Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Review © Jane Freebury

After a hasty set-up at an airport closed due to bad weather, The Mountain Between Us delivers us onto a snowbound mountainside when a small plane crashes in the wilderness. The first and pressing challenge for the two passengers who survive is finding their way down to safety.

The second order challenge, as the title suggests, is getting to know and understand each other along the way.

It was an unscheduled flight, risky in bad weather, and the aging pilot who succumbed to heart failure died in the crash. The two survivors have landed in the middle of nowhere with the pilot’s pet labrador for company, a welcome valiant third party, there to help.

I guess we could call this uncertain venture a romance adventure. It certainly has two handsome leads up front: Kate Winslet as photojournalist Alex, and Idris Elba as Ben, a British neurosurgeon. They start out as total strangers. Alex was on her way to her own wedding while Ben had an urgent assignment to attend to.

Neither has that much time for the other to begin with. Alex is a rather noisy, emoting, headstrong American, while he’s more introspective and withholding. A typical bloke or typical Brit?  Was this was going to become a battle of the sexes in wild and wintry conditions?

Alex is frustrated by Ben’s non-disclosure. After all, they only have each other for company and could well die together.

If the occasional mountain lion, bear or wolf doesn’t find them, then they will surely succumb to the freezing temperatures, slip off a treacherous slope or slip into an icebound lake.

Although the situation the pair find themselves in is dire,  The Mountain Between Us doesn't deliver on that score. This is despite Mandy Walker on board as cinematographer. She is Australian and the cinematographer behind Lantana, The Well and Tracks. Despite her powerful images of the grand mountain wilderness of Columbia, the drama doesn't engage.

To its great credit, The Mountain Between Us makes absolutely nothing of race, the most obvious difference between the pair. Perhaps the fact that Ben is British gets around this, somewhat.

The mountain between them has nothing at all to do with race, and everything to do with personality and temperament. To a lesser extent it's about being female and male.

If it had been a battle of the sexes, with a Cary Grant and a Katharine Hepburn, how much more entertaining it could have been.The Mountain Between Us was an opportunity for some sparring between the male and the female of the species.

If a battle of the sexes is your thing, go see the excellent current The Battle of the Sexes, with Emma Stone and Steve Carell, while it's still screening.

It is interesting that the director, Hany Abu-Assad, was brought on board. The credits of this Dutch-Palestinian fiction feature and documentary filmmaker include an astonishing film, Paradise Now, about Arab suicide bombers preparing themselves.

His wasted presence and that of his stars and cinematographer all go to show that you can bring promising elements together, but you can't guarantee anything without the underpinning of a good screenplay.

The Mountain Between Us is old-fashioned, clunky action adventure with romance thrown in for good measure. It feels so by the book with thrills that only occasionally feel real.

The dull writing doesn’t offer two terrific actors very much to work with. Why they each became involved in the project is difficult to understand.

Rated M, 1 hour 52 minutes
2 Stars

Also published at Jane's blog and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

Monday, October 30, 2017


Directed by Tobias Cole - Musical Direction by Brett Weymark
Designed by Imogen Keen - Lighting designed by Cynthia Jolley-Rogers
Choreographed by Belynda Buck - Presented by Handel in the Theatre
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, 28TH and 29th October 2017,

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

If the standard achieved by this production of Handel’s first oratorio, “Esther” is anything to go by, then Tobias Cole’s ambitions for his fledgling baroque opera company, Handel in the Theatre, may well prove achievable. Cole has harnessed impressive resources, including some very fine voices, to achieve a cohesive and entertaining account of this esoteric work.

Originally composed by Handel as a masque in 1718, and then heavily revised into a full oratorio in 1732, “Esther” tells the story of an orphan, Esther (Janet Todd) who is selected by the King of Persia (Tobias Cole) to become his wife, unaware of her Jewish heritage.  On the advice of his Prime Minister, Haman (David Greco) the king has embarked on a plan to exterminate the Jews. When Esther hears of this from Mordecai (Sally-Anne Russell) she risks certain death by entering the Kings private chambers, unannounced, to plead with him to abandon his plan.

