Friday, March 31, 2023



Directed by Dino Dimitriadis and Zindzi Okenyo

Musical Direction by Allen Rene Louis.

Choreographed by Tarik Frimpong – Costume design by Rita Naidu

Lighting design by Karen Norris – Sound design by Brendon Boney

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse. March 29 – April 2 2023

Opening night performance on March 29 reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

Darron Hayes (Pharus Young) (c) and the cast of  "Choir Boy"

Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Choir Boy” premiered in London in 2012, before touring throughout America prior to a successful Broadway season in 2019, when it received several Tony Award nominations.

This first Australian production by Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta premiered in the Riverside Theatre in February to co-incide with the Sydney world pride celebrations in Sydney, prior to touring to Brisbane, Wollongong and Canberra.

A coming-of-age story the play focusses on a talented young person of colour who fights for acceptance on his own terms. The play touches on matters of race, sexuality, and racial history, and, except for one role, is performed by an all-black cast.

Certainly one of the main attractions of the play was the opportunity it offered to hear a series of superbly sung gospel songs which are sprinkled throughout the text.

Darron Hayes as Pharus in "Choir Boy".

Set in the fictitious (presumably all-black) Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, sweet-voiced Pharus  is determined to be the best choir leader in the school’s 50-year history. His ambitions are thwarted and challenged by one of his peers, the headmaster’s nephew, Bobby (Zarif), who attempts to sabotage him, both in performance and in class, by taunting him with snide sexist slurs.

While still coming to terms with aspects of his sexuality, Pharus is proud of his queerness, and questions the headmaster’s reluctance to allow Bobby’s remarks to go unchecked

Robert Harrell (Headmaster Marrow) - Darron Hayes (Pharus)

His opportunity to fight this battle comes with Headmaster’s decision to employ a retired teacher, Mr Pendleton (Tony Sheldon) who encourages his students to broaden their thinking. This leads to a bitter confrontation between Pharus and Bobby during which Pharus launches into a long monologue to argue a thesis about Gospel songs being used as “code” by negro slaves.

Much of this monologue, and indeed others that followed, was largely unintelligible to the untuned ear due to the various accents of the actors, and the heightened style of acting which featured a great deal of explosive reactions, shouting and gesticulating. 

Darron Hayes is magnetic in the central role of Pharus Young, a role he’s performed previously in America. An animated actor with an angelic singing voice, his performance is both passionate and moving. Hayes is given strong support by the rest of the cast which includes  Zarif, who plays the Bobby, Theo Williams as the quiet giant, David, and Quinton Rofail Rich as AJ., Gareth Outlow as Junior, and Tawanda Muzenda.  

Robert Harrell brought a quiet dignity to the role of Headmaster Marrow, while Australian theatre legend, Tony Sheldon, the only white actor in the cast, delighted with his marvellously idiosyncratic cameo as Mr. Pendleton.

Tony Sheldon as Mr. Pendleton

Despite an unexplained 20 minute delay in commencing the performance on opening night, which must have been as unsettling for the actors as it was for the audience, this tightly directed production of “Choir Boy”, was particularly notable for its superb ensemble singing and inventive, well-drilled choreography. It received an enthusiastic reception from the appreciative first night audience.

                                                           Images: Phil Erbacher

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.



Techno Folk, Ensemble Offspring. At The Street Theatre, March 29. Guest reviewer Felix Huber.

Jason Noble on clarinet, Claire Edwardes on percussion. Photo by Peter Hislop. 

THIS week’s  performance from Ensemble Offspring at the Street Theatre was testament to a thriving but not often visible scene of new classical and contemporary music. 

Featuring the trio of Claire Edwardes on percussion, Jason Noble on clarinet and Benjamin Kopp on piano, the show immediately promised to entertain as Noble walked on carrying a bass clarinet.

