Wednesday, October 28, 2020

NORMAL - Canberra Youth Theatre


Electra Spencer and  Holly Ross in NORMAL 

Written by Katie Pollock – Directed by Luke Rogers

Set and lighting designed by Gillian Schwab – Sound designed by Kimmo Vennonen

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, 22nd to  24th October, 2020.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Katie Pollock’s AWGIE nominated play, “Normal”, deals with the plight of Poppy, a young woman stricken with a Tourette’s-like condition, who struggles for understanding and acceptance from those with whom she comes in contact in her daily life.

The play traces Poppy’s experience from the moment her best friend notices a tell-tale symptom. As her symptoms become increasingly severe, those surrounding Poppy begin to isolate her, withdrawing support and even accusing her of faking her symptoms to gain attention.

Canberra Youth Theatre has given the play a polished, stripped back production, firmly and imaginatively directed by Luke Rogers.

Gillian Schwab’s, sparse, sophisticated setting with its central raked stage and large suspended overhead screen, provided a starkly clinical atmosphere, which was emphasised by her moody lighting, and complimented by Kimmo Vennonen’s evocative sound design.

However, though attractive, the absence of furniture or props to provide clues to time and place meant that the actors were totally exposed.

Holly Ross as Poppy in NORMAL 

As Poppy, Holly Ross was riveting in a role that required her to be on stage for almost the entire performance, portraying the distressing tic and wide range of emotions with convincing sincerity.   

Jemma Collins, McKenzie Battye-Smith, and Electra Spencer, shared all the  other roles,  among them, Holly’s mother, her friend and her friend’ mother, a psychiatrist, a school councillor, a television reporter and a shop assistant. 

The task of portraying a wide range of different characters demanded significant emotional range and acting technique from the young actors, and while all three gave commendably strong, committed performances, they were not always up to these demands.

McKenzie Battye-Smith - Electra Spencer - Holly Ross -Jemma Collins

Therefore as the severity of   Holly’s symptoms increased, and her reactions began to isolate her from her worried mother, her friends and health professionals, provided with only minimalistic changes of costume to differentiate characters, it became difficult to follow the thread of the storyline, and maintain connection with the characters, because so much essential information was lost through insufficient vocal projection and imprecise articulation. Therefore when the final denouement was reached, with all characters exhibiting Poppy’s symptoms, apparently confirming accusations that her condition was more mental than physical, it was both puzzling and shocking.

                                               All photos by Images Instantly.

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review -

Monday, October 26, 2020



Sarahlouise Owens, soprano

Natalia Tkachenko, piano

Wesley Music Centre, Forrest October 25


Reviewed by Len Power


An inspired idea for a program of art songs, Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, pianist, presented a set of songs by Australian composers.

Canberra composer, Michael Dooley, was represented with songs of well-known poems by John Keats.  There were also two Hebrew songs by Linda Phillips and a set of romantic songs by Phyllis Batchelor.  Songs by Carl Vine and Horace Keats were also included.

Sarahlouise Owens has worked extensively in Europe and is a graduate of the ANU School of Music and Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.  She has established herself as a busy concert artist and recitalist of Art Song since her return to Australia.

Her accompanist, Natalia Tkachenko, graduated with honours from the Moscow State Institute of Music and worked extensively in Moscow, France, Germany and South Korea before residing and working with the ANU School of Music in Canberra.


Natalia Tkachenko and Sarahlouise Owens


The concert commenced with three poems by John Keats with music by Canberra composer, Michael Dooley.  These descriptive poems were given highly visual music, enabling Sarahlouise Owens to show the wide range of her voice as well as her dramatic presentation abilities.  ‘To Autumn’ and the final part of ‘Ode On A Grecian Urn’ were the highlights of this set.  Natalia Tkachenko gave an especially sensitive accompaniment on piano for ‘To Autumn’.

Both Linda Phillips and Phyllis Batchelor were prominent in Australia’s music scene in the last century and their compositions should be better known.  The two songs by Linda Phillips in this concert – ‘Ash Trees’ and ‘The Golden Bird’ were colourful with positive sentiments that were sung with brightness and joy by Owens.

