Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Last Time - Acoustic Theatre

Review by John Lombard

The show kicks off with uni age sexual athlete Caroline (Kat Bramston) hunting the stage for her clothes and whatever is left of her dignity after her latest drunken one night stand, a routine that has become so stifling she vows that this will be "The Last Time".

Caroline isn't the only person tired of endless hook-ups - her intense lesbian friend Ellie (Frances McNair) is hungry for a relationship, and engaged in an equally desperate and charming pursuit of musician Valerie (Katherine Berry). Meanwhile Caroline's schoomzy friend Christopher (Hayden Crosweller) has always held a torch for her and takes Caroline's change in outlook as his chance to pounce on her.

The characters are very well observed, and writer/composer Lucy Matthews has a musician's ear for authentic dialogue. Some of the best moments of the night were the witty barbs the characters would frequently deploy to laughter and sometimes also applause from the audience. I recognised the characters from my own life, and the depiction of hook-up life in Canberra also felt very true - the visit to Mooseheads was spot on.

While the characters are true to life, they are almost unavoidably also extremely shallow. At one point the band leading "music man" (Samuel Gordon Bruce) directly challenged Caroline's self-pity, asking why we should care about her relationship woes. That was a bold move, because my instant response was: "I don't." Fortunately there is a self-awareness in the script that the stakes here are low, and the dreaded label "first world problems" is even used at one point.

Caroline and her friends have the sort of problems that age will automatically solve. One day, when asked to choose between sex and sleep, sleep will seem more inviting. There are moments where it seems as though the characters will raise the stakes and this will become a tragedy, but after an excellent set-up the story struggles to find any kind of resolution.

The actors however are uniformly excellent in the piece, giving a suite of mature and polished performances. Kat Bramston's Caroline is giddy, changeable and gleeful, contrasting with Frances McNair's sturdier but painfully hungry Ellie. Hayden Crosweller as Christopher is handsome but unlikeable, an entitled creep who comes close to being the villain. Katherine Berry is the trendy love object glimpsed from afar, but when she has private moments she also shows us the real person who has been roped into Ellie's fantasies.

This is a musical, but one strongly influenced by burlesque - one of the numbers is even a variation on the iconic chair dance. Clothes are donned, but they rarely stay on for long in Miriam Slater's sexually charged choreography. Particularly in the first act, it does feel like a burlesque night, with the unusually attractive cast celebrating their bodies in a series of numbers on the joy of sex. Lucy Matthews' original music is also strong, with vivid tunes giving each song its own identity.

The Last Time is a well-toned lover who sets the mood perfectly and builds up your anticipation before ducking out just when things are getting good. The cast, choreography and music are all compelling, but the package is let down by a weak story that ambles to an unsatisfying finish. But it's still a great (and very sexy) ride, and an enviable debut production for Acoustic Theatre.


Written and composed by Lucy Matthews
Co-directed by Lucy Matthews and Miriam Slater
Acoustic Theatre production in association with Shadow House Pits
Belconnen Arts Centre to 31 January

Review by Len Power 28 January 2016

Lucy Matthews’ play, ‘The Last Time’, focuses on the relationships between four young people and their need for love and the modern day issues that get in the way of it.  For a young audience member, the characters will be instantly recognizable.  Older audience members will find themselves comparing these people’s experiences with their own when young in a very different world to today’s.

Lucy Matthews has written very real characters who are played with great confidence and skill by her young cast who also sing well.  Frances McNair gives a fine performance throughout the show and her strong singing is particularly stylish.  Hayden Crosweller scores as a young man who can’t make his mind up between sex and love and Kat Bramston nicely plays the confusion of emotions in her relationships between very different friends.  Katherine Berry plays the coolest character of the four with great assurance.

The band-leader, in ‘Cabaret’-like Master Of Ceremonies makeup, is a strong presence in the show and is hauntingly played and sung by Samuel Gordon Bruce.  The music by Lucy Matthews is pleasant but a bit generic.  There are some good lyrics but some are jarring to the ear and need refining.  The band plays the score well but some of the drumming swamps the singers’ voices.

