BREL: The Words & Music of Jacques Brel

I always look forward to attending a Silo Theatre production because I know I can expect a slick performance and an excellent night of theatre.  I was particularly excited for BREL as I have only thus far seen plays by Silo and so was really keen to see how they would pull off this extraordinary collaboration of concert and cabaret.

You may not know who Jacques Brel is – as did I – but you will find you have come across his music.  In my opinion, this is the true mark of a great artist.  He wrote over 300 songs in his lifetime and his legacy still lives on to today – many of these have been translated and performed by big names in the business such as David Bowie, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone, to name a few.  He is the third best-selling Belgian recording artist of all time and is known as one of the pioneering chansons in musical history.

Jacques Brel is a singer-songwriter in its truest form.  His songs provide a window into his soul and his perspective on life, love and the human condition.  His writing style is often described as dark, cynical, witty, passionate and revolutionary which spring from his reaction and experiences growing up at the time of the German invasion of Belgium during the Second World War.

Thank you to Jackson Perry for the photo!

BREL, put simply, is absolutely breathtakingly phenomenal.  Described as “cabaret noir”, it is a staggering homage and wonderful celebration of Jacques Brel’s works – twenty-one carefully selected songs performed by some exceptional vocal talent.  Tama Waipara, Jon Toogood and Julia Deans are all household names in the New Zealand music scene and need no introduction.  Rounding up the quartet is seasoned theatre veteran Jennifer Ward-Lealand, touted the “First Lady of Cabaret” who is also one of Silo’s trust board members.

The set up of the performance space is incredibly gorgeous with its many vintage lamps peppered all over the stage; this intimate atmosphere is heavily nostalgic of the smoky, dimly lit underground jazz bars commonly found in New York and Berlin.  This set the mood and tone of the show immediately and increased my excitement considerably.

From the moment the quartet took to the stage and the four-piece band kicked in, you are completely transported into the profound and fascinating world of Brel.  His music is considered one of the major influences in contemporary music today and I can see why – his songs are timeless anthems that speak of both the joy and pain that is inevitable in life and love.  The songs are a perfect marriage of stunning melodies and absolute poetic gold – heartfelt, poignant and gut-wrenching.

Every song is performed to perfection with lots of heart and personality, a hint of cheek, and bucket loads of attitude and flair.  Each performance transitions seamlessly and effortlessly to the next and with each song, you are left wanting more.

I thought all four performers emoted and interpreted the songs brilliantly; they had great intuitive musical timing and consistently delivered the story behind each song compellingly and with conviction.  From haunting ballads to energetic anthems, performed both in English and fluently in French, the song list is an eclectic mix to suit any musical taste bud.

Equally as flawless are “Balkan music titans” Dr. Colossus, the extremely talented men behind the music.  Under the skilled direction of Leon Radojkovic, the band come together smoothly as one voice, either to help instill a sense of drama, build up the narrative of a song or simply to complement the vocal performance.  Throw in the well-timed, effective use of lighting too and what you get is sublime and decadent music magic.

BREL is a cabaret and theatrical masterpiece and an absolute triumph.  Michael Hurst’s accomplished direction has succeeded in creating a mesmerizing and unforgettable musical tribute to one of the greatest artists in the twentieth century.  This is not only a vocal spectacle and musical journey you must experience but one that you NEED to.

The Whimsical Banana rates BREL: 5/5 bananas

BREL is at the magnificent Concert Chamber in the Town Hall until 24 November.  For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

Private Lives: The Original Rom-Com

We have all at some point known of couples who are stuck in the vicious cycle of break up – get back together – break up – get back together.  Rinse and repeat.  What is it that makes them keep going back for more even though they are clearly not right for each other?

Written in 1929 by the late Noël Coward, Private Lives explores this particular brand of temperamental, mismatched love.  Elyot and Amanda are happily divorced and five years on they are now honeymooning with their new spouses.  Little do they know that as rotten luck would have it, both couples happen to be doing so in the same hotel right next to each other.  Awkward.

I really enjoyed the first act.  It sets up not only the tone of the play perfectly but through Sibyl and Victor’s incessant questioning, we also learn of Elyot and Amanda’s volatile relationship filled with narcissistic egos and constant bickering which ultimately ended due to alleged infidelity.  A lit line in the middle of the stage marks the two balconies of their adjoining hotel suites and the scene goes back and forth between the couples seamlessly, with their conversation bouncing off each other in an uncanny mirrored symmetry.

