Monday, April 13, 2015


Barry Humphries' "There Are No Rules" Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Adelaide Festival Centre. June 5 - 20, 2015

by Peter Wilkins

Adelaide’s internationally renowned cabaret festival has a new Captain and First Mate at the helm. Entertainment icon, Barry Humphries succeeds Kate Ceberano in the role of Artistic  Director and at his side, Adelaide born and bred John Glenn assumes the position of Executive Producer ,vacated by  Torben Brookman. Glenn is very aware of the fact that Humphries is the real headliner of the festival and it can be considered a real coup to lure him to Adelaide to direct the festival. Dame Edna Everage will feature at the opening variety night on June 6th and Humphries will close the festival with the teasingly titled Love Songs For Sir Les. Audiences are in for a treat of Humphries’ legendary serve of stinging satire with its lashing tail of laughter.
Executive Producer John Glenn
The festival’s programme design offers insight into Humphries’ theme for the 2015 festival. It shows Humphries conductor-like raising the curtain on an old deconstructed theatre. In selecting shows for the festival, Humphries and Glenn were keen to respect the origins of the cabaret movement and the idea that the old European theatres are falling apart. Humphries’ festival will restore the spirit of cabaret with a particular emphasis on comedy, Jazz and the cabaret of the Weimar era. However, Glenn is also quick to point out that the festival’s byline is “There are No Rules” and audiences can expect to be entertained by an eclectic selection of cabaret delights, both old and new as well as local, national and international. “Barry wanted to show how proud he is of the Australian performance scene as well”
“Barry wanted a strong balance and variety.” Glenn says. “He wanted jazz and comedy to feature quite strongly and he has a strong love of the Weimar period.”  Highlights will reflect Humphries’ particular passions with the appearance of Adam Hills and his unique brand of comedy, the glorious sound of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Humphries together with the deliciously outrageous Meow Meow in His Master’s Choice, a tribute to the seedy, sleazy, saucy, sexy cabaret of Germany of the Twenties and Thirties.
Meow Meow in His Master's Choice
“That is one of the things I am most proud about with this festival”, Glenn says. “There’s no nights where you might think, “Oh, I think I’ll give that a miss.” I know what he means. I can only attend the festival for the final week, and peruse the programme with some regret that there are so many shows that I won’t be able to see, and even a couple that I shall have to miss during the time I am there. Every show holds the key to an hour or so of superb entertainment, and I find myself cramming as many as four shows into a single evening.
Bernadette Robinson in Pennsylvania Avenue
As in former years, the festival is housed within the precinct of the Adelaide Festival Centre, with the exception of Bernadette Robinson’s latest show, Pennsylvania Avenue, scripted by Joanna Murray Smith and directed by Simon Phillips. The show tells the story of Harper, the White House Entertainment Officer, who served under seven presidents and was responsible for programming the stars who performed for the various presidents. As with her former triumph, Songs For Nobodies, Robinson will impersonate the various performers at Her Majesty’s Theatre in central Adelaide. This is just one of the many “not to be missed” performances that will feature at the festival. Australia’s favourite comedian, composer, singer-songwriter, actor and showman,
Eddie Perfect in Songs From The Middle
 Eddie Perfect returns to the Cabaret Festival  with a contemporary song cycle about growing up in the “boring, mind-numbing suburb of Mentone”  In Songs From The Middle Perfect does to Mentone what Humphries once did to Moonee Ponds. Audiences may expect a more serious Perfect, but they can rest assured that there will be laughs a plenty at Perfect’s own expense.
In this centenary year, Humphries has included The Front, composed by Lane Hinchcliffe who is a doctor by profession, but also a composer and opera singer. The Front pays homage to the lads who fought and died at Fromelles. It starts off with a grandfather and his grandson at the gravesites and links back to those times when men came from all over Australia to fight in the Great War, and then it jumps back to modern times.
Peter&Jack with Teddy Tahu Rhodes
