Monday, July 31, 2023

SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Sydney Opera House.


Antoinette Halloran and Ben Mingay in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim – Book by Hugh Wheeler

Directed by Stuart Maunder – Conducted by Simon Holt

Set and Costumes designed by Roger Kirk – Lighting Designed by Philip Lethlean

Sound Design by Jim Atkins – Lighting realised by Jason Morphett

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House July 26 – August 27, 2023.

Performance on July 26 reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

Antoinette Halloran (Mrs Lovett) - Benjamin Rasheed (Adolfo Pirelli) - Ben Mingay (Sweeney Todd)

The 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Sydney Opera House provided an opportunity for this Sydney season of Victorian Opera’s acclaimed production of the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler Grand Guignol masterpiece,  “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”; a production Victorian Opera shares with New Zealand Opera.  

This production stars Ben Mingay, a charismatic performer with an arresting deep baritone voice, as the murderous barber, Sweeney Todd. Mingay fascinates with his ability to persuade the audience to invest in Todd’s humanity and recognise the effects of the deep hurt caused by his experiences, even when he’s at his most horrifying.    

Having been transported to Australia on trumped up charges, Todd believes that his wife poisoned herself in his absence, resulting in his daughter, Johanna, being made a ward of the venal Judge Turpin. Todd is obsessed with wreaking vengeance on those responsible for his transportation.    

Returning to London Todd discovers that his old shop is still vacant, and that Mrs Lovett, who runs a pie-shop below, has kept his treasured razors for him.  Mrs Lovett is attracted to Todd, recognising his obsession as an opportunity to save her failing business and suggests a bizarre scheme through which both can achieve their goals. Todd readily agrees, setting in motion a ghastly chain of events.

Antoinette Halloran (Mrs Lovett) and Ben Mingay (Sweeney Todd).

As Mrs Lovett, Antoinette Halloran matches Mingay every step of the way with her multi-facetted performance. Possessing superb comic timing matched with precisely phrased vocals, Halloran is able to pivot on a hairpin from being hysterically funny and lovable one moment to frighteningly menacing the next. Her duets with Todd, “A Little Priest” and “By the Sea” are highlights.

Director Stuart Maunder, has taken advantage of Roger Kirk’s dark wooden setting and heavy, swirling costumes to conjure up an unsettling atmosphere of vermin-infested London streets, shrouded in ever-present fog, through which shadowy figures appear and disappear; their faces lit by the harsh footlights that are a feature of Philip Lethlean’s atmospheric lighting design; reproduced on this occasion by Jason Morphett.

Fastidious sound design by Jim Atkins, and admirable attention to articulation by all the cast, insure that not a word of Sondheim’s brilliant lyrics, with their brain-teasing interior rhymes is lost, while Simon Holt and his brilliant nine-piece band do full justice to the discordant harmonies so integral to Sondheim’s complex arrangements.

Harry Target (Anthony Hope) and Ben Mingay (Sweeney Todd)

Superb performances abound, led by Kanen Breen, resplendent in a remarkable leather coat, as the Beadle.  Margaret Trubiano is a standout as the mysterious omnipresent Beggar Woman, while Jeremi Campese breaks hearts as Tobias Ragg particularly in the duet with Halloran, “Not While I’m Around”.

Ashleigh Rubenach and Harry Targett are perfectly cast as the young lovers, Johanna and Anthony Hope, and Dean Vice as Judge Turpin and Benjamin Rasheed in dual roles as Adolfo Pirelli and Jonas Fogg add considerable vocal and dramatic heft with their performances.

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is acknowledged as one of Sondheim’s most brilliant achievements. This production serves it well. Although this season is comparatively brief, catch it while you can, otherwise you’re likely to wait a long time to experience a better one.

Jeremi Campese (Tobias Ragg) and Antoinette Halloran (Mrs Lovett)

All images by Daniel Boud

This review first published in the digital edition of  CITY NEWS on 30.07.23 







Sunday, July 30, 2023




Amadeus by Peter Shaffer.

