'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

20 March 2016

Colonising Rabbits

The Rabbits
Opera Australia
19th March
Playhouse QPAC
 Last night ‘The Rabbits’ at The Playhouse in Brisbane. Presented by Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company, and based on the book by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan. It was first performed in the Heath Ledger Theatre WA in February 2015. With a libretto by Lally Katz expanded considerably from the original 250 words, the piece was written and sung spectacularly by the beautiful and seven months pregnant Kate Miller-Heidke (what a voice) and supported by an array of wonderful indigenous and opera singers and musicians of huge talent. They are all the original cast which shows in the commitment and brilliance of their performances. The evening was a winner from the first haunting sounds of the bush echoing from the large mound of a tree/nest with the striking Kate emerging out of the top to its ending that fills us with questions whose answers are not comfortable. It is a fun story, it is an entertaining story, it is a tragic story as the indigenous Marsupials are invaded by the destructive Rabbits. Some sections leave the performers in tears and all scenes leave the audience spellbound and sitting on the edge of their seats, while being swept up in the glorious music that so echoes the sounds of Australia.

My first comment really must be about the surprise I got when I saw Robert Mitchell was in the cast. I had known Robert for more than three and possibly almost four decades. Now recently retired as a full time member of Opera Australia (their longest serving member) he was asked to take on the role of The Captain which also disturbingly comes with the heaviest 14Kg costume with a headpiece one can only imagine how difficult it must be to balance. With that extensive experience it was great to hear what others were learning from performing with him.
A remarkable mix of beautiful music both operatic and pop in nature, stunningly written by Kate Miller-Heidke and supervised/orchestrated by the awesome Iain Grandage who’s music has popped up repeatedly in my theatre going in the last twelve months. Such an output and always remarkable. Replacing Iain as Musical Director was the equally impressive Isaac Hayward whom I have seen orchestrating and being musical director for ‘Ladies in Black’, musical director on stage for ‘Secret River” and again on stage last night. As a musician he creates an amazing presence on stage. The audience love him.
It has to be said the Kate Miller-Heidke is another amazing graduate of The Queensland Conservatorium, Lisa Maza is another Brisbane/Queensland actor and singer who is now based in Melbourne, Marcus Corowa also hails from Bowen as I recall so these at least gave a strong local content which is something very special to me.

After the show we were so lucky to have a chat and some Q&A from the stage. Wonderful insights as always and what was so gratifying was the questions that came from some of the children in the audience. These are kids that are already gripped by the seeds of a passion for music and theatre. Just awesome! Yes it was meant to be an opera for children, but it turned out to be so much more and with the winning of four Helpmann Awards it is becoming entrenched in the cannon of new Australian Works that are adored across the spectrum from young to old.

We soon found ourselves across the road at an excessively noisy, but fun bar again as QPAC continues to not provide a welcoming atmosphere post show. Everything is closed and the lights go out. Anyway, Michelle Boyd, Thomas Davis and I met up with some of the cast and musicians Andrew and Kier. I had a fabulous time catching up with the lovely and dear Robert Mitchell, meeting the wonderful Lisa Maza and discussing so many friends we actually have in common and finally getting to meet the quite incredible Isaac Hayward whom I had wanted to meet and congratulate since the first briefing for Ladies in Black last year.
Home and reminiscing and getting ready for another night out of music this evening

Musical Supervisor Iain Grandage
Musical Director Isaac Hayward
Director John Sheedy
Designer Gabriela Tylesova
Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest
Sound Designer Michael Waters
Indigenous Consultant Rachael Maza
Assistant to the Designer Michael Hili
Fight Choreographer Scott Witt
Bird Kate Miller-Heidke
Coda Hollie Andrew
Flinch Jessica Hitchcock
Roxie Lisa Maza
2 Stripe Marcus Corowa
3 Stripe David Leha
A Scientist Kanen Breen
A Society Rabbit Nicholas Jones
A Convict Christopher Hillier
A Lieutenant Simon Meadows
The Captain Robert Mitchell
Executive Producer Sandra Willis
Production Manager Di Misirdjieff
Stage Manager Garry Alcorn
Company Manager Kate McMillan
Administrator Tamsin Martin
Associate Sound Designer and Sound Operator Neil McLean
Associate Sound Designer and Sound Operator Andrew Poppleton
Touring Head Electrician Kyle Bockmann
Touring Head Mechanist Jeremy McComish
Wig and Wardrobe Supervisor Nicole Artsetos
Assistant Stage Manager Grace Benn
Piano, Cello and Piano Accordion Isaac Hayward
Trumpet Rob Mattessi
Guitar and Electronics Keir Nuttall
Violin Stephanie Zarka
Bass and Tuba Andrew Johnson 

