Review: Disney’s ALADDIN

No Disney magic is spared in the touring adaption of Broadway musical hit, Aladdin, based on 1992’s blockbuster animation.

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The first stars of the show are set designer Bob Crowley and costume designer Gregg Barnes. There’s enough glitz in Aladdin to completely re-sand the South Bank beach with glitter and crystals. No detail goes un-bedazzled, and the result is a spectacle that overwhelms like, well, the proverbial Aladdin’s cave. The pyrotechnics are quite literally dazzling, and even my cold, miserly heart lights up for Jim Steinmeyer’s illusion design.

It’s no surprise; Aladdin is delivered by the studios with perhaps the world’s tightest hold on their brand. Yet Disney leaves wiggle-room for some local touches – delivered with wit by our fourth-wall-defying Genie – that warm the audience right up. (“Where do you think I’m from?” he asks Aladdin. “Ipswich?”)

Aladdin successfully translates rather than replicates the film. In fact, the theatrical production gives the show a New York rags-to-riches feel, blending big band and tap into the mix. Instead of Aladdin’s monkey pal, we have three loyal buddies: Kassim (Adam-Jon Fioentino), Babkak (Troy Sussman) and Omar (Robert Tripolino). These guys have great chemistry – their numbers together are a blast (particularly “High Adventure”). It’s a shame most of Babkak’s characterisation comes back to fat jokes.

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Hiba Elchikhe and understudy Graeme Isaako are perfectly plucky as Jasmine and Aladdin, and they fill the big shoes of their filmic predecessors in sweet duets like “A Whole New World”. George Henare is an endearing Sultan, and understudy Dean Vince demonstrates that English accents always sound more evil, but it’s Aljin Abella as Iago who really steals the show with his comedic timing – and wicked laugh. Genie is such a charismatic character, and we can forgive understudy Anthony Murphy when his shrill-camp dialogue and singing is often hard to understand. Murphy sure looks the part, and Genie is certainly the character whose freedom we’re rooting for with the most vim, and who earns the biggest applause.

The ensemble deserves kudos, too, as a tireless, dynamic bunch under the supervision of director/choreographer Casey Nicolaw and a team of associates.

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Danny Troob’s orchestration is a highlight, led by music director Geoffrey Castles. There’s plenty of nostalgic earworms from Disney past, with the most striking new songs coming from the original team (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, with book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin).

It will likely not shock you to know that Disney still has a gender problem (not to mention, famously, an exoticism problem). Where Aladdin’s monkey is replaced with three men with distinct personalities, names and songs, Jasmine’s tiger companion is replaced by nameless women from the ensemble, who march off to leave her alone in her room with an unwelcome intruder. I was disappointed, given the number of thrilled kiddos in the audience, to see Aladdin tap his cheek to request a kiss and tell Jasmine, “Don’t you owe me something for showing you around?” Why not take the opportunity, when you wield such epic influence, to normalise language that supports a culture of consent and nurturance? Shout out, by the way, to Milagros Medina-Cerdeira (make-up design) and Natasha Katz (lighting design) – the only two women listed in a creative team of 22 people.

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It all works out okay: Aladdin gets a new tragic backstory and in the end Jasmine’s dad tells her she’ll be equal ruler once she’s married. These aren’t new criticisms. I might not know how Aladdin’s magic carpet works (no, really, it’s going to keep me up at night!), but the structure of a Disney production is a tale as old as time. So it goes. Ol’ Walt sure puts on a hell of a show, and it was fun watching parents trying to unravel their children from reams of gold streamers.

Aladdin runs until 3 June at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC. You can also enter a lottery, Broadway-style, for cheap tickets throughout the season.

Photos by Jeff Busby.

 

 

 

Adelaide Fringe: The Institute of Invisible Things and Glittery Clittery

The Institute of Invisible Things

We genuinely stumbled across this one, in Adelaide Central Markets. We happened to arrive 15 minutes before the Institute opened, so we grabbed piroshkis and waited with Karen, the installation’s gatekeeper.

The Institute of Invisible Things is a free, pop-up experience open only three hours a day during Fringe Festival. It’s also my favourite encounter this week. The show is a 10–15 minute miniature – the haiku of theatre, perhaps – which you enter alone, leaving your bags (and baggage) at the door.

