Monday, March 29, 2021

LA TRAVIATA - Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour.

Stacey Alleaume  as Violetta Valery in "La Traviata"

Based on an original production by Francesca Zambello

Conducted by Brian Castles-Onion – Directed by Constantine Costi

Choreographed by Shannon Burns.

Set designed by Brian Thomson – Costumes designed by Tess Schofield

Lighting designed by John Rayment – Sound Designed by Des O’Neill

Presented by Opera Australia. March 26th – April 25th     

Opening night performance reviewed by Bill Stephens.

When director Francesca Zambello and designers Brian Thomson and Tess Schofield conceived their 1950’s vision of “La Traviata” for the inaugural Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour in 2012, they created a benchmark for a succession of open-air opera productions that have pushed boundaries for the presentation of outdoor opera. As a result the annual Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour productions have become International destination events.

Director, Constantine Costi, has brilliantly reworked this production for the 2021 season, taking advantage of lessons learned from subsequent productions to up the ante on the visual and emotional aspects of what was always a spectacular production.

Brian Thomson’s  remarkable sloping  silver-mirror stage setting,  dominated by the huge crystal chandelier that will later allow Violetta to soar high above the audience  during her triumphant  “Sempre Libera”, now sports a silhouette of  the 1950’s Paris skyline which changes colour  to match the mood of each scene.

Spectacularly exuberant, strikingly musical choreography, devised by Shannon Burns for her twenty dancers, creates immediate impact as  the white tuxedos and bouffant skirts of Tess Schofield’s elegant La Dolce Vita inspired costumes swirl in giddy abandon as Violetta (Stacey Alleaume) quietly  surveys the party already in progress during  Verdi’s sumptuous overture. 

The dancers in the Act 11 of  the  HOSH production of  "La Traviata"

Later when Alfredo (Rame Lahaj) confronts Violetta in the casino, the decadence of the life to which she has returned is emphasised with a spectacular floorshow for which the dancers are costumed in lurid matador outfits while the rest of the guests wear fancy dress and waiters spray champagne into the audience.

Costi’s direction is just as successful with the more intimate scenes where his use of an oversized silver couch to focus attention for his staging of Georgio Germont’s (Michael Honeyman) confrontation with Violetta, and his staging around the black satin draped bed for Violetta’s death scene is masterly, although his failure to provide a more inventive solution for the lack of a front curtain for the very final moments of the opera was a disappointment. Simply having  Violetta get out of her deathbed and walk off stage in full view at the end of the opera was clumsy and broke the carefully crafted spell.

Stacey Alleaume (Violetta) - Rame Lahaj (Alfredo)

As the glamorous courtesan, Violetta Valery, Stacey Alleaume gives the performance of her career.  Every inch the glamorous courtesan, Alleaume occupies the vast stage with impressive authority. Her singing is confident, secure and thrilling throughout, as is her acting, particularly during her confrontation with Germont, and in her final deathbed scene with Alfredo.

Dark and handsome, Rame Lahaj brings a fine voice and considerable presence to the role of the besotted Alfredo Germont. Both vocally and physically he and Alleaume are well matched, and offer captivating portrayals of the chemistry and tensions between the two lovers.

Andrew Moran (Marquis D'Obigny) - Celeste Haworth (Flora Bervoix)
 Alexander Sefton (Baron Douphol

Michael Honeyman adds another fine portrayal to his already impressive repertoire with his rather reserved interpretation of Alfredo’s dignified father Georgio Germont. Alexander Sefton is suitably menacing as Violetta’s brooding former lover, Baron Douphol.  Celeste Haworth as the flamboyant dominatrix  Flora Bervoix, Andrew Moran as her partner-in- crime  Marquis D’Obigny, and John Longmuir as Alfredo’s friend  Gastone, all make the most of their opportunities, while  Danita Weatherstone as Violetta’s faithful servant Annina,  and Gennadi Dubinsky as Doctor Grenvil, both provide strong, well sung performances in minor roles.

