Thursday, February 28, 2013

Henry 4 adapted by John Bell from Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 by William Shakespeare

David Whitney as Henry IV

Arky Michael, Felix Joseps, Yalin Ozucelik, Matthew Moore, John Bell, Terry Bader, Wendy Strehlow

Jason Klarwein as Hotspur, Matthew Moor as Prince Hal

John Bell as Fir John Falstaff

Matthew Moore as Prince Hal

Yalin Ozucelik, Matthew Moore, John Bell, Felix Joseps, Wendy Strehlow, Terry Bader, Arky Michael
All photos by Lisa Tomasetti

Henry 4 adapted by John Bell from Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 by William Shakespeare.  Bell Shakespeare Company, co-directed by John Bell and Damien Ryan, at Canberra Playhouse, February 26 – March 9, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 26

If this version of the Henry IV plays were a game of soccer (I’ve read that the Romans brought football to Britain, and it has flourished there ever since), I think the score would be Sir John Falstaff 7, Prince Hal 2.  Or maybe, sympathy for The People 5, appreciation of The Royals 0.

John Bell has selected material, directed the action and played the role himself so that the play seems to owe too much to Falstaff’s grandiose sense of his own importance.

This is not to say that Bell’s interpretation of Falstaff is at fault: in fact, I would say it is probably the best I can recall.  We see the full flowering of Falstaff, the con man, who uses all and sundry for his own benefit – and finally faces his justified come-uppance as the new king rejects his fawning attempt to gain high office. 

But the focus on the ordinary people weakened the importance – and the audience’s understanding – of the internecine warfare among the nobility, which in the end was Shakespeare’s real concern. 

It is the speech by Rumour, “painted full of tongues” – which opens The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth – which links the two parts.  The whole society is torn apart by Rumour which “is a pipe / Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures, / And of so easy and so plain a stop / That the blunt monster with uncounted heads, / The still-discordant wavering multitude, / Can play upon it.”

I can see Bell’s intention and some reasoning behind the setting of the play in a kind of modern England torn by the social strife of the recent riots, but Shakespeare set his play at a specific point in history, some 200 years before his own time, as a warning, I suggest, to those taking revenge on the basis of the rumour mill.  It’s probably more appropriate to see the parallel with our current parliament and the upcoming election, than to see much connection with the street-level destructive behaviour of the modern riots, just because Shakespeare used low-life scenes as comic contrast.

The most significant failure, to me, of this production was that the playing of Prince Hal lost the charisma, intelligence and strategic thinking which is central to his character.  Either Matthew Moore was not up to the part – and indeed much of his dialogue was not even to be clearly heard – or it was not considered necessary in the play’s direction to make sure that his words came through to us not as mere banter or drug-induced mish-mash. 

For example, when his father is ill, Hal says to Poins “By this hand, though thinkest me as far in the devil’s book as thou and Falstaff for obduracy and persistency: let the end try the man.  But I tell thee my heart bleeds inwardly that my father is so sick; and keeping such vile company as thou art hath in reason taken from me all ostentation of sorrow.”  He goes on to make clear that he has to think strategically about how “every man would think me an hypocrite indeed”. 

I can only fairly report that none of this text was delivered powerfully, so that we would understand how it could be that this apparently dissolute young man could turn around when necessary to defeat the Percy opposition, could face up to the responsibility his father’s illness and subsequent demise would place upon him, and show the kind of strength of character that would be seen by his brother John of Lancaster, now the Lord Chief Justice, when he says, as the play concludes, “I like this fair proceeding of the king’s. / He hath intent his wonted followers / Shall all be very well provided for; / But all are banish’d till their conversations / Appear more wise and modest to the world.”

Where was this strength of character and Hal’s ability to see through the “devil’s book” of Poins and Falstaff, while also understanding their humanity, which takes him on to become the Henry the Fifth of Agincourt?  I’m afraid it just wasn’t there. 

So, despite the success of the playing of Falstaff, the failure of Prince Hal to score left me disappointed with Henry 4.


