Meta-farce fun!

Noises Off (Queensland Theatre)

QPAC, The Playhouse

June 3 – 25

Playwright Michael Frayn’s classic meta-farce has been running all over the world since its 1982 beginnings, which is unsurprising given that until “The Play That Goes Wrong” perhaps, it was regarded as the funniest play ever.

The story is one of doors and sardines… good old fashioned sardines, told three times over with increasing hilarity. The three acts (performed with one intermission) all depict a performance of the first act of a play within a play called “Nothing On”. It’s all very British in its “Man About the House” innuendo and slapstick, with its pants down moments and storylines of tax inspectors and sex addicts. But that is just the beginning of its humour.

farce.jpg

Things begin with the mediocre actors clumsily floundering through a late-night dress rehearsal for the about-to-tour farce; Dotty (Louise Siversen) is unable to keep track of her props, as her dim employer, Freddy (Hugh Parker) needs reassurance as to his character’s motivation and as Roger, leading man Garry (Ray Chong Nee) is, ‘you know’ unable to actually commit to a finished sentence outside of the dialogue.

Add in the hard-of-hearing Selsdon (Steven Tandy) and his drinking problem, as the play’s burglar, and it is of little wonder that the pompous director Lloyd (Simon Burke) is impatient, though he is somewhat distracted himself, given his secret simultaneous romancing of the young, inexperienced actress Belinda (Libby Munro) and dowdy, over-emotional assistant stage manager Poppy (Emily Goddard). At least the show’s backwards set has been fixed.

onstage.jpg

When Flavia (Nicki Wendt), Philip’s dependable onstage wife, comments on how she likes ‘technicals’ because everyone is so nice, it not just funny because it is a dress rehearsal but because of its foreshadowing of what is to come. In the second act, set a month later, thanks to the show’s intricate revolving set, the audience watches from backstage as the actors stagger through the same material with limited regard and a whole lot of passive (and not so passive aggression) in response to interpersonal secrets being revealed, jealousy being aroused and murderous rage erupting. This section is absolutely hilarious, despite there being virtually no words spoken, lest they disrupt the ‘on stage’ show.

axe.png

Fast forward three months and the funny continues as we watch as if we were members of the audience during the play’s final touring performance, which has by that stage descended into a whirl of slammed doors and missed cues as backstage passions spill onto the stage.

backstage.jpg

Even with a clockwork script, farce relies not on language but precision of performances. And in this regard Queensland Theatre’s “Noises Off” more than delivers. Despite their countless cues, all actors are spot-on in their timing and commitment to the physical precision required to last the 3+ hour running time distance. As individuals, all members of the ensemble are hugely talented; together than bring their distinct characters to complementary, quirky life. Standouts include Louise Siversen, whose physicality punctuates all that the aptly-named Dotty does and Hugh Parker, particularly in Act One when in panicky but always-polite need of plot clarification and character motivation. And despite only initially appearing as a voice, Simon Burke adds much to the initial act, making even the shortest of responses, ‘no’, so very funny.

Although its length makes “Noises Off” quite the theatrical commitment, it is one that is worthy of the investment. The comedy of errors may not be sophisticated in concept, but under the direction of Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director, Sam Strong, it is infectiously energetic. And whether ‘off-stage’ or on, the shenanigans on show are full of meta-farce fun.

Advertisements

Hairspray happiness

Hairspray The Big Fat Arena Spectacular (Harvest Rain Theatre Company)

Brisbane Convention Centre

April 8 – 10

Harvest Rain’s “Hairspray The Big Fat Arena Spectacular” is everything it promises…. It’s big, fat and full of fun, perfect for the final days of school holidays. With a mass ensemble of 900 young performers (some as young as nine years old), the Brisbane Convention Centre is often filled to the point of never knowing where exactly to look, which is perhaps befitting for a show in which the bulk of the characters are teenagers themselves.

The musical has evolved through various incarnations, from the 1988 John Waters’ big-screen original to a Tony Award winning Broadway production and subsequent 2007 film. The plot here remains the same as the audience is taken to segregated 1962 Baltimore. Fiesty teen Tracy Turnblad (Lauren McKenna), a big girl with a big heart and even bigger hair, has only one desire – to be a dancer on the popular Corny Collins TV show. When her dream comes true, Tracy is transformed from social outcast to sudden star alongside her teen idol, Link Larkin (Dan Venz), but it is a transition that doesn’t come without its problems as her social conscious compels her to spearhead a campaign to racially integrate the show.

It is a production filled with movement and energy from its opening moments. After a rousing ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ in which Tracy muses about her fondness for her hometown, her love of dancing, and her desire to be famous, the pace pumps with a toe-tapping introduction to the Corny Collins TV cast, the ‘Nicest Kids in Town’. The mass ensemble adds interest to the aesthetic when synchronized in their choreography and while a full scale ‘The Madison’ is a little overwhelming, the tsunami of performers that floods the stage for the show’s famous final anthem ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ makes for a memorable conclusion. The optikal bloc projections across the screen (bigger that the biggest IMAX in the world) also enhance the explosion of colour created by staging and costumes.

McKenna (seen recently as Martha in “Heathers”) is fabulous as the ever-optimistic Tracy, big on voice and personality. And her comic performance in swoon over Link during her Act One ‘I Can Hear The Bells’ dream about what life would be like if she pursued a relationship with him, makes her all the more infectiously likeable. She is supported by a strong cast, including Venz as teenage heartthrob Larkin and Emily Monsma as Tracy’s dorky and devoted best friend Penny. Indeed, Monsma embraces every opportunity provided by the side-kick role, making it very much her own and stealing every scene in which she appears. Simon Burke is touching in the classic cross-dressing role of Tracey’s house-bound, fearful mother Edna, who makes for an endearing double act with on-stage husband Wilbur (Wayne Scott Kermond). Their performance of ‘You’re Timeless to Me’ is at once tender and comic-filled.

Tim Campbell is perfect as the peppy Corny Collins, with sensational voice and smooth dance moves that leave the audience wanting to see more. And as Seaweed Stubbs, Barry Conrad (perhaps best known for his time on “X-Factor Australia” in 2013) showcases some outstanding vocals. Amanda Muggleton seems to delight in the dastardly role of station producer Velma Von Tussle with Cruella de Vil like glee, bringing a cartoonish villainy to the larger-than-life character. And as the self-described big, blonde and beautiful Motormouth Maybelle, host of The Corny Collins Show’s Negro Day, Christine Anu brings attitude and then some. Her soulful rendition of the musical’s most serious-minded song, ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ makes for a powerful and inspiring anthem.

12938265_10154083588858866_760237720767038283_n.jpg

So skilled and entertaining are the core cast that it almost makes you wish for the usual theatre stage experience where intimacy and character connection have not been sacrificed in creation of the record breaking production, as like in 2014’s “Cats”, the spectacular’s scale is sometimes alienating to full appreciation of individual lead performances.

“Hairspray” is a happy musical of good humour and fun. With the addition of 900 excited youths, the joy within the “Hairspray The Big Fat Arena Spectacular” eventatorium is infectious. With buoyant performances and toe-tapping ‘60s-style musical numbers, there is certainly much to smile about both during and in memory of the experience of being welcomed to the ‘60s.