Friday, April 16, 2021


Mamma Mia! Ensemble
Photo by Janelle McMenamin
Mamma Mia! 

Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson. Book by Catherine Johnson. Originally conceived by Judy Cramer. Additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch. Directed by Jarrad West. Musical Director. Alexander Unikowski. Associate Direcor and Choreographer Michelle Heine. Lighting Design. Phillip Goodwin. Sound Design Nick Cossart. Set Design. R James Entertainment. Costume Designer. Fiona Leach. Free ain Theatre Company. The Q Theatre. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. April 15 – May 1 2021. Bookings: or 62856290

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Mamma Mia!! What a show! For some years now, Free Rain Theatre Company under the astute leadership of Anne Somes has established itself as a leading local theatre company, entertaining audiences with high quality pro-am productions and most notably delighting audiences with professionally staged musicals. Their current production of the hit ABBA musical, Mamma Mia! is no exception and represents a fabulous coming out from the debilitating Covid-19 Pandemic. In a capacity audience on opening night, the urge to sing, dance and have the night of one’s life was irresistible. Eighteen months in the waiting, Somes has once again gathered together a familiar and formidable production team to ensure a night at the theatre that is sheer entertainment with a capital E.

Charlotte Gearside is Sophie

Catherine Johnson’s book is essentially a plot line to hang the phenomenal ABBA songs onto. The plot is slight, but the segues to the popular numbers are cleverly devised and interpolated throughout the story. Sophie (Charlotte Gearside) lives with her single-parent Mum, Donna Sheridan (Louiza Blomfield) in their Greek taverna on a Greek Island. She is about to marry Sky (Will Collett) and would like to invite her estranged father to her wedding. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know who her father is, and can only go off her mother’s diary which suggests three possible suspects, Sam Carmichael (Isaac Gordon), Harry Bright (Mark Maconachie) and Bill Austin (Paul Sweeney) Somehow she discovers their addresses and invites all three to the wedding. Sophie’s old friends , Lisa (Jessica Gowing) and Ali (Meaghan Stewart) arrive as bridesmaids and Donna has invited her two former members of their band The Dynamic Duo , Rosie (Tracy Noble) and Tanya (Helen McFarlan) to support her at her daughter’s conventional wedding. Donna is her own woman and marriage was not a Seventies fad for Greek island ex-pats , but then the child is not always the parent’s clone. For the rest of the plot that twists and turns and runs the chaacters around in circles, you’ll have to get along to this uplifting, joyous and fun-filled romp.

And that is what makes this production such a top notch entertainment Every member of the cast and the band and pit singers are having the time of their lives. They are having fun and every moment is virulently contagious. It is impossible to resist those ABBA melodies from the sentimental I Have a Dream to the rousing Dancing Queen and the irresistible Gimme Gimme Gimme and the powerful defiance of Winner Takes it All and the list goes on. The company numbers rock. Under the direction of Jarrad West, the musical direction of Alexander Unikowski and the choreography of Michelle Heine, the stage explodes with talent and electric energy. An hilarious flipper routine is absolute absurdity, making affectionate mockery of male posing.

Gender power struggles run rings around the confusions and surprises that reveal dreams of the characters on the island. Sophie’s I Have A Dream, reprised at the end of the show charts the journey from innocence to experience. The Greek island serves as a metaphor for each characater’s existential query “Who Am I?” The question drives Sophie, and every character through the course of the musical is compelled to make new discovery about themselves and what they want (Voulez Vous}. But then West’s production gives one little time to ponder such an existential conundrum. Free Rain’s Mamma Mia! rollicks along.. It is loud and brash, a truly Aussie version of expats who make their home on a Greek Island.. There are terrific performances from the principals and Blomfield’s Winner Takes It All blows me away. Gearside’s Sophie plays the young innocent beautifully and there are first rate performances from the principal women and the men. Only the miking needs a more subtle touch on the mixing desk. The miking heaps on the hype but if not carefullybalanced mounts an assault on the ear.

