Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stella Wilkie: a life of dedication to the theatre

                                                                     Stella Wilkie 2004

Members of the Canberra Critics’ Circle are today mourning the passing of one of its most dedicated longtime members.

Estella “Stella Wilkie”, who passed away on January 30, aged 88, was one of the great ladies of Canberra’s theatre world.

Born in England, she was a scientist by profession and a formidable intellectual by disposition. In the UK after the war, she played in professional touring companies doing musicals and pantomime.
                                                 Wilkie in   "Song of Norway", c. 1950 in England

Once in Australia with her civil engineer husband John, Willkie spent a few challenging years in Condobolin, NSW, before moving to Canberra, where, widowed not long afterwards, she raised her young family - Jeanne, Michael and Matthew.

 In Canberra she had already joined Repertory and was in a number of plays at the old "Riverside Theatre".  It was during one of  these plays that   John died. She then had to go to work, and while she was working at Mount Stromlo Observatory she met Malcolm Miller, who became her partner for 37 years.

In the ACT she rapidly became a noted stage performer, continuing in demanding roles, sometimes professionally, with Eureka Theatre and the Canberra Theatre Company and other groups well into her later years, when ill health and several orthopaedic operations began to take their toll.

All the while, Willkie assumed an important role as a theatre critic for publications like Muse and Artook magazines. With Miller, she was a long time member of the Canberra Critics’ Circle and Canberra Repertory Society.

A dedicated subscriber to the Canberra Theatre’s seasons, she hated missing anything new and exciting. As well, as a generous patron of Free Rain Theatre, she and Miller awarded and supported young, emerging theatre artists.

In recent years she also acted as a dramaturg to playwright/director Tessa Bremner, who swore by her judgment.

Wilkie was into everything. Far more computer-savvy than most of her contemporaries, she learnt a desktop publishing program (which she then taught to this writer) and laid out community newsletters for arts organisations and even a cycling club.

A committed member of the Society of Friends (the Quaker movement), she was known for her high standards of personal ethics and her detestation of cant, claptrap and hypocrisy.

Though always praised as a gracious individual, those who knew Willkie more intimately were constantly delighted by her love of a gin and tonic, her sharp wit, her wicked sense of humour and her acute observations on the society she found around her.

She last participated in the Canberra Critics' Circle deliberations in November 2012 and was, quite coincidentally, honoured in absentia with a Peer Group recognition award by the Media, Entertainment and Arts (MEAA) Association at the 2012 Arts Awards held in the Canberra Museum and Gallery on November 27.

She is survived by Miller,  a grieving family of children and grandchildren, among the latter her grandson Kenji, who, she was proud to boast, now studies ballet at the Royal Academy of Dance.

Helen Musa 30 January 2013.
Stella Wilkie aged about 20 

Monday, January 21, 2013


By Giuseppe Verdi
Opera Australia – Sydney Opera House until February 12th 2013
Performance 16th January 2013 reviewed by Bill Stephens
Jose Carbo as Count Ankarstrom-Diego Torre as Gustav 111
Taryn Fiebig as Oscar  - The Opera Australia Chorus

Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

What a bleak totalitarian world King Gustav 111 and his minions inhabit in this extraordinary  vision of a futuristic Orwellian world imagined by Director Alex  Olle and designers Alfons Flores and Lluc Castells for this arresting production, which was  given its world premiere at the Sydney Opera House by Opera Australia .
The sensuous images of nude male body parts projected over the overture set up an entirely different expectation to the bleak world revealed at curtain rise. Tall concrete corridors, silent lifts ascending and descending, and computer imagery, inhabited by dehumanised, blue- suited men and women, distinguished from each other only by numbers stencilled on their backs. All wear masks, not the glamorous sequined variety worn on opening night by some of the audience, but identical fleshy affairs which cover head and face leaving only eyes and mouths exposed.  The only exception is the King, who wears a shiny silver metal mask. Later in the opera, two of the principal characters tear off their masks to reveal their true selves. Otherwise, the audience has to rely on vocal differences to differentiate between characters. It says something of the power of the writing, and the clarity of the staging, that this was not as difficult as it sounds.  
Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” is based on real events surrounding the assassination of King Gustov 111 of Sweden during a masked ball in the eighteenth century.  The time and place of events were changed to satisfy nervous censors, therefore, though this current setting may upset those expecting lavish ball gowns and gilt ballrooms, it works surprising well in serving the storyline, the  intent of the opera and by focussing attention on Verdi’s brilliantly descriptive score.
Tamar Iveri as Amelia - Diego Torre as King Gustav 111
Photo:Prudence Upton

The action centres on the King’s attempts to seduce Amelia, the wife of his loyal secretary, Count Ankarstrom.  However, when Ankarstrom learns of the affair between Amelia and the King, he joins a conspiracy planned by courtiers to assassinate the King. 

