Tudor triumph

Six

QPAC, The Playhouse

December 30 – February 19

“Six” is a worldwide musical phenomenon unmatched in the juggernaut speed with which it has acquired its cult following (especially given the theatre shutdowns of recent years). Arising from humble origins (it was originally conceived as a production for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 by Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss), it now has over 500 million soundtrack streams worldwide, 3 billion Tik Tok views on #SIXtheMusical and two Tony Awards including Best Original Score…. so it comes with some big audience expectations, and they are absolutely met.

The highly anticipated high-octane one act (75 minutes) pop musical is more concert than traditional musical as Henry VIII’s divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived (to use the mnemonic) wives ex-wives take to the stage. These are not, however, the Tudor names, fames and faces we might already know. Instead, this is history overthrown as we are introduced to the stories of the women of his story, divorced, beheaded, died live! The ensuing (and ingenious) framing premise is a contest outlined in its defiant ‘Ex-Wives” opening number; the queen who has had the worst experience (as voted by the audience) shall take the crown as the pop sensation to lead the band.

The show’s seriously catchy soundtrack starts strongly and never lets up. Indeed, its contemporary pop music of layered synth sounds is different to what audiences might usually hear in a musical. Yet, while its punchy tempo and dance oriented sensibility are frenetic, there is light and shade in its multi-styled score (which draws inspiration from a range of modern female artists).

As modest third wife Jane Seymour, (the only one he truly loved) Loren Hunter delivers a heartbreaking Adele-inspired power ballad, ‘Heart of Stone’. Her beautiful voice not only soars in its heights but captures the emotional vulnerability at its core concern over the conditional nature of their love. Meanwhile, group number ‘Haus of Holbein’, that satirises women’s beauty standards in lead into the next-up entrance of Anna of Cleves’ (Kiana Daniele), is a pumping neon-lit rave-like highlight.

The presence of the live ‘Ladies in Waiting’ four-piece band of all female musicians adds another layer to the musical’s ultimate themes of female empowerment. Claire Healy and Heidi Maguire on keys, Kathryn Stammers on drums, Debbie Yap on guitar and Jessica Dunn / Ann Metry on bass, who remain on stage for the duration in add to the pop concert scenario, not only provide the base for a multi-genre soundtrack, but are given their own moments to shine, such as when drum beats are given in the Catherine of Aragon’s (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza) bold ‘No Way’.

Although each talented Tudor Queen turned Pop Princess is given her own number in which to reveal her truth, the performers are all on stage for the entire show. While all six are obviously extremely talented, Kiana Daniele is a clear audience favourite as Anna of Cleves, evoking her edgy badass feminist Queenspiration of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna in ‘Get Down’ revelling in Henry’s rejection of her for not living up the expectation of the portrait of her painted by Hans Holbein, which results in her annulled marriage and consequential lavish independent woman lifestyle. Kala Gare is likewise popular as ‘that Boleyn girl’, Anne, not just in her catchy ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’, but sorry not-sorry mockery of Aragon and sassy banter with likewise beheaded Howard (Chelsea Dawson). And her play-up of much of the show’s innuendo generates some of the biggest laughs.

While they harmonise together well, each queen also presents a unique colour-coded look, personality and sound. Phoenix Jackson Mendoza kicks things off with a riffing tell of Catherine of Aragon’s story of devotion through a Shakira and Beyonce-inspired number about her marriage annulment and threat of being shipped off to a convent. Her angry refusal to contemplate being replaced means that she is confident that after 24 years of loyal marriage, she has done it the toughest.

Chelsea Dawson, meanwhile, brings a youthful vibrancy to the role of pretty-in-pink Katherine Howard, singing of her alleged affair in ‘All You Wanna Do”, but also having us consider her abuse due to the structures around her. And Vidya Makan gives us a quietly feminist Katherine Parr who, like Angelica in “Hamilton” leaves us with a very musical theatre-ish sounding anthem ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’, chronicle of losing true love, being widowed and lacking any choice in response to a king’s command, before questioning the competition and having her worth defined by him when she herself has done so much.

