IsoLation appreciation

The IsoLate Late Show – Episode 10 (The Little Red Company)

May 29

ffe4bee3-0800-4b71-b95c-16f692ef951a-2-1024x535

Proving that isolation’s more fun when you do it together, the little red company has, for the last 10 weeks, been banding together with other talented performers for an online live concert series to raise money for Queensland’s creative workforce who are facing perilous loss in the wake of COVID-19’s catastrophic hit to the arts industry. The concept concert, “The IsoLate Late Show”, is not only entirely philanthropic, but also immensely enjoyable for audiences watching its weekly Friday night live Facebook broadcast. And appropriately, its final episode sees both a set list of audience requests from the past 10 weeks and the show’s core artists making music in the same (socially distanced) space. Not only are they finally making music together in real life, but they are doing it on the stage at Brisbane’s beloved art-deco music venue the Tivoli theatre. And with tons of tinsel and a razzle dazzle jacket, the atmosphere is sparkling as they set towards an ultimate $100K fundraiser goal for the Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund QLD.

Amongst its reflection on the last ten weeks of shows from home, Episode 10 of “The IsoLate Late Show” enables its own highlights, especially thanks to its bigger space and increased performer numbers. The duets are what make our dreams come true, from Luke Kennedy and Lai Utouvou’s Hall and Oats to Tom Oliver and Irena Lysiuk’s ‘Kids’ and a feel-good ‘Time of My Life’ closer from Kennedy and the show’s host Naomi Price to remind us that nobody puts the arts in the corner.

Numbers also provide opportunity to give live band members their moments to shine. Tom Oliver’s epically-rock ‘My Sharona’ allows Jason McGregor to show some impressive guitar riffs and, helping Luke Kennedy doing what he does best in Farnham’s ‘Age of Reason’, Michael Manikus is a maestro on keys. Naomi Price, too, is on-point in show of her versatility, from a high-energy ‘River Deep Mountain High’ opener to a croony ‘Make You Feel Your Love’ gentle and sweet take back to her Adele cabaret show “Rumour Has It”.

There is eclecticism to the show’s set list of audience requests, curated together in the most magnificent of ways, taking audiences from Rachel Everett-Jones and Lai Utouvou’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’, full of pep courtesy of its quick paced vocals and trademark percussion, to Tom Oliver’s infectious disco energy, being finally allowed to do a Bee Gees number.

Songs are also strategically selected with on-point messages, appropriate for these uncertain times. Quarantine Queen Irena Lysiuk gives audiences another stunning Cher number with a beautifully-arranged ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, while Rachel Everett-Jones offers reminder that it’s going to be bright and sunshiny on the other side of these dark and difficult days, with ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. The strings musicians of Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, remind us of both our wonderful world and the wonderful art form that classical music can be with a moving arrangement of Satchmo’s signature song and, appropriately for the season’s finale, Luke Kennedy and Rachel Everett-Jones’ ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ makes for a spectacular high point.

After ten weeks of tireless effort assembling and delivering theatre to our lounge rooms, the cast and creatives of “The IsoLate Late Show” deserve only the most hyperbolic of acclamation for reminding audiences of both Brisbane’s talent and an industry that is determined to still stand. And for that, we should be we should be dancing in appreciative celebration indeed (#takeitfromTom).

little red relief

The IsoLate Late Show (The Little Red Company)

March 20

For the performing arts sector, the enormity of the coronavirus is unparalleled. Yet in response to the devastation, members of the creative community who should be on stage, found a way to do exactly that last Friday night, #kindasorta, in a star-studded cabaret show. It took just 48 hours of these unprecedented and unpredictable times for the little red company to put together a banger of an online show live from a living room. With an audience of over 45 000 viewers, the very first episode of “The IsoLate Late Show” raised over $58,000 for the Actors and Entertainers Benevolent Fund… an effort very deserving of all-around air-fives.

90486105_10158527181543866_7143286527492096000_n

Leading the charge to keep the community together, our quick-witted emcee of sorts Naomi Price bursts out with ‘Rolling in the Deep’. Adele is clearly in Price’s comfort zone, as those who have seen her “Rumour Has It” show know, with the English singer-songwriter’s work featuring throughout, even within memorable mashup with the Spice Girls. There is hint, also to Price’s “Lady Beatle” cabaret show, which enjoyed a smash return season at La Boite Theatre last year, when members of Queensland Chamber Orchestra, Camerata, slow things down with a tribute to ‘all the lonely people’ in The Fab Four’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ultimately proving that the sweetest songs do not always need vocal accompaniment.

