Friday, April 30, 2021




Lucy Bell as Honor and Huw Higginson as George
in Honour by Joanna Murray-Smith
Ensemble Theatre, Sydney 2021

Photos by Prudence Upton

 Honour by Joanna Murray-Smith.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, April 23 – June 5 2021

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night April 28

Director – Kate Champion
Set & Costume Designer – Simone Romaniuk; Lighting Designer – Damien Cooper;
Composer & Sound Designer – Nate Edmondson

Honor – Lucy Bell
George – Huw Higginson
Claudia – Ayeesha Ash
Sophie – Poppy Lynch

Since I last saw this play ten years ago it is an honour today – no superficial wordplay intended – to see how good a writer Joanna Murray-Smith was and still is.  She has done some re-writing on Honour, thanking Ensemble Theatre for inviting her to attend rehearsals: “Honour 2.0: tinkering with a success” by Kelly Burke
[ ]

The writing is quite extraordinary, beginning with the opening solo speech by George.  He almost seems to be aware of an audience – really talking to and sometimes at himself – which is funny even while we sense a feeling of his being on the edge, of what neither we nor he can yet understand.  At the end, can we say we enjoyed a romantic comedy?  Yes definitely…but…but.  But are you sure?

Murray-Smith’s words are just so good for acting.  Little words like ‘but’ or phrases like ‘you’re leaving me’ may be said many times over, even in quick succession, always with a new turn of the head, a different glance, a precise change in tone of voice, an unexpected angle of an eyebrow.  Of course all four of these actors are experts, and Kate Champion has always been so skilled at making words dance since the days of  her own dance theatre company, Force Majeure.  Joanna Murray-Smith provides the energy and motivation in the way her words and gaps between words open up her characters’ feelings.

See this play and be prepared to find yourself surprised by your own feelings as you question yourself about yourself.  And laugh at yourself laughing.  Comedy, yes – but not romantic in any conventional sense.  

In the past ten years, of course, sexual politics have galloped apace, so the arguments from the three women about George’s behaviour now have a new piquancy.  George, as a committed journalist, starts from the position that writing the truth wins, over ‘the heart’.  To myself I translated this as ‘Truth Trumps Heart’, and fell into thinking about the mess of deliberately manipulated ‘fake news’ from the recently defeated US president, as well as the mishandling of the men in our so-called egalitarian parliament who take themselves off on leave on full pay for empathy training, or with a doctor’s certificate because of their stress when accused of rape.  

In her play, which I also found myself calling ‘Honour thy Mother’, Murray-Smith, through the ways in which each of the women – Honor, Claudia and Sophie – develop a clear understanding of their positions as wife/mother, as lover and as daughter, ironically shows how truth does ‘win over’ the heart.  Enduring love means supporting while knowing, accepting and respecting your own and your partner’s good and not so good points.  

Honor learns that she does love George, despite everything, as she always had for the 32 years of their marriage; Claudia, as time and her meetings with Honor and Sophie go on, realises that she doesn’t love George after all, and that he doesn’t really love her;  Sophie grows up in her appreciation of her parents and is beginning to understand what her independence means.  

And at the end, I think, George knows he must be truthful with himself and honour Honor – it’s still all mysterious to him, but he knows now in his heart it’s the right way to go.  As a mere male myself, I identified with him.

Honour is fascinating, too, from another angle.  It’s written by a writer writing about being a writer.  Each character is a different kind of writer.  Honor is a poet; George is a journalist; Claudia is a feature writer working on a project about George’s career; and Sophie hopes to become a writer, perhaps like Claudia.  So here I am, a reviewer writing about this playwright.  For me, then, there is a special kind of buzz in this experience.  Joanna Murray-Smith stands out as a creative artist.  

To deliberately misquote that other great playwright, William Shakespeare, Joanna Murray-Smith is an honourable woman, whose writing has integrity.  The actors had the same understanding in their performances.  The audience on opening night responded in kind.  We were honoured to be in her presence.  