There is a performance tonight at 7pm and the last one tomorrow at 5pm. Grab your kids, your family , a friend, a lover or go by yourself but do go. This will be talked about for a long time and when it finally and deservedly travels overseas expect a huge reaction

13 March 2016

Harold Pinter treasures

A SLIGHT ACHE & THE LOVER by Harold Pinter
Now Look Here
Metro Arts Studio Theatre
11th March 2016
 Last night a double bill of early Pinter by the emerging new theatre group Now Look Here. Directed by inspired Kate Wild who did a fabulous job on The Seagull last year and produced by the so charming and lovely Pip Boyce this evening had some amazing acting. The big talkers were Kerith Atkinson and Daniel Murphy with some outstanding physical acting from Zac Boulton. In this intimate and up close theatre at Metro Arts in the city I sat quite mesmerized in really comfortable chairs (what a unusual joy) and got drawn into the picture of upper middle class neurotic attempts at relieving the banality or stagnation of married life.
The first play 'The Lover' was a hilarious and pointed exploration of fantasy and role playing, dissatisfaction, sexual frustration all attempting to add spice but lacking security. The humour reminded me of some Noel Coward and laden with what I saw as gay English wit, surprisingly cool acceptance but simmering undertones.
The second play 'A Slight Ache' took a less humourous and at times agonising look at the search for something more, the boredom of presumed status and the fear of the unknown. Daniel Murphy had huge monologues that must have been fearful to master, but his performance was astounding. Similar to me to the demands put on Carol Burns last year by Samuel Beckett. Not just in the difficulty, but in the irrational and banal cloak that hides a thought provoking and internalising provocation. His obsession with the Match Seller as he peered out and then tried to understand was quite psychotic. Kerith Atkinson as his wife expressed her frustration with rousings of lust towards the visitor and an escape from her prison. 
Then we have Zachary Boulton as the enigmatic silent and dominating Matchseller. I don't wish to spoil anything but you see nothing but his eyes and they are penetrating, sad, reflective sometimes and oblivious on others. His stance with bent knees and frail bowed posture was enough to almost reduce me to tears at one stage. I talked to him and others later about his 'Thing'. Zac can shake and tremble like no one I have seen. I saw that last year in Sven Swenson's Beautiful Souls. Keep it Zac like Glenda Jackson's rocking which I have seen on stage and in several films. He assures me he has other talents which is so true. Of course Michelle Boyd and I got to meet and chat with everyone as well as Rosemary Walker who was there and Colin Smith. I at last got a photo with Colin having missed out last year when I met him after his star turn in 'The Odd Couple'
Me with Colin
Amazing acting, wonderful lights, comfy seats and writing to be immersed in. It is affordable and we must encourage the growth of a new company like Now Look .Here. Experience the brilliant acting and cheer on fabulousness that is Brisbane/Queensland theatre.
Shout from the rooftops at you friends, neighbours, family, politicians that there is more to life than American Television, Reality Shows, Grand Finals. Hollywood. Go and watch a real person in front of you in a one off shared experience of story telling, thought exploration, entertainment, music, seduction, etc etc.
 with Kerith Atkinson, Zachary Boulton and Daniel Murphy
directed by Kate Wild
produced by Pip Boyce
costumes by Penny Challen
lighting by Christine Felmingham
stage management by Domi Prince
Cast - Kerrith, Daniel, Zachary, then Barry (me) and Director Kate
Producer Pip
My thoughts which may or may not be informed but as always just how I feel at the theatre.

