Friday, July 22, 2016


Directed by Katie Cawthorne
Canberra Youth Theatre
Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre to 24 July

Review by Len Power 21 July 2016

Canberra Youth Theatre’s ‘The Verbatim Project’ presents a slice of sixteen individuals’ experiences in their lives so far, provoking the question, ‘Does age matter? In the end aren’t we all just having human experiences?’

This one hour presentation involves ten 13 to 15 year old performers and six from the 65 to 80 year old range.  Katie Cawthorne’s production is entertaining as well as thought-provoking.  Starting from audio and video interviews with the performers, the production has been developed into a theatrical experience using those interviews in various ways.  Some moments are scripted using words and expression as originally heard in interview while others use the device of ‘headphone verbatim’ where performers listen to the voice of someone else, while repeating exactly what they’re saying with the same rhythm and expression.

What is particularly exciting about this production is the way all the elements have been brought together into a complete theatrical experience.  Using only a number of uniformly coloured chairs on a bare stage, the cast create vivid dramatic moments through voice, movement and stillness.  Everyone onstage displays great confidence and skill in their playing through a series of concepts involving age, gender, anxiety, war, love, family, justice and death.  Particularly powerful was the relating of the experiences of an older and a younger person to different wars.

The assured and imaginative direction by Katie Cawthorne makes this a very compelling production.  She is aided by the excellent lighting design by Brynn Sommerville which adds to the atmosphere as does the sound design by Ethan Hamill and Kimmo Vennonen.

Being a part of this troupe of performers must have been a great learning experience about theatre and life in general.  For an audience it’s a production to enjoy and remember.

Len Power's reviews can also be heard on the Artsound FM 92.7 'Artcetera' program from 9am on Saturdays.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Extinction by Hannie Rayson

Extinction by Hannie Rayson.  Red Stitch Actors Theatre and Geelong Performing Arts Centre production at Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, July 20-23, 2016.

Director: Nadia Tass; Designers: Set – Shaun Gurton; Lighting, Photography and Video – David Parker; Sound and AV – Daniel Nixon; Costume – Sophie Woodward; Composer – Paul Grabowsky; Sound-system – Russell Goldsmith.

Cast: Brett Cousins – the veterinarian; Natasha Herbert – his sister, the academic ecologist; Ngaire Dawn Fair – his zoologist putative wife; Colin Lane – the ‘evil’ mining magnate.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 20

At first Hannie Rayson’s Extinction seems rather like a theatre-in-education exercise for adults.  This is not a bad thing.  It’s good to see a play raising the big issues of species extinction and climate change caused by human behaviour.  It’s also fascinating to see an ending in which at least the immediate future looks better for the animals in the forest (the Otway Ranges in Victoria) than for the other animals in the built environment of academia in Geelong (for non-Aussie readers, pronounced Jil√≥ng).

This is where the design team have done an especially wonderful job.  The locations of the many short scenes shift rapidly from surrounding forest with complete sound-scape (the tangled shapes and colours of the Australian bush) to the straight-edged reflective glass and concrete of the modern university.  Minimal furniture is moved on and off in dim-outs, while the video on the cyclorama transports us from location to location.  On the screen the computer, phone and security-door images – all essential to modern academic research – allow us to appreciate what the characters are seeing on their touch screens.

For once, here was technology entirely and properly integrated into the stage text.  I assume that the published play will include the dvd ready for playing while you read, or for a later director to use in a new production.

Acting was excellent in a play where the characters are, in a sense, written from the outside in.  Each has a characteristic attitude towards those big issues which defines their behaviour.  An interesting contrast in recent Australian playwriting is Andrew Bovell in Things I Know To Be True (reviewed here June 9, 2016) where characters grow from the inside out.  Both ways of working can work equally well.

In Extinction the Vet operates on his sick or injured animals, from cows, cats and dogs to tiger quolls, according to the Hippocratic Oath – which he takes to include applying euthanasia when there is no chance of normal living without pain.

His sister, the academic Head of Ecology Research, cannot reasonably refuse tainted money to rehabilitate the forest habitat for her tiger quoll study (a parallel situation to Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara where an arms manufacturer will supply funds for the Salvation Army).

The Vet’s potential wife, a Santiago zoologist leading the quoll research, heart warmingly mothers every animal – her oath does not include euthanasia.

Into this triumvirate Rayson injects a locally-born and raised farmer’s son who has become a coal mining magnate, yet with fond memories of his grandfather who, expressing his love for nature, had logged the forest.  Today’s realist offers the money made from open-cut coal mining, which both destroys good agricultural land and continues to worsen climate warming, to fund the tiger quoll research.  He may be ‘evil’ but he is also surprisingly sexually attractive to both women.

