Wednesday, January 29, 2020

DON GIOVANNI - Opera Australia

Luca Michelletti (Don Giovani) - Anna Dowsley (Zerlina) 

 Directed by Sir David McVicar.  Revival directed by Matthew Barclay
Conducted by Xu Zhong.  Set and Costumes designed by Robert Jones
Lighting designed by David Finn. Choreographed by Andrew George

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until 27th February, 2020

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Mozart described this opera as a “playful drama”.  David McVicar’s  epic production, stylishly realised for this production by Matthew Barclay, incorporates moments of comedy, high drama, even playfulness, but it’s the inevitable sense of tragedy, in its sweeping expose of the profligate adventures of its seventeenth century Harvey Weinstein, that dominates the evening.

Shane Lowrencev (Leperello) and Company 

The dark, decaying setting by Robert Jones, with its tantalising perspectives, dominated by a huge staircase, and huge, movable masonry walls, with piles of detritus containing rotting skulls, visible on either side, compliments that feeling. From time to time the staircase rises to become a ceiling, tables rise out of, or sink into, the floor, adding to the feeling of unease, until finally, hideous creatures emerge from the depths to deliver Don Giovanni his come-uppance.

Jones has also used a subdued palette for his attractive costumes. For the wedding banquet, most are in sombre shades of grey, replaced for a later orgy by lavish black costumes richly embroidered in silver. Particularly striking is the extraordinarily low level of David Finn lighting design, which, far from being oppressive, achieves an unusual authenticity for the many night-time scenes.

Shane Lowrevcev (Leporello) - Luca Micheletti ( Don Giovanni) 

Heading a superb cast of singers, making his role debut, as well as his Opera Australia debut, as the, debauched, pleasure-seeking libertine, Don Giovanni, convinced that to be constant to one woman is to be unkind to the others, charismatic Italian baritone, Luca Micheletti, quickly won the audience, with his strong, confident singing and nuanced acting. However, it was his tender rendition of “Oh, Come to the Window”, that got them cheering.

Eleanor Lyons (Donna Anna) - Jane Ede (Donna Elvira) 

Also making her Opera Australia debut in the role of the grieving Donna Anna, determined to avenge the death of her father, murdered by Don Giovanni while escaping from his unsuccessful attempt to seduce her, returning Australian soprano, Eleanor Lyons, also impressed with her impeccably judged performance.
Shane Lowrencev not only sang superbly, but captured every laugh, as Don Giovanni’s fall-guy, Leporello, while Jane Ede gave an arresting performance as the abandoned Donna Elvira, desperately trying to rekindle her three-day fling with Don Giovanni. She was given excellent support by Juan de Dios Mateos, as her protector, Don Ottavio, who impressed with his striking, clarion clear tenor voice.

Anna Dowsley (Zerlina) - Richard Anderson (Masetto)  and company. 

Anna Dowsley was captivating as the young bride, Zerlina, providing a highlight with her singing of “You are jealous. You are Cruel”, as she tried to persuade her young husband, Masetto, (Richard Anderson) to take her back after she had fended off the unwanted attentions of Don Giovanni, while the haunting bass voice and commanding presence  of  Gennadi Dubinsky, as the Commendatore, sent shivers up the spine. 

Rounding out a night of firsts, internationally renowned Chinese conductor, Xu Zhong made an impressive Opera Australia debut with his command of the excellent Opera Australia orchestra and chorus.

At three-and-a- half hours, including one interval, this production of one of Mozart’s finest creations, never seems to drag. The potent combination of complex libretto, coupled with the heady mix of superlative music, glorious singing, striking visuals and thrilling performances, provides as satisfying and memorable night of opera as one could possibly wish.   

                                                 Photos by Keith Saunders

     This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


Music by Peeter Ilyich Tchaikovsky -Choreography by Marius Petipa

Costumes by Krystal Giddings

Production and additional choreography by David McAllister

Canberra Theatre 16th - 18th January 2020.

