Friday, May 21, 2010

EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Watchdog Productions.
Tuggeranong Arts Centre,
May 11-15 2010.

It is rarely a good idea for an author to direct their own play, and this production is a very good example of why this is so. Written and directed by Joanna Weinberg, "Every Single Saturday" is a promising idea which explores relationships which develop between four parents who meet every week to cheer on their children at soccer. The show contains some well-written songs and interesting ideas about parenting and body image, which are never really explored, however it requires much slicker and more focused direction than it receives here if it is to reach its full potential.

As presented in its 'world premiere' at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, with no set and only op. shop costumes and props, "Every Single Saturday" looked and played more like a workshop than a fully realised production.

The talented quartet of Melanie de Ferranti, Sara Grenfell, Matt Young and Geoff Sirmai struggled to find a coherent performance style, vascillating distractingly between realism and broad over-acting, making it difficult to care for the characters, or the issues they were portraying. One of the best songs in the show "Fatty" was destroyed by inappropriate 'choreography', while the unnecessary interval, and superflous, heavy handed, cod-opera finale, did little to help matters.

None-the-less it was refreshing to see an original Australian musical on stage and Tuggeranong Arts Centre's initiative in bringing Joanna Weinberg's "Every Single Saturday" to Canberra is applauded.

An edited version of this review was published in "City News" May 20-26 edition.

"CATS" reviewed by Bill Stephens

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and David Atkins Enterprises
in association with the Really Useful Company Asia Pacific
From 16th May 2010.

Based on poems by T.S.Elliot, Andrew Lloyd Webbers' musical "Cats" defies categorization. With no real storyline, relying largely on dance to create atmosphere, the show has continued to intrigue and entertain audiences around the world ever since it first premiered at the New London Theatre in 1981. It played on the West End in London for 21 years and on Broadway for 18 years.

Having seen the original Australian production of "Cats" in 1985, and several other productions since, I was curious to see if the show still retained its magic, and am delighted to report that in this new production, playing a limited season at the Lyric Theatre, Star City, the magic is as potent as ever.

Actually this production is not that new. With its Australian cast, it has toured extensively in South Korea and China, returning to Australia in 2009. It has played short seasons in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth before finally moving to Sydney, where it is playing for just three weeks before returning to Manila and Taiwan.

None-the-less its as shiny as a new pin, with the original Gillian Lynne choreography, and Trevor Nunn direction intact, both carefully reproduced by Jo-Anne Robinson. Robinson was involved in creating the original West End and Broadway productions, and has since directed and choreographed "Cats" worldwide. Her involvement insures the stamp of authenticity and that we see this classic show as it is meant to be seen.

John Napier's original garbage-tip design, here beautifully lit,looks as mysterious as ever on the large Lyric Theatre stage, and the cats costumes and make-up just as wondrous. So were the thrilling opening minutes of the show when cats eyes flashed all around the theatre, and the delicious surprise when the cats mingled with the audience during interval.

The sound quality throughout is excellent, allowing the lyrics to be clearly heard. The dancing of the ensemble is excellent, and while it is hard to recognise individual performers under the heavy cat make-up, Shaun Rennie, as Munkustrap, sang superbly and Adrian Ricks dazzled with his athleticism as Mr. Mistoffelees. Delia Hannah added pathos to a fine voice to stop the show with her stunning rendition of the big hit song "Memory".

Although it's been fifteen years since Sydney last saw a professional production of "Cats", it has been worth the wait, because this excellent production provides a relatively rare opportunity to enjoy one of the century's most original music theatre experiences. If you've not yet seen a professional production of "Cats", this is your opportunity.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Walworth Farce