Designed and directed by Cate Clelland. Music by Christine Faron. Lighting design. Nathan Sciberras  Sound Design Neville Pye. Costumes by Deborah Huff-Horwood. Brenton Warren Properties. Assistant Directors Ian Hart and Rosemary Gibbons.  Set Construction Coordinator Russell Brown OAM. Costume Coordinator Jeanette Brown OAM. Stage Manager Ewan. Canberra Repertory Society. July 27 – August 12 2023 Bookings 6257 1950

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Michael J Smith and Justice-Noah Malfitano as The Venticellis
and Jim Adamik as Salieri in Amadeus b

Director Cate Clelland has staged a highly commendable production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus at Canberra Rep. Shaffer ingeniously combines historical fact and fiction to imagine the relationship between 18th Century court composer to Austrian Emperor Joseph ll, Antonio Salieri and musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The aging Salieri, obsessed with jealousy and envy of the rising musical star, enters into a Faustian pact to live a life of virtue devoted to his God if he will provide divine intervention to destroy Mozart’s career and the favour he enjoys at court.  Shaffer employs two society gossips Venticello 1 and Venticello 2 , played with delightful tittle tattle by Justice-Noah Malfitano and Michael J. Smith. to entertain the audience with historical fact, rumour and innuendo. Salieri (Jim Adamik) obsessed with envy narrates his own tormenting preoccupation with the genius of the young Mozart (Jack Shanahan). Overcome by Mozart’s divine genius, Salieri conspires to discredit and destroy Mozart’s career with poisoned malice, feigned friendship and malicious accusation before Joseph ll (Neil Macleod), the emperor’s esteemed courtier’s Count Johann Killian von Strack (David Bennett), Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg (Tony Falla) and Baron Gottfried van Swieten (Ian Russell).

Shaffer has written a homily of bitter irony. Accused of poisoning Mozart in order to achieve success, Salieri in the final scene must face his own destruction The cancerous resentment has devoured the virtue he promised his God and his confession offers no reprieve from ignominy and future anonymity.  Shaffer’s play is so wittily written, so convincing in its drama and so riveting in its hypothesis that it is easy for an audience to be intrigued and convinced that Mozart’s death was the direct consequence of Salieri’s jealousy and evil Machiavellian manipulation. Shaffer is a superb storyteller and Clelland’s production has capitalized wonderfully on his theatrical flair. But history is a chronicle of different truths, and Salieri’s talent and influence as court composer and teacher remains acknowledged in the works of such composers as Beethoven, Lizt, and Shubert. But then not even Shaffer, as fine a dramatist as he is is likely to let the truth get completely in the way of this story or Clelland’s inventive and imaginative production.

In staging Shaffer’s historical fiction, Clelland is fortunate to be supported by an excellent team.  Clelland’s open stage set design has allowed her to take full advantage of the freedom to keep the action flowing . 18th century specialist in keyboard music, Christine Faron has magically recorded Mozart and Salieri’s composition on fortepiano lending authenticity to the period and the music.. Deborah Huff-Horwood continues this attention to period in her costume designs which also observe the court dress as well as the costuming of the ordinary Viennese citizens. Sound designer Neville Pye and Lighting designer Nathan Sciberras provide the necessary mood and atmosphere, capturing the play’s moments of light comedy and  Mozart’s dark descent at the hands of a scheming Salieri.

The play hangs on the performances of Salieri and Mozart and Clelland’s casting of these roles is inspired. Adamik, renowned for his comic roles in past productions has proven to be an actor of enormous dramatic stature. His Salieri. on stage throughout the production, is mesmerising from private confession to fawning ingratiation and demoniacal  deviousness. It is a tour de force performance matched only by Shanahan’s mercurial Mozart, a sniggering infantile youth , supremely conceited and yet divinely gifted. Shanahan’s descent from confident genius to the pit of despair is brilliantly captured  in a performance that evokes  both pity and empathy. They are well supported by a fine cast but deserving of special mention are Sienna Curnow in the impishly sexy and long suffering role of Mozart’s wife Constanze Weber. It is an especially difficult part and Curnow convincingly captures the early coquettishness and later desperation. There is also a finely tuned comic performance from Neil McLeod as the doddery emperor with a grip still on his God given authority.