Mrs Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw

Mr Praed (pronounced 'prayed') - gentleman caller
 All photos by Brett Boardman
Frank Gardner - the son next door
Rev Samuel Gardner - the father next door

An innocent introduction: Mrs Warren, Crofts, Vivie Warren

Sir George Crofts (who ought to be kicked),  Vivie



 Mrs Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw.  Sydney Theatre Company directed by Sarah Giles, Wharf 1 February 19 – April 6 and July 4-20, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 27 (matinee)

This is a brilliant production which makes me acutely aware of the skills of the author, the cast and designers.  It is especially a triumph for Sarah Giles in her first mainstage production for Sydney Theatre Company.

The actors played exquisitely. While it is understandable, especially because of her final-scene speech and exit, that Helen Thomson receives star recognition as Mrs Warren, which she absolutely deserves, every other actor – Lizzie Schebesta (Vivie Warren), Simon Burke (Praed), Eamon Farren (Frank Gardner), Drew Forsythe (Rev Samuel Gardner) and Martin Jacobs (Sir George Crofts) – matched her precision of expression and language.  This is a perfect team for a play which still rings true after 120 years.

The basic designs for set and costumes seem to be based on the photos of the 1902 production by the Theatre of the New Lyric Club, when the official censor finally agreed – to a private club production, as Shaw wrote, “at last, after a delay of only eight years”.  (These photos appear in the 1912 Constable publication.)

But how clever and effective it was to make the garden backdrop into a curtain representing a full-height manicured hedge, and to change scenes using a slow-revolving stage which gave us not just a sense of time passing, but time to absorb the effects of the scene just ended.  So we were treated to the preservation of the period to which the play belongs, in a frame of modern staging technique.

Despite my long association with the work of Bernard Shaw I had never seen Mrs Warren’s Profession on stage and had wondered how it would work to construct the set as Shaw described it in considerable realistic detail.  The creative team of Renée Mulder (designer), with lighting designer Nigel Levings and composer/sound designer Max Lyandvert took the key elements from Shaw, playing with them in the open space of the Wharf 1 theatre and, in doing so, illuminated the relationships between characters more clearly, I believe, than Shaw’s original description would have allowed.

Finally I must explain my enthusiasm for the quality of expression and language in this production.  As Alex Lalak states, in one of the excellent essays in the program, “For George Bernard Shaw, the most important things in life were words.”  For many directors and actors over the past century, Shaw’s words have seemed a bête noir.  There are just so many of them!  So much philosophy!  How do we act these words?

The answer is to understand that Shaw was using words to both express ideas (of the characters) and expose the relationships between the characters, within a frame of social criticism.  Each laugh makes us think; each word tells us how the speaker is thinking and how the receiver of the words is thinking – and feeling – in response.

This is complex work for each actor.  This is not ordinary “naturalism”, where a Stanislavsky-style technique of recalled feelings can work.  This is writing by an author who is in charge of the effects on us in the audience – on both our thoughts and our feelings.  Shaw wrote, in “The Author’s Apology” for Mrs Warren’s Profession, “Give me the critic who has just rushed from my play to declare furiously that Sir George Crofts ought to be kicked.”

And, indeed, this was exactly the effect that these actors and this director achieved for this critic, at least.  Further than this, I felt proud that we have in the Sydney Theatre Company practitioners who do such good service to one of the greatest dramatic writers in English since William Shakespeare. 

And if you would like to know the source of the director’s note that Shaw stole the play from the famous actress with whom he had worked on Ibsen’s plays, check out A Companion to Modern British and Irish Drama: 1880 – 2005 edited by Mary Luckhurst: “A New Woman Drama” and Mrs Daintree’s Daughter by Janet Achurch – who was a remarkable woman indeed.

Our Roots Right Now. The Research Forum and Festival of Thai/ASEAN Contemporary Theatre. Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University. Bangkok, January 19 – 28, 2013.

Fire Fire Fire
This was a huge, ambitious and thoroughly well run undertaking by Chulalongkorn University’s Drama Department in the Faculty of Arts, aimed not only at reviewing and validating research projects but also at involving their students in a range of issues, performances and workshops.

