Sunday, December 28, 2014


Theatre by Canberra's local companies
Thoughts by Len Power

How do you make sure every show you produce is a winner?  It’s not easy.  Looking back at 2014, most local companies gave us some memorable productions but there were also some disappointing duds, too.

The year started well with Wayne Shepherd’s delightful direction of the musical, ‘Seussical’, for Ickle Pickle Productions.  The Q Theatre staged Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s acclaimed London production of ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’.  Audiences were strongly divided on this one.  I liked it but there were plenty of people who didn’t.

I’m not all that keen on the play, ‘Steel Magnolias’, but Canberra Rep’s good production by Jordan Best was enjoyed by large audiences.  SUPA Productions took a chance with the British musical, ‘The Witches Of Eastwick’ which got mostly good reviews but didn’t get strong audience support.

Dud of the year has to go to Canberra Rep’s musical offering, ‘Showtune’, a Jerry Herman songbook show which wasn’t much of a show to begin with and was miscast and poorly directed.  Luckily, Free Rain came to the rescue with a tremendous production of the musical, ‘Legally Blonde’, which was a winner in every department.

‘The Rokitelly Man’, a home-grown musical presented by Ickle Pickle Productions, demonstrated that there is musical-writing talent in Canberra.  Then we turned to the horrors of the Inquisition in Duncan Ley’s play, ‘The Burning’, staged by Everyman Theatre and performed very well by Jarrad West and Will Huang, in particular.

Canberra Rep recovered from ‘Showtune’ with a stunning production of Tom Stoppard’s very tricky, ‘Arcadia’, directed by Aarne Neeme.  The Canberra School Of Music staged Monteverdi’s opera, ‘L’Orpheo’, which was nicely sung by the leads and well-played by the orchestra but the clunky staging let it down somewhat.

Canberra Rep’s next offering should have been a beauty, but, to this critic, was a major disappointment.  Peter Shaffer’s, ‘Equus’, lacked a strong director to bring out the nuances of this powerful play.  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, ‘Sunset Blvd’, at the Q Theatre was a good showcase for the musical talents of Canberra’s songbird, Bronwyn Sullivan.  Then we were stunned by an extraordinary production of the play, ‘August: Osage County’, directed by Cate Clelland for Free Rain.  Some of the most exciting performances of the year were on view here by Karen Vickery, Jim Adamik and Andrea Close and the large ensemble cast.

The year finished with a winning production of Noel Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’ by Kate Blackhurst for Canberra Rep, an amazing and eye-opening new work, ‘Scandalous Boy’ at the Street Theatre and the razzle dazzle of SUPA’s well-received Jerry Herman musical, ‘La Cage Aux Folles’.

Overall, it was a good year of theatre by local companies.  Some played it safe with shows aimed at non-adventurous theatregoers while others are to be applauded for taking a risk with lesser-known but worthy shows.  Either way, Canberra audiences are spoiled with the amount of high standard theatre available here.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 28 December 2014 from 5pm.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Unwrap Me presented by Budding Theatre

Unwrap Me presented by Budding Theatre ( at Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre December 18-20, 2014.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 18

In an enjoyable Christmas evening of 10 short plays, the appropriately named Kirsty Budding has presented work by 10 budding new, emerging, up and coming, or somewhat more emerged playwrights.  Based on the now well-established Short + Sweet concept, the writers’ brief was to begin with the stage direction: [A character] enters carrying a Christmas present.

During interval, an essential element of the Christmas theme of giving was a raffle of wine and a Christmas hamper donated by local businesses, and the auction of a framed Unwrap Me poster signed by all the 30 or more cast members, which on opening night sold for $100.  The money raised from box office and the auction was donated to Medecins Sans Frontieres and World Animal Protection.

In general the pieces were absurdist and humorous, reminding me of earlier times in Canberra watching Elbow Theatre, Bohemian Theatre or Freshly Ground Theatre, but without those groups' emphasis on being conscientiously avant gardeUnwrap Me is relaxed fun.  Yet there were some pieces which, in about 10 minutes, developed substantial themes and characterisation.

The evening was never competitive – quite the opposite, in fact.  It was a Christmas celebration of minimalist staging – a desk, a sofa, a dead body in the empty space beside an ubiquitous Christmas Tree, enhanced by a very effective sound track collection of modern urban pop.  But here are my comments on each author’s approach, in order of presentation.