Against the stark white backdrop, music forms the heartbeat of the play and the friendly banter between the two new lovers takes a turn when Lou Reed’s dreamy and melancholic Perfect Day starts playing.  When Elyot and Amanda finally set eyes on each other, all hell breaks loose and what unfolds is nothing short of chaotic comedic mayhem.  Although Elyot has an overwhelming “sensation of impending disaster”, this is ignored completely for the irresistible pull they have towards each other and subsequently they run off together, abandoning Sybil and Victor.

Act two sees the couple “living in sin” in Sydney.  Unsurprisingly the reasons as to why they eventually divorced in the first place begin to rear its ugly head again.  Their use of the code word “sollocks” to impose a time out seems to put them at bay for a while but they soon realize that the undeniable chemistry they share which brings them together is also the thing that makes them completely unsuitable for each other.

As the story unfolds, their love-hate relationship unravels; their quarrels increasingly intensify and eventually it all culminates to an explosive crescendo.  This could be seen as repetitive but the ever-present comedy which is sharp, witty and dripping with linguistic irony keeps things fresh and entertaining.

It’s hard to believe Private Lives was penned over eighty years ago as, tweaks aside, it still manages to feel modern and as relevant as though it were written yesterday.  It has been revived many times over the years but with this production in particular, what really brings this play to life are the actors.

Matt Whelan was the star of the show for me.  He plays the superficial and caddish Elyot to perfection, providing a great comedic physicality to the character and delivering a plethora of excellently written and brilliantly timed one-liners with great ease.  Mia Blake’s stage presence is electric and perfectly complements Whelan’s performance as the sexy and sophisticated Amanda.

Fresh off The Pride*, Silo’s previous production, Sam Snedden is a natural fit for Victor, the sensible moral compass of the group and antithesis to Elyot.  He once again showcases his remarkable ability to fully embody any character that he is given.  Finally there’s Sophie Henderson who portrays the young and naïve Sibyl wonderfully, giving Whelan a run for his money delivering some great comedic moments too.

Shane Bosher, who previously directed TRIBES**, triumphs again as director in this production.  He is clearly an actor’s director for he has succeeded in bringing out the best performances in these actors making it an absolute delight to watch.

Private Lives is an exceptionally written story that transcends time and is romantic comedy at its best.  It will have you hooked from start to finish and leave you wanting more.

The Whimsical Banana rates Private Lives: 4/5 bananas!

Sexy, risqué, ridiculously fun and absolutely hysterical – Silo Theatre have done it again!

Private Lives is playing at the fabulous Rangatira at Q until 29 September.  To book tickets, click here.

*Read my review of The Pride here.

**Read my review of TRIBES here.

It’s all about The Pride

On leaving the Herald Theatre last night, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of great pride (no pun intended!) at the fantastic theatre scene we have here in Auckland.  Makes me very proud to be a part of this big little city!

Silo Theatre’s The Pride hits the nail on the head on all accounts – outstanding cast, exceptionally written, simple but innovative set design and perhaps most importantly, a play that succeeds in being both entertaining and thought-provoking.  The play is performed by a mere cast of four under the superb direction of Sophie Roberts and depicts two different worlds that are fifty years apart.  In 1958 we witness the shame and anguish from a forbidden love between two men whereas in 2008 the two men are openly together but their love is riddled with betrayal and lust.

The characters may have the same name but they are not the same person.  They are, however, intrinsically linked; their actions indirectly affecting the other, and the “bigger picture” through time.  Through the clever moving of the glass panel backdrop and simple relocating of the set, the narrative transitions between the different times seamlessly and the actors swap between their two characters effortlessly too.

I was thoroughly impressed by Simon London’s portrayal of both the darker and troubled 1950’s Phillip and the more carefree and evolved Phillip fifty years later.  The subtleties in his performance – the nervous twitches, the inflections in his voice, differing postures and body language – are remarkable and really showcase his skills as an actor.

I felt there was not too much of a leap between the two Olivers but still a solid performance from Kip Chapman.  His excellent facial expressions and animated delivery of his lines (particularly as the 2008 Oliver) were what stood out for me.  I had last seen Kip in Black Confetti (my review for that can be found here) where he played quite a dark character so it was quite refreshing to see him tackle something completely different.

