Saturday, February 27, 2021

Bracha - Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls

 Photography | Brian Rope

Agnieszka Traczewska | Bracha - Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls

ACT Jewish Community Centre Gallery | Closing date uncertain, but expected to continue throughout 2021 | Viewing hours are 10am-3pm, Monday to Thursday, except on Jewish holy days.

A fine photographic insight into pilgrimages by ultra-Orthodox Jews is on display at the ACT Jewish Community Centre gallery. Outstanding artistic black and white prints provided by the Polish Embassy provide this excellent exhibition of Chasidim (a sect of Orthodox Jews) returning to destroyed shtetls (small Jewish towns or villages) in Poland. Unsurprisingly given its origins, the exhibition prints are of a very high quality. What’s more the quality of the photojournalism is great.

Bracha – Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls was first shown publicly at the United Nations headquarters in New York in January 2019. Writing in The New York Jewish Week at the time, Jonathon Mark quoted the then Polish Consul-General as saying “this is how my town must have looked [around] 1932, my grandmother’s reality.” Poland’s then UN ambassador told the guests at the opening that there is no Polish culture without Jewish culture. She suggested the photos showed that the traces of the Old World had not completely disappeared, and that Jewish heritage was well and alive in Poland. She did not mention that a community of millions was down to 10,000.

Although other Holocaust-related exhibits (such as one honouring diplomats recognized as “Righteous Gentiles”) were on display in the same UN lobby for longer, the Polish photographs were removed after only a week. Asked why at the time, a representative of the consulate was quoted as saying, “The status of this exhibition was a bit different.” 

Since then, the exhibition has only been displayed in Dusseldorf and Tel Aviv. Now we are privileged to have it in Canberra for an extended period.

Nearly completely wiped out in the Holocaust, there are no actual permanent Chasidim communities still living in Poland. Pilgrims travel there from all around the world to visit the ancient graveyards of deceased rabbis lucky enough to have graves, tombs and synagogues.

The photographs were taken by a non-Jewish Polish woman, Agnieszka Traczewska, who gained the confidence of some of the pilgrims, enabling her to capture the piety of their activities whilst visiting their ancestral religious sites. As the Chasidic women in particular don’t like being exposed, the fact that there are some portraits of women in the exhibition is unusual.

On her website, Traczewska reveals that on her very first journey to Leżajsk, Poland for Rabbi Elimelech’s anniversary of death, she had no idea that photography of Chasidim would become her lifelong passion. All she knew was that there were men there that are part of her country’s story, part of her history, and so she had to see, learn, capture and connect.

This exhibition is a testimony to the author's passion and long-term commitment to documenting the descendants of Chasidim visiting the remains of their enduring heritage.

Unlike Traczewska, most of us, even many Jewish people, will never meet any Chasidim and are unlikely to know much about them. That makes this exhibition all the more interesting. The top-class social documentary imagery is very moving and provides us with a little knowledge.

In one particularly powerful image, we see Chasidim withstand a downpour during a visit to a Jewish cemetery.

The Jewish Cemetery, Krynica (Yid. Krenitz), 2018

©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

Another looks down on Chasidim davening (reciting the prescribed ritual prayer). 

The anniversary of the death of Tsadik David in Lelow (Yid. Lelov), 2008
©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

Others depict ceremonies – such as welcoming a spectacular new Torah and acknowledging anniversaries of deaths. 

Ceremony welcoming a new Torah, Lezajsk (Yid. Lizhensk), 2016
©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

The Jewish Cemetery, Sieniawa (Yid. Shinev), 2015 
©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

There are numerous scenes of people in synagogues and graveyards, and some very fine portraits of individuals.

Lelow (Yid. Lelov), 2009
©Copyright Agnieszka Traczewska, 2018

It is the first exhibition held at the ACT Jewish Community since it opened its new multimillion-dollar wing and will be on show for the remainder of the year. 