The script needs some cutting, particularly in the second act where the squabbling of the characters becomes more soap opera than good drama.  The show has been well-directed in the round and has fine lighting by Edge Sound And Lighting.  Overall, Lucy Matthews has produced a startlingly strong, at times confronting musical, which is also very enjoyable.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition 29 January.  Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM’s ‘Artcetera’ program from 9am Saturdays.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Review © by Jane Freebury

It’s good to be reminded of why we said goodbye to all that in the 1950s. When advertising had women appear in high heels and tailored dresses to sell washing machines and vacuum cleaners, and the term gender equality scarcely existed. Although the decade is a byword for repression in western culture, it must have been more complex than that during the time that saw the birth of rock’n’roll.

So director Todd Haynes is on the money in his new movie, exploring the churn beneath the surface when homosexual relations were illegal. In this story based on Patricia Highsmith's novel of 1952, two women embark on an affair but social expectations eventually cruel their happiness and fulfilment.

The women are so different, but both are cool on marriage. Carol (Cate Blanchett), is an aloof wealthy woman who is divorcing her husband, and young Therese (Rooney Mara), a department store sales clerk, not at all sure about accepting her boyfriend's proposal and without much clue yet about what she wants. In their different ways, resisting or escaping, they are pushing back on marriage.

As an openly gay man, Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, I'm Not There.) would be interested in the climate that led to today’s gay rights movements and perhaps also not entirely disinterested, as he showed in Far From Heaven, in observing the fractures and contradictions of heterosexual partnerships. With this tale of a love that once dared not speak its name, how well has he managed?

Great choice of actors. Mara, without a hint of the oomph on display in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is a resolutely demure, doe-eyed Audrey Hepburn type. Blanchett, who confirmed in I'm Not There she can do anything, plays it cool and predatory and not hugely sympathetic. With a bit too much posturing and hair flicking in the mode of Hollywood's great screen vamps, I think. And, as if the red talons didn't make the point already, there is a brief and distracting clip of Gloria Swanson, the ultimate aging vamp in Sunset Boulevard.

The women's eyes meet across a busy toy department. Does anyone think of sex at Christmas shopping for their kids? Anyway, so begins the long journey towards each other, before they take off on the road and finally sleep together. As need and commitment see-saws between them, choices inevitably have to be made. It is of course a timeless love story.

The romance is expressed in the most beautiful cinematic language, and on celluloid too, it's worth noting. So gorgeous that it is easy to be diverted by the 'look' created by cinematographer Ed Lachman. The images float past as the camera rounds the curve of marble on the corner of a building, as it swoons before Carol's mink coat and red cloche outfit and that draped chocolate brown number. And there are exquisite long shots of Carol and Therese reflected in mirrors and framed through windows and doors as they meet in public spaces.

We are in for the slow burn but there’s plenty of time. A contemporary director for once in no hurry to get his two romantic leads into bed together. That’s OK, and true to the times for all I know, but it doesn't explain why this romantic liaison has so little tension and passionate urgency about it. Desire just hasn't found compelling expression here.  The cowboy lovers in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain were so much more convincing.

Why so? We know that Blanchett and Mara, are totally marvellous. All that attention to period detail and the glories of celluloid (Carol was shot on super 16 mm) and self-conscious cinematic awareness but the actors seem smothered by those exquisite surfaces, or the direction, and unable to throw themselves into their roles. It's a very beautiful and delicate, but somewhat suffocating experience.

3.5 Stars

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Peter Best

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Peter Best.  Centrepiece Theatre: Director, Set Designer and Costume Designer – Jordan Best; Lighting Designer – Kelly McGannon.  at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, January 19-24, 2016.

Musical Cow – Matthew Webster
Daddy Bear – Jim Adamik
Mummy Bear – Kiki Skountzos
Baby Bear – Tim Sekuless
Goldilocks – Amy Dunham

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 24

There’s a great sense of family revival in this witty but nice show.

Endearing and now enduring, Peter Best’s morality musical for the under-eights began its life as a grandfatherly gesture back in the day, 2011.  After its Canberra debut, Centrepiece took the Bear Family to Sydney’s Bondi Pavilion in 2012, and have now brought it back to dearly beloved Queanbeyan, with Amy Dunham as the best snoring Goldilocks – in Baby Bear’s bed, of course.

She also wore golden shoes that matched those of a littly, discovered in the post-show meet-the-cast (still very much in costume) gathering.  For both Goldilocks and Goldilette it seemed like a surprise meeting of Cinderellas – and better than plain old glass slippers.