Amadeus runs for three hours including an interval and the second act would not suffer from some editing, but having said that, this is a very fine production of Shaffer’s intriguing debate on one’s relationship with one’s God and the cost of human frailty. Highly commended.

UNHINGED - The Training Ground.


Produced, directed and choreographed by Bonnie Neate and Suzy Piani.

Videography and 3D animation by Trent Houssenloge and Chris Curran.

Erindale Theatre 28th and 29th July 2023.

Performance on July 28th reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

The Unhinged Ensemble with Larina Bagic (Coppelia) - Imogen Addison (Doctor Coppelius) - Joshua Walsh (Franz) - Alice Collins (Swanhilda). 

“Unhinged” is the third in a series of popular classical ballets de-constructed and re-imagined by Bonnie Neate and Suzy Piani as dynamic contemporary dance presentations for students of The Training Ground.

The Training Ground has been established by Neate and Piani for the specific purpose of providing young dancers with professional ambitions with practical transitional pre-professional experience.

“Giselle” and “Romeo and Juliet” were the subjects of the first two presentations. This year it is “Coppelia”, normally an innocuous ballet about a group of kids who break into a toyshop and terrorise the elderly owner. In this production it becomes an intense, twisted, psycho drama which explores themes of control and manipulation with stripped back costumes and stunning visual effects.

Neate and Piani have invented their own unique choreographic vocabulary for these productions which currently involve extraordinarily disciplined unison movement for the ensemble and demanding floor-work, acrobatic lifts, tumbles and extensions for the soloists.

They eschew the music specifically written for these ballets in favour of dramatic contemporary soundtracks spliced with popular songs, and choose costumes, which while attractive, differentiate the characters only minimally.

It is not necessary to have any knowledge of the ballet which provides the inspiration to enjoy this thrilling dance experience, although obviously some knowledge would add to the pleasure, particularly as each production is supported with exceptional professional standard production values.

“Unhinged” for instance, is re-imagined with a cast of twenty dancers, five principals, Larina Bagic (Coppelia), Alice Collins (Swanhilda), Imogen Addison (Doctor Coppelius) Isabelle Becvarik (Head Doll) and the only male, Joshua Walsh (Franz) together with a tight ensemble of fifteen dancers.

Joshua Walsh (Franz) and Alice Collins (Swanhilda) in "Unhinged". 

For the opening scene, which establishes the testy relationship between Swanhilda and Franz, the ensemble is costumed in short-skirted blue costumes. For later scenes the short skirts are discarded and the ensemble perform in either blue leotards as townspeople or flesh coloured leotards as dolls in Doctor Coppelius doll factory.  

Doctor Coppelius  initially wore a short loose smock, later replaced with a blue sequined leotard, and Franz wore loose-fitting shirt and pants throughout. Coppelia was costumed in a blue leotard and Swanhilda’s leotard was red.

Larina Bagic (Coppelia) - Joshua Walsh (Franz) - Alice Collins (Swanhilda)

For those following the storyline ,there was plenty of heavy drama surrounding  Swanhilda and her response to the burgeoning relationship between her boyfriend, Franz, and Doctor Coppelius’ AI doll, Coppelia. This was depicted in a succession of spectacular duets, trios and ensemble numbers which climaxed in a sensationally staged immolation scene.

For everyone else there is plenty to impress with the incredibly disciplined unison work of the ensemble, particularly when they were depicting dolls in the factory, as well as the level of skill exhibited by the five principal dancers, all of whom would already be assets in any professional dance company.

As well, there’s the remarkable choreography, the immersive soundscape and the incredible video projections which surround the dancers. Given the standard of this production, it seems a shame that there are not opportunities to tour it widely. It deserves to be seen by a much wider audience than those lucky enough to have been present at either of these two performances.