Presented in three “chapters”, The Institute of Invisible Things asks you to contemplate nothingness, light, and connection. Creators Sarah John and Emma Beech guide you through this experience, set in a tiny gallery in a quiet corner of the Adelaide Market, the bustle of vendors just outside.

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The Institute makes powerful, tender use of very little: strong, concise writing; resonant imagery; and gentle participation. Sensory touches – a warm bowl of tea placed in my hands – are grounding and genuinely meditative.

The show’s epilogue asks you to contemplate sonder – both the loneliness and unity of realising that everyone who passes by is living their own complex life, with its own. For this moment, you’re the solo audience member at the Institute’s front window, looking into the theatre of the living market.

The Institute of Invisible Things runs until 3 March at Adelaide Fringe 2018.

 

 

Glittery Clittery: A Consensual Party

The Fringe Wives Club seem to be an institution at Adelaide Fringe – several friends and colleagues recommended their cabaret show at the Garden of Unearthly Delights. Glittery Clittery is part musical, part stand-up, part game show and all feminist comedy. They call it performance activism – “for the greater, glittery good.”

Playing at 10pm, this is a party worth staying up for. Tessa Waters, Rowena Hutson and Victoria Falconer sparkle – both literally and figuratively – as they sing about the sexism of pockets (and their absence) in women’s clothing, mactivist men, and how feminism is so hot right now. In all the fun, the Fringe Wives also acknowledge the show’s limitations – but there’s enough patriarchy-fucking in the show to get the audience very fired up indeed.

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For the game show Lagoon of Mystery, named for Carrie Fischer’s euphemism for the vag, Hutson appears dressed a huge, plush vulva. Three audience members compete to answer anatomical trivia. (My inner Hermione kicks in as I regret not volunteering and stick my arm up anyway to answer how many nerve endings a clit has (8000, cheers).) It’s edutainment at its finest, but also a gloomy reminder of how bad our sex ed. is. (Folks, it’s not too late to learn!)

Glittery Clittery is such a joy that I nearly bought a glittery bum-bag. I’d definitely buy a soundtrack. Tessa Waters and Victoria Falconer each has a solo shows running at Fringe, too – check them out if you can. Fellow critic Jane Howard has been tweeting about the disproportionate representation of male comedians at Fringe. Help address the imbalance while also learning more about the lagoon of mystery or, as I prefer, breakfast of champions.

Glittery Clittery: A Consenusal Party has recently been nominated for a Green Room Award for Best Ensemble. It runs until 18 March 2018 at Le Cascadeur at The Garden of Unearthly Delights as part of Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Adelaide Fringe: Séance

I booked very cheap tickets to Adelaide months ago, not even realising we’d be here in time for Fringe. It’s a happy coincidence, so in between eating a lot and looking at myself in the Gallery of South Australia, I’ve been seeing as much theatre as my wallet can handle (not heaps, but still). Why leave my cosy AirBnB bed during daylight hours when I could write scrappy reviews all day and see shows at night?

To a Queenslander, Adelaide Fringe Festival – particularly the Rundle Park venue Garden of Earthly Delights – looks like The Ekka but for actual art. There’s a good bit of dustbowl Carnivàle vibe thrown in, and plenty to stumble across. We were contemplating Sideshow Alley (my beau has never been on a Ferris Wheel?!) when we found Séance.

It makes sense that Séance is near the thrill rides: it kind of serves as the haunted house of Fringe. Séance is, quite literally, a show-in-a-box – it takes place in a shipping crate, in pitch darkness. It’s only 15–20 minutes long, but we decided it was a far better way to sink $20 each than on dodgems. The show (and, presumably, crate) has been transported from Edinburgh Fringe, but is facilitated by newish Melbourne theatre company, Realscape (in association with Darkfield – a collaboration between Glen Neath and David Rosenberg). Their modus operandi is to present “unforgettable theatrical experiences that captivate and inspire even the sixth sense.”

