Boho Boom!

Tick, Tick… Boom! (That Production Company)

Crete Street Theatre

March 12 – 14

89728106_10157082444393603_5949913238480093184_o
Like Bobby in Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”, struggling artist Jon (Jackson McGovern) is grappling with a 30s birthday. As many do, he considers this as a turning point in life, as he sees those around him all appearing to be settling down. Especially, he is filled with pre-mid-life-crisis self-doubt around his decision to be a composer, given how his musical theatre career has stalled. Exploration of this is what makes up the 90 minutes of “Tick, Tick … Boom!”, the musical by “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson, an autobiographical work that Larson performed on-and-off as a solo show prior to the debut of his magnum opus musical.

90129938_10157082443678603_8197791454966317056_o

In 2001, five years after Larson’s death, a revised, three-character version of “Tick, Tick … Boom!”, premiered off-Broadway. Even expanded to a three-person show, this remains an intimate piece of theatre. More reflective rock monologue than musical, it traverses a range of somewhat obscure song inspirations, with numbers like ‘Green Dress’ and ‘Sugar’. The songs are written by Jon as part of this story about ambitiously writing a show, the dystopian musical Superbia. And while he is waiting on tables and trying to write the “Hair” of the ‘90s, those around him are equally at odds with their lives; his girlfriend Susan (Stephanie Long) wants to get married and move out of New York City, and his best friend Michael (Josh Whitten) is making big bucks on Madison Avenue.

89677181_10157082443718603_2049525348172824576_o

Whitten is delightful as Jon’s fabulous friend Michael who relishes the lavish Gucci lifestyle he enjoys living in Victory Towers in contrast to that of his composer friend-since-summer-camp-days. And he contributes immensely to the humour of two particularly memorable scenes, when Jon takes up Michael’s offer to work at his advertising agency and during the dance break of ‘No More’. Similarly, Long jumps in and out of numerous roles with ease and showcases incredible vocals in the musical-within-a-musical’s show stopping number, ‘Come to Your Senses’. And McGovern is excellent in the demanding role as the passionate protagonist Jon, one that sees him on stage for the show’s duration. His energetic almost frenetic performance projects an authentic sense of time running out, that sits well with the show’s themes.

89444287_10157082443158603_3735221688829214720_o

It is unfortunate that “Tick, Tick … Boom!” is performed so infrequently. The style that eventually blossomed into “Rent” is certainly evident. ‘No More’, for example, has a real ‘Rent’ fast-paced rock sound. A range of emotions is covered in its soundtrack of diverse styles (Larson took much pride in being able to write music in a wide variety of genres) and subjects, with witty lyrics like those of Jon’s idol, Stephen Sondheim. ‘Sunday’, for example, is about the boorish patrons of the diner in which Jon works, while ‘No More,’ is a humorous ode to materialism.

89970033_10157082443833603_8004566597215715328_o

‘30/90’ is a catchy opening rock number in its build to an explosive chorus, immediately showcasing the small, but talented band (under Luke Volker’s musical direction) hidden from view high above the stage. And Daniel Anderson’s lighting evokes an array of emotional palettes and settings in complement of Lachlan Van Der Kreek’s vision design, capturing the beauty that lies at the core of this thoughtful work.

Its themes are familiar to those in the ‘La Boheme’ no-day-like-today know, as Jon laments the difficulty of being idealist and original in the unimaginative early 1990s (as a solo show it was initially known by the title “Boho Days”). Indeed, when Jon explains how he believes that his brand of rock music could change Broadway, one cannot help but think of their prophecy in relation to Larson’s revolutionary rock opera “Rent”, one of the industry’s most influential works from even its hugely successful off-Broadway run.

89721958_10157082444493603_3982111303949877248_o

While “Tick, Tick … Boom!” has no musical numbers as memorable as those of the latter “Rent”, it does include hint enough to tantalise the taste-buds of Rent-heads and newbies alike. It is an entertaining boho-ish show, experience of which flies by in what appears to be the shortest of times, thanks to Timothy Wynn’s tight direction. Whilst it is a must-see show for all the lovers of “Rent”, That Production Company’s “Tick, Tick … Boom!” is also a compelling show for musical theatre fans in general, superbly realised, as always, by a company that never disappoints.

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.