Characterisation comes not just by each individual queen’s number, but is embedded in every interaction with each other (and us) through knowing looks and alike. And because it is a concert musical rather than a standard book musical, there is no fourth wall, meaning that the queens sometimes interact with the audience. The show is full of one-liners and witty irreverent lines and wordplay in its string together of genius lyrics and its handful of country and city specific mentions aren’t particularly jarring. Its score, too, features clever inset of nursery rhyme type nods in its musical motifs and uniquely styled songs.

While it may all effortlessly come together, everything about “Six” is intricately crafted. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is always snappy in its precise accent actions and in formation movements, meaning that ever performance is vital, even if it is in back-up singer mode. Tim Deiling’s lighting is dynamic in conveying each queen’s themes with colour palette nods without causing rainbows of distraction, culminating in brilliant golden illumination of the final right royal ‘Megasix’ remix mashup of each queen’s solo in assert of their own individuality in take back of their stories. Emma Bailey’s striking set design also works with Gabriella Slade’s already-iconic historically-inspired costumes to authentically create the spectacle of a pumping pop concert.  

Layered in its social satire, this fast-paced modern retelling of the lives of queens for too many years lost in his-story is a fun, cheeky show with some racy content as the Queens tease each other about traumas and abuse. Like soon-to-be-seen “Hamilton”, “Six” talks directly about history (knowing Tudor history is not a prerequisite) and also includes some girl power themes as integral to its storytelling. These are equally positioned rather than marginalised female characters celebrating their own individuality

In the case of “Six”, the ravers really are right. Although succinct, this is a vibrant and dynamic musical with a side of herstory thrown in, making for empowering uplifting and rock solid entertainment that should not be missed. And QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre is an appropriately intimate enough venue to allow its audience to become fully absorbed in the triumph of its infectiously boisterous, celebratory atmosphere.

Photos c/o – James Morgan

Over and over 100 out

With Covid still causing disruptions, I was surprised to ultimately make it along to over 100 shows again this year. Here are my highlights from the 2022 Brisbane theatre year.

1. The Normal Heart (Ad Astra)

The Queensland premiere production of Larry Kramer’s largely autobiographical “The Normal Heart” was absolutely absorbing and inspirational in its unflinching look at the horrific time in our history that was the start of the AIDS epidemic.

2. A Girls Guide to World War (Musical Theatre Australia)

Inspirational, also, was Musical Theatre Australia’s tell of the true story of some amazing women forgotten by our history. The February show, which was my favourite then for most of the year, was richly rewarding in both its entertainment and education about the courageous and compassionate real life humanitarian adventurers at the core of its story.

3. Holding Achilles (Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall)

My 2022 Brisbane Festival highlight, the grand Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall co-production was an exquisite world-class design-led theatre experience, as much a celebration of the craft of storytelling as a retell of one of the Western canon’s oldest narratives

4. The Sunshine Club (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre’s bright revival of Wesley Enoch and John Rodgers’ joyful musical was a historical work of a particular time, but also a story of love, hope, heartbreak and the shared humanity of these emotions, easy to watch and love.

5. 42nd Street (Queensland Conservatorium)

There was much to also love about Queensland Conservatorium’s massive musical production of “42nd Street” as its assured performances, quality orchestrations and show-stopping ensemble production numbers captured the spirit of the show’s era and also the grand musical genre.

6. Oliver! (Savoyards)

Savoyards excellent musical revival was full of highlights and everything needed to entertain its audience around the troublesome aspects of “Oliver!” to a resonance of resilience and hope.

7. The Last Five Years (La Boite Theatre Company) 

La Boite’s two-hander share (in two different directions) of the ill-fated five-year relationship of aspiring artists was certainly clever in its alternate musical narration, however, was also slick in its use of space and tight in its telling thanks to the moving performances of its charismatic performers and musical stylings of its varied, bitter-sweet score.

8. Mary Poppins (Disney and Cameron Mackintosh)

The Disney spectacle that came to life on the Lyric Theatre stage was a celebration of imagination, and, thus, an unforgettable production that could easily be seen again and again, making for a “Mary Poppins” anew for the whole modern family.

9. Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner (La Boite Theatre, Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre)

Just before the floods came, there was this fierce and furious coproduction, sharp in its satire of cancel culture and appropriation in a viral world, but also wickedly humorous.

