Looking to ’22

On the Sunday sliver of space between the end of Brisbane Festival and the Tony Awards celebration of Broadway being back, Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director Lee Lewis has launched its 2022 season with promise of continued celebration of the resilience of the arts and cultural sector, and the power of great stories told by talented artists. And season tickets are on sale now!

Finally making its way to the mainstage, after 2020’s false Brisbane start, is the rarely performed and highly anticipated “Othello”. Adapted for the stage by Jimi Bani and Jason Klarwein (who is also the production’s director), the work’s examination of race and gender politics through an Australian lens will be occurring at Queensland Theatre’s Bille Brown Theatre from 10 September to 1 October as part of the 2022 Brisbane Festival. The trilingual (Kala Lagaw Ya, Yumpla Tok and English) production promises illumination of the vital role of the Torres Straight Light Infantry Battalion during World War Two.

Shakespeare also makes an appearance of sorts with Theresa Rebek’s “Bernhardt/Hamlet” directed by Lee Lewis, which, with support by Phillip Bacon Galleries, will be take audiences to the fashion and feminism of late 19th century Paris in the Bille Brown Theatre from 28 May to 18 June. Forget ‘to be, or not to be’, for theatre star Sarah Bernhardt absolutely will when she sets her sights on playing Hamlet because who better to take on the greatest part ever written than the greatest actress of the century?

Classics continue to feature within the season’s framework with a reminder that nothing good ever happens after 3am, courtesy of Edward Albee’s big and bold domestic comedy, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” (most recently seen at Brisbane’s Ad Astra), which will be showing at QPAC’s Playhouse from February 12 – 26. Directed by Margaret Harvey, the fresh State Theatre Company South Australia production, supported by Production Partner Griffith University, promises a fresh and unique vision of the classic portrait of a marriage in crisis in its veer between reality and illusion, and hatred and desire.  

Another highlight comes courtesy of the revival of Wesley Enoch’s joyous Brisbane musical “The Sunshine Club” (with music by John Rodgers) which the Australian playwright and former Queensland Theatre artistic director will direct at the QPAC Playhouse from 9 – 30 July. In partnership with QPAC and supported by Production Partner Ergon Energy, the groundbreaking 1999 show will swing audiences into the titular Sunshine Club of 1946 where everyone is welcome and romances bloom.

Big social themes feature at the heart of many of the season’s works, including with Kendall Feaver’s “The Almighty Sometimes”, a heartfelt family drama that explores the complexities of diagnosing children and raising teenagers towards independence. Under Daniel Evans’ direction, the award-winning play will bring to its audiences serious subject matter with some funny at Bille Brown Theatre from 13 August to 3 September.

March will see the world premiere of the compelling debut work “First Casualty” at the Bille Brown Theatre, supported by Production Partners BDO Australia, the Landmark Productions Fund and Legacy Queensland. The work, written by a serving soldier and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Christopher Johnston, to be directed by Lee Lewis, will, from 12 March to 9 April, take its audiences to the high point of the war in Afghanistan in 2011. The story of soldiers more than war, promises authenticity in its depiction of the triumphs, tragedies, strains and sacrifices of defence force personnel.

Also more intimate in its focus is the world premiere of “don’t ask what the bird look like” by Hannah Belanszky, which will be directed by Isaac Drandic at the Bille Brown Theatre from 30 April to 14 May. This gently funny, almost gothic tale about land, family and reconnection from an exciting new First Nations voice promises to be a heart-warming meditation on the search for identity and belonging with a light touch of humour and a philosophical undercurrent.

The season of complex and richly diverse stories will conclude with a one of home and celebration of immigrant and refugee stories, as well as our common humanity. With hippies, cowboys and a ninja battle on stage at the Bille Brown Theatre, under the direction of Lee Lewis, the wild hip hop romance of Qui Nguyen’s American heartland road trip take “Vietgone” looks set to bring some pulp fiction style surprises along with its humour and songs (original music by Shane Rettig) to its 29 October – 19 November season.

Queensland Theatre’s season of eight plays, including two world premieres, represents a now particularly treasured opportunity to bring community together, regardless of how the reality of the year to come may pan out. And given the vibrancy of its diverse 2022 program, audiences can now only await with fingers crossed anticipation for a fantastic year filled with theatre.

Blockbuster boy

Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

August 30 – October 9

QPAC, The Playhouse

With an absent alcoholic dad and a mum in jail, Eli Bell’s (Joe Klocek) 1980s adolescent life in Brisbane’s outer suburbs is all about timing. It’s a idea established from the opening scene of the Brisbane Festival blockbuster “Boy Swallows Universe” in the clock tower of Brisbane’s Town Hall as we are flashed forward seven years to where the story will end. And it is a motif that is especially appropriate given how sustained the ‘time does not exist’ audience engagement is between these two points of the production, which is written by Tim McGarry as an adaptation of the bestselling Australian novel inspired by Brisbane author Trent Dalton’s own childhood.

The first rule of storytelling is to show rather than tell, and this is what lies at the heart of the show’s success as it moves the audience quickly through the many early fast-moving scenes of its gritty coming of age story. Swift scene changes go virtually unnoticed within Renee Mulder’s dynamic design. It is all incredibly clever as a revolving stage is used and door frames appear to drop us into the intimacy of rooms that aren’t physically there. Ben Hughes’ lighting design creates atmosphere, especially to darken us into the suffering that comes in head to interval and Craig Wilkinson’s video design widens us to be, for example, under a starry sky as moving images bleed across the blank canvas of a stage to create suburban balconies and alike to give things a 3D effect. This similarly allows for the story’s blackness to seep in as it ebbs and flows from optimism to setback such as when Eli and his brother’s hopes of a life with the newly-returned-to-them mother are dashed by her continuing to live in a domestic abuse situation, showing that there is no shying away from the local novel’s confronting themes.

Brisbane mentions are enhanced by video design reminders of the visuals of place. And just as its costumes cover the spectrum of 80s fashion, Steven Francis’ pumping sound design allows songs of the era to bring back memories alongside of-the-time pop cultural mentions from “Family Ties” to famous Olympians. In the interest of creating light and shade, however, the musical vitality is largely gone in Act Two when things get more serious as seen through Eli’s maturing eyes.  

Humour and words of wisdom are used in equal measure to engage the audience, often from the most surprising of places, such as Eli’s friend and babysitter, Slim Halliday (Anthony Phelan), convicted killer and infamous Houdini of Boggo Road Gaol. In Act One, a lot of laughs come courtesy of Hoa Xuande’s portrayal of Eli’s criminal school fiend Darren Dang. In Act Two, they are from Anthony Gooley as hard-line but quippy Courier Mail Editor Brian Roberttson, who clearly does not suffer fools easily.

All characters are created with complexity, in reflection of Slim’s reminder to Eli that there are different types of good and bad. Mathew Cooper gives Eli’s father Robert an essential empathy and Michala Banas’ portrayal of Eli’s mother Frankie’s complexity is almost uncomfortably honest. It is Klocek, however, who carries the show with his portrayal of the boy with an adult soul, barely off stage for its duration. Over its course we see him both capture the mannerisms of a 12-year-old boy and also age through to a more confident and broad-shouldered 19-year-old standing surer in himself as he begins life as a journalist.

Some of Klocek’s best moments come when in banter with Tom Yaxley as Eli’s brother August, such as when the duo listen in on a school guidance councillor’s conversation of concern with their father about the traumatic event of the past that has fractured the family and caused August to stop speaking, instead silently swirling cryptic messages in the air with his finger. And while Yaxley says few words, his communication is in-depth, especially in attempt to come to his sibling’s rescue in the violence of Act One’s climax.

A great story isn’t automatically a great play. And while transformation of Trent Dalton’s hugely successful novel has been a massive undertaking (more than two years in the planning) it has absolutely paid off in what is probably the best show Queensland Theatre has ever produced, because of its approach to the story’s words. The show’s design ensures that while only essential words are needed, they still remain at the heart of things, with protagonist Eli’s letters to incarcerated Rebels motorcycle club Sergeant-at-Arms Alex Bermudez (Joss McWillian) appearing as projections across the space.

