Thursday, March 15, 2018

Oedipus Schmoedipus - Canberra Theatre

An anatomy lesson on death (photo by Rob Maccoll)

Review by John Lombard

“I’m going to die.”

Oedipus Schmoedipus rests on a great idea: ransack the classic plays by “Great White” males for death scenes, and stitch them together in a gory and glorious absurdist romp.

And that is exactly what Post performers Mish Grigor and Shelly Lauman delivered in the first ten minutes of the performance. The darkness lifted on the pair dressed all in white in front of a white backdrop, like a pair of sociopathic painters. In a montage set to rap they then re-enacted a cavalcade of death scenes: tongues were cut out, hands severed, poison quaffed, and there was every variation of stabbing. The blood that spurted out decorated both the set and the performers’ clothes.

After this strong opening, the play opted for a deliberate lull: cleaners tried to mop the stage, filling it with more blood before finally wiping it clean. While this sequence was intended to defuse our expectations, it went on for too long, and erased the momentum created by the strong opening.

The pair returned with microphones, and begin an oral dissertation on their theme: death in theatre. Theatrical death has weird rituals: the dead body must always be surrounded by candles, mourners inevitably shake with grief, and the dying always need some snappy last words.

These descriptions were acted out by an ad hoc troupe recruited mostly from Canberra local theatre. This group was given only a few hours prep, and followed instructions on a teleprompter: odd numbers shake, or evens wail. In an absurdist flourish one of these local performers carked it quite early, and spent the rest of the night lying on the stage as a dead lump. A lot of the fun came from watching this barely oriented group being thrust into weird situations.

The performance had a tendency to over-explain itself, and highlighted a lack of inclusion in the classical canon at the expense of the more relevant, but equally ripe for satire treatment of death in modern plays. The pair made a joke about the title of Angels in America, but the content of a 1991 play about death by a gay playwright was outside the show’s satirical remit. Even Willy Loman’s famous demise was too "modern" to make the cut.

The volunteer performers took over the stage for the finale, each individual - young and old - making a sober announcement that they were going to die, before performing a choreographed boogie of death.

The show was sometimes moving, and sometimes very funny, but the analytical approach to the topic struggled to match the visceral energy of the opening. Often the night felt like a revue of loosely connected sketches rather than a unified idea: famous death scenes were put on the spit, but not turned enough to receive a full roast.

Oedipus Schmoedipus entertains, but puts the catharsis before the hearse.


Written by David Auburn
Directed by Derek Walker
Tour director: Tyran Parke
FREEFALL Productions
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 17 March

Reviewed by Len Power 14 March 2018

In 2001, ‘Proof’ won both the Tony Award on Broadway for Best Play and also the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  The play focusses on Catherine whose father, a brilliant mathematician, has just died after a long illness.  In the days immediately following his death, Catherine’s relationships with older sister (Claire) and young student (Hal) are tested.  The issues of sibling rivalry, mental instability, trust and genius are brought to the surface with an electrifying discovery in Catherine’s father’s papers.

This thought-provoking play has been well-directed, originally by Derek Walker and by Tyran Parke for the current tour.  All but the father character of the original Sydney cast are in this touring production.

Former Canberran, Ylaria Rogers, returns to this region for the first time professionally as Catherine.  She gives an excellent performance of great depth in the role of the troubled daughter.  Appearing mostly in flashback, Gerald Carroll really gets under the skin of the father character, Robert, and plays his conflicting aspects very well.  Alexander Brown as Hal, the student, achieves a nicely na├»ve quality as a young man with his own self-doubts and dreams and Julia Christensen gives a strong performance as the well-meaning but pushy older sister, Claire.
Alexander Brown as Hal and Ylaria Rogers as Catherine.  Photo by Michael Snow.
Set design by Jeremy Allen is attractive and substantial.  Lighting designed by Alex Berlage provides a strong atmosphere for the outdoor setting and cleverly signals the shifts in time as the play progresses.  Costumes by Christopher Pitcairn, based on original costume designs by Caitlin Hodder, have been well-chosen for the characters.

