Bell’s brutal best

Othello (Bell Shakespeare)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast

October 11

There are few companies in Australia that bring us the Bard as well as Bell Shakespeare, proven in not only fidelity to text but their highlight of the works’ ongoing thematic relevance. And, accordingly, the company’s “Othello” is a compelling production sure to affect audience members to their core in reflection of its examination of the complex contradictory nature of humanity.

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The brutal story is of Othello (Ray Chon Nee), stranger to the world of Renaissance Venice who, despite his Moorish origins, stoically commands career success and marriage to a woman half his age before being betrayed by his ensign Iago (Yalin Ozucelik) to be used as pawn in manipulation to murder his own wife Desdemona (Elizabeth Nabben) in response to a fictitious affair between her and squadron leader Cassio (Michael Wahr). In the company’s hands, the pace of the epic tragedy blisters along during Act One as Iago adds justification to (deluded) self-justification of why he is intent on enacting his plot to destroy Othello, at first claiming jealousy over recently-promoted rival Cassio’s lack of battle experience and then soliloquising as to his suspicion regarding his wife Emilia’s supposed infidelity with Othello (and Cassio).

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Lighting works well to enrich the play’s mood, starting in the shadows outside Senator Brabantio’s house as the cynical, destructive Iago uses nobleman Rodergio (Edmund Lembke-Hogan) to cause an outcry by shouting that Desdemona has deceived her father in eloping with Othello and continuing in murky green shades as the petty-minded villain progressively outlines his plan to be evened with The Moor, ‘wife for wife’. Costumes also work to convey character and theme; in contrast to the structured military dress of others, Desdemona’s clothing is softer as it floats innocently around her.

Staging is simple yet impressive in its versatility with a single rectangular table on wheels being used to provide the elevated platform of the balcony from which Brabantio calls to the duo underneath and later table upon which maps are examined in plan for General Othello’s lead of the Venetian army to war when news arrives that the Turks are soon to invade Cyprus. Yet, strangely, the handkerchief that provides Othello with the required ‘ocular proof’ that convinces him to kill Desdemona is far from the spotted with strawberries napkin expressly described in the dialogue.


There are no weak links in the stellar cast. Elizabeth Nabeen and Joanna Downing create contrasting but complete female characters, Nabeen as the demure but more-modern and worldly than usual, Desdemona, in contrast to Iago’s wilful wife Emilia, ultimately loyal to her mistress upon disbelieving realisation that her husband has orchestrated events leading to Othello’s murder of Desdemona. Lugton is a convincing Roderigo, bringing an appealing humour to the essentially meek and easily-manipulated character and Wahr is impressively emotive as Cassio, especially in lament of the loss of his reputation upon forfeiture of his lieutenancy for succumbing to the devilish ‘invisible spirit of wine’ on duty.


Ozucelik is an engaging Iago, everyman in his manipulations in belie of his cunning duplicity. And his ultimate lack of remorse is chilling. The play belongs, however, to its titular Moor of Venice and Chong Nee is gripping in his portrayal. In unapologetic and sincere account of how his relationship with Desdemona is respectful and mutual, his performance is quite exquisite as he massages the words of his monologue for the emotional extremities of their enunciation. And when he transfers his internal emotion upon comprehension of what he has done into plea to ‘speak of me as… one who loved not wisely but too well,’ it is one of the play’s most poignant moments, such is the dignity and vulnerability of his portrayal.

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Act Two is filled with drama thanks to the speed and aggression of Othello’s corruption to obsessive ‘green-eyed-monster’ and the resulting expose of the power play of possessiveness within the two marriages. Indeed, under the direction of Bell Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Peter Evans, the play’s violent exploration of the thin line that separates love and jealousy, provides confronting comment on the irrationality of domestic violence. And, complicit to his lies, the audible audience reactions to Iago’s chameleon behaviour when with Othello, frequent mention of the word honest as descriptor of his character and hatefully racist descriptors of the Moor, prove the resonance of the work. … as should be the case when it comes to one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies.

Coming out celebrations

24 Ways to Say I’m Gay (Studio B)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast, The Space

October 7 – 8

“24 Ways to Say I’m Gay” packs a lot into its hour(ish) running time; the show sees eight actors becoming 55 characters as it takes its audience on a sometimes humorous, sometimes confronting look at what it means to be gay through its presentation of a kaleidoscope of stories on coming out.. And it is entirely fitting that the show, which is an abridged version of award winning Australian Playwright Wayne Tunks’ play “37 Ways to Say I’m Gay”, appears as part of the Gold Coast’s Glitter Festival, now in its second year, an arts event that embraces and celebrates diversity, and encourages freedom of expression.

