Century’s choice

Fortunate as we have been in Queensland this year, I was able to experience exactly 100 shows in 2021 and though I am thankful for every single one of them, there are of course some that stand out as favourites.

1. The Revolutionists (The Curators)

The drama-filled French-revolutionist play about a playwright writing a play was passionate, powerful, political and full of important messaging about women’s importance in history and the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation.

2. Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

More than just recreating Trent Dalton’s story, Queensland Theatre’s landmark production of “Boy Swallows Universe”, honoured the original text and transformed it as a work of its own, dynamic in its realisation and anchored around its theme of resilience.

3. Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

As the Queensland Theatre play that audiences waited a year for, “Triple X” provided a commentary on the complicated issues of gender and sexuality that was funny, honest and powerfully moving.

4. Prima Facie (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre’s production of Suzie Miller’s “Prima Facie” was a riveting 100-minute one-woman tour-de-force indictment of the legal system, appropriately acclaimed by the thunderous applause of three curtain calls.

5. Of Mice and Men (Ad Astra)

Ad Astra’s production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” served as a poignant reminder of not only the heartbreak of its story and themes, but of how classics are classics for a reason.

6. Fourthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Shake & stir theatre company’s contemporary adults-only choose-your-own-adventure romantic comedy “Fourthcoming” not only placed the course of the narrative in the audience’s hands, but provided an avalanche of non-stop laugh-until-you-cry moments.

7. The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

Altitude Theatre’s inaugural production, “The Producers” was self-aware and hugely entertaining with distinctive musical numbers and laugh-out-louds a-plenty 

8. Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions)

The precision with which all elements of the three consecutively unfolding stories of BC Production’s “Anatomy of a Suicide” unfold made for a powerful exploration of the ideas of family, mental health, love and strong women.

9. Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s dynamic adaptation of Euripides’ classic Greek tragedy “Electra” was elevated in interest through a very clever second-half reversal of scenes, where events occurred in complement to the onstage action alongside the original dialogue.

10. Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, inspired by his real experiences working in a funeral home was not just an examination of what it means to die in the 21st century, but a very funny and moving night of entertainment at Queensland Theatre.

And of particular note….

Best Performance:

Glace Chase – Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

Playwright, Glace Chase was magnetic as the candid Dexi in “Triple X”. Bold but vulnerable, she made Dexi complex in her multi-dimension and identifiable in her inner conflicts, with a portrayal that added immensely to the emotional effect of the show’s unprecedented storytelling about love in the 21st century.

Oliver Childs – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Oliver Childs not only showed a talent for characterisation in his realisation of the two Joe Caseys of the alternative realities of Brisbane Arts Theatre’s “Our House”, but his enthusiastic energy and vocal delivery worked well to encapsulate the spirit at the core of the jukebox musical’s experience.

Best Musical – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Spotlight Theatrical Company)

It was easy to understand why Spotlight Theatrical Company’s season of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” sold out before even opening, given the company’s polished approach to all of its aspects and especially the strong performances of its main cast members.

Best Ensemble – The Producers (Altitude Theatre)

With a cast all pushing their eccentric performances to their full potential, Altitude Theatre’s The Producers was high-energy and immensely entertaining throughout.

Best Music – Creedence Clearwater Inspired Featuring Proud Mary (QPAC)

Proud Mary gave QPAC audiences a reminder of just how good live music is with an infectious 2-hour rock back to a time when the prolific Creedence Clearwater Revival was the soundtrack of a generation.

Best Cabaret – Your Song (little red company)

The little red company’s world premiere of “Your Song” was a lively throwback to rock and roll with an edge of glam in a glitzy rainbow of celebratory colour and unquestionable on-stage talent.

Cleverest – Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions) 

With concurrently played out stories across three generations of mothers and daughters, BC Productions’ “Anatomy of a Suicide” had a lot going on in its Brisbane premiere. As the stories played out side-by-side, switching across stage sections, episodic scenes danced together rhythmically, colliding in synchronisation of key lines to emphasise the commonality of concepts, making for a cleverly crafted provocation around ideas associated with legacy.

Best New Work – Return to the Dirt (Queensland Theatre)

While Steve Pirie’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award winning “Return to the Dirt”, deals with a number of heavy themes, it is a well-written, emotionally rich play that offered a refreshing take on a young man’s story.

Most Fun – Our House (Brisbane Arts Theatre)

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s jukebox musical “Our House”, based on the songs of Madness didn’t take itself too seriously, including through its number of nods to band’s music videos, making its experience all sorts of infectious fun.

Funniest – Fouthcoming (shake & stir theatre company)  

Thanks to performances in the face of its changing narrative, the hilarity of shake & stir theatre company’s “Fouthcoming” never stopped.

Special mention goes to the post show-within-the-show discussion of La Boite Theatre’s “Caesar”, which provided the funniest scene of the year, through its absolutely hilarious TikTok livestream nods to the Brisbane theatre scene.

Most Thought Provoking – Locked In (Shock Therapy)

Shock Therapy’s “Locked In” provided a thought-provoking exploration of experience and impact of living with a rare neurological disorder, for sufferers and their families alike.

Best Stage Design Staging – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Intimate traverse staging allowed audience members to become fully immersed in recognition of the stunningly rich aesthetic and, appropriately for a play set in revolutionary France, its cast of real-life fierce female characters to burst down its fashion runway.

Best Costume Design – The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Attention to detail added to the dynamism of the experience of this Curators show with lush pink and red mix-patterned ruffled and frilled costumery conveying a clear sense of opulence befitting the play’s French Revolution setting.