10. First Casualty (Queensland Theatre)

The hard-hitting storytelling of Queensland Theatre’s landmark blockbuster season closer was elevated by an epic soundscape and dynamic lighting to take us into a world not previously seen on stage…. the last days of Australian troop involvement in Afghanistan.

And of particular note….

Best Drama – The Normal Heart (Ad Astra)

Also the most moving and thought provoking production of 2022, Ad Astra’s “The Normal Heart” allowed us to bear witness to each stage of the play’s centrepiece romance as it played out in unfiltered vulnerability, raw anger, complex beauty and undeniable love, against the backdrop of a community living in fear of AIDS.

Best Comedy – Hidden in this Picture (Villanova Players)

The one act “Hidden in this Picture” (from the pen of Emmy Award-winning playwright Aaron Sorkin), which appeared as part of Villanova Players’ intermezzo series, was full of over and over again laugh-out-loud moments emerging from the increasing hyperbole in share of what was essentially a duologue inset with simple interjections.  

Best Cabaret – Women in Voice

The 2022 outing of this Brisbane institution was the best yet in its curated program of different musical styles from its empowered female performers.

Best Dramatic Performance – Vivien Whittle – Gaslight (Growl Theatre)

Whittle was simply wonderful as the vulnerable, tormented and humiliated Bella, whether bustling about in fleeting, naive belief that all is well or blubbering in flustered confusion after being raged at by her psychologically-torturous husband Jack.

Best Comic Performance – Troy Bullock – Hidden in this Picture (Villanova Players)

Meanwhile, Bella’s gaslighting husband Troy Bullock gave the funniest performance as a first-time director Robert, intent on obtaining an Oscar-winning shot in for his movie’s final scene, until three cows make appearance along with the hundreds of extras.

Best Musical Performance – Priyah Shah – Oliver! (Savoyards)

Shah’s show of strength but also vulnerability ensured that her Nancy was not just a kindly, but a complex character and her strong vocals left the “Oliver!” audience equally impressed in rollicking tavern sing-a-long and torch song numbers alike.

Best duo – Marcus Corowa and Irena Lysiuk – The Sunshine Club (Queensland Theatre)

The chemistry between Corowa and Lysiuk was not only evident in their protagonists’ duets, but warmed the audience into investment into the blossom of their childhood friendship in to more after his post-WW2 return to Brisbane.  

Honourable mention to Christopher Morphett-Wheatley and Darcy Rhodes – Into The Woods (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Morphett-Wheatley and Rhodes were audience favourites as they dynamically pranced about in pantomime-esque play off each other’s bravado energy as two-dimensional princes attempting to one-up each other in argument.

Best EnsembleHeathers: The Musical (Millennial Productions) 

Millennial Productions’ debut musical was a highly professional independent production, in part due to its strong performances, with nobody holding back even in edgier scenes. There were no vocal weak links as each performer was given an opportunity to shine and there was a clear level of focus in all performances, resulting in no missed beats within the show’s tight rhythm. 

Best Independent Production – Boy, Lost (Belloo Creative)

The years-in-the-making tell of the true story of one family’s loss and redemption was also an ensemble production with its actors playing multiple characters (including themselves at moments), jumping in and out of different roles with simple prop or costume enhancements, yet, as an audience, we always knew what was happening as we moved through its tightly-woven emotional journey.

Most fun – All Fired Up (Box Jelly Theatre Company)

The show so nice, I ended up seeing it twice to contemplate if a trip to the ‘80’s and a chat with your 15-year-old self really can solve a mid-life crisis? With a live band perfectly capturing the nostalgic energy of the era it was all incredibly feel good, fun and funny.

Best Staging – Holding Achilles (Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall) 

The mythical magic of “Holding Achilles” may have been multi-layered, but this was built upon a performance space reminiscent of classical Greek amphitheatres with staging exposed to the audience, in contrast to the modern technology used to sometimes literally soar the story along with aerial artistry.

Best Sound and Lighting Design – First Casualty (Queensland Theatre)

The sound and lighting design elements of “First Casualty” were likely worth the price of admission alone. Paul Jackson’s lighting design transformed the space and its surfaces to tell the show’s many multifaceted narratives, while sound design by Brady Watkins and THE SWEATS added to the onstage action, whether dynamic or subtle in tone.

