Thursday, October 31, 2019

SIBLINGSHIP - Performed by Daniel Assetta and Chiara Assetta

Daniel Assetta and Chiara Assetta

The Q, Queanbeyan, 27th October 2019

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Cabaret is the perfect medium for performers to showcase their talents. It allows them to highlight their strengths and reveal performing skills previously unknown to audiences through the roles in which they’ve been cast. Too often though, the opportunity is missed through poor musical choices or the lack of a director frequently resulting in too many unedited ideas or self-indulgence.

“Siblingship” is a perfect example of a superbly crafted cabaret, honed to perfection and performed impeccably by the artists for whom it was created.

From the time they could walk Daniel Assetta and his little sister, Chiara, knew they would be entertainers. Daniel the exhibitionist and Chiara his adoring sibling happy to be in his shadow as long as she was sharing the spotlight as evidenced by f\delightful snippet from  home movies of their earliest performances captured by their proud parents and relatives. Even in these charming videos, cleverly edited to preface the show and cover costume changes, their affection for each other is palpable and their talent undeniable.

Daniel Assetta 

Both are now assured, highly trained, performers with significant musical theatre careers. Daniel is currently touring as the alternate Tony in Opera Australia’s current production of “West Side Story”, after stints in “Wicked”, “The Book of Mormon” and “Cats”, having won the Rob Guest Endowment Award in 2015.

Chiara, after appearing on television in “Dance Academy”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, “The Voice” and “X Factor Australia”, made her professional musical Theatre debut this year in a different production of “West Side Story”, playing Teresita in Opera Australia’s,  Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour version.

Chiara Assetta 

However “Siblingship” doesn’t focus on their individual careers, rather, on their time together growing up. In fact, it is the news that Daniel has been successful in being cast in the national tour of “Wicked” that becomes the dramatic focal point of the show, forcing both to face the reality that if they are to achieve the success for which they’ve both worked so tirelessly, their relationship must inevitably change.

The show is beautifully written, brave, thoughtful, endlessly entertaining, and in places, quite moving, without ever becoming maudlin. The direction is impeccable making use of a clever lighting plot to focus the action. There’s not a wasted word or misstep as both performers effortlessly charm their audience, recreating acts they invented as children, scoring points off each other, and singing and dancing up a storm.

 A medley sequence when they sort through songs looking for suitable wedding duet to sing at a friend’s wedding is hilarious as they discover plenty which shouldn’t be sung by siblings.  Chiara does a terrific version of Kander and Ebb’s “I Can’t Do It Alone” as she tries to dissuade Daniel from cutting her from the act when he decides she’s superfluous. Daniel does an amusing version of Maury Yeston’s “Be Italian”, mimicking the expected reaction of their parents to Chiara’s revelation that her new boyfriend is not Italian, and Drew Gasparini’s, “A Little Bit Gay” for a revelation of his own.

Not all the songs are from musicals however, and much of the success of the show is due to the clever choice of songs which allow the performers to express feelings more affectingly than they could with dialogue to advance their story.  Many have been re-invented in lovely musical arrangements by Musical Director, Nicholas Griffin, who, together with musicians, Yianni Adams (guitar, Konrad Ball (Bass) and Charlie Kurthi (Drums) provides the classy accompaniment throughout.

The lyrics of Dianne Warren’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”, usually associated with Cher, but here, sung sensitively by Daniel, as a soulful expression of his regret for a thoughtless taunt, are revealed as thoughtful meditations. Similarly Chiara’s lovely treatment of “Out Here on My Own”, written by Lesley and Michael Gore for the film “Fame”, reveals her hesitation at facing her own destiny.

Daniel Assetta and Chiara Assetta

Both triple threat performers are equally at home singing close harmonies, dancing up a storm, and delivering dialogue, either dramatic or comedic, with equal conviction. However they’ve also had the professional savvy to collaborate with a clever writer in Tobias Madden, two imaginative and experienced directors in Scott Irwin and Danielle Barnes, and a top-class musical director and arranger in Nicholas Griffin. The result is one of the classiest cabaret acts currently touring celebrating a rare and very special relationship. Certainly one not to be missed if you get the opportunity to see it.

                                               Photos by David Hooley

This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.