I suspect that a touch of nostalgia has prompted Humphries to programme, Peter & Jack,  that recalls the songs of Australian baritone, Peter Dawson and tenor, Jack O’Hagan.  The show will be narrated by Barry Humphries and directed by Rodney Fisher. The songs are backed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. My mind flashes back to the day that Peter Dawson came to my Primary School in East Adelaide to sing his famous “Floral Dance” before the assembled students. A touch of nostalgia that I shall miss I’m afraid, but I am pleased to see that Humphries has programmed for all generations.
Ray Jessel in Naughty or Nice
An old performer I will see, however, is Ray Jessel. Few will be familiar with this “old-timer” of the American music scene. For many years, Jessel has been writing songs and compositions for a number of Broadway and T.V shows. Viewers will have heard his compositions for the popular Love Boat. He has also popped up on America’s Got Talent. He’s an unlikely performer, whose entrance onto the stage is an unconvincing shuffle. He fusses about clumsily with his mike, inspiring private groans in his audience, and then pulls off a very Tom Lehreresque, amazing performance. Glenn reveals one of his numbers about a woman, he falls in love with, was going to marry and then discovers that she has a penis. It brought the house down! Interesting material for an old trouper in his eighties.
Steve Sheehan's Tristan and Isolde
The Cabaret Festival has long held a reputation for innovation. This year, popular Adelaide Fringe performer Steve Sheehan, will be presenting his one hour version of Tristan and Isolde in the Festival Theatre rehearsal room beneath the stage. A special ramp will be built to allow the access of the horse in Sheehan’s quirky take on Wagner.
Also, Humphries is introducing the cabaret dinner. The dinner is being prepared by Maggie Beer, who was fascinated by the festival’s theme and eager to incorporate it in her three course meal. Beer, who lives in the Barossa Valley, told Humphries, “I’ll do a very German/European meal” she said. She also wanted to know who the artists were, what the wine is, and how it would fit in with the look and feel of the festival. Five artists will be engaged to sing four or five songs each during the evening. Storm Large arrives from America that day, and while her group is recovering from the long flight, she will be singing at the dinner. It gives weight to the old saying of “singing for your supper”. Former Spicks and Specks regular, Alan Brough and his offsider, Casey Benetto, will MC the night.  “We gave her the background on all the artists,” Glenn says, “and she’s come up with this incredible menu. It’s going to be a very special night.”
After talking with Glenn, it’s obvious that this will be a very special festival, a feast for all tastes. Since last November, Humphries and Glenn have been sorting through the hundreds of submissions to arrive at their final selection. Final preparations in Adelaide have been left up to Glenn, as Humphries winds up his Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye – The Farewell Tour in the States with a grand finale on Broadway. Glenn is unfazed by the huge workload. He returns to Adelaide after a career in arts and venue management with such organizations as the Sydney Symphony and the State Theatre in Sydney. In a varied career, he has worked as a self-employed trombonist before escaping Adelaide for the bright lights of Sydney. He has also worked on projects as diverse as the Young Endeavour scheme, and he is thrilled to be returning to Adelaide to produce the festival. “It genuinely is my favourite festival in the country. It is a major part of the appeal in coming back to Adelaide.” Add to that the opportunity to work with Barry Humphries, and it is not surprising that Glenn would be delighted to be bringing the 2015 Cabaret Festival to audiences. Glenn obviously has a keen eye for events that hold popular appeal for audiences. After the Cabaret Festival, he will be bringing his production of circus spectacular, Le Noir, to the Canberra Theatre.
Sir Les Patterson in Love Songs For Sir Les
“The thing I love about the Cabaret Festival is that there is so much fun and freedom in what you can programme as well as the underlying relationship between the act and the audience” Glenn concludes. “I also love the storytelling in cabaret as well.”  
 Humphries believes that there are no rules to cabaret, and he wants to prove that through the festival. “We’ve tried to be as open and as broad in appeal as possible”, Glenn says. One look at the three week programme is enough to convince any cabaret lover that here is a festival for everyone.
 Adelaide Cabaret Festival
The Adelaide Festival Centre
June 5-20, 2015
For the full programme and bookings go to:

