Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

             Review © by Jane Freebury

Nocturnal Animals is without question a transporting tale, stylish and clever, but it is also an onslaught of cruelty, yearning and pathos. A waking dream that niggles away.

At its core, it is about the things that really matter in life, the things that take some of us a lifetime to figure out. Art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) once left behind her loving relationship with Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), an aspiring writer, for a callow businessman more acceptable to her conservative establishment family. For Edward, there was never any doubt about what he wanted, and he remained true to himself as a teacher of literature at a school in Dallas. It has been the kind of life that Susan dreaded living alongside him, and he has nursed the devastation of their split some 20 years ago.

Their lives intersect again when he sends Susan the draft of his new novel. It is dedicated to her. What an incentive to begin reading! She settles down with it over the weekend after the opening night success of her exhibition, an installation of naked female figures, dancing and at rest.

We were thrown into this event with the opening credits. It is a vision of unfettered female flesh that the late Federico Fellini could have been created, or the figurative artist Patricia Piccinini. The director, Tom Ford, has said that his moving statues, the naked and obese older women, were meant to signify freedom of expression, freedom from constraint. Well, I don’t really buy that.

It has instead the chill of the fastidious fashion and style guru. With little effort made to tie these nudes into the narrative, it’s just looks like shock value. And it is surprising when so many of the aesthetic choices—like all those match cuts that draw the parallel narratives together, and the plangent string motif—make such an elegant tapestry. However, a steeliness is what you might expect in a tale of revenge.

So, alone behind the gates of the LA bunker she calls home, Susan begins to read. The book is about Tony (Gyllenhaal as well), husband and father, who is on a family road trip, making his way through the desert in West Texas at night. He is forced off the road by two carloads of hoons who appear to be so malevolent that a passing police car speeds up as it passes, rather than stop for Tony trying to wave it down. In an old-model Mercedes a million miles from anywhere and beyond range of cell phone coverage, Tony and his attractive wife and daughter are exceptionally vulnerable.

I can honestly say that these scenes of hijack and abduction are some of most terrifying I have ever witnessed on screen. Ford also wrote the screenplay which is adapted from a novel of the 1990s, Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright.

Events take their inevitable course, and Tony is left utterly devastated and alone, and the investigation drags on inconclusively. The local detective (a wonderful performance from Michael Shannon) seems slow to accept his version of events, though scepticism would have served him among the folks he operated among, and then proves to be terminally ill. It begins to feel incumbent on Tony to step in. His eventual metamorphosis into pitiless avenger is one of the powerful and convincing since Dustin Hoffman became a terrifying force to be reckoned with in Straw Dogs all those years ago.

For this ultra-intense tale to work as well as it does, we have immaculate direction by Ford, and fine, measured performances from Adams and Gyllenhaal, as the two characters who matter most. Shannon and many of the West Texan yahoos are also excellent. However, others slip in and out of caricature, including Amy’s heavily overdrawn mother, a Republican dowager played by Laura Linney.

For the locations from the sterile interiors and LA to the Texan desert emptiness, director Ford also wears his fashion designer credentials on his sleeve. At the same time, he sure knows how to tell a story and has stitched the blistering tale together to form a tapestry of some power.

‘Last summer while driving at night on the interstate, I was forced off the road…’ It’s a haunting refrain from a brilliant piece of cinema. Primal terror. Beware.

Four Stars

Also published at Jane's blog

Thursday, December 22, 2016


The Llewellyn Choir
Conducted by Rowan Harvey-Martin
Wesley Uniting Church, 17 December

Reviewed by Len Power

For their final concert of the year at the Wesley Music Centre, The Llewellyn Choir presented a varied program of Christmas-related works by Peter Sculthorpe, Anton Bruckner, Andrew Ford and Joseph Rheinberger.

The program commenced with the Llewellyn Sinfonia nicely playing Sculthorpe’s “Awake, glad heart!”, an arrangement for chamber orchestra of the carol, “The Birthday Of the King”.  Next, the choir gave us two works by Bruckner, ”Os justi” and “Christus factus est”.  Their singing of these dramatic works was clear and confident.

