Wednesday, December 12, 2018

THE ILLUSIONISTS - Direct from Broadway

Directed by Neil Dorward – Composer and Musical director: Evan Jolly
Lighting Designer: Paul Smith – Costume Designer: Angela Aaron
The Canberra Theatre until 16th December 2018

Performance on 8th December reviewed by Bill Stephens
If you’re willing to have your mind boggled then this is the show for you. Eight world class illusionists, each subtitled with a label indicating their specialty, bring a twenty-first century spin to timeless classic illusions of the type which continue to delight and intrigue willing audiences.

This new iteration of “The Illusionists”, first seen in Canberra in 2015 as “The Illusionists 1903”,  has been touring the world ever since. Now commencing the Australian section of its world tour, with new settings, sexy “Hunger Games” inspired costumes and state-of-the-art lighting and technology, the show is even more astounding than before.
Mark Kalin (The Showman) & Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress)
Mark Kalin (The Showman) and the gorgeous Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress), still head the cast list, and with good reason. Specialising in large scale illusions, Kalin’s ability to make the comely Leigh disappear right under the watchful eyes of a group of on-stage audience members, is jaw-dropping.  When she appears later in a dazzling red sequined gown, elegance personified, to dance with a floating yellow moonlike globe, Leigh is mesmerizing. 
An Halim (The Manipulator)
 The rest of the cast are new for this tour and surely among the best in the business. Handsome and mysterious, An Halim (The Manipulator), whose almost unbelievable mastery of card manipulation takes the art to new heights. His act is enhanced by overhead cameras projecting images on to large screens above the stage to allow the audience to watch every movement. Elsewhere video cameramen dash around the stage, projecting real-time images onto overhead screens so that the illusions become even more unfathomable.
Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil)
John Goodwin (The Daredevil) pays tribute to Harry Houdini by recreating his famous stunt of escaping from a straight-jacket. But Goodwin takes it even further by setting himself alight while suspended upside down above the heads of the terrified audience. You can actually feel the heat from the flames.

Cheeky Chris Cox (The Mentalist), astounds with his ability to read minds, Robyn Sharpe (The Warrior) confounds by recklessly plunging arrows into a cardboard box containing an assistant, and Kevin James (The Inventor) charms with a beautiful sequence in which he goes into the audience to select a little girl to whom he gifts a paper flower he has made float in front of her astonished eyes before turning it into a luscious red rose. Later he enchants another group of children by conjuring up a veritable snow storm.

Yes! The show does include a lot of audience participation, particularly children who jump at every opportunity to be involved, because they quickly pick up that they will be treated with respect and not embarrassed by participating. And because kids are so transparent and harder to fool, their astonishment at the illusions adds to the magic.
Jeff Hobson (The Trickster)
Keeping the whole show flowing and adding to the spectacle, dapper Jeff Hobson, (The Trickster) displays a collection of tuxedos dazzling enough to make even Liberace drool, while keeping the audience convulsed with his captivating line of cheeky double entendre.


 This Review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW


Sunday, December 9, 2018


THE ILLUSIONISTS – DIRECT FROM BROADWAY. Executive and Creative Producer. Simon Painter. Executive Producers. Tim Lawson. Andrew Spencer. Alexandra Hirst. Directed by Neil Dorward. Composer and Musical director Evan Jolly. Lighting Designer. Paul Smith. Costume designer. Angela Aaron. Canberra Theatre.  December 6-16 2018. Bookings 62752700

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


If seeing is believing, then how does one explain a young girl’s wide-eyed look of astonished disbelief as The Inventor (Kevin James) turns a floating paper rose into a real long-stemmed bright red rose before the young girl’s very eyes. Trickery or talent that defies belief? Is it smoke and mirrors or the strange workings of our deceived minds that can make The Mentalist (Chris Cox) read the mind of an utter stranger with such uncanny accuracy and turbo charged delight at his success? Or where do cards materialize in the astonishing sleight of hand of The Manipulator (An Ha Lim)? If cameras do not lie on close up, how can he transform the familiar images on a pack of cards into images of the various Illusionists? What powerful sorcery does The Conjuress (Jinger Leigh) possess  to make a glowing ball suspend and move in mid-air, or what magic does The Showman (Mark Kalin) employ to bring The Conjuress to life within a boxed-in room, surveyed for evidence of illusion by six random members of the audience?  Magic is in the air and illusion is its weaponry. More perilous is the spectacular cross bow, fiery act of The Warrior (Robyn Sharpe), almost as breathtaking as The Daredevil (Jonathan Goodwin’s heart-stopping escape from a strait jacket while doused in fuel and on fire. Keeping the audience entertained with camp banter and flame extinguishing fire eating danger is The Trickster (Jeff Hobson), who completes this jaw dropping band of mind blowing illusionists.
The Daredevil. Photo Mark Turner
Young and old alike will marvel at the sheer spectacle and phenomenal skill of their artistry, displayed with the audacious, mischievous showmanship of the performers. Be amazed! Be very amazed! Trickery and illusion is an art forged in the secret chamber of constant practice.  As one of the company warns: “Children don’t try this at home.”  The age old secrets, freshly minted for our age of technical wizardry still hold the wonder of the years when Harry Houdini invented his deadly art of escapology. Nail-biting, edge of the seat anxiety takes its breathless grip at the feats of danger, while relief accompanies the bewildering art of mind reading or the Trickster’s comical banter. Some of the acts may seem familiar, though no less puzzling, while new acts, slick as oil upon the watery surface or dazzling as glittering quartzite in the sun transport audiences beyond the theatre to a magical land of bewildering wonderment.
The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway serves up a feast of tricks and magical treats to satisfy every appetite for the incomprehensible and the awesome.  Unforgettable and tantalizingly perplexing, this is a show for the whole family and an entertainment not to be missed!

