Fortune’s favour

Wheel of Fortune (Troy Armstrong Management, Optic Archive and Metro Arts)

Metro Arts, The Lumen Room

May 31 – June 9

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From the heights of the perhaps now iconic Wheel of Brisbane, a 360-degree panoramic view shows the Brisbane river snaking through the city. It is an imposing visage that contributes significantly to the character of the city so represents an apt location to feature in some degree, throughout many of the stories of the hybrid of stage and screen production that is “Wheel of Fortune”.  It begins late at night with a woman (The Public Servant – Meg Bowden) being followed along a riverside walkway by The American Marine (Richard Lund). From their one-night-stand interaction, the story continues through a revolving door of sexual encounters, such is the distinction of “Wheel of Fortune”, a play about playing in the city.

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It begins with video image of the South Bank skyline’s Wheel, which is a wonderful metaphor for the show’s experience as, like a Ferris wheel ride, you will eventually end up back where you started. The story has ten scenes between different pairs of lovers, with a character from each scene moving to be part of the next, until the final interaction includes one of the characters from the first pairing. It’s a case of nine degrees of separation as we are taken along the journey of one night stands, fantasies, affairs and alike, featuring characters like an Irish Au Pair (Jacqui McLaren), a 17-year-old school boy, (Brendan Lorenzo), recently-married Biology teacher (Jacqui Story), her lawyer husband (Ron Kelly) and a newly elected politician (Stephen Hirst), amongst others. As skin is bared and sexy scenes enacted, the truth of the statement that we seldom know what is really happening in others’ bedrooms shines through (or in this case anything but, as, in the play that is all about sex, not one scene is set in a bedroom).

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Although all members of the ensemble class do a decent job, some pairings are more memorable. The scene featuring Elise Grieg as The Portrait Photographer and Veronica Neave as The Stage Actress is a real highlight. Neeve, in particular, is excellent as a double-Logie-winning, now stage actress of self-declared undesirable age, bringing control, charisma and intelligent wit to not only this scene, but her there-after seduction of a local politician. Also worthy of particular mention are the performances of Ruby Clark as The Socialite and ambitious social-media influencer and Meg Bowden as The Public Servant whose stories bookend the show, leaving us watching the sun rise on another Brisbane day as she offers advice to the full-of-regret politician.

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Although the vignettes traverse many emotions, thematically taking audience members to some sometimes uncomfortable places, they include many humourpus moments thanks to their clever scripts, written by Richard Jordan, Jacki Mison, Troy Armstrong and Krystal Sweedman. Interest is also added through the work’s integration of audio and visual screen work by Optic ArchiveCombining the mediums works well to a degree. Film is used to effect to introduce scenes and to provide backdrop to the live action by showing familiar city locations, but is at odds with the dialogue as there is a clear and sometimes jarring distinction between stage and screen sounds. The combination is more settled in later stories which are less heavy handed with the device.

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In its adults-only steaminess, “Wheel of Fortune” shows how in the heat and humidity of a Brisbane high-summer, it is easy to lose control. Its episodic nature makes for an easy-to-digest theatre experience, especially for those who may be deterred by the perhaps daunting length of traditional theatre works. And once its narrative structure of linked vignettes is realised, there is added engagement in how the stories are going to not only merge, but ultimately loop together over its 90-minute duration. This peek behind the city’s closed doors is not only about the politics of who is sleeping with who, but an illustration of how easily people can be connected. In its stories of Brisbane and those who play in it, “Wheel of Fortune” is both an interesting reflection on the contemporary world and a reminder that our city’s theatre scene is far from barren. For something new and interesting, do yourself a favour and check out its newly-told stories to warm up your winter.

Sex with Strangers 2.0

Sex with Strangers

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

February 11 – 21

Not surprisingly for anyone who saw its acclaimed, sold out 2014 season, “Sex with Strangers” featured prominently among recently announced Matilda Award nominees, receiving nods in the Best Leading Male and Female Actor categories, as well as being nominated for the Best Independent Production Award. And now, audiences can be delighted by its return to the Visy Theatre one last time before the production hopes to tour throughout Queensland.

