Friday, December 23, 2011


Music: Sergei Prokofief
Choreography: Graeme Murphy
Costume design: Akira Isogawa
Set Design: Gerard Manion
Lighting Design: Damien Cooper
Projections design: Jason Lam

The Australian Ballet - Sydney Opera House, Wednesday matinee, 14th December 2011.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

There is always a frisson of excitement in the theatre before the curtain rises on a new Graeme Murphy ballet. Audiences know that while his re-imaginings of the classics are unlikely to please everyone, they can depend that they will be wonderfully theatrical, intriguing, and perhaps even challenging. “Romeo and Juliet” was no exception.

Those who had read the reviews of the Melbourne season of “Romeo and Juliet” had a fair expectation that this production was certainly not going to be traditional. But then who expects a Murphy ballet to be traditional ? 

There were also other reasons for the excitement at this performance. A quick glance at the program revealed that this performance would be the first in the lead roles for Juliet Burnett and Rudy Hawkes, and that Josef Brown, last seen playing Johnny Castle in “Dirty Dancing”, was appearing as Lord Capulet.

Houselights down and the curtain rises on a beautiful scene of the two lovers encased in a giant shell, which splits apart, separating them in a lovely image which neatly encapsulates the essence of the ballet.

The action quickly moves to a teeming town-square during the Italian Renaissance. Two families with their respective entourages in  tow, all wearing spectacular costumes, sweep around the square making threatening gestures towards the other. Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time sparking off an energetic sword fight.
So far, lots of spectacular movement but not a lot of real dancing.

This comes in the next scene, when Romeo arrives over the wall of the Capulet’s moon-lit garden and attracts Juliet out on to the balcony. This is a lovely setting for a tender, rapturously executed pas de deux. Juliet Burnett and Rudy Hawkes were superb as the lovers, perfectly capturing the essence of youthful innocence and awakening passion as they revel in the danger of their first forbidden meeting . They could not keep their eyes, or their hands, off each other, all the while dancing with confidence and abandon. That they were able to maintain this feeling of ecstatic love throughout the ballet, while executing demanding, often seemingly dangerous choreography, made their debut performance in these roles particularly memorable.

Following this encounter Romeo meets up with his friends under a fog-bound bridge where they swim and cavort in the water, before walking over it (?) and even more strangely, meeting a group of cyclists and some Hari Krishna.

During the interval the audience has time to ponder over the significance of these latter developments.

The Act 11 curtain rises on a gorgeous Indian market scene and after an initial “What the…?” and a check of the music to ensure that this is not “Lakme – The Ballet of the Opera”, the realisation occurs that it is probably best to abandon all logic and simply enjoy the rather Cirque du Soliel spectacle.

This exoctic setting certainly offers the opportunity for some spectacular set-pieces, although the group dances would have benefited from some tightening up on the detailing, particularly the Indian hand movements for the men, which were disturbingly erratic. .

Later scenes occur in a brown African desert, a cave with a bed made of human skulls, and of course, Juliet’s bedroom, but curiously, by the end, when the curtain inevitably comes down on the dead bodies of Romeo and Juliet, instead of being irritated by the anachronisms throughout the production, I felt both moved and exhilarated.

So why Graeme Murphy's interpretation of “Romeo and Juliet” work so well for me? In his program notes Murphy writes “Love transforms and transcends, opening a door to reveal a different world, where time bends and stretches and landscapes appear both familiar and foreign”.  Got it !

Previously, during some versions of this ballet, I’ve often found myself bored watching choreographers struggle with literal interpretations of the events in the Shakespeare play about a young double-murderer who has sex with an underage girl. Why does it seem to take forever to get to the big pas de deux?

However in this version, by removing the realities, Murphy has focussed attention on the power of love, especially youthful love, and makes the journey as interesting as the destination .. that big pas de deux.

Therefore instead of worrying about what the cyclists, the Hari Krishna’s or indeed even the Indian Bazaar had to do with Shakespeare; Murphy's version of the ballet seems to be saying that Romeo and Juliet are so in love, and in a space where it doesn’t matter to them what’s going on around them, or where they are. Only their love matters to them, and if that can't exist, neither can they.  I'll buy that !

If you haven’t already done so, try and see this production for yourself. There is so much to enjoy including Akira Isogawa's lovely costumes, Gerard Manions clever set designs, the inventive lighting by Damien Cooper and the imaginative projections of Jason Lam. You'll also find lots to argue about with your companions after the performance.

By the way, in case you're wondering, Josef Brown makes a fine Lord Capulet. Hope we get to see more of him in future Australian Ballet productions.

The photos accompanying this review are of Kevin Jackson and Madeleine Eastoe and artists of The Australian Ballet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


QL2 Dance

Gorman House Arts Centre

17th December

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

                        Photo: "Reports Are Unconfirmed" by Ashleigh Musk and Courtney Scheu
                       Dancers L- R Courtney Schou. Lauren Grow, Ashleigh Musk, Emma Barnet
                                                       Photo by Lorna Sim

Now in its fourth year, “On Course” was QL2’s final program for 2011. It brought together current dance students from tertiary institutions around Australia to choreograph and perform a program of short works. The participants included many veteran Quantum Leapers, as well as other tertiary dance students from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and Deakin University, as well as some current Quantum Leapers, involved as dancers, working alongside the tertiary students.

This year “On Course” was presented for two nights in the QL2 Studios in Gorman house. It consisted of 15 works, each around 8 minutes in length. As many of the works on show were by choreographers who had previously been through the Quantum Leap experience, and who were now furthering their studies around Australia, the program provided an excellent opportunity to gain an overview as to how these young choreographers had responded to wider influences and experiences, as well as to see the work of other choreographers who had not previously participated in Quantum Leap programs.

Given the limited rehearsal period, and the fact that in many cases the choreographers were working with dancers new to them, the results achieved were, in some cases, quite remarkable.

As has become the norm with QL2 presentations, careful attention had been paid to the selection of appropriate music for each piece, and despite the length of the program, all the items were staged with the minimum of fuss, enhanced by attractive lighting, and smooth efficient scene changes, providing the choreographers with the best possible environment for their works.

Rebecca Lee’s stylish and confident “Ego-Pro” satirised the world of fashion modelling, utilising six dancers sporting heavy black eyebrows and outfitted in identical elegant, off-white costumes. Jessica Pearce chose to costume her four dancers in attractive plum-coloured costumes to engage in an up-beat exploration of physical and emotional attraction in her well-staged work “Energy Attraction”.

Mackenzie Burn drew on her experiences with a young autistic boy to create “Jack”, an engaging and accessible work danced by five dancers to the music of Xavier Rudd.

Bhenjamin Radburn also used original music by Leigh Hannah, and six dancers, for his piece, “Wild Like Kylie”, which despite featuring a pop princess and some interesting ideas, did not really convey its intention very clearly. Interesting ideas, not particularly well realised, also characterised Chloe Chignell’s more abstract “The Wild and the Perfect”. A piece for four dancers which contained some well devised unison movement.

Sean Gearon left no doubt as to his intentions with “Living with Lucy”, an amusing exploration of the frustrations of living with another person. Clear, economic movement and clever floor work were features of this engaging piece for two dancers.

Lovely floor work was also a feature of Mercie Taylor’s languid, beautifully danced “Breeze” in which she attempted to evoke a plastic bag blowing in the breeze. Jamie Winbank also chose to dance his own deeply personal solo work, “Stood Before You”, employing spoken word, carefully chosen contemporary songs, and a pair of red socks, for a work which was in turns poignant, funny and revealling.

Superb use of props, this time newspapers, made “Reports are unconfirmed“ by Ashleigh Musk and Courtney Scheu, a particularly memorable work. To the accompaniment of lush background music, the four dancers cleverly manipulated multiple pages of newspapers to create a flowing dreamscape in which they walked over, tossed about, and earnestly read, the newspapers, all the while creating beautiful images.

Photo "to hinder the passage, progress,etc., of.." by Lauren Grow
Dancer: Ashleigh Musk
Photo: Lorna Sim

Imaginative props were also central to Lauren Grow’s extraordinary piece, “To Hinder the passage, progress, etc., of “, which set out to explore the effects that foreign objects may or may not have on movement. One dancer (pictured) was wrapped in fairy lights, another covered in stick-on strips, and yet another danced among photo frames to create a series of unexpected, mesmerising stage pictures.

Ashlee Barton used tea candles and projected silhouettes to create a contemplative mood for her work entitled “Stripped Bare Until Empty”, and Ashlee Bye utilised chairs and four dancers to explore concepts of ‘originality’ in her work, which bore the rather unhelpful title of “After deciding not to go left I chose the path I did not think was right”.