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta Valery

Particularly impressive with this production is the success of John Rayment’s superb lighting design in focussing the audience attention and creating memorable visual moments, while the superb clarity of Des O’Neill’s stunning sound design captures with superb clarity the full beauty of each singer’s voice, even making it possible to savour the instrumental nuances achieved by the musicians of Brian Castles-Onion’s superb orchestra in interpreting Verdi’s glorious score.


                                                 Photos by Prudence Upton.

This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.



FANGIRLS - Canberra Theatre Centre


Words, Music and Lyrics by Yve Blake -  Directed by Paige Rattray.

Choreographed by Leonard Mickelo -  Associate Choreographer – Sharon Millerchip

Set, video and costume design by David Fleischer – Lighting  designed by Emma Valente

Sound Designed by Michael Waters.

Canberra Theatre Playhouse March 24th to 28th.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

You don’t have to be fourteen to enjoy “Fangirls”. Even if you’ve been fourteen, or are going to be fourteen, you shouldn’t miss this brilliant production.

You may not have heard of Yve Blake before this show, but she’s the young Australian talent who wrote the words, music and lyrics for this show in which she recreates the world of her fourteen-year-old self with astonishing truthfulness. Director Paige Rattray has carefully crafted her work into a brilliant, wildly entertaining multi-media production which has captivated audiences around Australia. Now it is Canberra’s turn.

The show is centred on a group of school friends, all of whom are passionate fans of boyband lead singer, Harry (Aydan).  The most passionate is Edna, delightfully portrayed by Karis Oka.  Edna has decided that she and Harry were meant for each other, and spends her time regaling her besties, Saltypringl (James Magoos), Jules (Chika Ikogwe) and Brianna (Shubshri Kandiah) with her plans for a life with Harry.

When Edna’s long-suffering, well-meaning mother Caroline, (Danielle Barnes) refuses to buy her a ticket to Harry’s forthcoming concert, Edna is devastated. She devises a plan to kidnap Harry. However when Jules and Brianna discover what Edna has done, events turn sinister when Harry is almost  killed.

So what separates “Fangirls” from other similar teenage musicals concerning rock singers and teenage girls?

The brilliance of Paige Rattray’s staging is one reason. Rattray has made stunning use of a relatively simple setting of large LED screens to create a fantasy world dominated by social media.  She’s  drawn wonderful performances from her young cast, each of whom portray their characters with finely observed, tightly disciplined performances. Her staging is spare and efficient. Any necessary furniture and props are carried on and offstage by the cast, and the pace is whirlwind throughout.  She’s even subtly updated the show to include Canberra references. The sharp-eyed might recognise a St. Clare’s skirt among the costumes.

Another is the frenetic, witty choreography devised by Leonard Mickelo to support the action.  Danced with energy and precision by the ensemble cast, it captures the mood, adds spectacle while underlining critical moments. The staging of the rock concert which begins the second act is genuinely exciting.  

But mainly it is the truthfulness of Blake’s writing which stays in the mind. She captures the self-absorption of the teenage mindset with captivating precision. Her dialogue is funny, her lyrics witty, and her tunes catchy. At the heart of her story however is her charming depiction of the mother/daughter relationship which is achieved without resorting to sentimentality or schmaltz. Under all the entertaining fun and razzle dazzle of the staging, it is this little take-home which makes “Fangirls” so memorable.

                                                    Image by Brigette Honeyman

                           This review first published in CITY NEWS on 25.03.21

Habitat: Ways of living

 Visual Art | Brian Rope

Various Artists: Alex Asch, Burchill/McCamley, Miriam Charlie, Sean Davey, David Flanagan, Michal Glikson, Tina Havelock Stevens, Katie Hayne, Mikhaila Jurkiewicz, Waratah Lahy, Hardy Lohse, Catherine O’Donnell, David Paterson, Alan Patterson, Patrice Riboust, Natalie Rosin, Khaled Sabsabi, James Tylor (Possum)

CMAG | Habitat: Ways of living | Until 26 June


This important and well-constructed exhibition examines high-rise, upmarket apartments, suburban settings and places that have collapsed. In Canberra, elsewhere in Australia, and overseas.