Best Choreography – Mary Poppins (Disney and Cameron Mackintosh)

Matthew Bourne’s and Stephen Mear’s “Mary Poppins” choreography (recreated for the Australian production by Richard Jones) filled the Lyric Theatre stage with a burst of moving bodies, brooms and brushes in spectacular, precise, fast-paced numbers like ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and ‘Step in Time’.

Yuletide traditions

Spirit of Christmas

QPAC, Concert Hall

December 16 – 17

QPAC’s longest running event “Spirit of Christmas” is one that never disappoints. With musical theatre stars Courtney Monsma and Alex Rathgeber at the helm, there are musical highlights aplenty, however, the most memorable of its aspects is the marvel of the iconic Concert Hall in all of its seasonal glory (and lighting design by Ben Hughes). “Spirit of Christmas” is spectacular in its aesthetic, especially when all of its components come together: the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (under the baton of Musical Director Simon Kenway), the celebrated QPAC Chamber Choir (Choral Director Timothy Sherlock) and Voices of Birralee (Director Jenny Moon), one of Australia’s finest children’s choirs.

The program is one of many highlights. An early goosebumpy one comes courtesy of a triumphant ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. As the upper voices chorus before being joined by others, the boisterous hymn is elevated by the powerful accompaniment of Emma Hadfield on the venue’s lofty 6500 pipe Klais Grand Organ, and then join in by Voices of Birralee, processing onto the stage from the stalls.

And when the organ is added in support of Rathgeber’s rousing delivery of the hopeful hymn ‘The Holy City’, his resounding vocals really are lifted up to His gates to sing Hosanna in the highest, on a sea of unison voices and orchestration. There is a similarly infectiously-uplifting liturgical sensibility to the jubilant ‘Ding Dong, Merrily on High’ Hosanna in excelsis outset of the QPAC Chamber Choir’sThe Glory of Christmas (medley)’.

After a Welcome to Country from guest artist Waveney Yasso, and a lovely ‘Christmas Overture’ from the orchestra, the 2022 program of joyous Christmas songs and carols unfolds with feature of both traditional and more modern ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ type tunes of this most wonderful time of the year.

Beautifully-voiced Queensland Conservatorium musical theatre graduate Jacqui Dwyer gives us a brightO Christmas Tree’ and Monsma brings buoyant vocals to ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’, to the joy of younger audience members (along with a concluding confetti drop). And while it might not be the season for snowmen, the QSO again reminds us of what lovely weather it is for a sleigh ride together, especially in its light orchestral piece ‘Sleigh Ride’, which primarily showcases the percussion section, yet is full of spinning cello fun along with its musical depiction of jingling sleigh bells, whip cracks, clip clops and even a whinnying horse.

The strings section is given its own chance to shine in a delicate Ukrainian composition for that section of the orchestra alone. Thought its almost mournful tone, on paper, might appear out of place amongst the more jubilant Christmas numbers, its tranquil take into a special Christmas message works well. The words in question, delivered by The Salvation Army’s Major Scott Allen underscore the sentiment at the core of the show through their reflection about connection, the bonds that unite us and bringing together communities.

“Spirit of Christmas” is a celebration of the many such things that embody the Christmas spirit. The mix of hymns, much loved classics and popular Christmas songs offers both opportunity for celebration of the true meaning of the festive season and appreciation of our stunning orchestra and vocalists in share of beloved holiday favourites.

Understandably, the popular concerts were again officially sold out prior to their performances. The good news, however, is that you can still enjoy the experience, (or relive it again) from the comfort of your home this Christmas Eve. Spirit of Christmas on Digital Stage free live stream is available from 5.00pm to midnight AEST on Saturday 24 December, Christmas Eve for its messages of peace, love and joy to endure that little bit longer.

