Monday, June 28, 2021



By Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman.

Directed by Shari Sebbens for the Sydney Theatre Company

Designed by Elizabeth Gadsby – Lighting and AV designed by Verity Hampson

Composer and sound designer: Steve Francis.

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse: 23rd to 26th June. 2021

Performance on 24th June reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Tracing seven phases of Aboriginal history, Dreaming, Invasion, Genocide, Protection, Assimilation, Self Determination and Reconciliation through recollections recounted by an unnamed aboriginal “everywoman”, The 7 Stages of Grieving was first performed in Brisbane in 1996 by its co-writer Deborah Mailman.

Since then this one-person reverie has had a number of interpreters, Ursula Yovich, Lisa Flanagan and Chenoa Deemal among them. In this twenty fifth Anniversary revival Elaine Crombie, a Helpmann Award winning actress for her performance in Barbara and the Camp Dogs, picks up the baton.

A striking stage-presence, Crombie draws on her considerable stand-up skills and musicality to mine for laughs not always apparent in the script, as she prowls Elizabeth Gadsen’s striking setting of eight shell and bone middens arranged across the stage. Behind these middens words, dates and images are projected onto a huge screen to confirm the stories she is telling.

For those revelations which leave no space for comedy, Crombie draws on her own life experiences to bring authenticity and power to her performance.

Whether sorting through a small suitcase for cherished photos of relatives who no longer exist, or bitterly scattering earth over the middens which represent their graves, Crombie holds her audience spell-bound, awaiting the next revelation.

An important play for the horrors and injustices it exposes, The 7 Stages of Grieving  also provides an absorbing and disturbing theatrical experience, and Crombie’s performance in it is memorable.

However since the play was written, while some things can never be changed, much progress has been made to address those things that can.

It’s a pity therefore that these advances are not acknowledged in the additional material which has been added by Crombie and her director, apparently with the agreement of the original writers.

The play now ends with the actor stepping out of character to become political activist and harangue the audience directly to demand that it campaign for list of actions, projected on to the screen behind her, which include – raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old – campaign to ban the use of spit hoods in Australian prisons – and donate funds to Sisters Inside and Black Rainbow.

While there was no doubting the sincerity of the intention, and her performance was enthusiastically applauded by many, there were others in the audience for whom these strident exhortations struck a sour note and who left the performance feeling alienated.  


                                                             Photos by Joseph Mayers

        This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.


"The Lost Voice of Anne Bronte." Written and directed by Cate Whittaker. Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre. June 25-26. Reviewed by ALANNA MACLEAN



"THE  Lost Voice of Anne Bronte" is a vigorous piece about the turbulent lives of the Bronte sisters and the restrictions placed upon them as 19th century women. 

There’s Emily  (Laura Cameron), who created the love story of Cathy and Heathcliff in her novel Wuthering Heights. There’s Charlotte (Heather Heige) who is probably best remembered for Jane Eyre. Then there’s Anne (Casey Anne Martin) and it might be a struggle to remember that she wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are more likely to still have a chance of turning up in classrooms.


 That makes for a difficulty in making the case for Anne’s voice but the play does a good job of evoking the claustrophobic West Yorkshire parsonage at Haworth and the social mores that made the sisters what they became. They are women, educated only up to a point and allowed to hire themselves out with mixed success as governesses. 


Their father the widowed Reverend Patrick Bronte (Leofric Kingsford-Smith) is investing resources in the only son, Branwell (Alex Driscoll). Not a good idea, as Branwell is into drink and drugs and generally dissipating any talents he might have. It’s ironically the three sisters who will have the staying power.  


The cast does a solid job of setting up and sustaining the resulting tensions. Lost loves, local lore from servant Tabitha (Belinda Delaney) and quite a bit of walking around the dining table build up an atmosphere. (I’ve been to Haworth and those rooms are tiny.)


There are fine performances from Cameron as the passionate and imaginative Emily and Heige as the pragmatic and bossy Charlotte. Martin as the less outgoing Anne is a sensitive presence in her closing scenes. 


 And of course there’s a sense of pandemic doom hanging over them all. They are carried off mostly by disease curable today. The play depends a little too much on the audience knowing the story (and why The Tenant of Wildfell Hall might be seen as more feminist than Jane Eyre) but it has the sense to stop at the point where Charlotte, her sisters dead,  is on the brink of marriage to her father’s curate. 