What happened in the foyer after the show was as important for the children and their parents as their enjoyment and engagement in the show on stage.  The Best family’s Bear Family cleverly turn the old cautionary folk tale into one of respect for difference and diversity – just the ticket for the new Australian of the Year, David Morrison.  And it’s about how to say ‘sorry’ when you’ve eaten all of someone else’s porridge.  That’s another story for an Australia Day.

I guess this Goldilocks and the Three Bears will never be a serious money-turner, like other children’s theatre – say, the Gary Ginnivan or Dora the Explorer extravanzas.  It wasn’t written with that kind of purpose, and its strength lies in keeping its audience small (in both senses) and being with the children after the stage performance, as friends and as actors in costume and improvising in character.  I caught Jim Adamik having a great conversation with a young lad – not as anything like that other bear of very little brain (dear old Pooh!), but as a Daddy Bear genuinely interested in a little boy’s story of things that had happened to him.  A very modern model of a Daddy Bear, in fact.

Of course, the heart of this success is the delicate scripting, lyrics writing and music composing by Peter Best.  I say ‘delicate' because it is so carefully written – meaning full of care for the children watching and responding.  And Jordan Best’s directing picked up that delicacy for her actors, who all responded in kind.  I could also say, in kindness.

From little things, big things grow – so I rather hope that this Best version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears will expand its reach, go further afield.  Perhaps it could become a franchise for small-scale non-profit theatre companies to put on in their local communities around the country and beyond.  I think that would be nice.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had by Mammalian Diving Reflex (Canada). Sydney Festival

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had by Mammalian Diving Reflex (Canada).  Sydney Festival at Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre, January 21-24, 2016.

Writers (in collaboration with local panel members): Konstantin Bock (Berlin) – Director and Environment Designer ; Darren O’Donnell (Canada) – Director; and Eva Verity (Canada) – Producer, Director of Creative Production and Artistic Associate.

Sydney Panel Members: Jennie, Judith, Liz, Paul, Peter, Ronaldo

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 22

This production of All the Sex I’ve Ever Had is the ninth ‘edition’ staged in cities around the world, each with a panel of local people currently aged in their 60s and 70s.  The show is in the form of an entertainment, a little bit like live reality television with an element of the now ancient tv show, This Is Your Life.

It’s raison d’être, however, is not entertainment for entertainment’s sake.  The company’s name, Mammalian Diving Reflex, with its theory of evolution context, reveals a serious intention to explore human behaviour with a view to opening up our understanding.  Recent productions have been titled These Are the People in Your Neighbourhood and Nightwalks with Teenagers, for example.

And so this All the Sex begins with a pledge.  The audience agrees, led by Eva Verity (a most appropriate name for this role), never to gossip – that is never to reveal any personal information about the panel members or participating audience members outside the confines of this two hours in the theatre.

Although, it has to be said, there can be no guarantee that every member of the audience has really signed on, and the agreement can never be policed after the event, the pledge creates a powerful feeling of trust between those of us anticipating exciting revelations and those on the stage prepared to reveal all.

Without this trust the show could not go on.  I found myself recalling, from my days as a drama teacher, how essential that trust within the group was for continuing to learn from working closely together.  Rather than thinking of All the Sex I’ve Ever Had as an entertainment, it is more appropriate to see it as a kind of directed improvisation workshop in a drama class, where participants have the freedom to express themselves in a safe environment.

The event is given structure by chronology: each decade begins with a signature tune –  for 1940, Vera Lynn sings her wartime heart out in The White Cliffs of Dover, for example.  Particular years are then nominated according to the material provided by the panel members in their four-hour long interviews with the writers in preparing the show.  Since sex begins with birth, my story, if I had been on the panel, would begin with the announcement ‘1941’ and I would read from my script something like “I was born.  The snow in Wales was said to be so deep that my father was not able to reach the hospital at 6pm on the 9th of January.  Though I didn’t know that at the time, of course, I’ve never forgotten being told about it.” 

By the end of stories, often very funny, sometimes very sad, from both the panel members and volunteers in the audience, we reach the sparklers and fireworks of the Year 2000, the date now, and then look forward to when the youngest on the panel reaches 100 years old (in 2044 in this case).

As an entertainment, the descriptions of people’s sexual behaviours are inherently fascinating, and cover a wide range of social issues: about a father mistreating his daughter, say, or the advent of AIDs, or the depth of feeling as a long term partner succumbs to heart disease – or indeed to cheers in celebration of successful treatment of breast cancer.

