Thursday, October 31, 2013

Comedy of Errors

Imara Savage - Director
The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare.  Bell Shakespeare and State Theatre Company of South Australia directed by Imara Savage; designer Pip Runciman; lighting designer, Mark Pennington; composer & sound designer, David Heinrich; physical comedy consultant, Scott Witt.  Canberra Theatre Playhouse, October 30 – November 9, 2013-10-31

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 30

I suspect that William Shakespeare’s move from staid and sensible Stratford-on-Avon to lewd, lascivious and libellous London paved the way for the horror faced by Antipholus and his stolid, mercantile merchant father from Syracuse when they landed in energetic, excessive, sexually-charged Ephesus.  It must have been quite a revelation for Shakespeare to discover that his London of 1593 was not very different from what Plautus, some 100-200 years BC, had already described in his fictional Greek city of Epidamnum, in his play Menaechmi.

So for us it is a wonder to see the brilliance of Shakespeare’s words reveal how little different is the world of, say, Sydney’s Kings Cross after another 420 years.  Like Plautus, Shakespeare understood that a farcical treatment was the only way to come to terms with both the light and dark sides of such a community.  In this Comedy of Errors, Savage Witt is brought to bear with unerring aim.

To follow my line of thinking you need a copy of the wonderful program with its extensive background to the production.  It adds enormously to the satisfaction of seeing the play to read, far beyond the usual plot synopsis and director’s notes, source quotes and essays on comedy, farce, Plautus, Shakespeare’s Ephesus, the place of the classics, Kings Cross as explained by Louis Nowra, The Comedy of Errors as explained by Andy McLean, more details on Shakespeare’s sources, and the concept drawings of the characters by Pip Runciman.

The result on stage is near perfection.  Every nuance of Shakespeare’s intention in each line spoken and each action taken by each character is brought into a shining spotlight.  Now it is absolutely clear that this is not a young playwright’s immature imitation of a Latin classic.  This is farce precisely performed to the point of satire of human society.

The casting is exquisite.  The make-up and the costuming of the two sets of identical twins is so well done that, until the final scene, it was hard to believe that there were four actors rather than two doubling up the roles.  The set consisting of even more doors across the stage than I have ever thought possible – and added to by left and right entrances upstage and downstage – made this necessary element of stage farce into a character in its own right.  And no-one will ever forget props like the sun-tan machine, the hot electric iron and especially the washing machine and its sudsy servant Dromio – a scene which can justifiably claim the loudest laugh of the night.

There has been a long tradition in Australian acting of rumbustious physical theatre, fully endorsed by Bell Shakespeare and training at NIDA and in all the institutions since the 1960s, which comes to a peak of entertainment and theatrical maturity in this production of The Comedy of Errors.

If you can’t get to see it in Canberra, you have one more chance at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse from November 12 to December 7 – the last of 32 venues in the Playing Australia touring program.  Do your best not to miss it – and don’t forget to buy a program.
Renato Musolino, Nathan O'Keefe, Septimus Caton, Hazem Shammas as Dromio and Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio and Antipholus of Ephesus, with Demetrios Sirilas as Angelo (upstage)

Nathan O'Keefe (Antipholus of Syracuse) with Jude Henshall as Luciana
Suzannah McDonald as Courtesan
Elena Carapetis as Adriana, Eugene Gilfedder as Dr Pinch, with Jude Henshall and Suzannah McDonald.    Anthony Taufa (not pictured) played The Duke and Balthasar.  Suzannah McDonald also played Emelia.  Eugene Gilfedder also played Egeon.     All photos by Matt Nettheim   

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Come Alive 2013

Come Alive at the National Museum of Australia.  Artistic Director, Peter Wilkins; Manager, Mitch Preston, NMA Learning Services and Community Outreach. October 28 – November 1, 2013.

Commentary by Frank McKone

This is the fourth annual Come Alive festival in which nine Canberra schools present 11 performances written and performed by students based on their observations of exhibits currently on display in the National Museum of Australia.

The festival is an initiative taken under the Museum’s keen interest in IMTAL, the International Museum Theatre Alliance, whose annual conference has just been held at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, described (pre-conference) as follows:

The 2013 IMTAL Global Conference will focus on creativity and innovation in today’s Museum Theatre. In 2013, Museum Theatre is a proven, tested, educational approach in the field of museum studies. It is also an art form bringing the best of performance to museum visitors of all ages. But how is the field continuing to evolve? The 2013 Global conference will bring together practitioners, researchers, performers, and museum professionals from around the world to discuss, debate, present, and share examples of how the field is evolving and innovating.