Huw Higginson (George) and Ayeesha Ash (Claudia)
Ayeesha Ash (Claudia) and Lucy Bell (Honor)

Poppy Lynch (Sophie) and Lucy Bell (Honor)

Huw Higginson (George) and Poppy Lynch (Sophie)

Honour by Joanna Murray-Smith
Ensemble Theatre, Sydney

Photos: Prudence Upton

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Building Blocks | Sarah Annand Super Sport Sunday | Thomas Lord Altering the Edges | Ellen Dahl


Photography, Visual Art | Brian Rope

Building Blocks | Sarah Annand

Super Sport Sunday | Thomas Lord

Altering the Edges | Ellen Dahl

Photo Access | Until 8 May 2021

Each of these three solo shows seeks to explore the meanings and transformations of place in the landscape. Each contributing artist examines built and/or natural environments - Annand tracing intersections between architectural photography and textile design, Lord producing exacting fine art darkroom prints, and Dahl combining poetry and photographic images.

Sarah Annand is a Canberra-based artist, photographer and textile designer. In Building Blocks, she draws on distinctive modernist and brutalist architectural styles, demonstrating the power of simple shape and form in some of Canberra's architecture. The thread of imagery which runs through Annand's photography, paintings and textile designs presents clever abstraction and repetition.

Photographic images of shapes, shadows, light and texture at places such as the Australian War Memorial Annex and the High Court of Australia reveal bold polygons and earthy textures. The image NGA Series – 1, 2020, showing parts of the exterior of the National Gallery of Australia, is particularly strong. The forms and structures in this, and other such buildings, carry over into Annand’s paintings and digital prints on various materials – canvas, cotton rag, paper and linen/cotton.

Sarah Annand, NGA Series - 1, 2020

Sarah Annand, AWM Annex Series - 2, 2020

The complete body of work is a visual study of Annand’s artistic process, leading gallery visitors through her creative journey from photography to an impressive, finished textile design.

Sarah Annand, HC Shadow Studies - 2, 2020

Super Sport Sunday from New Zealand artist Thomas Lord presents a series of large format black and white photographs exploring the greater Otago region. They show us spaces of contemplation - some wild, some urban and some curated to represent nature.

The title of Lord’s show is initially mysterious. We learn that places revealed in the images are settings or stages for human adventure, or encounter, activities - rites of passage for local young adults. These are places where various unrevealed leisure activities were pursued. What those activities were, or why they happened in those places, probably is not important for us as viewers. However, think about the use of cannabis in a country where it is illegal.

What we are shown is detail of each place – mown grass, concrete structures, a wire fence, indigenous trees and introduced weeds. All those things and more are portrayed. The large hand printed darkroom prints are of excellent quality and a number of them drew me in to explore their content for a lengthy time.

Thomas Lord, Fox Glove on a Surfer’s Track, 2020

Thomas Lord, Kanuka Forest Remnant near Allans Beach, 2020

Thomas Lord, Wheki at Bull Creek, 2020

Altering the Edges
 by Ellen Dahl (NSW) probes the idea of ‘landscape’ to express trepidations around the Anthropocene. She has a continuing interest in ‘places at the edge of the world’ and, in this exhibition, presents works from the peripheries of the arctic island of Spitsbergen in Norway, and from Tasmania.

Each of Dahl's works incorporate a stanza of poetry by Hannah Jenkins below the image. The words are Jenkins’ responses to the places portrayed. The suggestion is that poetic intimacy “might help us contend with mega-concepts like globalisation and the climate crisis that now threaten to overwhelm us”.

I am enthusiastic about the use of words, whether poetry or prose, in association with images. I like it both overlaid on images or set out below. In this case I felt the white areas beneath the images were overly large spaces to contain the words.

Despite the artist’s desire to “articulate uncertainties of place and belonging”, the images themselves are sublime, as one would expect of these landscapes. I particularly liked #5, with the stanza “I stay low / like a stratum laid on the ocean / floor in the pull of supercontinents”. And #18 “I pull minerals / for my mantle like / un-pristine royalty lying face down”.