Inside the container is a long table, with old-fashioned red theatre chairs lining either side. We’re asked to put on noise-cancelling headphones before we’re plunged into darkness. Without wanting to give the game away – especially with such a short show – Séance relies on aural illusion. Using binaural audio, the show takes place inside your head, with your brain extrapolating Foley into reality around you. (For those who’ve never encountered the weirdness of ASMR YouTube, binaural microphones record “3D sound”. It’s virtual reality, but via audio.)

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I’m pleased to read that Darkfield is an ongoing project – using “actors … binaural sound, pitch darkness and movement … in shipping containers to explore fear and anxiety.” What a damn fine project. Séance is the first in this collection of shows, and it proves that binaural audio and light (or lack thereof) are a fantastic way to create a memorable, affecting experience. As well, the show’s transportable nature calls back to the travelling illusionists and snake-oil salesmen of old.

But, for a show that relies on immersion, the team handling the audience is careless. While I understand the importance and complexity of safety warnings for such a show (e.g. to have someone leave partway would destroy the darkness), there was little effort to set the mood and bring us into the Spiritualist world of the séance itself. We were initiated by a dude in green basketball shorts, as chill and casual as any carnie strapping us into a ride. The show ought to have begun outside the container, not once the lights went out. This isn’t the dodgems; this is a dollar-a-minute theatre experience.

Within the audio of the show, as well, a few key clues busted the suspension of my disbelief, despite the Mulderesque fervour with which I wanted to believe. (For example, perhaps the audio could’ve been rerecorded with local accents.) But all in all, I found myself wanting more. While I get that there’s only so long you can lock 20 people in a dark box, another five, 10 or even 15 minutes would’ve allowed the writers to flesh (or perhaps spirit) out a more consistent, impactful narrative.

I loved the innovations used in Séance, and hope this spooky little show encourages more theatre-makers to push on the potential of binaural audio.

Séance plays in The Garden of Earthly Delights throughout Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Three and a half stars.

REVIEW: a library for the end of the world


sonder
, n. “the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own” (The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)

Vena Cava presents an unusual work-in-development devised by Brisbane’s own Sarah Winter.

a library for the end of the world is a interactive work that challenges each solitary participant to explore memory and theory of mind. Through headphones, a guiding voice asks us some big questions — amongst them: if the world were ending today, what one memory would you leave behind?

Each half-hour session­­­ takes one traveller on something of a treasure hunt, guided by audio, to the library’s hidden location. The Anywhere Theatre Festival event page shrouds the library in mystery, but in doing so excludes important accessibility information: the production’s first half is a walking tour, with stairs.

This show embodies the spirit of ATF. Winter (disembodied) stages her performance outside of a traditional space — with the participant at the centre of the experience. West End is made strange and new through its frame as theatre. I am hypnotised: a great lover of audio books and spoken word, I follow Winter’s voice down the rabbit hole. It is simultaneously a meditative and thrilling experience to be led by someone unseen into unknown places.

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The library itself, once you find it, is an enchanting space. Its design hints at an outside-of-time otherworldliness — with the sensation that whoever works there may return at any moment. I can’t help but finger through curios and ephemera while listening to the library’s growing collection of memories. The analogue crackle of audiotapes is at once ghostly and fire-warm.

Throughout the show, I search through my own memories for the right one to leave behind. But when the time comes to hit record, my brain decides to tell another. That sudden memory seems as revealing as a tarot card. I leave the library pensive — even melancholy; I want more time alone within that experience to consider all the questions I’ve been asked.

A day on — at the time of writing — and the memory of the library has taken on the surreal, ephemeral glow of a dream.

Anywhere Theatre Festival runs from 7 to 17 May. Due to popular demand, a library for the end of the world’s season has been extended until 24 May.

Interview: BRISBANE (A DOING WORD)

Writer David Burton and director Claire Christian team up for Vena Cava’s latest production, BRISBANE (A DOING WORD). I caught up with David and Claire to find out more.

 

ZENOBIA FROST: People like to denigrate Brisbane as a place to live or make art, but it sounds like this play identifies the ways in which Brisbane has much to offer. Is that correct? Tell me about the play’s relationship to Brisbane.

DAVID BURTON: The play’s relationship to Brisbane is complex. Every artist I know has a complex relationship with this city. I’m a big Brisbane fan too, and a large part of this play is showing that Brisbane has a lot to offer but that it also has a lot to overcome. Brisbane’s main challenge is the relationship it holds with its artists, many of whom are looking to book a flight to Melbourne or Sydney! I was interested in why that it is — not on a political level, because that’s discussed enough — but on a personal, emotional, creative level. That’s what the play explores.