The first piece of the night’s varied program, “Paisaje Folclórico No. 2” by Argentinian composer Sebastián Tozzola, featured Noble on the instrument with piano accompaniment by Kopp. The piece began in the clarinet’s higher register and gradually worked its way down until the full depth of the instrument was on display, just in time for Kopp to begin the swaying accompaniment for the dance section of the piece.

The audience was then treated to various pairings and solo performances from the three members of the group, each with its own charming backstory and appeal. Most impressive was Kopp’s rendition of Karen Tanaka’s “Techno Etudes”, a three movement work full of blistering rhythms at breakneck speed which required impressive technical mastery.

Throughout the set, Edwardes detailed the group’s efforts at creating a program of what she called “living music”, a rare thing in a field so often fixated with the past. Of particular emphasis was Edwardes’ commissioning of women composers in an effort to create equity in what has historically been a male dominated discipline. Her  passion for music which is both current and progressive was infectious and cast a very promising light on the shape of music to come.

Not only was the night’s program a brilliant snapshot of current classical and contemporary music, but it was also incredibly well thought out, with each piece taking the audience to a whole new musical world than the previous. The pure chaotic energy of the Techno Etudes was followed by Alice Chance’s “Mirroring”, a calming piece for vibraphone solo which Edwardes introduced as “basically a pop song”.

The show’s centrepiece was a commissioned work from Australian jazz pianist and composer Joe Chindamo, which was the first piece of the night to feature all three musicians simultaneously. The work united the three musicians, giving each their place to shine, and creatively blended interesting harmonic textures with the avant-garde. Moments of melodic stability were frequently interrupted by frantic runs from Edwardes on the vibraphone, rumbling dissonances from Kopp’s piano and squeals from Noble’s Clarinet. The piece was challenging, yet there was an enormous sense of satisfaction in the room as it culminated in all three musicians playing triangles in a cheeky literal nod to the trio associated imagery of the work.

To finish the night, the group played their own arrangements of a selection of Chick Corea’s “Children’s Songs”, a perfect conclusion to the thrilling program. Throughout these final pieces, all three performers exuded an all-encompassing love for music which had been visible from each of them all night. One could not help but smile.

Thursday, March 30, 2023


Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Directed by Dino Dimitriadis and Zindzi Okenyo

Riverside National Theatre Of Parramatta production

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse to 2 April



Reviewed by Len Power


‘Choir Boy’ first opened in London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2012 and went on to have seasons in the USA and on Broadway.  Set in the Charles R. Drew School For Boys, young black and gay student, Pharus Young, is determined to be the best choir leader in the history of the school.  Taunted by another of the all-black choir members with hurtful slurs about his homosexuality, Pharus tries to conform to masculine expectations of the school and his fellow students.

This story of a young gay man desperate to find his place in the world is punctuated with a capella gospel hymns of love and warmth that are in conflict with the young man’s struggle to be liked and accepted for himself.  In this case, it’s his homosexuality that is a ‘problem’, but the fact there is conflict because he is perceived as ‘different’ by his fellow students is really the issue.  How he feels about the way he is treated at an age where fitting in with his peers would be important to him, is at the centre of this play.

The headmaster, played by Robert Harrell, is bound by rules and regulations and proves to be not much help.  An elderly white teacher, Mr. Pendleton, played by Tony Sheldon, employed to help with the boys’ critical thinking, ultimately admits defeat as well.  A happy or tragic ending might have been expected but the play’s actual ending is more realistic.

A plus in this production is the gospel singing.  Music director, Allen Reneé Louis and Associate Musical Director, Zara Stanton, have obtained fine vocal performances by the talented cast of young men.

The drama linking the songs seems not as compelling as the music, but that is not necessarily a problem.  We do not learn much about the characters and the small scenes seem to be snapshots in time, rather than a story with continuity.  A lot of the dialogue is hard to understand as the boys speak with an accent that is unfamiliar to our ears.  We come to realize that the emotion of the scenes presented is more important here than story.

