Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Adelaide Fringe 2019

February 15 - March 17 2019

Previewed by Peter Wilkins

Adelaide Fringe 2019 is dedicated to the memory of founding father Frank Ford, who died last year at the age of 83. South Australia’s cultural icon, Ford leaves behind a phenomenal legacy and a bequest of $200,000 to assist outstanding South Australian artists to tour their work and gain wider recognition and appreciation of the   Adelaide Fringe’s support for outstanding local talent.
Frank Ford AM. Founder of the Adelaide Fringe
Now in her fourth year as Director and Chief Executive of the Southern Hemisphere’s  largest open access Fringe Festival, and second only to the Edinburgh Fringe, Heather Croall talks enthusiastically of the advances that visitors to this year’s Fringe might expect. Since its modest beginning in 1975 as a complement to Adelaide’s elite Festival of Arts, the grass roots Adelaide Fringe has grown into a huge artistic macrocosm, embracing all regions of the city and extending its many programmes into the far regions of the state.
Heather Croall - Director Adelaide Fringe
To give a clearer idea of its enormity, Croall describes the Fringe’s phenomenal growth, during her tenure as director. “We’ve spent a lot of time and resources on improving our ticketing system.” she tells me. “ The search function has been vastly improved in the last couple of years. Compared to the same day last year we’re twenty four percent up on the number of ticket sales.” The Fringe Box Office went up in Adelaide’s central Rundle Mall, in the heart of the CBD in November and other sales outlets are due  to be established in the next few weeks in the East End, on North Terrace and in the Adelaide University where the Fringe’s Royal Croquet Club venue will be located this year. The increase in sales over the past few years speaks volumes for Croall’s initiatives. In 2014, ticket sales reached 450,000. Last year that number climbed to 705,000 and a projected lift of 10% could feasibly increase the ticket sales to almost 800.000, heading for a 2022 target of one million.. “Everything we’re doing – making it easier to buy tickets, making it easier to search through a dates filter and Love Hearts Favourites, we’re very aware that people need to be able to navigate this enormous programme and the good news is that the growth of ticket sales is a much faster growth than the number of shows in the Fringe.”

Garden of Unearthly Delights
That is not to say that the number of events is not growing. This year there will be over seven hundred events, involving 1326 artists from all over Australia and overseas. Croall is pleased with the increase because more tickets means more money into the pockets of the artists. Inside fees, imposed by venues have also been zeroed, providing a further windfall for the artists. Meanwhile online sales at account for 70% of the sales. 20% are sold through the box offices and some are sold through the call centre, although this is more an information dispensing service.

Spreading the word has become an important function of the improved ticketing and online filters. Artists also will recommend similar shows for audiences to see after they have been to a particular kind of show.

