Wednesday, August 31, 2022


Girl From The North Country. Written and directed by Conor McPherson. Music and Lyrics by Bob Dylan. Musical director Andrew Ross. Orchestration, Arrangement and music supervision. Simon Hale. Scenic and costume design Rae Smith. Lighting design Mark Henderson. Sound design Simon Baker. Movement director Lucy Hind. GWB Entertainment, Damien Hewitt and Trafalgar Entertainment Group. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. Until September 3. Bookings:

Review by Peter Wilkins. 

Taking its title from a Bob Dylan love song Girl from the North Country is not your conventional musical. It is a superbly staged snapshot of life during the Great Depression of 1929-41. Set in the small Upper Midwest town of Duluth in Minnesota where Dylan was born in 1941 Girl From the North Country opens a window on the lives of residents in a run-down guest house owned by gruff and growling Nick Laine (Peter Kowitz) and his wife Elizabeth (Lisa McCune),who suffers from early onset dementia. Terence Crawford as the Laines’ physician Dr Walker and the play’s mellifluous narrator sets the scene perfectly and at various times provides background information and commentary on the action and the residents. Crawford’s narration is hypnotic, conjuring the enticing atmosphere of the radio serial. Rae Smith’s scenic and costume design imbue the production with striking authenticity. While McPherson’s script encapsulates a lyrical sentiment of loss and longing in his pageant of drifters and battlers, Dylan’s songs complement the drama including songs of injustice (Hurricane),fallen fortune (Like a Rolling Stone)and hope (Pressing On).   An initial lack of articulation by the soloists in some of the early numbers might have been avoided by a more thorough pre-show technical sound check  with the standing microphone.

Lisa McCune in Girl From The North Country

A series of vignettes carries the action. We are inextricably drawn into the lives of the characters. A tightly knit ensemble under Conor McPherson’s intuitive and seamless direction create wonderfully idiosyncratic performances. Members of the band dressed in the clothes of the time merge with the characters onstage and actors Christina O’Neill (Mrs. Neilson) on guitar and Helen Dallimore (Mrs. Burke) on percussion join the band members occasionally. There is a captivating unity to this brilliantly conceived and absorbingly staged production.  Each character is real, breathing life into the struggles and diverse personalities of the guest house’s occupants. Lives intertwine, relationships evolve, conflicts erupt and a community of contrasting characters coalesces at times of celebration and festivity. 

Blake Erickson as Elias Burke in Girl From The North Country

The cohesive force of community soars in arranger Simon Hale’s uplifting renditions of gospel and congregational choruses. It offers a startling contrast to the drama’s darker issues. The ugly stain of racism surfaces in the taunting of falsely accused murderer and former black boxer Joe Scott (Elijah Williams). The cruel impact of encroaching dementia lends McCune’s character a powerfully moving complexity. Failed businessman Mr. Burke (Greg Stone) and his wife (Helen Dallimore) must cope with the collapse of their business and the challenge of caring for their intellectually disabled adult son Elias (Blake Erickson). Black humour marks Peter Carroll’s performance of the aging Mr. Perry, desperately seeking the solace and love of youth. The Laines’ adopted black daughter Marianne (Chemon Theys) must endure the social stigma of the pregnant black unwed mother. Dylan was born almost ten years after the period of Girl From The North Country, but his songs reverberate with timeless protest against injustice and social disadvantage.

Elijah Williams and Chemon Theys in Girl From The North Country

Girl From The North Country resonates with contemporary relevance to Australian audiences, who continue to endure the impact of a global pandemic and its crippling consequences. This triumphant collaboration between Irish playwright and director McPherson and  American folk legend and Nobel Laureate Dylan presents  a contrasting portrait of human pain and human love. In the spirit of a Steinbeck novel it is also a testament to struggle and survival, to the endurance of hope and the power of resilience in the face of forces beyond one’s control. This is no musical of pleasant songs and happy endings but an uplifting and gloriously performed theatrical experience.

Photos by Matt Byrne

 This review was originally published in The Canberra Times online.