No confusion about either the title or the content of Joel Fenton’s delightful, tongue-in-cheek, insightful creation, “ What is Contemporary Dance?” in which his five dancers skilfully demonstrated many of the clichéd moves associated with the genre, quite a few of which had already been utilised in the preceding pieces. This work was as funny as it was refreshing.

Funny, but in a completely different way, was Paul Jackson’s puzzling piece, “The Sky Might Fall” which had five dancers vocalising and trilling like birds, while performing what appeared to be warm-up excercises to music by Bjork. It was an intriguing finish for a fascinating and satisfying program.

Unfortunately, partly because of the large first night crowd, but mainly because not having consulted my program before I sat down, and therefore not realising that it was part of the program, I saw very little of the first item, “….in wonderland”, a dance film installation by James and Emma Batchelor. This work was presented at one end of the foyer, before the audience moved into the auditorium.

The performance ended with well-staged bows in which the dancers of each work regrouped, and were joined by the various choreographers for their bows, effectively highlighting how many dancers and choreographers had been involved, all of whom stayed onstage for a brief Q & A session, led by Ruth Osborne and Adelina Larsson, during which both audience and participants reflected on what they had just seen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Music from a Century of Leadership 1911 to 2011 - Band of the Royal Military College Duntroon

CD Review - by Clinton White

We in Canberra have become quite accustomed to expecting nothing but the best when it comes to the Duntroon Band; the best in music, presentation, quality – everything really.  And it seems unlikely that we have ever been disappointed in the Band’s delivery on that expectation.  Certainly in my 40+ years living in Canberra I have never been disappointed.

The Band’s centenary CD collection is no exception.  It’s a superbly presented 2CD set of 44 tracks of great music-making.

It’s a veritable variety show of music covering everything from military precision (like “Colonel Bogey”) through music hall madness (like “What a Nice Soft Job”) to music theatre delights (like “Over the Rainbow” or “You’ll Never Walk Alone”), 60s rock ‘n’ roll (like “Shout!” or “Hey Jude”) and jazz improvisations (like “In the Mood”).  If there was anything missing from the program, it might be a couple of classical tracks, because the Band is as capable in that genre as any other.

In a continuing theme of excellence, the quality of the sound is superb, too.  Even to the point of creating masterful authenticity with songs like “Our Don Bradman”.  Vocalists are well-matched to the songs, too. 

The extensive liner notes inform the reader of the genesis of the album, give interesting titbits about many of the tunes and exhibit some fascinating, if uncaptioned, historic pictures.

Putting together a variety program like we have on this album is a tough job, and the Band’s music director, Major Geoff Grey, certainly was up to the task.  He has designed a program that flows effortlessly and seamlessly through the various music styles and periods with great sensitivity for the music, creating a real sense of “concert”.

Historically, this album is important.  Musically, it’s a must for any CD collection.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen

Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen Michael Simic and Band at The Street Theatre, Canberra, December 8 and 9, 8pm; Sunday December 11, 6pm, following a Special Tribute to David Branson from 12.30pm.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Life is never predictable, as Mikelangelo himself might sing. Unforeseen circumstances beyond my control meant I had to leave at interval, but the first hour was already showing signs of predictability on the part of the Black Sea Gentlemen.

The disappointment for me was that Michael Simic’s style and songs had seemed so much better when I saw him as the Master of Ceremonies of La Clique in the Famous Spiegeltent at the Sydney Festival 2007. I wrote then of ‘his particular style of jaunty, naughty, funny songs of sex and violence’. This show is a retrospective of, as one song puts it, Ten years in the saddle, waiting for death to come, so it was not surprising that I should see reprises of material I might have seen before.

The difference was that La Clique was a cabaret-circus full of varied, surprising, intrinsically funny and often startling acts, counterpointed by the Mikelangelo droll gruesome humour. Simic’s critical evaluation of life had a special place thematically and dramatically, hanging the total show together on threads of spurious homily.

In this show, the songs, though macabrely clever and twisting conventions, felt repetitive in theme and style – even musically. This effect was surprising when, in later analysis, I could recall Hungarian, Jewish, Russian, Spanish and even some modern ‘classical’ atonal elements in different songs. Yet, listening, it seemed I was hearing one song with some variations rather than discreet and markedly different works. In La Clique the other acts broke the spell of Mikelangelo, but tonight transitional invasions of the audience’s privacy were not enough to carry the show forward, and even by interval were beginning to feel rather tedious.

It would not be fair of me to say more without having seen the second half, especially when there were joyous responses from many in the audience at the deliciously gruesome images, and in recognition of many favourite songs. The success of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen internationally as well as in Australia over the last ten years must counter my thoughts tonight, but I wonder if it’s possible to maintain a cult style for just a bit too long.

An important aspect of their visit to Canberra is to celebrate the memory of David Branson, the original Black Sea violinist Senor Handsome, with Rufino the Catalan Casanova on violin, The Great Muldavio on clarinet, Guido Libido on piano accordion, Little Ivan on double bass and Mikelangelo himself as lead singer and guitarist. Tragically killed in a car accident on December 11, 2001, David was the heart of iconoclastic theatre and music at the time of the Black Sea Gentlemen’s arising from the deep. If you would like to offer something musical or dramatic on Sunday afternoon that has particular relevance to David's life, please contact to discuss.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Waxing Lyrical - Shortis & Simpson at The Q

Waxing Lyrical written by John Shortis (with segments by Peter J Casey). Directed by Carissa Campbell. Performed by John Shortis, Moya Simpson, Peter J Casey, Ian Blake, Jon Jones and Dave O'Neill at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre Friday 2 December 2011 - 8.00pm, Saturday 3 December 2011 - 8.00pm, Sunday 4 December 2011 - 5.00pm.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Shortis & Simpson are purveyors of a certain kind of Canberra culture: unpretentious, whimsical, research-based mains with critical political commentary on the side. Even though Queanbeyan is a country town in New South Wales, it’s obvious from last night’s audience response that our culture flows over the border like a sweet rasberry coulis. Very tasty, nouveau cuisine, rim-of-fire Canberra kind of cooking.

This show is about writing lyrics – good lyrics, bad lyrics, hilarious history of lyrics, including one-time Prime Minister John Howard’s comment that he liked Bob Dylan's songs but couldn't understand Bob Dylan’s lyrics, and even songs without lyrics.

On the research side I was fascinated to learn about song-writers and how words and music somehow end up suitably in tune with each other, as well as hearing so many songs by famous writers of musicals, popular songs, jazz, blues and blue-grass. Rather than try to enumerate the songs, I just want to praise the range and quality of Moya Simpson’s voice across extraordinary styles from a Paul Robeson Old Man River to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights.

Peter J Casey’s satirical take on the song with the worst lyrics is quite extraordinary, the band is up to playing in a dozen different styles without hesitation, and John Shortis’ traditional diffidence has blossomed into a new strength of confidence – and quality of singing voice.

It’s now fifteen years since I first reviewed Shortis & Simpson, and the quality of their performances just keeps getting better. It’s such a short run: you only have this weekend to get to The Q, but I would certainly like to see this show go further afield.

Maybe we can think of Queanbeyan as off-Broadway, or like the English provinces. Let’s see Waxing Lyrical in whatever we can call Broadway or the West End.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Book by Doug Wright – Music by Scott Frankel – Lyrics by Michael Korie
Australian Premiere Season presented by The Production Company,
The Playhouse – The Arts Centre – Melbourne
24th November – 4th December

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Nancye Hayes and Pamela Rabe as Edith Bouvier Beale and 'Little" Edie Beale

The real life story of two elderly recluses, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, ‘Little’ Edie Beale, the cousins of Jacqueline Bouvier-Kennedy-Onassis, who were discovered living alone in squalor in a rundown, sprawling mansion known as “Grey Gardens” in East Hampton, Long Island, New York, may seem an unlikely choice of subject for a musical, but the writers and composer of “Grey Gardens” have used this event and its outcome as a premise to create an extraordinarily compelling musical, which is currently being given its Australian premiere by The Production Company, for a short season in Melbourne.

The musical commences with a prologue, set in 1973, during which we meet the two Edie’s as they were when discovered living in the derelict “Grey Gardens”. Nancye Hayes, dressed in one-piece bathers and a housecoat, plays the older of the two women, while Pamela Rabe, as the young Edie, models an ensemble which appears to be fashioned from old cardigans and skirts. Their situation and tenuous grip on reality is deftly established with the song “The Girl Who Has Everything”.

The prologue dissolves into 1941 when “Grey Gardens” is in its prime, and we again meet mother and daughter, this time, preparing for a party to announce the engagement of ‘Little’ Edie to Joseph Kennedy Jnr. Interestingly, in this act, Pamela Rabe plays the older Edie, Edith Bouvier Beale, while the young ‘Little’ Edie is played by Liz Styles.