Yabarra  Gathering of Light
Because the Adelaide Fringe is an open access festival, available to any artist who wishes to register, navigation of the programme becomes crucial and with an online and hard copy programme of 148 pages outlining a vast number of genres to choose from, ease of navigation is fundamental to the Fringe’s remarkable success. On Page 7, eager Fringe-goers can discover HOW TO PICK A SHOW. And on Page 8 how to GET YOUR TICKETS Turn the page and the various genres are revealed, beginning with Cabaret , followed by Children’s Theatre and then Circus and Physical Theatre. Canberra's Little Dove Theatre will be presenting their highly successful Dance Theatre piece Evangeline in this category. There is still ample opportunity to catch favourite comedians and emerging funny men and women in the Comedy section.. For those who love dance, there are fascinating events under Dance. For those with limited funds an entire section promises free Events for the entire family including such highlights as the Opening Ceremony and the new Yabarra Gathering of Light, a lighting installation on the bank of the River Torrens by the University Footbridge. Interactive performances and events will also embrace participation and immersive experiences, while some may prefer to be astounded by the wonder of Magic. Music of all kinds leaps from the page – from Jackson to Joplin or Buble to Bach and everything in-between. Theatre has exploded this year as artists from around the nation and the world bring their original and traditional performances to the Fringe at such innovative venues as Joanne Hartstone’s Noel Lothian Hall in the Botanic Gardens, Martha Lott’s Holden Street Theatres in Hindmarsh, the Bakehouse, the Royal Croquet Club, Tandanya and a host of venues in unique locations. And then there are the vibrant parkland venues , the Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony in Rymill Park. These magnets of artistic feasting draw thousands of Fringe –goers to their succulent and seductive banquets. Exhibitions galore will delight the senses in the Visual Art and Design sections and, in response to requests by artists a new section will offer Workshops and Talks
Adelaide Fringe Ambassador Hans in Live Like A German
To spread the word and spruik the Fringe throughout the city and on media outlets, The Fringe has also appointed high profile Ambassadors.  In the past people like Kittie Flanagan, Paul McDermott and Julian Cleary have filled the role. This year’s Ambassadors, comedienne, Judith Lucy, international cabaret star, Hans and indigenous football legend turned visual artist Gavin Wanganeen will join people like Tim Ferguson and Molly Taylor to run workshops and talk about their work.
“We can’t be stagnant.” Croall says. “We’re Fringe and we have to keep changing. We are committed to constant improvement. So, that means being responsive and introducing new genres." This year there will be shows performed in unusual venues. Emma Knights will present Pirates of Penzance on a boat in Port Noarlunga. Shift Theatre will present Hallowed Ground- Women Doctors in War, written by a surgeon and presented by Shift Theatre. Recent WAAPA graduate, Zachary Sheridan will present Cookies and Cream and there is a plethora of Shakespeare productions old and new to entertain including The Handlebards Twelfth Night from the UK which transports its costumes and props on bicycles from venue to venue. Its five star reviews speak for themselves.
For people who want to know what is happening in their neighbourhood, they merely have to type in Fringelist and all the council areas will come up. For example, Charles Sturt council lists one hundred Fringe events, and finally there  are Fringe events in Fringe on Tour,  from the Adelaide Airport and Westfield to country regions such as Whyalla and Port Augusta. In short, there is a Fringe for everyone!
“ I always encourage people to explore the Fringe, explore the nooks and crannies, because you’ll be surprised and delighted.
It is a sentiment echoed by previous directors who understood the magic and the mystery of Australia’s leading Fringe Festival, The excitement, the thrill and the surprise will embrace the city of Adelaide and its regions  in homage to the spirit and vision of the Adelaide Fringe’s founding father.

Adelaide Fringe 2019
February 15 – March 17
Phone Bookings 1300 621 255


Lucy Maunder (Mrs Bucket) - Tony Sheldon (Grandpa Joe) - Tommy Blair (Charlie Bucket)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Book by David Greig – Music by Marc Shaiman – Lyrics by Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman
Directed by Jack O’Brien – Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
 Scenic and Costume Design – Mark Thompson – Musical Director – Kellie Dickerson

Presented by John Frost, Craig Donnell, Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Langley Park Productions, and Neal Street Productions.
Capitol Theatre, Sydney 11th January – 14th April 2019.

Performance on 11th January reviewed by Bill Stephens.

The Bucket Family
The Grandaparents - Lucy Maunder (Mrs Bucket) - Tommy Blair (Charlie Bucket)

Inspired by Roald Dahl’s own boyhood experiences as a taste tester for a chocolate company in England, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” follows the adventures of a young Charlie Bucket (charmingly portrayed on opening night by Ryan Yeates), who wins one of five tickets in competition to tour Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. The other four winners meet bizarre endings during the tour, but Charlie survives to earn a very special prize from Willie Wonka.