Set, lighting and costuming are first class and don’t leave the theatre too soon after the curtain call, or you’ll miss Fiona Leach’s extravagantly costumed full company encore that is sure to have you dancing in the aisles. You’ll leavt his show on a high under ABBA’s magical spell with the tunes still ringing in your ears or humming on your lips.



Book by Catherine Johnson

Originally conceived by Judy Craymer

Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjӧrn Ulvaeus

Directed by Jarrad West

Free Rain Theatre production

Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 8 May


Reviewed by Len Power 15 April 2021


‘Mamma Mia!’ is a jukebox musical that has been a phenomenal success since it first opened in London in 1999.  It ran there virtually continuously until the theatres closed in 2020 because of the pandemic.  It ran on Broadway for over 5000 performances.

Set on a Greek island resort and using the songs of the Swedish pop group, ABBA, ‘Mamma Mia!’ is about romance.  A marriage is about to happen and secret liaisons from the past may have the power to derail it.

Director, Jarrad West, has given this feel-good musical a bright and sunny production with a huge cast of enthusiastic and skilful performers.  It has been smoothly staged and moves at a frenetic pace.  The cast look like they’re enjoying every minute of it, hiding the hard work it takes to get a show to look so effortless.

Donna Sheridan, the mother of the bride, is the central role of the show and is superbly played by Louiza Blomfield.  Her soon to be married daughter, Sophie, is given a heartfelt and very appealing performance by Charlotte Gearside.  Both performers are formidably good singers and their solo songs are sung with feeling as well as fun.

Charlotte Gearside and Louiza Blomfield

Helen McFarlane as Donna’s visiting friend, Tanya, is outstanding in a role full of character and sophistication.  Her performance of ‘Does your Mother Know’ is a showstopper.  Isaac Gordon as the most prominent of the three possible fathers, Sam, gives a particularly sensitive and well-judged performance.  Everyone else in the cast gets their moment to shine and they’re all brilliant.

Helen McFarlane (second from the left) leads 'Does Your Mother Know'

While it’s fun to see how the ABBA songs are shoe-horned into this slight story making the big chorus numbers great fun, it’s those moments where the song and the story come together to create real emotion that are the best moments in the show. ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, sung beautifully by Louiza Blomfield and Charlotte Gearside, shows the feelings of a mother about to lose her daughter to marriage.  This was quickly followed by the powerful performance of Louiza Blomfield with ‘The Winner Takes It All’, a song about past regrets.  Isaac Gordon’s fine performance of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ is another emotional standout.

Musical direction by Alexander Unikowski and the playing by the band were excellent and the sound balance was fine.  Michelle Heine, always an exciting choreographer, has excelled even herself here with a dazzling set of dances with her cast drilled to a high standard of performance.  The final medley is a knock-out.

The costumes by Fiona Leach are colourful and suit every member of the cast.  The lighting design by Phillip Goodwin is highly complex and adds great atmosphere to the whole show.  The clever and attractive set design is by R James Entertainment.

Anne Somes, the producer, and everyone involved with this show is to be congratulated.  Oh, Mamma Mia!, it was great!


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



Thursday, April 15, 2021

One Man In His Time by John Bell


One Man In His Time by John Bell and Shakespeare.  Bell Shakespeare at Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, Wednesday and Thursday, April 14-15, 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 14

Conceived and performed by John Bell

Lighting Designer: Ben Cisterne
Stage Manager: Eva Tandy

Actors are the only people who can be trusted, because we all know they are pretending.  But, said the actor John Bell, I wouldn’t trust an actor.

I’m not quoting his words exactly – my 80-year-old memory, two months younger than Bell’s, is a disgrace in comparison.  Not only can he give us many of Shakespeare’s most significant speeches, he makes One Man In His Time a masterclass study of that other actor/writer’s universal truths.  

