My name is Douglas Kennedy and I have been writing about the theatre in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast for more than 30 years. Now, I am living on the Gold Coast and looking forward to doing some work with the Gold Coast Theatre Alliance. As my professional life has mostly been in the print media, coupled with some broadcasting, I feel my contribution to community theatre can be best expressed through communication.

To borrow an oft used expression, I would like to help start the conversation. Despite the fact that I reviewed local theatre for the Gold Coast Bulletin for many years, I have decided to do opt for previews and think pieces about current shows rather than full-blown reviews. Partly because I wouldn’t be able to cover all the companies and groups on the Coast – and beyond – in the alliance, but also because I don’t want to be in a position to publically critique people I hope to work with.

 

However, I would like encourage as many people as possible to share their thoughts and ideas about productions they have seen. Therefore, the alliance has agreed to publish my pieces with a comment section at the end of the story. I am looking forward to working with a variety of companies and groups through this longstanding blog called On Centre Stage.

On Centre Stage

 

Little Shop of Horrors Review.

By Douglas Kennedy.

 

Little Shop of Horrors by Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics and book). Gold Coast Little Theatre. Season continues Thursday-Saturday with Sunday matinees until December 3.

 

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s 1982 comic shock-horror musical tribute to sci-fi and B movies draws more longbows than you would find in Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest.

There’s death and mayhem aplenty, as well as sadistic violence, but that doesn’t stop the laughter revolving around the world since it opened off-off Broadway a lifetime ago.

I’ve seen the musical comedy so many times, in nearly four decades of reviewing, that I went to the Gold Coast Little Theatre feeling a little jaded to say the least.

But despite my misgivings, director Brady Watkin’s offering proved to be an engaging and delightful night at the theatre thanks to a stellar high octane cast and a strong horticultural presentence in the shape of Aubrey II.

The show – inspired by low-budget Hollywood director Roger Corman’s 1960 movie and myths, legends and stories of man eating plants going back to the 1800s – has a sub text warning of the threat of galloping consumerism.

The story opens in a Skid Row florist where shop owner Mr Mushnik (Johnathon Fife) is on the brink of telling overtly dishy assistant Audrey (Harmony Breen) and downtrodden shop boy Seymour (Ethan Liboiron) that he’s going to be forced to close for good.

To forecast the story and emphasis the state of his business – and utter hopelessness of the neighbourhood – the show opens with three street urchins, Crystal (Kristine Dennis), Chiffon (Ruby Hunter) and Ronette (Lucy Koschell) singing Little Shop of Horrors and then, with the Company, Skid Row (Downtown).

Then Seymour turns up with a melon-sized Venus fly trap type plant and a cock and bull story of its origins that hints of Chinese mysticism, which gives the plant a romantic veneer.

The plant – which has been described as an anthropomorphic cross between a venus fly trap and an avocado but looked to me like a giant gooseberry (I only occasionally watch Gardening Australia) – begins to develop ‘living’ traits.

That’s emphasised when Seymour – who is secretly in love with the blousy Audrey who lives in terror of her violent dentist-cum-leader-of-the-pack boyfriend Ordin (Clay English) – christens the plant Audrey II.

As the plot develops Seymour, and the audience, discover that Audrey II has a taste for blood and guts and even acquires a voice which demands that he ‘feeds me.’

The show quickly morphs into a man eating plant’s gourmet delight although on the upside, Seymour’s material fortunes improve, along with the shop’s success and, as a bonus, he comes closer to winning the girl.

However, in true Faustian tradition everything comes at a price and eventually Seymour has to face the true light of day and the fact that Audrey II has an agenda.

There’s certainly factors which makes Little Horror productions work and director Brady, and her cast and crew, have ticked most of the boxes.

The puppet – although lacking mobility – has to be a powerful, almost overbearing, presence which ‘it’ (a female name but a deeper masculine voice) is thanks to a combination of three major talents.

There’s North Queensland Opera and Music Theatre’s Chris Ahern and Damien Jackson’s creative contribution in constructing the three ever-growing puppets, puppet master Chris Dennis’ invisible physical contribution and Clay English’s menacing voice.