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 27/2/21 here. It was also published on the author's own blog here.

Thursday, February 25, 2021




A Phantom Gravity.  Shadow House Pits. Smiths Alternative. Wednesday February 24. 2021

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Archie Roach’s lyrics spring to mind as I sit in Smith’s Bookshop, waiting for Joe Woodward’s latest foray into his alternative theatrical experience to commence. Love it or hate it Shadow House Pits’ Artificial Dreams of a Mediocre God is arguably an inescapable assault on the intellect. Back to Archie’s lyrics “From little things big things grow”  Smith’s Bookshop under musician, producer and entrepreneur Nigel McRae has undergone  a fascinating transformation over the years from a bookshop to a bar and music venue to a grunge venue for artistic experimentation and under McRae an intimate theatre venue for the discerning theatregoer. Around the world independent artists test their ideas from basement cabarets to Off Broadway kickstart experiments. Think Rent. Think Hamilton. Some become influential institutions in their own right. Think La Mama in Melbourne. Think Peter Brook. Think Bertolt Brecht. Crude though the comparison may be, it is this inspiration that informs the original and declamatory rough theatre of Artificial Dreams of a Mediocre God.

Smith’s Bookshop is Canberra’s very own Off Broadway, where artists have free licence to play with ideas, experiment with theatrical form and take a swipe at convention. Woodward is no stranger to stretching the imagination, delving into the psyche and challenging the mediocre. To venture into the shadows of Shadow House Pits is to go where no one has dared to go before. It is to give oneself over to the unexpected and to sign up to an evening of confrontation and intellectual subjugation. Agree or disagree, indifference is no option. Rap is the clarion call of the discontented, the cry of protest and the pulsating sound of accusation. MC Krewd (Bambi Valentine) drives a verbal spike through complacency, punctuatd by Bevan Noble’s sound design. In a peroxide blonde wig MC Krewd is a force to be reckoned with; her rap is a gattling gun of invective, splintering the injustice and asserting the power to assume control. MC Krewd is no shrinking violet but a force to be reckoned with and a performer with guts and sassiness. She is accompanied on stage and in an expertly choreographed routine by Ink Bits, a defiant rebel, giving the finger and joining MC Krewd in an in-your-face attack on sexual exploitation and  domination.

The second half of Shadow House Pits’s  evening of somewhat surreal and weirdly bizarre collection of rap, hip hop and story telling tells the moralistic tale of Smug, adored by his parents, raised as a genius and sent to school to be a shining example of exceptionalism. Woodward, assuming his alter ego of Trinculo, Alonso’s  trickster and jester in The Tempest, narrates with actor Wynter Grainger the story of Smug, the victim and perpetrator of society’s conservative expectation. In a storytelling convention, Woodward and Grainger read the tale of the misguided Smug, who idolizes his teacher, despises his classmates and eventually becomes an educational supremo, subject to the blind enforcement of an immutable system. His obsession with Dr. Who transforms him into the doctor’s nemesis, the villainous Dalek. Smug is the victim of a stultified society, compelled to follow its commands, a lobotomy on independent thought. Smug’s destiny is pre-determined. His fate is the fate of all who would fail to question and to change.

Woodward claims that Artificial Dreams of a Mediocre God will most likely be the most unusual theatre that we will experience this year. This is the theatre of ideas, appealing more to the intellect than the heart. It is rough, unpretentious, even unrefined. It is not the theatre of spectacle, nor the theatre of seduction. It is the theatre of the intellect, an hour of engagement with anarchic inquisition, best experienced with a glass of preference in one’s hand and a mind prised open by MC Krewd’s audacious brashness and Woodward and Grainger’s simple storytelling and lucid dialectic.

Woodward defies the theatre of seduction. He abandons the artifice of that willing suspension of disbelief and is more closely aligned to the tenets of Brecht than the aficionados of Theatre of Illusion and Spectacle. At Smith’s Bookshop it is the mind that is opened and the open door of apathy that is closed.  If you haven’t been to Smith’s Bookshop, treat yourself to a night of mental stimulation and intellectual illumination. It is an experience that you are unlikely to have in any other theatre this year.