Into the Forest

Photography | Brian Rope

Into the Forest | Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer

M16 Artspace, Gallery 1b | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Partners Eva van Gorsel and Manuel Pfeiffer are regular exhibitors at M16 Artspace. Their 2020 joint show Facets exhibited interpretations of the Australian landscape they had seen during a lengthy journey. Their works complemented each other as they revealed the same facets. Then, in 2021, they brought us Congruent-Incongruent using numerous diverse techniques and media to create varied, interesting and pleasing artworks.

Their 2022 exhibition Into the Forest aims to raise awareness of the role our forests have on our planet, our climate and our lives by showcasing the beauty of mostly regional treescapes and woodlands using imagery, sculpture and a sound installation. Along with growing numbers of people around the world, they recognise that the importance of forests cannot be underestimated.

Pfeiffer has a background in earth system sciences, graphic design and arts and shares a deep appreciation of the environment with Van Gorsel who was a principal research scientist in atmospheric sciences before turning to photography. The two artists asked themselves why it is important to show and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment and have offered an answer.

“In science we have pointed out the dangers of climate change before anyone cared to listen. With climate extremes now so extreme that they are getting hard to ignore many more people are aware that urgent action is needed. Many artists were early uptakers of that message. There is a long tradition of showing natures beauty. But many artists now also show the impact our disrespect of nature has on ecosystems. This is important work that is critically needed. But it is key that we do not get lost in despair. That is why we think it is important to show and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment. I think we are at a turning point where it becomes important to again remind us of what we can keep - if only we set our minds and actions to it.”

Van Gorsel’s works here are, perhaps, more traditional than she has shown in their previous two joint exhibitions. They are fine examples of this genre of photography, showing us numerous wonders of nature in our forests – birds, mist, and understory vegetation are just some examples. In every case, the available natural light is used beautifully - as all photographers should strive to do. Monochrome is used sparingly, but to great effect. Shallow focus is used wonderfully in others.

Eva van Gorsel_Into The Forest II_Namadgi

Eva van Gorsel_Mist_Gundagerra NR

Eva van Gorsel_Last Light_Namadgi NP


Eva van Gorsel_Aglitter 03

Pfeiffer’s contributions are equally pleasing, showing us the sights of the forests through his chosen media. A set of artworks of trees, bark and fungi using colour pencils on paper are simply lovely, with their wonderfully balanced light and peaceful hues. Others painted with acrylics on canvas, such as Dreaming Xanthorrhoeas, are equally successful.


His three pieces using wood are special features in the exhibition. A mixed media piece, The Wise, 2021, is the standout for me. Glass, a suspended small rock gently moving, wood and more combine beautifully into a piece to explore, a piece that also says much about nature.


Manuel Pfeiffer_BarkA


Manuel Pfeiffer_Dreaming Xanthorrhoeas

Manuel Pfeiffer_At The Coast

All the artworks take us into the artists’ views of nature. They make us feel good – enabling us to see the colours, hear the sounds, smell the scents. All give us some comfort. And they make us want to be amongst the calming effects of forests and connecting directly with nature through our senses, seeking to reduce the gap that we have opened between us and the natural world. This exhibition very much invites us to reflect on how we humans have impacted the natural environment, and to ask ourselves what we as individuals must now do.

This review was published online by The Canberra Times on 30.08.22 here. It is also on the author's blog here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022


Conducted by Louis Sharpe

Chorus Master, Dan Walker

Llewellyn Hall, 27 August


Reviewed by Len Power


When presenting an Opera Gala, you need to come up with a pretty special program.  Canberra’s National Opera did exactly that, with the National Capital Orchestra, the National Capital Chorus and three very fine sopranos delighting the audience with one great opera tune after another.

 It was introduced by the company’s Artistic Director, Peter Coleman-Wright, who promised an evening of well-known opera favourites as well as some opera works that deserved to be better known.  He also set the scene for each of the items as the concert progressed.

 The opening item was the Overture from Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (The Abduction From The Seraglio).  The orchestra gave it a brisk and tight performance under the baton of Louis Sharpe.