Here’s how it was advertised:
’33 performances
13 workshops
27 panels
10 days’

Facebook led me there and I took on the challenge of the full ten days. Chulalongkorn University Drama Department staff and students were very welcoming to a visitor; I thank them for their friendly hospitality and the hours of translation of Thai into English (sometimes by staff but mostly by a tribe of highly skilled students).

The title of the forum/festival hinted at the perils of translation; it might not have sat so well in an Australian context but in Bangkok it nailed the issues of tradition and change that concern people analysing and making performance in South East Asia.

The pulse of the Ramayana (Thai Ramakien) ran right through it, as did the intrinsic nature of culture and movement. I had to scramble to keep up with shows and workshops that referenced the stories of Rama and Sita and Thotsakan rather than Shakespeare and the Bible (although the new and splendidly flexible black box theatre at Chulalongkorn opened with Macbeth and an upcoming Brecht – Fear and Misery in the Third Reich was being advertised). I’d just decide I had a handle on all this with Surapone Virulrak’s elegant dance drama The Tragedy of Ravana and the Ramayana characters would turn up in a beauty parlour in the style of a Thai TV soap (Femmes Fatales in Lanka by Parida Manomaiphibul) or they would be so grungy and street wise it was hard to tell who was of high rank (Dangkamon Na-pombejra’s Ravanasura).  Or the whole setting would be so abstract (18 Monkeys’ Muet, directed by Jitti Chompee) that it was hard for those of us not fluent in the culture to see the old story’s patterns.

You’d think a performance was strictly traditional and afterwards people would be explaining just what they had to do to revive or recreate or even freshly introduce ‘traditions’ such as Thai shadow puppets (Bhanbhassa Dhubthien directing the young performers of The Nang Yai Players of Wat Bandon, Rayong in the fabulous monkeys versus demons battle in Yok Rob) or the cool Lanna dancers showing in Fawn Leb/Identity the ironically humorous realities of dress and behaviour behind the lovely controlled dances of Thailand’s independently minded north or Pornrat Damrhung’s work with student performers in  the Tai-Lue Lanka Sip Ho ((Ten Headed Ravana) on preserving the warmth and inspiration of ancestral traditions in story and performance.

Kecak master I Wayan Dibia , while giving a large workshop group an exhilarating experience of actually doing it, explained that the famous kecak (‘monkey dance’) of Bali was actually recreated for tourism in the early 1930s by the German Walter Spies. 

Then the Cambodian Amrita Performing Arts confounded expectations by performing traditional male masked dance to the music of extracts from Bach’s Cello Concertos and the nang yai (shadow puppets) started khon classical dance moves in front of the screen so they were no longer shadows and the Pichet Klunchun Dance company showed in Tam Kai  (Hunting the Rooster) how abstract and yet humorous some Thai contemporary dance is prepared to be; even though it was based on a poem with a story line it felt more like a piece that played around not so much with performance as with warm up.

Danny Yung Ning-Tsun, chair of the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture pointed out in his paper that the creativity of performing arts practitioners is what keeps ‘living arts’ alive, not putting them in a museum. Pichet Klunchun was more forthright, saying in his workshop that Thai classical dance is dead because it is not developing; it does not change.

There were debates on the need for arts education, the varying difficulties of censorship and approvals and the positive social uses to which performing can be put.

What was the core of it for a non Thai? That the world doesn't revolve around the western theatre tradition is one thing. South East Asian countries are aware of that tradition and use it (as was shown in the brief but fascinating presentation on the history of Thai staging by designer and academic Ritirong Jiwakanon) but there are other forces from their own traditions.

The language of much that was happening was what we would term dance and the language of movement was not the Western ‘reach for the sky’ idiom but a much more earth bound language where the fingers are bent back repeatedly from infancy and the knees are bent and workshops become very difficult even for anyone who has had exposure to ballet and Western contemporary dance. We were doing workshops mostly up on the 9th floor where huge blinds meant silhouettes and time and time again it was the hands and the turned out knees that I saw. Mainly those lively bent back hands. The few Westerners in the classes have learned a different performance aesthetic and we clearly struggle.

