Reviews:
April-June 2005
               
          

As You Like It

Assassins

Away

The Big Con

Boomerang

Closer to Heaven

Creche and Burn

Death of a Salesman

The Drowning Bride

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

The Importance of Being Earnest

La boheme

Luggage

Mano Nero

Much Ado About Nothing

Nothing but the Truth

One by One

Phobia

Stillwater Reflections

The Tempest

Under Milk Wood

Vincent in Brixton

Who's Afraid of the Working Class?

Dance

A Thousand and One Nights

Music

Piers Lane/Christopher Wrench

Strike Up the Chorus




Earlier reviews

The Big Con  
Powerhouse Theatre

By Guy Rundle

Performed by Max Gillies and Eddie Perfect

Professional production


What hope is there for a society in which freedom is a brand of furniture and liberty is a tampon?

That’s Guy Rundle’s question, which underlies this Big Night Out on the Right Side, aka Centre for Independent Analysis (think about the initials), starring the great culture heroes of our time — Alan Jones, Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock, George Dubya, Amanda Vanstone (fresh from the All-You-Can-Eat–Trough-of-Prawns Night) and, of course, our very own Little Johnny Howard. Oh yes, the country’s in the very best of hands. < BR>
There’s something here to offend everyone, especially fundamentalist Christians, Liberal voters, staunch Roman Catholics, the Family First party and even those who still shed "outdated socialist crocodile tears", for everyone is grist to Guy Rundle’s savage political mill, and although (to mix a metaphor or two) this show bowls with an explicitly left-hand bias, not even the Chardonnay socialists are exempt as he hits the jack every time.

Yes, we can laugh as Max Gillies, staggering along with his improbable hips as the Minister for Immigration, presents her as the saviour of personkind and suffers the little children to come unto her and Amandatory Detention, but there are darker undertones in this show than in any of the previous Gillies/Rundle collaborations. It’s not easy to laugh wholeheartedly when Philip Ruddock declares that Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks "infiltrated this country at birth", or when we are encouraged to party until the petrol runs out — although Tony Abbott in a full monk’s habit is very funny as he admits having been the back end of a pantomime horse with George Pell. But let’s not go there.

On the night that I went, the audience were less than unreserved in their reception of the show, reacting with gasps of shocked recognition rather than guffaws of delight.

Perhaps it’s because the political world, both nationally and internationally, is much darker than it was at the time of the last show this brilliant duo dreamed up four years ago, You’re Dreaming: the Prime Minister’s Cultural Convention. Perhaps the left-leaning audience (you had to be, or you wouldn’t have paid out $32 to see the Right being given a right going-over) feel that, now the federal government has control of both houses of parliament, it really all has been a big con, and that this show is too true to be funny. And perhaps it’s the realisation that George Dubya’s gobbledy-gook has been the cause of an international disaster, rather than just the ravings of a harmless Texan loony, that makes him less of a joke than he used to be, lame duck president or not.

Whatever the reason, it’s an uncomfortable night at the theatre, but maybe that’s all to the good. Successful satire has to have a sharp edge, otherwise it just becomes affectionate and accepting, and the targets don’t seem as threatening. And for this audience at least, the characters presented are no joke. BR>
Max Gillies’ impersonations are so good, and his intonations and gestures so finely honed, that you forget that his face never really changes, in spite of Nic Dorning and Paul Hasel’s amazing prosthetics. He creates the idea of a person rather than a simple rubbery figure, and although his Tony Blair isn’t as convincing as the one in the BBC’s Spitting Image, most of his other characters are spot on.

It’s not easy work for the audience, though, and maybe that’s another reason why the reaction was relatively subdued. You have to have a good grasp of political history and a long memory to appreciate some of the segments fully — how many people are still on top of Keith Windschuttle and the History Wars, except perhaps ABC devotees?

But it’s a brilliantly scary show, and the songs of Eddie Perfect (not dressed in Collingwood colours, I’m glad to say) give it an additional youthful appeal along with a finely-balanced scatological approach that teeters just on the edge of libel. I hope they ran the text past their lawyers!

Directed by Aubrey Mellor and Denis Moore, music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect

Playing until Saturday 2 July (Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 2pm, 7.30pm)

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval


— Alison Cotes

(Performance seen: 29th June 2005)
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Boomerang  
Bangarra Dance Theatre (Playhouse, QPAC)

Professional production


For tens of thousands of years Aboriginal dance has been performed in the land around what we call the Brisbane River. Bangarra's spellbinding dances are in that tradition, yet they also connect with the impulses of modern contemporary dance.

This production starts challengingly with Massacre, a passage which deals directly with the facts of colonial history all too often overlooked. It goes on to deal with the three worlds of Water, Fire and Earth.

Artistic director and choreographer Stephen Page puts a symbolic Child at the centre of the artistic journey, reclaiming the energy of the past and becoming the keeper of sacred customs. Significantly, Page uses his own son and his nephew, son of the late Russell Page, Stephen's brother, to alternate in this role, guided by the masterful Djakapurra Munyarryun from Arnhem Land.

The world of Water (Gapu) includes the traditional songs Rain Cloud, Manta Ray and Canoe. Patrick Thaiday (like Bille Brown, a boy from Biloela), dances powerfully as the Manta Ray. The influence of the Torres Strait Islands is evident, not surprisingly as Thaiday's parents hail from Iama and Erub.

The world of Fire confronts the inferno of social problems like alcohol and suicide. This is no sentimental, sanitised version of indigenous culture. It has the candour and directness of great art, just as Hogarth's famous painting Gin Lane forced eighteenth century England to face up to the horrors of alcohol abuse. And the world of Earth returns us to a cleansing of the spirit.

The set design by Peter England uses a red wall, akin to a human skin with ritual scars, and the music by David Page and Steve Francis continues in this strain, drawing on the traditional songs and stories of the Yirrkala people of Arnhem Land (incidentally the very first people to bring a land rights action in the courts, way back in the 1970s). The music makes no artificial distinction between traditional and contemporary culture, infusing the sensations of today with the reflective memory of yesterday.

Bangarra Dance Theatre is engaged in a rich and honest exploration of the contemporary art of Australia, and still sparkle in the contemporary dance landscape. Like the best art, their productions teach as well as delight.

Artistic Director and Choreographer: Stephen Page

Playing until 2nd July at 7.30pm

Running time 1 hour 40 minutes (no interval)


— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 23rd June 2005)
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Luggage  
Cremorne Theatre, QPAC

By The Schneedles (Wolfe Bowart and Bill Robinson)

Professional production


Their sober elders might be saying with Monty Python’s Colonel, "This is all getting extremely silly", but the children who made up at least half the audience for The Schneedles’ performance at the Cremorne this week proved that absurdist physical theatre is alive and well and appreciated by everyone who doesn’t insist on intellect and rationality.

Wolfe Bowart and Bill Robinson, American performance artists who are part clown, part magician, part vaudeville star and part acrobat, were one of the hits of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and are now finishing their Australia-wide tour in Brisbane.

Ostensibly it’s all about luggage, and there is one unbelievable sequence with a suitcase that wants to steal the show, but it stands no chance against the antics of these two artists of the absurd, who act out the all-too-often unacknowledged truth that nothing matters very much, and that ultimately nothing matters at all, and that even shredding paper rats has its funny side.

I came to this show in cynical mood, but its cheerful lack of sophistication, when combined with the finely-honed physical talents of the two artists, got under my skin as much as it did everyone else’s, and by the time the two likely lads had proved that it’s almost impossible to land slices of bread into a pop-up toaster at 20 paces (don’t try this at home!), I was into the bread-throwing fight as willingly as the rest of the audience, none of whom gave a damn about the stage crew who had to clean up the mess.

That’s a breathless sentence, but blame it on the breathless pace of the hyped-up show. It’s the kind of show where the audience has two alternatives – to walk out in disgust, or stay and be overcome by the sheer inanity of it all. I thought I was going to be in the first category, but after 10 minutes I was kicking my heels as hard as the rest of them, overwhelmed by the sheer silliness mixed with pathos that characterised many of the acts.

One of the best of these was the rival courtship of the "pretty lady in the second row", who was enticed with sunflowers in various forms, from crepe paper petals falling off a stick to a full sunflower suit from which Robinson (or was it Bowart?) kept pulling off various leaves and petals until his rival was reduced to hopping round the stage literally without a leg to stand on.

And when they finally persuaded the pretty lady to come up on stage, they didn’t ask her stupid questions, but wove her seamlessly and painlessly into the routine by plying her with tempting foodstuffs, until she ended up with a rubber turkey on her head, and somehow it succeeded in being very funny.

What sets this inspired clowning apart from most other acts of its kind is the skilful use of technology — internal body noises evinced by rubbing a microphone over their heads and torsos (luckily never straying below the waist); the increasingly fraught use of a paper-shredder for music scripts, programs, money seemingly taken from the audience’s pocket, and even a passport, not to mention the aforesaid paper rat. BR>
This sad creature was concocted out of shredded paper, but died in the process, only to be revived with jump leads, then shredded again when its heart stopped, finally making a perfect resurrection.

"Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it," as the Duchess says in Alice in Wonderland, but I defy anyone to find a moral in this show. It’s sheer unadulterated madness, and if you insist on a moral, perhaps it’s that every now and then we need to forget the sad rational world and delight again in getting extremely silly.

Directed by Bowart and Robison

Playing until Saturday 25 June 2005 (7pm start) 2005

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes including interval


— Alison Cotes

(Performance seen: 22nd June 2005)
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Phobia  
Brisbane Powerhouse

By Douglas Horton

Music by Gerry Brophy

Professional production


Have you ever been to a show where you have the best fun if you keep your eyes closed for half the time? Trust me, that’s the case with Chamber Made’s production of Phobia currently playing at the Powerhouse.