‘Shepherd’s Pipe Carol’, arranged by John Rutter, was bright and amusing and this was followed by Australian Andrew Ford’s “Wassails and Lullabies”, a setting for choir and percussion of medieval carols.  This challenging and unusual work proved to be the highlight of the concert.  Its haunting medieval rhythms and harmonies were well sung by the choir and there was excellent work on percussion by Steve Fitzgerald and Veronica Bailey.

An added bonus for those of us near a window was the sound of crows outside cawing eerily in time to the music.  It’s a mystery how conductor, Rowan Harvey-Martin, managed to organize that but it worked!

After interval, the choir presented Joseph Rheinberger’s 1890 Christmas cantata, “The Star of Bethlehem”.  It was accompanied by the Llewellyn Sinfonia and soloists, Rebecca Collins, soprano, and Rohan Thatcher, baritone.  Beautifully performed by all, it was especially notable for its dramatic and atmospheric opening and closing movements.  Soprano, Rebecca Collins, sang gloriously in the second and eighth movements and Rohan Thatcher’s fine, resonant baritone was heard to good effect in the fourth movement.

The concert concluded with a very familiar work, “Ding Dong! Merrily on High” with the audience invited to sing along with the choruses.  Conductor, Rohan Harvey-Martin, the choir, orchestra members and soloists certainly put us in the mood for Christmas with this concert.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition on 18 December.  Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM's 'Artcetera' program from 9.00am on Saturday mornings and on other selected Artsound programs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Early Grave Fashionably Late. 

Written and performed by Christopher Samuel Carroll. Bare Witness Theatre Company. Smith’s Alternative. Civic. Tuesday December 20 – Thursday December 22 2017 at 8 p.m.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins 

Christopher Samuel Carroll as Bennett Cooper Sullivan in Early Grave Fashionably Late
It takes courage, skill and talent, not to mention an engrossing story to hold an audience in the palm of your hand, while drums pound out their thundering beat next door and the noise of revellers in the street outside sneaks its way through Smith’s Alternative's doors. Christopher Samuel Carroll is an Irish actor, writer and theatre-maker, currently based in Canberra,  after having trained at the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College and the prestigious Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Early Grave Fashionably Late, his original one man show currently being performed at Smith's Alternative  comes to Canberra direct from a successful season in Melbourne lends. Carroll's performance lends testament to his training credentials. Carroll’s stage presence is impressive, his diction precise and engaging, his movement supple and expressive and his demeanour effortlessly and stylishly peoples the small Smith's Alternative's stage with eccentric and entertaining characters.
Central to the tale is Bennett Cooper Sullivan, cartographer, adventurer, raconteur, and the Victorian storyteller of strange and mysterious tales. We learn of his  bravado in the face of of H Rider Haggard style accounts of perilous adventures from Africa to Peru to the Antarctic.  Carroll transports us from the exotic adventures of the Victorian age to the posturing extravagance of privileged society at Lady Wallis’s Ball and into a park, where a strange and apparently deadly event takes our noble adventurer turned detective on the chase to discover the truth behind a puzzling disappearance, more vexing than an Arthur Conan Doyle mystery. Mixing fact with fiction in this original and intriguing tale, Sullivan leads us into the very heart of the Irish political system and the seedy world of adultery, betrayal and sinister intent. Woven into this sleuth’s pursuit of a missing body in a park, Carroll laces his story with historical personages such as the ruthless leader of the Irish Political Party, Charles Stuart Parnell and the enigmatic Oscar Wilde, a supposed contemporary of Bennett Sullivan at Dublin University.  Carroll is a deft caricaturist, capturing gesture and manner in a single glance, a swift and wry turn of phrase,  or a simple twist and turn of posture.
 Early Grave Fashionably Late exudes the familiar air of its period. Carroll’s performance unfolds with the assured intent of the professional. Cleverly conceived, cloaked in the nostalgic charm of its period and tinged with wry mockery, Sullivan’s Victorian detective tale, while not necessarily as dark as Dickens, witty as Wilde, horrific as Poe or as complex as Conan-Doyle, does demonstrate a fresh originality, made the more entertaining by Carroll’s performance.  The full house at Smith’s Alternative applauded enthusiastically as Carroll took his bow. His one man show of fifty minutes has proven so popular that Early Grave Fashionably Late will be extended until Thursday December 22nd.
The play, while conservative in its content, provides an excellent showcase for Carroll’s obvious talent. It would be foolish to judge his versatility on a show that is an unabashed homage to Victorian adventure tales and detective fiction. Carroll already teases the imagination with his next project, an original one man Butoh interpretation of Paradise Lost, which will play at the Belconnen Arts Centre, the Fringe World Festival in Perth and the Adelaide Fringe Festival in  February  next year.
I can’t wait for this asset to the Canberra acting fraternity to relinquish his stylishly cut nineteenth century beard and moustache and well cut suit and vest for the bizarre and unconventional performance style of Butoh. Early Grave Fashionably Late introduces us to a performer of consummate skill. Paradise Lost will be a true test of Carroll’s mettle, and like Early Grave Fashionably Late, a performance not to be missed.


