Saturday, December 15, 2012


QL2 Dance - Gorman House
25th November 2012

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

 This is the 14th year QL2 dance has presented “Hot to Trot”.  The "Hot to Trot" program provides the opportunity for young first-time choreographers to undertake a short dance work, under the watchful eye of Ruth Osborne and with the mentorship of Adelina Larsson.

As QL2 Artistic Director,  Ruth Osborne,  explains in her program notes..”These choreographers need to take responsibility for their dancers’ well-being, source costumes and music, consider lighting design, write program notes and work to a timeline to have their piece rehearsed and performance ready in time”.

This year 12 young choreographers stepped up to the challenge, some in collaborations and others alone. They produced 8 short works for a diverting, never-less-than-interesting program.

Each choreographer introduced their work to a packed house in the QL2 studios at Gorman House. The program commenced with one of the more successful works, a playful piece for four dancers, choreographed by Amanda Lee.  Entitled “You May Hate Gravity, But Gravity Doesn’t Care” this work featured delightfully quirky music and colourful costumes. The clever choreography was very well danced by Georgia Holgate, Alice Brown, Darcy Read and Ryan Stone, who had obviously invested a lot of work to polish the gymnastic-based unison sections devised by Lee.

Georgia Crow and Kayla Smurthwaite danced their own collaboration “Derailed”.  Making good use of their attractive dark red split skirts worn over black leotards, which were an integral part of the dance work, “Derailed” was danced to thoughtfully chosen music and featured effective use of unison movement and well-executed floor work.

Using a silent protest by a group of Chilean women as her inspiration, Ashleigh Simpson created a dramatic work for three dancers, Alana Stenning, Portia Lawson and Indigo Trail, entitled “Dancing Alone”. Notable for the lovely open movement of the choreography, this work made good use of narration and dramatic lighting to produce a series of powerful images.

Darcy Read made imaginative use of the windows at the back of the stage in her exquisite little work “Who do You Rely On” which she danced with her brother Simon, and in which she explored sibling relationships using words, well-chosen images and muscular movement to produce a work that was both touching and entertaining.

Tamar Peacock, Amy Peacock and Melissa Markos collaborated on a piece called “Stepping into the Shower”, which they also danced. Utilising a large dance vocabulary, thoughtfully-chosen music and sound effects  and incorporating wet hair in the manner of Meryl Tankard, this piece was interesting but did not really solve, in choreographic terms, the task they had set themselves of producing a work which suggested being in a world of their own in a shower.

For his hip-hop-inspired piece, “Equality Doesn’t Cannot Exist”, Jack Riley incorporated dramatic projections and spoken narration (excellently delivered by Ryan Stone) to produce an arresting and memorable piece. The four dancers, Alex Abbott, Amanda Lee, Darcy Read and Ryan Stone managed the demanding floor work with considerable élan.

Wearing black hoodies, Luke Fryer and Nasim Patel performed their own choreography to present a powerful and effective piece called “Internal/External” exploring teenage angst and how people find ways to avoid contact with each other. While lacking the overall inventiveness of some of the earlier works, it still contained many interesting passages.

Georgia Holgate chose the music of Phillip Glass for her piece, “The Drawn Line”, in which she made intriguing use of net to differentiate spaces in an intriguing work which was excellently danced by Madison Hegarty, Alice Brown, Amanda Lee, Ryan Stone and Nathan Rutups, and which also proved an excellent finale to an evening that was both entertaining and exhilarating.

Following the performance, the dancers and choreographers returned to the stage, with mentor Adelina Larsson, to discuss the process and their works. For dance enthusiasts this  session offered fascinating insights into the process of producing a dance work, in addition to the opportunity to watch young emerging choreographers grapple with the challenge of exploring and discovering a dance vocabulary.





Friday, December 14, 2012

Managing Carmen by David Williamson

Managing Carmen by David Williamson.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, directed by Mark Kilmurry, designer Steven Butler, choreographer Shondelle Pratt, hair and make-up Helen Thatcher, wardrobe Lisa Mimmocchi.  December 6, 2012 – January 26, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 13
Photo: Queensland Theatre Company

The background to the production of this new play by David Williamson, in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, is complicated.  I have not been in a position to see the Wesley Enoch version at QTC and Black Swan, but I suggest you read Frank Hatherley’s article in Stage Whispers at
to fill in details.

Mark Kilmurry has done a brilliant job at the Ensemble, possibly, from Enoch’s comments in that article, with more economy and perhaps more clarity as a result.  This play is so good that I’d be pleased to see comments on my review from readers in Queensland and WA.