His audience ‘got it’ when it came to issues like political leadership in modern times,  well before the ‘T’ word was spoken.  Manipulative advertising men as Prime Ministers didn’t even need to be mentioned by name.

Trust in Shakespeare is the message, as Bell has done throughout his life in acting roles, as a director and founder of the Bell Shakespeare theatre company, “Thanks to an innate love of theatre and the inspiration provided by two wonderful high school teachers.”  His show was devised to celebrate Bell Shakespeare’s first 30 years as arguably the longest-lasting and only truly national Australian theatre company.

I found myself feeling inspired by John’s elucidation of that other writer/ performer/ director man in his own time (probably b. April 23rd 1564 – definitely d. April 23rd, 1616); but I also felt that I would love to understand more about our own famous theatre man in his time (November 1940 – 2021 ongoing…, or at least since about 1955 when those teachers grabbed his attention).  

His illustrations from the History plays, the Roman plays and especially Hamlet, King Lear and The Tempest – and his demonstrations of how to play the enormous variety of Shakespeare’s characters –  revealed, with the immediacy of an actor we undoubtedly could trust, exactly the attributes Bell has described in his note “From John Bell”:

In putting together this meditative piece about Shakespeare I avoided structuring it around any one theme in case it got too academic.  Instead I have chosen to focus on just a few of his attributes: his compassion, empathy, shrewd understanding of politics and power structures, his earthy humour and, of course, his peerless poetic language which,” he says, “will go on living only if we go on speaking it and listening to it.

My interest in knowing more about the real John Bell has been stirred in recent times by reviewing what I have seen as a new genre which  I have named Personal Theatre.

The most recent is Stop Girl, a 90 minute piece at Belvoir, Sydney, written by foreign correspondent journalist Sally Sara.  Her central character, “Suzie”, is a true representation of Sally’s personal reaction, post traumatic stress disorder, following years of war-zone reporting.  Her play is double-edged, showing the horror of war for others as well as for herself, even as a professional objective reporter.

Another extraordinary piece, by Canberra dance artist Liz Lea reveals her lifetime experience, through a solo dance with spoken word, Red, of suffering from endometriosis.

An experience of a quite different kind, but again effecting a change of life, is shown in My Urrwai, in which Ghenoa Gela, again in dance and voice, tells her story of re-engaging with her original culture in the Torres Strait after a childhood in Brisbane.  This is a story of gaining new appreciation and personal strength, in life and as a performer.

I would look forward to, perhaps, something called When the Bell Rings.

I first saw John Bell when “In 1964 he was a sensational Henry V, with Anna Volska as Katherine, in an innovative Adelaide Festival tent presentation. The Sydney Morning Herald called him ‘a possible Olivier of the future’”.  Since then I have maintained an interest in his career before and after establishing Bell Shakespeare, and since my retirement from drama teaching in 1996 I have reviewed his work as performer and/or director of 9 shows, from King Lear to Carmen; from the Bell Shakespeare art exhibition The Art of Shakespeare to Christopher Hampton’s translation of The Father by Florian Zeller.
[ ]
[ ]

Of The Father, I recorded “Of course, especially for John Bell playing Anne’s father André, the short scenes are not so simple.  As he has said ‘I find this text particularly tricky to learn – and I think I speak for the other actors as well – because it’s very fractured and you need to make your own links between phrases.  It’s just short grabs of text, which are hard to learn.  It’s easy to learn a slab of Shakespeare, for instance, or Chekhov.  They write these long passages that have an internal logic, that might even rhyme’.”  

Watching The Father, I also found myself, already in 2017, beginning to worry about how I might cope with the onset of dementia “when you, if you are unlucky, reach a late stage of dementia where memory becomes completely unreliable but your feelings in reaction to others – who are by now caring for you full-time – are just as strong as ever, even though you are misinterpreting reality.  It’s even worse when you realise that you don’t actually understand things at all.”  I was amazed at Bell’s performance, considering questions like what will John Bell do when his memory gets as bad as mine, and how does an actor know when s/he is acting or not; or knows, as my mentor Ton Witsel put it, when you are only ‘acting acting’?  