Baroque operas are generally quite static. The long heavily ornamented and repetitive vocal solos can become testing for contemporary audiences. Aware of this, Cole added some innovative touches to embellish his production. The protagonists, Mordecai and Haman, were introduced to the audience at the beginning of the opera with a masque-style interlude. Elsewhere he incorporated choreographed movement for his vocal ensemble to heighten the drama and add visual interest. He also included a second vocal ensemble, which he positioned, together with trumpeters, in the balconies surrounding the audience, creating a thrilling sonic tour de force for the stirring “Zadoc the Priest”, which commenced the second act.

The professionalism of the four leading characters with their fine singing, excellent diction and firm grasp of the stylised acting style, provided a firm anchor for the production.  Janet Todd was an appealing Esther, acting with conviction, and singing her complex solos and duets with confidence and authority. The warm mezzo-soprano of Sally-Anne Russell’s Mordecai, together with David Greco’s sonorous baritone for his glowering Haman, contrasting strikingly with Tobias Cole’s counter-tenor as the King, provided a fascinating aural palette for their various characterisations.

Keren Dalzell, Alison Richardson and Charles Hudson each contributed vocal highlights, while Marcel Cole provided a beautifully sustained elegant presence as the King’s attendant.

Commanding the musical resources, Brett Weymark achieved an excellent balance between singers and orchestra, drawing superb sound from the orchestra and disciplined singing from both ensembles to embellish the excellence of his principal singers.

The attractive setting and costumes, designed by Imogen Keen and realised by Cate Clelland, together with Cynthia Jolley-Rogers accomplished lighting design, provided an eye-pleasing environment for a production which has set a significantly high benchmark for this emerging, highly specialised, opera company.

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com  

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Music by G.F. Handel
Conducted by Brett Weymark
Directed by Tobias Cole
Handel in the Theatre
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 29 October

Reviewed by Len Power 28 October 2017

Generally acknowledged to be the first English oratorio, ‘Esther’ was originally composed in 1718, but was heavily revised into a full oratorio in 1732 including Handel’s coronation anthems ‘My Heart is Inditing’ and a version of  'Zadok the Priest’.  It’s troubling that hundreds of years after it was composed, the religious persecution theme of the show is still applicable today.

Esther, married to King Ahaseurus of Persia, is secretly Jewish.  The Prime Minister, Haman, orders the extermination of all Jews throughout the Persian empire.  Mordecai asks Esther to appeal to her husband to rescind the order, but she risks death if she approaches the King without being sent for.

Tobias Cole’s impressive production works on every level.  With a simple and gently humorous introduction to the work at the beginning, including an explanation of the characters, Cole gave the audience a clear understanding of the story about to be played out on stage.

There was impressive singing by all of the principles.  Janet Todd was a charming and believable Esther, Tobias Cole was a delightfully quirky King, Sally-Anne Russell was very moving as Mordecai and David Greco was a deeply sinister Haman.  Alison Richardson and Keren Dalzell gave heartfelt performances in the roles of the Israelites.

There was fine singing by the dramatic chorus and the addition of a balcony chorus in the coronation anthems produced a thrilling and all-enveloping sound.

The orchestra, conducted by Brett Weymark played the score superbly.  There was a good sound balance between the orchestra and the singers.

Production values for the show were high.  Imogen Keen designed the lavish and colourful set and period costumes and the lighting design by Cynthia Jolley-Rogers added considerably to the atmosphere of the show.

Particularly notable was the choreography by Belynda Buck who gave the dramatic chorus stylised but emotionally valid moves that added considerably to their musical performance.

This was a wonderful opportunity to hear Handel’s score beautifully played and sung.  That it was staged so well by Tobias Cole was an added bonus.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Friday, October 27, 2017


Presented by Hit Productions and Liz Beamish
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan 26th – 28th October, 2017.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

If ever there was a show in serious need of a script and a good director, then this is it. Despite some promising components including Liz Beamish, who’s also one of the producers, and who’s appeared professionally in the original Australian production of “Phantom of the Opera”, and in productions for Opera Australia and Opera Queensland. Her co-star, Lachlan Baker’s professional credits include such productions as “Les Miserables”, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita”.

There are also two teams of championship ballroom dancers. Rhett and Emma Salmon, who are the current professional championship holders of the World Dance Council Championship, and Jeremy Schneider and Jayne Di Bella who have also won ballroom dancing awards.