As preparations for the party continue, we learn that Edith Bouvier Beale has a passion for singing at her own parties, and that she also involves her daughter ‘Little’ Edie in these entertainments. However at tonight’s party ‘Little’ Edie is reluctant to have her mother sing, so as not to deflect the spotlight from her on this special day.

During the preparations we meet George Gould Strong (James Millar) , a live-in musician apparently maintained by the older Edie, as a permanent accompanist, ‘Little’ Edie’s fiancée, Joseph Kennedy Jnr (Alex Rathgeber) and Edith Bouvier Beale’s irascible father Major Bouvier (John O’May). We also meet ‘little’ Edie’s two cousins, Jacqueline Bouvier (Ariel Kaplan) and Lee Bouvier (Lucy-Rose Coyne) and the butler, Brooks Snr,(Bert LaBonte).

By the end of the first act, following a series of spiteful exchanges between mother and daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale is being divorced by her husband, and her daughter ‘Little’ Edie has run off to New York after discovering that her mother has manipulated an end to her hopes of becoming the wife of Joe Kennedy, leaving Edith Bouvier Beale alone to entertain the guests at what should have been her daughter’s engagement party.

In the first act, Pamela Rabe as Edith Bouvier Beale, wears a series of lovely costumes, and exudes an air of confident elegance, to convincingly convey the desperation of a woman aware that her world is disintegrating around her, but willing to risk everything, including her daughter’s happiness, to preserve the status quo.

The second act is set in 1973, and by now Grey Gardens is derelict and being lived in by Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter ‘Little’ Edie, who, at her mother’s insistence, has returned from New York. They now live a reclusive existence, surrounded by feral cats and garbage. Their only visitors are a young man who delivers their weekly groceries; the son of their butler, Brooks Jnr; and occasional council officials trying to evict them.

For this act, Nancye Hayes resumes the role of the elderly Edith Bouvier Beale, first seen in the prologue, and in a remarkably brave performance, draws on her considerable talents as a dramatic actress to produce a performance that will long live in my memory for the truth, honesty and accuracy of her portrayal.

Pamela Rabe returns to playing the pathetic, now much older, ‘Little’ Edie Beale, caring for her manipulative old mother. Ignoring the filth around her, she wraps herself in a series of bizarre outfits in an attempt to maintain some sort of dream world. This role switch is astonishingly effective.

Avoiding any temptation to play these characters for laughs, although there are plenty of laughs to be had, both Pamela Rabe and Nancye Hayes give riveting, perfectly pitched performances, which invest their characters with a complexity and dignity that reveals them as poignant, believable and thoroughly memorable human beings.

Not many musicals come to mind which offer such strong dramatic central roles, and it was exciting to see artists of the calibre of Rabe and Hayes bringing their considerable talents to bear in interpreting these roles. bHowever director Roger Hodgman has left nothing to chance and has drawn together an outstanding ensemble of experienced music theatre performers to compliment the central performances.

James Millar brings dignity and gravitas to his role as the enigmatic pianist George Gould Strong. Alex Rathgeber plays two characters, and impresses with his ability to bring interesting nuances to both Joseph Kennedy in the first act, and the opportunist delivery boy, Jerry, in the second.

John O’May, also portraying different characters in each act, brings a great deal of natural charm to his portrayal of the curmudgeonly ‘Major” Bouvier.

In a stylish interpretation of the young ‘little’ Edie Beale in the first act, Liz Stiles sings with appealing vivacity and warmth, while both Ariel Kaplin and Lucy-Rose Coyne are delightfully natural as the Bouvier sisters, Jacqueline and Lee.

The quality of the singing throughout was another of the many pleasures of this production.

The Production Company famously produce their shows within a very short rehearsal period. Director, Roger Hodgman, has risen to the challenge of this restriction by applying his considerable expertise to devising a polished, uncluttered production which includes many delightful touches, including one sequence in which the ensemble become remarkably believable cats.

The attractive setting, designed by Richard Roberts, provides an uncluttered environment for the action, allowing ample room for Dana Jolly’s well- crafted dances, and providing for quick, smartly accomplished scene changes.

Kellie Dickerson’s excellent, and surprisingly unobtrusive, orchestra is placed onstage in full view of the audience, flanked on one side by a doorway, and on the other by a staircase. A few essential pieces of furniture, some excellent visuals projected onto a scrim, and a sensitive lighting plot by Matt Scott, where all that were necessary to insure that the audience focus was exactly where Roger Hodgman meant it to be...on his talented cast.

However, despite the fascination of the characters, and the excellence of the production, there could be no happy ending for this show, and the production did seem to drag a little as it moved towards its inevitable conclusion. This however was more a problem in the writing rather than either the direction or the acting.

The Production Company is to be congratulated for its initiative in providing Australian audiences with the opportunity to experience this challenging, and extraordinarily moving piece of contemporary musical theatre.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Le Grand named Canberra Citynews Artist of the Year

By Helen Musa
The 2011 Citynews Artist of the Year award has gone to sculptor Michael Le Grand. At the ACT Arts Awards ceremony on November 29, held at M16 Studios in Griffith, actor and artist Max Cullen presented Le Grand with a cheque to the value of $1,000 from Citynews. Queanbeyan glass artist Harriet Schwarzrock joined with Citynews in presenting Le Grand with a glasswork.
Le Grand, who works out of his home studio in Murrumbateman, said it had been a good year for him, with a major exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery and that he was touched and honoured by the recognition that this award from the arts community in Canberra, where he was raised.
One of Australia’s most important sculptors, his public artwork is highly visible in Civic, with his landmark red Japanese-style “gates” on London Circuit and a new blue work recently installed in Darwin Place. He has shows work regularly in Sydney’s Sculpture by the Sea, where he has exhibited 11 times.
The child of Canberra art pioneers Henri and Riek Le Grand, he has devoted his life to sculpture, rising to the position Head of the Sculpture Workshop at the ANU School of Art, which he describes as “the best institution around.”
One of the movers behind Florida’s sculpture events, the ANU’s Sculpture Walk, the Australian National Capital Artists studio facilities and the National Sculpture Forum, Le Grand is an experimenter, a teacher and a daringly outspoken advocate for the arts in Canberra.
The awards evening, hosted by the Canberra Critics’ Circle, also featured the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s Green Room awards. The 2011 MEAA Green Room Award went to Andrea Close for excellence and professionalism in all her theatre practice and the MEAA Peer Recognition Award for 2011 is presented to Imogen Keen for her outstanding contribution, collaboration and innovation in theatre design.

The Critics’s Circle own awards were as follows:

Presented to
Christine Forbes
her powerful and moving performance in the central role as the mother, Mrs Johnstone in the Queanbeyan City Council’s production of the Willy Russell musical Blood Brothers, directed by Stephen Pike.

Presented to
Supa Productions
its outstanding production of Avenue Q, directed by Garrick Smith, musical direction by Rose Shorney, Choreography by Jordan Kelly.

Presented to
David McCallum
his extraordinary, charismatic performance as Jesus Christ in Queanbeyan Players’ production of Jesus Christ Superstar designed and directed by Kelda McManus.

Presented to
Chris Neale
his achievements in theatre lighting design throughout the year, most particularly for his work on Queanbeyan Players production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Presented to
Jim Adamik
his mastery of comic acting in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Funny Money and The Imaginary Invalid, in which he showed his capacity to range through children’s theatre, mannered comedy, and the classic farce of Molière.

Presented to
Free Rain Theatre
an electrifying production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, directed by Cate Clelland.

Presented to
Canberra Repertory Society
an hilarious and poignant production of The Pig Iron People by John Doyle.

Presented to
Canberra Youth Theatre and The National Library of Australia
the collaborative production, Retrieval, which saw the library’s foyer, exhibition spaces and stacks transformed into places of performance.

Presented to
Imogen Keen
her transformative, creative design solutions to challenging theatrical texts.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Jenni Kemarre Martiniello
her contemporary interpretation of traditional utilitarian objects, highlighting both their innate beauty and the ongoing loss of the Aboriginal cultures from which these object originated, and drawing the audience’s attention to the intricate details of Indigenous women’s craft by reworking traditionally woven eel and fish traps in glass.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Robert Foster
his innovative use of sustainable lighting that is both imaginative and creative. In particular for his Ossolite Lighting Project called The Journey at ACTEW, and his exhibition Strange Planet featuring examples of this lighting at the Gallery of Australian Design in April this year.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Nikki Main
Her solo exhibition of glass sculptures at Beaver Galleries in September, based on the movement of water in the landscape and its impact on the environment, demonstrating her concerns and continue her exploration of how to capture water in glass. She has also shown in several local exhibitions this year.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Craft ACT
A series of exhibitions titled The Elements held throughout 2011 celebrating the 40th anniversary for this visual arts organisation. The exhibitions were sensitively curated to showcase the work of prominent craftspeople working in the Canberra region.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Ann McMahon
her exceptionally fine and complex installations conceived and executed this year and exhibited in Canberra Museum and Gallery's Imitation of Life: Memory and Mimicry in Canberra Region Art.