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter Evans
Bell Shakespeare production
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre
April 8 – 18, 2015

Review by Len Power 8 April 2015

While my past reading has given me a familiarity with ‘As You Like It’, somehow I’ve never managed to see it staged before.  After experiencing Bell Shakespeare’s production this week, I’m not surprised it’s considered one of Shakepeare’s most popular works.

In the play, a young woman, Rosalind flees persecution in her uncle’s court with her cousin, Celia, to the forest of Arden.  There they interact with a variety of interesting characters and find love by the end of the play.

Director, Peter Evans, said in a speech after the performance, ‘If you don’t have a Rosalind, you don’t have a show’.  Luckily, he has the wonderful Zahra Newman playing the huge role of Rosalind.  She gives a magnetic performance throughout which crackles with energy and humour and she simply commands the stage with her delivery of the Epilogue speech at the end of the play.

John Bell as the melancholy traveller, Jacques, gives a quietly understated performance which works brilliantly.  He doesn’t make a big deal of his delivery of the famous ‘All The World’s A Stage’ speech and that makes it especially memorable.

There is uniformly excellent work from the rest of the ensemble cast.  All display a great sense of comic timing and there is also some fine singing by Abi Tucker playing the roles of Audrey and Amiens.  Actually the whole cast are pretty good singers as you’ll see with their spot-on harmony singing in a song late in the show.  Kelly Ryall, the composer and musical director, has done a fine job giving the text of the songs a modern treatment that works.

The set for the show is a marvel.  Designed by Michael Hankin, at the start of the show we seem to be on a rather bare stage in a theatre with just a working light.  How that set is transformed into the forest of Arden later in the play is remarkably clever.  It’s this kind of theatrical effect that movies and television can never compete with.  Paul Jackson’s lighting complements the set nicely and his subtle changes at various points in the play create a really special atmosphere for this show.  Costumes by Kate Aubrey-Dunn are a delightful mix of periods and styles that go well with the various characters.

Peter Evans has produced a very attractive and entertaining production.  If you’re not familiar with the play, it can be a bit bewildering when actors appear as other characters but you soon work it out and find yourself swept along by the energy and inventiveness of this show.  Go and join in the fun in the forest of Arden with this company and you won’t want to leave!

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 12 April 2015 from 5pm.

Mr Bennet’s Bride by Emma Wood

Mr Bennet’s Bride by Emma Wood.  Newcastle Theatre Company directed by Julie Black.  Set design by Robyn Greenwell; lighting design by Stewart MacGowan and Jenny Brook; costumes designed by Julie Black; wig design by Valmai Drury.  At Canberra Repertory’s Theatre 3, April 11 – 12, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 11

Newcastle Theatre Company is a pro-am community theatre with a similar history to Canberra Rep. []  The presentation of this play, inspired by the characters of Mr and Mrs Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, seems perfectly appropriate in this milieu, where the up-and-coming middle class – academics, public servants and lawyers – take on the trappings of upper class traditions.

Emma Woods (her own parents having given her such a significant name) has captured the essence of Jane Austen’s sensibility in imagining that Mrs Bennet’s name was Emily and that her father was George Gardiner, the lawyer employed by Mr Bennet’s father, Robert.  Perhaps the quote from Pride and Prejudice which would stir up the mystery of Mr Bennet junior (named James in the play) is at the end of Chaper One:

Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.

How on earth did ‘James’ Bennet, with the name of kings appropriate to his wealth and station as landed gentry, become married to ‘Emily’ of middle-class pretensions?   At least he managed to have four of his daughters given the right queenly names – Jane, Elizabeth, Mary and Catherine.  But Lydia!  My goodness!

