Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Review © Jane Freebury
PG, Subtitled
Screening at Palace Electric
4 Stars

Without fanfare or introduction, a little girl wanders from room to room, looking dazed as she clutches her doll while adults pack up the contents of the flat that was her home. Snippets of conversation drift in, hinting at what has happened: her mother has died.

It’s a story from the heart by the writer and director Carla Simon. A study of loss and renewal that is loosely autobiographical and explores the journey she had to make to a new life.

Frida (Laia Artigas) is ferried off to the countryside to live with her aunt, uncle and little cousin who is close in age. Her mother’s brother Esteve (David Verdaguer) and wife Marga (Bruna Cusi) live an idyllic, uncomplicated existence outside Barcelona on a rural property where they grow their own.

With a couple of years of age on her country cousin, Frida commands a bit of authority over her, and the moppet, Anna (Paula Robles), dutifully follows her around. But it is the older child who is watchful and insecure under her halo of brown curls, unsure of her place in her new family and jealous of how her cousin can take a close and loving family for granted.
Sentiment is minimal, naturalism is all, and it is very moving
Inevitably, the little girls compete. When they both hurry off to collect the lettuce that Marga has asked for, Frida brings back a cabbage instead. Anna arrives a few moments later with the correct item. She, of course, knows the difference.

It is said that the two young actors were cast because a power struggle quickly developed between them during auditions. It that did indeed happen, it is sensitively captured here, allowing for the perspective of both girls to be expressed.

It can be painful to watch Frida’s mis-steps on her journey as she figures out where she sits in her new family. In one scene that prompts an uneasy sense of anticipation she attempts to act the coquette in lipstick, feather boa and long adult boots, while in another she tries to lose her trusting cousin in the woods. When Frida packs up one night to leave, Anna wants to know why. It’s because no one loves her. Anna responds without a moment’s hesitation ‘I love you’.

Marga and her new ‘daughter’ also need to bond, and here again the filmmaker shows her considerable skill. How difficult a new arrival must be for a young mother with her own child to raise. For Anna’s parents, it’s a question of having hope and confidence in including Frida in their little family unit, while protecting what they already cherish, and it is not inconsiderable. The images of family life here are some of the loveliest I’ve seen on screen.

The delicate process of establishing a blended family that takes place before us is largely told from the perspective of a damaged and uncertain little girl, the odd one out. Sentiment is minimal, naturalism is all, and it is very moving.

The title also reminds us how many young lives were lost from AIDS-related illness, before there were ways to manage the disease. The point is made lightly, in a little scene in which Frida finally asks why her mother died. Was the doctor ‘new’?

Summer 1993 is an exquisite study of a young orphan who moves from grief and confusion to hope and belonging. A special film that the director has dedicated to her young mother.

Also published at Jane's blog

Monday, August 20, 2018


Directed by Rob Tannion – Costumes designed by Laurel Frank
Production designed by Michael Baxter –Musical Direction by Ania Reynolds
Canberra Theatre 16th – 18th August, 2018
Performance on 17th August reviewed by Bill Stephens

Now celebrating its 40th year, Circus Oz is looking slicker and more polished than ever. Its trademark combination of high energy entertainment combined with political commentary remains intact, but this latest production features a glamorous neon-bordered setting, spiffy new costumes by Laurel Frank, and some remarkable oversized props that create a sense of spatial disorientation while providing a whole new set of possibilities as circus apparatus.

The performance began with the cast posed as shop-store dummies before exploding into a fast-moving tumbling routine, so quick that it was hard to know where to look

Lachlan Sukroo and Jake Silvestro, both former Canberrans, performed remarkable   manoeuvres on an enormous safety pin doubling as a pair of Chinese poles. Indeed there was a good deal more of Mr. Sukroo on display than expected as he scampered around the stage looking for his errant costume, sending the kids in the audience into paroxysms.

Giant clothes pegs became springboards for the acrobats, huge model credit cards were stacked on each other to provide a precarious tower for tattooed daredevil, Mitch Jones, Tara Silcock balanced giant sized cocktail umbrellas in a huge martini glass, and Rose Chalker McGann performed a graceful tissu act before returning to sing a wry song about tolerance and diversity but “Not in My Backyard”.   

