Friday, May 31, 2019

Barbara and the Camp Dogs - Belvoir

Review by John Lombard

Barbara and the Camp Dogs is an outback rage against the machine, a rock concert where personal tragedy blurs into political injustice.

With story and music by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine, this original musical explores the lives of Indigenous cousin-sisters Barbara (Ursula Yovich) and Rene (Elaine Crombie), a pair of talented and feisty singers who play to casinos and pubs.

With the woman who was mother to them both ailing, they embark on a pilgrimage to distant Katherine to exorcise their family ghosts.

This is a story about Barbara’s anger. Barbara is tetchy and self-destructive, both because of a cruel family history and the everyday humiliations of an Indigenous woman in Australia. When Barbara does something outrageous, like punching a racist at her sister's gig, we have perfect sympathy: the world is more to blame than she is.

While anger and grief are key themes, Barbara and Rene are always lively company. In one entertaining sequence, the duo twirl into saris for a cruise ship gig from an Indian tycoon. Whether squeezed together on a bouncing motorbike or having it out in a hotel room, the pair give performances that are fresh, authentic, and alive.

As directed by Leticia Caceres, this could be mistaken for a concert, with the Camp Dogs band (Jessica Dunn, Sorcha Albuquerque, Michelle Vincent) dominating the stage, and audience seated on the stage recruited into the show in a style similar to Belvoir’s production of Calamity Jane.

The music is soulful, passionate but with a rock flair. Chalk scrawl on the wall gave the vibe that we had caught the end of a gig in a pub in the middle of nowhere.

Barbara and the Camp Dogs is an intense experience, delving into extremes of pain and grief, but never letting go of life and humour. When the sisters sing to each other, we learn that at the end of anger, there is a love song.


Rated MA15+

2 hrs 12 mins

Palace Electric

3.5 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

This film is from the Middle East, written and directed by Rami Alayan and Muayad Alayan, and about infidelity.  An affair between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman who met as he made deliveries at her café in West Jerusalem, and the consequences of the liaison in a place where fidelity to one’s tribe is paramount.

The Reports on Sarah and Saleem was made with the assistance of production finance from countries like Germany and the Netherlands, as the Palestinian film industry is virtually non-existent.
It opens at the home of bakery delivery driver, Saleem, making tea for himself and his wife. The image of domestic harmony is suddenly ruptured, like a fist through a wall, in a raid by security forces who drag Saleem (Adeeb Safadi) away to interrogate him about an Israeli woman that he is supposed to have recruited.

What could the man have done to deserve such treatment? Flashbacks explain, as by that point the affair is over.

One night after meeting and making love in Saleem’s delivery van, as per usual, Sarah (Sivane Kretchner), had accompanied him on a delivery run into the West Bank, with hiding in the back of his van. The risky venture accomplished without incident, Saleem suggests a drink at a Bethlehem bar. Sarah agrees reluctantly, but they are betrayed by another patron who realises that she isn’t Dutch at all, as she claims, but Israeli.

After Saleem is hauled in for questioning and Sarah’s husband, a colonel in the Israeli army on undercover assignments, becomes aware of his wife’s infidelity, there is hell to pay. It is clear that no one can believe that the affair is just an affair, there has to be more to it.

It’s hard to imagine a worse predicament. Ensnared in a web of misunderstanding and paranoia, Sarah and Saleem become trapped between sides in the vicious and intractable feud that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

How the affair had begun is not explored, unfortunately, only explained by scenes showing how the couple met across the counter at the café that Sarah runs. The opening titles claim the film is inspired by true events, so more insight into such risky liaisons would have been interesting. If relationships like this can and do happen, can we imagine there is hope yet for ending conflict?

It was also surprising to learn that alcohol is served at bars with intimate dance floors in the Palestinian Territories. A vigorous sex scene or two in the back of the van is another surprise.  A lot less pleasant is the jolt when, on the road to Bethlehem, Israel’s massive security wall suddenly looms into view, a foreboding and futile barrier to interaction.

Saleem's wife Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhadi)

All actors are captured up close and personal and they do a great job,  though the film style is a bit prosaic way and some scenes are needlessly long.

Towards the end, however, the deliberate pacing seems spot on. As our attention turns more and more to Saleem’s pregnant wife, Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhadi), and as a relationship develops between her and Sarah, the film becomes very moving and powerful.

Jane's reviews are also published at her blog, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7 MHz

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Maruki Community Orchestra
Conducted by John Gould
Albert Hall, 26 May 2019

Reviewed by Len Power

‘Double Bill +’ was an ambitious program for any orchestra, but the local Maruki Community Orchestra showed that they relished a challenge and produced a creditable afternoon of fine music.

This is a community symphony orchestra devoted to all musicians in the Canberra region, regardless of age, experience and skill level, who have strong interests in playing classical musical instruments in an orchestra environment and who wish to develop their skills and express their musicality.

Left to Right: Melvyn Cann, concertmaster, Peter Ellis, soloist, and John Gould, conductor

Conductor and musical director, John Gould, who began his career with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 1958, led the orchestra through two symphonies by Beethoven and Dvořák, a prelude by Wagner and Saint-Saëns’ ‘Danse Macabre’.

The concert commenced with the Prelude to Act 1 of Richard Wagner’s opera, ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’.  Some instruments were not tuned as precisely as they should have been and the playing was a bit wobbly at the start, but once they had warmed up, the orchestra gave a good account of this rousing work.

Next, the orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B flat major.  They played the first and fourth movements especially well.

Saint-Saëns’ ‘Danse Macabre’ was the third item on the program.  Peter Ellis played the solo violin for this popular, atmospheric work.  In keeping with the mood of the piece, he had skeleton transfers attached to his violin, a supermarket cheapie.  Used just for this item, he explained to the audience that this violin had, surprisingly, just the right tone for the solo part of this particular work.  He also looked suitably devilish by sporting a skeleton-patterned head scarf.  Both he and the orchestra gave an appropriately edgy and pleasing performance of this item.

