Sunday, June 30, 2019


Written by Suzie Miller

Performed by Sheridan Harbridge and directed by Lee Lewis for Griffin Theatre Company.

Canberra Theatre Centre 26th – 29th June, 2019

Reviewed by Bill Stephens
An extraordinary performance by Sheridan Harbridge, as Tess, a criminal lawyer and survivor of a sexual assault, in Suzie Miller’s searing indictment of the Australian legal system’s handling of sexual assault matters had the audience transfixed on the opening night of “Prima Facie” in Canberra.

Sheridan Harbridge in "Prima Facie"

At the top of her game, Tess is smug and confident. She loves to win, even when defending clients accused of sexual assault. To win you just have to follow the rules, and Tess knows the law permits no room for emotion. She knows all the tricks of the trade, and happily demonstrates them at the beginning of the play. But when she’s raped by a work colleague and decides to press charges, she finds that hard won confidence shattered when forced to describe her experience in minute detail and faced with the realization that her account is unlikely to be believed.

Described in the program notes as “a scientist who evolved into a lawyer who evolved into a playwright”, Suzie Miller certainly knows her law.  She’s drawn on her years of experience as a human rights and criminal defence lawyer to craft a hard-hitting, compelling play sizzling with authenticity and insights which compel further discussion.

Director Lee Lewis has chosen to focus on the text with her perfectly paced, stylish production, performed on a spare, elegant setting designed by Renee Mulder, and tightly lit by Trent Suidgeest, in which a shining metal chair on a raised platform is the only prop.

Sheridan Harbridge in "Prima Facie"

 Alone on stage for the full duration of the play, Sheridan Harbridge gives a compelling performance of astonishing range and nuance. As the upwardly mobile Tess, she conjures up the formality and ritual of the courtroom as she confidently demonstrates her courtroom tactics. Her description of her rape is clinical and gut-wrenching, and her depiction of Tess’s shattering realization that her credibility is being questioned is brilliantly portrayed.

“Prima Facie” is an absorbing, timely play which forces its audience to consider difficult questions and leaves it wrestling with how these questions should be addressed. The animated conversations in the foyer afterwards provided proof positive of how eagerly the audience had accepted this challenge. .

                                                   Images by Brett Boardman

This Review also appears in Australian Arts Review.


Rated M, 1 hr 52 mins
Capitol Manuka, Dendy Canberra Centre, Palace New Acton

3 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

In this new biopic about a major creative talent, actor Nicholas Hoult’s arched eyebrows and bowed mouth suggest something impish, if not elfin, about J. R. R. Tolkien. He doesn’t look one bit like Tolkien, but the popular actor has been versatile, cast in action franchises like X Men and Mad Max, and in indies like The Favourite where he lit up the screen.

Hoult would have been well suited to a part in the fabulous series that Peter Jackson created of Tolkien’s novel, Lord of the Rings. Perhaps he could make it work.

Author, poet and scholar, Tolkien is said to have single-handedly revived the fantasy genre, with a self-contained  world of myth and legend, furthermore. His lifelong career in academe may not have offered exciting material for cinema but the books he wrote sure did, most specially his imagined universe of hobbits, elves and orcs et al, complete with language.

His creative vision took millions of readers with him. Completed in 1949, LOTR, the book, has become one of the highest selling novels of all time.
Where did this imagined universe come from? It's the obvious question that filmgoers will take with them to Tolkien.

he comes across as more romantic lead than great writer of high fantasy

Early in his formative years, Tolkien is played by Harry Gilby. Ronald, as Tolkien was known, and his younger brother, became orphans at a young age, but their mother’s mentor, Father Francis (Colm Meaney) became their guardian ensuring they had a good education, continued their affiliation with Catholicism and found a new home for them in a Birmingham boarding house.