Surpassing The Beeline

 Conceived and directed by Abishek Thapar,  Performers: Amsterdam Expats, Rinku Kalsy. Vaishali Nanda and Sahil Sahni. Adelaide Expats. Gabriel “DyspOra” Akon, Asha Krishnan and Elsy Wameya,. Co-commissioned by Frascati Theatre Amsterdam. The Banquet Room. Adelaide Festival Centre. OzAsia Festival October 29-31 2019

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Abishek Thapar. Director of Surpassing The Beeline

Director of Surpassing The Beeline, Abishek Thapar greets the audience at the entry to the Banquet Room of the Festival Theatre and directs us to three large tables The tables are laden with food from six nations, corresponding to the six expats who have prepared the food for the 16 people seated around each table. During the course of the ninety minute “performance” the six “performers” move in pairs from table to table. Each pair consists of an expat from Amsterdam and one from Adelaide. I take a seat at table three where Sudanese expat Gabriel “DyspOra” Akon and Indian expat Vaishali Nanda greet us and welcome us to their traditional dishes that they have prepared for us. But to begin with their stories  trace the journey from their homeland to Adelaide or Amsterdam. Gabriel’s hip hop rendition of his terrifying experience as a refugee and seven year enclosure in a camp recounts the brutality of war and the lost childhood before coming to Adelaide. Vaishali also recounts a deeply personal and initially painful experience of being left by her Dutch husband and her struggle to overcome the pain of the experience and her eventual assertion of her independence and liberation. 

Expats Rinku Kalsy from India and Asha Krishnan from Malaysia tell of their adjustment to a new land and a culture so very different from their own. Food marks the stamp of their identity and Rinku is able to overcome her mother-in-law’s strict adherence to the ritual of fasting and Asha finds the answer to a discontinued teaching contract in her mother’s laksa recipe.   Finally Elsy Wameyo from Nairobi in Kenya and Sahil Sahni from Inia join us to tell their stories and the role that food has played in preserving their sense of culture and identity. We continue to eat in the awareness that we are partaking of a communion of cultural identity. Rapper Gabriel’s torturous journey to a safe haven through a mother’s courage blazons awareness of a greater humanity. Elsy’s triumph over the onslaught of ignorant racism reminds us as we eat of the gift her flight from Kenya has given to an emerging multicultural nation. “If only they had listened to me in Grade 3 and at high school.”

Surpassing The Beeline has been described as Theatre in the OzAsia brochure. These immigrants are not actors, although Gabriel is a rapper and Elsy a singer. They are immigrants, storytellers with tales to tell and experiences to share and a common humanity to illuminate.  Their food is not only the way to our stomach but the way to our hearts and minds and an appreciation not only of the different tastes they share but of the shared humanity, no matter the cultural difference or the colour of the skin. Surpassing the Beeline, meaning the shortest route to go back home, is through the banquet of different dishes laid before us. It is also the shortest route to our better understanding.

I savour the tastes still as I leave the Banquet Room with the stories still echoing in my mind and taking me to homes far away. These storytellers still call their birthplace home while feeding their audience a wider and richer diet of global awareness. We leave having been active participants in the appreciation of the important influence and contribution of migrants in providing their adopted land with a beeline to a recipe for fresh insight and thoughtfully prepared narratives. Abishek Thapar and his performers have offered us a wonderful meal of many flavours, richly combined to illuminate narratives that feed our understanding. Surpassing The Beeline serves up a rare taste of what it is to be a migrant in a home away from home.    

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock and the novel by John Buchan
Associate Director: Corey McMahon
Originally directed by Jon Halpin
State Theatre Company of South Australia
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 2 November

Reviewed by Len Power 29 October 2019

Last seen here a few years ago, The State Theatre Company of South Australia’s production of ‘The 39 Steps’ has returned to Canberra.  Based on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1935 movie of the same name, which was adapted from the much less exciting novel by John Buchan, it’s an adventure yarn with a handsome, still upper lip hero, a beautiful woman and dangerous crooks.

Adapted by Patrick Barlow in 2005 from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, ‘The 39 Steps’ became a massive hit on the London stage, running for 9 years.  It’s a smart, witty theatrical vehicle for four actors in multiple roles who parody the clichéd elements of the plot using a jumble of mundane items scattered about the stage to represent important items in the story.  How these items are used by the frantic actors is the fun aspect of this show.  Things often carefully go wrong, forcing the actors to appear to improvise.  The story ultimately doesn’t matter.  We just want to see what these crazy people will do next.