Ellen Dahl, Field Notes from the Edge #5, 2021. Stanza Hannah Jenkins’ Valley

Ellen Dahl, Field Notes from the Edge #18, 2021 Stanza Hannah Jenkins’ Valley

Ellen Dahl, Field Notes from the Edge #21, 2021 Stanza Hannah Jenkins’ Valley

This review was published in the Canberra Times of 24/04/21 here and on the author's blog here.



Photography | Brian Rope


FYREGALLERY, Braidwood | Until 30 April 2021

All serious Australian photographers, and lovers of photography, know about Olive Cotton and Max Dupain. They know about their relationship. They are familiar with much of their work, particularly the famous images. They have probably read some books about one or other or both of them. If not, I heartily recommend the 2019 biography Olive Cotton, A Life In Photography by Helen Ennis. It tells much about Dupain as well as Cotton.

For everyone who appreciates the works of these two pioneering Australian photographers, this exhibition provides a great and joyful opportunity to see 39 of their images displayed in the one place. In addition, the quality of the silver gelatin photographs on display is excellent.

The exhibition catalogue, reproduces FYREGALLERY’s Manifesto for the Arts, quoting Rosamund Stone Sander & Benjamin Sander, ‘Art is ….. about rearranging us, creating surprising juxtapositions, emotional openings….’. That may be somewhat too esoteric with respect to this exhibition. These works mostly do not create surprising juxtapositions. They do not rearrange us. In my view they are, for the most part, straight forward images.

Cotton’s half of the exhibition includes some excellent nature imagery, such as her exquisite Seed Head, 1990. Also on show is the beautifully detailed photograph - Skeleton Leaf, 1964. The former is in the collection of the National Library of Australia, the latter in the National Gallery of Australia.

        Olive Cotton - Seed Head, 1990, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

Olive Cotton - Skeleton Leaf, 1964, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

There are various delightful portraits, including the wonderful Only To Taste The Warmth, The Light, The Wind, in which the model’s face says it all – we know immediately what she is experiencing. The title is a line from a poem ‘O summer sun’ by English poet Robert Laurence Binyon.

Olive Cotton - Only To Taste The warmth, The Light, The Wind, 1939, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

Bright Cloud, 1939 is another highlight, portraying exactly that beyond the crest of the road ahead.

Olive Cotton - Bright Cloud. 1939, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

There is also the superb abstract Moths On The Windowpane taken in 1985 when Cotton was 84 years old. The Ennis biography mentioned earlier suggests Cotton ‘would have thought about it for a long while, watching and waiting’. Most of us would not do so – we would either just grab a shot or, at most, take a little time to frame our composition.

Dupain’s half of the show includes several from his Shell Series, printed very small and displayed in much larger mattes. It is a matter of individual preference as to whether one likes small artworks framed this way. Those who want something larger can find these images on websites by searching for Dupain’s name and their titles.

There are also various images of Sydney landmarks, one of performers with the Ballets Russes, and one of his fashion shoots – titled Beach Fashion Shoot, 1938.


Max Dupain - Beach Fashion Shoot, Cronulla, 1938, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

And there is Two Girls At Bowral [Olive Cotton and Jean Lorraine], 1939. It is a nice touch to have a Dupain image of Cotton included in the show.


Max Dupain - Two Girls At Bowral [Olive Cotton and Jean Lorraine], 1939, Silver gelatin photograph © Josef Lebovic Gallery

It is interesting to read when the images were taken and when they were printed. In many cases we are told who signed the prints – mostly by Dupain’s son Rex, or Cotton’s daughter Sally. And we read where copies are held and used as illustrations in Ennis’ two books about Cotton. Having received a copy of the 2019 biography as a gift last Christmas and read it earlier this year, this exhibition provided me with a most timely opportunity to further enjoy the works of these two iconic photographers.

It is well worth the drive to Braidwood for Canberrans to see these works in a modest gallery in that historic country town. A day out to see the exhibition and enjoy some of the other delights nearby is a day well spent. FYREGALLERY is to be congratulated on arranging to show these works in association with Sydney’s Josef Lebovic Gallery.

