Sounds of the city

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

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

June 12 – 16

Australian alternative rock band The Go-Betweens is part of the architecture of this city – not only culturally, but literally, courtesy of the inner city Brisbane toll bridge named in their honour. The indie band found cult fame (but no fortune) with their idiosyncratic music, focussed on the personal rather than the political at a time of political turmoil in the state (the band formed at UQ when Queensland was halfway through Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s almost two decades as Premier). It is appropriate, therefore to have the band’s songs tell the story of a generation and a city that shaped it, which is the tag-line for the world premiere collaboration between acclaimed Brisbane theatre and music companies Now Look Here and Electric Moon, “The Sound of a Finished Kiss”.

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At its core, the show, which is written and directed by Kate Wild, is a celebration of the band’s rich musical legacy, frozen in time within the early ‘90s era. It begins however in the less distant past; it is 2016 when one of a now-far-flung group of friends finds a mixtape that transports her from London back to the endless empty days of Brisbane in 1991, when their collective potential still had possibility for fulfillment.

Becky (Kat Henry) has just moved from Toowoomba to the sophisticated big smoke city of Brisbane for university. At O-week she meets Zed (Lucas Stibbard) who has similarly relocated from Mackay, only with a more personal reason driving his desire for a fresh start. For the next two years they hang out as Becky works down a list of coming-of-age milestones and through a series of monologues interwoven with the songs they loved, we see them relive the events which shattered friendships and scattered the four friends of their group across the world. Like the music itself, their stories navigate an array of emotions, from the euphoric to the painful and many moments of humour as snippets of the different perspectives of relationships reveal their distinct characters.

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One thing Brisbane does well is tell its own stories, whether in words, through music or on stage. “The Sound of a Finished Kiss” combines all three of these. The show is full of referential fondness for the city and its locations, in descriptions of West End traffic and changes to its landscapes, our slow brown river, its Story Bridge, Queen Street Mall and The Beat. And description of a party in a verandas-all-around-Queenslander in all its swampie, fire-twirling, goon-bladder drinking, literary discussion glory is like a step back in time to a life with a different group of people, with time to spend and squander.

The show’s 90-minute running times flies by, despite the simplicity of its narrative, which is appropriate given that at the age of its characters, everything seems immense. What is big, however, are the sounds of the show’s live five-piece band and four talented actor/musicians. Musical director James Lees of Electric Moon effectively unites the music of The Go-Betweens with Wild’s original story. Although some songs go on a little bit longer than necessary, they all fit effectively into the narrative, especially given the different song writing styles of the band’s two front men, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. As an opener, the heartfelt ‘Cattle and Cane’ for example, written by McLennan as a longing for his boyhood Rockhampton farm home while homesick after relocation to London, evokes an identifiable recall of wanting to venture forth to a bigger, brighter world and later nostalgia for what has been left behind, in words like ‘I recall coming home through fields of cane… the sky a rain of falling cinders’, especially to those, like me, whose own hometown memories include the evening haze of cane fires and their black cinder burn off.

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All members of the ensemble cast deliver in every respect. Kat Henry is a naively-optimistic Becky in counter to Lucas Stibbard’s eyes-downcast, hands-in-pocket loner, Zed, yet together they make ‘Right Here’ an at-once cutesy and heartfelt duet. Lucinda Shaw is a tour-de-force as Karla, Becky’s indie spirit guide. Vocally she is magnificent, moving from husky smokiness to screaming heights in the post-punk B-side ‘Karen’ (written by Robert Foster as a tribute to University of Queensland Library staff). And her later ‘Bye Bye Pride’, about the humility of healing and moving on with life is a memorable combination of vulnerability and vocal power.

