Tuesday, September 28, 2021



Music by Dan Gillespie Sells

Screenplay and lyrics by Tom MacRae

Directed by Jonathan Butterell

Streaming on Amazon Prime


Reviewed by Len Power 27 September 2021


‘Everybody's Talking About Jamie’ was originally a coming-of-age stage musical with book and lyrics by Tom MacRae and music by Dan Gillespie Sells.  It was inspired by the 2011 British television documentary ‘Jamie: Drag Queen at 16’.  The musical follows a 16-year-old teenager as he overcomes prejudice, beats the bullies and steps out of the darkness to become a drag queen.

An Australian touring production, which was to have included a season in Canberra, had been announced for late 2020 but was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.

A film of the stage musical has now been released on streaming service, Amazon Prime.  The screenplay has been written by Tom MacRae, based on his book of the stage musical.  It’s been directed by Jonathan Butterell, the original stage production director, here making his feature movie directing debut.

Butterell’s film is polished, energetic, colourful and enjoyable.  Although it’s no surprise that the film has a happy, almost fairytale ending, there are some surprisingly gritty incidents throughout the film, reminding us that the journey of a young man who chooses to be different is never going to be an easy one.

Newcomer to the screen, Max Harwood, is a terrific Jamie, showing all facets of this fascinating character.  He’s charming, quirky and sensitive but has an iron will underneath.

As his mother, Sarah Lancashire, of TV’s ‘Last Tango In Halifax’, is tough but loving and supportive of Jamie’s dreams.  Her singing of ‘He’s My Boy’, towards the end of the film, is very moving.

Richard E. Grant is a stand out as a former drag queen and Jamie’s mentor.  His song, ‘This Was Me’, is one of the best and is a chilling reminder of the worst days of the HIV epidemic.  The song has been written for the film and replaces another song in the stage musical.  Frankie Goes to Hollywood frontman, Holly Johnson, joins with Richard E. Grant for this song.

There is also a fine performance by Lauren Patel as Pritti Pasha, Jamie's classmate and best friend.  She sings ‘It Means Beautiful’ with great warmth and feeling.  The rest of the supporting cast, including many young performers, give natural and believable characterisations.

The musical numbers have been staged with flair and imagination, often employing digital tricks that really work well.  The music by Dan Gillespie Sells is catchy and appealing with several songs remaining in the mind afterwards.

‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a memorable movie musical with a message.  Stay watching through the credits at the end of the movie for a look at the real Jamie and his mother.

 Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’, ‘Arts About’ and ‘Arts Starter’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.


Monday, September 27, 2021


Reviewed by Len Power 21 September 2021

The Q Theatre in Queanbeyan recently announced their February 2022 musical production will be the off-Broadway show, ‘Ruthless!’  This 1992 musical with music by Marvin Laird and book and lyrics by Joel Paley has a zany plot that spoofs Broadway musicals like ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Mame’, as well as movies such as ‘All About Eve’ and ‘The Bad Seed’.

‘Gypsy’, ‘Mame’ and ‘All About Eve’ are well-known, but ‘The Bad Seed’, which is the inspiration for Act One of ‘Ruthless!’, would mainly be known to audiences of a certain age.

Produced on Broadway in 1955, ‘The Bad Seed’ was a play adapted by Maxwell Anderson from the 1954 novel by William March.  The play, a psychological thriller about a mother, Christine Penmark, who realizes that her young daughter is a ruthless killer, starred Nancy Kelly as the mother, Christine, and Patty McCormack as the daughter, Rhoda.

Both actresses repeated their roles in a film adaptation of the play.  The film was one of the bigger hits of 1956 and both Nancy Kelly and Patty McCormack received Academy Award nominations for their roles.

Although the novel and play conclude with Christine dying and Rhoda surviving, the Motion Picture Production Code of the time did not allow for ‘crime to pay’.  Changes had to be made to appease the censors and Warner Bros., who produced the film, added an ‘adults only’ tag to the film's advertising.

Viewed today, it’s hard to believe that 1950s audiences flocked to see this ‘shocker’.  The homicidal child, Rhoda, is played so sickeningly sweet you’d have to know she was up to something and Nancy Kelly chews the scenery as the distraught mother.  It feels like both actresses are trying to project their voices to the back of a theatre.

Several of the supporting cast play their roles as if they are still in the theatre, too.  It’s this over the top theatricality as well as the melodramatic subject matter that makes this film much sought after these days as a camp classic.

At the end of the movie, the cast take bows as if they really had just completed a stage performance.  To lighten the mood, there is a jokey finish to the curtain call that has to be seen to be believed.

