Wednesday, May 23, 2012

120 Birds

Liz Lea and Co
The Street Theatre
19 & 20 May

Reviewed by Samara Purnell

What a mammoth effort this is from Liz Lea and what a shame there were only two performances.
Inspired by the travels of Anna Pavlova’s company through Australia and India with her collection of 120 birds, Canberra based performer Lea has put together a fictional touring dance troupe, Company Elle. Here she recounts their travels, loves and lives, stories and adventures, spanning almost a century and including reference to historical events and characters.

This is a jigsaw puzzle that chops and changes from the present to a flashback, to flashforwards where the troupe is represented in a really lovely touch, when older versions of themselves dance with their characters. One of the ladies, Madeleine Bullock, has been directly influenced by Ruth St. Denis’ dance practices, (St. Denis is one of the figures referenced in the show). Another dancer, Glenys Harris, trained under Pavlova’s niece. Charmaine Hallam and Toni Allen were trained in the Cecchetti style of ballet.

Company Elle consists of Lea, Ash Bee, Melanie Palomares and Miranda Wheen. Wheen is perfect as Lola, embodying the brash and seductive trailblazer. Her dancing was a convincing mix of the masculine sexuality demanded by the role and great technique. Her duets with Palomares were lovely.

Lea has collated and edited footage from the National Sound and Film Archive of the Ballet Russes, old-fashioned beach parades, swimming drills, modelling and dance-clips to name a few. She presents this amusing footage, edited to be even more so, with hilarious explanations. Those nearer the back of the theatre may have struggled to hear her in parts, this being the challenge of regulating sound between live theatre and archival footage. Unfortunately the appearance of the ANU homepage over the footage that made a couple of brief appearances may have provided unintended laughs but broke the vibe.

The dancing was intermittent and on leaving the theatre I overheard a couple of comments that there wasn’t “enough” dancing. But the dancing on display from Company Elle was reassured and dynamic.  It would have been fitting to see a classical piece danced by one of the girls after the death of Pavlova was spoken about. This was a lovely part of the show.

The guest burlesque dancers needed to tighten up their timing and stretch themselves on their technique and balance more than they did in Saturday’s performance.

The last segment of the show, whilst charming, could have been more tightly edited. The performance was somewhat eclectic in that it becomes interactive with the audience, and hereby allows any slight hiccups to be poked fun of. Lea seems quite capable of adlibbing and the humour in the show is bold,off-beat and funny indeed. None of these minor gripes really detracted from the kaleidoscope of gorgeous dresses, vintage underwear, poignant sentiments, and well executed dance sequences. The burlesque numbers, with some very interesting headwear, explained as a tribute to the headgear worn by Canberra cyclists were very entertaining. This was a thoroughly lovable and engrossing show and a credit to Lea. This slice of fictional history, with its footage and originality in concept and staging is well worth seeing. Hopefully this extraordinary work will get more stage-time in the near future.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Book by Douglas Day Stewart & Sharleen Cooper Cohen
Music and Lyrics by Ken Hirsch & Robin Lerner
Produced by Sharleen Cooper Cohen & John Frost
Directed by Simon Phillips
Set and Costumes designed by Dale Ferguson
Choreography by Andrew Hallsworth
Lyric Star, Sydney.

Reviewed by  Bill Stephens

The latest big-scale musical to have its world premiere in Sydney, “An Officer and a Gentleman” is a stirring, often moving staging of the story of a young trainee Navy fighter pilot who falls in love with a girl who works in a factory.  It’s a story that became a hit film in 1982, notable especially for the song “Up Where We Belong” which has been retained in this stage version, but augmented with a lush new score by Ken Kirsch and Robin Lerner.

Those familiar with the movie will be struck by how closely this stage adaptation follows the original storyline, and how seamlessly and effectively the music is incorporated into the show. Those who have never seen the film are likely to find themselves swept away by the sheer strength of the romantic storyline.

Simon Phillips certainly knows how to move and focus a show and how to inspire superb performances from his cast.  Taking full advantage of Dale Ferguson’s  mesmerizingly  fluid set of metal staircases and walkways which continually revolve into different positions to provide the many locations required by the story, he keeps the action flowing and the mind and eyes engaged. Everything serves the story.
Amanda Harris and Ben Mingay
Photo:Brian Geach

As Zack and Paula, the couple at the centre of the story, Ben Mingay and Amanda Harrison are superb casting.  Mingay perfectly captures the macho toughness of the angry young Zack Mayo, who aspires to rise above his sordid upbringing in the “sewers” of Subic Bay. The role is demandingly physical and requires Mingay to engage in several strenuous choreographed training sessions and a couple of fist fights, yet still keep enough vocal sting in reserve for the big “Up Where We Belong” finale number.   All of which he does brilliantly.
Also totally convincing is  Amanda  Harrison , as the independently -minded young factory worker, Paula Pokrifki,  who dreams of becoming a nurse and finding a better life without selling out for it, like everyone around her.  The chemistry between Harrison and Mingay is electric, especially in the beautifully staged   “If You Believe in Love” number.