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As the self-assured and almost larger-than-life Mike, Sandro Colarelli is just as compelling. In ‘Drive for Your Memory’, a song Robert Forster wrote reflecting about his break-up with the band’s drummer Lindy Morrison, he is an irresistible force in description of how Mike is affected by a love that couldn’t be, yet almost was… ‘Deep down I’m lonely and I miss my friend’. And in ‘The House Jack Kerouac Built’, recognition of a bad situation becoming worse, his rich, tremulous modern-day crooning sounds are delicious in their Morrissey shades, especially as he laments his loneliness in the number’s final lines. The song is also unforgettable due to its full band arrangement and it is wonderful to often see its musicians Ruth Gardner, Richard Grantham, Brett Harris, James Lees and Karl O’Shea revealed from behind the back-of-stage scrim screen in some numbers.

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Like the breezy, melodic mid-tempo number ‘Spring Rain’ which looks back on living in Brisbane suburbia and ‘driving my first car, my elbows in the breeze’ “The Sound of a Finished Kiss” has an essentially-beautiful simplicity to its experience. As celebration of The Go-Betweens’ rich musical legacy, it is worthy enough in its revisit of Grant McLennan’s melodic genius and Robert Forster’s evocative lyrics. But with its backstory of the city and some of its people, it is simply superb.

The music conjures up the past, as only music can do, beyond just the summer sounds of their most commercial hit ‘Streets of Your Town’. As a then NQ swampie who road-tripped from Mackay to Brisbane in a Datsun Sunny listening to The KLF for life-anew at the University of Queensland, it not only made me sentimental, but left me lamenting about youth being wasted on the young. Indeed, so powerful is its evocation of era, that it can make theatregoers nostalgic for a time and place they didn’t personally encounter.

Regardless of your experience, or otherwise, of Brisbane’s unique subculture in the early 1990s, however, it still offers examination of some resonate, universal themes that will leave audiences with urge to reconnect with friends from long-ago lives. This is a show with an all-too-short initial run whose virtually sold-out season stands as testament to its need to return its sounds of our city to a stage. In the meantime, we can await another viewing with revisit of old ‘Tweens albums and re-read of “He Died with a Felafel in His Hand” and “Zigzag Street”.

Oh what a riotous night

Twelfth Night (Queensland Theatre)

QPAC, The Playhouse

April 28 – May 19

“Twelfth Night” opens with one of Shakespeare’s most resonate quotes; ‘if music be the food of love play on’ Duke Orsino of Illyria commands. It is a festive sentiment so apt that it is appears more than once in what is Shakespeare’s most musical play. It is appropriate then for tunes be added to the Bard’s lyrics by music legend Tim Finn, as is the case with Queensland Theatre’s realisation of the Shakespearean comedy.

The melancholic nature of Shakespeare suits Finn’s style and with Sam Strong’s direction songs are seamlessly integrated, making it difficult to recall that numbers like ‘Falling in Love’ and ‘Autumn Comedy’ have not always bookended intermission. Although there is affection for music evident throughout, the numbers are not as memorable as those of Finn’s soundtrack to then QTC’s brilliant “Ladies in Black”. Even so, they still add another (mostly delicate) layer to the play, like the fairy lights that twinkle atop the intricate revolving stage centrepiece. Detailed staging also enhances the production in many ways. The revolving stage not only creates nooks and crannies of interest in which its multi-story action takes place, but it allows central showcase of the excellent band of musicians that bring Finn’s compositions to life.

Washed ashore on Illyria and separated from her presumed-dead twin brother Sebastian (Kevin Spink), the gutsy Viola (Jessica Tovey) must learn to survive alone in an exotic foreign country. This means disguising herself as a man and so, as Cesario, she gets a job with Duke Orsino (Jason Klarwein) who has decided he is love with Countess Olivia (Liz Buchanan). Unfortunately, Olivia is more interested in mourning recent family deaths than responding to suitors, so Orsino sends Cesario to mediate. The problem is that the Viola he knows as Cesario has fallen in love with the Duke. And all the while there is an ensemble entourage watching on in amusement, providing much of the play’s humour in their drinking, joking, singing and torment.