Opera Gala - full company

It was followed by the first of several choruses sung by the National Capital Chorus directed by Dan Walker.  Their first item was The Bell Chorus from “Pagliacci” by Leoncavallo.  Accompanied by the orchestra, it was a rousing but controlled and pleasing performance of this popular work.

Featured artist, soprano Eleanor Greenwood, then took the stage with a commanding performance of "Dich, teure Halle, grüss ich wieder" (Dear hall, I greet thee once again) from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”.

Louis Sharpe (conductor) and Eleanor Greenwood (soprano)

A graduate of the ANU School of Music, Greenwood has gone on to a busy national and international career.  Her dramatic sensibility and fine singing of the Wagner aria and other items in the program demonstrated that she is a singer to watch in the future.

Associate artists, Canberra-based Hannah Carter and Canberra-born Emma Mauch, sang “Er ist der Richtiger nicht für mich!” (He is not the one who’s right for me) from “Arabella” by Richard Strauss.  Both sopranos sang this difficult duet with great skill and feeling, earning strong applause from the audience.

Several other famous opera choruses were performed including The Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s “Lohengrin”, The Humming Chorus from “Madama Butterfly” and the electrifying Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”.  The chorus singers gave them all fine performances.

Eleanor Greenwood also gave superb performances of “Pace, Pace mio Dio” (Peace, O mighty Father, give me peace) from Verdi’s “The Force Of Destiny” and “Regina Coeli” (Queen of Heaven) from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni.

Hannah Carter, Eleanor Greenwood and Emma Mauch

 At the end of the program, the three sopranos gave a highly sensitive performance of The Final Trio from “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss and finished the program with a rousing and celebratory Finale from “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss, accompanied by the chorus.  It was then followed by a cheerfully relaxed encore from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers”.

This was a well-chosen program of opera favourites.   The fine performances of the singers and orchestra clearly delighted the audience.  It was indeed a gala evening.


Photos by Peter Hislop


This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 28 August 2022.

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at



Monday, August 29, 2022

"A European Evening" - Bernice Chua and Caitlan Rinaldy, piano.

Music / “A European Evening”. 

Bernice Chua, piano and Caitlan Rinaldy, piano. 

At Wesley Music Centre.

August 27, 2022

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Pianists, Bernice Chua (left) and Caitlan Rinaldy

BERNICE Chua and Caitlan Rinaldy are both studying advanced piano technique and repertoire at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg and have returned to Canberra to perform a series of concerts featuring solo piano works, works for four hands (at one piano) and works for two pianos.

The Wesley concert was the finale in their series and featured each pianist in solo performance in each half, with a surprise encore!

Something that stood out immediately and was unique to both pianists compared to local performers was mental preparation before commencing to play. A good ten seconds of thought and concentration was used after sitting down at the bench before their fingers touched the keyboard.

Rinaldy opened the program with Chopin’s “Ballade No. 4 in F minor Op. 52”. A huge and demanding work, she played with great feeling and expression, using lots of rubato, alternating between pianissimo passages and then for most of this single movement work, forte and double forte passages.

Rinaldy creates a beautiful singing tone, arising from a very relaxed weight technique, able to achievement a massive dynamic range without bashing.

Liszt’s “Rhapsodie Espagnole S. 254” followed, and like the preceding Chopin, showcased Rinaldy’s unique phrasing and approach to cadence points within each piece. Her interpretations are her own, not copying any other recordings that I know of. This is a wonderful thing, where young artists are encouraged and able to find their own methods and creative interpretations of oft played works.

Playing in a fluid and lyrical manner, she brought out bass line melody, a feature of this piece, with clarity. Her Liszt displayed elements of a “bravura” style of playing at times, which is appropriate for his music.

AFTER interval, Bernice Chua took to the stage, again allowing a good ten seconds of mental preparation before touching the keyboard. In a unique interpretation of Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23”, Chua opened with much more pianissimo than would normally be heard by other artists, gradually and incrementally building dynamic shadings into a powerful and furious double forte.  

Even though these two young artists study with the same teacher in Salzburg - Professor Andreas Weber - their playing styles are very different.