During the masked ball he persuades Oscar, the King’s young pageboy, to reveal the identity of the king, whom he then stabs. Before dying however, the King reveals that his love for Amelia was unrequited, and forgives his assassin and the conspirators. 

Tama Iveri as Amelia - Jose Carbo as Ankarstrom
Photo: Prudence Upton
 Each making their role debuts in this opera, soprano, Tamar Iveri as Amelia, tenor, Diego Torre as King Gustav, and baritone Jose Carbo as Ankarstrom are quite simply sensational, vocally and dramatically.  Each possesses a splendid voice as well as the ability to soar thrillingly above the huge orchestra and chorus when required. Despite the masks, the dramatic intensity each brings to their character, quickly grips the audience imagination drawing them inexorably into the action.
Taryn Fiebig, as the pageboy Oscar, also sings brilliantly while investing her character with a welcome lightness without sacrificing any of the dramatic intensity.  Another special pleasure of this production is the haunting, rich voice of Mariana Pentcheva, as the fortune-teller Ulrica,  who provides an unforgettable interlude as she foretells the events which are about to transpire. In lesser roles Richard Anderson, Andrew Brunsdon and Jud Arthur each lend solid dramatic and vocal support.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Verdi opera without the huge orchestra and chorus, and for this production, Maestro Andrea Molino, has at his disposal the huge Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and the Opera Australia chorus from whom he confidently coaxes a very stylish, impressive performance of one of Verdi’s most luscious scores,to put the seal on a memorable, exciting and challenging night of opera.  

Diego Torre as King Gustav 111 - Jose Carbo as Count Ankarstrom
Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

Saturday, January 19, 2013


By Giacomo Puccini                                                 

Opera Australia - Sydney Opera House until March 23rd 2013

Performance 15th January 2013 reviewed by Bill Stephens
Nicole Car (Mimi), Gianlucca  Terranova (Rodolfo)
Photo: Branco Gaica

Opera Australia commenced their summer season at the Sydney Opera House with a return season of Gale Edwards’ luscious new production of “La Boheme”.  Having seen this production in its first Sydney season with its memorable original cast, whose performances have happily been preserved on DVD, the opportunity to revisit it now that it has seasoned, and with a new set of principals, was irresistible, especially as one of those principals is  former Canberra soprano, Lorina Gore, making her role debut as Musetta, and another was the Italian tenor, Gianluca Terranova, who made such an impression with his first Opera Australia appearances as Alfredo in last year’s spectacular Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour staging of “La Traviata”.

Brian Thomson’s 1930’s Berlin spiegletent setting proves just as impressive on second viewing, allowing, as it does, the depiction of the passage of time, by allowing the audience to see the completion of Marcello’s’ mural, which he had only just commenced in the first act. The spectacular second-act transformation into the interior of the Café Momus is now so confidently executed that one wonders why the combined imaginations of Edwards and Thomson were not able to dream up a similarly imaginative transition between Acts three and four to avoid the holdup which presently interrupts the flow and the magic. 

A second viewing also offered the opportunity to focus on the many imaginative directorial touches, like the way Rodolfo folds his coat to form a pillow for Musetta as they settle by the candlelight, or having the friends cheekily re-use the newspaper wrappings as mock tablecloths as they set up a pretend banquet on planks and ladders in the sparsely furnished studio.

Nicole Car is exquisite as Mimi. Beautiful, fragile and serene, she immediately engages the audience, which holds its collective breath to hang on her every phrase as she imparts her story in a gorgeously sung “They Call Me Mimi”. Throughout the opera her singing and acting never falters so that her finale death scene is almost unbearably moving.

Gianluca Terranova lives up to high expectations as Rodolfo. A fine actor as well as a stunning singer, passionate yet considerate when with Mimi, playful and engaging when interacting with his friends, his thrilling, Italianate tenor soars above the orchestra, and throbs with emotion, especially in the third act when he and Mimi decide to part, and in the final act when his pain at having to watch Mimi die is palpable, his performance is continuously riveting.  
Lorina Gore as Musetta
Photo: Branco Gaica

It would be hard to imagine a more captivating Musetta than Lorina Gore. Flirtatious, wilful and drop- dead gorgeous in the café Momus, provocative and sensuous as she and Marcello quarrel then make love in the snow in Act 3, then a warm and concerned friend in the final scene, hers is a performance to relish.

