Sunday, May 31, 2015


Written by Phil Ormsby
Directed by Simon Coleman
Presented by Purplestage in association with Gasworks Arts Park and Flaxworks Theatre
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan, 30 May 2015

Review by Len Power

Now almost forgotten, Veronica Lake was a 1940s movie star recognizable for her long blonde hair covering her right eye, giving her a sexy, sultry look.  She worked with Alan Ladd a few times and did good work in ‘Sullivan’s Travels’ and ‘I Married A Witch’.  By 1950 she was past her peak and it was all downhill from there.
Veronica Lake in the 1940s

‘Drowning In Veronica Lake’ takes us behind the glamorous image into the reality of being a sex symbol in Hollywood and what happens when your celebrity is finished.  We’ve seen this kind of thing before but this one stands out as a great theatre as well as an interesting story.

Actress, Alex Ellis, is onstage already when the audience enters the theatre.  She’s dressed in a long gown that spreads out in an extraordinary wide circle around her on the stage.  We quickly realize she can hardly move.  She’s trapped in the gown and in her Hollywood image forever.  It’s a clever concept and captures our interest immediately.

Alex Ellis as Veronica Lake
Phil Ormsby’s strong script moves us quickly through her Hollywood career and life beyond, giving us a detailed picture of this complex and troubled woman.  Her grasping and unfeeling mother, also played by Alex Ellis, was a monster who just added to Veronica Lake’s troubles.  Then there are the failed marriages, the alcoholism, the money that suddenly wasn’t there and the vanishing career.

Alex Ellis as Veronica Lake gives an intense one woman performance that is funny, chilling, moving and ultimately memorable.  Switching suddenly from Veronica Lake to her mother and back again, Ellis never misses a beat in her strong characterizations and makes us sympathise with Veronica Lake and her problems.

There was a particularly good soundscape accompanying the play with snatches of appropriate songs and music that created an excellent atmosphere.  Sound engineer Rohan Evans is credited in the program.  Lighting design by Nik Janiurek was very well done.  The period dress design by Sara Taylor and Elizabeth Whiting made the dress almost a character in itself.

Director, Simon Coleman was produced a very strong, thought-provoking show.  His clever theatricality makes it much more interesting than the usual Hollywood horror story.

Veronica Lake in 1971, aged 48, two years before her death

It was shocking to hear that Veronica Lake died at just 50.  At the end of the play she talks to us from beyond the grave, desperately reaching out to us to keep her image alive.  As we leave the auditorium, the actress stays onstage in the same position as when we entered.  Did we just dream it all?

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 31 May 2015 from 5pm.

Friday, May 29, 2015


Camilla Blunden in "All This Living" 

Written and performed by Carmilla Blunden
Director: Rochelle Whyte. Designer: Imogen Keen

Sound Design:  Kimmo Vennonen. Lighting Design: Gillian Schwab
Presented by The Street in Association with Carmilla Blunden.

Street Theatre until May 31st.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

With a running time of just 50 minutes, “All This Living”  is a dense, abstract play which demands intense concentration without rewarding it.

Whatever the merits of the writing, or insights contained therein, they are so obscured by the distracting symbol-laden direction, that little room is left to engage or empathise with the character.  

Entering the theatre the audience discovers Blunden lying on the floor among a collection of cloth covered mounds. She’s clad neck to toe in a furry grey wolf-like onesie which certainly spikes curiosity.  The elderly being treated as road-kill perhaps?  When she does sit up her hairstyle resembles that of a Greek goddess.

One by one she removes the cloths from the mounds to reveal steel cooking pots containing various props including a necklace made of kitchen utensils and plastic clothes pegs which she clips to herself. Symbolism overload.   

The reason for the onesie is never explained, but the dialogue, much of which is delivered in an arch, wide-eyed style, does contain references to Greek gods, witches, wolves, fairy tales and legends. Also scattered throughout are references to difficulties associated with ageing, like being ignored in shops, and maintaining a satisfactory sex life, but no new revelations or insights.

