Sunday, December 30, 2018


Rated M, 1 hr 28 mins

Review by © Jane Freebury

4.5 Stars

This story of the longing and desire of lovers who could no more live together than they could live apart is dedicated to the filmmaker’s parents. While it's not about his mother and father per se, writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski explores a tempestuous love affair like theirs from the perspective of his own late middle age.

The result is sublimely and coolly elegant. Shot in rich black-and-white on the boxy 4:3 Academy ratio, it looks the way home movies and still image photography looked at the time. And it is irresistible, a 1950s romance set to sultry jazz music and upstart rock n’ roll.

A relaxed and urbane Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is touring the Polish countryside auditioning singers to join a troupe that will perform folk music blended with messaging to help build the new Polish communist state, when a sultry young blonde singer catches his eye. There is a certain something about young Zula (Joanna Kulig), the quality of her voice or her vivacity combined with the whiff of danger of someone who has spent time in prison. It makes Wiktor champion her talents, and fall in love.

The question is, however, were they ever meant to be. Is it personal whim or is it political circumstance that drives them apart, again and again?

During the time that Zula and Wiktor are trying to get it together, the communist machinery is setting up in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe, culminating in the wall in Berlin. Hardly circumstances favourable for this Polish couple, but when a door to freedom in the West opens, Zula rejects the opportunity.

Her resistance, which could be explained as youthful contrariness, seems inexplicable, but then Pawlikowski is less interested in providing answers than he is in creating a tribute to a love affair, and allowing the gaps in understanding to remain. Be prepared for some ellipses where the narrative seems to drop out of sight.

It is poignant to read that Pawlikowski’s parents died long ago, before Cold War hostilities between East and West were declared over in 1991.

In a way, this film is asking an age-old question: where do I come from? Parents were people before they became mothers and fathers, so what kind of people were they? They fell in love, they had aspirations and their union prevailed or it didn’t. Couples like Zula and Wiktor had geopolitical forces to deal with, in addition to each other.

Five years ago, Pawlikowski made a film, also in black and white, also stark and beautiful, about a young woman raised an orphan and on the point of taking her vows as a Catholic nun, who discovers that she is Jewish. This film, Ida, was also a memorable screen experience reflecting on Polish history post World War II.

The similarities probably end there, except that they each demonstrate the filmmaker’s flair for making black-and-white a complete cinema experience at a time the screen is dominated by bombastic blockbuster.

A letter to love in fractious times, Cold War makes no concessions to modern tastes for pace and colour and percussive editing, but is way powerful nonetheless. Yo yo yo.

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

Sunday, December 23, 2018

PRADA'S PRISCILLAS - An All-Male Christmas Revue


Produced by Joseph Panuccio - Directed by Monique Kelly
Choreographed by Stephen Clarke
Canberra Theatre, 21st December 2018.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Prada Clutch and company in "Prada's Priscilla" 

How refreshing to attend a drag shows which doesn’t rely on coarse language for its laugh’s. For her Christmas musical extravaganza, “Prada’s Priscillas”, Sydney drag queen, Prada Clutch, had done her homework. Targeting a general public audience, she had prepared a witty script, sprinkling plenty of local references among her saucy double entendres, and dazzling her adoring audience with a constant parade of eye-popping costumes and production numbers.
Prada Clutch in cockatoo mode leads the opening number in "Prada's Priscilla"

Though this was her second foray into Canberra, judging from the response to her request for a show-of-hands from those who had seen her before, most of the audience were Prada Clutch virgins, more than ready to gasp at the extravagance of the costumes, ogle her four hunky male dancers, be delighted by her two supporting showgirls, Conchita Grande and Christina Dior, and be impressed with the overall professionalism of her show. 

Conchita Grande and dancers in "I Need Some Hot Stuff" 
The first half of “Prada’s Priscilla’s” was a tribute to the musical, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”.  Prada wore an astonishing white cockatoo costume to lead the company through “I Love The Nightlife”. Conchita Grande performed “I Need Some Hot Stuff”, costumed in glittering red and gold sequins, surrounded by the male dancers as cheeky lizards making the most of their swinging tails. These were just two of the highlights.
Prada Clutch presenting her tribute to "Les Girls" 

