Setting free from faith

Pawn Again Christian (Annie Lee)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 24 – 28

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Given the popularity of Brisbane musical comedy trio The Kransky Sisters (aka Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Carolyn Johns), it is not surprising to see the near sold-out status of Annie Lee’s first solo show “Pawn Again Christian”. The evocatively named work may be partly autobiographical in its inspiration, but still there is some Kranksy Sisters quirk, including an ukulele number about the omnipresent devil featuring audience congregation chorus sing-a-long.

The show, inspired by Lee’s life growing up in a fundamentalist religion takes us from wacky stories of living in a small Tasmanian religious community, to portrayal of those who live by the manner of faith. It’s an attention-grabbing, intriguing premise and indeed the show is full of promise, even if this is not necessary realised in its first night Brisfest outing.

After a minor false start due to a small technical issue, we are oriented to the personal nature at the centre of the story because “the truth will set you free”. Certainly Lee’s story is interesting and it would have been wonderful to see more of how she went from a strict upbringing of fervent religious practice (bible studies and weekend door-to-door witnessing) as one of the brothers and sisters of Tasmania’s Jehovah’s Witnesses living in a lighthouse in Launceston to becoming the performer she is today instead of just leaving us at the beginning of her new heathen sinner life in Kings Cross.

Instead we are taken into tell of other ideologies through transitions that are sometimes a little uneven and awkward laugher such as in the early shocking story of Lot and his wife, living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Lee’s hesitant and quietly-subdued delivery may suit the show’s confessional nature but, initially at least, there are few performative moments. These instead come when she assumes characters both within her story and in explanation of bigger religious concerns. Although a confronting scene of confession to an Irish priest drags a little longer than is needed, her characterisations are detailed, nuanced and very entertaining.

I wanted to love this show, but although all the ingredients are there, on its initial night at least, things seemed a little undercooked. One can only assume that its components will soon settle into the cohesive theatrical experience that it has the potential to be.

Bluebird obscurity

The Bluebird Mechanicals (Too Close to the Sun)

Theatre Republic, The Block

September 17 – 21


“The Bluebird Mechanicals” weaves together seemingly disparate elements – Kostya’s ghost in the aftermath of Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, the final fiery flight of the Hindenburg, and the omniscience of birds. The obscure collection of concepts is quite cleverly linked, although initially, at least, it is not clearly evident how. We start with “The Seagull” and while there is a quick recap of the classic Russian play, some audience knowledge of its characters is beneficial to the show’s accessibility. From that, there is an ornithological sidestep to explanation of unique bird sounds, some of the many animals that appear on stage, in a variety of puppet et al guises, including a spectacularly impressive bluebird costume.


Essentially the visionary solo show appears to be a series of vignettes with a linkage that emerges over time, delivered with conviction by Writer, Performer, Visual Concept, Set and Object Designer Talya Rubin. Despite its interdisciplinary nature, at 80 minutes’ duration though, “The Bluebird Mechanicals” is hard work, enjoyed more in reflection perhaps than in the reality of its languid experience. There are a lot of indulgent, contemplative pause silences through which the audience patients. There is, however, a lot to look at in the production’s detailed staging, which represents a nooks-and-crannies mix of natural history museum cabinetry and dioramas.


“The Bluebird Mechanicals” is a dense contemporary work delivered with a restraint that makes it an acquired taste type of show. Its delicate presentation of big ideas means that though a lot seems to happen, it feels like the opposite. Rather than an onslaught of ideas, the work offers opportunities for contemplation of its analogy of how the earth is like the Hindenburg destined for disaster while the sun hurtles towards us. (When we are not watching Chekov’s Nina being haunted and abandoned in a forest, we are being taken on a journey as passengers aboard the Hindenburg.)


A play suggesting that the human race is like soon to be extinct animals is not particularly joyful, but “The Bluebird Mechanicals” is, at times, quite beautiful, despite its suggestion of impending climate change disaster … to be appreciated perhaps more than enjoyed in its moments. Still, it is easy to understand its previous acclaim; this is a fascinating, unique experience of an alternative sort of storytelling, for those who like their theatre full of strange and surprise.