Darron Hayes as Pharus Young, the troubled gay young man, gives a strong, dramatic performance and sings gloriously.  The rest of the cast of students are more notable for their fine singing than for the dramatic opportunities the play allows them.  Tony Sheldon gives an excellent, believable performance as Mr. Pendleton, a white man who thinks that his way of teaching, effective in the past, will work just as well with this group.  The moment where he realizes he is wrong is very moving.

The simple abstract setting by Paperjam productions evokes the atmosphere of an old school steeped in tradition and the directors, Dino Dimitriadis and Zindzi Okenyo, use the acting spaces and levels of the setting well.  The emotional levels in the drama and singing have been carefully realized.

This is a play where feelings have the most importance.  The emotion in the gospel singing and in the dramatic scenes, rather than their story content, carries the play forward.  It does not meet the usual expectations of a play and may concern audience members who want more depth in the story.  It requires that, more on an empathy level, you understand how being intolerant of a person simply because they are different can cause serious emotional damage.


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


MADAMA BUTTERFLY - Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Diego Torre (Pinkerton) in "Madama Butterfly"


Conducted by Brian Castles-Onion

Directed by Alex Olle (La Fura dels Baus) – Revival Director: Susana Gomez

Set designed by Alfons Flores – Costume Design by Lluc Castells

Lighting Design by Alexander Koppelmann – Realised by Jason Morphett

Sound realised by Jake Luther.

Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair: March 24th until April 23rd. 2023

Opening Night performance on March 24th reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Diego Torre (Pinkerton) and ensemble 

Having been fortunate enough to have experienced many stagings of “Madama Butterfly” over the years, this particular version remains high on my list of favourites, due mainly to its success in bringing the opera into the 21st century to make some powerful statements about modern society, while still respecting the intentions of the composer.

Since its 2014 season on Sydney Harbour, this production of “Madama Butterfly” has been staged in the ruins of Caracalla and the Circus Maximus in Rome; the only one of the HOSH productions to have been seen overseas.

Olle states in his program notes that the ultimate meaning of the opera is the loss of paradise. Then by setting the opera in the present day, and utilising the dazzling views of Sydney Harbour at night, with its spectacular skyline of illuminated skyscrapers, opera house, Harbour Bridge and nearby botanical gardens, this would be the perfect setting to illustrate this thesis.   

His designer, Alfon Flores, came up with a remarkable outdoor setting of lush green lawns in a picturesque park where engineers can be seen busily taking measurements as the opera begins.  At one end of this park, event organisers are erecting decorations and chairs, while at the other end; caterers busy themselves arranging tables, chairs and refreshments for a lavish wedding celebration.  

During this activity, Pinkerton (Diego Torre), (in this version no longer a naval officer, instead, a smartly -suited property developer), arrives with the American Consul, Sharpless, (Michael Honeyman). They inspect the preparations, and check over the legalities of his marriage agreement.

Pinkerton has a cavalier view of his marriage to Cio –Cio-San (Karah Son). He regards it as a bit of a fling, taking opportunity of the peculiarities of Japanese marriage laws, before returning to America to find an American bride.  

As Sharpless suggests to Pinkerton that he should take the wedding more seriously, the wedding guests begin to arrive. Impatient to get the ceremonials over and learning that his bride-to-be is also known as Butterfly, he tells Sharpless, “If I crush her wings, so be it”.

Diego Torre (Pinkerton) - Michael Honeyman (Sharpless) - Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Bronwyn Douglass

In a magically staged entrance the marriage party arrives through a grove of bamboo trees over the top of the hill. Cio-Cio-San is dressed in remarkable cocoon-like robes accompanied by attendants who appear more interested in the champagne than their bridesmaid duties.

After being introduced to Pinkerton, Butterfly tells him that while her family were once wealthy, she has had to earn a living working as a geisha. As a sign of her devotion she will renounce her religion to embrace his, and then proudly shows him her treasured possessions, although hiding the ceremonial sword with which her father committed suicide.