The puppets are pivotal to the show but there’s a valued added features in rollicking well sung doo-wop performances from the energised cast, a terrific band, under the direction of Ben Murray, and a full-on bullet train approach to the show’s pace.

This Little Shop production is a treat to both the ears and the eyes and pays justice to maxim that good shows, well presented, will last the distance.

 

On Centre Stage.

Billy Liar: Review by Douglas Kennedy.

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall. Actors Virgina Leaver, Linda Furse, Peter Maden, Adam Hellier, Tallen Hall, Sheree Halliwell, Naomi Thompson, Natalie Stephenson. Directed by Dawn China.

Javeenbah Theatre Company. Runs until August 5. Phone (07) 55960300. www.javeenbah.org.au  

 

On the eve of the Swingin’ Sixties the UK – especially in the regions – was largely a socially conservative country, where nice people lived by rules. Emerging rock and pop talents, such as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, might have been reaping the hedonistic rewards of Free Love, but elsewhere it more often than not came at a price. In the case of Billy Fisher’s decent well brought up Yorkshire family that price was a ring – first an engagement ring and then a wedding ring – but this 19-year-old seldom lived in the real boring world.

 

Billy – who more than deserved the moniker Billy Liar – lived in a fantasy world where he could be anything or anyone that his vivid imagination could conjure up.The problem was there was no Border Force between his fantasy world and reality, so lies came pouring out of him like water out of the tap. Such was the premise of Keith Waterhouse’s carefree 1959 novel, which became the darker 1963 stage play, both called Billy Liar, and later a film and even a TV sit-com.

 

Now Gold Coast theatre director, Dawn China, (Abigail’s Party, The Anniversary), has brought Billy to the Javeenbah Theatre Company in a rollicking new production.The opening night crowd, were as they say in popular theatre speak, rolling in the aisles, although the play has a disturbing underbelly. Billy – who has two girls thinking he belongs to them and a third coming from London to stake her claim – lies and cheats his way through this endearing black comedy. While it is to an extent easy to understand Billy’s (Adam Hellier) need for a fantasy bolt hole – he’s got two girl’s demanding, one ring, a dad who despairs and a dead-end job at the local undertakers – his ridiculous lies seem socially suicidal. Adam Hellier does a good solid job of giving a rather dark, but ultimately funny Billy, who at turns earns our sympathy and dismay. However, it’s his interaction – or maybe lack of it – which cranks up the humor as his two immediate girlfriends Barbara (Sherree Halliwell) and Rita (Naomi Thompson) and his long suffering dad Geoffrey (Peter Maden) beg him to conform. Sherree Halliwell plays the orange eating, cottage dreaming, virginal Barbara for laughs, while Naomi Thompson’s Rita comes across as a girl who would go 10 rounds for the man whom she might or might not love, but definitely believes she owns.

Then there’s mum and dad, Peter Maden (Geoffrey) and Linda Furse (Alice), who give us a good solid post-war middle-aged Yorkshire husband and wife. I particularly liked Peter Maden’s upright, hardworking Yorkshire breadwinner whose tether’s end is careering toward him like a railway train.

On the fringes there’s ageing grandma Florence (Virginia Leaver), work mate Arthur (Tallen Hall), who urges him to sort out the business with the bosses calendars and yet another girlfriend Liz (Natalie Stephenson).

Grandma talks to the TV in her dotage, Arthur’s pleas about the calendars demonstrates Billy’s tenancy to stuff anything he’s given in a cupboard (he’s was meant to post them off last Christmas) and Liz represents the future.

In the stage play Liz’s part is small – but Natalie looking good in a mini and kinky boots gives a satisfying cameo – but it’s an important sign of things to come.

Unlike Barbara and Rita, who want Billy to settle down with them, Liz urges him to run away with her and start a new – albeit married – life in London.(Interestingly in the 1963 film Liz was played by Julie Christie, who was a key player, in the Swingin’ London 60s scene, alongside Tom Courtney as Billy).

 

The show – apart from being funny – is a fascinating glimpse into a world long gone and a real eye-opener to the way we were and will probably never be again. I must also commend the production values, including Barry Gibson and Dawn China’s set design, Colin Crow’s lighting and Dawn China’s direction which held everything together.

On Centre Stage.