From left: Charles Mayer (behind), Tim Overton, Anna Steen and Nathan Page

The cast of this production give memorable performances.  As Richard Hannay, Nathan Page is a delightful cliché of a dashing and resourceful English hero.  Anna Steen scores in three roles and is especially good fun as Hannay’s love interest involved in hair-breadth adventures and escapes with him.  The two other performers – Charles Mayer and Tim Overton - are billed as ‘The Other’ and ‘The Other Others’.  They play the rest of the many characters in the story at breakneck speed, changing costumes, gender and accents at a dizzying pace.  Their performances are absolutely superb.

On the train to Scotland...

Production values on this show are very high.  Corey McMahon’s direction is excellent, engaging our imagination at every turn and moving smoothly from one mad moment to the next.

On opening night, a moth fluttered down in front of one of the actors who seamlessly included it in the action.  Maybe that incident is in the show every night - these performers are so skilful, nothing would surprise me.  The moth seemed to know what it was doing, too.

Photos by Shane Reid

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


Susumi Ogata as Master in The Dark Master.
Photo Tasuki Hoikawa

The Dark Master.

Written and directed by Kuro Tanino. Stage design Takuya Kamiike Niwa Gedikan Penino.  Cast: Susumu Ogata. Koichiro F.O. Pereira. Masato Nomura. Harsune Sakai. Kazuya Inouie. Kazuki Sugita. Yukinobu Okajima. Katzuhiro Ogi. Kana Ogi. The Space Theatre Adelaide Festival Centre. OzAsia Festival. October 29-31.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

In 2017 playwright and director, Kuro Tanino brought his company, Niwa Gekidan Penino to perform The Dark Inn, an epic piece that probed the human psyche through the lives of various characters who reside at a provincial hot spring inn. Tanino revisits the recurring leitmoitf of consequential transformation in his latest offering, The Dark Master. Like The DarK Inn, Tanino’s The Dark Master is concerned with the impact of change on the individual and society.

Tanino again sets his play in an isolated prefecture of Japan.  A Tokyo backpacker arrives at an empty bistro in search of somewhere to eat and is confronted by a world-weary and dismissive owner who has been at the bistro for thirty-five years through boom and bust. An attempt to leave is thwarted when he finds the door locked and the intentions of the owner begin to become clear. He is looking for someone to take over his bar and teach the art of cooking in the traditional style. This is where Tanino’s play takes a fascinating twist. The innocent, naïve young traveller is given earphones to communicate with the master, who retires to his upstairs living quarters not to be disturbed and only to be communicated with through a microphone. The scene is set for the education of his unwitting apprentice.

“It’s just like the bistro I visited last year” my companion said. Takuya Kamiike has replicated a real bistro with an unerring eye for detail that includes a fully equipped stove and utensils. As the owner issues instructions through the earpieces and follows his actions through cameras planted throughout, the young apprentice embarks on a wild education as his first customer orders onuri rice, which the traveller prepares before our eyes. The young man’s success fires enthusiasm and gradually he becomes equipped to serve different dishes to an ever-increasing clientele. Tradition infuses the new generation with understanding and purpose through the master’s manipulative instruction.

As if watching a cooking show in progress, a central video screen shows the actual preparation of various dishes while surtitles flash onto the side screens. The master’s instructions and reactions to the young man’s excited , nervous or confused comments continue through the earphones that have been supplied to audience members, totally engaged by the visual action on stage and the aural, disembodied voice of the previous owner.

Comedy turns to ominous awareness of the perilous rite of passage that unfolds. As the popularity of the bistro grows, so does the young man’s journey into the dark experience of his instructor, Innocence is tarnished by the sweetness of success and the overpowering suggestion of the master who leads his victim to loss of innocence and the master’s impression of a real man, experiencing alcohol, smoking and sex with a local prostitute. “Now you are a real man.” the voice proclaims proudly.

