith in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Yet, in its Australian premiere, direct from London and exclusive to the Brisbane Festival, audience reaction is just as glowing for the compelling courtroom drama by the lawyer and writer Ferdinand von Schirach, which is unsurprising given its global acclaim since debut in Berlin two years ago.

The Playhouse stage has been transformed by the show’s grand, authentic courtroom design. German Army Eurofighter Lars Koch (Chris New) is in witness box; we can see him in profile as he steelily stares ahead. As lay judges, it is us to decide the consequences of his decision to deliberately end the lives of the 164 people on the plane, which breaks constitutional law. Guilty or not guilty, we decide.

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It’s is far from a straight-forward decision, especially given that lack of any revelation of conscience from the accused who stands steadfast in defence of his actions. It’s a heavy premise, with verbose speeches that require audience concentration as philosophical aspects are discussed and illustrated. Its engagement comes from the moral complexity of what is being presented for consideration. Can we sympathise with his dilemma and/or empathise with his decision, despite his apparent lack of humanity or remorse?

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Josephine Butler makes for a firm and authoritative presiding judge, pacing things along. New and his expert witness Sam Redford, are appropriately rigid in their military responses and Remmie Milner brings a soft humanity to her role as a grieving victim’s wife. But the stars are the state prosecutor (Sarah Malin) and defence lawyer (Aidan Kelly). Not only do they each passionately present convincing arguments about the sanctity of human dignity, the impact of probabilities, the notion of a greater good and the choice of a lesser evil, but they force us to consider the impact of their respective approaches as much as their legal rhetoric.

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Luckily we are given intermission to discuss and decide on our vote… and what robust discussions ensure in dissection of testimony as audience members prepare to register their votes via an electronic pad beside each seat. On our night, the split is 61:39 towards not-guilty, which is in keeping with the consistent 60:40 split amongst the jurors at each performance, apart from China and Japan. Indeed, it is quite fascinating to look at the results’ trend, collated and documented on the show’s webpage, including note of how they fare in comparison to the timing of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

“Terror” is a static work, which makes it an acquired taste. Still, anticipation of the verdict’s delivery makes for an interesting, interactive drama from the versatile theatre company, unlike usual theatre fair. The continuing debate amongst strangers as they depart stands as testament to both its undeniable relevance and unique engagement.

Get your tickets at www.brisbanefestival.com.au

Boots and all

Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel by special arrangement with Daryl Roth and Hal Luftig in association with Cameron Mackintosh)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

August 22 – October 22

“Kinky Boots” is a model of the modern major musical… spirited, triumphant and touching, with a stirring message regarding equal rights, identity and acceptance, that both advocates and stands as evidence of creativity as change agent. As such, the Tony Award winning musical brings Broadway to Brisbane boots and all with a superb cast and soaring score … and the result is simply sensational!

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The story, adapted from 2005 movie (itself based on a true story), takes places in a British working class setting not unlike that of “Billy Elliot”. To workers in the long-established Northampton, England shoe factory Price & Son, a shoe is (according to the show’s opening number) ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’. But business is failing when, as the fourth-generation ‘son’ in the business, Charlie Price (Toby Francis) finds himself recalled from a new life in London after his father’s death.

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As the factory’s now insecure owner, Charlie tries to live up to his father’s legacy, but is almost ready to accept defeat, until a chance meeting with drag queen Lola (Callum Francis), reveals a niche market that could save the factory… kinky boots for women who just happen to be men, beginning with a custom pair of red (not burgundy) ones for Lola herself because whatever Lola wants, Lola is likely to get. As Charlie and Lola work to bring the factor back from the brink of bankruptcy, the unlikely duo discover that they have more in common than they thought. As such, the show become more than just a formulaic story of underdog triumph, as it celebrates friendship, love and self-belief.

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Helping cement the sentiment at show’s heart is Cyndi Lauper’s award winning score, which moves the narrative along while also capturing the story’s emotional extremes. Tapestried together, the range of songs work wonderfully. Highlights include the electric disco anthem ‘Sex is in the Heel’, performed by drag club headliner Lola and her backup ‘angels’ troupe of drag dancers as they try to explain the importance of sex appeal to Charlie and his factory workers, and the touching ballad, ‘I’m Not My Father’s Son’. The emotionally, affecting duet sees Lola (with introduction of her birth name Simon) lament the torment of being his own man and Charlie reflect on his attempt to disassociate himself from his father’s legacy, highlighting the similarities of the characters’ complex feelings and also the chemistry between the two leads.