Despite there being an endless repertoire of Broadway songs celebrating dance in all its various forms, this show has little interest in them. Instead it consists of a mishmash of songs, some from musical theatre, some from opera, others from the popular song repertoire, not all wisely chosen, sung to karaoke backings, with no perceivable connection to the title or ballroom dancing. The songs are connected by fatuous prattle from the two singers and interrupted by the dancers who perform their routines, sometimes in the middle of a song, then disappear to change costumes.

There are lots of costumes, many quite lovely. Indeed, Beamish seemed more interested in her frocks than her songs. She confided that she makes them herself and encouraged applause for them on each entrance. But as admirable as they were, including the one splendid dress with 24 panels, they did not make up for the generally desultory treatment of the songs, or the slipshod presentation.

A couple of inept attempts at production numbers, notably for the poorly executed Habanera from “Carmen” and  “Love is in the Air”, and Lachlan Baker’s off-the-cuff efforts to inject some comedy into the proceedings only served to highlight the lack of rehearsal, and  paucity of  professional expertise.

While there were some in the audience who appeared to enjoy “From Broadway to Ballroom”, one can only contemplate how much more their enjoyment could have been enhanced had the producers invested in a script and a competent director to focus and stage the show.


The Imperial Russian Ballet Company
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre
 23rd October, 2017.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Under the artistic direction of Gediminas Taranda, The Imperial Russian Ballet Company, travels the world presenting productions of the great Russian ballet classics. It’s a regular visitor to Canberra where the company has built up a strong following, as evidenced by the enthusiastic audience which attended this performance.

Despite its demanding touring schedule, the company manages to maintain high production values with excellent sets and lavish costumes. The standard of the dancing too is impressively high, with Taranda demonstrating his knack of refreshing his productions with clever, choreographic interpolations which emphasis the strengths of his dancers without compromising the integrity of the original choreography.

This 2017 program consisted of a lively potted version of his production of “Don Quixote”, which the company had presented in full in 2014, “Bolero”, which it had previously presented in 2013, and seven short divertissements, of which only one, “Russian Waltz” was new to Canberra.

Lina Seveliova as Kitri in "Don Quixote" 

It was a pleasure to revisit this “Don Quixote”, which is danced to the familiar Minkus music with choreography by Taranda, based on Alexander Gorsky’s original. This version retains its elaborate painted settings and spectacular costumes, which, it must be noted, are beginning to show the effects of constant touring, cleverly compressing the storyline into a one hour presentation, while preserving the set pieces.

Vivaciously danced by the company, despite the demands of a heavy touring schedule, this production is notable for its spectacular ensemble dancing, and the clever use of fans by the women and capes by the men to create excitement and spectacle. It also features some scene-stealing clowning from Vitautas Taranda, as Kitri’s father.

A stunning dancer, absolutely on top of her technique, Lina Seveliova was a pert, pretty and delightfully mischievous Kitri. As Basilio, the object of her affections, tall and elegant, Sergey Kheylik was up to any challenge Kitri could put in his way. The chemistry between the pair provided the heartbeat for the production. Viorel Miron commanded the stage with some spectacular cape work as the swaggering toreador, Espada, as did Anna Pashkova as the sultry street dancer.

Anna Pashkova as the Street Dancer in "Don Quixote"

Pashkova’s powerful presence was also the centrepiece of Nikolay Androsov’s dramatic version of Ravel’s  “Bolero”. As The Godhead, seated high above the strikingly costumed ensemble, she dominated the stage. Then when she decended to the stage as the ballet progressed towards the stunning climax through an ever-changing  kaleidoscope of massed movement, her presence remained the focal point of the work.

The Imperial Russian Ballet Company ensemble in "Bolero" 

Later in the divertissement section, which commenced with a jolly little Melbourne Cup work choreographed by Taranda to the music of the William Tell Overture, Pashkova demonstrated her versatility in a technically exquisite performance of the classic “Dying Swan”.

Also in this section Irena Gharibyan and Sergey Kheylik thrilled with a dynamic performance of the “Le Corsaire” pas de deux, then later with an exquisite interpretation of the Act 11 pas de deux from “Giselle”.  Denys Simon astonished with his firecracker solo, “Gopak”, and Iuliia Ushakova and Viorel Miron charmed as they led the ensemble through an elegant piece choreographed by Taranda to the music of Shostakovich, entitled “Russian Waltz”.