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

Thursday, April 22, 2021



Composed by David Lang

Luminescence Chamber Singers

All Saints Anglican Church, Ainslie, 18 April


Reviewed by Len Power


The key word in the latest concert by Luminescence Chamber Singers is ‘Passion’.  The main work presented, ‘The Little Match Girl Passion’ is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 story about a poor young girl who freezes to death while trying to sell matches to people walking by who ignore her.    The American composer, David Lang, noted the similarity between the suffering of the young girl and those who took no notice of her plight and the format of Bach’s ‘Saint Matthew Passion’ which set the passion of Christ against the neglect of onlookers.

The work was first performed in Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2007 and won Lang the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music.  It is regularly performed in the United States but has only rarely been heard in Australia.


Luminescence Chamber Singers performing in All Saints Anglican Church, Ainslie

It’s a very atmospheric work, somewhat austere, and its appeal is in the overall atmosphere it creates rather than as an emotional experience.  The five singers, AJ America, Veronica Milroy, Rachel Mink, Jack Stephens and Dan Walker gave it a very fine performance.  The clarity, timing and balance between their voices were outstanding, producing a multi-layered sound that, at times, made it seem like there were more than five singers on the stage.

The first half of the program also had a Passion theme focussing on the neglect of onlookers in the face of anguish.  Music from the 16th and 18th centuries by de Victoria, Casali, Gesualdo, De La Rue and Handl implored us to see suffering and not ignore it.  The works were well chosen and sung with great skill.  De Victoria’s ‘O Vos Omnes’ was especially haunting and beautifully sung.

The choice of works for this concert with a Passion theme was especially apt just after Easter.  The Luminescence Chamber Singers excelled in their performance of these challenging works.


Photo by Peter Hislop


This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition 19 April 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, April 20, 2021

ONE MAN IN HIS TIME - John Bell and Shakespeare.


Presented by Bell Shakespeare

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre – 14th and 15th April 2021.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

This is a show that should be seen by every aspiring actor, and everyone else with even a passing interest in theatre or Shakespeare. For a little over an hour, John Bell, consummate actor, superb raconteur and living national treasure, held his audience spell-bound with his mastery of his craft and the power of his story-telling, dressed simply in a smart grey casual shirt and jeans, alone on the stage, except for a chair and small table carrying a glass of water and a script to which he occasionally referred.

Commencing with Oberon’s monologue “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Bell explained that this was the play that captivated him at the age of 15 and ignited his lifelong passion for Shakespeare and his writing.

He told how he studied Shakespeare from the age of 18 and performed his first “Hamlet” at age 22.  He shared some of the knowledge, explaining the difference between a speech and a soliloquy. He even gave some directorial hints enlisting some willing audience members to assist him in an engaging demonstration, for which he chose a soliloquy from “Macbeth”.

But mostly he talked about Shakespeare’s characters, and their relevance to present day circumstances and events. Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” to illustrate a point about suicide and “He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million”, Shylock’s Act 3 speech from “The Merchant of Venice”, as a wry comment on recent politics.

Some quotes were familiar, others less so. Enthusing about Shakespeare’s lesser known characters, without the aid of any props, he effortlessly assumed character, to deliver Jack Cade’s speech from “Henry V1”; a hilarious exchange between Justices Shallow and Silence from “Henry 1V”; and Falstaff’s “Honour” speech.

After describing the meeting between Anthony and Cleopatra, he performed Cleopatra’s “Lament” with the reminder that in Shakespeare’s day all the female roles in his plays were played by men.

Crammed with similar examples, this gem of a show is no mere recital of Bell’s favourite roles.  More a memorable masterclass delivered with the freshness and enthusiasm belying a man in his 80th year, most of which have been spent sharing his enthusiasm for the work of William Shakespeare.

Of course there was a standing ovation from the capacity audience, as much to honour his outstanding contribution to the art of fine theatre as for his gift of this superb Shakespearean treasury.  

                                               Image by Brett Boardman 

This review appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.