Patty McCormack has continued to act in films and television.  She played Pat Nixon in the 2008 film ‘Frost/Nixon’.

A Blu-ray copy of the film is available for purchase online.  It can also be rented on various streaming services.  If you can borrow the 2004 DVD copy from someone, it includes a very entertaining commentary by female impersonator, Charles Busch, with the grown up Patty McCormack.

Try to catch ‘The Bad Seed’ before you see ‘Ruthless!’ at the Q.  Knowing the references to the film will add to your enjoyment of the musical.

‘Ruthless!’ is scheduled to play at the Q Theatre in Queanbeyan from 24 February to 12 March.


Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’, ‘Arts About’ and ‘Arts Starter’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.



Saturday, September 25, 2021

A Young Black Kangaroo

Photography | Brian Rope

A Young Black Kangaroo | Dean Qiulin Li 

PhotoAccessonline| https://www.gallery.photoaccess.org.au/young-black-start

A Young Black Kangaroo by Dean Qiulin Li is an ongoing photographic project documenting people and stories from the public housing community in Woolloomooloo. Li is an early career artist deeply committed to a humanitarian photographic practice.

Let me deal with the title first. Woolloomooloo is thought to have been derived from a local Aboriginal, possibly Gadigal, word meaning a young black kangaroo. The artist uses this translation to reference the area’s colonial history.

I lived in Potts Point for a short period in the late 60s and walked through Woolloomooloo each day going to and from work. I loved exploring and getting to know it - in a general sense only.

In February 1973, the Builders Labourers Federation placed a two-year long green ban on the area to stop the destruction of low-income housing and trees. It succeeded and 65% of the houses were placed under rent control. Most Australians living at that time would know of the ‘Loo because of the associated media coverage.

Children were often encouraged to commit the difficult to spell name to memory through spelling rhymes, one of which includes:

It's easy to say, I know very well,

But Woolloomooloo is not easy to spell.

Double U double O double L double O M double O L double O

A catalogue essay accompanying the exhibition suggests that browsing through the entire image series is like visiting your neighbours. The artist “tells stories as if reading a book to you, carrying you along with memories and emotions”. Li himself says his project is “about flipping common perspectives of public housing residents on their head, showing the true side to life. It is an exploration of the underlying stories within the four walls of what one calls home.” Both are excellent descriptions of this exhibition.

In another catalogue essay, Rozee Cutrone shares her personal story of becoming a resident, revealing that she has “been vilified, ridiculed, judged, physically attacked, had my home set on fire, undermined and underestimated.” That one story alone is a great reason for Li’s exploration.

Amongst the sometimes charming, other times confronting, images we see Rayson, with his striped shirt styled with those glasses, revealing something of his teenage years. There are many simple moments on display, giving viewers a sense of déjà vu.

Faith was photographed in her living room. A well-known indigenous activist who fights for the rights of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders, as well as the minorities in Australia, she and Li had a few cigarettes together in her backyard whilst she shared some of her bitter past.

Then there is Daniel and some of the pigeons he feeds, Ike and his guitar, as well as Ronny and his collections room. There is Con with his dog, and a view through his window. Tyriesha and Oscar show us how they cuddle. Sabrina poses in front of her boyfriend’s painting of their favourite characters Joker and Harley Quinn. Rayson shows us a photo of himself with Elvis.

Richie, a retired drag queen sitting in his designer couch, says the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” was based on his life.

Richie, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

There is a flamingo is inside Richie’s kitchen.

Flamingo, 2019 © Dean Qiulin Li

And Ayesha, a famous transgender dancer in Kings Cross from the 70s to 90s, says there is a documentary online about her life.


Ayesha, 2020  © Dean Qiulin Li

There are so many stories here. They have been woven together wonderfully. There would be many more, but the selection shown certainly successfully portrays these public housing residents of the ‘Loo.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 25/9/21 here and on the author's blog here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021


Reviewed by Len Power 21 September 2021

Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright.  After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, ‘A Woman Of No Importance’, ‘An Ideal Husband’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, his novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for gross indecency, imprisonment, and early death at age 46.

There are four biographical movies about Oscar Wilde and all are currently available for viewing on streaming services.

In 1960, Robert Morley starred in the film, ‘Oscar Wilde’.  Morley had previously played Wilde on stage from 1936, first in London and then on Broadway.  It proved to be a career-making role for him.  The depth of his characterization in the film clearly owed a great deal to his experience of playing the character so many times on stage.  He is especially moving in the courtroom scene where he crumbles under questioning by the lawyer for the defence, played by Ralph Richardson.