Just some Pinter notes from my first trip to London in 1975. 5 plays in the first 4 days and two involver Harold Pinter. One he wrote and the other he directed. Have a look at the outstanding cast

06 March 2016

5 Days at the Theatre in a Row

An epic week with five consecutive days at the theatre

Monday 29th February
The Matilda Awards
Gardens Theatre QUT
Ok I had a just fabulous night watching applauding so much talent in one room. I have been going to The Gardens Theatre at QUT for almost 4 decades and there has always been exceptional talent on that stage. Last night I could not lose because I had seen most of the productions nominated and have also met most of the individuals up for a gong. I want to start at the end when the single Gold Matilda Award was given posthumously to the great and Awesome Carol Burns who left us recently. It prompted a standing ovation from a room full of people who had been inspired by, mentored by or been in awe of her great talent that laid the foundations for mush of what is now happening in our fair city. There was the Mayor, a State government Minister some Councillors and a room filled to capacity with artists from on and off stage.
Starting with our hosts the simply gorgeous Barbra Windsor-Woo (Leigh Alexander Buchanan) and Lenny (Carita Farrer Spencer) who joked, danced and sang their way throughout the evening. After Swen Swenson was entered into the hall of fame the first Award for Best Musical or Cabaret was given to the fabulous Dash Kruck. This immediately sent me into shock as Dash had asked me over the weekend that in the unlikely chance that he won anything would I accept on his behalf. So i had no time to adjust and up I popped, I think people clapped but being the wrong side of the footlights I am not sure. Afterwards everyone kept saying I did a great job and it was a fabulous speech. I kept insisting the Dash Wrote it. You will see by the photos that I would not let it out of my sight so it would not go astray.
I met and shared hugs generally with so many nominees/winners who are also friends like Kimberley Hodgson, Georgina Hopson, Jason Glenwright, Sam Foster, Brian Lucas, Tama Matheson, Colin Smith, Libby Gemmell (Munro), Daniel Evans, and missed heaps of others. I also got to share the love with Dylan Shade Hoskins who was singing on stage with his brilliant fellow ACPA talents, Veronica Neave who is always stunning to see on and off stage, Sue Donnelly QTC who was great as always, Sam Strong the new Artistic Director was a delight for our first meeting and I am looking forward to his leadership and ideas. At the bar I had a great time with Steven David (Steven Rooke) who told me about his turn swapping with Dash and awards so we have a special photo of him grabbing Dash Kruck's Award. I was especially thrilled to meet two great Australian voices and entertainers Luke Kennedy and Naomi Price, Of course the lady who chairs such a brilliant unpaid organisation Rosemary Walker was beautiful on stage and off.
Once again Shane Pike, Zoe Tuffin and I discussed how to promote encourage and sustain theatre in Brisbane and the cost of venues. That is a topic that comes up over and over with everyone I speak to. The diminishing investment by Government is sending companies to the wall and actors into poverty. It is hard to have to pour coffee all day or some such job and then rehearse for months and be on stage at night. So many companies try to do work for the sheer love of it because the cost of venue hire usually puts them out of business. Actors can not work for nothing as box office no matter how good leaves little to pay anyone or ends up a complete loss. This includes many groups that are nominated as the best in the state. They try, the produce wonderful work, receive high critical acclaim but just can not mount another work because it ends up coming out of their own pocket. Many venues are owned by the Council, or the State, but I do not know the financial set up, but it must be tragically inadequate if it is a deterrent to theatrical innovation or even just mounting a show for the people of Brisvegas. There has to be input from Governments and what about a bit of Philanthropy that is taken for granted in other countries but not in the Australian psyche.
Back to the social evening. There were Tom Oliver just being proud and wonderful, Thomas Davis thrilled, Chris Kel Lett being awesome, I got a congrats from Kris Stewart, an always appreciated hug from Peter Crees, Margi Brown Ash was there and involved as always in discussions that just look important. I was first greeted by Troy Ollerenshaw at the door and by Troy Armstrong inside. I know I have forgotten who else I spoke to. I may edit as people come to mind. I was genuinely honoured to greet everyone there who nodded, shook my hand or gave me a hug. Theatre of all sorts is my social life, and my spiritual life. Tonight I head off to a chamber Opera with the Great Emma Matthews and Jeremy Kleeman. Tomorrow the Aust String Quartet, Thursday Little Revolution at QUT Loft with Tom Cossettini and Karl Stuifzand and Friday the stunning, dramatic The Secret River
Importantly there was my never daunted and gorgeous cousin Michelle Boyd balancing champagne in one hand and her phone in the other taking all these pictures of me with all those lovelies. My old friend David Bentley was in great form meeting and greeting fellow actors etc.
The Matildas are being reviewed and expanded and there will be an addition to the Committee with the departure of one of the founding members Alison Cotes who spoke without fear or favour. I am not qualified to comment on her parting words which certainly appeared to hit some spots.
It was a celebration of not all but a lot of what is good, an encouragement for our artists and a bloody great night.