And then Eurydice

Eurydice (The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledegook Theatre)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 17 – 21


‘It is a tradition for this style of storytelling to be told from a book that is special and personal’, audiences are told at the outset of “Eurydice”. We see this subsequently enacted in the prop accompaniment that Louise WIlliams has in-hand for the duration of her delivery of what, at times, seems like a dynamic Ted talk #inagoodway, full of energy and engaging eye-contact, but with an appealing informality of sorts.

This is “Eurydice”, the two-handed other side of the “Orpheus” coin, a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth, full of big themes decanted into the little details of human experience. And its message is integral to our stories too through its commentary about the stories of self that we don’t always let go of as readily as we should.

We begin with a precocious five-year-old Leni, formerly Eurydice, a rough cut young girl who is soon 16 and falling for a boy, Aristaeus, and his three chord musical wooing. What follows for them is a hard and fast trajectory of the “Romeo and Juliet” sort, complete with teenage wedding and genuine belief that their choice to love each other will be forever. And so we then traverse the topography of their relationship through to intersection with Orpheus.

Like its companion work “Orpheus”, “Eurydice” is a spoken word piece with music, rather than a drama of the traditional play sort. Unfortunately, however, its live electronica beat initially overwhelms Yoshika Colwell’s guitar sounds. Indeed, while the performers’ voices harmonise together beautifully, there is a less organic feel to the show’s soundtrack comparative to “Orpheus”. Like in the earlier work though, Hades is presented as a dark, closely-guarded place where spirits and souls reside and when our story gets there, its lighting design obliges.

“Eurydice” is clearly a crafted work with thematic threads and motifs woven together within the work itself and with “Orpheus” too. Alexander Wright’s writing is eloquently poetic as if the precision of every word is being celebrated as integral to realisation of the show’s rhythm. While you don’t need to see both productions to appreciate this, back-to-back viewing does provide opportunity for a satisfying pay-off when things descend into the underworld and the traditional myth takes centre stage.

It might not be as polished as its more established “Orpheus” predecessor, and could be tightened in cohesion towards the point in which the stories intersect, however, “Eurydice” is still a worthwhile enough work in its own right.

Way into the way down

Orpheus (The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledegook Theatre)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 17 – 21

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Despite its title, “Orpheus” is not a scholarly show. The internationally award-winning retell of its titular ancient myth is about single and just-turned-30 Dave and is realised thorough spoken word and original soul music (but also some familiar songs we all know and can therefore join in singalong inclusion).

The two-hander starts with a spoiler as we are told of the tragic outcome from show’s outset; this is a story, after all, of how love can survive even death. To begin, we are taken back to see it unfold from the first meeting that begins Orpheus and Eurydice’s remarkable and precious time together, when Dave (our Orpheus) is out with the lads and a little bit pissed having a beer and a laugh. From there the story takes us through superheros, Springsteen and some pretty atrocious karaoke to him meeting Eurydice. That is until, after a whirlwind romance, he is left inconsolably lonely and alone again in a colourless world.

Like Eurydice does with Orpheus, Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger’s 2016 work fills our world with colour. This is a spoken word piece (shared from a special notebook) with music, rather than drama of the traditional play sort … and there are a lot of words within it, all of them perfectly placed. The imagery created through the script’s figurative language is moving in its beauty as much as it’s precision. Its style is mostly lyrical but there is also an appealing John Cooper Clarke-ish characteristic to its language and performance style. The Northern English rhythm to the delivery makes for some powerful slam-poetry-esque moments that are then tempered by a delicacy of ideas. Having raked audience seating facing off against each other on either side of the intimate La Boite Studio stage is not an issue, especially comparative to the impact of the obtrusive bright lights of the show’s early scenes, though this softens as action is taken way down to Hadestown.

With infectious big energy, Tom Figgins and Phil Grainger serve as the audience guides through this mesmerising story. While Figgins tells the tale of death-defying love in spoken word, Grainger’s acoustic guitar accompaniment skilfully warms the story while his rough-around-edges vocal sounds (#inagoodway) add authenticity to the adaptation’s sensibility.

“Orpheus” is an appealing show from its opening enthusiastic explanation of how expectation for a two week run has become 200+ performances later. This epic tale of gods re-imagined in modern day Britain is a truly genuine, memorable theatrical experience. Indeed, the ancient story of adventure, love and loss is told with such respect and affection that ‘I could watch again right now’, as my +1 remarked upon its conclusion.