CLAIRE CHRISTIAN: I like to think that the play metaphorically high-fives Brisbane in a way too. And that by the very making of the work, Brisbane artists are doing their thing in Brisbane and loving on Brisbane.

 

ZF: Tell me about the play’s protagonist, Matty. What sets his story apart from your average coming-of-age?

DB: We’ve all met Matty. He’s the hopelessly ambitious, idealistic artist who believes theatre can change the world. He’s loved, funny, and imaginative, but he’s sadly lacking some sensitivity. I think he’s an interesting protagonist because he’s recognisable, and not necessarily likeable. Not likeable, but loveable. I’ve been Matty, I’ve been friends with a lot of Mattys, and I’ve watched many grow up, and many stagnate in a Matty-state. It’s funny and interesting to me.

CC: I think those of us in the arts all have an inner Matty at some point of our career: the people in our lives loving us, us hating ourselves, being a wanker about our art — perhaps that’s part of the process.

 BRISBANE (a doing word)


ZF: Matty explores comedy, slam, theatre, therapy and Jesus. Which part of his adventure is most memorable/resonant for you as writer and director, respectively?

CC: Matty’s overall journey, but the people around him are also on a journey because of him and his impact on their lives. He’s a pretty blissfully unaware of the ripple effect he causes. I hope audiences just wanna give him a hug — and tell him he’s okay. I think all artists need that. Scrap that, I think everyone needs that.

 

ZF: JWC is a distinctly Brisbane venue (and definitely a doing-wordy place). How does “Brisbane (a doing word)” use the space?

CC: We’re in the shopfront space, which has its challenges and limitations, but is also forcing us to be creative. I’ve done a show in this space before — I love the intimacy it forces, the proximity of the actors to the audience. Plus, I think it’s fantastic that Vena Cava are getting away from their home turf and spreading their wings. I think it makes a great comment about how they see themselves within the Brisbane landscape and about the work they want to make.

 

ZF: Vena Cava is a student theatre company; have the play’s themes resonated with the cast? In what ways?

C: I think so, yeah. I think it is spinning a few of them into an existential art related crisis. It’s a little confronting in that Matty’s essentially on their path, in their classes, possibly them — even though I think they all hope not. It’s probably inspired a whole lot of reflection about why they do what they do, and how they talk about what they do. I think it’s nice to be reminded not to be a dickhead. I think they get that now.

 

ZF: Does the play reveal anything unexpected about Brisbane?

DB: I don’t know what people’s expectations are of our city! I think we all have different perspectives on our town, and the play looks at that. None of the characters have the same relationship with this place.

CC: I don’t know, I’d like to think the play speaks more about being a young, confused twenty something — which could be applicable in any town. I think what makes the play speak of Brisbane is the ‘plight’ of artists here and their questions about where to place themselves for success. Maybe it speaks about the perception of success as an artist and how place and space contribute to that.

 

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) plays at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March.

 

THEATRE REVIEW: The Mountaintop

Photos by Rob McColl

It’s after midnight on Martin Luther King’s last night on earth. There’s still work to be done — but the good doctor has run out of cigarettes.

Dr King (Pacharo Mzembe) has just given his famous and final address at Mason Temple in Tennessee — in April of 1968. We find him kicking off his shoes in his Memphis motel room, calling room service in the hope of a late-night cup of coffee.

Delivering caffeine and cigarettes to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was not what Camae (Candy Bowers) expected of her first day on the job as a motel maid. Lonely and, after all, only human, King insists Camae stay for a cigarette. He gets far more than he bargained for.

Candy Bowers as Camae and Pacharo Mzembe as Dr Martin Luther King in QTC's The Mountaintop  shot by Rob Mccoll

In his director’s notes, Todd MacDonald quotes writer Katori Hall: “This isn’t the ‘I Have a Dream’ King. This is King, the man, not the myth. I want people to see that this extraordinary man — who is actually quite ordinary — achieved something so great that he actually created a fundamental shift in how we, as a people, interact with each other.” Mzembe, with his sonorous voice, perfects Hall’s vision of King-the-man. His ego, wit and flaws make King’s terror, in facing death, all the more moving.