More chaos for the kids when a cheeky sheepdog tried its best to herd a flock of un-cooperative jumbucks through the auditorium, before joining a jolly snagman at a barbecue to sing some rousing verses of “Worship My Webber” to a tune which sounded remarkably like  “Waltzing Matilda”.

Live music, created onstage by Ania Reynolds and Jeremy Hopkins, accompanied an endless stream of heart-stopping feats. Among them, a brave girl narrowly avoiding knives thrown at her refrigerator, an acrobat performing with huge steam irons on his feet, another juggling Red Head match boxes, and the pretty girl who balanced on revolving sticks.  The final scene involved the whole cast performing all sorts of tricks hanging from a rope ladder suspended high above the stage.

It may be 40 years old, and a bit more sophisticated, but Circus Oz still retains all the unique vitality, energy, and originality that have made it famous the world over.

                                                    Photos by Rob Blackburn 

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com.au

The Widow Unplugged

The Widow Unplugged or An Actor Deploys written and performed by Reg Livermore.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, July 26 – September 1, 2018.

Director – Mark Kilmurry; Set and Costume Designer – Charles Davis; Lighting Designer – Christopher Page
Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 19

I reckon Arthur Kwick, janitor, employed by awfully wealthy Gina Rinestone, CEO of Time and Tide Nursing Home, not only to keep the place clean (no swearing) and proper (what, no drinking!!?) but to keep the “children” entertained, got a bit confused about 1969.  It seems from his published history that his alter ego Reginald Liveforevermore didn’t actually play Widow Twankey in the pantomime Aladdin that year, but acted in The Mikado in a revue devised by William Orr at the Doncaster Theatre Restaurant, Kensington, Sydney.

This news is important as you will find later, but in the meantime you will enjoy absolutely this ockergenarian vaudevillain, full to the goog as he is of malapropisms galorious.  Since most of the Sunday afternoon audience at The Ensemble were, like me, about as old as Kwick and his creator – approaching 80 – it didn’t seem odd to find ourselves enrolled as a bit past it, needing to have things explained.  Laugh?  You wouldn’t believe it!

Now in straight review mode, let me explain that Reg Livermore is certainly not past anything.  He is as spry, verbally and intellectually on the ball as he was as Alfred P Doolittle in Opera Australia’s terrific My Fair Lady when he was still only 78 last year (reviewed here August 31, 2017).  He didn’t tell us, as Arthur Kwick, how he had trained with Hayes Gordon as a founder member of The Ensemble Theatre-in-the-Round in the late 1950s.  Like Kwick, my memory can be a bit unreliable nowadays, but it’s quite likely I saw the real Reg in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound in 1969, perhaps when I took students to observe Hayes Gordon directing a rehearsal (though that may have been for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel in 1971, which Reg wasn’t in).

I may seem to be rambling a bit, but this is how Livermore’s play works – wandering through the memories – at least for the first 45 minutes.  Then after an interval (essential for a visit to the dunny by that time), we see Reg as Kwick, as the Widow Twankey.  I had forgotten, from my very young days in England, how Aladdin was supposed to be a middle-eastern story (by those people with that religion, says Kwick – what’s it called?  You know with the mosques – that’s right, the Mosquitoes).  But Aladdin’s mother, Widow Twankey, runs a Chinese laundry (including laundering money, says Kwick), and racist Chinese jokes abound.  How did this happen?  Go to Wikipedia as I did, and you find that Kwick’s characterisation is true to the tradition: 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Widow_Twankey .  So Reg has done his homework – but I just wondered if his acting in The Mikado in 1969 had got mixed into Kwick’s story of acting Widow Twankey in that year for J.C. Williamson.

The importance of Livermore’s show is how, behind the humour, there is a story of an insecure living.  Arthur Kwick has a sad ending, as at the last a nurse cheerfully settles him in his bed in the tiny attic room that Gina Rinestone has given him.  He works for no more than board-and-lodging, and we realise – with sympathy and appreciation for the entertainment he has given us – that his erratic storytelling means he is really just another of the “children”, whose only way out is “through the back door”.

On the serious side, here we see in action the theme of the current Platform Paper by Mark Williams called Falling Through the Gaps (Currency Press) about “Our Artists’ Health and Welfare” (see this blog August 10, 2018). As Williams notes, “At the welfare level, there are terrible dangers of falling through the gaps between psychic satisfaction and material security in their career path” and he mentions the fact that fame as an actor does not imply wealth or even health.  In Livermore’s play, Gina Rinestone (ie Australia’s wealthiest woman) is the opposite of Arthur Kwick, the dedicated actor sleeping on the streets after his men’s home burns down (not because they were smoking, he assures us). 