Presented to
Liz Lea
her creative use of archival materials from Canberra’s collecting institutions in her solo work 120 Birds.

Presented to
Elizabeth Cameron Dalman
Sapling to Silver, an absorbing, poignant collection of choreographic vignettes, created for the Mirramu Dance Company, carefully woven together in an evocative celebration of her significant dance career.

Presented to
David Mackay
his dedication to the pursuit of excellence with his ensemble, the Oriana Chorale, a group of amateur singers encompassing a diverse range of ages and vocal qualities to consistently present concerts of an exceptionally high standard.

Presented to
Dominic Harvey
his outstanding contribution to music in Canberra through 20 years of conducting the Canberra Youth Orchestra, challenging young ACT musicians to perform, at a high level, complex works from the orchestral repertoire, as evidenced in the September 2011 performance of works by Penderecki, Bruch, Chabrier, Nielsen and Kabalev.

Presented to
Annette Sloane
her outstanding contribution to jazz and popular music, particularly as lead singer of ‘Annie and the Armadillos’, and for the production of a high quality CD recording celebrating the musical life of Peggy Lee.

Presented to
Alpha Gregory
her outstanding contribution to the community through music, particularly as artistic director of the Woden Valley Youth Choir. Through Alpha’s skill and expert musical direction, the choir has reached exemplary standards and has gained a world-wide reputation for excellence in the field of youth choral singing.

Presented to
For The Fallen
An Anzac Day concert performed during the 2011 National Folk Festival presentation which commemorated, celebrated and paid tribute to Australians lost in conflict since Gallipoli. Devised by Sebastian Flynn, programmed and scripted by John Shortis and narrated by Peter J. Casey.

Presented to
K. J. Taylor
“The Fallen Moon Trilogy,” a three-part novel, the final book of which was published in the past year. For the way in which she has created a “secondary world” where people interact with griffins. Taylor has garnered a strong following among young readers.

Presented to
Kathy Kituai
her initiative in setting up Tanka workshops for Canberra poets and for her lifetime of involvement in literature and the arts in Canberra.

Presented to
Irma Gold
her sharply observed collection of short stories, Two Steps Forward, published in Affirm Press’s Long Story Shorts series, and for editing the non-fiction book, The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage.

Presented to
Melanie Tait
Her initiative “Now Hear This,” public storytelling sessions at The Street Theatre, in which eight people from around the Canberra community are asked to tell a story from their life. Supported and promoted by ABC 666, this has helped revive an endangered form.

Presented to
documentary maker
Robert Nugent
His work, Memoirs of a Plague, which examines man’s ancient relationship with the locust and for his world-class documentary, practice.

Presented to
Marisa Martin
her innovative contribution to animation, recognised internationally and seen in the past year in her work Tegan, the Vegan.

The 2011 Canberra Critics’ Circle is:
Bill Stephens . Alanna Maclean . Frank McKone . Peter Wilkins . Joe Woodward . Meredith Hinchliffe . Kerry-Anne Cousins . Helen Musa . Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak . Cris Kennedy . Simon Weaving . Stella Wilkie . Malcolm Miller . Jennifer D. Gall . Glenn Burns . Michelle Potter . Samara Purnell . Simone Penkethman . Clinton White . Ian McLean

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre
November 17 – 20. Season Closed.
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

What do a magical fairytale, a girl with a teacup strapped to her foot, a bunch of alarm clocks and a track-suit clad girl frantically pumping her fist in the air have in common? They were all part of this season’s “Short + Sweet”.

Nine pieces of up to ten minutes were presented by young Australian choreographers and dancers, many of them current or past locals. This collaborative effort gives Canberra amateur artists and those already working in the dance industry another forum to create and display their work and ideas.

Adelina Larsson, Festival Director, has done a good job of bringing together a diverse collection of pieces, albeit less strong on the whole than last year’s inaugural performance.

In this sold out little edition to the Canberra dance calendar, it was pretty clear that the “People’s choice” was going to be “Cuppa” by the “Unkempt Dance” troupe from Perth. Deservedly so, as the trio displayed unique ways of making and drinking tea - they dangled cups from high heels, walked on teacups and ate sugar cubes off the stage, all whilst playing musical chairs. The 50’s inspired piece was clever, well danced and cute, the girls balancing timing and chemistry along with their teacups. You can rest assured morning tea in your office will seem pretty boring after watching this.

Two of the strongest pieces were Alison Plevey’s offering, mixing good physicality and strong choreography with a touch of humour in “Jane Citizen”. It portrayed the multitude of roles we assume every day. And Tanya Voges’ depiction of a couple’s relationship, against the multimedia backdrop of a brewing storm. Her unique approach and thoughtful idea was engaging and one of the most complex pieces, despite relatively undemanding choreography.

A worthy piece from Tegan Jones made good use of space, but as a competent dancer, she would have benefited from more daring choreography. She executed the piece well, but the description of a “battle with anorexia” did not entirely suit the multimedia images, wardrobing and symphony rendition of “Unforgiven”.

Established performer Liz Lea choreographed a fairytale performed by Katie Senior, whose work was described as being in a “cross-culture and special needs” context. Her expressive face and gestures created a rich and believable story as she made her way around a pretty, fairy lit set.

Thank goodness for the notes explaining Janine Proost’s “The fist”! Without them the audience’s collective head may well have been left spinning wondering what it was all about. Her frantic-paced piece remained well controlled in movement, and demonstrated her confidence as a choreographer, willing to take risks. The style and choreography was not overly “pretty”, and wardrobe choice let her down but the energy and conviction in her acting made the piece work.

The show would have benefited from choosing a stronger piece than “Disguise or reveal” to open the show. Depicting what is revealed and hidden about us, it did not engage and the interaction between Kate McDonald and Emma Bathgate-Peterson felt a little clunky. The long black skirts worked well, but the multimedia display didn’t.

And to bookend the show, “Bodies in waiting” was hectic and a little disconcerting. A portrait of time, waiting, what we do as we wait, that consisted of a lot of bustle on stage, dancers walking on and off stage, rearranging clocks, all became rather distracting. The only male/female partnering work in the show was solid and short solos showed good dance technique, but with so much happening at once, it became hard to engage in any one part of the dance.

Eliza Sanders rightfully won best female dancer and best choreographer for her creation of “Two people, together and at once”. The clearly talented year 12 student created a demanding, energetic piece. She displayed maturity in her choreography and concept and danced to a great soundtrack in her performance with Natalie Kolobaric. Their costumes at first appeared overly fussy but soon became part of the act, adding to its complexity.

Age and experience can only strengthen the emotional conviction and connection these dancers have with themselves, each other and the audience.

With solid dancers and a nice variety of ideas and styles, next year’s Short + Sweet Dance is one to keep an eye out for.

Philip Parsons 2011 Memorial Lecture by Katharine Brisbane

In Praise of Nepotism, ‘the unfair preferment of nephews’ or To Every Age its Art, to Art its Freedom.

Philip Parsons 2011 Memorial Lecture by Katharine Brisbane founder and chair of the cultural activist association, Currency House, her major activity since 2000, after leaving Currency Press which she also founded, now exactly 40 years ago.

Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney. Sunday November 27.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Although the audience for the doyenne of theatre in Australia was smaller than I had expected, the presence of the high-energy young new playwrights waiting for the annual Young Playwright’s Award which accompanies the Memorial Lecture, made Katharine Brisbane’s theme especially significant.

Though she is, in her words, "on the cusp of 80", she is not afraid of the risk that this may be like standing on a berm on a Sydney beach – a narrow shelf of sand which might suddenly collapse into the oncoming tide. Her speech was a disturbing interpretation of the history and the current state of Australian theatre. Are we all on the cusp of something unpredictable?

You will be able to hear the full speech on the ABC, Radio National: Big Ideas in February 2012 – keep an eye on the ABC website for details in January – but in the meantime I would like to wrap up her surprising theme In Praise of Nepotism for the coming Season of Goodwill and Cheer.

Brisbane concludes by saying “… we, the public and the artists at the centre, need more than just goodwill. We need curiosity.” And her very last words are “Our Indigenous artists must have the last word. They understand this. While we are arguing about economic imperatives, the imperative of Aboriginal artists is community culture, its interpretation, appropriation and preservation. This is just as contentious a task as it is in the white community. But they know that if they let it go, it will be gone forever. We need to learn that lesson too.”