For full details go to  https://www.qpac.com.au/event/spirit_of_christmas_digital_stage_22

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

Off the wall seasonal celebrations

A Cracker Kransky Christmas

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

December 13 – 24

Esk’s oddball musical trio Mourne, Eve and Dawn Kransky are back at QPAC, just as quirky as ever, up for a party and ready to celebrate the festive season in “A Cracker Kranksy Christmas”. The fictional trio of The Kransky Sisters (in reality Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Carolyn Johns) has a cult following, evident in the show’s many return audience members who are met with the same shtick of off-beat, macabre stories accompanied by cover versions of popular songs, with different content this time around.

Put-upon youngest (half)sister Dawn (Carolyn Johns) is as straight-faced as always, but has now found an occasional vocal voice. Johns is not only superb as the stony-faced (but not no-nonsense as we see in curtain call) Dawn, but she provides the trombone bed upon which the group’s unique musical stylings are built. Her trombone is the main conventional instrument, along with a 1960’s reed keyboard played by Johnston as Eve, with sounds also coming from bizarre items like a kitchen pot, toilet brush and musical saw.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, the trio’s shows represent a marriage of curious stories with a host of uniquely homemade arrangements of popular songs gleaned from their old wireless, or in in his case the radio of the pest-remover employed to rid their previously discussed Airbnb of an infestation. The resulting mixed musical set list includes numbers from Salt-N-Pepa, The Spice Girls, AC/DC and even a stripped back Britney Spears featuring a serene handsaw accompaniment.

Things start strongly as they get the musical party started. Then the storytelling begins as, through the lens of the sisters’ sheltered view of the world, we are also told about accidently opened packages the misadventures arising from their neighbours, exorcisms and alike, before moving into their traditions of tree decorating and an honouring of treasured items like the RSL’s their portrait of the Queen.

Terrific comic timing and never-waning droll dialogue delivery, makes their anecdotes even more entertaining as lacking any normal cultural context, their accidently innuendo-laden allusions take place alongside ease from dialogue into the lyrics of musical numbers. It’s a rich tapestry of suggestion, word play and punny humour very cleverly crafted together to make the show’s 90-minutes duration fly by in what seems like the quickest of time. And even when audience interaction starts to stray into heckler territory, Annie Lee, as Mourne handles it well to smooth things back on track in tell of their story of Christmas preparations and then lost love, scrub turkeys and such.

While is seems strange that the show has not been updated with any real mention of the Queen’s passing, it is still one of the kookiest of Christmas parties you are ever likely to experience, especially if you are the lucky audience member chosen to become the fourth sister for a ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ tambourine-along. And it seems like audiences are certainly agreeing as not only are shows for the off-the-wall Christmas experience selling out fast, but an extra matinee has now been added on Wednesday 21 December to meet demand.

Splish slash panache

Singin’ in the Rain In Concert (Prospero Arts)

QPAC, Concert Hall

November 11 – 13

Even as opening credits run on QPAC’s Concert Hall stage screen, there is some uncertainty as to the show “Singin’ in the Rain In Concert” will unfold. There is immediate reassurance, however, as the open scene reveals that the fresh production will be playing out the 1952 MGM musical’s familiar scenes, songs and dialogue. With an orchestra situated centre stage, the performance of the film’s light-hearted story occurs across multiple levels with swift appearance and disappearance of the only necessary props to establish scene locations and facilitate its storyline, which follows that of the much-loved classic film (arguably the greatest movie musical of all time) which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. 

The story is of popular silent film star Don Lockwood (Bobby Fox) and his devious co-star Lina Lamont (Georgina Hopson). When Don meets independent chorus girl Kathy Selden (Angelique Cassimatis), Lina does all that she can to keep the couple apart, which is made especially difficult when Kathy is secretly (from Lina) co-opted to voice Lena’s dialogue in the Monumental Pictures’ first talking picture in response to rival Warner Bros’ enormously successful “The Jazz Singer”.

Under Cameron Mitchell’s direction, the production honours the film version by retaining its characterisation and comic scenes and skilfully replicates some of the original, highly entertaining choreographic sequences, such as when Don walks Kathy through a soundstage in show of how romantic scenes are set for the screen. The resulting ‘You Were Meant for Me’ musical number is lovely in Ben Hughes’ lighting design of sunset pink and purple hues as Kathy stands before it on a prop ladder. The musical’s iconic imagery of the ladder, lamppost and alike all make appearance and thanks to Brisbane’s award-winning optikal bloc and Craig Wilkinson’s video design, we are even given rain-soaked road puddle splashes in its whimsical titular pre-interval number.