2.00pm performance 16th January reviewed by Bill Stephens

One of the most eagerly anticipated dance events each year, for young dance enthusiasts of a certain age, is the annual visit of the Australian Ballet’s Storytime Ballets. Storytime Ballets are designed to introduce children as young as three to the world of classical ballet.   This year the chosen ballet is “The Nutcracker”, which has been artfully scaled down to a running time of around 50 minutes, and presented without interval,  with a narration which explains the story as the ballet progresses.

Sean Mcgrath as Drosselmeyer 

Charmingly delivered by the magician, Drosselmeyer (Sean McGrath), who, at the very beginning grabs the attention of the young audience with some simple conjuring tricks, this narration proved surprisingly informative, including  just enough judicious audience participation to keep the young target audience thoroughly engaged, without interrupting the integrity of the ballet.

The experience commences in the foyer of the theatre as dozens of excited young princes, princesses and ballerinas arrive and kit up with magic wands and jewelled tiaras from the merchandise shop. For those without costumes, there was a dress-up stall, and even photography stand for the inevitable selfie. For the initiated, there’s a mini-museum containing a display of historical costumes and headdresses worn by famous dancers in past Australian Ballet productions.

The ballet is performed on an uncluttered stage in front of lovely, atmospheric images projected on to a huge video screen. The pretty costumes were designed by Krystal Giddings, and the ballet is impressively danced by a young cast of eleven recent Australian Ballet School graduates, who alternate soloist roles at different performances to maximise the performance experience for each dancer.

At this performance, Clara was given a charming interpretation by Lilly Maskery, who could hardly have wished for a more handsome and courtly Prince than former Canberra dancer, Alain Juelg.  Benjamin Garret drew gasps from the littles as the menacing Rat King, but also proved a charming Harlequin to Chantelle van der Hoek’s delightful Columbine, while Belle Urwin in her pretty plum-coloured tutu was a deliciously dainty Sugar Plum Fairy.

Columbine and Harlequin

The three Mirlitons, with their colourful striped stockings and candy canes, the two tempestuous Spanish dancers, the acrobatic Russian dancer, the colourful Chinese dragon, and the battle of the mice with its Les Miserables moment, all captivated the young audience, who, almost as one, breathed an audible sigh of disappointment when they realised the ballet was drawing to a close.

The battle of the mice 

Judging from the excited chatter as the audience emerged back into the real world; one suspects doting grandmas and grandads will have little trouble persuading their young charges to accompany them to the next chapter of Storytime Ballet.

                                                         Photos by: Jeff Busby

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


David Suchet. Poirot and More. A Retrospective.

With David Suchet  interviewed by Jane Hutcheon Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. January 20 – 21 2020.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

David Suchet in David Suchet. Poirot and More A Retrospective
Photo by Ash Koek
For twenty five years, David Suchet inhabited Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot on television sets all around the world. “Do you miss him?” interviewer Jane Hutcheon asked Suchet in the closing moments of  David Suchet. Poirot and More. A Retrospective. There is a long pause as the esteemed British actor clutches Poirot’s distinctive cane. Emotion floods the Canberra Theatre where an entranced audience hangs on every word. “Yes.” Suchet answers with a sigh. For twenty five years he lived Poirot’s distinct Belgian not French accent, walked his mincing steps, recreated the detective’s eccentricities from careful scrutiny of his actor’s dossier on Poirot and solved Agatha Christie’s intricately woven murder mysteries to the delight of as many as 750 million viewers world-wide..