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Callum Francis is outstanding as the unashamedly outrageous, but also quietly vulnerable, Lola and it is easy to understand his win of the 2017 Helpman Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Not only does his dynamic performance engender an immediate rapport with the audience but his powerhouse vocals are absolutely on-point. Toby Francis, is charming as Charlie, the everyman alongside effervescent Lola. His vocals add lovely layers to ballads and upbeat numbers alike, making songs like Act Two’s ‘Soul of a Man’, in which he struggles with the weight of his father’s legacy, at-once heartfelt and powerful. There is plenty of comedy too, not just through Lola’s sassy comebacks but from Sophie Wright’s nuanced performance as feisty factory worker Lauren who longs for Charlie’s love. And her ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ number is perfect in its exploit of every comic opportunity.

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Every aspect of “Kinky Boots” is on-point. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design easily transforms the stage from industrial factory to the fabulous, flamboyant land of Lola, allowing for full appreciation of Jerry Mitchell’s inventive choreography. And John Shivers’ sound design ensure that its musical theatre and pop soundtrack blend seamlessly.

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As co-creator Harvey Fierstein has said, “Kinky Boots” is a joyous show, sure to leave you overwhelmed with happiness. Not only is there lots of colour and movement, but an overarching, uplifting message about how you can change the world if you change your mind, realised in the rousing full company finale, ‘Raise You Up/Just Be’ when the factory’s collection of boots hits the runway in Milan. Indeed, its drama, humour and pathos make it big-hearted entertainment of the highest calibre, making it a force of nature, not to be missed.

Photos c/o – Matthew Murphy

Guilty pleasure pop

The Bodyguard The Musical (John Frost, Michael Harrison and David Ian)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

July 19 – August 13

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“The Bodyguard The Musical” begins with a bang… literally… with gunshots and a full production number of lasers, lights and flame projections as superstar Rachel Marron (Paulini Curuenavuli of Australian Idol fame in her musical theatre debut) rocks out ‘Queen of the Night’. The melodramatic story then (more or less) follows its source material, the 1992 Warner Bros film starring Whitney Houston as the pop diva and Kevin Cosner as former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer, the reluctant bodyguard brought in to protect her (and later falling into a relationship with her) when an obsessive stalker starts making threats.

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The movie spawned one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time and it is upon this merit that the musical relies, ebbing and flowing through upbeat numbers and ballads alike. Unlike “Dirty Dancing”, this screen-to-stage adaptation does not attempt to provide an on-stage carbon copy of the film. The original screenplay has been significantly reduced to make space for more of Whitney Houston’s back-catalogue. This makes for unsatisfying narrative, but also a pleasing live experience, packed with pop classics, including from the contribution of Prinnie Stevens as Rachel’s jealous, overlooked sister Nicki, whose impressive vocals make ‘Saving All My Love For You’ a highlight.

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Humour comes courtesy of added scenes such as one set in a karaoke bar where a trio of tipsy girls sing their way through Houston’s ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go?’ before unsuspectingly hearing it from Rachel Marron herself. It also provides opportunity for soap star Kip Gamblin to contribute more but a commanding presence to his bodyguard role, as he reluctantly delivers a deliberately pitch-poor (and very funny) ‘I Will Always Love You’.

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Curuenavuli is no Whitney Houston, and she’s clearly more singer than actor (especially with addition of American accent), but vocally she more than does justice to the central role. She is blistering in performance of Houston power ballads like ‘I Have Nothing’ and her delivery of the soundtrack’s carrier soul ballad ‘I Will Always Love You’ is flawless, beginning with goosebumpy a cappella introduction before soaring (literally) into the chorus.

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As stage musicals go “The Bodyguard The Musical” has its share of flaws in staging, pacing and acting performance. And its wafer-thin script is full of clichés. But still it serves as the guiltiest of pleasures, particularly in moments like a club performance scene mash-up of ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ and ‘So Emotional’. And when the ensemble has audience members on their feet for an encore ‘I Wanna Dance’ reprise, it is a sing-along that carries out into the foyer post-show. Indeed, the main reason to see the “The Bodyguard The Musical” is its score, both of songs from the 1992 movie and Houston’s extensive pop catalogue.