The play is unpredictable as it progresses.  The first surprise, occurring early in the play, grabs your full attention from that point onwards.  You’re then drawn deeply into the action and really care for these characters.  Beautifully written, directed and performed, it’s a play you’ll remember for a long time afterwards.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Can You Hear Colour? 

Collaboratively created by Naomi Edwards, Alan John, Kathryn Sprout,Ben Flett,Michaela Burger, Bethany Hill and Sally Hardy with Nathan O’Keefe, Tim Overton and Chris Petridis. Directed by Naomi Edwards. Composed by Alan John. Designed by Kathryn Sprout. Patch Theatre. AcArts Main Theatre. Adelaide Festival . March 9-15 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Patch Theatre's Can You Hear Colour. Photo: Paoli Smiths'

With its latest production, Can You Hear Colour, Patch Theatre continues its fine tradition of providing high quality theatre experiences for very young children. Before the play begins a member of the company talks with the small children who have been brave enough to leave their parents in the tiered seating and sit along the front of the stage. In a gentle, friendly voice she asks “What is your favourite ice-cream flavour?’ and “What is your favourite colour?” Eager arms shoot into the air.
Suddenly a girl (Michaela Burger) comes dancing onto the stage, leaping at leaves and listening to them. She has the gift to hear music in Nature and see colour in Nature. Every leaf she holds has its own musical sound, and in a world where music is so often a background accompaniment, the young audience is encouraged to listen for and hear  the unique components of music and see colour without distraction. The children’s eyes sparkle as their vivid imaginations take flight and Alan John’s composition fills the stage with music and song.
Like every good story, there is always a problem to be solved.  A captor of colour (Alan John) enters to remove the leaves strewn across the stage and bottle then in a colourless glass container, while the young girl runs to rescue them.  A dithering, comical figure, speaking in rearranged sentences, the bumbling villain of the piece is easily outwitted, but continues his quest to find the Rainbow Bird (a gloriously sung operatic performance by Bethany Hill). What ensues is the struggle to bring colour back to the world. And teach the colour captor the beauty of music and colour in his world.
Like every good story, an You Hear Colour” ends happily ever after and the girl’s gift restores colour to the beautiful Rainbow Bird and the man removes his drab colourless clothes to reveal a rainbow coloured costume beneath. And all delight in the magical world of colour and music.
Director Naomi Edwards directs this story with simple, easy charm. There is no high flying technical wizardry, although there is the magical appearance and disappearance of colour in the glass jars. There is no evil, terrifying villainy, but only the foolish, silly collector of colours. There are no  complex notions or facts, but only a delight in the imagination and the love of colour and music in the world around us.
Patch is a company with perfect understanding and appreciation of its target audience. Burge’s central character is as innocent and playful and imaginative as her young audience and adults too can delight in this production’s colour, music and infinite charm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018



Liz Lea in "RED" 

Devised and performed by Liz Lea

Choreographers: Vicki van Hout, Virginia Ferris, Martin del Amo and Liz Lea
Dramaturg/Mentor: Brian Lucas - Original Music composed by Alexander Hunter

Cinematographer: Nino Tamburri - Lighting Designer: Karen Norris

Costumes designed by Liz Lea, Brian Lucas, Bruce Scott and Brooke Giles

Ql2 Theatre, Gorman House, Canberra

Performance on 11th March, 2018 reviewed by Bill Stephens
Liz Lea in "RED"

How remarkable that such a painful affliction as Endometriosis, could inspire such a beautiful work as “Red”.  Endometriosis is a condition which affects a woman’s reproductive organs. Current Canberra Artist of the Year, Liz Lea, has suffered from this condition for the last 20 years, though few outside her closest friends would have known.

During this time she has pursued an extraordinary career as a dancer/choreographer and mentor. How she managed to achieve this, and the price paid, is revealed in her astonishingly personal, and occasionally confronting, new dance work, “Red”, which premiered in the QL2 Theatre.