Chua extracts a singing tone from the piano in quiet and lyrical passages, whilst greater dynamics reveal an almost percussive effect from the instrument. Being able to achieve both is a technique that suits many pieces, and whilst it is a unique interpretation, there are other ways of playing it as well.

Finishing with Schumann’s “Piano Sonata No 2 in G minor, Op. 22”, a huge and demanding work in four movements, Chua launched the opening with a percussive tone, before settling back into a singing, gentle and most expressive pianissimo in the second movement, each phrase being measured and paced with great musical thought and interpretation.

The final “Scherzo” and “Rondo” moments were played without break, the former being bright and lively, bringing out left hand melody phrases with authority and purpose.

Both artists play with great clarity of line and phrasing, making every note count, with their fluid and relaxed techniques and also restrained use of the sustain pedal.

A “piano four hands” encore capped off the evening, Rachmaninoff’s “Italian Polka” and it was done with style and flair.

In summary I would like to stress that both these artists are extremely talented pianists but with very different playing styles. One of their greatest strengths is being able to shape and phrase their performances in unique ways.

First published in Canberra City News on-line edition, August 28, 2022


Photography | Brian Rope


M16 Artspace, Gallery 2  | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Lisa Stonham is a photo-media artist who lives and works in Gadigal Country/Sydney.

In her artworks she seeks to capture the temporary, ephemeral and momentary through the exploration of immovable man-made landscapes. She documents the ever-evolving relationship between light and time in the context of architectural space, to produce sensory and evocative colour field photographs.

Stonham’s work has been exhibited in various Australian galleries. In 2021 she exhibited in the Head-on Photo Festival Open Programme. She has been a finalist in numerous art prizes and awards including the Blake Prize, Iris Award, and CLIP Award.

The exhibition catalogue describes the artist’s work as “a concourse between documentary and abstraction. Although factual, her photographs are detached from physical or concrete reality and resistant to any narrative sense.” So, how can I describe the works in this exhibition if they are resistant to narrative?

In Conversations with My-Self and Others, the artist explores and exaggerates the tiny perfect moments … the 'right now' - that a more isolated and contemplative existence led her to appreciate. She has captured ephemeral and impressionistic moments within the context of the everyday. The resultant colour driven abstractions engage with the temporal nature of light and physical space. They involve the interpretation of light as gesture, everyday rainbows in the context of positive projections and articulation of colour experience in meditation and memory.

During the official opening, the works were described as extending from the usual photographic language to the painting language and particularly into abstraction in the way that photographic light can make us appreciate interior spaces but also remind us of reflective spaces within colour field painting. That is certainly one way of describing the works with words.

My first response when I began looking at the images was wow, look at those vibrant colours, that use of light, and those wonderful shadows. Then I found myself questioning whether some works were single images or composites. And one of the prints is quite small compared with all the others, so I was curious as to why that was the case and why it had been included in the exhibition.

    Lisa_Stonham_Perfect Moment ... Right Now (inYellow)

Lisa Stonham_Dopamine Rush_2021

Having an opportunity to speak with Stonham whilst standing in the middle of the gallery space enabled me to share my reactions, questions and thoughts with her – always a good way of getting further into the artist’s mindset and intentions. During the discussion, we were joined by another artist and listening to her comments and questions also added to my enjoyment of this show.

Lisa_Stonham_Everyday Rainbow (in Blue) 2021

The aforementioned small print Wayfinder was included because it works well with the larger one, Perfect Moment… Right Now, alongside it. The colours in the two works are the same delicious reds and greens. The small work is an archival pigment print mounted to aluminium, whereas the larger one is an eco-solvent print on solve glaze satin rag.

Perfect Moment...Right Now (in green) 2021 and Way-Finder 2021 (installation shot)

I was previously not familiar with eco-solvent inks, but limited research tells me they have their colours suspended in a mild biodegradable solvent, and they don’t contain as many volatile organic compounds. The eco-solvent prints in the show are vibrant – and it is okay to put water on them.