Yok Rob
I mostly sat down, shut my mouth, opened my eyes and ears and tried to absorb as much as possible during this part of a month long journey in Thailand that also included seeing B-Flor’s amiable and whimsical Survival Games at Pridi Banomyong Institute, a lively touring play about littering created by Sue Milne and her Akha students at Baan Ayui hostel in Chiang Rai and a huge likhe evening at the National Theatre.

I found myself in workshops with superb practitioners and teachers. Chinese kunqu master Ke Jun, director of the Jiangsu Kunqu Opera troupe, showed he was equally at home in traditional and contemporary forms. I relished watching the teaching skills of choreographer Agnes Locsin from the Philippines and the Champa Lao Puppet Theatre, where everyone was tearing up newspaper and making puppets.  The crouching elegant swan dance moves of the Nora Thummanit troupe from Songkhla were beyond me but the enthusiams of teacher Nora Thummanit Nikomrat were not and the Nora song in English raised the roof on the 9th floor.

In fact there was a whole evening of performances about birds and animals; the stately Mon Hong Thong swan dance, the Tai Kinnara Dance (with peacocks and the slender pantomime horse that is the mythical deer-like lucky To) and the Nora Thummanit Thaksin University Group troupe dignified and stylized as the swans  of the south.

ASWARA Dance Company from Malaysia performed Rooted in Silat, a contemporary piece that drew with skill and good humour on Malay martial arts and classical dances, the Champa Lao Theatre told the story of prince Sinxai and had an elephant puppet that was most impressive and Sujita Goel from India presented a riveting contemporary piece called Dancing Girl, where the lighting cleverly only let the audience see a little of her journey at a time.

Anatta Theatre gave the elegantly elegiac ghost story The Return of Wanthong. with Duangjai Hirunsri as the vengeful mother ghost writer/director Pradit Prasartthong as her soldier son. Apparently every time it is performed it has a different ending – we were treated to a very Buddhist version where the mother is able to let go of vengeance and leave this world.

Noor Effendy Ibrahim from Singapore performed Dancing with The Ghost of My Child, a deeply mature, moving and challenging piece that played with gender roles and the longing for a child. And the performances concluded with the celebratory Fire Fire Fire, where the vastly differing individual responses of choreographers Eko Supryanto (Indonesia) Cambodia’s Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and Pichet Klunchun to the Ramayana episode of the testing of Sita by fire were contrasted, so that the festival ended where it had begun, with a contemplation of the place of tradition.

Perhaps the last word should go, however, to Singapore’s Daniel K, who in his strongly contemporary piece Q& A had the temerity to conduct and present research on the audience, complete with shirt, tie and PowerPoint but missing his trousers. He asked them the question ‘What do you want to see?’


Those lucky enough to take part in this forum and festival are rather hoping that they can see more of what this event had to offer.

 By Alanna Maclean

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Original French Text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Additional Material by James Fenton
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer

Directed by Jim McMullan for Canberra Philharmonic Society
Erindale Centre February 21 to March 16

Review by Len Power

Mention ‘Les Miserables’ and the famous poster image of young Cosette with the flowing hair comes instantly to mind.  Such is the power of advertising, even people who’ve never been to a musical know of this one.  A phenomenon ever since its English premiere in 1985, the musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1861 epic novel has now become the second longest running musical in the world.  Directed by Jim McMullen with a cast of over sixty, every aspect of Philo’s new production has come together to create a memorable experience.

Heading the cast is Dave Smith as Jean Valjean.  He gives a powerful performance in the role and sings the difficult score with great precision and feeling.  His ‘Bring Him Home’ is one of the highlights of the evening.  Adrian Flor, as the obsessed Javert, sings the role superbly and gives, arguably, his best performance yet on the Canberra stage.  There had been talk around town that, regardless of their acknowledged skills, both of these performers were too young to be convincing in these roles.  Those concerns happily proved to be groundless.  Both actors employ effective ageing makeup as the show progresses and their body language and performances thoughtfully take into account the passage of time.