The show offers lots of opportunities to sing, dance (not too close) and bop along to feel good songs like ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ from ‘old mate’ Luke Kennedy. His ‘The Best’ is far from the footy anthem many may know; layered with lingering light touches, it is infused with sincerity in support of its essentially positive message. However, as those who have had privilege of seeing his “From Johnny to Jack” cabaret show are aware, no Luke Kennedy set is complete without some Farnsie, and with some sensational string accompaniment courtesy of Camerata’s musicians, his soulful ‘Help’ both satisfies this expectation and whets the appetite for an encore of sorts share of the anthemic “The Voice”, which, as always, showcases his phenomenal, powerhouse vocals.

91004779_10158527181513866_7269274376598454272_n

The who’s who of Brisbane cabaret performers continues with Tom Oliver, who mixes things up with a toilet-paper worthy performance that takes us from Bee Gee’s high-note hand washing reminder to country and western, and even reggae realisations in response to audience requests, before summing up the show’s sentiment in ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. Things slow down with Lai Utovou and Rachel Everett-Jones‘ share of Simon & Garfunkel’s sensitive signature song, ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ in humble reminder that comfort for those in need is closer than they might think.

90578306_10158527181613866_3025659053914193920_n

Lai Utovou himself shares a smooth sway-along BB King song and, in her Little Red Company debut, Irena Lysiuk showcases her velvety voice as she gives the audience a laid back but still vulnerable take of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, leading to singalong of its iconic testament to turbulent times of thunder. It is one of many wonderful moments of appreciated connection in a world where isolating is so foreign. Indeed, the new concept shows how even from your front room, audience involvement can be achieved, through call and response or even just through the online stream of comments.

For members of a crippled industry to come together in such a hopeful fashion is certainly a testament to their spirit. And, not only this, but they are planning to do it all over again this Friday March 27th. Hear them and help them via live stream on the company’s Facebook page, if you have ever enjoyed a Little Red Company show or performance of one of these artists, or even just a show in general. In the meantime you can continue to enjoy the full first show, knowing that donations are still welcome at www.theisolatelateshow.com. Every dollar raised goes directly to creative workers who desperately need the relief of financial assistance at this time, especially freelancers, sole traders and casual employees.

Silly season spirit

Christmas Actually (The Little Red Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

December 5 – 8

As Act React’s “Love/Hate Actually” recently revealed, the Christmas-themed Richard Curtis film “Love Actually” is a contentious one. It seems that everyone has an opinion because come December time it seems that is always all around with its ten interconnected love stories told over five weeks leading up to Christmas.

As a concert cabaret show inspired by the film’s soundtrack, “Christmas Actually” begins aptly with the reappropriated ‘Love is all Around’, complete with that attempt to squeeze an extra syllable into the fourth line. It’s a somewhat slow start, but by the time the audience becomes the brass bit of ‘All You Need to Love’, it is clear that its festive spirit is going to be contagious.

47501173_2045073615581483_7510427169542111232_n.jpg

Its headliner, Naomi Price is a generous performer, allowing both band members (Mik Easterman, Scott French, Andrew Johnson, and Michael Manikus) and singers alike their own opportunities to shine in share of the film’s iconic music. In particular, fellow “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” alumnus Stefanie Caccamo haunts Dido’s ‘Here with Me’ with her lingering, vulnerable vocals. Luke Kennedy is every bit the part in Santana’s ‘Smooth’ and in Tom Oliver’s talented hands ‘White Christmas’ has never sounded better.

Meanwhile, the simple sincerity of Joni Mitchell’s serene ‘Songbird’, is a wonderful showcase of Price’s voice. Even more enthralling is her reverential and plaintive version of Mitchell’s heartbreaking ‘Both Sides Now’, echoing Emma Thompson’s beautiful play of the scene in the film and moving many in the audience to both tears and then mid-show standing ovation. The mature sounds of its bittersweet sincerity, are not only captivating, but also serve to showcase Price’s vocal versatility alongside her upbeat soar of schmaltzy sing-a-long seasonal staples like Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’.

47508299_2045073785581466_1191544981563637760_n.jpg

With “Christmas Actually” there is no need to think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport to cast any gloom aside; its joy is all around. The show is full of fun and humour, often courtesy of Price’s wicked sense of humour and quick wit in interacting with the audience and shift into seemingly surprising segues. And then of course, there is also a perfectly choreographed ‘Hugh Grant’ dance number, an energetic nativity play lobster and an on-point Carols in the Domain parody, complete with ‘appearance’ of an array of Australian musical talent.