Ryan Douglas Stone in "Solus" 

Presented by QL2 Dance,
QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, 16th and 17th December, 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

For the last ten years, QL2 Dance has brought together young choreographers engaged in full-time dance studies in Universities around Australia, for its annual “On Course” project. As in previous years, each of the choreographers was provided with access to current Quantum Leap dancers on which to create  a short work for presentation over two nights, and a  choreographic mentor, this year, James Batchelor, himself a former Quantum Leaper, and now making an impact internationally.

With six of the nine participating choreographers being Quantum Leap alumni, this year’s  program provided an opportunity to observe not only the development of these young dance makers, but also a snapshot of current trends in current contemporary dance practice.

James Batchelor’s influence was obvious in the first offering by Rachel Wisby, who had her dancers lumping bricks around the Gorman House courtyard in a curiously unresolved work. Maddy Towler Lovell had her four dancers responding to voice-over instructions to tasks like putting both feet behind their ears, in an amusing exploration of the limitations of the body, and Nasim Patel also elicited smiles as his six dancers executed a series of neatly devised vignettes to depict party culture.

Humour was also present in Patrick Keogh Walker’s work in which two dancers improvised intricate intertwining movements to a story about children playing at wars. Samuel Hamman demonstrated a strong sense of the theatrical with an ambitious work for six dancers, exploring ideas of self-discovery, while Luke Fryer contributed an interesting work, in which his two dancers appeared both on video and in live performance.

However it was three solo pieces which provided the most interesting works of the evening. Alana Stenning utilised the Blue Danube Waltz, pre-recorded voice-overs, several spotlights, and a strongly developed dance technique in her work-in-progress exploring concepts of femininity.

Oonagh Slater drew on elements of tableau vivant to present a superbly conceived and visually arresting work in which she skilfully manipulated oranges to produce a succession of lovely images, and Ryan Douglas Stone made imaginative use of shadows and reflections in his moody and beautifully executed solo entitled “Solus”. 

However, while it was interesting to note that there were ideas aplenty, not many included actual dance. The choreographers seem satisfied to experiment with abstract internal concepts, accompanied by oblique program notes which provided little enlightenment towards understanding their work, prompting one perplexed audience member to ask, during the Q & A which followed the performance, “Who are you making these works for?”

                                                           Photo: Lorna Sim

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 17th December 2016


Deck the Hall

Deck the Hall by Scott Radburn.  Christmas Morning Melodies, presented by Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council.  Performed by Scott and Cheryl Radburn, at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, 20 December 2016, 10.30am.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Live theatre is only good when real communication happens between performer and audience.  Scott Radburn was all communication, as magician, as joke-teller, as dancer (even with a 3-month-old new hip), as straight singer of every style from Engelbert Humperdink to Luciano Pavarotti, and even in character as the dead Pavorotti’s previously unknown grotty brother – who amazed by demonstrating how (after talking to Heaven on Skype) one’s body inevitably expands as one sings like Luciano.

Bringing his wife on stage to sing and tap-dance (his only actual wife, despite an apocryphal story, which at least one audience member I spoke to believed, about his ‘first’ wife) added to our feeling that we – while standing for Advance Australia Fair, or singing along, clapping and waving to the rhythm of all sorts of popular songs from the 1950s onwards, or laughing at old-time non-politically-correct jokes – were in touch with real people thoroughly enjoying entertaining us. 