First, praise to the now septuagenarian author from this reviewer of the same generation.  This play’s message is simple, clear and bloody necessary.  It’s as up-to-date Aussie as all get out.  And that phrase obliquely introduces Carmen, dressed to more than the nines.

That’s as much as I prefer to give away, because it’s the surprises that make this play one of Williamson’s best.  If you prefer to be surprised, and so laugh even more than you expect, then read the Hatherley and other articles only after you’ve taken a trip to the Ensemble. 

Tonight, and I’m sure every night, the (I shouldn’t say it) typical North Shore audience, a large proportion of whom were also of my generation or nearly so, were literally dancing in the aisles at interval.  It’s so good to see a play with a straight-into-the-action first half.  No wasting time setting the scene – it’s life and we’re in it.

But then, almost unbelievably, the second half boosts the energy and the laughter (and the message) to the point of a metaphorical explosion.  I think the last time I laughed so much at a Williamson play  was in The Coming of Stork at the Old Tote Theatre (in about 1970, just to show how old we are) at the oyster up the nose party trick.  Just as in the Ensemble, the very close proximity of the actor to us watching intensifies our response.

I’m also sure that Managing Carmen will have the same effect on a modern young audience.  It’s Australian comedy across the ages, and I can only say I’m jealous that Williamson can produce such another brilliant gem more than 40 years after Stork.

You will have noticed that I’ve listed the team (nowadays known as ‘creatives’).  That’s because, in this case, Kilmurry’s direction, Pratt’s choreography, Butler’s design – especially the integration of video and sound – and Thatcher’s hair and make-up, with Mimmocchi’s costumes absolutely matched the brilliance of the script.  The actors – Rachel Gordon (Jessica), Glenn Hazeldine (Rohan Swift), David Hynes (Max), Morgana O’Reilly (Clara) and Leigh Scully (in the central role of AFL footballer, Brent Lyall) – enjoyed every scene as their expressive movement and voice skills were extended to the max.  The final scene brought a great burst of applause from the whole audience, everyone in the circle of the in-the-round theatre space emotionally linked in the joy of the moment.

Managing Carmen isn’t listed for Canberra next year, unless The Street Theatre could pick it up, so I have to say a trip to the Ensemble (right next to Kirribilli House) would be more than justified this summer.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, until 6th January 2013

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

What a great holiday treat this deliciously wicked production of one of Stephen Sondheim’s earliest musicals proves to be.   First presented on Broadway in 1963, “A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum” still sparkles brighter than Christmas lights in a production brimming with clever performances and delightful directorial flourishes.  

Taking advantage of a twelve-week window-of-opportunity in Geoffrey Rush’s availability, John Frost has mounted an affectionate, stylish production which allows Rush plenty of opportunity to flash his renowned theatrical brilliance. From the moment he hits the stage in “A Comedy Tonight”  Geoffrey Rush happily grasps every one of those opportunities to deliver a performance which is not only excruciatingly funny but also technically brilliant.

As the wily slave, Pseudolus, who attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door, Rush utilises his scrawny physique to great comic effect, effortlessly dashing off Andrew Hallsworth’s tricky choreography, extracting every nuance from Sondheim’s witty lyrics, and flashing his underpants at every opportunity. His comic timing is masterly as he revels in the bawdiness of his character, expending an incredible amount of energy along the way, but finishing the show looking as fresh as he began it.

As good as he is Geoffrey Rush is not the only reason to see this production. Director Simon Phillips has pulled out every trick in the bag to insure that the wonderfully convoluted plot, crammed with all the classic elements of good farce;  puns, slamming doors, mistaken identity, malapropisms, and mad chases, hurtles along.  Phillips teams again with Gabriela Tylesova, fresh from her dazzling success with the design of “Love Never Dies”, who has again come up with beautiful, witty costumes and a set which is cheeky, clever and picture-book pretty, especially as lit by lighting designer Nick Schlieper. Guy Simpson has also gilded the lilly with some fresh new musical arrangements.
Geoffrey Rush and Mitchell Butel
Photo: Jeff Busby

Typically, Phillips has meticulously cast the show and every person on stage knows exactly why they are there. Helpmann Award winner, Mitchell Butel chews up the scenery as  Hysterium, the head slave in the house of Senex,  providing an excellent foil for Rush,  especially in their act-two duet, “I’m Lovely”,  where their inventive stage business has the audience gurgling with deligh

Christie Whelan-Browne and Hugh Sheridan
Photo: Jeff Busby

Hugh Sheridan displays a fine singing voice and plays the handsome Hero with just the right degree of bemused earnestness. Christie Whelan-Browne as Philia the virgin courtesan and the object of his affections, is drop-dead gorgeous and deliciously ditsy. Together they are an attractive pair.