As past experience has shown, the little red company’s shows are defined by their balance of whimsy, sentiment and comical commentary and “Christmas Actually” is no exception. The brainchild of Price and Adam Brunes is the ultimate silly-season starter, crafted to crescendo to joyous celebration of the Christmas spirit that not even the bah-humbugiest of humans can resist. And once it is over (all too soon), you will bounce out in jubilant memory of its charm, knowing that no Spotify Christmas ride-home playlist will do it justice (#wetried).

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans 

Top dog theatre

A Coupla Dogs (Dog Spoon)

Theatre Republic, The Block

September 25 – 29

a-coupla-dogs.jpg

‘Two dogs, one kennel, five days”… the tagline of Dog Spoon’s Brisbane Festival show “A Coupla Dogs” perhaps conveys expectations of a playful night out, especially attractive in its palatable 60 minutes running time for those may be suffering from Week Three festival fatigue. The world premiere work by co-writers Director Andrew Cory and Sue Rider, is, however, so much more than just this promise as it takes its audience to some political and also poetic places all within its distinctive dog kennel setting.

It is, as it promises by its tagline, a tale two dogs, Old Dog (Ron Kelly) and Young Dog (Tom Oliver). We don’t know their names, but their personalities pretty quickly become clear. Old Dog is fighter who profanely tells it as it, in straight talk that sits alongside clever dialogue abundant with canine idioms. Immediately, he asserts his dominance over the newly-arrived ‘Christmas dog’, bursting with puppy, eagerness and naïve joy.

We meet them in simple but effective staging at ‘Beryl’s Kennels (Barb Lowing in voice over), a substandard private animal refuge where they await a fate. As they do, they discuss dog philosophy and life in general. And there-in lies the bite to its bark as all sorts of social issues are considered and alluded to, from media impartiality to treatment of our underdogs.

Despite Old Dog’s aggression and essentially pessimistic outlook, it begins quite light-heartedly as legs are humped and the dogs move from playing dead to venturing into the audience in search of tummy-rub-type affection. Then the tone shifts, aided by Jason Glenwright’s lighting design, and things become serious in analogy of the people problems being mirrored to the audience in contemplation of the way we all live and interact on this planet and how we treat our most vulnerable.

While the aesthetics signpost the show’s shift quite dramatically, Kelly and Oliver complement this also in their nuanced guidance towards the ultimately affecting ending. Kelly is memorable in his show of his softer side in contrast to early bravado, in talk of his relationship with his previous owner. And Oliver similarly shows an extensive range in his transition from bumbling puppy to determined enlightenment that every dog will have its day. Indeed, it is difficult to take your eyes off the duo, not just in impress of their obvious stamina and energy to act in entirety as dogs, but due to the engagement created by their physical performances, down to smallest touch such as holding hands as paws for the show’s duration.

There’s no bones about it; this new work is certainly unique, but it is so both in its concept and execution, which makes it interesting as well as entertaining. By using comedy to consider some of the planet’s problems, “A Coupla Dogs” not only leaves us laughing, but provokes its audience to after-show contemplation and conversation, which is exactly as it should be for a festival work.

More cabaret magic

More than a Boy (Tom Oliver)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

November 24 – 27

Tom Oliver is a fabulous entertainer – charismatic, energetic and of fantastic voice and “More Than a Boy” more than does justice to his talents. The one-man cabaret show, which features an eclectic mix of original songs (written by Tom, Andrew McNaughton and Wes Carr), theatre tunes and reworked contemporary hits, is a playful right-of-passage about family and adventure, a tale that is close-to-home for Oliver.

It is the type of story that is written in our very humanity… of a Croatian boy who, dreaming of a life away from the turmoil of a united Yugoslavia, migrates to New Zealand. With pathos and humour, Oliver shares tell of the sacrifices that must come with dislocation from family and heritage, but enlightens the moods with some skilled characterisation, never missing an accented beat. In its title song too, he delivers outstanding vocals and impressive ability to hold a note, both within the show proper and in later refrain. His share of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ is another standout as he travels from tormented to triumphant in the re-appropriated lyrics.