Monday, April 19, 2021

seven methods of killing kylie jenner


Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner by Jasmine Lee-Jones.  Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre Company at Eternity Playhouse, Sydney, until May 2, 2021

Previewed by Frank McKone

Directed by Shari Sebbens
Associate Director – Zindzi Okenyo

Performed by Vivienne Awosoga as “Kara” and Moreblessing Maturure as “Cleo”

Twitter in the morning.  Twitter in the evening. Twitter in your dreams.  Who on earth is this #incognegro?

Surely it’s some racist git (that’s London Cockney for ‘idiot’).  Who is the Kylie Jenner that somebody wants to kill?  Is this meant to be funny?

Well, it’s often very funny, especially for the social media generation who get all the jokes in online language.  KMT (kiss my teeth!). JS (just saying!)

Why Cockney?   That’s because this exciting, irreverent and ultimately emotionally gripping play comes from the best of London theatre:

Jasmine was originally developed as a writer through the Royal Court’s Young Court programme and seven methods of killing kylie jenner was first commissioned as part of The Andrea Project – A day of free events inspired by the life, work and legacy of Andrea Dunbar. This work was part of the Young Court’s mission to expand the Royal Court’s commitment to new voices.  

Andrea Dunbar (1961-1990),  wrote her first play at the age of 15, The Arbor, about "a Bradford schoolgirl who falls pregnant to her Pakistani boyfriend on a racist estate”. It received its première in 1980 at London's Royal Court Theatre. At age 18, Dunbar was the youngest playwright to have her work performed there.

This production of Seven Methods was destined for Belvoir Theatre in November – December 2020, but “Given the unprecedented global health crisis we currently face, Belvoir has made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel all performances of 7 Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner. We are being cautious and following the government’s directive to restrict public gatherings. The health and safety of our audience, staff and actors is always our first priority.”  So it is a coup for the diverse multicultural community which Darlinghurst Theatre Company represents to begin this year’s recovery with this outstanding example of committed theatre.  Masks are now voluntary, not required in NSW.

A remarkable feature of the show is the finely detailed choreography and timing of the action, combined with AV projections on a very unusual set design, which is very often ironically humorous in its own right, reminiscent of the best standup comedians.  Yet this style morphs into genuine and empathetic characterisation.  

The strength of the play and this production in particular is that the audience is taken on a journey to understand from the inside and identify with these people, so affected by the issues of racism and sexual preference, of historical and present-day abuse.

For Canberrans, many of whom may be regulars at Belvoir, now is the time to discover Eternity, the Darlinghurst Theatre Company playhouse in Burton Street, between the well-known Crown and Bourke Streets, just off Oxford Street.  

In addition, to see this play will give strength to Canberrans’ submissions to the discussion paper announced today on the new laws proposed by the ACT government to create a charter “that says the territory will support multiculturalism by promoting active citizenship and mutual respect regardless of background”: in Canberra Times News Page 3 [ ]

And if, like me, you unfortunately missed the musical Once, “the only Broadway show to have music that won the Academy Award ® , Grammy Award ® , Olivier Award and Tony Award ®”, in 2019, Darlinghurst Theatre Company will this year take it on tour – to Canberra in August 26th-29th .

And, BTW, Kylie Jenner is real and apparently thoroughly justifies this play:

Kylie Kristen Jenner (born August 10, 1997) is an American media personality, socialite, model, and businesswoman. She has starred in the E! reality television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians since 2007 and is the founder and owner of cosmetic company Kylie Cosmetics.

In 2014 and 2015, Time magazine listed the Jenner sisters on their list of the most influential teens in the world, citing their considerable influence among youth on social media. As of December 2020, with over 206 million followers, she is one of the most followed people on Instagram. In 2017, Jenner was placed on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list, making her the youngest person to be featured on the list. Jenner starred on her own spin-off series, Life of Kylie, which premiered on E! on August 6, 2017. In November 2018, New York Post credited her for being the most influential celebrity in the fashion industry.