TOSCA - Opera Australia

Carmen Giannattasio (Tosca) - Marco Vratogna (Scarpia)

Composed by Giacomo Puccini – Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Conducted by Andrea Battistoni – Directed by John Bell – Revival Director – Matthew Barclay

Set Designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell – Costumes designed by Teresa Negroponte

Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House – 22nd February to 13th March 2021.

Opening night performance reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Diago Torre (Cavaradossi) - Carmen Giannattasio (Tosca)

One of the jewels in the Opera Australia repertoire, along with Elijah Moshinsky’s “La Traviata”, Gale Edwards’ “La Boheme”, and Graeme Murphy’s “The Merry Widow” is John Bell’s “Tosca”, a perfect blending of direction and design which actually enhances the composers intention’s by making them accessible and relevant to contemporary audiences.

For this version of “Tosca”, Bell has moved the action from the 1800’s to Fascist Rome during the German occupation in 1943. It’s a period that is familiar to most of the audience either from personal experience or from media. Each of the three acts is set in a location that still exists today, including a wondrous reproduction by Michael Scott-Mitchell of the spectacular Sant’Andrea della Valle Church in which the first scene takes place. Bell provides each act with a stunning visual equivalent for each of Puccini’s masterful musical finales.

"Te Deum" - Marco Vratogna (Scapia) centre.

For the first act it is the unfurling of the red swastika flags by Scarpia’s storm troopers during the ravishingly sung “Te Deum” when the assembled congregation is cowered into raising their arms in the Nazi salute rather than making the customary sign of the cross. 

The second act ends with Tosca defiantly covering Scarpia’s body with a similar swastika flag before leaving through the huge doors to carry out her plan to rescue her lover, Cavaradossi, which she negotiated with Scarpia before stabbing him to death. Tosca’s own final act death scene which brings the opera to its conclusion is as shocking as it is inevitable, leaving the audience stunned into silence as the final curtain descends.

Within this clever staging Bell has left room for each singer to bring individual characterisations to their roles, and one of the many pleasures of this production is experiencing how each singer seizes this opportunity.

Since making her role debut in “Tosca” for San Francisco Opera, Carmen Giannattasio has quickly established herself as a leading interpreter of the role, admired as much for her ability to emerge herself in her interpretation as for her lustrous soprano. With her finely nuanced performance for her Australian debut in the Sydney Opera House, Giannattasio provided a compelling demonstration as to why this is so.  

She is warm, almost playful in the first act as she insists that Cavaradossi change his painting to ease her suspicions that he may be having an affair, despite his protests to the contrary.

Marco Vrotogna (Scarpia) - Carmen Giannattasio (Tosca)

In sharp contrast during the second act after discovering the real reason behind Scarpia’s invitation, she engages in fiery exchanges with him, demanding he stop the torture of Cavaradossi, before collapsing in devastation at the realisation that she has unwittingly betrayed of her lover, leading into the famous “Vissi de Arte” (“I lived for Art”) which she commenced slumped on the floor, almost prostrate in grief. As the aria progressed she rose slowly, meticulously shaping each phrase. The audience held its breath throughout this aria until, at the climax, it could hold back no longer demonstrating its approval with loud cheers and sustained applause.

Repeating his acclaimed 2018 Opera Australia performance as Scarpia, baritone Marco Vratogna matched Giannattasio in intensity every step of the way. From the moment he enters at the end of the first act, Vratogna oozes corruption, dominating the stage with his swarthy good looks, commanding baritone and arrogant swagger.

