Sunday, September 30, 2018


Rebecca Hetherington as Josephine 

 Directed by Jonathan Biggins – Composed by Phillip Scott

Choreographed by Tim Harbour – Designed by James Browne

Lighting designed by Emma Lockhart-Wilson
Presented by Monkey Baa Theatre Company

Canberra Theatre – 29th September 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The foyer was awash with littlies in favourite tutus of all shapes and sizes. Some earnestly practiced on the barre and mirrors thoughtfully provided by the presenters. Others, including quite a few boys sans tutu, happily posed for photographs by doting grandmas and fathers in front of a cut-out on which a couple of tutus had been pinned. Many clutched copies of the little book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley which inspired this production. All could hardly contain their excitement at the prospect of seeing their favourite Kangaroo brought to life on stage.

Chloe Dallimore - Amanda Laing - Hayden Rogers - Rebecca Hetherington (partly obscured)
"Josephine Wants To Dance"
This rather magical little production, produced by Monkey Bar Theatre, is aimed at children aged 4 – 9. Those children turned up in their hundreds. None were disappointed, for as the lights went down audible gasps of excitement could be heard around the auditorium as, one by one, four large grey kangaroos took the stage, preened themselves, and the story of how one of them, Josephine, saved the ballet company with her remarkable ability to dance enpointe.

The production is beautifully mounted with a charming story-book setting designed by James Browne. Elements of the set were manipulated by the cast to represent indoor and outdoor scenes. Rebecca Hetherington was a sprightly Josephine, who really could dance although no-one believed that she could.  All the other characters were charmingly interpreted by Chloe Dallimore, Amanda Laing and Hayden Rogers, all of whom changed costumes and characters so quickly and expertly that it really felt like the cast was very much larger.

Chloe Dallimore and Hayden Rogers 
"Josephine Wants To Dance"
Jonathan Biggins directed with his customary attention to detail and style. Phillip Scott created an enchanting score which included cute songs with simple, concise lyrics to illuminate the story. Scott interwove his dance music with references of famous ballet music to match the authenticity of Tim Harbour’s affectionate choreography for the dance scenes.

You could hear a pin drop in the large auditorium as the audience became caught up in the story, told in simple, but not simplistic, language and scrupulously avoiding any hint of talking down to the young audience or the time-wasting audience participation that blemishes so much theatre in this genre.

Hayden Rogers -Amanda Laing - Chloe Dallimore and Rebecca Hetherington 
"Josephine Wants To Dance"
“Josephine Wants To Dance”, with its excellent production values and quality performers adds further gloss to Monkey Baa Theatre Company’s already stellar reputation for producing and touring quality children’s theatre.

                                                                      Photos by Heidrun Lohr
        This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.




Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Director: Ylaria Rogers
Free-Rain Theatre Company
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 14 October

Reviewed by Len Power 29 September 2018

‘Shrek the Musical’ was designed to meet the expectations of an audience familiar with the story from the earlier film version.  It doesn’t try to be anything else and on that level it succeeds very well.  It’s a fun show for adults as well as children.

Based originally on the popular 2001 film ‘Shrek’ and William Steig's 1990 book ‘Shrek!’, the musical tells the story of a lonely ogre and a talkative donkey who are charged by the evil Lord Farquaad to rescue unexpectedly street-wise Princess Fiona from a castle and dragon so that he can marry her.  In return, Shrek will receive the deed to his swamp.  Of course, nothing goes exactly as planned in this fairy tale with a modern cynical edge but it all ends happily.

Director, Ylaria Rogers, has given the show a fast-moving production with strong characterisations.  Max Gambale plays and sings the title character endearingly and Joel Hutchings is great fun as the donkey who talks too much.

Laura Murphy gives a terrific acting and singing performance as Princess Fiona, capturing every nuance of this bright character who is all conventional fairy-tale one minute and hard-bitten cynic the next.

Martin Searles is very funny as the evil Lord Farquaad, mining every moment of comedy from his role and Tegan Braithwaite, who plays multiple roles, is a strong singer who is outstanding as the voice of the dragon singing, ‘Forever’.