Diego Torre (Pinkerton) - Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Sian Sharp (Suzuki) 

The marriage agreement is read, followed by fireworks, but while the guests are congratulating the couple, Butterfly’s uncle, the Bonze (David Parkin), (in this production a gang lord), arrives with his henchmen. The Bonze berates Butterfly for embracing Christianity while his henchmen start overturning the chairs and tables.

Diego Torre (Pinkerton) - Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - David Parkin (The Bonze) and ensemble

Pinkerton steps in and orders the Bonze to leave, which he does. But so do Butterfly’s relatives and friends, who, shocked by the revelation that Butterfly has renounced her religion, also disown her. Butterfly and Pinkerton are left alone among the debris. In a moment of intimacy, Butterfly reveals a large tattoo of butterfly wings on her back, and as a large yellow moon rises over the horizon, they declare their love for each other.

During the interval a remarkable set-change occurs in full view of the audience, which heightens Olle’s Paradise Lost concept. An army of workmen move in, uproot the romantic bamboo forest, tear up the lush lawns and in their place begin constructing a multi-storey structure beside a large sign displaying “Pinkerton Construction Corporation”.  

When the opera resumes it is three years later and Butterfly is living in a section of this still unfinished building, with her faithful servant, Suzuki (Sian Sharp) as her companion. She’s now eschewed traditional dress and embraced all things American, wearing a T Shirt emblazoned with an American flag and denim shorts which reveal her heavily tattooed legs and arms. 

Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San in "Madama Butterfly"

Although nearly penniless, and despite Suzuki’s pleadings, she clings to Pinkerton’s promise that he will return. When Sharpless arrives with a letter from Pinkerton, she’s convinced that the letter is to tell her that Pinkerton is coming, and unwittingly frustrates Sharpless’s attempts to read the contents of the letter to her.  

Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the marriage-broker, Goro (Virgilio Marino) accompanied by the wealthy Prince Yamadori (Alexander Hargreaves) and a  marriage offer for Butterfly to marry Yamadori .

Butterfly is adamant that she’s not available for marriage and sends both men packing, before introducing Sharpless to  her child; Pinkerton’s son, Sorrow,(Kai Cihlar).

Alexander Hargreaves (Prince Yamadori) - Michael Honeyman (Sharpless) - Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Virgilio Marino (Goro)  

Too upset by this revelation to tell Butterfly that Pinkerton’s letter advises that he’s returning with this American bride, Sharpless leaves, though not before  promising Butterfly that he will inform Pinkerton that he has a son.  

A cannon shot signals the arrival of Pinkerton’s ship in the harbour, at which an excited Butterfly joins Suzuki in strewing the house with flowers, before draping herself in her wedding gown to go up on the roof to await Pinkerton’s arrival.  

In the previous version of this production, Butterfly was joined by Suzuki and Sorrow to sit all night watching out over busy Sydney Harbour, as they waited for Pinkerton’s arrival, while The Humming Chorus” was sung by the off-stage chorus. It was a magical and memorable moment.

Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) and ensemble 

In this revival however, Butterfly sits alone on the roof while a procession of presumably homeless people sing the Humming Chorus as they process past Butterfly’s house. Regretfully, this change not only takes the focus away from Butterfly’s reverie, it also resulted in some uneven singing from the chorus as they struggled to keep pitch while negotiating the tricky steep stage in near darkness.

Other blemishes on the otherwise superb staging occurred at the end of Act 1 and Act 3, when the lights came up too early causing Butterfly and Pinkerton to destroy the magic they had created by having to exit in full view of the audience, as well, the surtitles are positioned about 12 inches too low, making them difficult to read by the majority of the audience.