Marius, Mat Chardon O’Dea, Eponine, Vanessa de Jager and Cosette, Laura Dawson, are in great voice and give very moving performances in their roles.  Kelly Roberts tears your heart out with her wonderful Fantine and the roguish Thenardiers are played and sung delightfully by Kate Tricks and Ian Croker.  Grant Pegg sings thrillingly and is very real as the fanatical student leader, Enjolras.  Everyone else in the cast does an excellent job to bring this period of history to life.

The substantial set with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, designed by Jim McMullan and Ian Croker, works very well and is complemented by the atmospheric lighting design of Carl Makin and audio design by Eclipse Sound and Lighting.  The balance of sound between orchestra and performers was just right.  The costumes (over 200 of them), designed by Anne Mewburn-Grey, capture the period of the show and the clever choreography is by Miranda Cookman.  The Wedding Chorale sequence becomes a highlight of the show where costumes and choreography complement each other perfectly.

A sung-through musical like this one needs a very skilful musical director.  Casey White produced an excellent sound from the orchestra, bringing out all the subtleties, colour and grandness in this massive score.  The unseen orchestra deserves a special mention – they must be exhausted by the end of the performance.

This was the fourth stage production of ‘Les Miserables’ I’ve seen, but I was still moved to tears at the end of the show.  Don’t miss it!

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 24 February 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Our Lady by the Beach over the Sea written and directed by Joe Woodward

Our Lady by the Beach over the Sea written and directed by Joe Woodward.  Shadow House Pits at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, February 20 – March 2, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
20 February

This is a new play of the many shadows of regret.  Through a number of his productions, Woodward has created his own genre of imagist theatre, where characters’ psychological shadows – in the Jungian sense – become physically represented.  What interests him is the interplay between the ordinary “external reality” and the fantasy “internal reality” as people live at once in the present and the past.

The central character, Jay, an old man apparently in a nursing home, is confronted – perhaps in either or both realities – with the woman who, at the age of 16, was for Jay the goddess of youth, Hebe.  Her real name is Em, perhaps Emma, and it appears in the final scene that she has sent her daughter, Nim, to find Jay – and to tell him that she, Em, will kill him.

I interpret this to mean that because Jay failed to turn his youthful infatuation into a permanent ideal love relationship, his memory – now obsessive fantasy – of what should have been, will be, in ordinary language, “the death of him”.

In disciplined and skilled performances, Em and Jay are played as externally realistic characters by Trish Kelly and Oliver Baudert, while Kat Bramston plays the fantasy “Young Em” as well as the externally real Nim.  Then there are a male shadow and a female shadow, Lycius and Lamia, from the poem Lamia by John Keats, who are also named Lucas and Mia, played by Andrew Eddy and Lucy Matthews.

The mood of this piece, rather more than in previous Woodward works, is melancholy – perfectly appropriate for Jay’s fixation on Keats’ poetry, since Keats’ source for the story of Lycius and Lamia was Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.

For me there is an odd, though interesting, disjunction between the intention of imagist theatre – to build an identification in the audience’s feelings with those of the characters – with the reality that the images become mysteries that demand intellectual interpretation by the audience: thus preventing the viewer from responding emotionally while they try to work out what’s going on and what it all means.

I couldn’t understand much of the beginning scene or two, and only towards the very end found myself working out the probable story of Jay’s mental life – too late to identify with him, despite my being of his age (and even going through my own version of infatuation with a goddess in the nineteen sixties as he did – even on the occasional beach, indeed!)

Part of the problem is, I think – based on my own experiments in the past – that the imagist technique is rather cartoon-like in effect.  It’s often better for creating humorous effects, as in fact happened on a few occasions in this show, but too easily becomes tedious or confusing.

