Monday, September 26, 2022

"SWAN LAKE" - Royal Czech Ballet

Cristina Terentiev and Nikolay Nazarkevich in "Swan Lake"

                       Royal Czech Ballet - Canberra Theatre 18th – 20th September. 2022. 

                    Opening night performance on 18th September reviewed by Bill Stephens.

 Do you ever wonder why audiences flock to theatre’s to see yet another production of “Swan Lake”? Many of course are experiencing the ballet for the first time. Others perhaps want to refresh a treasured memory, or be transported into a fantasy world of flawless beauty. To many “Swan Lake” above all, means ballet. Often it’s the only ballet they’ll ever see live. 

Perhaps the only ballet they want to see live. The latest production of “Swan Lake” to visit the Canberra Theatre was presented by the Royal Czech Ballet, making its first visit to Australia. Founded in 2008 by Andrey Scharaev, the core of the Royal Czech Ballet are dancers born and trained in Moldova, but augmented by guest soloists from around the world. 

The company boasts a repertoire which includes in addition to “Swan Lake”, “The Nutcracker”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Don Quixote” and “Giselle”, but for its first Australian tour the company is presenting only its production of “Swan Lake”, starring Moldova born ballerina, Cristina Terentiev, dancing the dual roles of Odette/Odile. 

 A surprisingly lavish production given its extensive touring program, with choreography based on the familiar 1895 Petipa/ Ivanov revival choreography for the Imperial Ballet in the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, this production is notable for its lovely settings featuring gorgeous painted backcloths complimented by excellent lighting and sound, elegant costumes and immaculately groomed dancers. And while the dancing could hardly be described as inspired, it was beautifully performed by both soloists and ensemble with careful attention to detail and mood.

Nikolay Nazarkevich (Price Siegfried) - Seiyu Ogasawara (Court Jester)

The ballet commences with a party scene in front of the royal palace to celebrate the twenty-first birthday of Prince Siegfried (Nikolay Nazarkevich). During the festivities, Siegfried’s mother (Maria Mihailova) presents him with a crossbow, and advises him that it is time for him to marry.

To that end she has arranged a ball for the very next evening and invited several eligible princesses from among which she expects Siegfried to choose his future wife. 

Understandably nonplussed by his mother’s demands Siegfried takes his crossbow and wanders off into the forest. When he reaches the lake, he finds himself surrounded by a flock of swans. As he takes aim with his crossbow, their leader transforms into a beautiful woman, Odette (Cristina Terentiev).

Nikolay Nazarkevich (Prince Siegfried) - Cristina Terentiev (Odette)

Siegfried is immediately smitten with Odette, but she tells him that a sorcerer, Baron Von Rothbart, (Vladimir Statni) has cast a spell on her which can only be broken by a man promising his love and remaining faithful to her. Of course Siegfried immediately promises his eternal love. 

 At the ball the following night Siegfried is unresponsive to any of the princesses his mother has chosen, but cheers up considerably when the Baron arrives with the feisty Odile on his arm. Perhaps because she is also danced by Cristina Terentiev, Siegfried understandably mistakes her for Odette.

Nikolay Nazarkevich (Prince Siegfried) - Cristina Terentiev (Odile)

Sadly for Siegfried he doesn’t see Odette trying to attract his attention at the window, and after some energetic pas de deux with Odile he asks her to marry him. Revealing her deception, Odile laughs in his face and sweeps out of the ball with the Baron. 

But all is not lost for in this version when Siegfried returns to the lake to try to explain his predicament to Odette. When Baron Von Rothbart interferes, Siegfried and the Baron resort to fisticuffs. Siegfried lands a killer- punch on the baron who succumbs; thereby breaking the spell, and paving the way for Siegfried and Odette to live happily ever after.

Cristina Terentiev as "Odette) in "Swan Lake"

Through-out the story-telling is clear and the dancing accomplished, especially from Cristina Terentiev, a superb ballerina who offers two clearly delineated characterisations as Odette and Odile. Soft, elegant and other-worldly as Odile; thrillingly virtuosic as Odile; Terentiev commands the stage. Every inch the Prima Ballerina, she performs every step and gesture of the choreography with studied precision, constantly exhibiting a beautiful line, and concluding her solos with remarkable bows which are a masterclass of their own.