Nepotism, she explains, is about “the creation of an in-group to achieve a common purpose, defend itself from outside attack and directly contravene our democratic belief in a fair go for all.” Nepotism showed its good profile in Melbourne’s Australian Performing Group, beginning with Marvellous Melbourne, in the graduates of early NIDA (The Legend of King O’Malley) and through to the establishment of the Victorian College of the Arts (before it was absorbed into Melbourne University) and the creation of Sydney’s Performance Syndicate by “the only real philosopher our theatre has produced”, Rex Cramphorn.

But she laments the huge government subsidies from the mid-1970s which, though they have led to state theatre companies and high-quality training, have taken audiences away from ‘dingo’ theatre (Jack Hibberd’s description) into safe territory according to the still “fundamental influence of our respectable [British colonial] emancipist classes”, avoiding our “[Irish] convict stain”. This has been done, she says, as “Commerce was now in conflict with culture. The 70s was, remember, the time when the Nobel prizewinner Friedrich von Hayek was leading a movement to replace our former measures of cultural value – on the ground that we humans were unstable creatures – with the more reliable face value imposed by the economy.”

The dark side of nepotism, Brisbane says, is that “Security in your own arts sector is what enables work to flow. But if timidity and arrogance is a consequence … then it is anti-art. That arrogance is bred by the old order of received opinion, which leads to tired revivals and preservation of one’s territory. But because our pursuit of excellence from the start excluded from government funding that whole layer of popular entertainment, amateur groups, private studios, end of year concerts and regional extravaganzas which once engaged people in the making of art, our artists have become a collection of specialists for whom communication outside their art has become more and more difficult. The less they try to break through this barrier the more they are misunderstood. It seems that only for artists is the word ‘elite’ a pejorative. In the sports world they are heroes. Why is this? Because, when the opportunities came in the 70s, the arts sector did not take their audiences with them."

The reason I go to Belvoir St is because it is the grandchild of Nimrod, the child of Jane St and the early NIDA graduates. I can only hope that Belvoir’s annual hosting of the Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture, this year presented by his wife Katharine Brisbane – former critic, publisher with him of Currency Press, and long-time cultural activist – will generate the curiosity our culture needs to survive among the new writers like Zoe Coombs Marr, who won the 2011 Young Playwright’s Award, and that they take their audiences with them. The electric energy that sparked around the theatre as the announcement was made augurs well for a collapse of the old berm and the creation of the new.

Thanks to Katharine Brisbane for such a highly stimulating address – and listen to Radio National to hear the full story, or read the final version of Katharine's speech now on the Currency House website at:


Monday, November 28, 2011


The Australian Ballet,
Sydney Opera House until 28th November
Reviewed by Bill Stephens
Rachel Rawlins as Hanna Glawari

Let me commence this review by nailing my colours to the mast and admitting that I am, unashamedly, one of many who consider this sumptuous balletic staging of Lehar’s wildly romantic operetta, not only one of The Australian Ballet’s most beautiful productions, but one which superbly captures the delicious silliness and swooning romanticism underpinning the remarkable creation that is “The Merry Widow”.

I must admit that having fond memories of the original 1975 production, with Marilyn Rowe and John Meehan as the Widow and Danilo, and having seen several revivals since, I did give some serious consideration as to whether I really needed to see this current revival. But in the end curiosity got the better of me.

How glad I was that I had succumbed to temptation for as the first notes of the scintillating overture, with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra sparkling under Nicolette Fraillon’s brisk direction, I knew I was in for a treat, reminded immediately of how cleverly John Lanchbery had arranged and orchestrated Lehar’s lovely melodies into this ravishing ballet score.

Ronald Hynd’s choreography may not require great technical expertise, but it does capture, superbly, the essence of the music, and allows the dancers plenty of opportunity to develop individual characterisations, which this cast clearly embraced as they revelled in their beautifully detailed retelling of the familiar story of the ludicrous attempts of the officials of the mythical Pontevedrian Embassy to rescue their country from bankruptcy by engineering a marriage between the recently widowed, but fabulously wealthy, Hanna Glawari to the handsome, if worthless, Count Danilo.

As the widow Hanna Glawari, Rachel Rawlins is simply ravishing. Heart-breakingly beautiful in her costumes, refined and graceful in her dancing, confident and mature in her acting, she carried off her two beautifully staged entrances magnificently, and brought warmth and humour to her interaction with the other characters.

Robert Curran as Count Danilo
Photo by Jeff Busby

Perhaps it as the fact that he had just announced his retirement and was dancing one of his final performances in the role of Count Danilo that inspired Robert Curran to imbue his character with just a little more ardour and passion than usual, culminating in a final sweeping, bittersweet pas de deux with Rawlins which literally left the audience breathless. It was a performance to treasure.

Madeleine Eastoe was in sparkling form as the coquettish Valencienne, attentive to her doddering elderly husband, Baron Mirko Zita, while flirting outrageously with Andrew Killian’s dashing Camille.

Certainly one of the Australian Ballet’s living treasures, Colin Peasley gives a masterful performance as Baron Mirko Zita, delightfully funny while inhabiting his own story as the ballet whirls around him, but bringing a touching poignancy to the moment when he realises that he has lost his young wife to a much younger man.

Act 2 photo by Jeff Busby.

Desmond Heeley’s georgous Belle Époque costumes have been completely refurbished, and have never looked more gorgeous, especially those for the red, black and gold second act with its Hungarian inspired national dances, and for the stunning Maxims scene for the third act. His spectacular art noveau settings remain as spectacularly impressive as ever.

Given the care and attention that has obviously been lavished on this revival, and the obvious pleasure and precision with which the company dance this masterpiece, one would expect that this production will be around to continue to delight audiences for many years to come.

Act 3 Can Can Photo by Jeff Busby

Monday, November 21, 2011


West Australian Ballet Company's
Canberra Theatre
November 15 - 19

Reviewed by Samara Purnell

On opening night of The West Australian Ballet Company’s Cinderella, the foyer of The Canberra Theatre was full of tiaras, tutus, ballet slippers, long curled hair and excited faces. That was just the parents! Young and old, first-timers and old timers turned out to see this classic story.
This version was choreographed by Company dancer Jayne Smeulders, in her first full-length choreography for the WA Company. And while overall the choreography itself wasn’t overly memorable, it was well designed and satisfactorily executed, making impressive use of the stage and space.
Allan Lees 1930’s sets and costumes were rich, luscious and appealing – a strength of the show, despite needing to downsize the set slightly for the Canberra Theatre. A wonderful ballroom scene and enchanted forest scenery were a visual delight and the sparkly silver coach was as pretty as could be, although more fuss could have been made of the clock, and midnight curfew.
Andrea Parkyn danced the title role soundly, but slightly more daring and tight choreography would have just tipped it over into really connecting with and thrilling the audience.
As the “ugly” stepsisters, the exceedingly slim Jennifer Provins and Brooke Widdison-Jacobs provided plenty of entertainment, particularly in the second act, where at the Ball, their immodest attempts to attract the Prince’s attention provided many chuckles. This was a high point of the show, as it also contained some of the most cleverly choreographed and well executed dancing. The girls displayed strong technique and distinct characterisation.
The Prince, in a desperate attempt to escape the attention of the stepsisters, thrusts his younger brothers into their arms, much to the disgust of Provins, who is forced to contend with vertically challenged young prince (Andre Santos), whom she towers over. Santos was the strongest male dancer on stage. Milos Mutavdzic as the Prince needed stronger choreography as most of his time was spent running away from overzealous women at the Ball. The rest of the male corps lacked a little flexibility and grounding in their technique although the solos from the birds were enjoyable.
In Cinderella the challenge is to either throw your ball into the court of pantomime, melodrama or a serious dance performance. Finding the delicate balance of these runs the risk of missing everything and falling flat. This rendition managed to entertain with enough laughs and seriousness without descending into the ridiculous and still keep the magic of the story.
Comments were overheard at interval from several audience members about the “missing mice and pumpkin coach” but Smeulders had based her story on the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, as opposed to the Disney version that the younger audiences would be familiar with. So Cinderella was taken to the forest by the spirit of her dead mother appearing as the Fairy God mother, understated and delicately danced by Yu Takayama. Birds deck her out in gown and sparkly shoes for the Ball.
In a nice twist, when her Prince comes searching for the owner of the shoe, Cinderella’s father reveals that she has in fact hidden the matching slipper in her birdcage.
The denouement of Cinderella and the Prince dancing a beautiful pas de deux in front of a starry night and full moon closed the show in the choreographic highlight, to Sergei Prokofiev’s score.
Overall this was a very pleasant production, lacking a little “oomph” but a night out that no doubt sent the young girls and ballet lovers in the audience home with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their toes.

GREY GARDENS - Australian Premiere Season

If you’re heading to Melbourne between 25th November and 4th December 2011, you have the opportunity to attend the Australian premiere season of a little known Broadway musical called “Grey Gardens”, a musical which the New York Times has described as ‘an experience no passionate theatregoer should miss’.

