Grown up greatness

Adulting (Tash York)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

November 28 – December 1

75252806_3529856973698785_5245314894269513728_n.jpg

Tash York may be a #blessed veteran of theestival scene, through shows like “These Things Take Wine”, but that doesn’t make her an adult. This is by her own admission in her latest solo cabaret outing, “Adulting”, which energetically explores the theme of exactly what being an adult entails. As it unfolds annecdotes about relationship fails, parking fine debt and poor dietary choices are woven into hilariously rewritten cover songs from the likes of Destiny’s Child, Ace of Base and a marvellous mashup of Heart’s ‘Alone’ and Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’.

The comedy continues through reimagined Disney numbers and musical standards, along the way to an ultimately uplifting concluding message about being the best version of adults we can courtesy of ‘Everyone’s Free’. Even nursery rhymes make an appearance in entertaining rapped illustration of the harsh reality of adult life vs the sugar-coated fantasy of childhood happy-endings.

On paper it is an eclectic mix, but in reality it works, elevating “Adulting” to a greatness above standard cabaret fare of the same sort and it is easy to appreciate its Adelaide Fringe Best Cabaret Weekly Award and sold out Edinburgh Fringe season. While York’s charismatic charm, big hair and exuberance may lure us into the show’s casual spontaneity, there is also a real craftedness to its content callbacks working towards the light and shade surprise of a captivating “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, in tribute to her mother.

York is a talented cabaret comedian with an impressive, powerful voice bigger than the Powerhouse’s intimate Turbine Studio. She is a dynamic entertainer who embraces every opportunity for comedy; her timing and exaggerated facial expressions only make the experience of “Adulting” even more enjoyable.

As original as song interpretations and lyric reimaginings are, it’s also to recognise the sounds of their source material as we are given opportunity to revisit songs such of ‘Cruel to be Kind’ of our “10 Things I Hate About You” memories. And she totally had me from her initial number ‘Ice, Ice, Baby’ re-rap. It is also nice to see the show’s general rather than exclusively-millennial perspective. Indeed, there is an essential relatability to its shared human experiences and celebration of how being adult is the worst.

This is a show for everyone who has ever attempted and failed at adulting in all of its aspects, worthy of a break from busy Facebook-filtered lives and adult expectations of home ownership dreams, costly university education and changeable career ambitions, different from previous generations.

 

Future funny

Slack Mirror (Nice Loud Voices)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Graffiti Room

November 28 – December 1

Sketch comedy is not often seen on stages anymore, perhaps due to the fluidity of its definition, but as a comedic exploration of a concept, character or situation, it has much to offer audiences, as Nice Loud Voices’ “Slack Mirror” shows audiences. Also increasingly less-often seen in the world is real-life human interaction, especially during the time in which performer Drew Lochrie has been in voluntary hibernation, as the Wonderland Festival show establishes in its introductory sketch.

78302073_10158141704403866_8018419288379490304_n

It’s a quickly moving world that is easily parodied in the show’s series of sketches, which explore 21st century connections. And so over their duration we feed together in worship of our sacred tablets, always with warning about attempt to fight the algorithms. Still, there is something in the show for those who both relish and abhor the immersive online world of GoFundMe videos and Google Home, meaning audience members are always in on the jokes, even if mentions of pokes and Twitter talk almost already seem dated.

While sketches are all linked by common through-lines of technology, relationships and our increasingly bleak future, some, such as one that that takes us to the extremes of guided mediation, go on a little long, in that “Saturday Night Live” type of way. In the intimacy of Brisbane Powerhouse’s Graffiti room, suited to the show’s low-key, minimal approach to costumes and props, it’s easy to warm to performers Amy Currie and Drew Lochrie who are not overly-earnest as often can be case in such shows, but rather subtle and nuanced in their performances. Currie does straight-faced over-animation to perfection and just a change of hats allows Lochrie to authentically inhabit each new and distinct character.

