Saturday, August 31, 2019


Heidi Silberman and Immi Irvine. 

The Good Doctor by Neil Simon and Anton Chekhov. Directed by James Scott. Limbo Theatre. Perform Australia Theatre, 11 Whyalla St Fyshwick. Aug 28-31.

Limbo Theatre has chosen well with The Good Doctor. Neil Simon’s adaptation of Chekhov short pieces suits actors wanting to stretch their performing muscles. Seven younger performers are joined by director James Scott in what turns out to be a gentle succession of perceptive tales, given some sensitive and amusing treatment.

 It’s a nineteenth century Russian world, although the costuming sometimes only barely hints at that. A rustic proscenium arch and curtains and a rather strange beige shade of lighting perhaps helps to suggest the sepia world of old photos. It’s a world where behaviour and social mores are examined with humour.  There’s a lot to be learned about human nature.

Izaac Beach leads the others with some authority in a convoluted comic tale about a young man who sneezes on a general (Scott) and whose attempts to explain and apologise only land him in worse trouble.

A mistress (Heidi Silberman) tests a poor downtrodden governess (Immi Irvine) in a rather cruel way to see if she can stand up for herself. It’s a tensely done two hander.

There are tensions between a not-quite–qualified doctor ( Anneka van der Velde) and a very reluctant dental patient (Nick Steain)

Hayden Splitt demonstrates the pitfalls of seduction in a piece about how to successfully woo a married woman. 

James Scott and Splitt show a bank manager and employee crumbling in the face of a woman with an agenda (Heidi Silberman). The scene escalates very well indeed.  The Defenceless Woman? Hardly.

Beach and Scott are touching in a son/father scene about the father wanting to push the son toward a maturity for which he may not be ready. A cynical prostitute  (Silberman) clearly agrees about the maturity.  

The Drowned Man is a gem of a piece about a strange nocturnal form of narrative theatre run by a strange young man (Beach) for the apparent amusement of a truculent passer by (Steain).

But it’s The Audition, where a young actress from Odessa (Irvine) woos the playwright director by doing all three sisters and doing them very well indeed that maybe moves the most.  

And it’s Damon Baudin who holds the whole show (really just a set of sketches) together so gracefully as the writer/narrator with more than a passing resemblance to Chekhov, the Good Doctor himself.

Alanna Maclean

Friday, August 30, 2019


Alinta Chidzey and ensemble in "Chicago" 

Lyrics by Fred Ebb – Music by John Kander – Book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Directed by Tania Nardini ­­­– Choreography recreated by Gary Christ
Musical Direction by Daniel Edmonds - Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty
Costume design by William Ivey Long – Lighting Design by Ken Billington
Capitol Theatre Sydney 27th August until 20th October 2019

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Sydney audiences currently have the opportunity to see two classic musicals, each one celebrated for its ground-breaking choreography which influenced the use of dance in generations of Broadway musicals. Productions of “West Side Story” and “Chicago” opened in Sydney within a week of each other and in each production, the distinctive choreography of Jerome Robbins for “West Side Story” and Bob Fosse for “Chicago” is brilliantly danced by the Australian casts.

This production of “Chicago” is the Brechtian, stripped-back, Ann Reinking interpretation, for which the band occupies centre stage. The ensemble, dressed in sexy black form-fitting costumes are seated onstage either side of the bandstand. They play all the supporting characters, without bothering with costume changes. The principal performers are introduced individually, vaudeville style, to perform set-pieces which end with play-out music. All except for Amos whose play-out music is overlooked.

But don’t let that description suggest that there is anything dull about this production. It’s as shiny as a new pin. Meticulously rehearsed within an inch of its life, every finger snap, every hip placement, every head turn is exactly where it should be. Fosse’s brilliant use of the human body for his ridiculously inventive choreography is here exposed to be admired and marvelled over.

But it’s not all about the choreography. There’s also the relationship between the two murderesses, Roxy Hart and Velma Kelly, who, as unscrupulous as each is, must be able to seduce the audience into loving them. The success of any production of “Chicago” is dependent on finding two star singer/ dancer/ actors with the requisite individual skills to handle the complex stagings as well as bring a frisson of competitiveness to the roles.

Alinta Chidzey (VelmaKelly) - Natalie Bassingthwaite (Roxie Hart) 

Over the years Australia has seen some remarkable pairings, commencing with Nancye Hayes and Geraldine Turner who first introduced us to these characters. Who could forget Caroline O’Connor and Sharon Millerchip in these roles? Now you can add Alinta Chidzey and Natalie Bassingthwaite to that list.

Both are brilliant dancers who bring unexpected nuances to their songs and fresh interpretations which lift them into the short list of memorable interpreters of these roles.

Do you need to see them? Oh Yes … You do... You do... You do.