Not much has changed in what is an utterly captivating show. During a blizzard, at a bed and breakfast in rural Michigan, older, obscure novelist Olivia (Veronica Neave) is trying to complete her second book. She is an average writer whose first book has been dismissed by three reviews, and a technology Luddite; conservative in nature, she loves the tactile nature and smell of books. Her world is rocked when celebrated (by the New York Times no less) Gen Y sex blogger Ethan (Thomas Larkin) arrives to work on writing the screenplay of his bestselling book. Ethan is everything Olivia isn’t: optimistic, technologically adept and full of swagger. And worst of all, his sexual memoir ‘Sex with Strangers’ has spent three years on the best seller list. (It’s not porn he reassures her, ‘it doesn’t have pictures).

She is too old to get it and he is too young to know she’s too old for him, yet despite their age difference and juxtaposing analogue and digital sensibilities, Olivia soon succumbs to Ethan’s obvious sexual charms. What follows is a fast-paced and compelling exploration of the clash of public and personal as their core worlds collide. Laura Eason’s writing is clever, succinct and humourous, making use of a dialogue that is sharply naturalistic and perfectly crafted for its characters.

Larkin and Neave are completely credible in both intimacy and conflict as Ethan and Olivia. The two actor piece leaves nowhere for them to hide and, under the direction of the multi-award winning Jennifer Flowers, they certainly deliver the goods, with each character being drawn out in a way that resists simplicity and gives a sense of authenticity to their story. The conviction of their performances is magnetic. Along with Flowers, Larkin has long been involved with the project and his investment is evident in his nuanced performance. Bold and brash with the bravado of youth, he is engrossing as the expressive, cheeky and confident Ethan.

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However, great performances like these do not exist in a vacuum. And this is what makes “Sex with Strangers” such a joy. The set is beautifully textured with subtle lighting shifts and a dynamic soundscape, creating a warmly engaging and authentic world into which the audience voyeuristically observes the couple’s contemporary dilemmas. Seamless and cohesive, this is a work that shows dedication and attention to detail, even down to its characters’ authentic laptop use.

“Sex with Strangers” tells a compelling story. Although there are adult themes and sexual content, these are not gratuitous. Rather, the sexual encounters that punctuate many of Act One’s scenes are choreographed interplays, presented to pulsating music and lighting as hyper-reality breaks from the cosiness of their snowstormed cabin world.

“Sex with Strangers” is not a play about sex or even the relationship between a younger man and an older woman. Rather, it is a look at the effect of the digital age on the concepts of public and private selves, which makes it entirely engaging and well worth the effort, whether as a show newbie or take 2 participant.

The joy of Sex with Strangers

Sex with Strangers

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

July 17 – 26

“Sex with Strangers” comes with a warning: “may contain material not suitable for children or those with a clean web browsing history”, for beyond its titillating title, Laura Eason’s play is an examination of interpersonal politics and relationships in the modern age, where we’ve gone from valuing intimacy to willingly sharing practically every detail.

During a blizzard, at a bed and breakfast in rural Michigan, older, gifted but obscure novelist Olivia (Veronica Neave) is trying to complete her second book. She is a technology Luddite; conservative in nature, she loves the tactile nature and smell of books. Her world is rocked when bold and brash Gen Y sex blogger Ethan (Thomas Larkin) arrives. Ethan is everything she isn’t: optimistic, technologically adept and full of swagger. And worst of all, his sexual memoir has spent three years on The New York Times’ best seller list.

Despite their age difference, Olive soon succumbs to Ethan’s obvious sexual charms. What follows is a fast-paced and compelling exploration of the clash of public and personal as their core worlds collide. The writing is clever, succinct and humourous, showcased in realistic dialogue and a narrative that is never fully predictable.

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Larkin and Neave, who worked together in 2012’s Queensland Theatre Company production of “Romeo and Juliet” are completely credible in both intimacy and conflict as Ethan and Olivia. The two actor piece leaves nowhere for them to hide and, under the direction of the multi-award winning Jennifer Flowers, they certainly deliver the goods. Even the accents are right to be largely unnoticeable, which is a rare achievement.

Along with Flowers, Larkin has long been involved with the project and his investment is evident in his nuanced performance. Indeed, he is engrossing as the cheeky, smugly confident, but layered Ethan, bringing to his part a combination of energy, angst, moodiness and impulsiveness.