Tanino, a former psychiatrist, directs with an insightful appreciation of the nature of power, persuasion and the human psyche. He infuses his actors with instinctive truths, eliciting strong performances from his actors. There are excellent performances from Susumu Ogata as the Master, whose sinister intent to restore the traditional reputation of his bistro transforms innocence into the pain of experience, captured in a thoroughly believable performance by Koichiro F.O. Pereira as the Young Man. There are also strong performances by Hatsune Sakai as the Sex Worker and Masato Nomura as the violent Chinese Man. The reference to the bitter antagonism between the two nations is inescapable. 

Performed in the intimacy of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre, The Dark Master draws us in to Tanino’s prophetic parable of lost innocence. Tradition has maintained its powerful influence while the new and aimless generation is guided towards a controlled and authoritative existence. Tanino’s warning provides food for thought to a discerning palate.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Joyous celebration of song and pride at Out and Loud Gala Concert

Out and Loud Gala Choral Concert
Llewellyn Hall, October 27, 2019

by Tony Magee

IN A MASSIVE organisational feat, host city Canberra presented a triumphant choral concert showcasing the talents of nine LGBTIQ+ choirs from around Australia and overseas.

All choirs performed individually, before massing together for an exhilarating grand finale, brilliantly conducted by Stephen Leek. Guest soloists soprano Sarahlouise Owens and tenor Christopher Lincoln Bogg joined the massed choir for the final piece, “Fall On Me”, beautifully arranged by Canberra’s own Leonard Weiss, the audience erupting in a joyous standing ovation.

In addition, the massed choir premiered composer Sally Whitwell’s new piece “Stronger Together” which was specially commissioned for the festival and beautifully performed.

But it was the choir from Timor-Leste, Lian Esperansa, who stole the show.

Newly formed, this was their first major performance anywhere in the world. Numbering just eight singers, plus their conductor and pianist, they sang with great passion and beauty, excellent voice projection and diction and superb harmonies with finely balanced dynamic shading. Some percussion instruments added a rich Portuguese and Calypso feel to their songs, also eliciting a standing ovation from the audience.

Lian Esperansa Choir from Timor-Leste. Photo: Tony Magee

GALS Rainbow Choir from Auckland opened the event with a solo chant from someone in the audience, the choir then seamlessly joining in with stylish and mellifluous harmonies. The highlight of their set was the Maori folk song “Te Iwi E”.

Brisbane Pride Choir followed. Their a cappella rendition of “Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim was serenely beautiful.

True Colours Chorus from Darwin, formed only in February this year, have already sung at three festivals. Numbering just seven singers plus their pianist, the highlight was a clever melding of “Let It Go” and “True Colours” by Michael Leunig, Susan Frisk, Billy Sternberg and Tom Kelly.

Fiji’s Rainbow Free and Equal Choir were the smallest of the ensembles, numbering just four singers. With excellent projection they opened and closed with two Fijian folk songs, with a centrepiece solo island dance sequence entitled “Seasea”.

To close the first half, the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus performed three pieces. Of particular note were the sensual and supportive accompaniments by pianist Marc Alexander. Their finale was a very moving and highly polished a cappella performance of “Kyrie” by Richard Page, Stephen George and John Lang.

Sydney’s large Gay and Lesbian Choir opened the second half, delivering a confident and rich sound. “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers had the audience in hysterics, before closing their set with a moving rendition of “What If Truth is All We Have?” by Anne Hampton Callaway, the piece fading peacefully to just three counter-tenor voices.

The Gay and Lesbian Singers of Western Australia charmed the audience with the highlight of their set, “Rolling in the Deep” by Paul Epworth and Adele Adkins. Pianist Sammy McSweeny’s accompaniments were moving and supportive.

The last of the Australian choirs was our own, massive, Canberra Gay and Lesbian Qwire. With excellent intonation and rich harmonies, they shone most brightly with “Sudden Light” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Robert H. Young. Pianist Jessica Stewart excelled with her sensitive and supportive accompaniments.

In a joyous concert that lasted three hours with one interval, my feeling on leaving the venue was simply, “It’s great to be alive”.