If you’re a Roald Dahl enthusiast, you no doubt know all this, so your interest in seeing this musical is probably to see how the story translates as a stage musical. However, if like this reviewer, you’ve never read the book, or have only seen one of the two movies inspired by the book, be assured a treat awaits you, because, freed of the need to compare the musical to the book or films, you can simply delight in the delicious silliness of Roald Dahl’s subversive ideas and be entranced by some spectacular stage Gee-whizzery.

To be truthful though, there isn’t a lot of magic in the first half, except for the paper plane which drew excited applause. Charlie Bucket’s home, in which he lives with his struggling mother and four grandparents, is represented by a rather cramped piece of scenery which is wheeled on an off stage, as is Willie Wonka’s shop.

Ryan Yeates (Charlie Bucket) - Paul Slade Smith (Willie)
in the glass elevator.

However some delightful characters are introduced, including Charlie’s hard-working mother, Mrs Bucket (Lucy Maunder) and his Grandpa Joe (Tony Sheldon, who offers a wonderful ‘star’ performance in a relatively minor role).  There’s also the mysterious, silver-voiced Willie Wonka, winningly portrayed by tall, lanky Paul Slade Smith, who played Grandpa George in the Broadway production of this show.

Then there are the other four winners and their parents, each more cringe-worthy than the last, but, although funny, played in such a broad comic-book manner that it is hard to relate to any of them as characters, which is just as well, because each comes to a sticky end in the second half.
Jake Fehily (Augustus Gloop) - Octavia Barron Martin (Mrs Gloop) 

And indeed, it’s the second half when the magic sets in as the audience is transported into Willie Wonka’s world. Enchanting special effects and projections, vicious squirrels, the great glass elevator and especially the Oompa Loompas, marvellously choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, set the show soaring.

Some of the songs are familiar, especially “The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination”. A charming ballad, “If Your Father Were Here”, affectingly sung by Lucy Maunder, Willie Wonka’s anthem, “It Must Be Believed to Be Seen” and of course “The Oompa Loompa Song”, linger in the mind. Elsewhere the songs are tuneful and serve the story well. The costumes are colourful, and the choreography for the hard-working ensemble of supporting characters is cleverly joyful.

Xion Jarvis (Charlie Bucket) - Tony Sheldon (Grandpa Joe)

Judging from the enthusiastic reception from the many youngsters in the audience at the opening night performance, Director, Jack O’Brien has definitely hit a bull’s eye with this thoroughly likeable and entertaining production of a long-time favourite.

                                                                Photos by Jeff Busby

        This review also published in Australian Arts Review.

Monday, January 21, 2019


Counting & Cracking by S. Shakthidharan.  A collaboration between Belvoir and Co-Curious in the Sydney Festival, at Sydney Town Hall, January 11 – February 2, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 20

Director – Eamon Flack; Cultural and Costume Advisor – Anandavalli; Set and Costume Designer – Dale Ferguson; Lighting Designer – Damien Cooper; Composer and Sound Designer – Stefan Gregory; Movement and Fight Director – Nigel Poulton; Accent Coach – Linda Nicholls-Gidley.

Prakash Belawadi – Apah and others
Nicholas Brown – Hasanga and others
Jay Emmanuel – Young Thirru and others
Rarriwuy Hick – Lily and others
Antonythasan Jesuthasan – Older Thirru and others
Nadie Kammallaweera – Older Radha
Ahilan Karunaharan – Sunil and others
Monica Kumar – Young Dhamayanthi, Swathi and others
Ghandi Macintyre – Priest, Hopper Cart Man and others
Shiv Palekar – Siddhartha and others
Monroe Reimers – Jailor, Vinsanda and others
Hazem Shammas – Ismet, Mr Levy and others
Nipuni Sharada – Young Nihinsa
Vaishnavi Suryaprakesh – Young Radha
Rajan Velu – Fundraiser, Bala, Maithra and others
Sukania Venugopal – Older Nihinsa, Aacha, Older Dhamayanthi and others

Kiran Mudigonda; Janakan Raj; Venkhatesh Sritharan

Counting & Cracking: stage setting in Sydney Town Hall
Photo: Frank McKone

The gestation of this play has been very long, since S. Shakthidharan’s Australia Council Young Artists Initiative grant in 2008, then the beginning of collaboration with Belvoir in 2013 and travel around the world including gaining family permissions in Australia (Yolngu), Sri Lanka (Colombo, Jaffna, Kayts, Batticaloa).  “We travelled to London, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur [and] spoke to people in Paris, Wellington, Toronto, New York….Together it has taken our two companies six years to bring everything into alignment”, wrote director Eamon Flack.

