Queensland theatre in 2015: the good, bad and distinctly Brisbane

There’s a whiff of frangipani about Wesley Enoch’s 2015 season for the Queensland Theatre Company. The artistic director calls it his most ambitious year, but it’s also the one most distinctive of its place and most embracing of local artists.

Of the 14 productions — six large-scale works at QPAC’s Playhouse, six at QTC’s Bille Brown Studio and two in new function area The Greenhouse — half have their roots in Brisbane. Two River City writers have world premieres, three indie works from local companies get bigger stages, and there’s a brand-new musical in development with two top talents.

At least three productions are guaranteed to sound great, with music from Adele, Jimmy Little and Tim Finn. And some plays are known quantities: Mamet, Simon, Beckett and Chekhov. But not everything will hit …

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THE GOOD:

Enoch’s season is typically strong for indigenous voices. He revives The Seven Stages Of Grieving (March 17-28), a powerful piece of Aboriginal history co-written with Deborah Mailman two decades ago, and brings us Reg Cribb’s new work on the life and times of crooner Jimmy Little, Country Song (July 4-August 8). The play, commissioned by QTC, captures a reminiscing Little’s performance at the Sydney Opera House opening in 1973. It’s a rich tale with Little’s tunes and Enoch at the helm as director.

Grounded (July 29-August 15) might be the best new play I’ve seen all year. George Brant’s urgent story of a female top gun strapped into a drone fighter in the middle of the Nevada desert is a psychological thriller of our times. Melbourne’s Red Stitch had the Australian premiere in June; Daily Review was lavish in praise for the script and Kate Cole’s scintillating performance. Libby Munro — who had an awarded turn in QTC’s vampy Venus In Fur last year — should make this as good.

I like David Mamet’s Boston Marriage (January 24-February 15), a most un-Mamet Mamet and same-sex bodice-ripper of humour and grace. Many don’t. Melbourne Theatre Company gave us Pamela Rabe as the well-heeled “wife” in 2013; QTC offers the fabulous Amanda Muggleton (pictured above). I’d be up for getting hitched again.

You wouldn’t see Happy Days (July 18-August 15), Samuel Beckett’s absurdist gem, with anyone as Winnie. Queensland acting icon Carol Burns (with Enoch directing) should pull it off.

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THE BAD:

Does the world need another The Odd Couple (October 17-November 8)? In a season that spends a little too much time looking back, Neil Simon’s well-worn bromance will need the kiss of life from Enoch, who directs again, and stars Jason Klarwein and Tama Matheson (pictured above). We’ll pass.

THE UGLY:

Buying in a stage production of Mother and Son (February 18-March 15) — an independently produced moderate hit in Melbourne — is what you call playing to your base. Subscribers will probably sell out the Playhouse, but it’s a grim night of theatre. As Daily Review mused on the Melbourne run: “With a script this witless — stretched far beyond the bounds of 30-minute TV situation comedy — those of us with fondness for what it was will walk out angry at the attempt.”

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THE WILDCARDS:

A brand-new Australian musical? Thank the Queensland government for Ladies In Black (November 14-December 6), which is pumping money from its “Super Star Fund” into a new work from musical directing maestro Simon Phillips and songwriter extraordinaire Tim Finn (pictured top with star Christen O’Leary). The pair first teamed up in 2009 for the whimsical Poor Boy, a “play with songs” at Melbourne/Sydney Theatre Company that had mixed reviews. I quite liked it. And the source here is strong: Madeleine St John’s gilt-edged novel The Women In Black on life in a glamorous Sydney department store on the edge of the swinging 1960s.

A parochial world premiere: exactly what you should see on the schedule. Brisbane (April 11-May 3) is writer Matthew Ryan’s biggest stage, promising a “life-affirming” war-era yarn on the relationship between an American pilot and a young boy who lost his brother in the bombing of Darwin. He’s been a playwright to watch and this should warm hearts. It stars Conrad Coleby and Dash Kruck (pictured above).

Another emerging local talent, Daniel Evans, won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award for Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (May 23-June 13), which twists the Greek myth into a modern-day suburban tale. Enoch, one of the judges, said “the play speaks to a new audience with a young and vital voice”. And bringing the Premier’s pick to the stage is exactly what the company should be doing. Evans is also co-adapting (with Todd MacDonald) a new version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (August 29-September 26) for QTC’s Actors Studio troupe.

Does a bunch of Adele songs a night of theatre make? Naomi Price has taken her tribute act Rumour Has It (July 8-11) from the Queensland Cabaret Festival on interstate tours. Now it lands back on the expansive Bille Brown Studio stage, as part of QTC’s DIVA series of female heroes. Can Price rock this joint?

Read about the full 2015 season on the QTC website

6 responses to “Queensland theatre in 2015: the good, bad and distinctly Brisbane

  1. Drama 101 … protagonist transform as result of the story he/she goes through. Drama 102 … be culturally relevant. ‘Brisbane’ was a sentimental non event! Awkward teen goes through death of brother and kissing girl and crashing an air plane to remain awkward teen. Weak nostalgic tripe from a weak nostalgic cultural organisation. Can’t wait for the QTC main stage event of ‘global warming – its about not having ice for your coca cola. This show and this company has no balls. Up there with Opera Qld and Qld Ballet as privileged, govt sanctioned cultural white noise.

  2. Adding to The Ugly – an almost complete absence of female writers. Breathtaking at a time when almost all other Australian theatre companies, large and small, are finding ways to address the glaring gender imbalance of recent times.

    1. Writers is a fair enough point. However, in terms of performances and the representation of women in those shows, I think this season does a fairly good job – all things considered. They have five shows, all distinctly female stories (some, one woman shows) as part of a diva program (a name presumably used ironically). Beyond the diva program Boston Marriage stars two women and the Seagull and women in black are set to have fairly strong female casts. There could always be more, especially for female writers, I agree. But I think QTC did make some good strides towards addressing this imbalance for next season.

      1. I don’t think that argument cuts it anymore. It’s the rationale companies trotted out for years to justify a lack of female writers. None of the other companies – MTC, STC, Belvoir, Malthouse etc – need to use it anymore because they have actually taken purposeful, practical action. QTC lags behind. Not good enough.

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