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 Ensemble – Heathers: 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’.