I also learned that Stonham had added separate images of shafts of light seen in her home to other images of pieces of walls, floors and other areas - also in her own home. The combinations work extremely well and are not at all obvious.

LisaStonham_Self-Talk (Chromatic Aberration)_2021

This is a colourful, absorbing and well-presented exhibition. Without objective context, the compositions and colour relationships have become subjects in themselves. No narrative is required to enjoy the works.

This review was first published on page 19 of the Canberra Times of 29.8.22 and online here. It is also available on the author's blog here.

Reconstructed Landscapes 2022

Photography | Brian Rope

Reconstructed Landscapes 2022 | Emilio Cresciani

M16 Artspace, Gallery 1b | UNTIL 4 SEPTEMBER 2022

Emilio Cresciani is an artist living and working on Gadigal land (Sydney). He graduated from Sydney College of the Arts in 2012 in photo media and has been a finalist in numerous awards including the Earth Photo Award London and the Bowness Photography Prize.

In 2020 he was the recipient of a Dark Matter Residency at Canberra’s PhotoAccess. His works from that residency, exhibited with the title State of Change, explored the phenomenon of climate change by integrating the transformation of ice into water with photographic processes - photograms, recorded on photographic paper revealed what happened as blocks of ice melted. The images examined - literally, figuratively, and abstractly - human impact on Earth. My review at the time described them as spectacular.

Trees have long been an inspiration for artists, so it is not surprising to see another one responding to the fact that Australia has cleared nearly half of its forest cover in the last 200 years, resulting in habitat loss, extinction of native flora and fauna, rising salinity and 14% of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Making it worse, in 2020 Australia was ravaged by bushfires and more forests were destroyed. There were increased calls for back-burning and land-clearing.

Cresciani’s artwork continues to explore the intersection between climate change and altered landscapes. He has a keen interest in objects, structures, and landscape in transition, and in particular the increasing number of ‘non-places’ that fill our environment. He started the project presented here before those deadly fires, deforestation already being a huge public issue.

The process for this new project by Cresciani again uses a photographic process, but quite a different one. This time, he took an analogue camera into numerous national parks to document forests in the Australian landscape at times when those parks were being quite traumatized by the disasters resulting from climate changes. Using a daylight-type high-image-quality colour reversal 4” x 5” film, he captured patterns of tree branches, bark and leaves, light and shade.

The artist then sliced the pieces of positive slide film into different shapes and sizes, like woodchips. The slices were rearranged into bold abstract compositions on a scanner and digital images created. Every piece of every photo was included in the abstract results – even the edges of the emulsion identifying the film type. The resultant works are also very different to the previous show mentioned earlier – but are equally effective and quite fascinating to look at. They need to be closely explored.

Emilio Cresciani. Blue Mountains National Park, 2021

Emilio Cresciani. Bongil Bongil National Park, 2021

The total exhibition is a wonderful and poignant set of works. What is on exhibition here is the trauma imposed on eco-systems essential to our lives. The billions of trees cut down annually are represented by these ‘photochips’, symbolising what we are doing to our natural environment. Cropping of film images would rightly be considered by many as an act of vandalism. Bold cutting of the images into numerous pieces represents the experienced trauma. Sliced – even shredded – in such a way that the film cannot be put back together in its original form is a clear metaphor shouting to us that, when the damage done to the forests is massive, regeneration is impossible.

Emilio Cresciani. Marrangaroo National Park, 2021


Emilio Cresciani. Royal National Park, 2021

By bringing what he describes as “these cut fragments” into an art gallery, Cresciani hoped to highlight the gap between the myth of the Australian bush and the real cost of our lifestyles. Sliced and cut, sawn and hacked, these images upset the perception of trees as beautiful, functional, replaceable. They are out of place, not as they should be. The artist has succeeded in his aim – Reconstructed Landscapes effectively highlights the costs of humankind’s failings.

This review was first published on page 19 of The Canberra Times of 29.8.22 and online here. It is also on the author's blog here.