According to Forbes, in 2019, Jenner's net worth was estimated at US$1 billion, making her, at age 21, the world's youngest self-made billionaire as of March 2019, though the notion of Jenner being self-made is a subject of controversy, owing to her privileged background. In May 2020, however, Forbes released a statement accusing Jenner of forging tax documents so she would appear as a billionaire. The publication also accused her of fabricating revenue figures for Kylie Cosmetics.

How good is the internet, hey?  Tweet, tweet.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

MAMMA MIA ! - The Musical - Free Rain Theatre

Tracey Noble - Louiza Blomfield - Helen McFarlane.

Directed by Jarrad West – Musical Direction by Alexander Unikowski

Choreographed by Michelle Heine – Set Design by R James Entertainment

Lighting Design by Phillip Goodwin – Costume Design by Fiona Leach

Sound Design by Nick Cossart.

The Q, Queanbeyan until 8th May 2021

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

If you’re someone who feels they couldn’t bear to listen to another ABBA song, then do yourself a favour and get along to see Free Rain Theatre’s exuberant new production of “Mamma Mia”.

Although “Mamma Mia” features about two dozen ABBA’s songs, they have been interwoven into an appealing story about a young woman, Sophie (Charlotte Gearside) who is about to marry. Sophie  decides that she needs to know who her father is. Her attempts to glean this information from her free- spirited mother, Donna (Louiza Blomfield) have been unsuccessful. Having discovered her mother’s diary, Sophie invites three of the most likely suspects to her wedding in the hope of discovering which is her father. 

Although none of the songs were written with this context in mind, they have been so cleverly integrated into the storyline that they express the various characters feelings and advance the storyline convincingly. Therefore the perfect fit for this story set in a holiday villa on a sunny Greek island.

Centre - Will Collett (Sky) - Sharlotte Gearside (Sophie)

Free Rain Theatre has assembled an outstanding cast of experienced local musical theatre performers for this production. Stylishly directed by Jarrad West, and costumed by Fiona Leach in a riotous collection of colourful resort wear to compliment the excellent setting imported from Rockhampton, the cast is led by Louiza Blomfield and Charlotte Gearside, perfectly cast as mother and daughter, Donna and Sophie. Both possess fine voices and the ability to phrase their lyrics meaningfully. Their scenes together generate real chemistry, allowing the audience to become invested in their relationship.

Similarly, Helen McFarlane and Tracey Noble are outstanding as Donna’s uninhibited friends, Tanya and Rosie. McFarlane provided a highpoint fending off the randy young Pepper (cheekily performed by Grayson Woodham) in the brilliantly staged “Does Your Mother Know” and Noble’s magic moment comes with her hilariously sustained response to discovering the possibility of a marriage prospect.

"Does Your Mother Know" - Centre - Grayson Woodham (Pepper) - Helen McFarlane (Tanya) and ensemble.

Isaac Gordon, Mark Maconachie and Paul Sweeney each impress as Sophie’s three prospective fathers, each revealing fine singing voices and creating widely contrasting, but equally likeable characterisations.  Will Collett as Sophie’s fiancé, Sky and Jessica Gowing and Meaghan Stewart as Sophie’s friends, Lisa and Ali, all stand out in supporting roles.

Michelle Heine has outdone herself with a constant stream of dazzling, meticulously rehearsed dance numbers confidently and joyously performed by the whole cast to the sounds of Alexander’s Unikowski’s excellent band, augmented with a team of pit singers.  Nick Cossart achieved an excellent balance with his sound design which allowed the audience to savour the lyrics without losing any of the dynamism of the band.

Amongst all this excellence however, Phillip Goodwin’s lighting design felt like a work-in-progress often leaving the principals in darkness, inaccurate follow-spotting, and lighting levels often  too low and gloomy.

Having survived a long gestation period (this production was about to open last year when the Covid-19 pandemic struck) along with recent excellent offerings from the Canberra Philharmonic Society (Jersey Boys) and Queanbeyan Players (The Sound of Music) this production is a testament to the excellence achieved by local community theatre groups . Miss this one at your peril. You might even discover that you enjoy ABBA music after all.