The set of romantic songs by Phyllis Batchelor were given a heart-felt performance by Owens.  ‘Jacaranda tree’ was especially tenderly sung and given a fine accompaniment by Tkachenko.

Carl Vine’s confidently romantic declaration, ‘Love Me Sweet’, was a nice contrast to the sweeter Batchelor songs and the set of songs by Horace Keats created a fine atmosphere of quiet and reflective emotion.  ‘The Point Of Noon’ was the highlight of this set.

The program finished with a return to the poems of John Keats with Michael Dooley’s composition to ‘Ode To A Nightingale’.  This lengthy song covers the full range of emotions, giving the singer great opportunities to display their skills.  Owens gave a moving performance of this work that proved to be the highlight of the whole concert.

Photo by Peter Hislop

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at




The Song Company: Close-Up

Roberta Diamond, soprano

Hannah Lane, baroque triple harp

Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest 23 October


Reviewed by Len Power


“Esperar, Sentir, Morir” (to hope, to feel, to die) are the words of the song giving this concert its title.  The program explored music of the Iberian Peninsula and its influence throughout Europe.  Many were romantic works exploring the many emotions associated with the joy of love and the pain of its loss.

Traditional melodies from the Sephardic diaspora were intertwined with theatre music from the Spanish Golden Age and popular compositions that travelled around the world.

Soprano, Roberta Diamond, specialises in the interpretation of medieval, renaissance and baroque music and has enjoyed a busy international career.  Hannah Lane, on baroque triple harp, performs regularly with many leading ensembles throughout Australia and Europe.  The combination of these two artists produced a sublime evening of memorable music.

The concert commenced with Roberta Diamond singing a capella off stage before making her entrance.  The sweetness and clarity of her voice was astounding as she sang this haunting 13th century love song by Martim Codax.

Roberta Diamond and Hannah Lane

She and Hannah Lane then presented a large program of songs from across the centuries by many composers as well as traditional Sephardic melodies of great beauty.  That most of these were unfamiliar works simply added to the enjoyment.

Hannah Lane also performed several works solo on the baroque triple harp.  The harp has three parallel rows of strings instead of the more common single row.  The pensiveness of “Ancor che col partire” (Even with leaving) by Antonio de Cabezón from the 16th Century was especially beautiful.

Amongst the highlights of the songs sung by Roberta Diamond and accompanied by Hannah Lane were “Sé que me muero” (I know I’m dying) by Jean-Baptiste Lully and the haunting “Aura tiema, amorosa” (Tender, loving breeze) by Juan Francisco Gòmez, both from the 17th Century.

The performers spoke to the audience at length about the works they were performing but the acoustic in the church made it very difficult to hear what they were saying.  A microphone would have helped.  Hannah Lane re-tuning the harp while Roberta Diamond was speaking made it even more challenging to hear what was being said.

Nevertheless, it was the music that was the focus and the audience was clearly charmed by these superb artists and their excellent program.


Photo by Peter Hislop

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 24 October 2020.

 Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at


Sunday, October 25, 2020

INTIMACY - Belco Arts

Noa Rotem and Adam Deusien in "Intimacy" 

Created and performed by Adam Deusien, Jazida and Noa Rotem, 

Belconnen Arts Centre – 22nd and 23rd October, 2020.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.  

“Intimacy” is the third production in a series of small shows produced by Belco Arts to introduce its superb new performing space by exploring various human responses utilising variety of performing disciplines. Risk was the focus of “L’Entreprise de Risque” which drew on circus skills to investigate its topic. Elements of Butoh were incorporated into “Mess” to explore Isolation.

For “Intimacy”, three multi-disciplinary performers, Adam Deusien, Noa Rotem, and Jazida, were teamed with designer, Tiffany Abbott, and tasked with producing a show, during a intensive six-day rehearsal period, exploring the subject of intimacy.

The result is a tantalising 45 minutes of seemingly unrelated and often intriguing collection incidents, which, while entertaining and well executed, often leave the audience guessing as to their relevance to the stated topic.