In her catalogue foreword, Rowan Henderson makes the point that ‘Home’ is a value-laden word. Very true – for the fortunate, homes are where we feel secure. Others are less fortunate, even suffering the domestic violence issues currently filling so much media.

David Paterson exhibits photographic images of densely packed high-rise apartment blocks in Hong Kong and Singapore. They are wonderful geometric compositions. Look for birds in flight passing across the buildings.


Singapore apartments, 2019
inkjet print, courtesy of the artist

In intimately scaled watercolours (and gouache) on paper, Waratah Lahy illustrates the recent transformation of Canberra’s inner north, from older residences on large blocks, to townhouses and apartments.

Hardy Lohse’s photographs of the Currong Flats being demolished pose questions. What are our memories and responses?


Currong Apartments, 2016
inkjet print, courtesy of the artist

Katie Hayne’s engagement with demolition of mid-century public housing is depicted in her video, Stuart Flats, going, 2019. She also evokes this disappearing side of Canberra in two small oil on board paintings.

David Flanagan’s photographs are about green fields’ real estate projects near Canberra’s northern boundary, and include one featuring a billboard proclaiming, ‘FULL OF POSSIBILITY’.


Untitled # 21, from ‘Move up to the views’ series, 2015
chromogenic colour photograph

Alex Asch explores the suburban life of Canberrans in his installation, Suburban Block, 2020. The catalogue suggests a visual association with children’s building blocks. They reminded me of black houses I’ve seen in coastal areas of Kent, England.

With charcoal on paper artworks, Catherine O’Donnell focuses on suburban landscapes and houses from her youth. And she shows a linear analysis of composition in a graphic depiction of the Sirius Building in Sydney. There also is a watercolour and ink sketch, Sirius public housing apartments, 1978 – 79, bearing Alan Patterson’s signature.


Catherine O’DONNELL
Sirius, 2018, charcoal on paper
Courtesy of the artist and May Space

Patrice Riboust spent many hours studying various forms of historical architecture. Using those as source material, he produced highly detailed sketches of imaginary structures - ink and marker on tracing paper.

Natalie Rosin contributes impressive ceramic sculptures reflecting brutalist buildings observed during a residency in Poland.

Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley used old colour film to photograph Berlin locations being used by Turkish immigrants as places of refuge and informal socialising. The resulting work, Freiland, 1992, consists of a series of nineteen discrete but sequential images. Some of the film stock used had been compromised prior to use, infusing some of the images with an unearthly blue, or harsh red cast.

The 2006 Lebanon War severely damaged civilian infrastructure in central Beirut. Khaled Sabsabi has painted over his photographic images creating a frieze-like series.

Miriam Charlie is a Yanyuwa/Garrwa woman living in Borroloola, a community in the Northern Territory. Her photographic series, No country, no home, 2015, documents the living conditions of her friends and relatives there.

One work by James Tylor (Possum), Unresettling (Stone footing for dome hut), 2016, is a simulacrum of the stone foundations for an Aboriginal domestic shelter. These phantom structures are physically created by the artist’s hand and translated via the camera’s aperture.

None of us need reminding that calamitous bushfires were experienced over the 2019-20 summer in nearby forests. Sean Davey’s photographs nevertheless are a poignant reminder.


Untitled (Little Bombay Road, Bombay NSW) 2019
pigment print on Ilford cotton paper, Courtesy of the artist

Flame is also an important element of Michal Glikson’s video, Jhumpiri: Coming down, 2014 – 2019, set in one family’s makeshift structure on the streets of Lahore, Pakistan.

Tina Havelock Stevens shows stills adapted from her video, Drum Detroit, 2011, revealing urban decay.


Skull House, from the Drum Detroit series 2011 – 13
video still, chromogenic colour photograph, metallic
Courtesy of the artist

Mikhaila Jurkiewicz often uses large format negatives in her photography, requiring her subjects to remain still during protracted sittings. The results somehow  reminiscent of daguerreotypes.

This review is also available on the author's own blog here.