Written and directed by Conor McPherson

Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan

Canberra Theatre to 3 September


Reviewed by Len Power 26 August 2022


What is extraordinary about “Girl From The North Country” is that the songs’ composer, Bob Dylan, gave free access to his entire song catalogue without restrictions to the producers to develop the musical.

Bob Dylan has sold more than 125 million records since the 1960s.  His songs include some of the most popular songs of all time.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

The musical first opened in London in 2017 and ultimately played a total of 175 performances on Broadway, closing in 2022.

Set in a rundown guesthouse in the winter of 1934 in Duluth, Minnesota during the Depression, the story focusses on the lives of a number of people who are thrown together at a moment in time in that location.  Writer/director, Conor McPherson, has used Dylan’s songs to create atmosphere and illustrate the thoughts and emotions of the characters in the story.

Rae Smith’s scenic design of highly detailed moving panels that glide in and out and up and down as well as a subtle use of projections nicely creates the mood of the time and location.  The complex lighting design by Mark Henderson adds another atmospheric dimension to the show.

James Smith

The vocal work in this production is superb.  Harmony singing by various ensemble members is especially fine.  There is outstanding acting and singing by Lisa McCune, Peter Carroll, Helen Dallimore, Chemon Theys, James Smith, Elijah Williams and others.  In fact the whole cast should be mentioned individually for their excellent singing and acting.

Lisa McCune

There are a large number of characters in complex relationships and the cast talk fast in unfamiliar Minnesota accents.  You have to listen carefully to keep up with the intricacies of the storylines.

The band, led by Andrew Ross, plays the score very well.  Some cast members also play instruments in the show.

The overall star of this show is Simon Hale who produced the excellent orchestrations and arrangements of Bob Dylan’s music.  Taking Bob Dylan’s songs and arranging them in theatrical terms would have been a daunting task.  It’s not surprising that Hale won the only Tony Award that the show received for “Best Orchestrations”.

Because of the way Bob Dylan’s music is used in this show, it’s not strictly a jukebox musical.  Simon Hale’s arrangements and Conor McPherson’s use of the songs give Dylan’s music an unexpected and pleasing dimension.  It’s an enjoyable and refreshingly different Broadway show.


Photos by Daniel Boud


This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 27 August 2022.

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at


Saturday, August 27, 2022

Girl From The North Country


Girl From The North Country.  Presented by GWB Entertainment, Damien Hewitt and Trafalgar Entertainment in association with Canberra Theatre Centre, August 25 – September 3, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone, August 26

Creatives: reproduced below.  Original production opened at The Old Vic, London, 2017.

Cast - Australia (alphabetical order):
Mr Perry – Peter Carroll; Dr Walker – Terence Crawford
Mrs Burke – Helen Dallimore; Elias Burke – Blake Erikson
Katherine Draper – Elizabeth Hay; Nick Laine – Peter Kowitz
Elizabeth Laine – Lise McCune; Mrs Neilsen – Christina O’Neill
Reverend Marlow – Grant Piro; Gene Laine – James Smith
Mr Burke – Greg Stone; Marianne Laine – Chemon Theys
Joe Scott – Elijah Williams

Ensemble – Tony Black, Tony Cogin, Laurence Coy, Grace Driscoll,
Samantha Morley, Liam Wigney

Musical Director – Andrew Ross; Acoustic and Slide Guitar – Cameron Henderson
Bass – James Luke; Violin and Mandolin – Pip Thompson

Peter Carroll as Mr Perry
in Girl From The North Country
Australian Tour 2022

Girl From The North Country is about failure – economic failure; failure to find love (Mr Perry, Joe Scott, the Laine family and Mrs Burke at least); social collapse.  The play has no plot because when “The Depression grabbed hold of Minnesota” the people’s lives, as presented by Conor McPherson, had nowhere to go “Like a Rolling Stone”.

There is a beginning as Nick Laine offers rooms; and an end as people who stayed there had no choice but to move on – without the money to pay Nick.  According to Dr Walker, the narrator of these sad times, Nick and his demented wife Elizabeth themselves left Minnesota as the bank foreclosed on their house.