He talks his way into the janitor’s job (that’s the skill he has as an actor): though it’s only one step up from the vagrant’s home, and Gina won’t let him smoke, it’s the best security he can get – at the age of nearly 80.  Of course, it’s not my place to ask personal questions, but Reg Livermore’s Arthur Kwick ends up in the same place as Helen Mitchell, that is Dame Nellie Melba, who died in poverty.

Let’s just hope that Reg will live for quite a while yet, even though Liveforevermore is just my little joke.  He has an AO award already, and now deserves to be gonged a Living Treasure.

Dan Leno
as Widow Twankey
Theatre Royal
Drury Lane
London 1896
Photo: Alfred Ellis

Reg Livermore as Arthur Kwick as Widow Twankey

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Calamity Jane.

Adapted by Ronald Hammer and Phil Park from the stage play by Charles K. Freeman after Warner Bros. film written by James O’Hanlon. Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Music by Sammy Fain. Directed by Richard Carroll. Musical director Nigel Ubrihien. Choreographer Cameron Mitchell. Production design. Lauren Peters. Lighting designer Trent Suidgeest. Sound designer and operator Camden Young. Assistant director Dash Kruck. Associate lighting designer Benjamin Brockman. Wig designer Lauren Proitti.Une Eyed Man Productions in association with Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Company. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. August 16 – 19 2018.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Lauren Peter's design for Calamity Jane. Photo. Jeff Busby
What a whip-cracking show this is! Why would a professional company want to stage a Fifties musical about characters in the backwoods of nineteenth century America? What relevance could that possibly have for Australian audiences of today. Where to start? Well, let’s start with a fabulous production of a classic musical for starters. Then there are fabulous performances that fling this musical from the Fifties fair and square into any time where people live out their everyday lives, their hopes, their fears, their dreams, their struggles and their relationships with the people in their unique community. Then there is the fabulous vision for this revival by director, Richard Carroll who has brought his inspired production of Calamity Jane to Canberra’s lucky strike audiences. Virginia Gay’s fabulous and utterly extraordinary performance of gun-toting, straight talking, tough tomboy Calamity Jane whipcracking and straightshooting her way through an unwitting and secretly suppressed femininity. Hers may be the lynchpin to this brilliant show’s success, but she is supported by a superb cast who bring this tale of the backwoods to hilarious and poignant life for today’s audiences.

Anthony Gooley as Wild Bill Hickock,
 Sheridan Harbridge as Susan,
Virginia Gay as Calamity Jane
Rob Johnson as Francis Farmer, and Laura Bunting
Photo by John McRae
The success of Carroll’s production lies in its authenticity. It is the characterization that lifts Calamity jane above the stock revival of a musical. Rather than simply remembering the songs and paying only scant critical attention to the performances and the script, audiences are drawn into a world, so often fantasized, and yet made startlingly real by the actors. Gay’s Calamity is a complex conundrum, conditioned by her environment to take on a man’s characteristics, and yet struggling to come to grips with feminine longings and emotions. Her momentary attraction to Katie Brown (Lauren Bunting) heightens the confusion, which is also compounded by her romantic love for the handsome Lt. Danny Kilmartin (Matthew Pierce). Anthony Gooley is no Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickock. He makes Hickock a straightshooting,no fooling backwoods hombre of the real Wild West. Every character is the real McCoy. There is the loud rambunctious Henry Miller (Tony Taylor) who runs the Golden Garter Saloon. Sheridan Harbridge doubles as Miller’s “niece” Susan, and Chicago chanteuse, the idol of every hotblooded male’s heart, Adelaide Adams, whom Katie is impersonating when mistaken for Adelaide by Calamity. Rob Johnson gives a perfectly pitched and comical performance as entertainer Francis Farmer, at times appearing to channel Michael Crawford’s Frank from Some Mothjers Do Have Them.