(Ton worked at the Old Tote as Mime and Movement Director in the 1970s with John, who had been the original Director, and was then Associate Director for the later tour to the South Pacific Festival of Arts in Suva, Fiji, of the iconic new wave Australian play, The Legend of King O’Malley by Michael Boddy and Bob Ellis).  [ ]

So, maybe I was hoping for Two Men In Their Times – William Shakespeare and John Bell, but perhaps that’s an unfair expectation.  One Man In His Time at a time is surely enough.

John Bell's “One Man in his Time,” Bell Shakespeare Company The Playhouse, April 14-15.

Reviewed by Phillip Mackenzie 

                                                         Photo Brett Boardman

ONE approached John Bell's “One Man in his Time” with some caution: an hour of ‘The Great Man’ regaling us with anecdotes about his life in the theatre – meetings with other greats, comical or tragical incidents related in that mellifluous voice, trippingly off the tongue? Or a pre-mortem solemn requiem based on his interpretation of the works of William Shakespeare? 

Neither, fortunately. 

Let there be no doubt about it: John Bell is a legend in his lifetime – there might be no other thespian living or dead who has made such a personal contribution to the world of theatre, and not only in Australia. He has earned the right to create and deliver his own eulogy. But here we had John Bell talking about William Shakespeare and his characters, his wit and his insights into the human condition, rather than John Bell talking about John Bell. 

There might have been the occasional whiff of a lecture to a first-year class of NIDA students, perhaps a suggestion of a master class here or there, but all directed to presenting John Bell's commitment to the relevance of The Bard for us today. 

There is, as seemingly always, a debate about this “relevance”, but Bell does not engage in it. As he states in his program notes, he has “chosen to focus on [William Shakespeare's] compassion, empathy, shrewd understanding of politics and power structures” -– ipso facto, what he sees as William Shakespeare's “relevance” to the world of the 21st century. 

Most of his one-hour program consists of roles he has himself essayed, from Hamlet to Falstaff and beyond: the tragic, the melodramatic, the comical; his portrayal of the old duffers Silence and Shallow, or of Jack Cade's “kill all lawyers” will live in my memory longer, I think, than his reading of “To be or not to be”. 

Which brings me to Bell's distinction between “soliloquy” and “speech” – the former an internal, personal exploration of a dilemma faced by the character (“ To be, or not to be…”), the second, a political and public device used to rouse the rabble, to inspire action – “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” and perhaps there is a third category, to describe an event of worth – Enobarbus describing the arrival of Cleopatra to meet Anthony. And then there is Bell's one concession to the sexism debate – Cleopatra's eulogy over the body of her dead lover, Anthony. 

Had he been in the business in Shakespeare's time, when women were not permitted on the stage, Bell might well have played Cleopatra and, by this performance, he would have done it quite well. Here he might also have juxtaposed Cleopatra's grief with Mistress Quickly's almost forensic, yet moving, description of the death of Falstaff. 

Another highlight in this program of delights was his treatment of Hamlet's instructions to the Player King. It is Hamlet, a young fan of the theatre, who may be said to be showing off his knowledge of the thespian's art : “Speak the speech, I pray you …” Bell reads the speech as Shakespeare's own instruction to his actors, giving it a more mature inflexion – an earnest attempt by an anxious director/coach determined to get the best out of his actors. If ever I play Hamlet, I'll do this bit, at least, Bell's way.

 If there was one low point in this program, it must be where Bell juxtaposes Hamlet's big number – the philosophical soliloquy on life or death with Macbeth's tortured internal debate as to whether, why, or how to murder the King. In the few minutes he has to decide, Macbeth cannot afford the luxury of Hamlet's intellectual musings and resorts to a jumble of disconnected thoughts which does little to support his (Bell's) definition of “soliloquy”. 