The Inventor. Photo: Mark Turner

Saturday, December 8, 2018


Canberra Theatre to 16 December

Reviewed by Len Power 7 December 2018

Watching ‘The Illusionists’ gives you back that intense childhood sense of wonder you thought you’d lost.  Their performances are slick, colourful, spectacular and incredibly involving from start to finish.

The show tours internationally with eight magicians.  They perform a full range of magical illusions, some classical and some new.  While children will love it, it’s not aimed specifically at children.  Some of the humour is quite adult but nothing to be concerned about.  All of the performers are vocally confident and they are all obviously at the top of their game.

There is a lot of participation by members of the audience.  As the show progressed and it became clear that the participation wasn’t threatening or embarrassing, many audience members showed their keenness to take part.

Jeff Hobson, known as ‘The Trickster’ in the show performed as an amusing Liberace-style compere and performed some amazing tricks himself.  ‘The Daredevil’, Jonathan Goodwin, does the most edgy performances of all.  His thrilling strait-jacket escape is a fiery and fitting tribute to the great magician, Houdini.

Jonathan Goodwin - 'The Daredevil'

Illusionist, Kevin James, introduced as ‘The Inventor’ in the show, involved children delightfully in two standout items, one involving a rose and the other concerning snow.  His work with the children created immediate trust and will probably result in more than one of those children wanting to be a magician when they grow up.

Kevin James - 'The Inventor'

Korean magician, An Ha Lim performed the most magical and complex card tricks and Chris Cox was extraordinary and very entertaining with his mind-reading act.  Mark Kalin and Jinger Leigh performed brilliant illusions, especially disappearances from boxes and a trick involving rings from audience members.  Robyn Sharpe gave us an exciting act involving sharp spikes and a performer inside a cardboard box.

Production values for the show are very high with an attractive set and a large projection screen so that even the most intimate illusions can be clearly seen from anywhere in the theatre.  The lighting design is excellent as are the well-chosen dramatic music and sound effects.

This show really delivers an evening of incredible magic and this rave review is no illusion!

Photos by Mark Turner

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.

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Written by Geoff Page – Directed by Kate Blackhurst
Set designed by Rohan Moss – Lighting designed by Ben Pik
Sound Design by Neville Pye
Presented by The Acting Company and Shadowhouse Pits
The Courtyard Studio – Canberra Theatre Centre – 4 – 8 December 2019

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

How pleasant to come across a play where the main character looks back at her life, not with regret about lost lovers or missed opportunities, but with satisfaction on what fate has handed her.

In this final play in a trilogy of verse plays written by Canberra playwright, Geoff Page, which commenced with Laurie and Shirley, followed by Cara Carissima and finally Coda for Shirley, Shirley is now 81 years old. She has written her will, and knowing that her two daughters, Sarah(Nikki-Lynn Hunter) and Jane (Elaine Noon), will not be pleased with her decisions about what they consider to be their inheritances, decides to write them a letter explaining her motivations.

During the course of the play, we hear Shirley’s version of events, the daughter’s versions of the same events, as well as from Jen (Alex McPherson) the almost-wife of one of Shirley’s two adult grandsons, and herself an unwitting beneficiary of Shirley’s will.

Page’s poetry is witty and graceful.  The actors are largely successful in achieving a naturalistic delivery of the verse so that the listener quickly becomes involved in the storytelling, only occasionally being jolted by an obvious or misplaced rhyme.