It’s impossible to mention every individual in the cast but everyone down to the smallest role has produced a nicely in-depth character.  There is fine singing by the members of the large ensemble.  The period costumes by Fiona Leach and her team are colourful but the set by Martin Searles, while practical for the multitude of scenes, needed more colour and detail overall.

Musical direction by Katrina Tang and Ian McLean was excellent with a strong and appealing performance by the orchestra.  Unfortunately, the sound design had the voices over-amplified causing a shrillness and distortion that made the lyrics hard to catch at times.

This isn’t a show you’ll remember for its music score but it has very entertaining and humorous performances from a winning cast which will delight everyone from young to old.

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

Friday, September 28, 2018

EVITA - Opera Australia and John Frost

Tina Arena as Eva Peron
Lyrics by Time Rice – Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Direction by Harold Prince – Choreographed by Larry Fuller

Designed by Timothy O’Brien – Lighting Design by Richard Winkler

Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre - Sydney Opera House until 3rd November.
Performance 19th September reviewed by Bill Stephens

Based on the events surrounding the rise to power of Eva Peron, “Evita” is a sung-through musical documenting the rise to the Presidency of Argentina of her husband, Juan Peron, because of a revolution organized by Eva. Beginning and ending with Eva’s funeral, it touches on her activities as the spiritual leader, (Santa Evita), the First Lady and Labour Chief of Argentina as seen through the eyes of the character, Che, based on the real life revolutionary, Che Guevara.

Having seen Patti Lupone perform the role of Eva Peron in the original Australian production, and other versions, both amateur and professional, the opportunity provided by Opera Australia’s excellent new production to refresh recollections of Hal Prince’s original staging was both enticing and enlightening.

Opera Australia's "Evita" 
Even forty years on, Prince’s dark Brechtian staging remains impressive, particularly his method of telling the story through the striking use of scaffolding, film and fluid, tightly focused ensemble movement. This technique has been adapted and incorporated into many contemporary musicals. “Jersey Boys”, currently on show in Sydney, immediately comes to mind.

Boasting one of Lloyd Webber’s best scores, in which almost every song is an ear-worm, and to which Rice’s biting, satirical lyrics are perfectly matched, the show makes huge demands on all the cast, but particularly its leading lady, who leaves the stage only to change costumes. 

As Evita, Tina Arena gives a star performance, wisely bringing her own interpretation to the role, but not as yet fully claiming it. On opening night her character still appeared more motivated by the direction than by her own responses to the events surrounding her.

Tina Arena (Eva Peron) - Kurt Kansley (Che) 
Her singing voice is lustrous, comfortable through the full range, whether cooing seductively in “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You”, or powering through the complexities of “Rainbow High”. You could hear a pin drop during her carefully phrased, spell-binding account of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”.

However, as lovely as her voice is, her articulation lacks the laser sharp clarity necessary to drive the all-important lyrics up the theatre. This was particularly noticeable in the eleven o’clock number, “You Must Love Me”. Not in the original production but clumsily interpolated here, this song was written for the Madonna movie. Fine for the film but not so fine for the stage, because, even though it is beautifully sung by Arena, this song is written for the lower vocal register, making it difficult to discern the lyrics which in any case seemed to be repeating the sentiments expressed in “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and therefore superfluous and oddly out of style.

Kurt Kansley, who plays the narrator, Che, also shared this problem. He interprets the character as unrelentingly cynical. It’s an arresting performance, but very two-dimensional, lacking even the fleeting hint of  admiration for Evita’s success that may have rescued it from becoming ultimately tiresome. More importantly, as his character is linking the storyline it’s vital that the audience hear his every word, and on opening night, despite his strong singing, many important lyrics were lost under the richness of the magnificent 29 piece orchestra.

Paulo Szot as Juan Peron 
Perhaps the biggest surprise of this production is Paulo Szot as Peron. Brazilian baritone, Szot, won a Tony Award for his Broadway performances as Emile De Becque in the Bartlett Scher version of “South Pacific”, the role played by Teddy Tahoe Rhodes when Opera Australia presented this production in Australia.  Szot has appeared in opera previously for Opera Australia and his commanding presence and warm resonant baritone imbues the role with thrilling gravitas.