Phobia concerns the making of a soundtrack for an imaginary film in the suspense/film-noir genre. The six performers inhabit a sound studio such as those in which the Foley artists of the 1950s and '60s worked to produce the sound-track and atmospheric noises that were often dubbed after shooting for a film was long over. Between them they create the dialogue and evocative background sounds for a film we can only imagine through their magic.

The synopsis of this supposed film is provided in the program, but it really doesn’t matter. We recognise nostalgically all the hallmarks of the genre — the persistent detective, the femme fatale, the tension created by phone-calls, locked doors, approaching footsteps and scary music. Phobia reminds us of how much these films relied for their effect upon the atmosphere provided by the sound studios of the period.

This is where keeping your eyes closed comes in. There are a number of cleverly created effects, but the scene in a restaurant is particularly memorable and epitomises for me what the whole piece achieves. Close your eyes and you are there — the chink of cutlery, the clatter of plates, the rustle of napkins, the half-heard conversations — all perfectly reproduced to give the dialogue a context and the scene authenticity.

Of course it is a Catch-22 situation — if you close your eyes you miss the fun of seeing how it is all brought about. The careful orchestration and perfect timing required to bring this imaginary world into being is most impressive. We watch, fascinated, as the performers move with impersonal precision around the stage, and discover that each is multi-skilled; involved in speech, instrument playing, action, and manipulation of the various ingenious devices for producing the background sound-scape.

The dialogue is shared, often with several voices speaking in unison or, at other times, in counterpoint to add colour and urgency to the speech. The music, written and directed by Gerard Brophy, is a key element in supplying the ominous atmosphere and blends seamlessly with the other hand-produced effects in a sound design by Darren Steffen. This is clearly an ensemble piece, with each contributor adding their skills and experience to the overall design.

It is hard not to be impressed by the wit of this concept, the confidence and polish of its realisation, and the talent and versatility of the performers. Phobia is currently touring the country and is only in Brisbane until 25 June. Catch it if you can — and watch with eyes wide shut.

Directed by Douglas Horton

Playing until 25 June 2005: Evenings 8pm, matinee Saturday 4pm

Running time: (no interval) 1 hour 30 minutes


— Maureen Strugnell

(Performance seen: 22nd June 2005)
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Strike Up the Chorus  
Opera Queensland/Australian Army Band Brisbane (Concert Hall, QPAC)

A professional opera chorus and a military brass band don't seem a natural combo, but Opera Queensland and the Australian Army Band Brisbane have made it happen with Strike up the Chorus.

Fans of both genres were served a varied and entertaining feast under the commanding baton of Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Pickett. As well as choral pieces, the program included big band numbers and popular items for soloists, sung by selected OQ Chorus members who were able to demonstrate the chorus's talent and depth.

Augmenting the OQ chorus were members of the University of Southern Queensland Opera Studio and the Brisbane Concert Choir, who contributed to the beautiful wall of vocal sound which projected from above the heads of the instrumentalists to a near-full Concert Hall.

Compere Jason Barry-Smith was at his suave best, adding his pleasant baritone voice to the program with such favorites as the swoon-worthy Cosi fan tutte trio "Soave sia il vento" (together with D'Arne Sleeman and Anne Fulton) and the stirring "Non piu andrai" from Il nozze di Figaro. Items such as the Figaro number (when the hapless Cherubino is being frog-marched off to army service) as well as the Soldiers' Chorus and the Anvil Chorus from Il trovatore and the Grand March from Aida were perfect choices for the combination of singers and army band.

It does of course take a little while to become used to familiar orchestral music without the strings, but the well-executed arrangements involving woodwinds and brass instruments together with percussion worked well in these capable hands (and the band did include a couple of double bass). Less comfortable was the use of amplification of the singers' voices, and there were some early problems with balance, contributing to the shaky start with La traviata's "Drinking song". There was also a little too much self-congratulatory patter from the presenters — at the expense of introducing the items for those who either didn't have a program or couldn't read it in the dark.

Nevertheless, the show marched triumphantly on, with such jewels as two of the top duets in the operatic repertoire for male and female voices, "Au fond du temple saint" from The Pearlfishers and "Dome epais" from Lakme, beautifully sung by tenor Mattias Lower and baritone Steven Kickbusch and by soprano Rosina Waugh and contralto Anne Fulton. To add to opera lovers' delights was the big quartet from Rigoletto, very well performed by D'Arne Sleeman, Kylie Bailey, Robert Conaghan and Lionel Theunissen. A special mention is also owed Anita Parakh-Morgan for the richness of quality with which she performed the "Villia" song from The Merry Widow.

Particularly memorable of the non-vocal items performed by the band were the Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich and the theme and variations arrangement of "Bluebells of Scotland", featuring remarkable trombone work by Corporal Daniel Riek from Murgon. Great chorus items in addition to those already mentioned included the "Humming Chorus" from Madama Butterfly, Gabriel Faure's "Cantique de Jean Racine" and a captivating choral arrangement of Puccini's "Nessun dorma" by Narelle French (who took over preparation of the chorus mid-rehearsal after the sudden illness of John Dingle).

It was a jolly good night, and OQ chief executive Chris Mangin and Army Band commanding officer Major Jeffrey Cocks have reason to take a salute for the partnership which brought this original concept to fruition. It's a nice bonus that the concert raised funds for Legacy.


— John Henningham

(Performance seen: 18th June 2005)
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Piers Lane/Christopher Wrench  
Queensland Conservatorium, South Bank

Piers Lane for Medici Concerts, Queensland Conservatorium Theatre

Christopher Wrench for 4MBS Festival of Classics, Basil Jones Orchestral Hall, Queensland Conservatorium


A book I had 15 years ago slipped through my fingers. I remember that it started with words attributed to the great cellist, Pablo Casals. I don’t remember their detail exactly, but I recall their essence.

Don’t teach that Paris is the capital of France; London, the capital of England: this is the stuff of differentiation and leads to wars. Teach instead that we are each unique and preciously part of a whole, too valuable to be wiped away.

These two recitals filled me with the same sense of precious wonder and though the myriad of notes flying from the fingers of each player slip past the ear, they have left a precious memory.

Both executants are graduates of our Queensland Conservatorium. Their programs were backward looking, imbued with a keen sense of times past, impeccably executed and engagingly introduced.

Organist Christopher Wrench filled his cup, and ours, with only Bach organ works. Pianist Piers Lane paid homage to Beethoven, through the master’s own music and reflections on it by Schubert, Schumann and Liszt.

Each man’s mastery of his instrument is an awe-filled given. What is precious is that both musicians reached out and filled my heart with reverence and love.

Maybe not just mine, for after both concerts the audience was slow to disperse, as if we didn’t want the moment to pass, and that by staying there together we could prolong its beauty.

At the same time their playing is packed with searing intellect, dissecting and polishing every nuance of every phrase.

This meld of head and heart is great art and for their art, both Lane (London-based) and Wrench (still in Brisbane but for how long?), have been accorded international acclaim.

Always impressive, Piers’ playing has rounded in tone over the years. In this concert, which he will also play at Wigmore Hall next Valentine’s Day, his love and fascination for every note showed on his face and in his sound. His presentation that night was the sort you lie back and luxuriate in.

Christopher’s was the last of three, all featuring the music of Bach, presented as part of the 4MBS Festival of Classics. The nature of the music, filled with Bach’s focus on the Almighty, was an intense affair, marked with Wrench’s marvellous musicianship, an abiding sense of architecture and, it seems paradoxical to say amidst such rigour, an expressive freedom of phrasing.

Thank you both for your humanity and for filling my soul with reverence. The memory of your performances will not slip away; their essence is too valuable.


— John Colwill

(Performances seen: 29th May, 18th June, 2005)
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Closer to Heaven  
Visy Theatre (Brisbane Powerhouse)

Profit share production


You leave some shows wanting more; hands clamouring for encores.

Unfortunately Closer to Heaven, playing at the Powerhouse as part of the Brisbane Pride Festival, is not one of them.

It could have been. The music is great, courtesy of the Pet Shop Boys, England’s song writing duo with 26 million albums world wide, and well realised in this production by musical director Daniel Baker.

The story (book by Jonathan Harvey) is tug-at-the-heart stuff. Boy meets girl; they make out; boy turns gay; his lover dies; boy survives. Think 19th century operatic tragedy like Boheme or Traviata with a twist and you have it.

But Closer to Heaven, (C2H from its website) is over-crowded and when boy is left searching for a “positive role model” in the final number, you realise that the issues are too many and their analysis too brief. Try this.

Girl’s (Shell, Crystal Taylor) dad is gay; they haven’t met since she was five; he’s racked with guilt and with lust for boy.

Dad (Vic, Chris Herden) runs a London dance club where boy (Straight Dave, Regis Broadway) aspires to more from life and love. Dave ends up not so straight and in bed with an abandoned, unloved street kid/drug dealer (Lee, Julian Curtis) who falls victim to his own dealing before realising the depth of Dave’s love.

Shell is pretty annoyed at Dave, but before he falls for Lee, she introduces him to her sleaze-bag boss (Saunders, Christopher Maver) who promises Dave, the boy from Oz, fame and fortune. In the original London Arts Theatre production, which ran from May to October 2001, Dave hailed from Ireland.

Dispensing words of wisdom to all who will or won’t listen is aging rock star Billie Trix (Libby Munro) surrounded by an ensemble of all-singing all-dancing Babes. Add an overdose of drugs, a spoonful of expletives and mix and C2H should be a raunchy winner.

But the so-billed "controversial" show doesn’t strut far enough off the stage. Director Simon Chan plays it safe. Admittedly his production is done on a shoe string but the scenes are ill-defined and the threads of this unwieldy story are left dangling.