Bert LaBonte and Ben Mingay
Photo: Brian Geach

Among the strong supporthing cast Bert LaBonte is a standout as the tough drill sergeant, Emil Foley, managing to invest a fairly stock role with unexpected warmth and humanity.
Alex Rathgeber impresses as Zack’s best friend, Sid Worley, prone to making wrong decisions with tragic results. His tender singing of “Be My Wife” in the second act is one of the show’s many highlights.
Kate Kendall, as Sid’s girlfriend, Lynette Pomeroy, provides a memorable, carefully - judged performance which beautifully captures the tragic hopelessness of her failure to marry a flier to escape her dead end life.
Kate Kendal and Alex Rathgeber
 Brian Geach

Bartholomew John, superb as Zack’s  profligate father, Tara Morrice,  as Brenda’s mother, and  Josef Brown, Zahra Newman and Josh Piterman as various of Zack’s classmates all give strong believable performances.

While many will be attracted to “An Officer and a Gentleman”  because of the hit song “Up Where We Belong”,  the new songs by Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner fit so seamlessly into the storyline that, having seen the show,  it will be hard to imagine “An Officer and a Gentleman” without them,  especially given the clever way in which the composers reclaim the show by smoothly segueing from “Up Where We Belong”  into the lovely “If You Believe in Love”  during the finale so that its  “If You Believe in Love” you leave the theatre singing.

 “I’m Gonna Fly” and “Be My Wife” also have the potential to become major hits once the cast album is released,  while  others including  “Halfway”,  snappily choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth, linger in the mind.

Does “An Officer and a Gentleman” work as a musical?  Absolutely !  In fact, so well that it will be hard to watch the movie again without expecting the musical numbers. 

Ben Mingay and Amanda Harrison
Photo: Brian Geach

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Concept and Direction by Liz Lea

The Street Theatre, May 19th and 20th.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Referencing the 120 birds Anna Pavlova reputedly toured with her during her 1929 Australian Tour, and brilliantly utilising edited archival film sourced from the National Film and Sound Archive, Liz Lea has fashioned a disarmingly funny and delightfully elegant dance work.  

She also assumes the persona of the exotic Madame Lou to narrate a highly diverting history of a fictional “Company Elle” which tours the world in the wake of Anna Pavlova, the Ballet Russes, Denishawn and Ruth St. Dennis. Madame Lou possesses a neat turn of phrase which, when she can be heard above the soundtrack of the films that illustrate the journey, would have insured her a second career as a stand-up comedian.
Liz Lea as Madame Lou 

As Madame Lou describes their travels, Liz Lea joins her dancers, Ash Bee, Melanie Palomares and Miranda Wheen to perform a series of cleverly choreographed numbers, some echoing influential dance styles, including fan dances and striptease, performed in variety and vaudeville programs which also featured luminaries like Pavlova, St. Denis and Annette Kellerman.

Contributions by the CDT Burlesque Dancers add to the spectacle, while senior dancers, Toni Allen, Madeleine Bullock, Charmaine Hallam and Glenys Harris add to the charm.

This brilliant production with its elegant settings and costumes and affectionate insights into Australia’s dance history and entertainment tastes at the time of Federation should be seen for a longer season, hopefully during our 2013 celebrations. 

                                  (This review appears in the digital edition of CITY NEWS )

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Brian Kavanagh, Alyce Nesbitt, Dim Ristevski, Mark Woods, Jane Kellett, Kevin Crowe,Cerri Murphy
Photo:   Craig and Therese Bartlett 
Written, Composed, Designed and Directed by Andrew Hackwill

Presented by Mad Ferret Productions

Tuggeranong Arts Centre until May 26th

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Move over C.J.Dennis you have a rival. Andrew Hackwill has invented his own highly entertaining musical genre, the larrikin musical, notable for their catchy tunes and gloriously silly plots.  This is the fourth of Hackwill’s musicals to be premiered at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre in recent years, and certainly the most polished.

Not only is Hackwill the writer and composer of “The Court of Swing Caractacus”, he is also the director, designer, musical director, choreographer and set builder, and has gathered around him a talented cast who share his taste for silliness, a jaunty six piece band in which he plays, and six energetic swing dancers to add additional colour and movement to compliment Christine Pawlicki’s already riotous costumes.   

In a cheeky homage to C.J.Dennis, the story is narrated in verse by a cheerful character called Hec (a delightful performance by Brian Kavanagh) who helpfully includes the stage directions just in case you’ve missed them and who ends up with the winsome Mary (Alyce Nesbitt).   It concerns three unlikely fortune tellers, Wong, Elle and Jack ( gleefully portrayed by Mark Woods, Jane Kellett and Kevin Crowe), who are threatened with eviction from their Caractacus Court premises  by a devious agent, Wilheim (Dim Ristveski) and his co-hort Nora (Cerri Murphy).