The massed choirs of GALS Rainbow Choir (New Zealand), Brisbane Pride Choir, True Colours Chorus (Darwin), Rainbow Free and Equal (Fiji), Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir, Gay and Lesbian Singers of Western Australia, Lian Esperansa (Timor-Leste) and the Canberra Gay and Lesbian Qwire perform "Stronger Together" by Sally Whitwell, with conductor Stephen Leek and Jessica Stewart at the piano. Photo: Tony Magee

Review first published in City News Digital Edition, October 28, 2019 and also on Tony’s blog Art Music Theatre, October 29, 2019

Monday, October 28, 2019


Julie Lea Goodwin (Madama Cortese) - Giorgio Caoduro (Don Profondo) - Irina Lungu (Corinna)
and the cast of "Il Viaggio a Reims"

By Gioachino Rossini

Directed by Damiano Michieletto – Conducted by Daniel Smith
Set designed by Paolo Fantin – Costumes designed by Carla Teti
Presented by Opera Australia- Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House 24th October – 2nd November 2019

Performance on 24th October reviewed by Bill Stephens

It’s not often that the conductor of an opera wins more applause than the cast, but that was what happened on the opening night of “Il Viaggio a Reims” in the Sydney Opera House.  Australian conductor, Daniel Smith for his first conducting engagement in Sydney for Opera Australia, was given a rock-star ovation and won himself a legion of admirers, as much for his enthusiastic involvement in the opera (he won the bidding during the art auction sequence) as for the scintillating performance he encouraged from both singers and orchestra.

Performed for the first time in Australia in Melbourne earlier this year, and now on its first outing in Sydney, “Il Viaggio a Reims” was written by Rossini in 1825, as a special occasion piece to showcase the talents of leading opera singers of the day, in celebration of the coronation of King Charles X.  It was intended for only three performances, although Rossini did sanction an extra charity performance before destroying the score.

However, Rossini shared Andrew Lloyd Webber’s penchant for recycling his compositions, and interpolated many composed for “Il Viaggio a Reims” into his later operas, particularly “LeComte Ory”. As a result, much of the music in “Il Viaggio a Reims” has a familiar sound to it. None-the-less this opera represents Rossini at his most inventive, and the top flight cast of this present production revel in the opportunities it offers.

Julie Lea Goodwin (Madama Cortese)_ - Jennifer Black (Maddalena) 

Originally set in an Inn occupied by a group of VIPs en route to the King’s coronation, the opera catalogues their misadventures along the way. However, for this delightful co-production between Opera Australia, the Dutch National Opera and the Royal Danish Opera the director, Damiano Michieletto has set his version, (reproduced in Sydney by Constantine Costi) in modern day art gallery, where the gallery owner, Madama Cortese (Julie Lea Goodwin in Anna Wintour mode) and her staff are busily engaged hanging a new exhibition, and arranging a lavish opening party.

The concept works a treat. Famous masterworks come to life, timetables fall behind, and actors and singers are rehearsed for a lavish pageant to celebrate the exhibition opening.
The surtitles are of little use in helping follow the action, but that doesn’t matter, because the opera romps along with so many diverting highlights, it’s best to forget the destination and just enjoy the journey and the glorious singing.

The art gallery setting provides endless opportunity for unexplained events both amusing and charming. The three graces of Canova’s sculpture step out of their glass cabinet and join characters from famous paintings that also move around the gallery floor.  Teddy Tahu Rhodes, as Lord Sidney, pours out his passion to Sargent's "Portrait of Madame X" before bravely baring his torso to be erotically painted cobalt blue. Sian Sharp and Shanul Sharma entrapped in a painting, vainly sing advice to two young lovers quarrelling soundlessly in the gallery below them. Giorgio Caudoro, as Don Profondo, dazzled with his tongue-twisting aria listing the various possessions of the guests.

Paintings come to life in "Il Viaggio a Reims"

With 14 principal roles, most with their own aria, there are plenty of opportunities for bravura performances, and this superb cast, who in addition to those already mentioned, included Conal Coad, Emma Pearson, Juan de Dios Mateos, Warwick Fyfe, Jennifer Black, Luke Gabbedy, John Longmuir, Christopher Hillier,   Stuart Haycock, Kathryn Radcliffe and Agnes Sarkis, don’t hold back.
But despite the competition, the most memorable aria occurs towards the end of the opera. It’s a 12 minute solo, sung with crystalline purity by soprano, Irina Lungu, accompanied, initially, simply by forte piano, as the huge cast move ever so slowly into position to form a sumptuous tableau which brings the opera to a spectacular conclusion.

