Thursday, May 31, 2018


By Kate Hamill based on the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Geordie Brookman
State Theatre Company South Australia
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 2 June

Reviewed by Len Power 30 May 2018

When a play based on a Jane Austen novel written in 1811 begins with actors charging around on roller skates, you know you’re in for something completely different.

Due to reduced financial circumstances following their father’s death, three young Dashwood sisters and their widowed mother are forced to move to a cottage on the estate of a distant relative.  There the sisters experience romance, heartbreak and love.

The State Theatre Company South Australia Ensemble production, directed by Geordie Brookman, is a delight from start to finish.  It may be quirky in its presentation but Jane Austin purists need not be alarmed.  While very funny, the show is not just played for laughs.  It really captures the manners and morals of the period, the spirit and humour of Jane Austen’s writing and her appealing characters.

New York City actor/playwright, Kate Hamill’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was one of 2016’s top ten most produced plays.  She captures the essence of the novel and Jane Austin’s style of writing while giving it an accessible theatricality.

The Ensemble on Ailsa Paterson's set - note the ostrich feather chandelier!

Every member of the ensemble of actors gives a terrific performance, many in multiple roles that even require gender changes.  It’s a very physical production, requiring split second timing, comedic skills and a deep understanding of the period and characters.  Miranda Daughtry as Marianne Dashwood and Anna Steen as Elinor Dashwood give standout performances as the two sisters involved in romances.

From left: Anna Steen as Elinor Dashwood and Miranda Daughtry as Marianne Dashwood

The action plays out on a beautiful period set designed by Ailsa Patterson who also designed the fabulous costumes.  The lighting design by Geoff Cobham is spectacularly atmospheric.  The choice of music by Stuart Day and the cast works very well.

Director, Geordie Brookman’s work with the ensemble is as close to perfection as you could get.  He gives us a truly magical theatrical experience, leading us through the charming story with great skill, finding fun in the unlikeliest of moments and still managing to move us emotionally at the culmination of the story.

One of the best productions seen in Canberra so far this year, it’s not to be missed.

Photos by David James McCarthy

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.


Adapted by F. Andrew Leslie from the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Tempo Theatre
Directed by Kim Wilson
Belconnen Community Theatre to June 2

Reviewed by Len Power 25 May 2018

‘The Hound Of the Baskervilles’, featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective, Sherlock Holmes, has had numerous cinema, radio and theatre adaptations since it was first published in 1902.

Holmes and his faithful companion, Dr. Watson, investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville at his estate in Devon.  Sir Charles appears to have fallen victim to a family curse in which his ancestor, Sir Hugo, was killed by a giant hound, possibly of supernatural origin.

Tempo’s production, directed by Kim Wilson, has some nice performances from the cast of nine.  Peter Fock is a fine Dr. Watson, capturing the period style and character very well.  Phillip Meddows has the right physical look as Sherlock Holmes and plays him with an amusing haughtiness.

Sir Henry Baskerville is played by Daniel Berthon with the confidence and style that gives him believability as an aristocrat.  The other actors in the supporting roles all give nicely drawn characterisations.  Some of the less-experienced performers need to learn to project their voices and take more care with their diction.

Producing this adaptation is a challenge as the action has to move from Holmes’ chambers in Baker Street, London, to Baskerville Hall in Devon.  With the limited staging facilities available at the Belconnen Theatre, the director has understandably opted not to change the set for the different scene.  This might be confusing for audience members who don’t have a program.

American, F. Andrew Leslie, has written an uninspiring adaptation.  There is very little action and too much exposition by characters onstage telling us what happened off-stage or in the past.  It sounded more like a radio play but it was written for stage performance.

Director, Kim Wilson, kept the pace going nicely and the actors picked up their cues quickly but it’s a very static production and he needed to find more ways to break up the long conversation sequences.

In spite of the adaptation’s flaws, this Sherlock Holmes story is ingenious and Tempo has given it an entertaining production.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 26 May.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.

Monday, May 28, 2018


Music by Franz Lehar – Scenario by Robert Helpmann – Choreographed by Ronald Hynd

Music arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchbery

Set and Costumes designed by Desmond Heeley – Lightning designed by Francis Croese

The Australian Ballet – Canberra Theatre 25 -30th May.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens
Lana Jones and artists of the Australian Ballet 

When Robert Helpmann conceived this version of “The Merry Widow” for The Australian Ballet in 1975, he created the jewel in the crown of the Company’s repertoire, an enduring and popular work which has become a modern classic.