The role of Marcello is also perfect fit, both vocally and physically, for Samuel Dundas. Blessed with smouldering good looks and rich expressive baritone, he brought depth to his relationship with Musetta, which sizzled and flamed as she taunted and provoked him, and good humour in his interaction with Rodolfo, Schaunard (Shane Lowrencev) and Colline (David Parkin). Both the latter have added depth and detail to their already excellent characterisations.

Over the years Opera Australia have mounted several different productions of “La Boheme”, but few more beautiful than this current version. During this summer season at the Sydney Opera House there will be two more changes of principal cast for this production. It will be fascinating to see what new facets each cast can reveal in this jewel of a production.

Samuel Dundas (Marcello), David Parkin (Colline), Shane Lowrencev (Schaunard)
Lorina Gore (Musetta), Nicole Car (Mimi), Gianluca Terranova (Rodolfo)

Photo: Branco Gaica




 by Lionel Bart                                              
Ben Burgess as Oliver Twist
Presented by Ickle Pickle Productions

Belconnen Theatre until 25th January

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Previously known for their school holiday productions of children’s musicals, Ickle Pickle is this year presenting an ambitious full scale production of the Lionel Bart musical masterpiece “Oliver”, which is based on the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist”.

Director, John Alsford has downplayed the darker Dickensonian aspects of the show, favouring a simplistic, bright setting, fresh, colourful costumes, even for the paupers, and well-drilled chorus numbers sung with gusto to spectacularly inappropriate choreography.

Among the cast of 50 adults and children, Ben Burgess is appealing, though tentative, as Oliver Twist, too often left unsupported by the direction. Oliver’s friendship with the Artful Dodger (Jack Taylor) is left unexplored, as is his relationships with any of the other characters.

Among the adult actors, Richard Block is a suitably menacing Bill Sykes, Michael Miller and Debra Byrne have fun as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney. Michael Jordan is rather too restrained as Fagin, while Jeff Young (Charley Bates) and Jenny Watson (Bet) prove there is no such thing as small roles.

Although attractive in its own right, the sequenced soundtrack proved problematical, robbing the production of spontaneity and pace as several of the un-miked cast struggled with vocal entrances.

No doubt this production will smarten up as the cast gain confidence with further performances, and should prove a winner with its young target audience, and for Ickle Pickle.

Leanne Olsen as Nancy
Ben Burgess as Oliver



Michael Jordan as Fagin
Photo: Familyphotographics

                     This review is published in the January 17th - 23rd edition of CITY NEWS


Friday, January 18, 2013


Written by George Solomon and Michael Chapman
Directed by Michael Chapman
The Q Theatre, Queanbeyan January 16 to 27

Review by Len Power

 Juke box musicals and tribute shows seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but every now and again a show comes along that stands out against the competition. ‘Oh, What A Night!’ is just such a show.

It’s a simple concept - four very talented men perform the songs of ‘The Four Seasons’, the pop group who burst onto the pop scene in the 1960s, led by the falsetto voice of Frankie Valli.  The cast of ‘Oh, What A Night!’ sing, dance, tell a few jokes and some details about The Four Seasons – that’s it – but it all adds up to a very entertaining night out.

From left: Paul Holmquist, Rick Morgan, George Solomon and Brandon Albright

 Written by George Solomon, who is also one of the cast members, and Michael Chapman, who also directed, the cast of four work their way through about thirty songs from The Four Seasons catalogue.  All the hit songs are sung but they also sing others less well known that are equally as good.

Unlike the popular Broadway show, ‘Jersey Boys’, about The Four Seasons, ‘Oh, What A Night!’ doesn’t dramatize their story.  It’s essentially a concert by four individuals who just happen to be able to recreate the distinctive sound of The Four Seasons.  Each member of the cast gets their moment to shine and all are able to sing the demanding falsettos required for the sound.  Particularly memorable is Brandon Albright who connects with the audience with style, a sense of fun and an amazing voice.  George Solomon sings and dances a great version of ‘Grease’, Frankie Valli’s biggest hit, Paul Holmquist does a quietly romantic, ‘My Eyes Adored You’, and Rick Morgan gives a heartfelt rendition of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’.  Most exciting, of course, for The Four Seasons fans are the famous group harmony numbers, ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Who Loves You’ and this cast lift the roof off the theatre with these.