With Currie and Lochrie as our guides into the future, “Slack Mirror” is a pleasant way to spend an hour (or thereabouts) especially given its contrast to the too-often doomsday approach to bleak dystopian themes. It is easy-to-watch, with identifiable premises that don’t require too much thought for enjoyment and it is full of genuinely funny moments because even if living in the future isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it something we may as well laugh about.

Wonderland walk

Fire Walk with Us (Electric Moon)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

November 24

76176211_3508926052465720_6807027413264891904_o.jpg

There is a distinct feel to the “Twin Peaks” otherworld, captured in the aesthetic of The Powerhouse Theatre during the venue’s Wonderland Festival, despite the still-afternoon sunshine outside. The saturation of lighting creates an unsettling sense of warmth at odds with the constant menace lurking in the underbelly of what was a unique television experience, but it makes it all the easier to be enthralled into the intriguing journey that is Electric Moon’s “Fire Walk with Us” live re-imagining of songs and music from the iconic, instant-hit “Twin Peaks” mystery, horror, drama television series of early 1990s.

78467424_3508908545800804_3238222581735620608_o.jpg

As drowsy saxophone sounds lure the audience into the acclaimed score, the lush lighting captures the distinct mood of the show’s early numbers, despite a sometimes bothersome spotlight in audience eyes during Lucinda Shaw’s mesmeric ‘The World Spins’, in which she effortlessly channels the recognisable ‘low and slow’ signature Lynch sound texture in delivery of the spine-tingling memorable series number (it featured in a climactic second-season episode that revealed the killer of troubled prom queen Laura Palmer).

78426427_3508900122468313_6892567038493982720_o

The set list features a sampling of songs from the original iconic David Lynch series, the prequel film “Fire Walk with Me” and even an Alison St Ledger share of a Latin-infused ‘No Stars’ from the recent third series of the franchise, perfectly curated together in authentic album track listing sequence.

74483655_3508905552467770_6056572880055959552_o.jpg

Top-of-mind numbers like the soaring, airy ‘Nightingale’ and the signature theme song ‘Falling’ are there as highlights of floating, soft-focus, sweetly-serene vocals along with the spiralled frenzied jazz jams of the doomy ‘The Pink Room’ and the innocent sounds of ‘Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart’ (in juxtaposition to its deliciously dark lyrics).

74461744_3508910729133919_5797180825590038528_o.jpg

Indeed, it’s an eclectic mix of dream pop warbles and benchmark jazz bass lines and finger-snap rhythms, but it absolutely works in evoking the beauty, yearn, mystery and playfulness of everything “Twin Peaks”. ‘Just slow things down and it becomes more beautiful’, David Lynch once said and “Fire Walk with Us” is certainly testament to this in its evocation of many moods and a range of emotions.

78953230_3508894132468912_562238011052392448_o.jpg

A 12-piece ensemble of musicians works together to elevate experience of the Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch compositions to more than just backing for the four diverse vocalists Mia Goodwin, SS.Sebastian, Lucinda Shaw and Alison St Ledger, giving, for example, the surreal ‘Sycamore Trees’ an orchestral swell in sit against the song’s essential stillness. This means that whether part of the show’s devoted cult following or as a newcomer to the pop culture classic, there is much to be enticed by in the dreamy, dark, moody and emotional journey of the “Fire Walk with Us”. Its experience more than delivers on its promise to provide a masterclass in minimalist synthpop atmospheres, haunting vocals, occasionally off-kilter jazz stylings and sinister soundscapes.

Photos c/o – Jade Ellis Photography

Astonishing Simone sounds

Feeling Good (Mama Alto)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Studio

November 28 – December 1

Dr Nina Simone was one of the most important and unique voices in music history, while gender transcendent cabaret diva jazz singer Mama Alto is a charismatic performer with a voice is to die for; in combination they make Wonderland Festival’s “Feeling Good” a match made in cabaret heaven.

The dip into Nina Simone’s vast songbook is more than just a stunning tribute to the High Priestess of Soul who refused to be pigeonholed; the hour long show is a charming experience of light-hearted banter and exquisite music, with accompaniment coming courtesy of pianist extraordinaire Miss Chief. In true cabaret style, Mama Alto gives us unscripted between-song shares of thoughtful unscripted stories of Simone’s glorious career, strugglesome life of marginalisation and iconic music.