Irina Lungu (Corinna) - Juan de  Dios Mateos (Cavalier Belfioro) 

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Lyndon Terracini’s tenure as Artistic Director of Opera Australia. A champion of innovation, under Terracini’s guidance, in that decade, Opera Australia has undergone many changes, including the establishment of the Handa Operas on Sydney Harbour, and the   introduction of LED screen technology, which has cemented its reputation as one of the busiest and most innovative opera companies in the world.

It was a fascinating choice therefore to end the 2019 Sydney season with this entertaining production of “Il Viaggio a Reims”, with its bravura embrace of bygone techniques such as Pose Plastique and Tableau Vivant.

                                      Photos by Prudence Upton

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.



 Choreographed by Damien Jalet in collaboration with designer Kohei Nawa. Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre. OzAsia Festival October 26-27 2019.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Extraordinary! There can be no other way to describe Damien Jalet and Kohei Nawa’s  abstract sculptural dance in which bodies and landscape merge in an extraterrestrial, primordial fusion of dance and dream-like imagery of the human form.

The low haunting tone of the wind sounds over an alien landscape. Yukiko Yoshimoto’s lighting creation slowlY illuminates a floating moonscape upon a stage covered with water. Gradually conjoined physical forms are detected around the edge of the large structure in the centre of the stage. The light brightens and Marihiko Haka’s musical composition with the participation of Ryuichi Sakamoto introduces the sound of bubbling water, accompanying amounting percussion. Mystery fills the air and the shapes emerge into the light, stretching and contorting in a slowly writhing symphony of intertwined limbs

From within a sculptured structure of limbs a headless torso and heaving form slides through the water to the edge of the stage. The lighting spots more strange and indefinable shapes as the solid form fragments in a display of limbs and shifting poses. Shoulder stands shape a landscape of denuded vegetation before transforming into extraterrestrial creatures or distant aliens. The seven dancers from Greece, Japan and Australia gyrate, rotate, intertwine, morphing from indefinable living creatures to a chorus line of piano hammers comically  creating their musical composition.

Vessel  is noted as “the background that is subsumed by life and death, and the cycles of earth and life” The imagery of dance in non-human entity, captured by the anonymity of concealed heads and indistinct gender fires the imaginary forces as a concept of evolutionary cycle ferments in the imagination. The human species has evolved from the water, eventually surfacing upon the land and transforming into a new species of human beings. In the process of contortion, writhing, conjoining and fragmenting images transmute into interpretative possibilities. Dark pits in the collarbones appear as sunken eyes on strange creatures. Another form suggests a praying mantis. Another a tree trunk, Another a Venus flytrap or the dilated cervix giving birth to new life. A white liquid, drawn from the landscape emerges, gliding across the back of a dancer. Birth is imminent as the vernix covers the  slowly emerging human, who sinks back into the earth at the completion of life’s cycle
What is so extraordinary about Julet and Nawa’s dance performance is its unique imagining and creative individuality. Concept and dance combine with design and music to conjure a mesmerizing and transformative experience. The physical versatility and synchronization of a closely knitted ensemble provides a fresh insight into the imaginative expression of contemporary dance.

Vessel overflows with the wonderment of imagination and the brilliance of its artists. It lingers in the memory like an eerie, unforgettable dream. 


Siblingship at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, October 27, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Daniel Assetta and Chiara Assetta as themselves

Writer – Tobias Madden
Co-Directors – Scott Irwin and Danielle Barnes
Lighting Design – James Wallis

Musical Director / Arranger – Nicholas Griffin
Drums – Charlie Kurthi
Bass – Konrad Ball
Guitar – Yianni Adams

Siblingship follows the childhood journey of Daniel Assetta (The Book of Mormon, Wicked, CATS) and Chiara Assetta (West Side Story, Good Omens The Musical, The Dismissal), two real-life, all-singing, all-dancing, Italian-Australian siblings. Through classic show tunes and a splash of pop music…. ]  

Accentuate the Positive is one song from a much earlier generation that these twenty-something performers could have used to highlight their theme.  The audience at The Q was up for it.  It was a standing ovation for a humorous celebration of a loving sibling relationship.