Lea’s career as a professional dancer has ranged through commercial dance, Indian classical and contemporary dance. All these styles are represented in “Red”, which despite encompassing input from many collaborators including three choreographers, a dramaturg, a composer, various designers, and a cinematographer, in addition to her own contribution, emerges as a remarkably coherent, powerful and moving dance-theatre work.
Liz Lea in "RED"

“Red” commences gently with a beautiful filmed sequence featuring Lea, red silk billowing behind her , slowly moving across a bridge to a haunting version of Gluck’s aria from “Orpheus and Eurydice”. A male voice-over intones “She thought she could have it all, love, family, travel and a white picket fence”.  This striking introduction morphs seamlessly into a series of compelling sequences, some involving Lea addressing the audience directly as details of her struggle with Endometriosis begin to emerge.
Liz Lea performs "She Bangs" in "RED". 

A powerfully athletic sequence, choreographed by Vicki van Hout, expressed her frustration as the undiagnosed symptoms began to appear. Virginia Ferris choreographed a flirty, defiant showgirl sequence to Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs”, while Lea herself choreographed a quasi-nightmare sequence in which twelve mature dancers in sparkling black dresses carrying red fans circled around her as she succumbed to the effects of prescription drugs.

Liz Lea and dancers in 'RED"

 Each section involved costume and hairstyle changes which were skilfully accomplished by Lea, whose professionalism shone through every element of her performance, from her arresting narrations, delivered with confidence and humour,  to her beautifully polished dance technique, notable for its innate  elegance and impeccable sense of line.

Liz Lea in 'RED"

As the performance moved towards its climax, Lea appeared wearing an elegant full-length red coat. She sat down, applied red lipstick to her lips and bright red paint to her fingernails, while gently confiding the advice given to her by doctors treating her condition. Suddenly she stood up, let the coat fall to the ground, revealing an elegant short black cocktail dress with killer-heels Jimmy Choo shoes.

As the haunting Gluck aria from the beginning of the show recommenced, Lea moved to the centre of the stage, where, standing in a tight, bright, spotlight, she began a slow, mesmerising, beautiful and defiant dance, choreographed by Martin del Amo, which allowed the audience a moment to reflect on what had gone before, marvel at the resilience and bravery of the performer they had been watching, and be moved by the determination and grace with which she faces the future.

Liz Lea with Greg Barratt and David Turbayne in "RED"

                                                           All photos by Lorna Sim
This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.





That’s Life.

Presented by Carla Anita Mattiazzo. Directed by Vince Fusco. Percy Court Studio. The Lab. Queens Theatre. Adelaide Fringe. March 9-11

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Carla Anita Mattiazzo


Intimacy is best served by an intimate space. It is why I was concerned when I discovered that Carla Anita Mattiazzo’s cabaret style performance was a deeply felt revelation of the personal pain inflicted by her mother’s decision to walk out on her family after forty two years of married life. That’s Life is an account of the trauma caused by the mother’s departure and an attempt to understand and come to terms with such a significant event. It is a personal tale of betrayal and confusion; a search for answers in a bewildering situation.
Unfortunately, the towering Queens Theatre, now a shell with little appeal, is not the ideal space for such an intimate and revealing tale of family pain. Mattiazzo strikes a commanding presence in her long dress and silhouetted against a backlit cyclorama. As she softly breaks into a song that comes from the  aching heart, accompanied on piano, the lights fade up enough to make out her statuesque figure on the raised dais.
What follows is a confessional with one important difference. In Mattiazzo’s eyes and through her dramatic account of events following her mother’s departure, it appears that it is the mother who has sinned and broken up the family. In dramatic terms this creates a theatrical flaw. We only ever have one side of the story, and the performance becomes repetitive. Certain incidents such as the visit to her mother a year later and the subsequent wrath of her mother’s siblings during the incident is unresolved and the audience is left to contemplate the other side of this sorry event.
Mattiazzo’s talents are apparent. She has a strong voice, though somewhat forced at times due to the amplification in the large space. Intimacy is sacrificed to amplified vocals and when she drops to a  lower register her voice becomes breathy and indistinct. There is a deep emotional depth to her performance, to be expected from a personal story that has had such a profound effect on her and her father and brother. However, a performance, unconstrained by the absence of well-written, interestingly structured dramatic development, is diminished by an obvious lack of effective dramaturgy. At the close of the performance, Mattiazzo is left with no resolution other than to espouse the virtue of love. There is a congregational call to demonstrate and cherish love. It is a noble sentiment, but That’s Life lapses into private therapy and indulgence.
I am assuming that Mattiazzo is just embarking upon a career in cabaret. She has the talent to develop into a very fine performer, and she was fortunate to be accompanied by an excellent musician but with strong direction and a skilful dramaturge, Carla Anita Mattiazzo has the potential to become a cabaret artist with the power to move and excite audiences. I look forward to one day possibly seeing her perform on the Adelaide Cabaret Festival stage.  