76989847_10158135832098866_6440934631565950976_n.jpg

Songs, meanwhile, are well-chosen to connect the personal and political of the peerless vocal stylist Simone’s lived experiences. From the enigmatically-styled but still so-soulful ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ to the light and playful ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’, the song that introduced Simone to a new audience upon its feature in that perfume commercial, we are also charted through the songstress’ intricate musical signatures. Mama Alto’s easily adapts to the genre fluidity that characterises Simone’s repertoire, sprying us along for the anthemic ride of the civil rights song, ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’, for example.

From the hauntingly elegant, enduring ballad ‘Wild is the Wind’ early number, it is clear that Mama Alto respects the precision of her vocal instrument and shows remarkable control of it, holding a note like nobody’s business. Astonishing vocal gestures add texture, magnifying the emotional depth and meaning of songs. In the heartbreaking ‘The Other Woman’ she pays great attention to the musical expression of emotions, filling the audience with melancholy in her tender and poignant realisation and trembling deliver yof its lyrical devastation. Indeed, there is captivating heart and soul evident in every number, in fact, every note and word she sings. And her technique is incredible, meaning that she can take us from silky sounds to tremulous musical exclamations with ease.

75550340_10158132235313866_5195404045690339328_n.jpg

Just as Miss Chief’s musicology reflects Simone’s essential meeting of jazz and classic components, Mama Alto gives us an astounding tribute to Simone’s vocal nuances and flavours in an always-engaging performance. While possibly Simone’s best-loved song, the titular ‘Feeling Good’ makes for a memorable encore, ‘Sinnerman’ is the show’s standout number, not just in its representation of Simone’s complex relationships with family and religion, but its thrilling vocal unleash of thematic intensity (the song tells of a sinner’s futile attempt to seek salvation on judgement day).

As I know from experience, you will always remember the first time you become aware of the commanding musical presence that is Mama Alto. The consummate musical storyteller’s shows should not be missed. In fact, they need to be discovered as soon as possible, because the act of doing will fill you with regret at having missed her previous Brisbane visits. As “Feeling Good’ signals, the gifted vocalist’s shows come with guaranteed passion, emotional honesty and strength of technique that make them sublime shares of the human experience.

Yipee-ki-yay yule

Die Hard: The Move, The Play (Act/React)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Turbine Platform

November 23 – December 1

“Die Hard” is the mother of all Christmas action movies, spawning a five-film franchise, yet even if audience members have not seen the classic since its 1988 cinema release, familiarity soon returns through the meta merriment that is Act/React’s “Die Hard: The Movie, The Play”, whose debut features as part of Brisbane Powerhouse’s Wonderland festival.

78481735_10158115020818866_2759621615594504192_n.jpg

It’s year’s end in 1988 and the Nakatomi company’s employees are gathered at their annual Christmas party at LA’s Nakatomi Plaza when terrorists hijack the celebrations. As party guests, the show’s audience members are front and centre to the unfolding action as white-singlet-clad New York cop John McClane (who just wants to patch things up with his semi-estranged corporate wife Holly), with some help from the father from television sitcom “Family Matters” as his main connection, via walkie-talkie, with the outer world, saves the day and delivers some memorable one-liners, such is the inventively interactive nature of the show.

75653246_10158109743858866_3202058536196505600_n.jpg

In Act/React tradition, the a lot of the pop-culture-inspired show’s humour is site specific in its nature. Brisbane Powerhouse’s Turbine Platform works well as Los Angeles’ Nakatomi Plaza, allowing for plot play-out all around, including above, the audience, but also by allowing containment of the action’s scope to a single space. Though this adds interest, energy still ebbs and flows more than in the company’s earlier works. Wheras in “Speed the Movie the Play” and “Titanic The Movie The Play”, audience members were chosen to assume the roles made famous by Sandra Bullock and Kate Winslet, picking someone to play the primary part of John McClane represents a significant variable. The company’s performers are earnest in their responsiveness but the result is far from the hilarity of the company’s previous shows. Still, there is much humour to this production; its inter-textual references and pop-culture nods alone are enough to engage audience members.