The structure of the play is actually rather like Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children.  Episodes are interrupted by songs, which, often in an oblique way, reflect on social, even political, life.  Here, though, characters sing songs by Bob Dylan as if still in role in the American Musical tradition.  The distancing effect is rather less, then, than the estrangement effect (Verfremdungseffekt or V-Effekt) in Brecht’s work.

In addition the movement choreography and dance sequences (highly original and performed by the whole cast with great flair) become fascinating entertainment in their own right.  

So I find myself in two minds about the purpose of Girl From The North Country.  Am I to become empathetically engaged in the dreadful state of the lives of these people; or am I to take Bob Dylan’s songs as the focus for the criticism of American life, in the rather dry, almost cynical mood that I remember so well from his early songs when still in his acoustic folk-scene stage?  

Though I marvel at the quality of the acting, singing, music performance and strength of theatre design, my two minds remain divergent rather than finding a composite resolution which might turn this ‘Art Musical’ into a great and powerful work of art.  I note that Conor McPherson began writing “I’m thinking of an expansive Eugene O’Neill type play with Bob Dylan’s love songs intertwined”.  A great idea I think, but I have to say in return that Girl From The North Country is no match for Mourning Becomes Electra.






Friday, August 26, 2022


Kathy Selby


Kathy Selby piano

Sophie Rowell violin

Timo-Veikko Valve cello

Llewellyn Hall 22 August


Reviewed by Len Power


Wartime conflict and how it impacted on three composers was the theme for the Selby & Friends concert, “In the Shadow of War”.  Artistic director and pianist, Kathy Selby, was joined by Sophie Rowell on violin and Timo-Veikko Valve on cello to play three works by Australia’s Matthew Hindson, Russia’s Dimitri Shostakovich and Austria’s Franz Schubert.

Matthew Hindson’s work, “1915”, composed in 2015, was motivated by the thought of how a young person living 100 years before might face the prospect of going to war.  There has long been an impression that young Australian men in that era were keen to enlist for what seemed likely to be the patriotic and glorious adventure of a lifetime.

Hindson’s composition avoids any of the jingoism and focusses instead on the more personal thoughts of a soldier leaving behind his loved ones and the comforts of home and facing the unknown.  It’s a quietly powerful, melancholy and reflective work of great beauty.  The trio of musicians gave it a performance of great sensitivity.

Timo-Veikko Valve

The second work, the Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 67, by Dimitri Shostakovich, was composed in 1944 as the Second World War raged in Europe.  The spectre of the world at war and the death of a close friend profoundly depressed Shostakovich at the time of composing the work.

From its haunting opening passage on the cello, the work is constantly changeable, creating a mood of emotional highs and lows.  Almost alarming frenzied passages give way to sombre and quietly reflective moments, leading to the “Dance Of Death” final movement with its Jewish-style melody.  This challenging work was superbly played by the trio, bringing out all of the powerful emotion in the music.

Sophie Rowell

Franz Schubert was surrounded by the constant threat of war during the Napoleonic era.  We may never know the true impact this had on him and whether his penchant for song grew from a desire to avoid any conflict and embrace love and beauty.

Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op.100, was one of the last compositions completed by Schubert in 1827. The delicate main theme of the second movement, based on a Swedish folk song, is instantly recognized from its use in many movies, including Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”.  In their playing, the trio brought out all of the sensitivity and beauty underlying this great work.

An introduction to the works by each of the performers is always a feature of a Selby & Friends concert.  It adds a welcome dimension to the works and creates a personal engagement between audience and performer.


This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 23 August 2022.

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Remembering novelist David Ireland, by Simone Penkethman


       The late David Ireland.

THE great Australian novelist, David Ireland died one month ago on 26 July 2022 at the age of 94.

He won 3 Miles Franklin awards: in 1971 for ‘The Unknown Industrial Prisoner’, in 1976 for ‘The Glass Canoe’ and in 1979 for ‘A Woman of the Future’.

He was older than my parents and younger than my grandparents. We were friends.

I have written one fan letter in my life. It was late 2002. I was 35 years old. I wrote in green glitter gel pen. 

Dear David Ireland, I think you are the greatest living Australian writer.