The play could be comedy, but only in parts.  It could be tragedy, as it also is in part.  It could be a sentimental story of hope despite adversity.   There is hope, but not mawkish sentimentality.  It’s an interesting study of life in the face of certain death, far beyond an academic concern about the extinction of quolls. 

The Vet’s story contains a secret that I must not reveal here, at least while Extinction is still a new play.  You must see the show to catch my drift.  You should see this show in any case, for its challenging ideas – and not least for the quality of its design and execution.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Vale Robert Foster, who played, challenged, and inspired


Obituary by Meredith Hinchliffe

ROBERT Foster, leading Australian designer, was killed last Wednesday July 13  in a tragic car accident.

The late Robert Foster with 'the jug'

Foster graduated with a BA (Visual) in Gold and Silversmithing in 1984 and completed a Post Graduate Diploma in 1986 from the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University.

In 1986 he immediately set up a workshop in Canberra and commenced work privately. His first solo exhibition – “Between Earth and Sky” – was held at Makers Mark Gallery, Melbourne that same year. He exhibited in many group shows in Australia and internationally for the next several years and held a second solo exhibition in 1991 – “Vessels” – at Studio Noko in Sydney.

Foster travelled to Europe, studying techniques, studio methods and design, returning in 1988. He undertook contract work at the Australian National Mint in Canberra for several years, and worked as a technician in the Glass Workshop and the Gold and Silver Workshop at the Canberra School of Art, adding valuable skills to his talent for design innovation.

In 1993, Foster established FINK + Co, the first product being one with which we all so familiar: “The jug, that from which to pour”, commissioned by The Republic, an edgy restaurant in Canberra. FINK was always intended to support and be part of a network or company of artists and designers.

Foster learned under the expertise of Ragnar Hansen and Johannes Kuhnen in the Gold and Silver Workshop. Here he learned the traditional skills of hollowware, and they were integral to his body of work. He had also experimented with anodised aluminium, chosen initially as an alternative to more expensive metals, such as silver. The first jug was a small edition, made using found materials and a simple press. He recognised immediately the potential for production processes for small scale production of functional objects – many of which are quirky but all of which function perfectly.

By 2013 over forty designs had been developed, some of which were produced in very small runs. Foster had collaborated with at least ten artists in developing the designs, which included diverse materials such as glass, jewellery and moulded plastic.

Robert Foster experimented continuously, always seeking another way of making or another object that could be made more easily or more efficiently, or which could be given a fillip.

All potential designs were given extensive research and development. He always had a deep knowledge of tool making and made most of his own tools, and other artists learned from his tooling practices.

Foster used his experiments and one-off designs to develop multiples – he never drew a distinction between exhibition works and production lines. Those who worked with him benefited from this knowledge and approach to making. Sean Booth, who developed a line of tableware for the Hyatt’s three restaurants at the National Museum of Australia when it opened in 2001, and manufactured at FINK, identified many lessons learnt on the studio floor, including economic use of materials and efficient time-management.

One of Foster’s first collaborators at FINK was Scott Chaseling, a highly-regarded glass artist, and they created “The Fink Large Bowl” in 1994, made from spun, powder-coated aluminium with thermo-formed acrylic. Other artists he worked with include Elizabeth Kelly, another glass artist, creating the “Fink Citrus Squeezer” in 1995 and the “FINK Shot Glasses” in 1999. FINK, in association with others, created a range of jewellery including brooches, bangles, pendants and earrings using diverse techniques.

These collaborations were highly valued by all those involved. Artists took their experiences of cross-fertilisation of skills and processes back to their individual studios, where they continued to develop and create works of art. Foster was generous with his experience and was willing to share – both through mentorships of younger craftspeople, or by inviting others to design for FINK. Artists retained copyright in their designs and their names remained associated with the product, being highlighted in advertising. They earned valuable royalties while establishing themselves and gained a professional reputation through their association with FINK. He also opened his studio and allowed others to use his equipment.

Robert Foster initially sent his products to Sydney to be anodised but there was a high attrition rate. Eventually, he set up his own anodising plant and offered this service to other industries in Canberra.

FINK went on to foster design and small production. The generosity of spirit that Foster extended to young graduates working in metal, glass and wood is a major legacy from which the Australian community will continue to benefit. They will be losers from his untimely death.

Foster began working with lights as early as 1997, when he created the “Fink Blink Lamp”, which used his fascination with magnets. Hanging lights followed in 2005, with perhaps his most recent project being the installation of two lights in the newly refurbished Members’ Lounge at the National Gallery of Australia, in the second week of July.

Foster was commissioned to create “The Journey” for the then new ActewAGL building in the city, launched in 2010 to celebrate the company’s tenth anniversary. This ever-changing light sculpture is a landmark work of public art in the city of Canberra.