As far as I know, Wilkins’ approach at the NMA is rare, if not unique.  He combines the learning about Australia’s social history with the learning of the practice of theatre by putting the students in the position of researchers, writers and performers. 

In one show I saw today (October 30), Melrose High School took up the question of whether each of three women whose stories are on display – Holocaust survivor Olga Horak, Annette Kellerman who was the first woman to swim the English Channel and stood up for women’s rights early in the last century, and Ida Prosser-Fenn, a missionary and nurse in Papua New Guinea through the 1940s and 50s – should be allowed into heaven.  The last laugh on the gatekeeper (a woman, not St Peter) was that all had satisfied Heaven’s requirements – but Olga Horak is still alive, volunteering at the Jewish Museum in Sydney.  So they promised she would be let in when she dies.  Their play is called The Final Reward.

Canberra College students took an entirely different angle. The Saw Doctor’s wagon was the mobile home and workshop of Harold Wright, who started travelling the roads of rural Australia during the 1930s Depression.  After migrating from England to Australia in 1930, Wright began walking Queensland roads to find work. In 1935, he used the little money he had saved to convert a horsedrawn wagon into a combined workshop and home. Over the next 34 years, as he travelled throughout the farmlands and towns of north-west Victoria and New South Wales sharpening knives and blades, Wright made updates and changes to his wagon, promoting himself as ‘The Saw Doctor’.  

Instead of re-telling the story of Harold Wright, the students turned him into “Tinker Tom” whose tractor and wagon became a time-travel machine to take an audience of second and third-graders back to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and one of the first outside television broadcasts in Australia, to the burning of their mining licences by the gold diggers at the Eureka Stockade, to the convict days of the female factory, and even back to the era of the dinosaurs.  Humorous and even quite absurdist, Tinker Tom’s Travels will go into primary schools and I’m sure will succeed in its prime purpose of engendering a sense of history through the fun of time travel.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these examples show that Peter Wilkins succeeds in encouraging the creativity and innovation that IMTAL seeks.  But it struck me watching today that there is a further level of education going on here.  The young people participating in museum theatre are engaged in the very multicultural life which the National Museum encapsulates as the core of life in Australia.  Writing and performing their own plays takes the students out of their personal circumstances, and perhaps out of their assumptions, into the lives of a great variety of people across the country and across time.  Within the groups performing today the variety of cultures in our society was clearly represented, all working together to explore their Australian heritage – and watching other groups from other schools travelling a similar journey.

So I see Come Alive not so much about learning about history, but being history through drama.  It was, perhaps, the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, famous for his Seven Intelligences, who first established the importance of education through museums.  Come Alive, I suggest, is proof in action.

NOTICE: Canberra Critics' Circle symposium on Splinters Theatre of Spectacle

Splinters: Faust
Splinters: only in Canberra? 

A Canberra Critics' Circle symposium on Splinters Theatre of Spectacle  
Saturday November 2 
from 1.30pm to 4pm 
at The Canberra Museum and Gallery Theatrette. 

FREE event. RSVP via or 6207 3968.

Splinters Theatre of Spectacle was an Australian Performance Troupe formed in Canberra in 1985 by David Branson, Patrick Troy, Ross Cameron, and John Utans, that was known for large outdoor spectacles.[1] Between 1985 and 1996, Splinters produced more than 20 works that played at Australian theatre festivals. In 1992, they produced Cathedral of Flesh which won the Best Promenade Theatre Performance Award, at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.[2]
[Wikipedia ]

Speakers will include:

Patrick Troy, one of the founders of Splinters.
Actor/Artist  Renald Navilly on Splinters as a theatre process.
Curator, former  Splinters member Gavin Findlay on the archiving of Splinters records.
Canberra author Joel Swadling on the  biography he is writing about the late David Branson.
Educator/Theatre critic Frank McKone on the influence of ACT College arts and drama on the development of Splinters.

Assistant Professor Dr Geoff Hinchcliffe on the visual culture of Splinters
Canberra Critics' Circle convener  Helen Musa in the chair.


Tammi Gissell and Liz Lea in "Seeking Biloela" 
Directed by Liz Lea

The Street Theatre – Made in Canberra

October 26th and 27th.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Prolific dance maker Liz Lea continues her fascination with birds and flight with this latest work “Seeking Biloela”, which consists of two dance solos, both ostensibly concerned with birds, one trapped, and the other endangered.

