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.  

Triple eXcellence

Triple X (Queensland Theatre)

Queensland Theatre, Bille Brown Theatre

March 6 – April 1

“Triple X” is the brand-new Australian story and world premiere that audiences have been waiting a year for, given that the co-production between Queensland Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company made it only to a second preview performance before being devastatingly shut down due to COVID-19 in 2020. And the anti-romance is most definitely been worth the wait. The funny play is an honest and moving love story that is both powerful in the way it reflects society back to us, but incredibly entertaining in its unprecedented storytelling about love in the 21st century.

Scotty (Josh McConville) is living the dream. A successful Wall Street banker, he is about to marry his beautiful and very rich girlfriend. On the eve of their wedding, his family descends of his recently purchased multi-million dollar Tribeca loft. While the philosophical differences between Scott, his just-returned-from-Nepal socially-conscious lesbian sister Claire (Contessa Treffone in a Queensland Theatre debut) and his straight-out-of-Kentucky conservative mother Deborah (the multi award winning Christen O’Leary) are clear, this conflict is just beginning. Behind the brash excess of the ‘player’ masculine veneer he bounces off his friend Jase (Elijah Williams), Scotty is really existing in internally-conflicted quiet desperation, wondering what he is doing with his life. As an audience, we come to realise this through flashbacks to his months beforehand initial interaction and then ongoing affair with charismatic trans drag performer Dexie (Glace Chase), a self-proclaimed typical stop on men’s journey to their destination sexuality.

Just as Lady Gaga synopsised, Scotty and Dexi are soon caught in a bad (but raunchy) romance, reflection on which causes Act Two to pivot in its flashbacks, including explanation of why Deborah is triggered into an out-of-nowhere rant in Act One. With his secret on his mind, Scotty must make a choice between the comfort of familiarity and the fulfilment of a future he never envisioned.

Not only is this vital work a unique story, but it is told from the unique perspective of its straight male protagonist. And McConville is excellent in the role of Scotty, giving a performance that reflects that different layers of his character as he makes sense of the attraction he and Dexi share and then navigates their resulting out-of-bounds love affair. It is playwright, Glace Chase (who is originally from Australia but left almost a decade ago for New York) however, who not only gives audiences the first Australian mainstage love story involving a transgender person, but also a phenomenal performance. Chase is magnetic as the candid Dexi, bold but vulnerable and funny, except when trying to be on stage in her club act. She is likeable and genuine and someone you want in your orbit. Indeed, she and Scotty are both presented as very real characters, complex in their multi-dimensions, sometimes unpleasant but always identifiable through their inner conflicts, which makes the show’s laid-bare moments so emotionally affecting. O’Leary, too, gifts Scotty’s mum a familiar authenticity as she expresses everything she is thinking, continuing with conversations when others have moved on and assuming an apparent ignorance-is-bliss acceptance of convenient explanations that align with her own wants.

Designer Renee Mulder has provided a stylish split level set to authentically locate the action in Scotty’s home and flashback transitions are all smooth. In fact, the whole experience is well-paced, including its insertion of Dexi’s Candyland club performance as part of transitions between present and flashback scenes. Rather than existing merely as filler, these offer an additional perspective as to the truth of her character as her adorable awkwardness of often not quite nailing it only enhances our favour.

The production is filled with carefully-curated attentions to detail, down to the level of the strangest of interval song versions, whose meanings becomes clear when we return to Dexi’s club act soon after. Its outstanding script also sees themes of toxic masculinity, societal expectations, gender politics and love intricately woven together. Indeed, multitalented and multiple award-winning playwright Chase’s clever, honest writing takes us from absolutely hilarity courtesy of O’Leary’s physical comedy of alarm to shocking and sad moments that audibly reverberate around the audience, all within the duration of only just a few scenes.

“Triple X” comes with a list of warnings; it contains blackouts and the use of herbal cigarettes, but also frequent strong language, nudity, adult themes including domestic violence and references to suicide, drug use, sexual references and sex scenes. And the production’s Intimacy and Fight Director Nigel Poulton’s hand hoovers over many sections. Under Paige Rattray’s direction, however, things never sit too long in the story’s trauma. Rather, the thematic focuses are balanced and the audience is left with a lasting message of the importance of focussing on hope, although the work does include transphobic language and acts of violence that may be triggering for some audience members.

“Triple X” may be severe in some of its themes, but it is also a dynamic and hysterically funny story, meaning that its 2 hours and 30 minutes’ duration (including a 20-minute interval) seems to fly by in what feels like the shortest of time. Its honest commentary on the complicated issues of gender and sexuality may initially appear to make it a show not for the light-hearted, however, the spring of its opening night audience to their feet in standing ovation for three curtain calls ongoing even as the house lights came on, shows how it is about so much more than this. Wickedly funny, moving and provocative, this is excellent theatre which appropriately had its opening night audience raving and which theatregoers everywhere should see.

Photos c/o – Brett Boardman