Tom Green’s The Christmas Pitch has Santa and his Elf off-sider present a bank manager with a business plan to spend $30 billion on giving away presents all over the world: not for profit but simply for the sake of doing good.  The idea is fun for ten minutes, but the script tails off rather than coming up with a good strong punch line.

The Cat and the Cigarette by Grace De Morgan turns the apparent gift of a possibly dead cat into a metaphor for the insecurity of being in love.  The end, though, from a serious point of view, is sentimental.  So it’s a clever idea, but we are not sure of how we are to take the humour.

Nigel Palfreman, in I ♥ Alex Solomon, takes up the theme of male sexual competition expressed in the gift that Alex gives Claire, and Paul’s angry jealousy.  The plot and dialogue have no subtlety, so we are not sure if we are to find the situation funny or to seriously take sides.  It certainly seemed a bleak view of Christmas cheer.

John Lombard’s The Holiday on December 25th is a very different kettle of fish.  What if, taking the view that gift-giving at Christmas and birthdays is just crass commercialism, you bring up your child so that she is not aware that these occasions are celebrated, or that they even exist to be celebrated?  What happens when, at the age of 25, your daughter Becky Givings, becomes suspicious about the total coverage of Christmas decorations, jingles and adverts and Mrs Givings is forced to come clean?  Very cleverly, Lombard’s script takes us through the funny side as we see Becky’s dawning recognition that her mother has deceived her, yet in the ten minutes allows us to accept their reconciliation.  Only then as Becky leaves happy and Mr Givings arrives, we get the punchline which brings Mr and Mrs back together.  He may not be happy with, but has to accept, his wife’s breaking of the secret about Christmas: “But it’s just as well she doesn’t know about birthdays!”

The strength in the writing here is in the genuine motivations of the characters, the humour we find in their dilemmas, and the recognition of an issue which many families take seriously. In ten minutes there is a complete dramatic structure built before our very eyes.

Christmas with Carroll is anything but a pleasant occasion for an uplifting song.  Youthful Carroll’s hatred of being obliged to attend the family Christmas with all the oldies turns into a story of revenge.  There is a logic to the plot which leads to more than just black humour.  The humour of degustation and disgust in this surprising play by Tahlee Fereday from Darwin is both excruciatingly funny and awful to watch as Carroll’s revenge bites back and spews forth – all over her.

Chris Naylor’s A Christmas Body, after interval, drinks and the auction had revived our equanimity, was a nice simple and pleasantly amusing episode.  The author’s interpretation of the injunction in the writers’ brief about carrying a Christmas present was a practical joke on us, as was the dead body’s behaviour a practical joke on his hosts at their Christmas dinner.  There are no other significant implications in this play, but we didn’t need depth at this point in the evening.

But we couldn’t relax for long.  Original Sinners by Kirsten Lovett from Queensland is a highly abstract meeting of a mystical Australian bush woman, which in Biblical terms might be Lilith (as in George Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methusaleh), though here she is named Pandora (as in Pandora’s box, perhaps), with a man – a stranger in her desert country, dressed in a city-style business suit, perhaps referencing Cain who killed his brother Abel and representing criminality and corruption.  Perhaps, on this Christmas day, he seeks redemption and some kind of reconciliation and solace.  She will only tell her story if he repays her by telling his story.  They reach a kind of peace in the telling, as the image of their existence fades away.

For a ten minute piece, this is quite unusual and even disturbing, and suggests an interesting future for this new writer who grew up in Cairns.

Kirsty Budding herself wrote No Room at the Inn, which seems to be about the children of a kind of a dysfunctional Addams Family.  Will they all be allowed to go to the family gathering on Christmas Day?  James is gay, and will not go without his father’s acceptance of his love for Lucas.  Helen is thoroughly imbued with a kind of jealousy because James came out before she could make it clear that she is gay, too.  Gollum, hidden in the back room, is a kind of maniacal throwback to a mythical apelike state, who reveals three virtually naked young men in a procession from his room and off stage behind the Christmas tree.  The present which begins this mayhem is brought by Lucas for the unappreciative Helen – a large ball-shaped gift which is never revealed.

Somewhere in all this is an absurdist satire of the conventions of Christmas family gatherings – funny but weird.  I guess there would not be room for any of these children at their family’s “inn”.

Perhaps this play was the nearest to the early Bohemians (later Boho) Theatre style ( .