Each gets a solo, of which “It’s Good to Be Wong”, which gives new meaning to the word ‘boogie’ and “Me and My Mountain” are stand-outs, even if most of the lyrics are lost under the over-enthusiastic band.
(This review appears on the CITY NEWS website and will appear in the print edition published 24th May - May 29th)

Pearl Verses The World by Sally Murphy

Pearl Verses The World by Sally Murphy.  Jigsaw Theatre Company directed by Justine Campbell, performed by Kate Hosking and Chrissie Shaw.  At The Courtyard Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre, May 19 – June 3, 2012.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
assisted by Stephen McKone Hassell
May 19

“If we say there is a mystery, then that might mean people would want to see the show,” suggested Stephen, age 6½. 

But there’s more than one mystery, I suggest.  What about what happened to Pearl’s Dad?  “And, how Granny got back stage after disappearing!”  And why is it that Pearl is in a ‘group of only one’?  “And why Mrs Brough, Pearl’s teacher makes Pearl write rhyming poetry even though she doesn’t rhyme?”

“And also,” asked Stephen, “Why is Granny in a plastic tube?  That was such an odd show!”

It was a good show, says Stephen, but it was a bit late starting and it had one boring bit in the middle when you could hear footsteps and nothing else.  “And it was a good show because they had lots of nice poetry in it and lots of good songs.”

I think it is a good show, from a grandfather’s point of view, because it may help children to appreciate their elders.  Even the teachers, who at first Pearl thinks are a bit batty, come through in the end as they respond sensitively to Grandma’s death.

And finally, though he doesn’t want it to be published here, the proof of the value of the show is that Stephen has just made up a ‘spinnetry’ poem, “just like Pearl loved to spin and make poetry at the same time.” 

Highly recommended.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth by William Shakespeare.  Bell Shakespeare directed by Peter Evans.  Canberra Theatre Centre: The Playhouse May 18-June 2, 2012 (Melbourne Arts Centre: Playhouse June 7-23)

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 18

In keeping with Macbeth’s early 17th Century origins, Peter Evans’ production is full of ‘conceit’.  It makes the play intellectually interesting, opening up ideas about the psychology of a developing dictator, rather than presenting the more usual simplistic murder story.  For the first time in my experience, we see Macbeth as a character in keeping with the same author’s Hamlet.

Peter Evans’ conceit is not cleverness for its own sake, though not all of his ideas work.  I assume, too, that my comments also go to Kate Mulvaney, dramaturg for this production, as well as for Evans’ 2011 production of Julius Caesar

Where style and habitual conventions or devices take over from internally felt images and actions, the drama loses its impact.  In this production, part of the conceit is about the illusion of theatre.

As in his Caesar, Evans wanted to make clear when an actor is entering the performing space, and leaving it.  His habit is to have actors briefly visibly freeze as they cross the line of demarcation.  In Macbeth this is done only occasionally, in favour of more often having actors freeze in situ at the completion of a scene, then rise and walk purposefully, perhaps as if partially still in character, to the rear, and exit left or right in half light.

I was fortunate to see the play in the company of an old friend, always willing to tell me what he thought and felt, but not a literary or theatre ‘buff’.  For him, these entrance and exit devices broke the illusion, were confusing, and seemed pointless.  I could see the point – that what we are seeing is a fiction, a work of art – but I understood my friend’s reaction.  He saw artifice.

The character of the Witch (Lizzie Schebesta) was interesting to me as a link between artifice and art.  Her black line dividing her physical form, and her appearance in roles like the Boy, became intriguing and gradually established that witchcraft was reality in the life and times of Macbeth.  The highlight of this device for me was at Banquo’s banquet, where the ghost disappeared as he sat on the Witch’s knee, then rose horribly to confront Macbeth.  Here was the degree of melding of intellectual conceit with emotional effect that I found myself looking for in this production.

The cutting, trimming and therefore shaping of the play to focus on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth gave Dan Spielman and Kate Mulvaney every opportunity for bravura performances, and they both thoroughly fulfilled my expectations. 

The reprise of Lady Macbeth’s hiccups in her final desperate scene must have been one of the hardest things to act, but it worked.  Here was the signal to remind us of her deeply felt insecurity, in fact panic, which had driven her sexually and through the horrors of murder.  This was an extraordinary performance by Mulvaney.

And for me the later part of the play – the murder of Macduff’s wife and children, the turnaround of Macduff’s decision to confront Macbeth, and the final swordfight – has previously seemed to be almost gratuitous.  The play really ends when Lady Macbeth dies. 

But here, Ivan Donato used the deliberately styled movement which characterised all the characters in this production very effectively to make us believe in the horrifying mistaken judgement he had made in leaving his castle at the mercy of the now completely uncontrollable Macbeth.  And, though earlier I had found Macbeth’s twisted body shapes too artificial, in these last scenes Spielman showed us how his wife and lover’s failure to hold things together, for him as much as for herself, left him grasping at every imaginable straw, unable to stop the inevitable.  It was quite extraordinary to feel almost sorry for this murderous dictator when he finally received his just deserts.  It reminded me of the obvious modern case – Muamar Gaddafi – murdered in the street without the trial which might have revealed something of his belief in witchcraft.

