Monday, June 14, 2021



Deadly Hearts.

 Celebrating Indigenous Australian Music.  The Famous Spiegeltent. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Adelaide Festival Centre June 14. 2021.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Marked with traditional white pigment and wearing a red loin cloth, Kaurna man Isaac Hannan welcomed the audience in the Spiegeltent to country and offered a moving rendition on the didgeridoo. There is a nobility to his presence and the playing that resonates through more than 40,000 years of First Nation existence on the land and with the land. It is a moving prelude to the Adelaide Cabaret Festivals salute to the indigenous culture of the past and the emerging talents of the present and the future. Hosted by comedian Steph Tisdell, this exciting  event, inspired by ABC Music’s Deadly Hearts Albums featured young and emerging indigenous artists and headliner, six time Aria Award winner, Dan Sultan.

In her introduction Tisdell promised a standard of performance that would show the deadly power of blackfellas and “blow your minds” It was no empty promise. Her observation that the talent that would appear could take their place on any stage – white fella or black fella or any fella – was right on the mark. Triple J Unearthed High Indigenous Initiative winner, seventeen year old Aohdan opened the show with a mix of original songs and covers by his inspirations Josh Black and Alexander Biggs and a song, Fortune Cookie that he stole from his Dad. Already releasing his singles and working on an album. Aohdan is a name to remember. His songs about his teenage life already show a musical maturity that had the audience breaking into instant applause after his Fleetwood Mac number at the close of his bracket.  

Steph announced Kee’ahn’s song Better Things as the anthem of Covid, a song tht left Tisdell in tears.  With a voice that soars like an angel’s , Kee’ahn draws us into a world of sadness, of the death of her grandmother or the bust-up with a lover but offers a future of hope as she searches for a way to navigate her world.  Here is another name to remember. Kee’ahn sings from the soul with the spirit of a shining talent.

Only the impressive Tia Gostelow from Brisbane was able to get to the festival with her band, Jordan on guitar, Izzy on bass and Sebastian on drums. The Melbourne lockdown left bands stranded and solo artists were left to perform with only a guitar as accompaniment. After being blown through the roof by Tia’s enthusiast band members, I was thankful that I could enjoy the pure sound of the artists in the Spiegeltent. If the band had been on the Festival Theatre stage as initially advertised in the festival brochure, their sound would have been better balanced. I wondered too whether they had had time to do a sound check. It was not until Tia’s Get To It that the lads on the mixing desk actually got it and the gig settled into a  well mixed sound. Also a Triple J Indigenous Innovation Award winner, Tia sings the songs of her experience. She too is an emerging artist who is already making her mark and has a bright future ahead of her.

The three young artists are already well on the way to taking their place on the national stage. Their talent is prodigious. Their love of music and inspiration, but they are still on the cusp of progressing their art.  There is work to be done of giving the lyrics their rightful place and making sure that they are heard.  The music stiirs the heart, but it is the lyrics that arouse the mind. Aodhan, Kee’ahn and Tia are the exciting new generation of Australian musicians, song-writers and singers. Their heritage is indigenous but their talent is universal born of all artists and created for all people. They are the voices of reconciliation and the hope of generations to come.

The last hour of a four hour concert was handed over to the charismatic award winning Dan Sultan. Seated before the mike, and with a borrowed guitar and various borrowed equipment, because of Covid lockdown and hotspots,  Sultan  without his band, stranded in Melbourne “making sourdough.” Held the audience in the palm of his hand with his country and western songs of survival (Tarred and Feathered) and political cruelty (Boat) .  With his engaging chatter and anecdotes, his earnest and heart felt songs and his brilliant playing on a borrowed guitar; Sultan earned his title as headliner and the love of an audience who delighted in his gift to music.

All in all, Deadly Hearts Celebrating Australian Indigenous music was a slick production, smoothly hosted by Tisdell and demonstrating an array of talent that is performed by artists with an indigenous heritage but making music that is  uplifting and entertaining for all.




