and that’s a 2018 wrap

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A quick pre-Christmas trip to Melbourne this week has not only give me my favourite theatre experience of the year in Calamity Jane, but provided a chance to reflect on a theatre year now done. Although still in the triple digits, I saw fewer shows in 2018 than in previous years, because…. Netflix. And, as usual, there have been many highlights, making it difficult to providing a definitive list of favourites. But reflective lists are what the end of a year is all about, so here is my eclectic top 10 of the memorable, the musical, the moving and the mirthful, and some honourable mentions.

  1. Calamity Jane – Encore Season (Arts Centre Melbourne in association with One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Co)
  2. Hamnet (Dead Centre) as part of Brisbane Festival
  3. Good Muslim Boy (Queensland Theatre and Malthouse Theatre)
  4. Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)
  5. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)
  6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (The National Theatre)
  7. The Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)
  8. Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects) as part of Brisbane Festival
  9. At Last: The Etta James Story (Brisbane Powerhouse)
  10. The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

And mention also to the following highlights:

Best performance:

  • Virgina Gay as the titular feisty frontierswoman in Calamity Jane
  • Paul Capsis as 1970s gay icon, English writer, raconteur and actor Quentin Crisp in Resident Alien at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the 2018 Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture.

Best AV – A Christmas Carol (optikal bloc for shake & stir theatre co)

Most thought provoking –- Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects)

Best new work – The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Best musical

  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)
  • Big Fish – The Musical (Phoenix Ensemble)
  • Bare (Understudy Productions)

Best cabaret:

Best music – The Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)

Best dance – Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)

Funniest – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Most joyous – I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You (The Good Room)

Cleverest – North by Northwest (QPAC and Kay & McLean Productions)

Most moving – Hamnet (Dead Centre)

Worthy WW1 remembrance

The Blood Votes (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Holy Trinity Parish Hall

November 7 – 11

There is something special about the closing performance of The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s short “The Blood Votes” season as the Sunday matinee takes place on November 11, the Centenary of the First World Ward Armistice. Experience of the historical theatre examination of the Australian conscription debates of World War One is saturated with an appealing authenticity beyond just this though. Fortitude Valley’s Holy Trinity Parish Hall is adorned with propaganda posters of the time and filled with era-evocative live piano sounds.

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And so, to ensemble share of the patriotic Great War marching song, ‘Australia Will Be There’ we are rallied ’round the banner of our country to take the field with brothers’. As the cries of “God Save the King” fade away, we are told than it is 1915 and given description of the experience of Gallipoli from the troops’ perspective. The play, whose title is taken from a famous anti-conscription leaflet and poem of he time, is not about front however, but encounters closer to home, punctuated by reminder of key events and losses occurring overseas. And from its opening illustration of life in lead up to the first national conscription plebiscite, it is an absolutely fascinating journey and a worthy theatre experience.

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The verbatim style work, written by Michael Futcher and directed by Rob Pensalfini, crafts together a narrative representation of the reality of home-front life at the time in Brisbane, in all of its guises, exposing and complicating the rhetoric of wartime sacrifice through its examination of multiple perspectives. While the Universal Service League of Women petition Prime Minister Billy Hughes to compel ‘dirty coward’ shirkers to support men overseas, state, social and moral pressure is also applied to meet government quotas, seen for example in the shocking reality of recruitment officer visitations to interview eligible over-18 men as yet unsigned up, such as Robert O’Neill (Dudley Powell). Though the scenarios and personalities of its stories represent a mix of real-life and dramatised creations, the social divisions produced by conscription are startlingly clear as families, friends, couples and communities are pressured and shamed, and, despite inflation, employers being boycotted to sack workers who fail to comply to the call to help those at the front exhausted and in need of reinforcements.

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“It’s all political!”, Robert’s Irish mother Kathleen (Rebecca Murphy) exclaims during one such attempted recruiting officer interrogation. This short statement represents the most accurate summation of the show’s content. The complicated politics of the time add another layer to the complexity of the social issues of the era. Indeed, the work allows space for these elements to effectively co-exist with allusion to the lack of Labor Party support of the controversial PM and reference to the 1917 creation of the Australian Nationalist Party in merger between the Commonwealth Liberal Party and National Labor Party formed by Billy Hughes and his supporters after the Labor party split over conscription.