The Mountaintop’s strength hangs on its dynamic leads’ playful intimacy. Bowers’ brass and sharpness keep the play on the right side of sweet as Camae’s true identity is revealed. The more fun Bowers has with her character — giving her own Dr-King-esque speech, for instance — the more she settles into her Tennessee twang.

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Kieran Swann’s design and Ben Hughes’ lighting combine to create a singular effect: Room 306, with its mildewed pink curtains, seems to exist between worlds. Swann subtly evokes both the wonder and terror of what lies beyond. Tony Brumpton’s sound design has us enter the theatre to the swell of King’s various addresses; in a sense, this will prepare us for the powerful sensory overload of the finale (composed by Busty Beatz).

Queensland Theatre Company is off on the right foot with its 2014 season. Ultimately, The Mountaintop celebrates King’s reverberations on Earth, but challenges us not to forget that we share his human ability to change the world.

Candy Bowers as Camae and Pacharo Mzembe as Dr Martin Luther King in QTC's The Mountaintop  shot by Rob Mccoll

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” says King, in his final address on 3 April 1968. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.”

The Mountaintop (Queensland Theatre Company) runs at the Playhouse, QPAC, until 16 March 2014. Tickets $33–80.

not that poetry is a trap but prayer

I’ve just finished reading Nathan Curnow’s half of Radar, a 2012 Walleah Press collection shared between Nathan and Kevin Brophy. (The title of this post comes from “Gently Against the Grain”.) Great way to spend a spare sliver of a Tuesday. I should be reading more. Great poetry always reminds me I should be reading more. On to Kevin’s half!

I have some thrilling news I’ve been struggling to keep quiet: a poem of mine has been shortlisted in the Overland Judith Wright Prize for Emerging Writers. It is a wonderful feeling to be included on this list, alongside 11 very talented poets, especially as this is a personally significant poem. Our house-Francis (aka Jeremy Thompson) was shortlisted for this same prize back in 2011; he’d actually forgotten until today, so now I’m doubly pleased. May the odds be ever in our favour, shortlisters!

I’ve been darting back and forth between New Farm and everywhere else this week, with World Theatre Festival on at Brisbane Powerhouse. Thus far I’ve managed to catch All That Fall (Pan Pan Theatre), JiHa Underground (Motherboard Productions) and She Would Walk the Sky (Company 2). Here’s my review of the latter for The Guardian UK (the show is on its way to London after Brisbane) and here’s my friend Nerissa’s Arts Hub review. And here’s an overview/preview of WTF14 Tahnee Robinson and I cooked up for Theatre People.

Make sure you catch at least something at this innovative festival! I’ve never experienced anything like All That Fall, which I think I’d categorise as “listening theatre”. Audience members sat together in rocking chairs (I took the photo above to show you) and listened to Samuel Beckett’s first radio play commissioned for the BBC. I’ve heard The Great Spavaldos is a unique experience, putting you in the role of trapeze artist via, I presume, immersive science-magic. She Would Walk the Sky experiments with Brisbane Powerhouse’s wonderful and challenging spaces (read both reviews above to read some contrasting thoughts on that).

In other news, I have an essay on consent and ethical nonmonogamy included in the upcoming Sex Issue of The Lifted Brow, which you can pre-purchase here (or, if you’re in Brisbane, at Avid Reader after March 1). There’ll be launches in Melbourne and Sydney early in March, too. 88 pages of awesome writing by awesome writers (and also me). Woooo!

Zen x

P.S. I have bought a stack of crafting supplies and I am super excited to start creating horrifying regresty-able works of art for friends (and maybe also some poetry crafts). Stay tuned for BROOCHBACK MOUNTAIN.

WTF14: Solpadeine Is My Boyfriend

Throughout my life as an arts reviewer, World Theatre Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse has been my favourite Brissie festival. You’ll see work you’d never otherwise have a chance to see — and you’ll never know what to expect from each year’s diverse program. To kick off our series of WTF14 interviews, I asked STEFANIE PREISSNER about bringing her black comedy from Ireland to Australia.