I understand the need for migrants to find the truth about their origins.  Only after my arrival here in 1955 and my father’s death in 1989, did my mother tell me important truths about my birth and why she had migrated from England and had never gone back, even for a visit.  In the meantime I became thoroughly Australian with, even after visits there, no desire to live in England again.

So I recognised why the audience gave a standing ovation to Counting & Cracking, as we came to understand how very-much-Australian Sid (that is Siddhartha) was born in Australia because his mother Radha had to escape from Sri Lanka even while pregnant, because she (Sinhalese) had insisted on marrying Thirru (a Tamil) who she believed was killed, since his sister had joined the Tamil Tigers.  “Counting and Cracking is a work of fiction”, writes Shakthi, “and there is no intention for any of its characters to represent or reference anyone in real life.  Nevertheless, real life has occasionally worked its way into the story, as it almost always does.”

Hazem Shammas as Ismet; Shiv Pakelar as Siddhartha; Rarriwuy Hick as Lily; Nadie Kammallaweera as Older Radha
Photo: Brett Boardman
Behind Sid’s story was the rise of post colonial Sri Lankan nationalism.  English had been made the official language, keeping the dominance of Sinhalese over Tamil at bay.  In the play the motto of Radha’s father, a Government minister in a time of election conflict, said “Two languages, one country; one language, two countries”.  But social status and economic benefit flowed to Sinhalese/English speakers; poverty and low status was the lot of Tamil speakers.  As Tamils were attacked – shopkeepers in Colombo to the Tigers in the north of the island – and Sinhala was made the only official language, Radha’s father was arrested and kept in home detention – for his own safety, despite his high status – and the time came for Radha to be given a visa by Australia, through unspoken diplomatic channels.

The story on stage was complicated in Act 2 by flashbacking to Radha’s grandfather’s generation to tell the story of her birth, upbringing and marriage.  While in the present time, Siddhartha and Lily – a young Yolgnu woman from Yirrkala in far-northern Australia – were meeting at university and falling in love.  In addition, Radha, by now 21 years away from Sri Lanka, was found to be attractive by Ismet from Lebanon – and she found herself responding to his rather Australian-style direct sense of humour.  Would she remain faithful to the memory of Thirru?

Shiv Palekar and Rarriwuy Hick
as Siddhartha and Lily
Photo: Brett Boardman

Nadie Kammallaweera as Older Radha
Photo: Brett Boardman

Antonythasan Jesuthasan as Older Thirru
Photo: Brett Boardman

But am I cynical to point out that, of course, Thirru is found to have been hidden in jail all this time.  Radha had been expected by her family to agree to an arranged marriage to Sinhalese Hasanga, whose continuing search for Thirru is finally rewarded when Thirru is released – but as a trap to catch anti-government sympathisers against the 20-year war against the Tamil Tigers.  Hasanga has become a journalist, and is at risk because he reports both sides of the conflict, but has knowledge to keep threats at bay.  He now gets Thirru on a boat to India, after phoning Radha and putting Thirru on to allay her disbelief.

Long before this point – in fact during the first interval after the first hour – I had realised this fiction is an adaptation of the Ancient Greek myth of Penelope patiently waiting, putting off suitors, for the 10 years it took Odysseus (presumed to be dead) to get home from the sacking of Troy.  Their son, Telemachus, parallels Siddhartha.