Certainly, the volatility of a time in which there was no neutral political space especially with a looming second plebiscite resulting in even more vitriolic and socially divisive campaigning, is clear. Its authenticity is understandable given the work’s origin. The QSE has been collaborating in partnership with historians from the University of Queensland’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Services who have themselves conducted years of research into the era in Brisbane. The primary and secondary source documentation of letters, newspaper reports and alike, make for a rich and rewarding theatre experience unlike any other.

Many familiar faces from QSE shows bring the work’s characters to life. Matthew Finkins captures the uncompromising passion of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, even though his character is mostly only seen delivering combative radio-bite rhetoric about the freedom of the empire. Ellen Hardisty and Dudley Powell work wonderfully together as young sweethearts Ruby and Robert, who just want to have kisses and cuddles, and intend to stick together no matter what. Meanwhile in a credit to her craft, Lilliana Macarone is absolutely unlikeable as the single-minded and emotionally manipulative Mrs Patterson, with sons fighting overseas and in need of conscripted assistance.

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Also of particular note is Rebecca Murphy who jumps between Irish and ocker Australian characters and accents with ease. The majority of the cast change sometimes rapidly in and out of roles. Although they do it well, apart from occasional line lapses, there is something disjointed about the realisation due to confusion of seeing actors as conflicting characters in consecutive scenes. The nature of the hall’s stage set-up also serves as an early distraction with the sounds of its use initially competing with the show’s dialogue.

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“The Blood Votes” is full of examination of rewarding themes and interesting ideas such as the evolution of the anti-war socialist movement of the Women’s Peace Army in Queensland. And it is rewarding to see women taking centre stage in strong, rational and eloquent debate. In particular, Paige Poulier exemplifies this in her portrayal of warrior peace angel Margaret Thorp, calling for the National Council of Women for persistent vigilance and challenge against the forces of militarism. While the different protective perspectives of the time’s women may be in some way expected, surprise comes from the involvement of the time’s institutions such as the church, ‘because sometimes praying is not enough’.

With so many layers to its truth, “The Blood Votes” is a work sure to evoke emotions, despite the audience luxury of retrospect, whether it be frustration at the loaded language of guilt from self-righteous moralisers, or shock at the still-formidable symbolism of a single white feather. There is also the power of recognition that the more things change the more they stay the same, as, under the War Precautions Act, a mother is arrested, without evidence, for being an enemy alien German with alleged association with anti-conscription agitators.

In its presentation of a piece of local history, “The Blood Votes” at once offers story behind our country’s glamorised Anzac mythology and taps into universal themes. It is, therefore, particularly pleasing to hear of plans to make teaching resources and video of the play available, for this is a work that needs to continue on in life beyond just this season.   

Roma Street R&G

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Roma Street Parklands

August 23 – September 9

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With the twilight of a Roma Street Parklands’ Sunday afternoon-into-nightfall hued in blue, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s band provides its evening’s audience with pre-show entertainment. Although this is so often the case for QSE shows, it is especially fitting for “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” given the speculative tragicomedy’s opening line…. “There is an art to the building up of suspense.”

The words come from Guildenstern (Paige Poulier) to Rosencrantz (Ellen Hardisty) as the two Elizabethans pass time betting on the toss of a coin. The duo are the bickering bit-players of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, childhood friends of the Danish Prince traveling to Elsinore after having been summoned by the treacherous King Claudius (who murdered Hamlet’s father to obtain the throne), to distract the young Dane from his apparent madness and if possible discover its cause. Only in this instance they seem unaware of their role in the larger drama and confused by the play’s events, such is the nature of Tom Stoppard’s 1966 absurdist play, which expands upon the exploits of the courtiers.

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The action takes place mainly ‘in the wings’ of Shakespeare’s play, with brief appearances of major characters from “Hamlet” who enact fragments of the original’s scenes. (The title is taken directly from the final scene of the Shakespearen text). Between these episodes the two protagonists voice their confusion at the progress of events occurring onstage without them. Then, after witnessing a performance of “The Murder of Gonzago”, they find themselves on a ship taking the exiled Prince Hamlet to England (if England even exists). They have intention to give the English king a letter instructing him to kill Hamlet. Instead, Hamlet discovers this and switches the letter for another. When the ship is attacked by pirates, Hamlet disappears and the letter is discovered to now include instruction to execute them (because what Shakespeare play is complete without a letter complication of some sort).

