Monday, May 31, 2021

Capital Country

Photography Book | Brian Rope

Capital Country | Kate Matthews

Many of us make books of our photographs. They range from very simple homemade books, through print-on-demand photobooks containing heaps of travel shots crammed in, to substantial printed books of quality portfolios in whatever quantities we can afford and think we might be able to market.

This photo book by Canberra artist Kate Matthews is, in effect, an exhibition in a book rather than in a gallery. Matthews graduated Bachelor of Visual Arts, Bachelor of Arts, from the ANU in 2020. She was the recipient of a PhotoAccess ANU EASS Residency for her Graduating Exhibition work. She describes herself as an artist and educator, and says her practice frequently involves a collaborative model of engagement with public audiences and spaces. Her teaching philosophy is to use her skills to make people’s ideas come to life, where no idea is too big or small to be realised.

In 2020, Matthews received an ACT Government Creative Endeavour Grant to fund the publication of this book. Continuing her observational documentary practice investigating public spaces, Capital Country presents darkroom produced photomontages analysing the successes and failures of our shared spaces in regional and urban townships. She has sought to document why some places invite people to pause, stay a while and say hello, while others seem to encourage at least some visitors to hurry elsewhere. The question posed is “what dictates where and how public life unfolds in our regional urban spaces?”

To gather material, Matthews toured the Capital region, walking and photographing shared spaces, investigating how sets of buildings and street furniture, roads and trees, signs and shops created stages for everyday routines, chance encounters and community connection.

The artist comments that city ‘activations’ take place in metropolises, including Canberra. Parks, playgrounds and public amenities are meant to increase community benefit. Braddon and Civic are bursting with colour and life, yet suburbs on the fringes of Canberra are left alone. In nearby sprawling towns, the wide-open scale of them challenges effective and engaged public life. Urban planning favours cars and drive-in, drive-out town centres.

Capital Country reveals Matthews’s observations in photomontages, each pulling apart a scene, breaking apart our sense of space and drawing attention to the varied ways of experiencing places. She has sought to underscore the importance of how different people might interact with any particular public space – noting that our built environment must not only accommodate but be inviting to all.

Capital Country 05 © Kate Matthews

Capital Country 13 © Kate Matthews

For me, the best and strongest images to enjoy are those about Yass. A children’s crossing is poignant with no child in sight. There is a lyricism in an image showing material blown by wind.

Capital Country 12 © Kate Matthews

Capital Country 01 © Kate Matthews

A space containing earth moving machinery would be a familiar place to anyone who’s walked along the Belconnen’s Emu Bank lakeside footpath in recent times. A space in Cowra with two damaged cars is also somehow poignant.

Capital Country 11 © Kate Matthews

A simple view through a car windscreen reveals a classic Canberra suburbia place. Regulars who walk through the Valley Tavern door in Wanniassa may never have seen that space in quite the same way.

Capital Country 14 © Kate Matthews

Capital Country 03 © Kate Matthews

There is a lovely touch of humour about an image of a road closed sign in Erindale, whilst a closed skate park in Goulburn is a sad sight. The final image portraying a Gungahlin space with an Exit sign is a perfect choice to end the book.

Copies of Capital Country can be purchased from the Photo Access gallery shop, or online from the artist’s website

This review was first published in the Canberra Times of 31/5/21 here. It is also published on the author's personal blog here.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The 7 Stages of Grieving


Program Cover
Elaine Crombie
 The 7 Stages of Grieving
Sydney Theatre Company 2021

The 7 Stages of Grieving by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman.  Sydney Theatre Company at Wharf 1, May 21 – June 19, and at Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, June 23-26.

First premiered at Metro Arts, Brisbane, 1 September 1995.  Now with additional material by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman 2008 and Shari Sebbens and Elaine Crombie 2021.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 29

Performed by Elaine Crombie as The Woman
Director – Shari Sebbens; Designer – Elizabeth Gadsby; Lighting & AV Designer – Verity Hampson; Composer & Sound Designer – Steve Francis; Assistant Director – Ian Michael; Stage Manager – Todd Eichorn

Elaine Crombie as The Woman
The 7 Stages of Grieving
Photo: Joseph Mayers

Elaine Crombie’s performance of The Woman in The 7 Stages of Grieving is at once terrifying and glorious.  This is an acting role which does not provide her with the personal distancing an actor can normally use to protect herself emotionally.  She represents her personal reality of survival after 233 years of violent oppression by an inhumane colonial society – our Australia.