Bathhouse Bette. 

Amber Martin. 

The Famous Spiegeltent. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Adelaide Festival Centre June 11-13 2021.

 Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

There can only be one Divine Miss M. But if anyone is to pay tribute to the bold and brassy, fierce and feisty, deliciously rude and raunchy Bette Midler of those early Bathhouse years, it is the irrepressible, outrageously magnificent Amber Martin.  Striding the small and intimate Spiegeltent stage with unleashed and explosive energy, Martin’s You’ve Got To Have Friends is the embodiment of the spirit of the one and only Bette. Her show Bathhouse Bette is not a foolish attempt at impersonation but rather a devoted portrayal of a much loved idol and artistic inspiration. With her bright blue eyes ablaze with manic force and her blonde hair splayed from her head, Martin in a sleek black low cut dress launches into her act with all the passion and fervor of a diva’s diva.

Martin’s repertoire ranges from Bette’s early numbers that she performed at Steve Ostrow’s Continental, New York’s gay bathhouse to her association with singer, mentor and record producer Barry Manilow. With a voice that can growl through You’ve Got To Have Friends, launch an assault with You Told Me You Loved Me Baby or touch the air with a voice of smoothest silk and soul in her still rendition of Tom Waits’ Martha.

Martin’s range is awesome, from the unrestrained rock and roll to the svelte felt love song and the deep throated Blues. And it wouldn’t be a show about Bette without the not so subtle innuendo, Sophie Tucker jokes and a couple of shock surprises along the way.  Martin notches up the rude and the crude with a surprising and ridiculously raunchy 1936 Blues number by Afro-American female Blues singer, Lucille Bogan. Shave ‘Em Dry begins, I got nipples on my titties and it just gets bluer and rougher from there.

And then the show gets horny. Two gay Bathhouse boys, Lance and Mario, carry Martin, with only a towel around her head and beads around her neck to the stage for an unabashed nude performance of  Bette Midler’s consoling Marahuana. It takes guts to perform naked alongside two buffed gay men at the age of two score and ten, but Martin is one helluva gutsy lady with a voice to match.

After expressing her love for the audience, her gift, she gives her final gift to the audience, accompanied on piano by Henry Kapersky, on guitar, Tim Wilson and on drums, Paul Butler. The early years shaped Bette Midler’s career, inspired by  the likes of Barry Manilow and Tom Waits and it is fitting that Martin should close her act with a rearranged cover of Bob Dylan’s I shall be released with the adapted lyrics, They say every woman needs protection and Any day now I shall be released. It’s the final affirmation of strength and the power of Bette Midler to be her own woman.  Martin too is her own woman, riding high on the wings of her idol and carrying her inspiration to audiences who stood for an ovation. Martin gave us all a tribute that made us wanna dance.

Sunday, June 13, 2021



Book, Music and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Scenic designed by Beowulf Boritt – Costumes designed by Toni-Leslie James

Lighting designed by Howell Binkley – Sound designed by Gareth Owen

Musical staging by Kelly Devine – Musical Direction by Luke Hunter and Michael Tyack AM

Directed by Christopher Ashley.

Capitol Theatre, Sydney.

Sydney Opening Night Performance on 10th June 2021 reviewed by Bill Stephens

Sydney has been waiting a long time to welcome the Australian production of “Come From Away” which premiered in Melbourne in 2019. Originally scheduled for Sydney in 2020, Covid got in the way, but when it finally did arrive, the entire Sydney opening night audience rewarded the performance with a heartfelt, spontaneous standing ovation.

More a musical doco than your standard musical, “Come From Away” was inspired by true events when on September 11th 2001, 38 aircraft, carrying nearly 7000 passengers from 92 countries, were diverted to Gander,  a little-known town in Newfoundland.

Though the population of Gander was itself less than 10,000 souls, it had previously been an Airforce base and possessed one of the few airstrips in Canada capable of handling the giant passenger aircraft.