 70, Girls, 70: Review by Douglas Kennedy.

70, Girls, 70 A Broadway musical by Fred Ebb (lyrics) and John Kander (music). Ensemble cast (many in their 70s and 80s.) Directed by Roger McKenzie. Musical director Mary Walters. Gold Coast Little Theatre. Runs until July 29. Thurs-Sat 8pm with Sunday matinees July 9, 16 and 23. Bookings Phone 55322096.

www.gclt.com.au

Kander and Ebb’s 1971 musical 70,Girls, 70 was hardly among their most successful – nothing like Cabaret and Chicago – with only 35 performances at New York’s Broadhurst Theatre, but then it has proved to be a survivor.

Which comfortably brings us to the show’s most unusual feature, the cast which mostly consists of veteran performers in their 70s and 80s.

In the case of this new Gold Coast Little Theatre production, directed by Roger McKenzie, with the support of musical director Mary Walters, the 19-strong cast, plus the two musicians, has a total age of 1,587 years.

The average age is 69 – I did spot a couple of younger players – which is quite a record for the theatre.

As the Baby Boomers move into old age both the theatre and film is creating a new genre for ageing actors playing characters who find themselves struggling against various bureaucracies and institutions.

These seem to be particularly prevalent in the UK where one of the most recent movies – Golden Years starring Bernard Hill and Virginia McKenna – followed the adventures of disgruntled seniors touring National Trust locations and robbing banks en route.

The inspiration for the 2016 film could easily have come from 70, Girls, 70, which was based on the 1958 play Breath of Spring and the 1960 movie Make Mine Mink (featuring a great British cast of the era.).

The 70, Girls, 70 story focuses on retirees living in an Upper West Side hotel, the New Sussex Arms, who go on a crime spree pinching furs to raise money to improve their lot.

Their own ‘Robin Hood’ is a plucky sophisticated elder, Ida, nicely played by Anne Ryan in this GCLT production.

 

The men and women of the New Sussex have various adventures on the way to their final curtain call and have the chance to sing and dance their way through more than a dozen catchy musical turns.

Directing 19 performers – albeit veterans of the local stage – largely from one demographic is a formidable task, but director McKenzie works hard to keep them all in line.

Likewise musicians Mary Walters (piano) and Freddie Rutherford (drums) put their all into giving them musical support.

The performers work hard – and the results are definitely mixed – but there’s a sense that everyone is giving their all and having a lot of fun.

70, Girls, 70 will, understandable not be everyone’s nip of gin, but it is already proving a box office winner with older audiences looking for a matinee outing

I am not going to talk about individual performances in this review but rather credit everyone for being there. The on-stage talent includes Anne Ryan, Brett Raguse, Jann Alcorn, Joel Beskin, Judy Neumann, Marlene Blight, Noni Buckland, Jessica Ng, Maria Buckler, Marilyn Culell, Daniel Green, Dawn Warrington, Joe Feeney, Laraine Keogh, Lorraine Redden, Thian Sykes, Bev Gannon, Henk Steenhuis and Diana Dureau. And, of course, let’s not forget the musical talent Mary Walters and Freddie Rutherford.

Take a bow.

Note: Veteran performer and long time Gold Coast resident Hazel Phillips, who served as a consultant, was due to be in the show but had to withdraw. Hazel, who was a Gold Logie winner back in 1967 and was seen on shows such was The Mavis Bramston Show, was there on opening night. She also plans to be at the GCLT at the end of each matinee to meet and greet with fans.

The Play that Acts Up. 

The Kingfisher by William Douglas Home.

 

The Kingfisher. Javeenbah Theatre Company. Nerang Gold Coast.

Directed by Nathan Schulz. Cast: Chris Hawkins, Viviane Gian, Graham Scott. 

Season continues until June10. Check www.javeenbah.org.au or phone (07) 55960300 for details.

 

William Douglas Home’s 1977 play The Kingfisher has exquisite manners or should that read impeccable taste? Indeed it has both and that shouldn’t come as any surprise considering Home’s pedigree. The Eton and New Collage Oxford educated brother of former British Prime Minister, Sir Alex Douglas Home, who only died in 1992, but could have well lived comfortably in the 19th century, has penned a wonderfully cryptic romantic comedy. And director Nathan Schulz – topped off on opening night with a funny looking hat so much converted by the young artist set - has brought it to the Javeenbah Theatre with great aplomb.