Perfect casting as the impetuous and tragic Butterfly, Karah Son acted with assurance and achieved a consistently beautiful vocal tone throughout. Her superb rendition of “One Fine Day” provided one of many vocal highlights during the evening. Her Cio- Cio-San was no longer a prettily preserved butterfly pinned and displayed as an example of the customs of a bygone age, but instead a vibrant, modern young woman who saw her marriage to an American as a way to a new life and prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve it 

Surely one of the great tenor voices of his generation, Diego Torre filled the vast stage with his mellifluous vocals whenever he stepped on stage. He brought depth to his characterisation as the ambitious young man who didn’t recognise paradise when he found it, thereby destining himself to a life of regret as the result of his decisions.

Michael Honeyman, as the thoughtful, dignified consul, Sharpless,  perplexed by his friends attitude to his responsibilities but helpless to prevent the inevitable tragedy that resulted; Sian Sharp as Butterfly’s warm, caring friend and confidant, Suzuki, and Danita Weatherstone as Pinkerton’s American wife, Kate, all made notable contributions to the production.

Brian Castles-Onion, who’s conducted every opera so far in the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour series, drew a superb account of Puccini’s beautiful score from the Opera Australia Orchestra ensuring that each of the luscious arias and ensembles succeeded in capturing the joy and tragedy inherent in this glorious opera.

Karah Son (Cio-Cio-San) - Diego Torre (Pinketon) in the closing moments of "Madama Butterfly"

                                                             Images by Keith Saunders

      This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.





Wednesday, March 29, 2023


Written by Heidi Thomas

Based on the play by Alan Bennett

Directed by Richard Eyre

Screening at Palace Electric and Dendy cinemas from April 6


Reviewed by Len Power 22 March 2023


The film, “Allelujah”, starts out as a tender and humorous look at old age in a nursing home threatened with closure by bureaucrats.  Based on Alan Bennett’s 2018 play and updated to include a sequence involving the Covid pandemic at the end, the humorous incidents give way to a very serious and unexpected ending.  The result is a film that entertains but it’s also jarring in its sinister conclusion.

Director, Richard Eyre, has gathered together quite a cast including Judi Dench, Jennifer Saunders, Julia McKenzie, Russell Tobey, Derek Jacobi and a host of other accomplished character actors recognizable from British films and television.

Actor, Bally Gill, plays the central role of the doctor known as Dr. Valentine because nobody can pronounce his real Indian name.  This man loves his work with the elderly in spite of the many trials and tribulations that he faces every day.  He strikes up a friendship with the head nurse played against type by Jennifer Saunders.  She is a tough, no nonsense health worker who deeply cares for her patients but is under enormous pressure to find more and more beds.

Alan Bennett’s humour and insight into human behaviour comes through in Heidi Thomas’s screenplay.  It’s often highly amusing but it’s also carefully grounded in reality.  We squirm as much as laugh.  The whole cast give excellent performances.

The unsettling ending will surprise and shock audiences.  There is a surprising revelation at the hospital under threat of closure and then a tender but chilling sequence set in another hospital some time later during the height of the Covid epidemic.  Dr. Valentine, exhausted at the end of his shift in the busy Covid ward, makes an impassioned plea for the National Health Service and health workers that is heart-felt but seems at odds with the tone of the rest of the film.

This is an enjoyable and often amusing film with great performances but be ready for that ending.

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




Grayson Woodham, Joel Horwood and Lewis Macdonald in Holding the Man

Holding the Man.

Based on the book by Timothy Conigrave and adapted for the stage by Tommy Murphy. Directed by Jarrad West. Assistant Director Hannah Lance. Stage Manager/Executive Producer Nikki Fitzgerald. Assistant Stage Managers Marion West/ Sophia Carlton.Lighting Designer Nathan Sciberras. Sound Designer Neville Pye. Composer Alexander Unikowski. Costume Designer Fiona Leach. Costume Realisation Tanya Taylor. Wig Stylist Shelby Holland. Puppet Designer Emma Rowland. Props Coordinator Brenton Warren. Marya Glyn-Daniel. Production Manager Alice Ferguson Promotional Photography Eva Schroeder. Production Photography Janelle McMenamin/Michael Moore. Marketing ACT HUB- Louiza Blomfield/Sebastian Winter Everyman Theatre. ACT HUB. March 22 – April 1 2023. Bookings:

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Joel Horwood and Lewis Macdonald in Holding the Man

The actors are warming up on stage as the audience enters the theatre at ACT HUB for Everyman Theatre’s production of Tommy Murphy’s play Holding the Man, adapted from the novel by Tim Conigrave. It is a reminder that what we are about to see is performed by actors. The characters, although based on real people, are not the real characters of Conigrave’s moving autobiographical account of the devastating impact of the AIDS crisis.  The fact that the two hour’s traffic on the stage is played out by an outstanding ensemble of performers makes it no less visceral, no less powerful, no less moving and just as real as if we were watching a documentary film on the ravaging devastation of the Aids epidemic of the Eighties and Nineties.

Joe Dinn and Joel Horwood in Holding the Man
Joel Horwood as Tim Conigrave and Lewis Macdonald as his lover John Caleo play their roles as the key protagonists throughout the play while the other four cast members take on the roles of the various support characters in Murphy’s gripping contemporary tragedy. Together writer Murphy and director West take audiences on an emotional rollercoaster ride in a performance that has one splitting one’s sides at the masturbating slumber party scene or Conigrave’s movement class at NIDA and Joe Dinn’s Scarecrow from a shopping centre production of The Wizard of Oz or his drag act at a Gay Disco.Dinn’s comedic skills are matched by his portrayal of   Conigrave’s father's incredible despair when he learns of his son’s condition. Amy Kowalczuk once again demonstrates her versatility  in the role of Tim’s loyal friend Juliet and her hilarious portrayal of NIDA’s movement teacher, channeling the familiar fearful drama lecturers. Grayson Woodham also gives a comical and caricatured performance as Juliet’s mother as well as Peter, Tim and John’s tennis playing gay friend. In Murphy’s adaptation Tracy Noble effectively plays multiple roles as John and Tim’s mothers, lesbian Rose, one of the boys at the slumber party and the doctor who delivers the test results. In the second half our laughter is turned to tears as we witness the cruel fate as Horwood and Macdonald capture the anguish and dread of their characters’ fatal destiny.  West’s actors create an ensemble so tightly woven and so beautifully directed that every moment of this sensitively performed production rings with a truth that recalls an age of innocence, torn apart by a disease that ravaged the gay community.

Lewis Macdonld, Joel Horwood, Tracy Nobe, Amy Kowalczuk inHolsing the Man
I remember the horrifying impact of AIDS on the undeserving. I remember the fear and the panic. But I also remember the love and the courage, the selfless devotion and the unconditional support for the sufferers. It is the true quality of human love and sacrifice that Horwood and Macdonald imbue in performances that are so real, so honest and such a tribute to Caleo and Conigrave whose book appeared only ten days before his death. From the joyful awakening of the schoolboy crush to the terrifying prospect of the disease’s ultimate inevitability, Horwood and Macdonald perform with a truth that shapes their difference and seals their love.

 In the wake of the Covid 19 Pandemic and with the recent memory of the pain and the cruel prejudice of the AIDS epidemic, Murphy and West remind us of the vulnerability of the human condition and the enduring nature of love irrespective of gender or sexuality. It is the legacy of Conigrave’s autobiographical novel, resonating with empathy in Murphy’s adaptation and sensitively directed with flair and compassion by West. West has inspired a committed and talented cast to embrace Murphy’s writing and honour Conigrave’s love tragedy. Everyman Theatre’s production of Holding the Man  is a gift to Canberra’s theatre-going community. Playwright, director, cast and creatives have collaborated in an inspiring theatrical tour de force that reminds us of the enduring nature of true love. Writer Tommy Murphy will be attending a Q and A after the final performance on April 1st. If you love the very best that theatre has to offer and embrace life with empathy, compassion and love then do not miss this outstanding production of Holding the Man.