The only escape I can suggest is to write heightened poetic language for all the characters throughout the play, to provide an emotional “spine” to hang the living body on.  In Our Lady by the Beach over the Sea this was only done when Keats’ or Yeats’ poetry was being quoted, although the device of the video of the surf on the beach, reflected in the mirrors behind the action, worked in a limited way.  If the surf had changed at significant times from calm to storm, the image would have had more effect.

The music, by Damien Foley, was also quite effective in this way at times, but needed a lot more variety to push the drama along – like a good movie soundtrack, rather than an accompaniment.

So my conclusion is that Woodward has made an original and serious work in Our Lady by the Beach over the Sea, interesting for its ideas and imagist concept, but not entirely successful as a unified theatrical experience for the audience.

Monday, February 18, 2013


By Kate Grenville
An adaption for the stage by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Neil Armfield

Sydney Theatre Company
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre 14th to 17th February 2013

Anita Hegh,Miranda Tapsell,Ethel-Ann Gundy, Ursula Yovich
Photo: Heidrun Lohr
Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact  that this production was presented in Canberra during the very week that a bill to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the first inhabitants of Australia received bi-partisan support in the Australian Parliament. Perhaps a great many Canberrans have read  Kate Grenville’s novel, and were eager to  see how it translated into the stage version. Perhaps Canberra Theatre subscribers are very canny with their choices and recognised that a Sydney Theatre Company production directed by Neil Armfield was bound to be interesting.

Whatever the reason, this short season by the Sydney Theatre Company of Andrew Bovell’s moving adaptation of the Kate Grenville novel “The Secret River” sold out it’s Canberra Theatre season well before it opened, so that many who were a bit slow off the mark securing tickets missed the opportunity to see a production that will be remembered as one of the major theatrical events of the Canberra Centenary Year.

“The Secret River” is epic theatre, masterful and memorable, offering real theatrical magic, in the hands of a director who knows how to make a cast of 19 actors seem like hundreds, to tell a sweeping, heart-breaking story about families, both European and indigenous, trying to live fulfilling and worthwhile lives.

You don’t need to have read Kate Grenville’s novel  to enjoy this stage play, although your experience may be deepened if you have…..but perhaps not. Either way, its gripping theatre, which leaves you informed, satisfied and unsettled.

Nathaniel Dean as the convict-farmer-breadwinner and Anita Hegh as his loyal, loving and ultimately defeated wife, both provide warm compelling portraits of parents trying to build a life for their family in a forbidding, unhelpful environment. They are surrounded by a disparate group of acquaintances, all of whom are already beaten by their circumstances.   Jeremy Sims, unrecognisable as the monstrous Smasher Sullivan, with his team of snarling, baying dogs; Bruce Spence as the pathetic, educated Loveday; Daniel Henshall as the giggling misfit, Dan Oldfield; Judith McGrath as the sun-withered Mrs Herring; Colin Moody, towering and menacing as Thomas Blackwood; Mathew Sunderland in several characterisations; all create startlingly recognisable inhabitants of a cruel world which has robbed them of dignity and ambition.

No less impressive are the indigenous performers, who spoke all their lines in the Darkinjung dialect of the Hawkesbury region, which they had to learn for their roles, thus allowing the audience to participate in the frustration of the language barrier among the characters. Roy Gordon played the tribal elder Yalamundi; Trevor Jamieson and Rhimi Johnson Page were the  warriors, Ngalamalum and Wangarra; and Miranda Tapsell and Ethel-Anne Gundy their womenfolk, Gillyagan  and Buryia; each character so vivid and memorable that their ultimate fate was even more appalling.

As the narrator, Dhirrumbim, Ursula Yovich dominated the production, telling the story in  beautifully modulated tones, moving in and out of the action, all the while providing the audience with insights into the thoughts and motivations of the characters.  

The cast also includes five children whose unselfconscious interaction despite the barrier of language was a potent illustration of the futility of adult ego and ritual.

Stephen Curtis’ towering, atmospheric,  draped setting, complimented by the subtle lighting and sound design by Mark Howett and Steve Francis, provides a sense of the towering bushland which surrounds the action that moves so fluidly from scene to scene. Tess Schofield’s often ambiguous, sometimes surprising, costumes reflect the hardship of this environment. Her use of white face makeup on the European characters ingeniously suggesting how these characters may have appeared to the local indigenous Hawkesbury inhabitants. .