 A thoughtful and worthwhile look at the Brontes that might well send an audience  off to look for Anne Bronte’s ‘lost voice’. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

AIDA - Opera Australia - Sydney


Conducted by Lorenzo Passerini – Directed and choreographed by Davide Livermore

Revival Director: Shane Placentino – Costumes designed by Gianluca Falaschi

Set designed by Gio Forma – Lighting designed by John Rayment

Digital content designed by D-Wok.

Sydney Opera House 22nd June to 13th August 2021.

Performance 22nd June reviewed by Bill Stephens.

When first premiered in 2018, Opera Australia’s digital production of Verdi’s “Aida” was hailed as the future of opera. The use of huge LED screens capable of displaying gorgeous images in remarkably high-definition to replace cumbersome conventional scenery signalled exciting possibilities, such as with the forthcoming season in Brisbane when this production of “Aida” will alternate in repertory between the operas in the Ring Cycle.

Even when first presented many who found the visual effects dazzling puzzled over some of the directorial and design decisions on the story-telling.

Leah Crocetto (Aida) - Lena Gabouri (Amneris)

Yes, the singing in the original production was glorious, and in this 2021 revival no less so. Possibly some of the best operatic voices to be heard anywhere in the world including Leah Crocetto (Aida), Elena Gabouri (Amneris), Stefano La Colla (Radames), Warwick Fyfe (Amonasro), Daniel Sumegi (Ramfis), Gennadi Dubinsky (The King). As well, as we have come to expect from the Opera Australia chorus, the huge choruses were thrillingly sung and supported by the Opera Australia Orchestra under the baton of Lorenzo Passerini.

Leah Crocetto (Aida) - Stefano La Colla (Radames)

Of course, opera is about the singing. But it is also about storytelling, and works best when the singing and storytelling are driven by the music.

The direction for the singers in this production is very static, with little attempt at dramatic interpretation. Therefore it plays like a series of superbly sung, lavishly staged set-pieces, with little attention to the story-telling.

Maybe the director was distracted by the possibilities suggested by the technology, choosing visual effects over dramatic interpretation from his singers.  For instance a huge black panther appears behind Amneris, presumably to signal that she is up to no good.  Images of near-naked men move into the grand hall, salute, then retreat. They keep doing this, distractingly, even when the protagonists are arguing over the fate of Aida’s father. Why is Aida trying to persuade Radames to escape the heat of the desert sun and run away with her when they are both clearly standing on a cool, moonlit beach? No doubt once the visuals are chosen, it’s no easy matter to change them should they not create the desired mood.

Warwick Fyfe (Amonasro) - Leah Crocetto (Aida)

There’s practically no physical contact or chemistry between any of the protagonists. For most of the opera they simply sit or stand and sing to the front, barely noting the presence of the other and rely on old-fashioned stock gestures to denote emotion.

Most of the movement is left to the team of hard-working dancers who unfortunately are saddled with some remarkably unattractive choreography to perform.

The dancers in "Aida".

Despite these reservations there is much to enjoy which makes this production a “must see”.  Most memorably, the glorious singing of the principals and chorus, the visual overload present in some of the remarkably lavish set pieces, the beautiful LED visuals, and for this reviewer, the gentle, visually stunning, opening and closing sequences.


Leah Crocetto (Aida) - Elena Gabouri (Amneris)

                                                           Photos by Prudence Upton.

            This review also published in Australian Arts Review.






The 7 Stages of Grieving

Written by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman. Directed by Shari Sebbens. Assistant director. Ian Michael. Designed by Elizabeth Gadsby. Lighting and AV Designer. Verity Hampson.Composer and sound designer. Steve Francis.  Sydney Theatre Company. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre June 23 – 26 2021.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.

Twenty five years have passed since I wrote of Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman’s  iconic drama The 7 Stages of Grieving  “Here is a story that needs to be told. It is the tale of a people who need to be heard.” As I sat in The Playhouse, watching Elaine Crombie’s remarkable and powerfully moving performance I couldn’t help thinking “What does it take? What does it take for politicians, ordinary people and the whole of society to listen, to hear and to act, especially to act?