While watching Woods’ play, the question in my mind was how true the characters of James and Emily appeared as their 23-years-younger selves.

I think most of us think of Mr Bennet as genuinely sensible, even wise, and with a quiet ironic sense of humour which we see in his counselling Jane and Elizabeth and his concern about Lydia.  We certainly see Mrs Bennet as so motivated to be upwardly mobile that she fails entirely to have regard for her daughters’ personal development (to use a modern term).  How do these thoughts match the quote above?

Austen’s writing puts us subtley into seeing things from unexpected perspectives.  The first sentence in the quote is the view of Mrs Bennet about her husband.  The rest is Mr Bennet’s view of his wife.

The story in Mr Bennet’s Bride of how Robert Bennet put his son into such a position that James ended up having to marry in the hope of producing an heir to keep the property in the Bennet family’s possession – and how it was his employee’s lower-class daughter that became the only option – makes very good sense.  For readers of Pride and Prejudice it’s even more delicious to realise that James’ marriage to Emily produces only five daughters and no son.  So the property will go to cousin Benedict Collins’ newly-born son (at the time of the Bennet’s wedding) – the awful William Collins, who tries to marry Jane, then Elizabeth, but ends up having to marry the lower-class friend of Elizabeth, Charlotte Lucas.

For readers with an interest in economics and the politics of earned income as against inherited wealth, from the 18th Century onwards, the book you must read is Capital in the Twenty-First Century by the French economist Professor Thomas Piketty, expertly translated into English by Arthur Goldhammer.  He uses Balzac and Austen as very effective observers of the social classes of their day.

But now to the production of Woods’ play.  I have a concern about the characterisation of James Bennet.  Of course, the play needs to be comic in parts to match the satirical elements of the novel, but the costume and manner of James’ role is used in the play to go too close to farce.  It should be funny when he is discovered at the beginning asleep on the floor with ‘a book fallen askew where he has been reading’, but to dress him and play him as a kind of buffoon is not right.  It is true, as Austen wrote from the point of view of ‘Emily’ 23 years later, that she could not understand her husband’s ‘quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice’.  At the age of 29, as ‘James’ confronts his father, these characteristics should be played with much more incisive depth of feeling than I saw last night.

For example there is something close to vindictiveness in James’ saying: Perhaps I am so happy to be still living at home with you, Father? which came over merely as playing word-games for a laugh (from us, of course, not from his Father), when we should have heard the dark edge of attack that would have stopped our laugh promptly as we realised the intensity of his feelings.  Then we could accept more easily how Robert’s sister Mary helps him to see that he has damaged James, and when we find out the story of James’ mother’s death in childbirth, we can have real sympathy for Robert and for James.  And we would also recognise James’ anguish as he realises at the wedding the limited nature of the wife he could not get out of marrying, however ‘pretty’ she is.

Then we can see why, 23 years later, his wife cannot understand him, but he understands her and knows he must treat his daughters with humour, care and concern – as he had been treated by his aunt Mary in place of his dead mother.

My example is only one of many during Act 1.  In Act 2 James appeared almost a different man, but the setting him up beforehand as a comic farce character prevented us seeing the development of his character in a serious way.

I think the script is not the problem here.  It’s a matter of interpretation.  Jane Austen’s comedy is serious; this production of Woods’ play doesn’t come up to that mark.  But it is still well worthwhile seeing as a stand-alone comedy of 18th Century manners and as a cleverly written lead-in (or rather as a post-prequel) to discussion of Pride and Prejudice.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

As You Like It - Bell Shakespeare

Review by John Lombard

At the end of the play, with all plots resolved and all couples united, the melancholy philosopher Jacques (John Bell) takes his leave of the wedding party - these scenes of merryment are not for him. But as John Bell's final production with the theatre company he founded, the scene took on a symbolic meaning for the audience: this was a graceful exit, a formal leave-taking for Australia's greatest populariser of Shakepeare.