10 years after this event, composers Irene Sankoff and her husband, David Hein, visited Gander, interviewed hundreds of the inhabitants about this event, and distilled an amalgam of their stories, into a rousing musical performed by 12 multi-skilled performers.

Having been delighted by this show in the Comedy Theatre during its Melbourne season in 2019, curiosity as how it would play in the much larger Capitol theatre in Sydney, as well as survive several cast changes brought about by the Covid delays, provided compelling reasons for being in the audience for the Sydney premiere.

Delighted to report that the show looks equally compelling in the Capitol, the replacement cast fit like a glove, and the whole show remains as tightly and as brilliantly presented as ever.

Each of the 12 ensemble cast members play a central character as well as a variety of smaller characters to represent both the residents of Gander and the dislocated passengers. All are on stage for most of the show, switching characters with only minimal changes of costume, often accomplished  in full view of the audience, 12 chairs smartly manoeuvred into various configurations, a few other small props and a revolve.

Director, Christopher Ashley and chorographer, Kelly Devine have between them devised a remarkable staging in which the cast are able to swap identities and locales almost instantly to tell the compelling, often touching story of the chaotic events which overtook both the residents of Gander and the unfortunate passengers who did not want to be where they found themselves.

Especially notable with this production is the lighting design which allows the face of every character to be seen whenever they are speaking their lines. No small feat since the introduction of intelligent lighting for musicals seems to have made this possibility a remarkably hit-and-miss affair.

Zoe Gertz as Beverly

Though there have been several cast changes to the original Australian cast ,  Zoe Gertz remains rock solid as the female pilot, Beverly  whose main concern is her passengers. Emma Powell reprises her role as the warm-hearted local, Beulah, and Sharriese Hamilton continues as the distracted mother, Hannah who is trying to locate her son who was working that day in the Trade Centre.

Emma Powell and Sharriese Hamilton as Beulah and Hannah

Kolby Kindle garners his fair share of laughs as the ever-sceptical New Yorker, Bob while Kellie Rode continues as the kind-hearted vet, and Bonnie, who rescues some rare and pregnant chimpanzees.  Sarah Morrison also continues in her role as the fresh-faced reporter, Janice, as does Simon Maiden who plays Oz.

On opening night in Sydney Ash Roussety joined cast original Douglas Hansell as the couple, both named Kevin, whose relationship doesn’t survive the turmoil. American actor Gene Weygandt was impressive as the big-hearted mayor Claude, while Angela Kennedy joined another newbie, Phillip Lowe, to play Diane and Nick, the unlikely couple who eventually marry as a result of their experiences in Gander. All succeeded in creating warm and believable characterisations which pay tribute to the individuals on how their characters were based.

Well worth the wait , this warm-hearted, involving, funny and sad musical, with its toe-tapping score played by seven superb on-stage musicians, offers a theatrical experience guaranteed to thrill all but the most determinedly hard-hearted theatre goer. “come from Away” is a must-see theatrical event.


             Photos of the Melbourne Production of "Come from Away" by Jeff Busby.

This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.  


Theatre / “Grace Under Pressure” by David Williams and Paul Dwyer, at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, June 10-12.



THE stage is set: a plain oval dais, lit from above by a translucent light such as we might see from the perspective of a patient on an operating table (subtle lighting design by Nick Higgins).

On the floor stand 10 or so microphones. An unobtrusive soundscape (by Gale Priest) plays throughout the action, only rising to a perceptible, sombre yet liberating tone in the final moments of this performance.

The actors – three women and one man – enter and take their seats upstage of the dais.

Throughout the next 90 minutes, they will take on a wide variety of personas, scripted from the contributions of real people whom the writers (David Williams and Paul Dwyer) had interviewed.

Their experiences have been blended into a mosaic of anecdotes depicting the trials, tribulations, failures and successes experienced by student and qualified nurses, doctors and surgeons. They’re facing the stresses of ordinary people who have committed themselves to the service of the ill, the injured, the women in labour and the dying.