Michael Falzon brings loads of charisma to his underwritten role as the smarmy tango singer, Magaldi, oozing his way through “On this Night of A Thousand Stars”, while newcomer, Alexis Van Maanen, in her professional debut, as the young mistress unceremoniously ousted by Eva, adds lustre to the evening with a superb account of her only song, “Another Suitcase In Another Hall”.

                                                            Photos by Jeff Busby

 This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.





Cockfight - The Farm

Review by John Lombard

Cockfight is theatre of absurd one-upmanship, where a battle for a job can be decided by who can munch and swallow the most office paper.

This physical theatre by company The Farm parodies office life by amplifying the everyday frustrations of desk life into absurd scenarios.

Gavin Webber plays a successful but deranged office worker, while Joshua Thomson is the motivated new employee.  The pair establish the new pecking order through a highly petty campaign of peacocking and feather ruffling.

For instance, in one sequence they battle over the arrangement of objects on a desk, eventually swapping objects around so quickly the action resembles the rapid flurry of three-card monte.  In another sequence, filing documents quickly becomes a game of competitive basketball.

What unites all of the parts of this genre-blending work is an interest in finding and unleashing restrained impulses: perhaps we have all felt like bashing a filing cabinet with a chair, but this piece shows what might happen if we actually did it.

When the pair launch into an elaborate pas-de-deux, it is not a pointless detour, but the unwanted intimacy of cubicle slavery exploding into physical form.

Strangely for a piece that depends so strongly on mime, it is not entirely silent, but has splotches of awkward, hesitant dialogue.  While this dialogue delivered some metaphors that the audience could use to guide interpretation of the piece, more often it burst the magic of the physical comedy.

The performance ultimately becomes strangely moving, as the paternity of this generational battle is explored: in one surreal but touching sequence, the pair’s neckties get tied together, and they flop around the stage while Cat Stevens’ ‘Father and Son’ plays.

Cockfight is barking mad, a slapstick comedy that draws frantic energy from modern dance.  A unique experience, and one to relish.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Joshus Thomson and Gavin Webber in Cockfight



Directed by Kate Harman., Julian Louis, Gavin Webber, Joshua Thompson.  Performed  by Joshua Thompson and Gavin Webber.  Directed by Kate Harman, Julian Louis, Joshua Thomson and Gavin Webber..  Lighting design by Mark Howatt. Lighting realiser. Chloe Ogilvie. Sound design. Luke Smiles. Set design. Joshua Thomson. Produced by The Farm in association with NORPA and Performing Lines. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. September 26 2018.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Anyone who has ever suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous office politics will identify with The Farm’s ingeniously staged Cockfight. Part dance, part circus, part sitcom and totally revelatory in its perceptive analysis of the human condition at its most ambitious, protective, devious and ruthless The Cockfight is the blood sport of upwardly mobile and the fight to the death of the assailed incumbent. The marketing hype describes Cockfight as “The Office on steroids”. Its physicality is breathtaking, gravity defying and perilously teetering on the precipice of physical and psychological injury.

Gavin (Gavin Webber) has been secure in his tenure as a middle management official, with a specialized knowledge of the migratory habits of the Mutton Birds who migrate from the northern regions of the globe on their arduous journey to the breeding grounds of Australia and Antarctica . It is a metaphor for the self-fulfilling life of the public servant, an inescapable analogy for any who have embarked on the precarious scaling of the APS ladder.

Josh (Joshua Thomson) is the new kid on the block, clean-cut, well dressed, conservatively groomed and ready to assume the master’s mantle. What follows is a battle of brawn and brain, wile and wildness, and ambition versus tradition. Set within Joshua Thomson’s purposefully conventional office design, the show opens with Gavin, securely seated at his desk as Luke Smiles’ sound design captures the tension building tones of a B Grade horror  thriller. Gavin’s secure and confident world is about to be shattered by the arrival of the young trainee with ambitious designs.