As an education, the show opened up for me a much wider understanding of my own experiences in common with other people, and of the variety of sexual relationships far beyond my way of life.  Because the stories were personal, yet prepared in script form for public presentation, I found myself recognising the reality of other peoples’ ‘lifestyles’.  So often sexual behaviour was driven by underlying inbuilt tendencies personal to each individual, and practical choices had to be made according to the demands, of other family members, of social expectations, and even of the law.

And it was fascinating to see how attitudes in all these areas have changed over the last 70 years – including the acceptance of sexual activity in old age.

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had is not a conventional theatrical entertainment, but I found it a highly successful staged experience.  On the night I was there, a small group at one point did not respect the trust asked for in the pledge, but the Mammalian team quickly managed the situation very calmly and professionally – and the interruption itself became something to reflect upon as part of our experience.

Highly recommended.

All the Sex I've Ever Had - Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre
Sydney Festival January 2016
Photo: Prudence Upton


Written by Georges Bizet, Libretto by Eugene Cormon and Michel Carre

Conducted by Guillaume Tourniaire, Directed by Michael Gow, Designed by Robert Kemp,
Lighting Design by Matt Scott, Presented by Opera Australia,

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until March 12, 2016.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Even though it would be another ten years until he wrote his hit-packed opera, “Carmen”, George Bizet’s early effort, “The Pearlfishers”, written when he was just 24, provided Bizet with the opportunity to demonstrate that he was already a dab hand at writing a good tune. Despite it’s seriously flawed libretto which pays little attention to the realities of the exotic location in which it is set, and into which Bizet had had no input, “The Pearlfishers” nevertheless contains much beautiful music including a haunting duet for two male singers which has become of the most popular operatic arias ever written.

Set in colonial Ceylon, now Sri Lanka,  the storyline concerns a close friendship between a pearl fisherman, Zurga, and his friend, Nadir, which is threatened by their mutual infatuation for Leila, a young virgin priestess. Both the men had heard Leila singing in a temple and fallen for her. But to preserve their friendship, they make a pact to forget Leila and go on with their lives.

However, it turns out that Nadir has lied to Zurga. Sometime previously, he and Leila had spent the night together, presumably singing arias. So when Leila, accompanied by the high Priest, Nourabad, unexpectedly arrives in their village, it’s not too long before she and Nadir arrange to meet in the temple where Nourabad has organised her accommodation.

Predictably, as he leaves the temple after visiting Leila, Nadir is captured by Nourabad, and when Zurga finds out about their assignation he is so enraged that he commands the villagers to kill them both.

Pavol Breslik (Nadir) Jose Carbo (Zurga)
Photo: Keith Saunders
Michael Gow’s handsome, though rather stolid, new production of “The Pearlfishers”, keeps this story intact except for one major change. The three male characters in the story are now Europeans who are exploiting the locals. Zurga has become a pearl dealer, his friend Nadir, an animal hunter, and Nourabad, a local profiteer. This change certainly heightens the dramatic impact, but also adds its own illogicality’s.

However, instead of dwelling on the flaws in the libretto, Gow has wisely opted to present the story in a series of  carefully positioned, uncluttered stagings which insure that the singers are always in the most vocally advantageous stage positions to allow the audience to  focus on savouring the full beauty of Bizet’s music.

This works wonderfully, because with four exceptional singers in the principal roles, the excellent Opera Australia Chorus, and the full resources of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra at his disposal, conductor Guillaume Tourniaire has taken advantage of this approach to extract a finely nuanced and carefully detailed reading of the score which reveals often surprising, unexpected colours and dynamics, even in the most familiar arias.

The infamous “ In the Depths of the Temple”, gets a gloriously passionate performance from  Jose Carbo (Zurga) and Slovakian tenor Pavol Breslik (Nadir), both revelling in the opportunity to exploit their unique vocal contributions and demonstrate why this duet has earned its place in operatic history.

Carbo, sporting a shaggy beard, gives a strongly sung performance as the gone-troppo, slightly wild-eyed pearl dealer, Zurga.  Making his first appearances with Opera Australia, as the handsome young animal hunter, Nadir, Breslik,  also impressed with his superb interpretation of another lovely aria,  “I Hear as in a Dream”, which almost rivals “In the Depths of the Temple” as an operatic ear-worm.
Ekterina Siurina (Leila)
Photo: Keith Saunders

As the priestess, Leila, the object of their shared attentions, Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina, also makes an impressive Opera Australia debut. Her warm stage presence and stunning creamy soprano voice are displayed to great advantage in her dreamy solos and dramatic duets with both Zurga and Nadir.