Voyage to the Moon
Tuesday 1st March 2016
Conservatorium Theatre
I am chuffed that I always seem to pick outstanding shows to go to. That is enough ego for now.

'Voyage To The Moon' presented by Victorian Opera, Musica Viva and also tagged under Opera Qld at the Conservatorium Theatre last night was an example of some sensational and thrilling singing and instrument playing. I had two main reasons for choosing this. One was that Emma Matthews was singing and I know her voice from live performance, CD's I own and Television. She is also a remarkable woman full of joy, compassion and life as well as the most exceptional voice. I was in the third row centre from where I could see her tongue work magically to bring forth such astonishing notes (including a top E), trills and brilliant display of coloratura magic, I could see the amazing involvement of every expression. You ain't heard nothing until you hear the power of a soprano in full flight full of fearsome rage. Her voice cut straight into my brain and bounced around in my head. I was in awe.

I was also there to once again see and hear one of our new and truly outstanding talents the young Bass Baritone Jeremy Kleeman. It is the third time I have seen him on stage in the last twelve months and he is getting more remarkable each time I hear him. I also listened to the Australian Singing Competition of which he was a finalist. Perhaps I watched it, not sure but I have images in my brain - could have been photos or Youtube. Anyway when Jeremy walked on stage he looked outstandingly beautiful in his magnificent black and smoky gold cape. He credited the cape but the eyebrows and red lips didn't hurt. Then he opened his mouth and I was enveloped in a resonant rich and beautiful sound of such musicality. I was quite stunned. Is he getting better and better or was it just the perfect repertoire. I had to say all those things when I briefly saw him after the performance.
There was the rich tones of Mezzo (Sally-Anne) Sally Russell, the fine leadership from the harpsichord by Phoebe Briggs and quite inspiring Oboe playing by Emma Black I believe. It was a bit of an old curly one so I won't pretend I know what its is but it was exciting playing.
This whole Pasticcio opera was directed by Michael Gow and incorporated the music of Vivaldi, Handel, Gluck, Telemann, Hasse and others bound together in a story that took us to the moon and back. Fabulously entertaining and seamless. There should have been a standing ovation.
As this is touring throughout the country there is minimal set. The large shipping trunks they use to take it from city to city also makes the set, Instrument cases become props, music stands become a chariot to take them to the blow up moon which is lit from the inside by nifty WiFi lighting. I have always said I don't always need a million dollar set. Theatre is about the performance and imagination of the designers can create a genuine world of wonder on a shoestring. Not always of course but there is room for all and I love the spectacle of a huge Les Mis at QPAC as well as a student production at the Bourke St. Con. Talent is what counts.
I knew no one there last night except I ran into Sam Strong from QTC in the foyer. I had only met Sam the previous evening at the Matildas.
I wish that certain theatre events had more of those trendy young things in the audience. Why does not the boy in his expensive clothes take his equally model looking girlfriend out to the theatre. ie a play or some classical music. Not just a touring musical. What about the punk couple or group of friends turn up. I am not being elitist, but the age of most of the audience even made me feel old which I certainly am. Thank god they or we still go. For theatre to prosper it must become a thing to do. Apart from the occasional student in thongs there is a huge age gap in the audience. I love to see people dress for an outing, but I am equally inspired when I see someone in shorts and sneakers. They are all costumes so vary them. At least everyone can go, mix and be equally inspired.