The opening number is tired, not a great way to start a show. The Babes are neither slick nor black-eyed sleaze. The spark that veteran performer Maver injects on his first entry is a welcome lift and applauded as such; Munro likewise convinces at the top of Act II and in her Caligula number.

Herden sings clear and strong and Taylor as the wronged lover distractingly paces and struts her anger where Broadway tells his unexpected but accepted homosexual love with a compelling stillness. His duet with Curtis is tenderly and quietly honest — a high point. And if Billie Trix were cast less like her Babes, her camp mother role would be more compelling.

The Other Production Company’s Australian premiere of C2H by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd is a mixed bag. It promised lots but I left wanting more — sharpness, edginess and conviction. Then my hands would have been really sore.

Directed by Simon Chan

Playing until 18 June 2005: Thu-Sat 8pm

Running time: 2 hours 15 mins including interval

(Performance seen: Wednesday 15th June)



— John Colwill

(Performance seen: 15th June 2005)
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Mano Nero  
Queensland Theatre Company (Bille Brown Studio)

By Adam Grossetti

Professional production

Cane cutters in North Queensland in the 1930s? Think Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, traumatic long-term relationships, the end of an era, and the universal biting pain of love-gone-wrong.

Not in Adam Grossetti’s latest play, which won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award last year. This is home-town history, telling of the brief but notorious reign on the Italian Black Hand movement in the Ingham cane fields in the 1930s, and of how the law-abiding permanent Italian community there managed to get rid of them, although not without a great deal of violence and bloodshed on both sides.

Great material for a ball-busting drama studded with Sydney prostitutes who wear their stilettos in their handbags rather than on their feet, tunnel-vision racist police, dirty doings in the dongas and gang wars par excellence.

Add to this Bruce McKinvan’s sugarcane jungle, higher than an elephant’s eye, clever sub-textual lighting from the ubiquitous Matt Scott ,and appropriate noises-off from Brett Collery, and you have everything in place to chill the heart and generate nightmares.

If only, if only. But this play — or maybe it’s the production — commits the worst of all theatrical sins. It’s downright boring, and I can only sympathise with the young woman sitting next to me who snored the night through on her partner’s shoulder.

What’s gone wrong here? The idea, that ultimately good can overcome evil even in gang warfare, is a universal one, and the pitting of one ethnic subculture against another adds depth to the plot. But it just doesn’t work.

It’s partly the script, which is confusing from the beginning, and doesn’t establish well enough the motivation for Vincenzo’s rejection by the other workers. It doesn’t help, either, that Tony Poli initially plays him as a victimised outsider, so that he has all our sympathy, and it takes a great shift of belief for us to think of him later as the arch-villain.

One of the other problems is with the casting. It’s not that the actors aren’t good at what they’re doing, but the men look very much alike in their cane-cutters’ trousers and singlets, and I, for example, could hardly distinguish Joss McWilliam, an actor whose face is very familiar, from the others. Add this to the rather superficial character development, and it takes more than half an hour to work out who’s doing what, and with which, and to whom. The fact that the program includes a detailed synopsis of the plot underscores my impression of the play’s impenetrability, for surely a plot should be able to speak for itself.

I can’t give explicit examples, but my general impression was that both director and actors were also having trouble finding any emotional power in this story. There was a lot of going through the motions, off-stage sound-and-fury, and strange reappearances of murdered characters (Richard III the night before the battle of Bosworth Field?), but none of it seemed to matter, because when it came down to it, none of the actors, not even the super-talented Veronica Neave as the Sydney prostitute, was able to make me believe that their passion was real and their plight credible.

Others may have different opinions, but I can only speak as I found. Mano Nero may have been an award-winning script, but words on a page don’t always translate happily to the stage, and neither director nor cast were able to make this play come alive for me. If it succeeds at all, it’s because of the lighting and set design, but I think it needed a forceful dramaturg working on the script before it was given the ultimate accolade of a main-house production.

Directed by Jean Marc Russ

Playing until 9 July 2005. Tuesdays at 6.30pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 1pm, evenings Wednesday–Saturday at 7.30pm (Thursday 23 June, night with the artists).

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including 20 minute interval


— Alison Cotes

(Performance seen: 10th June 2005)
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Assassins  
Warehaus Theatre Company (Cremorne Theatre)

By Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman

Pro-am production

If you thought that Mel Brooks with his comic depiction of Nazis in The Producers was taking musical theatre into dangerously dark areas, then have a look at where Stephen Sondheim takes the genre in his Assassins. Written in 1990, Assassins is a disturbing yet hilariously funny look at the dark side of the American Dream. It takes the form of a vaudeville show, with as central characters the nine men and women who tried to (and sometimes did) assassinate the President of the United States.

Improbable as it sounds, Sondheim brings the nine assassins (from Booth who shot Lincoln to Oswald who shot Kennedy) together in a series of scenes and musical numbers that are both insanely funny and characteristically confrontational. This is Sondheim at his most subversive, using popular American musical forms such as the civil war ballad, the spiritual, the anthem, the barbershop quartet, the pop ballad, in incongruous ways to tell the stories of these psychopaths and losers.

What pulls the show together and prevents it from becoming just a series of loosely related scenes is the finale, with its chilling re-enactment of Oswald’s last moments in the Texas School Book Depository before he pulls the trigger. As the other assassins urge him on, he makes the decision that unites him with them and all their perverted ideals and wasted dreams. It is a powerful moment that seems to mark the death, not only of Kennedy, but of the American Dream.

Taking on a Sondheim musical is always a challenge and this show is no exception. It demands at least nine leading actor/singers, a very versatile chorus and an orchestra. Slides need to be integrated into the action (always a nightmare) and there are a lot of guns (even more of a nightmare if things go wrong). Fortunately, in this first production by the new Warehaus Theatre Company, none of these challenges proves a problem.

The director, Kat Henry, and the musical director, James Dobinson, have pulled a lot of talent together for this production which is slick and professional. The cast is uniformly strong, with each of the leads relishing the opportunity to show both the comic and dangerous aspects of their characters, while at the same time handling the demands of Sondheim’s tricky harmonies and rhythms. There are some deliciously zany scenes and these are given full value, and if a more discriminating ear then mine could find any musical weaknesses, I have to say they didn’t register with me.

There are no memorable tunes in this show; as always with Sondheim, what remains with you long after the curtain falls are the ideas. But, disturbing as these ideas are, Assassins is great fun. It is a long way from Brig-a’Doonor the ubiquitous Joseph and his dreary whatever; but if you like clever music, witty lyrics, incisive social observance and, of course, if you love Sondheim, this production is a must. Warehaus has made a promising start and it will be very interesting to see what they can come up with next.

Directed by Kat Henry

Playing until 18 June 2005: 8pm

Running time: (no interval) 90 minutes


— Maureen Strugnell

(Performance seen: 9th June 2005)
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As You Like It  
GNT2 (Roma Street Parklands)

Professional production

Brimming with life, GNT2's production of Shakespeare's "As you Like It" is simply wonderful. It pokes fun at the mystery and folly of love with a light touch.

The audience sits on the stage of the Roma Street Parklands amphitheatre while the actors of Grin and Tonic Mark II strut their stuff against the grand backdrop of a Brisbane winter night. It is an apt setting for the melancholic Jacques (Jamie Stewart) to deliver the familiar lines:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."


It is easy to imagine we are in the Forest of Arden to which Duke Senior (Bryan Nason) has been exiled.

Director Vanja Matula's production is dynamic. The confident authority of experienced actors such as Bryan Nason and Paul Sherman (who plays the ageing servant Adam) gives a moral centre to the pyrotechnics of the younger brigade such as Jamie Stewart, Christina Koch (Celia) and the stunning Zoe de Plevitz (Rosalind).

Consider, for example, Celia's comforting words to her cousin and good friend Rosalind upon Rosalind's being exiled by Celia's father, the usurper Duke Frederick. Celia has made the courageous decision to stick with Rosalind and abandon the court. Christina Koch delivers her lines not with mere youthful stoicism, but with something stronger, more joyful:
Now go we in content
To liberty, and not to banishment.


Zoe de Plevitz's tour de force as Rosalind has us laughing with her teasing of poor love-struck Orlando (Vanja Matula); but she also succeeds in conveying the beauty and wisdom that underlie the character.

Bring your winter woollies. The audience is in the open air but sheltered under the canopy of the amphitheatre. "Blow, blow, thou winter wind" is better as a line in the play than as a piece of reality theatre.

Forty-two years ago Bryan Nason kicked off the College Players which became the Grin & Tonic Theatre Troupe which in turn is morphing into GNT2. Nason's great and ongoing legacy has been to inspire his players with a preternatural love of creative drama, free from the parochial constraints of the Sydney and Melbourne theatre establishment. To use his own words, Nason is "now slowly edging towards the sideline" but clearly this happy troupe is in good hands. Nason has taught them well to wrestle with the dramatic paradox uttered by the court jester Touchstone (Ross Lowe): "We that are true lovers run into strange capers; but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly."

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Vanja Matula

Playing until Saturday 18 June at 6.30pm

Running time 1hr 45 mins (no interval)


— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 11th June 2005)
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The Drowning Bride  
La Boite (Roundhouse Theatre)

By Helen Howard and Michael Futcher

Professional production

Apart from seeing The Drowning Bride, my only other cultural outing this week was to see Star Wars Episode3 – and I found some surprising parallels. We serious Star Wars fans are a bit like those intellectual Playboy Magazine readers — prepared to put up with the flashy visuals to get to the existential truths of the writing. And in the prequels, of course, we are taken back in time to discover what led to the metamorphosis of the Jedi knight Anakin into the evil Darth Vader. Central to The Drowning Bride too is a journey back into the past, as a young woman seeks to understand the transformation of her Lithuanian patriot grandfather into the reviled monster he has become in her family history.