Also released in 1960 a week after the Robert Morley version, was another film about Oscar Wilde, this time starring Peter Finch.  Known as ‘The Trials Of Oscar Wilde’ or ‘The Man With The Green Carnation’, this wide screen, colour production boasts an excellent performance by Finch, who seemed a surprise choice to play Wilde.  Finch went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance.

In 1997, Stephen Fry starred as Oscar in ‘Wilde’.  The screenplay by Julian Mitchell was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 biography of Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann.  The film was more forthright about the homosexual aspects of the story than the earlier films could be and Stephen Fry gave a strong performance that was generally praised by the critics.  It was no surprise that Fry could deliver the famous epigrams with skill and humour but his performance of the dramatic scenes later in the film showing Wilde’s decline were impressively touching.

‘The Happy Prince’ is a 2018 biographical film about Oscar Wilde, written and directed by and starring Rupert Everett in his directorial debut.  The film's title alludes to the children's story by Oscar Wilde, ‘The Happy Prince and Other Tales’, which Wilde would read aloud to his children.

The film focusses on the remainder of Wilde’s life following his trial and imprisonment in London.  Now ill and exiled in France, he is denied contact with his children and is ultimately abandoned to poverty by his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.  Rupert Everett gives a fine performance as the tormented Wilde.  He was nominated for many awards and won several.  Colin Firth, Colin Morgan and Emily Watson give strong performances in the film as well.

Both ‘Oscar Wilde’ with Robert Morley and ‘The Trials of Oscar Wilde’ with Peter Finch can be viewed free on YouTube.  ‘Wilde’ with Stephen Fry is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Rupert Everett’s ‘The Happy Prince’ is showing on SBS On Demand.

This is a rare opportunity to compare the performances of this fascinating character by the four actors in these fine films.

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’, ‘Arts About’ and ‘Arts Starter’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Are We Dead Yet?

Photography Exhibition Review | Brian Rope

Stephen Dupont | amBUSH Gallery, Kambri (ANU) | Until 24 October 2021

This exhibition comprises 21 large photographic prints detailing various devastating ecological events around Australia, that have made award-winning Australian photographer Stephen Dupont realise the inevitability of the shift in conversation from ‘Is climate change happening?’ to ‘Is it too late?’

Inspired by his young daughter Ava – a climate activist – Dupont’s discussions about environmental issues ask the big question: is it possible to save the planet, or have we pushed Mother Nature to the brink of extinction? Are We Dead Yet? is part of a long-term artistic documentation of the effects of climate change on our nation.

In a review published 18 months ago, I confessed having struggled somewhat for several months seeing so many images of the bushfire crisis. On social media I had found it very difficult to ‘Like’ excellent images that revealed the anxieties all of us felt. Now here we are still seeing images of the aftermath of drought, bushfires and the pandemic – not only in this exhibition but numerous others.

Given Dupont’s experience and expertise, it was not surprising to see very high-quality images on display. Shot over the course of the past few years, in locations across several States, Dupont’s photographic journey tells striking visual stories, and conveys a sense of urgency. He wants to motivate us, his audience, to question our roles and responsibilities in these real-time catastrophes.

Using a solitary figure swimming in the ocean during a dust storm, a flooded football ground, the remains of a caravan, charred bushland, the parched ground of drought-stricken regions, and the rich colours of smoke and dust-filled skies, Dupont socks it to us. If we were previously immune to its impacts, or unchallenged by climate change, he wants to infect us with concern right now.

Some of the images reveal the impacts of climate change less obviously than do others. The remnants of a tree, used on the exhibition poster and in the catalogue, is probably the most graphic despite its simplicity; but another more effectively reveals the widespread and devastating destruction in the Tarkine region.

Tarkine, 2018 © Stephen Dupont

An image of a dust storm is very dramatic and powerful, showing the dust towering over a lone bather in the sea. Other images of dust storms remind us that they are widespread and commonly occur.

Scarborough Beach Dust Storm, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

Floating burnt embers during a bushfire are the real story element in a quite strangely beautiful story of sunlight streaming through the fire’s smoke. Once again, whether we need it or not, we are reminded by this and half a dozen other images that these types of fires were widespread in 2019 and 2020.

Hillville Fires 02, 2019 © Stephen Dupont

Another bushfire image clearly shows the human impact. The face of the man in it needs no words to tell of his emotions. And another equally, and poignantly, tells of the impact through a rather sad looking Christ figure.