The company toured “The Merry Widow” through the United States in 1976, with Margot Fonteyn as guest artist in the role of Hanna, and though the ballet has been revived several times by the company since then, this particular revival is part of Artistic Director, David McAllister’s 2018 program celebrating works created for the company. Indeed McAllister himself first danced in this ballet in 1985, and will perform the role of Njegus in Canberra during this season.

Set in Paris during the Belle Époque, with gorgeous Art Nouveau settings and costumes by Desmond Heeley, and a lush score devised by John Lanchbery from Franz Lehar’s music for the operetta of the same name, “The Merry Widow” depicts the conniving’s of members of the Pontevedrian Embassy to marry off its wealthiest citizen, Hanna Glawari, to a compatriot in an effort to save the country from bankruptcy. The revelation that the intended match, the dashing Count Danilo, once broke Hanna’s heart puts the cat among the pigeons and joyful mayhem ensues in a succession of delightful plot twists.
Lana Jones as The Merry Widow 

In a thrilling star performance, Lana Jones transcended technique to create an elegant, glamorous Hanna Glawari, dancing with impeccable phrasing, and imbuing her acting with just the right touch of wry humour to captivate her audience and her dashing Danilo, Adam Bull, wonderfully funny in his attempts to resist his inevitable seduction.

Real-life husband and wife, Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo, delighted as the young wife and her suitor who are constantly thwarted in their efforts to engage in an adulterous affair. It was a particular joy to see eighty-three-year-old, Colin Peasley, still stealing belly-laughs, or being heart-breakingly poignant as the cuckolded Baron Mirko Zeta in the role he created in the original production in 1975.

The obvious care with which this production has been remounted was evident in the precision  of the dancing of the many spectacular ensemble dances, and the relish with which the many cameo roles were interpreted among which Franco Leo (Njegus), Brett Simon (Kromow) Brodie James(Pritschitsch), Marcus Morelli (Pontevedrian Dancer) and Luke Marchant (Maître d’) were stand-outs.
Lana Jones and male ensemble 

Adding icing to this delicious concoction was the performance of John Lanchbery’ intoxicating score which has rarely sounded better than as performed on this occasion by Orchestra Victoria under the exuberant baton of Simon Thew.

She may be in her forties, but at her 427th performance, The Merry Widow is carrying her age well.  

                                                      Photos by Daniel Boud

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 26th May 2018


Devised by Peter J. Adams - Directed by Jason Langley

Musical Direction by Michael Tyack

Lighting design by Trudy Dalgleish

Produced by Christine Dunstan Production,
The Playhouse - Canberra Theatre Centre

Performance on 21st May reviewed by Bill Stephens

Between them, Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney can boast nearly 90 years of performing on stage in plays, musicals and variety.  Their paths first crossed when Hayes was starring in the musical “42nd Street” and McKenney was performing a featured role.  Later they toured together in a hugely successful tour of the play “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks”.

“Bosom Buddies” is an elegantly constructed biographical show in which they share stories of the shows in which they have appeared together, and separately. It’s a masterclass in stagecraft, a lesson in Australian music theatre history and sheer delight from beginning to end.

Stylishly directed by Jason Langley on an elegantly dressed stage on which two comfortable lounge chairs occupy one side, and two director’s chairs emblazoned with the artists names are set on the other.  Suspended above, a gold-framed screen on which, through-out the show, archival film highlights and photographs are projected, commencing with the overture during which a cleverly edited montage of film from Australian national productions including  “Chicago”, “Crazy For You”, The Boy from Oz” and  “Annie”, set the mood.

Later in the program they sing a brilliantly constructed medley of songs from every show in which they have appeared, which provides a tantalizing memory test for the aficionados in the audience.

Except for a Q & A towards the end, the show is tightly scripted, but so skillfully delivered that it feels spontaneous. Both are master story-tellers. Their descriptions of their on-stage experiences are most often self-deprecating, and always hilarious.  Not all the filmed sequences are laudatory, especially the one of McKenney coming a cropper during a performance of “42nd Street”,  and neither resists the temptation to pepper the films with cheeky jibes at the other’s performance in them, much to the delight of the audience.  

But as fascinating as the archival film is, it is the moments when they re-create, mostly briefly, their performances at certain key points in their careers, which make this show so unforgettable. When Hayes sings a snatch of the title song for  “Cabaret”, in which she starred in the first Australian production, or “Adelaide’s Lament” from “Guys and Dolls”, or when McKenney , with just a dab of make-up and a snippet of  “Money, Money, Money”, re-creates his interpretation of  the decadent MC in a later iteration of “Cabaret”, or later  dueting with a film of Peter Allen singing a moving version of “Tentafield Saddler”, the audience becomes privy to an extraordinary glimpse at what it is about these two artists which have allowed them both to reach  the peak of their profession.