Australian String Quartet
Wednesday 2nd March 2016
Conservatorium Theatre

 It was so gratifying to see what looked like an almost full house and heaps of young people. Several looked like students which is encouraging and their enthusiasm is infectious for both audience and obviously the artists. As always it was such a varied programme and their promotion of Australian works and commissions is fantastic.
We started with one of Beethoven's early Quartets (op 18 no 6) which was so full of inventive surprises that would excite any modern composer. For me there were new sounds, complex about turns and all sorts of ideas that I do not have the musical knowledge to explain. 

Then we had a commissioned work by Matthew Hindson String Quartet number 4 which is on its world premier tour. Guest percussionist Claire Edwards featured in this amazing work. It opened with a wildly exciting, loud and thrilling passionate piece with 'sorceress of percussion' Claire on on a xylophone with the string players in energetic combination. The second part was pure fairytale from the first three bell like notes through the most loving of performance that showed how Hindson had been inspired by the recent birth of his daughter. The first thing to stick in my mind was Peter Pan for same reason. The John Adams selection from his 'Alleged Dances' and some incredibly inventive use of Claire's tupperware and heart shaped cake tins being beaten with sticks was a sensational show of talent, but a little too mid western Republican sounding for me.

Lastly was the absolute perfection of Robert Schumann Quartet op41 no 1. My god the sound of those very expensive and treasured instruments in the magic hands of new members and Queenslanders Dale Barltrop first violin, Francesca Hiew second Violin, fellow Queenslander Stephen King on Viola and Sharon Draper on Cello, is astounding rich and one of the pleasures of life. The music was ravishing and the pure perfectly rounded notes were astonishing. Sharon's cello seemed to reach new depths of the range, powerful and emotional and Dale's violin had a golden sound (none of that Paganini sharpness here.) It was also strange that the second movement instantly made me think again of Peter Pan swooping around Neverland. It got stuck in my thoughts. My friend could not get the Schumann codas out of his head.
Out in the foyer I was so pleased to meet Claire Edwards for a chat about of all things my Peter Pan images and a very quick handshake again with the wonderful and oh so brilliant Stephen King who I manage to see after each concert and I met and had a pretty wonderful chat with Dale Barltrop, welcomed him home to Brisbane but it is short lived. their punishing schedule has them in Adelaide Monday, Sydney Tuesday, Brisbane Wednesday, Melbourne Thursday the Canberra Sunday and Perth a week later. They always come out from back stage with luggage. There were whistles and some screaming. Fabulous night yet again. I next see them on the 6th July.

Little Revolution
Thursday 3rd March 2016
The Loft QUT
The second year students at Queensland University of Technology - QUT in Alecky Blythe's verbatim play 'Little Revolution' created from taped voices in London in the riot of 2011. The play moves along so deftly as the actors take on many roles to shine light on the causes the reactions, the police, the manipulators and the unwilling figure heads and characters caught up in this snatch of reality. Highly dramatic, humourous and entertaining with thought and precision. When you recognise that these students are only at the start of their second year it is quite astounding the level of wonderful acting. They have skills that will take so many of them on a trajectory that hopefully finds work and satisfaction. The nuances, the varied accents, the postures and physical movements that varied with each character they took on was just so exciting to watch. All I could think of was the comparison I make with those who stand and deliver monotonously and the likes of Royal Shakespeare Company graduates who fill the stage with subtle and non stop activity even when still and silent. Little moments that add so much to a characterisation without distracting from the overall presentation. 
Just some of them

I want to mention every single cast member as all were so brilliant to watch. In programme order they are Annabel Harte, Chloe Brisk, Jessica Potts, Bianca Saul, Ebony Nave, Brendan Perez-Compton, Alex Neal, Ryan Hodson, Karl Stuifzand whom I really did not recognise with those glasses and cardigan, Tom Cossettini whom I did recognise and rejoiced in his multiple personalities Bravo, Mitchell Bourke, Aleks Milinkovic, Martin Moolman, Tom Wilson
I will so be at as many productions throughout the year. I can add these to my Conservatorium shows as well as the regular things I go to. Should be another stand out year. Thank you ladies and gentlemen for a great night out at the theatre.