Oh, what a day! (At the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan)

The choreography is by cast member Paul Holmquist.  He has created a large number of pleasing and distinctive routines for each number that add to the enjoyment of the show.  The clever lighting design adds another dimension.  The music is pre-recorded but the sound is well-balanced with the singers.

The patter and jokes between songs seemed a bit cheesy at times but doesn’t detract from the show as a whole.  The songs and the way they’re sung are the important things here and this cast really knows how to deliver them.

If you’re a fan of The Four Seasons, you must see this show.  If you don’t know The Four Seasons but like good pop music, go along anyway.  Oh, what a night, indeed!

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 20 January 2013

Rian co-produced by Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre and Sadler’s Wells

                                                              Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Rian co-produced by Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre (Ireland) and Sadler’s Wells, London.  Director and choreographer, Michael-Keegan-Dolan; Music Director, Liam Ó Maonlaí.  Sydney Festival at Theatre Royal, January 17-23, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 17

I rather wish that highly expert directors/choreographers, like Michael Keegan-Dolan, and equally highly expert musicians/composers, like Liam Ó Maonlaí, would refrain from writing deep and meaningful romantic guff in program notes.

Rian stands, or rather dances, sings and plays, on its own two feet, without the need for justifications like “We dance to be reunited with the creative core from which we came” or “Myth describes the marriage of heaven and Earth again and again.  And so it is.  The sun and the Earth give us life....”

And the audience on opening night stood, not just to applaud the artistic quality of this Irish based World Music and Dance creation, not even in simple response to the emotional ebb and flow, culminating in energy pouring off the stage, but even more in thanks to a company who drew us all into an understanding of community.  The externalised world of our “modern” society was gently, and often amusingly, put to one side to allow our imaginations the freedom to see the world differently.

Here am I, a critic, ironically of course, writing: Just do it; don’t write program notes to tell us beforehand what we are supposed to experience.

What isn’t explained in the program is the title ‘Rian’, meaning trace or mark, in Irish.  My Irish ancestors probably escaped their west coast poverty for the bright lights and industrial poverty of London about 250 years ago.  Watching Rian makes me regret the move and imagine what I might have become.  I don’t have the language, or even the pronunciation, but I do still have ‘Rian’ – the trace that made me enjoy playing Australian folk tunes on my mouth organ after the latest move of our family to this country, where the lilt and rhythm of Irish song and dance has been a major part of the culture since the days of the convicts, many of whom were political prisoners.

What Liam Ó Maonlaí has done is to explore the world beyond Ireland, with, in this show, a particular focus on Mali, seeking the musical connections with ancient traditions, while Michael Keegan-Dolan has found a choreographic style of movement using traditional elements of Irish dance as a basis for expression of the joy, the fun, the sadness, and the exuberance of the music. 

This is nothing like the commercialised simplicity of ‘Riverdance’.  This is art reflecting real life back to us, with a cast representing many different cultural backgrounds.  The traces are in their names: Saku Koistinen, Saju Hari, Keir Patrick, Hannes Langolf, Anna Kaszuba, Louise Mochia, Ino Riga and Louise Tanoto.

Rian is an exemplar of the best presentations for this international Festival, currently directed by Belgian-born Lieven Bertels.  Bryce Hallett has written that he is “bold, eclectic and surprising” and is “driven to connect with audiences in meaningful ways, with an unconventional approach that promises to add even more colour to Sydney Festival’s much-loved palette.”  Rian definitely fits the bill.

See for more from Bryce Hallett.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Urban by CIRCOLOMBIA.  Presented by Sydney Festival in association with Arts Projects Australia.  Artistic Director, Felicity Simpson; directed by Mark Storer; original theatre director, Jean-Yves Penafiel; Company Captain, José Henry Caycedo Cassierra.  Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, January 15-27, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 16

If you think of Circus Oz as quintessentially Australian (see my review of From the Ground Up in Canberra Critics’ Circle, October 5, 2012), then you can see Circolombia as playing a similar role for Colombia.  The origin of the company lies in the Foundation Circo Para Todos, founded by Felicity Simpson in Cali, Colombia in 1995; the establishment of a professional circus school specifically dedicated to underprivileged children; and its development into Circolombia producing shows and providing jobs for the graduates of Circo Para Todos – and spreading Columbian culture around the globe.

I contrasted From the Ground Up against the Cirque du Soleil as “no-bullshit Australian culture, which grabs our audience by the throat and makes us cheer the daredevils on, laugh, and be made aware of social justice all at once.  This is the art of Circus Oz”.  The same can be said of Circolombia in Urban.  Just change the culture.