Alexander Hargreaves (Sciarrone) - Marco Vratogna (Scarpia) - Diego Torre (Cavaradossi)

Neatly contrasting the venal bombast of Vrotogna, but perfectly complimenting him vocally, tenor Diego Torre as Tosca’s lover, the artist, Cavaradossi, completes a trio of extraordinary singer/actors.  Torre imbues his artist with a gentleness and concern, not only for Tosca, but also for Angelotti, the escaped political prisoner and brother of his patron, Marchesa Attavanti.  His rendition of the third act letter song, “And the Stars Shone” was particularly memorable.

Surrounding these three principal artists, adding lustre to the production, David Parkin impressed with his powerful baritone as the escapee, Angelotti, Graeme Macfarlane and Alexander Hargreaves offered thoughtful supportive characterisations as Scarpia’s henchmen, Spoletta and Sciarrone, and Luke Gabbedy even managed to inject a little humour with his not-too-fussy Sacristan.  

Drawing  every ounce of drama and emotion from Puccini’s magnificent score, The Australian Opera Orchestra and Chorus, under the energetic conducting of Andrea Battistoni, garnered further laurels  for their superb performance marking this production a “must see” whether or not you’ve seen it before.

Diego Torre (Cavaradossi) - Carmen Giannattasio (Tosca)

                                                       Images by Prudence Upton.

            This review is also published in Australian Arts Review.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021


Jade McFaul, soprano

Lucus Allerton, piano

Art Song Canberra

Wesley Music Centre, Forrest, Sunday 21 February

Reviewed by Len Power


As autumn approaches with its expected change of colours, it was an inspired idea to celebrate in song the astonishing kaleidoscope of the colours of nature we experience in Australia.

Soprano, Jade McFaul, was born in South Australia in 1996 but moved to Canberra in 2014 and completed a Bachelor of Music (Honours) degree at the Australian National University.  She has won several prizes in music and voice and is regularly involved in local music ensembles and choirs.

Lucus Allerton graduated from the ANU School of Music with Honours in piano in 2013.  He has won several prizes and is active on the art song scene.  He is now employed as an accompanist for vocalists at the ANU School of Music.

Jade McFaul

The concert reflected Jade McFaul’s advocacy for the programming and performance of Australian art songs which explore the relationship between poetry and music in this form.

The program commenced with “The Rainbow”, composed by Australia’s Calvin Bowman to a text by American poet, William Jay Smith.  It was a good choice for the start of the program, displaying the range and quality of McFaul’s beautifully clear soprano.

Lucus Allerton


From there the program concentrated on individual colours, several set by composers to the texts of the early 20th century Australian poet, John Shaw Neilson.

With “The Orange Tree”, composed by Horace Keats, McFaul displayed the notable clarity of her diction as well as the ability to project the depth of emotion underlying the song.  With “You And Yellow Air”, composed by Alan Tregaskis, McFaul’s confidence and joy of singing was clearly displayed as she told this touching love story.

Other highlights of the program included “Now Touch The Air Softly”, composed by Calvin Bowman, which was sung with great delicacy and sensitively accompanied by Lucus Allerton.  “The Hour Of The Parting”, composed by Gerald Glynn, was another highlight requiring a distinctive change of mood to create a melancholy atmosphere of lost love.

The finale, “O Yellow, Yellow Sweet”, composed by Alan Tregaskis, was uplifting, melodic and beautifully performed by both singer and accompanist in perfect harmony, bringing this excellent concert to a close.


This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition 22 February 2021.

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

 ‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at



Tuesday, February 23, 2021



Written and Directed by Benoît Delépine & Gustave Kervern

Coming to the Alliance French Film Festival March 4 to 31

Previewed by Len Power

After their popular comedy satires, “Saint-Amour” and “I Feel Good”, filmmaking team Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine are at it again with their new film, “Delete History” (Effacer L’Historique), which won the Silver Bear 70th Berlinale prize in Berlin last year.