The story of their dancing lives began on amusing slides and video-clips from their births and took us through to the present time, as they re-enacted themselves at home (Italian) and on stage in Western Sydney talent quests and by invitation at all kinds of social occasions, including weddings.  Choosing the right songs for weddings – and rejecting the wrong ones – was a nice satirical number.

While they were amazingly able to fling themselves and occasionally each other around the stage as the video showed them doing as children, the story has its strength in illustrating the process of growing up.  Family (Italian) held everything together for them until the time came for Daniel, now married to Tobias who has written this show, had to reveal (on an answering machine voice message!) to his mother that he is “a little bit gay”.  For Chiara, her older brother leaving to go on tour on his first professional engagement, just as she was finishing high school, was an emotional loss.

The take home message, though, was that ‘siblingship’ is stronger than parental and conventional expectations – it’s about love and protection of each other.

It’s awkward for me to review this show in the way I would for a fictional drama.  Playing themselves in their true story – their love for each other which concludes their performance is surely real – stops me from suggesting that the ending is hopeful for the characters but doesn’t guarantee such a perfect relationship forever. 

Yet the idea of writing their story and presenting it on stage – where, as we know, ‘theatre is illusion’ – puts the show into a category which I have previously called Theatre of the Personal Self. 

Two recent examples that Canberra and Queanbeyan people will remember are My Gurrwai by Torres Strait Islander woman Ghenoa Gela and Red by Liz Lea.  In this category, Siblingship, though highly entertaining and full of positivity, and therefore very well worth enjoying, is a much lighter piece from a dramatic point of view.

And, of course, there is plenty of room on stage for light entertainment, especially when it is as well choreographed, musically put together and performed as by Chiara and Daniel Assetta – siblings extraordinaire.

Sunday, October 27, 2019


Produced and Directed by Elena Kirschbaum.
Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse 23 – 26th October 2019

Performance on 23rd October reviewed by Bill Stephens

The emergence of spiegeltents in Australia has also led to the emergence of adult circus cabaret as a popular new genre. “Rouge” is an excellent example. Promising “a decadent blend of sensational acrobatics, operatic cabaret and tongue in cheek burlesque” the show for the most part, delivers on its promise.

Jessie McKibbin, Lyndon Johnson, Issie Hart, Liam DeJong, Maddison Burleigh, Paul Westbrook

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

The attractive cast of five skilled circus performers, Liam de Jong, Jessie McKibbin, Lyndon Johnson, Maddison Burleigh and Paul Westbrook, each with their own impressive repertoire of individual skillsets, have pooled their talents with those of opera singer, Issie Hart, to devise a diverting and good-humoured little show which would fit beautifully into a spiegeltent, but felt a little under-cooked in the formal framework of a theatre. A fact emphasised by the uninspired and under-rehearsed opening number which got the show off to a less than auspicious start.

However a succession of cleverly devised acrobatic turns in which the attractively costumed performers showcased their skills in solos or in various combinations, performing  skilful tumbling and acrobatics utilising aerial bars and hoops, chairs and other apparatus,  soon lifted the audience mood.

Issie Hart in "Rouge"

Photo: David Power

Red, a subtle reference to the show’s title, was the predominant colour for the costumes in the first half. Issie Hart displayed an impressive operatic technique, and provided mobile spectacle in magnificent red gowns and headdresses. Paul Westbrook contributed a cheeky male fan dance, and later teamed with Lyndon Johnson for an impressive a straps routine. Jessie McKibbin also teamed with Lyndon Johnson to perform an elegant Cyr wheel routine, certainly one of the highlights of the evening.

Justifying the “Adult” label, the raunchier second half of the show commenced with a sexy ensemble routine featuring the full cast, costumed in black leather, engaging a variety acrobatic same-sex couplings. More heat was provided by the fire-eating act, a whip-cracking act, and some titillating full-frontal nudity in which one of the cast, his identity protected by a lampshade on his head, managed to recover his underpants while attempting to preserve his dignity with his hands.

Perhaps losing something in translation from spiegeltent to theatre, “Rouge” on  this occasion never quite achieved the panache and decadence promised by its publicity. That aside,  it never-the-less did provide an enjoyable evening of enticingly packaged physical theatre.

This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.