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Ireland lives on

Ancient Rain (Paul Kelly & Camille O’Sullivan)

QPAC, Concert Hall

June 13


Between Australian music legend and poet laureate Paul Kelly and Irish chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan, there is a proud Irish heritage, so it is appropriate that it is on WB Yeats’ birthday that they take Brisbane audiences on a journey through Irish poetry in “Ancient Rain”. The show, which combines original songs and music, together with spoken word, was inspired by more than a century of Irish writing and serves as both a reminder of its emotive poetry and range of themes.

It is a darkly beautiful show as it contrasts some of the most important events of Irish history, from the potato famine of the 1800s to the Easter Rising of last century with illumination of the evocative language of descriptions of lines like ‘October coloured weather’ which will linger long after shared. The lush musical arrangements transform the poetry into living art. In collaboration with composer Feargal Murray, Kelly and Sullivan have thread together a tapestry of tender moments of profound sadness at loss of language and country, but also celebration of survival. And lighting complements the mood and considered aesthetics of the elemental sounds of wind and thunder and the sensitive harmonies of the backing band, adding a theatrical feel to the show.


Kelly has a wonderful stage presence (as the country’s best balladeer with recognisable Aussie sounds, his vocals don’t always suit, but his voice is naturally suited to storytelling) and O’Sullivan is a compelling performer, whether in earthy or ethereal voice, meaning that together they are an irresistible combination, in complete command of the material. In Michael Hartnett’s ‘English Part Seven’, O’Sullivan soars in sing of ‘the perfect language to sell pigs in’, while in Yeats’ ‘Easter 1916’ she tantalises with a husky voice in but a whisper. But it is Paula Meeham’s heartbreaking ‘The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks’ that represents the show’s pinnacle, at the end of Act One, as, draped in red veil she tells musical tale of the statue of the Virgin Mary, at whose feet a teenage girl gives birth before dying with her child.


“Ancient Rain” is a powerful project from two acclaimed performers that makes Irish history live again. While its tales are dark and melancholic in their heartache, they are very human stories, which means that everyone will have their own connection to its musical storytelling as they appreciate anew its old tales of war, rebellion and longing for freedom.

 Photos c/o – David James McCarthy and Sarah Walker

Politics at play

1984 (A new adaptation created by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

June 14 – 18

The Lyric Theatre filled with school groups for a 100 minutes long show with no intermission and complete lockout for its duration may not sound like a likely-to-work combination, but in the case of “1984”, experience of the show is so engrossing to the entire audience that none of these things matter. The new adaptation of one of the greatest dystopian novels ever written, George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” speaks to more than a literary audience, offering topical warning against allowing ignorance to be truth, confirming the accuracy of its own (paraphrased) words that it doesn’t matter when it is read, it can always be applied to the future.

It begins with members of a bookclub meeting in cozy, timber-clad reading room to discuss an intriguing text. Then reality is fractured into the text’s storyline, where life for citizens in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, is dictated by omnipresent government surveillance, overseen by the totalitarian party leader Big Brother. Protagonist Winston Smith (Tom Conroy) is a member of the outer party, working in the Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism, to remove ‘unpersons’ from record.

diary.jpgWinston knows in his heart that the world in which he is living is monstrous. But giving voice to his thoughtcrimes, is another matter, especially if noting them in a diary, which is an individualistic, defiant act punishable by death. Risking everything, he begins a passionate relationship with Julia (Ursula Mills) who shares his loathing of the Party, until the Thought Police capture Winston along with Julia in their rented room and the two are delivered to the Ministry of Love for interrogation.

The initial differences from the source material at the outset may be ill-received by purists (this 1984 is defined by the creator’s interrogation of the novel’s structurally-important appendix), however any over-complication that this evokes is ultimately outweighed by the provocation of the renewed relevance of its themes. And by the time the audience bears witness to the daily Two Minutes Hate in which Party members must express their hatred for enemies of the stage, we are well and truly absorbed. While some aspects are initially overdone, like the overt foreshadowing on Winston’s psychopathological fear of rats, the production ultimately allows the audience to delve deeper into some of the novel’s central themes, while also allowing for appreciation anew of its simple yet eloquent language in show of how language shapes the way we think.

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Staging is slick and impressively sophisticated, both visually and in execution of seamless scene changes as heavily armed police transform the quaint dwelling of early scenes to a hyper-real, highly evolved Matrix-like world of a white dimensionless, empty arena for torture. The soundscape, too, is startlingly loud, which suits the essential discomfort of the terror on show as we are asked to ‘imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever’.