Gretel Harrison, Foster’s partner, joined FINK in 1997 and has been the “frontline of the business” according to Elizabeth Kelly. Her strong background in marketing and graphic design helped create a range of promotional materials. She maintained an international presence at trade fairs and gained valuable research, product development and customer feedback – a vital element of the process of product development. Her work is always clean, elegant and imaginative, and the use of artists photographed with their work gave an accessible, human touch to the objects.

The principles of ‘play, challenge, and inspire’ lay at the heart of Robert Foster’s practice. It is impossible to quantify the impact he has had on Australian, and indeed international, design over the last thirty years. He has influenced probably hundreds of artists in countless ways. He was once described as having the ‘natural inquisitiveness of an engineer with the creativity of a designer’.

Robert Foster will be missed by the visual arts community in Canberra, in Australia and around the world, and by those who appreciated his beautifully made, whimsical and functional works of art.

He is survived by his partner Gretel Harrison and their two young daughters.

Date of Birth: August 23, 1962, Kyneton, Victoria

Date of Death: July 13, 2016, Kowen, NSW
This obituary first appeared at on July 15 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Directed by Stephanie McAlister
Musical Director: Liz Collier
Canberra Opera
Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest to 24 July

Review by Len Power 15 July 2016

The Puccini opera, ‘Suor Angelica’, was first performed in 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as part of the first complete performance of ‘Il Trittico’, an evening of three contrasting one act operas including ‘Il Tabarro’ and ‘Gianni Schicchi’.

Banished to a convent as punishment for bearing a child while unmarried, Suor Angelica is asked by a family member to renounce her inheritance in favour of her sister, who is getting married.  At the same time, she learns to her horror that her infant son had died two years previously.

Canberra Opera’s production, staged on the altar of the Wesley Uniting Church in Forrest, gains much from the atmosphere and acoustic of the church.  Director, Stephanie McAlister, has kept the production simple and focussed on the all important music.  It was pleasing and surprising to see the use of projected surtitles to keep the audience abreast of the story, which was sung in original Italian.

Karyn Tisdell gives a heart-felt performance as Suor Angelica, singing and acting the role very well.  Her performance of the difficult aria, ‘Senza Mamma’, was especially notable.  Janene Broere was imposing and effective as La Zia Principessa with her aria ‘Nel Silenzio’.  Louise Keast, Vivian Bachelier and Doreen Robinson sang well in the other principal roles.  The group singing of the chorus and principals was nicely done with pleasing and clear harmonies.  Italian pronunciation was also fine.  It was good to see the inclusion of the men’s and children’s chorus at the end of the opera.  The sound produced by the combined voices provided an emotional finale to the show.

Acting performances were a bit uneven amongst the cast.  There was a tendency to drop out of character and just stand there while not actually singing.  More individuality of character, given the uniformity of the nun’s costumes, would have provided added interest and it was not realistic having everyone walk slowly all the time as if in a procession.

Musical direction by Liz Collier was fine and her small orchestra played the score very well.  The sound produced by orchestra and singers was well balanced and quite beautiful to listen to throughout the one hour production.

Overall, Canberra Opera have done nice work here.  It’s a good opportunity to see a Puccini opera that isn’t done very often.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard in ‘Artcetera’ on Artsound FM 92.7 from 9am on Saturdays.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Divenire - Melbourne Ballet Company

Review by John Lombard

The Melbourne Ballet Company is the light infantry of dance, a lean strategic force that is nimble enough to scale mountains that would baffle a more cumbersome troupe, but one that lacks the raw power of a better-resourced company.

Their recent performance at The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre of the compilation "Divenire" demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of this company, delivering a night of top-notch ballet that could be considered either sparse or intimate.

"Divenire" was composed of three works, the titular Divenire (which translates as "becoming") followed by Illuminate and Lucidity.  Although the segments were the work of different composers and choreographers, these mostly abstract pieces were linked by their exploration of different forms of intimacy, from the personal to the social to the sexual.

Divenire, the creation of company artistic director Simon Hoy, was a gentle, dream-like piece set to the composer Ludovico.  Minimal set-dressing and simple, non-demonstrative costumes created an ad hoc feeling reinforced by the confident simplicity of the piece.  Here a dancer would offer an action that would be developed by a follower with their own variation, like a shadow snipped from its body taking on life.  I found this piece very introspective and was reminded of someone staring into a pond watching the ripples distort their face. 