Stop Girl


 Stop Girl by Sally Sara.  Belvoir Theatre, Sydney, March 20 – April 25, 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 28

Director – Anne-Louise Sarks
Set Designer – Robert Cousins
Costume Designer – Mel Page
Lighting Designer – Paul Jackson
Composer & Sound Designer – Stefan Gregory
Associate Composer – Hamed Sadeghi
Movement Director – Nigel Poulton
Video Deviser & Cinematographer – Jack Saltmiras
Video Content Creator & Systems – Susie Henderson

Suzie (Foreign Correspondent Reporter) – Sheridan Harbridge
Bec (Feature Writer) – Amber McMahon
Atal (Afghani Asylum Seeker) – Mansoor Noor
Marg (Suzie’s Mother) – Toni Scanlon
Psychologist – Deborah Galanos
AV Actors – Hilal Tawakal; Aqsa Tawakal; Aisha Tawakal; Najiullah

“Connecting is never a mistake”.  Coming to understand what this means for Suzie, returning home to Australia after a year reporting on the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, is the key that unlocks this important, at times horrifying, drama.

Though the play ends with a kind of resolution for Suzie, I was taken by surprise to find how shaken I was when walking away from the theatre into the normal Sydney evening buzz.  I had, following my usual principle, deliberately not researched the writing of the play or other reviews – and felt a heightened concern for Sally Sara, clearly represented on stage by 'Suzie'.

Two other women, who have created theatre about their own lived experience – in  their cases performed by themselves – came to mind from my previous reviews.  In 2018 I saw Red by Liz Lea, a dancer who suffers from essentially untreatable endometriosis; and My Urrwai by Torres Strait Islander Ghenoa Gela, returning to her home island after growing up in Brisbane.  I wrote of their work “which seems to me to be a new original and significant form, which I’ll call Theatre of the Personal Self.”

Though Sally Sara has made her experience into a play performed by others, Suzie’s response emotionally must surely be as close to Sally’s as theirs was to Liz and Ghenoa.  They took us into their confidence through a combination of words, music and dance.  

Sara’s piece is superficially a more conventional series of short realistic scenes, backed by sound effects, video and sharp lighting jumps from bright light to absolute dark.  Our feelings become those of Suzie / Sally.  We feel with her and for her, and fear that we can so easily make those kinds of mistakes ourselves.  Have we always properly respected other people, in life and in death?

There is an irony here in my being a reviewer of another person’s sense of shame, almost in parallel with her being a reporter filming, asking intrusive questions, and sending back to ABC TV her live reports on people as they are injured and killed.  Keeping her distance emotionally, choosing her shots and her words to fit the expectations and conventions of “objective” reporting is a requirement of success as a professional journalist.  And, indeed, Sally Sara is one of our most respected journalists.

It’s scary, then, as her play shows, that maintaining the proper professional approach can turn into a case of post traumatic stress disorder.  But what can a PTSD counsellor advise when she – despite having seen the Foreign Correspondent reports on TV –  could not possibly imagine the horrors of what Suzie/Sally has actually seen, and done, or not done, in Afghanistan – and in Sierra Leone, and in so many other places fraught with war and poverty?

Suzie has at least her long-term friend Bec, her assistant/translator Atal, and finally her mother to make connection with.  Watching that story play out is what makes the drama work on stage.  I’m left just hoping that Sally is OK – perhaps the writing of the play is proof of that.

But the awful feeling of despair remains in the title, spoken in his language and translated by Atal, by a father walking away from his wife because she has just borne a daughter, who is therefore worthless to him.  “Stop girl!”  

Sheridan Harbridge’s tour de force performance of Sally Sara’s 'Suzie' puts that man and that culture, wherever and in whatever degree, to shame.

Sheridan Harbridge in Stop Girl by Sally Sara
as Suzie, on location in Afghanistan
Photo: Brett Boardman





At the point of a singular horizon

Photomedia | Brian Rope

Ren Gregorčič | At the point of a singular horizon

M16 Artspace | Until 4 April

This modest exhibition features a new body of video and image-based work by artist and researcher Ren Gregorčič “interrogating the interface of digitally mediated expressions of structurally mediated environments”. Modest only in the sense that it comprises just a 2:33 minutes video, two digital prints of texture map images - and a catalogue. Not ordinary, unimposing or, for that matter, inexpensive - although much less costly than was recently achieved with a non-fungible token (NFT), another form of digital asset.