Irena Gharibyan and Sergey Kheylik in "Le Cosaire" 

The program ended with another Taranda piece, a delightfully campy,  “Can Can Surprise”, in which a very tall, clumsy  ballerina, (Vladimir Dorofeev ) and her two diminutive escorts (Denys Simon and Viorel Miron) created havoc to the music of Offenbach, providing the perfect finale to a satisfying and entertaining evening of superb classical ballet.

This review also published in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com.au


Producer: Liza Beamish
Co-Producer Christine Harris and HIT Productions
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 28 October

Reviewed by Len Power 26 October 2017

The concept for ‘From Broadway to Ballroom’ is quite a good one – two singers present a range of well-known songs from Broadway musicals, opera and elsewhere in a production woven together with colourful, eye-catching ballroom dancing.

Producer, Liza Beamish, is also one of the two singers in the show.  She’s an appealing personality and there’s certainly a voice there.  She’s paired with Lachlan Baker, a big guy with a big voice but their singing was uneven during the performance.

The show needs an imaginative director to bring out the promising potential of the concept.  Currently, there’s minimal staging and the performers mostly stand still and sing with movement-limiting hand-held microphones.  Their banter between songs is too casual, often irrelevant and slows the show down.  It needs more thought and tighter scripting.

The two dancing couples, who have won ballroom dancing awards, performed well but better ways need to be found to showcase their work as part of the show.  Some of the dances seemed to have little to do with the songs.

With the stage of the Q Theatre opened up to its widest and deepest expanse, the vast playing area dwarfed all of the performers, especially when working at the back of the set in front of the huge white backdrop.

The women’s costumes were colourful and flattering.  Apart from that, there were just some colour changes on the backdrop and an occasional dappled light effect on the stage floor.

The music for the show was pre-recorded.  There were often long waits between announcing a song and the music starting.  The Andrew Lloyd Webber medley would have been better if the music for each song didn’t have to fade down before the next one came up.

The show is too long.  They should drop the unfunny Dean Martin number with Baker as a burping drunk and his awful ‘if-Elvis Presley-lived-to-be-an-old-man’ medley.

There’s potentially a good show here but it needs more work to make it soar.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

THE CARDINAL'S TEA SET - Come Alive Festival of Museum Theatre

The Cardinal's Tea Set.

 Devised and written by the drama students of Orana Steiner School. Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. Come Alive Festival of Museum Theatre. October 23 and 24 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. October 28 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Posted by Peter Wilkins

It is rare for performances by young people in schools, children's theatre companies or youth theatre companies to be reviewed. There are exceptions where, on occasion, a production may be featured on the Canberra Critics Circle BlogSpot. However, it is not customary.

I have posted here a comment made by an independent member of the audience after attending Tuesday night's performance of the Come Alive Festival, and commented on the production of The Cardinal's Tea Set by Orana Steiner School. Orana has presented theatre pieces at all eight Come Alive Festivals. Their work has been consistently applauded, and the comment I include here attests to that.

Dear All
"I have to tell you that the Orana students’ 60 minute theatre piece last night as part of “Come Alive” is phenomenal. I understand it will appear twice more in the festival. I really recommend seeing it – it’s clever, thought-provoking, beautifully well-acted – it was hard to remember these were students! Inspired by the Foster tea set, the piece is a representation of the experience of British child migrants, contrasting the social rules of polite society against how so many of those kids were so abysmally treated. It covered history, politics, and religion. It made me laugh, cry, and at times feel deeply, superbly uncomfortable.
I would rate it as the best piece of short theatre I’ve ever seen. Well worth seeing."
Bookings: Canberra Theatre 62752700
Tickets are $10 at the door.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Review © Jane Freebury

Final Portrait, from the actor and occasional director Stanley Tucci, is a footnote to the life and work of sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti. It spans a few days in 1964, and is confined to the studio except for a few exterior scenes in Paris, the Swiss artist’s home since the 1920s.

Geoffrey Rush is an excellent casting choice as Giacometti, as he keeps his theatrical instincts under wraps. And he looks so much like the artist did in later life.

Writer and director Tucci is unduly interested in what the artist didn’t accomplish, in the self-doubt and angst he experienced taking his work to completion. Neither agony nor ecstasy, just messy.

On the home front, his domestic life involves a put-upon wife (Sylvie Testud) and the young prostitute who lived nearby. Bi-lingual actress Clemence Poesy lights up the screen as Caroline the flighty lover who Giacometti is obsessed with.

A brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub), a fellow artist who lives upstairs, has some countervailing influence.

Most of the screen time is spent in Giacometti’s studio, where his spindly, sculpted figures stand around in various stages of completion, waiting for final sign off.

At the heart of it all, is the relationship with James Lord (Armie Hammer), a writer and art critic visiting Paris at the time. Giacometti has asked Lord if he can paint his portrait, because, he says, he looks ‘interesting’.

The painting will only take a short while, perhaps an afternoon.

But soon he is grumbling crossly at Lord that he’ll never be able to paint him as he sees him,’ as though his subject’s matinee idol good looks were his fault. Lord takes his manly self to the swimming pool to settle his nerves.

Was Giacometti trying to disassemble those good looks, but found he couldn’t credibly do it? It’s a bit of a shock when he tells Lord with some antipathy that he has the head of ‘a brute’, and it needs a hint of explanation.

In fact, it eventually took 18 sittings to paint Lord who we see re-scheduling and re-scheduling yet again his flight back to New York.

In between times, the two men stroll through Pere Lachaise cemetery and drop into bars, while work on the portrait is deferred, or simply erased before the next sitting session.

Did Giacometti revel in difficulties he was unable to resolve? Seems he had a perverse determination ‘to remain unsatisfied’.

Lord admired Giacometti, and was probably flattered by the interest that the artist took in him. From the perspective of a gay man, Lord may have been intrigued and privately amused by the knots that the artist and his retinue had made for themselves.

Tucci, whose fifth turn at film directing this is, allows the interactions to develop at a leisurely pace in his elegant, gentle but slight film.

Final Portrait is based on the book by Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, which was published in 1965, a year after the events of this film. Lord subsequently wrote a full biography of the artist twenty years later.

Perhaps Tucci should have used that as his inspiration. Final Portrait is on the slight side, and barely engages.

I admired the first film Tucci directed, Big Night. It had verve and vibrancy, while Final Portrait is contemplative, with an altogether different mood.

It wants us to consider an artist and his foibles, and the torturous artistic process behind those spindly sculpted figures that Giacometti is famous for. But at the end of it, this portrait of the artist as an older man doesn’t reveal a character much more fleshed out than his sculptures.

Rated M, 90 minutes

3 Stars

Jane's reviews are also published on Jane's blog and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

Sunday, October 22, 2017


National Capital Orchestra
Musical Director and Conductor: Leonard Weiss
Dimity Hall, Violin
Julian Smiles, Cello
Llewellyn Hall 21 October 2017

Reviewed by Len Power

The National Capital Orchestra’s latest concert, under the baton of Leonard Weiss, focussed on three very different works, each providing a stimulating and entertaining experience for the audience.

The evening commenced with ‘Chambers Of The South’, composed by Natalie Williams in 2001.  The work was inspired by a photograph of the Pleiades star cluster by astro-photographer David Malin at an exhibition in Adelaide in 1997.  The colours and form of the formation are reflected in the different texture and tone colours of her composition.  It’s a beautiful work, shimmering with atmosphere and colour and it was played extremely well by the orchestra.

It was followed by ‘Queen of Sheba’, a four movement suite by Ottorino Respighi from his epic 1932 ballet, ‘Belkis, Queen of Sheba’.  As with other compositions by Respighi, it’s a highly visual work with sensual dance music and romantic themes creating a mysterious world around the story of Solomon and Sheba.  The four movements vary considerably from romantic dream sequences to a war dance and leading to a final movement of orgiastic dance.  The orchestra was impressive in the quieter sequences and the finale was spectacularly played with clarity and full colour.

In the second half of the program, violinist, Dimity Hall and cellist, Julian Smiles, joined the orchestra for Brahms’ Double Concerto.  Composed in 1887, it is apparently not frequently performed today, perhaps because of the requirement of two equally matched virtuosic performances.  Both Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles showed that they were more than equal to the task, playing with precision and great feeling and supported with fine playing by the orchestra.  This work may be more familiar from recordings but to see it played live gives it another dimension, watching the performers passing the melody back and forth, creating the illusion of a single instrument.

This was another evening of fine music by the National Capital Orchestra.  The musical director, Leonard Weiss, took the opportunity during the concert to announce a particularly exciting program for 2018.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.