Love, lifeboats and laughs

Titanic: The Movie, The Play (Act React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Plaza

August 19 – September 19

The staggered rise again of the curtain of the arts means that the industry still needs our support as much as ever it did in the last year that wasn’t. Attendance at the return, third season of Act React’s “Titanic: The Movie, The Play” represents the perfect opportunity with which to support a Brisbane-based company; it takes place outdoors in the Brisbane Powerhouse Plaza, includes lots of hand sanitiser moments and brings with it bundles of laughs. Indeed, the energetic and hilarious live show guarantees audiences an iconic ‘king of the world’ type experience not easily forgotten.   

While at its core, the show’s concept exists as a homage to the epic ‘90s romance movie “Titanic”, contemporary references abound, and are about more than just things going on in this new-normal time. But first we must make our way to the ship… and so things begin with a submarine safety briefing as we head down into the centre of the North Atlantic in search of the heart of the ocean necklace treasure that the first of many audience volunteers sets out to retrieve.

After an appearance from the elderly Rose DeWitt (Natalie Bochenski), our narrator of sorts, we are whisked back in time to April 1912 to be welcomed by The Captain (Scott Driscoll) and Molly Brown (Johanna Lyon) et al aboard the grandest and most unsinkable ship in history, its bow high above us. Enter a young aristocratic Rose, on the arm of an arrogant son of a steel tycoon, Billy Zane (Christopher Batkin)… because how can you cram a show with jokes about Billy Zane’s career if you know him by his character name of Cal.

Act React specialises in pop-culture inspired performances and along with “Speed: The Move The Play”, “Titanic: The Movie, The Play” endures as one of its best, even upon a third visit, as fourth walls are dropped for immediate engagement as poor artist Jack (Daren King) and a random Mario (Tom Dunstan) excitedly embark upon what promises to be quite the exuberant and sometimes steamy journey, as those familiar with key scenes from the epic 1997 James Cameron source material movie would know to expect.

The always-energetic cast maintains the irreverent approach as a rotation of audience ‘volunteers’ become Rose (using cue cards for stage directions and dialogue) along her journey of love, lifeboats (donated by the Queensland Maritime Museum) and loss, and the performers are expert at responding to the different energies and approaches that these additions bring, with ad libs that contribute much bonus humour. Add to this a pack of puns, some deliberately low-budget special effects and a pile of potential favourite moments … from a sad mainly-audience-member band of triangle, ukulele and recorder player and an animated Mario Kart transition to a rogue (and somewhat persistent) iceberg … and you are guaranteed some cheeky comedy (#literally!)

The delight and unite of theatre

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Theatre-going may beget theatre-going, but the end of year does provide welcome respite to relax and reflect upon the bevy of brilliant shows that Brisbane audiences have be privileged to experience in 2016. As for me, from 150 shows seen, there have been many favourites, including:

  1. The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite Theatre Company) – The fast and furious story of rampant revenge that we thought we knew is an evocation of the play, the man and ourselves thanks to the hard questions asked by Daniel Evans and Marcel Dorney.
  1. Disgraced (Queensland Theatre presenting a Melbourne Theatre Company Production) – Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning intense and absorbing drama which fearlessly puts contemporary attitudes towards politics, race and religion under the microscope in exploration of freedom of speech, political correctness and the prejudices towards Islam, even in the most progressive cultural circles.
  1. True West (Brisbane Powerhouse, Troy Armstrong Management, Thomas Larkin and Annette Box) – Sam Shepperd’s modern classic which sees two desert-dwelling brothers go head-to-head, kicking and thrusting towards physical and psychological showdown in desperate pursuit of the American Dream.
  1. The Secret River (Queensland Theatre presenting a Sydney Theatre Company production) – Kate Grenville’s story of two families divided by culture and land on the banks of the frontier Hawkesbury River in the early nineteenth century.
  1. Bastard Territory (Queensland Theatre) – A complex, beautiful story about people that transports audiences back in time to the swinging ‘60s PNG and the bohemian days of 1975 NT, before settling in 2001, as Darwin sits poised for political progress.
  • Best performance – Thomas Larkin as Lee in True West (Brisbane Powerhouse), Ngoc Phan in as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire (La Boite)
  • Best staging – Madama Butterfly (Opera Q)
  • Best lighting – Snow White (La Boite, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best AV – The Wider Earth (Queensland Theatre)
  • Most interesting – Disgraced (Queensland Theatre, QPAC)
  • Best New Work – The Tragedy of King Richard III (La Boite)
  • Best Shakespeare – Twelfth Night (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)
  • Best musical – The Sound of Music (Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, John Frost and The Really Useful Group)
  • Best cabaret – California Crooners Club (Parker + Mr French, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best dance – Huang Up & Kuka (Brisbane Powerhouse, WTF)
  • Funniest – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre – UK, Brisbane Festival)
  • Most fun – Titanic The Movie The Play (Act/React, Brisbane Comedy Festival)
  • Most moving – The Secret River (Queensland Theatre)

Although many of my personal highlights have been international acts, often featuring as part of festivals, these cultural feasts have also delivered some excellent locally-themed theatre amid the internationalisation on offer. It is the delight of theatre that events such as these can not only inspire creativity, but also unity in cultural participation. Hopefully 2017 will see more people realising theatre’s accessibility, because it is not about a specialist language or privileged perspective but rather just people telling a story or sharing a way of looking at the world… things that are at the core of our essential humanity.