For “Intimacy”, a large stage occupies one corner of the room. The audience is seated at cabaret tables on two sides. Tiffany Abbott has created an attractive, shadowy, back-stage setting, with angled mirrors in the corner, and racks of gaudy costumes. When the audience enters they become aware of a performer, dressing gown covering her costume, warming up and perfecting moves on one side. Another can be noticed upstage in the gloom, examining her make-up in mirrors. The third sits motionless on a large table, centre stage, each seemingly oblivious of the other.

The sound of a performance happening on the imaginary stage beyond, can be heard, and as the show begins, the first performer doffs her dressing gown and makes her entrance, leaving the other two, preparing for their own entrances. It’s a clever set-up, which neatly establishes each of the performers as theatricals, opening the way for them to perform a series of set-pieces, shoe-horned into the theme, while mimicking the real-life situation of three individuals drawn together to present an entertainment.

Deusin establishes his character as a drag performer, launching into an overwrought mimed performance of “Maybe This Time”, then strengthening that impression with a monologue revealing that his only really intimate relationship has been with his mother.A duologue with Rotem, in which a couple seek intimacy by asking permission to explore each other’s responses, confuses this impression.

Type-cast as a burlesque performer, Jazida performed several polished burlesque routines during the course of the show, including one rather alarming and messy routine involving a lettuce and all three performers, and a spectacular fan-dance in which the angled mirrors created multiple images. A reprise of the duologue, with Jazida replacing Deusin, in asking the permissions, confirmed her strong dramatic presence. 

Rotem’s dramatic abilities were also on display in another amusing duologue in which she described an uncomfortable sexual experience, while Deusien described a completely different experience.

As with the previous shows in this series, the technical support was excellent. Abbott’s appropriately tacky theatrical costumes supported the backstage milieu she had created with her set design. Linda Buck’s lighting was again excellent, as was Kyle Sheedy’s sound. But while there were moments when the three worked together in some rather under-rehearsed choreographed movement, a stronger directorial presence might have strengthened the show by clarifing the significance of some of the episodes to the remit. 

                   This review first published in CITY NEWS on 24th October 2020.



Normal by Katie Pollock. 

Directed by Luke Rogers. Canberra Youth Theatre. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. October 22-24 2020

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Holly Ross as Poppy in Katie Pollock's Notmal

The title of Katie Pollock’s play Normal begs the question “What is normal?” In a bold and impressive move, Canberra Youth Theatre’s Artistic Director Luke Rogers has brought Pollock’s probing question from company’s customary intimate theatre space at Ainslie Gorman Arts centre to the expansive and fully professional stage of the Canberra Theatre Centre’s Playhouse.  It is a challenge that the company and Youth Theatre’s four young actresses embrace with vigour and assurance in a performance that is confident, authentic and at times profoundly moving. 

Holly Ross as Poppy. Elektra Spencer as Skye
 Central character, Poppy  (Holly Ross) has developed  impulsive and uncontrollable vocal and physical reflexes  that offer no medical or scientific explanation.  Pollock constructs an intriguing investigation of the impact of Poppy’s disorder in short scenes that examine Poppy’s relationships with her friends, her mother , her friends’ mothers,  a shop attendant, a psychiatrist, a school counsellor and a television reporter.  The three other female actors double up as Poppy’s school friends and the adults in Pollock’s  exploration of the condition’s causes and the attitudes of the characters as Poppy’s best friend, Sky (Elektra Spencer) gradually distances herself for fear of contracting the ”disease” . Accusations fly from Sasha’s frightened mother Ms Holt (Jemma Collins) and Poppy’s mother (McKenzie Battye-Smith) desperately struggles to maintain normality as her world appears to crumble about her and she is powerless to find a solution to the situation. Professionals, psychiatrist Sheila and school counsellor Lucy cling to a pragmatic explanation that offers some hope of a cure for this abnormal affliction.