Call to climate arms

Kill Climate Deniers (That Production Company)

Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre

May 15 – 22

61122890_10156335308758603_4092036464995467264_o

If you haven’t heard of “Kill Climate Deniers” you probably should have. The hyperbolically titled play’s controversial take on the contentious climate change debate in Australia saw it hit the headlines in 2014 when its playwright David Finnigan received $19 000 from Arts ACT to write a play exploring climate change and Australian politics. The resulting script was nominated for the 2014 Max Afford National Playwrights Award, but its initial staging was postponed due to a backlash by conservative columnists. It’s initial and subsequent drafts compositing the scandal into the work, are discussed amongst the show’s many meta-theatre mentions, mostly by Finig (a pseudonym for playwright David Finnigan), played by Caitlin Hill.

61114099_10156335310063603_4045683863677042688_o.jpg

It does not take too long to move into the show’s narrative call to climate arms of sorts; embattled Environment Minister Gwen Malkin (Jessica Veurman) is being interviewed on talkback radio about her intricate $75 billion climate scenario option plan to blot out the sun by using helium balloons that spray light-blocking gasses into the atmosphere. The interviews continue that evening when she arrives at Parliament House with her social-media savvy press advisor Bekken (Charleen Marsters) for a classic rock band’s concert.

61098731_10156335321873603_7866504216355799040_n.jpg

As everyone settles in for the evening’s entertainment a militant cell of radical eco-activists, led by passionate spokeswoman Catch (Julie Cotterell) takes the audience hostage with demand that Australia immediately cease all carbon emissions and coal exports. Malkin and Bekken, however, have gone to the bathroom so are oblivious to what’s happening… until they start running into terrorists in the halls and the action really begins (Fight Choreographer Jason McKell).

Kill Climate Deniers by David Finnigan_THAT Prod Co_Production Image by Adam Finch Photography_3.jpg

So many aspects combine to ensure the inventive satire’s on-stage success. Its boldness beyond just its political themes is reflected in its perfectly-pitched performances. The duo of Veurman and Marsters as Malkin and Bekken make for a wonderful comic team of the “Absolutely Fabulous” sort. Together, they craft some hilarious scenes. Veurman is captivating in conveyance of her character’s nervous energy, and Marsters injects energetic humour into every movement, gesture and facial expression of hapless personal assistant (more than just press advisor) Bekken. Caitlin Hill is brilliant as the narrator/author Fing, presenting an explanation of the work that paces along despite its scientific dabbles and balances this beautifully with the absurdity of her play of ‘Fleetwood Mac’ if Fleetwood Mac was a character in and of itself. Of particular note, too is Clementine Anderson who presents a perfectly pitched performance in over-the-top media personality caricature.

60762476_10156335312918603_247304612040671232_o.jpg

“Kill Climate Deniers” is dynamic in both form and execution. Its clever staging sees characters even performing a scene from with the stalls, projected to the alongside audience. Video projections (Projection Designer Justin Harrison) feature throughout as a key component of the show’s vibrant realisation. Words and images are projected on a curved back-of-stage wall, both to progress the narrative and provide additional statistics, quotes and visual jokes, often accompanied by a soundscape of either deliberate doom or satirical merriment (Composer & Sound Designer Wil Hughes).

60921876_10156335318128603_9174300527964454912_o.jpg

A scene in which an overhead projector is used to illustrate our envisaged personal potential futures 30 years from now, however, represents the show’s only unsatisfying section, when its presenter’s shadow blocks out most of the images, overwhelming its message. Colourful and camp in costuming, staging and music, “Kill Climate Deniers” is also, surprisingly irreverent, which makes its two hour experience fly by in what seems like the shortest of time. This is helped too by its fast and furious soundtrack of classic techno dance tunes of the C+C Music Factory and Black Box sort.

60763622_10156335323828603_6816653985458421760_o.jpg

“Kill Climate Deniers” may not be good politics, as some have claimed of its previous productions, but good art is not necessarily good politics and “Kill Climate Deniers” is very good art. The complex, multi-layered thought-provoking political comedy showcases clever writing (not clichéd as so easily could have been the case), artfully infused with pop culture call-backs and even a Fleetwood Mac concert segment of sorts.

60909572_10156335310888603_4354359022892089344_o.jpg

This is must see theatre, not just because of its Queensland premiere status. Director Timothy Wynn has delivered first-rate, full throttle independent theatre of the sort rarely seen executed to this level of expertise. It is an exhilaratingly playful experience to take from and discuss what you will and it not only represents the best that Ipswich’s That Production Company has offered up thus far, but my most-loved show of the year yet, and favourite even experienced at Metro Arts.