Trilogy triumph

Revelations (Tangram Theatre)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 13 – 14


James Rowland is quite the storyteller. The first two shows of his Songs of Friendship trilogy are testament to this and in “Revelations” this tradition continues, with Rowland making expert use of alliteration and evocative language to paint the perfect picture with words so as audience members we can easily fill in any gaps with our own imaginations. The story this time is of what happens when James’s friends Sarah and Emma ask the essential man-child for his sperm to start a family.

While Rowland’s storytelling trilogy to an extent shares the same cast of characters and an element of autobiography, there’s a deliberately blurry line between fact and fiction as we are taken through the opening words of “Team Viking” “I’m going to tell you a story and all of it is true” to “A Hundred Different Words for Love”, which starts with assurance that “none of it is true”.

Wonder around authenticity aside, “Revelations” is a crafted piece of theatre, like the others in the revelatory storytelling cycle about love, life, friendship and death. Through-lines are threaded together not just throughout this work but those that have gone before it (though this does not serve as a barrier to stand-alone viewing), from little touches of apparent throw-always statements to the epic impact of its big themes of the search for faith sort. Indeed, it is a real treat to see how Rowland interweaves seemingly such unrelated strands as snow days, foxes, friendship and Christian youth camp recollections, with a sprinkling of nuanced pop culture references for added humorous effect.

Audience interaction is utilised in this show more than its predecessors, beginning with audience record of a song for Rowland’s niece’s birthday and continuing as ‘volunteers’ pray in tongues and catch him when falling as hint at the approaching apocalyptic-esque crescendo ending, like that prophesised in its biblical namesake. Its conclusion represents a burst of release of emotion as Rowland becomes preacher of his own sermon. Again, this shows how he is a master controller of ebb and flow and the power of evocative pause in the show’s combination of story, comedy and song – each accompanied by his own music live on stage. And he is clearly committed to the performance, even if it involves disrobing all of his clothes.

With a direction that is far from predictable, “Revelations” represents an engaging and energising theatrical experience of its own merit, but also serves as a triumphant and cathartic end to a humorous but heartfelt trilogy that we are lucky to have hosted as part of this year’s Brisbane Festival.

Rowland’s words words words

A Hundred Different Words for Love (Tangram Theatre)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 12 – 14


“A Hundred Different Words for Love” is a show about love, but it’s maybe more about words, words, words …. including consideration of it they still matter if not true. Thankfully, James Rowland is a master of words; he is a gifted storyteller who is adept at using beautiful language to make even the mundane interesting, evoking the figurative language of the script in a nuanced physical performance. Indeed, the show also demonstrates Rowland’s conviction as a performer through the things he will do for the affirmation of audience laughter. Gimmicky antics, however, are not necessary as the story is full of genuine humour, as the audience is led through an exploration of love and why one word is just not enough.

At its core, “A Hundred Different Words for Love” is about the pitfalls of being unable to express one’s feelings as we see Rowland recount meeting, wooing and falling for a girl to whom he ultimately cannot bring himself to say that big little word. At his retelling, including assumption of any necessary additional roles, we are taken through the usual romantic comedy milestones of first date, weekends away, a break-up and possible make-up, without cliché. As they appropriately are in his other of Rowland’s Songs of Friendship trilogy works, James’s friends feature throughout the story, which allows opportunity for him to jump out of the main tale to pepper it with memories and anecdotes of their bonds, without disruption to the cohesion of the show. And while there is less plot than in the initial work of the trilogy, “Team Viking”, the story is still well crafted in its call-backs to earlier not-so-random mentions.

Rowland is a vibrant and commanding, yet humble performer; it is difficult to deliberately deliver casualness but his mastery of this is what creates so much of the show’s engagement. While not the triumph of “Team Viking”, his ode to a lost friend, this is a charming show that will endear itself into audience affections. In an intimate venue such as his La Boite Studio Brisfest home, this connection is only amplified and shows that the best storytellers do not need all the extras of staging and props to enliven audience imaginations. (The only real addition to its spoken word performance is Rowland’s live keyboard playing, looped and overlapped with story-telling). “A Hundred Different Words for Love” is observational comedy in its richest form that, in the hands of this skilled performer, easily takes its audiences from humour to hope.