Though somewhat under-utilised as the villainous Nourabad, Daniel Sumegi nevertheless made effective use of his great voice and commanding presence to complete an outstanding quartet of principals.

However, despite exceptional singing from the four excellent principals, it is the Opera Australia chorus which steals the show. Costumed in glowing reds, browns and yellows, and arranged in rows in Robert Kemps impressive decaying temples, it rattles the rafters with superbly detailed harmonies, providing some of the most memorable highlights of this remarkably satisfying production.  

Daniel Sumegi (Zurga)  and the Opera Australia Chorus
Photo: Keith Saunders

This review is also published in Australian Arts Review

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, adapted for the stage by Kate Mulvaney

Guy Simon
Photo by Brett Boardman

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, adapted for the stage by Kate Mulvaney.  At Belvoir Street Upstairs, Sydney, January 6 – February 7, 2016.

Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks; Set Designer – Michael Hankin; Costume Designer –Mel Page; Lighting Designer – Matt Scott; Composer and Sound Designer – Steve Toulmin; Fight Choreographer – Scott Witt; Choreographer – Sara Black.  Indigenous Consultant – Jada Alberts.

Charlie Bucktin Tom Conroy
Mrs Bucktin / Warwick Kate Mulvaney
Laura Wishart / Eliza Wishart Matilda Ridgway
Mr Bucktin / Mad Jack Lionel Steve Rodgers
Jasper Jones Guy Simon
Jeffrey Lu Charles Wu

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 23

Since it’s a very long time since I was a young adult (in fact the category didn’t even exist when I was that young), I went to Belvoir for the matinee unaware of Craig Silvey and his ‘iconic’ story with its referencing literature, especially Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and full of what Kate Mulvaney calls ‘favourite bits’.  The audience, which included quite a number of today’s young adults, as well as many who used to be, not too long ago, there were obviously favourite bits all over the place.

My favourite bit was the ending, and how it was staged.  D H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers was not specifically mentioned, but Jasper Jones in 1965 – like Paul Morel in 1913 – walks away from constriction towards distant lights representing a new life in the wider world.  The symbolism of an off-stage spotlight on Guy Simon’s beautifully characterised Jasper as he exits was obvious, and brought the play to a veritable explosion of audience enthusiasm in response.

Anne-Louise Sarks’ direction and Michael Hankin’s set design kept up a sparkling pace from the opening scene, with scene changes becoming part of the drama that built the audience response.  And the acting of all concerned was clear, precise and strong, with all the energy of young adults on display.

And yet I had an odd feeling, as Jasper left his boots, whisky and cigarettes on Charlie’s window sill, swung his empty rucksack over his shoulder and walked at full height into the light.  Where was he going, in 1965?  Towards the 1967 Referendum which at last gave recognition of Aboriginal people as citizens of the country they had owned since time immemorial?  Towards 2008, when Silvey wrote his novel, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made his speech apologising to the Stolen Generations?  Towards 2016, when Reconciliation has still failed to give proper place to the original owners of this land in the Australian Constitution?

And towards today’s Australia where family men still abuse and cause the deaths of women  - every week – like Laura Wishart, daughter of the Corrigan Shire President?

Maybe, when the applause for the skilful adaptation and stage production of this novel had slackened off, I needed a reminder of Silvey’s theme – that the fictional town of Corrigan could be anywhere in Australia.  Then where could Laura Wishart and Jasper Jones go?  Then, or now?