However, great performances like these do not exist in a vacuum. And this is what makes “Sex with Strangers” such a joy. The set is beautifully textured and lit with nuance, creating an authentic world into which the audience voyeuristically observes the couple’s contemporary dilemmas.

Not only are its fundamentals flawlessly executed, but “Sex with Strangers” tells a compelling story. Although there are adult themes and sexual content, these are not gratuitous. Rather, the sexual encounters that punctuate many of Act One’s scenes are choreographed interplays, presented to pulsating music and lighting as hyper-reality breaks from the cosiness of the snowstormed cabin world.

“Sex with Strangers” is not a play about sex or even the relationship between a younger man and an older woman. Rather, it is a look at the effect of the digital age on the concepts of public and private selves, for as the opening line so prophetically asks, “who are you?”

Fair is foul and foul is fair

Macbeth (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

March 24 – April 13

Queensland Theatre Company’s flagship 2014 show is an ambitious production. Directed by lauded UK director Michael Attenborough (son of Richard Attenborough), “Macbeth” is presented in association with veteran Brisbane theatre troupe Grin & Tonic and features one of QTC biggest casts of recent years, with 16 actors taking to the stage. The result is an epic production that honours Shakespeare’s work with an impressive design aesthetic that, like “The Mountaintop” and “Mother Courage” explores the depths and possibilities of The Playhouse stage.

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It is a thrilling beginning, when from amidst the misty, primitive darkness of the gnarled forest of a civil war ravaged wasteland, three witches appear to seduce Macbeth into acceptance of their prophecy that he will be king. It is a dark and dangerous place for as Macbeth himself notes, “let not light see my black and deep desires”. Foul in sisterly weirdness, these secret, hostile, midnight hags (Ellen Bailey, Lauren Jackson and Courtney Stewart) lithely limber over each other with an air of ethereality, like feral Tempest Ariels. Their writhed dance (choreography by Nerida Matthaei) is complemented by their breathy proclamations as they spit out the prophecies that inspire Macbeth’s vaulting ambition.

Other members of the all Queensland cast project similar dynamism in their darkness. Jason Klarwein is commanding in the titular role of the famed General Macbeth, a man of ambition, but also insecurity. Indeed, it is as the newly-crowned, but increasingly paranoid Scottish king that he truly shines, as his tragic hero seeks to ensure his kingship is safely thus through ordering Banquo’s murder. Klarwein’s imposing presence on stage is complemented by Veronica Neave, who delivers a determined, interpretation of the role of Lady Macbeth. Though they are both at home with Shakespeare’s challenging text, however, their Act One soliloquies sometimes appear to be fourth-wall break speeches to the audience, rather than vehicles for their characters to reflect, which is enhanced though the lack of gesture in seminal soliloquies such as Lady’s Macbeth’s plea for the spirits to fill her top-full of direst cruelty.

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The ensemble is strong, and features some effective doubling. Eugene Gilfedder is perfect as the meek and gentle Duncan, before being reincarnated the Doctor, observing Lady Macbeth’s incriminating recollection that she never knew the old man to have so much blood in him. And Lauren Jackson also shows versatile prowess playing a witch and Lady Macduff. Lucas Stibbard, enlivens his scenes as the Porter, bringing out the only humour in the production when playing the crude, jester-like character and Thomas Larkin (for what would the Bard in Brisbane be without him) gives an impressive performance as a proud Prince Malcolm.

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This is a testosterone-driven play of grimy, muscled men, bloodied from their war wounds. And it features impressive stage combat, including a final blow in the Macduff and Macbeth battle scene that brings a collective gasp from the audience. Everything about the design of this “Macbeth” is notable. David Walter’s lighting design achieves a stunning presence whether warming the banquet scene, shadowing the violence or illuminating Birnam Wood’s approach arising from within the stage itself. Phil Slade’s composition and sound design is similarly impressive in its ability to capture the grand heraldry of this epic work. Costuming too is effective, with the wash of cold charcoals and greys enhancing the ruling metaphor of darkness down to the smallest of details, like the mud-stained hems of the servant garb.

QTC have created a passionate production of Shakespeare’s psychological horror. If you like the Scottish play, you will like this production. And if you aren’t a fan, this won’t necessarily make you fall in love with it, but it will give you plenty of moments to appreciate, especially in the wild darkness Simone Romaniuk’s imaginative design element in which fair is foul and foul is fair.