There is not a lot information given about the titular protagonists; there is expectation that viewers are familiar with Hamlet”, on which so much of its plot is based. So it clever to see the inside-out play cleverly featuring as part of a double bill, a first for the company, which sees the ensemble of 15 actors presenting it in ‘rep’ with “Hamlet”, alternating shows each night with actors playing the same role in both plays. And after experiencing their “Hamlet” first, (which is the recommended viewing order), there is an additional layer of appreciation that comes from seeing scene snippets play out identically as they did in the first instance. This also adds to audience contemplation as while in “Hamlet” we maybe disregarded Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, when they are condemned to death by the now-antagonist Hamlet (Silvan Rus), we are encouraged to consider them afresh. Indeed, it is interesting to see the Danish prince anew even though he has no new lines, only some extra scene-time during the journey to England.

Perhaps even more unfortunate than the concluding killing spree of “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” (to use the play’s complete title), is the misfortune of witnessing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to grips with their disposability as plot devices in the play. After all the frivolity of the night’s absurdity, there is a lingering sadness as they leave the stage with implication that they believe they will be given chance to live, frustrated by the lack of certainty as to if the characters are killed or not (they have, after all, spent the entire play misunderstanding their circumstances).

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With such a range of emotions evoked, it is easy to appreciate the play’s function as a metaphor for the absurdity of life. As the enigmatic leader of the travelling actors (Colin Smith) observes, ‘life is a gamble, at terrible odds—if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it. While the theatre of the absurd may be characterised by its ignorance of traditional structures and (literal) ridiculousness, in “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” The QSE has made the style all the more accessible to even the most reluctant of audience members; the modern-classic is as funny as even in its quick and clever word play, and volleying dialogue delivery. The pace only wanes slightly after intermission, however, this is due more to the script than the energy of the protagonists’ performances.

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Poulier starts strongly as the smarter-of-the-two Guildenstern in speculation that the two have entered an alternate universe, in which normal laws of probability, time, and chance do not apply. Despite spending most of the play in bafflement as Rosencrantz (often needing reminder even as to personal identity), Hardisty brings much humour to the role, especially in a ‘game of questions’ during which the pair maintain a dialogue of asking questions back and forth for as long as possible, without making any declarative statement, in which she uses physicality to heighten competitiveness to great comic effect.  of questions physicality to competitiveness. Also a standout is Colin Smith as the First Player, prancing about the stage in attempt to lewdly pimp out and provoke interest in his troupe band, collectively known as the Tragedians. He milks every bit of wit from his character’s speeches, entertaining with his every movement, gesture, look and facial expression. And it is wonderful to see more of the troupe’s melodrama in rehearsal of the play within a play to catch the conscience of the king.

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Whereas Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is a tragedy with minor moments of comedy, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is a comedy with occasional moments of tragedy and there are a lot of deep philosophical truths evident in its nonsensical ramblings. This means that although its irreverence is central, the play often sways into big themes around life’s complexities, about morality and death as the ultimate negative (in addition to the dangers of going on a trip on a ship) and in amongst its continual questions and mixed metaphor word plays, there are a lot of meta-theatre mentions for audience appreciation.

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In the hands of the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble, the juxtapositions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s misadventures and musings are highly entertaining. Additionally, there is also the appeal of the play’s location; like always, the unique Roma Street Parkland setting aesthetics contribute much to the experience, such as when scenes end with the travelling troupe of performers dispersing into the night or, on Sunday night, when the show features a possum assuming a short-lived starring role.

Princely play

Hamlet (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Roma Street Parklands

August 23 – September 9

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I love “Hamlet”; it is my preferred Shakespearean tragedy and visiting its Kronborg Castle setting was my favourite of all days when touristing in Denmark. There is something rotten in the Denmark state of this ultimate revenge drama though. After his father’s death, Prince Hamlet (Silvan Rus) is overlooked for the crown in favour of his uncle, Claudius (Ben Prindable), who has not only killed Hamlet’s father but married his mother Gertrude (Liliana Macarone). In the complicated plot the follows the Danish Prince feigns (or perhaps not) insanity, kills his ‘girlfriend’ Ophelia’s (Sarah Doyle) father, the elderly Lord Chamberlain Polonius (Frances Marrington), drives Ophelia to madness, directs a play within a play and take revenges on his uncle, at the cost of almost every life on stage.

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From the outset, Hamlet suspects foul play around his uncle’s coronation, which is confirmed to audiences as the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble production begins with a ghost. With Hamlet’s loyal friend Horatio (Dudley Powell) as witness, the apparition of Hamlet’s father appears, evocatively lit against backdrop of the Roma Street parklands (as both audience are seated and the majority of the performance takes place on its amphitheatre stage). Abridged a little (because who has time for all 4000 lines of this, the Bard’s longest play), but with only authenticity in those scenes that are presented, this “Hamlet”, under the direction of Rob Pensalfini makes some interesting choices, particularly in play with the characters. Although in his famous Act Three nunnery scene ‘soliloquy’, the Prince ponders the pain and unfairness of life as ‘the question’, uncertainty is evident in many characters whose worlds have shifted.