Written by Doug Wright, (who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “I Am My Own Wife” which was seen at the Street Theatre in Canberra earlier this year) with music by Scott Frankell and lyrics by Michael Korie (who also wrote the lyrics for “Dr. Zhivago”), “Grey Gardens” is based on the cinema verite documentary of the same name by brothers David and Albert Maysles.

It tells the real-life story of Edith Bouvier Beale (to be played by Nancye Hayes) and her adult daughter, ‘Little’ Edie, (to be played by Pamela Rabe (pictured) the eccentric aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Roger Hodgman, who is directing this production, describes them as “two wonderful characters, larger-than-life, amazing eccentrics, lovable, crazy but not insane. The musical sets out to show what made them like that”.

As a young society debutante in the early 1940’s, ‘Little’ Edie Bouvier Beale was one of the brightest names on the social register. Known as ‘Body Beautiful Beale’ she was the ‘It Girl’ of her generation, even eclipsing her young cousin, Jacqueline Bouvier. In the years following the Second World War however life in their 28-room mansion, Grey Gardens, took an unexpected turn.

While Jackie and her sister, Lee Radziwill played out their lives on the world stage, Edie and her mother, Edith Bouvier Beale became east Hampton’s most notorious recluses.

“It’s a very good musical” Hodgman explained simply when I asked him why The Production Company had chosen it. “When “Grey Gardens” opened on Broadway in 2007 it garnered 10 Tony Award nominations, eventually winning three, one each for its stars, Christine Ebersole (‘Little’ Edie) and Mary Louise Wilson (Edith Bouvier Beale) and one for costume designer, William Ivey Long. The story has also been filmed as an award-winning telemovie which starred Jessica Lang and Drew Barrymore".

Hodgman has directed about 10 musicals for the Production Company and enjoys the challenge and discipline involved in working with top professional music theatre actors to produce a full-scale, albeit simplified, production with the emphasis on the piece rather than the spectacle. The rehearsal period for most of these productions is usually 4 weeks, but in this case it is only 3 weeks, because “Grey Gardens” is a more intimate show than those usually undertaken by The Production Company.

Also, unusually for The Production Company, “Grey Gardens” will run for a two week season in the more intimate Playhouse at the Victorian Art Centre instead of one week in the much larger State Theatre.

The Production Company has assembled a stellar cast for this production, and in addition to Nancye Hayes and Pamela Rabe, the cast will include John O’May, James Millar, Alex Rathgeber, Liz Styles and Bert LaBonte. The musical direction will be in the hands of Kellie Dickerson who has just finished an extensive tour as Musical Director for “Wicked”. Dana Jolly will create the choreography and Fleur Thiemeyer the costumes.

This is not the first time Nancye Hayes and Pamela Rabe have worked together, as Nancye reminded me when I talked to her about “Grey Gardens”. “Many years ago, I played Glinda the good witch opposite Pamela as the wicked witch in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” and later, directed her for a second production. I’m really looking forward to working with her again in “Grey Gardens”.

One of the country’s most acclaimed actors, Nancye Hayes has just returned from a trip to New York to see Tony Sheldon in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and immediately following her season in “Grey Gardens”, she will commence rehearsals for the Sydney season of “Annie” in which she plays Miss Hannigan.

There are many reasons why this production of “Grey Gardens” is attracting

attention among music theatre buffs around the country, not the least being the opportunity to see a stellar cast of music theatre professionals in a challenging musical. Hopefully it will be successful enough to encourage the Production Company to consider touring it to other cities. But just in case that doesn't happen, you have just 12 opportunities to catch this musical in Melbourne.

Bill Stephens

Sunday, November 20, 2011


West Australian Ballet
Choreography: Jayne Smeulders
Sets and Costumes: Allan Lees
Canberra Theatre: 15th – 20th November 2011
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The West Australian Ballet is Australia’s oldest ballet company. It makes occasional visits to Canberra, the last being with “The Red Shoes” in 2007. For this visit it’s brought a new version of the ballet classic “Cinderella”, the first full length ballet choreographed by company member, Jayne Smeulders, and the only showing of this ballet outside West Australia.

Smeulders has set her version to the Prokofiev score which she uses to great effect to craft a series of lovely airy dances to achieve a clearly focussed telling of the story using a choreographic palette that is inventive, intelligent and interesting.

Charming touches abound in this production. We first meet Cinderella at her mother’s funeral where she plants a small tree at her mother’s grave. Ten years on, her father has remarried and Cinderella is now a servant for her waspish stepmother (Allessandra D’Arbe) and two thoroughly self-indulgent stepdaughters. Her one solace is a silver birdcage, given to her by her mother, which at one point transforms into a silver coach, and later houses the crystal slipper which proves Cinderella’s presence at the ball.

Rather than have two men play the ugly sisters, Smeulders has cast two excellent dancers, Jennifer Provins and Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, both delightful comediennes, who take full advantage of the witty choreography, to create a memorably viperous, thoroughly hilarious, pair of losers.

When her father gives Cinderella a lovely old dress previously owned by her mother, the step-sisters snatch it from her and tear it in two. The spirit of her dead mother returns as a gorgeously costumed fairy god-mother (Yu Takayama) who transports Cinderella into a magical enchanted forest where she is surrounded by fantastic inhabitants including three exotic birds, (Yann Laine, Mark Dennis and Benjamin Kirkman). They present Cinderella with a beautiful gown, tiara and crystal slippers and whisk her away to the ball in the silver coach.

Andrea Parkyn (pictured) is a lovely Cinderella, delicately capturing the pathos of the early scenes, and dancing with security and openness in the ball-room scene where she had the best opportunities. Not so successful though is Milos Mutavdzic as her less than exciting prince, for while his partnering was secure and graceful, he lacked the ardour, vitality and attack usually associated with this role.

At the ball, encouraged by the stepmother, the two step-sisters try to attract the attention of the prince, who quickly delegates his two brothers to keep them away from him, leading to one delightful sequence in which the tall Provins makes ungainly attempts to dance with the Prince’s height-challenged brother, ( Andre Santos) providing some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments.

Although not all of Allen Lees impressive set would fit on to the Canberra Theatre stage, what we did see provided an appropriately sumptuous story-book fantasy ambience for the ballet. His elegant 30’s style costumes for the ball, and fantastic feathery creations for the enchanted forest added further eye-candy to a production which is a triumph for its choreographer, and a superb showcase for the West Australian Ballet.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Canberra Theatre Playhouse

27th October 2011

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Until this year I had not heard of classical pianist, James Rhodes. However leading up to his Australian tour he seems to be all over the media. Everywhere were television documentaries, interviews and magazine articles about this slightly Woody Allen-ish concert pianist. Perhaps because so much of his publicity was concentrated on his drug and psychiatric problems, as well as his reported disdain for convention, I’d gained the impression that he was a cleverly packaged gimmick, likely to be a flash-in-the-pan and soon disappear. Therefore, though curious, as it was occurring in a busy theatre week, I decided that I wouldn’t bother attending his only Canberra concert. However when a late invitation came in, curiosity got the better of me, and I went along to see what all the fuss was about.

The stage of the Playhouse was bare of decoration except for a Steinway grand in a tight spotlight. James Rhodes strolled onstage, whippet-thin, dressed in non-descript black trousers, white tee-shirt and black cardigan, unkempt hair, scruffy beard.

He seated himself at the piano, bent over , stared at the keys intently, then commenced to play a single note five times which lead him into Alessandro Marcello’s lovely “Adagio from Oboe Concerto in d Minor”. He had my full attention.

Accepting the applause from the very respectably sized audience, he stood up, walked around the piano, and in a charming, well-modulated voice, launched into an explanation of what fascinated him about the piece of music he had just played. Then followed a witty stand-up comedy routine laced with references to Queen, the Minogue sisters, Viagra and drugs, to explain what was so fascinating about Beethoven’s challenging “Piano Sonata in C”, of which he then gave a mesmerizing performance.

No point nit-picking about wrong notes, it was the intensity, virtuosity and sheer pleasure with which he interpreted the music that was completely captivating.

Another entertaining chat and then on to Moskowski’s charming “Etude in F”, a dynamic, un-programmed performance of Rachmaninoff’s famous “Prelude in C Sharp Minor”, which he informed us was the bonus track, which lead into Chopin’s’ lovely “Romanza” and a dazzling performance of Busoni’s transcription of the Bach “Chaconne from Partita No. 2. in D Minor”.

By this time he had completely charmed his audience and had them shouting for more. He happily obliged with two encores and promised to be available in the foyer to meet them and sign the ubiquitous CD’s after the performance.