“We can’t go back now.  To go back is to deny our humanity.”  

She means reconciliation now, no more WRECK ON SILLY NATION, the joke which flashes on the screen behind her.  Should we laugh?  Of course not.  But in her dignity and strength of character and purpose, the humour central to her Indigeneity, she gives us permission to see the joke.  And we laughed, with her.

The Woman is not a character in a play.  She is Elaine Crombie investing in our education, offering us a new understanding.  Asking us now not merely to act in conventional sympathy, but to take practical action politically to achieve proper recognition of the justice of self-determination for First Nations people in Australia, whose continuing culture is now known to be at least some 65,000 years old – twice as old as the broken history of the European invaders in 1788.

The addition this year of 7 Acts of Reconciliation starts with An Act to Lift the Age of Imprisonment so that 10 and 12 year old children, whose families need help and support, will no longer be jailed – as they are now, for example in one of her stories, for swearing at police who are applying racial profiling and violently arresting them for minor offences as if they are adult criminals.

Then there is her own story of accidentally locking her keys in her car.  Police will not believe it is her car, as she tries the door.  This is no joke.  No-one laughed.

She names a clutch of offending politicians, from Peter Dutton to Pauline Hanson.  For me, the most upsetting is Malcolm Turnbull – the apparently moderate – who instantly dismissed the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  What an absolute insult!

I can only conclude as director Shari Sebbens ends her program note for this, the fourth production by the Sydney Theatre Company since 1995:

“To me this play feels eternal,
which makes me so happy.

But also, this play feels eternal
And that makes me furious.”

Don’t miss Elaine Crombie in The 7 Stages of Grieving, in Sydney and soon in Canberra.  Don’t lose your fury, but please, to keep your balance, also enjoy this picture of the happy team working on the production:

Photo: Joseph Mayers

And consider the story of the play in the Writers’ Note:  “In many ways it is not a play that is to be slavishly reproduced but is an invitation to be remade with every passing year.  We once entered 7 Stages into a playwriting award and were rejected as they said it was not a play but more a ‘blueprint for a production’.

So here, for contrast, are Deborah Mailman in the role in 2002, Ursula Yovich in 2006 and Lisa Flanagan in 2008.

Photos by Tracey Schramm

Friday, May 28, 2021

Roundup of recent theatre by Alanna Maclean

                                    The Twins

WE’RE hardly post-COVID, but theatres are busy here one more. It’s a relief.

In recent weeks I’ve been intrigued by the real life premise of “The Twins,” impressed by the honesty of “Little Girls Lost in the Woods,” happily amused by the zany adaptation of “Jekyll and Hyde,”  watched John Bell ruminate quietly on the value of Shakespeare and been devastated by Robyn Nevin in “A German Life.”

“The Twins” was a bit of a strange one. Two actors, Greg Fleet and Ian Darling appear as themselves. and ruminate on where life has taken them since they last acted together. One has gone into other fields, one has stayed an actor. The line between yarning and theatre was a thin and occasionally awkward one but there was a nice tension between the past and the present, ambitions realised and those not.

                                                        “Little Girls Alone in the Woods”

“Little Girls Alone in the Woods” by Morgan Rose is inventively based on “The Bacchae.”  It was given an imaginative production by a large and well-focussed Canberra Youth Theatre cast of varying ages, two younger ones proving especially good at clear-eyed narration.  

An unusual L-shaped audience in the Courtyard Studio made you want to come back and see it from the other point of view. The focus on the young women trying to forge their own paths by going into the woods away from those who would tell them what to be was powerfully shown.

                                                    “Jekyll and Hyde” 

I’d have to put “Jekyll and Hyde” in the workshop theatre basket; audience participation was not only positively encouraged but also seemed to be the subject of some pre-show selection. Robert Louis Stevenson came somewhat second but the piece had control, a bit of elegance, atmosphere and humour. Wild costumes, theatrical trickery and wonderful timing.

Out of New Zealand and rather enjoyable. And it also showed what a flexible performance space the Bicentennial Hall has now become. It slimmed down to accommodate a traverse stage with very little awareness of the large spaces surrounding it. I may not be calling it a barn again.