In this droll comedy, three middle-aged people decide to fight back against the internet.  Marie (Blanche Gardin) is a single parent whose sex tape has leaked online and wants it taken down before her son sees it.  Bertrand (Denis Podalydès) has been writing to Facebook asking them to do something about the cyberbullying his daughter is suffering, but to no avail.  Christine (Corinne Masiero) is a driver for a ride share company and can’t handle any more one-star reviews.

Set in an economically depressed region in France, the comedy is grounded by the bleakness of the characters’ everyday lives.  It’s not surprising they’re desperate enough to fight back against seemingly impossible odds.

As well as following the stories of the three main characters, there are cameos from other down-trodden souls as well, such as a woman who is frantically seeking the removal of a tattooed obscene sentence on her arm because her young son is now quickly learning how to read.

The performances by the three lead actors are masterful.  It’s been directed in a low-key manner and is deliberately paced, making it seem all the more real.  You’ll empathize with many of the situations these people find themselves in.

This is a laugh out loud comedy that makes a serious point about the dominance of technology in our lives.  You’ll never look at your phone in the same way again!


‘Delete History is one of 37 films that will be shown at this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival that will run from the 4th to 31st of March at the Palace Cinemas.  The full program can be found at Alliance Française French Film Festival website.

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

 ‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at




Written by Tennessee Williams

Directed by Anne Somes

Canberra REP at Theatre 3, Acton to 6 March

Reviewed by Len Power 19 February 2021


One of his most popular plays, Tennessee Williams’ “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” was first produced on Broadway in 1955 to great acclaim.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was made into a popular movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.

Set in the home of wealthy plantation owner, Big Daddy Pollitt, on the evening of his birthday, the play examines the relationships of the various family members, primarily that of Big Daddy’s son, Brick, and daughter-in-law, Maggie, whose marriage is in crisis.  As the evening wears on it becomes clear that everyone in this dysfunctional family is entangled in a web of lies or “mendacity”, as the characters like to call it.

The strength of this production is in the casting and skilful performances by everyone down to the smallest roles.  The ensemble playing is particularly notable in the group scenes with the overlapping dialogue between characters very well played.

Michael Sparks is an unexpectedly well-groomed Big Daddy whose coarseness and ruthlessness under the surface is all the more shocking and effective as a result.  His attempt to reconcile with Brick is expertly played.

Michael Sparks (Big Daddy) and Liz St Clair Long (Big Mama)

Liz St Clair Long is a loud and energetic Big Mama who hides her pain under a brash exterior.  The actress particularly shines in the humiliation scene with Big Daddy and later in the play when she refuses to face the truth about Big Daddy’s health.

Teig Sadhana gives a fine performance as the drunk and bitter son, Brick, and is particularly effective in the emotionally charged scenes with Big Daddy.  Victoria Tyrrell Dixon shows a fine strength of character as Maggie, a determined outsider who proves she can hold her own against the family.

Lainie Hart as the scheming pregnant sister, Mae and Ryan Erlandsen as her partner in crime husband, Gooper, both give highly effective performances.  Rob Drennan and Saban Lloyd Berrell make the most of their smaller roles of the Doctor and the Reverend respectively.

The Southern American accents are well-maintained by everyone in the cast but clarity is often lost when characters are speaking upstage or too fast.  This was particularly noticeable in the first act.

Left to Right: Teig Sadhana, Victoria Tyrrell Dixon, Ryan Erlandsen, Lainie Hart, Michael Sparks, Rob Drennan, Saban Lloyd Berrell and Liz St Clair Long


The sprawling set design by Cate Clelland nicely evokes the Mississippi Delta location of the play.  The sound design by Neville Pye is particularly effective, especially the sound of the approaching storm and Stephen Still’s lighting design, including fireworks, adds considerably to the atmosphere.

Director, Anne Somes and her cast display an incisive understanding of the human complexities that Tennessee Williams intended with this play.  By the end you’ll feel you’ve experienced something quite special.


Photos by Helen Drum

This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition 20 February 2021.

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

‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at