Their costumes thoughout are impeccable, and the changes subtle, as is Trudy Dalgleish’s lighting design. The superb recorded musical arrangements by Michael Tyack allow transitions between filmed soundtracks and live performance to be achieved gracefully…and yes they dance … wonderfully …individually and together.

This beautifully crafted show is currently enjoying an extensive regional tour. However, Sydney-siders will have an opportunity to catch it at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre on 3rd June. It will also be performed in Adelaide as part of the 2018 Adelaide Cabaret Festival on 10th and 11th June. Don’t miss it.

              This review first published in Australian Arts Review.

PRISCILLA - Queen of the Desert - The Musical

Book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott – Designed by Brian Thomson
Costumes by Tim Chappell and Lizzy Gardiner

Choreographed by Ross Coleman and Andrew Hallsworth

Musical Arrangements, Direction and Supervision by Stephen (Spud) Murphy

Music Direction by Stephen Gray - Lighting designed by Nick Schlieper

Directed by Simon Phillips
The Capitol Theatre, Sydney until Saturday, 21st July 2018

Performance on Sunday 13th May reviewed by Bill Stephens

David Harris (Tick), Euan Doidge (Felicia), Tony Sheldon (Bernadette)
It seemed like all Sydney was out to welcome Priscilla back home. Since her world premiere performance in the Lyric Theatre Sydney in October 2006, Priscilla has trundled around the world delighting audiences on Broadway and the West End and visiting 29 countries and 134 cities, even cruise boats, before finally returning to her roots for this 10th Anniversary celebratory hurrah.

Particularly significant on this tour is the presence of Tony Sheldon reprising the role of Bernadette. Sheldon originated this role when the show was in workshops. His performance created such an impact that he has continued to play her for more than 1700 performances  in Australia, New Zealand, London, Toronto and on Broadway,  winning numerous prestigious awards and nominations along the way. His first entrance was greeted with appropriately thunderous applause.  
An added delight was the return of another original cast member, Lena Cruz, as Cynthia, still enthusiastically performing her outrageous ping-pong ball routine.  

Lena Cruz as Cynthia 
But back to Priscilla…how does the old girl look after all these miles?  Well! To be honest, a little bit the worse for wear.  She seems rather smaller than remembered, and Tim Chappell and Lizzy Gardiner’s wonderful costume designs appear less extravagant than before, particularly the cake-out-in-the-rain and paint-brush costumes. Elsewhere there are minor changes which have streamlined the production, and clarified details of the plot.

But the heart is all there though, and an enthusiastic new cast applies their particular talents to honouring the well-established template of the adventures of three drag-queens who drive their bus through Central Australia, son that one of them, Tick, can meet his previously unacknowledged son.

As Tick, David Harris brings an inherent dignity and a sense of playfulness to his characterization, which neatly offsets the maddening impetuosity of Euan Doidge’s Felicia. Tick’s eventual meeting with his son, played charmingly on this occasion by Xion Jarvis, provides a remarkably moving moment.

David Harris (Tick), Tony Sheldon (Bernadette, Euan Doidge (Felicia) 
Euan Doidge looks terrific in his costumes and skillfully charts Felicia’s growing maturity gained from her adventures throughout the journey.

Tony Sheldon’s superbly honed performance as the ever-gracious and wise, Bernadette,   anchors the trio and his burgeoning relationship with the Bob, the mechanic (another terrific characterization from Robert Grubb) is delightfully portrayed by both actors.
"I Will Survive" - "Priscilla - Queen of the Desert" 
As before, the staging of the musical numbers, with the three divas floating above the stage, is spectacular, joyful and often very funny, and Simon Phillips spot-on direction insures that this iteration of “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert” will continue to delight a whole new generation of theatre-goers, and confirm the memories of  those returning for a second helping, that this magical show is as good as they remembered.  

Adele Parkinson (Marion),Robert Grubb (Bob), Tony Sheldon (Bernadette) Blake Appelqvist (Miss Understanding) 

                                                           Photos by Ben Symons 

             This review first published in Australian Arts Review.



Sunday, May 27, 2018


Still Point Turning - The Catherine McGregor Story. 

Staged and directed by Priscilla Jackman from verbatim interviews with Catherine McGregor. Designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell. Lighting by Nick Schlieper. Composer and Sound Designer. Steve Francis. Wharf 1. Sydney Theatre Company. April 21 to May 26 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.