Tolkien (Hoult) with Edith (Lily Collins)

Although the influence of his mother, who had adored myths and legends was over, Ronald’s new school paved the way for friendships with other creative types. Tolkien and a clique of like-minded friends, aspiring artistic personalities, would meet to share their work at their Tea Club Barrovian Society.

Around the same time, a friendship with another boarder, also orphaned, began to blossom. Edith Bratt is beautifully played by Lily Collins.

Tea Club Barrovian Society friends (Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, Tom Glynn-Carney, Nicholas Hoult)

Like many of his generation, he experienced World War I. Though he survived, sent home with trench fever, he lost two of his closest friends.

Tolkien opens at the Battle of the Somme, in the mud and carnage and pitiless grind of trench warfare. These are powerful combat sequences and no doubt the horror of war contributed to the imaginative vision of LOTR, but we remain curious.

The lives of other writers and artists explored on screen recently may have had more filmic potential to begin with, but a dearth of strange behaviour or drunken binges, doesn’t excuse Tolkien from not trying harder to get to grips with what made Tolkien tick. A professor of philology and Anglo-Saxon, an academic over thirty years, but J. R. R. Tolkien had a vivid, let’s call it wild, imagination, a rich inner life. Just where did The Hobbit and LOTR come from?

Problem is that the screenplay that Finnish director Dome Karukoski had to work with is short on insight and imagination.  Indeed, Nicholas Hoult’s character comes across as more romantic lead than great writer of high fantasy.

This cautious and respectful biopic, leaves us needing to know more about the pipe-smoking, avuncular looking man who unleashed his imagination and inspired generations of fantasy writers.

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


Canberra Youth Orchestra
Canberra Choral Society
Canberra Children’s Choir
Seasoned Voices
Llewellyn Hall 29 June 2019

Reviewed by Len Power

Playing to a packed Llewellyn Hall, this huge production of Carl Orff’s popular ‘Carmina Burana’ gave audiences exactly what they were seeking – a spectacular night of great music, superbly played and sung.

The text consists of 24 poems from a 19th century edition of 247 poems dating from the 11th Century, mostly in secular Latin verse.  The topics covered by these poems reflect aspects of life that haven’t changed over the centuries – love of fortune and wealth, the impact of the seasons and the sensual pleasures and dangers of drinking, gluttony and lust.

First performed in Germany in 1937, it has become one of the most popular works in the classical repertoire, helped enormously by the familiarity for audiences of the opening and closing poem, ‘O Fortuna’, in movies, television and commercials.

This performance, conducted by Leonard Weiss, saw the stage of the Llewellyn Hall filled to capacity with musicians and singers.  The orchestra’s playing was dramatic, edgy, powerful and very enjoyable.

Andrew O'Connor

The three solo singers met the demands of the score very well.  Andrew O’Connor, baritone, was especially impressive with the quiet ‘Omnia Sol Temperat’ and the dramatic ‘Ego sum abbas’.

Rachael Duncan

Rachael Duncan, soprano, sang a very fine ‘In Trutina’ and her high notes for the Dulcissime’ were truly spectacular.

Tobias Cole
In ‘Olim Lacus Colueram’, Tobias Cole as the roasted swan expressing his dismay at his fate, was very funny as well as giving a fine vocal performance.  It must have been an Australian swan as Tobias Cole sported a black feather boa for his performance.

The singing by the Canberra Choral Society under the direction of Dan Walker was colourful and accurate.  The words could be heard clearly throughout – not easy to achieve with latin verse and the demands of the music.  The Canberra Children’s Choir and Seasoned Voices also performed their pieces very well.

This was a fine performance of ‘Carmina Burana’ and the performers received a deservedly appreciative response from the audience at the end.

Photos by Peter Hislop

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

Friday, June 28, 2019


ETC and the Canberra Theatre Centre present Prima Facie by Suzie Miller. Directed by Lee Lewis. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. June 27-29.

Prima Facie is a one woman play, with, at its centre, the question of voice.

Who gets heard?