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Minor characters bring much to their moments on stage. And as the new King, Prindable makes for an almost likeable, more than calculating Claudius. Still, he is very statesmanlike in his manner, enunciating the text well, which sees the show off a solid start. Also notable is Powell, as the harbinger of truth, Horacio, Hamlet’s one true confidant. Together they balance each other’s essential sensibilities, in scenes that ground the play in reality. Indeed, their relationship is interestingly the one that conveys the most on-stage chemistry.

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Rus is exciting to watch in one of the most challenging of titular roles. His idiosyncratic energy never wanes as he speaks more (by a ratio of two to one) than any other character of the Shakespeare canon. Initially emotional and then apparently quite mad, his Hamlet is far from an original-emo type protagonist. Instead of wallowing in melancholy, he is the ultimate anti-hero, intensely passionate in both contemplation and sardonic contempt, but also ambitious and unreliable due to his own destructive mindset. And Rus’s stagecraft is impressive, especially in Act Five’s sword fight with an avenging Laertes (Nick Rijs), which thanks to Justin Palazzo-Orr’s fight direction serves as a real highlight. Gender blind casting sees Marrington as Polonoius, who not only shares the introspective but ironic maxim ‘to thine own self be true’, but interacts energetically with the audience without necessarily entirely breaking the fourth wall, which both adds humour and enhances authenticity.

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Comedy features throughout the work. The Gravedigger fool (Rebecca Murphy) of the tragedy’s final act, provides some delightfully simple but effective visual comedy and also quick-witted dialogue with Hamlet ahead (#punintended) of discovery of the skull of the castle’s beloved jester Yorick. And, as has been the case in many of QSE’s previous shows, there is a deliberate emphasis of the play’s crude puns. As he flirts with madness, Hamlet is persistent and less-than-subtle in his inappropriate humour, in revelation of his fundamental sanity. But humour is found not only in dialogue, but also in the physicality added to the spaces in between the script’s words. And the melodramatic re-enactment by players of Hamlet’s fathers’ death in a play within the play, “The Murder of Gonzago”, about a murder in Vienna, is a real riot.

Live music is also again used to memorable effect, transitioning scenes and evoking an apt emotional palette. Although staging is sparse, there is an apparent attention to detail down to the prominence of Danish flags always on stage in show of the macro politics at play along with the narrative’s essential family dynamics. Setting also again serves almost as a character itself with the eerie shadows and sounds of a wintery parkland adding to the atmosphere (rug up for a comfortable experience).

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Not only was “Hamlet” one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works during his lifetime, but it still ranks among his most performed, so one could easily label it a safe production choice, with which a company can’t go wrong. This is, however, far from true, although not in this instance. Not only have the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble presented an engaging take on one of the most powerful and influential works of world literature, but in a first for the company, the ensemble of 15 actors will present it in ‘rep’ with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, Tom Stoppard’s absurdist, existential tragicomedy expansion upon the exploits of the two (minor) courtier characters from “Hamlet”, alternating shows each night with actors playing the same role in both plays. As Rozencrantz himself says, “their endeavor keeps in the wonted pace” and as audiences we can only reap the benefits of the company’s ambitious 2018 parkland provocations.

Artefact excellence

Bogga (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Geoffrey Rush Studio, University of Queensland

November 8 – 18

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s “Bogga” begins with a rent-a-crowd supported riot at Brisbane’s infamous Boggo Road Gaol; it’s one of the ‘80s riots probably provoked by the university 4ZZZ radio station as was seemingly the norm, soundtracked by songs of the ‘Pig City’ sort. And the old Cement Box Theatre proves to be the perfect location from which to experience it as things are thrown from the gantries and sounds boom from above in an almost surround-sound experience for audiences in the centre of the action.

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The new work by Rob Pensalfini uses verbatim oral histories to explore the decline and fall of the infamous Bjelke-Petersen regime through the microcosm of Queensland’s notorious Boggo Road Gaol in the 1970s and 1980s. Arising from historian Chris Dawson’s record of oral histories from a dozen former guards and prisoners, the work recounts not only riots, murders, corruption and escapes, but the hum-drum of daily prison life in the world within the walls. And after its initial scenes, it settles more into itself in subsequent segments, including interesting profile of famous face inmates (prisoners as they were called then), including Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub fire-bombers James Richard Finch and John Andrew Stuart, actor and professional wrestler Nathan Jones and old-timer ‘Slim’ Halliday, The Houdini of Boggo Road.