 McKenzie Battye-Smith as Heather
 Questions demand answers as Poppy’s condition becomes more and more acute. In a puzzling turn of events the questions become even more significant as Poppy’s friends develop the same mysterious “illness” and Pollock’s scenario turns into an absorbing detective investigation that poses more questions and eludes any confirmed closure to the case. Rogers’ direction is methodical, eliciting excellent and thoroughly convincing performances from his ensemble cast, while ensuring that the pace and impact of the work keeps the audience on tenterhooks in the quest for some satisfying explanation. Gillian Schwab’s setting and lighting design offer opportunity for clear deduction , complemented by Kimmo Vennonen’s punctuated sound design. And so the questions continue. Is Poppy’s condition the consequence of teenage anxiety and fears, of doubts and conflicting perceptions of friendship and peer pressure?  Has fear and confusion distorted body and mind connection and balance? Or is it Psychological Conversion Disorder as the psychiatrist would have us believe? Or could it be a contagious disease, spreading with human contact? Maybe it is the toxic waste that now seeps to attack the students at one particular school. Or is it a manifestation of a troubled mind?

The answers are elusive, but what is clear in this excellent vehicle for these young actors and their audience  is the trouble and the torment that young people  on the brink of adolescence face in their daily lives, both the imaginary and the real.  The harmful impact of  social media and the terrifying exposure to trolling play their part in this sobering account of the terrors that confront Poppy and her peers.

Jessical Collins as Shop Girl

At an uncertain time of a Covid new normal, the uncertainty that underpins Pollock’s play is powerfully relevant, but we are left to find our answers, which remains slightly unsettling in a professionally staged production with excellent performances from four young actors. Or maybe it is a purposeful ploy to compel us not to judge but to understand.  In a final moment of the play the four girls erupt into an Abigail moment like the girls in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible break into chilling accusatory unison before the court.  

I don’t know, but what I do know is the Canberra Youth Theatre production of Normal and the performances of four fine and highly promising  actors will compel me to think and search for answers, which is what a piece of outstanding theatre is meant to do.




Saturday, October 24, 2020



Created and performed by Adam Dusien, Jazida and Noa Rotem. Produced by Chenoeh Miller. A Belco Arts Production.  The Theatre. Belconnen Arts Centre. October 22-23. 2020

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Enter the world of cabaret, of hopes and dreams, disillusionment and fear in search of love, of intimacy and the light that shines on the sweet taste of success. Created and performed by Adam Deusien, Jazida and Noa Rotem, Intimacy begs the question, “How can we find and maintain intimacy and connection at a time of a global pandemic and social distancing that keeps us apart?”

 Three performers, so very different and yet connected through their art, reach out to each other to find comfort and solace in a world that seeks to protect by keeping people apart.  The setting is a cabaret room. In the dim light one watches a woman dance, driven by impulse, possessed. One can just make out a figure on a table and another in the smoky lighting before a mirror. Nearby a clothes rack displays the costumes of the cabaret, the boas, the feathers, the tulle dresses and the clothes that hark back to the era of the Weimar cabaret. Tiffany Abbott’s costumes and set design complemented by Linda Buck’s atmospheric lighting design conjures the mystique of Berlin cabaret. It is there in the Martha Grahame movements of Noa Rotem before the show starts, reminiscent of an early Dietrich she moves with the searching longing of a lost soul. Through the dark, Kandor and Ebb’s soulful song Marriage from Cabaret  can be heard faintly as overture to this carefully devised, choreographed and staged quest to bring the different performers together. 

 With only six days to shape their search for intimacy in a distanced world, it is not surprising that the cabaret, in true tradition, focused on the individual talents of the skilled artists, and used the time to concentrate on a very tight choreography and physicality of interaction. Adam Dusien’s agonized lip-synched rendition of Sally Bowles’s Maybe This Time from Cabaret paints the painful scene of desperate dreams. Bewitching burlesque performer, Jazida, teases and enchants with her cheeky striptease and beautifully executed and exotic fan dance before the mirrors.  All three tread the cautious path towards physical intimacy, culminating in the eroticism of the shredded leaves and lascivious devouring of the cabbage.  Less sensuous than an apple or a pear, the cabbage lends itself to the ridiculous comedy of human sexuality.  Too drawn out is the repetition of a sequence of attraction as the couples come together.   Male and female climax their intimacy in orgasmic delight. Female and female discover a gentler intimacy cradled in each other’s arms. Both seek satisfaction in the fundamental need for human contact and intimacy.