“Magnificus Magnificus” is the most successful and accessible of the two. Strikingly performed by indigenous dancer, Tammi Gissell, this work concerns the plight of the red tailed black cockatoo, but it also echoes the life of the dancer.  During the course of the work we learn a great deal about the red tailed black cockatoo, its habitat and habits. We also learn a lot about Tammi Gissell, a stunning dancer, who addresses the audience directly and disarmingly about the habits and nature of the cockatoo, and the bush turkey, and how both relate to her own life and experiences as a cabaret showgirl.

Along the way Gissell transforms into both birds, performs an impressive routine on roller-skates, then executes her finale resplendent in high heels, a towering red and black feathered headdress and showgirl feathers. This spell-binding tour-de-force is accompanied by an evocative soundscape  composed by Adam Ventura, Eric Avery, and Graham Davis King, and performed live by the latter two composers.

More complex but less satisfying is Liz Lea’s own solo,”Kapture”, which opens the program. Attempting to interpret the writings of activist Ahmed Kathrada through his favourite Hindi song about a trapped bird, Lea incorporates classical Indian dance as part of her choreographic vocabulary. Excerpts from Kathrada’s writings are heard as a voice-over delivered to the accompaniment of an atmospheric soundscape featuring tabla player Bobby Singh and performed within Christiane Novak’s metallic installation.  

While often visually interesting, the dance vocabulary soon becomes limiting and repetitive, and the relationship between movement and theme is often difficult to comprehend. An ambitious work, “Kapture” suffers from a surfeit of big ideas which diffuse the focus and prevent it from achieving the impact it initially promises.
             An edited version of this review appears in CITY NEWS published 30.10.13


Sunday, October 27, 2013


Written by Helen Machalias
Directed by Andrew Holmes
The Street Theatre, October 25 to November 3, 2013

Review by Len Power October 26, 2013

Plays with a message can be problematic.  When ‘the message’ dominates a play, it quickly becomes an evening of tedium.  ‘In Loco Parentis’ avoids this trap.  The play by new Australian writer, Helen Machalias, is compelling, confronting, educating, unflinching and it’s a rattling good mystery as well.

Set in a fictitious exclusive residential Canberra college, it covers a year of investigation into rape allegations and details the impact on all of those involved.  We’re quick to make judgements only to find that there’s a lot more going on than we were led to believe at the start.

As stated in the program, ‘In Loco Parentis’ is a principle that allows institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of students as they see fit, although not allowing what could be considered violations of the student’s civil liberties.  How we see that principle applied during the action of this play is a matter of great concern.

There were very good performances by Catherine Crowley as the University Sexual Harassment Officer, Kate Blackhurst as the Head of College, Dylan Van Den Berg as the student, Mitch, and Hannah Wood as another student, Katy.  The five chorus members, played by Jake Brown, Mia Carr, Linda Chen, Lewis McDonald and Georgia Pelle were all believable characters.

The simple, but effective set and lighting was by Gillian Schwab and there was an imaginative use of the light thrown by mobile phone screens.  Sound design by Shoeb Ahmad was also notable and the costume choices worked well.

Made up of a number of short scenes, the play is well-directed, with finely flowing transitions from one scene to the next.  Director, Andrew Holmes has done a fine job integrating all of the various elements of this play, maintaining a good pace and obtaining in-depth performances from his cast.

The play by Helen Machalias is well-written, the incidents played out are believable and the characters have considerable depth.  There was no avoiding or playing down of some of the appalling incidents that the play details and the language is, of necessity, very strong.  At nearly two hours without a break, this intense play could benefit from some minor trimming to bring the running time down to a more sustainable ninety minutes.  This is the writer’s first full length play and it’s a mature and exciting work which deserves to be seen by a wide audience.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 27 October 2013.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Matt Hetherington and Tony Sheldon

Book by Jeffrey Lane: Music and Lyrics by David Yazbeck

Presented by James Anthony Productions and George Youakim

Theatre Royal, Sydney - media preview - 23rd October 2013.

Season continuing.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Based the popular film of the same name, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”  translates into a fresh, funny sophisticated musical with a catchy, tuneful score, courtesy of David Yazbeck, and a clever, witty book by Jeffrey Lane. Slyly spoofing musicals like  “My Fair Lady” and “Fiddler of the Roof”, with  characters commenting  directly to the audience, and a non-stop stream of hilarious vocal and physical gags, this show provides a gloriously entertaining evening of musical theatre. 