Bodalla Fires, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

And an image of the skeletal remains of a caravan owned by Dupont’s friend, completely destroyed by fire in the devastating 2020 black summer bushfires has just been named as a finalist in the Australian Life competition (albeit with a different title). This powerful photograph clearly conveys just what such a fire can do and will, I suspect, be a strong contender in that competition.

A view from above of whites and blacks of trees impacted by dieback and fire is visually arresting. For me, the patterns make it the strongest artwork in the exhibition.

Snowy Mountains, 2020 © Stephen Dupont

Whilst the exhibition is technically open, the gallery is closed during the ACT COVID lockdown expected to run until 17 October. In the meantime there is a walk through of the exhibition here. All the images may also be seen on the artist's website here.

This review was published in the Canberra Times on 18/9/21 here and is also on the author's own blog here.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The School Drama Book


The School Drama BookRobyn Ewing (University of  Sydney) and John Nicholas Saunders (Sydney Theatre Company).  Currency Press, Sydney 2016 (Reprinted 2021)

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Saturday September 4, 2021

I have just been listening to the ABC Science Show.  The speakers emphasised the need for everyone to be science literate, pointing out that new discoveries are not found by following the norm, and not only by putting things in boxes but more by linking the boxes together in new and previously unexpected ways.

Having myself been a teacher of clear thinking and logic (in team with a woman mathematician), while also teaching drama, I remember with joy the last school production I directed.  I needed a student who would know how to set up and run the new-fangled programmable lighting and sound board.  The science staff directed me to a lad who had never attended a theatre in his life but, they said, was brilliant.

He was astounded – watching rehearsals, devising and operating the lighting, sound and video for Tyger the musical  by Adrian Mitchell about William Blake – by how the actors, dancers and singers could do what they do.  “Every science student should do drama” was his conclusion from that experience.

That was in 1993.  By 2009 Sydney Theatre Company began piloting School Drama, an “artist-in-residence professional learning program for primary school teachers, which focuses on the power of using drama as pedagogy with quality literature to improve English and literacy in young learners.”  By 2012 the program moved on from the pilot stage, the teachers reporting “that the implementation of drama devices in their classroom English program enhances students’ deep understanding of literary texts, improves their oracy, inferential comprehension, writing and their confidence more generally.”

Professor Robyn Ewing, University of Sydney, and Helen Hristofski, STC’s Education Manager 2006-12) were discussing a potential collaboration between the theatre company and the university, at the same time as the Co-Artistic Directors of STC, Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton were discussing the potential role of artists in primary schools.  

The School Drama Book was first published in 2016, to be used alongside the School Drama program, with 7 Workshops outlined for each of 22 titles which provide the stimulus for making drama, from Being Different using Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon to The Power of Words using Phileas’s Fortune: a story about self-expression (Agnès de Lestrade and Valeria Docampo).  The Book has been reprinted this year, proving its value to the education community.

In each Workshop, the Drama Devices for the teacher to use are given with what would be Stage Instructions in a playscript.  An example, which could well relate to my recent commentary on Big hArt and the Roebourne Indigenous Community’s NEO-Learning program, is John Jagamarra using The Burnt Stick (Anthony Hill and Mark Sofilas).

After a Word Bank starting from ‘isolation’, ‘family’, ‘loneliness’, ‘stealing’, ‘journey’,’mother’, ‘loss’; Freeze Frames are used to lead to a Class Discussion.  Then the teacher (or artist-in-residence) reads from the story ‘John Jagamarra grew up at the Pearl Bay Mission for Aboriginal Children ... [to Page 13]…the colour of the evening, so much darker than his own’ and takes the class into a Visualisation session, asking them “to think about Pearl Bay Mission [and] to imagine they are invisible and standing in the Mission [and] to think about what they can see, hear, and feel at the Mission.”  After another Freeze Frame, the workshop ends with the creation of Soundscapes which each group in a circle performs for a listening group in the centre.  Each student writing their own description of Pearl Bay Mission is a follow-up exercise.

In any Workshop there may be any number of Devices used.  Some others, for example, are Conscience Circle/Teacher-in-Role; Tableau and Tapping In; Hot Seating; Postcard; Artefacts….and immediately I find myself back in my drama teaching days – except that in my time the idea of such explicit devices only became clear from the work of Brad Haseman and John O’Toole in 1986.  My group improvisation workshops, usually starting from a single stimulus point, were far more randomly exploratory than The School Drama Book’s more guided workshops.