Heather MItchell as Catherine McGregor
An Extraordinary Life. That could as well  have been the title of Priscilla Jackman’s dramatic staging of Catherine McGregor’s remarkable life. Soldier, cricket commentator, columnist, advocate, recipient of the Order of Australia, Queensland Australian of the Year, nominee for Australian of the Year and Trans woman, McGregor ‘s remarkable life and achievements are chronicled in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of  Still Point Turning.

Director, Priscilla Jackman has drawn on countless hours of interviews and correspondence with Catherine McGregor to dramatically portray McGregor's  journey from her biological birth as Malcolm McGregor to her eventual  transition to the female gender, a need that McGregor recognized as early as eight years of age, but which did not reach a crisis point until she was diagnosed as trans by Cornelius Greenaway, while working in the Head Office of the N.S.W. Labour Party.

There is nothing dry however about Jackman’s sensitive, poignant and powerfully moving dramatization of McGregor’s life. In less than two hours, she is able to encapsulate the drama, conflict and profound humanity that is at the very heart of a remarkable human being’s life. It could be so easy to sentimentalize, glamourize or embellish a life lived in so many chapters of the human condition. And yet this is so very carefully avoided. McGregor has been totally honest in her revelations. Her struggle with her gender identity, her testosterone charged heterosexuality as a military officer, serving in East Timor as a commanding officer, her marriage,  and her psychological and physical decline into alcoholism. The dreaded spectre of gender dysphoria is ever present, and with it the pervasive fear of death as she asks the nurse in the opening scene, “Will I wake up”?

Ashley Lyons as Malcolm McGregor
Jackman’s direction appropriately observes the significance of her task to bring McGregor’s life story to the stage. Her approach is simple, economical and strikingly effective in its clear focus. She is assisted by Michael Scott Mitchell’s functional and effective design. Much of the action takes place on an open stage. A translucent curtain is used to bring on a hospital bed and a unicorn in a Les Girls sequence. A chair will appear but much of the movement is played out on the floor as actors appear. Drama workshop techniques serve to express McGregor’s experience through  trust work and physical theatre action. It all serves the directness of the story and the emotional impact of each circumstance.  Malcolm’s descent into decadence and debilitating alcoholism isvivifdly captured in the one opulent scene at Les Girls.
Andrew Guy as Young Malcolm. Georgina Symes as Ayla Holdom

Jackman’s casting is excellent. Although the play revolves around Heather Mitchell’s performance as Catherine McGregor, she is supported by an outstanding ensemble who briefly capture the characters who pass through McGregor’s life and McGregor during her life as a male. Nicholas Brown imbues Indian cricketing legend, Rahul Dravid with a wisdom and calming spirituality that helps McGregor through her torment. Andrew Guy captures the insecurity of young Malcolm, intimidated by an overbearing father. Chantelle Jamieson gives a very heart-warming performance as a Qantas official, who demonstrates compassion and understanding  when McGregor is preparing to present herself as a woman with her male ID. As Ayla Holdom, the transgender British helicopter pilot and very close friend, Georgina Symes is the gentle voice of companionship, shared experience and affectionate compassion. As Malcolm McGregor, Ashley Lyons tears apart preconception and assumed stereotype. He is all male, conditioned by a belittling father who died when he was eight, conditioned by his stern military training and battling the trauma of expectation and inner conflict.

As Catherine McGregor, Mitchell gives an utterly galvanizing performance. She reaches far beneath the physical persona to plummet the depths of psyche and desire. Forthright and honest, a trans woman who has arrived at the point of knowing thyself, cracking any trace of self pity or indulgence with a strident, impulsive laugh and a liberal layering of the F word, she makes us fascinated spectators. At times she addresses people in the front row, releasing tension but forever aware of the importance of her story and the person she plays upon the intimate Wharf Theatre stage.Though not perhaps as tall as Catherine McGregor, Mitchell gives a towering performance and is every bit the embodiment of the woman seen on television or read in print or spoken about in the programme.

Still Point Turning is more than a play about Catherine McGregor. It is a lesson in humanity, a cry for compassion, a plea for understanding and a salute to difference. It is an assault on prejudice and a jolt to complacency. As Rahul was an inspiration to McGregor, McGregor is an inspiration to all those who struggle with identity, who are cast cruelly into the shadows of society and who deserve the right to stand in the light and be recognized for whom they are.

My hope is that Still Point Turning will come to Canberra next year, and from there to other parts of the nation. It is a play that must be seen by all. Funny and sad, powerful and profound,it shines a light through the darkness and we are the better for it.