The plot revolves around two  con- men  who compete to swindle rich women visiting the Riviera. The fun begins when they find themselves both targeting the same woman, eventually agreeing that  whichever of them fails to relieve her of $50,000, would leave the Riviera.
Tony Sheldon and the female ensemble

Tony Sheldon makes an auspicious return to the Australian stage following his international success in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” . He oozes  star quality as the suave, elegant con- man, Lawrence Jameson,  bringing  his  stylish stage presence, excellent articulation and highly polished comic timing to a role that fits him like a glove.  

He is brilliantly matched by Matt Hetherington, as  his brash young  adversary, Freddy Benson. Together they make a formidable team. Hetherington is well-known as a fine singer, but his seriously inspired clowning and inventive comedy schtick come as quite a surprise. His wheelchair scenes with Sheldon and another  gorgeous surprise- packet,  Amy Lehpamer,  as the too-good-to-be- true Christine Colgate, are a joy to behold and have the audience literally rolling in the aisles.
Matt Hetherington, Tony Sheldon, Amy Lehpamer

Katrina Retallick turns in another funny,  fire-cracker performance as the over-bearing, boot-scooting, Jolene Oakes,  and Anne Woods,  as cool and dry as a martini, and looking a million dollars, is all class as the wealthy lush and luscious, Murial Eubanks,  (Has anyone thought of mounting a production of  “Pal Joey” on this woman ?). Woods nailed every laugh on her way to nailing her man in the unlikely persona of John Wood, looking slightly sheepish  as Andre Thibault .
Anne Wood and John Wood

The attractive ensemble make the most of Dana Jolly’s  rather pedestrian choreography, and Guy Simpson and his excellent orchestra capture the authentic Broadway sound.  Teresa Negroponte’s costumes are pretty and colourful,  but  Michael Hankin’s equally colourful scenery looks a bit sparse on the Theatre Royal stage, with some wayward lighting exposing a couple of surprisingly clumsy scene changes, which will no doubt be rectified for future performances.

Quibbles aside, director, Roger Hodgman has achieved a slick and joyously  entertaining production. A breath of fresh air, enhanced by at least two genuine star-quality performances from Tony Sheldon and Matt Hetherington, which should not be missed by anyone who relishes a superb night of musical theatre. 

Tony Sheldon, Katrina Retallick, Matt Hetherington

                                                                Photos by Kurt Sneddon


Monday, October 21, 2013


Written by Bob Larbey
Directed by Anne Somes
Free Rain
Courtyard Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre
18 October to 3 November, 2013

Review by Len Power 18 October 2013

Where did the years go?  If you’re asking yourself that, ‘A Month Of Sundays’ will resonate strongly with you.  Bob Larbey’s 1985 play about two elderly men in an old persons’ home focuses on two first Sundays of the month and the regular but uneasy visits of the daughter and son-in-law of one of them.  A play with serious intent, it is laced with black humour and, while the subject matter is confronting, it is very entertaining.

This production, directed by Anne Somes, has a  cast of six excellent Canberra actors.  In the main role of Cooper, Graham Robertson is very moving as the elderly man who voluntarily left his family to avoid the indignity of depending on them.  Robertson doesn’t play safe with a sentimental reading of this role.  He is very amusing but also unpleasant and sarcastic to those around him.  It’s a powerful and memorable performance.  Oliver Baudert as Aylott, the other elderly resident is very touching in the contrasting role of a man on the brink of ageing mental issues.

A standout in the cast is Joanna Richards in a beautifully realized performance as the young nurse who cares for Cooper more than is professionally required.  Micki Beckett brings extraordinary depth to her role as the cleaner, Mrs Baker.  She makes you feel that you know this woman.  Lainie Hart is excellent as the daughter struggling to deal with the ageing of her father and Paul Jackson gives one of his best performances as a son-in-law who tries to make the best of an uncomfortable situation.

The set is a clever design by Steve and Susie Walsh.  It is appropriately antiseptic and cold with clear plastic and glass everywhere, even the toilet.  Lighting design by Tanya Gruber complements the coldness of the set and the blue lighting of the scene changes added to the atmosphere.  Costumes by Fiona Leach were just right for each of the characters.  The well-chosen songs playing during the breaks were compiled by Steve Walsh and Tanya Gruber.

