Monday, February 27, 2023


Chloe McDonald and Gretel Burgess in "A Stroke of Luck"

Created, Produced, Directed and Choreographed by Gretel Burgess - 

Direction & Dramaturgy: Pip Buining.

Sound Design by Den Hanrehan – Reuben Ingall – Rob Kennedy

Performed by Gretel Burgess and Chloe McDougall

QL2 Dance Theatre 24 – 26th February 2023.

Matinee performance on 25th February reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Chloe McDougal and Gretel Burgess in "A Stroke of luck"

In 14th September 2014, at the age of 42, Gretel Burgess, an enthusiastic dance practitioner, was struck down by a catastrophic stroke while on a camping holiday with her family in the Daintree Rainforest. Her daughter, Chloe, also a dancer, was just 8 years old at the time and witnessed the event.   

Gretel’s road to physical, mental and emotional recovery has been long and arduous. A curious liability of her stroke has been that she has become an impulse shopper, scouring the internet and purchasing unwanted garments, even booking family holidays, on whim.

However rather than going down the path of self-pity, Burgess has channelled her energy into creating this enthralling dance work which she performs with her daughter Chloe, charting her experience as well as exploring the causal factors of stroke.

During her research she discovered that fear and anxiety actually affects the blood and that screams literally do curdle our blood. Recalling episodes of workplace bullying leading up to her stroke, Burgess uses this knowledge as the catalyst for her work which is presented in three sections, without interval.

The first section, “Coagulation”, begins in a setting crowded by piles of large files and racks of clothing. The colour red figures prominently in this scene in both the lighting and the costuming. A figure in a red dress (Chloe) slowly pushes a loaded shopping trolley around the tightly lit space. While she’s performing this task, Burgess emerges unexpectedly from the onstage pile of files and begins to mechanically sort and pack them.

Eventually she becomes annoyed and frustrated with her efforts until a tiny finger-puppet with a red umbrella calmly traverses the files leading her to the trolley into which she climbs and they swirl deliriously around the stage.

For the second section, “Diversion”, both performers are costumed in apple-green. Chloe sits on a seat slowly eating an ice-cream. A flash of lightning signifies the catastrophic event, and while her mother lies powerless on the floor unable to communicate her situation, Chloe sits frozen on the seat seemingly unable to comprehend her mother’s predicament.

Throughout the work Burgess draws upon an eclectic choreographic repertoire to tell her story. She also makes extensive use of props and spoken word, including an excerpt from a speech given in Parliament by Federal MP, Hon.Warren Entsch quoting statistics regarding the prevalence of stroke in Australia. Family photographs and a selection of carefully chosen background music provide context and ambience.  

Chloe McDonald and Gretel Burgess in "A Stroke of Luck"

Green apples feature prominently in the final section, “Liability”,   which depicts some of the after-effects of Burgess’s stroke. She doesn’t shy away from the frustrations inherent in her long recovery journey, or the effect this had on those close to her, particularly Chloe.

Events involving a single green apple which attracted the attention of the New Zealand Biosecurity Agents, and her proclivity towards impulse buying, are depicted frankly and amusingly in sequences that are light-hearted, moving and optimistic.

Central to the success of the work is the superb performance by Chloe McDougal, a gifted young dancer with a rare talent for stillness and authenticity.

Chloe McDougal and Gretel Burgess in "A Stroke of Luck".


Despite the seriousness of the subject matter which is depicted clearly and unflinchingly, the audience is not left focussing on the events that led to the creation of this work, or even to wonder at the strength and resilience of Burgess herself, but rather, uplifted and thoroughly moved by the delicate and unsentimental depiction of the loving bond between this remarkable mother and daughter.

This is an extraordinary work which deserves to be seen by a wide audience. With a running time of slightly less than an hour, and with its excellent performance and production values, “A Stroke of Luck” would make a stunning keynote event for a major health conference.       


                                                      Images by Andrew Sikorski

     This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.


Tasman Soloists

Art Song Canberra

Wesley Music Centre, Forrest

February 26


Reviewed by Len Power


A program contrasting love and war with the work of composers Robert Schumann and Benjamin Britten resulted in a memorable, if at times, demanding concert.

The Tasman Soloists are Kent McIntosh, tenor, Robert Johnson, horn, Sharolyn Kimmorley, piano and Rob Wilton, speaker. All of them have an impressive list of past credits and together they proved to be exceptional.

The program commenced with Schumann’s ‘Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano’. The first part was quiet and romantic and then the second part exploded with passion. It was played very well by Kimmorley on piano and Johnson on the horn. It was a great work to open the concert.