A mood of suspended anticipation swiftly turns to a power play of manic proportions. Familiar office items become the weaponry of supremacy as objects are rearranged with lightning dexterity, bodies intertwine in mortal combat, tables are upturned, doors slammed, a filing cabinet overturned and bodies dragged by neckties around the neck. The irony of Cat Stevens’s Wild World is inescapable as Gavin lies vanquished and Josh emerges the victor.  It is inevitable that in the cockfight there will always be the winner and the loser, and the old dog cannot learn the new tricks, but in a moment of sombre contemplation, who will play the old dog next time.

Cockfight discards text in favour of physical interaction. The show bears the hallmarks of rehearsal room improvisation, refinement and quicksilver choreography. The timing is masterful, the trust laudable and the intention precise and expertly executed. Webber and Thomson marry dance with drama, slick comic timing with skilfully choreographed stillness and motion and moments of comedy and pathos with hesartstopping possibilities of danger. The Farm and the Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA) have collaborated to create a work that is original, insightful and thoroughly entertaining. At seventy minutes without an interval, it is slightly repetitive and some sequence could be abbreviated, but this had no effect on the audience’s rapturous appreciation of the two performers’ remarkable skill to survive the thrust and parry of power play politics in the workplace. 

I understand that this one night stand was the final performance of  Cockfight after its long there is little to be gained by urging readers to rush for their tickets. But, if it should be revived in this renowned public service town, be sure to be the very first in line…whatever it takes!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Review © Jane Freebury

Rated PG

I hr 49 mins 

Cinemas everywhere

Like many girls in generations past, Lisa takes a job in retail while she waits for her school leaving results. It opens her eyes to things that North Sydney Girls High and life at home in a red-brick suburban bungalow couldn’t begin to.
Angourie Rice brings sweet authenticity to her role as a shy and serious teenager whose life changes big-time in the lead-up to Christmas in 1959.
How so? Magda, the formidable, charming woman running the haute couture at Goode’s department store knows a good employee when she sees one. As a Slovenian émigré who runs rings around everyone, British actress Julia Ormond has the wittiest lines in one of the best written Australian films in years.

The spirited screenplay is adapted from The Women in Black, the 1993 novel by the late Madeleine St John.

Magda worked in Paris pre-war but fled Europe a refugee. With devoted husband, Hungarian émigré, Stefan (Vincent Perez) in tow, she arrived in Sydney with fashion credentials and aplomb to die for. With a light and airy touch, she gives Lisa – who’s already shown signs of independent thought in changing her name from Lesley - the complete makeover. 

Off with the reading spectacles, down with the hair, in with the belt and the girl is ready to introduce to Magda's circle of immigrant friends at her lower North Shore parties.

Fay (Rachael Taylor), a colleague of Lisa’s, also gets an invite on New Year’s Eve, because Rudi (Ryan Corr), a lonely young Hungarian, would like to meet an Australian girl. Taylor is pitch perfect as aslightly sad 30-year-old who’s been around a while. 

The film’s entire ensemble cast, including Noni Hazlehurst as the stern store supervisor, give nuanced performance, pitched just so. The only characters whose backstories don’t work so well are Patty (Alison McGirr), and her husband Frank (Luke Pegler) whose dysfunction could do with a bit more explanation.

For Lisa’s mum (Susie Porter) and dad (Shane Jacobson) adapting to change is a learning process too - learning to enjoy salami, olives and foreign red wine, along with letting their daughter go as their world moves on. 

Sydney is on the cusp of change as new immigrants from war-ravaged Europe flood to the sunny, harbourside city. Melburnian audiences may have to take some of the jokes about their city circa 1959 on the chin.

The filmography of director Bruce Beresford is about as long as the contemporary Australian film industry, and includes popular favourites like The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Breaker Morant, Paradise Road and Mao’s Last Dancer. 

There is something crazy brave in these fractious times about the basic decency and wisdom born of experience in Ladies in Black. It deserves to strike a chord too with its accomplished and charming take on times past.

4 Stars

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