Terentiev is given excellent support by Nikolay Nazarkevich, himself a tall, elegant dancer as well as a considerate partner. Japanese-born, Seiyu Ogasawara, as the Court Jester, provides the razzle dazzle, thrilling with the sheer energy and virtuosity of his dancing, while Vladimir Statni, as the mysterious Baron Von Rothbart, provides a strong dramatic presence as he prowls the stage in his spectacular scarlet- lined black cape. 

Other soloists impressed in the various specialty dances particularly in the opening party scene and the ballroom scene. But it was the white scenes on the lake, beautifully performed by the 18 beautifully costumed and immaculately groomed swans, which drew audible murmurs of approval from the clearly impressed capacity audience on the first night.

Leaving little doubt that while ever companies continue to mount productions of “Swan Lake” as respectfully and as carefully as this production by the Royal Czech Ballet, audiences will continue to flock to them to be enchanted.

                                             Photos supplied by the company.

          This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.

Resilience: Yet Here We Are

Photography | Brian Rope

Resilience: Yet Here We Are | Flavia Abdurahman and Gabor Dunajszky

Belco ARTS, Pivot Gallery | UNTIL 9 OCTOBER 2022

I am a man, raised in the Christian tradition, with minimal knowledge of Islam, with no memories of my childhood war zone experience, who’s never visited Afghanistan. How can I review an exhibition about Afghan Muslim women in war zones? I’ll do my best!

Resilience: Yet Here We Are uses video by Flavia Abdurahman and photographs by Gabor Dunajszky. Both speak about seeing themselves as resilient. The people shown in the work certainly are. This is about amazing social structures supporting people - traumatised women nevertheless feeding, supporting and caring for their families. A definition of resilience. They are still there, doing the things they need to, despite all their experiences.

At the time of filming her Afghanistan footage, Abdurahman was an independent video journalist, specialising in short documentaries and current affairs. Her clients included the UN Mission to Afghanistan’s Public Information Office and the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The video features parts of footage for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2005-6, and of a journey shooting video of Afghan women and girls, 2003-6. It’s a female video journalist’s view; but speaks to us all. Powerfully. Inviting us to observe, and absorb, human dignity. To appreciate why she considers the Minister is a hero. Ideally, we should watch the Ministry of Women documentary before viewing ‘The Journey.

Purple girl at WD at Blue Mosque (video still) - Flavia Abdurahman

Blushing Bride to be (video still) - Flavia Abdurahman

One clip is titled Endless Life, specifically to draw attention to civilian resilience in the face of the post-Cold War military doctrine of "Endless War". Abdurahman suggests that our former federal government’s policy aspiration to make Australia a "Top Ten” defence exporter means that, in order to make the defence industry profitable, the Anglo-American sphere would need to create more “Afghanistans.” And that means we should learn from the resilience of the Afghans. She hopes viewers of her videos appreciate the factual depictions of heroism; unassuming, humble and very human. 

Dunajszky is a well-experienced humanitarian aid worker who happens to take photographs – following a family tradition. He first worked in Afghanistan in 2001 shortly after the fall of the Taliban.

The photographs were recorded where the residents – despite their “normal” living conditions having been destroyed by earthquakes, war zones, and the like – retained their humanity and continued their everyday lives under very difficult conditions, relying on their resilience, good humour and belief in a better future.

The black and white photos are, perhaps, more powerful than his coloured works. The people photos are the most emotive. His portraits of “a young Afghan Lady,” and of then Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr Jalal during an unguarded moment reveal much.

Dr Massouda Jalal, the then Minister of Women's Affairs, 2004-6 - Gabor Dunajszky

Images of boys playing in a Kabul scrapyard, and of a desecrated graveyard, tell us much more than their specific content.