Conroy is excellent as everyman Winston, conveying with clarity the complicated internal emotions of one at once confident in his self-assurance that 2 + 2 = 4 and intellectually able to reason about his resistance, to one who is later so broken-spirited as to be forced into betraying the only person he loves, by his torture in Room 101, the chamber in which the Party attempts to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear of phobia. And Terence Crawford makes for an aptly-duplicitous O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party who poses as part of the counter-revolutionary resistance, The Brotherhood, made even more menacing in his unwavering calm and control than his power.

“The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening,” George Orwell wrote, decades before the smart-phone world of today. And contemplation of this prophecy is what makes “1984” such essential viewing, given its demonstration of the terrifying possibilities of totalitarianism and suggestion that ideology is indeed present in the modern, western world. While certainly Australian audiences are privileged to experience an international touring production of such quality, its worth is ultimately in its comments about the death of individuality (emphasised by the faceless figure on the program’s cover) and how rewriting the truth is but a step away from eradicating history.

Photos c/o – Shane Reid

Swedish celebrations

Thank You for the Music – an ABBA Celebration (QPAC Choir)

QPAC, Concert Hall

June 6

If ABBA ever was to reform, (and chance are “absolutely zero” according to Bjorn Ulvaeus) down under would be top of the list on their comeback trail. Australia was, as it seems, the first country that took ABBA to heart. And evidently, the love affair still lingers, forty years after the ‘70s super pop group first toured the country, visiting every state capital except Brisbane… well, at least for those in attendance at the QPAC Choir’s annual showcase ‘Thank You for the Music – an Abba Celebration” trip down memory lane to mark the anniversary of that landmark live concert tour.

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QAPC choirmaster and super ABBA freak Timothy Sherlock not only looks the part in bedazzled jacket, but conveys an infectious energy. And the 140-voice QPAC choir more than rises to the occasion, responding to the crowd’s ‘We Want ABBA’ introduction chants and glowstick punctuation with performance of a selection of some of the most popular ABBA songs, as part of the Queensland Cabaret Festival. Indeed, this is a show full of familiar tunes, each remembered as favourite until the next number in the setlist starts playing. And seeing the audience’s collective reactions upon recognition of each starting medley makes for a night of many shared joys.

‘Mamma Mia’ kicks off the first medley, featuring also ‘SOS’ and ‘Waterloo’, but there are lesser known numbers showcased too. In each instance the choir’s voices harmonise beautifully, creating a melodic ‘Super Trouper’ and an absolutely heavenly ‘Chiquitita’ in recognition of its significance as one of the most famous charity songs ever. They are most wonderful, however, when on show in stripped back numbers such as the QPAC Chamber Choir’s rich harmonic vocals in an acapella arrangement of ‘One of Us’.

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Appropriately, the eight-piece live band is also given its chance to sign, particularly in the instrumental ‘Intermezzo No. 1’ from ABBA’s self-title third album (the first of only two songs by the group not to contain lyrics). The orchestral rock tune is a perfect selection given its piano and guitar-led instrumentals and accompanist Tina Liu and guitarist Toby Wren are particularly excellent in share of its flamboyant sounds.

And if that is not enough fun, there is show on screen of the corresponding album covers as complement to its set list, which are entertaining in themselves for the fashion alone. And there are clips too, from the 1977 documentary film “ABBA: The Movie” about the pop group’s Australian tour, commercials featuring ABBA, including for the Japanese electronics manufacturer National (now Panasonic) and interesting titbits of information and trivia shared by Sherlock in emcee mode.

Special guests for the evening include 3rd year students from the Bachelor of Musical Theatre course at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University who begin with boisterous share of the title track from 1979’s disco album, ‘Voulez Vous’, providing the first of many opportunities for an audience clap along to the energetic but quite lengthy number. In absolute contrast one of this year’s graduating students Georgia Bolton presents a soaring ballad refection on the end of a romance in ‘The Winner Takes It All’, which was written by ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus after separating from wife and fellow band member, Agnetha Fältskog.

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“Thank You for the Music – an ABBA Celebration” is indeed a celebration of the band’s extensive, diverse catalogue of music, offering audience members the chance to sing and sway along (because it is difficult not to move in time to tuneful numbers like the hugely popular ‘Fernando’). The music has a timeless appeal and when the evening ends with the ‘Dancing Queen’ audience on their feet dancing, jiving and having the time of their lives, it is on the highest of highs. This QPAC Choir event captures the timeless magic and excitement of one of the world’s most successful and entertaining live bands and like someone in the Supertrooper’s sights, as one of its audience members, you will be surely be smiling and having fun.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas