Deck the stalls

79939213_10158199950018866_7036287020859129856_n.jpgThe festive season always means a theatre pause and reflection as to the year’s greatest applause. A Broadway break enabled experience of my new favourite thing in Dear Evan Hansen, which is now up there with Rent as my musical mecca, along with other 2019 faves Hamilton and Mean Girls. Closer to home, however, amongst the usual 100+ shows seen, there are a number of memorable mentions.

Most Entertaining

  • The Gospel According to Paul in which Jonathan Biggins brilliantly portrays the love-him-or-hate-him Paul Keating.
  • 100 Years of the History of Dance (as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes with an Energetic Group Finale), another solo show, this time from Australian director, choreographer and performer Joseph Simons.

Best musical:

  • Sweet Charity – the perfect start of year show from Understudy Productions, the little Brisbane theatre company that has very quickly become a very big deal.
  • the ridiculously funny Young Frankenstein, Phoenix Ensemble’s stage version of Mel Brooks’ 1974 horror-movie spoof and parody of both the musical genre and vaudevillian traditions.
  • The Book of Mormon– the ridiculously still so-wrong-it’s-right musical is still the funniest thing around, even in repeat experience.

Best musical performance:

  • Naomi Price as the titular Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity, a role that appears as if written for her.

Best dance

Best cabaret

Best independent theatre

  • Ghosts – The Curator’s homage to great Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen’s controversial play was innovative in its layers of scathing social commentary.

Best comic performance

Best dramatic performance:

  • Patrick Shearer for his powerful and precise performance as the bohemian artist son Oswald in Ghosts.

Most moving

  • Love Letters – the heart-warming story of two people who share a lifetime of experiences through the medium of handwritten letters, presented at Brisbane Arts Theatre by real-life married couple Ray and Melissa Swenson.

Best AV

  • Project Design Justin Harrison’s dynamic projection designs represented a key component of Kill Climate Deniers’ vibrant realisation.

Best new work

  • The relatable guilty pleasure of FANGIRLS – like a witty young adult novel set to music and full of glittery fun, complete with important messages.

Favourite festival show

Notable mention to:

  • Rocket Boy Ensemble’s Reagan Kelly for its killer opening monologue chronicle of night out in the valley
  • Melbourne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for its incredible stagecraft of illusions and magic beyond just that of the expelliarmus sort.

Reagan in real life

Reagan Kelly (Rocket Boy Ensemble and Metro Arts)

Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre

March 20 – 30

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20-something former school captain Reagan (Emily Carr) used to be brilliant, until ‘nothing in particular’ happened and she fell from grace to indifference and an unlikeable attitude, with a touch of kleptomania. Afraid of being bored to death in Brisbane suburbia, her life has become one of drunken nights in the Valley and one-night-stands. Dropped out of uni, unemployed and heading towards thirty, she is yet to get her shit together, so has returned to living at home.
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Reagan features in Lewis Treston’s play “Reagan Kelly” being presented at Metro Arts by Rocket Boy Ensemble. While she may be the inspiration for the show’s title, however, this is about more than just Reagan’s story. The dysfunctional family orbiting around her self-obsessed world has its own issues. Her parents Kirsty (Elise Grieg) and Ewan (Chris Kellet) are walking a fine-line between relationship crisis and breakthrough, while her secretly-engaged twin brother Oliver (Jeremiah Wray) is experiencing his own identity struggle. The result is a slice-of-life story without entire resolution, in that real-life type of way. Indeed, there is a realism especially to when the family gathers together at home, down to the ongoing interruptions of the won’t-stop-barking dog. Realistic dialogue and witty banter make it easy to get caught up in their stories and when all erupts at family dinner at a local restaurant before interval, we are hooked.

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The show features a talented ensemble of performers. Carr is excellent as the titular Reagan, rampaging into our experience with a memorable opening monologue chronicle of night out in the valley ‘getting fucked up’. She plays being pissed perfectly, in increasing slur of words and also reactions to sudden discover of what has been there all along. It’s a recognisable scene, beyond its 2015 setting, in its description of the atmosphere, interactions and assaults on the senses, reminding those of us of a certain vintage as to why we are thankful to have had our time around before there was capacity to have it shared on social media. And trying as it is to hear those in their twenties lamenting the youth of others and complaining about being old, this fits with Reagan’s character who, by her own admission, is bored and selfish (and not particularly likeable).

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Still, the optimistic, even-younger Guy (Fraser Crane) plays smitten in his every interaction with Reagan, happy with their relationship arrangement, but longing too for her to be serious and stop deluding herself. And Lisa Huynh is a steadying force as Oliver’s intuitive fiancé Bianca. In contrasting tone, Jackson McGovern is very funny as Reagan’s sassy gay best friend Hugh, even if his flamboyant performance is very one (loud) note in nature. And parents Kellett and Grieg play off each other wonderfully.

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#whoisreagankelly, the company’s social media posts have hashtagged. After seeing the show, I still don’t really know much besides the fact that being with Reagan is a crazy ride. Even so, I’d love to see her and her family again, hopefully next time in a longer show run. As new shows go, it is a standout in many ways. Projections are used with discretion, however, play an integral role in bringing the opening nightclub scene to choreographed life, and under Tim Hill’s direction, clever choices in blocking add interest. All aspects combine to make for a thoroughly entertaining show that is well-paced and very funny, but still has some quality core messages about who we are how we treat others. There is also perhaps no better place for a play inspired by Brisbane, than Metro Arts and given its near-full Wednesday night audience it seems that others agree.