A Graveyard in Herat - Gabor Dunajszky

Together, the photos and video provide respectful and rare glimpses, some now forbidden, into the resolute and inventive endeavours of ordinary people to return dignity to their families and communities, in the face of complex challenges.

More recent re-occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban makes these images important memories of people trying to refashion and reimagine its future. During the brief period, 2003 to 2006, Afghanistan worked towards becoming a viable democracy. Steps were taken to protect women’s rights. It was moving away from a tribal militia environment and commenced essential dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors to promote humanitarian principles.

In January 2022, the Taliban closed down the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. They’ve shut down most girls’ secondary schools and forbidden women to work.

This exhibition needs to be widely seen, touring other parts of Australia – including regional areas where Afghan refugees now live and work.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times here on 12/9/22 and then in print on page 28 on 26/9/22. It is also available on the author's blog here.

Saturday, September 24, 2022


Alexey Botvinov, pianist

Live At Yours production

The B, Queanbeyan, 21 September


Reviewed by Len Power


In a show of solidarity for the people of war-torn Ukraine, The B in Queanbeyan was almost full for an extraordinary concert of deeply romantic music by Ukrainian pianist, Alexey Botvinov.

Regarded as a leading specialist in the music of Rachmaninov, he is also President and Artistic Director of the “Odessa Classics” international music festivals which were held in cities outside Ukraine for the first time this year.

Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, he has performed across Europe, raising €1.5 million for his country so far.  Although from Odessa, he is currently living in exile in Zurich, Switzerland.  The proceeds from the concert will be used to support the artist and his family in Ukraine.

Introduced by Odessa-born entrepreneur, Vladimir Fanshil, whose company Live At Yours has funded the Australian tour, Alexey Botvinov presented as a quietly friendly, unassuming kind of bloke with a warm smile.  When he began playing the piano, you quickly realized that this was no ordinary man.  He was clearly a master of the instrument and a superb artist and performer.

Commencing with three Intermezzi by Johannes Brahms, Botvinov then played two well-known Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin.  He followed this with “Ave Maria” by one of his favourite Ukrainian composers, Alemdar Karamanov.

All were beautifully played but it was the final item on the program that really showed what an extraordinary performer he is.  Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 2 is considered notoriously difficult to play but Botvinov gave a towering performance of the work, bringing out a depth and clarity in the music that was breath-taking.

For an encore, he played the beautiful “Melody” by Ukraine’s Myroslav Skorik and then delighted the audience with an unexpected second encore.  His playing of Rachmaninov’s “Prelude in C minor” was thrilling and a perfect end to this memorable concert.


This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 22 September 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


A Feminine Perspective

Photography | Brian Rope

A Feminine Perspective | Hedda Photography Group – Andrea Bryant, Andrée Lawrey, Brenda Runnegar, Eva van Gorsel, Helen McFadden, Judy Parker, Julie Garran, Lyndall Gerlach, Margaret Stapper, Marion Milliken, Pam Rooney, Susan Henderson, Ulli Brunnschweiler.

M16 Artspace | 9 - 25 SEPTEMBER 2022

This is the first exhibition from the Hedda Photography Group - named for the wonderful photographer Hedda Morrison who lived the last part of her life (1967-1991) in Canberra. Its convenor started the Group “because some photography clubs tend to be male oriented.” She feels that, stereotypically, men are more interested in equipment whilst women are more interested in what images mean, and how they relate. Most of the exhibitors know me, as photographer and reviewer. I’d be surprised if they consider me to be any less interested in the actual images than they are. I have known some men keenly interested in cameras and lenses, I also know women who fit that bill.

One of the women exhibitors revealed that the Group’s members had shared a long and vibrant discussion about feminist perspectives and that many different views were expressed. Are photographers’ life experiences the main determinant of their interests? Are they gender related? Do they reflect our cultural backgrounds? Or our economic circumstances or where we have lived?

The exhibition concept was for participants to express what they wanted, however they wished, with no constraints as to subject matters or themes. The gallery website says, “as women they are interested in subjects that may tend to be relegated from mainstream art practice, perhaps because of their perceived lack of relevance to the male gaze.”

So, against that background, I went to the exhibition wondering what I might see and how, as a mere male, I would react. I saw portraits (of women and store mannequins), architectural details, abstracts, nature (including details), family history (one even including an image of a man), wonderful contemporary creations, and many beautiful artworks. There are references to crafts that, traditionally, women have been more likely to explore than men. There is some exploration of families, but not specifically of women’s family roles. And haven’t we all seen the increased numbers of men assuming such roles? I saw nothing that exclaimed, to me, “only a woman would have seen or created this.” 

However, none of this means I didn’t very much enjoy the show. There are many excellent works on display. So let me now select some for specific mention. Susan Henderson has four delightful works, showing old family photos together with other items of family significance. Each of them works very well. A collage work titled Memories: Cousins Tilly and Sunday, 2022 incorporates scans of brightly coloured vintage Suffolk puffs - from the patchwork and quilting world.

Susan Henderson - Memories-Cousins Tilly and Sunday, 2022

Brenda Runnegar’s three works showing Amber and friends at various locations are intriguing, visual allegories  - the hidden meanings of which might have moral significance. Or might not?


Brenda Runnegar - Bush Hut

Andrea Bryant’s three portrait images use the word enigma in their titles. Enigma 3, with its eyes peering through bubble wrap is the most mysterious one.


Andrea Bryant - Enigma 3

Judy Parker’s delicately coloured compilations of dead and decomposing leaves and other organic material are fine examples of this genre that she does so well.


Judy Parker - Transience

Julie Garran is showing a strong sample of her store mannequin and doll images, the latter incorporating some images of a daughter.

Julie Garran - Portrait 3

Marion Milliken is displaying a fine essay of architectural building pieces.


Marion Milliken - Buildings-An Essay, 2022

Lyndall Gerlach has four exquisite examples of her lilies.


Lyndall Gerlach Iconographic Lily #8

And Ulli Brunnschweiler’s Groundworks series are wonderful abstracts.


Ulli Brunnschweiler - Groundworks IV

I could mention every individual exhibitor, but space does not permit. Suffice to say that all of them are showing strong works. 

I encourage you to visit and enjoy each artwork, including six photobooks . Consider what contemporary photography and photo art is all about, and how both women and men photographers see their worlds.

This review was first published by The Canberra Times online here and on page 12 of Panorama in the print version of the paper on 24/9/22. It is also available on the author's blog here.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Our Country's Good


 Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker, based on the novel The Playmaker by Tom Keneally.  Canberra REP Theatre, September 8-24 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 21

Director – Karen Vickery; Assistant Director – Liz de Toth
Set Designer – Michael Sparks; Props – Antonia Kitzel
Lighting Designer – Mike Moloney; Sound Designer – Neville Pye
Fighting/Movement Assistance – Max Gambale and Ylaria Rogers
Stage Manager – David Goodbody

Ensemble Cast
Capt. Arthur Phillip / John Wisehammer                    Amy Crawford
Lt. Will Dawes / Liz Morden                                      Alexandra Pelvin
Lt. George Johnston / Duckling Smith / Meg Long    Meaghan Stewart
2nd Lt. Ralph Clark                                                    Callum Wilson
Capt. Watkin Tench / Black Caesar                            Gaurav Pant
Robert Sideway / Capt. David Collins                        Isabelle Gurney
Dabby Bryant / 2nd Lt. William Faddy                      Kate Blackhurst
Maj. Robbie Ross / Ketch Freeman                            Maurice Downing
Capt. Jemmy Campbell / MIDN Harry Brewer /
                                         John Arscott                        Paul Sweeney
Mary Brenham / Rev. Johnson                                    Rosangela Fasano


Virtually every word Tom Keneally has ever written has suggested meanings and implications beyond the obvious.  In this work his original title tells us that Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark is not only putting on a stage play – The Recruiting Officer – but is making a move to change society for the better.  In his speech to his actors as they are about to perform, he emphasises that they must be entertaining, and intelligible.

George Farquhar’s 1706 comedy about the social and sexual exploits of army officers was still so popular that in 1789 in Australia – at the time of the First Fleet invading Eora Country to create the Penal Colony of New South Wales – Clark had at hand two copies of the play and a supply of convicts, sent down for 7 years’ exile, for actors.  The play would entertain his fellow officers, while perhaps educating the often-illiterate convicts and thus improve their future prospects.  

The title of the play, adapted from Keneally’s 1987 novel by Wertenbaker for its first staging at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 1988, captures the irony of the convicts being removed from England – for that country’s good – while the putting on of the satirical comedy by those convicts was for our country’s good – that is for the Australia which the penal colony became.

Without a doubt, REP’s putting on this play after another 30-odd years, is absolutely relevant as the issues of the treatment of women and indigenous people, and the misuse of military force and the acceptance of violent behaviour are just as disturbing today as they were in 1988 and 1789.  Karen Vickery’s directing of Our Country’s Good is as important now for us in Canberra – the capital of Australia – as was Max Stafford-Clark’s 1988 production in London – the capital of the United Kingdom which has just put on such an overwhelming performance to memorialise the late Queen Elizabeth II – and as was the presentation of The Recruiting Officer, recorded in the diary of Watkin Tench and published in his Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay in 1789.

Wikipedia records “The play shows the class system in the convict camp and discusses themes such as sexuality, punishment, the Georgian judicial system, and the idea that it is possible for ‘theatre to be a humanising force’”.  We may wonder about our past in the days of George III and the future of Charles III, William V and George VII.  With all this history behind and before us, does REP’s production of Our Country’s Good stand up strong enough?

On the whole it does, but in one part it needs improvement.  I was unable to see the show until late in its run, and felt disappointed there was not a full house last night.  Competition from the late Queen’s funeral may have been a factor; or perhaps it was the lack of clarity of the speech of several performers that kept audience numbers lower rather than building.  It was Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark that sparked my concern: not all the performance was “intelligible”.

Our Country’s Good succeeded in its essentials, where Vickery’s direction of the action and mood, and characterisation, made us come to grips with the reality of people being whipped with 100 lashes, and even 300 lashes; with the impossibility of true justice when death by hanging was the standard; when trauma destroys relationships; and laughter at is so different from laughter with.

But I found, in attempting to represent the characters through their vocal accents from the many different parts of Britain that the real convicts came from (I recognised at least Devon or Somerset, possibly Scottish and Cockney) very often I could not understand the actual words being spoken.  Often, too, in presenting the agressiveness especially in the male characters, voices could sound like barking angry mastiff dogs – which certainly got the feeling through – but the actual words and what the character, and Tom Keneally, meant was lost in action.  

It was understandable that I would have had to listen hard to the character from Madagascar (Black Caesar), and Gaurav Pant succeeded in his speech about wanting to die in his own country, and not in Australia, in making a stand for indigenous people, even though the reasonable decision had been made to leave out Keneally’s original unnamed character, An Aboriginal Australian.  In her Director’s Note, Vickery writes “With the passage of 34 years the representation of our First Peoples in the play is problematic, even tokenistic”, after she consulted with Aboriginal and Torres Strait artists.

I think, on reflection, that more scenes could have gained from clearer articulation of the words, including particularly for the ‘barking’ parts of the Major and the Captain, to create more subtlety of emotion for us to respond to.  Scenes that were the strongest for me were when Liz is measured up for hanging; where she finally decides to speak in her own defence; and those emotional scenes between Harry Brewer and Duckling Smith.

A notable success in this production was the set design which worked so well without the need for changes for so many different settings – which is also praise for the directing of movement, exits and entrances, with complex lighting which shifted our imaginations smoothly from scene to scene.

Overall then this production of a demanding play achieves the key intention of Tom Keneally, which the original director and writer/adaptor described after seeing a play performed in Wormwood Scrubs prison: “in prison conditions, theatre can be hugely heartening and influential … and we saw immediately how doing a play could become absolutely absorbing if you were incarcerated”.  Like the convicts they observed, we “were, at least momentarily, civilised human beings”.  ]





Monday, September 19, 2022



Musical Director: Shilong Ye

Holy Covenant Anglican Church 17 September


Reviewed by LEN POWER


With “Serenading in Spring”, Musica Da Camera String Orchestra presented a particularly well-chosen program of works that were uplifting, refreshing, joyful and optimistic.  It created the perfect mood for this time of year as we leave the dark and cold of winter behind and embrace the glories of spring with, hopefully, the end of the pandemic in sight as well.

The program featured music by Bartók, Delius, Volkmann, Glazunov and Nielsen.  The conductor, Shilong Ye, achieved a high standard of disciplined and sensitive playing by the orchestra throughout the concert.

Béla Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances” were given a bright performance to start the program.  These six dances, based on seven tunes from Transylvania, were melodious and dramatic.  Images of peasants frolicking and rejoicing at the start of spring easily came to mind.

“Two Aquarelles” (Two Songs to be Sung of A Summer Night on the Water) by Frederick Delius were composed in 1917 and arranged for string orchestra in 1932 by Eric Fenby.  The first part has a dream-like quality which the orchestra captured with delicacy and feeling.  The second part is more joyful but still retains a reflective quality and it was played with great sensitivity.

Conductor, Shilong Ye, takes a bow with the orchestra

The music of Friedrich Robert Volkmann was most popular prior to World War I.  His “Serenade For String Orchestra No. 2” is a lush, romantic piece, full of varying moods.  The orchestra played this work particularly well, giving it a pleasing depth of feeling.

After a short interval, “Theme and Variations for String Orchestra Op. 97” by Alexander Glazunov was played.  Composed in 1918, the variations around the opening theme produce an enjoyable, melodic work of great interest.  It was also well-played.

The final work on the program was Carl Nielsen’s “Suite For Strings Op. 1”.  The orchestra played the three distinct parts of this work again with notable sensitivity.

Musica Da Camera String Orchestra with Shilong Ye conducting

The changing spring weather of sunshine one minute and showers the next through the large church windows behind the players added extra atmosphere to a highly pleasing and thoughtful music program.


Photos by Len Power

This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 18 September 2022.

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



Saturday, September 17, 2022



My Fair Lady. 

Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.  Music  by  Frederick Loewe. Directed by Anne Somes. Assisted by Hannah Lance. Musical direction by Alexander Unikowski. Choreography by Michelle Heine. Set designer Cate Clelland. Lighting designer Jacob Aquilina. Sound designer Joel Edmondson. Costume designer Fiona Leach. Stage Manager. Cameron Walter.  Free Rain Theatre Company. The Q. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.  August 30 – September 25 2022. Bookings: 02 6285 6290.


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Alice Ferguson (Mrs Higgins) - D.G.Maloney (Professor Higgins) - Stephanie Bailey (Eliza Doolittle)
and ensemble. 


I have often remarked on the very high standard of music theatre produced by local companies in the ACT. From Dramatic Productions in Gungahlin to Canberra Philharmonic in Erindale and from the Canberra Theatre to The Q in Queananbeyan. A leading flagbearer of this genre is Free Rain Theatre Company under the artistic direction of the indefatigable Anne Somes. Even Covid could not prevent Somes from struggling through to present acclaimed productions of Mama Mia and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

For her latest foray into the wonderful world of musicals, Somes returns to Hollywood’s Golden Age of the Musical with a heart-warming and uplifting production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic favourite My Fair Lady. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s hefty comment on the British class system, Pygmalion, Lerner and Loewe have created a sentimental, lyrical adaptation of Shaw’s more critical condemnation of middle class morality. It is to the credit of director Somes and her highly accomplished company that the saccharine pitfalls of glossy entertainment are avoided, while presenting a wonderfully entertaining performance that maintains the musical’s adherence to Shaw’s political and social intent.

Stephanie Bailey (Eliza Doolittle) and male ensemble


From the opening strains of the overture under maestro Alexander Unikowski’s forceful musical direction, it is immediately obvious that Free Rain’s production is designed to compel attention.  And as the action unfolds I am magically drawn into  My Fair Lady ‘s spell that has enchanted audiences since it was first produced on Broadway in 1956 and before the film version in 1964. Without the financial resources to stage an elaborate setting, set designer Cate Clelland has opted for cartoon represented projections  to suggest the different settings and locations, such as Higgins’s library or Wimpole Street. It is an effective alternative to the budget demands of a realistic setting and lends the production an appropriate representational quality that focuses our attention on the staging and the performances.

Somes and her production team faithfully capture the style of the period, magnificently realized in costume designer Fiona Leach’s impeccable attention to the Edwardian period, conjuring the style of the cockneys of Covent Garden to the servants of Wimpole Street and the upperclass fashions on parade at Ascot. Michelle Heine’s choreography pays careful attention to the spirited revelry of the pub scene before Doolittle’s wedding, the graceful waltz of the ball scene and the stylish tableaus of the fashionably dressed race-goers. The devil is in the detail and Free Rain’s production of the classic musical transports us to British society in 1913, while enabling us to perceive  through Shaw’s characters a society that remains prevalent to this day. It is a musical that still speaks to our time, especially at a time of change and renewed talk of republicanism.

Of course none of this relevance would be significant without the outstanding performances by Somes’ cast, principals and chorus alike. Central to this are the performances of flower girl Eliza Doolittle, trained to be a lady of upper society by  misogynistic, confirmed bachelor and linguistics expert Professor Henry Higgins.  Somes has cast two exceptional performers in the lead roles. Stephanie Bailey breathes fresh life into the challenging role of Eliza as she transforms from a lowly flower girl to the belle of the ball. I felt that I was watching Julie Andrews during her soaring rendition of I could have danced all night. In a performance of impressive range and superlative singing, Bailey also captures the fiery spirit and instinctive survival of Shaw’s heroine. D.G. Maloney effectively presents the narcissism and self- righteousness of the arrogant professor while subjecting himself to self-awareness with the revelatory pathos of I’ve grown accustomed to her face,  so beautifully contrasted by Bailey’s Just You Wait Henry Higgins. Shaw’s ending suggests that Eliza will marry Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Pippin Carroll). Lerner and Loewe suggest that a happy ending would be her return to Higgins. Somes clearly demonstrates that Eliza returns to a changed Higgins, assuming a position of authority at the top of the stairs. It is a fitting conclusion for a modern woman!

Somes has scored a jackpot with two leading actors and singers who lend this production star quality that at least equals if not outshines Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. A wild gambit statement I know, but judge for yourselves. There are other gems in this wonderfully nostalgic production. Isaac Gordon’s Dooloittle is a vaudevillian tour de force and Somes, Heine and Unikowski make the pub scene before the wedding a highlight of the show in the tradition of Nancy’s Oompapa from Bart’s Oliver. All the ensemble scenes burst into life and give this lively production a swathe of colour and movement to please the ear and delight the eye. Pippin Carroll’s lapdog. lovesick On the Street Where You Live melts the heart of every sentimentalist. Pat Gallagher strikes the right note as the older bachelor and companion whose age lends a gentility to his courtesy. Although You did it does suggest that he has let his understanding down. That notwithstanding, Gallagher’s Colonel Pickering is an entirely convincing character. The voice of reason and support belongs to Jill Young’s housekeeper Mrs, Pearce, steadfast and true throughout. Alice Ferguson captures the tone of high society’s Mrs, Higgins but her posture belies her authority and elegance. A more statuesque  elegance would have complemented her dialogue.

Free Rain has once again produced a musical theatre gem that sparkles with the glitter of talent and the heart of nostalgia. There is a soothing, heart-warming quality to this revival of the Lerner and Lowe musical as well as a critical insight into Shaw’s Fabian views with a contemporary relevance that should not be ignored. Catch the production before it closes and judge for yourselves. You will be happily entertained and provoked.


THE BARBER OF SEVILLE - Opera Australia Touring Production.