Blunden is a very good actor, and her vocal delivery is exemplary. Every word of her dialogue is crystal clear, but they are not well served by a production which confuses rather than clarifies their meaning and intent.  
This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 21st May 2015 and in the print edition of CITY NEWS on  27th May 2015.

GISELLE - Revisited - The Australian ballet

Choreography: Petipa, Corelli, Perrot.

Natasha Kusen (Princess Bathilde) - Madeliene Eastoe (Giselle)



Production: Maina Gielgud
Music: Adolphe Adam
Set and Costume Design: Peter Farmer
Lighting Design: William Akers, reproduced by Francis Croese
Conductor: Nicolette Fraillon
The Canberra Symphony Orchestra
Presented by The Australian Ballet
The Canberra Theatre, Saturday evening 23rd May 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

It was a pity that more Canberra dance students did’nt take advantage of the opportunity to hear The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director, David McAllister, and his conversation with principal dancer Lana Jones prior to Saturday night performance of “Giselle”. It was one of the special events organised by Australian Ballet to co-incide with the “Giselle” performances in Canberra.

Those who did were treated to a fascinating insight into what it takes to become a world-class ballerina.  McAllister’s questions were insightful. Jones’s answers were disarmingly frank and enlightening. With her mother and father present in the audience, Jones talked about her early training in Canberra, her Australian Ballet School experience, her favourite ballet roles and reflected on some of the world-renowned choreographers with whom she had worked. She even admitted to pangs of jealousy when her husband, principal dancer, Daniel Gaudiello, was being a little too convincing in love scenes with other ballerinas.  But perhaps her most telling comment was her response to a question from McAllister about her future ambitions as a dancer. After a long pause Jones revealed that although she was confident in her technique, she was now concentrating on “perfecting the art”.

Madeliene Eastoe 
The truth of that statement sprang to mind while watching Madeleine Eastoe dance her penultimate Giselle later that evening, prior to her pending retirement from dancing. Eastoe’s performance was pure art, and as close to human perfection as one could hope to achieve, especially in the second act where everything seemed to combine to produce a performance that could only be described as sublime.

In this act Eastoe was truly transformed into a weightless, ethereal vision. Completely given over to the role, oblivious of everything except her Albrecht and how she could protect him.  As Albrecht, Kevin Jackson, matched Eastoe’s mood to perfection, partnering with strength and grace while dancing and acting as if nothing else mattered.  Their first lift, when he holds her high above his head, seemed so effortless that it drew spontaneous applause from the spellbound audience.

Madeliene Eastoe - Kevin Jackson 
The Wilis too, commanded by Valerie Tereshchenko’s imperious Myrtha, rose to the occasion, each move and pose perfectly executed, perfectly in tune with the mood of the ballet  and executed with breathtaking precision. Together with Peter Farmer’s atmospheric setting, and William Akers’ magical lighting, the effect created was of watching some gorgeous antique lithograph which had somehow come to life.

Madeliene Eastoe - Kevin Jackson - Artists of the Australian Ballet 
The Canberra Symphony Orchestra also caught the mood, responding to conductor, Nicolette Fraillon’s expressive baton with a superb interpretation of Adam’s romantic score.

Eastoe’s Giselle is the result of a whole career devoted to perfecting every move and nuance of the role, as she demonstrated in Act One, where her mad scene was at times, moving, distressing and terrifying. It seems a tragic fact that, having reached such perfection, the tyranny of age prevents dancers of this calibre from continuing to share their art with audiences.

It was a privilege to have experienced this wonderful performance by Eastoe, so beautifully supported by those artists of the Australian Ballet who shared it with her. Despite having seen many “Giselle’s” over the years, this particular performance will definitely remain a most treasured memory of balletic perfection.

Madeleine Eastoe and Artists of the Australian Ballet 
Personal Post Script: While waiting for the performance to begin, a woman wearing a wreath of white flowers in her long, dark hair caught my eye.  As she removed her overcoat and  took her seat in the front row, I could see she was wearing a tunic and white long sleeved blouse. She was dressed as Giselle. 