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 Over its 17 short plays, the show presents a range of sometimes revisited stories that vary in setting and sentiment, taking audiences from Dave the Caveman to modern day gym junkies via Ancient Egyptian innuendo. Whether rural or urban, or set in church, hospital, farmhouse of the halls of political power, the range of relationships on display showcase a variety of different dynamics, including a lot from within family groups. This leads to some poignancy amongst the extensively young male stories, such as when a young gay man’s suicide is covered up and when an AIDS patient clinging to life is rejected by his disapproving family.

Overwhelmingly, however, the stories are upbeat, helped by the joyful song snippets of the Spice Girl and Backstreet Boys breed that punctuate the stories. And there is much humour to the larger groups scenes especially, such as interview of an ‘are they or aren’t they’ boy band and expose of homophobia within gym members.

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Performances all show emotional sincerity, staying on the right side of the often fine line between character and caricature. Taylor Seage is engaging as a school captain speaking out about inequality in a topical scene and Johnny Haselam is very funny in straight man role (no pun intended) as a clergyman in the concluding scenes. While Gabriella Flowers and Jacob Langmack, work well together, displaying a good dynamic in different mother and son scenarios.

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“24 Ways to Say I’m Gay” is a simple, yet honest production about issues that in the current national climate have perhaps never been of more relevance. Far from being stereotypical, superficial portrayals, its gay characters represent hints of discrete, rounded characters, which cements its artistic importance as an opportunity to educate and celebrate in relation to important social issues.

Slick social shocks

Viral (Shock Therapy Productions)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast, The Space

September 1 – 10

“Viral” begins as audience members enter the theatre; the scene unfolding is of a hospital room featuring a woman (Ellen Bailey) in delivery while the father-to-be (Sam Foster) preoccupies himself on his phone. A nurse (Merlynn Tong) is in initial care until she too poses in a photo for the husband to upload…. because sharing is caring, right? So it is pretty clear, even to those who haven’t familiarised themselves with the show’s blurb as to what its focus will be.


The new work, written and devised by Shock Therapy Productions explores the role of social media and technology and how it impacts the way we record, communicate and think about events of racism, abuse, violence and sexual assault in the community. It is a thought-provoking, dynamic and entertaining piece that incorporates a range of performance styles and influences, fusing physical theatre, verbatim text, multiple role-sharing, multimedia and political theatre into an intense but highly entertaining piece.


It beings light-heartedly; the narrative that frames the series of inset vignettes tells of two socially-isolated schoolboys (Writer/Directors Sam Foster and Hayden Jones), who spend lunchtimes alone glued to their smart-phone screens watching the latest viral video on YouTube. To ‘go viral’, is defined as achieving a least a million hits in a week we are told by a Siri as part of an opening announcement. But the boys think this is nothing and are convinced that they can do better, setting up their own YouTube channel and brainstorming what content will serve them best. Initially, the considerations are harmless amalgamations of popular clips featuring top 10s, fails, pranks and of course cats. Along the way they enact famous clips from Gangnam Style to Charlie Bit My Finger and even the more recent Chebacca Mom. They never miss a beat as the two jump in and out of character to mime along in these high energy and highly-engaging scenes.


But the ‘clips’ become less comfortable as they highlight the lack of humanity of music festival goers filming a girl dying of an overdose, bringing tears almost to eyes. When audience members initially react with laugher, despite foreshadowing of the outcome, the most-through provoking aspect of the show is revealed. This is similarly so during an uncomfortable re-enactment of a rude and racist rant on a train. Indeed, there is much to complete in the both the show’s concept and realisation, and the cast and creatives more than do this justice, making for an absorbing experience the flies by as the boys make unwise content choices and suffer the significant consequences.


When the work climaxes in a scene of humans, led by Kristian Santic, becoming vultures upon a human with horse head (Reuben Witsenhuysen), things go to a more macabre place, however, the provocation of its confronting imagery and meaning in juxtaposition to the earlier narrative structure is lost in the puns that pepper its narration by a reporting newsman.