Jane Hutcheon and David Suchet. Photo by Ash Koek
But Suchet is much much more than Poirot, in spite of the fact that it may have been his role as Poirot that drew audiences to the opening night of his retrospective. In an evening spanning more than two hours, and guided by the gentle, impeccably researched questioning by former One Plus One interviewer, Hutcheon, Suchet reveals the actor and his many  and varied characters for stage and screen. From the eight year old oyster in Alice Through The Looking Glass at Wellington School to a schoolboy Macbeth, we find the young Suchet developing his passion for the art of acting. After rejection upon rejection, he is accepted into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). His account of his life is laced with wit, humour and artful anecdote. Suchet is the supreme storyteller, luring us into his fascinating world of the theatre with accounts of his thirteen years at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the happy accidents that secured for him the star dressing room. Every episode of fateful good fortune is told with dramatic flair, brilliant comic timing and the humility of a great actor. We laugh at his verbal imagery as he actively describes his role as Tybalt, dressed in black leather, traipsing down the stage on opening night, only to trip and fall flat on his face. He affectionately recounts his mother calling out from the audience “Yes David?” as he utters the words “Mother! Mother!” upon the stage. The evening is littered with sparkling gems that guide the audience through his life and his illustrious and varied career, captured on the large projection screen at the rear of the apron stage. Stages of his career are recalled with performed extracts of Marc Antony’s “Oh, pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth” over Julius Caesar’s body or Macbeth’s bemoaning “Tomorrow and tomorrow” at the news of his wife’s death. From childhood to drama auditions to family stories to his early career and later fame, theatrical awards and recognition, Suchet captivates us with his entertaining revelations, his engaging snippets of performance and his lively enthusiasm.  The passion is palpable and the excitement of a long and laudable career holds an audience in its thrall.

Jane Hutcheon. David Suchet and Hercule Poirot. Photo. Ash Koek
After interval, Jane Hutcheon temporarily leaves the stage to Suchet to reveal the secret of his craft. Some may say that he is an actor of the old school of British acting, passionate about Shakespeare after his work with legendary academic, teacher and director John Barton. Already enraptured by his charm and beguiling craft, we are introduced to the actor’s studio, where voice is a paramount tool of his craft, the language of Shakespeare the vehicle of communication and conviction and character the heart of every performance. To see Suchet build the character of Poirot is to witness a legend of his art in action. Secrets are revealed like clues from a mystery. Suchet learned from the revered Laurence Olivier  how the power of a penny between the posterior cheeks could inspire Poirot’s mincing walk . And how Poirot’s voice resulted from Christie’s comment that the detective existed from the neck up. In amazed wonder we watch the character appear as the secrets of voice and walk and that precisely coiffured moustache appear before our very eyes.
All too soon the evening with David Suchet must come to an end and Jane Hutcheon as gentle as ever brings the night to a close. A man for all parts takes his bow and the audience rises in spontaneous acclamation. David Suchet. Poirot and More. A Retrospective is a gift to every aspiring actor or director, an inspiration to all who live their lives in theatre, and an absolute joy to every person who delights in David Suchet’s wonderful world of characters. If you have not seen the Canberra show, be sure to catch it at any of the national touring dates below. This is an experience not to be missed!

National Tour Dates:
Thursday January 23rd. 3pm & 8pm
Concert Hall – Sydney Opera House

New show added. Friday 7th. February  8 p.m.
State Theatre
Saturday 25th. January 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
New show added. Thursday 13th. February 8 p.m.  
Hamer Hall Arts Centre Melbourne.
Gold Coast
Wednesday 29th January  8 p.m.








DAVID SUCHET - Poirot and More A retrospective

Presented by Kay and McLean Productions
Canberra Theatre 20th and 21st January 2020.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Although he is best known for his portrayal of Agatha Christie’s elegant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a role he has played for 25 years, David Suchet is a much celebrated actor, having garnered numerous awards and nominations over a 50 year career on stage, in film and television.

Jane Hutcheon and David Suchet on stage. 

His show, “David Suchet Poirot and More A Retrospective” is part interview, part memoir and part master-class, and an absolute “must see” for anyone with even a passing interest in the act of acting.
The performance commences with a chatty interview conducted by journalist, Jane Hutcheon, herself well-known for her own long-running ABC series “One Plus One”, and with both seated comfortably beside a large video screen that ensures that even those towards the back of the theatre have an excellent view.

During this interview, Hutcheon explores Suchet’s path to his career in theatre. He confides that his first role was as an oyster in a school production of “Alice Through The Looking Glass”, (and shows the photo to prove it ), that he was sent to boarding school at age 8, and that his grandmother was a sand dancer.