Did I need all the backflashing in the second hour?  Did I expect Thirru to be found, and at the end of the last 40 minutes past the second interval, to be released from Villawood Detention Centre, for a family hug – Radha, Thirru and Siddhartha – while Lily gives them a little private space before she and Sid marry?

I thought – at 4.30 pm after a 1 pm start – that the ending was nice, and I hadn’t really needed much of Hour Two.  But maybe, since most of the audience partook of the provided curry lunch, they had a greater sense of satisfaction – while I, of a more lean and hungry disposition would have liked a tighter and therefore perhaps a more strongly flavoured drama.

I did find out what the title meant, though, from Act 2.  It was about democracy, said Radha’s father: it means counting heads, but only up to a point; after which cracking heads becomes inevitable, if not strictly necessary.  Radha, with her educated non-violence belief, was after all much better off in Australia.

Curry lunch ay Sydney Town Hall
Photo: Frank McKone


The Weekend by Henrietta Baird.  Mooghalin Performing Arts in the Sydney Festival at Carriageworks, Redfern, January 18-23, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 19

Performed by Shakira Clanton

Director – Liza-Mare Syron; Producer – Lily Shearer; Set Design – Kevin O’Brien; Lighting Design – Karen Norris; Sound/Music Design – Nick Wales and Rhyan Clapham; Choreographer – Vicki Van Hout.

Developed from the author’s experience of a mother’s worst-ever weekend, The Weekend fools us into laughing at deeply ironic black moments of humour leading ultimately to a bleak recognition of the reality of domestic violence and a father’s inability to take on responsibility.  While performing as a dancer in Cairns, far-north Queensland, Lara receives a call saying that her children have been left alone by their father for days without food.  She takes the weekend off to fly to Sydney.  Unable to find Simon among drug-dealers who prey on poverty-stricken women, Lara, at risk of the violence already meted out by Simon to her children, manages to take them to Cairns with her to safety.

“Our vision is transformation through cultural arts.  We create community-based stories and produce distinctive cross-cultural and interdisciplinary performance works.  Moogahlin supports both emerging and established First Peoples performing artists, nurturing work created, produced and performed by First Peoples for First Peoples.”

Henrietta Baird’s is an Aboriginal woman’s story, culturally embedded in verbal language, body language and unexpected twists of humour – but our feeling of empathy is powerful, for her plight as well as her success in saving her children, no matter what our cultural background.  The Weekend is a terrific example of success for Moogahlin .  It is an excellent choice for the Sydney Festival because, as my neighbour audience member commented, it gives people the chance to see theatre of a kind they might not normally go to.

Tower block 1 or 2 - Floor 7 appeared to Lara exactly the same in
either tower as she escaped the awful smell in the lift.
 Photos by Jamie James to illustrate Lara's experience searching for her children's father Simon in Sydney.

Lara in the entry approaching the filthy lift

For the Aboriginal community, despite The Weekend’s concern about drugs, alcohol and so many men’s failure to provide their sons with proper role models, I found when speaking with Henrietta and actor/dancer Shakira who represents her on stage, a powerful sense of celebration of their art.  There is in Redfern and in the old railway workshops a proud history of Aboriginal theatre from the days of the first National Black Theatre (1972 to 1977).  I thought I recognised the director’s name – Syron:  Dr Liza-Mare Syron, who has written “An Actor Prepares: what Brian told me” (search for ).

Brian Syron, her father’s uncle, famously directed and trained actors, as I recall from seeing early Black Theatre work, leading to his production of Robert Merritt’s The Cake Man in 1975. She writes: “I was front row with my dad at the Bondi Pavilion production of Bobby Merritt’s The Cake Man  in 1977. I was fourteen…. and in 1986 I left Sydney to audition for the Victorian College of Arts (VCA) acting course in Melbourne; I was twenty-four. Before I left, Brian suggested I change my surname from Kenny to Syron, which he believed would assist my career. I took his advice.”