The 7 Stages of Grieving is one indigenous woman’s account of her experience and the experiences of her people. Its scope is as vast as the land on which its indigenous people have lived for more than forty thousand years. It is a tale of the First Nation people and their deep connection to the land, their culture and the stories that they have passed down through the generations.  It is a story of grief, of loss, of isolation and desperation, of displacement and abuse and injustice. It is a tale of grieving for the loss of a beloved grandmother who loved to sing Delta Dawn and took her stories to the grave. It is a story of the horrible consequences of the stolen generation and its tearing apart of a people’s customs and well-founded laws. It is the cruel account of death in custody and the shaming of a young aboriginal who was defending his innocent mate. It is a shocking indictment of the white people’s judicial system and the officers of the white man’s law. Crombie’s passions erupt with volcanic force as she recounts the 1993 incident of Musgrave Park at which a 19 year old aboriginal lad died while under the control of the police.  On the screen hundreds of cases of deaths in custody flash before our eyes from as long ago as the founding of Federation.

Writers Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman and performer Crombie are masterful storytellers. Crombie is both comedian and tragedian. We laugh at her cheeky irreverent humour, applaud her rumbustious stand-up comedy routine and we weep at her insufferable grief as she gazes upon the photos of dead ancestors in a worn old brown leather suitcase.  The symbol of loss is palpable as she sits among the mounds of earth and the spirits of the dead. A smoking ceremony above her grandmother’s grave wards off the bad spirits, and as the story of her people unfolds in laughter and tears, I am startlingly reminded of the loss brought about by a people who neither understood nor cared.

But, as Crombie reminds us “We can’t go back” and “Everything has its time”. But how did we get to “wreck con silly nation” from the ideals of reconciliation? What has become of the Uluru Statement From The Heart and Crombie’s enthusiastic account of the hopeful Walk For Reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge twenty one years ago?

 Crombie is the supreme storyteller.  Under the direction of Richard Wherret Fellow, Shari Sebbens, Crombie plays out her story of survival and resilience. She lights up the stage with her vivacity, passion and fervour.  She arouses emotions but more than that she provokes her audience to think and remember a proud culture, genocide, injustice and ultimately survival. But thinking is not enough. Crombie exhorts her audience “to do!” She leaves her audience with seven acts to perform. They are: 1. Sign the petition to #raisetheage 2. Sign the petition to #banspithoods 3. Follow @indigenousx on Twitter 4. Follow @seedmob on Instagram 5. Donate to Sisters Inside 6. Donate to Black Rainbow. Number 7 is TURN UP

Mailman and Enoch’s plea for tolerance, acceptance and justice has seen changes over the past quarter of a century. It is now for us all to be impassioned and enlightened by Crombie’s brilliant retelling of The 7 Stages of Grieving so that we never go back and ensure that now is the time.

It is time for The 7 Stages of Grieving to return. This stirring production from the heart cries out for action. It is not to be missed.




Written by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman

Directed by Shari Stebbens

Sydney Theatre Company production

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse to 26 June


Reviewed by Len Power 23 June 2021


Tracing seven phases of Aboriginal history in one hour could seem to be a tall order for the creatives of ‘The 7 Stages Of Grieving’, but in this powerful play, the stories told, the strong acting and the fine production ensure the message of strength and survival comes through strongly.

Focussing on Dreaming, Invasion, Genocide, Protection, Assimilation, Self-Determination, and Reconciliation, writers Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman don’t flinch from telling stories of horror and injustice in an often unsettling mix of humour, anger and music.  They reach out to the audience to share the pain and the emotional turmoil, moving toward a greater understanding and ultimate coming together.

Helpmann Award-winning actress, Elaine Crombie, is the woman who takes us on this journey.  Her solo performance engages the audience immediately with her commanding presence, dramatic skills, comic timing and fine singing voice.  Switching from comedy to drama and back again, her heartfelt performance is extraordinary.

The play was first presented successfully in 1995 and this production includes new scenes added to show what has changed in the 26 years since then.  It’s clear that assimilation, self-determination, and reconciliation still have a long way to go.

The attractive setting designed by Elizabeth Gadsby gives a powerful sense of the land and the lighting design by Verity Hampson and sound design by Steve Francis add considerable atmosphere to the show.

Director, Shari Stebbens, has ensured that the production is well-paced and visually interesting as well as enabling the actress to develop and maintain her strongly in-depth performance.

The play certainly helps us to understand what it means to be an Aboriginal woman in contemporary Australia.  Elaine Crombie’s electrifying performance in this memorable play will long be remembered.


Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.