                                                  Images: Janelle McMenamin

       This review published in the digitial edition of  CITY NEWS on 16th April 2021. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021




The Wiggles “We’re All Fruit Salad” Thirtieth Anniversary National Tour. 

Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. April 17-18 2021

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

“Why review The Wiggles? I was asked. "They don’t need a review." There is a misguided belief that a reviewer is there only to ensure audiences for a production, by commenting on the show. That is partly true, and it is also true that the target audience for a Wiggles show needs no encouragement. As one person told me their current 30 Year Anniversary Tour, We’re All Fruit Salad is the hottest ticket in town for parents of 3 – 5 year olds. As I walked up the aisle after their bright and colourful show in the Canberra Theatre, I noticed a mother nursing her very young child. You can never start too young introducing your child to the magic of theatre and The Wiggles celebratory show is the perfect introduction.

But a reviewer’s task is also to be a theatre archivist and inform a community of offerings and trends that constitute the diverse world of the theatre. After thirty years, entertaining children and introducing them to a love of the theatre that may last throughout their lives, The Wiggles have become an early childhood phenomenon that has never lost sight of its origins, even though, apart from  founding member Anthony Field , the Green Wiggle, the cast has changed and fascinating, fun characters have joined the original team. At one stage, Simon Pryce, the Red Wiggle invites parent to hold up their children who have come dressed as their favourite Wiggle. When it comes to Emma Watkins, the Yellow Wiggle, the response is huge. The only female Wiggle emerges as a clear favourite, and yet her introduction to the team has been relatively recent.

An idea that was created by musicians Field and fellow Cockroaches musician Jeff Fatt, Murray Cook and Field’s university friend Greg Page and composer Phillip Wilcher three decades ago has become a world-wide phenomenon, and it is easy to see why when one gazes at the faces of the young audience who sit entranced by the colour and movement or join in singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Humpty Dumpty or Hot Potato or do the movement to simple dance choregography. And therein lies the secret to The Wiggles’ success. That and their versatility. Anthony is as adept on bagpipes as he is on guitar and Lachy Gillespie, the Purple Wiggle accompanies expertly on keyboard.  And it is not only the young, fascinated child who happily waves his or her arms through the air. The woman in front of me was as engrossed in the show as her young child. The magic of live theatre casts its spell and every member of the audience young and old gives themselves over to the mesmerising charm of The Wiggles. This is pure and honest entertainment that aims to teach the very young the pleasure of participating in song and dance and movement, guided by consummate performers of their distinctive art. There is no pretension, no hyped up spectacle, no gratuitous participation, but only a genuine desire to fire the imagination and inspire the joy in learning.

To do this, the Wiggles remove the fourth wall through participation and engagement with the audience in the aisles of the theatre. Performers in bear suits bound through the audience, Captain Feathersword romps up and down the aisle. A large inflatable elephant brushes past, followed by a troupe of dancing elephants. On stage larger than life characters delight the children with their antics. There is Henry the Octopus, Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wag the Dog and  Shirley Shawn the Unicorn. The Wiggles lead their audience into a fantastical wonderland of the imagination where reality and make believe combine into a fusion of wonderment.  It all comes together in a We’re All Fruit Salad finale when characters enter in the familiar red Wiggles car in front of the large quilted yellow backdrop with painted faces of The Wiggles and the other characters. For an hour their wizardry holds the young audience willingly captive and I sit in awe of how a show, so simple, so honest, so full of the love of entertaining and teaching young children can weave such a spell. It is a lesson that adult theatre could do well to observe, and that’s why The Wiggles We’re All Fruit Salad Thirtieth Anniversary Tour is worth reviewing!