All aboard for amusement

Titanic: The Movie, The Play (Act/React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Plaza

September 29 – October 22

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Just when you thought it was safe to return to the Powerhouse Plaza, the unsinkable RMS Titanic is ready to set sail for its second season in the immersive “Titanic: The Movie, The Play”. The show, which gives audience members opportunity to strap on a life jacket and jump aboard in shameless homage to the epic ‘90s romance of aristocratic Rose and lowborn Jack, comes complete with deliberately low-budget special effects and non-stop laughter for those lucky enough to have booked a berth.

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Guided by Old Rose (Natalie Bochenski) reminiscing for the first time (for a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets) about when, years earlier, she got on a boat and had sex in a car, the audience is taken aboard the wannabe passenger liner.

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As her story unfolds, a bunch of Roses are selected from the audience to don big-brimmed hat and imitation Le Cœur de la Mer Heart of the Ocean blue diamond necklace (as was the fashion of the time) to feature as fiancé to hilarious sleazy dudebro Billy Zane (Daren King) or get steamy with the poor artist Jack (co-writer Dan Beeston), who has boarded the board with a bindle packed with an academic award.

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Intertextual and pop culture references pepper the piece. A ‘Pretty Woman’ montage, complete with musical accompaniment that sees Molly Brown (Elizabeth Hannah) helping Jack to dress to dinner with options, including a pink Gatsby-esque suit, serves as particularly highlight. And dialogue is packed with Billy Zane movie title puns. In every aspect, the versatility of the show’s performers is undeniable, evidenced in their improvised responsiveness to the audience, the outdoor setting and on-stage participants.

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As the world’s greatest story of ill-fated love, loss and lifeboats (courtesy of the Queensland Maritime Museum), Act/React’s cheeky, energetic parody picks up where their 2015 smash hit “Speed: The Movie, The Play” (set aboard a vintage bus) left off and, is guaranteed to have audience in fits of often-snorty laughter. Be warned though. Along with its all sorts of amusement, “Titanic The Movie The Play” contains dodgy special effects, that Celine Dion song from atop the show’s custom-built replica of the Titanic’s iconic bow and jokes about Billy Zane’s career that never grow old.

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A nautical night to remember

Titanic: The Movie, The Play (Act React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Plaza

March 2 – 19

‘Boy meets girl meets iceberg’…. turns out that the premise of James Cameron’s 1997 epic melodrama, “Titanic” is actually one laden with levity, as seen in “Titanic: The Movie, The Play”.  The love story of aristocratic Rose and poor artist Jack aboard the ill-fated passenger liner is making its maiden voyage at the Brisbane Comedy Festival courtesy of Act/React, the Brisbane-based comedy troupe behind the hit “Speed The Movie The Play”.

Although the movie’s source material is condensed from 3+ hours into a palatable 60 minute interactive 3-D experience, all of the key scenes appear in Jack and Rose’s fraternisation despite being passengers of different classes – Jack teaches Rose to fly, Rose poses nude for Jack’s sketching and then uses an axe to free him from his handcuffed confine and then there is that steamy sex scene signalled by hand to a car window. There is even appearance from Celine to croon of how her heart will go on from atop the impressive set, built from scratch by volunteers from the Queensland Maritime Museum.

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Jokes are generated from more than just its movie namesake source material. Those familiar with Leonardo DiCaprio and Billy Zane’s respective film catalogues will find fun in recognition of the script’s many, clever inset references. Indeed, it is the smallest details that provide much of the show’s humour – from the Oscar stuffed in Jack’s bindle to the iceberg’s ‘How’s my driving?’ bumper sticker.

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Despite its watchmen’s best hair-dryer efforts, the rogue iceberg seems set to ruin the ocean liner’s unsinkable reputation and as audience members join the band of musicians, others are soon strapping on life jackets and abandoning ship into the three full sized lifeboats leaving behind Jack and Rose to try and remain afloat.

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In the hands of director and co-writer Greg Rowbotham  this shameless homage to the most epic romance of the ‘90s is high energy and heaps of fun (and not just in its ‘fun facts’) and therein lies its appeal. Audience interaction is positive and without pressure (although you might have to show off some signature dance moves).

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“Titanic: The Movie, The Play” is a hilarious heap of absurdism and great for a group outing that could be become every person for themselves with some ending up in first class and some in steerage. For a guaranteed night to remember of non-stop face-aching laughter, do not miss the boat in securing a place on board this most inventive voyage. It will not only serve as reminder of how fun theatre can be, but also the delight of the greatness that was Billy Zane.