Cali is a city very unlike Melbourne, and Colombia quite unlike Australia.  Before Urban gets the exciting daredevil circus action under way, while we wait for rather too many latecomers to be settled in their seats, a continuous video is shown taken through the back window of a bus on its route around Cali.  At a stop, a young boy – maybe 8 or 9 – jumps up on the rear bumper and hangs onto a rope, obviously permanently attached for people to travel on the outside.  Looking in, he notices the camera on the inside looking out, giving us the steady gaze of the already worldly-wise, rather than the cheeky grin of a child that we might expect.

The action begins with a white figure lying dormant in a dim spotlight, brought to life in stages by puffs of breath from a dark mysterious figure who disappears in the gloom.  The silvery white figure rises to find herself alone, leaving the stage apparently in search of something.  There is a pause, in blackout, then a great explosion of a dozen men, of racial backgrounds from almost effete whites in street-wise hip-hop gear, as you might see in New York, through to tall startlingly muscular Afro-Americans.  And they dance – do they ever dance! – to the ever-present reggae rhythm of South American hip-hop, in Spanish rhyme, with all the athleticism of that urban counter-culture.  Circus Oz looks rather sedate in comparison!

The men’s circus work was focussed on floor and tightrope tumbling and somersaulting, often up to heights where I was afraid they would hit the lighting rig, while the two women concentrated on aerial work.  I can’t tell from the program which of Diana Valentina Ramirez Londono and Julia Alejandra Sanchez Aja did which solo, but one was original, beautiful and scary on a high suspended ring and the other equally so on a slack rope trapeze which swung over the audience.  At least she was attached to a safety harness, but there was nothing to save the ring performer if she had come off  many metres above the stage.

As in Circus Oz, where Ghenoa Gela, a Torres Strait Islander from Rockhampton, told some of his story as an Indigenous person in Australia, we were told the story of poverty in Columbia by one of the men, whose Spanish name passed me by too quickly, but whose story was displayed in English on the screen, which was also used throughout the show as a backdrop.  Mind you, I didn’t often notice what was on the screen when people were flying through space, always with the threat of an injurious landing.

In the end, for me, Urban works because the danger and risk inherent in the circus represented the danger and risks that these performers grew up with in Cali, Colombia.  Here is where Urban diverged from Circus Oz.  From the Ground Up was an artistic metaphor with a highly positive view of multicultural Australian life.  I’m sure there must be aspects of Colombian culture which could be viewed in this light.  But Urban is about the underbelly of city life – which could also be shown about Melbourne, of course – and the endemic poverty out of which has grown the success, at least for these performers, of creating a show, as Felicity Simpson describes it, “at the forefront of a revolutionary new style of circus”.

And, to conclude, watch for the man (again whose name I can’t distinguish from the program) who gyrates as the hub of a large hoop, becoming a spinning and rolling human wheel.  This scene, his solo piece in the dance of life, almost in darkness as if the twirling of his body is an existential force, was not only powerful dramatically, but was so much more significant artistically than the equivalent physical exercise I have seen in Cirque du Soleil.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

School Dance by Matthew Whittet

L-R Amber McMahon, Matthew Whittet, Luke Smiles, Jonathon Oxlade
School Dance by Matthew Whittet.  Windmill Theatre (Adelaide) at Sydney Theatre Company, Wharf 1, for Sydney Festival, directed by Rosemary Myers.  Composer, Luke Smiles; designer, Jonathon Oxlade; lighting, Richard Vabre; choreographer, Gabrielle Nankivell; animation, Chris More.  January 10 to February 3, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 15

I remember the 1980s.  My senior high school drama students began the decade still seeking the deep and meaningful within themselves in the final throes of 1970s ‘creative drama’.  By 1986 they were writing a new form of fantasy theatre, and wanted to be taught performance skills so they could show the stuff of their weird imaginations to the world.

And weird it is tonight indeed.  Here I am watching these drama students (not mine personally) a quarter of a century later putting all that learning and excitement, all those technical and acting skills that have become the assumed norm for the modern professional actor / dancer / singer / audio, lighting, stage and costume designer, on stage at the Wharf.  Wow!  It just so reminds me!