I can’t remember what else I wrote in the letter. Any drafts I made would have been destroyed on January 18 2003, when bushfires swept Canberra and my house burnt down.

A few weeks after the fires, I was at the bushfire recovery centre when my phone rang. He introduced himself and said he had to call me straight away because the letter had taken so long to reach him via his publisher and then his agent. He was sorry his reply was so delayed. He liked the green glitter gel ink. I said it was my daughter’s pen. 

At least I think that’s how it went. Trauma clouds my memory of those post-fire years.

I had a school exercise book that I was using to write my life back into existence. I used a pencil to add David Ireland’s phone number and address to the growing list in the front few pages of the book. I said I would call him when I finished at the recovery centre. (I was about to write, when I was “home” from the recovery centre. But I didn’t really have a home. My children and I were in the midst of moving from my mother’s house to a hastily arranged rental.)

I first discovered him at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop in Canberra. It was summer holidays, possibly 1980. My friend and I were looking for a birthday present for my mother. My friend noticed this book, ‘A Woman of the Future’. She said that her own mother’s book club had recently been talking about it. It was David Ireland’s third Miles Franklin award winning novel.

We bought the book. My mother read it at least once and but I read it over and over. It was a disturbing, enticing and many-layered read. By the time it burnt, the spine had long-ago split into several pieces.

I was about 13 when I first read ‘A Woman of the Future’. Like Orwell’s ‘1984’, as I reread it over the next decade or so, I kept finding new meanings that I’d missed before. At university I studied Doris Lessing’s ‘Memoirs of a Survivor’ which, like Ireland’s book, is set in a dystopian time where wondering tribes are brought together by self-imposed exile. They remind me of the rag-tag anti-vaxxer, freedom protestors today.

Ireland’s novels are made of little vignettes. The scenes are evocative and sensory. in the early pages, they can seem random or unconnected. It’s better to let them wash over you than try to connect the dots.

About 2/3 of the way through the novel, it turns itself inside out and explodes with meaning and connection. Everything that has come before makes sense in unexpected ways. Then it picks up momentum, draws you helplessly along to the end, and leaves you heaving, like you’ve just escaped an undertow and been tossed by the shore-break onto the sand.

That gasping, heaving adrenaline-filled confusion pretty much describes how my two children and I existed in the dry, ashen weeks after the fires, when David Ireland first called.

It wasn’t so much losing everything as what we had seen, heard and felt.

A wave of flames roared across my front lawn toward me. I saw the washing on my line spontaneously combust. Dragons engulfed the bamboo and raced into my henhouse. The air was on fire.

And after, there was so much to do! It’s a strange thing to suddenly have to build a household out of nothing. Normally, it’s something that builds up over time.

The charity was overwhelming. But the labour of sorting through all the donated new and used clothes and household items was immense. I thought of myself as a super gatherer in the primal hunter-gatherer sense. I was in full survival mode.

I had been poised on the brink of self-actualisation. I had been about to release my first album the day after the fires. Now, in addition to the gathering, I needed to organise re-printing the CDs (because they had all burned) and negotiate a new launch, media strategy and distribution deal. For that I needed to go to Sydney, which is where David Ireland and I met.

He came in on the ferry to Circular Quay. He was tall and, as arranged, wearing a hat. It was soft and weathered, Akubra style. 

I was wearing an embroidered waistcoat with little silver sequins. It was from one of those bags of donated clothes. I had described it to him as having little silver dots but he had heard it as silver clocks and so didn’t recognise me at first.

We went to one of those touristy places near the opera house and looking out toward the harbour bridge. We ordered lunch and a bottle of wine. I was drinking with the author of the darkly comic pub novel, ‘The Glass Canoe’.

We talked and talked for hours. I can’t remember much of what we said but I know it was animated and easy. After two (or possibly three) bottles, they refused to serve us any more wine and we wondered off into the city.

We were having fun. On an adventure.

Night was falling. In one pub, they said, we’ll serve you but not your dad. We slipped around the corner and shared my beer like naughty kids. We were thrown out of two pubs before the night was through.