So The Weekend has cultural and personal history – back to an Aboriginal man who did provide a positive and productive role model for its director when she was young.

The performance style and design shows a fascinating development from the early naturalistic Black Theatre plays I remember, via the symbolism of The Cake Man, to a blending of traditional storytelling in dance, mime, rhythmic sound, and vocal effects, using a cleverly lit simple backdrop which could change, from a mirror reflecting Lara back to herself, to a filthy lift in a drug dealers’ block of flats where she could not bring herself to touch the disgustingly besmirched buttons to get to the 7th floor.  We laughed at her disgust, but....

Shakira Clanton begins as the professional dancer, Lara, incorporating “modern dance” and traditional Aboriginal styles; then shifting into storytelling mode, creating an array of women characters – but never the character of Simon, the father who she cannot find.  Her skills as an actor make the story engrossing as she, like the ancient mythical shift-shaper, switches in and out of characters; and from Lara telling the story, to her observations about herself and others.

The writing is intense and cleverly constructed, and, as Shakira explained to me, required her to find parallels in her own life experience for all these contrasting characters and emotions to make Lara’s story real.  Hard work, very satisfying for us to watch, and for her to achieve in this form of a kind of dance-drama.

This is a work, small in scale but immensely large in impact, which must surely go on long after this Festival production.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

COPPELIA - Storytime Ballet

Production and additional choreography by David McAllister
Costumes designed by Kristian Fredrikson – Set designed by Hugh Colman

Lighting Designed by Jon Buswell
Canberra Theatre 17 - 19th January, 2019

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

With its Storytime Ballet series the Australian Ballet has devised the perfect introduction for young children to the art of classical ballet. The series reduces famous ballets to a digestible 55 minutes, without interval, and presents them with a cast of young dancers fresh from the Australian ballet school who dance the original choreography adapted to suit the format.

The costumes are usually from the original mainstage productions, as is the case for this year’s presentation of “Coppelia” which uses the much admired Kristian Fredrikson costumes, of which some of the 1978 originals are on display in the foyer.  A charming setting by Hugh Colman which, with the addition of Jon Buswell’s imaginative lighting, cleverly encompasses both the outside and inside of Dr. Coppelius' toy shop.

Sean McGrath as Dr. Coppelius 
This version avoids the darker aspects of the ballet with Dr. Coppelius portrayed by Sean McGrath as a genial panto-host who explains the gist of the story, and encourages the young audience to use their magic wands (purchased in the foyer beforehand) or simply wave their fingers, (if grandma’s says no to the wands), to assist with the magic at various points in the story.

The twelve young dancers who make up the cast swap characters at the various performances. At this particular performance Jasmin Forner was a delightfully animated Swanilda, who had her young audience fascinated when she switched costumes to trick Dr. Coppelius into believing that she was his prized doll, Coppelia.

Artists of the Australian Ballet in "Coppelia - Storytime Ballet" 
Handsome Benjamin Obst danced stylishly as her boyfriend Franz, while the rest of the cast, Dayna Booth, Cieren Edinger, Lewis Formby, Billy Laherty, Alexander Mitchell, Eliza O’Keefe, Yvette Sauvage, Estelle Thomson and Chantelle van der Hoek, shone as Swanilda and Franz’s friends, and particularly in feature solos as Coppelia, Dawn and Dr. Coppelius’ magical dolls.