Nicholas Jones, Haotian Qi and Esther Song and Company in the finale scene of  "The Barber of Seville". 

Composed by Gioachino Rossini – Libretto by Cesare Sterbini

Conducted by Luke Spicer – Directed by Priscilla Jackman

Set Design by Michael Scott Mitchell – Costume Design by Sabina Myers

Lighting Design by Morgan Moroney.

Canberra Theatre 15th – 17th September, 2022

Opening night performance on 15th September reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Priscilla Jackman’s scintillating production of “The Barber of the Seville” has been touring Australia since July 2022. These four performances in the Canberra Theatre are the last of the current tour. As a strategy to avoid Covid cancellations, the production boasts two complete casts, who alternate performances. Those playing principal roles at one performance alternate as ensemble for the next.

As both casts contain some of Opera Australia’s most experienced principal singers together with some if its brightest young emerging soloists. This is luxury casting for any touring production, and it’s not only the audience which benefits, but also the singers who appear to revel in the opportunity to participate in Jackman’s delightfully wacky shenanigans.

It was an inspired decision by Jackman to set her production in the famous Victorian Yarra Valley wine region where a town called Seville actually exists. In this Seville, Rosina runs her own cellar door under the watchful eye of her guardian, town physician, Dr. Bartolo and Figaro runs his pop-up barber-shop from his bicycle.

Andrew Moran (Dr Bartolo) - Esther Song (Rosina)

Michael Scott-Mitchell gets into the mood with a witty setting which vaguely hints at early Australiana, with many components manoeuvred manfully by the hard-working cast to represent any number of locations and packed full of delightful visual surprises.

For her contribution, costume designer Sabina Myers also disregards any pretension of historical accuracy for a riotous collection of clashing colours, dominated by fluorescent pink which she used liberally for clothes, wigs and even outrageous moustaches for the whole cast, which make their first playful appearance during the overture.

Only Morgan Moroney’s rather gloomy lighting design seemed at odds with the comic-book mood of the rest of the production.

Haotian Qi ( Figaro) - Esther Song (Rosina)

On opening night the heroine and cellar-door proprietor, Rosina, was performed by Esther Song who impressed, not only with her mastery of bel canto which allowed her to confidently perform Rossini’s difficult and delightful arias with apparent ease, but also with her comedic talents which she brought to her deliciously cheeky characterisation. 

Matching her as her wily, inventive suitor, Count Almaviva, Nicholas Jones offered a superbly sung, confident comedic performance, even if his many disguises didn’t fool anyone.

Despite his very fine voice, agreeable presence and ability to execute the direction accurately, Haotian Qi seemed miscast as Figaro, the local barber and general busybody.  The character of Figaro should dominate any production of “The Barber of Seville”.  Given the general style of the piece, Haotian Qi’s characterisation needed rather more swagger and bravado to prevent him from being overshadowed by the other characters in this production.

Andrew Moran (Dr Bartolo) - Shane Lowrencev (Don Basilio_

Among those characters, Andrew Moran as Rosina's guardian Dr. Bartolo; Shane Lowrencev in a scene-stealing turn as Rosina’s music teacher,  Don Basilio; David King as Fiorello; Michael Lampard as the Officer; and especially Jennifer Black as the cook and housekeeper, Berta; all offered entertaining characterisations;  and it was fun to spot alternate cast principals  John Longmuir, Andrew Williams and Dominica Matthews trying desperately not to be recognised while pushing and pulling scenery, but adding their fine voices to the ensemble mix.

As is established custom with Opera Australia touring productions, children from local choirs are given the opportunity to participate in these productions. For the Canberra performances, members of the Woden Valley Youth Choir proved admiral as enthusiastic members of the community of Seville.

And finally, the icing on the cake, the small but very fine orchestra, conducted by Luke Spicer, which from the very first notes of the overture, ensured that Rossini’s miraculous score was performed, not only with accuracy and precision, but as delightfully cheekily as the composer intended.   


                                                       Images by Jeff Busby

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.