Embracing the impressionistic set and lighting, Neil Armfield has drawn remarkable performances from his cast, interpolating the action with stunning directorial flourishes to compliment the performances. His striking staging  of the climatic massacre, his use of actors as snarling dogs, white powder tossed by the actors  to suggest gun shots, his  use of smoke, fire and water throughout, and extraordinary use of sound and music including nursery rhymes, folksongs and  specially composed music, performed live  members of the cast , and by  the composer, Ian Grandage  playing a variety of instruments to one side of the stage, to heighten and clarify key moments, all combine in a brilliantly theatrical telling of an important Australian story which ought to be seen by audiences the length and breadth of the nation.

Indeed, having witnessed the enthusiastic audience reaction to this director’s equally brilliant staging of Tim Winton’s “Cloudstreet” when in was performed in the Kennedy Centre in Washington in 2001, this production could expect a similar response from audiences worldwide.  




Sunday, February 17, 2013


Written by Tim Firth
Directed by Catherine Hill
Canberra Repertory, Theatre 3, February 15 to March 2

Review by Len Power

Good comedy has drama just below the surface.  Tim Firth’s play, ‘Calendar Girls’, based on the movie of the same name, is funny, moving and very, very real.

Canberra Rep’s production, directed by Catherine Hill, tells the true story of a group of women who are members of a Yorkshire village Womens’ Institute.  When the husband of one of them dies of leukemia, the women devise an unusual fund-raiser in his memory.  Their actions unexpectedly produce self-doubt and strained friendships.

Anne Yuille, Naone Carrel, Nikki-Lynne Hunter, Paul Jackson, Liz de Totth, Elaine Noon, Megs Skillicorn
At the core of this production is the excellent ensemble playing of Naone Carrel, Liz de Totth, Elaine Noon, Anne Yuille, Nikki-Lynne Hunter and Megs Skillicorn..  There are no caricatures here.  Their interaction with each other is precise and believable.  Judi Crane as Marie, the head of this Womens’ Institute, artfully plays a sour old dragon who eventually shows she’s a real person after all.  Jonathan Garland gives a very moving performance as the doomed husband, John, and the initially ill-at-ease photographer of Paul Jackson is nicely done.  Good support is provided in well-played cameos by Rob De Fries, Rebecca Butler, Linda Tregonning, Tracy Thomas and Sam Hannan-Morrow.

Paul Jackson and Naone Carrel
The set, designed by Russell Brown, captures the atmosphere of a faded church hall and changes cleverly into an important outdoor setting.  Costume designer, Miriam Miley-Read, has provided the cast with a practical and appealing set of costumes, particularly for the Womens’ Institute group who require multiple costume changes.  They really look like the clothes those characters would wear.  Sound design by Jonathan Pearson includes good choices of snatches of tunes that complement the action and the expert lighting design is by Stephen Still.

Elaine Noon and Liz de Totth

Karin Einhaus, in charge of properties backstage, must be one of the busiest people of the night, co-ordinating the large number of items that need to go on and off the stage.  It all happened smoothly, thanks to her and the skilled stage crew who smoothly and quickly made the onstage changes happen, mostly in very low light.

Megs Skillicorn and Nikki-Lynne Hunter

Catherine Hill, the director, has done a great job with her cast, producing one of the finest examples of ensemble playing that I’ve seen in a long time.  Her incisive direction of the important calendar photographs scene creates a memorable end to the first act.  The positive audience reaction to this scene on opening night was extraordinary and well-deserved.  In a second act that could be anti-climactic in the wrong hands, the director keeps the pace moving so that our interest in these people never flags.  Catherine Hill’s direction brings out the warmth, wit and humanity of a good play which covers universal issues we can all relate to.

Photos by Len Power

Broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 on 'Dress Circle' Sunday 17 February 2013