Photos c/o – Adam Finch

Premiere poignancy

Yielding (That Production Company)

Metro Arts, The Lumen Room

May 2 – 5

31960780_10156517750948866_1744812541101473792_n.jpg

“Yielding” is an affecting show about relationships, which is fundamentally at the heart of all quality theatre. Dot was once bold, strong and in control of her life. Since she suffered a stroke while attempting to cut out her back-yard Bougainvillea she is still strong in mind, but has been betrayed by her body. Liz, Dot’s daughter, has since sacrificed her life and career to care for her mother. There is no colour left in their tumultuous lives now, reflected by the muted tones of the show’s staging and costumes, which also rightly allow the performances to be at the fore of the sensitive and daring production that arcs in and out of recollection and reflection as the duo endure a crappy car ride home from visit to the doctor.

Talented performers Jessica Veurman-Betts and Joey Kohnke give gripping performances as the mother and daughter duo, each grappling with their circumstances. Kohnke effectively takes us into the fractured and frightening world of the still-spirited stroke victim in her language and movement, bringing both pathos and humour to the tricky role. The show is a physical one, as the characters move around and with each other, but also as they ripple across the stage together in stylised dances of haunting lyricism. But is in their silences that so much is also said and Timothy Wynn’s skilful direction wisely allows them (and us) to endure in them. Through the rich performances of both actors, we don’t pity them so much as empathise with their unyielding desperation to be seen and hear above the frustration of seeing themselves, their homes and their relationships through a different lens.

32089539_10156517750983866_5979278647142383616_n.jpg

The play is also beautifully realised through a cohesive design aesthetic. Daniel Anderson’s lighting works in conjunction with a delicate soundscape to transition scenes in and out of present experience, warming merry memories of when their roles were long-ago reversed. Its honesty and simplicity are, likewise, revealed in the craftedness of its script. In particular, its ‘beautiful but thorny’ bougainvillea motif works well as a metaphor for each woman’s sense of self, once regarded as attractive but now just annoyingly scrapping the side of the house.

Developed in consultation with Carers Queensland by Queensland playwright Emma Workman, “Yielding” is the first in a series of six one-act plays under the banner ‘Let’s Speak of the Unspoken’. And it doesn’t shy away from tackling the realities of the experiences it is representing, with some ongoing references to euthanasia and suicide. Indeed, there is an obvious, appealing authenticity to the show, which comes from its research, including meetings with many Brisbane support groups and with people who have family carers in their homes.

In That Production Company’s careful hands, “Yielding” is a powerful, poignant, raw and uncomfortably real play that, on a number of occasions, sees absorbed audience members wiping away tears, perhaps in their own reflection on the reminder of what is important in life. As daughter Liz says early in the piece, “because she is my mum”. It’s a short but prevailing proclamation upon which the show’s premise so perfectly hangs, leaving audiences subdued upon exit from the theatre, weighed by the profoundness and performances just experienced in premiere of this remarkable piece of work.

A fractured fall

When The Rain Stops Falling (That Production Company)

Studio 188

April 21 – 30

Acclaimed Australian writer Andrew Bovell (“Lantana”)’s story, “When The Rain Stops Falling” takes place between two worlds in time and place, between a prediction in 1959 and its outcome eighty years later, through the interconnected stories of two families over four generations. It is, accordingly, at times quite heavy going, especially given its lengthy running time of 2 hours without intermission (longer that its advertised duration), but worth the investment for its haunting experience.

The show intriguingly begins in Alice Springs in the year 2039 with a fish falling from the sky to land at the feet of lonely Gabriel York (David Patterson). It still smells of the sea and he knows something is wrong. Although this sets the scene for the motifs to follow, including the rain the falls in virtually every scene, the opening 15 minute monologue drags with the weight of prolonged pauses and repetitious dialogue.

What Gabriel doesn’t realise is that 80 years prior, his grandfather, Henry Law (also played by David Paterson), predicted that fish will fall from the sky heralding a great flood which will end life on earth as we know it. In between the two generations lives Gabriel Law (Eamonn Clohesy) who leaves London for Australia, in attempt to retrace his father’s footsteps and understand the mystery of his disappearance from his childhood life (with help from cryptic, recently-discovered postcard communication) only to fall for a haunted and vulnerable roadhouse employee, Gabrielle (Lauren Roche).