This production is as faithful as its characters but despite its thoroughly traditional constraints it offers the audience a tantalising web of mystery. On the surface it is a simple three-hander about a successful author – Sir Cecil Warburton (Chris Hawkins) - making a bid to reclaim the love of his life, Evelyn Rivers (Viviane Gian), whom he kissed under the beach tree a life time ago (1928).

She been married to his revival, Reggie Townsend, for the past 50 years but now he’s dead and gone, Sir Cecil is hoping to rekindle their flame in one romantic night. Meanwhile, his faithful manservant Hawkins (Graham Scott) watches on with the little green God jealousy sparking in his eyes.

The audience is left wondering who wants who and, more importantly, who wants who enough to make the highest bid? It is all very delicious in a sort of Celtic restrained way although possibly somewhat wordy for contemporary audiences. It’s all terribly, terribly, terribly set over a night and a morning in a delightfully twee cottage in the country – Home Counties of course – as the characters all draw their comedy from being as sloshed as a parrot (or should that be a Kingfisher).

It sounds on the surface out of place and out of date – although the three cast members are a delight – but strangely its allure lies just below the simple story.

I found myself coming out of the theatre asking a myriad of questions about the relationship of the three characters, their motives and their hopes and fears.

There’s no sex – they are of course British – but we wonder about their desires.

This Javeenbah Theatre Company production has a lot going for it – scenery, acting, farce (drunken humour), romance etc, etc – and the true mystery which is so much part and parcel of the human heart.

In this time of fast and furious over-the-top entertainment why not slow down a bit and savour some Javeenbah magic?

On Centre Stage

Reliving the Nostalgia Years

By Douglas Kennedy

 

Back to the 80’s by Neil Gooding. Gold Coast Little Theatre. Ensemble cast.

Directed and choreographe by Andrew Ross-Graham. Runs until March 4. www.gclt.com.au

 

Neil Gooding’s Back to the 80’s – now playing the Gold Coast Little Theatre – is a neat celebration of our passion for nostalgia, which smoothly channels high school hit makers such as Grease. This jukebox musical, penned by an Aussie writer and first produced in Sydney back in 2004, cleverly plugs into the US senior year scenario and comes complete with the soundtrack of ‘our’ lives lived through the class of ’89. Not surprisingly Coast director and choreographer, Andrew Ross-Graham, stumbled on this story of the 1989 graduating class of the William Ocean High at high school. It is a natural as a school production as it combines top ten pop hits, a cast almost as big as the production team likes, lashings of end of school nostalgia and familiar touching teen tales.

In this GCLT production which is bound to be a crowd pleaser – as long as the sound is okay and the young cast invests plenty of energy in their performances to make up for shortcomings in the experience department – the story lines run smoothly through the school year.

The show opens with an older Corey Palmer (Jay Ahrens), living in 2001, and being beamed into the theatre from ‘some other world’ via a TV screen, and reflecting on the pleasure and, sometimes, pain of being a young adult. This older character sets the scene with Wham!’s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go before introducing the audience to the principal players in his ‘goodbye-to-children’ picture book narrative. The types come in neat little bundles and include the sport heroes, the nerds, the cool boys, the hot girls and even the teachers (who have their own little story lines).

The principals include the boy most likely to Michael Feldman (Rory Schiele), the girl next door Tiffany Houston (Becky Morgan), the nerd Feargal McFerrin III (David Austin), the popular twins Mel and Kim (Stephanie Stephens and Mandy Vuglar) and the quirky guys including Huey Jackson (Darrian Douty), Billy Arnold (Michael Redfern) and Alf Bueller (Jackson Kook).

Then there’s the teachers including Ms Sheena Brannigan (Jo De Goldi), Mr. Steven Crocker (Reece Jones) and Mrs. Stephens (Laura Baker), whose roles are more than token. There’s more than two dozen singers, dancers and characters on stage, but at the heart of the story is the young Corey Parker (Liam Chapman) who is our ‘everyman’ or at least our ‘every boy.’ He’s the one that the audience wants to barrack for as we follow him on his journey through the election for senior school president, falling in unrequited love with the girl next door, dealing with a school bully, helping the broken hearted newcomer and searching for that elusive happy ending.