Kent McIntosh then sang Schumann’s Liederkreis Opus 39.  An imposing man, McIntosh sang the first two parts with great feeling and delicacy, then startled with the power of his voice in the finale of the third part, ‘Dialogue In The Woods’. His fine performance was also notable for the way he maintained the feeling of the songs during piano interludes. The intention of each song was clear and performed with honest emotion as well as a strong technical ability.

Kimmorley’s accompaniment to this song cycle was very impressive, bringing out all the sentiment and emotion in the music.

The major work of the second half of the program was Britten’s ‘The Heart Of The Matter’. First performed in 1956, the Edith Sitwell poems were read by Rob Wilton, a Canberran teacher who studied history and politics at the ANU and University of Sydney. His readings of the poems were nicely down to earth and made an instant connection with the audience.

From left: Rob Wilton (speaker), Sharolyn Kimmorley (piano), Kent McIntosh (tenor) and Robert Johnson (horn)

McIntosh demonstrated an amazing breath control and clarity with the sung parts of this vocally demanding work. His singing of the Canticle part, ‘Still Falls The Rain’, was haunting. In addition, the piano accompaniment by Kimmorley and the fanfares on the horn by Johnson added another dimension to this extraordinary work.

Refreshingly, after the demanding ‘The Heart Of The Matter’, McIntosh sang three English folk songs. His long experience in opera was clearly demonstrated with his ability to breathe life and character into these songs. ‘The Oak and the Ash’ was particularly well sung. The piano and horn accompaniment was excellent.

The concert finished with McIntosh’s beautiful singing of the well-known aria,‘Oh, is there not one maiden breast’, from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.


Photo by Peter Hislop

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

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


DOWNTOWN: The Mod Musical


Jess Zdanowicz - Sarah Hull - Kirsten Smith - Hannah Lance 
in "Downtown"

Directed by Anita Davenport – Musical Direction by Tara Davidson

Costume Design by Helen McIntyre – Set Design by Steve Galinic

Lighting Design by Jacob Aquilina – Sound Design by Katniss Stellar

 Presented by Queanbeyan Players. Belconnen Community Theatre until 5th March.

Opening night performance on 24th February reviewed by Bill Stephens

Essentially an all singing, all dancing revue built around songs popular in England during the decade between 1960 and 1970, “Downtown: The Mod Musical” is given a colourful, entertaining production by Queanbeyan Players.

To give the songs context the show has a through-line concerning the lives of five young women navigating the 1960’s era when women were demanding more control over their lives. In the show each of the soloists is identified only by the colour of her costume, rather than by name.

Therefore Kay Liddiard plays Red Girl; Hannah Lance is Green Girl; Emily Pogson is Blue Girl, Alexandra McLaughlin is Orange Girl; and Sarah Hull is Yellow Girl. All except Yellow Girl are meant to be British, Yellow Girl having revealed in her opening monologue that she has travelled from America just to see Paul McCartney. Green Girl was the only one among the four British women to attempt any sort of English accent.

Alexandra McLaughlin (Orange) - Kay Liddiard (Red) - Emily Pogson (Blue) - Hannah Lance (Green) - Sarah Hull (Yellow) in "Downtown"

The women relate their stories through a succession of songs popular during the era. The songs are interrupted by short monologues, or interludes during which the women request and receive advice on matters affecting their lives from columnist, Gwendolyn Holmes (Tina Meir) who works for a fictional magazine “Shout”, to which each of the women subscribe.

Gwendolyn delivers her advice via a disembodied voiceover and that advice provides a good deal of the humour for the show. It also provides the opportunities for comment on the changing attitudes of the times.

In addition to the lead characters, director Anita Davenport has added a chorus of five additional women, Hannah Miller, Carly Carter, Jess Zdanowicz, Kirsten Smith and Anna Tully, who shadow each of the principal characters and are costumed in individual black and white costumes.

Choreographer, Laurenzy Chapman has taken advantage of the extra numbers to create a succession of clever, well-drilled production numbers based on the popular dance moves of the era. Reminiscent in style to the popular television shows of the period, these routines are performed with commendable energy and precision by the whole cast. Elsewhere director, Davenport displays a flair for arranging the cast to form attractive stage pictures throughout.  

Steve Galinec’s colourful abstract setting provides the perfect ambience for the show, enhanced as it is by Jacob Aquilina’s equally colourful lighting design, while Helen McIntyre’s beautifully detailed costumes echo Carnaby Street fashion.

The sound on opening night was somewhat erratic, allowing Tara Davidson’s hardworking trio to occasionally become almost inaudible, which possibly accounted for the uncertainty of some of the singing.

Although the lovely harmonies achieved by the full ensemble were spot on, some of the songs chosen for the soloists were beyond their talents, resulting in some off pitch singing and forced lyrics.

However, given that the soloists were attempting to emanate the performances of songs indelibly engraved into the audience’s collective consciousness by singers of the ilk of Petula Clarke, Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black, this was easy to forgive.

These blemishes aside, if you’re a sucker for the songs of the sixties, this is the show for you.

                                                 Images by Sarah Abramowski

                       This review first published in CITY NEWS on 25th February 2023



Paulini (Narrator) - Trevor Ashley (Pharaoh) - and cast in 
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber – Lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed by Laurence Connor – Choreographed by Joanna M. Hunter

Sets and Costumes designed by Morgan Large – Musical Direction by Peter Rutherford

Lighting Design by Ben Cracknell – Sound Design by Gareth Owen

Capitol Theatre, Sydney until 23rd April 2023.

Matinee performance on 19th February reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Euan Fistrovic Doidge (Joseph) and Paulini (Narrator) and ensemble in 
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

Originally written in 1968 as a 15 minute pop- cantata for a school choir in London, this first collaboration by a 19-years-old Andrew Lloyd Webber and a 22-years-old Tim Rice has undergone so many iterations since then that it’s doubtful that there is anyone left on the planet who has not either appeared in a school production or seen it presented as a stage spectacular.

This ebullient, post-pandemic production, while still quite spectacular, gives the show back to the kids, who happily don beards and join the adults to play many of the roles. It works a treat.

At this performance the role of Joseph was played by understudy, Jackson Head, who immediately owned the role, singing with confidence and performing with an unabashed youthfulness that was immediately engaging.

Jackson Head

In an interesting co-incidence, at the same time “Joseph” is running in Sydney, Jason Donovan, who had great success with this role in a 1991 production in the London Palladium, then played the role in of the Pharaoh in this production in 2021, is also currently in Sydney chewing up the scenery in the 50th Anniversary production of “The Rocky Horror Show”.

Paulini and the children in 
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

In this production though the show really belongs to the narrator, who not only narrates the story but who also interprets some of the characters. In this role, pop princess, Paulini reveals herself as a genuinely charismatic leading lady.  Flashing her wide smile, she sweeps around the stage, captivating the audience with the confidence and flair she brings to her interpretation.  Her warm, lush singing tone and occasionally idiosyncratic phrasing surprises while refreshing her songs. However she will impress even more when she realises that not every word needs a gesture.

Trevor Ashley and dancers in 
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

The role of the Pharaoh is played by Trevor Ashley who does what Trevor Ashley does best; create a small sensation whenever he’s on stage. You have to see for yourself. And just to make sure you notice him, he’s accompanied by a troupe of gorgeous dancing girls and spectacular golden scenery featuring huge guitar-playing idols.

Essentially though this is an ensemble production in which fine performances by the large ensemble cast, fun set and costume design incorporating delightful visual surprises, an excellent band and impressive technical support all add up to a hugely entertaining experience. 

If you’ve never seen a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” or even if you feel you’ve seen too many productions of “Joseph”; think again; you’ll kick yourself if you miss this one.


                All images, except the headshot of Jackson Head , by Daniel Boud.

     This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.


Mansion.  Presented by BASS FAM Creative The Octagon  Gluttony. Rymill Park.  Adelaide Fringe February 17-March 19 2023

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins 

Ghouls and ghosts stalk the gothic corridors of the mansion that newly widowed Mel Walker and her children have moved into. Philandering husband Michael has received his just desserts in a fatal car accident leaving his loving wife and adoring children to fend for themselves in the company of the paranormal and the macabre. Mansion is the stuff of midnight horror stories, a dangerous cocktail of Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Curse of the Living Dead.

Adelaide Fringe wouldn’t be the Fringe without its fair share of comedy, circus and burlesque and Mansion boasts all three. What it is is a dance of demons, more ballet than burlesque, more hip hop than circus and more breakdance than comedy. When the Freddy Kruger masked tormentors enter the fray it is more monster mash than magic. Consequently the circus feats are limited to aerial displays of skill as the rope becomes a symbol of escape only to twirl the victim once more to the ground and the cage becomes a whirling torture chamber. Burlesque is transitory but enough to unleash the seduction of the son Levi. Mother, son and daughter are caught in a vortex of nightmarish fright and audiences watch in anxious anticipation of the outcome to their plight.

Mansion is different to much of the circus and burlesque acts that are on offer at this year’s Fringe. The imaginative conceit of a Gothic tale of suspense and horror works its spell upon the large audience and provides a narrative, albeit rather slight to keep the spectators engaged. The real strength of this show is the dance. The lead dancers are obviously trained and the ensemble choreography is tight and aptly frenetic. The absence of further narration to advance the plotline resulted in sequences being too long and repetitive. Stretching the show to an hour lessened the gripping impact that a fifty minute performance might have had. Mansion certainly provides a more satisfying experience than the usual run of circus and burlesque shows and as the audience were ushered out by the sanguine caretaker Mr. Enshaw it was obvious that they had entered an unexpected world. A published review line in the Fringe guide states “Unlikely that you have ever seen a show like Mansion.” It is the dance component of this tale of love, loss, lust and horror that brings a fresh aspect to the genre. I don’t have a programme to give credit where credit is due, but dancers, choreographer and set, lighting and sound designers deserve commendation. 

If Fringegoers are looking for something different then Mansion is certainly the place to visit.   





Sunday, February 26, 2023

HAIRSPRAY - Lyric Theatre, Sydney

Brianna Bishop (Amber Von Tussle) - Bobby Fox (Corny Collins) - Carmel Rodrigues (Tracy Turnblad) and company in "Hairspray"

Direction by Jerry Mitchell (Australian production directed by Matt Lenz)

Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (re-created by Dominic Shaw)

Set Designed by David Rockwell – Lighting Designed by Kenneth Posner

Costumes designed by William Ivey Long - Hair & Wigs designed by Paul Huntley

Sound Designed by Julian Spink – Musical direction: Dave Skelton.

Presented by John Frost for Crossroads Live.

Lyric Theatre Sydney 9th February to 2nd April 2023.

Matinee performance on 19th February reviewed by Bill Stephens. 

Based on a film by John Waters, “Hairspray” opened on Broadway in 2002 and was an instant hit. This is that same production which even after 20 years is as shiny and polished  as a new pin and perfectly recast and performed by a topline cast of some of  Australia’s most experienced  and popular musical theatre performers who share the stage with some talented newcomers likely to become the stars of tomorrow.

Among them is vivacious Carmel Rodrigues, making her professional musical theatre debut as Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenager who dreams of dancing on a national TV show. Rodrigues has the audience in the palm of her hand from her very opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” until the rousing finale, “You Can’t Stop The Beat” singing and dancing with such captivating joie de vivre that it’s absolutely infectious.

Shane Jacobson (Edna Turnblad) - Todd McKenney (Wilbur Turnblad)
in "Hairspray"

Completely unrecognisable as Tracy’s adoring and independent mother, Edna Shane Jacobson cleverly sidesteps the temptation to camp it up, instead creates an adorable motherly character who overcomes her own body shape inhibitions to champion her daughter.

No less impressive is Todd McKenney with his warm, supportive characterisation as her husband, Wilber. Their delightful second act duet, “You’re Timeless To Me” had the matinee audience audibly swooning with delight.

Rhonda Burchmore (Velma Van Tussle) and admirers in "Hairspray"

Playing against type, Rhonda Burchmore is both stylish and hilarious as the snippy TV producer, Velma Von Tussle.  Her befuddled response upon being handed a poisoned chalice as a reward for the unearned success of the Corny Collins Show is priceless.

Luxury casting as the star of the Corny Collins Show, Bobby Fox doesn’t have a lot to do, but  brings such style and sophistication to his role as to beggar the question as to why he hasn’t already been snapped up by some enterprising television company.  

And talking of style, keep your eye out for Donna Lee, who plays several characters under the all-purpose label of ‘Female Authority Figure”. She’s hard to recognise, because each of her characters are so different. But here’s a hint; she’s the one that nails every one of her laugh lines with unerring accuracy.

It says a lot about the talent on show in musical theatre in Australia currently that this production can field a cast of talented coloured actors to meet the requirements of the script. 

Todd McKenney (Wilbur Turnblad) - Asabi Goodman (Motormouth Maybelle) Mackenzie Dunn (Penny Pingleton) - Shane Jacobsen (Edna Turnblad) - Carmel Rodrigues (Tracy Turnblad)

Outstanding among them is Asabi Goodman as Tracey’s ally, the unlikely named Motormouth Maybelle, in her fight against racial discrimination. Goodman’s powerful rendition of the big ballad, “I Know Where I’ve Been” almost stops the show.

Another stand-out among the black cast is Javon King who plays a character named Seaweed J. Stubbs. King is a remarkable dancer with an arresting fluid style that signals his sheer love of movement and brings to mind the late, great, Ronne Arnold. Like Arnold, he’s a joy to watch.

Mackenzie Dunn (Penny Pingleton) - Javon King (Seaweed J. Stubbs) 
Carmel Rodrigues (Tracy Turnblad) - Sean Johnston (Link Larkin)
in "Hairspray)

But then, this cast is packed with talent. Watch out for Ayanda Dladla for plays Little Inez; Brianna Bishop as the delightfully self-centred Amber Von Tussle; McKenzie Dunn who’s captivating as Tracy Turnblad’s bestie, Penny Pingleton; and Todd Goddard, another who plays a variety of characters  as the “Male Authority Figure”. All are future stars.