So complicated is the interconnectivity to initially decipher, that audiences members need to rely on the projected scene subtitles as to setting in time and place. Indeed, it takes until at least 45 minutes into the production to fully appreciated the cleverness of the work beyond just its coincidences and recurrences, down to the most mundane of motifs as, across the generations, fish soup is prepared and served while characters make small-talkish jokes about the weather.

rain falling.jpg

From a design perspective, the transitions between stories are beautifully realised. A rotating outer circle borders the central stage action, rotating to indicate scene changes and allowing for seamless transitions and clarity when characters from different eras and different selves of the same character sometimes share the stage. The choreography of characters into an initial full family tableau as they silently share in soup around the table is impressive in its intricacy and to see it replicated in the work’s conclusion provides an arresting, yet touching visual resonance of its ultimately intimate themes.

eating

Beautiful visuals aside, “When The Rain Stops Falling” is a confronting, unsettling experience, filled as its story is with unpleasant plot twists. Its characters are not always likeable, however, its shocking twists and moments of sadness are made more palpable particularly through the performances of Nicola Stewart and Rachel Hunt, as different generations of Gabriel’s brittle mother Elizabeth and Lisa Hickey as an older Gabrielle, just as fierce as her former self despite her mental deterioration.

all women

Although fractured, it is a compelling narrative as progressive revelation is made of how the characters have become themselves, meaning that its conclusion that we all exist as a collection of our pasts appears as superfluous in an already-long work that could comfortably have ended a number of times over. While it is certainly a complicated story “When The Rain Stops Falling” is an at-times grippingly powerful and original dramatic experience in its epic examination of mortality, legacy and the connections at the essence of humanity, which will linger long after leaving.

Excellence beyond doubt

Doubt: A Parable (That Production Company)

Studio 188

December 3 – 12

“What do you do when you’re not sure?” …. The initial words of “Doubt: A Parable” are shared as part of a sermon about the notion, however, their speaker, Father Flynn (James Trigg) could just have as easily have been talking directly to the audience about the conundrum at the centre of the show itself, filled as it is with contemplative notions to linger long after its experience.

This is the power of “Doubt: A Parable”, John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatic exploration of the idea of certainly verses ambiguity and the lengths that we should go to in support of what we believe is right. They are themes with modern resonance, untempered by audience disassociation from its context of a 1964 civil rights America still reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy, as the work also taps into fears of fundamentalist intolerance corruption and clerical abuse of authority.

At the St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx, the Sisters of Charity teach children under the watchful eye of Sister Aloysius (Rachel Hunt) whose unflinching demeanour keeps everyone on the straight and narrow. When a number of dubious events raise her suspicions, she wastes no time in cornering her respected and much-loved parish priest superior and convincing the innocent Sister James (Lauren Roche) of his guilt at having an indecent relationship with the working class Irish and Italian school’s token black student, Donald Muller.

2 n

Having once again chosen a robust work, That Production Company more than does justice to its stellar script. The small cast all are measured in performance, in manner that suits the text. As Mrs Muller, Asabi Goodman is heartfelt in reflection that the Father is her son’s only friend, engaging audience empathy in her controversial acceptance of any relationship if only to keep him in school because ‘maybe the Father is doing some good too’.

mum

Roche’s performance as Sister James, is perfectly paced – diminutive in response to her superior’s determination to bring down the father with or without her help and reflective in her desire to never have become involved. Commanding the stage, however, Trigg conveys an immediately likeability that makes it easy to imagine his affinity with the (unseen) children, yet is simultaneously so convincing in role as a Irish man of the cloth that you almost fine yourself making sacramental sign of the cross along with him at sermons ends.

trigg

However, it is Hunt who gives the most astounding performance as the widowed Sister Aloysius, initially an almost quaint, nostalgic relic of a society since passed and ultimately bitter and unsympathetic. Her performance is controlled to the finest of details of reaction to the use of ballpoint pens and condemnation of Christmas pageant music, always conveying an unwavering self-righteousness in her modulated delivery of biting dialogue and so sanctimonious as to make you want to slap her as, like Shakespeare’s Iago, she pours pestilence into the ear of the young Sister James with suggestions such as “they look smug, like they have a secret.” Far from progressive in her approach as Convent Principal, she presents as a perfect antagonist to the vibrant popular parish priest in her personal crusade for his removal and their final, passionate confrontation showcases a masterful performance from them both.

Staging is simple and effective, thanks to clever design to open up the space through the creation of faux walls, and good use is made of it, even down to entrances and exits, which is of greater importance for a work with so little stage action. So snappy is its dialogue though, that its running time flies in a flurry of changed audience opinion as to who might be right.

Although it certainly stands a show in good stead, solid source material can be no guarantee of excellence. In this instance, however, it is supplemented by the company’s respect for the work’s integrity that makes it well worth an Ipswich trip. With little doubt, That Production Company is a company to watch, thanks to their quietly ambitious show choices that continue to impress.

Photos c/o –  LeAnne Vincent Photography