This is not a play in the usual theatrical sense – there is no plot with a beginning, middle and end; nor is there more than a touch of dramatic interaction between the multitudinous characters. It is, rather, a collation of anecdotes and emotions in which the actors describe what it is like to work in the hot-house environment of large city, and small regional, hospitals. An extra dimension or contrast might have been achieved if the scope had extended to the work of local GPs or clinics.

Many, many years ago we laughed fit to die at the British “Carry On Doctor” films.

Here in “Grace Under Pressure”, the fare is lightened by the occasional comedic episode but the burden of the stories is the reality that is hidden under the jolly capers: the unbelievable hours demanded of those committed to curing the sick or selflessly suffering with them in extremis, the hierarchical structures, the professional and unprofessional behaviour of humans of whom too much is expected.

The four performers were Emily Taylor, Sal Sharah, Tanya Schneider and Meg Dunn. They each represented so many, and such a wide variety of nurses, doctors, paramedics and others at various stages of their careers, that it is impossible for this reviewer to comment on individual performances – sufficient to say that never once do they convey anything but the depth of truth and passion of those whose stories they are recreating.

While this is not a play, neither is it a didactic or propagandising lecture, and it is readily digestible for a lay audience, but the question may be put as to whether its real value might lie in holding the mirror up to an audience of the professions portrayed on stage, as well as the relevant politicians and administrators who could make a difference.

MILK by Dylan Van Den Berg


Dylan Van Den Berg - Katie Beckett - Roxane McDonald

Directed by Ginny Savage – Set and costumes designed by Imogen Keen

Lighting designed by Gerry Corcoran – Sound designed by Peter Bailey

Street Theatre, Canberra, 4 – 12th June 2021.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Awarded the $30,000.00 Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting in the 2021 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Dylan Van Den Berg’s elegiac play, “Milk” tells the story of three ancestors who are brought together in a metaphysical memory place with the opportunity to share knowledge of their ancestry and ask the difficult questions of each other.

Originally slated for production in 2020, “Milk” has been in development by The Street through its First Seen program since 2018. Following an interruption to the process by Covid-19, this premiere production of “Milk” became The Street’s inaugural production for 2021, with direction intrusted to NIDA graduate, Ginny Savage, who was initially involved with its development as dramaturg.

The characters in “Milk” are simply listed in the program as Character’ A, B, and C. Roxanne McDonald plays A, an elderly aboriginal woman from 1840’s Flinders’ Island in Tasmania. Kylie Becket plays B; a sharp-tongued, middle-aged Tasmanian aboriginal woman from 1960’s perpetually trapped in the ritual of getting ready for a date. Dylan Van Den Berg, himself, plays C, a young Palawa man wrestling with the complexities of aligning himself with his indigenous legacies.

Dylan Van Den Berg - Roxanne McDonald -Katie Beckett

Apart from a couple of spot-lit soliloquies, the three characters occupy the stage for the duration of the play, which is presented without interval. A gorgeous environment of rocks, wood shavings and decaying church pews enhanced by Gerry  Corcoran’s artful lighting design suggesting mountain sunsets and sunrises, and Peter Bailey’s evocative soundscape with its soft bird-calls and distant digeridoos, conjures up a haunting atmosphere of timelessness in which the three characters attempt to reconcile what came before the onslaught of colonisation.

Of course there are no solutions, and some of the revelations are disturbing, but Van Den Berg’s thoughtful, questioning play is a worthy recipient of accolades it has so far received, and of this beautiful, haunting production by The Street.  

Roxanne McDonald - Katie Beckett


                                                    Images by CRESWICK COLLECTIVE

      This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.