And, of course, I was also there, supervising the breathalyser machine at the door into the school social – the school dance – in the canteen.
The boys on their bikes

Since the writer, designer and composer also performed as the three boys at a school dance, about Year 9, and hardly prepossessing, there was every opportunity for nostalgia.  They even used their own names for their characters.  The images and sound are taken from the popular television and films they knew from their teenage days.  But what they have done is to create an original, whimsical, humorous and at times satirical fantasy about how a nerdy girl and boy become invisible, discover their attraction for each other and so become visible once more.

For a modern, young audience, the show works as an absurdist cartoon take-off of shows like High School Musical, while maintaining an integrity of understanding about teenage sexual attraction.  There is no Disney sentimentality here.

For the generation that these performers represent, now well into their thirties, the show is a light-hearted thoroughly enjoyable reflection on their younger days.

For an older generation again, such as mine, there is amusement in remembering that period, but in addition an awakening, or at least a re-awakening, to how social changes are encapsulated in the young, at the point of their breaking through into early adulthood.  And how each generation therefore has its own distinguishing character. 

To complete the cast, the boys need their menacing hulk nemesis, which Maori performer Jack Wetere creates wonderfully well – stopped in the end from destroying all, by Luke aiming the remote and pushing the pause button.

And, of course, they need a girl.  Amber McMahon justifiably was awarded an extra burst of applause tonight after playing all the necessary girls, invisible and visible, fantasy and real.  Her costumes were magnificent, and there was a palpable sense of amazement that she could get out of one and into another so quickly.

Choreography, and skilled dance and mime performance,  is the key to this show: several times tonight a dance sequence received spontaneous applause, as we might have responded to a jazz soloist or an operatic aria.

School Dance, then, is 75 minutes of thorough theatrical satisfaction – and you’ll be surprised to find yourself dancing out of the auditorium to an 80s beat.  The energy of this show is catching.
In the invisible world: Matthew Whittet, Amber McMahon as Danika
Amber McMahon as Joanie as the fantasy unicorn making an urgent phone call

Amber McMahon as Hannah Ellis

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Free Rain Theatre
Directed by Amy Dunham
The Courtyard, Canberra Theatre Centre to January 20

Review by Len Power

Isn’t it amazing that even though he is over eighty years old, Winnie The Pooh is still a favourite character for today’s children?  Written by A.A. Milne, the book, ‘Winnie-The-Pooh’, first appeared in 1926 and was followed by ‘The House At Pooh Corner’ in 1928.  Milne named the character Winnie-the-Pooh after a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne, who was the basis for the character Christopher Robin.  Continuously popular from original publication, the stories gained a new lease of life when Walt Disney productions bought the rights and produced several animated movies as well as soft toys and other merchandise from 1966.

Free Rain’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’, directed by Amy Dunham, is a delightful 45 minute production at which the young audience at the opening performance were totally enthralled.  In a smart move, children had the option of sitting in conventional seats or on the ‘grass’ at the front of the stage.  These children were then made part of the show as ‘friends’ of the characters onstage and were invited to participate in such things as finding Eeyore’s missing tail.  Actually the children were a bit ahead of the action, pointing out the tail before they were asked by the cast to look for it.

The colourful set, nicely designed by director, Amy Dunham and the cast, initially invokes the toys to be found in a nursery and comes alive as Christopher Robin’s dream involving his animal friends progresses.  Amy Dunham has done a fine job directing all aspects of this quality children’s theatre production.

Rachel Thornton, Sam Needham and Miles Thompson

The cast, in excellent costumes by Fiona Leach, do a nice job with finely drawn characters that meet our expectations from the stories.  Miles Thompson, as Winnie the Pooh, has a warmth in his vocal delivery that is very appealing.  He also moves well in spite of having a padded costume to wear.  Lachlan Whan as Tigger bounces all over the set, winning over the young audience with a joyful quirkiness.  Rachel Thornton plays a pretty and sweet-natured Piglet and Kitty McGarry plays the Nanny at the beginning and end of the show and also shines as the sunny character, Kanga.  The costume for Kanga conceals a delightful surprise for the audience which I won’t spoil for you here.  Sam Needham as Christopher Robin and Zack Drury as the depressed Eeyore find depths in their characters that make them very real.

Miles Thompson and Zack Drury

 Everyone in the cast showed great skill at interacting naturally with the young audience.  This can’t be easy as I imagine you can never predict what response you’ll get from different groups of children.  For adults bringing their children to the show, it’s delightful to watch the children so involved in the action.  After the show, the cast meet and chat with the children in the foyer, so bring your camera.

I have no memory of being taken to children’s theatre as a child.  I wonder if productions back then were as good as this one?

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 13 January 2013