The applause following Bell's final selection – inevitably, Prospero's finale in “The Tempest” – was well deserved, but I offer special thanks for his inclusion of the excerpt from the apocryphal “Sir Thomas More”, written in the only known example of Shakespeare's own hand and of prescient relevance to the way our Government is dealing (or not) with the “refugee problem”. 

It is a text that should be given to every minister responsible for immigration, detention, deportation or any other issues concerning refugees in Australia.


John Bell in One Man In His Time
Photo by Brett Boardman

One Man In His Time. 

An Evening with John Bell and Shakespeare. Bell Shakespeare. The Playhouse. April 14-15 2021.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

“One man in his time plays many parts” Jaques tells the audience in As You Like It.  And no one would have played as many of those great Shakespearian parts as John Bell. He is indubitably Australia’s leading actor, director and exponent of William Shakespeare’s works and characters. Could Bell’s One Man In His Time be his valediction? Could he, after six decades and more in the Bard’s company, like Prospero cast off that cloak of magic that has graced his performances and brought such pleasure to the host of audiences that have savoured the spell he has cast. Like Prospero at the end of The Tempest is One Man In His Time, Bell’s intent to discard the revels of his time upon the Shakespearian stage? Could the man who gave us such powerful performances as Prince Hal, Prospero, King Lear, Richard lll and Shylock to name but a few now bid farewell to his devotees. As the adage goes, you can take Bell out of Shakespeare, but you can’t take Shakespeare out of Bell. He may have handed the reins of the company named after him to heir apparent Peter Evans. He may have forsaken Shakespeare’s characters for other revels, but One Man in His Time is proof positive that he still holds “sovereign sway and masterdom” over that mighty kingdom of Shakespeare’s characters and plays.

And yet, if this is his valediction, it is a most humble farewell. There is no pomp or glorious ceremony. A muted floral upholstered armchair and a circular table grace the Playhouse stage in front of a large curtain. A glass of water waits to soothe the throat and Bell, dressed modestly in shirt and jeans enters the stage with a book under the arm. With mellifluous voice as gentle as the soft wind Bell launches into Oberon’s poetic soliloquy, “I Know a Bank Where the Wild Thyme Blows”. We are entranced, lured into Shakespeare’s visions by Bell’s sorcery and mastery of the evocative verse.

One Man In His Time could be likened to Salon Theatre. Even from an upper balcony, I felt as though the great man has visited my loungeroom, so intimate is the presentation. During a short evening, which comes to an end far too soon, Bell slips seamlessly from Shylock’s plea for understanding to Richard ll’s bemoaning of the monarch’s state to an hilarious satirical duologue between Justices Shallow and Silence from Henry lV. Bell’s command of the characters is exemplary. Whether it be the roguish Sir John Falstaff or the grieving Cleopatra or Enobarbus's splendidly visual description of the Egyptian Queen’s barge, Bell shows us that “all the world’s a stage” and after decades in the Bard’s bosom so to speak, Bell is indeed the commanding Prospero of this magnificent Shakespearean isle.

As well as conjuring the characters from thin air, Bell lends understanding to this one man show. He teaches us the difference between a speech and a soliloquy. He introduces us to Shakespeare’s method of direction through Hamlet’s speech to the Players and he enlightens us to the philosophical dilemma as expressed by Hamlet and Camus.

What the programme notes promise, but is only cursorily delivered are the anecdotes and reverie of a man whose theatrical influence on both the performance of Shakespeare’s works and their life lessons has been gargantuan. We learn how teachers played such a significant role in inspiring his love of Shakespeare. He tells us of his work with the Old Tote in those early days of seeking to establish a professional theatre landscape, and we learn that even a theatrical giant of his stature can be mentored and inspired by Paul Scofield when Bell worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I would have hoped for more anecdotal reference to add colour and variety to the performance. Not salacious gossip but stories that would illuminate the influences and inspirations in Bell’s long life in the theatre.