Interesting too are the corruption stories of the Sir Joh era, when prisons were prioritised along with police, despite then being separate political portfolios. But things lag a little towards the end of Act One in reflection of the callous attitude that prisoners had to assume. Indeed, although there has obviously been years of work in curating the real life contributions (all of the words and events in the play come directly from the oral histories without addition or alteration), content could be culled from the repetition amongst the real-life recollections to enable a tighter production. Still, “Bogga” is an excellent example of verbatim theatre, with direct address of the audience adding the obvious authenticity of dialogue like “I whacked him and he let go because I whacked him.”

Under long-time Core Ensemble member Rebecca Murphy’s direction, staging makes good use of all aspects of the Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio space, even spilling ideas into the foyer where audience members can contribute graffiti to the walls. And music is a highlight, deserving of the thoughtful inclusion of song and artist list in the program, alongside a handy Bogga slang guide.

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The small cast features some standout performances. Paige Poulier is impressively imposing as a Boggo Road guard and Chris Vaag is excellent in all sorts of multi-roles, from cleanskin criminal without a previous record to long term, foul-mouthed and full-of-venom deviant.

The years of work in development of “Bogga” are not only apparent but clearly have been rewarded with an interesting show about an interesting place that stood the test of some interesting times in this state’s history. As an anthropological artefact, its value is immense. As a work of theatre it is at turns humorous and chilling. Combined, it is well worth the attention of anybody with even passing interest in the notorious heritage prison’s incredible history in particular or the city’s fascinating history in general.

Photos: c/o – Benjamin Prindable Photography

Two-tale treat

The Winter’s Tale (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Roma Street Parklands, Amphitheatre

August 24 – September 9

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Winter may not really have made it to Brisbane this year, but its tale is being told at Roma Street Parklands in 2017’s Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s production of one of the Bard’s later and most problematic works, grown out of the anthology of his preceding plays.

Rather than offering a seasonal suggestion, however, the title, “The Winter’s Tale” insinuates a fairy tale of the old wives’ sort. And while it is grouped among Shakespeare’s comedies, its second act happy ending comes after a first act of psychological drama as a family is torn apart when a beloved King turns into a jealous monster, setting in motion a series of events that forever changes the lives of everyone he loves. The result is a tragi-comedy about forgiveness in which redemption is available to all and everyone gets to live.

By Shakespeare standards, it is a relatively simple story. Leontes, King of Sicily (Rob Pensalfini) is consumed by jealousy that Queen Hermione (Paige Poulier) is pregnant by his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia (an under-used Silvan Rus). Protestations of their innocence only deepen his conviction and Leontes orders the faithful Camillo (Liliana Macarone) to kill Polixenes. Instead, Camillo and Polixenes escape to Bohemia as Leontes banishes Hermione to a dungeon where she gives birth to a daughter, Perdita who is taken away and abandoned to die. Leonates later repents and Perdita (Meghan Bowden) returns, having been saved and raised by a passing shepherd.

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Presented by the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble, the show is full of Shakespearen traditions. There’s audience acknowledgement, bawdy bits and the arrival of a ‘letter’ to save the day, even if in this instance the Oracle’s rule to Leontes that Hermoine is innocent and her daughter is his, goes ignored. Costumes are intricate and interesting in their detail and lighting adds layers to the already-unique parkland open-air aesthetic. With the audience seated around the action on the park’s amphitheatre’s stage, there is opportunity to make use of the area’s banked seating as an additional performance space and action sometimes spills from the stage. This works well, even if the accompanying sound effects sometimes distract more than enhance, in competition with modest voice projections. There is certainly a lot happening throughout the production, including pre-show and at interval where the multi-talented cast perform live music.

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One of the most wonderful things about seeing a Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble show, is hearing familiar Shakespearean phrases brought to life by a uniformly-excellent cast. “The Winter’s Tale” offers no exception; words are enunciated clearly and verse is delivered beautifully. Pensalfini is strong as the obstinate King Leontes, though his latter repentance is somewhat too subtle. And Paige Poulier is excellent as Hermoine, delivering a memorable, dignified appeal to Leontes’ conscience and plea for mercy. Her passionate delivery is maturely muted with a rationality and integrity that contrasts Leontes’ irrational jealousy and sets Hermoine apart from more meek Shakespearean heroines of the Desdemona sort.