Having Cory senior dip in and out of the story helps the audience get under the skins of these kids as we watch them stretching their young limbs and working toward that ultimate, almost frightening, freedom which comes with graduation.

With more than two dozen youngsters on stage – with various levels of experience and natural talent – there’s bound to be comparisons made, and favourites picked, but overall these shows depend on energy and these youngsters have it in spades.

Apart from the familiar story lines, Gooding has packed his show with references from the era from amusing little asides – ‘Buller’s not here sir, it’s his day off’ – to references to Star Wars, the Karate Kid and other late 80s icons.

And the songs – the glue between the patter – come thick and fast from Kids in America, Girls Just Want to Have Fun to Centrefold, Never Gonna Give You Up, Material Girl and the stirring anthem  (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.

There’s 28 songs in total. Back to the 80’s is a fun, bright and extremely breezy school show which boasts all sorts of records for popularity at home and even abroad.

On Centre Stage.

‘night, Mother: Review by Douglas Kennedy.

‘night, Mother by Marsha Norman. Actors Del Halpin, Amy McDonald. Directed by Barry Gibson. Javeenbah Theatre Company. Runs until February 11. Thurs-Sat 8pm with a Sunday February 5th matinee. Phone (07) 55960300. www.javeenbah.org.au 

The last time I was at the Gold Coast’s Javeenbah Theatre – more than a dozen years ago – it was still recovering from the 2002 devil’s lick which gutted much of the building within 18 minutes. Writing about the aftermath of the fire, I described the theatre as ‘plucky’ and predicted that the setback was little more than a hump in the road to new heights. Returning to Javeenbah, for the gala opening of its first production for 2017, I was initially struck by the warmth and coziness of its snug foyer and even more charming auditorium.

The play was to be American playwright Marsha Norman’s 1983 Pulitzer Prizing winning two-hander ‘night, Mother.

 

There was, however, nothing cozy about the 100-minute play, which explored the suspenseful, sometimes chilling and occasionally surprisingly humorous relationship between a mother and daughter. In short it was another example of those new heights I predicted years ago. Mother Thelma Cates (Del Halpin) and daughter Jessie (Amy McDonald) live on a lonely property where, as the curtain goes up, they appear to be having yet another quiet night in. The action is bathed in domestic normality until Jessie produces a gun and announces that she plans to kill herself within two hours. Mother descends into emotional panic as she contemplates ringing for help, but the isolated and calmly detached Jessie has planned everything to the last detail. In an almost happy-go-lucky, matter-of-fact way, Jessie disarms all Mother’s attempts to sway her with reason and pleading.

 

In the course of the play we watch and listen as mother and daughter explore their relationship and we learn of Jessie’s epilepsy, failed marriage and relationship with her delinquent son. Ironically the Mother seems to be the sadder character as she struggles to dissuade her daughter from suicide, while Jessie has meticulously charted her final course down to leaving mum with a goodbye manicure.

Del Halpin, who is among the Coast’s marathon talents, rates Mother Thelma among her most challenging roles and she does it justice.

She has created a simple everyday widow and mother who – through the play – reveals layers of feeling and character, while never shying away from her vulnerability. While Amy McDonald, who presents the weekend breakfast program at ABC Gold Coast 91.7, presents a complex character in a simple almost disarmingly able manner in her Javeenbah debut.

 

The relationship between the women makes for a strange juxtaposition as we watch a large real-time clock staring into the audience and ticking away towards a fateful conclusion.

 

Veteran Coast theatrical stalwart Barry Gibson is in charge of direction and set design and construction –with help from other well-known theatre identities Norm Strambini and Craig Smith – and has done a sterling job.He explained after the show how he saw props – including the clock, a picture of the mother and daughter and a phone – as other  ‘characters’ in the play.

‘night, Mother is a meaty theatrical sandwich, which takes the audience on a journey through a hot-button issue in contemporary life, from the seemingly safe world of ordinary family doings to the edge of a painful dramatic narrative.