If not Bell Shakespeare’s greatest presentation of the Bard’s consummate art (I preferred Much Ado About Nothing for example), this Macbeth is a strong contender.

Men In Pink Tights

Men In Pink Tights
Les Ballets Eloelle's
Canberra Theatre
4-5 May
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

Victor Trevino has a passion for ballet. He was told by his ballet company that he’d never be suitable for lead roles due to his petit stature, and that it may be in his best interest to find another career. So he donned a pair of pointe shoes and now entertains audiences all over the world in a slightly less “statuesque” demanding role as a prima ballerina. Joining him, hairy-pitted and all, the troupe from Les Ballets Eloelles primp, pout and pointe their way through Swan Lake, Le Corsaire and The Dying Swan to name a few.
Von Rothbart whirls onto the stage, immediately stepping in swan poo, as the offending swans krump, fist pump and encourage the audience to applaud. Hunted by the most depressive sad-sack to step on stage, the swans remain true to much of the traditional choreography. But they inject their own personalities and quirks and of course humourous twists. The cygnet dance was no mean feat coordinating, then intentionally uncoordinating, four men of drastically differing height. A butt-clenching Prince Siegfried, danced by Mauricio Canete received shrieks of laughter with the unexpected presentation of his tightly clad bottom in a directionally-challenged forward bend as he bowed repeatedly to the audience and sent-up the posturing and balletic walk of male dancers. One could say he had a decent crack at the role, one of only a few male roles for the night. This included partnering and lifting work – of another man, Joel Morris, or Margot Funtyme as she is known on stage. Morris was a lovely Odette – pretty, vulnerable as well as a very proficient dancer with just the right mix of comedy and subtlety in the performance. For anyone not in the know, it was not blindingly obvious that this swan was more of a cob…
The swans on stage were only slightly more rowdy than some of the vocally appreciative ducks in the audience!
The funniest solo of the evening was from Nina Minimaximova (Trevino) as “The Dying Swan”. Batting the longest eyelashes know to man (literally), he sheds what seems to be an endless trail of feathers from a costume so overblown it’s a wonder he could move around at all. Trevino’s take on Anna Pavlova’s signature piece included pelvic thrusts and such violent flapping it seemed he might cough up a fur ball. His absolute refusal to actually die ended – eventually - when an unseen stagehand dragged him under the curtain after incessant bowing. While running the risk of “trying too hard” and missing the mark, this was actually very entertaining, made so by the fact that Trevino is a very good dancer with an incredible pointe. This rendition will no doubt leave Anna Pavlova turning in her grave.
Japanese-born Philip Joseph Sicat was a standout both in his dancing and also his appeal. His delicate features and ultra-slim frame lent itself perfectly to this type of show. His technique stood out and I found my eye often drawn to him. As the jocular program states: Winner of the Miss Congeniality award at the National Miss Junior Cabbage Pageant, “Elsie Irkland’s” performances have been hailed by the press as “adequate”.
Trevino might be doing for the ballet world what Andrej Pejic is doing for the modelling world, but one of the biggest cheers still erupted when Randy Herrera performed the male solos from Le Corsaire. The strength and athleticism demanded by the choreography was executed superbly. The fan dance from Don Quixote was also very impressive and was danced daintily and precisely.
This troupe may cater for men who don’t fit the typical requirements of leading male dancers, but to counterbalance the comedy, ensuring the “serious” choreography is spot-on and the standard of dancing across the board is on par with other professional companies would have been more impressive. One of the biggest downfalls of the show was that precision and attention to detail were lacking. A production such as this, by its nature, gives some lee-way to being flippant, but in parts, the timing was horribly out. Legs could have been a little straighter, extensions held for longer and landings more convincingly stuck. A couple of the dancers seemed less competent than others and toning down a couple of things on the make-up and pouting front (for some) would be good to see. There was a noticeable difference in the flexibility between some of these swans and swans of the female variety.
I went to the theatre a little worried Men In Pink Tights would be passĂ©, slap-stick or un-funny, and I left pleasantly surprised. It was an enjoyable show with some really good dancing, very funny moments and a most enthusiastic audience. When men look great in tights and tutus, with toned arms and slim hips and identical physiques from the neck to the waist as most female ballerinas it leaves me wondering…is anything purely a woman’s domain anymore??

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Angela Hogan - Carmen
Music by Georges Bizet,

Presented by Melbourne Opera

Canberra Theatre 12th May 2012.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Bizet’s “Carmen” with its passionate dramatic melodies and exotic seductive heroine, is one of the most popular operas in the operatic repertoire, and the Canberra Theatre was filled to near-capacity for this much anticipated performance by Melbourne Opera.  

Melbourne Opera has been a welcome visitor to Canberra for some years and has steadily built up a loyal audience for its modest, well-mounted productions which it augments with a chorus of Canberra singers, and for this production, a local children’s chorus trained by Dianna Nixon.