All performers are skilled in characterisation, jumping, within scenes even, between multiple characters of different ages and sensibilities with ease, always making it easy-to-follow thanks to considerations as simple as a collar turned up or down. Ellen Bailey, makes a particularly memorable transition between enthusiastic festival fanatic to stern school Principal with ease. But the works hangs on the excellence of Foster and Jones, and the vitality of their performances together make for the show’s most appealing aspect.


“Viral” is a slick show, as you would expect in consideration of Shock Therapy’s previous, acclaimed works. It features a cracking soundtrack and vibrant sound and lighting design courtesy of Guy Webster and Jason Glenwright. Nathan Sibthorpe’s AV Design also serves the show well, particularly in delivery of a slam poetry masterclass on social change from Luka Lesson.

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Certainly “Viral” is aimed at younger audience members, although it does also cleverly contain early subtle comment on parental on-line role modelling. At the start of the show the audience is encouraged to leave phones on (silent) and take photos and videos (hashtag Shock Therapy Productions) and it is interesting to see the number and demographic of those that do. It is aspects like this that work so effectively with what is presented on stage to make the production one of such note, hopefully to also be brought to Brisbane in outing soon.


 Photos c/o – Saffron Jensen

Sequins, suntans and sand

Suntan (Art Simone and Philmah Bocks)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast, Paradise Showroom

October 3

With polka-dotted swimming costumes and striped beach chairs “Suntan” looks like a postcard from Brighton Beach of years gone by …. if drag queens were to feature in such visual nostalgia. It is a fitting staging given the show’s narrative premise, which sees award-winning Melbourne lip-syncing drag duo Philmah Bocks and Art Simone, in search of finding the perfect tan.

Taking the audience along their journey, the pair share hilarious photos of their global beach travels (and more), before instigating a beach party limbo competition (cue the audience participation segment that seems so crucial to modern cabaret shows). The premise also allows for clever use of songs like Kylie’s ‘Cover Me with Kisses’ and Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’, whose catchiness only add to the accessibility and good-time feel of the work.

Over the course of the hour long show, Bocks and Simone try nature, tanning beds and tan-in-a-can and happily, by the end, they get the glow they’ve been craving – even if it is more Nicki Minaj orange than bronze or caramel toned. This makes for an entirely memorable final number to Stan’s ‘Suntan’ and fluro finale that has to been seen to be believed.


From start to finish, “Suntan” is full of fun. It lags a little in segments when local ‘girls’ fill the space of costume changes with uneventful lip-sync routines (as fun as ‘Love Shack’ is), but has an apt balance of comedy and song to suit the notorious 9.30pm cabaret spot when audiences are liquored up and eager to voice their opinions.

Art Simone in particular is striking in performance, especially in delivery of an energetic Katy Perry routine to ‘California Girls’. As the duo note when channelling Romy and Michele in one of the show’s lip-sync movie moments, “we are the cutest we have ever looked…  we’re not being conceited… we’re just being honest.” From what audiences are introduced to in “Suntan” this is definite not the oil painting type of drag that is best viewed from the other side of the room (to steal a show line). Rather, it is a vibrant show of the fabulousness that can manifest when sequins meet sand Gold Coast style.

Doing it her diva drag way

Life’s still a drag (Carlotta)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast, Paradise Showroom

October 3

“There’s no business like show business,” sings Carlotta in one of her show’s early songs. And as Australia’s most celebrated diva of drag, she should know, having begun her career in the 1960’s as one of the original members and later star and compere of the internationally renowned Les Girls floorshow in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

Aunty Carlotta is 72 years old now and, as is announced at end of the show’s introductory photo montage, she is still here…. and still as grand as ever. Sequins, feathers and a fabulous boa all make appearances, but this is a show that’s more about stand-up than songs, which is fitting perhaps given that Les Girls performers were not allowed to sing in the show. When she does add music to the mix, it is from the usual cabaret/dinner theatre standards list such as Sinatra’s ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ and delivery is always a display of veteran showmanship from an entertainment who certainly still has it.


The appeal of “Life’s still a drag” is her humour and she is frequently out and about in flirtation with audience. Often dirty jokes about ageing, sex and Gold Coast life (she should know; she’s been a local for over decade) play perfectly to a captive older audience able to appreciate references to Shirley Bassey, Bruce Ruxton and Ricky May. Carlotta knows how to work an audience and has a line for everything so seating locations should be chosen with care.

