Vital signs of theatrical life

Backbone 2high Festival: Vital Signs

Metro Arts

January 15 – 17

As an open exploration of arts, science and ideas, the 2016 Backbone 2high Festival: Vital Signs is not only diverse but an embodiment of the adage ‘something for everyone’. From installations to conversations, the festival delves into the worlds of music, performance, feminism and science with creative, entertaining and thought-provoking artists’ works.


As always, The Light Ensemble present an exuberant, endearing performance of the appropriately named “Joyride”, featuring many of the familiar faces from the ensemble, which aims to celebrate the artistic voice of young people with a disability. Its loosely-theme narrative begins with the end of the Year 12 and contemplation of the question ‘what now’, allowing for lots of humour both in a Schoolies party dance off and then in the reality (or more accurately reality tv) of life three years later. The story includes a light-hearted series of random events including a magic kebab, a love trust with Delta Goodrem and what is known as the infamous chicken salt incident, all filling the audience with laughter and smiles. Like audience members, theatre practitioners are not homogeneous and it is wonderful to see the group not only being given a platform such as this at which to perform, but to be able to do so to such a plentiful and supportive audience.

light ensemble

“Aunties Talkin’” by Digi Youth Arts is as its name describes. At a community centre meeting a group of three grandmothers talk about friends and family passed and the problems of young people… the ebb and flow of life. Mothers may know best but grandmothers apparently know everything as the play, created with an Indigenous grandmothers’ group, shows, for can there be any better mantra than ‘growing old doesn’t have to be boring; it is like any other age… you just need to take care of yourself’. The show contains not only words of wisdom but some full of fun musical numbers from its wonderful women, making it ripe for future, further development.

A cynic might say that no independent theatre festival is complete without some undergraduate-style angst. Enter “Mess”, which tells the story of friends Lana (Lana Bellingham-Young) and Eloise (Eloise Fisher) and their perceived meaningless lives as means of examining issues of gender. It is when obnoxious, self-absorbed Eloise is out of the scene, however, that it is at its most effective with some poignant moments and thoughtful lines about relationships in conversation between Lana and her girlfriend (Ashleigh Djokic), aside from any issues of sexuality. Articulate at times, but also with the perhaps pre-requisite swearing to make it ‘art’, the show at least ends on hopeful note as the duo looks forward to happier days.


Joy is a descriptor to sum up both the themes and atmosphere of the festival with circus performances and live music occupying the outdoor stage in its Metro Arts laneway and carpark, hidden as contrast amongst the overlooking skyscrapes of the CBD. And Brendan MacClean’s intimate show is an appropriate final night highlight, not only for those lucky enough to have seen him wow with Marcia Hines in “Velvet” at the this year’s Brisbane Festival.


2high is casual event whose family and friends audiences of phones out taking flash photos and performers competing with crying children won’t necessarily suit theatre traditionalist tastes, but it occupies a valuable place in the local theatre landscape due to the opportunity it provides for works in progress to be seen, new ideas to be celebrated and standout performances to be showcased (such as Lana Bellingham-Young in “Mess” #justsaying), all essential to our city’s ongoing artistic vitality.

Playing for the people


Once again, the Brisbane Powerhouse has proved its value to the arts community by hosting the 2High Festival. Now in its 21st year, the all-ages festival provides an opportunity for up-and-coming artists to showcase their creative works. And in 2013, this meant filling every crevice of the venue, with 130 artists, 20 bands and 16 shows… all free. Here are some of my highlights:

“Pierced Ears and Other Disasters” (The Light Ensemble)

“Pierced Ears and Other Disasters” has performers sharing their tales of woe when things have gone wrong to the point where all you can do is laugh. The premise is simple; the impact comes from the fact that the performers are all young people with disabilities. This results in a touching theatrical experience, joyous to the point of tears. The performers are personable and charming, particularly David Waldie, whose perfect comic timing had the audience sharing in raucous laughter. Indeed, productions such as this prove how the exchange with the audience, more that the production itself is the art.

“Holepunch”  (Violet and Veruca)


Even before the show begins, “Holepunch” has its audience’s attention; a paper covered office setting features overflowing in-trays. It is a design that proves to be wonderfully versatile for the chaos that soon follows on stage. And it is anarchy, as in this generic office, characters find themselves exploring the world beyond their cubicles. From juggling to trapeze, accordion serenade to twerking, “Holepunch” is anything but predictable. There is even burlesque (because the show is described in the program as being a cabaret.) Daria Wain’s physical comedy (especially her swivel chair moves) is a highlight and I will never be able to look at a bottle of Clag glue the same way. Although not what I expected, “Holepunch” is loads of fun.

“Play Dead” (Thomas Hutchins and Michael Whittred)

“Play Dead” is a development showing of a new play that questions death and brotherly love. And it is a dense, intensely absorbing experience. It’s funeral time and Brother Number One (B1) is attempting to present the final version of the eulogy he has written for his younger brother, Brother Number Two (B2) who insists on contributing, causing mutual reflection of their relationship. Throughout the show the two performers are joined by a length of rope noosed around their necks. But this is not the most confronting aspect of the experience; its enthralling, haunting ending is poignant to the point of stunned silence within the audience. Though in its current guise, this is very much a festival show, including an almost obligatory dig at arts funding in Queensland, it is a work with much potential for future development.

play dead

Festivals like 2High are a dynamic display of the vibrancy of Brisbane’s arts and culture, showing how theatre inspires, creates, imagines, transforms, tell stories, communicates and makes community. I’m looking forward already to what will be playing for the people at next year’s festival.