“Boy Swallows Universe” is a story of massive scale, clocking in at slightly under three hours duration (including interval), yet under Sam Strong’s tight and pacy direction, it feels like so much shorter with audience members engaged in its details to the point of even spontaneous applause in response to events on stage and reactions so seemingly genuine as to leave you wondering if they occur in the same moments of each performance. More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, the production honours the original text and refashions it as a work of its own, grounded beyond any just aesthetic veneer.

The confronting language, themes and violence that are integral to the narrative are littered throughout. Fight scenes (Fight and Intimacy Director Nigel Poulton) are realistic, and there is simulated violence in keeping with its mature themes. While there is certainly a lot of confrontation, however, this is part of the ultimate journey to optimism that serves as a key component of novel’s resonance. Queensland Theatre retains this core celebration of the spirit of resilience and the power of love to overcome dysfunction in what is a story of characters, but also real people and a family (motley as they may be), meaning that with its lots of laughs, time-to-time tears and essential heart, the landmark “Boy Swallows Universe” is something truly special and likely the best theatre you will have seen in a long time.

Photos c/o -David Kelly

Playing with the patriarchy

Prima Facie (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

July 14 – August 7

Opening night performances often end with a standing ovation, sometimes as a slowly staggered act of obligation. In the case of the conclusion of Suzie Miller’s brilliant “Prima Facie”, however, Queensland Theatre audience members are immediately on their feet in an acclaim of thunderous applause that lasts through three curtain calls. It is an especially significant display of praise given that the riveting 100-minute tour de force indictment of the legal system is a one-woman show.

While it may be a little play in scale, “Prima Facie” is clearly about big #metoo type of ideas. What makes it ultimately gripping, however, is the storytelling skill of its performer Sheridan Harbridge, who plays 30-something Tessa, a self-described ‘bastard defence lawyer’ at the top of her game who likes to work hard and play hard. “The law is the law,” she says and as she has been taught, this is what she trusts, above even her own instincts. It’s a mantra that has abided as a key part of her successes as a criminal attorney… successes that have seen her esteemed by the promised prestige of new chambers.

The story is told entirely from Tessa’s point of view. The clearly-confident, cool-headed criminal defence barrister has worked hard to rise from working class origins to succeed in the upper class private school world of the law, which both legitimises and humanises her as a character. Her ruthless addition to the adrenaline of cross examination of witnesses is clear from the outset as she reveals in her charismatic retelling of courtroom experience of the game of law and flashes back to early law school days, with Harbridge effortlessly assuming a range of distinct characters with which to enliven each anecdote. It’s a very funny ease in what is ultimately a confronting tale in its truths, because while Tessa is initially unfaltering in her belief that the law is a tool for justice, something life-altering happens to her that betrays the beliefs at the core of her identity.

Before we realise, the story has darkened when, Tessa is sexually assaulted by a co-worker and she is forced to feel firsthand the trauma of experience within a system that fails so many women. And as Tess reports the crime and prepares for her day in court, this time as a witness, it becomes clear just how much a woman’s experience doesn’t fit the male defined world of the law. The role of Tessa is a challenging one, not just as it brings with it the load of carrying a one-woman drama of such lengthy duration. And Harbridge shows an incredible emotional range and expert control over every performance element in her share of what is a compelling character study.

Staging in appropriately simple; Renee Mulder’s set design focuses us on a lone swivel chair on a raised platform “Mastermind” style, while projections signpost the sometimes non-linear timeline. The choreography of movements around the platform adds much to audience engagement in Tessa’s tale, especially in work with Trent Suidgeest lighting design. Blue shades steel us into the trauma of Tessa’s recollections and warms things back to the present from which her retrospect is being presented, including as she is giving her testimony in court.