Unusually for a drag queen, Prada Clutch does her own singing. Her gorgeously costumed impression of Cher singing “If I Could Turn Back Time”, and the tribute to Les Girls in which Clutch led the whole company, all  costumed in eye-popping white and silver ostrich feather costumes, would not have been out-of-place in the Folies Bergere
As well as providing additional eye-candy, the four male dancers really could dance as they demonstrated in an energetic production number, “Singing in the Rain”. Elsewhere, they added zing to the show executing Stephen Clarke’s demanding choreography with enthusiasm and style.
Prada Clutch and Company presents her Christmas Medley 
The final section of “Prada’s Priscilla’s” was devoted to a selection of cleverly staged Christmas songs among which Prada’s performance of Barbra Streisand’s tongue-twisting version of “Jingle Bells” almost stopped the show.
Prada Clutch presents her finale 

One slight disappointment was the absence of background settings and projections suggested by the publicity photos. In Canberra the show was presented in front of black curtains, relying on the costumes and lighting to provide the spectacle. However, such was the standard of the show that the absence of settings and some steps or simple risers to provide interesting entrances for the showgirls and dancers, the choreography and stagings for the production numbers began to look repetitive as the show wore on.

But even despite this quibble, with its over-the-top glamour, extravagant costumes and wigs, excellent production values and tightly choreographed production numbers, “Prada’s Priscillas” continues a long tradition of lavish Australian drag shows which harken back to the glory days of Sydney establishments such as “Les Girls” and “Capriccios”.   Prada Clutch has indicated that she is keen to build an audience for her shows beyond Sydney. Judging by the audience response to this performance of “Prada’s Priscillas”, if she can maintain the standard set with this show, there is an audience out there hungry for the extravagant fantasies she offers.

Prada Clutch 

All photos provided.
This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


"10 Point" - Choreographed by Xavier Breed 
Directed by Ruth Osborne for QL2 Dance.
Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centre. 15th and 16th December.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

If there were no other reason to attend “On Course 2018” then the final thrilling work, “10 Point”, choreographed by New Zealand born Samoan, Xavier Breed, alone would have made for a memorable evening of dance. Breed is one of ten young choreographers from The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), The Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) The New Zealand School of Dance and the University of Auckland currently in Canberra to create and perform the ten works which made up this year’s “On Course” program.

Now in its twelfth year, “On Course”, the brainchild of QL2’s Artistic Director, Ruth Osborne, is an initiative which grew out of QL2’s “Hot to Trot” program as a way of bringing home QL2 Alumni during their full-time study to reconnect with local audiences, and provide those audiences with the opportunity to see where those young dance artists are heading.  Over the years the project has expanded and now welcomes students from across Australia and New Zealand.

Choreographers selected to participate are provided with access to dancers and studio  space for six three-hour sessions over two weeks in which to create an original eight-minute work for presentation for two  performances in front of paying audiences. Those audiences are invited to participate in forums immediately after the performances to comment on and discuss the works, so that the choreographers get immediate feed-back on their works.

Xavier Breed, currently in the final months of a Masters of Dance Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, thrilled the audience with a stunning work incorporating an imaginative fusion of traditional Samoan and contemporary dance styles. Working to a driving soundtrack, Breed’s choreography included body slapping sounds, grunts, carefully detailed hand and arm movements and an exuberant movement repertoire which his seven dancers attacked with obvious relish and attention to detail to achieve a highly polished and exciting result.

Exciting as it was however, “10 Point” was not the only high point in a program remarkable for the variety of ideas and inspirations which made up the enthralling program. Ryan Stone, currently in his final year at WAAPA, contributed an intensely personal and stunningly executed solo entitled “Crystalline Echoes” which he performed in the light of a single naked light bulb, which he manipulated to create shadows and patterns on his bare torso.

"Crystalline Echoes" choreographed and performed by Ryan Stone 
Alexandra Dobson from VCA worked with six white costumed dancers to create a mesmerizing work entitled “Recurrence” which commenced with the dancers in a tight circle performing intricate hand movements, which expanded into partnered sections as the circle grew larger. Mia Tuco, who’s undertaking the acting course at VCA, dressed her five dancers in bright dressing gowns for the first part of her imaginative and romantic “Informal – Get Down”.

"Recurrence" choreographed by Alexandra Dobson 

Caspar Lischner, a former QL2 dancer currently studying at the New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington contributed a short film, “Storge Shoes”, likening comfortable shoes to best friends. He also collaborated, via Skype, with Amelia Vanzwel from VCA, on a delightfully quirky duet, entitled “The International Animal Language”, which they performed together.

"The International Animal Language" choreographed and performed by Caspar Lischner and Amelia Vanzwel

Gabriel Sinclair created “Under New Management”, a clever introspective work in which his three dancers mirror-imaged each other to Sinclair’s own original composition featuring a single persistent piano note. Self- examination was also the theme of Alison Tong’s light-hearted creation, “U R Being Controlled” in which three dancers in multi-coloured tunics depicted reactions to advertisements and spin to the music of Phillip Glass. Both Sinclair and Tong are studying at VCA.