Monday, March 12, 2018


Ryan Bondy, AJ Holmes and the cast of "The Book of Mormon" 

Photo: Jeff  Busby
Book, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone

Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker - Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw

Scenic Design by Scott Pask - Costume Design by Ann Roth

Musical Direction by Stephen Oremus

Lyric Theatre, Sydney

Sydney premiere – 9th March 2018 – reviewed by Bill Stephens

Zahra Newman, Ryan Bondy, AJ Holmes and the cast of "The Book of Mormon" 

Photo: Jeff Busby

If you’re comfortable laughing at jokes about raping babies, AIDS and female circumcision, and seeing Ugandans portrayed as foul-mouthed yobbos, then you’re going to love “The Book of Mormon” as much as the Sydney opening night audience clearly did.

Written by the team responsible for the hit television series, “South Park”, and the musical “Avenue Q”, the humour is deliberately offensive, blasphemous and racist, it pushes the boundaries at every opportunity. It’s also  a brilliantly written, ridiculously funny, rapier sharp assault on organised religions told through the adventures of two naive graduate Mormons, Elder Price (Ryan Bondy) and Elder Cunningham (A.J.Holmes) who, for their first assignment, are posted to an unsuccessful mission in Uganda run by Elder McKinley (Rowan Witt). Here, they find themselves in a hostile environment in which the locals have more to worry about than listening to sermons from well-meaning missionaries.

Phyre Hawkins farewells Ryan Bondy and AJ Holmes on their journey to Uganda.

Photo: Jeff Busby

Ryan Bondy, as the Golden Boy, Elder Price, and A.J.Holmes as the Jerry Lewis-ish, habitual liar, Elder Cunningham, delight with pitch-perfect bravura performances that immediately establish the cheeky tone of the show. Both have played these roles in American companies of the show, but they blend perfectly with the energetic ensemble, which includes former Canberran, Billy Bourchier, and who, besides playing multiple roles, execute Nicholaw’s demanding choreography with confidence and panache.

Zahra Newman triumphs as the progressive village girl, Nabulungi. Her duet with A.J. Holmes, “Baptize Me”, with its sly double entendre, provides one of many highlights during the evening.

Zahra Newman invites A.J. Holmes to  "Baptize Me"

Photo: Jeff Busby
Sugar-coated with Broadway pizazz in which Casey Nicholaw’s inventive choreography wittily references other Broadway shows, and a succession of catchy, serviceable songs to keep toes a-tapping, “The Book of Mormon”, is brilliantly staged, wonderfully entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking.

While it may not become your favourite show, it will certainly rate among the more memorable, and the most talked-about. So you’ll certainly have to have seen it to join the conversation. Add it to your “must see” list.

        This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.


KINGS OF WAR. by William Shakespeare.

Directed by Ivo van Hove. Translated by Rob Klinkenberg. Adaptation by Bart Van den Eynde and Peter Van Ktaaij. Composer Eric Schleichim. Costumes An D’Huys. Toneelgroep Amsterdam. Festival Theatre. Adelaide Festival Centre. Adelaide Festival. March 10 – 13. 2018.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