Anne Somes has coaxed excellent performances from everyone and it’s a production to be admired in all aspects.  It plays at a deliberate pace which is necessary but it does feel a bit long at times.  It’s nearly thirty years since it was first presented in London so maybe we’re just getting too used to recent plays that tend to be much shorter.  That shouldn’t put you off, though.  It’s an excellent, thought-provoking play with great performances and it is very well directed.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program (5.00 to 6.30pm) on Sunday 20 October 2013.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Presented by John Frost

Lyric Theatre - Sydney
Sydney Season commenced 17th October 2013

Review by Bill Stephens

"Greased Lightnin' " ..the T.Birds

John Frost has gathered together a terrific cast for his latest production of the ubiquitous 1950’s musical “Grease”, which opened in Sydney this week in the Lyric Theatre.

Stephen Mahy (L) Robb Mills and Gretel Scarlet (C) Lucy Maunder (R)
Robb Mills portrays a delightfully dorky and agreeable, Danny, who surprises with his terpsichorean skills particularly in the “Born to Hand Jive” number.
 Relative newcomer, Gretel Scarlett, channelling Olivia Newton-John, is perfect as the sugar-sweet, Sandy, nailing her big moment with a superb version of “Hopelessly Devoted to You”.
Lucy Maunder, seen at the Q recently in “Noel and Gertie”, is excellent as the gutsy and acerbic Rizzo, bringing depth and sophistication to her show-stopping interpretation of “There Are Worse Things I Can Do”. Even the usually crass Kenickie turns out to be rather loveable as played by Stephen Mahy. All work hard to bring some new perspective to roles which are over-familiar from numerous productions both professional and amateur.

With Stephen Amos’ gutsy band in full view on stage above the action, and its bright paper cut-out style scenery, the production echoes the Melbourne Production Company’s “in concert” stagings, relying on lots of colourful costumes, some brilliantly manic choreography by Arlene Phillips’ and the full-on energy of the willing young cast to provide the spectacle. However the show’s none the worse for that as everyone knows the story and songs backwards and director David Gilmore drives the action along at a fast bat, garnishing it with witty directorial surprises and lavish production numbers to insure that the audience’ attention never flags.

Todd McKenney as Teen Angel
Just in case all that is not enough though,  there’s also a quartet of big-name guest artists filling the feature roles. Looking like a mirror-ball on speed, Todd McKenney, surrounded by a posse of gorgeous show-girls, is a vision to behold as he camps it up outrageously as Teen Angel, briefly referencing “The Boy from Oz”, (“Oops! Sorry wrong show)”, in the process.  It’s a pity someone can’t come up with another starring role for McKenney to harness all that pizazz.

Anthony Callea, as Johnny Casino, almost gets lost in the crowd belting “Born to Hand Jive”, and it’s great to see Bert Newton back on stage playing a great Bert Newton as the radio presenter Vince Fontaine. Ditto Val Lehman playing Miss Lynch as a rather homely Bea Smith.

Billed as the No.1 Party musical, this production of “Grease” certainly fulfils that promise, while providing a delightfully entertaining reminder of why this show has retained its popularity for more than 40 years. 


Lucy Maunder leading the ensemble for "Grease"

Photos by Jeff Busby


Friday, October 18, 2013


Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Ron Dowd
Canberra Philharmonic Society
Erindale Theatre, 17 October to 2 November, 2013

Review by Len Power

If you like your horror laced with 50s rock and roll music, “Little Shop Of Horrors” is a lot of fun.  Based on Roger Corman’s cheap 1960 black comedy movie of the same name, the musical version ran for five years Off-Broadway.  Ron Dowd’s new Canberra production works very well.

Musical Director, Jason Henderson, has produced an excellent sound from his orchestra and the singing of the cast is uniformly excellent.  Standout performances were given by Will Huang as the nerdy but lovable Seymour, Ian Croker as Mr Mushnik, the shop owner, and Kelly Turnbull as the fragile and bruised Audrey, especially in her heart-felt version of “Somewhere That’s Green”.  A particular highlight was Ian Croker’s and Will Huang’s “Mushnik and Son”, with witty tango choreography by Angel Dolesji.

Adrian Flor was in fine voice and character as the singing plant, Audrey Two.  The Street Urchins sung by Isabelle Bangard, Kate Graham and Mechelle Tully had strong voices and characters that blended well.  Zack Drury needed to be more obnoxious as the dentist and there was not enough difference between the multiple characters he played through the show.

There was a good set design by Peter Karmel but it looked roughly built and a little wobbly.  The adult plant was a bit of a disappointment.  What happened to the teeth it had as an adolescent?  Lighting and audio design by Eclipse Sound and Lighting was imaginative and well-executed.

Ron Dowd has directed a tightly paced and very entertaining horror musical.

Originally published in Canberra City News digital edition 18 October 2013