After interval, the orchestra played the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Antonín Dvořák.  This work, full of beautiful Bohemian melodies, is always a delight to hear and the orchestra produced a fine sound overall.  The colourful third movement was especially well-played.

Observing this orchestra playing as well as they did for the sheer joy of it, resulted in a memorable and entertaining concert.

Photo by Len Power

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 27 May 2019.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


The World Goes ‘Round. Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, David Thompson. Directed by Jarrad West. Choreographed by Caitlin Schilg. Musical Director. Alexander Unikowski. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. May 16 – June 1 2019. Bookings 62571950.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


The World Goes ‘Round Ensemble. Samantha Marceddo, Joel Hutchings

Louiza Blomfield, Isaac Gordon, Julia Walker

Wow.! This show has class. From the moment that Louiza Blomfield lets rip with the title song, The World Goes ‘Round, Canberra Rep’s glittering gem of a production gets the goosebumps tingling.. Five workers in a Downtown bar arrive to find that the bar has been put up for sale. Their haven of hopes and fears, dreams and desires is about to cast them out and for two hours they find refuge in the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriting team that brought us the smash hits  of Chicago and Cabaret but much, much more. Posters on the wall recall the familiar, the obscure, the unknown and the surprising including musicals, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Zorba, Woman of the Year,The Rink Girls and Flora The Red Menace, as well as numbers from Liza Minella’s In Person and Liza with a Z album.
Director Jarrad West and the cast of The World Goes 'Round
One after another, the numbers roll out, every one a hit from director Jarrad West’s stunning ensemble. There is simmering sensuality in Samantha Marceddo’s All That Jazz, comedy in Isaac Gordon’s Sara Lee with the company, pathos in Joel Hutchings and Gordon’s I Don’t Remember You from The Happy Time and longing in Julia Walker's Only Love from Zorba. Ensemble numbers show a company of performers in perfect synch, sparklingly choreographed by Caitlin Schilg and directed with an inventive eye for business and an instinct for emotional truth by West. Routines, highlighted by a roller-skating sequence by Gordon and Hutchings are triumphs in timing and imagination in a flawless display of talent and production values.. West directs with sensitive flair, allowing for the flavour of the moment to permeate the atmosphere, to feel the solitude of Gordon’s Mr Cellophane, the comical conquest of Walker’s Arthur in the Afternoon, the longing of Blomfield’s Maybe This Time or the desperation of I Don’t Remember You. The Bar becomes the world of Kander and Ebb, a revolving reflection of Life’s trials and tribulations and triumphs. Through it all, there is hope. The bar may be sold but the world will continue to go round and the five outcasts will survive.
On Chris Baldock's set design for
The World Goes 'Round
And through it all, the band plays on. Under musical director Alexander Unikowski musicians John Yoon, Hayley Manning, Melissa Fung and Brandon Reed with Unikowski at the keyboard and other instruments, provide superb support for the singers. Unique arrangements of certain numbers and surprising harmonies lend the show a fresh appeal and refreshing variation to numbers like New York New York.
If Canberra were Downtown New York and Theatre 3 was Off Broadway, this show would run for years. It is a perfect storm of talent, directed and choreographed with flair and feeling. Five of Canberra’s finest music theatre artists lend this show a zest and shining appeal that makes it  a stunning tribute to the music and lyrics of Kander and Ebb and a brilliant evening of musical entertainment  to warm the heart and dare you not to hum along to the songs that make this world go round. I predict that The World Goes ‘Round will be the hit musical of the year!


Written by Stephen Mallatratt and Susan Hill
Directed by James Scott
Honest Puck Theatre
Perform Australia Theatre, Fyshwick to 26 May

Reviewed by Len Power 24 May 2019

Everyone likes a good ghost story.  The best ones engage your imagination, giving you a deliciously scary ride without making you feel really unsafe.  The stories of M.R. James and ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson are amongst the best, influencing later genre writers like Stephen King, Peter Straub and Richard Matheson.

Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, ‘The Woman In Black’, set in the 19th century in Victorian England, was a fine addition to the ghost story genre and it’s adaptation as a play by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987 has been amazingly successful.  Still running in London, it is now the second longest-running non-musical play in West End history, after ‘The Mousetrap’.

Constructed as a play within a play, the story involves a young solicitor sent to a remote part of England to settle the affairs of a recently deceased woman.  While there he has a disturbing encounter with an apparition that has a major impact on his life.

The play has two main speaking characters with a non-speaking performer playing the ghost.  James Scott plays the author of the story, Arthur Kipps, and Brendan Kelly is an actor in the framing play.  In the play within a play, Kelly plays the younger Arthur Kipps, the solicitor, and Scott plays several characters that Kipps interacts with as the play proceeds.

Scott and Kelly give excellent performances and both actors maintain a strong Victorian sensibility in bearing and language, avoiding melodramatics with realistic playing.  Katherine Berry maintains an impressive stillness and presence as the ghost.

Directed by James Scott, the action is carefully paced to suit the period and subject matter.  The many costumes by Victoria (Fiona) Hopkins have been thoughtfully designed for the period and for quick changes.  The sound design for the show is especially effective. The set needed some additional period design, especially around a door that is important to the plot.

It would have been more chilling to have the ghost appear less substantial and clear, particularly for its first appearances.  Like the young solicitor in the play, we should be uncertain of what we saw.  To be fair, I have seen the play before, so I knew what to look out for.

Overall, this production is well-acted and directed and creates a strong atmosphere.  You can see why it has had such a long run in London.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.