Micki Beckett gives a charming portrayal as Shirley, now confined to a wheel-chair by hips that haven’t worn as well as she has. She’s content with her 30 year marriage to Ted, and unrepentant of her late-in-life fling with Lawrie, after Ted had died. She has no delusions about her daughter’s ambitions, and loves them in spite of their flaws and their disapproval of her relationship with Lawrie. She derives particular pleasure from the attentions of her two adult grandsons, both university drop-outs, one to pursue dreams of becoming a rock star, the other to work in community health.

Director Kate Blackhurst has opted for a static production, with the emphasis on the delivery of the writing. Rohan Moss’ appropriately simple set design has Shirley seated in a wheelchair centre stage for the duration of the play. Her two daughters’ occupy stools at a bar on one side of the stage, with the other side taken up by a large circular garden swing from which the almost-wife of one of her grandsons delivers her lines. Each area is illuminated as required to indicate changes of locale. The rhythm is leisurely and the delivery concise, giving the play a dream-like quality.

This works very well at first, because the play is mostly concerned with memories. However the lack of visual stimuli together with a surfeit of details referencing events dealt with in the first two plays, together with a succession of false climaxes towards the end suggesting some reluctance by the author to let go of his characters, leaves the impression that as enjoyable as it is, “Coda For Shirley” would benefit from some judicious cutting and tightening.

This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Written by Geoff Page
Directed by Kate Blackhurst
The Acting Company in association with Shadowhouse Pits
The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre to 8 December

Reviewed by Len Power 4 December 2018

The third part of a trilogy by Geoff Page, ‘Coda For Shirley’ follows on from ‘Shirley and Lawrie’ and ‘Cara Carissima’.  Shirley, now in a nursing home, talks about her will.  Her two very different daughters, Jane and Sarah, discuss the will after Shirley’s death while reminiscing about their mother and their past relationships.  Jen, the girlfriend of grandchild, Jack, provides a next generation perspective to the story.

Like the earlier plays, this gentle, affecting story is written by Geoff Page in verse.  It works very well, giving the play a slightly dreamy touch which suits this memory play perfectly.  The carefully chosen words flow beautifully and they effortlessly provide colour and depth to the characters.  We don’t find out what is in Shirley’s will until late in the story and this adds a nice tension to the play.

Working in verse requires skilful playing.  Director, Kate Blackhurst, has obtained fine performances from her cast of four women.  At the centre of the play, Micki Beckett is thoroughly believable as Shirley, playing all facets of her colourful character with warmth and assurance.  Elaine Noon excels in a measured performance as the more down-to-earth sister, Jane.  Nikki Lyn Hunter, who also played Sarah in ‘Cara Carissima’, gives a finely edgy performance of a bitter woman who suffers from self-deception.  Alex McPherson is a strong presence as the grandson’s girlfriend, Jen, displaying a more forthright and self-aware personality than the sisters.

The simple set design by Ronan Moss works very well and is well lit by Ben Pik’s lighting design.  Neville Pye adds some nicely subtle sound effects to the action.

The pace of the show has been well judged by the director and it moves from scene to scene quite seamlessly.  This is a story we can all relate to and ‘Coda For Shirley’ is an enjoyable and satisfying end to Geoff Page’s trilogy.

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.

Coda for Shirley

Coda for Shirley by Geoff Page.  Presented by The Acting Company in association with Shadowhouse Pits at The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, December 4-8, 2018.

Director – Kate Blackhurst; Lighting Design – Ben Pik; Set Design – Ronan Moss; Sound – Neville Pye

Micki Beckett as Shirley; Nikki-Lyn Hunter as Shirley’s elder daughter, Sarah; Elaine Noon as younger daughter, Jane; Alex McPherson as Jen, Sarah’s daughter-in-law.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 4

Coda for Shirley is perhaps the final part of a verse-play trilogy. 

I missed Shirley and Lawrie, about their loving relationship (she in her seventies; he aged 81), largely on a romantic tour of Europe, some years after the death of Shirley’s dependable but less than exciting husband of 30 years, Ted.

In Cara Carissima (reviewed here December 17, 2015), we saw public servant Barry, Sarah’s husband, leaving her for Cara, his executive assistant; and leaving her with two sons.

Now Shirley, once again on her own since Lawrie accidentally drove into an elm tree and was killed, is in need of hip replacements and has had a heart attack, leaving her wheelchair-bound in a nursing home.  Knowing she may not live long, she writes to her daughters in a poem, about the terms of her will, leaving most of her estate directly to Sarah’s sons, rather than to the daughters.

So the stage has three settings: Shirley downstage centre with the will, in her wheelchair next to a small table; the two sisters upstage on our right at a kitchen bench with glasses and a supply of wine bottles; on our left a swinging garden chair for Jen, who with the boys had formed a modern quality rock band named Noise.