I too had been completely won over by his relaxed stage manner and pianistic virtuosity, and doubly delighted because, though James Rhodes is touted as flaunting the traditional classical concert format, what we had just witnessed was a thoroughly professional and captivating classical cabaret, which ticked all the boxes by taking its audience on an engaging musical discovery tour during which we had learned as much about the pianist as we did about his music.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bill Cumpsty 4 August 1929- June 2011

A touching memorial was held on October 31 by friends from the theatre community,a member of the Navy, Alcoholics Anonymous, the ANU food cooperative and Satyananda Yoga for the late William (Bill/Mac) Basil Cumpsty, who died in June this year alone, aged 81, in his North Lyneham flat.

Though the wheels of the ACT Police, the ACT Public Trustee and the ACT Coroner’s Court necessarily ground slowly, he was eventually identified and acknowledged in a touching ceremony that illustrated how his life had meant to the many people with whom he came in contact.

Known in the Canberra theatre scene as an actor of extraordinary facial vitality, as actor Peter Robinson explained in his eulogy, he was seized upon by the late director Ralph Wilson, who used him as a nonverbal participant in his shows, deliberately drawing attention away from more verbal elements. This was especially the case of in a play by Canberra’s Jane Bradhurst, in which Robinson played the explorer John O’Hara Burke, while Cumpsty upstaged him as Burke’s camel. He was also known for his interpretations of Samuel Beckett.

Another theatre friend, Colin Vaskess, found in Ralph Wilson’s papers in the Canberra Heritage Library, evidence that Cumpsty had played an Athenian policeman in Lysistrata, Graaberg in The Wild Duck, Yakov in The Seagull, Bardolph in Henry IV Part 2, a parson in The Country Wife and small roles in Wilson’s productions of plays by Moliere, Beckett and Witkiewicz.

Cumpsty was born in Lancashire England, the elder brother of Mary, Sally and Ann (Flenley) who emailed a moving recollection to those gathered at Norwood Park Crematorium on October 31.

Other participants in the ceremony recollected his naval career both in England and later with the Royal Australian Navy, his struggles that led him to join Alcoholics Anonymous, his participation in Satyananda yoga’s Kirtan chanting and his involvement with the ANU Food Coop.

Both the beginning and the end of the memorial were marked by singing and a ceremonial farewell by Mereana Otene-Waaka.

In the view of retired musician and friend Chris Bettle, who organised this farewell, and of the many people who gathered on October 31 to honour him, Bill Cumpsty’s was a life well-lived.

Helen Musa November 2, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Fall of the City by Archibald MacLeish, directed by Andrew Holmes

The Fall of the City by Archibald MacLeish, directed by Andrew Holmes. ANU School of Cultural Inquiry, College of the Arts and Social Sciences at ANU Arts Centre Drama Lab October 26-29, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 29

Following Andrew Holmes’ production of MacLeish’s Panic (on the blog August 25, 2011), The Fall of the City is his next research project. Holmes writes “I am currently undertaking a PhD in Drama, with a focus on revaluing Archibald MacLeish’s early achievements in the genre of verse drama. However, rather than focussing on the more traditional methods of analysis that have accompanied much discourse around MacLeish’s career as a playwright, I am seeking to understand how his plays work in their performance context rather than, as MacLeish himself would have put it, how they read as ‘thin little books to lie on front parlor tables.’”

Holmes states that The Fall of the City was the first American verse play written for broadcast radio, in 1937, which places it in context as an early example of work such as Australian poet Douglas Stewart’s Fire on the Snow (1941) and Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood (1954). The latter will be staged in May 2012 by Sydney Theatre Company as a “play with voices” rather than as a “play for voices” on radio.

Perhaps taking a cue from the original 1953 presentation at the YMHA New York of Under Milk Wood before it was broadcast by the BBC, where five actors stood on stage without moving, except for Thomas himself who stepped forward for the Reverend Eli Jenkins’ morning prayer, Holmes had his audience seated on the flat stage of the Drama Lab looking up at figures with white masks in the raked seating. Only Duncan Ley, as the radio reporter, was without a mask, speaking into his microphone.

In this role, Ley found just the right degree of precision of voice and clarity of descriptive expression for an announcer giving the radio audience a detailed mental picture of the scene in the city square, the flurries of movement and silences among the crowd (perhaps of 10,000, he tells us) as the Conqueror approaches. His commentary is interspersed with speeches, such as from a woman in the crowd expressing her fear for the future, a state minister on a podium seeking a peaceful response rather than violence in the face of terrorism, ‘messengers’ who report what has happened in a nearby city through which the Conqueror has just passed, a man in the crowd expressing the need to defend freedom. While each individual speaks s/he removes the mask, and the whole crowd (of 20 actors) move in stylised unison in response to the changing moods until the Conqueror arrives. Despite what has to be a deep apprehension, the crowd succumbs to the charisma of the Conqueror and cheer him as if he is a hero rather than a controlling dictator taking their freedom away from them.

This simple visual representation of the scene seemed to me to enhance the effect that the play would have if it were presented on radio today. Whereas radio in the 1930s had nation-wide sway (Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds proving a highly disturbing example, apart from Hitler’s speeches), today perhaps only the talkback shock-jocks can claim to have anything like the same impact. I guess that MacLeish’s poetry would quickly fade into the ether, while Holmes’ stage treatment, though for a small audience, had strength in a message that is a warning that today we are not far from the dangers that developed in the 1930s. Only an hour or so before seeing The Fall of the City tonight, I saw the breaking news intrude across the ABC website that Alan Joyce had just announced the complete shutdown of Qantas indefinitely, until the unions ‘come to agreement’.

I certainly think that Holmes’ approach to taking MacLeish’s work out of ‘thin little books’ and onto the stage has worked effectively to show the quality of MacLeish’s writing. Since it would not be practical to take so many actors on tour, it could be worthwhile videoing this production of The Fall of the City. Even a limited television or YouTube distribution could bring MacLeish’s warning to the fore, at the very time we need it. After all, PhDs in the sciences have direct impacts in the real world. Why shouldn’t a Drama PhD?


Presented by Queanbeyan Players
Director: Judith Colquhorn
Musidal Director: Matt Greenwood,
Choreographer: Belinda Hassall
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre till 5th November.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

“Me and My Girl” is a charming musical with no deep messages but lots of funny one-liners, some double entendre and a delightfully catchy score by Noel gay which includes “The Lambeth Walk”, guaranteed to inhabit your mind for days.

The storyline revolves around a young cockney barrow-boy, Bill Snibson, who inherits a title, and a fortune, on the condition that he renounces his fiancée, Sally Smith, to marry someone ‘more suitable’.

As Bill Snibson and Sally Smith, Patrick McLoughlin and Ruth Albertson-Kill are an attractive pairing, bringing charm, likeability and pleasant singing voices to their roles. They receive enthusiastic support from the large cast which includes Peter Dark, wickedly funny as the bibulous Sir John Tremayne, Liz de Totth as the imperious Duchess of Dene, Gary Collinson as the nerdy Hon. Gerald Bolingbroke, and especially Georgia Pike, whose scene-stealing performance as the glamorous gold-digger, Lady Jacqueline Carstone, is alone worth the price of admission.

Though rather basic, the set design provides ample space for Belinda Hassall’s well staged production numbers, enhanced by colourful 1930’s inspired costumes, and the accompaniment of the enthusiastic, if uneven, band conducted by Matt Greenwood.

With more experience, first-time director, Judith Colquhoun will learn how to avoid having her actors mask each other during scenes, and how to get full value from their laugh lines, meanwhile this delightfully cheerful production provides a very pleasant theatrical experience.

An edited version of this review appears in City News October 27th - November 2 edition.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Four Flat Whites in Italy by Roger Hall

Four Flat Whites in Italy by Roger Hall. Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre at The Street, Canberra. October 25-29, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 25

It’s a nice play, like Mrs Worthington’s daughter, “But,” as Noel Coward sang, “Mrs Worthington, dear Mrs Worthington, don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.” I don’t mean the actors shouldn’t have been on the stage last night, but the author has some questions to answer.

Every play has a context within which it might be judged. Having just seen the so much cleverer Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, I can’t help thinking Roger Hall needs some critical advice. However worthy, he’s a Kiwi who shouldn’t go out in the midday sun without a proper pith helmet.

My reason for taking such a critical position – rather than simply saying that this production is as entertaining as one would normally expect from Ensemble Theatre – is reading commentary in NZ Herald TV like ‘Rather than batting away the question of whether he sees himself as New Zealand's greatest playwright, he considers it through a rational commercial lens. "The merit or otherwise of my plays aside, I've written more plays and fed more into the box office than any other New Zealand playwright."’, while elsewhere the idea has been put around that Roger Hall is New Zealand’s David Williamson.