This was followed after a short set change by Rani Luther's piece Illuminate.  After the soothing Divenire the lights came up on a bright white set and glaring yellow costumes, a vision of the future imagined by Stanley Kubrick.  The shock of this abrupt change prepared the audience of both the piece's uncomfortable, sudden movements and its brittle but involving score by Phillip Glass.  In this piece the dancers felt like cogs in a rusty machine, with individual performers breaking away from their painful social dance for brief spurts of individuality before being drawn back into the collective.  I was reminded strongly of the demands working life makes on the individual, and when at the end of the piece the dancers contorted into a single unit it felt as though they had been crushed into shape by social forces.

The night concluded with the lyrical, sexual Lucidity, a seductive piece accompanied by projected cosmic imagery.  This was a strong finish to the night with passionate music by Olafur Arnalds well-realised by Hoy's choreography.  This piece was for me dominated by the seduction interlude by choreographer Tim Podesta, a literal love scene that reinforced the overall sexual feeling of an otherwise abstract piece.  After the disquieting Illuminate this piece was a reminder that relationships are not only painful but also intense and joyful.

The performance was relatively brief at about an hour (excluding the interlude), but was met with an enthusiastic response from the audience.  I heard one declaration of "thank you" during the sustained applause.  Hoy has described his intention with Divenire to depict the "scroll of reality", and there is certainly a sense that the ceaseless movements of the dancers reveal the underlying order in endless change, like the infinite detail of a fractal pattern.  The show sometimes felt small in scale, but I was impressed by the potential of this talented company to take modern ballet into unconventional places, shedding the elaborate and fussy presentation of classical ballet for a direct relationship with the audience.  In many ways Divenire was an appetiser, but one shows great promise for a talented and creatively ambitious company determined to take ballet to audiences the bigger companies are too unwieldy to reach.


Review by © Jane Freebury

In the space of the three years since we saw Mystery Road, detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) has buckled a bit under the pressures and contradictions of his job. The hair is lank, the shoulders slumped and the look vacant. Being an Indigenous police officer appears to have taken its toll, and more in gesture than in words, Pedersen makes us feel it.


As a stranger on official business, Swan drives into Goldstone drunk as a skunk and is deposited in the clink until blood alcohol levels recede. The town’s only policeman, young Josh (Alex Russell), is pretty new to town himself.

Swan is on assignment to locate a missing person. Had it been an investigation into a missing Aboriginal person, then this would have probably been an altogether different film. Indeed, it would have been Mystery Road 2, but here the filmmaker Ivan Sen has extended his themes of cross-cultural relations ambitiously. After the opening montage of black-and-white photographs from the gold rush era that depict the exploitation of Asians and Aboriginal people in the early days, he brings the issue to front and centre. Young Asian women are being deprived of their passports, held hostage to pay for their fare to Australia and forced to work in prostitution. Like the stunning drama, The Jammed, that hit the big screen a while ago, human trafficking is at the core.

It’s no stretch locating the root cause of evil in Goldstone. It’s the town’s power couple, mine boss Johnny and Maureen the Mayor, industry veterans David Wenham and Jacki Weaver, respectively. Maureen's penchant for baking wholesome apple cakes and serving them up to those she intends to compromise makes sly mockery of homespun hospitality, while Johnny's penchant for neat beige shorts and long socks belie the darkness within. More nuance written into these characters, like the treatment of Tom E. Lewis’s character, the corrupt head of the Land Council, would have served the film better.

Like Mystery Road and Toomelah before it, and his first feature Beneath Clouds before that, the new film from writer/director Ivan Sen is magnificently photographed and really impresses with its sense of place, a place that means freedom to some, entrapment to others, like the women at The Ranch. Goldstone occupies land that the Indigenous community call home, but there are others who are just passing through, like the fly-in-fly-out miners who sleep in temporary accommodation and Pinky the self-employed prostitute who sees clients in her mobile home. Inhabitants of demountables and caravans who are all set to move on the moment that vast hole in the ground, the Furnace Creek open cut mine, stops production.

In what is one of the most interesting and unexpected aspects of this strong, stylish and confident film, Jay and Josh slowly form a partnership as they find themselves covering each other’s back. Not one but two solitary western heroes putting things to right. Two lonely cops pitted against a technologically superior elite, doing corrupt business deals over the heads of ordinary people. A story for our time?

Sen sent his camera into the air, sometimes aboard a drone, as though segueing from wide shot to aerial shot was the most natural thing in the world. The very talented Sen was the film’s editor and composer too. No wonder the stringed instruments and the editing rhythms contribute to the organic whole.

Had Sen been unable to balance the intended social critique with what audiences expect of the generic conventions he has deployed, Goldstone might not have come together so well. However, like Mystery Road before it, the film is a superior fusion of outback noir thriller and contemporary western—and another story to lay down on an ancient land.

Goldstone could become a classic of the Australian screen.

4.5 Stars