I checked with them later and found that the seemingly wild story of how Scott proposed marriage to Cheryl on stage when she was Queen Guinevere in Camelot, was true.  He was unrecognisable, even by Cheryl, appearing hidden in a costume as the Jester, asking for the Queen’s hand in marriage via a favourite love-song.  It stopped the show (it was at curtain call), and the wedding on stage was followed by an all-night party.  You only have to do a few web searches to realise that Scott is a comic at heart, as I saw when the jokes continued to flow in the foyer to and from many members of the audience who came up to congratulate and buy a CD.

As a critic, of course, I love to pigeonhole shows, but I found myself challenged by this free flowing performance.  Then I remembered a recent show at The Q, An Evening with Groucho performed by Frank Ferrante.  There was an actor re-creating a comic from the old days of ‘variety’ shows; here in Scott Radburn, we have the original comic himself. 

Here was live theatre indeed, where Scott checks out the ‘demographic’ of the audience (most like me around or even well past Shakespeare’s three score years and ten), has a half-hour check on his laptop with The Q’s technicians just before the show goes on, is checking the time as he’s performing and from the stage cueing in the ‘maestro’ on the sound deck in the biobox, with instructions like ‘skip to cue 13’ as he realises the ad-libbing with the audience has taken more time than planned.  (The maestro, by the way, performed spot-on.)

To me, it was Bertolt Brecht for real – no hiding of the theatrical tricks of the trade – just here we are performing for you.  And it all worked, even when, as Scott admitted to me, a joke went flat and he covered by pouring another splash of water into a rubbish bin from his impossibly continually filling bucket.  Shows you how magic sleight of hand can divert our attention: even this critic only remembered the joke had gone flat when we talked about the ‘business’ an hour after the show.

And in conversation I saw the qualities of all good actors skilled in self-awareness which enables them to act outwards to their audience at the same time as checking inwardly how things are developing, and adjusting as they go – yet without skipping a beat in the music of communication.  Maybe this sounds a bit esoteric and over-the-top for a light-hearted Morning Melody – but this is what makes the song worth singing.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Santa, Baby

Santa, Baby – A showcase of ten-minute plays inspired by Christmas songs.  Budding Theatre at Canberra Theatre Centre, The Courtyard, December 16-17, 2016.

Producer – Kirsty Budding; MC – Jasper Lindell; Tech – Ashleigh Robinson, Jaeden McLaughlin, Craig Lesueur and Nick Foong.

Mother and Child by Kate Roediger, directed by Domenic Mico, performed by Alison Bigg, Peter Fock, Andrew Wallace and Paul Jackson.
Not What You Expected by Judith Peterson, directed by Rachel Hogan, performed by Helen Way.
Gingerbread or Smarties? written and directed by Zoe Swan, performed by Austen Saunders and Robert Shiells.
Christmas in Yorkshire by Harriet Elvin, directed by Rob Defries, performed by Kate O’Sullivan, Kate Blackhurst, Karla Bogaart and Elain Noon.
Christmas Cheers by Frances McNair, directed by Kitty Malam, performed by Jaslyn Mairs, Lachy Agett, Breanna Macey and Patrick Galen-Mules.
Christmas Fairy by Adele Lewin and Nigel Palfreman, directed by Adele Lewin, performed by Adele Lewin.
Reindeer in Red written and directed by Kirsty Budding, performed by Jess Waterhouse, Chantel Johnston, Katrin Praseli, Angela Perrotta, Kirsty Budding, Vandana Jaiswal, George Pulley and Grace Jasinski.
Statistically Speaking written and directed by Greg Gould, performed by Felicity Knott and Philip Meddows.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 17

Budding Theatre, its very name a play on the name of its originator, Kirsty Budding, has now established a stage presence for “budding playwrights, directors and performers” over its three years’ life.  “We stage theatre with and for adults, young adults and children across a range of genres.”

This year’s “Christmas play showcase” was a mainly light and mostly irreverent take on the assumed purpose of Christmas in celebrating good will to all and sundry, even including Santa’s relationship with his reindeer employees.

Though the format is reminiscent of the Short and Sweet competitions for 10-minute plays, and these plays vary considerably in quality of writing, directing and acting, the evening as a whole, compered competently with a neat line of humour by Jasper Lindell and bookended by three-part singing from the three Angels – Judith Peterson, Fiona Robertson and Michelle Priest – made for an entertaining, even occasionally thoughtful, two hours. 