All speak in rhyming couplets: Shirley presents her poem, which she has written and sent to her daughters, directly to us; Jen speaks to us as if we are present at a funeral which she attends with the two boys (is it their father Barry’s funeral, or Lawrie’s – I lost track somewhere at this point); while Jane and Sarah talk to each other behind the fourth wall as we see them becoming tipsy discussing their mother and her will, trying to avoid (and failing) talking about men.

Though they can see how their mother’s late-in-life fling with Lawrie gave her a new sense of freedom after a conventional married life with their father Ted, Lawrie has upset the apple cart by leaving his estate to Shirley. 

There is little action, each set position being lit independently, and so one has to concentrate essentially on the spoken words.  Though the sets and costumes were well presented, as time went along (for an hour and a bit) I felt I could quite happily close my eyes and listen.  I thought of the ABC ad for Radio National iView. 

But more suitably I found myself misquoting Dylan Thomas – Shirley goes reasonably quietly into that good night – taking me into thinking of Under Milk Wood – A Play for Voices. 

And I have seen this done before as a theatre production, as if the audience were in a radio studio but not able to see the performers. All That Fall by Samuel Beckett (which he said was “for voices not bodies” and was broadcast by the BBC in 1957) was presented by Pan Pan Theatre, Ireland, for Sydney Festival at Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre, University of Sydney (reviewed here January 18, 2014.) with the audience seated in rocking chairs among surround-sound loudspeakers.

This really did not work very well, but I suspect that Coda for Shirley would be very effective on radio.  Or it could be done with an audience as if in a studio, as The Goons did so succesfully.  Or by taking the idea of the All That Fall production, but gather the audience in small groups, each around a loudspeaker, as if each were a family listening in as we used to do in the 1950s.

After all, it is family that this poem-play is about – of the three generations (even four when Shirley recalls her father’s part in World War II) – and gathering around the wireless seems to me to feel just right.

Frank McKone’s reviews are also collected together at

Monday, December 3, 2018

Enjoyable Concert Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Soloist Kristian Winther and conductor Shilong Ye. Photo: Peter Hislop
50th Anniversary Concert 
James McCusker Orchestra
At Albert Hall, November 30. 

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Originally composed for military band, the “English Folk Song Suite” by Ralph Vaughan Williams was arranged for full orchestra by his student Gordon Jacobs in 1924. Two pieces from the suite served as a sparkling opener to a most enjoyable concert by the James McCusker Orchestra under the baton of their talented and comedic musical director Shilong Ye.

Celebrating their 50th Anniversary since founding, this student orchestra were joined by many alumni for the occasion.

The opening march, “Seventeen Come Sunday” featured two beautifully played clarinet solos from section leader Kieran McConville whilst the second “Folk Songs From Somerset” featured effective use of percussion.

Excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” revealed challenging work for the brass section, who after a shaky start, rose to the occasion beautifully with sustained and powerful fanfare style playing in the opening “March”. Percussion once again featured and added a huge body to the sound in the final Russian Dance, “Trepak”.

The “Symphony No. 40” by Mozart presented the greatest challenge for our young players, albeit teamed up with more experienced alumni and was variable in success. One thing to bear in mind with youth orchestras, particular the JMO, which is a training orchestra, is that the students need to experience the stamina and concentration required to play a large scale work. Whilst some tuning problems and slow tempi marred the overall enjoyment of the piece, the orchestra none-the-less played it through successfully from start to finish - all four movements - and delivered the overarching unity of the piece as a whole which drew to a satisfying conclusion. Of particular merit was the oboe solo in the final Allegro assai played with feeling and beauty by section leader Gudrun Ursula Drake.

Guest artist and alumni Kristian Winther  gave a brilliant and virtuosic performance as violin soloist in Mendelssohn’s “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” with a sensitive and well played accompaniment by the orchestra. It was the highlight of the concert, appreciatively received with deafening applause from the audience. In addition, Mr Winther made himself available to play within the first violins during the preceding Vaughan Williams, Tchaikovsky and Mozart, which was a humbling and inspiring gesture.

Photo: Peter Hislop
To finish this very special evening, the orchestra played selections from Kander and Ebb’s famous musical, “Chicago”. Opening with a well played and suitably night-club style muted trumpet, the band bounced into life in this exciting medley of show-tune hits and played convincingly and with gusto.

One particularly special moment at the end was the acknowledgement of special audience guest, distinguished violinist and teacher Josette Esquedin-Morgan, first teacher of Kristian Winther. The two embraced after the concert, providing some superb photo opportunities.

The Music for Canberra organisation continues the rich tradition of classical music training and ensemble for young people in Canberra. The experiences offered are a huge opportunity for all involved to enrich their lives through fine music. Under the leadership of their new CEO and artistic director Dr Stephanie Neeman, the future seems in excellent hands.

First published in City News Digital Edition, November 2018