The Price of Balloons is a much more conventional play by Disapol Savetsila from University of Wollongong.  A young woman’s father insists in giving her presents, while she knows that he is not well off.  She sells his latest gift (of a fascinating balloon which has several other inflated balloons inside) to a passer by who has forgotten to buy a gift for his daughter.  She negotiates a very high price as the passer by has no other chance to buy a gift before catching his train.  When her father returns she insists on giving him the money which he can’t afford not to take, though he is devastated by her selling of his gift.

We are left feeling in two minds about what she has done, and in empathy with the father’s dilemma.  The play leaves us forced to consider what is the true nature of a gift.

Finally, the evening ended with perhaps the best written script: Sexy Beth’s Giant Dildo Collection by Canberra-based Greg Gould.  His career so far has been almost entirely centred on writing ten-minute plays, performed in Australia and overseas, with considerable success in short play competitions including Short + Sweet here, in New Zealand and Dubai.

Beth and Dale are moving into an upstairs flat.  Dale labels the biggest box of their belongings “Sexy Beth’s Giant Dildo Collection”, to Beth’s horror since her father has carried it up when he arrived unexpectedly to help.  She fears that her father, who she believes is already unhappy with her relationship with Dale, will think of her as sexually depraved.  She sees herself and her family as conventionally nice.  Dale’s joke may divide her from her family.

However when she leaves Dale to face her father, it turns out that he regales Dale with his stories of the “free love” period of his life in the 1960s, leaving the young Dale amazed, but now able to relieve Beth’s anxiety and finish the play on a positive note.

The quality of the writing is in the immediately established genuineness of the feelings and motivations of each of the characters, our easy acceptance of the situation as it seems to trend in its different directions, and our recognition of the issue of generational differences.  In its ten minutes, we see that instant judgement and assumptions are a danger we should be careful to avoid.

Reviewing 10 plays in one evening is quite a task, but well worth doing in this case because I think Budding Theatre is a valuable new development in Canberra.  Unwrap Me has drawn writers and actors from Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns, Wollongong, Goulburn, with experience and training backgrounds around Australia and overseas.  Budding’s idea to take the Short + Sweet (and the school level Fast + Fresh) competition into a non-competitive evening show has worked well, with an enthusiastic response from the audience on opening night.  There’s at least an annual event for Christmas in the making, and perhaps for other significant times in the year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


QL2 Dance 
QL2 Theatre,
 Gorman House-Canberra
December 13, 14 2014

Reviewed by:
Bill Stephens

Each year for the last six years selected students from Australia and New Zealand tertiary dance institutions have converged on QL2 in Canberra to try their hand a creating a short individual dance work. Initially instituted to bring QL2 alumni back to Canberra during their tertiary studies to share what they have learned, “On Course” has now expanded to include other tertiary dance students. This year the seven young participating choreographers included students from New Zealand and the UK as well as from WAAPA and VCA.

In the two weeks of the residency, each choreographer is tasked with creating a short dance work on senior QL2 dancers and other participating students. The results of their efforts are shown at two public performances before a paying audience. At this performance, each choreographer introduces their work with a short explanation of their choreographic inspiration. The performance is followed by a short session involving both dancers and choreographers, during which members of the audience have the opportunity to question the participants about their work.

"Buzz Off!" by Tanya Brown
Ryan Stone and Ayesha Katz
Photo: Lorna Sim 
Several of the choreographers chose to explore deep abstract themes, but one of the most successful and best resolved works was inspired by buzzing mosquitos. WAAPA student, Tanya Brown incorporated slapping noises and quirky movement to create a witty, amusing work for four dancers called “Buzz Off”.  Excellent music choice and an imaginative finale involving two dying R & J mosquitos added to the fun.

(Limits at infinity, approaching zero) by Chad McLachlan
Chad McLachlan and Ryan Stone

“(Limits at infinity, approaching zero)” by  VCA student, Chad McLachlan, was also notable for its imaginative use of video images projected on to the bodies of the two white clad male dancers who performed complex repetitive movements against a neutral background to a driving soundtrack also composed by McLachlan.

NZSD student Sam Hall’s “Earth V.2” was an absorbing and well-prepared work for six dancers, incorporating unison and free-form sections to explore concepts of how people might cope with the destruction of the earth’s biosphere. This work was particularly notable for the well-staged struggle for leadership supremacy by two male dancers.   

For her work “Disambiguation”, Falmouth University (UK) student, Melanie Kerr, made striking use of white masks for her exploration of stereotyping. The work included some lovely unison sections which were well managed by her four dancers.