It’s quickly obvious that Suchet is a consummate raconteur, has a delightful sense of humour, an engaging command of language, and prone to jumping out of his chair to demonstrate a detail, like the art of sand dancing, for instance. He’s also not averse to flirting with his audience, or his interviewer.

He happily shares engaging anecdotes about his numerous stage, film and television roles, among them, Sigmund Freud, Robert Maxwell, Salvador Dali, Lady Bracknell and Blot, in “Blot on the Landscape”. He reminds the audience that he had played Inspector Japp to Peter Ustinov’s Hercule Poirot in the film “Thirteen at Dinner”. 

He tells how he came to be cast as Poirot, and explains his process for developing Poirot’s signature characteristics, the accent and the walk - this latter probably not to be tried at home. His show ‘n tell items include the famous cane which he used in every episode, and the extensive list of character notes he prepared to guide his interpretation.

The second half commenced with Suchet alone on stage, back to the audience, dramatically lit in a single spotlight. He turned slowly towards the audience to give a mesmerising performance of Salieri’s monologue from “Amadeus”. This version, he confided, was the version Peter Shaffer rewrote at Suchet’s suggestion, and which he performed at Shaffer’s memorial service.

Launching into an explanation of his fascination with words and voice, Suchet then offered a mini master class on acting Shakespeare. He explained mysteries like the voice print, and the iambic pentameter, then demonstrated their use with enthralling short excerpts from his acclaimed performances as Shylock, Oberon and Tybalt, as well as from his performance as Cardinal Bennelli in “the Last Confession”, relying on his voice and expression alone to vividly create each character. 

Jane Hutcheon and David Suchet on stage. 

Jane Hutcheon re-joined him to refocus attention on Hercule Poirot, which Suchet gracefully acknowledged was the reason that he and the audience were enjoying each other’s company at that performance. It may have been Poirot who attracted the audience to the theatre, but it was the accomplished mastery of his art, demonstrated with such grace and finesse by Suchet, that few who witnessed his performance will forget.

                                                   Photos by Ash Koek

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, 15th to 19th January.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Canberra burlesque artist, Rachel Reid, who performs professionally as Jazida, has the distinction of being the first Government funded  burlesque performer to have been awarded grant funding by the ACT Government to develop her show.

Unusual but not surprising, given that Jazida has already received international recognition, having performed at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in 2018. She was a featured artist for the 2019 Australian Burlesque Festival and the representative Australian Headliner for the Perth International Burlesque Festival.

An obviously accomplished burlesque performer, her toolbox includes a repertoire of stylish routines, a wardrobe of spectacular costumes and wigs, and in addition to her dancing, singing and acting skills, she’s a dab hand at conjuring and gymnastics. Her makeup is a work of art in itself.

However, as is the tradition with burlesque, each of her routines is a complete performance in itself, and her intricate costumes require even more time to get into, than they take to get out of.  “Catch Jazida” is an imaginative attempt to devise a full-length showcase for her skills, that doesn’t require a large supporting cast.

Artemis Seven and Jazida 

The concept for “Catch Jazida” is a tongue-in-cheek parody in which the story-line follows a film noir style narrative in which Jazida portrays a thief on the loose who’s been accused of stealing a large sum of money. She’s pursued throughout by a private detective,(Morgan Heath-Williams, who works professionally as Artemis Seven), who provides an amusing linking narration between routines, clears away strewn costume components, and at the end of the show performs a gymnastic duet with Jazida, leading to the final denouement.

Along the way, Jazida performs a series of striking striptease routines, among them, a spectacular fan-dance with feather fans decorated with LED lights, a Mae West routine in which she riffs on about various alcoholic drinks, a circus routine, and most memorably, an oriental routine involving dangerous looking shiny metal blades.
However, as inventive as the various routines are, each has its own inevitable conclusion, and seen in succession, tend to become repetitive. As well, the relationship between the routines, the narration and filmed sequences, is often puzzling. All of which, together with the makeshift setting, missed sound and lighting cues, and untidy exits and entrances, stamps “Catch Jazida” as a work in progress, and certainly one which would benefit from the services of an experienced director.