Much of the appeal in Canberra’s Playhouse arose from the show’s intimacy and the company’s occasional clever ad libbing, versatile instrument playing and improvised engagement with the audience. One poor unsuspecting audience member who has joined those seated on the stage as patrons of the saloon is roped in as Joe the Barman. It’s a deft and enjoyable piece of audience participation that always brings a laugh at the good natured victim’s expense The tight ensemble of eight including musical director, Nigel Ubrihien on piano kept the show rollicking along with old favourites “The Deadwood Stage”, It’s Harry I’m Planning to Marry, Windy City, My Secret Love and The Black Hills of Dakota, sung with gusto and tantalizing harmonies.

Back Row: Nigel Ubrihien, Tony Turner ,Rob Johnson
 Sheridan Harbridge/. Front Row: Anthoney, Virginia Gay,
 Laura Bunting and Natthew Pierce. Photo: John McRae
Gay’s performance is a tour de force of comic timing, ribald, raunchy bravura, combined with homespun na├»ve innocence and knock your socks off rough toughness. Hers is the definitive Calamity, giving Doris Day’s mantle a good old dusting. I’m a real fan of Doris Day’s Calamity, but Gay turns Calamity inside out, spins her around and gives us a living, breathing real life character. Here is an unforgettable performance.
The last stagecoach has left Canberra for other towns and I urge anyone to do what is necessary to get a tickt for this fun-filled, crazy, happy and superbly staged ride. If I can’t get a genuine Australian musical of this calibre, then I wouldn’t want to miss out on this sharp shooting revival that had audiences on their feet for the wedding finale and a production that knocked them out of their seats.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Nigel Ubrihien (MD) - Anthony Gooley (Wild Bill Hickock) - Virginia Gay (Calamity Jane)
 Laura Bunting (Kate Brown) - Mathew Pearce (Lt. Danny Martin)

Photo: John McRae
Directed by Richard Carroll – Musical Direction by Nigel Ubrihien
Choreographed by Cameron Mitchell – Designed by Lauren Peters

Lighting Design by Trent Suidgeest – Sound design by Camden Young
Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse – 16th – 19th August 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens                                                                                                       

Big, bold, brash and brassy, this exuberant re-imagining of the 1950’s cult film, which starred Doris Day as Calamity Jane, hits the bull’s eye in every department. The deceptively rough-and- ready presentation, disguises a brilliant concept by Richard Carroll,  in which a cast of just seven accomplished actors, and one-hard working musical director, fill the stage with all the characters necessary to breathe new life into this almost forgotten musical.

Tony Taylor as Henry Miller in "Calamity Jane"

Photo: Jeff Busby
Lauren Peters has designed an evocative environment which effectively converts the Playhouse into the ramshackle wild western saloon, with audience members seated around tables on stage, and fairy lights reaching out into the auditorium, to create an immersive experience for everyone else. Her decidedly unglamorous costumes strike exactly the right note.

And who needs an orchestra when the actors can play their own instruments? Tubas, trombones, ukuleles, drums and a revolving piano, are called into service as required. Some songs are even sung acapella, particularly effectively for “The Black Hills of Dakota”. Wigs, mustaches and even members of the on-stage audience, are utilized by the cast to conjure up a myriad of supporting players to hilarious effect, with the audience included in the fun addressed directly with topical asides and comments.

Central to the success of this concept is Virginia Gay’s brilliant performance as Calamity Jane. Gay has created a remarkably authentic character, whose confusion as to how she fits in, is disguised under a bumptious exterior. Her attempts to emanate the men around her are hilarious, and her confusion at her feminine responses ignited by her friendship with blow-in Katie Brown, are genuinely touching.

Perhaps the real surprise of this production is how well each of the actors are able to snap out of the hilarity of the horse-play to focus moments that are often quite moving in their authenticity as the story progresses. Laura Bunting, captivating as Katie Brown, Anthony Gooley, wonderfully ridiculous as Wild Bill Hickock, Sheridan Harbridge, saucy and sophisticated in contrasting roles as Susan and Adelaide Adams, Rob Johnson, rather  adorable  as the gormless Francis Fryer, Matthew Pearce both funny and sincere as the hunky Lt. Danny Gilmartin, and Tony Taylor, hilariously and continuously frustrated as Henry Miller, each contribute special qualities to their characterizations which make this production particularly memorable. Oh, and that hard working Musical Director, Nigel Ubrihien, proves not  only a dab-hand on the revolving piano, but quite the master at creating his own memorable moments.