The play is well-constructed and effectively paced to take the audience from the humorous to the harrowing, but also in its arc of motifs and mentions. Though mostly told through Tessa’s narration of everything that is happening, even this is authentic, with occasional focus on small observational details alongside the big. Miller’s script considers language carefully meaning there is a truth to seemingly the simplest of lines, such as the heartbreak of Tessa’s emotional contemplation of how to tell her mother what has happened. They are brought to full poignant potential by Harbridge’s faultless performance as a determined woman, tormented by attempts to almost cross examine herself in question of her own memory, as much as by those employed to challenge her credibility. And when she speaks her truth outlining all she had lost, late in the show, it is an inspiring manifesto from within her damaged sense of self.

“Prima Face” is a crafted contemporary theatre work, controlled in its tonal shifts and offsets. The hard-hitting play not only scrutinises the Australian legal system, sexual consent laws and the burden of proof (and the impact of these upon victims), but forces contemplation of a system clearly defined by patriarchal values, through an engaging empathetic lens. And while it is piercing in its social commentary, it is also highly accessible for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Indeed, Lee Lewis’ detailed direction provides spaces enough to support audience members in their own contemplations as to what is right and fair within a legal system that, although organic, is currently faulty in its failure of so many silenced women.

The critically lauded and awarded show has had a previous life; it was written in 2017 (before the #metoo movement) by former lawyer Miller, and it is unfortunate to reflect on how little has changed in this time with regards to the patriarchal justice system catching up to society’s needs. And while extended restrictions may have meant no usual opening night celebrations, we must be of course be thankful to still have the chance to access live theatre, especially when it is as exceptional as the powerful and provocative “Prima Facie”.

Photos c/o – Griffith Theatre Company

Corporate complexities

White Pearl (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

June 17 – 10 July

Anchuli Felicia King’s “White Pearl” is set in Singapore, where women from across Asia are working under bright fluorescent white lighting (Lighting Designer Damien Cooper) in the authentically-contemporary open-plan boardroom of Clearday cosmetics (Design by Jeremy Allen). Under the leadership of Indian born, but British educated, Priya Singh (Vaishnavi Suryaprakash), the high-flying team needs to hastily draft a statement in response to an emerging catastrophe after a mysterious French social media account has leaked their forthcoming television advertisement. The White Pearl product in question promises clear and bright inner beauty along with its skin whitening claims, resulting in an advertisement with not just cultural appropriation, but outright racism in its visuals as much as its troublesome messaging.

What begins with Priya rallying the group onto the same page soon turns from squabble to scramble, appropriation of blame and demand for answers. Whoever is truly at fault isn’t particularly important, as even if blame can be attributed to the advertising agency, someone is getting fired. And as the most obvious scapegoat, having signed off on the ad, Xiao Chen (Lin Yin) is feeling nervous, so much so that she spends much of the time crying on the toilet floor.

Flashback to a year earlier when timid Japanese office manager recruit Ruki Minami (Mayu Iwasaki) joins the company… a young chill and successful brand created as an alternative to Asian corporate culture. With a confident energy in sharp contrast to the cynicism of the opening scenes, Pirya outlines the company’s democratic approach befitting what she describes as a family-like team. As they discuss aspects to a proposed reframing of product branding with a uniform, universal message to transcend local culturally-specific markets, the scene serves to sharpen audience perceptions of the characters and serves as a real highlight of the skill of Thai-Australian playwright Anchuli Felicia King. So talented is the ensemble of actors in this realisation, that when duologes occur often in toilet cubicles side of stage, we spend them looking forward to scenes when the group is reunited. Indeed, the B-story of spoiled Thai-American beiress Built Suttikul’s (Nicole Milinkovic) attempts to disentangle herself from a failed relationships with Marcel Benoit (Matthew Pearce) sometimes seems almost unnecessary.

The Bille Brown stage space for this production is relatively small, but under Priscilla Jackman’s dynamic direction things happen within it at a sometimes chaotic speed, with its transitions complemented by top-of-stage screen projections moving from an advertising campaign billboard to its progression of clicks into the millions as the controversy goes viral from YouTube to Facebook to Buzzfeed, and snippets of the all-too-familiar rhetoric of social media commentary that accompanies this. The most confronting statements, however, come from those on stage through matter-of-fact discussion of what constitutes a slur and if it really is that simple, as consideration is given to reactions in the West comparative to the product’s customer base of Asian women to whom they are selling the ideal of whiteness.