While audience members may not recognise all the numbers, this serves as no barrier to engagement; in fact the range of genres represented only adds to appreciation of the performer’s skill as he delivers “Moulan Rouge” musical poignancy alongside a “Toy Story” anthem and then pumping punkish number. But the show never seems comfortable in its soundtrack; in early sections, the rapid transition in styles is a little jarring at the expense of the fluency of an essential narrative that is appealing enough in itself.

tom-oliver

“More than a Boy” packs a lot into its hour-long running time as it jumps around musical styles in support of its story. While a particularly profane later number, for example, is appreciated by the audience, it undos a lot of the momentum of the show’s story. Enhancing the experience however, is the live band that accompanies Oliver through the journey of the story’s emotions, working with lighting to set the scene aesthetically through, for example, a rolling high-seas journey.

With a solo show, there is nowhere for a performer to hide, a truth that Oliver embraces; he is the kind of performer who understands the power of simplicity, captivating the audience again and again with his marvellous voice in show of the magic of cabaret. And in his hands, the show is set to only go from strength to strength.

Once upon a twisted fairytale time

Into the Woods (Harvest Rain)

QPAC, Concert Hall

October 1 – 4

Since its premiere on Broadway 30 years ago, “Into the Woods” has endured in many stage productions and, recently, a cinematic release, meaning that, although this Harvest Rain Theatre Company incantation is the first to have been produced professionally in Queensland, it is a story well known to many audience members.

Typically fairytale-like the story tells of how once upon a time, in a small village at the edge of the woods in a far off kingdom a collection of childhood fairy tale characters’ lives were interwoven together. It’s an ultimately complex and twisted tale that begins simply enough with The Baker (Eddie Perfect) and his wife (Rachael Beck) embarking on a journey into the woods when they discover they are cursed in being forever childless by a vengeful Witch (Rhonda Burchmore).

bakers

To break the spell the couple must collect the ingredients needed to restore the Witch’s beauty: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold, whereupon they come across Jack (of the Beanstalk), Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella. This makes it sweeping ear-worm Prologue theme all the more memorable as it introduces the carefree characters and their wishes without hint of what is yet to come.

rhonda

In true Stephen Sondheim’s fashion, the show features a delicious orchestral score with some great songs including the pantomime-esque ‘Agony’ argument of two princes over who has it worst, and the soaringly-eerie witch’s’ anthem ‘Last Midnight’, focused more often on conversational lyrics rather than emotional belting. And the orchestra, silhouetted upstage as if in the woods, does an excellent job under conductor Jason Barry-Smith in bringing them to triumphant or lingering life.

“Into the Woods” is a show of contrasts beyond just its musical numbers. Act One is almost self-contained with characters seeing their wishes realised. However, sometimes desired achievement can be fraught with danger. And, in exploration of this, the second act is quite dark (and a little dragging). Sound and lighting capture this juxtaposition well, particularly in mark of the entrance of an angry giant to challenge the characters’ new-found fulfilment.

While the Concert Hall stage has been transformed into an effectively gnarled forest of delights and ultimate darkness, with such a large ensemble cast often on stage if not together than in relatively quick succession, the action often appears cramped, despite the precision of entrance and exit choreography. This also means that the show’s headliner stars don’t always have room to appropriately shine.

phonda glamRhonda Burchmore is powerfully diva-esque as she belts out ‘Last Midnight’ in a manner befitting a Bond theme, however, within withered witch mode she is faced with a linguistically challenging prologue introduction rap about greens that fails to do her voice justice. Rachel Beck is wholesome as ever as the Baker’s wife and Eddie Perfect’s performance is full of charm, and together their voices harmonise well. Tom Oliver is a spritely and engaging Jack, complete with his push-bike ‘cow’, while as his mother, Penny Farrow projects a solid stage presence and great diction.

cow

Some of the most noteworthy performances, however, come courtesy of the comic talents of Kimberley Hodgson and Steve Hirst. Hodgson is full of sass as the not-easily-frightened Red Riding Hood, complete with her own rape whistle, making the role her own with a lively and engaging take. Like in the original Broadway production, there is a doubling of parts, with Hirst playing the lewd wolf and lustful Cinderella’s prince, both unable to control their appetites, with equally sensational performances, appreciated by generous audience applause.

prince

Although its source material is one of the more family-friendly and audience-accessible works in the Sondheim library, this “Into the Woods” is no feel-good fairy tale for children, with acts of murder, mutilation, adultery and sexual harassment emerging as the initially innocent-enough story unfolds. Although it gets there is the end with its messages about accepting responsibility for one’s actions, Harvest Rain’s “Into the Woods” sometimes falls short of its potential. However, its humour is appealing and its sounds are strong, which is enough to keep most musical fans satisfied.

red

Photos c/o – Nick Morrissey