Shane Bourne plays an opportunistic Roman nobleman,  Senex, whose absence at war provides that catalyst for Pseudolus to create havoc, and although she doesn’t have a lot to do,  Magda Szubanski as his imposing wife,Domina,  makes the most of every stage moment.   

Gerry Connolly is gloriously sleazy as Marcus Lycus, the buyer and seller of beautiful women, while Adam Murphy is impressive as the impossibly fierce and funny warrior, Miles Gloriosus.

Bob Hornery as Erronius
Photo: Jeff Busby

A special delight is the presence in the cast of veteran actor, Bob Hornery, who played Marcus Lycus in the original 1964 J.C.Williamsons production, and who in this production plays the gullible Erronius, demonstrating  that he has lost known of his stage skills,and  managing to garner a round of applause every time he trots across the stage.

A bevy of long-legged, beautiful courtesans inhabit the house of Marcus Lycus, and three very funny Proteans, who all double hilariously in a number of roles, each more ridiculous than the last, round out a brilliant cast.

It’s a shame that this production will only be seen in Melbourne, but if you’re looking for an excuse for a trip to Melbourne before the 6th January. This is it.


Friday, December 7, 2012


Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Everyman Theatre
Directed by Jarrad West
December 6 to 22, Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

Reviewed by Len Power

‘Rent’, the musical, was a phenomenal success on Broadway for 12 years.  It had a short professional season in Sydney and one previous local production in Canberra.  The original Broadway production gained some unfortunate publicity when the show’s writer, composer and lyricist, Jonathan Larson, died shortly before the show’s premiere.

Based loosely on Puccini’s opera, ‘La Boheme’, ‘Rent’ tells an updated story of a group of friends living in poverty in New York City’s Greenwich Village with the shadow of AIDS hanging over them.

It’s a curious musical, one minute following the traditions of a Broadway musical and then at other times making its own rules, for example, abrupt endings to songs and scenes giving them an oddly unfinished feel.

Jarrad West, the director, who also performs the role of Tom Collins, has given us a solid, enjoyable production with deep characterisations from the cast of about twenty.  Everyone onstage has their moment to shine but particularly noteworthy was Adrian Flor in the transgender role of Angel – his solo, ‘Today for You – Tomorrow For Me’ was exceptionally well sung and danced.  Vanessa De Jager as Mimi, Jarrad West as Tom Collins and Mathew Chardon O’Dea as Mark also impressed with their strong performances.  The songs, ‘La Vie Boheme’ and ‘Seasons Of Love’ are superbly sung by the entire company.

Jordan Kelly has outdone himself with his masterful choreography for this show, particularly in ‘La Vie Boheme’.  Everyone in the cast has been given individual movements during this song that suit their characters and the total effect is breath-taking.

Nick Valois’ set successfully creates a down-and-out, ugly environment using scaffolding.  It has some awkwardness with an acting space in one corner which seemed a bit lost and underlit.  Some staging choices by the director also didn’t work, especially where one of Vanessa De Jager’s songs had to compete with the distraction of three dancing girls on a platform.

The music director and keyboard player, Nick Griffin, achieved the right sound for the show from the band of six players.  However, the sound level of the band swamped the singers so much that the lyrics were unintelligible for much of the show.  Whatever the cause of this, it’s a major problem and a great pity when all other elements of the show have come together so well.  Hopefully it can be fixed for the remainder of the season.

Apart from the sound level problem, this is a very enjoyable, visually exciting, moving and memorable production.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Polyphonic Bard: Music And Shakespeare In Our Time

The Street Theatre November 30 to December 2
Directed by Tamzin Nugent
Review by Len Power

It was customary in Tudor and Stuart drama to include at least one song in every play. Only the most profound tragedies contained no music except for the sounds of trumpets and drums. In his later tragedies, William Shakespeare defied this custom and used songs startlingly and movingly, particularly in Othello, King Lear, and Hamlet.  So, an evening of mostly Elizabethan period music sung by The Pocket Score Company interspersed with scenes from Shakespeare’s plays was a very appealing idea.

On a nicely atmospheric set designed and lit by Gillian Schwab, the five men of The Pocket Score Company thrilled with their intricate harmonies and choice of music.  Commencing with ‘If Music Be The Food Of Love’ from ‘Twelfth Night’, set to music by Henry Purcell, they followed with works by Thomas Tallis, Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Palestrina, Thomas Morley and others.  The music for ‘Bryng Home The Good Ale’, the words dating from the 15th century, was beautifully composed and arranged by The Pocket Score Company member, David Yardley.  Thomas Tallis’s, ‘Spem in alium’ or ‘Hope In Any Other’, by Thomas Tallis was sung to an accompanying recording, providing a spectacular range of harmonies.  It was electrifying and a perfect finale to the production.