The resulting discussion of Asianness and discrimination within the continent’s distinct cultures and completely different countries further layers the work’s nuanced approach to its themes. A lot of “White Pearl” it seems is to do with faces… faces desired to be shown as well as about-faces, two-faced tactics and the associated implications of appearance versus reality. Also themes of globalisation, toxic corporate culture and what professionalism means make for a very modern take on the modern world, presented by a diverse and talented cast.

Part of the script’s appeal is its clever shift of audience sensibilities though switching villains. At first we are shocked when matter-of-fact South Korean chemical consultant Soo Jin Park (Deborah An) tells things as they are to her from an anthropological perspective. Later, however, after earlier hints at her capacity for overreaction, self-proclaimed lateral thinker Priya increases the extremes of her language to rage at and mock the highly-strung and emotional Chen, before unravelling as Park deepens the crisis. There is balance not just in this transfer of the show’s provocation, but in inclusion of the comic relief that comes from Cheryl Ho as Sunny Lee, Priya’s Chinese-Singaporean offsider. Amid a stellar cast, she steals every scene with her hip-hop swagger and unfiltered Singlish sass, inhabiting her comedy not just with nuanced delivery and tension-breaking timing, but subtle physicality.

With its sometime challenging subject matter “White Pearl’s” satire will not be a work for everyone and the production comes with warning that the play contains strong language, adult themes, sexual references and discussions of race and culture in its content that may be confronting to some audience members. However, these complexities are also the things that make it such a compelling and challenging gem of production, providing another perspective of both the complications of modern life and representation of what constitutes a modern Australian play.

Photos c/o – Philip Erbacher

Gender politics and poetry

Taming of the Shrew (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

May 8 – June 5

One of the joys of experiencing a Shakespearean play on stage rather than page is hearing aloud the poetic beauty of the Bard’s language and expressions nuanced with articulations of human truth. It is initially startling, therefore that Queensland Theatre’s, “Taming of the Shrew” starts without words; in its opening scene, we are left long in their absence, with the air eventually filled instead with a ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ character whistle that links to the production’s pre-show gramophone sounds.

It’s a start that suits the story’s reappropriated setting of the silent movie era of circa 1920s. Movie billboards to the sides of the Bille Brown Theatre stage space also set the context in time, and sensibility in relation to the play’s feminist politics, in their highlight of the literally silenced star Bianca Minola. And so things begin with glamorous starlet Bianca (Claudia Ware) filming a Calamity-esque silent film, complete with humour-filled melodrama in interaction with her male co-stars, which we see played out as a jerky, black and white film projection.

Against this Italian silent film set backdrop, Shakespeare tropes are soon apparent too, with cross-dressing, confused identities, physical comedy, clowning and comic battles between the sexes featuring throughout the story of two sisters, one who wants to marry and one who doesn’t. While multiple suitors are queuing to woo Baptista’s (John McNeill) enchanting favoured film star daughter, the modest Bianca, her outspoken older sister, Katharina (Anna McGahan), cannot attract even one. Thus, the movie mogul decrees that Bianca cannot be betrothed until her difficult elder sister is wed. Cue the arrival of assured Navy Captain Petruchio (Nicholas Brown), who is unbothered by the tales of bold Katharina shrewish nature, considering it more challenge than obstacle.

The ensuring clash of wills leads to much metaphor-filled, witty banter, complete with imagery, emotion, drama and dynamic language as aviatrix Katharina asserts her strength and independence, and Petruchio’s speech and actions of masculine confidence and strength are contrasted against the romantic clichés with which Lucentio (Patrick Jhanur) woos Bianca by tricking her father.

This is a complex comedy full of complicated conversations and director Damien Ryan finds a wonderful rhythm in the language of the articulate adversaries’ relationship alongside the violent bitterness of their banter towards alliance, symbolised by a shared physical cue to each other. And with her strong will and feisty personality, this beautiful and intelligent Katharina is presented less of a problem and more a promise of great women to come.