Cosi by Louis Nowra.  Canberra Rep at Naoné Carrel Auditorium, April 8-24 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 16

Director – Sophie Benassi

Set Designer – Andrew Kay; Sound Designer – Neville Pye; Lighting Designer – Mike Moloney; Costume Designer – Monique Doubleday

Cast: in order of appearance

Lucy – Emily Pogson            Lewis – Martin Fatmaja Hoggart
Nick – Alex Castello            Roy – Chris Baldock
Justin – John Lombard        Doug – Blue Hyslop
Henry – Max Gambale        Cherry – Steph Roberts
Ruth – Alexandra Pelvin        Julie – Isobel Williams
Zac – Elliot Cleaves

Photos: Helen Drum


The sincerity of Louis Nowra’s art flows off the stage in Rep’s thoroughly engaging presentation of Cosi.  The energy, commitment and sense of both enjoyment and satisfaction is surely the product of quality directing by Sophie Benassi.  I look forward in anticipation to a career firmly based in her BA and DipEd, and NIDA training, following her appointment as Co-Artistic Director of Canberra’s Mockingbird Acting Studio and Theatre Company alongside founder Chris Baldock.

I came away with a sense of a new generation in Canberra theatre and, as the Covid experience grinds on, my faith in humanity was reaffirmed.  

Cosi is fascinating because we find ourselves laughing, often very much out loud, at what characters are doing, at the same time as understanding empathetically their clinical situation.  This production works so well because not only is the acting consistent with Nowra’s intention, but so also is the casting – of actors whose physical features are exactly as I have always imagined for these characters – and the wonderful costumes, make-up and hairdos.  The characters we see look like the real thing, as themselves and in their roles in the final performance of their play, at the same time as symbolically representing the types of people they would have been in the period of the Vietnam War Moratorium Marches, the first of which in Australia was on May 8, 1970.  

Just look at Lewis’s wide-bottomed trousers, and anyone my age remembers – not just the fashion, but the ‘Arts’ university personality which I’m sure Louis must have been.  We can’t help but feel for his discombobulation when faced by the strength of character of people who have been classed and ‘sectioned’ as clinically insane.

Cherry confronts Doug in Rep's Cosi
L to R: Max Gambale (Henry), Isobel Williams (Julie), Blue Hyslop (Doug)
Steph Roberts (Cherry), Chris Baldock (Roy), Martin Fatmaja Hoggart (Lewis)

L to R: Blue Hyslop (Doug), Alexandra Pelvin (Ruth),
Steph Roberts (Cherry), Chris Baldock (Roy)


Though some characters are naturally likely to attract our attention more than others, such as the fire-bug Doug, the dominant Roy, the mysteriously silent Henry and the Wagner accordion player Zac, the value of this production is in the care taken to give equal standing to each part.  Julie’s somewhat distanced watching of the action early on and progress towards being discharged, Ruth’s obsessive compulsive disorder, and Cherry’s sexual fixation become the central throughline connecting Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte story – of how women are thought of by men and what women actually think of the inadequacies of men – to the modern situation women are in.  

Interestingly, the only characters with whom we feel little sympathetic connection are the three sane figures: Lewis’ moratorium organiser friend Nick; his girl friend Lucy – who ‘sleeps’ with him but ‘has sex with’ Nick; and Justin, the social worker who represents the authority over the patients.  Though Alex, Emily and John played their roles perfectly well, they were hardly funny and are left somewhat in the shade – except for Alex as Nick when Max’s Henry very nearly throttles him.  That scene was horribly funny.

The set design was equally impressive, having been previously half-burnt down by Doug and so having unexpected holes for entrances and exits apart from the doorway in on our left and the clearly labelled “dunny” on the right.  I’m still laughing at Henry’s several times’ complete circumnavigation of his theatre, which included our auditorium, when he has to work off his energy because of his medication upset.

All round then, literally as well as metaphorically, Rep’s Cosi does justice to Louis Nowra’s ‘Lewis’, ending with Martin Fatmaja Hoggart’s quietly done and emotionally gripping return to reality as he describes what happened in later life to his two girlfriends.  That’s when the laughter stopped.  

The synopsis in the program says “Cosi blurs the lines between sanity and insanity, fidelity and infidelity, and reality and illusion”, but I think Cosi makes the distinctions clearer.

Elliot Cleaves as Zac - pianist and accordion player