“Carmen” got off to a promising start with the Melbourne Opera Orchestra sounding sonorous and responsive in the famous overture which Greg Hocking conducted at a cracking pace. However, the orchestra proved to be one of the major pleasures of this lacklustre production, which struggled to match the drama of the music, and in which many details appeared to have been lost enroute.

The singing throughout was excellent. Angela Hogan, with her mop of curly red hair, was a glamorous, striking Carmen, revealing a voice of rich colour and striking timbre which was shown to best advantage in the dramatic scenes.  Her characterisation was less secure particularly in the awkward transitions between sung and spoken dialogue.  She received little help from the direction which often left her unsupported, or from her Don Jose (Jason Wasley) who sang well but was dramatically reticent so that their scenes together to generated  little sexual chemistry.

Vocal highlights were provided by Phillip Calcagno as the flamboyant toreador, Escamillo, and Lee Abrahmsen, demure and appealing as Micaela.  Nicole Wallace and Caroline Vercoe were suitably exuberant as Carmen’s friends, Frasquita and Mercedes. Experienced performers Roger Howell and Ian Cousens both managed to invest some dramatic intensity to their roles as Zuniga and Dancairo, despite pedestrian direction which showed little interest in achieving dramatic credibility, with the performers, for the most part, singing directly out to the audience, regardless of whether they were singing solo, duet or ensemble, and often resorting to old-fashioned operatic gestures.  

 Andrew Bellchambers abstract curved setting  looked  too small on  the Canberra Theatre stage and provided little in the way of atmosphere, except in the final act when it  did suggest the inside of a bull-ring. However the audience was left wondering at the end of this scene, why nobody from the watching crowd went to Carmen’s aid as Don Jose knifed her to death in the centre of the bull-ring.

Many of the costumes, particularly those for the chorus, were ill-fitting and appeared to have pieces missing, and there were some inappropriate footwear and hairstyles onstage. At least one of the three dancers did not know her choreography, which also helped detract from the overall appearance and professionalism of the production.

At the end of the performance, following the bows, Conductor Greg Hocking addressed the audience to encourage them to express their feelings against the changes being mooted at the Canberra School of Music. It was an empathetic, thoughtful gesture that was greeted with thunderous, heartfelt applause.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Adrian Flor and Company
Photo: Michael Moore

Presented by Phoenix Players.

ANU Arts Centre until 26th May.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Technical problems involving erratic lighting which constantly left cast members in the dark and noisy set changes marred a triumphant opening night for Phoenix Players’ highly entertaining production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”.

First time director, Richard Block, has devised an imaginative, fast-moving production, enhanced with attractive costumes, clever settings, and a fine robust orchestra augmented by pit singers and conducted by Alex O’Sullivan,  to do justice to Frank Loesser’s terrific score and capture the fun and witty satire of this delightfully tuneful musical.

As the opportunistic window-cleaner, J.Pierpoint Finch, Adrian Flor gives a star performance, singing and dancing confidently, nailing every nuance and capturing every laugh on his way to becoming the President of World Wide Wickets. As his loyal fiancĂ©/secretary, Rosemary, Vanessa De Jager, with her pretty voice and deft touch for comedy, is a delight. 

Wayne Shepherd charms in a beautifully judged comedic performance as Mr. Biggley, while Zack Drury is hilarious as the odious mummy’s-boy, Bud Frump. Michelle Norris, drop-dead-gorgeous as Hedy La Rue, David Cannell, appealing as Mr Twimble, and Hannah Wood as Smitty, all contribute memorable performances.

Miriam Rizvi’s imaginative, eye-catching ensemble routines, especially for the male ensemble, add greatly to the spectacle, although her tendency to over-choreograph the principal’s numbers proved rather distracting.

However, despite the technical problems, this is a production worthy of a “not to be missed” recommendation.  
                   (An edited version of this review appears in CITY NEWS May 16 - 23rd)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Me Right Now
QL2 presents Quantum Leap
The Playhouse, 9 – 12 May
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