There are many ways in which one man can tell his tale. John Gielgud, dressed in a formal suit and with a voice that would seduce the Sirens, stood at a lectern with his huge book to present his 
Ages of Man. Emlyn Williams did much the same with his performance of Charles Dickens. David Suchet sat in conversation with Jane Hitchin, backed by digital projections of his life and work. Several of the great Knights and Dame Diana Rigg stood in a semicircle to deliver their characters in The Hollow Crown. I mention these examples, because I wanted more. But that is sheer bewitched greed. Bell could have well quoted Shakespeare’s Moor, You see me as I am, nothing extenuate. Not quite. This is Bell’s unpretentious modesty. We see him as a cavalcade of his beloved Shakespearian characters, presented with all the gravitas of tragedy, all the joyful absurdity of comedy and all the import of history.
One Man In His Time is a parting gift by a leading authority on playing Shakespeare who has enriched our love of Shakespeare and continues to do so with his nostalgic mirror up to the great Bard of Avon’s vast and colourful humanity.



Monday, April 12, 2021


Alan Cumming. Artistic Director of the
2021 Adelaide Cabaret Festival


Artistic Director. Alan Cumming June 11 – 26 2021

Previewed by Peter Wilkins

Life is a cabaret as the old song goes and nowhere is cabaret more alive than at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival from June11-26 on the banks of the Torrens and at the Adelaide Festival Centre. There are many reasons that one should flock to Adelaide to soak up the talent of Australia’s finest cabaret artists and the special treat of a few international artists that will be presenting their work live after last year’s valiant attempt to keep the festival alive online throughout the corona pandemic.

It is also significant that this year’s Cabaret Festival marks the 21st birthday and coming of age of Adelaide’s favourite winter event and  who better to lead it than an international cabaret king, the indomitable and irrepressible Alan Cumming? Cumming will be the festival’s first international Artistic Director, but he is no stranger to Adelaide. It was in 1988 that he and his drama school friend toured their cabaret show Victor and Barry. He has continued a love affair with Adelaide and other Australian cities and in 2019 then Artistic Director Julia Zemiro invited Cumming to Adelaide to perform his hit solo show, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs to sell out audiences at another favourite festival venue, the recently refurbished Her Majesty’s Theatre. This year Cumming will present another concert show, Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age on the Festival Theatre stage while introducing his New York Club Cumming to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s late night variety venue, the famous  Spiegeltent.

Alan Cumming in
Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age

Cumming will also be no stranger to Australian audiences.  His versatility and dynamic energy have delighted film, TV and stage enthusiasts in the popular movie, Circle of Friends, the long-running legal series The Good Wife and as the decadent and mischievous Emcee in Sam Mendes’s production of Cabaret for which Cumming received a coveted Tony Award.  He thrilled Adelaide audiences at the 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival and he has lined-up some of Australia’s best and finest cabaret artists to join with a smattering of international guests to delight audiences at the first live festival since Covid had such a devastating impact on performing artists around the world. Cumming is just the Artistic Director to bring back the joy that is live cabaret.

When considering what kind of a festival he wanted to create, Cumming realized that “Cabaret is a much deeper spectrum than I had thought. It is not just girls wearing feather boas. There is so much more to it and I think you can think of cabaret as a smorgasbord of different things – different genres, different emotions, and disciplines. Then I think you can begin to see the range of what is possible. That was something I wanted to bring to the festival - to have shows and acts that are a little bit outside of what people might expect. Traditionally one thinks of cabaret in a very narrow way.