"U R Being Controlled" choreographed by Alison Tong 

Marcel Cole, a classical ballet dancer now studying at the New Zealand School of Dance, contributed a light-hearted work, "The Ugly Duckling?",  for four dancers exploring notions of connection and inclusiveness. Similar ideas were also explored by Otto Kosok, who’s also studying at the New Zealand School of dance, in his arresting work for six dancers entitled, “Strange Tall Creatures”. 

"Strange Tall Creatures" choreographed by Otto Kosok 

Even though each work was supported by excellent lighting and audio visual design and efficient stage management, the responsibility for achieving the end result rested with the choreographers and their dancers, making the polished works even more impressive, especially since most of the choreographers chose to add to their experience by appearing in each other’s works alongside senior Quantum Leap ensemble members, several of whom are heading off to universities around Australia next year.

"The Ugly Duckling ?" choreographed by Marcel Cole 

" Under New Managerment" choreographed by Gabriel Sinclair 

"Informal - Get Down" choreographed by Mia Tuco

                                                         All photos by Lorna Sim

                This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 16.12.2018

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Presented by Dance Development Centre
Gungahlin College Theatre, 14th December, 2018
Evening performance reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Canberra is home to several very good dance schools. The end-of-year displays presented by these schools not only provide very entertaining evenings of dance, but also  an opportunity to spot emerging young dancers about to follow their dreams of becoming professional dancers. Jackie Hallahan’s Dance Development Centre is at the forefront of Canberra dance schools and enjoys a formidable reputation for producing and equipping young artists for the highly competitive world of professional dance. The 2018 showcase of its Vocation Course students was a compelling demonstration of why.

The program commenced with an ambitious presentation of Act 2 of “Giselle” for which Jackie Hallahan reproduced   Maina Gielgud’s version of the original Marius Petipa choreography. This scene takes place in a graveyard where Giselle is buried, having gone mad and died of a broken heart as the result of being jilted by Albrecht. It’s also the graveyard where the Wilis, led by their Queen Myrtha, appear at the stroke of midnight to perform ghostly rites. When the Wilis discover that Albrecht is visiting Giselle’s grave, Myrtha condemns him to dance until he too dies.

Performing in a moody graveyard setting, created by Thompson Quan Wing and Abbie Jessop, the ensemble of student Wilis performed the demanding choreography with its difficult slow sustained jumps with commendable precision. Jessica Tonkin was a commanding Myrtha, and Isobelle France was a delicate, gentle Giselle, confidently executing the testing choreography while convincingly capturing Giselle’s ghostly presence.  Jade Allen played Giselle at the matinee.

France was partnered by Elijah Holmes as Albrecht, who impressed with his noble bearing, musicality and carefully phrased dancing.  Also impressive were Matthew Erlandson as Hilarion, and Charlotte Fisk and Lauren Morfoot as the leading Wilis.

In complete contrast to the ghostly atmosphere of “Giselle”, the second half of the program commenced with a stunningly danced, “A Chorus Line”, staged by Renee Hallahan drawing on the original Michael Bennett choreography which depicts a day in the life of fourteen dancers vying for roles in a Broadway musical.  It was fascinating to watch Isobelle France, Jessica Tonkin, Jade Allen, Lauren Morfoot, Elijah Holmes and Matthew Erlandson leading the ensemble through the exhilarating, dynamic choreography. Their enjoyment and execution was quite dazzling in its enthusiasm and thrilling attention to detail.

Tchaikovsky’s music accompanied Cathy Chapman’s charming “Children’s Christmas Dance” which featured ten prettily costumed younger dancers.  Tara Chapman and Jackie Hallahan also turned to Tchaikovsky for their “Young Aurora’s Friends” which was delightfully performed by another ensemble of seventeen young dancers.  Both items providing an opportunity to appreciate the attention to detail and technique expected of the students.

The program ended with a lovely work choreographed by Paul Knobloch entitled
“Shapes of Water” which again featured the senior ensemble, this time costumed in blue by Helen Wojtas, who was also responsible for the “Giselle” costumes. Knobloch is a master of group unison work and with “Shapes of Water”, inspired by the light and shade of formations and patterns of the currents and tides of the ocean, has created a gently mesmerising work in which the dancers flowed through a kaleidoscope of beautiful images so seamlessly and confidently that it was difficult to imagine how a professional company could have performed it better.    