"Impetus" by Ayesha Katz
Nasim Patel (on Floor), Luke Fryer, Sam Hall, Oonagh Slater
Photo: Lorna Sim
By contrast, WAAPA student, Ayesha Katz, in her work “Impetus”, for seven dancers, utilised free-flowing structured improvisation, performed to a haunting soundtrack, to create an abstract, lyrical piece of considerable beauty.  

The one solo piece in the program was a dense piece entitled “When the Wolves Turn Blue” given a strong performance by the choreographer, Dean-Ryan Lincoln, from WAAPA, to his own composition of the same name.

The final work on the program was a delightfully playful, circusy piece by VCA student, Amanda Lee, called simply “Experiment”. Posing the question “What if we never lost our magical sense of imagination and creativity we had as children” and performed to a varied  soundscape incorporating spoken word and music, Lee’s five dancers enthusiastically embraced their inner child, mimed funny dialogue and bombarded the audience with hundreds of multi-coloured balloons. While it did flag a bit towards the end, “Experiment” provided an unexpected and joyful finale to the performance.

As with all QL2 Dance presentations, “On Course 2014” was impeccably stage managed, the costumes were simple but appropriate, the sound and lighting excellent. In their comments at the post-show forum, the choreographers and dancers were fulsome in their appreciation of the advice and mentorship of Ruth Osborne and Adelina Larsson.

The dancers, some of whom performed in several works, were well-prepared and disciplined. Given the limited time they have had to work on these works – just two weeks – and given that the focus of the program is on the choreography rather than the dancing - the standard of dancing throughout was very impressive, including that of several of the choreographers who danced in works other than their own.  While it might seem unfair to single out particular dancers, it would be equally remiss not to mention the work of Ryan Stone, whose strongly committed performances enhanced several of the works.

 Apart from providing an entertaining, often enlightening evening of contemporary dance, “On Course” also acts as valuable and fascinating microcosm of current dance trends in our tertiary dance institutions, as the young choreographers inevitably reflect these influences in their works, as they each strive to identify their own individual choreographic voice.

       This review first published in the December 15th digital edition of "CITY NEWS"



Sunday, December 14, 2014

QL2 Dance – ‘On Course 2014’

QL2 Theatre, Gorman House
13 – 14 December 2014

Review by Len Power 13 December 2014

QL2 Dance’s final program for the year brings together current dance students from tertiary institutions across Australia to choreograph, collaborate and perform.  They are joined by current Quantum Leapers who have the opportunity to participate as dancers, working alongside the tertiary students.  This year seven works were presented and were introduced prior to each performance by the respective choreographer.

Sam Hall from the New Zealand School Of Dance (NZSD) presented ‘Earth V.2’, a a discussion on how we might individually cope if earth was destroyed and we had to start a new life on another planet.  This was a finely detailed work with a strong and clear message, nicely danced by a group of six.

‘Disambiguation’ was choreographed by Australian, Melanie Kerr now studying at Falmouth University in the United Kingdom.  A study of stereotyping and how it impacts on our society, the use of masks gave this clever work an almost dream-like quality.

Utilizing film, music and live dance in ‘(Limits at infinity, approaching zero)’, Chad McLachlan, from the Victorian College Of The Arts (VCA) choreographed, and also danced with Ryan Stone, a visually original concept where film seemed to mirror and blend with live dance.

‘Impetus’, by Ayesha Katz, currently studying at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), was a beautiful work about energy and motion.  Equally lyrical and dramatic, there were great solo elements as well as excellent ensemble work with the dancers plus a good choice of music.

Dean-Ryan Lincoln, also from WAAPA, presented and danced a deeply thoughtful solo work about mind and body, knowledge and the aim to achieve called, ‘When The Wolves Turn Blue’.

Tanya Brown, another student from WAAPA, gave us an amusing and witty piece called ‘Buzz Off!’ which started with the idea ‘If only our thoughts were as easy to kill as mosquitoes’.

‘Experiment’ by Amanda Lee from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) was a joyous work asking, ‘What if we never lost our magical sense of imagination and creativity we had as children?’  It was imaginative and a delightful end to the program.

All seven works were of a high standard showing great creativity and a clear sense of purpose.  The choreographers were well-served by the dancers who performed with confidence throughout the program.

This was a stimulating and entertaining dance program that was a delight to attend.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 14 December 2014 from 5pm.