Brent Ray Fraser
Photo by Dark Cell
There is nothing narrow about Brent Ray Fraser – The Naked Artist.  The provocative performance artist brings his highly creative body painting art to the festival. Loud classical and disco music fills the Spiegeltent as he applies his painted body to the canvas. Direct from Canada Fraser will titillate and shock in a forty-five minute performance that will take its unique place amongst Cumming’s smorgasbord of cabaret acts. In contrast New Yorker, Amber Martin will offer a very different act with her homage to the irrepressible Bette Midler. Bawdy, hot and steamy, Bathhouse Bette   may have you in a sweat by the end of Martin’s Spiegeltent tribute. Another international return visitor to the festival is Helpmann Award winner Kim David Smith with Mostly Marlene. Like Dietrich, Smith offers “ something filthy, something menacing, but always charming, fresh from his 2020 show at New York’s Club CummingAnother international visitor is Serbian Australian AFI Award winner Bojana Novakovic with her risky, improvisational exploration of humanity’s great need for human connection, an experiment that will resonate for all who have struggled during the Covid crisis.  These four artists will stretch the boundaries of cabaret as we may see it, challenging our preconceptions and thrusting us into an experience that will take us out of our comfort zone to discover different tastes in this smorgasbord of cabaret“I want people to feel that you can be provoked and you can be challenged but you can do all that at the same time as bringing joy to people, lots of joy.” 

And there is something for everyone to be joyful about. Apart from the international acts, most of the festival shines a light back on the enormous font of talent in Australia. Cumming was unable to scout in the usual way for acts around the world at the Edinburgh Festival in his native Scotland for example or at other cabaret festivals throughout the world. So he was compelled to look at Australian talent to bring to his festival, a task that he embraced with relish. “So many of my early cabaret experiences are connected to Australia and Australian people so I kind of went back to that.”  And Cumming sees great similarities between his homeland and Australia. “We are different, we are exciting and we are our own sort of intrinsic, unique value and I think that’s what I think about Australia. So many of my earlier formative memories are of the spirit of Australian performers. There are so many performers I’ve been inspired by.

Willsy and Downes in
Adelaide Tonight

There is a touch of nostalgia in Cumming’s voice. “I’m very much about looking back. I always think it’s good to look back on the past, so I can see where we are and show what’s happening in the present too.” When I look back at the programme that is heavily weighted with Australian performers and performances I can see what Cumming is saying.   Cumming  has offered audiences a rich  and diverse banquet of Australian cabaret experiences – something for everyone from Deadly Hearts, celebrating Australian indigenous music, Songs of Don which will rock the Festival Theatre to celebrate the work of legendary Cold Chisel songwriter, Don Walker. Hear Me Roar –Unplugged, a celebration of strong female voices sung by Tania Doko, Emma Pask and Prinnie Stevens.  Previous Artistic Director Julia Zemiro will team with Brian Nankervis to present Rockwiz Saluteto Eurovision. L’Hotel will offer an immersive look at cabaret, circus and burlesque in the delicious French tradition. Adelaide’s bold and brilliant all-female pop group Sisters of Invention will present You Ready For This and All The Queen’s Men will present LGBTIQ + Elders Dance Club. Truly something for everyone!

Julia Zemiro

A touch of nostalgia is the memory of Jay Walton’s popular TV chat show A Touch of Elegance. In a set recreating the Channel 10 studio set, one time TV host Ann Wills will join with the ebullient Bob Downes (Mark Trevorrow) to present Adelaide Tonight, one of the variety acts that will frame Cumming’s cabaret festival. The festival will also feature a nostalgic 50th anniversary reunion of the Young Talent Time team. Old favourites will return to add to the nostalgia and remind us of the journey from the past to the present and where they and we are at now.  Familiar faces in an unfamiliar world. Nostalgia and memory merge in a cavalcade of names that will make the 2021 Cabaret Festival one to always remember. They include Tim Minchin, Robyn Archer, former co-Artistic Director Eddie Perfect,  and at the red velvet Variety Gala opening on June 11 Hans, your host, Alan Cumming – Meow Meow – Paul Capsis-Brendan Maclean & Beau Sargent (from L’Hôtel) – Gerry Connolly-Trevor Ashley – Bob Downe & Willsy – James Galea-Michael Griffiths – Amber Martin – The Sisters of Invention-Mama Alto – Steph Tisdell – Jan van de Stool and more.