The Quantum Leapers in “Me Right Now” look at identity and today’s expectations in becoming a man or woman, whilst finding and embracing their own identity and celebrating the joy and innocence of youth.
This production seamlessly blends four choreographers’ work into an impressive performance.
The dancers manipulated a rope representing a timeline, a tightrope and a one-way street, in Lina Limosani’s piece. Bearcage provide the multimedia component and an animated white line echoes the rope on stage, morphing into various road signs and symbols.
The group worked well together: Struggling, resisting, travelling, overtaking and being left behind all represented cleverly with good lighting design. The idea was fresh but the “well-worn” choreography was a little disappointing.  In particular the specific hand and arm movements and repetitions have been seen so regularly in recent amateur contemporary dance. It was a little messy and the initial sound bytes were familiar and predictable. The dancers and audience may have benefitted from slightly more challenging choreography.
The role of men in society, as provider, lover, father, was examined in Matt Cornell’s piece. His choreography was right on the mark, with the boys partnering each other in this polished performance, endearingly and strongly danced. Cornell’s work was a highlight of the evening. One of the boys summarised the dilemma of being at once strong but emotionally sensitive: Men are allowed to cry, but only three times a year. At preordained movies.
Gentle humour hinted at uncertainty, insecurity and courage to join the rat-race of life and step up to the mark. Several of the boys showed good isolation work and the group danced staccato phrases well. Sometimes fighting each other, often helping each other, the boys in business shirts danced their way towards manhood.
Individuals were not featured as strongly as they have been in other QL productions, but still, the solos didn’t always blend smoothly into the choreography. However impressive or skilful, movement between spaces on stage and “tricks”, works best when there is a purpose or meaning behind it, or when it carries the momentum and story, rather than simply to highlight an individual’s skills.
Very intriguing and a bit “different”, was the the girls’ featured act, by Jade Dewi Tyas-Tunggal. Adam Ventoura’s soundscape was a perfect blend of timeless, meditative music for the girls to present their take on becoming women and to subtly explore female sexuality and the dynamics of teenage friendship. The piece began with a Middle Eastern vibe in its movement and music, but the costumes were more like togas. One would assume this was to give it an ageless feel as though in some form or another, women have experienced these challenges since time immemorial.
The backdrop of animations that subtly complimented the performance changed to extreme close ups of girls lips, painted in bright red lipstick, slowly parting to reveal dice. It was fascinating and mesmerising but a few times became so distracting that it was easy to miss segments of what was happening on stage. It literally was “in your face”.
Becoming a woman and finding and feeling confident in individual identities was represented by the dancers donning high heels. Some girls walked tall, while another stumbled, until, aided by her peers, she is helped and manipulated into a “sexy” girl and off she goes to attract a mate.
This understatedly refreshing and enjoyable piece ends in a poignant moment, when a young suitor tenderly removes the high heels of the young girl as the next group of dancers take over on stage.
Unfortunately, more than once, the girls’ timing was significantly out of sync with each other and so it was easy to default to specific dancers including Kylie Murray, who was physically expressive and obviously one of the most experienced dancers. The age range was between 14 and 25, which is few years older than usual, but the dancers appeared reasonably uniform in age and skill, which worked well.
On the whole, the costuming didn’t add significantly to the show. Even within budgetary constraints, using the costumes to more extensively add meaning or layers would help.
The cardio-taxing finale, from Ruth Osborne, featured good group cooperation and included several lifts, which counterbalanced the simplistic choreography. It was given life by the expressiveness and emotional conviction of the dancers, which appeared stronger than in previous QL productions.
This was an uplifting, sweet, joy to watch, professionally presented and danced and a great team production.
An edited version of this review will appear on the citynews website and magazine.

Friday, May 11, 2012

When Dad Married Fury by David Williamson

When Dad Married Fury by David Williamson.  Directed by Sandra Bates.  Designer: Marissa Dale-Johnson; Lighting Designer: Peter Neufeld.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, May 9-June 16, 2012

Cheree Cassidy as Fury


Nick Tate as Alan (Dad)

Photos: Steve Lunam

Warren Jones, Lenore Smith, Jamie Oxenbould, Di Adams
Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 10

The key to Williamson’s latest play, from which both the comedy and the philosophy grow, is about the irrational way we human animals are each capable of maintaining quite diverse and even opposite beliefs all at once. 

One would think from the simple rostra-block set, stage floor and backdrop completely covered in colourful banknotes, with a back projection in dangerous-looking red of a tumbling graph, that we would see another Williamson comedy, this time of money matters and manners.  And so we do, but, I think, with a new empathetic understanding.  I have often felt previously, except perhaps in Heretic and the trio of ‘Conferencing’ plays, that Williamson has stood strictly apart from his characters.  This is good for neat well-made plays which satirise social foibles, the success of which is obvious from Williamson’s long career.

When 'Dad' married 'Fury', however, his children’s monetary shock is to be expected, but the disjunctions of personal and political assumptions turn this into less satire and more substantial comedy.  It certainly makes a great evening out, and with a lasting effect.

The character, and the actor, who epitomises lasting effect is Cheree Cassidy playing Fury.  I won’t say too much about the plot, considering this is early in the first run of a new play, and surprise is an important element of its success on stage, but it’s hard to go past an anti-government American Tea Party profitable business woman who takes her religion seriously.  Her  belief in the ethics of Jesus brings what otherwise is no more than a cynical absurdist chaos to a satisfactory conclusion.

As a callow youth I wondered how Bernard Shaw could have written the characters of Major Barbara and Saint Joan with such sympathetic understanding when he was an avowed atheist, and now I see David Williamson, in his Fury, showing the same appreciation of his character’s sincerity.  As the play shows, and as Cheree Cassidy’s acting quality demonstrates, sincerity is nothing to do with simple determination.  It is about following through ethically, however surprising that may turn out to be even to yourself.

Sandra Bates’ directing of the play made for a too-slow beginning, in my view, although in an odd way the result of this was that the sudden surprise just before interval had maybe even more shock value than it might have had with a smoother start. 