Rotem brings the cabaret to a close with Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Two Countries to remind us that “skin is not alone” and  “that people go places larger than themselves”, a sentiment that closes the show with Leonard Cohen’s haunting  Dance Me To The End of Love.

Intimacy is cabaret with heart. Three performer/collaborators take us on a journey to reach out for the light in the darkness. Whatever loneliness we feel, whatever desires we crave, whatever dark despair we confront this simple, honest cabaret reminds us that we are not alone.



Kamberra: Many Nations One Country

Photomedia | Brian Rope

Marissa McDowell and Lisa Fuller | Kamberra: Many Nations One Country
Belconnen Arts Centre | Until 25 October 2020

There is a Ngunnawal word which means meeting place: Kamberra. It is a perfect representation for what Canberra has become, particularly regarding the many First Nations Australians living here today. Stories from those communities is what this exhibition is about.

Kamberra: Many Nations One Country explores the diverse perspectives of First Nations Australian mob living in Canberra on Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country. It explores local Traditional Owners and their connections which go back millennia, as well as diverse communities who’ve lived here for years, decades and in some cases, generations. It explores the idea of how these many groups relate to this Country, through numerous lenses.

This new media exhibition celebrates the beauty of Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country, and the diversity of the peoples from all walks of life living there today – playing sport, attending schools, caring for the environment, writing poetry, telling stories, painting murals, dancing, sharing their culture, making glass artworks, playing with pets, and much more.

Arboretum - © Marissa McDowell

The collaboration, to gather and capture their stories, was commissioned by Belconnen Arts Centre. It was led by contributors - Wiradjuri filmmaker Marissa McDowell, and Murri writer Lisa Fuller. Through various connections and art forms, they sought to explore the idea of how the diverse groups from all walks of life relate to Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country. As they intended, they have respected how people always choose to identify.

Corin Forest - Drone Shot pine trees - © Marissa McDowell

McDowell is from the Wiradjuri Nation, Cowra, and has been living on Ngunnawal Country since 1984. She is a Wiradjuri woman with Irish and English heritage. She is also an independent producer at Black & White Films and has worked with Indigenous communities telling their stories through documentary film making, photography and writing. She also facilitates filmmaking workshops for youth and community.

Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello - © Marissa McDowell

Documentaries by McDowell have been screened on SBS/NITV; her poetry published through USMOB Writers and photographs displayed at PhotoAccess and the Sydney Living Museum. She has recently received her Master of Arts Screen Business and Leadership at the Australian Film and Television Radio School and is currently undertaking her Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage at Charles Sturt University.

In the photomedia parts of this exhibition we are shown video recordings of many people who agreed to be interviewed. They are displayed on a four-sided central plinth representing the ‘fire’ around which people yarn and share stories. The people are diverse – in ages, gender, and the country they are originally from. They also talk about diverse things, each revealing something of themselves. Around the walls of the new Pivot Gallery, other large screens share more about the lives and activities of members of the mob living here.

In an adjoining space, the exhibition also includes McDowell’s fine photographic portraits of eight Elders who took part. And there are various other visual artworks contributing to the overall exhibition.

Aunty Caroline Hughes Traditional Ngunnuwal Elder - © Marissa McDowell

Ngunnawal Elder Warren Daley - © Marissa McDowell

A book, also titled Kamberra: Many Nations One Country, is being sold at the gallery in conjunction with the exhibition. Designed by Fuller, it contains images from the exhibition and a great deal more, including some excellent poetry by Fuller, McDowell and various other people. The diversity of the First Nations people and what they do in Kamberra is clear in this publication.Fuller is a Murri from Eidsvold QLD, who has been living on Ngunnawal Country since 2006. She is currently doing her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Canberra. Her first novel, Ghost Bird, is due out in October 2019.

For those of us who come from other cultural backgrounds, this exhibition adds to our knowledge of First Nations Australians.

This review was published by the Canberra times on 24.10.20 here. It is also on the author's blog here.