Gregorčič is an artist working in the field of sculpture and spatial practice. He explores how various mechanisms are expressed in architecture, infrastructure, urban planning and nature-management. He often combines artistic, philosophic and social research to produce creative outputs.

Here, Gregorčič explores a 3D reconstruction of a garden plot within an internal concrete courtyard of a converted high school building in Canberra. He used photogrammetry, a computational method that constructs 3D digital geometry from photographic data. The 3D rendering produced the video, showing a simulated light source passing across the surface of the digital object at different angles.

The texture maps (images that are applied to surfaces of 3D models to give them colour and detail) are also outcomes of the photogrammetric process. From a top-down view, the digital reconstruction seems complete and cohesive; from other angles, it appears distorted and broken. This structural/aesthetic quality is a result of the software used seeking to make a complete object from incomplete data.


Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (Texture Map No. 5), 2020-21. Digital print

Reference photographs used to produce the digital reconstruction were taken at sunset, fixing native shadows onto the 3D object’s surface. In the video work, a light source simulating the sun moving across the sky has been used to illuminate the digital object. This produced subtle moments where the fixed and projected shadows overlap as the garden plot fades in and out of view.

Despite the few works on display, this is an exhibition worthy of your time, studying the texture maps closely and watching the video again and again, properly taking everything in. In the video, I found I was viewing collages, assembled by the digital processes. Gaps appeared at times, seemingly placing irregularly shaped black holes amongst the green leaves, weeds, rocks and much more. Watching it was a seductive experience.

Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 1

Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 2

Ren Gregorčič, At the point of a singular horizon (video still), 2021 -Image 7

An excellent catalogue essay by Eryk Salvaggio (an artist and researcher from the USA) describes the body of work as “A total portrait without omissions”. That is an interesting concept to consider. How difficult it would be to create such a portrait of a person. How could we reveal absolutely everything about any one person in a portrait? It would need to be a complex portrait combining many images. Even then it is difficult to imagine there being nothing about the subject that was not revealed.

I recalled reading an article with the same “total portrait without omissions” title years ago. The author, who had been struggling with editing images for a book, wrote about how she could structure text in her head, seeing it somewhat like a 3D form, but struggled to do the same with imagery for a book. That resonates with me.

Salvaggio also writes “The once theoretical concept of a life lived through screens moved from cyberpunk fiction to lived experience for much of the world in 2020.” Those of us who have immersed ourselves in Zoom and similar systems all know what he is saying. Just one more thought to consider whilst viewing Gregorčič’s video in this intriguing show.

This review was published by the Canberra Times on 29/3/21 here. It is also available on the author's own blog here.

Sunday, March 28, 2021



 Sofia Nolan and Catherine Van Davies in Playing Beatie Bow

Playing Beatie Bow. 

Adapted for the stage by Kate Mulvaney from  the children’s novel by Ruth Park. Directed by Kip Williams. Set Designer  David Fleischer. Costume Designer Renee Mulder. Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper. Composer Clemence Williams. Sound Designer David Bergman. Choral Director Natalie Gooneratne. Additional composition Matthew Doyle. Dramaturg Courtney Stewart. Assistant Director Kenneth Moraleda. Fight Movement and Intimacy Director Nigel Poulton. Voice and text coach Danielle Roffe.  Wharf 1 Theatre Sydney Theatre Company February 25 – May 1 2021 Bookings:  

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Sydney Theatre Company presents Ruth Park's Playing Beatie Bow