As You Like It itself is one of Shakespeare's silliest plays, and director Peter Evans' production does not scrimp on the fun. The paranoid Duke Senior (the aptly named Alan Dukes, who also doubles as the good Duke Frederick) has been over-eager with banishment and confiscation of property to the point where most nice people have all taken refuge in the nearby Forest of Arden. Arden is an Edenic idyll where people while away their time with feasts and companionship, and the only real problem is a forest-wide spate of bad love poetry.

Most of the bad love poetry is from Orlando (Charlie Garber), a hard done-by youth hiding in the forest from his jealous and potentially murderous older brother Oliver (Dorje Swallow). The object of his affection is Rosalind (Zahra Newman), the freshly exiled daughter of Duke Frederick now hiding in the forest diguised as a man - although being disguised as a man doesn't stop her from wooing Orlando. Rosalind's two companions are Duke Senior's pampered but good-hearted daughter Celia (Kelly Paterniti) and the court fool Touchstone (Gareth Davies).

The plot itself is a contrivance for getting all of the main characters into the forest. Reflecting this, the set initially seems unfinished: canvass sheets and a paint-flecked ladder suggesting a work in progress. But when the transition to the forest happens ropes of flowers fall from the sky, creating a tangled rope-maze of love that the heroes have to navigate.

With most of the plot busywork out of the way, the play becomes a comic romp. Newman's Rosalind is very physical, delighting in the freedom of movement her masculine diguise gives her. But all of the cast find the joy in the script. Even John Bell's Jacques cannot dampen the fun, finding sardonic glee in his private games. But Davies' Touchstone is the true achievement: the courtly fool is burdened with some of the dreariest jokes in Shakespeare, but Davies rises above the material by making him a motley wildman (with just a touch of Jack Nicholson in The Shining).

As You Like It is a play where things just work out. Love at first sight is always true, even unrequited love is ultimately requited, and the villains spontaneously reform offstage. Bell Shakespeare's production captures the joy and silliness of being in love: "If thou rememb’rest not the slightest folly that ever love did make thee run into, thou hast not loved." Love makes everyone an idiot, but perhaps it's wise to be a fool sometimes: this production teaches us the wisdom of our sacred follies.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Richard Block
There’s a new theatre company in town and in DRESS CIRCLE this week, the founder of Dramatic Productions, producer/director, Richard Block, talks to Bill Stephens about their inaugural production “The Last Five Years” which will premiere in Teatro Vivaldi later this month.

Phil Bathols
Producer, Phil Bathols gives details “The Pink Floyd Experience” which is coming to the Canberra Theatre Centre next week.
 Art Song Canberra President, Oliver Raymond, gives details of a special concert being presented next Sunday to honour a pioneer of the Canberra arts scene, Eleanor Houston.
Oliver Raymond 
Len Power will review Bell Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, Isobel Griffin will present “Arts Diary”, and Blue the Shearer has a brand new poem about “The Budget”.

In the “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment, you will hear excerpts the Peter J. Casey musical, “Angry Penguins”, which was previewed at The School of Arts CafĂ© with Peter Casey, Katrina Waters, David Pearson and Rob Beaumont.

Peter J. Casey
90 minutes of interviews, reviews, music and news focussed on the performing arts in Canberra and beyond, DRESS CIRCLE is produced and presented by Bill Stephens, and broadcast by Artsound FM 92.7 every Sunday evening from 5.00pm until 6.30pm. It is repeated on Tuesday nights from 11.30pm and streamed live on the internet at

The Anzac Project - Ensemble Theatre

The Anzac Project: Dear Mum and Dad by Geoffrey Atherden and The Light Begins to Fade by Vanessa Bates.  Commissioned by The Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, to commemorate 100 years since the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli.  Directed by Mark Kilmurry; lighting by Verity Hampson; sound by Daryl Wallis.  At The Ensemble, Kirribilli, Sydney April 9 – May 10, 2015.