Seen from my perspective behind my Seniors Card, this was a Young Adult show in tone, yet some issues behind what was often a stand-up comedy approach were significant for all ages.

The mother, Mary, with her husband Joseph and as-yet unnamed child, are refugees having made the perilous journey by recalcitrant donkey across a vast desert to the border of a country of safe haven.  But the border protection policy of donkey turn-backs, leaves them stranded – without  even the donkey, which has to be quarantined.  The playing of the border guards as characters in a farce to my mind was overdone.  The point of the story in Mother and Child was made, but the farce took over, so the depth of despair that refugees must feel today and which would have silenced our laughter, even in just ten minutes, wasn’t achieved.

What we didn’t expect in the next play was to find ourselves in the presence of "God", at the launch of her new book – with wine, cheese and signed copies.  Her name is Trisha, played with an amazing eccentric kind of grace by Helen Way.  She is clearly not happy with her humans – mainly men, of course – who have written their books taking her name in vain.  The script of Not What You Expected is very clever and the performance well directed and very funny – and the serious issue of the misuse of belief and religious power is not lost.  If there were a competition, I would have to say this was the best play of the night.

Gingerbread or Smarties? saw two young men’s friendship breaking up on their annual road trip.  Though the actors needed more training and experience to bring this off, and the script could be developed more, the play is an interesting variation on the celebration turning sour, and sad, theme.  In this case, each of the young men escape the expected demands of their families’ Christmas, but on this occasion find themselves setting up the same kind of petty conflicts (over what radio station to play while they drive, or whether they prefer gingerbread or smarties) until the ultimate point of breakup.

If you remember, as I’m sure you will, the Monty Python sketch called The 4 Yorkshiremen, then you will recognise that Harriet Elvin has borrowed the idea (with permission) and extended it to ten minutes as the four now wealthyYorkshire women, with pretty good accents, challenge each other with stories about their poverty-stricken past.  Though perhaps a little too long compared with the shorter sharper original, Christmas in Yorkshire worked very well and got the appropriate laugh from the young adults on the final line: “But you try and tell the young people today that ... and they won’t believe ya’.”

Christmas Cheers with Jack Frost behind the bar to which Santa retires – he drinks only milk to avoid corrupting children – was an absurdist play so deliberately disjointed that you had to be a young adult to follow all the non-sequiturs.  Breanna Macey’s performance as the jazz singer Noel was a very high point.  It was no wonder Santa fell in love (or just lust?), and I did wonder whether the children would be corrupted by such a thought.

Adele Lewin had such a sad story to tell as Crystal, the top-of-the-Christmas-tree fairy once famous for her beauty who has grown old, and who now year after year can only look forward to a life among the secondhand goods in an op shop.  Though Crystal could be a bit of a bore and was even rather paranoid, Lewin’s performance in Christmas Fairy left us all feeling seriously upset about anyone left alone at Christmas time.

The four fashionably green reindeers – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen – were bitchily mortified when Red-Nosed Rudolph terribly unfashionably appeared on the catwalk dressed in red.  The Young Adults in the audience found it all lol funny, of course, until Santa (remember – dressed in red) castigated the little bitches, and promptly had consensual sex with Rudolph (played, of course, by a woman – indeed, the author of the play Reindeer in Red).  I think the theme was something about politically correct behaviour and non-discrimination at the office Christmas party.  But it was too funny to bother about that.

The night concluded with a probably unintended nod to the recently formed The Arts Party, whose policy (currently at the draft stage) ends with a strong statement about supporting Science as the other side of the Arts coin.  Statistically Speaking  is a ten minute apparently extremely unlikely romance entirely predicted by the use of statistics by Milton to the great surprise of Steph – except for one point.  The statistics on women’s behaviour make it virtually inevitable that Steph will include cranberry in her daily diet.  But she doesn’t.

Though by this stage of the talk, Steph has completely changed her view of life and thoroughly fallen for Milton, he must say No without this piece of his statistical jigsaw in place.

Whatever we should make of this conclusion, which wasn’t after all as Christmassy as green reindeers, it was quite thoughtful about the nature of love and good will in a nerdy world.

Felicity Knott as Steph and Philip Meadows as Milton
in Statistically Speaking by Greg Gould