After the performance, filing out of the theatre, I found myself opposite her and took the opportunity to compliment her for going to so much trouble with her dressing. She responded by telling me that, she was now 46,  and this was only the second time she had witnessed a live ballet performance, although she had seen many ballets on film.  She added that she was going blind, which was why she had bought a ticket in the front row, and had decided to dress up to make it a really memorable occasion.  She confided that she was so moved by the performance that she was going home to cry some more, before disappearing  into the cold Canberra winter night.  
                                                      All photos by Jeff Busby.

Giselle - The Australian Ballet

Review by John Lombard

It is night and under the moon a troupe of betrayed brides are lumbering from their graves, clambering through the mist in shrouds of tulle.  These are the Wili, girls betrayed by their lovers on the eve of their wedding.  They now share both their pain and the passion they were never allowed to express in life by waylaying unlucky travelers in a literal dance of death: men who meet them will dance in ecstasy until their hearts stop.

But that is in the second act, defined by the night and romantic horrors.  The first act is about the day, an idyll that celebrates life, the sun and harmony.  Here the maiden Giselle (Ako Kondo) - naive, but with an captivating delight in life - falls in love with her near-twin, the courtly Albrecht (Chengwu Guo).  Giselle is a deer, and Albrecht is the wise hunter who approaches it slowly.  With each gentle footfall closer, he closes the distance between their hearts.

Unfortunately, Albrecht turns out to be Count Albrecht.  That wouldn't be a problem in itself, but Albrecht is also concealing a Countess-to-be, his finance Bathilde (Valerie Tereschenko).

Albrecht can be played many different ways, and we feel that Guo's Albrecht genuinely loves Giselle.  Bathilde has a lot of class, but is hard not to be entranced by Giselle's mesmerising lightness.  But Albrecht and Giselle's courtship also feels too naive, like this might just be puppy love.  True relationships are rarely as graceful as these lovers in dance.  By contrast, the forester Hilarion (Brett Simon) is passionately in love with Giselle, but his abruptness frightens her.  True, Hilarion is prone to occasionally pulling a knife when threatened, but overall he is sympathetic, especially when Albrecht is getting away with behaviour that could at minimum be called sketchy.

Inevitably, this leads to tragedy.  Hilarion pulls the rug out under his rival by revealing Albrecht's true identity and philandering.  Rather than this leading to Giselle's rejection of Albrecht, Giselle retreats into madness, dancing with an imaginary lover now that her real one has betrayed her.  This is followed almost instantly by her sudden death, with both Hilarion and Albrecht devastated that they have killed the person they loved.

But this is not the end of the story, because Giselle is reborn as one of the Wili (despite the strict requirements for membership apparently the Wili have no shortage of suitable candidates).  The death of Giselle is the loss of the sun, and both Hilarion and Albrecht wander into the forest where they fall into the clutches of the Wili, led by their stern Queen Myrtha (Robyn Hendricks - phenomenal in the role, bringing more than a hint of the fierce dance teacher to the part).  Now that the day is past and the community of the village is dispersed, the two men must endure the night alone with their grief.

What follows is extraordinary.  Hilarion is dispatched relatively quickly, possibly because his rough and passionate nature means he has no defense against the mad desire and vengeance of the Wili.  But when it is Albrecht's time to settle his debt and give Giselle the wedding dance he promised, Giselle's spirit intercedes.  She fights the Wili and sustains Albrecht through a brutal (and visually amazing) dance that leaves both the character and the dancer drained.  At dawn (the point where the power of the Wili ceases) we see Albrecht collapsed and gasping for air - but alive - and in a final catharsis we feel as though he has paid penance for his part in Giselle's death.

The dancing is nothing short of spectacular (and very difficult) with many breaktaking performances.  But more than that, the dancing has personality that tells the story.  Albrecht and Giselle are at first too precious to be a couple.  But when separated by death they come to life, becoming more vibrant in their movements and finding a deeper harmony in their differences.  The dead are cleverly and subtly stiffened, their arms now slightly limp in a way that gives a creepy suggestion that they really are corpses come to life.  Giselle's post-mortem dances are like a kind of life in death, like an eerie phosphorescence on a corpse.