Sheridan Harbridge is Tess, a young lawyer relishing the world of courts and trials.  She’s clever and competent and knows exactly how things work in a courtroom from a barrister’s point of view. She’s good at the job to which her high school and university results have led her.

Until all comes unstuck when she is raped by a colleague. She reports it and there is a trial. Why things turn out the way they do in this system is something she finds herself understanding all too well.

Suzie Miller’s play is a fascinating examination of law and trauma and not being heard in those contexts. It runs nearly two hours, with a kind of pause for breath (not an interval) between the assault and the outcomes.

Harbridge sustains it all superbly on a set that consists of little more than a chair and a platform, an image that works both for the barrister and the witness. It’s word against word in both instances.

Powerful stuff, sure to cause necessary debate and not a play to miss.

Alanna Maclean

Photo Brett Boardman

Thursday, June 27, 2019


Written by Suzie Miller
Directed by Lee Lewis
Griffin Theatre Company
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 29 June

Reviewed by Len Power 26 June 2019

In ‘Prima Facie’, a successful young lawyer finds herself on the other side of the courtroom after a sexual assault by a colleague.  Her journey from incident to judgement is a powerful indictment against a legal system shaped by male experience, its handling of sexual assault cases and our own complacency for allowing it to happen.

Suzie Miller has written an extraordinary one woman play with a compelling story line.  It focuses on Tess, a lawyer with many courtroom successes under her belt and an invincible attitude that isn’t very likeable.  How her life changes as a result of being raped by a colleague is the centre of this disturbing play.  Required to provide intimate details in the witness box of her relationship with the accused and the alleged rape, she finds the scrutiny and cross-examination confusing and humiliating.

The point is strongly made in the play that if a lawyer, normally at home in the courtroom, falls apart under cross-examination, what hope is there for any other woman?  In addition, it is clear that the woman, although technically a witness in the case, is treated more like a villain than the accused.  Things need to change and this play really has you thinking about it.

Sheridan Harbridge

Suzie Miller writes clearly and unemotionally, allowing the facts of the case and its devastating effects to speak for themselves.

With so much depth of character and emotion to play with, Tess, the lawyer, is a gift of a role for an actor.  Sheridan Harbridge’s marathon performance is compelling.  She wisely doesn’t overplay the emotional content and commands the stage from start to finish.  Dislikeable and smug as the successful lawyer, the change in her after she is raped is quite extraordinary.  It’s almost like another performer takes over the role from that point.

Sheridan Harbridge

Director, Lee Lewis has given the play an excellent production.  Tight direction ensured the play flows smoothly and clearly and her work with the performer has resulted in realism and depth to a very high degree.

There is a powerful and focussed set design by Renée Mulder, a subtle lighting design by Trent Suidgeest and an ominous and effective sound design by Paul Charlier.

This is an important and deeply involving play, superbly directed and acted.

Photos by Brett Boardman

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Prima Facie - Canberra Theatre

Review by John Lombard

A good lawyer will tell you not to go to court unless you have to: sometimes, it’s not the place to find justice.

In Prima Facie, the court is reduced to a solitary, throne-like office chair. This is the witness stand, the crucible of the courtroom.

At the start of the play, shark-like defence lawyer Tess circles this chair as she dismantles the testimony of a witness. But before the play is over, Tess will be the one in the chair, facing the ruthless probing of an equally cunning barrister.

This ripped-from-the-headlines play by Susie Miller is a brief against how our court system handles rape cases. In rape cases, the victim is often the one on trial, with their character and motives scrutinised under cross examination.

As Miller says in her playwright’s note, the justice system is based on the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but she always felt ‘its application in sexual assault cases served to undermine rather than to uphold any real legal fairness.’

Sheridan Harbridge is animated as Tess, oozing hunger and victory. Harbridge makes bold, disarming choices, finding the character’s frantic humour. She responds to her sexual assault with pain and horror, but also an affronted disbelief.