Photos by Lisa Tomasetti

Tom Conroy as Charlie Bucktin

Tom Conroy as Charlie Bucktin and Charles Wu as Jeffrey Lu
Matilda Ridgway as Eliza Wishart

L to R: Jennifer Parsonage, Matilda Ridgway, Tom Conroy and Charles Wu
as cricketer, Eliza Wishart, Charlie Bucktin
and Jeffery Lu succeeding at cricket

Tom Conroy as Charlie and Kate Mulvaney as Mrs Bucktin
Steve Rodgers as Mr Bucktin and Tom Conroy as Charlie

Matilda Ridgway as Eliza Wishart and Tom Conroy as Charlie Bucktin
Matilda Ridgway as Eliza Wishart holding Laura Wishart's suicide note
Tom Conroy as Charlie and Kate Mulvaney as Mrs Bucktin
Steve Rodgers as Mad Jack Lionel
Tom Conroy as Charlie Bucktin and Guy Simon as Jasper Jones

Guy Simon and Tom Conroy
as Jasper Jones and Charlie Bucktin

Saturday, January 23, 2016

+51 Aviacón, San Borja - Sydney Festival

+51 Aviacón, San Borja written and directed by Yudai Kamisato.  Okazaki Art Theatre (Japan).  Sydney Festival About an Hour at Carriageworks, Redfern, Bay 17, January 21-24, 2016.

Performers – Masahiko Ono, Wataru Omura, Mari Kodama; Set Design – Yudai Kamisato; Sound Design – Masashi Wada; Lighting Design – Ryoya Fudetani; Dramaturg – Hinako Arao; Surtitles Translation – Aya Ogawa.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 22

This is a complex study of the place of socially critical theatre in modern times as the conceptual structures of left-wing / right-wing and Labour / Capital seem to be breaking down.  Kamisato takes his own family history intertwined with his imagined relationship with Seki Sano, the pre-WWII Japanese new theatre movement dramaturg who was driven out for ‘thought crimes’ and became the ‘Father of Mexican Theatre’ – an important figure in the left-wing anti-Capitalist theatre of South and Central America.

The complexity in the story comes about from the migration of Japanese within Japan and especially to and from the Americas mainly since the 1930s, resulting largely from the conflicts with and the influences of the USA.  Kamisato was born in Lima, Peru, where his grandmother from Okinawa still lives, while his father returned to Okinawa, and Kamisato to Tokyo.

The essence of the play is about how the modern day director of an Art Theatre in Tokyo, challenged by his family’s experiences in Okinawa, the one-time US base, and challenged again by his visions of the ghost of Seki Sano, can come to terms with visiting the emigrant Japanese community still mentally living in the past in Lima.  Where does Kamisato belong and what kind of theatre should he make today?

His attempt to fathom this out is, of course, the very piece of theatre he shows us.  Movement in action, yet often held in stillness, has been a core element of Japanese drama for many centuries, while the forms of the shapes of the actors’ bodies in this modern Art Theatre are oddly angular and seemingly distorted.  Then movements also become highly disturbing to watch.  The modern world is not a pretty place, nor a place of dignity.  And so we are taken finally to the grandmother in Lima, unable to ever return to her origin in Okinawa in the physical or emotional sense, yet whose grandson, no longer able to return to his origin in Lima, must leave her alone in her old age as he must search on – perhaps through some kind of spurious New Age ‘spirituality’. 

It’s a sad ending, for a play which certainly cannot be fitted into the old left-wing / right-wing boxes.  It’s about changing cultures, geographically as people migrate to escape or for a better future, and chronologically as the generations shift away from past identities.

+51 Aviacón, San Borja is an intelligent, sensitive exploration of not just this theatre director’s life, but of all our lives in the modern world.  It’s a very worthwhile example of cross-cultural experience, highly suitable for the Sydney Festival, and should be followed up with more work from Yudai Kamisato being brought to Australia.

Friday, January 22, 2016


Storytime Ballet - The Sleeping Beauty
Photo: Jeff Busby

The Australian Ballet Kids,

Canberra Theatre Centre daily until 23rd January

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Canberra Theatre Centre foyer was abuzz with tiny ballerinas and princesses, and more than a few young princes, for the Canberra premiere of the Australian Ballet’s latest initiative “Storytime Ballet”.

Early arrivals soon discovered the dress-up room where they could try on some of the gorgeous costumes and big girls ballet shoes thoughtfully provided by the ballet company, while mums, grannies and grandads purchased tiaras, crowns and swords as essential souvenirs.Too soon, the bells were ringing and it was time to hurry into the theatre and settle down for the show.

Montana Rubin and Timothy Coleman
Photo: Jeff Busby

This production of “The Sleeping Beauty” has been designed as in introduction to ballet for children as young as three years old.  With this target audience in mind, David McAllister, in collaboration with Nicolette Fraillon, has skilfully reduced the original three-act ballet into a performance lasting a nicely judged fifty minutes.

