‘Wild Parties & Broken Dreams’ was atmospheric.
The Spring Hill Reservoir is an interesting performance space. It’s subterranean location and unique architecture create an instant ambience when one enters and traverses down the industrial staircase. It is by no means a suitable venue for just any show. It takes a performance that has considered this space and its natural atmosphere, and one that has used it to its advantage, to succeed in such a location.
This is the case with InsideOutside Theatre Company’s latest production, ‘Wild Parties & Broken Dreams’. InsideOutside is a company that prides itself on creating “theatrical experiences” rather than straight plays or musicals, and this is evident. The Reservoir became ‘Pearls’ underground bar (the setting of the period drama), and audiences are served by hostesses in boas and bandeaus before being led to one of the viewing ‘rooms’ or lounge areas that encircle the central performance space. There is a haze in the dimly lit air as the jazz band begins a riff, and it does feel as though we have left behind the busy streets of Brisbane and entered a 1920s speakeasy in which Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby himself would not feel out of place, conducting his questionable business dealings in one of the shadowy corners.
For people who enjoy such an aesthetic, there is a lot to like here. The costumes adorning the actors and musicians are really first-rate – costumier Georgia Leigh Anne clearly holds the flapper era fashion in high regard. In each scene, actors appear to be costumed differently, and no detail is missed. Everything is beaded, feathered and tailored, and the mix of fabrics and colours onstage against the muted, industrial tones of the performance space make for some impressive visual moments.
Such moments are this production’s strength. It seems remiss to call ‘Wild Parties & Broken Dreams’ a play, musical or even a cabaret as it doesn’t comfortably sit within any of these genres. Rather, it is a series of interconnected moments that are woven together, along with the space itself and the inclusion of the audience (who remain lit throughout and addressed directly on occasion) to create a cohesive experience.
A unique adventure requires flexibility from its performers, and it’s obvious that this troupe believes in what they are staging. They are led by Emma Martin as Vivian Rose, the manager of the club and a woman shrouded in mystery. Martin plays her with a natural softness but driven by a fiery strength that she keeps subdued.
Liam Donnelly is her antithesis, Teddy – an Al Capone-type who has arrived unexpectedly to disrupt the club’s quiet existence. Donnelly channels Brando in ‘Streetcar’ for his performance and it is captivating. A rush of genuine terror flew across the audience when he finally lost his temper.
Christopher Millevoy, as Vivian’s second-in-command, is relatively new to acting. Whilst shades of his greenness slip through, his natural charisma and command of the stage allows him to own several scenes. There is a rare truth in Millevoy’s eyes that engrosses the audience.
Some roles are double cast in this production, and opening night saw Stephanie O’Shea in the role of Teddy’s fiancé, Ruby. She is perhaps the most conflicted of the characters and O’Shea plays her with suitable duality, treading carefully between her public façade and her inner pain. Brisbane newcomer Taylor Dunn plays the role on other nights, and those familiar with Dunn’s work can assume this is a role in which she will naturally excel.
Asabi E Goodman took on the role of Bessie Coleman on opening night, a featured singer at the club. She is an absolute star, a rare talent that will leave audiences clamouring for more.
Special mention should also be made of Therese Lefebure in the role of Elsie. She has the least to do of the entire ensemble but performs each beat with such dedication that it is hard to look away from her.
Dorian Dowse is the production’s musical director and also plays Glenn Porter, the headliner of the club. His unique voice could have been ripped straight from a wax record of the period, so considered is his timbre. The highlight of the show for many will be Dowse’s jazz and soul arrangements of more contemporary music (that of Prince, Alicia Keys, Amy Winehouse… even Zayn Malik). His ability to imbue such songs with the essence of the jazz age is quite remarkable.
With these successes come a few snags that are inevitably hit along the way. The lack of connection between the lyrics and the story (most are not original songs) means that the inclusion of music never advances the plot, which results in the story feeling a little rushed at times.
Opening night in a space that is not the rehearsal venue will inevitably feature some technical issues. These were evident in the sound mixing. Some microphones were louder than others, and at times the dialogue is overpowered by music or effects. Such issues are mostly unavoidable, however, and they will likely be addressed and corrected throughout the run.
Overall, writer-director Angela Witcher has imbued the space with her obvious love of the jazz era and has assembled a team who share in this attitude. For any fan of jazz and soul, or for anyone who enjoys the ambience and fashion that so defined the roaring ‘20s, this show will tickle you in all the right places, old sport.
‘Wild Parties & Broken Dreams’ plays until Saturday, 23 March 2019 at the Spring Hill Reservoir. Get your tickets at http://www.insideoutsidetheatre.com.
This was one of the worst shows I have seen in a long time. I disagree with everything you say.
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