The characters of Dad’s two sons were not immediately well established by Warren Jones (Ian) and Jamie Oxenbould (Ben) and so their wives, Sue – Lenore Smith – and Laura – Di Adams – seemed for too long to be cardboard cutouts of a financial lawyer and a social activist.  This was particularly unfortunate when Laura’s Mum, played by Lorraine Bayly, was left out, literally up against the wall, as Laura tried to help her mother through her father’s suicide.  We needed this scene to be played close up in the intimate almost in-the-round Ensemble Theatre to give Bayly the position of strength as a character which matches her role at the end.

When Dad  (Alan) appeared,  it took Nick Tate a little while to generate the required spark, but we had no doubt, theatrically at least, that we were in for an exciting ride from then on, even if we didn’t know where we were going.  Cheree Cassidy’s entrance jumped us up several staircases, laughing all the way while wondering if we might not fall off.  The quietness of the last scene then became not just a neat ending, but the right mood to give depth to the feeling that these characters, and maybe even ourselves, can be better people if we work to put ourselves together properly.

Conclusion?  David Williamson is still a force to be reckoned with and When Dad Married Fury is well worth seeing.  And it should be interesting to see what ‘lasting effect’ it might have if it plays in New York.

Di Adams and Lorraine Bayly

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Presented by QL2 Dance,

Canberra Playhouse

May 9 – 12 2012.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

QL2 Dance is one of Canberra’s quiet achievers, regularly presenting high quality programs which never fail to fascinate. Their current program “Me Right Now”, currently being presented for an all-too- brief season at the Canberra Playhouse, is a compelling demonstration of why QL2 Dance has gained an international reputation as a leader in youth dance.

“Me Right Now” has a cast of 28 dancers whose ages range between 14 and 25, Most are from  dance schools in the ACT and surrounding region, including, in this presentation, dancers from Cowra, Narooma and Byron Bay.  All have auditioned for inclusion to train with professional choreographers during  school holidays and other free time.

The results achieved are not only astonishing but also inspiring, because,  despite obvious  variance in their individual abilities, the focus within QL2 Dance  is firmly on ensemble work and self-development rather than individual  brilliance (although there is plenty of that on display in this show) and  it is the obvious commitment of each individual dancer that is so compelling.

Devised by five choreographers and presented as a seamless one-act performance without interval “Me Right Now” sets out to examine what it is to be “young” from the point of view of those who are.

The first section, choreographed by Lina Limosani , commences strikingly with all the dancers onstage, arranged in a straight line reminiscent of the opening of “A Chorus Line”.  Offstage voices intone lines from familiar fairy tales, and oft-heard advice to children. One by one the dancers appear to lose interest in what is being said and break away from the group. 

We then notice a rope stretched across the stage which the dancers attempt to negotiate, while a continuous moving line punctuated with messages like “Give Way” and “One Way” is projected on the screen at the back of the stage.  Clever use of intertwining bodies and shifting dynamics provide a fascinating suggestion of future questions and decisions to be faced as the dancers struggle and tug against each other.

Matt Cornell’s creation for the male dancers also commences dramatically with a group of dancers huddled in a tight group lit by a stark overhead spotlight.  The choreography for this section is energetic and acrobatic, including a section where the boys break into duos to playfully spar and burn off excess energy.

Contrasting beautifully with this section is a gentle section created by Jade Dewi  Tyas-Tunggal  in which the girls, dressed in flowing tabards  perform a series of graceful Bollywood style dances. Projected on the screen behind them are huge images of human eyes and mouths. The mouths open to reveal gambling dices, some of which find their way onstage, to be discovered by one of the dancers.

The final section, choreographed by Ruth Osborne and Adelina Larsson is filled with broad, exhilarating movement performed by all the dancers, who sweep on, off and around the stage before launching into a series of cleverly staged bows.

The costuming throughout, designed by Rose Montgomery, is simple, effective and appropriate and each section is danced to beautiful electronic soundscapes, composed by Adam Ventoura. Extraordinary large-screen projections by Bearcage Productions compliment the onstage action perfectly, while the lighting, sound and stage-management are impeccable.

Whether or not you are an admirer of contemporary dance, “Me Right Now” provides a deeply satisfying dance experience, beautifully executed and thoroughly recommended as an exciting example of what can be achieved by dedicated young people when given the right support and guidance.

 If you have a young person in your household you could do worse than encourage them to take a look.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell

L-R Helen McFarlane as Sonja, Duncan Ley as Pete
Rob de Fries as Leon, Lainie Hart as Jane

Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell.  Canberra Repertory Theatre directed by Ross McGregor, May 4-19, 2012

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 4

I’ve spent some time working out why this production is very good but not better.  Of course, Bovell’s writing is, in itself, quite fascinating and, I think, better in this original stage play than in the later adaptation as the film Lantana.  On stage the work is more focussed and concentrated, without the distractions of realistic filming.

From this thinking comes the explanation I’m looking for.  Ross McGregor, in an interview in the Canberra Times, said that his intention was to use only four actors, as was done in the original production (1996) and again in the 2011 revival at Griffin Theatre (at The Stables, Kings Cross, Sydney).  However, and I guess perhaps because Canberra Rep is a community theatre group, McGregor’s auditions attracted enough good actors for him to decide to use separate actors for the ‘extra’ parts in Act 2.