Tom Burlinson (Billy Flynn) and ensemble

But wait there’s more. There’s Casey Donovan who impresses with her huge voice and presence as the prison matron, Mama Morton, exuding confidence and unexpected kindliness. There’s Tom Burlinson offering a somewhat darker interpretation and less razzle dazzle in the role of the unscrupulous lawyer, Billy Flynn. There’s Rodney Dobson, as Roxie’s cuckolded husband, Amos, who’ll break your heart with his exquisite rendition of “Mister Cellophane” and a smoking hot ensemble of exceptional dancers who play everyone else, look drop dead gorgeous, and dance the bejesus out of Fosse’s choreography.

To top it all off, there’s a stunning band which will have your toes tapping from the sassy opening notes of John Kander’s raunchy score to the last note of the play-out music, conducted with flair and finesse by the handsome Daniel Edmonds. 

Do you need to see it? Oh Yes...You do...You do...You do.

                                        Photos by Jeff Busby

         This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


Written by Neil Simon & Anton Chekhov
Directed by James Scott
A co-production of Honest Puck and Limbo Theatre
Perform Australia Theatre, Fyshwick to 31 August

Reviewed by Len Power 28 August 2019

One year after Neil Simon’s death, his 1973 play, ‘The Good Doctor’, is an interesting and challenging choice for Limbo and Honest Puck Theatre.  Based on or inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov, it consists of several small plays with Chekhov himself as narrator.  To work effectively, the short scenes in ‘The Good Doctor’ require highly detailed character work by the actors.  To add to the challenge, some of the plays are not as strong as others.

Limbo Theatre was formed by graduates of the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art (now Perform Australia) to bridge the gap between study and industry.  For this production, they have joined with Honest Puck Theatre with James Scott both directing and acting.

Damon Baudin is especially effective as the writer and narrator, Chekhov.  He builds an instant rapport with the audience and sustains his performance throughout the show.  Izaac Beach gives very strong performances in three of the plays - ‘The Sneeze’ as a worry-wart employee, a self-styled ‘maritime entertainer’ in ‘The Drowned Man’ and he is especially funny and moving in ‘The Arrangement’ as a shy 19 year old at a brothel.  Immi Irvine gives a quietly controlled and sensitive performance as a nervous young actress in ‘The Audition’.  Everyone else in the cast has their moments to shine amongst the multitude of characters they play.

Heidi Silberman and Immi Irvine

Director, James Scott, keeps the pace moving and the transition between the plays is handled especially well.  Set design by Sam Wilde is simple and practical and works fine for this production.  The split-second lighting changes were well-handled by Pat Uren.

More attention needs to be given to costumes and props.  I understand that it is difficult to costume a period production on a tight budget but some of the costumes were really poor, detracting from the actors’ performances at times.  The doctor’s kitbag in ‘The Surgery’ scene was falling apart.  Surely a better bag could have been used.

As a showcase for these emerging performers, ‘The Good Doctor’ proved to be a good choice as well as providing amusing entertainment.

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


Shakespeare in Love.

 Based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. Music by Paddy  Cunneen. Directed by Simon Phillips. Set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova. Lighting designer Matt Cox. Musical direction Andrew Kroenert. Sound designer Kerry Saxby. Choreographer Andrew Hainsworth. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. August 23 – 31 2019. Bookings 62435711.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare in Love is a sumptuous feast of sheer confection, exquisite in every detail, a masterpiece of theatrical invention and creation. With splendid costumes, a stunning set , fabulous lighting and  an outstanding cast to people the two hour traffic upon the stage, audiences are treated to an unforgettable experience of utter delight.
Claire ven der Boom as Viola de Lesseps.
Michael Wahr as Will Shakespeare i
Shakespeare in Love. Photo: Jeff Busby

It is hardly surprising to discover that this surfeit of succulent pleasure is the handiwork of director Simon Phillips. The production is stamped with his indelible talent for spectacle, opera, musical theatre and drama. Whether it be the glorious appearance of the troubadour minstrels, the tender love scenes between Viola de Lesseps (Clair van der Boom), and Will Shakespeare (Michael Wahr), the stately Pavane ball or the swashbuckling swordfights, Phillips directs with an eye for the theatrical dramatic, the theatrical comical, the theatrical amorous, the theatrical ridiculous and the theatrical entertaining. There is even the occasional moment when the theatrical sentimental has the power to move one to tears or the theatrical empathetic to arouse our deepest emotions. There is the delicious veneer of melodrama tempting us to hiss the villain, the obnoxious Lord Wessex (Daniel Frederiksen), sigh and sob  for the heroine, trapped in a loveless marriage and cheer the hero as he valiantly battles the villain to rescue his true love from an horrible fate.

For the Bard aficionado, the production, steeped in allusion and  reference, is an intellectual Shakespeare trivia quest.  Did Kit Marlowe (Luke Arnold) ) really help Shakespeare pen those sonnets of love? Was Richard Burbage (Aaron Tsindos) ), Shakespeare’s renowned tragedian, such a pompous jackass? Was it the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Tilney (Francis Greenslade) who inspired Malvolio’s exit line in Twelfth Night. Could it be true that Shakespeare suffered from the dreaded writer’s block and could the Dark Lady of The Sonnets have been none other than Viola. It’s a mystery shrouded in tantalizing conjecture.

