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.

Team Viking truths

Team Viking (Tangram Theatre)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 10 – 14


Team Viking…. It’s not just the name of James Rowland’s Brisbane Festival show but what James and his best friends since forever, Tom and Sarah, called themselves when growing up in middle class suburban Middle England, playing Vikings, inspired by the 1958 film with Kurt Douglas and Tony Curtis.

Reunited for the funeral of James’ father, they revisit the idea with suggestion that send-offs should be huge and memorable enough for people to tell stories about. ….. a conversation that none of them realise the significance of until 25-year-old Tom is not long after diagnosed with aggressive, terminal heart cancer and shares his last wish of wanting to be given a full Viking burial. What follows (after some introductory housekeeping about potentially uniquely UK show references) is the remarkable story of how James and Sarah actually gave their best friend the send-off he wanted.

This work is part of Songs of Friendship, ‘a revelatory storytelling cycle about love, life, friendship, death – and the ridiculous, sublime muddles of everyday existence’. And the hour-long solo show is all of these things as Rowland (who Brisbane audiences saw in 2017’s similarly beautiful “Every Brilliant Thing”) delivers what is essentially a monologue journey through all the emotions despite its narrative veer to the absurd. Rowland is an engaging performer who easily takes audiences along the ride from riotous laugher to tragedy of the most heartfelt sort, with just a single line or perfectly-placed pause, but also bouncing about the stage using subtle changes in posture, gesture and vocal stylings to establish the additional characters that drop into the story.

And what an extraordinary story it is! I cannot remember ever having my mouth so many times agape in a show, as its true-life twists and turns unfolded from hilarious recall of a Christmas pudding ritual gone wrong and the obscure thefts required to facilitate a Viking farewell, to tears about its tragedy and appreciation of the deep love of long-time friends.

There are touches of audience interaction within its early stages, which seem entirely natural given the engagement of both Rowland’s captivating storytelling, cleverly crafted in its overall journey and the call-backs that are peppered along its way, and the extraordinary, epic story itself. Indeed, it’s the type of show that sneaks up on you with its truths to become one of the most joyful, funny, moving and evocative pieces of storytelling you are every likely to experience.

Despite its subject matter of grief, “Team Viking” is not overly-sentimentality or self-indulgent and it is easy to appreciate its overseas success (the show was a breakthrough hit at the Edinburgh Fringe). It is an accomplished piece of storytelling, perfectly constructed to unpack its every emotional possibility in swell to a spectacular, satisfying conclusion and we are fortunate to have it appearing at this year’s Brisbane Festival in an Australian exclusive.