Cast: Eric Beecroft, Anita Hegh, Amy Mathews, David Terry

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 9

The two one-act plays form a satisfying evening’s theatre, each taking a similar approach to the Project by looking back at the Gallipoli event through the eyes of 2015 characters.  The quality of the acting may be taken as read, of course, with such a strong team at work.  

In Dear Mum and Dad wonder what to do with the contents of a black tin box, exactly like the one in my house, which contains stuff from the past, including the letter which begins “Dear Mum and Dad” and war medals.  Are the medals worth selling?  Should they toss the box out, assuming that when they die their children will not want to keep their old stuff?

The Light Begins to Fade has a different scenario: four TV writers are trying to come up with ideas for a special on Gallipoli.  Between their ideas sessions, scenes appear.  In effect we end up seeing something of the documentary they envisage.

The two plays, for me, made different impacts which concern what I would call ‘emotional distance’.  I think I would have presented Bates’ play as the first half of the program, and Atherden’s second.

The device of the four writers struggling with ideas and their bits and pieces of understanding often created laughter, and their sessions in between scenes re-enacting elements of the Gallipoli experience, kept us at a considerable distance emotionally.  The piece is almost like an example of theatre-in-education, which keeps the audience safe from too much engagement.  This is not to condemn the play, but to say that it is a good way in to the issue of commemoration, and provides those in the audience who may not know much about what really happened (like these TV writers) a better knowledge and understanding of the truth.  The mimed enactment of the soldiers having to keep rowing ashore even while their mates were being killed around them was a good example.  Though the mime was an obvious theatrical device, the message was made clear.  The soldiers may have gone with enthusiasm for the ‘glory’ of war, but the reality was gory, not glorious.  The men had no choice but to be heroes, whether they lived or died.
All photos by Clare Hawley
L to R: Anita Hegh, David Terry, Eric Beecroft, Amy Mathews as
Actors 1, 2, 3, 4 beginning The Light Begins to Fade

Scenes from The Light Begins to Fade

An interval after this might have meant people discussing what The Light Begins to Fade had told them – or they might have identified with the humour arising from the writers’ concerns about their next cup of coffee, not forgetting the one who preferred chai but who missed out.  Chai was a bit too far out for the coffee drinkers!

Then I think, to come to Dear Mum and Dad would have moved people’s feelings about what the other play had told.  The story behind the letter and medals, about Holly’s great granddad Bert, is revealed essentially through the hallucinations, flashbacks and emotional connections that draw us in to the soldier’s experience – on the farm at home, as a child relating to his mother, and to his father as an older lad, the decision to follow his brothers to the front, his injury and final evacuation as the withdrawal was ordered, his relationship with his nurse who writes the letter for him, and his life later with shell shock.  The interweaving of the past and the present cleverly conflates memories and reality in a way which makes our emotional distance close as we identify with the modern couple and their soldier ancestor.

Eric Beecroft as Bert, David Terry as Frank
in Dear Mum and Dad

Anita Hegh as Connie, David Terry as Frank
in Dear Mum and Dad

Amy Mathews as Cathy, Eric Beecroft as Bert

Scenes from Dear Mum and Dad

I think presenting the plays in this order would deepen the audience’s understanding and appreciation of what the Gallipoli soldiers experienced as the evening goes on, and therefore commemorate their sacrifice, and that of those left at home in Australia, more powerfully than in the order I saw last night.

I have to explain, too, that my reaction is very much influenced by having recently reviewed a play which tops both of these for its emotional impact – Black Diggers (March 25, 2015).  These plays are about white diggers, with their own stories, and reach out to us over the century in a similar way.  If there is any value in this year’s commemorations, I think it is in the theatre where documentary material and artistic expression bring home the truths we need to feel, as well as know.

Anita Hegh as The Mother
in The Light Begins to Fade

The Returned Soldier