Sunday, December 16, 2018


Conductor: Leonard Weiss
Organist: Calvin Bowman
Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest 15 December

Reviewed by Len Power

For their third concert, Canberra’s newest semi-professional musical ensemble presented a fine program of three works – one orchestral suite by Bach and two organ concerti by Handel with Calvin Bowman as soloist on the Wesley Uniting Church organ.  The program was conducted by Leonard Weiss.

The first item, Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, is said to have been composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in the period 1717 to 1723 while employed as Kapellmeister for the German Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen.  This is the first known example of secular orchestral music that Bach composed.

Leonard Weiss conducting the Canberra Sinfonia
The seven movements in French Baroque style were nicely played by the orchestra, especially the sprightly Gavotte and Minuet movements and there was fine playing by the trio of bassoon (Jordan London) and oboes (Lucy Preece, Timothy Elphick) in the Bourreé movement.

After interval, Australian organist and composer, Calvin Bowman, joined the orchestra for the two Handel organ concerti.  Bowman is the only Australian composer to have been exclusively featured on the Decca recording label apart from Percy Grainger.  As a performer, he was nominated for a Helpmann Award for his single seventeen hour playing of the complete Bach organ works at the Melbourne International Festival in 2009.

Calvin Bowman playing Bach with Leonard Weiss conducting

Six Opus 7 organ concerti were written in London between 1740 and 1751 for performance during Handel’s oratorios.  In this concert, concerti 1 and 4 were presented.  Calvin Bowman played both works superbly with strong and well-balanced support from the orchestra.  The final movement of the No. 4 concerto was especially well-played.

Photos by Peter Hislop

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, December 14, 2018


 Rated MA 15+, 129 mins

Capitol Manuka, Dendy Canberra Centre, Palace Electric New Acton

3 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

A heist movie has to be fun. It needs to be, to join company with so many brilliant examples from Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, to the Pink Panther movies, to The Italian Job, original and remake, and Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven.

What better fun then than watching a group of women, partners in crime, bent on turning the tables?

Hang on a minute. As you scroll down the ‘best of’ lists for the genre, you find that the heist has been the province of men, decorated by a glamorous woman or two. Films about women getting away with the equivalent of Britain’s great train robbery are few and far between.

It won’t be surprising if people leave Widows wondering why the film doesn’t match their sense of anticipation - or the hype of the trailer. No, Ocean’s Eight didn’t do it for us, but Widows doesn’t gel despite promising ingredients either. The new film from director Steve McQueen doesn’t live up to its promise.

It’s disconcerting, when everything necessary for success is there. An Oscar-winning director, a black British man and a visual artist whose track record includes films like 12 Years A Slave and Hunger. McQueen had the Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn write his screenplay too, and this was developed from a miniseries that was a hit on British television in the 1980s.

Widows opens on scenes of marital bliss, the mature kind. Liam Neeson’s Harry Rawlings is just about to leave for work - that is, he is about to commit a robbery - and dallies with his lovely wife, Veronica (Viola Davis) in moments soon cross-cut with blistering scenes of a violent heist gone wrong. All perpetrators, including Harry, are killed, and the peace in the neutrality of early morning in their luxury apartment erased.

The death of a partner is one thing. Veronica is soon under threat herself, unless she repays the $2 million that her husband apparently owed to a local crime boss, Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), who needs it to—wait for it—enter local politics. This is Chicago.

Jamal’s threatening visit, when he handles Veronica’s little white dog, is almost as hard to watch as later scenes of torture. There are some moments of violence in Widows that don’t hold back, with Jamal’s brother and enforcer, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), in on the act too.

To repay this debt, Veronica recruits the three other women also widowed by the botched robbery, for a new heist she plans based on notes that Harry left behind. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) are widows like her, and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) a beautician who is enlisted as their driver. Significantly, the fourth widow, does not elect to take part.

Debicki’s character Alice steals the show. The few seconds spent on a conversation between her and her Polish mother – Jacki Weaver here – were worth so much more.
Far too little time is spent on the women as characters and group. There was so much to capitalise on here, but Widows has too little faith in the dynamic value of their personalities and relationships. That little smile shared at the end is intriguing, it may even signal a sequel, but it also suggests there was more to play with here.

Far and away, it was the concept that grabbed us. The very idea of a band of women who join forces for a heist should have been a winner, especially in this #MeToo moment.