What is revealed in Star Wars 3 (sorry to spoil it for you slack people who haven’t seen the film yet) is that it all comes down to Love, and that Anakin turns to the Dark Side in an attempt to save his wife from death. In The Drowning Bride too there are revelations about the nature of love, betrayal and personal sacrifice – but here all comparisons fail. While George Lucas gives us black and white, pure Jedi versus evil Empire and simple choices, Helen Howard and Michael Futcher present us with shades of grey, flawed and terrified people forced into making agonising decisions that will scar them forever.

The Drowning Bride is hard work for the audience — no sitting back, eating popcorn, and admiring the fights, frocks, pecs, or whatever you are into. The intimate space of The Roundhouse always demands full engagement with the actors, the space they inhabit and the stories they tell. In this play particularly you have to keep your wits about you as four actors play seven characters, the scene shifting from the present in America to the past in Lithuania and back again as layer after layer is revealed.

Ellen, (Helen Christinson) who has been deeply affected by the death of her beloved grandmother Sarmitte, travels with her partner Matt (Hayden Spencer) to America to fulfil her grandmother’s dying wish. She is to tell the grandfather, whom she has never met and who is despised as a coward for having abandoned his wife and children in wartime Lithuania, that Sarmitte loved and forgave him. The grandfather Valdis (Steven Grives) proves every bit the monster she has imagined, but over the next few and very intense days she learns more about what has driven and marked him, and more about how the past can send out its tentacles to hold us back from living fully in the present.

Steven Grives is a powerhouse of energy onstage, his presence oppressive and always potentially dangerous. His voice bludgeons us the audience as much as it intimidates the characters around him. When we see him forced to be submissive and conciliatory to those who invade his home and his country, represented here by the German officer Brandt (Hayden Spencer), we know what it means to his manhood and to his sense of patriotism.

Helen Christinson brings to her dual role (Ellen and Sarmitte) such a mixture of strength and fragility that, while we admire the courage of both women, we are kept as fearful for the stability of Ellen as we are for the safety of Sarmitte throughout the story. The actor slips in and out of the roles seamlessly, and it is much to the credit of Michael Fulcher’s direction that the frequent transitions between past and present work so smoothly, enabling her to do this. In the end Helen Christinson shows us Ellen identifying so strongly with her grandmother that the characters almost merge, making the act of violence committed against Sarmitte doubly shocking.

In contrast, Helen Cassidy is able to have great fun with the difference between her two characters. We first meet her as Valdis’s tarty little niece who he has brought from Latvia (as Lithuania is now known) to look after him in America, and whom he keeps in thrall by threatening to hand her over to the immigration authorities as an illegal entrant. In the scenes from the past she is convincingly transformed into the elegant singer and actress Irma, whom Valdis later marries. This is a very confident performance, with both characters displaying depths of feeling that could easily have been missed by a less accomplished actor.

Hayden Spencer plays an equally diverse pair of characters: first Ellen’s patient partner Matt, dragged along for the encounter with the grandfather, and then, in the scenes set in the war, the arrogant German officer who forces both Valdis and Sarmitte into acts of terrible betrayal. As Matt, Hayden Spencer shows us a man worried by his fiancée’s obsession with the past and sorely tried by the aggressive Valdis. He is able to make us feel for his predicament and believe in his real concern for the future of his relationship with Ellen. While sympathising with the decision not to slip into easy and dangerous stereotyping, I would have liked a sharper contrast in bearing, speech and manner in this actor’s portrayal of Brandt, further allowing the audience to sense the steel and power of the man and share the terror of his victims.

This densely textured play, written by husband and wife team Helen Howard and Michael Futcher, is particularly interesting in that it is based on the real-life experiences of Brisbane artist, Elise Parups. Without following slavishly the details of her encounter with her past, they have crafted a story that is theatrical in all the right senses. In bringing it to life they are particularly well served by Bill Haycock’s set, which somehow manages to suggest both claustrophobic interiors and the icy wastes of terrible memories.

Of course one can be picky. The play is perhaps over-long, and I found the short opening scene poetic but unhelpful — but judge for yourself. You really should go and see this play if you are at all interested in what the theatre can do. With an empty space, a gripping story and a handful of talented and imaginative people committed to telling that story, magic happens. And not a light-sabre in sight!

Directed by Michael Futcher

Playing until 18 June: Tues 6.30pm, Wed-Sat 8pm, Matinee 18 June 2pm

Running time: total including interval 2½ hours



— Maureen Strugnell

(Performance seen: 2nd June 2005)
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Away  
Brisbane Arts Theatre


Amateur production

With the illustrious playwright ensconced just down the road at QTC, it’s a courageous amateur company that has a stab at his most awarded play, Away. First performed in 1986, the play has won the NSW Premier's Literary Award, the Sydney Theatre Critic's Circle Award, an AWGIE for best play, and the Green Room Award.

This isn’t to say, however, that Away hasn’t also proved incredibly popular with audiences. A resident of our high school English syllabi for nearly 10 years, it has been voted Australia’s favourite play numerous times in various newspapers and magazines, and is generally considered to be the best theatrical portrait of Australian life out there, along with Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

On the surface, Away deals with the most familiar of topics: the Australian family holiday. It’s the end of the school year in 1967, and with the prospect of beach and surf, three families are off. Interestingly for us, it’s in more ways than one. Away isn’t only a Christmas break. It’s also the Vietnam war, alienation, family separation, death and what comes after, and freedom to explore life in your own way. Gow cleverly interweaves the best motifs Western literature has to offer — from Shakespeare — for despair, hope, and survival, with the banal context of camping, fishing, and suburban materialism.

In this production, director Craig Wood shows further courage, and also a background in children’s theatre, by relishing the inclusion of four Midsummer Nights Dream-esque fairies, no less! These fairies do triple duty as meddlesome magic wielders, extra characters as required and stage crew who move the sets between scenes.

The fairies look gorgeous, are quite amusing at times and are obviously having a great time. However, the Shakespearean metaphor quickly becomes overdone and overall the device detracts from the build of the play.

The program notes explain the presence of the fairies as being instrumental to the characters’ progressive "ailing" and "healing". Apparently, through magical actions (and also those of the focus character Tom) all of the characters undergo a transformation towards being healed.

Unfortunately, emphasis on these elements doesn’t extend far beyond the page. In this production it’s hard to understand why the characters are behaving as they are, even with explanatory monologues included. The actors show ability and give everything they can, but in the absence of strong direction, the characters are often uni-dimensional and unsympathetic. Vital moments are often rushed through or thrown away, and we are left with the impression that little of importance has occurred.

What makes Away such a powerful play is the subtlety with which Gow communicates his most important message: human existence is unreliable, a peculiar mix (like the play itself) of comedy and pathos, everyday life and larger themes. The most important messages are caritas and carpe diem — live and love while you can, because life may be shorter than you think.

It may be worth bearing this in mind when considering that this production is two hours long, including a 15-minute interval.

Directed by Craig Wood

Playing until 28 May 2005: Wed-Sat 7.30pm and Tues 24 May 7.30pm



— Ruth Bridgstock

(Performance seen: 18th May 2005)
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La boheme  
Opera Queensland (Lyric Theatre)

It's hard to imagine a more compelling modernised version of La boheme than this startling production by Simon Phillips for Opera Queensland.

Circa 2005 our romantic early 19th century Parisian bohemians have become a bunch of scruffy student and arty-crafty types, living their intense and impoverished lives in the heart of a modern city.

The sets by designer Stephen Curtis are astonishing for a classic opera, Act One a split-level scenario with Rodolfo and his pals downstairs, a neat elderly couple in genteel comfort in a small flat above them, and a contemporary Mimi, midriff showing, coughing sadly and quietly in her tiny upstairs room.

Meanwhile the main players' apartment displays the decadence and discomfort we would expect, with its grimy couch, messy sink, a cold expanse of louvres, archaic adjacent bathroom and imposing external fire-escape. Friends burst in like characters from, well, Friends or Kramer from Seinfeld. Schaunard has a pee, there's much horseplay, and they set to to burn Rodolfo's manuscript to stave off the cold. (He's no doubt got a back-up on his presumably contraband laptop.)

Phillips has very cleverly choreographed the situation where Mimi (Nicole Youl) and Rodolfo (Bonaventura Bottone) meet in the midst of a sabotage-induced blackout. Well wrought also is the Cafe Momus scene, with a carnival market atmosphere similar to that frequently found on Southbank in shouting distance of QPAC.

And the difficult customs gate scene of Act Three is transformed into an ugly alleyway with garbage skips, streetpeople, early morning workers and security guards. The scene-closing blazing row between Marcello and Musetta is unforgettable, the highly-strung couple pelting each other with garbage and finally rolling in the falling snow as their passion switches to ardour, while Rodolfo and Mimi dreamily slip off into their re-emerging apartment.

The principals are in top form. They all give satisfactory dramatic performances and are vocally well balanced. Bottone and Youl give a convincing portrayal of the central pair of lovers, beautifully carrying off their famous Act One arias and duet — one can well believe they are falling in love before our eyes as they lounge together on the floor by the fire and tell each other their stories. The statuesque and very watchable Lisa Harper-Brown is a fiery and commanding Musetta, bringing Act Two to life with her dramatic and flamboyant entrance. She is well-matched with Han Lim as a robust and energetic Marcello. Bass Jonathan Truscott gives Colline a suitably doleful aspect, his famous ode to his coat sung privately in the bathroom, while Jason Barry-Smith is an interestingly enigmatic Schaunard. True to the Friends ambience, there is more than a hint that he and Mimi have developed something in the midst of her on-again off-again relationship with Rodolfo.