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“Twelfth Night” is a story about the thrill of falling in love, but also of growing old and showing mortality. Indeed, there is some darkness in its focus of characters left behind and mistreated, through concentration in this realisation appears to be more on laughs and silliness. One of the maligned characters is Oliva’s vain and pompous steward, Malvolio, or in this case, a more comic than tragic, Malvolia, in cross-gendered play by the acclaimed Christen O’Leary. When several characters concoct a plan to make Malvolia believe Olivia returns her love, O’Leary is hilarious as she struts about with strange plastered smile (mistakenly believing that this is Olivia’s desire) and then even better in an Act Two reveal of her cross-gartered yellow stockings in ‘Lady Ho Ho’, the show’s musical and comic highlight.

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The play showcases much humour of the Shakespeare sort; “Twelfth Night” was the last true comedy that the bard wrote so it represents a refinement of the cross-dressing et al comic conventions that that personify his more light-hearted fare. There is mistaken identity, cross dressing caused awkwardness when Viola (as Cesario) is instructed to bathe Orsino, baudy jokes courtesy of the always-excellent Bryan Probets as Sir Toby Belch and eavesdropping whilst remaining hidden like in “Much Ado About Nothing”.

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A clear energy all around makes for a show of much colour and movement. Jessica Tovey is a spirited but sincere Viola and Liz Buchanan infuses the wealthy countess Olivia’s mourning with lightness.  Perhaps the biggest standout, however, is Sandro Colarelli as Feste, Olivia’s jester servant. Although he is labelled as a fool in which Lady Olivia’s father took much delight, he is as much melancholy as comic as he uses his wisdom to awaken others. And vocally, he makes his musical numbers into sublime aural experiences.

The melan-comedy world of “Twelfth Night” has always been a merry, mixed-up realm of sex, love and gender games. It is a funny and melancholy place, but a complicated one thanks to its multi-storylines, which makes for a lengthy show duration. Still Queensland Theatre audience members do not seem to mind, rather having a ball with its musical interludes and riotous, farcical disorder.

Bush best

In The Warm Room – The Music of Kate Bush 1978 – 1980 (Electric Moon)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 9

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When a show is billed as “the voices of eight seasoned cabaret performers will shine Bush’s creativity, imagination and innovation”, expectations are high. Appropriately so, given Electric Moon’s previous shows, and as-anticipated, realised from its opening, beautifully-mournful number, ‘Moving’, by Josh Daveta, with ethereal additions from Bethan Ellsmore. And then there is Alison St Ledger who sounds just like the iconic and unique artist in the meta-music ‘Wow’.

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It is not all whimsical, however, with Daniel Hack rocking ‘Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbreak’. Indeed, there is something for everyone, from everyone; the stage is cluttered with collaborators (#inagoodway) and the show is all the better for it. The ten piece band, for example, does an excellent job in evoking a variety of moods and genre influences, as eclectic as its source songstress’ musical catalogue.

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Highlights include Daveta’s rollicking ‘Oh to be in Love’ and a haunting ‘’Oh England My Lionheart’ from an imposing (as always) Sandro Colarelli. And there is also Lucinda Shaw’s guttural ‘The Kick Inside’ and later symphonic post-apocalyptic ‘Breathing’, and a wonderful ‘Wuthering Heights’ from Bethan Ellsmore, in nod to Bush’s trademark cinematic and literary references and as example of Ellsmore’s vocal prowess.

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In each instance, the songs in the warm room are almost shared anew as the performers each bring something different to bringing out Kate Bush’s very best. But one would expect no less from Sandro Colarelli, Lisa Crawley, Josh Daveta, Bethan Ellsmore, Daniel Hack, Lucinda Shaw and Alison St Ledger… the best bringing out Bush’s best in make of an infectiously-entertaining evening.

Photos c/o – Lachlan Douglas