The production is a triumph for producer and creator Maina Gielgud, combining mastery of the elements of ballet with a vivid eye for what makes a good show.  I was also struck by how accessible this production of Giselle is.  Rather than a ballet in a language that only experts can decipher, the feeling and meaning in each scene is readily comprehensible in the movements of the dancers (with only the occasional touch of very light miming necessary to move things along).  The Australian Ballet deserves kudos for bringing this amazing production out to Australia.  An enriching and rewarding ballet that for many watching (including this reviewer) will be remembered as the definitive production of Giselle.

Monday, May 25, 2015

GISELLE - The Australian Ballet

Choreography: Marius Petipa, Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot.
Production: Maina Gielgud.
Music: Adolphe Adam
Set and Costume design: Peter Farmer.
Lighting Design: William Akers reproduced by Francis Croese
The Australian Ballet.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra
Canberra Theatre 21st to 25th May 2015.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Australian Ballet had only been established 3 years when it was chosen to open the Canberra Theatre in 1965. Fifty years on, it has made a welcome return to the Canberra Theatre with Maina Gielgud’s much admired production of the ballet classic “ Giselle” to participate in the Canberra Theatre Centre’s   50th Anniversary Celebrations.

The Australian Ballet's "Giselle" 

With Peter Farmer’s lovely autumnal sets and costumes refurbished, and with a new generation of dancers coached in the roles by Gielgud herself, this production reclaims its place as one of the jewels in the Australian Ballet’s repertoire.

The role of “Giselle” is the Everest all ballerinas aspire to conquer at some stage in their career. Although it demands exceptional technique, purity of line and physical strength, the role of the young peasant girl who falls in love with a nobleman, then loses her mind and dies when she discovers that he is already engaged, offers limitless possibilities for individual interpretation, and like “Hamlet” for an actor, can be career defining for a dancer.

Five ballerinas will dance the role during The Australian Ballet’s season in Canberra, including Madeleine Eastoe, who will give her Canberra farewell performance before retiring from dancing. The honour of the opening night performance was given to former Canberra dancer, Lana Jones.

Lana Jones 
One of the company’s most experienced ballerinas, Jones is especially admired for her steely, athletic technique and bravura style. Her Giselle is therefore something of a revelation. Initially happy and uninhibited when dancing with her friends; sweet and tentative when shyly responding to the advances of the handsome young nobleman, Albrecht; reckless and frightening as she slips into madness, her portrayal is affectingly realised.

But it is the second act, when she returns as a ghostly wili, commanded by the Queen of the Wilis, to entice the grieving Albrecht to dance until he dies, that Jones’ performance becomes truly magical. Superbly partnered by Adam Bull, she appeared totally ethereal and weightless, barely touching the stage, as she gently danced with Albrecht, coaxing him to dance with her until dawn when the wilis would lose their power to destroy him.

Lana Jones and Adam Bull 
Tall and handsome, Adam Bull was perfectly teamed with Jones, and his thoughtful, multi-faceted portrayal of Albrecht was convincing and beautifully danced.

Despite her diminutive stature, Ako Kondo was an impressive Queen of the Wilis, dancing brilliantly and imperiously commanding the stage, and a similarly strong performance from Andrew Killian, as the jealous forester, Hilarion, surprised with his ability to garner sympathy for his character.

Ako Kondo as Queen of the Willis

Photo: Jeff Busby
Particularly satisfying at this performance was the accuracy and attention to detail evident in the ensemble dances. The characterisations among the first act peasant ensemble were enthusiastic, intelligent and supportive adding strength and believability to the story, especially during the “mad” scene.  In the beautiful second act, the dancing of the wilis was breathtakingly precise and serene, adding immeasurably to the success of a superb performance which drew an ecstatic response from the packed auditorium.   

               This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 22 May 2015




Written and performed by Camilla Blunden
Directed by Rochelle Whyte
The Street Theatre to 31 May, 2015

Review by Len Power 20 May 2015

Actress, Camilla Blunden, states in the program for her show, ‘All This Living’, that she ‘wanted to put the older woman centre stage, bring her out of the shadows’.  This charismatic actress performs the work very well but the work itself is unsatisfying.