This highly polished production of  “Hairspray”, with its sweetly delivered messages around body image, racial inclusiveness and tolerance, and a catalogue of hummable songs is guaranteed to send you out of the theatre with a spring in your step. Did I like it?  Guess?    

                                                            Images by Jeff Busby

     This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.




You Ready for This? The Sisters of Invention.  

Performed by Aimee Crathern, Michelle Hall, Annika Hooper and Caroline Hardy. Presented by Tutti Arts Inc. The May Wirth at Gluttony. February 25th. Adelaide Fringe.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

It is impossible to leave a Sisters of Invention concert not uplifted and empowered. It doesn’t matter whether you regard yourself as disabled or not, normal or not, binary or non, the original songs and music will transport you to a plane where, as Aimee Crathern says “We’re not normal. We’re amazing!”

Caroline Hardy,Annika Hooper, Michelle Hall and Aimee Crathern

And they are! The Sisters of Invention are an all-female pop group determined to challenge society’s pre-conceived ideas about who can be a pop group. The only disabled female pop group in the world took the audience in The May Wirth at Gluttony by storm, and by the end of the concert the four performers, Aimee Crathern, Michelle Hall, Annika Hooper and Caroline Hardy had the audience wildly applauding or dancing in their seats.

Opening with It’s A Brand New Day forecasting that things are going to be different and change is on the way and closing with a triumphant rendition of John Farnham’s You’re the Voice, the Sisters of Invention are the prophets of inclusivity - “Inclusivity Rocks” Their songs lift the spirits; the music opens the heart and the four women sing out their songs of inspiration. This is the sound of goosebumps and tears.

You Ready For This?  combines song with anecdote and like all good stories there is a moral and a meaning for those who may not be familiar with their songs of acceptance. It is Aimee who provides much of the commentary while each member of the group has her solo number that is inspired by her particular disability. Throughout the one hour show, Aimee reminds us “We’re not that different.”, “We can make a difference”, “We’re not novelty. We’re women.” “We’re trendy now!” After a lifetime of confronting prejudice and being told they will never succeed at school, the Sisters of Invention have found solidarity in their sisterhood (“Birds of a feather we stick together”) Aimee, who was a singing jukebox at home, lost her voice at school and has found it again with her three sisters. Annika being told she will not be able to succeed has found her strength in the books in braille. Each member of the group has “turned the pages over”.

With many of the songs by long time collaborator Michael Ross and with Musical Director Carol Young at the helm on Keys, Kathie Renner on Keys and Guitar, Nick Sinclair on bass and Steve Todd on percussion You Ready For This? is a pop concert with a difference that teaches us that we are all the same. The girls’ Songs of Experience come straight from the heart.

It seems appropriate that You Ready For This? should have been staged in The May Wirth at Gluttony. Wirth was a bareback rider who took risks, faced challenges and overcame a dreadful accident caused while leaping from the back of one moving horse to another. From Austtralia’s Wirth Circus to America’s Barnum and Bailey this remarkable woman proved that anything is possible. As Aimee said |”Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Being at a Sisters of Invention performance is too good an opportunity to miss.




Natalie Aroyan (Adriana Lecouvreur) - Michael Fabiano (Maurizio)
"Adriana Lecouvreur) 

Directed by Rosetta Cucchi – Conducted by Leonardo Sini

Set Design by Tiziano Santi – Costume Design by Claudia Pernigotti

Lighting Design by Daniele Naidi – Choreographed by Luisa Baldinetti

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until 7th March.

Opening night performance on 20th February 2023 reviewed by Bill Stephens OAM


Opera Australia had assembled a dream cast to perform Francesco Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” in a lavish production co-produced with Teatro Comunale Di Bologna and Opera Oviedo. It included superstar Albanian soprano, Ermonela Jaho, Romanian mezzo-soprano, Carmen Topciu, American tenor, Michael Fabiano and Italian baritone, Giorgio Caoduro,

Imagine the collective intake of breath when Tahu Matheson took the stage on opening night to announce that sadly, because she had developed a nasty cough, Ermonela Jaho, was unable to perform. But before anyone could react, he quickly added that Natalie Aroyan had been persuaded to step in and perform the demanding title role, adding the assurance that she was across the role and the audience was in for an exciting performance. He was not wrong.   

Based on the life of French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur the events portrayed in the opera are largely fictional, and the libretto surely among the most confusing ever written. Rosetta Cucchi’s concept for this production, where each of the four acts take place  in a different time period, does little to clarify the storyline. In fact it makes it more difficult to keep track of the various characters. However, her concept does provide opportunity for some lovely settings, beautiful costumes and a succession of memorable moments to highlight the beautiful melodies and incidental music strewn through the opera which conductor Leonardo Sini celebrates with his sensitive, detailed conducting of the Opera Australia orchestra.

The opera opens with a bustling back-stage scene at the Comedie-francaise in 1732. Here Adriana (Natalie Aroyan) is revealed dramatically rehearsing her lines for her appearance as Roxanne in Racine’s “Bajazet”.  The stage manager Michonnet (Giorgio Caoduro)) is trying to pluck up the courage to declare his love for Adriana when she reveals that she’s in love with Maurizio (Michael Fabiano), a handsome officer who conveniently arrives to declare his love for her. In response, Adriana gifts him a posy of violets. These violets become the thread, and a critical component for the rest of the story.

No room for more details of the complex plot here. Sufficient to know that Natalie Aroyan was simply magnificent as the diva Lecouvreur.  Surprisingly confident given the circumstances, she acted with attack and confidence, delivering her declamatory opening lines with flair then captivated with her lustrous soprano in the opera’s best-known aria, “Lo son I’umile ancollar” (I am the humble servant of the creative spirit). 

Carmen Topciu (The Principessa) in "Adriana Lecouvreur)

Matching her, as Adriana’s arch-enemy and rival for Maurizio’s affections, Carmen Topciu  was equally impressive both vocally and dramatically, her darkly hued mezzo perfectly contrasting and complimenting  Aroyan’s velvety soprano.  Topciu’s second act solo “Acerba volutta, dolce tortura” during which she expresses her fears that Maurizio may be unfaithful, was one of the vocal highlights of the evening.

Handsome and heroic as Maurizio, the object of Adriana’s affections, Michael Fabiano thrilled with his opening aria, “la dolcissima effigie”, fully justifying his reputation as one of the finest tenors around. His voice too effectively contrasted with that of Giorgio Caoduro, as the tragic Michonnet, particularly in the final act when the dying Adriana refuses to recognise Michonnet, instead mistaking him for Maurizio.

It was in this stark scene that Cucchi’s concept was at its most powerful, allowing the audience to understand Adriana’s mental confusion through the clever use of video images.

Richard Anderson (The Prince) - Jane Ede (Mlle Jouvenot - Virgillio Marino (The Abbe) - Angela Hogan (Mlle Dangerville) in "Adriana Lecouvreur"

Strong supporting performances by Virgilio Marino (the Abbe), Richard Anderson (the Prince), Anthony Mackey (Quinault), Adam Player (Poisson) Jane Ede (Mlle Jouvenot), Angela Hogan (Mlle Dangerville) and the ever-reliable Opera Australia Chorus enhanced the action.  Tiziano Santi’s settings which included a romantic candle-lit villa for  Act 2; the lavish costume ball during which aerialist Brendan Irving’s thrilling silks act, and a spectacular Loie Fuller style dance performed by choreographer Luisa Baldinetti, all contributed significantly to a memorable evening of truly grand opera.     


Emlyn Knight - Louis Fontaine - Brendan Irving (aerialist) - Ashley Goh - Jessica Smithson
and the Opera Australia Chorus in "Adriana Lecouvreur".

Image of Brendan Irving by Guy Davies

All other images by Keith Saunders

This review first published in CITY NEWS on 24.02.23




Jesus, Jane, Mother and Me. 

Written and directed by Philip  Stokes. Performed by Jack Stokes. Set and lighting design by Craig Lomas. Sound design by Annie May Fletcher. Adelaide season produced by Holden Street Theatres,Lawrence Batley Theatre,KETCHUP Productions and Richard Jordan Productions -  The Studio – Holden Street Theatres. February 14 – March 19 2023. Adelaide Fringe.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.

 There is something instantly unsettling about Craig Lomas’s set design for Philip Stokes’s Jesus, Jane, Mother and Me. It may be the boarded up wall. It could be the impression, left by a crucifix that once hung for many years on the back wall. And then there is the clock on the wall, permanently stopped at thirteen past four. The room appears deserted and yet 18 year old Daniel Valentine (Jack Stokes) stands in the centre dressed in boxer shorts and an open shirt and smiling cheerfully at his audience. Suddenly he leaps into action, limbs gesticulating and greeting the audience with welcoming effusion. His voice ricochets through the space as he begins to tell the audience the story of his life. His diction is precise, his words formed with elocuted precision. His body leaps and thrusts, articulating each word with spontaneous energy. And yet it appears forced. The character, not the actor. Jack Stokes’s performance as a young man whose external manner appears to belie a covert reality is brilliant, magnetic and entirely enticing in its almost manic telling of his story. Writer Philip Stokes injects his character so convincingly played by actor Stokes with dialogue that teases curiosity while also suggesting something more sinister. And yet there is something that reminds me of Frank Spencer in Some Mother’s Do Have Them. It is a naivety, agullibility, a stereotyped impression of a single male child raised by a single mother. And yet Daniel contradicts my assumption with forceful assertion. “I know who I am”

And yet the unsettling feeling persists through his account of being embraced by the Rapture under the evangelical guidance of Reverend Birch. His devotion to his faith and his Reverends are all embracing. Here he can find salvation from those who scorn and bully him for being different. Here he can find a community where he can belong. Stokes’s script is ingeniously interwoven with the excess of religious fervor. It is a small step to his obsession for Jane McDonald, a singer and TV celebrity, who dazzles him with her performance during his first visit to the theatre. Religious rapture and the obsession of a superfan are the beacons in his search for identity and belonging. Stokes’s performance of a young man’s ascent into obsession is mesmerizing as he discovers his Hallelujah and creates a shrine to McDonald. And yet the feeling persists, fuelled by Stokes’s rising crescendo from prose to poetry as Daniel becomes subsumed by fantasy.

The unravelling comes like a thief in the night. Stokes’s exalted prose gradually turns to cynicism, sarcasm and anger as Daniel’s rapture and adoration of his star begin to fade into the reality of a life of rejection, disappointment and isolation. Philip Stokes’s voice of youthful exuberance gives way to the terse and tormented voice of abandonment. Stokes is a writer who knows his character intimately and in the one hour monologue can find the voice to utter Daniel’s trajectory from innocence to tragedy. Jack Stokes portrays Daniel with gripping authenticity. He inhabits the tormented youth with searing intelligence and empathy. As Ave Maria swells throughout the final scene, Stokes cries out his defiance against a faith that let him down, a neighbor who spurned him, a celebrity who led him to disillusionment and a mother’s lover who forced him from his home. In the final moments of Jesus Jane Mother and Me Daniel’s despairing wail “I know who I am” is a plea to an audience transfixed by the power of the play and the brilliance of the performance to understand.

Jesus Jane Mother and Me is much more than a cry for compassion. It is a warning against prejudice and indifference. It is an advocate for acceptance and love. It offers a meaning that is too important to ignore. Holden Street Theatres is to be applauded for bringing this powerful work and outstanding performance to the Adelaide Fringe. For Adelaide Fringe goers it is one show that is not to be missed.    



Saturday, February 25, 2023



Created by Phillip George, David Lowenstein and Peter Charles Morris

Directed by Anita Davenport

Musical Director: Tara Davidson

Queanbeyan Players

Belconnen Community Theatre to 5 March


Reviewed by Len Power 24 February 2023


The Swinging Sixties offered a large number of songs that still conjure up that era and “Downtown: The Mod Musical” covers an impressive range of them.  As someone who was a teenager then, it was good to hear them all again.

Set in London between the early 1960s and 1970, the show follows the lives of five different women, represented here by different colours.  Issues affecting their lives are shown in the linking material between songs.  While the era is seen as “swinging”, day to day problems still remained.  Generational conflict, early romance, marriage and deciding whether to conform or not were still big issues.  The media told us that the era was “swinging” but that was in faraway London.  We were just busy getting through our teenage years.

On a bright and colourful set designed by Steve Galinec, reminiscent of television variety shows of the time, the show is bright and cheerful and the songs come thick and fast.  Director, Anita Davenport, keeps it all moving quickly and Laurenzy Chapman has given the show a huge amount of choreographed movement that is true to the period.  Helen McIntyre’s colourful costumes look good on the cast.

Hannah Lance, Sarah Hull, Kay Liddiard, Alexandra McLaughlin and Emily Pogson

The five main women – Alexandra McLaughlin, Kay Liddiard, Emily Pogson, Hannah Lance and Sarah Hull – perform the songs and moves with lots of energy and enthusiasm.  Some of the singing was uneven but there were a number of highlights including Hannah Lance’s “One Two Three” and Sarah Hull’s “Son Of A Preacher Man”.

The additional four girl chorus of Anna Tully, Hannah Miller, Carly Carter, Jess Zdanowicz and Kirsten Smith provided strong backup to the five featured performers.  Tina Meir did the voice overs and was funny in her brief cameo as the Gwendoline Holmes “Agony Aunt” columnist.

Musical director, Tara Davidson, and her three member band did a fine job but the sound by Katniss Stellar (Eclipse) seemed to be designed for the Bruce Stadium, not the intimate Belconnen Theatre.  It was too loud, too heavy on the bass and there were instances of feedback that should not be happening.  This was supposed to be the “60s” sound, not the sound of rock concerts of today.

“Downtown” is a fun and colourful show that showcases the good songs of those ten years of “Swinging 60s”.  The enthusiastic company make it an enjoyable, undemanding night out.