Never the less it should be noted that the supportive first night audience found almost every utterance cause for loud guffaws and rewarded the performance with a standing ovation.

Following its short Canberra season, “Catch Jazida” is already booked for seasons in Adelaide and Perth, so if this sounds like your sort of show, then don’t miss this opportunity to “Catch Jazida”.

                                         Photos by Etienne Reynauld

          This review first published in the digital edition of City News on 16.01.20

Anthem - Sydney Festival

Anthem written by Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela. 

Arts Centre Melbourne and Performing Lines at Sydney Festival 2020, Roslyn Packer Theatre January 15-19, 2020.

Uncensored by Andrew Bovell
Terror by Patricia Cornelius
7-Eleven and Chemist Warehouse, a love story by Melissa Reeves
Brothers and Sisters by Christos Tsiolkas
Resistance by Irine Vela

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 17

Director – Susie Dee; Designer – Marg Horwell; Lighting Designer – Paul Jackson; Composer, Music Director and Sound Designer – Irine Vela; Movement Consultant – Natalie Cursio.

Aboriginal Cultural Dramaturg – Bryan Andy
Creative Producer (2016-March 2019) – Daniel Clarke

Characters from Anthem
 Cast (alphabetical order):
Maude Davey, Reef Ireland, Ruci Kaisila, Thuso Lekwape, Amanda Ma, Maria Mercedes, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Eryn Jean Norvill, Sahil Saluja, Osamah Sami, Eva Seymour, Carly Sheppard

Jenny M. Thomas (violin), Dan Witton (cello)

Anthem consists of five scenes with linked characters, bookended by two, unknown to each other, on their way to the airport when a political protest holds up their train.  They are in France.  He is apparently Black African Middle-class returning to Melbourne, of working class origin but now educated and successful in business.  His views are centre right conservative. Brexit for him is about economics and Britain’s trading position. She is  apparently White Middle-class, with centre-left small-L liberal views.  Brexit for her is about racism and anti-immigration attitudes to which she strongly objects – on the way accusing him of racism. 

They discuss – argue about – current issues before fading above the mainstage action, largely on Melbourne suburban trains, with one at a 7-Eleven store and another in a company office (not 7-Eleven nor Chemist Warehouse).  The five scenes run for two hours (with a 20 minute interval), until Ruci Kaisila as an Aboriginal beggar who has observed and sung at significant points (did I hear “We are One, We Are Australian”?  I certainly heard “I still call Australia home”), sings the anthem, "Amazing Grace".

At this point, the two waiting on their train in France reappear, in a flashback, without having reached any clear political consensus, and are pleased that their train begins to move again.

But is Australia’s train going anywhere?

The black man returning from education in France turns out to be the youngest of four siblings, who resent his having left them behind in poverty.  Among the others appears to be a young unmarried/divorced mother with a six-year old son who bangs his head against the doors on a train when he is being taken by court order to stay with his violent father.  His mother is a “rough white Aussie” who believes the country “belongs to us”, but can also understand Greek, when a Greek couple complain to each other about the woman’s behaviour.  Remember when Melbourne was known as the largest Greek city outside Greece itself?

One of her brothers appears to be of “Middle-Eastern appearance” and takes a relatively benign approach.  But the last brother, seemingly white Irish-Anglo Australian, surely would have used his bounding aggro energy violently in the Cronulla riots if he had not been a Melbournian from the outer suburban fringe instead.

Interestingly, since the Sydney Theatre Company will soon be presenting Dario Fo’s “No Pay, No Way”, the thread running through Anthem is about workers not being paid (and trying to use a starting gun to threaten to kill to get the money they are owed); beggars asking for money without success, and even refusing (and being told by others to refuse) to take money which is not genuinely offered; and a middle-class woman left homeless (by a husband taking a new young wife) trying to sponge off her previous Asian cleaning woman who was never properly paid. 