Though I have at times been critical of Williamson’s penchant for one liner comedies, Four Flat Whites in Italy can’t be compared with, say, Travelling North, which also deals with an older couple rediscovering the truth in their relationship in making a change. On the other hand, if Four Flat Whites is meant to be no more than light comedy, it hasn’t the delicate touch of a Noel Coward play like, say, Private Lives which has a similar pair of couples format.

Hall makes his themes – nowadays called ‘tropes’, I guess – far too explicit by using the husband Adrian as both commentator on and participant in the action. Sandra Bates as director and Michael Ross, the actor, handle this as well as the script allows, but you only have to look at Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie to see how it should be done. The problem here is that Adrian’s action in the past (falling asleep at the wheel and causing his and Alison’s daughter’s paraplegia and early death) is so central to the serious side of the play that it is embarrassing to have Adrian speak directly to the audience in comedy mode.

Because we see Alison – played very well by Sharon Flanagan with the full depth of the emotions resulting from her reaction to her life as Joanna’s carer – as a realistic character coming to terms with tragedy, it is difficult to know how to respond to the revival of her love for Adrian who, to us, has been outside the story as much as inside. The dance under the stars at the end, to me at least, became a simplistic sentimental romance conclusion which undermined the reality of Alison’s experience, while apparently her forgiving Adrian simply lifted all guilt and emotional weight from his shoulders. All too easy, for my liking.

The other themes, of wealth, of political positioning, of being Kiwi, of realising that someone else needs a bit of help when life has treated them unfairly, are all embedded in the other two characters. Henri Szeps and Mary Regan play Harry and his second wife Judy skilfully and to great comic effect as well as neatly handling the change of attitude towards Alison and Adrian as they discover more about Joanna’s life and death.

Yet these characters are there as ciphers, obviously symbolising points that the author wants to include in the play that New Zealanders will respond to. The success of the play at home, and the recognition by the audience on opening night here of the right times to laugh, showed that Hall has found his marks.

It was a bit problematical last night, though, that in real life the All Blacks had just beaten France and won the World Cup, when in the play, set in 2007, France had just beaten the All Blacks in a quarter-final and the Kiwis were in mourning for the loss. Perhaps this affected my response to the scene watching the rugby. Though the actors did it all very well, it went on far too long for me, watching their reactions to a screen I couldn’t see. Maybe this was a case where multi-media could have been used and we could all have seen famous footballers flailing in the face of French infallibility.

So though the night was enjoyable, I can’t say it was fully satisfying. Perhaps it’s being too harsh to say that, like Mrs Worthington’s daughter, it shouldn’t be on the stage. But it does seem to me not to be a play of the same standing as Neil Simon or David Williamson who have been a standard for Ensemble Theatre over the years.


Those readers who are probably much younger than me (or perhaps you’ve just lost your memory) can see a fair representation of Mrs Worthington by Fenton Gray at (Uploaded by FentonGray on 16 May 2010)

and, though I think you will have to buy Coward’s original recording of this song, you can watch him singing others (like Mad Dogs and Englishmen) in his inimitable impeccable style at (Noel Coward's first television appearance! Uploaded by kitschbitch on 4 Feb 2007).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Alchemy comes to Belconnen

Performed by Suraya Hilal
and Hilal artists
Belconnen Arts Centre
Until October 16
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

"Build it and they will come” as they say. You might not think that Canberra would provide a big enough audience to support multiple performances of a specific style of Egyptian dance, let alone have its own training ground. But, due in part perhaps to more, smaller but diverse performance spaces, such as the almost complete Belconnen Arts Centre, the final show of “Alchemy” was just about sold out.

Suraya Hilal has trained and taught all over Europe and started her own style of dance, Hilal dance, rooted in the Egyptian/Arab tradition.

Supported by local and interstate dancers trained in Hilal dance, the performance was divided into three segments, depicting custom and ritual, evolution and evoking the elements of the land in the rural people’s dance.

Sarah Hamilton, one of the Australian co-choreographers, led the first movements, with grace and control, to the sounds of the Mizmar – a traditional Arab woodwind instrument, its incessant sound conjuring up snake charmers and market stalls in Egypt or India.

Between the pieces, percussionist Marianthe Loucataris played traditional handheld drums, manipulating the sound within the performance space by slow movements of the drum, and manipulating the audience with her eyes.

Suraya joined the troupe later in the program for “Alchemy” and the pace picked up somewhat and the music, from the album “Majaz” by Le Trio Joubran was beautiful, almost meditative.

The pieces may have gone for five minutes, or twenty-five, it didn't really matter. The feeling of being lulled into the dance, drawn in by anticipation of the repetition of rhythm and movements made the length of the piece inconsequential.

The women wear costumes covering their entire bodies, including various forms of headcoverings. Everything is plain, simple, non-ornate, no jewellery to decorate any part of the body. This was a complete contrast to other forms of middle eastern dance, such as belly dancing, where the aim is seduction and entertainment. Hilal had an aura of female strength yet dignified femininity - like an internalization of emotion that felt as if it was created by women and for women, but within strict religious and cultural boundaries of dress.

With the small-scale movements and significant coverings of the dress, it was important that each movement was sharp and precise or filled the whole beat or bar of music. Even facial expression was fairly unchanging, so connection must come through the eyes.
Hilal dance incorporates graceful and small, sharp movements – the undulation of a shoulder, a hip, the rise and fall as the small troupe move across the stage as one entity, in perfect unison, moving towards a crescendo as the tempo increases.

With only a handful of dancers, every single difference is noticeable, but as Suraya was the only “native” dancer, the differences between her movement and the other dancers was apparent, although not necessarily a detraction or negative observation. It whets the appetite for seeing other “native” dancers in this style of dance.
Suraya’s balance faltered slightly at the end of some movements just detracting from a solid finish.

“Alchemy” was part of an exhibition at the BAC, “Creative Alchemy”, including artworks and displays by local artists. The exhibition runs until October 23rd.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Debt Defying Acts – The Wharf Revue by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe & Phillip Scott, with Amanda Bishop

Debt Defying Acts – The Wharf Revue by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, with Amanda Bishop. Sydney Theatre Company at The Playhouse, Canberra, October 18-22, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 18

At the urinal, conversation flowed, fulsome and pithy:

“They really are clever.”
“They are! They are!”

Taking the piss out of politicians certainly worked on Canberra’s public servants.

Powers must have been specially delegated from DFAT considering the inordinate responses not only to the present Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in the guise of the Phantom of the Opera, but also the mysterious appearance in the downstairs disabled toilet of ex-Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who didn’t want to be told anything about anything. The Phantom, of course, was holding his ambition (i.e. the Prime Minister Julia Gillard) incognito, insisting in magnificent song on his undying love for her.

Why is the disabled toilet downstairs where disabled people can’t get to it? – exactly. Just the place for a quiet read (Alexander had come to recover a forgotten tome), or for holding someone incognito, and indeed for a final stab in the back. As Julia made clear, this time she will do it properly, while Kevin slumped across the piano keyboard – I could say, “dead, buried and cremated”.

Which reminds me of the other phantom of this circus: a clown who appeared only briefly at the beginning as a shadow figure with big ears – Tony Abbott, the evil Dr No with his Invisible Mandate. Julia, Queen of the High Wire Balancing Act, was there, though actually riding a nameless (faceless?) pony. Wild Barry O’Farrell (or was it Farry O’Barrel?) got his gun with the help of the religious right. Even the Faded Rose of Yesteryear, Miss Kittie Keneally, had her day. The Tragedy of King Rupert played out to its inevitable conclusion as his favourite seeming daughter Rebekah took nothing, while his Crouching Tiger wife took everything. But no show for Tony Abbott.

Was the problem that there is simply nothing funny to write about an Opposition in a political revue? Or just about this Opposition?

Getting a bit more serious, a good revue should edge towards satire. If it’s edgy enough it should reach some kind of horrible truth. This was achieved in this year’s Wharf Revue in a shadow puppet presentation of the shock-jock horror, Alan Jones and those he has spawned. Using recordings of their broadcasts, including the ring-ins, this segment was parallel to wayang puppetry which might bring down a dictator in another country. If only, in our case.

And getting very serious, this production is magnificent. The action is fast-paced with great timing throughout, in a circus-tent set which incorporates its own lighting, sound and visual media, reminding me of the amazing Famous Spiegeltent. We are used to the annual Wharf Revue, of course, but this year I thought Amanda Bishop’s singing, dancing and athleticism stood out (upside down at the very end), as did Drew Forsythe’s Rupert Murdoch as King Lear. Switching so many roles – and some very complicated costumes – in short order, with each new character instantly recognisable, was a strength in all four performers.

My conclusion is that the Canberra Theatre Centre should have employed this team to launch its 2012 Program (see Love Song blog posted October 6) as well as including The Wharf Revue again next year (as they have).