76189801_10158115020918866_3571177161010184192_n.jpg

Accommodation of technical challenges is, as always, a highlight, as sophisticated special effects of full apocalyptic fire are given the low-fi treatment, meaning that we still, for example, see our protagonist iconically hiding in the elevator shaft (of sorts) to take down smooth-talking renegade German extremist Hans Gruber (overly-accented in a very Alan Rickman way, in tribute to the actor’s movie debut in the role).

78278645_10158115020843866_8219528713948102656_n.jpg

There is a nurtured appeal to the collective experience of the audience, authentic to the premise of being joined together in Christmas party celebration, as the performers make their way around audience tables in pre-show mingle with guests. It’s all very supportive as people are invited to play roles in the story, or even just to hold props, and especially as everyone unites to provide the soundtrack of ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth as the terrorists near their target.

75586146_10158115020948866_6280893000381890560_n.jpg

“Die Hard: The Move, The Play” is a fitting festival show, a bit rough around its edges but with a communal comic appeal, making it a wonderful addition to this year’s Wonderland festival line-up. Its festive face off of shootouts, explosions and smart-alec catchphrases doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it an ideal light-hearted escape from the busy yuletide season.

Pulp-theatre Tarantinoness

Two Man Tarantino (Christopher Wayne in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

November 29 – December 2

47431857_2107157592835050_1983084360177287168_n.jpg

“Two Man Tarantino” is pretty metatheatre. Its tagline absolutely sums up the show as “Two people. One video store. Every cult classic”. The framing narrative of the pulp-theatre experience is very loose but appropriate for a homage to former video-store clerk Quentin Tarantino.

It’s a video store on the last night of video stores, when a staff member (Stephen Hirst) and a customer (Emily Kristopher) have a conversation about movies, leading to realisation that they are both hard-core Tarantino fans. Their resulting Tarantino-off to decide who is the bigger enthusiast doesn’t ever develop beyond mere parody, but is still very funny in its creative and increasingly intense re-enactments. (It’s Tarantino; it’s going to be violent and it’s going to bloody).

In competition for fan points the duo tries to outdo each other with both obvious and obscure Tarantino movie references and recreation of key scenes from “Reservoir Dogs” to “Hateful Eight” and everything in between, including even “Jackie Brown”, because only a true fan would quote from the audacious caper film. And audiences really need familiarity with the films, otherwise without much narrative, the show is just an hour of actors simulating violence, swearing and placing strange fetishised emphasis on women’s feet.

With simultaneous re-enactment of “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” as its conclusion, the show heads towards a brilliantly-choreographed bloodbath ending for which the front row splash zone warning and plastic cover sheet barely seems sufficient. Indeed, “Two Man Tarantino is a very physical, fast-paced show full of energetic and inspired fight scenes such as a Hattori Hanzo sword fighting scene, but not with a sword. The tight choreography is particularly impressive in “Kill Bill” (Volumes 1 and 2) attempt by the Bride to avenge the deadly viper assassination squad who ruined her wedding, including O-Ren Ishii and her Crazy 88 army.

Also notable are some of the performers’ impressions. Stephen Hirst is perfectly squinty-eyed John Travolta in conversation about a royale with cheese and Emily Kristopher is brilliant, as Christopher Walken and Samuel mother-f’n Jackson. And they join together nicely in iconic Jack Rabbit Slim’s dance scene snippet.

“Two Man Tarantino” is a must sen for any fan of the director’s catalogue of films, however, there is still enough in it for casual, interested viewers and visitors to the Tarantinoverse. Its hilarious chaos, complete even with an interpretive dance, is of the sort that only the manic director’s work can conjure and revisit to the commotion will probably result in you wanting to return to the genius film-maker’s works, if not at least their connoisseur soundtracks.