                                                                        John Bell

John Bell arrived on the stage of the Playhouse with a comfy armchair and not much else was needed for his one man ramble through some of his favourite bits of Shakespeare.

“One Man in His Time” was quiet, good humoured, perceptive and not too schoolmasterish bit of teaching and sharing that a large audience thoroughly enjoyed.

But it was Robyn Nevin who floored audiences with Christopher Hampton’s “A German Life.”

 Based on the memories of German woman Brunhilde Pomsel, born in 1911, dying at 106, it mapped the century in her life. it posed the question of the ‘ordinary German’ - what would you have done in mid twentieth century Germany, mummy?

                                                                    Robin Nevin. Photo: Andrew Beveridge

Answer, go with the social flow and hone the shorthand skills which were a meal ticket in hard times but which led to working for Dr Goebbels… I did wonder how it might have gone on an utterly black stage with just a chair and a glass of water but the nursing home surroundings were the banal reality and served as a good background for pale projected snippets of devastating old newsreels.

Nevin herself was that reality and utterly convincing as the old woman reviewing her life and the way in which she ended up part of the tragedy. Hard to withhold a certain sympathy but hard not to judge such blindness. And be careful where shorthand skills might lead you…

“The Twins” by Sarah Butler, Ian Darling and Greg Fleet . Directed by Terry Serio and Sarah Butler. Shark Island Institute and The ArtsLab Kangaroo Valley (NSW). Courtyard Studio Canberra Theatre Centre May 3-6.

“Little Girls Alone in the Woods by Morgan Rose.” Directed by Luke Rogers. Courtyard Studio Canberra Theatre Centre. May 19-22.

“Jekyll and Hyde,”  A Slightly Isolated Dog Production. Directed by Leo Gene Peters. Qbn Bicentennial Hall) May 18-23.

John Bell and Shakespeare, “One Man in his Time,”  Canberra Playhouse, April 14-15.

“ A German Life” by Christopher Hampton. Directed by Neil Armfield. Canberra Playhouse,   May 11-16.




Rope by Patrick Hamilton.

Directed by Ed Wightman. Assisted by Liz de Toth. Set design by Quentin Mitchell. Lighting design by Nathan Sciberras. Sound design by Justin Mullins. Costume design by Anna Senior. Properties Coordinator. Michael Sparks. Stage Manager David Goodbody. ASM. Andrea Garcia. Set coordinator. Russell Brown OAM. Production Manager. Mal Houston. FOH Coordinator. Elizabeth Goodbody. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. May 20-June 5 2021 Bookings 62571950.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

First performed at the Strand Theatre in 1929, Patrick Hamilton’s play enjoyed immediate success and went on to highly acclaimed performances in London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. In 1948 Alfred Hitchcock turned Hamilton’s mystery crime thriller into a film with Jimmy Stewart  in the role of melancholic misanthropic antagonist Rupert Cadell. While watching Canberra Repertory’s meticulously detailed and superbly staged production of Hamilton’s “Will they get away with murder” thriller it is easy to see why Rope has enjoyed such great success. Hamilton turns the conventional crime thriller upside down by revealing from the outset  murderers Wyndham Brandon and Charles “Granno” Granillo hiding their innocent victim, Raymond Dentley ina  chest before their guests arrive for a cocktail party.

Josh Wiseman and Pippin Carroll in Rope

Unlike a Poirot or Miss Marple crime detection tale, Rope is the ingenious invention of a playwright, presumably inspired by the real life Leopold and Loeb case of 1924, when two young university students murdered an innocent 14 year old neighbour,  simply for the thrill of it. Hamilton combines a biting commentary on class and morality with a cleverly devised challenge to audiences to see whether the villains will get away with their senseless crime or whether they will be found out and brought to justice. It is a drama of potential entrapment of the two murderers, vainly confident in their notion of intellectual superiority. Hamilton presents a challenge that demands skilfully etched characterization and spellbinding engagement. With this in mind, director Ed Wightman, his cast and production team have staged a revival of Rope, first performed at Rep in 1941, that is highly professional in every aspect. Quentin Mitchell’s set design and Anna Senior’s costume design perfectly capture period, style and character. Lighting designer, Nathan Sciberras and sound designer Justin Mullins  build the atmosphere, heightening the suspense and tension, and keep the audience transfixed in their search for the clues that will expose Brandon and Granno. From the dramatic and portentous opening music and dim lighting to the onset of the storm and the ultimate exposure, the production skilfully orchestrated by Wightman holds us in a state of absolute engagement.