Well conveyed are the friends' feelings of anxiety and ultimately awkward helplessness at Mimi's fatal illness. She dies on a beanbag in the midst of all the squalor, but in an atmosphere of genuine love and support.

In other roles, Ian Platt is a suitably vengeful landlord, Ian Cousins a baffled and harassed admirer and Geoffrey Ashenden a colorful toyman. Credit is also due to assistant director Cathy Dadd for her part in bringing the complex and thought-provoking direction to fruition, and Matt Scott for subtle and effective lighting.

Quibbles? With the contemporary and true-to-life feel conjured up by sets, costumes and direction, a more consistently youthful cast would have been a better fit: some of the horseplay is a little stilted, as if those past the first flush of youth are wary of sustaining injuries. A disadvantage of the multi-framed set of Act One is loss of concentration on the main action — particularly when taking in surtitles as well as the three and sometimes more sets of performers. (Indeed, a better decision for this production would have been to run the show in English, minimising one of the sources of distraction.) Vertical shifting of the heavy two-floor apartment set is noisy, although not surprisingly so given the hydraulic challenges involved. In Act Two the pace doesn't at first rise to the color and variety of sets and costumes (partly Puccini and his librettists' fault), and the large cast seem physically constrained by the sets and props: but there is subsequently much amusing interplay among cafe customers during and beyond Musetta's waltz song.

Meanwhile, conductor Peter Robinson produces a consistently strong and warm sound from the orchestra, and the Opera Queensland chorus, including children's chorus, give of their best. Robinson gives a good introduction to the music, and Phillips an educational explanation of his direction, in the production's program.



— John Henningham

(Performance seen: 14th May 2005)
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Under Milk Wood  
Front Row Theatre (Hamilton Town Hall)

By Dylan Thomas

Amateur production

I suppose Under Milk Wood is something of a classic now. More than 50 years after its first production it is still appearing in the repertoires of theatre groups across the world. Its appeal is obvious: an imaginary town peopled with dotty and memorable characters who speak a wild and luxuriant prose that forever hovers on the verge of poetry. No wonder it is till tempting amateur and professional groups to attempt to stage what was originally, and remains essentially, a radio play for voices.

This is not to suggest that the play is not stageable — there have been many fine productions in the past. However, the challenges are huge and a director needs to find a way of embodying the voices without destroying the momentum of the piece. Robert Allen for Front Row Theatre has tried some unusual effects — the use of marionettes for the dead characters is particularly interesting, and the occasional involvement in the action of one of the two narrators works well.

The cast needs to be versatile to present the 70-odd characters of the town convincingly, and Allen’s cast works very hard. However, their job is made much more difficult by the decision to have them make separate entrances and exits, even when only one or two lines of dialogue are required. The consequent slowing-down of the pace of the play to allow for blackouts (never very complete in halls like this) in which characters attempt to shuffle on and off unobtrusively cannot help but ruin the rhythm of the piece.

An effective set with a silhouette of the wood behind the town establishes the mood well, the narrators are a pleasure to listen to, and some of the characters are brought effectively to life. Mr and Mrs Pugh munching cold grey cottage pie in their dining-vault as he dreams of murdering his sour-faced wife: Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard still nagging her long-dead husbands: the blind Captain Cat enjoying the sounds of children playing: Polly Garter singing of her one true love: Bessie Bighead weaving her lonely way through the town and Mary Ann Sailors who praises the Lord who made porridge — all these live on long after the play is over, and each audience member will have their own favourites.

It is a big ask for a community theatre to bring off a piece such as this totally successfully, and if the result is something of a curate’s egg — quite good in places — there are lots of people in Brisbane who will nevertheless welcome the opportunity to immerse themselves in Thomas’s language and re-acquaint themselves with his characters.

In his original review over 50 years ago the critic Kenneth Tynan described the play as “a tumult of living” and talked about “the manic riot” of Thomas’s prose. The test of a classic play is that it will stand the test of time and its qualities will shine through the imperfections of any individual production. In both these regards Under Milk Wood succeeds.

Directed by Robert Allen

Playing until 28 May 2005: Fri-Sat 7:30pm, Matinee Sat 14 2:00pm

Running time: total including interval 2 hours


— Maureen Strugnell

(Performance seen: 7th May 2005)
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Vincent in Brixton  
Queensland Theatre Company (Cremorne Theatre)

Professional Production

Well, the design team at QTC have done it again! After the stunning set for The Goat , they have come up with another design concept that looks right in every possible way.

It is perhaps fitting that a review of a play about an artist should begin with some comments on the visual aspect of the show. Vincent in Brixton concerns the time that the 20-year-old Van Gogh spent in London in 1873-4 when he was working in his uncle’s firm as a trainee art dealer and had, as yet, no idea of devoting his life to painting. We know that he took lodgings with a widow and her daughter in working-class Brixton and playwright, Nicholas Wright, weaves a story around the relationships he may have formed there and their effect on his future life as an artist.

The entire action of the play takes place in the kitchen of this house and designer, Bruce McKinven, has come up with a design that is not only functional (taps that work, a stove that receives a lot of use), but also extremely beautiful and evocative. The pressed tin patterning of the walls recreates the period and takes the light wonderfully. The delicate painted blossoms call to mind Van Gogh’s own, much later, study of peach blossom. Even the grain of the kitchen table reminds us of the tortured brush strokes of Van Gogh’s last works.

This attention to detail carries through to all aspects of the production. The costumes and hairstyles look just right; the women move as if they have lived in restricting corsets all their lives, they and the men wear serviceable boots. Sam, Vincent’s fellow lodger, wears a particularly sturdy pair that we can imagine he has resoled himself. Vincent’s final sketching of these well-worn boots again reminds us of Van Gogh’s later preoccupation with the details of working men’s lives: their hands, their tools, their boots.

While Vincent (Patrick Drew) is central to the play, the other four characters provide the contrast that allows us to see the painful awkwardness of the young man and his inner turmoil. Anna (Kerith Atkinson) his abrasive younger sister, allows us to catch a glimpse of the pietistic family from which he is struggling to emerge. The easy-going Sam (Aaron Davison) who, though talented, chooses family responsibilities rather than the selfish life of the artist, personifies what Vincent will turn his back on. Eugenie (Amber McMahon), the daughter of the house with whom Vincent falls instantly in love, is far too practical to allow him to turn her into a romantic muse and her simple, generous love for Sam is outside his experience. Her mother Ursula Loyer (Andrea Moor) is a tragic figure in whose suffering Vincent can see the mirror of his own anguish.

One of the problems facing a playwright attempting to speculate about these early London years is that the young Van Gogh is not, inherently, a particularly interesting or attractive figure. Nicholas Wright has done his best to arouse our interest in the young man, and Patrick Drew succeeds in portraying all his enthusiasms, brashness and uncertainty. Ursula says of Vincent that she has never encountered anyone so terribly raw, and the actor captures this vulnerability very well. However, the fact remains that by far the most interesting character in this play is the 56 year old Ursula, whose despair is so much more immediate to an audience that the self-torment of the young artist.

Andrea Moor is compelling in this role, suggesting by everything she does the effort that it takes to keep on functioning in a world that has lost all meaning. Whether she is rushing manically about the kitchen as in the opening scene, or moving with achingly painful slowness as the depression takes hold again, we watch fascinated. When she sits still, head in hands, she personifies despair and prefigures later portraits by Van Gogh of sorrowing women. Nurturing talent in others provides the only purpose Ursula can find in life, and when Vincent momentarily brings joy into her existence the actress makes her incandescent.

Andrea Moor and Patrick Drew bring off some very delicate moments in the play, made more difficult by the fact that their discovery of each other is quite sudden. When, at the end of the play, Vincent returns briefly to the house (looking at this juncture uncannily like the images we know of Van Gogh) the actor has the almost insurmountable task of justifying, not only to the household but to the audience, his abrupt departure and long absence. That the young actor almost succeeds is quite an achievement.

All the performances in this production are good, and if this review has focussed on the two leads it is because the other actors have succeeded in fitting around them seamlessly. As the outsider, Anna, Kerith Atkinson is a forceful and convincing little whirlwind as, dustpan and brush in hand; she attempts to clean up the Loyer household and her brother’s life. Amber McMahon lends a down-to-earth generosity to Eugenie that is very attractive and Aaron Davison’s Sam is quietly effective as a foil to the self-obsessed artist that Vincent believes he must become.

I had some problems with the play itself — Best Play at the 2003 Olivier Awards though it may be. Its static nature raised difficulties for the director and actors that weren’t quite overcome (despite a lot of cooking and tea-making) and for my taste some of the dialogue was unnecessarily padded with hints about the future direction of Van Gogh’s work. The text also raised expectations that weren’t met, such as when Sam warns “Not everything in this house is what it seems”, leading us to believe, incorrectly, that there were dark secrets to be disclosed. Most importantly, I believe the audience becomes much more interested in Ursula’s story than that of the callow young Dutchman, however significant he might later turn out to be, and this interest is left unsatisfied.

Nevertheless, this is a production which looks beautiful, sounds authentic (to this non-Dutch ear at least) and portrays sensitively and convincingly the dark hell of depression from which there seems no escape. If you are interested in Van Gogh, it provides an intriguing picture of the young man before he became totally consumed by art and insanity and — who knows — it may also give you your very best chance of learning to pronounce his unpronounceable name correctly!

Directed by Scott Witt

Playing until 4 June 2005: Evenings: Tues 6:30, Wed-Sat 7:30, Matinees: Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm Running time: 2 hours including interval


— Maureen Strugnell

(Performance seen: 5th May 2005)
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One by One  
Metro Arts Theatre

By Louise Marshall and Francesca Gasteen

Amateur Production

I am always intrigued by what audiences are thinking as they leave the theatre after a play. Young Brisbanites emerging from the new play One by One by local writer Louise Marshall may well be thinking: “Maybe moving back home with the oldies till I can afford a place of my own may not be such a bad idea after all!”