Certainly it is always a challenge to find modern resonance from within a heritage work, let alone a problematic one such as William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”. That Queensland Theatre has altered its title to lose its ‘The’ perhaps serves as illustration that the taming of Katharina is not necessarily as fait au complet as might be anticipated. Kate’s tart tongue is presented as a technique for her survival in a society in which she does not confirm, however, it also stresses the polarity between the sisters, for while focus appears to be mostly on Katherina and her shrewish behaviour, this Bianca also shows that she is perfectly capable of asserting her only will, manipulating her suitors to encourage the intrepid and lovesick Lucentio and deceiving her father in her path to marriage.

As the more traditional couple of Bianca and Lucentio Ware and Jhanur are both earnest in portrayals of their idealistic characters. As the formidable Katharina and Petruchio, McGahan and Brown are both perfectly suited to their roles, and the shifting dynamic they create between their characters paces these parts of the production along.

Brown is a commanding stage presence in his Queensland Theatre debut, leaning into the particular challenge offered by the role of Petruchio in the context of a 2021 production. And McGahan brings the required spirit to the titular role of the shrew-ish Katharina and is particularly impressive in her impassioned final act monologue about wifely duty.

They are supported by a large cast, including many of Brisbane’s finest performers. As an ensemble they combine together for many memorable scenes, including on Petruchio’s ship (rather than his house in the country) where, after the couple’s wedding, he attacks his servants and refuses to let Katharina eat as part of his intent to tame her, and during the proceeding game play that sees a scene enacted on repeat as, on the way to Baptista’s house, the party must reset each time Kate denies Petruchio’s testing incorrect claim that the moon shines brightly. In particular, Leon Cain raises the most laughs from the audience with his extreme jester slapstick as brainless fool Biondello, Lucentio’s servant.

Adam Gardnir’s design is one of striking staging and works well with Jason Glenwright’s evocative lighting design, especially in creation of some ethereal moments against the studio backlot scenic sky cloth, akin to something from the romantic ‘You Were Meant for Me’ number in the movie musical “Singing in the Rain”. Not only does this reflect the play’s central metaphor of flight (and thus freedom). but it works well in juxtaposition with the robust timber sections of the stage that later become Peruchio’s ship.

The mobile set pieces help in creating a sense of space akin to a studio soundstage and allow fluid transformations of the space in all of its aspects, including providing different elevations and levels out into and above the audience. It is at-once busy and intimate and all very interesting, especially when it is complemented by video segment inserts that both broaden the scope of the plot and expand its opportunities for accessible visual humour.

All aspects of the production work together towards its feminist voice. In gender changes from the original text, Tania (Ellen Bailey) is a trailblazer in disguise as brother Lucentio, a shrew in the making herself, and Barbara Lowing is imposing as their mother Vincentia. Disguises and costumes of all sorts mask true identities throughout, even in the case of Bianca, who is presented as the epitome of femininity in some fabulous costume pieces. And its exploration of male dominance and control over women, is ultimately quite cleverly delivered, especially through its reconceptualisation as agency, the original text’s misogyny and pivotal final act quote from Katharina that a woman should prepare herself to do anything for her husband, including placing her hands below his foot as a token of duty.

“Taming of the Shrew” is a big play of many ideas, as its almost three hour running time attests. It is also, however, a passionate production that offers modern audiences much to consider in terms of gender politics, along with some glamour, romance, laughter… and a plane.

Photos c/o – Brett Boardman

Triple eXcellence

Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

March 6 – April 1

“Triple X” is the brand-new Australian story and world premiere that audiences have been waiting a year for, given that the co-production between Queensland Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company made it only to a second preview performance before being devastatingly shut down due to COVID-19 in 2020. And the anti-romance is most definitely been worth the wait. The funny play is an honest and moving love story that is both powerful in the way it reflects society back to us, but incredibly entertaining in its unprecedented storytelling about love in the 21st century.

