And so this was…

As John Lennon asks in his now Christmas standard, “so, this is Christmas and what have you done?” Reflection becomes par-for-the-course at the tail end of the holiday period, including of shows seen during the year passed and in what has become typical, my favourites are a little off-kilter from the perhaps usual list of big-budget showcases.

Local shows aside for a moment and 2015 allowed me opportunity to see the London productions of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “The Book of Mormon”. I am yet to hear of anyone who has seen the Dog in the Night-Time on stage and not raved about the experience. And justifiably so; it is the best dramatic production I have ever seen, anywhere. And as for “The Book of Mormon”…. is there any feeling better than being able to tick from an in-mind list of shows you want to see. For me, this musical had been at the top of my to-see list for a number of years, replaced now by “Something Rotten” and while the show is shocking in its satire, it’s quite brilliant and definitely up there as one of my favourites.


But that is not say that Brisbane has not seen its share of great shows of all sorts, from which my favourites would be:

  1. All My Love (HIT Productions) – the story of Australia’s best-known poet and writer Henry Lawson and his relationship with fellow poet Mary Gilmore.
  2. The Confidence Man (Side Pony Productions) – a choose-your-own-adventure of the theatrical kind as audience members use smartphone to flick between the characters’ stories, tuning in on their innermost thoughts as the action unfolds.
  3. The Importance of Being Earnest (W!ld Rice) – a witty all-male telling of Oscar Wilde’s immortal play, as part of the Brisbane Festival.
  4. Candide (Opera Q) – opera at its most accessible, merging music and comedy in a colourful and energetic search for Eden.
  5. Tiptoe (Pentimento Productions) – Two timeframes unfold simultaneously on stage in this Australian psychological thriller with a twist from acclaimed playwright Sven Swenson.

With appreciation of the notion that theatre-going begets theatre-going, I am also confident, however, that 2016 will bring with it a range of shows and potential new favourites. So, as Lennon also says…. “Let’s hope it’s a good one”.

Gothic greatness

Tiptoe (Pentimento Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

June 17 – 20

Critically acclaimed Brisbane playwright Sven Swenson’s “Tiptoe” is set in 1918/19 Logan Village. Even without having read any show blurbs, it is clear that staging is representative of a time gone by; the Powerhouse Theatre stage looks appropriately weathered and worn in its representation of a sparse house. For a moment it feels a bit Anne of Green Gables-ish, with mention of porch chair pondering and an evening visitor from across the gully. It is quickly clear, however, that Binny Broadroot (Sarah McLeod), is no Anne of Avonlea.

When the audience meets the foul-mouthed, formidable and very funny Binny on Valentine’s Day 1919, she has little to celebrate. With a lover lost in Great War, she is full of superstition and yearning, but only behind closed doors. Six weeks earlier, on New Year’s Eve, 1918, Angus Drummond (James Trigg) and Seth McClusky, (Sam Ryan) two recently returned soldiers, sneak away to a dilapidated humpy to tend to their home-made still and share in their forbidden love, unaware of the far-reaching consequences about to be befall.


Each of these three characters desperately clings to their vision of a perfect life as the two timeframes unfold simultaneously side by side. And the result of the overlap of these two different scenes is quite astounding to experience. Engaging as the stories are individually, when they collide together with shared lines and thematic focus, audiences can only marvel at the precision and craftedness of the piece, as they try to keep up with its fast pace and only retrospectively recognisable hints, such is the script’s subtle cleverness.

biddy and ghost

The two scenes occur under the watchful eye of Binny’s fallen beau, Snow (Michael Deed), who hovers as narrator of his letters home from war. Full of eloquence in his meditations of life and love, his words are perhaps the most enduring of the evening, as he takes audiences into the heart of the human condition with observations about secrets and life, emphasising the Australian psychological thriller’s examination of the price of the post-war fairytale in a changed world and the haunting power of secrets, for there are more wars that just those that are named.

Sven Swenson has a talent for dialogue and “Tiptoe” proves to be no exception. The script is brilliant and its dialogue strikingly authentic down to the finest of language details. The show is a long one, told as it is in three acts with two intermissions, but necessarily so, given the many clever threads to its tightly-woven fabric. And it is only in Act Three, when the plot twists around upon itself in unforseen ways, that its genius can truly be appreciated.

As the always inappropriate, commanding central figure Binny, Sarah McLeod is captivating, however, she could not shine as she does without the impressive work of her fellow performers, particularly Caitlin Hill as young newly-wed Justine Cutler. Initially girlish as accused by Binny, she soon transforms before the audience’s eyes. And while Acts One and Two belong to the ladies, Act Three is dominated by Sam Ryan’s masterful execution. Cameron Clark, too, as Justine’s youthful newlywed husband Archie, gives an appropriately youthful performance when naïve, when drunk and when naïve and drunk.


“Tiptoe” is a daring and confronting show in its inclusion of strong language, simulated sexual violence and full frontal nudity. But it is also an outstanding piece of theatre that needs to be seen more than once, if only so you can take in the elements missed the first time around. There is so much happening on stage, it is difficult to settle focus for any length of time, which keeps audience members guessing until its final moments and enhances the discomfort of some of the gothic thriller’s storyline. It might be more marathon than sprint, but this only makes the “Tiptoe” journey more satisfying.