After a dark and disturbing action sequence, the play opens with four housemates, clearly struggling with money problems, looking for a fifth person to take the empty room and share household expenses. The characters of these four are quickly established. Central to the household is the dependable Sophie, who works long hours in a menial job to support her pot-smoking younger brother Nicky and domineering fiancé Luke through Uni. Sophie is also the major support for Ashley, a flakey shop-aholic who spends and parties to escape her insecurities. Into this mix comes Jo, a young professional woman whose strong personality affects each of the others in turn.

Louise Marshall and Francesca Gasteen (who play Jo and Sophie) have committed themselves to writing and producing challenging theatre, designed to entice younger audiences away from mass-produced entertainment into live performances. Certainly, on the night I saw the show the audience was full of twenty-somethings who loved the music, picked up on all the pop-culture references, and could well have been recognising current or past housemates in the characters on-stage .

Women in the audience may also have identified, in the opening scenes at least, with Jo, Sophie or Ashley. I don’t, however, envisage many of the men in the audience wanting to see anything of themselves in the dependent and irresponsible Nicky (Peter Norton) or in the selfish user, Luke (Gavin Edwards). This is a play that provides, as its writers intended, strong roles for women, and Francesca Gasteen, Louise Marshall and Renee Kirkman (who plays Ashley) make the most of the opportunities given them. They are a nicely contrasted trio and each actor gives a sense of authenticity to her character that makes them all attractive, flawed as they are.

The men’s roles are less well-developed, though again the characters are well-contrasted and the actors succeed in making us want to shake them (in the case of Nicky) or punch them (in the case of Luke) from quite early on. Luke does, in fact, get a bit of a working over by Jo in the course of the play, and the fight scenes are particularly effective, even on the small stage at the Metro Arts where the closeness of the audience can often make for problems.

One by One is an apt title for this show, not only because of its focus on each of the characters in turn, but also in terms of its subject matter. Sometimes it seems that, one by one, the once taboo and now almost obligatory ingredients of sex, drugs, strong language, violence, homosexuality, homophobia and lesbianism are brought in, with greed and corruption added so that an audience can feel at home in a play for our times.

The major problem in the current production lies in the episodic structure of the play. The action is made up of countless short scenes — no problem for film or TV where quick or slow fades maintain continuity. In a theatre, however, the stop-start irritation of endless partial blackouts with stage hands rushing to rearrange props disturbs the engagement an audience needs with the play. Many of these scene changes were minor and unnecessary and, with a little imagination, could be eliminated, relying on a quick fade down then up of the lighting to establish a time lapse.

Indeed, it is in the longer scenes, where the situation is established and the characters have time to develop, that the strength of the writing is evident, making the first half of the play the more satisfying for this reviewer. The decision to take the play from psychological interplay to a melodramatic and bloody ending makes for opportunities for strong physical action as the two predators fight it out, and is certainly in keeping with current film tropes. However, the danger of losing the credibility of character and the audience involvement in the development of the relationships is a big risk. Audiences must decide for themselves whether it comes off.

One by One is the first of a number of future productions by Loulabelle and Frangipani Productions. Brisbane audiences have already found this play to be a very promising beginning.

Directed by Sandra Harman

Playing until Saturday 7 May

Running time including interval approximately 1 hour 45 minutes


— Maureen Strugnell

(Performance seen: 4th May 2005)
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The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?  
Queensland Theatre Company (Bille Brown Studio)

By Edward Albee

Professional Production

“Who is Sylvia, what is she…? So starts the Shakespearean song from which Albee’s title derives. Since the QTC production is now in the third week of its run there can be few theatre-goers in Brisbane who haven’t yet learned who, and indeed what Sylvia is. (And if you are one of the handful who hasn’t, the rest of the title gives you a BIG clue.) More than 40 years after shocking audiences by the savagery of The Zoo Story and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Albee, now in his seventies, is still writing plays that challenge and confront us both by their subject matter and by the ferocity with which his characters tear themselves and each other apart. Like the classical Greek tragedies with which they are often compared, many of Albee’s plays deal with the dark and shameful desires that threaten the norms of society and destroy their protagonists.

In this play Albee’s main characters, like their classical counterparts, are tall poppies just asking to be cut down. Martin is 50, a highly successful architect who has recently won a prestigious award for his work. He shares his elegant home with Stevie, his wife, who is beautiful, smart and loving. Theirs is seemingly an ideal marriage that has withstood the test of time. From the opening scene, however, there are signs of cracks in the façade of their lives. Martin worries that he may be losing his mind; the couple’s jokes about infidelity have an edge to them; despite their liberal convictions, they are clearly thrown by their 17-year-old son’s recognition that he is gay.

When the troubled Martin tells his friend Ross that, notwithstanding his love for Stevie, he is having an affair, it seems the damage may be minimal. When finally he reveals, however, that the object of his affections is a goat, we have an awful certainty that Martin’s seemingly solid life will soon come crashing down around him. This is indeed what happens, and we watch, appalled, as Stevie and Martin attempt to deal with questions of what is love, how we define depravity, and the nature of betrayal. However, despite the seriousness of the subject matter, much of the play is hilariously funny. Even in the harrowing scene where Stevie relentlessly drags out from Martin the details of his obsession, we are torn between helpless laughter and dismay.

As Stevie, Carol Burns is an absolute knock-out. From the opening moment she looks and sounds superb, capturing the smart brittleness of Albee’s very literate dialogue and developing in the second half of the play into a Hilary Clinton look-alike with a lot more to worry about than a husband who leaves a few stains on a little blue dress. As we watch her struggling to understand the destruction of her marriage and the horror of her betrayal she is both painfully comic and deeply affecting. When she moves, Fury-like, to exact her revenge, we are in awe of her raw power even as we recoil from what she has done. This role gives us an opportunity to see a versatile actress at the very top of her form.

As Martin, Barry Otto dominates the stage, overwhelmed by a force he is struggling to understand and justify. For the play to succeed, Martin must persuade us that his love is genuinely felt and that all love is valid, whatever the object. Albee’s character, and Otto’s portrayal of him, is indeed most convincing, and we are forced to concede that there are, unfortunately, many unlikely things that can arouse us to love. It is, however, Martin’s attempts to romanticise his feelings (hence Sylvia’s name) and to persuade himself, like many an abuser, that these feelings are reciprocated, that mark his downfall. There is no answer to Stevie’s insistence that sexual congress with any creature in our power, whether animal or human, is rape.

Otto’s Martin shuffles and stumbles his way painfully throughout the play, earning our compassion but, by his very consistency, lessening for this reviewer the contrast that should have been evident between his privileged position at the opening of the play and his disintegration at the end. For me, a faster, crisper, smarter Martin in the opening scene would have established more convincingly the successful architect and made the shock of his revelation and consequent fall all the greater. Nevertheless, this is an impressive performance not to miss.

Robert Coleby plays the friend who hears Martin’s confession and feels it is his duty to pass on the information to Stevie, thereby precipitating the disaster. His character represents the norm that society expects, his incomprehension is that of a man for whom conformity matters. Robert Coleby hits exactly the right note in a difficult role; his presence is calm, attentive, low-key, and utterly reasonable. It is a very assured performance, unlike that of Jaydn Bowe who, as the son Billy, doesn’t quite find the right emotional note for the troubled teenager.

If this reads as a very enthusiastic review, that is because there is a lot to like. The set is superb — such a delight to see the usually awkward width of the Bille Brown stage filled effectively by an elegant set with no expense spared. Subtle and effective lighting, beautiful clothes for Carol Burns, great attention to detail in props; this is a lavish production. There’s nothing an audience likes more, once in a while, than a well-made play in a well-dressed set — no wonder the show is playing to full houses every night. So, if you haven’t booked your ticket yet, get on the phone now.

Directed by Jon Halpin

Playing until 30 April 2005: Mon and Tues 6:30pm, Wed-Sat 7:30pm, Wed matinee 1:00pm, Sat matinee 2:00pm

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no interval


— Maureen Strugnell

(Performance seen: 20th April 2005)
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The Tempest  
Brisbane Arts Theatre

Amateur production

A fashion has developed in Shakespearean productions for directors to do as they will with Will. Some succeed in crafting contemporary and compelling new perspectives on his timeless wisdom and wit. But as Arts’ current offering of The Tempest confirms, grafted novelty without apparent purpose adds only ado about nothing — and ‘nothing will come of nothing’ as Will himself once wrote. Very little did.

With its rich array of characters (corporeal and mystical), its conspiracies and contrasts — love and discord, storm and calm, charming music and crude humour — all magically orchestrated by Prospero and executed by his airy Spirit Ariel, The Tempest needs no grafted novelty to realise its potential.

Few should appreciate that potential more than director Paul Sherman. His knowledge and understanding of Shakespearean texts are local legend, his working experience on them, extensive. But despite Una Hollingworth’s atmospheric (and functional) design and Donald Hall’s enchanting music, he delivers a largely soulless production, lacking orchestration and choreography, and marked by posing without purpose and clumsy comic sequences.

He was not assisted by the patent inexperience of the younger cast members, nor by the imbalance in the performance skills of the troupe generally. His choice of a younger Prospero (Jonathan Strugnell) was bold but unrewarding. Of the nobles only Hugh Buckham (Gonzalo) was consistently believable. The absence of discernable text orchestration and controlled choreography allowed Stephano (Gary Kliger) and Trinculo (Bruce Baddiley) an excess of comic licence and deprived Caliban of pathos.