The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh, performed by the Druid Theatre
Reviewed by Stella Wilkie
This horrifying, extraordinary piece formed, for me, a unique experience in my theatre-going life. I was appalled by the story but dazzled by the production and performance. Perhaps I should admit that, at my advanced years, I lean towards happy endings, which this play certainly did not have, but can still try to dip my toe in hidden terrors and admire the skills and insights that bubble up.
The play is set in a tiny apartment on the 15th floor of the Walworth Building (near Elephant and Castle – London). Here live Dinny the father of Sean and Blake. Since Dinny lost his job six years ago, he enforces a rigid life on himself and his two sons, wherein he plays out the journey from Ireland and the events leading to it. This ritual takes place every day; the only one to leave the house is Sean, when he is sent to Tesco’s for the ‘running props’, six cans of Harp, fifteen crackers with spreadable cheese, ten pink biscuit wafers and a cooked chicken (think of it, every day for the last six years). The sons act out all the other parts which include lightning changes into skirts, wigs (all tattier and smelly as time goes on), For me, this was the true horror rather than the Grand Guignol ending. The ritual is broken by the wrong bag of groceries being brought in and the later appearance of the Tesco cashier, a black girl.
Why do I admire it? Mainly for the skill and total reality evoked by the actors. Their movements sometimes reached a balletic accuracy, and I believed every minute. I feel I have been fed a banquet – even if it tasted nasty.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Out of Strathnairn opening by Jon Stanhope, ACT Chief Minister

Out of Strathnairn opening by Jon Stanhope, ACT Chief Minister, at Belconnen Arts Centre, May 7, 2010. Exhibition until May 23.

By Frank McKone

The exhibition is the first in a newly established relationship between the Belconnen Arts Centre and the Strathnairn Arts Association. The curator is Peter Haynes, Director of ACT Museums and Galleries.

In conversation with me Jon promised a “rambling” speech, rather like a rambling rose as it turned out. There were no thorns, but several blossoms of reminiscences of his quite frequent visits to Strathnairn, including something of the history of the old homestead, an interesting arts non sequitur connecting his turning the first sod on McCubbin Rise (in North Weston, Molonglo Valley) earlier in the day to Strathnairn (the house was built about the same time McCubbin died), and his request to be a gardener on the proposed landscaping which he insisted must consist of fruit trees.

In keeping, I guess, with his appreciation of the arts, the landscaping should not be merely decorative but must have depth of meaning. So it should bear fruit.

The biggest blooms, which I imagined in bright Texas rose yellow, were the announcements of $100,000 to build two new studios for practising artists, and another $100,000 for repairs and refurbishment of the homestead, in this year’s ACT Budget, which follow other similar grants in recent years.

It was pleasant to see a genuine warmth of response to a politician’s speech in this era of cynicism, as the Chief Minister spoke with real affection for Belconnen, where he has lived for 40 years, for the arts of the region and the importance of cultural life in general.

Belconnen Arts Centre is open 10:00am to 6:00pm Tuesday-Sunday.
118 Emu Bank, Belconnen, Canberra.
Tel: +61 2 6173 3300

Strathnairn Arts Association Inc. is a not for profit arts association supported by the ACT Government that provides working spaces and facilities for a range of artists and crafts people and community groups.

Strathnairn Homestead Gallery is set in a converted 1920s homestead on the north-western outskirts of Canberra. Located 900 metres past the Magpies Belconnen Golf Club turnoff, it's a facility which has been used by artists for decades but still remains one of Canberra's best-kept secrets.

Location address: 90 Stockdill Drive, Holt ACT 2615
Postal address: PO Box 4746, Higgins ACT 2615
Phone: (02) 6254 2134
Fax: (02) 6254 6924
General email: info [at]

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Good, better, best," Humphrey McQueen speaks about reviewing

The ACT Writers Centre and the Canberra Critics’ Circle present

"Good, better, best,"

Join us for a glass of wine and hear Humphrey McQueen speak about evaluation and the practicalities of reviewing.

Humphrey McQueen is a freelance historian and cultural commentator. Widely known in Australia through his books, radio commentaries, articles and public speeches he is in demand as a guest lecturer, critic and consultant.

McQueen is the author of 19 books that cover history, the media, politics and the visual arts. His articles appeared regularly in the Bulletin and his two classic books of Australian history, A New Britannia and Social Sketches of Australia, were reissued in 2004. His latest work is A Framework of Flesh - the first instalment of his research into the history of builder’s labourers and their unions. His website is

When: 5 for 5.30pm, Tuesday 25 May

Where: Fireplace Room, Gorman House Arts Centre,

Ainslie Avenue, Braddon

Cost: $10 non-members, $5 ACT Writers Centre and Canberra Critics’ Circle members, payable at the door. Bookings required on 6262 9191 or

Helen Musa, Convenor CCC