With support from guest star, Monique St. John who started in the chorus of Les Girls in 1966, Carlotta’s Life is still a drag” affirms her status as an icon of the Australian cabaret entertainment industry as Australia’s first transgender star. It is a perfect fit for the inaugural Gold Coast Glitter festival celebration of everything that is LGBTIQAP+. Things get political only for a moment (as well they perhaps should in this the festival’s inaugural program), with an ‘As Time Goes By’ tribute to early Mardi Gras campaigners, complete with montage of historical footage.

Through a career that has spanned over five decades Carlotta has always done it her way and this song is an entirely fitting finale to “Life is Still a Drag”, a show that stands as proof of her capacity to entertain as only she can.

The love of literary lives

All My Love (HIT Productions)

The Arts Centre Gold Coast

September 16 – 19

Like that of most nations, Australia’s history is filled with interesting stories. Our literary history has its heroes and right up there at the apex is the larger-than-life writer and poet, Henry Lawson. But what of his love, radical socialist and literary icon Mary Gilmore, who ironically replaced him when our ten dollar note moved from paper to polymer. Surely theirs must have been fascinating relationship. This is the assumption realised in the sensitive new Australian work “All My Love”, which brings to life their little known passionate love affair on the professional stage for the first time.

From the outset it is clear the work is intent on preserving the original sensibilities of its subject matter, with period furniture setting the scene in the intimate space. Tanned in tone and warmed by dim and cozy lighting, it languishes in a Tennessee Williams type way, as well a memory play should. More sentimental than realistic, it takes audiences along an evocative journey of the duo’s relationship, through Mary’s narration inset with action and correspondence, in a “Love Letters” type way (including excerpts from the couple’s surviving letters).

Memorable days sometimes occur during miserable weather, she observes in introduction. And for Henry and Mary, their memorable day of meeting comes as arranged by their journalist mothers. As they walk and talk through a courtship, their topics of politics and feminism are illustrated by use of projection of the images of their observations. More equal than muse, she reads his work, correcting his spelling and commending his writing and he transitions from poetry to prose and soon solidifies a voice beyond just the anti-bush sentiment for which he is remembered in contrast to our other literary greats. But as circumstances conspire against them, most obviously as consequence of the motherly interference of the unseen but ever-domineering formidable feminist Louisa Lawson, Henry descends into drunkenness and the two, although they remain as friends, never see their secret engagement realised.

“Writers sometimes make poor pen friends,” Henry comments in response to their lapsed correspondence upon marriages to others (both outlived by their essential connection). Yet it is the writing of “All My Love” that is one of its most notable features. Its title cleverly come from the typical closing from Henry’s letters to Mary and its dialogue reflects the intellect and descriptive articulacy of the two as writers both ahead of their time, while also remaining engaging through its infusion of sly humour and, particularly, in Act Two, eloquent inclusion of Lawson’s real-life words within his declarations.

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At its core, however, this is a story about the people beyond their written words. And particularly for a country whose premier annual literary prize emerged from the bequest of Australian writer and feminist, Miles Franklin, it is sad that so little is widely known of Gilmore. Indeed, one of the production’s many strengths is it presentation of the potentially larger-than-life literary characters as real, identifiable people within a fateful relationship. And thanks to some stellar performances, it is in a way that audiences will never forget.

Dion Mills brings an essential humanity to the stern but somewhat insecure figure of Lawson, even in his brutally honest declarations about needs of a man. And he transitions from giddily in want to introspective and then intoxicated with ease. As Gilmore, Kim Denham shows an enduring strength of character befitting a good woman of that certain time. And, combined their talent engages the audience along on an emotional journey from smiles in empathy at their awkward attempts at declarations to tears of despair in realisation that there are no lessons to be learned and that this is perhaps just the story of lives that could have been written so differently had their love not be lost so tragically. This combines with simple shifts in costumes to show the passing of time and versatile staging that see set segments reimagined as, for example, a cruise ship and gaol cell, to create an outstanding theatrical experience of the type of greatness that sneaks up on you, resulting in shared post-show audience comments like “it was fabulous” and “I love it” from all around.

The rule never really changes. If you want a great show it’s: story story story. While more focussed on sentiment than historical re-enactment, “All My Love” is certainly a fascinating story of an Australia people will recognise and should want to see realised on our stages. The gentle production presents not only a remarkable tale but enduing themes that can make you only but wonder what the landscape will be like in a future world in which the permanency of heartfelt handwritten correspondence will be but a distant memory.