Best Sound Design – Elektra/Orestes (The Hive Collective)

The Hive Collective’s adaptation of Euripides’ classic “Electra” was elevated by a vivid, atmospheric sound design that both heightened audience suspense and fevered its story’s foreboding.

Best Video Design – Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre)

The blockbuster video design of Queensland Theatre’s “Boy Swallows Universe” both gave us Brisbane iconography and nooks and crannies alike, but bled its imagery into the story’s themes.  

Talkin’ about a revolution et al

The Revolutionists (The Curators)

Christ Church Milton

March 2 – 26

In a rare occurrence, the cast of The Curator’s Australian premiere production of “The Revolutionists” receives audience applause before any members have even spoken a word. It comes, appropriately, in recognition of the show’s bold beginning, which sees its four characters bursting down a fashion runway. While our eyes follow them strutting their way to the end, another appears in waiting, wisely allowing us time to appreciate the vivid aesthetic being exhibited.

It is here where we meet the story’s four fierce females. Three are real life figures: forgotten playwright and feminist advocate Olympe de Gouges (Lisa Hickey) who was executed for seditious behaviour based on the contents of her unfinished play about the former Queen of France Marie Antoinette, idealistic assassin Charlotte Corday (Lauren Roche) and the infamous embattled queen Marie Antoinette herself (Amanda McErlean). The fourth, a freedom fighter called Marianne Angelle (Asabi Goodman) on ‘political reconnaissance’ from the island nation of Saint Domingue (now Haiti), is the creation of playwright Lauren Gunderson.

Although the traverse staging with the audience seated on both sides is something Brisbane audiences have previously experienced in Queensland Theatre’s “An Octoroon”, Milton’s Christ Church creates a unique intimacy that allows us to become immersed in recognition of the stunning, rich visuals that are created by make-up and costumes (Costume Designer and Director Michael Beh). Lush pinks and red mix-patterned ruffled and frilled costumery conveys a clear sense of opulence befitting the play’s French Revolution setting.

The work, which was first produced in 2015, is really a play about a playwright writing a play, the playwright being Olympe de Gouges. And it is at Olympe’s Parisian office where we observe the women’s salons about their philosophies and ambitions. It begins with a visit from her abolitionist friend Marianne, who wants Olympe to write pamphlets to assist in the fight against colonial oppression. As the two talk about their revolutionary belief that a better world is possible in which women have agency over their own lives, they are joined by Charlotte, who is in search of a writer to help craft her final words for the scaffold, anticipated as part of her plan to murder the awful fundamentalist Jacobin journalist Jean-Paul Marat, a leader of the Reign of Terror.

Sparks fly when Marie enters, leading to some quick bickersome banter between the four who are all obviously self-aware of their own varied struggles. Though sometimes a little laboured (meaning that Act One is retrospectively a little long comparative to its taut Act Two), there is a clear celebration of words, writing and the theatre, along with reminder of women’s importance in history. As the characters converse about themselves and how they desire to be remembered, the script gifts us many quote-worthy catch phrases and meta-theatre mentions, especially in Olympe’s rebuked determination to write a witty and wise satiric ‘voice of the revolution’ play rather than a hyperbolic musical about the French Revolution, ‘because nobody wants that’. Subtle and not-so theatre and historical references add to the show’s huge humour. And though things darken with Act Two short, sharp shocks of violence as the women face their fates with varying degrees of defiance, laughs are still afforded in some small moments.

Attention to detail adds to the dynamism of the experience. French revolutionary motifs such as aristocratic wigs are adorned by the production’s tech crew and ushers. Framed posters line the walls with the women’s essential quotes and the pre-show soundtrack empowers with ‘I’m Every Woman’ type sentiments. Within the production too, reappropriated modern songs give each woman a musical motif, most notably in Marie’s ‘Feeling Good’ reassurance and Charlotte’s ‘So What’ declaration of rock star status.

The strong and empowering characters are all distinct and are exemplified to their full passionate potential by a talented cast of women who easily moderate the show’s movements towards melodrama and farce. And it is clear that they are loving what they are doing. Hickey gives her all to anchor things as Olympe. McErlean brings an unanticipated real-person compassion to crazy-ass but sometimes profound ribbon-loving queen-no-longer Marie Antoinette whose dialogue comes complete with its own stage directions. This is especially evident in her one-on-one conversations with sassy Marianne, which come across more like a Real Housewives sort of tea spill about husbands and children.In contrast to Marie’s charming entitlement, is Marianne’s angry championing, which Goodman delivers with delicious passion before settling in to contrasting talk about how much she misses her catch of a husband, a fellow revolutionary still fighting back at home. Roche, meanwhile, invigorates the angry Charlotte Corday with an intense youthful energy.

‘It’s the intimate not the grand dramas that touch people the most,’ Marianne observes in instruction for Olympe’s to find ‘the heart not the art’. The apt words are some of many within the play that sum up its experience, for although its story is drama filled, it is also ultimately hopeful about the power of legacy. Indeed, while its reminder of women’s importance in history is particularly resonate around the time of International Women’s Day, its important ultimate messages about the fundamental role of theatre and culture in history and civilisation, and the essence of stories to humanity are enduring. In The Curator’s highly-capable hands “The Revolutionists” is a wonderful work of humour and heart that only really leaves its audience wondering why the satire is not being more widely staged. It’s passionate, powerful, political and all the rest when it comes to descriptors than moniker the type of theatre that you want to tell everyone to go and see ASAP.