Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Directed by Liesel Badorrek – Conducted by Tahu Matheson

Set and Costume Design by Mark Thompson – Lighting Design by John Rayment

Sound design by Tony David Cray – Choreographed by Shannon Burns

Presented by Opera Australia- Cockatoo Island – November 25th to December 18th, 2022.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

The weather could not have been more perfect as excited first-nighters, outlandishly dressed influencers, and the just plain curious, poured off the ferries, all eager to experience the brand new Sydney event that is “Carmen on Cockatoo Island”.

Those arriving early enough to savour the full experience were greeted with the sight of hundreds of wooden benches laid out in rows providing an exceptional, and for many an unfamiliar, view of Sydney Harbour to enjoy with their champagne and paellas.  

Director Liesel Badorrek was charged by Opera Australia to conceive and direct a new open-air production of the Bizet’s “Carmen” to launch this event. So taking advantage of the industrial aesthetic of the island, she decided to strip the opera of its Spanish setting and reset the events in a dystopian, rock ‘n roll world.

Mark Thompson's setting for "Carmen on Cockatoo Island"

To this end her designer, Mark Thompson, designed a towering neon-lit industrial setting utilising scaffolding, shipping containers, graphitised oil drums, plastic milk crates and a pile of car wrecks, all occupying a huge stage which greeted the audience as they found their way to their seats.

The roar of a motor bike engine signalled the start of the overture, and as the ensemble, costumed in defiant, anti-establishment rag-tag costumes, flooded on to the stage, some engaged in aggressive argy-bargy while motor bikes roared up and down the aisles creating a mood of danger and rebellion.

This mood was echoed in the idiosyncratic choreography of Shannon Burns which included a mimed sequence depicting the events of the opera ending with the heroine being stabbed to death. Another version of this sequence was repeated later. .

For those who know the opera this interpolation was something of a spoiler as it negated the need to watch the rest of the opera. However when the real climax does come, this spoiler is contradicted, because in this version, when Carmen finally does meet her death, it is not by stabbing, as had been forewarned twice, but by being strangled by Don Jose with the red silk scarf she had been conspicuously waving through several scenes.

Apart from destroying Bizet’s original powerful finale, it also felt remarkably inappropriate to introduce a political message at the end of the opera by projecting a huge sign warning the audience it was witnessing an act of violence, at the moment Carmen is murdered, then have the ensemble immediately flood the stage performing a sort of happy mega-mix as an introduction to the messily staged bows. 

Roberto Aronica (Don Jose) - Carmen Topicu (Carmen) (costume different on opening night). 


With her dark chocolatey contralto, Carmen Topicu was perfect for the role of Carmen. She sang magnificently offering a vocally fabulous “Habanera”, and gamely executed the direction, which often had her remaining on stage watching the events, when she really shouldn’t have been present. Her costumes did her no favours in that they gave her nothing to work with, and curiously, were different from the ones she is photographed wearing in the souvenir program photos.

To add to Topicu’s discomfort, the direction required her to portray a seductress who showed little real interest in her Don Jose, with no compunction about forcing him to desert his career to prove his love for her, and finally goading him into killing her to make good the death prediction she believed was foretold in the cards with which her friends were playing.

Roberto Aronica as Don Jose fared rather better, offering a vocal highlight with his flower song and providing a convincing depiction of Don Jose’s slide into uncontrollable obsession. Despite being hampered by a curious costume which seemed at odds with the rest of the production, Danita Weatherstone created an affecting Micaela, providing another vocal and visual highlight with her beautifully sung solo.

Alexander Hargreaves (Dancairo) -Agnes Sarkis (Mercedes) - Roberto Aronica (Don Jose)
 Danica Weatherstone (Micaela)

Showing every sign of having the best time letting his hair down, as well as providing the high point of the production, internationally acclaimed  baritone Daniel Sumegi revelled in the rock-god staging of his Toreador’s Song, complete with excited dancers throwing undergarments and screaming so enthusiastically that they threatened to drown out the final chorus, which ended with the fireworks that now appear to have become essential elements for staging outdoor opera.

By now, with the removal of any signposts as to time or place, the storyline had become irrelevant; even so it did seem a bit odd that this rock-god was singing about his prowess in the bullring.

At this point the uneasy thought occurred that actually “Carmen” is not a rock opera, nor did it require any re-invention to make it fit that mould in the pursuit of novelty. With her magnificent outdoor production of this same work for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Gale Edwards proved that it was definitely possible to create a successful outdoor operatic production with plenty of spectacle without sacrificing artistic integrity.

Badorrek’s production is certainly spectacular. It is performed by an outstanding cast of singers and dancers whose work is enhanced by the excellent 40 piece orchestra under the direction of Tahu Matheson who is conducting his first out-door opera.

While Cockatoo Island might not be opera’s happy place, Badorrek’s production sits among its surroundings very comfortably. As a unique event it will provide a memorable experience for the thousands attracted to the world heritage site for the first time, who might otherwise never attend an opera, and who are unlikely to carp about such details.

              Hero image by Hamilton Lund - other images by Prudence Upton.

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.


Monday, November 28, 2022

New Platform Papers Vol 2

From the Heart - The Voice, the Arts and Australian Identity

New Platform Papers Vol 2, 28 November 2022: Currency Press, Sydney.
242 pages in pdf format.

General Editor – Julian Meyrick
Currency House, Sydney, in association with Griffith University, Queensland.
This volume has been published with the generous support of the University of Sydney, School of Art, Communication and English.

Media Contact: Martin Portus 0401 360 806;

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Arts, Culture and Country
Josephine Caust:  ‘Arts, Culture and Country’
Tyson Yunkaporta:  ‘The Trouble with this Canoe’
Noel Pearson:  ‘J’accuse: Australia’s great crime against the jobless. The
creation and perpetuation of the passive welfare underclass
and the urgent need for a universal job guarantee.’

From the Heart: the imperative for the arts ~ the sector responds
Eddie Synot:  ‘The Meaningful Expression of Indigenous Sovereignty through the Uluru Statement from the Heart’
Sally Scales:  ‘Art, Culture and the Voice’
Rachael Maza:  ‘Re-RIGHT-ing the Narrative’
Liza-Mare Syron and Harriet Parsons:  ‘Power, Culture and the Search for Legitimacy’

Wesley EnochTake Me to Your Leader: the dilemma of cultural leadership (reprinted)

Submission to the Government on the National Cultural Policy
Currency House Board and Editorial Committee


If you are keen to know the state of the live on-stage play and all those attached to it, and perhaps of our political future, you might like to begin with this quote from Josephine Caust:

A report by Bill Browne, published by the Australia Institute
in May 2021, calculates that if the Federal Government had
invested $2 billion in the arts and entertainment sector instead
of the construction industry in 2020–21, it would have created
8,593 jobs: twice as many jobs for men and ten times as many
jobs for women. Women represent only 12% of the workforce in
construction, while in arts and entertainment the gender balance
is 49% men and 51% women.

Julian Meyrick explains:
Welcome to Volume 2 of the New Platform Papers with essays by Josephine Caust, Tyson Yunkaporta and Noel Pearson; the keynote speeches of Eddie Synot, Sally Scales and Rachael Maza from this year’s Authors Convention, From the Heart: the Imperative for the Arts; Wesley Enoch’s landmark essay from 2014 Take Me to Your Leader (reprinted); and the Currency House submission to the federal government on the National Cultural Policy consultation.

He continues:
In the National Cultural Policy consultation, the first goal those making submissions were asked to address was drawn from Creative Australia: to ‘recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity’. It is the view of Currency House that this is not an additional policy goal but rather the gateway through which the vital question of ‘Australianness’ in our arts and culture should be properly understood. In other words, the full and free expression of First Nations culture is a matter that affects us all ….Taken together, [the essays] are a signal indication of the spiritual expansion that is taking place in our ‘national imaginary’ to include and own the real story of this continent, its First Nations and our modern Australian nation.

Josephine Caust goes on:

In early 2020, the ABS revealed that ‘arts and recreation’ had
been the sector hardest hit by the closures in Australia with 94%
affected.  The Grattan Research Institute estimated that up to
26% of Australian workers were likely to lose their jobs due to
lockdowns and restrictions, but in the creative and performing
arts this figure jumped to a whopping 75%.  Yet Coalition politicians
continued to portray the arts as a ‘lifestyle’ choice.

The value of the Currency House Platform Papers, from No 1: ‘Our ABC’: A Dying Culture? in 2004 to this year’s second volume of New Platform Papers, is to be found in the range of issues and experiences that make up that “spiritual expansion” in “our ‘national imaginary’” – and as Caust makes clear – in our concrete reality.

This body of work is all about knowing our past so we may improve our future. Tyson Yunkaporta expands my non-Indigenous understanding of those Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers, when he writes about having trouble with his canoe:

Ours was a give-and-give economy, not give-and-take, as those
who believe in ancient free market instincts of reciprocity like to
tell us. There was no invisible hand entity guiding us, only the
Law of the land. In embassy and trade, we shared this give-and-give
relation across the sea to the north. This relation enriched us,
not with growth, but with increase. Our increase-based economy
measured wealth in the multiplication of connections rather than
the hoarding of resources and credit.

I’m having trouble with this canoe, because it exists now in a
skewed give-and-take economy. It is art now, because there are
layers of abstraction and extraction between the canoe and the
ocean of life it is supposed to travel.

Noel Pearson makes that art as concrete as the destruction of life in:

If leaders are dealers in hope then the unabating problems of
despair in Australia’s remote communities, exemplified by the
recent media concerning Yuendumu [Northern Territory police
officer Zachary Rolfe has appeared for the first time at the
coronial inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker
15 November 2022
], leaves the nihilists who say
‘fuck hope’ in commanding authority—because the facts on the
ground support them, rather than those erstwhile leaders like me,
who try to deal in hope. Yuendemu is only the latest instalment
in a decades-long story of despair and long tolerance of misery
and destruction of lives.

The Platform Papers are invaluable for me, this invader, however unwitting and naïve at age 14 in 1955 - a £10 Pom.  The expansion of First Nations culture out of their tens of thousands of years of tradition in song, storytelling, dance and visual arts into creative writing and theatre began for me with the National Black Theatre, established in Sydney’s Redfern in 1972, and in a significant way by Sam Watson, a Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba man, who had blood ties to the Jagara, Kalkadoon and Noonuccal peoples, who wrote the novel The Kadaitcha in 1990.

The family names Maza (Rachael) and Syron (Liza-Mare) link the From the Heart section of this Platform Paper immediately to the National Black Theatre and its development through connections with ABC TV and Nimrod Theatre, the precursor of today’s Belvoir, which through the Balnaves Foundation has put the spotlight on First Nations theatre for many years now.

Wesley Enoch (whose professional development workshop for teachers I attended, probably in the 1980s) has become a legend in himself, not only for the unforgettable The 7 Stages of Grieving (written and performed with Deborah Mailman), but as director of the Sydney Festival 2017 – 2021.

In other words, this volume of essays and speeches is, in bureaucratic speech, a change agent – about the changes in the Australian ‘national imaginary’ that have been and will continue to be under way.  Just so long as, at the political level, the put-downs and mistreatment of the arts as mere ‘life-style’ develop, as I hope they will with this year’s new government, into the cultural necessity which the arts are, for all Australians.

Go to to purchase hard copies.



Sara Zwangobani in "That was Friday"

Directed by Charley Sanders - Choreographed by Eliza Sanders

Writer:  Jack Sullivan - Video Design by Laura Turner and Mario Spate

 Lighting Design by Tony Black - Costume Design by Monique Bartosh

Presented by House of Sand and Belco Arts - Belconnen Arts Centre 23rd – 26th Nov.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens  

This extraordinary large-scale, multi-disciplinary work grapples with questions of identity, family, nationality and belonging. Charley Sanders and Eliza Sanders have drawn together cast of accomplished dancers, actors, videographers and designers to produce a work that is at times, puzzling, engaging, confronting, intriguing, moving but ultimately satisfying and thought-provoking.

It is difficult to write about without the risk of spoiling a unique experience for those audiences yet to experience it. Suffice to say, that by interval I found myself puzzling as to what I was supposed to think about what I had been watching, but intrigued as to where it was taking me. Then, by the disarmingly simple conclusion, when all the threads had been neatly drawn together, charmed, satisfied and keen to muse on the issues the production highlighted so effectively.

Lachlan Martin as Jack in 'That Was Friday"

Intriguingly labelled as both autobiographical and fictional, “That was Friday” tells a relatively simple story about family. It’s about a mother’s efforts to keep her family together in a world where travel has never been easier, and communication even easier. It’s about a son keen to explore what that world has to offer, and a daughter equally set on achieving her full potential, all in different parts of the world. But it is how it is told that makes this production so remarkable

Through striking video captures the audience is privy to the video-link conversations between the mother ( Sara Zwangobani) and her efforts to keep the lines of communication open with  her son, Jack (Lachlan Martin) and daughter Eliza (Enya Daly) as they follow their dreams in different parts of the world.

Bill Keohavong - Alec Katsourakis -Ella Williams - Jareen Wee - Ryan Stone in "That Was Friday"

Punctuating these conversations dancers Billy Keohavong, Jareen Wee, Ella Williams and Ryan Douglas Stone provide an abstract representation of the swirling emotions and events surrounding these conversations; their every move captured on video by a fifth dancer,  Alec Katsourakis.

The video design by Laura Turner and Mario Spate is quite remarkable in the way it creates intimacy between audience and actor, as well as providing additional spectacle, enhanced as it is by Tony Black’s thoughtful lighting design and the understated costume design by Monique Bartosh.

For those willing to extend their perceptions of story-telling, “That Was Friday” is a “must-See”. For House of Sand and Belco Arts it is a stunning achievement in brave and compelling story-telling, which deserves to be seen by a much larger audience than will have the opportunity during this brief season. However it also needs to be said, that despite its brilliance, at two and a half hours on opening night, the production would benefit from further tightening and trimming.   

                                                           Images by Lorna Sim

          This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 24.11.22



Rachel Howard as Rufus Torrent - Bronte Batham as Bernie in "The Torrents" - in the Mill Theatre

Directed by Lexi Sekuless – Designed by Victoria Hopkins

Lighting designed by Stefan Wronski – Prop design by Tracy Cui

Presented by Lexi Sekuless Productions

 The Mill Theatre – Dairy Road 23rd November – 3rd December 2022.

Performance on 24th November reviewed by Bill Stephens.

The birth of a new theatre in Canberra’s burgeoning performing arts scene is something to applaud. Lexi Sekuless has certainly earned whatever applause comes her way for her bravery in establishing the brand new Mill Theatre in the Dairy Road precinct, which although tiny, already possesses a cosy inviting atmosphere.

Her decision to launch her new theatre with “The Torrents”, an obscure play by a female playwright, Oriel Gray, was also applause-worthy, because this play, which was voted Best Play by the 1955 Playwright’s Advisory Board, alongside Ray Lawler’s “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll”, has gained a certain notoriety for never having achieved anywhere near  the success of Lawler’s play. So the opportunity to finally see a production of “The Torrents” offered a compelling attraction.

However, the decision to present this play with an all-female cast is curious, particularly given that much of the play is concerned with exploring the tensions caused by the employment of a female reporter in a newspaper where the rest of the employees are male. 

Heidi Silberman as John Manson in "The Torrents"


Set in the second half of the 19th century, “The Torrents” takes place in a newspaper office of a country town built around gold-mining. When the gold begins to run out, a suggestion that the town considers developing agriculture as a buffer to the diminishing gold reserves is resisted by the local council, especially the local mayor, who is also the financier of the newspaper.

The editor of the newspaper, Rufus Torrent (Rachel Howard) finds himself in an awkward situation with his desire to present both sides of the hotly contested argument fairly. His situation is exacerbated by the arrival of a new reporter, J.G.Milford, who, unexpectedly, turns out to be a woman. Her presence causes tensions among his all-male workforce.

One can only wonder what the playwright might have thought of having her play promoted as an Australian screwball comedy. Also what would be gained by having it performed by an all-female cast? 

Although there are a few amusing moments, based on this production, the play could hardly be described as a comedy, screwball or otherwise. Therefore, whatever its merits, they are hard to recognise when  it is performed rather like a panto presented in an all-girls school with scenes separated by prettily harmonised songs with largely unintelligible lyrics.

Kat Smalley as Ben Torrent in "The Torrents"

Despite the appropriate setting which includes genuine newspaper artefacts, the playwright’s attempts at gravitas with her nation-building speeches are thwarted, despite their earnest efforts, by the obvious necessity to keep in mind that most of the actors are portraying male characters.

The only exceptions being Jasmin Shojai, as local lass, Gwynne Thomas, who’s engaged to the editor’s son, Ben Torrent (Kat Smalley) but decked out in spectacular wearable art which suggests she’s really Lola Montez.

Lexie Sekuless as J.G.Milford in "The Torrents".

The other being director, Lexi Sekuless, who’s reserved the best role and the best costumes for herself, and who gives a star performance as the mysterious J.G.Milford, who finally convinces the town of the wisdom of young Ben’s breakthrough editorial, thereby earning the admiration of her fellow employees, securing her job at the newspaper, and the heart of Ben’s father, Rufus Torrent.  


                                                           Images by Tim Ngo.

Sunday, November 27, 2022


QL2 Dance

QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre to 27 November

Reviewed by Len Power 26 November 2022

The annual “Hot To Trot” performance gives QL2 dancers the opportunity to step into the role of choreographer, mentored by staff and supported by the dancers as collaborators and performers.This year eight dances and one dance film were presented by choreographers aged 15 to 19.  All were of a consistently high standard, imaginative and danced very well by the enthusiastic performers.

The standout dance was “F.A.S.T.” by Akira Byrne.  This piece explored the warning signs and progression of stroke.  Taken from the experience of a family member who suffered a stroke, Akira Byrne produced a work of searing quality.  Its intention was clear throughout, the angular and fluid movements were executed very well by the dancers and the music, “Tree’s Sacrifice”, by Ezio Bosso was a good choice.  Lighting was cleverly used to enhance the atmosphere.

There was fine use of lighting in the finale, particularly, in Emily Smith’s “Cover It Up”, a work finding compromise amidst conflicting perspectives.  It was dramatic and danced with assurance throughout.

The use of masks in “Vulnerability Of The Individual” by Natalie Hardy was especially effective in conveying the message that humans do not need to conform to society’s beliefs and stereotypes to reach their full potential.  The dancers displayed very effective body control in this appealing work.

In “Simplistic Pleasures” by Arshiya Abhisree, about breaking free from routine and allowing yourself to embody a sense of pleasure and happiness, there was a particularly effective use of light with the fine dancing.  The facial expressions of the dancers and the movement conveyed the intention of the dance very well.

“Not Goodbye” by Mia Canton was a personal work symbolising the connection between her and her twin sister.  The music, from the film “Driving Miss Daisy” by Hans Zimmer, produced a feeling of nostalgia that was matched by the sensitive dancing of two young performers.  There was also a good use of light and the energetic, unison dancing of the older performers was also well done.

The dance film “Waiting” by Magnus Meagher was heavily influenced by the surreal, geometric urban paintings of Jeffrey Smart.  Using his dancers in the suburban landscape in and around one of Canberra’s iconic bus shelters, filmmaker and choreographer, Meagher, produced a highly effective film, blending reality, daydreams and imagination.

The remaining works were no less effective, achieving their goals with intentions very clear, good use of light and dancers well able to support and enhance their visions.


Photo by Lorna Sim

This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 27 November.

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, November 26, 2022




That was Friday. A House of Sand and Belco Arts Co-production.

 Director and Co-creator: Charley Sanders. Choreographer and Co-creator: Eliza Sanders.   Writer and Co-creator:  Jack Sullivan. Performer and Co creator: Amrit Tohari Agamemnoian. Video designer  Laura Turner and Mario Spaete. Associate video designer Susie Henderson and Morgan Moroney.  Lighting designer Tony Black. Costume designer Monique Bartosh.  Company and stage manager Dr. Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak. Cast: Enya Daley, Lachlan Martin and Sara Zwangobani. Dancer and videographer: Alec Katsourakis. Billy Keohavong, Ryan Douglas Stone, Jareen Wee, Ella Williams. Belconnen Arts Centre. November 23,25 and 26. 2023.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


House of Sand brings their latest foray into multi disciplinary performance to Belconnen Theatre for a regrettably short season. In keeping with Belco Arts’ philosophy to programme new and innovative works, House of Sand’s That Was Friday is highly visceral, thoroughly engaging and deeply personal. “That Was Friday is about identity and belonging” actor Sara Zwangobani tells the audience at the commencement of Part 3 Beginnings. Interestingly, the final part of the four part experience, preceded by Prologue, Family and Society is a time of deep reflection, casting our minds back to the separation of family members that compelled us to resort to Zoom during the Pandemic and the longing for personal contact by a Mother (Sara Zwangobani), her daughter Eliza (Enya Daly) and her son Jack (Lachlan Martin)

Sara Zwangobani as Mother in That Was Friday
 It would be simple to say that this is an ordinary tale about a mother who dies , leaving a son and daughter  to grapple with the notion of who they are without the mother who brought them into the world. It is the universal quest for certainty, for identity. In Part 2 the audience is regaled with a Pauline Hanson style diatribe, longing for the homogeneous society devoid of those who don’t belong, are different and don’t fit the norm. It is a theme that runs through the production, probing the autobiographical account of gender reassignment  and the fictional experiences of quire Jack in Berlin.. In a moving scene, Eliza and Jack sit together seeking the comfort that strikes at the heart of the loss of their mother and their desperate need to belong.

But it is Turkish Armenian Amrit Tohari Agamemnoian’s  videoed telling of his family’s struggles that sheds a powerful awareness of a searing global pain. Genocide has murdered millions of his people, destroying that vital connection of belonging and driving them away from family, society, culture and identity. It is the cruel consequence of displacement, made even more terrifying for a trans person whose very identity could result in a society’s sentence of death.

Enya Daly as Eliza in That Was Friday
 That Was Friday, inspired by a poem by Ruby Dixon is elusive on first reading and I search for context, for affirmation, for the clues revealed in choreographer Eliza Sanders’ programme notes and writer Jack Sullivan’s jottings. These are clearer, and yet House of Sand’s intriguing commentary on the human condition, revealed in evocative sensual dance, illuminating videography and authentic acting demands engagement, reflection, identification and personal, emotional and physical response. Heart and mind coalesce in a fusion of dance, performance and videography and That Was Friday inspires an audience to privately ask, “Do I know who I am?” Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes- To thine own self be true- echo in my mind as I watch the dancers glide, slide in isolation or embrace  in loving need or thrust themselves through the air in Dionysian frenzy, releasing the shackles of conformity and convention,

That Was Friday is collaborative theatre at its most honest, most revealing and beautifully performed by a professional company that share a common bond, the need to be true to themselves, to understand the role of family, the need to fly, the desire to return and sometimes the struggle to survive in a society that does not understand.

Lachlan Martin as Jack in That Was Friday
 That is one reviewer’s view. That Was Friday demands commitment by an audience, not only to share in a unique theatrical event, but to question and to learn. That is House of Sand and Belco Arts’ gift to their audience.   It is a challenge worth embracing.

That was Friday runs for about two and a half hours with a short break and a fifteen minute interval. In time it may be tightened and the dance sequences  made less repetitive . Although I may have preferred the evening to have been shorter and tighter, I wished the season could have been longer so that more people could experience the extraordinary talents  and  the  unique and absorbing theatrical experiment that I witnessed on a Friday night at the Belconnen Arts Centre. That Was Friday.

Photography by Lorna Sim

Friday, November 25, 2022

That Was Friday


That Was Friday by House of Sand & Belco Arts.  At Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra, November 23-26 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 25

Director & Co-Creator – Charley Sanders
Choreographer & Co-Creator – Eliza Sanders
Writer & Co-Creator – Jack Sullivan
Performance Artist & Co-Creator – Amrit Tohari Agamemnoian
Video Designers – Laura Turner & Mario Späte
Lighting Designer – Tony Black
Costume Designer – Monique Bartosh
Company & Stage Manager – Dr Anni Doyle Wawrzyńczak
Associate Video Designers – Susie Henderson & Morgan Moroney

Actor, ElizaEnya Daly; Dancer & Videographer – Alec Katsourakis
Dancer – Billy Keohavong; Actor, JackLachlan Martin
Dancer – Ryan Douglas Stone; Dancer – Jareen Wee; Dancer – Ella Williams
Actor, Mum & othersSara Zwangobani


Since I found most of what I was watching and hearing, on stage and on video, was incomprehensible, I can only tell you what it was supposed to be about by quoting the published program, which begins with the first spoken words:

Hey dickhead, pick up yer phone.  Mum’s dead.

“ We are shaped by the people closest to us.  Our blood family, our chosen family.  What happens when those connections become strained?  A mother desperately tries to keep her family together.  A son discovers the blinding force of love.  A daughter grapples with a life-altering surprise.  An artist lives in exile, their identity a crime in their homeland.  Through both autobiographical and fictional narrative, each asks the same question: how do we honour our past, while appreciating who we have become?”

Darkly humorous, joyful, and visually stunning, That Was Friday will take your heart and squeeze it.

My heart wasn’t squeezed, but my brain was twisted, trying to work out whether there was any point in keeping on watching.  After Part 1 Family (the dickhead with the phone appeared to be one member); a literally three-minute break (had the equipment broken down for real? – I couldn’t tell, but apparently not because the Short Break appears in the program); Part 2 Society, which at least had an Armenian history (the massacre of millions) and a person going through sexual transition, where discrimination and fear of genocide were real issues; and, after a standard interval, back in Part 3 to Beginnings – apparently about the two years of this ‘project’ up to when somebody said they couldn’t continue with it.

This apparently happened at the time when Part 2 ended.  So Part 3 was about what didn’t happen to get completed.

By the end of  Part 3, though, I at least understood that the ‘Mum’ of the first quote had fallen off her excercise bike and died.  I also began to gather that because everybody on earth is different, and no-one can really understand anyone else, since they haven’t had the same life experience; and that no-one can really even understand themselves and be sure of what it means to say ‘I am …..what my past says I am / what I have become’; then I may as well conclude that watching for two and a half hours (including interval) was really pointless.

So the best I can say is that this project is just a company doing art for art’s sake, claiming in their program that by “Layering dance, theatre and video, this ground-breaking new work fills the gaps between these art forms to create something entirely new”.  Well, the dance was largely what my family call ‘writhing’; the theatre entirely lacked any drama; the video was big and unavoidable (which meant my attention was often taken away from the ubiquitous dancing).

And now I’m even unsure what ‘ground-breaking’ means any more.  It seems to be a House of Sand indeed.

But don’t let my opinion hold you back.  Go make your own judgement.

That Was Friday - House of Sand at Belco Arts
Photo: Lorna Sim





The Torrents

Lexi Sekuless as J.G.Milford in “The Torrents”.
Canberra CityNews - Photo: Tim Ngo

 The Torrents by Oriel Gray.  Presented by Lexi Sekuless Productions at The Mill Theatre, Canberra, November 23 – December 3 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 24

Director – Lexi Sekuless; Designer – Victoria ‘Fi’ Hopkins
Movement Direction – Netty Sharpe and Tim Sekuless
Musical Arrangements – Leisa Keen
Voice and Acting Coach – Sarah Carroll
Production Stage Manager – Zeke Chalmers
Mentors – Julian Meyrick and Wendy Strehlow
Sound Production – Andrew Brown; Lighting Designer – Stefan Wronski
Prop Design – Tracy Cui
Front of House – Katrina Williams, Branka Gajic, Fiona Wade

Christy and Stuwell – Helen McFarlane; Bernie and Squires – Bronte Batham
Jock and Twimple – Elaine Noon; Gwynne Thomas – Jasmin Shojai
Kingsley Myers – Stefanie Lekkas; Rufus Torrent – Rachel Howard
Ben Torrent - Kat Smalley; J. G. Milford – Lexi Sekuless
John Manson – Heidi Silberman


Theatre is all about style and the intentions of both the playwright and the director.  A director in today’s world may create a show in a way that the writer, long ago, could never have imagined.  Yet, a production should be in tune with the author’s purpose.  I think in this production of The Torrents the style is a mismatch, despite the director’s good intentions.

The good intention was to use the play to emphasise Oriel Gray’s purpose, in writing – in the 1950s as a Communist – about the right for women to have equal status with men.  There is an irony in the fact that Gray’s play employs only two women actors in a cast of twelve.  To employ women today to play all the male as well as the female characters makes sense.  To use as a theme Madonna’s song about being a ‘material’ girl in a ‘material’ world is a device which makes the feminist point.

The women’s singing, marking the scene changes, was genuinely beautiful – along with the amusing dance sequences – but, writing inevitably as a male theatre critic, I feel I may be on some shaky ground when I say the style of performing the play too much as a shouting match undermined an important part of Oriel Gray’s script.  We lost, not only often the detail of the words, but the sensitivity Oriel showed in the men characters’ development of understanding.

The important example, though the writing is often amusing, is that Rufus Torrent’s gradual recognition of J. G. (Jenny) Milford’s human quality and intellectual strength, and his coming to understand the value of his son – and his realising the importance of Kingsley’s water supply plan – is the key to appreciating Gray’s purpose.  She set the play in the previous century, at the time in real history when the idea of the ‘New Woman’ became established.  Her Jenny Milford is not a star-performing material girl, but a sensitive woman who we can believe in as she shows her capacity to help the men – the young Bernie and Ben – and finally even the boss Rufus, to understand themselves.  And, in doing so, she realises that she and Rufus are a pair, on a level of equal status.  

For me, then, when in this production Jenny rushes off in a teenage kind of excitement to go to Rufus as the play ends, as the shouting style comedy required, Oriel Gray would have shaken her head.  Her J. G. Milford, despite doubts about herself at some points, is now in charge, on an equal basis with Rufus because they both have come to understand themselves and each other.  This is the point of the play, growing out of the comedy and male competition, which this production missed.  

The other character of great concern for Oriel Gray is Kingsley Myers, the designer of the water supply scheme who is treated abominably by the men with the money.  In real history the model for his character was Charles O’Connor, whose 530-kilometre-long pipeline Eastern Goldfields Water Supply Scheme in Western Australia was finally completed, but only after his death, by suicide.  Though Gray did not take his story to its final conclusion, in the style of this production he is presented in a quite superficial way, rather than developing the depth of personal despair which Gray intended.

So my conclusion is that though I could see an interesting and worthwhile idea behind this production of The Torrents, and enjoyed the singing, and some of the comedy roles such as Helen McFarlane’s Christy as well as the straight presentation of the other woman, Gwynne, by Jasmin Shojai, I couldn’t enjoy the show overall because the style didn’t suit the play’s setting in its time and place in Australian history, nor the characters’ development as Oriel Gray intended in this play which in 1955 was joint winner of the Playwrights' Advisory Board Competition with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler.

Oriel Gray








Written by Oriel Gray

Directed by Lexi Sekuless

Mill Theatre at Dairy Road to 3 December.


Reviewed by Len Power 24 November 2022


Oriel Gray’s play ‘The Torrents’ has the distinction of being joint winner of the best play award for 1955 by the Playwrights' Advisory Board along with‘ The Summer of The Seventeenth Doll’, the famous Australian play, which is still performed regularly.  ‘The Torrents’, meanwhile, has not achieved the same ongoing popularity, possibly because its plot could take place anywhere in the world while ‘The Doll’ is so specifically Australian.

The play is set in a newspaper office of the fictional country town of Koolgalla during a gold rush era in the second half of the 19th century.  A young woman is employed there in spite of it being a male-dominated office.  Such an office is considered to ‘be no place for a woman’, at least by the men working there.  This progressive woman shows them she is more than capable of making a success of her job in spite of the men’s attitudes.

This production, the first at the new Mill Theatre, is directed by Lexi Sekuless, who also takes the young woman’s role.

Sekuless, as director, gives the play a novel twist.  The many male characters are played by women and non-binary performers. This gives the play another dimension as the men display the prevailing attitudes against women that predominated at the time.

Sekuless is charismatic in the lead role of the young woman, J.G. Milford.  The rest of the cast do as well as they can, but it was difficult to suspend belief and accept them as male characters.  ‘Trying to be male’ has its limitations and there’s not a lot of real depth visible in the characterisations.  Some actors play more than one role, making it confusing as well.

Lexi Sekuless as J.G. Milford

Much of the political content of the play is given too much of a knowing, modern day stress.  It would have been more effective if these moments were allowed to speak for themselves without the heavy underlining.

The play itself is advertised as ‘an Australian screwball comedy’ which it clearly is not.  It doesn’t have the zaniness of the films classed as screwball comedies like ‘Bringing Up Baby’, ‘The Lady Eve’ and ‘The Awful Truth’.  It plays as a mildly amusing comedy-drama.

The play is of its time but it is interesting to consider that its message of women being just as capable in a traditional male workplace was probably quite revolutionary in 1955.  It certainly still has relevance for today.

Victoria ‘Fi’ Hopkins’ costume designs are particularly fine and very much in period.  The overall production design with its well-chosen furniture and props looks quite authentic.

Lexi Sekuless is to be congratulated for reviving this play in a challenging and courageous production.  The best theatre takes risks and is more memorable as a result.  Future productions by this new company will be watched with interest.


Photo by Tim Ngo

 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