So we have the two married couples in Act 1 – Rob de Fries as Leon with Helen McFarlane as Sonja, and Lainie Hart as Jane with Duncan Ley as Pete.  Guess what happened from the picture above.  All were excellent in their roles, using the stylisation of the set, the symbolic use of dance and the techniques of storytelling to great effect.

In Act 2, Ley appears briefly as the innocent man in the bar whom Valerie – Bridgette Black – insanely screams at, while de Fries is in Leon’s professional role as the policeman who interviews Valerie’s husband John after she disappears.  John is played by Zach Raffan.  Jane and Pete’s next-door neighbour Nick, who threw the missing Valerie’s shoe into the vacant block opposite, is played by Sam Hannan-Morrow, under police interrogation.  The other two characters, originally from Leon’s story of the man, Neil, who left his brogue shoes on the beach before apparently drowning himself, and the girl he believed would marry him, Sarah, are played by Raoul Cramer and Eliza Bell.  To complete the plot, of course, Sarah is the patient with relationship problems being treated by clinical psychologist Valerie, who has her own psychological problem, being afraid of men because of childhood abuse – at least according to John.

If you consider the cast of Lantana, all 32 of them playing many roles that are not even mentioned in Speaking in Tongues, you can see that McGregor’s version of Act 2 is more like the film version, while Act 1 is played closer to Bovell’s original conception on stage.  Using only four actors, in Act 2 the story told by Leon to Sonja (about the story told to Leon by Neil when they met on the beach) and the story told by Jane to Pete (about what she saw Nick do and what she did in response) are explored and interpreted as if each of these four are trying to imagine what really happened. 

So, for example, we have an actor playing Leon, and Leon interviewing John.  After all, Leon has told Pete that he is a policeman, but is he really and does he actually interview John, or is it Pete who imagines Leon interviewing the husband of the woman who has disappeared (which apparently did really happen, because Pete has seen the newspaper report, not just heard about it in Jane’s story)?  Or again, perhaps Pete just imagines that the woman who screamed at him in the bar was the woman who disappeared.  There are questions of this kind about all the stories told in Act 2.

I wasn’t conscious of all this thinking while watching the play last night, but I felt that the intensity and the grip of the drama which was so strong in the first Act seemed to dissipate in the second.  And an odd thing was that when Ley appeared, and de Fries appeared, my attention was suddenly grabbed again.  And it was a disappointment that McFarlane and Hart only reappeared for the curtain call after such a strong showing in Act 1.

So, though I certainly recommend this production, with its interesting set design (you can watch the video of its development in the foyer during interval), I wonder if it might still have been better to have kept to Bovell’s original use of only four actors.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Reviewer: Meredith Hinchliffe

Until May 26 at BILK, Palmerston Lane, Manuka.  Autumn opening hours: Wednesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 5pm.

 Glass artist Kirstie Rea is internationally recognised and respected for her works in glass.  For the past 24 years she has been developing her practice and career, exhibiting widely in Australia and overseas. 

 Recently Kirstie spent some time in a residency in Alberta during mid-winter.  The work on exhibit at Bilk was informed by the residency and it sits well in the gallery, which is not spacious.

Kirstie said: Travelling out and about in Alberta, through snow and ice, watching a city function and flow each day as the sky filled gently with snow. … A soft, solid pale blue sky lay persistently behind the snow-laden clouds.  The city and the countryside had a different, softer, weather-beaten feel and look to their surfaces [when compared with] the sun-worn Australian facades.  Kirstie found a slow, pleasing rhythm to the weather, enabling her to make sense of the differences.

The forms and their colours are uncomplicated – pale, washed out blues, greys, a deep, dark red that is almost faded black and occasionally a flash of brighter blue and simple open cylinders, stacked one inside the other.  Some lie on their side while others are upright.  The surfaces are streaked as though with clouds, some preventing any penetration by the colour behind, while others are pale with the light shining through.  The colours from the central cylinders break through the watery blue.

Several groupings of two and three miniature forms are being shown in the shallow showcases on the walls.  Larger groups are exhibited on plinths. Kirstie has captured some of the sense she found in the series titled Rhythm. Rhythm 6 is a larger work – the cylinders are squat, their mouths relatively wide.  Rhythm 2 is taller, the tallest – bright blue – sits inside a slightly lower pale form which sits inside a deep red cylinder.  The red is dark, almost menacing in juxtaposition to the pale, almost washed and faded, blue.  The grey cylinders – and there are only a few – are also threatening and full of foreboding of more snow to come.

 The bases or top edges of several works – both small and larger – are cut away, revealing larger blocks of colour, framing the surface beneath and adding dynamism to the forms.

 First and foremost this exhibition is about the landscape – the sky, the land and the environment in which Kirstie works, although it shows a slightly different direction.  It is a quiet and contemplative, and evocative of the biting cold, windy snow and the hibernation of winter. 
Study 1 and  Rhythm 2