The evening did produce one highlight — Japanese actor REIKO, a graduate of the Los Angeles Theatre Academy playing her first role in Australia. She moved like a Spirit, and captured and shared the magical quality of the play, complemented by occasional use of her native tongue.

This was the one graft Will may well have applauded.

Directed by Paul Sherman

Season 16 April–14 May 2005

Running time : Approx 2hrs 15 mins.

— Ron Finney

(Performance seen: 16th April 2005)
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Creche and Burn  
La Boite Theatre

Professional production

This amusing farce holds the mirror up to nurture.

Set in the Little Acorns childcare centre, the action revs up as different parenting styles collide. In the midst is a newly trained childcare worker, Sarah, played engagingly by Emily Tomlins. On her first day she holds the fort while other workers ring in sick and disasters unfold at each turn. Throughout it all her love for the children is the rock around which a crazy world spins.

Each parent brings their own eccentricity. The breastfeeding mum avoids “negative auras”. The biker mum is the iconoclast who can spot humbug at a thousand paces. Bryan Probets plays the “born loser” dad encouraged by Sarah to stand up to his domineering ex-wife (Louise Brehmer). Alas, this bold stand starts to go pear-shaped, leading to the arrival of a police sergeant played hilariously by Karen Crone. In a virtuoso performance she captured the gait and demeanour of a Queensland police officer as if she were born to the role. In the midst of high drama she had the audience in stitches as she placed an order by walkie-talkie for pies “and mushy peas”.

This form of drama lends itself to La Boite’s theatre-in-the-round. The physical proximity of the actors and the absence of a proscenium arch plunge us into the action. The set design by Jonathan Oxlade and the lighting by Andrew Meadows make each audience member a fly on the wall observing the action.

Elise Greig has written a plot with more surprises than an unfolding nappy. The process of setting the scene in the first act relies on caricatures to the point of being at times a little heavy-handed; but this creates the tension which explodes in the second act in an energetically absurd fiasco. Ian Lawson’s directing keeps it moving right along and maintains the comic momentum.

This is a play about modern families and their conflicts. It reflects the huge changes in child care over the past three decades. So often our society changes faster than our culture. We wind up using yesterday’s concepts and images to deal with today’s reality. Hence the importance of a play like this. Hence also the importance of La Boite in its mission to nurture the little acorns of Queensland playwrighting.

Written by Elise Greig

Directed by Ian Lawson

Playing until 30 April 2005 at 8pm. After show discussion 22 April. Matinee 30 April 2pm.

Running time 2 hour and 15 minutes including interval.


— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 14th April 2005)
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Nothing but the Truth  
Powerhouse Theatre

Professional

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple," wrote Oscar Wilde. In Nothing but the Truth, South Africa’s "Grandfather of the theatre", John Kani, explores the impurities and complexities of familial dynamics, post that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

In presenting the initial report of the TRC Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “It was a firm belief of the TRC that unless a society exposes itself to the truth, it could harbour no possibility of reconciliation, re-unification and trust.” Although occasionally "wordy", Kani’s well structured script reveals that after 25 years of silence and secrets, its central family, under a veneer of post-apartheid normalcy, is in chronic need of all three.

As the play opens Sipho Makhaya (Kani) and his devoted daughter Thando (Moshidi Motshegwa) await two significant events. His prayed-for appointment at 63 as Chief Librarian and the arrival from England of his exiled-hero brother’s body for ritual burial beside their parents. If the funeral proceeds to plan it will ameliorate unspoken issues, while the appointment may provide a solitary burst of colour to a self-perceived grey life, hallmarked by things taken including his son’s life during the struggle.

To Sipho’s despair, his brother arrives not in a coffin but a cremation jar, placed catalytically centre stage. Kani (writer and actor) lets us laugh for a moment before the anguish and agony of family truth and reconciliation carries the play to its catharsis. Through Sipho’s reluctant revelations at the urgings and responses of Thando and his anglophiled niece Mandisa MacKay (Rosie Motene), it delivers a moving and revelationary journey at both its personal and political levels.

Janice Honeyman’s direction is secure and unobtrusive and after nights spent endeavouring to interpret the symbolic significance of some esoteric set designs, the simplicity and authenticity of Sarah Roberts’ “four room house in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, South Africa 2000” was refreshing.

John Kani (the actor) confirms his status as a Master of his art and craft. He draws us gently and surely into the heart and soul of Sipho Makhaya and grants us access to our own unreconciled secrets and the taste of our own grey tears.

Ms Motshegwa complemented him in truth and sincerity but the complexities of competing cultures in Mandisa MacKay challenged the present range and craft skills of Rosy Motene.

One possible anomaly arose for me in the text. After the immediate impact of the production passed, I was left with a plot-point dilemma. While the chronology (and uncertainty) of Thando’s paternity was clear, I could not on reflection determine Sipho’s dead son’s position on the Makhaya family tree, nor why his paternity seemed never in issue. The significance to Sipho of this loss deserves greater clarity.

These minor matters aside, Kani’s play and performance take us into his heart’s experience and the experience of his heartland.

Directed by Janice Honeyman

Season (Wed-Sat) April 13–23


— Ron Finney

(Performance seen: 14th April 2005)
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Who's Afraid of the Working Class?  
Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse

Student Production

Help Wanted
Potential audience members who meet the following selection criteria:
 
1. Connoisseurs of fine acting and artistic/ technical design
 
2. With either:  
a) extremely thick skins, or
b) existing prescriptions for Prozac, and
 
3. Exceptional viewing stamina.




Who's Afraid of the Working Class is confrontational, bleak, and commanding. From the start it pummels the audience with graphic depictions of powerless and isolated individuals who live at the margins of society — and it doesn't ever let up.

Originally performed by the Melbourne Workers Theatre in 1998, it was created as a statement against economic rationalism in general and Victoria’s Kennett government in particular. In this production, director David Meenach does a powerful job of exploiting the (considerable) talents of QUT’s graduating actors and an inspired lighting/ sound team to show us a grim underclass caught in a cycle of poverty and brutality. However, the play rarely moves beyond description into more complex social and political questions, and there little relief from the bleakness.

The play consists of four separate but interwoven stories written by different playwrights. In one story, a young Aboriginal salesman struggles with his racial identity. He abuses a white prostitute, is victimised by a white client, and quickly loses his job. In another, two teenagers from Coburg shoplift while pretending to be private schoolgirls. Once caught, they are suspected of a far more serious crime. The third story depicts a family alienated from itself. The father is unemployed, and the son resorts to burglary for pocket money. Meanwhile, the mother begins an ambiguous employment relationship with a dying man in order to pay the mortgage.

The strongest story, with the most potential for development into a play in its own right (and thereby exploring the important themes more deeply), is about two homeless children. Orton and Stace have the same mother but different fathers, and Stace is developmentally challenged. They run away from their abusive and chaotic home and live on the streets. One cold night they seek refuge in a charity bin, and burn to death when a candle they are using for light causes a fire.

One of the most potent scenes in the play contains a monologue from the children’s mother about the circumstances surrounding their homelessness and her experience of their deaths. Her blunt and inarticulate words are a very personal indictment of a government that permits such tragedies. In this production QUT alumna Caroline Kennison plays the children’s mother with a bitter pathos that is wrenching.

With only four female actors in the graduating class of thirteen the director has resorted to putting some of the blokes into dresses, a concept which seems ridiculous but actually works here to add some much-needed levity. Brooke Hender’s Old Woman character is a stand-out in this regard — his portrayal of a confused and lonely soul who befriends the boy robbing her is compassionate, real and amusing.

Starting at 8pm and running for three hours not including interval, this production is much too long. It was unfortunate that the very competent performances in the final scenes, including the only appearance of one actor, were not able to be appreciated as much as they might have been.

Applicants for the challenging position of audience member should contact the Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse until the 15th of April.

The production contains nudity, adult themes and very coarse language.

Playing: 7-15 April Wed-Sat 8pm

Running Time: 3 hours 20 minutes including interval



— Ruth Bridgstock

(Performance seen: 7th April 2005)
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A Thousand and One Nights  
Queensland Ballet (Playhouse Theatre)

Professional production

The Queensland Ballet's production of "A Thousand and One Nights" is a moving study in freedom and beauty.

It begins starkly with people locked away from freedom and beauty - refugees from a war-torn land huddling together in a desert detention camp reminiscent of Baxter. A caring mother (Nicole Galea) in Islamic dress comforts the children and young people by reading to them the Tales of the Arabian Nights . Thus we are transported into the beauty and exotica of Aladdin and Scheherezade.

A rub of the magic lamp summons the Genie of Imagination cleverly danced by Yu Hui of the New Zealand Ballet.

Lavishly coloured costumes and bacchanalian orgies spin through the court of the Sultan's wife (Renee von Strein). But not for long. The Sultan (Tama Barry) returns from hunting and is furious on discovering the debauchery. He wreaks a terrible revenge on all women by requiring his Visir to have a different woman for his bed every night and, the following morning, having her throat cut.

This bloodthirsty cycle rages until the fateful time comes for the turn of Scheherezade (Nicole Ashby). She tricks the Sultan by telling him a story that continues till after dawn. The Sultan wants to hear the rest of the tale so he spares her life for another night, and so on ... for a thousand and one nights.

The beguiling, terrible beauty of this world is a long way from the desert regimen of the detention camp. So often we take beauty for granted, particularly at the ballet. It is as if dance, music and grace were a part of life as a matter of course. But to those in a desert detention centre on the far side of the world such things are denied.

We call these people asylum-seekers. Yet they are more than this. Like all of us they seek beauty and truth. The use of the detention centre refugees is a theatrical device employed by artistic director and choreographer Francois Klaus to give piquancy to the familiar stories from the ballet repertoire.