The all-new sensational concert version of the musical, which is appearing exclusively in Brisbane, is the brainchild of new local production company Prospero Arts, whose mission it is to showcase local talent alongside nationally acclaimed performers. And the talented cast members are all on-point in their characterisations. Hopson is sensational as the triple threat ‘can’t sing, act or dance’ Lina. Her heightened portrayal of Don’s conniving co-star receives the most laughs, both in possessive conviction that the contrived romance between her and Don is actually real and especially when she is attempting to film scenes for the new talking picture. Her Act Two number ‘What’s Wrong with Me’ is a delight of deliberately bad notes and selfish sentiment, touched with a little pathos that ensures she is endeared to rather than aliened from the audience.  

As the contrasting pure-hearted and plucky aspiring actress Kathy, Casssimatis has a lovely, silken-toned singing voice. From her initial mock of Don for his melodramatic acting style through to later reciprocation of his romantic affection, she is always appropriated spirited in her energy, creating a delightful character contrast to the abrasion of Lina’s grating manner.In terms of duos, however, Fox and Mark Hill (as his childhood friend Cosmo) own the stage, especially in their fast-paced comedic truth-revealing ‘Fit as a Fiddle’ tap routine. The irreverent ‘Moses Supposes’ is, similarly, a spectacle of precise in-unison complex tap dancing and absurdist tongue-twisting wordsmithing, as Don and Cosmo respond to the dreary process of vocal exercises.

Hill has a tough gig recreating Donald O’Connor’s cheeky Cosmo role, however, he does so with addition of his own touches. His big ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ number in attempt to cheer up Don after his first encounter with Kathy, is appropriately energised and paced in replication of the routine’s most memorable moves, in balance with some clever adaptation. With Hill’s exuberant energy and honed comic timing, the consummate jokester of Cosmo is soon a crowd favourite. Fox is a prolific talent who sashays about the stage with appealing poise. As an accomplished dancer, he is a perfect choice to helm the highly professional cast and his singing vocals are splendid. The leads are also ably supported by an also-talented ensemble cast, including a notable Michael Tauhine as distinguished studio head RF Simpson and Gabriel Tiller as the impatient director of Lina’s calamitous attempt at filming a talkie.

The show is full of expected humourous moments. The ‘yes, yes, yes, no, no, no’ mis-dubbed film scene is hilarious as always, however, as funny as the animated raincoat dancing is within ‘Good Morning’, nothing is as joyous as the sight of Fox, Hill and Cassimatis taking flight together in the number’s extended tap routine usher in of a new day.

The orchestra, too, is in on the fun, such as when Cosmo takes over as its conductor for part of ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ and its lively violins become fiddles for Don and Cosmo’s musical contradiction of the official version of Don’s dignified rise to fame. Under the baton of Vanessa Scammell, their orchestrations are lush and vibrant to guide audience members along the emotional journey of its varied musical characteristics, styles and tempos.

‘Broadway Melody’ is full of not only colour and moment, but robust jazz sounds in emphasis of the story’s emotional climax. The extended representation of Don’s story, which takes place within his imagination, incorporates a range of styles and, in doing so, showcases ensemble dancers along with Fox’s technical skills. It serves, too, as a reminder of Mitchell’s versatile choreography, which draws upon tap, ballet and contemporary dance. The number is also filled with vibrant costumes. Anna Handford is to be commended for her costume design throughout the show, which conveys character as much as the era of its setting. Kathy’s modest, simple dresses reflect her girl-next-door appeal, whereas, the arrival of Hollywood stars at the opening scene’s movie premiere is all sort of 1920s opulence. And when Kathy pops out of a mock cake in the upbeat ‘All I Do is Dream of You’, she is wearing a vivacious candy-pink showgirl costume.

This is a show befitting all sorts of superlative descriptors and uncharacteristically for one of such calibre there are some noticeable microphone cue lapses and resulting lost dialogue, but this serves as an inconvenience rather than a distraction from audience enjoyment. Also, while, in addition to the use of video projections to establish time and place, some minor changes are needed to move the story to a more stripped back narrative representation (such as how Don and Kathy first meet), yet these do nothing to diminish the experience for audience members who are so familiar with the source material.