Ballet Mistress for this tour is former principal dancer Madeleine Eastoe and the Ballet Master is former Canberran, Paul Knobloch. Their influence is notable in the careful attention to the detail of the choreography which is based on the original by Saint-Leon, Petipa, Cecchetti and David McAllister. While this may be of little interest to the young audience entranced by the pretty costumes and fun storyline, it is indicative of the importance placed by the Australian Ballet in ensuring that their target audience receives an authentic ballet experience. This production delivers that in spades.
                                                           Photos by Jeff Busby

          This review first published in the digital edition of  CITY NEWS on 18.01.19


Conducted by Christian Badea – Directed and Choreographed by Graeme Murphy
Sets and Costumes by Kristian Fredrikson – Lighting designed by John Drummond Montgomery

Presented by Opera Australia, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House – 15th January– 30th   March 2019
Performance on 15th January reviewed by Bill Stephens

Artists of Opera Australia 

It may be nearly thirty years old but Graeme Murphy’s mesmerizing staging of Puccini’s last opera, remains a jewel in Opera Australia’s current repertoire. From the very first moments when huge fans open to reveal Murphy’s swirling vision of an ancient China which exists only in his fertile imagination, one is inexorably drawn into a world in which only the ruler’s head can be seen atop his mountain of robes, and where a princess composes riddles to baffle her suitors, who have their heads lopped off by muscular swordsmen when they fail to come up with the right answers.

Murphy’s vision was shared by Kristian Fredrikson who designed imposing settings and lavishly draped costumes which perfectly compliment the choreographed undulating movement of the huge chorus, providing a succession of beautifully composed stage pictures, which frame the action and focus the attention on the principal players, connecting with and subtly enhancing the effect of Puccini’s gloriously melodic music.

First seen in 1990, and now meticulously revived by Kim Walker, and superbly lit by John Drummond Montgomery, this production makes great use of hand held props such as large fans for the dancers, strips of blood-red silk and hand-held screens to partition areas as the ensemble move around the stage. Even the children’s choir snaking around the stage in tight formation for their folk song, and the clever use of large individual mats held by Ping, Pang and Pong, stylishly interpreted by Christopher Hillier, Virgilio Marino and John Longmuir, become striking visual elements.
Amber Wagner (Turandot) - Andeka Gorrotxategi (Calaf)  - Opera Australia chorus

As the ice princess, Turandot, Amber Wagner is an imposing presence, especially when perched high above the ensemble on a tall platform. Her thrilling lustrous voice soars effortlessly above the full force of the orchestra and chorus. Later in the opera, when she descends from the platform, she achieves the near-impossible by making Turandot’s capitulation to Calaf at the end of the opera, believable, even romantic.
Amber Wagner (Turandot) - Andeka Gorrotxategi (Calaf) 

Equally impressive is Andeka Gorrotxategi as Calaf, the Tartar prince determined to win the love of Turandot.  Matinee idol handsome, and possessing a gloriously clear, warmly burnished tenor voice, he  eschews the usual operatic posturing, to present an assured Calaf who revels in Turandot’s frustration as he offers the correct answers to her riddles, and is unwavering in his resolve to claim his prize no matter what obstacles are placed in his way.  His carefully phrased “Nessun dorma” sung standing amid a sea of undulating silk waves was quite simply breathtaking.

Mariana Hong breaks hearts with her beautifully sung and acted performance as the tragic slave girl, Liu, who harbours a secret love for Calaf, and is prepared to die rather than betray him. It says much for the effectiveness of Gorrotxategi’s performance as Calaf that the audience is able to forgive his response to her death.
Mariana Hong (Liu ) - Artists of Opera Australia 

There is also superb singing and acting among the supporting roles. Richard Anderson brings both dignity and pathos to the role of Timur, Calaf’s exiled father. Graeme Macfarlane is suitably majestic as the Emperor Altoum, Dean Bassett is a dignified Prince of Persia and Andrew Moran makes a fine mandarin.

Maestro, Christian Badea, kept impressive control on his huge musical resources, ensuring a glorious sound throughout with perfect balance between the orchestra and chorus while remaining carefully attentive to the needs of his soloists.

This production is a masterpiece and a reminder of how stunning opera can be even without the technical whizbangery now available. As one audience member was heard to say as he left the theatre, “This is what keeps me coming back to opera!”