L'Hotel Adelaide Cabaret Festival



Conceived by Craig Ilott and Stuart Couzins. Directed by Craig Ilott. Designed by Alfred. Featuring: Brendan Maclean-Car5oline Nin-Bri Emrich-Lexi Strumolo-Beau Sargent – Masha Terentieva-Leah Shelton-Bentley Rebel. Space Theatre. Adelaide Festival Centre.  June 11 – June 20

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Bienvenue a L’Hotel. C’est tres magnifique!  L’Hotel lures you into a world of mystery and intrigue, The atmosphere is seductive, immersing you in a world of French savoir-faire. The waiters greet you and lead you to your table where a glass of French champagne and a cheese platter await to tempt the palate and excite the taste. Waiters and waitresses glide between the tables, serving from a round red central table, adorned with flowers and fine French faire. You are a special guest, treated with all the charm and bonhomie of the hotel. At the reception desk the tall, black concierge receives the occasional guests who enter sporadically to be registered and led to their rooms. The music keeps the beat as the food and drink are served. On a level above in front of doors to the hotel rooms, the housekeeping servants attend to the needs of the room. Suddenly, on cue, those below and those above move to a perfectly timed choreography before resuming their tasks. The dance repeats at intervals until the lights dim in the space and come up on chanteuse, Caroline Nin, whose songs of love, and life lull us into that immersive sentiment of French style, charm and elegance.

Caroline Nin

Director, Craig Ilot’s orchestration of the life of L’Hotel is exquisite, as is every aspect of this perfectly staged production. We are seduced, lured into an experience that we will never forget. L’Hotel is art in motion, a banquet of sensations and emotions, mesmerizing and entrancing. Two female guests disrobe and perform an erotic gymnastic routine on and in a bathtub. An aerialist performs a routine on the Birdcage trolley which replaces the cleared flowers and food on the round central table. It is a feat of sheer strength and grace,  that also serves as a suspended act by another spinning aerialist. The tall black concierge performs a cheeky striptease and in high heels is raised above the table to the amazement and delight of the audience. Brendan Maclean accompanies on piano and song. A masked old lady, cloaked in white enters and unlike an earlier burlesque dance, performed asshe   a reverse striptease, now sheds her external outfit to reveal the young lady within. It is here in L’Hotel that our true selves may be revealed free from the limitations of the streets outside. Here it is liberating, here the shy can reveal themselves. Here the ugly can be beautiful. Here the conventional my become the mysterious and th rebellious. Here L’Hotel can give life. 

 Too soon, as the acrobat on the birdcage trolley spins madly the show that has enthralled comes to a close to the captive sound of Brendan Maclean’s rendition of Christine and the Queen’s People I’ve Been Sad . But now they are free. L’Hotel  will free you of your cares in the world outsde. In a world so confined and so controlled, L’Hotel offers hope . It is a celebration of la Vie heureuse! And wonderful entertainment!

Photos by Claudio Raschella




Mother Archer’s Cabaret For Dark Times. 

Robyn Archer. George Butrumlis on accordion. Gareth Chin on piano. Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 12-14 2021

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.

Passion courses through Robyn Archer’s songlist. With her latest show, Archer is in her element. Mother Archer’s Cabaret For Dark Times gives a nod to the current pandemic with her rendition of Aristide Bruant’s nineteenth century song about the cholera epidemic. With songs ranging back to Oliver Gibbons’  The Silver Swan, written in the seventeenth century and forward to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, Marlene Dietrich, Brother Can You Spare A Dime from the Great American Songbook and Noel Coward’s  revue song, There are Bad Times Just Around The Corner, Archer reaches into the dark corners of our psyche and the society that spawns the struggles  against poverty, misery, exploitation and corrupt power.  Opening with The Alabama Song from The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny, Archer demonstrates her brilliant grasp of phrasing and her empathy for soldiers drowning their fears in whisky. Not only does she rightfully claim her status as a wonderful exponent of the songs of Brecht and Weill, but also demonstrates a diversity that has established her as a major voice for the politically oppressed and the socially disadvantaged. At a time of fear and financial collapse, Mother Archer’s Cabaret For Dark Times offers a panacea for survival and a defiance against the ravages of liquor, death, disadvantage and the relentless advance of the ageing years.  “I’m seventy-three next Friday” says the Gemini star.