It is funny perhaps that a story about filmmaking should work so well on stage, but as “Singin’ in the Rain In Concert” shows, solid story and song are all that are needed for a thoroughly entertaining experience, especially when they are as enduring as this. Given how its opening night audience remained in applaused ovation even after the house lights were raised, the only disappointment seems to be that it is appearing for four shows only. Not only is “Singin’ in the Rain In Concert” a splish plash celebration of song and dance talent with panache, but it serves as a reminder of both the magic of musicals and of the gone-by era of Hollywood’s golden age.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

Secret suspence

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap (John Frost for Crossroads Live)

QPAC, The Playhouse

November 4 – 20

The popular Agatha Christie play “The Mousetrap” has been a constant tourist drawcard in London since it was first performed in 1952, meaning that the whodunit’s biggest mystery is perhaps how the show is not outdated. Australian audiences can determine this for themselves in the latest on-tour production of the West End version of the show, in mark of its 70th unstoppable year.

Act One brisks along with arrival of characters at the just-opened Monkswell Manor guesthouse of twee young newlywed couple Giles and Mollie Ralson (Alex Rathgeber and Anna O’Bryrne). With the Cluedo-like group of somewhat stereotypical characters snowed-in, a crime occurs that makes everyone vulnerable to the potential of a murderer in their midst. Act Two slows a little through a virtual one-by-one go through of each of their backstories and unique personalities, after a detective skis in to question the guests and begins to reveal the truth, as well as the secrets that each of the suspects is keeping.

Overall, the play is quite well paced and at lot of the time the entire cast occupy the stage and its Great Hall setting. There are also no set changes and few costume changes. Indeed, part of the show’s appeal comes from its familiar setting and tropes. The 1950s drawing-room comedy and murder mystery is clearly set in an England of servants and afternoon teas, where up-to-date news of murders and alike come via the wireless. The skilfully-written work also includes some dark themes, which, under Robyn Nevin’s direction are not shied away from. Her steady directorial hand allows the audience some moments to contemplate the story’s later revealed red herrings (noone is quite what they seem and there is cause to question the potential guilt of all characters at one time or another) and sit in its occasional silences … and silent they are, as audience members are collectively gripped by the mystery’s intrigue, apart from the satisfying sounds of collective realisation that come once details around the perpetrator are revealed.

The plot certainly includes plenty of twists and turns to keep the audience guessing and the show is well-known for its tradition of keeping the secret of the play’s twist ending, which is reinforced in request to the audience at curtain call not to reveal its details outside the theatre. The production is suspenseful from start to finish, but it also has plenty of comedic moments. Christie’s writing shows a gift for characterisation, which is realised by the efforts of the talented cast which includes Adam Murphy as retired army Major Metcalf, Charlotte Friels as the aloof Miss Casewell, a somewhat superfluous Gerry Connolly as Mr Paravicini who turns up claiming his car has overturned in a snowdrift, and Tom Conroy as Detective Sergeant Trotter.

Geraldine Turner is a standout as the stern Mrs Boyle, critical of everything and everyone she sees. She plays the role with gusto, as it relishing the opportunity to irritate even the audience with her unlikable character’s cantankerous pomposity. The audience favourite, meanwhile is clearly Laurence Boxhall as the foppish architect Christopher Wren (not the St Paul’s one), bumbling about with an infectious youthful energy that sees him steal his every scene appearance. His childlike spirit adds much of the humour which gives the otherwise serious play some light and shade. O’Byrne, however, anchors things as the lady of the house. The range of the emotions that Mollie experiences allows her ample opportunity to showcase her craft and she rises to the occasion in every instance. Plus, her of-era English-accent is absolutely on-point.

Clearly, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” is an enduring classic of psychological grit, humour and an ultimately superb sense of resolution. This makes experience of the drama an enjoyable, engaging theatre treat that resonates after the case its case is closed.  As Christie herself has been quoted in observation of the phenomenon, “it is the sort of play you can take anyone to.”

Photos c/o – Brian Geach