So much to choose from over three weekends. Cumming reiterates the advice of earlier Artistic Directors.  “Every day of the festival is framed by variety. There are different acts every night. Try and push yourself a bit. Go and see something you don’t necessarily think about going to. Try to think of variety as your taste as well.”

“I am so excited to finally share this festival line-up with you all” Cumming writes in the media release. “As ever I have gone with my gut – a quality I think we Scots and Australians share. This festival is a temple to my love and nostalgia for Australia – the people, the spirit, the adventure, the fusion of high and low that I have learned and stolen from and hold dear in my heart. I hope you Australians enjoy this Scot’s Cabaret love letter to you.”

It is a love affair that Australian audiences are sure to share over three wonderful weekends at  Alan Cumming’s 2021 Adelaide Cabaret festival.

Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Adelaide Festival Centre

June 11- 26 2021

Bookings: or  BASS on 131426



“La Clemenza di Tito”, National Opera, Llewellyn Hall, April 10, 13,15, 17. By Phillip Mackenzie

The cast of 'La Clemenza.' Photo Peter Hislop
                                The cast of 'La Clemenza.' Photo Peter Hislop

I had often heard, from true opera buffs, singers were now expected to act as well as sing, bringing new life to the opera houses of the world. Look at what Opera Australia has done on Sydney Harbour, they say.

So, from the start,  I looked forward with eager anticipation to seeing Peter Coleman-Wright's production for the newly-coined National Opera's “La Clemenza di Tito” in Llewellyn Hall in the hope that it would expand my appreciation of the art.

Quelle disappointment: look what they have not done in Llewellyn Hall, I might have replied.

My comments are based not on my prowess as a judge of what constitutes good opera, but upon my life-long experience in its more pragmatic relative, 'legitimate' theatre.

Admittedly, this production starts from well behind the eight-ball – trying to use a very good concert hall for a show that belongs on a theatrical stage.

Where were the elaborate sets? The magical scene changes? The flash lighting designs? The gorgeous costumes? Where was the pit in which the orchestra could create its undoubted musical magic without distracting the audience to the detriment of  the singers?

Canberra, the Heart of the Nation, lacks an opera house, so make the best of what's on offer. And, at least, we now have the 'National Opera' company.

                                                      Bradley Daley as Tito and Mikayla Tate as Servilia. Photo Peter Hislop

Wait a bit: we're a concert hall, so why not do it as a concert version of the original – that is, have the singers do their stuff in a line downstage,  straight to the audience, without having to bother about the convoluted plot or the dramatic relationship between the various characters. And they won't have to wear the tawdry mish-mash of costumes as if they were, severally, imitating life in the Roman Empire; Tito with a fringe of golden tinsel dangling over his backside; an ageing bikie with an eagle on his back; a couple of mixed-up adolescents in 20th century drag.

Wait another bit: let's make it something in between concert and full-on opera. The singers can still stay rooted on nondescript rostra we found out the back, so long as they follow the director's instructions: 'Don't just do something – stand there and sing!' and don't try to interact with any of the other people on stage.

Next, it’s in Mozart's original Italian. We could make a minor concession by projecting a one-line summary of each scene on the back wall for those in the audience who don't speak our language. Never mind full sur-titles – they'd spend all their time reading and not looking at or listening to our show.

                                                      Helena Dix as Vitellia. Photo Peter Hislop

The singers' reputations came before them and the singing sounded good all round, as did the orchestra. In these times of needless amplification and body mics, it was a relief to hear the voices au naturelle.

The chorus, however, was over-disciplined and under-used, looking more like the local church choir than a Roman rabble – and everyone was rather too calm as Rome burned.

But look – there are still people around – in real jewels and black ties, who can do a standing ovation when it's needed at the curtain call –  such a pity that Llewellyn doesn't have a curtain.