Archer’s wide ranging repertoire is a homage to life. Interspersed with the poetry of Bertolt Brecht, her songs storm against the injustices in What Keeps Mankind Alive or mock the evils of liquor espoused by none other than WC Fields. In soulful voice, Archer reminds us that the pain of love lasts a whole life long in Plaisir D’amour. We are warned that “there are dark clouds hurtling through the sky” in Noel Coward’s post war  patter, There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner that makes fun of post war Britons’ propensity to moan.

With accordionist and long time collaborator, George Butrumlis and pianist Gareth Chin, who stepped in two days earlier to brilliantly replace Archer’s other close accompanist, Michael Morley, Archer has put together a show that showcases her enormous talent as chanteuse and political and social commentator. The tragedy of oppression and manipulation is tempered with the comedy of human defence against the hard times that reminds us, like Archer, not to take oneself too seriously, but to always challenge and defy the forces of injustice. She can still belt out a tune to right the wrongs, jest at Democracy’s  collapse at the Dismissal, feel for the battlers on the poverty lines  and revel in the absurdity of the human condition.

On the Dunstan Playhouse stage, painted in indigenous designs, Archer stands and sings in a spirit of reconciliation for all humanity. Her natural assurance, sincerity and humanity asserts her place as a committed  advocate for the underprivileged, a celebrated chanteuse with passion and humour and a national treasure.


Saturday, June 12, 2021




Directed by Mitchell Butel. Musical direction. Mark Simeon Ferguson.  Adelaide Cabaret Festival.The Festival Theatre. June 11 2021. Bookings. BASS 131246

 Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

If variety is the spice of life then the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s Variety Gala has served up a dish of well-flavoured tastes. After a year of virtual exile to performances on zoom to keep the cabaret festival alive, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival returns to live performance before a capacity masked audience in the Festival Theatre.  The mesmerizing tones of the didgeridoo fill the auditorium as Kaurna man Isaac Hannan performs a Welcome to Country . Changing colours wash the scalloped curtain folds that hang as a backdrop to the cabaret setting on stage, where performers sit at tables. The master chef of this banquet of acts sweeps onto the stage as only South Australia’s very own camp German gay icon and international superstar, the irrepressible, irreverent, brazenly mocking Hans can do. You know you’re in for a night of innuendo, cheeky campery and fully garnished cabaret creations. And what better way to launch the gala than with a spirited rendition of Kandor and Ebb’s Wilkommen from Cabaret joined by the performers and the cabaret’s first international artistic director and Tony award winning actor for his role as the Emcee in.  I was disappointed that this is the only performance that we saw from Alan Cumming during the evening. To catch him in action, audiences will need to visit Club Cumming in the Famous Spiegeltent or his one man show, Alan Cumming is not Acting His Age at the close of the festival.

Amber Martin
Apart from being a taste teaser, the Variety Gala is an opportunity to see many of the performers whose shows will be featured during the festival. And, like most variety shows in the tradition of vaudeville or late night television variety shows it’s a mixed bag.  Jan van de Stool’s comedic repartee may appeal more to some, but it is when her real persona of Queenie van de Zandt lets rip with Let it Go from Frozen that I had shivers down my spine. James Galea’s magic card tricks amaze and stupefy, but his penis song on piano may have left some rather underwhelmed. Trevor Ashley’s neurotic and too often incomprehensible Liza Minelli, though interesting to savour would have been better with one tasting and not two. Impersonators could well learn the art from Gerry Connelly’s perfectly mannered Queen with her witty and saccharin sweet satire. It is Trans singer Mama Alto whose soul searching echoes of Billie Holiday fills the air with the flavor of love and longing in a beautiful rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Covid has played its devilish part in determining the spread of the banquet. This is primarily an Australian festival and specifically a South Australian event. Nostalgia plays its part with a tribute to the late lamented television Variety show Adelaide Tonight with veteran entertainer Ann Wills in the company of Bob Downes. Those who remember may decide to choose this from the menu. A special serving comes with the performances of Adelaide entertainer Michael Griffiths and the courageous and enchanting harmonies of the girl group with disabilities, The Sisters of Invention.  To tease the taste even further, the Variety Gala brings out even spicier dishes with Tim Minchin singing a love song about the loneliness of the touring artist, dedicated to his wife. Brendan Maclean from L’Hotel seems possessed in his rendition of Disappear and, direct from New York and out of Quarantine, the feisty, forceful and hugely gutsy singer Amber Martin lets the spices loose with You’ve Got To Have Friends.