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Despite only being present for brief scenes in the play, Rebecca Murphy also adds interest through her compelling depiction as the noblewoman Paulina. Unrelenting in her condemnation, she is the only one who can talk back to the King, and she does, fiercely defending the ‘sweet’st, dear’st creature’ Hermione’s virtue in call-out of his ‘gross and foolish’ decisions. In this moving scene, which sees Paulina bringing the baby Perdita to Leontes and pleading with him to look at the child and realise it is indeed his daughter, her Paulina is strong and determined, revealing no weaknesses that might undermine her arguments against injustice. And at the other extreme, Chris Vaag is as comically charming as ever, this time as the roguish wandering minstrel-pickpocket vagabond Autolycus.

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While the skilled cast carry the play along and produce some fine moments, it is a long night and, at times, it feels like it, especially after the switch between the story’s disparate halves. It is frustrating too that the script calls for things to happen offstage to be descripted by someone onstage, beyond its famous ‘exit pursued by a bear’ stage direction preceeding the offstage death of Antigonu.

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Previous productions show that QSE are at their best in presentation of the tradition of Shakespearean comedy and although its themes are more pastoral, “The Winter’s Tale” is illustration of this above all else. Whether courtesy of physicality, exaggeration or passive aggressive insults, its latter half crams in as much comedy as possible, which in some way counteracts the dissatisfaction of its all-is-forgiven ending.  Certainly, “The Winter’s Tale” has much to offer audiences, including opportunity to add a seldom-performed play to their Shakespearean repertoire. And that makes it a treat worth seeing… even if it is sans bear.

The delight and unite of theatre

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Theatre-going may beget theatre-going, but the end of year does provide welcome respite to relax and reflect upon the bevy of brilliant shows that Brisbane audiences have be privileged to experience in 2016. As for me, from 150 shows seen, there have been many favourites, including:

  1. The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite Theatre Company) – The fast and furious story of rampant revenge that we thought we knew is an evocation of the play, the man and ourselves thanks to the hard questions asked by Daniel Evans and Marcel Dorney.
  1. Disgraced (Queensland Theatre presenting a Melbourne Theatre Company Production) – Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning intense and absorbing drama which fearlessly puts contemporary attitudes towards politics, race and religion under the microscope in exploration of freedom of speech, political correctness and the prejudices towards Islam, even in the most progressive cultural circles.
  1. True West (Brisbane Powerhouse, Troy Armstrong Management, Thomas Larkin and Annette Box) – Sam Shepperd’s modern classic which sees two desert-dwelling brothers go head-to-head, kicking and thrusting towards physical and psychological showdown in desperate pursuit of the American Dream.
  1. The Secret River (Queensland Theatre presenting a Sydney Theatre Company production) – Kate Grenville’s story of two families divided by culture and land on the banks of the frontier Hawkesbury River in the early nineteenth century.
  1. Bastard Territory (Queensland Theatre) – A complex, beautiful story about people that transports audiences back in time to the swinging ‘60s PNG and the bohemian days of 1975 NT, before settling in 2001, as Darwin sits poised for political progress.
  • Best performance – Thomas Larkin as Lee in True West (Brisbane Powerhouse), Ngoc Phan in as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire (La Boite)
  • Best staging – Madama Butterfly (Opera Q)
  • Best lighting – Snow White (La Boite, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best AV – The Wider Earth (Queensland Theatre)
  • Most interesting – Disgraced (Queensland Theatre, QPAC)
  • Best New Work – The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite)
  • Best Shakespeare – Twelfth Night (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)
  • Best musical – The Sound of Music (Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, John Frost and The Really Useful Group)
  • Best cabaret – California Crooners Club (Parker + Mr French, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best dance – Huang Up & Kuka (Brisbane Powerhouse, WTF)
  • Funniest – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre – UK, Brisbane Festival)
  • Most fun – Titanic The Movie The Play (Act/React, Brisbane Comedy Festival)
  • Most moving – The Secret River (Queensland Theatre)

Although many of my personal highlights have been international acts, often featuring as part of festivals, these cultural feasts have also delivered some excellent locally-themed theatre amid the internationalisation on offer. It is the delight of theatre that events such as these can not only inspire creativity, but also unity in cultural participation. Hopefully 2017 will see more people realising theatre’s accessibility, because it is not about a specialist language or privileged perspective but rather just people telling a story or sharing a way of looking at the world… things that are at the core of our essential humanity.