Interspersed with the singers, students from the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art played scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and recited sonnets.  The pieces were well chosen to complement the music and, while the performances were uneven, you could see the underlying talent in these students which will be strengthened with more experience.  I was particularly impressed with the staging and performance of the physical action between Petruchio and Kate from ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and Brendan Kelly’s confident delivery and understanding of the words in his performance as Benedick from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.

Directed by Tamzin Nugent, there was a nice flow from one scene to the next with imaginative use of the set and Aaron King’s audiovisuals.  I would have preferred to see the cast of actors and singers in, at least, simple period costumes, rather than modern day dress with no uniformity.  If this was to give it a contemporary feeling, it didn’t work, especially as the female actor alone was mysteriously in period costume.  Also, if the singers had had period-looking covers over their basic K-mart black music folders, it would have added to the atmosphere created by the show.

This was a charming and stimulating evening of good music and fine words.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 2 December 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Polyphonic Bard

The Polyphonic Bard – Music and Shakespeare in our time The Pocket Score Company and Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art, directed by Tamzin Nugent.  Made in Canberra Season at The Street Theatre, November 30 – December 2, 2012.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 30

My reference for this review just has to be the Bach Guild / Vanguard recording BG-606 by the Deller Consort (Alfred Deller (countertenor), Wenzinger Consort of viols - August Wenzinger, dir., April Cantelo (soprano), Eileen McLoughlin (soprano), Desmond Dupré (lute), Taylor Recorder Consort, Gustav Leonhardt (harpsichord), Ambrosian Singers) titled A Musical Panorama of Shakespeare’s England.

This was my introduction, in 1963, to the fascinating strange harmonies of Renaissance songs, beginning with the ironic humour of “We Be Soldiers Three” included in this Pocket Score show.  One song not included, which I would have loved to hear and see performed, is Ben Jonson’s “Have You Seen But A Whyte Lily Grow”, a great deflator of the conventions of romantic love which would have fitted so well in this program.

And what an odd but interesting program this is.  It certainly fulfils the Made in Canberra description of diverse works mixing up new ideas in theatre, music, dance, opera, and interdisciplinary work in live performance.

I saw The Polyphonic Bard as having two purposes.  It is an “entertainment”, which means a lot more than being merely entertaining.  There are light-hearted episodes here, but set among themes concerning the nature of love, life and even death.

For the young students of the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art, the top-quality 5-part singing of the Pocket Score team – David Yardley (countertenor), Paul Eldon (tenor), John Virgoe (tenor), Daniel Sanderson (baritone) and Ian Blake (bass) – provides a model for them to aspire to.  They have a long way to go at this point in their quest, but this public performance is an important step along the way.

Once upon a time, when I trained young people for tertiary training auditions, requiring a Shakespeare piece, of course, I used to explain how 5- or even 8-part singing took place in the pubs of London in Shakespeare’s day, and how those complexities of rhythm, harmony and stress patterns underlie the poetry of Shakespeare’s words.  These CADA students are lucky enough to learn in practice, from the Pocket Score Company, what I could only explain to my trainees.  But, of course, in today’s theatre world, all professional actors must be able to sing well.

Though the show is indeed “diverse” and a “mixing up”, the audiovisual and photographic work of Aaron King and Danielle Osomanski – not exactly of Shakespeare’s time – often added images to the speaking and singing.  Particularly effective, I thought, was video of (I assume) swirling drops of coloured inks, which metaphorically represented ideas in the words, especially when red seemed to show the blood of warfare.  This brought the experiences of Shakespeare’s period of history into the present – artfully, rather than as a blunt instrument, in keeping with the choice of sonnets and comedy in the spoken word.

I wasn’t so sure of the success of the use of hanging ropes – literally with hangman’s nooses – which provided something for the actors, and sometimes even the singers, to hang on to.  It is a simple idea (that means a good idea) and certainly raised thoughts of dangers, social strictures and death, behind words of comedy and love, but a choreographer was needed to work up a movement design which could have lifted the actors’ performances more “artfully” to match the video.

So, once again I have to thank the recently announced Artist of the Year, Caroline Stacey, for instituting the Made in Canberra program which “through partnership relationships...puts a spotlight on independent artistic activity in the ACT and has continued to evolve in response to artists’ needs and Canberra’s creative context”.  It does indeed, and The Polyphonic Bard is a good example.