Wightman draws flawless performances from his actors. The casting of Pippin Carroll as Brandon and Josh Wiseman is inspired. The contrast is palpable – Brandon the supercilious camp white privileged English male with an arrogant belief in his superiority and cleverness is  perfectly pitched by Carroll. Wiseman is the perfect foil – the impressionable fall guy, the stool pigeon driven to whiskey in his attempt to escape the panic and the bullying. Hamilton imbues the cocktail guests with instant familiarity. He creates characters that are authentically well-to-do upperclass British. Alex McPherson’s flighty society lady Leila and  Callum Wilson’s silly, gullible public school toff, Kenneth Raglan encapsulate the vapid assumption of entitlement.  Anne Freestone  makes Mrs Debenham’s disengagement and  apparent indifference to her surroundings a curiosity as she retreats into her embroidery and Saban Lloyd Berrell’s  Sir Johnstone Kentley presents a rather vacant gentleman and scholar, intent on acquiring books and classical Beethoven records until he is jolted into reality when he learns of his son’s disappearance. Ian Russell creates exactly the right tone in double roles as the inscrutable foreign butler, Sabot and a London Bobby.

Alex McPherson and Ryan Street

It is Ryan Street’s war wounded poet and melancholic Rupert Cadell that most intrigues. A previous teacher of Brandon, Cadell is Hamilton’s voice of morality and one suspects Hamilton’s alterego. Street plays him to absolute perfection, capturing his moodiness, his sharp wit and intellectual agility. Self pity feeds his suspicions and his perceptiveness picks up the clues and the contradictions. Life’s experience and damage has created a character that lifts a crime detection mystery to another level, and compels an audience to consider which is the greater murder, the individual act or the theatre of war. Street is Cadell and Cadell is Hamilton.

Wightman has kept the play in period and each actor rises to the occasion and creates a character that is real, true to the script and intriguing to watch. The play also runs straight through without an interval, allowing actors to play consistently and audiences to maintain their alert attention to the clues and unfolding surprises. Canberra Rep’s Rope is a production, intelligently explored, creatively mounted and providing first class entertainment in the tradition of classic old time crime mysteries with plenty of food for thought for the discerning theatre-goer.


Thursday, May 27, 2021



Susannah Lawergren, Soprano

Maciej Pawela, Piano

Art Song Canberra

Wesley Music Centre 23 May


Reviewed by Len Power


For Art Song Canberra, in a program alive with atmosphere, soprano Susannah Lawergren and pianist Maciej Pawela presented songs by four very different composers under the title of “Fairy Tales From Home”.

Lawergren explained at the beginning of the concert that the songs could be seen as metaphors for aspects of the natural world – sky, sea, animal and bird life, seasons and the moon and stars.

Commencing with “Mirlwa” (Sky) by Australia’s First Nation composer, Brenda Gifford, the soprano started this journey through nature with soaring and sustained high notes that seemed effortlessly sung.  It was the perfect opening for the concert and a taste of what was to follow.

Maciej Pawela and Susannah Lawergren

Three selections from “Songs of a Fairy-Tale Princess” by Polish composer, Karol Szymanoswski were next.  The first song “Lonely Moon” was ethereally beautiful and demonstrated Lawergren’s masterful breath control, especially on sustained high notes.

This was followed by “The Nightingale” which was a perfect choice for the soprano’s crystal clear voice.  Maciej Pawela gave a very sensitive accompaniment for this song.  The third song was the atmospheric “Song Of the Wave”, given a perfectly judged, wistful performance by Lawergren.

Susannah Lawergren

Australian composer, Miriam Hyde, and her “Tone Poems Of the Sea” was given a sensitive performance with “Deep Lies An Ancient Wreck” the standout in both voice and accompaniment.  Singing in English, Lawergren demonstrated her remarkably clear diction.

The concert concluded with a set of five songs by Sweden’s Wilhem Stenhammar.  These songs covered a range of human emotions and were beautifully sung.  The second song, “The Girl On St John’s Night” and the final song “In the Forest” were the highlights of this set.

This well-planned program was given a superb performance throughout.


Photos by Peter Hislop


This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of the 24 May 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.