The Secret River
The Playhouse
Friday 4th March 2016

The hype was real The Secret River is an epic drama that shines an uncomfortable and blazing light on our history, told with such committed dedication, breathtaking acting on a grand stage with a phenomenal soundtrack that brought the sold out audience including Michelle Boyd and myself instantly to our feet with tears streaming down our cheeks while the players also smiled and cried in unison with the show of appreciation.
Brought to us by Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company with Griffith University Arts from the book by Kate Grenville and adapted by Andrew Bovell.
A huge cast of 19 amazing actors. You could not have hoped for a more professional and charismatic cast right from the innocent and unburdened child actors like Toby Challenor right up to the powerful and commanding elder of the family Kelton Pell whose land had been simply taken as if they did not exist, but whose wisdom could have saved us all from the ugliness of the massacre. Narrator and wife Ningali Lawford-Wolf held the whole story together in her mammoth role which kept her on stage for almost the entire evening which is a good two and a half hours on stage leaving out the interval. 

Someone who did remain on stage from beginning to end was the phenomenal talented master of music Isaac Hayward. Recently we saw him here for Ladies in Black which he arranged and he is also part of the Rabbits which I go to see in two weeks for The Aust Opera. His work on the Piano and I mean every part of the piano inside underneath and anywhere reachable in the astounding music of Iain Grandage. Isaac also had a Bell a Cello interacted with the players. Not only he, but several other actors also joined in with Guitars and other instruments on occasions. It really was one of the most pleasing and inspiring and at times overwhelming musical contributions. It is not the first time Grandage has been played in a theatre I have been in in the last year or so. His music is popping up everywhere. I hope this is released. It is epic.

Finding someone of the caliber of Bruce Spence playing a dog amongst other roles was pretty awesome. Georgia Adamson as Sal Thornhill was so strong, riveting and almost desperate and her husband played by Nathanial Dean had all the complexity of a man who changes his station, climbs out of poverty in confusion and resolute conviction, but at a cost that is the shame of of this nation. There were so many stunning performances that it is impossible to go through them all. I wish I could but no one would read it all here. Sold out shows which saw a whole group of people hanging around the box office hoping for a cancellation. I did see empty seats so the theatre has to have some mechanism of allowing people in when someone does not turn up. Work it out. You are the professional organisations.
It is a big story and final scene of an angry, Trevor Jamieson whose family had been wiped out but his pride kept frustrated and internalised sitting with clenched fist singing sorrowfully beside a fire many years later is absolutely harrowing as the lights go down. This is when people really had to cry. Missed opportunities of cooperation, ignorance, criminals, language barriers, guns and greed as well as an arrogance all had their role. What could have been and what is still in need of resolution more than two hundred years after the events.
On a happy note I was delighted to see such a diverse audience, young, old, different faces, large groups. All standing. All honoured to be there. WOW!

Director: Neil Armfield
Artistic Associate: Stephen Page
Set Designer: Stephen Curtis
Costume Designer: Tess Schofield
Lighting Designer: Mark Howett
Composer: Iain Grandage
Musical Director: Isaac Hayward
Sound Designer: Steve Francis
Tour Director: Kip Williams
Dramaturg: Matthew Whittet
Fight Director: Scott Witt
Cast Includes: Georgia Adamson, Joshua Brennan, Toby Challenor, Shaka Cook, Nathaniel Dean, Frances Djulibing, Jennifer Hagan, Isaac Hayward, Trevor Jamieson, Heath Jelovic, Ningali Lawford-Wolf, Madeleine Madden, Colin Moody, Jeremiah Mundine, Wesley Patten, Kelton Pell, Richard Piper, Rory Potter, James Slee, Bruce Spence, Matthew Sunderland

In the Original production in 2013 the magnificent Ursula Yovich played the Narrator

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