The payback moment arrives for Veronica when discovers how she was fundamentally betrayed by Harry, playing into issues of gender and race relations. However, with Widows McQueen hasn’t yet found a way to combine his social activism with the thrills of the cheeky, brazen plan that we hopped on board for.

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


Rated M, 105 mins

Palace Electric New Acton

Review by © Jane Freebury

4 stars

A good story about a moral dilemma is hard to beat. The English novelist Ian McEwan has a steady supply of them with characters caught between a rock and a hard place, faced with moral choices at once as intractable as they are desirable.

If humour is wanting – his novel Solar was perhaps an exception - you could not complain about McEwan’s lack of complexity as he challenges his characters with far more than they bargained for. Many literary awards testify to the compelling achievements of this Booker Prize winning author and influential thinker.

He’s a novelist but has on occasion also written just for the screen. The Ploughman’s Lunch in 1983 was based on his screenplay but now he tends to write screenplays based on his own books like Atonement and On Chesil Beach.

These recent films have taught us what we can expect of McEwan - a forensic dissection of human relationships. The film of his book The Children Act is no exception.

Directed with nuance and grace by Richard Eyre, The Children Act repays the viewer with its complexity and a stupendous performance by Emma Thompson, as high court justice Fiona Maye. And Stanley Tucci in excellent form too as her husband Jack, a classics professor.

 A case comes before her involving a young man not quite 18 whose Jehovah Witness family is refusing to allow him a blood transfusion because it’s contrary to their beliefs.The hospital where the boy is languishing with leukemia is suing the parents for the right to pursue treatment – transfusion followed by drug therapy – and an 11th hour decision is required.

Over and above his parents’ wishes, the boy’s life is already protected by the Children Act, but Maye makes an impromptu visit to the boy in hospital. What does he want?

It turns out Adam (Fionn Whitehead),  haggard and handsome, has the sensibilities of a romantic poet. He responds fulsomely to Fiona when she reveals her own interest in poetry and that she is a musician too. It seems as though he represents the passion that is missing from the well-ordered, work-oriented life that she leads as she shuttles between a Gray’s Inn apartment, her rooms and the court. Nor do she and Jack have children.

What’s more, Jack has just left, declaring he's going to have an affair. It looks like Fiona has taken her demonstrative, sensitive husband for granted, but she changes the locks all the same.

As milady the judge becomes increasingly isolated, Adam becomes more and more obsessive, not entirely unlike the Rhys Ifans’ stalker in Enduring Love, also based on a McEwan book.

That’s one way of looking at it. I found myself wondering where social services were when we needed them. But that, of course, would have been prosaic and not have allowed the dramatic potential of this unusual situation to evolve.

Trust McEwan to throw another curved ball at us.

Jane's reviews are also published at Jane's blog and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7 (Arts Cafe)

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Dale Barltrop, Violin
Leonard Weiss, Conductor
Llewellyn Hall 8 December

Reviewed by Len Power

Canberra Youth Orchestra’s final concert for the year featured two major works – Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto and Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Conducted by Leonard Weiss, the orchestra included several professional local musicians for this concert.  Violin soloist, Dale Barltrop, was born in Brisbane and is now Concertmaster of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and First Violinist of the Australian String Quartet.

The program commenced with Britten’s Violin Concerto with Barltrop as soloist.  First premiered in 1940, Britten’s concerto is a brooding, emotive work that evokes the looming presence of World War Two.  It’s powerful and menacing, creating an uneasy atmosphere and requires strongly expressive and incisive playing.

Dale Barltrop

Barltrop gave a superb performance.  It was full of passion and great beauty, bringing out the many colours and moods of the work.  The orchestra under Leonard Weiss excelled with their playing as well, creating a rich, clear sound that gave the work the edge it requires.

After interval, Dale Barltrop joined the orchestra as Concertmaster for the performance of Scheherazade.  Considered Rimsky-Korsakov’s most popular work, it was composed in 1888 and was inspired by the Arabian Nights tales.  It’s a rich, colourful symphonic suite which evokes a mystical oriental atmosphere as it presents several tales by the Sultan’s wife, Scheherazade.

Dale Barltrop (violin), Leonard Weiss (conductor) and the Canberra Youth Orchestra

The orchestra gave a fine performance of this much-loved work.  Dale Barltrop played the melodic solo violin passages depicting Scheherazade with great warmth and feeling.  The final movement was especially well-played.

As Barltrop left the stage at the end of the concert, the orchestra made it very clear that they had enjoyed playing with him.  The audience also showed their warm appreciation for an evening of well-played fine music.

Photos by Peter Hislop

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 9 December 2018.

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.