Solpadeine Is My Boyfriend

OFFSTREET: Describe your show in under 25 words.
STEFANIE PREISSNER: It’s an Irish girl’s experience of trying to maintain relationships with people who keep emigrating to Australia. Basically.

OS: I reckon WTF is one of Australia’s most diverse and dynamic festivals. What stands out for you about the festival’s aims?
SP: Having the opportunity to be part of a festival that programmes such varied and diverse work is something that doesn’t happen often. The stakes are high and that’s always scary but I’m excited to stand up there with the best of them.

OS: Have you visited Brisbane before? If no, what are you expecting?
SP: I’m looking forward to seeing a city that I have only heard about on Facebook from my friends who have moved there. It’s a place that is idealised and sensationalised in Ireland as a destination where all the things that are awful about Ireland and the life of an Irish 20-something are answered. Also: Steve Irwin’s zoo.

OS: The entirety of the show is told in verse. What were the benefits and the challenges of incorporating poetry into contemporary theatre?
SP: I think there’s a risk of autobiographical work becoming a bit indulgent or overly sentimental and putting restrictions on the writing opens up a whole other part of my brain and stops me saying the things that I have to re-read through my hands because they are so totally cringe-worthy. So challenging myself to write in verse makes me far more creative. Also on a very basic level, I can write in rhyme and not many people can, so I think it’s a skill worth using, practising and honing.

OS: How do you think the show’s themes will resonate with audiences on the other side of the world?
SP: I’m scared. I’m not sure. There’s a chance that people will be offended at the message of the show. I’m hoping that a discussion might start on Twitter with people’s opinions on it, but I am not expecting everyone to love it or agree with it. It’s a challenging piece.

Start the conversation with Stef on Twitter: @stefpreissner. SOLAPADEINE IS MY BOYFRIEND runs from Feb 12 to 16 at Brisbane Powerhouse for World Theatre Festival.

THEATRE REVIEW: Mary Stuart

Words: Tahnee Robinson

[At the OffStreet Arts blog, we’re launching this cool new idea: late reviews! It’s gonna take off! Belatedly! No, actually, apologies to QSE; this one got lost in the email vaults. Better late than never! — Ed.]

Under the direction of Christina Koch, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble has tried something new with their production of Mary Stuart. The parameters of the project are simple, but daunting; they are designed to push the ensemble to their limits and explore the possibilities of pulling a production together very quickly. The actors — with their lines already down — have had one week together to rehearse.

The choice of venue, the University of Queensland’s Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio, and the limited budget initially give the feeling of a high school or university production executed by consummate professionals. Angel Kosch’s costumes are creative and effective, but up close it’s evident that they have been restricted by financial concerns — Johancée Theron’s Queen Elizabeth is, I’m sure, wearing someone’s formal gown from the late 1990s. However, the professionalism of the company quickly overshadows this effect. Belinda Ward’s set is quite basic, too: a set of steps and a throne, and a lot of space for the actors to occupy, making maximum use of the Studio’s multiple stage entrances. The choice to include live music is very wise: the violin, cello and vocals by Imogen Eve and Wayne Jennings adds a level of polish that would be lacking if they had elected to use only prerecorded sounds.

Friedrich Schiller is, perhaps, a strange choice for such a project. Peter Oswald’s Tony-nominated version of the German original is lengthy and complex. However, for a Shakespeare ensemble there is a definite logic to the choice. The play is delivered largely in iambic pentameter, and the scheming political plot contains turns within turns, and layers of betrayal. It feels somewhat like a Shakespearean farce turned terribly serious.

The commitment of the cast, as a whole, is evident; there are a couple of fumbled lines but these are handled so as not to interrupt the flow. Some of the members are veteran Thespians, and it shows: Rob Pensalfini as the Earl of Leicester is the centrepoint of all this political scheming, and he executes each turn with a baffling conviction that is key to the moral ambiguity of the play. We are never quite sure that we understand what Leicester actually wants (other than to survive the narrative with his head attached) and it remains unclear whether he really knows, either. Flloyd Kennedy as Hanna, Mary’s loyal handmaid, is another standout. A guest to the ensemble, Kennedy’s part could be mistaken as decorative; however, she is flawlessly believable, drawing your attention while remaining unobtrusive. Nick James, an apprentice to the company last year and now a member of the core ensemble, plays a commanding Mortimer, who, on Schiller’s spectrum of reason to romanticism, is perhaps the character most driven by passion. James has just come from playing Lysander opposite Rebecca Murphy (Mary, Queen of Scots) for QSE’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. During the post-performance Q&A session the actors openly speculate as to the effect this may have had on their rapport together for Mary Stuart.