Tony Taylor (Henry Miller) - Virginia Gay (Calamity Jane) - Sheridan Harbridge (Susan Miller)

Photo: Jeff Busby

Though this Canberra season of “Calamity Jane” is all too short, this production is moving to Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney for an extended season and you’d be mad to miss it.

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS  on 17.08.18


Circus Oz
Concept and Artistic Direction: Rob Tannion
Canberra Theatre to 18 August

Reviewed by Len Power 17 August 2018

Circus Oz was founded in 1978 and has since performed in 27 different countries, across five continents.  Their shows have been described as ‘an intimate spectacle of unrelenting energy, humour, multi-skill playing, surreal imagery, grace and strength, fully integrated with a live and original musical score’.

In this production, entitled ‘Model Citizens’, the cast of 10, including two musicians, performed a breath-taking series of acrobatic routines employing every-day objects from modern life such as safety pins, irons, knives, fire, clothes pegs, credit cards and even laundry hanging on a line.  What they did with them was anything but ordinary.  Seeing normal sized people interacting with these giant-sized objects created an almost surreal, dream-like experience.

The production design by Michael Baxter is an attractive realization of Rob Tannion’s concept for the show.  The complex lighting design by Maddy Seach is colourful and complements the production design very well.  The costumes by Laurel Frank are imaginative and with humorous touches that work nicely.

The performers displayed extraordinary athletic and performance skills.  There were enjoyable flashes of irreverent humour throughout the show, especially one cheeky routine involving underwear and another of dizzy sheep being chased around the theatre by a ferocious sheep dog.  The enormous credit cards stacked to a dizzying height with a performer balancing on top was deliciously scary and the routine performed by the girl in the cocktail glass balancing and rolling umbrellas with her feet was skilful and elegant.  There were aerial ballet routines of great beauty, terrific acts involving hoops and juggling and a grand finale involving breath-taking stunts on a high rope ladder strung across and above the stage.

All of the performers displayed winning personalities as well as good comic timing.  The original music score suited the tone of the show and there were a couple of good songs as well, one with clever lyrics about ‘Diversity’.  It’s difficult to credit individual performers as there was no program for the show.

This was a hugely enjoyable production that delighted the large audience of adults and children.

Photos by Rob Blackburn

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.

Model Citizens - Circus Oz

Circus Oz – Model Citizens, at Canberra Theatre Centre, August 17-18, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 17

“Circus Oz explodes back onto stage, audaciously unpacking the myths of modern Australia in their latest high octane circus show Model Citizens, the first creation fuelled by new Artistic Director Rob Tannion.

Model Citizens seamlessly blends the risk and beauty of breathtaking physical improbability with theatricality, choreography and Circus Oz’s distinct brand of Australian humour.”

There’s always a risk in pumping up the promotion that expectations might not be met.  This time around, Circus Oz needs more dramaturgy to create a clear storyline to unpack the "myths of Modern Australia" and a lot more originality in choreographic design to reach the heights of distinct Australian humour for which the company was famous from its beginning.

I suppose it is unfair or at least unfortunate for the young, and very competent, performers today to be judged by this particular critic who was lucky enough to see that wildly satirical and sometimes quite gruesome 1978 performance.  The title Model Citizens would seem to open up possibilities, but apart from a meaty song about diversity – “but not in my backyard” – and another about loving one’s Weber (which has probably mainly served to increase that brand’s sales), the humour was mildly funny and the message sometimes a bit too obvious and other times just lost in the physical improbability.

The set design of a nondescript kind of diagonal wall with an inconsequential turret at each end was hard to interpret.  A prison wall perhaps, but the message never came through.  It kept the very busy two-person orchestra partially hidden, and it seemed to be used only to give the fire-breather (who was rather frightening to the very young children near me) an access to the high wire – or rather high horizontal rope ladder – which was cleverly used to make human trapezes.

Perhaps, considering the very high proportion of very young popcorn munchers in the audience (who dismally failed the opening instructions, including to always clean up your mess – which did suggest more biting satire to come); perhaps it was OK to keep the intellectual level simple.  Of course the show was enjoyable, what with a kelpie chasing sheep all over the paddock (that is, where we were sitting), the gymnastic skills good (though I have seen better), and live musical accompaniment very effective.

So, entertaining in an ordinary sort of circus way, but not quite the explosive, audacious, and improbably absurd Circus Oz I have come to know and love.

Photos by Rob Blackburn