Kate Mulvaney’s version of Ruth Park’s immortal novel Playing Beatie Bow is more than a mere adaptation for the stage. It is an inspired retelling of the story of Abigail Kirk (Catherine Van Davies), drawn back to the Rocks of 1873 by “the furry elf” Beatie Bow Sofia Nolan).Under the powerfully imaginative direction of Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director Kip Williams and performed by an outstanding STC cast, Mulvaney’s vibrant and highly theatrical adaptation not only captures the magical spirit of Park’s two very different worlds, 150 years apart, but also highlights the lessons to be learnt from our understanding of life in 1873 and 2021 when this adaptation is set. By updating Abigail’s time to the present, Mulvaney breathes fresh insight into the themes of Park’s novel of the 1940s, while underlying the universality of the human condition in her observations of the power of love, the binding spirit of family, the importance of education for all, including  young girls like Beatie and all women.  Park’s  strong feminist principle asserts the inherent bond between mother and daughter and the endowment of the gift of foretelling passed down from generation to generation, manifest only in the female of the line. In Park’s novel it is held by Granny Alice Tallikser in another riveting performance by Heather Mitchell. And it is the gift bestowed upon the fearful young Beatie Bow (Sofia Nolan). Both Abigail and Beatie cry out for their mothers. It is a bond more powerful than life itself. Abigail, thrust into another time desperately struggles to be reunited with her mother Kathy, played by Lena Cruz, before she is about to leave for Norway with Abigail’s father, Weyland (Tony Cogin). Beatie desperately longs for her dead mother and assumes an unbearable guilt  for believeing that she has caused her mother’s death. Through it all, Park’s women engage in a search for identity, purpose and worth.

In the newly refurbished Wharf Theatre near the Rocks where Park’s novel takes place, director Kip Williams once again demonstrates his remarkable mastery of conjuring a world upon an open stage. Simple set items  - a lamppost, window frames, a table and chairs, washing lines, a barrel or a sweeping expanse of cloth create the houses, shops, ships and the various locations, past and present of this utterly absorbing production.

Mulvaney and Williams with the aid of a magnificent team of creatives bring to life not only Park’s fascinating characters, but a story that transports the audience to another world of time, travel, spell and mystery, hopes and dreams and that greatest of human gifts, love.

Williams’s superb ensemble embrace Mulvaney’s adaptation with relish. Every performance brings Ruth Park’s characters to life with astounding clarity,although the family’s Scottish accents from the Orkneys may take some tuning into.. Heather Mitchell’s spaewife Granny, with the burden of the gift, gives yet another flawless performance and she is brilliantly supported by an ensemble that takes on a multiple of roles and creates a world of characters caught in time and fashioned by Park’s fantasy and Mulvaney’s passion for Playing Beatie Bow. There are excellent performances from Len Cruz as Abigail’s Mum, Kathy, torn between her love for the estranged husband Weyland (Tony Cogin) who doubles as Mr. Bow, tormented by his wartime experiences in The Crimean War. Claire Lovering offers a moving and sensitive performance as the devoted Dovey. Ryan O’Keefe’s  Judah is perfect as the romantic interest and Ryan Yeates shows enormous promise in the roles of the hypochondriacal Gibbe and young 21st century youth, Vinnie. Guy Simon gives a touching performance as Johnny Whites, the launderer whose three daughters have been taken from him and placed in an asylum for destitute children after the death of their mother. Whites’  suffered injustice resonates with heartbreaking reminiscence of the Stolen Generation.

As the central characters in an ensemble of wonderful actors Catherine Van Davies as Abigail Kirk and Sofia Nolan as the eponymous Beatie Bow lead us through far more than Ruth Park’s story of a young, unhappy girl whose journey through time leads her to learn the power of self-determination, true love and family. Van Davies charts the journey of self-discovery with emotional awakening and awareness. Nolan’s feisty Beatie Bow charts her difficult journey from a spiteful, resentful and fearful elevn year old to a young girl wishing to better herself through an education denied most young women of her time. It is here that the seeds of feminism are sown and conjoin with Abigail’s quest for her own voice and self-determination.

Williams’s production sweeps me along and I am caught in its thrall. I am intrigued by Mulvaney’s  selective and theatrical creation of Park’s magical narrative. I am transported by her ingenuity and intriguing storytelling, but more so by her deep understanding of and compassion for her characters, a quality quickly identified and expressed by the actors.

Once again, the team that brought us Mulvaney’s epic adaptation of Ruth Park’s A Harp in The South have brought us another of Ruth Parks’  works that transcends time and teaches us lessons for all time. Sydney Theatre Company’s unforgettable production of Playing Beatie Bow is not to be missed!

 Photos by Daniel Boud.