The story of Aladdin (danced by Zachary Chant) is of a man detained in a cave by a tricky magician (remind you of anyone?). Unlike contemporary detainees, Aladdin is able to rub his lamp and get the Genie to release him. He succeeds eventually in claiming the Princess (Rachael Walsh) as his bride. Rachael Walsh danced with transcendent beauty and virtuosity in this role and in the later tales, including as the Caliph's wife in "The Sleeper and the Waker". She brought to the stage a truly magical aura.

She was very ably supported by the corps de ballet who floated through the regal court scenes in "The Surreal Tale of the Third Kalandar", an Odyssey-like tale of Prince Ajib (danced powerfully by Tama Barry).

The players of the Queensland Orchestra conducted by Tom Woods were in good form. The familiar melodies of Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich were rendered more poignant by the music of contemporary Queensland composer Sean O'Boyle in the Prologue and the Aladdin Suite. It was refreshing to hear contemporary Australian music-making, something which our local opera producers could well emulate.

By the end of the fourth tale I was left wondering whether the use of the detention camp as a theatrical device had not worn a little thin. Certainly the refugee children and young people came forward, but to what end?

Perhaps that is a tale for the Australian people to continue.

Choreography by Francois Klaus

Playing until 16th April with performances at 7.30pm, Tuesday at 6.30pm and matinees Saturday 2pm and Sunday 3pm (recorded music for Sunday matinee).

Running time 2 hours including one interval.




— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 2nd April 2005)
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The Importance of Being Earnest  
Ridiculusmus (Powerhouse Theatre)

Professional production

Never mind lavender and lace – try damask and chintz, but use them as panelling on 1930s wardrobes and sideboard, as folding screens depicting a rose garden, as part of the glorious eclectic chaos that makes up the bachelor pad of Jack/Ernest Worthing.

Add an ironing board and a spray pack of Windex, a pop-up toaster, and an intricate patterning of imitation Persian carpets, and you have a gorgeous set for which Oscar Wilde, if he were living today, would surely applaud designer Zoë Atkinson.

I like to think that he’d also love the glorious subversion of his masterpiece, the Importance of Being Earnest , as much as last Saturday’s audience did, for Wilde’s meticulously structured play is the perfect vehicle for the anarchic talents of Jon Haynes and David Haynes, who together portray all seven characters.

This isn’t as easy as it might seem, for Wilde very rarely has only two characters on stage together, and the hilarity begins when Woods becomes first the manservant Lane, who announces the arrival of, and then becomes, Algy’s friend Jack, by the simple expedient of going to a cupboard, changing jackets and adding a bad wig.

But then Lady Bracknell arrives, with daughter Gwendolen in tow, and the costume-swapping becomes more and more frenetic, with one character standing lemon-lipped on stage while the other goes off and reappears, after what seems like an interminable wait, in yet another guise.

Because they do all this deadpan, almost like ten-year-old boys putting on a performance for the adults, it becomes even funnier, but after an hour you begin to wonder whether this might be enough, and that the joke has gone on long enough.

Change the scene to Jack’s country estate, where his ward Cecily Cardew lives under the guidance of Miss Prism, with occasional visits from the love-lorn Canon Chasuble, and not just the plot, but the costume changes thicken. At one stage there are five characters on stage at once, and the actors drop all pretence at staying strictly in character, so we get, for example, two live actors, two glove puppets and a marble statue wearing the appropriate hat, struggling with hats, coat stands and frilly skirts under chasubles, for one of the most hysterically funny sequences I’ve seen on stage for a long time.

I think this is a work of genius, because although everything that can go wrong does so, we’re never sure how much is deliberate, and how much is due to the concept getting out of hand. This is the world premiere, after all, of a production that’s going straight to the Barbican in London after its Brisbane season, soit could be seen as a kind of off-Broadway try-out, in front of an audience who can be relied on to be enthusiastic and appreciative.

And so they are, and rightly so, for I wasn’t the only one guffawing and rolling around in my seat, with tears of laughter streaming down my face. Even for those of us who know and love the play (and Edith Evans), it was a great relief to be spared the notorious Handbag ? sequence, and for the many Wilde virgins in the audience, the jokes were new and fresh, proving that the best humour can retain its vitality even after a century of interpretation and reinterpretation. .

We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Powerhouse director, Andrew Ross, for collaborating with Barbican London in bringing this insane piece of ingenuity to life. And the fact that the house was packed, as it was for the preview the night before, shows that he’s resonating with Brisbane audiences. There was a huge range of people there, from the very young to some respectable wrinklies, as well as people you don’t see in the foyers of the more mainstream theatre companies, that gives me new heart about the future of live theatre in this country.

The Brisbane Powerhouse – the name itself is rich with symbolism, but all I ask is that you remember how lucky we are to have it.

Directed by Jude Kelly

Playing until Saturday 9 April at 7.30pm. Matinee Wednesday 6 April at 2pm

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including interval


— Alison Cotes

(Performance seen: 2nd April 2005)
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Death of a Salesman  
Brisbane Arts Theatre

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is often touted as a rather depressing, long-winded play with a bad ending. But this production is a pleasant surprise.

In britches, long socks, pink dressing gowns and singlets, they fought, they laughed, they loved and they hated. It was family life. It was you and I. It was compelling.

Mix more than a little dysfunctionality, the pursuit of the post-war American dream, identity crises and the uncertainties of free enterprise with some commendable local acting talent, and you certainly have a tonic for the soul.

Set in the late 1940s in Yonkers, New York, and Boston, Arts Theatre's production cleverly contains the sweep of action and past-present time shifts with grace and ease. The sets of two bedrooms and a kitchen/dining room reflect the confinement of a family in turmoil and effortlessly accommodate small set changes.

Gordon Shaw as Uncle Ben had obviously decided against an American accent and delivered his lines in broad Aussie — to no detriment. The rest of the cast used an uncomfortable mix of Aussie-American.

Almost flawless performances by Ray Swenson as Willy Loman and Matt Rossner as Biff are assisted by an accomplished Adrienne Morgan as Linda Loman and excellent supporting actors who are well cast. Veteran Dick Spring as Uncle Charley provides his outstanding talent as the comic respite (that you weren’t supposed to enjoy too much but really did) as Willy’s only friend and confidante.

Director Jack Hollingworth’s interpretation collapses the years and opens your heart to a timeless and timely play about a salesman who sells his soul and sacrifices his family along the way. It’s about sluggish awakenings, the importance of fighting back and the joy and suffering this brings.

Australian men may find this a little close for comfort. It is, after all, unpopular for a man to be seen as vulnerable and introspective.

Whether or not you know the story, this production is worth seeing — it stands on its own merits.

— Daphne Haneman

(Performance seen: 2nd April 2005)
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Much Ado About Nothing  
Mad Youth Training Theatre (Harvest Rain Theatre)

Amateur production

Never let it be said that Harvest Rain,
Enjoying now two score of fertile years,
Does not a fertile training ground provide
For youth, who, from the reaches of the State,
And further yet, descend in pilgrimage
To test their craft with Mad exuberance.

They might indeed seem mad to think that in
A mere four days, dead Will’s Ado on nought
Might take a funky form, be nipped and tucked
And stitched with mime-ed evergreens of love,
Of hope and sharp intrigues.

But Madly mad
They were indeed, and did, with such a force
Of zestful life, that Will himself might well
Have donned a red or yellow garb to join
The six and ninety dancing throng with joy.

And joyful more he might have been to hear
His playful double meanings spoken clear
By this intrepid, buoyant youthful band.

Let them be praised as one, for one they were
In energy, vitality and sheer
Imaginative verve.

And praise the one
Who, in a blink of theatre time, did more
Achieve than many who, resourced with time
Abundant, labour long but little yield.

May your youthful harvest, Harvest Rain,
This rewarding always be.

Directed by Tim O’Connor

Season now ended


— Ron Finney

(Performance seen: 1st April 2005)
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Stillwater Reflections  
Centenary Theatre

By Matthew Bass

Amateur production

Still waters run very deep, and Ben Starkey, who produced and co-wrote this little amateur show with Matthew Bass, admitted to me that he’d only been to live theatre about three times in his life before he decided it was time to get a play up and running.

So, with lots of confidence and no experience, he saw a couple of live shows, read a few scripts from Shakespeare and Chekhov, and decided that anything they could do, he could do equally well.

Obviously he couldn’t, but this off-beat little comedy works surprisingly well. Matthew Bass’s script is very funny, mainly because of his acute ear for dialogue, and I wasn’t itching to leave at interval, as I often am with shows of this kind (although I never do, I swear!).

So what do you get for your fifteen bucks? You get two dole-bludgers (Andrew, played by Matthew Bass, and Leonard, played by Stephen Davies), who want money, cars and the ability to pull the chicks. Their scruffy flat in a run-down country town called Stillwater is broken into by an incompetent burglar (Daniel Mulvihill), who blackmails them into hiding from the police.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch – or the office of Reflections, the six-page local rag – Raylene (Gemma Yates-Round) and the tough-minded editor Jill (Jillian Wood) are bemoaning their dull and dreary lives, as well they might, if Andrew and Leonard are any indication of the local talent.

Add a cross-dressing police constable (Ronan Lock) whose night job is as a psychic in the local bar, some rough trade in the form of Raelene’s ex-boyfriend (Brent Dunner), and a few minor characters, and you have a recipe for pure inanity.

Everyone in this production is a rank amateur, and neither acting, directing nor technical effects rise much above undergraduate level. But it’s so silly that at times it almost soars and, bad as it is, I sort-of enjoyed it in spite of myself.

Directed by Matthew Bass

Playing until 16 April (Thursday – Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 6pm)

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval


— Alison Cotes

(Performance seen: 1st April 2005)
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