The Q&A, held after every performance, is an intriguing exercise for the audience; it adds a layer to the experience of seeing the production that, under other circumstances, might be unwelcome. Instead you feel like you have become part of an intriguing theatrical experiment. The company is quite open about the potential pros and cons of doing a production this way. For a play as complex as Mary Stuart there are, undoubtedly, both. This method allows a certain rawness that might otherwise be polished off with weeks of rehearsing and workshops, as the actors come to expect the ways in which their counterparts will deliver and move. The downside is the slight suspicion that the actors are, occasionally, unsure about their characters’ motivations. While Schiller and Oswald have built a deliberate level of ambiguity into the play, if the actors are indecisive it can reveal a lack of conviction that’s not always part of the character.

MARY STUART ran at the Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio at the University of Queensland from 2 to 5 October, 2013.

REVIEW: Aurelian

Words: Tahnee Robinson

The stage at Metro Arts feels like a house in storage: draped with muslin and shadows, the shapes suggest but don’t confirm. It’s a fitting scene for what is to come — Aurelian explores the nature of memory and grief, and the way we construct our lives around loss.

Aurelian is the work of Genevieve Trace and a small creative team. Trace describes herself as a multidisciplinary performer, and Aurelian certainly samples from a variety of creative forms. The performance uses film, audio samples, physical theatre, live recording and a collection of narratives to form a pastiche of recollection and identity. Opening with a monologue that verges on prose-poetry, we are awakened to the anxiety of grief; performer Erica Fields repeats, with increasing desperation, a mantra of sorts: “But I have to work these things in order.” This is the panic of the bereaved, sorting through memories distorted with obsessive recollection.

The performance takes us through a series of stories, interview-style. Fields, shadowed by co-performer Trace, nods and smiles and pauses, responding to a series of prompts and questions that are unspoken. She has captured the glossy, overwrought joy of the bereaved perfectly. We are sometimes not sure who she is — widow, grandchild, neighbour — but all of these characters speak with the earnest ardor of people trying to do their lost loved ones justice in the retelling. And these stories are real, sourced from people in Trace’s hometown of Ayr in northern Queensland. Amongst them seems to be Trace herself, or her character, trying to understand her own grief.

Aurelian

Around the halfway mark, the narratives speed up and begin to fragment. Mike Willmett’s sound design follows the theme: the soundscape squeaks and glitches with the failing of the characters’ recollections. The climax, an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, is a wall of noise and flashing lights. Whitney Eglington’s lighting design makes clever use of the abstract set. Images are projected onto unlikely surfaces and lights appear behind screens to cast unexpected shadows and figures. The set is mostly made up of a series of trapezoidal constructions in various sizes. These function as seats, benches, projector screens and, at one point, a washing basket. They’re unobtrusive, and Trace and Field can move them about the stage with minimal interference.

All of this combined is Aurelian’s weak point. In evoking the overwhelming incomprehensibility of grief the show has overreached a little. There’s just too much here, for 60 minutes worth of performance. I can help but wonder if the whole thing would have felt more effective if a couple of the elements had been removed. The concept of the supernatural, hinted at during the opening, is explored more directly here. This is perhaps a natural inclusion in a discussion of death and loss, but it feels out of place amongst so much musing on identity and memory. The concept, executed with lights and a semi-transparent backdrop, and clever use of the two performers, is visually effective. But feels like a bridge too far — one thing too many to think about in a performance that is already quite intense.

Aurelian doesn’t really conclude — there isn’t even a curtain call. And that’s thematically consistent. There’s no answer to grief, no cure or method for dealing with it and no way to manage the wrinkling and slippage of our memories.

AURELIAN played at Metro Arts from 7 to 15 September as part of Brisbane Festival.

TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.