Each year the winner of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival Icon Award is announced. This year Alan Cumming announced that the brilliantly talented Paul Capsis was the 2021 winner. In a moving version of John Lennon’s Imagine, Capsis reminded us all of the perfect world that we would like to inhabit. Past and future resonate in the accompaniment of Hannan’s playing of Imagine on the didgeridoo, and the banquet became a feast for the spirit of the cabaret.

And so the banquet came to an end with a song of hope and imagination, a theme that spiced up the possibilities for audiences at the phoenix festival that has arisen from the ashes of the pandemic. Like Variety Galas that have gone before, the evening ran too long and certain numbers could have been cut to keep the feast moving. There is no need to over=cater a degustation. Hans’s flamboyant enthusiasm, though a source of constant delight to the Adelaide audience  needed director Mitchell Butel’s firmer hand on the evening’s proceedings.

In the end, happily fed with a display of tasty talent, we are left to decide what our palates would prefer. It is at these performance morsels that we can really savour the delights on offer at this Gala Opening to Alan Cumming’s first Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Appleton Ladies Potato Race

The Cast of the Appleton Ladies Potato Race.( L - R)
Amber McMahon - Merridy Eastman - Sapidah Kian - Sharon Millerchip - Valerie Bader

Written Melanie Tate – Directed by Priscilla Jackman

Set Design by Michael Scott-Mitchell – Costumes designed by Genevieve Graham

Lighting designed by Karen Norris – Sound Designed by Teagan Nicholls.

Presented by Canberra Theatre Centre in association with Ensemble Theatre.

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse 3 – 5th June 2021.

Performance on 3rd June reviewed by Bill Stephens .

A young doctor moves into town and discovers that the winners of the women’s section of the annual potato race are paid less than those in the men’s section.  In an effort to ingratiate herself with the townspeople, she decides to initiate a campaign to right this perceived wrong, only to discover, to her bewilderment, that her strongest opposition comes from the town’s women. So rather than being lauded for her efforts she finds herself becoming increasingly more isolated.

An all-star ensemble cast of five actresses make up the entire cast, and each of them gets a moment to shine in this warm-hearted comedy, inspired by playwright, Melanie Tate’s own experiences in the NSW country town of Robertson.  An award- winning playwright, Tate has fashioned an entertaining play, packed with witty one-liners, often deliciously subversive, which disguise the seriousness of some of the issues which fuel the reactions of the various characters, but which tend to linger in the consciousness after the laughter has died down. 

Sharon Millerchip is delightful as Penny Anderson, the well-meaning young doctor, who also happens to be a lesbian, and who finds herself the unwitting focus of the town’s ire. Sapidah Kian gives a charming performance as Rania, a refugee new to the town, trying to find a place for herself in the community, but willing to risk all to help Penny achieve her goal. 

Valerie Bader - Merridy Eastman

Valerie Bader plays Bev Armstrong, the hard-bitten, heart-of-gold town elder. She has all the best laughs and nails every one of them with unerring precision, while rubber-faced Merridy Eastman is a constant joy as her genial friend and ally, Barb Ling, who carries a surprising secret. 

However it is the hardworking hairdresser, Nikki Armstrong, mother-of – four and regular winner of the Appleton potato race, who surprisingly is the person most opposed to any changes to the race prize money. Amber McMahon’s carefully nuanced performance in this role captures beautifully   Nikki’s conflict in wanting to be a friend to Penny, while protecting her own goals.