Sylvia takes up the third spot in the complicated love triangle that unfolds in this story and she is played brilliantly by Dena Kennedy. Through her expressive and highly emotive performance you can’t help but just root for her in both worlds.  The chemistry that the three share when together on stage is just amazing, especially the awkward social exchanges in the beginning.

Sam Snedden is the fourth and final cast member and although he is what you would call a “supporting act” his skillful performance of three very different characters demands your attention and is absolutely top notch.  And while he may not be a part of the central trio, the characters he plays are integral to the story because they represent the views of society on homosexuality and how they’ve changed.

The play tackles a whole lot; love, desperation, oppression, freedom and loneliness so I left The Pride feeling pretty emotionally spent – but in a good way!  It is an extraordinary play with bite and a lot of depth because it is also a thinly veiled social commentary about the changing attitudes towards homosexuality over the span of fifty years.  Every character embarks on an emotional journey and we are right there not only to see it all happen but we are swept away with them too.

Thank you, Alexi Kaye Campbell for writing this superb and important theatre piece and thank you, Silo Theatre for bringing us this simply incredible production!

The Whimsical Banana rates The Pride: 5/5 Bananas!

At times intense and confronting, but also incredibly engaging and uplifting with an extremely talented cast.

The Pride plays at the Herald Theatre until September 1st .  For more information and tickets, click HERE.

TRIBES: Stop Arguing. Start Talking.

Anyone who thought they had a dysfunctional family will eat their words once they see TRIBES.

Written brilliantly by Nina Raine and performed by a mere cast of six under the excellent direction of Shane Bosher, TRIBES is a compelling and poignant play that will change your perspective on what it really means to communicate.

Billy’s family are eccentric, egotistical and bring dysfunction to a whole new level.  As soon as the lights come on what starts off as a seemingly normal family dinner quickly turns into a heated family feud – brother is arguing with father, sister is harassing brother, mother is yelling at father…it’s probably not even in that order, the point is everyone is bickering with someone.

We soon find out that this is perfectly normal behavior in this household.  There is one member of the family though that is a quiet spectator to this chaos – Billy.  Born deaf, he has learned to adapt exceptionally well to his family’s many idiosyncrasies and quarrelsome ways.  Billy skillfully lip reads and was taught how to speak because Billy’s parents did not want him to be defined by his inability to hear and wanted to give him as normal an upbringing as possible.

The family are clearly very set in their ways but their bubble of complacency is popped when Sylvia comes into the picture.  She encourages Billy to embrace the deaf community and this opens up a whole new world to him, one he had not known existed.  One his family had inadvertently sheltered him from.  He learns sign language to better communicate with Sylvia and eventually instills a vow of silence towards his family until they learn to sign too.

Like a fly on the wall, we watch on as this family unravels and come to grips with Billy’s new attitude towards being deaf.  The journey is far from a smooth one as Billy struggles to be heard and understood in a household where people rarely listen.

TRIBES is simply superb and an absolute triumph.  There will be plenty of funny moments that will have you laughing but there will also be the times of heartbreak where you may shed a tear or two (I know I did!).  It is highly engaging, incredibly entertaining and delivers a powerful and inspiring message about family, love and life.  The narrative is paced well and flows seamlessly from scene to scene; I also loved the way the set was utilized and the way music and select subtitles were used to drive the story.

I was completely blown away by the cast who were all just outstanding!  Leon Wadham impressed me the most; his heartfelt and very believable portrayal of Billy was remarkable and so moving.  Emmett Skilton (Daniel) and Jodie Hillock (Sylvia) were other standouts for me; they captured the heart of their characters perfectly and delivered such excellent and emotive performances.

While they were all fantastic individually, it is the scenes where everyone was on stage together where I felt the magic really happened.  The cast have an undeniable chemistry with each other which is evident in the way they effortlessly play off one another, particularly during the many arguments that take place.

There is still time to see this fantastic Silo Theatre production and I strongly recommend that you do because it is an unmissable experience!

The Whimsical Banana rates TRIBES: 5/5 bananas!

Engaging, thought-provoking and just bloody brilliant!

TRIBES is playing at the Maidment Theatre until the 30th of June.  For more information and to purchase tickets, go HERE.