The black son of the family (presumably with diverse parents) offers $30,000 to his siblings, which his sister is inclined to accept until his violent Aussie, Aussie, Aussie brother forces the educated successful black brother out of the proudly poor family who refuse to accept charity.

For the older generation like me, who still remember the Sydney Communist New Theatre production of The Good Soldier Schweik, it’s good to see true agit prop theatre again.  Unfortunately I missed the Melbourne Workers Theatre’s Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? 20 years ago, when these five writers had first been brought together, then under director Julian Meyrick (whose Platform Paper “The Retreat of our National Drama” was reviewed on this blog May 15, 2014).

The style of presentation of Anthem is true expressionist agit prop – that is ‘agitation propaganda’.  Moveable rostra are shifted around to represent being on a train or street or office – no naturalism here.  The musicians play on stage, in amongst the action.  The action and spoken word is upfront – forthright in the extreme.  The lighting is full on and or full off.  The character of the Aboriginal beggar is directly out of the tradition of the Narrator in The Threepenny Opera who sings “Mack the Knife”.

But Anthem is perhaps even more bleak than the ending of The Threepenny Opera, when the Narrator sings (Hugh MacDiarmid translation):

Now we’ve got our happy ending
Everything is on the mend
Yes, the man with lots of money
He can buy a happy end!

There are some men live in darkness
While the rest have light for free
You can spot those in the limelight
Those in darkness you don’t see.

How ironic is it that an Aboriginal sings Amazing Grace as the ethnically (non-Indigenous) mixed Australian family tears down the Australian flag (which still includes the Union Jack – perhaps for not much longer) in a state of political frustration?

What train are we on?  Let alone where is it going?  This is a thinking person’s theatre show which should not be missed (especially by those who need to see it most).

Frank McKone's reviews also can be seen at


Written by Peter Pinne and Peter Wyllie Johnston
Published by Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by Len Power 5 January 2020

When we think of ‘Australian Musicals’ the ones that come to mind immediately are ‘The Boy From Oz’, ‘Priscilla Queen Of The Desert’ and ‘Muriel’s Wedding’.  These commercially successful and fairly recent shows are just the tip of the iceberg.  Australians have been writing musicals with differing degrees of success ever since the beginning of the 20th century.

The new book, ‘The Australian Musical From The Beginning’, details the history of musicals writing in this country.  It’s a fascinating, if not always happy story.

‘The Bunyip’ by Ella Airlie with music by Herbert de Pinna became the first hit Australian musical when it opened in Melbourne in 1916 and then repeated its success around Australia and in New Zealand.

Most Australian composers of musicals were frustrated by the lack of interest from commercial theatre managements like J. C. Williamson’s who concentrated on producing imported American and English musicals.  One exception was F. W. Thring, a film producer who, in the early 1930s, became a serious stage rival to Williamson’s.  His support and encouragement resulted in a fresh wave of successful Australian musicals including ‘Collitt’s Inn’, ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ and ‘The Cedar Tree’.

Unfortunately Thring died suddenly in 1936 and while Australian musicals continued to be written, very few received a commercially-mounted production.  One exception proved to be the highly successful ‘The Sentimental Bloke’ in 1961.

Eventually the 1990s saw the commercial successes of ‘Bran Nue Dae’, ‘Hot Shoe Shuffle’, ‘The Boy From Oz’ and ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’.  Apart from a handful of successful shows, hundreds of musicals were written over the years and disappeared quickly after their initial season.  Having your musical staged in Australia by a commercial management still remains an elusive dream for most Australian composers.

The book’s authors, Peter Pinne and Peter Wyllie Johnston, have produced a fine book in which the enthusiasm of Australian composers shines brightly in the face of adversity.

The first half of the book details the chronological development of the Australian musical.  Its accessible style makes it compelling reading and the numerous photographs illustrate the colourful journey through the years.  The second half of the book is an A to Z Index of hundreds of musicals, complete with synopses, production details, cast lists, titles of songs and many photographs.

This attractive and unique publication should prove to be the Bible on Australian musicals for years to come.

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