Saidah Kian - Sharon Millerchip - Amber McMahon

Priscilla Jackman’s direction is economical and inventive. All the action takes place around a single striking set-piece, a rusting Holden Ute. A clever device conjured up by designer Michael Scott-Mitchell which brilliantly sets the country-town atmosphere. The actors bring on any additional props necessary for particular scenes, and then efficiently clear them when they’re no longer required.

Not only does “The Appleton Ladies Potato Race” tell a delightful story, it is also a charmingly unpretentious showcase for five superb actors, whose names most of the audience will never know.

Whether it the decision of the production houses or the presenting venue, it is becoming increasingly usual not to have programs available on the night for the audience. The Canberra Theatre Centre sends out online programs for patrons to either view at home, or (surely not) on their phones during a performance. It is doubtful how many of the audience even notice or bother to look at these.

“It’s because of Covid” explained a helpful usher, though free programs were placed on the seats for performances of the STC’s “A German Life”. Not only is it demeaning to the artists not to be identified, the programs also provide a cherished souvenir, and a historical record of the performance.


                                                         Photos by Phil Erbacher.

 This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. 

Grace Under Pressure


Grace Under Pressure by David Williams and Paul Dwyer, in collaboration with the Sydney Arts & Health Collective.  At The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, June 10 – 12, 2021.

Performed by Emily Taylor, Sal Sharah, Tanya Schneider and Meg Dunn
Understudies: Carla Jane McCallum, Richard Bligh, Mary Helen Sassman and Stephanie Panozzo

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 10

Director: David Williams; Dramaturg: Paul Dwyer
Lighting Designer: Nick Higgins; Sound Designer: Gail Priest
Set & Costume Designer: Isabel Hudson

Grace Under Pressure
Photo: Isabel Hudson


Grace Under Pressure is theatre, plain and simple.  Apart from the microphones, stage spotlighting and a quiet amorphous background recorded soundscape, these could have been four from our community who have come forward around our campfire to tell us their stories of what happened on their long arduous journey.  Sometimes one takes the foreground; then two may tell a story together; or someone listening may ask a question, and get a couple of different responses.  There were times of worry, times of success, times of friction and others of happiness, until all four come forward together to tell about the end: about the beauty and practical reality of dying.

Perhaps this is how theatre began, telling such stories honestly and openly, without performing for effect, maybe 300,000 years ago in Africa as our species found their voice.  And still today, in The Q, the elemental drama of telling stories works wonderfully.

The purpose of the storytelling is ostensibly to “open a broader public conversation about some of the persistent workplace issues facing health workers”, using verbatim material from “around 30 people – physicians, surgeons, interns, registrars, nurses, a paramedic, a hospital administrator and even a union official” ranging in “ages (from mid-20s to early 70s) and experience levels (from medical students to recently retired)”.

So each of the four performers take on many different “characters” as they reproduce the interviewees’ stories.  There is no clear storyline, but the drama is created by the way the stories have been selected and often interrelated, so that the mood and our feelings change through the 85 minutes of determination, worry, unexpected humour, success against seemingly impossible odds, fear and insecurity, and yet, finally, warmth and a tremendous sense of the humanity and self-sacrifice of those who do so much for everyone else’s benefit.

Grace Under Pressure presents us with the drama of life and death.  It is not a politicised campaign for better conditions but a revelation of reality more powerful than confronting street protest or petitions.  The tour across the country “has been assisted by the Australian government through the Department of Communication and the Arts’ Catalyst – Australian Arts and Culture Fund…and assisted by the Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund – an Australian Government initiative.”

We can only hope that Members of Parliament have their eyes opened by Grace Under Pressure, and find creative ways to legislate and fund what is needed to make these stories able to focus more on the satisfaction and success side of the equation than on the worry and how to cope aspects of these extraordinary real life performers.

Perhaps the tour should include a performance in Parliament House.  I will suggest it to my local member.