KINGS OF WAR. Toneelgoep Amsterdam; Photo: Jan Versweyveld
After its triumphant appearance at the 2014 Adelaide Festival with the Roman Tragedies, Toneelgroep Amsterdam return with the company’s internationally hailed production of Kings of War. Over four epic hours, director Ivo van Hove and his ensemble of seventeen superb actors play out their adaptation of William Shakespeare’s history play, Henry V, Henry Vl Parts 1,2 and 3, and Richard lll Toneelgroep’s theatrical masterpiece spans the fifteenth century from Henry v’s conquest of France at Agincourt through the subsequent loss of territories under his son, the weak and manipulated Henry Vl (Eelco Smits) to the defeat of the Plantagenet King Richard lll (Hans Kesting). at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and the ascension and coronation of Britain’s first Tudor, Henry Vll.
Ramsey Nasr as HenryV. KINGS OF WAR Photo: Jan Versweyveld
As I look at the images of future and past monarchs from Prince William to Henry V  as they flash upon the large projection screen, I am reminded of the Chorus’s introductory words from Shakespeare’s Henry V: “Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France?” let alone a century of battles, intrigues,, murder and regicides. Toneelgroep lends credence to the prophetic words of Richard ll at an earlier time: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”.  
For those fortunate enough to have been amazed by the company’s earlier production of Roman Tragedies, Kings of War will also surprise and jolt one out of any complacent revisiting of familiar works or traditional productions of Shakespeare’s chronicled histories. The production opens on a vast stage, representing a war cabinet room with a kitchenette, a large central table, a single bed and computer screens. Above the kitchenette, trumpeters herald the various coronations. From the central room long white corridors lead to other parts of the palace. The production is spoken in Dutch with surtitles in English, except during Henry V’s courting of the French princess, Katherine, when they appear in French.  It is a scene, rich in comical awkwardness, and as modern as any attempt to express oneself without a common language.
A roving video camera operator follows the action, capturing close-ups that are projected onto the screen while the real action occurs on the stage, and pre-recorded footage captures the deaths of characters and Henry Vl.’s bewildered wandering between a herd of oats, gathered in the cramped and narrow corridor. 
Eelco Smits as HenryVl. Photo: Jam Versweyveld

A steely tension charges through the unrelenting history of the time. Dressed in modern day clothes, and accompanied by the technology of our time, the actors play out the political drama with a powerfully understated will. Driven by their lust for power, their cruel ambition and their unremitting intent,the members of the court grapple with their dangerous survival tactics. Desperate means to desperate ends may have changed during the passage of time, but van Hove’s production reminds us of the universal nature of power-hungry ambition. Except for the historical facts occasionally projected on the screen, and the ritualistic placement of the crown upon the king’s head and an ermine cloak upon the shoulders, Kings of War contains a salutary commentary on our time.

Hans Kesting as Richard lll in Kings of War
The court of kings could as easily be contemplated as corridors of political power in  parliaments of today. Even Shakespeare’s verse is pared back and couched in contemporary idiom. An audience may still recognize the vestige of Henry V’s speech on the Feast of Crispin as it rises to almost fanatical crescendo. The power of the passionate orator still reverberates with the language of Shakespeare, stripped back to speak to a modern age. The audience is caught in a web of engagement, one moment watching manipulative and insidious political and personal machinations happening upon the stage, and then gazing on true intent in an actor’s clos-eup before glancing swiftly at the translations above the stage. There is no chance to veer away from the production’s immense power. A moment missed may still be captured as the performance carries the audience along, lurching from one murderous act or bitter confrontation to another.
Bart Slegers as Edward lV. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Van Hove’s actors are the masters of their craft. Some are recognizable from Roman Tragedies. All are one. This is ensemble work par excellence. Flawless in their understanding, brilliant in their ability to capture the hearts and minds of an audience and absolutely unique in portraying the individual nature of their character, each actor seamlessly fuses past and present in a magnificent portrayal of the universal human condition.
The final image stands as a lineage of monarchs, their wives, their chidren and the kingmakers of the court. At the head of the line stands Henry Vll, played by Ramsey Nasr, who also plays Henry V. The drama has come full circle with the promise of a new beginning. The production stands high as a gripping and enthralling re-imagining of Shakespeare’s histories. Van Hove holds as ‘twere the mirror up to nature” in which we see the reflection of the past within the reality of our present. It is no wonder that the audience leapt spontaneously to their feet in rapturous ovation.