Scotty (Josh McConville) is living the dream. A successful Wall Street banker, he is about to marry his beautiful and very rich girlfriend. On the eve of their wedding, his family descends of his recently purchased multi-million dollar Tribeca loft. While the philosophical differences between Scott, his just-returned-from-Nepal socially-conscious lesbian sister Claire (Contessa Treffone in a Queensland Theatre debut) and his straight-out-of-Kentucky conservative mother Deborah (the multi award winning Christen O’Leary) are clear, this conflict is just beginning. Behind the brash excess of the ‘player’ masculine veneer he bounces off his friend Jase (Elijah Williams), Scotty is really existing in internally-conflicted quiet desperation, wondering what he is doing with his life. As an audience, we come to realise this through flashbacks to his months beforehand initial interaction and then ongoing affair with charismatic trans drag performer Dexie (Glace Chase), a self-proclaimed typical stop on men’s journey to their destination sexuality.

Just as Lady Gaga synopsised, Scotty and Dexi are soon caught in a bad (but raunchy) romance, reflection on which causes Act Two to pivot in its flashbacks, including explanation of why Deborah is triggered into an out-of-nowhere rant in Act One. With his secret on his mind, Scotty must make a choice between the comfort of familiarity and the fulfilment of a future he never envisioned.

Not only is this vital work a unique story, but it is told from the unique perspective of its straight male protagonist. And McConville is excellent in the role of Scotty, giving a performance that reflects that different layers of his character as he makes sense of the attraction he and Dexi share and then navigates their resulting out-of-bounds love affair. It is playwright, Glace Chase (who is originally from Australia but left almost a decade ago for New York) however, who not only gives audiences the first Australian mainstage love story involving a transgender person, but also a phenomenal performance. Chase is magnetic as the candid Dexi, bold but vulnerable and funny, except when trying to be on stage in her club act. She is likeable and genuine and someone you want in your orbit. Indeed, she and Scotty are both presented as very real characters, complex in their multi-dimensions, sometimes unpleasant but always identifiable through their inner conflicts, which makes the show’s laid-bare moments so emotionally affecting. O’Leary, too, gifts Scotty’s mum a familiar authenticity as she expresses everything she is thinking, continuing with conversations when others have moved on and assuming an apparent ignorance-is-bliss acceptance of convenient explanations that align with her own wants.

Designer Renee Mulder has provided a stylish split level set to authentically locate the action in Scotty’s home and flashback transitions are all smooth. In fact, the whole experience is well-paced, including its insertion of Dexi’s Candyland club performance as part of transitions between present and flashback scenes. Rather than existing merely as filler, these offer an additional perspective as to the truth of her character as her adorable awkwardness of often not quite nailing it only enhances our favour.

The production is filled with carefully-curated attentions to detail, down to the level of the strangest of interval song versions, whose meanings becomes clear when we return to Dexi’s club act soon after. Its outstanding script also sees themes of toxic masculinity, societal expectations, gender politics and love intricately woven together. Indeed, multitalented and multiple award-winning playwright Chase’s clever, honest writing takes us from absolutely hilarity courtesy of O’Leary’s physical comedy of alarm to shocking and sad moments that audibly reverberate around the audience, all within the duration of only just a few scenes.

“Triple X” comes with a list of warnings; it contains blackouts and the use of herbal cigarettes, but also frequent strong language, nudity, adult themes including domestic violence and references to suicide, drug use, sexual references and sex scenes. And the production’s Intimacy and Fight Director Nigel Poulton’s hand hoovers over many sections. Under Paige Rattray’s direction, however, things never sit too long in the story’s trauma. Rather, the thematic focuses are balanced and the audience is left with a lasting message of the importance of focussing on hope, although the work does include transphobic language and acts of violence that may be triggering for some audience members.

“Triple X” may be severe in some of its themes, but it is also a dynamic and hysterically funny story, meaning that its 2 hours and 30 minutes’ duration (including a 20-minute interval) seems to fly by in what feels like the shortest of time. Its honest commentary on the complicated issues of gender and sexuality may initially appear to make it a show not for the light-hearted, however, the spring of its opening night audience to their feet in standing ovation for three curtain calls ongoing even as the house lights came on, shows how it is about so much more than this. Wickedly funny, moving and provocative, this is excellent theatre which appropriately had its opening night audience raving and which theatregoers everywhere should see.

Photos c/o – Brett Boardman