In the show, Joy is an ageing woman who feels invisible in society and sets out to investigate what this ‘third stage’ of life is.  She starts with a description of the negative way she feels she is treated as an older woman and moves on to considering how she can retain her identity with dignity and confidence as a unique person, not just an invisible old lady.

It’s nicely written in a poetic style but it demands intense concentration by the audience.  It plays as a distillation of ideas, memories, experiences and intelligent musings and on that level is quite interesting.  Where it doesn’t work so well is in the content.  We learn what’s in the woman’s mind but we want more detail of her personal experiences to be able to care about her.  As it plays at the moment, it’s a bit uninvolving.  Also, a play asking us to examine and think about an issue like this needs a few revelations.  We didn’t hear anything about women’s experiences here that we didn’t know already.

The direction of the show by Rochelle Whyte was imaginative and it was played at a nice pace.  The atmospheric sound design by Kimmo Vernonnen mostly worked well but there seemed to be some miscues with voice-overs on opening night and the slight background babble of voices during the show was distracting.  More restrained use of this would make the point just as well.  Imogen Keen’s design for the show was deceptively simple with a clever use of props.  However, some of the reasons for their use were a bit obscure as was the costume worn for most of the play by the actress.  Lighting by Gillian Schwab was excellent.

There’s a really good idea for a play here and it has an actress who can command the stage on her own.  As it plays at the moment, it’s a short 45 minute piece.  Expanded into a more involving human experience, it could be a real winner.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 24 May 2015 from 5pm.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Jon Elphick
Tempo Theatre Inc
Belconnen Theatre to May 23, 2015

Review by Len Power 15 May 2015

‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave…’ says the police inspector towards the end of Agatha Christie’s ‘Spider Web’.  The Queen of Crime plays wonderful puzzle games with the audience in this complex and, surprisingly funny, thriller.  The Tempo Theatre cast and director, Jon Elphick, have obviously had a lot of fun staging this and the large opening night audience showed how much they enjoyed it with laughter throughout and strong applause at the end.

An original play, it was written in 1953 at a peak in Agatha Christie’s play-writing period.  Both ‘The Mousetrap’ and ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ were still running when this one opened in 1954 and ran for 774 performances.  The plot might seem dated, the characters quaint and the police procedures definitely lacking but it doesn’t matter.  You’re carried along like you’re on a fairground ride and you’ll enjoy it.

Amongst the large cast are several standout performances.  In the leading role, Sarah Bourke shines as the woman trying desperately to cover up what seems to be an accidental killing.  Tony Cheshire underplays nicely as the sinister butler, Elgin, and Marian Fitzgerald is very funny as the meddlesome gardener, Mildred Peake.  Kim Wilson gives a believable country gentleman performance as Sir Rowland and Shane Horsburgh as the police inspector displays a fatherly warmth with a hint of steel under the surface.

Rear (L-R): Marian FitzGerald, Jason Morton, Tony Galliford, Shane Horsburgh, Kim Wilson, Sam Kentish, Tony Cheshire, Garry Robinson; Front: Bill Kolentsis, Kate Walker, Sarah Bourke.

The set, designed by the director, is simple but attractive and is well lit by Chris Donohue.  Costumes are fine, with a particularly nice one worn by the leading lady.

This company revels in doing these older plays and their enjoyment shows in the playing.  The play gives plenty of opportunity for comedy and the laughs are all there.  There were times when the pace flagged a bit and some of the acting was a bit uneven but it was never less than enjoyable.

Now how did THAT get there....?

Director, Jon Elphick, has produced an entertaining version of this Agatha Christie play.  His Tempo Theatre company have developed a unique niche in the market for these vintage plays which no-one else is doing in Canberra.  I made the usual fool of myself telling friends at interval who I thought the murderer was – and I got it wrong.  Go along and see if you can work it out.  I bet you can’t!

Photographs: Melita Caulfield
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 17 May 2015 from 5pm.