The cast of ten young dancers from the company are costumed in the Hugh Coleman’s  gorgeous storybook costumes, and perform on part of his setting which was originally created for Maina Gielgud’s 1984 production of “The Sleeping Beauty”.  The Prince’s secretary, Catalabutte, (Sean McGrath) engages directly with the young audience. His narration is witty and informative, keeping his young audience informed about exactly what is happening as the dancers perform sections of the original Petipa choreography to Tchaikovsky’s glorious music

Storytime Ballet - The Sleeping Beauty
Photo: Jeff Busby

In response his audience enthusiastically help him make magic to wake up the palace guests from their 100 year sleep, and scream warnings to him when the wicked fairy, Carabosse, slinks with intent in the background.

The charm of this enchanting production is that it retains all the essential elements of the original, captures much of the magic, and is perfectly pitched at its target audience, who left no doubt as to how much they enjoyed it, as they excitedly spilled out into the foyer afterwards.  As such it works equally well as an inspirational experience for budding young dancers and as a charming introduction for the uninitiated, or curious, to the often mysterious world of classical ballet.

If you haven’t a young prince or princess of your own, beg, borrow or steal a couple from your neighbour and give yourself a treat.

Storytime Ballet - The Sleeping Beauty
Photo: Jeff Busby

     This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 20th January 2016

This Is How We Die - Sydney Festival

This Is How We Die written and performed by Christopher Brett Bailey (commissioned by Ovalhouse, UK).  Sydney Festival About an Hour, at Carriageworks, Redfern, Bay 17, January 20 – 24, 2016.

Dramaturg – Anne Rieger; Lighting Design – Sherry Coenen; Sound Design – George Percy, Christopher Brett Bailey; Musicians – Alicia Jane Turner, Christopher Brett Bailey, Matthew McGuigan, James Eccles; Produced by Beckie Darlington.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 21

Christopher Brett Bailey
Photo by Jamie Williams

In summary: superficially clever, but ultimately boring. 

The “action” consisted of Bailey, seated at a small desk with reams of paper and a microphone, apparently reading a sort of prose-poem for 60 minutes.  The opening was a very lengthy, very loudly and very rapidly spoken diatribe against every possible modern “issue” and fashionable mode of expression, which later became a “list” of all the “-ists” which had to be so thoroughly denigrated that even the “list” could not be used because it was an “-ist”.  At this point his girl-friend suggested it would be better to stick to criticising “-isms” because they were principles, rather than “-ists” because they were just the people who proposed the “-isms”.

Though undergraduate philosophical fun of this kind caused some laughter from younger members of the audience, it was hardly a dramatic opening, even if it was an over-theatrical performance on Bailey’s part of skilfully articulated voice work.

The rest of the speech became a series of stories from Bailey, ostensibly in character as himself, following a thin thread of his relationship with “Her” through all sorts of bizarre fantasy situations, including many “mother-fuckers” and many deaths; and raising concerns for us to cogitate upon, such as the nature of the presentation as fiction rather than fact.

At their best, some episodes were momentarily funny and I even caught a faint distant echo of Tim Minchin.  But it was a long hour until floodlights from the stage gradually brightened to the point of blinding the audience.  The storytelling stopped, but at what point or with what significance I am unable to say, and a form of repetitive music became apparent.

As the sound became louder and harsher, the time for our ear plugs came upon us.  I simply held my fingers in my ears so that I could vary the level a bit, but made sure I protected myself from tinnitus.  I think most others did not actually use their ear plugs, but several people got up and left during the almost unbearable ten minutes of aural attack. 

At last the blinding lights began to fade, followed by a lessening of the by now deeply battering-ram sound, until the musicians were revealed with silent instruments.  There was a little clapping as Bailey returned to his desk and asked us to encourage others to attend following performances, since they had “come a long way”.  And we were invited to buy, for $10, his book of the text of the show.

Though This Is How We Die could be seen as a brave attempt at iconoclastic theatre-making, for me it just lacked any subtlety – and I still cannot see what connection the title has with the content of the material, in words or in sound.  Maybe it’s just that I’m not subtle enough to appreciate any deeper meaning.  I declined the offer to spend $10, while I appreciated Bailey’s thanking us for taking the risk of coming to the show without knowing what to expect.

After all, that’s what a Festival is for.

Photos: Jemima Yong, Matthew Humphrey