Harbridge also makes Tess’ world of lawyers and police and family tangible by slipping into other characters for flickering moments, demonstrating a cartoonist’s eye for the ridiculous detail.

The steady hand of director Lee Lewis tames this potential chaos, smoothing the actor’s wild impulses to create a robust but believable character.

As a barrister who has successfully defended rape cases, nobody could be better equipped than Tess for the witness stand. The brilliance of Prima Facie is that it shows how even Tess struggles. If it’s hard for Tess, what hope do other rape victims have?

Prima Facie combines a lawyer’s logic and an artist’s passion to create a manifesto for change that is vivid, compelling and human. The play supplies no answers, but challenges us to go out there and find some.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Owens and Tkachenko pay outstanding tribute to female composers

by Tony Magee

Sarahlouise Owens in full flight. Photo - Peter Hislop
Knowledge of female composers has somewhat been secreted away by music scholars and some performers over the years, but the general public’s awareness was generated with the release of the 1985 recording on the Hyperion label, “A Feather on the Breath of God”, which showcased the music of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th Century female composer of plainchant.

In the male dominated setting of monks as composers from the time of Pope Gregory to recognised individuals like Léonin and Perotin of Hildegard’s time and everything since, the world suddenly wanted to know more and the great Romantic composers Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann were thrust into the public spotlight.

We know that Maria Anna Mozart, elder sister of Wolfgang, affectionately known as Nannerl within the family, composed for the piano prolifically, through the volumes of surviving correspondence between the two:

"Dearest most loving sister of mine, the pieces you have sent me are of great beauty. I’ve played them over and over. I have sent you back these which I have written just for you. Please send me more of yours the moment you can. Your ever faithful and loving brother, Amadeus. PS: I send you one thousand kisses."

How much of Nannerl’s music survives for us to enjoy? Not one single sheet.

Such was the research and magnitude of work that soprano Sarahlouise Owens and pianist Natalia Tkachenko put into their superb recital Sunday last (June 23) at Wesley, where one beautiful captivating piece after another poured forth from their gifted musical talents.

Pianist Natalia Tkachenko
Tkachenko’s accompaniments are of the highest calibre and almost formed a concert presentation in their own right. I think the piano should have been on the short stick, rather than fully raised, as at times Owens was overwhelmed by Tkachenko’s outstanding and brilliant accompaniments.

Never-the-less this was a concert of great depth which captivated and enthralled the audience from start to finish.

Owens began well, but as the concert progressed her voice was noticeably warming up and reached a high point of warmth, depth and powerful projection that filled the auditorium voluminously.

Her diction was excellent and she shines most brightly when singing French and German, with impeccable accuracy of pronunciation and delivery. In addition, she is a theatrical performer and her body language, facial expressions and gestures served to enhance an already intriguing and engaging repertoire of song.

The period represented was female composers of the Romantic and early 20th century eras, and was extensive. Besides Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann, it included Maria Malibran, Cecile Chaminade, sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger, Gladys Rich, Germaine Tailleferre, Pauline Viardot, Josephine Lang, Augusta Holmes, Lady Dean Paul, Louise Reichardt and Canberra’s own Sally Greenaway whose piece “Look to This Day” was complex in its piano accompaniment, having a melody which somehow never seemed to match the piano chordal structure yet was in perfect compliment to it. A very clever piece of writing.

To close, Owens and Tkachenko chose the comedic “There are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden” by Liza Lehmann, which at the time of writing also accidentally served to perpetuate the infamous Cottingley Fairies photographic hoax of 1917.

9 year old Francis Griffiths with fairies. Photo taken by her 16 year old
cousin Elsie Wright, at Cottingley Village, East Yorkshire in 1917.

This concert was one of the most enjoyable, thoroughly well researched and rehearsed Artsong presentations I’ve had the delight in attending for some time. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

First published in City News Digital Edition, June 24 2019