                                                           Photos by Keith Saunders

        This review first published in Australian Arts Review.



Friday, January 18, 2019


The Auction written by Katie Cole.  “Out of Place Theatre” at the amphitheatre in the park between Finn and Busby Streets, O’Connor, Canberra, Thursday January 17, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Directors – Mirjana Ristevski and Michael McNally

Cast: Ellen Sedgley (Local Resident; Greenie); George Breynard (Ron the Auctioneer); James Gardner (Russian Woman, Olga / ukulele), Marcel Cole (Homeless Hobo / Borzoi Ballet dancer / ukulele) ; Meg Foster (Teneille - sales assistant / Team Leader) ; Natasha Lyall (Police Officer).

Composer and Music Director: Katie Cole (ukulele)

Set design: ACT Parks and Gardens.

The POP Band (Pickled Onion Properties) in action
in The Auction

It was not until after this zany, thunderstruck performance had come to its final end that the company mysteriously became titled “Out of Place Theatre”.  In typical Canberra summer fashion, a lone sulphur-crested white cockatoo squawked a dire warning of doom about half-an-hour in.  Thunder rolled closer, lightning began a magnificent son et lumière.  Umbrella-less I dashed for shelter in my car, only slightly soaked, as the downpour drowned any hope of action on stage.

The storm begins to loom over The Auction

Yet, again typically, the rain eased enough for the second half of the show to go on, as it must, after only 15 minutes when the pink galahs chorussed their special kind of cackle.  It all seemed a natural part of this constantly diverging song and dance story of corrupt real estate selling.  How much should we bid when we are told the auctioneer has already bought our local park?  $6 million is not enough.

Should the local residents of Busby Street raise the money to buy back their own public park?  Should the kangaroos be culled?  What about the homeless buying the park as a place for socialising homelessly?  And how did the Borzoi ballet dancer and his twin brother-cum-female policeman and their mother Olga get into the story?

The auctioneer offered us the “golden key to unlock the pearly gates” while we sang along to “O’Connor’s got a country feel” with the Pickled Onion Properties team; and the Greenie said “I think we should cull the people according to how much they damage the environment.”

Absurdist is just the beginning of the words you might find to describe Katie Cole’s very funny piece of summer entertainment, but I found some serious things to say.

Though “Out of Place” was right on the night, I could term this a piece of “In Situ Theatre”: that is, the theme of corruptly turning every possible space into sellable real estate – played out in a suburban public park – is very much in its place, considering the regular criticism of the ACT Government’s public and green space management, even including demolishing long established public social housing along the route of the new light rail in favour of upmarket development, while the Minister for Housing and Suburban Development proposes taking community open-space land for social housing scattered around the suburbs, as Paul Costigan has reported in this week’s CityNews.

The crowd of some 170 largely O’Connor local residents watching The Auction sang along with Katy Cole’s satirical songs with laughter clearly tinged with knowing cynicism.  So here is community theatre very much in its place.

On a different note, Canberra is noted for its many uprisings of off-centre theatrical groups and bands with names such as Bohemian Theatre, Elbow Theatre and Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, going back to the Doug Anthony All Stars among many who have come or gone, or gone on.  The Auction and its company of actors, many of whom have relatively recently taken drama courses in local senior secondary colleges, is typical of the seeding of new groups in Canberra.  In this sense, too, the new Out of Place Theatre is In Situ Theatre – another in our tradition of often quirky groups.

The Hive Program at The Street Theatre, under the direction of Caroline Stacey, has a special role in encouraging all kinds of new theatre, and has played its part in developing The Auction, with guidance from playwright Peter Matheson.  The script still needs to be tightened and focussed, but in the context of a wild night of storm, squawking cockatoos and cackling galahs, the random divergences of plot and characters didn’t seem out of place, but rather farcical and funny – a humorous twist on the theme of corruption in situ.

The audience upstanding in action
in The Auction
 Photos: Frank McKone