But the point is that the guidance needed for primary school teaching, with the purpose of pedagogy, might not be appropriate for senior secondary students focussed on exploring the drama experience for its own sake; or perhaps for developing new drama skills with an eye to their possible future in theatre.  The discussion in the introductory sections of The School Drama Book of the principles in the process – of Making Meaning and Developing Literacy through the artforms of Literature and Drama – is very well done indeed.  Professor Ewing's and her co-writer John Nicholas Saunders' (appointed STC’s Education Manager in 2013 to oversee the growth of the program) work is a major contribution to the understanding of the history and development of drama in education.

So, to return to my beginning, where the drama so impressed that science student, while the scientists seek science literacy for everyone, I can see how the drama process so clearly laid out in The School Drama Book can be used beyond Literature as the source of stimulatory material.  Topics in Science and Mathematics can be explored not only in the ways they are now in classrooms and laboratories.  Using Drama, students’ understanding can grow from different perspectives, including the ethics of application of the results of STEM studies.

I can imagine these Drama in Science classrooms, but I think we would need artists-in-residence of the standing of the Sydney Theatre Company to change the education (and therefore political) culture described in The School Drama Book as still the norm:

…many primary teachers do not feel well equipped to embed the Arts into what has become an overcrowded curriculum.  Many western education systems, including Australia’s, are increasingly turning to a narrowed curriculum, triggered by high stakes testing and a technical focus on literacy and numeracy.  As a result, teachers often feel they must concentrate on the ‘basics’.

While despairingly, The Arts remain under-valued and under-used components of primary curricula despite unequivocal evidence that they enhance student wellbeing and, in turn, improve learning outcomes across other disciplines and subject areas.






Negotiating the Family Portrait

Photography | Brian Rope

Marzena Wasikowska | Negotiating the Family Portrait

Canberra-based photo artist Marzena Wasikowska has built a name for herself over the years. Since 2000, when she completed her Master of Visual Arts at the ANU, she has had more than a dozen solo exhibitions (as well as being in numerous group exhibitions). Her works are in several public collections, and she also has been publicly commissioned on a number of occasions. Wasikowksa has been successful in various major competitions, including being a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) five times.

Now, Wasikowska has been selected as one of the winners in the 2021 Lens Culture Street Photography Critics’ Choice Awards. Joanna Milter, Director of Photography at The New Yorker selected the series Negotiating the Family Portrait 2011-2021 for an Award. Experts, such as Milter, explored entries from across the globe to select their top three personal favourites. There’s no jurying as a panel; just choices made individually by each of the expert critics.

Images were submitted by photographers from over 150 countries and twenty-one critics chose individual photos and series that captured their hearts. Explaining her choice of Wasikowska’s series, Milter described the images as lively and noted that the artist “purposely captures those instances before everyone is in place. Yet she understands that the presence of a photographer changes everything; even in seemingly offhand moments, her subjects are performing for her camera.”

The ten images in the series have been captured over a decade – indeed it is five of them that have been finalists in the NPPP. Wasikowska says the series title summarises how she thinks about the act and procedure of making family portraits for public viewing. As we all should be, she is keenly aware of the discussions and negotiations of private and public - what to exhibit and what to keep private. She suggests, and I agree with her, that image makers tread a fine line when contributing to the dialogue of family portraiture while revealing something candid but not uncensored.

We have all experienced difficulties taking photos of getting people to smile, not hold fingers above heads, and not hide behind taller folk. Wasikowska has solved those problems. Whilst saying she longs for them to be the actors in her images, she also expresses her hope that each photograph holds the essence of a genuine, personal event, for herself and each of them. These annual portraits of her immediate family are a highlight of her portrait photography, summarising the previous twelve months.

In one image, every family member has brought their year’s story to the table.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2015-16 - A study of history, myth and identity family
© Marzena Wasikowska

In another, one of two young children appears to be struggling in the arms of the adult holding them, most probably longing to be put down and set free to again explore the camera equipment now being used to capture them.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2018 – Chaos © Marzena Wasikowska

And then another image is filled with visual symbols for the conflicting extremes associated with this dreadful pandemic affecting each and every one of us in various ways; some the same for us all, others different for particular individuals.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2020-21-A COVID Kind of Day © Marzena Wasikowska

It is a delight to see these ten images together. They start with a relatively simple, yet exquisite, image of just two of the family.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2010 - Long Distance Conversation 1 © Marzena Wasikowska

Along the journey we see far more complex groupings of much larger gatherings of family members, in which the theatricality and performance style truly shines through.

Negotiating the Family Portrait 2012 © Marzena Wasikowska

We are members of an audience. Some may wish they were videos rather than just one still image of a moment frozen in time. But these are the precise moments that the artist selected and wants us to see.

This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 4/9/21 here. It is also on the author's own blog here.