Photos supplied by the company

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



5 Mistakes That Changed History. 

Presented by Paul Coulter The Bally. Gluttony. Adelaide Fringe February 17-26 2023.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Paul Coulter could be the kind of history teacher that every child would love to have, His passion for history is boundless. In 5 Mistakes That Changed History, he excites an interest in five historical events that he claims changed history because of a mistake, an error in judgement or an unintended action. With the enthusiasm of a child opening a birthday present and the energy of a sports competitor he launches into the impact that five historical figures had on the world. In the age old tradition of storytelling, he holds his audience spellbound as he recounts the stories of microbiologist Alexander Fleming who invented with Adelaide’s own Howard Florey Penicillin, Stanley Philip Lord, captain of the SS Californian at the time of the sinking of the Titanic, Cleopatra, the last of the Egyptian Pharaohs, Richard the Lionheart and Mary Reibey, whose image features on the $20 note. Each of these historical personages was responsible directly or indirectly in initiating dramatic events in history. .

Combining stand-up comedy with carefully researched and fascinating historical fact, Coulter explains how Fleming inadvertently left mould to grow on his petri dish and later observed how it attacked the bacteria. He informs the audience that Stanley Philip Lord told his crew to sleep and ignored the distress signals from the Titanic because he was so tired. Love was indeed blind for Cleopatra whose passion for Marc Antony led to her defeat and loss of the Egyptian throne. Richard the Lionheart’s gallivantings through the Crusades and squandering of England’s treasury led to the implementation of the Magna Carta and convicted horse stealer and transported convict Mary Reibey eventually introduced banking to the new colony. Coulter’s outstanding storytelling is completely believable, and the curious among his audience should be instantly inspired to fact check on Wikipedia. What I would guarantee is that after his animated and engaging performance the young lad in the front row will never forget the five characters  or the mistakes they made that turned the tide of history in different ways. Like Coulter, he is very likely to study an undergrad degree majoring in history.

At the end of each story an actor appears in character to bring to life the subject of each history. Raphael Stephens plays the messy Fleming, the sleepy Lord and the pompous Richard, while Bec Melrose enacts an arrogant Caesar and a grumpy Mary Reibey. These are closing captions to Coulter’s storytelling, but highly caricatured and fleetingly presented. I couldn’t help feeling that this was an unnecessary add on to Coulter’s effective performance. If intended to inject a theatrical impact then it might have been better to incorporate greater interaction between storyteller and character and with a more carefully written script. Stephens and Melrose played for laughs but it appeared too much like an improvised moment than a carefully developed idea. After all Coulter’s historical personages were not fools and not all accidental mistakes are foolish.

5 Mistakes That Changed History is a show that intrigues, fascinates and educates. History rhymes with mystery and there are many truths that lie hidden inviting investigation and deduction. Coulter’s enthusiasm is contagious and the audience who hung on every word are very likely to regard historical fact with more scrutiny after a most illuminating and entertaining hour under the Bally’s domed roof. Coulter significantly concludes with a moral as every good story does and what better than the words of one of history’s greatest enigmas. The words of Winston Churchill bring this entertaining show to a close. “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” It is advice tha the young boy in the front row will never forget.

“Occupied” by Kate Stevens, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 19 Furneaux Street, Manuka, 11am - 5pm until February 26. By HELEN MUSA


Kate Stevens, Gaza#10, 2020. Photo: Brenton McGeachie

CANBERRA painter Kate Stevens has an extraordinarily beautiful suite of oil paintings on show at Canberra Contemporary Art Space Manuka until tomorrow, February 26, on an unlikely subject – bombed-out Gaza.

“Occupied” is a series of new works painted from news photographs of the bombing of Gaza, put together as a kind of paused frame telling a story that relentlessly repeats.

Stevens first came to my notice about 20 years ago when, as a new graduate of the ANU School of Art, she won and ASOC scholarship that took her to Japan, a journey that resulted in an exhibition and residency at Gorman Arts Centre and set her on the path to success.

At the time, she could be found out of Barry Drive taking pictures and videos of passing traffic then reworking them into more painterly works of art.

When I popped in on the show yesterday—little realising its short duration — I found that Stevens has never been to Gaza, although she would love to.

Kate Stevens with two of her Gaza paintings.

Rather, she has spent years seeing disturbing images in the media of havoc and explosions, often presented in such a way is to blur out the human element.

Disturbed by the evident imbalance of power in the conflict, she set about capturing the beauty and the terror of Gaza in the way only paint can do, giving life and humanity to what she describes as “bland media images.”

I asked her if she was beautifying horror, but Stevens is adamant that her painterly way is a way of inviting viewers into a landscape of conflict to think about what's going on.

“It looks beautiful and it lures you in,” she says, “Painting is the perfect medium for socio-historical comment.”

And she’s taken a leaf from the book of a master, having studied Arthur Streeton's paintings at the War Memorial and noted how he used the pinks and golds of the sky to create something evocative.

“ I just hope people will take notice,” she says.