Timing is everything in this historical rollercoaster of a play. Rapid entrances and exits propel the action with split second timing, carrying audiences along on a wave of fascination. Love triumphant holds the moment in its thrall, while love assailed is quickly dispersed  by the forces of conflict or comedy. Shakespeare is Love’s sleuth, and Shakespeare in Love is a love story. The love of the theatre is as vital as the love between two people, whatever their sexual preference. Central to the drama is the wager between Wessex and Shakespeare that the theatre can never portray true love .
Deirdre Rubinstein as Queen Elizabeth l
and courtiers in Shakespeare in Love.
Photo by Jeff Busby

Phillips’s company of actors would do the King’s Men proud. As Viola de Lesseps, Claire van der Boom gives an enchanting performance, thoroughly capturing our hearts as she struggles to assert a woman’s place upon the Elizabethan stage. There is alchemy in the chemistry between van der Boom’s Viola and Wahr’s Shakespeare. There is not a performance that falters. Cast and creatives imbue this magnificent  production with the very essence of the Elizabethan era.  
 In an ensemble as adroit as this, to single out individual performances from a bevy of bravura and ebullience is rather pointless. Each one has his or her entrance and exit and each person plays his or her part or parts to perfection. It is worth remarking on Deirdre Rubinstein’s imposing presence as the Virgin Queen as well as De Lessep’s complicit Nurse and I took a fancy to Peter Houghton’s Capulet Nurse, played in full blown coarse acting tradition as though he was still a pirate in Shakespeare’s original idea of Romeo and  Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. And who would have thought that Tyler Coppin’s Wabash’s stutter could be cured by the magic of the theatre? Apologies to those unnamed, but there is not one among you who does not deserve the mightiest praise. And let’s not forget Spot, the dog, played with such charm and cute obedience by Daisy.
Comparisons are odious and it would be sheer folly to compare stage to film. Both are masters in their own right, but the MTC production owes an enormous debt to the screenplay by Marc Norman and the indefatigable Tom Stoppard. It is a gift that adaptor Lee Hall has grasped with aplomb and theatrical flair.
All in all, this is a show, the likes of which is a feast for the eye, the heart and the mind and I urge you before it is too late to beg, borrow or (in sotto voce) steal a ticket.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


Belfast Girls.L to R, Phoebe Heath, Eliza Jennings, Isabel Burton, Joanna Richards, Natasha Vickery. Photo. Jordan Best

“Belfast Girls” by Jaki McCarrick, directed by Jordan Best for Echo Theatre. At The Q, Queanbeyan, until August 31. Review by PHILLIP MACKENZIE
FIRST,  let us consider the script of 'Belfast Girls'.
The story-line concerns the adventures of five young Belfast women who have joined up to Earl Grey’s Orphan Emigration Scheme to provide female company for, and therefore a civilising influence on, the excessively male population of the colony of NSW, and at the same time save the women from a life of deprivation and depredation in their famine-starved homeland.
The women pass the time on their long voyage, confined to the one cabin, sharing stories of their individual backgrounds; alliances are formed and break down, fights are fought and resolved, love blossoms and wilts and, as Sydney Town comes into sight, an unrealistic optimistic camaraderie is formed.
End of play.
Now, let us consider the performance of the play directed by Jordan Best.
The set consists of the interior of what purports to be a cabin on a nineteenth-century sailing ship – with a drape of sails hovering in the background and a patch of open deck – surrounded, incidentally, not by a sturdy, sea-faring timber railing but by a couple of limp strands of rope to lend it a nautical air.
The cabin is unexpectedly spacious and well-lit for such accommodations of the time, comfortable and clean to the point of sterility.  There is one obligatory rat event, one bout of sea-sickness and one raging storm – otherwise the women get along quite comfortably.
They are played by Phoebe Heath, Eliza Jennings, Isabel Burton, Joanna Richards and Natasha Vickery.
They are provided with a standard, modest, dull blue/grey costume over voluminous period petticoats and bloomers, which never changes throughout the voyage.  They have identical footwear – short boots with zippers up the side, which some even wear to bed. Really.
What did these people do on this long voyage, other than tell their stories, talk, squabble, etc.? Did they not eat, sew, embroider, read, play cards? One might expect, also, that over the length of the voyage, individual tastes might have resulted in the occasional  colourful decoration – a shawl here, a girdle or a bow there which, incidentally, might have made it easier to differentiate between the characters.
This problem is accentuated by the uniformity of the actors' well-represented harsh Belfast brogue, the lack of vocal projection and the rapidity with which the lines are delivered. Lest this be taken as gratuitous negative criticism, let me commend the ensemble nature of their corporate performance; but even this has its downside in that, in behaving 'naturally' towards each other, their conversations stay within the group, to the exclusion of the audience.
This would not present a problem were this a film, with the use of close-ups, cut-aways, etc. but on stage you have to make compromises. You have to project.
This is a disappointing play, with a disappointing production lacking in attention to detail by the new Echo Theatre company, supported by the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council.
Despite the Earl Grey's best charitable intentions for the Belfast girls, and Council's commitment to the promotion of professional theatrical opportunities for women, this play is not my cup of tea.