Larina Bagic (Coppelia) and ensemble in "Unhinged".

                                                      Images Eliza Swiderski

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.








Violinist skilfully showcases a world of music in "New Letters to Esterhazy"

Rupert Guenther performs “New Letters to Esterhazy.” Photo: Peter Hislop

by Tony Magee

Trained as a virtuoso concert violinist in Vienna, Rupert Guenther’s musical passions cover a diverse range of styles. 

Immersed in music from a young age, his parents hosted house concerts in their Toorak mansion “Carmyle” over a 50 year period. He thought nothing of local and international concert artists being engaged to play there, or sometimes just popping in the back door for a cuppa. The likes of pianists Leslie Howard, Paula Badura-Skoda and Yalta Ryce-Menuhin graced the stage as well as baritone Olaf Baer.

After an evening’s performance at Melbourne Town Hall, members of Concentus Musicus Vienna with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, or the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra with conductor Karl Münchinger would seek out the warmth and no-doubt a night-cap or two on a cold wintery night.

Beginning with “New Letters to Esterházy”, Guenther played five movements, all stylistically different, as a homage to that giant of the classical music era, composer Joseph Haydn, employed at the court of the wealthy Esterházy family and also in Vienna. The premise was sending music back to Haydn, from the 21st century, as a reaction to his own works.

Completely improvised, this performance, whilst sticking to the premise, was unique for the audience, as it was all being invented on the spot as he played his violin.

Each movement did seem to have a key centre however. The first revealed a clear, almost penetrating tone, mostly using the high register of his instrument and in free time. 

The closest artistic parallel comes not from music at all, but painting. Watching an artist create spontaneously, the brush strokes on the canvas coming in free-fall straight from the head.

Deeply personal, the work continued with the second movement, contrasting in triple time and was much more legato and melodic. Guenther sometimes plays “within the cracks” - a musical term suggesting the inclusion of quarter tones or even eighth tones.  This movement saw the lower register of the violin revealed with dark brooding tones emerging.

The third movement saw intense double stopping as he created intense, bold harmonies in fifths and fourths. It was music full of drama and intensity which grasped the listener. An intense palette of tonal colours and shadings with greater dynamic range was also a feature of this section.

The fourth was the most cantabile of the sections, almost verging on a reflection on folk music from The British Isles and including some passages reminiscent of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The final movement was sparking and lively, notes skittering around in staccato, rather like birds at play. 

After interval, Guenther returned to play three pieces, beginning with “Hakone Maple”: a reaction to his time in Tokyo and Yokohama when he was 17.

Paradoxically, the piece is also aligned with Gypsy influences from Hungary and Romania, but combined with Japanese flute like qualities. Guenther was able to extract these qualities from his instrument and it was uncanny listening to and seeing how he did it. 

With prolific bending of the notes and featuring intervals mostly of minor seconds or major seconds the contrasting styles from around the world were a fascination.

“So Many Stars”, where in his terms, ’science meets art’, used a middle Eastern interval and scale system.

During a trip to Kashmir when he was 19, Guenther found himself attending prayers at dawn, meditating in the Himalayas and being transported on mystical journeys, but incredibly, combining his musical thought process with Australian indigenous art, drawing inspiration from paintings observed at the Desert Art Painters Gallery in 2004.

The result was a piece combining these two contrasting musical influences - worlds apart - to form his piece “Wandjira”, which closed the show. Evoking moths darting around the fire-light, the piece pays homage to The Rainbow Serpent.

Throughout the concert, Guenther’s improvisations demonstrated violin virtuosity, great skill, diverse and sometimes beautiful tone production, and a multitude of tonal shadings.

Not conventional in any way shape or form, Guenther admitted at the end, that his particular penchant for abstract improvisation was not easily assessable to some listeners, but I found myself, with dedicated persistence, accepting and enjoying what he created for us.

First published at Canberra City News July 29, 2023 and also at Tony's own blog, Art Music Theatre, July 30, 2023

Saturday, July 29, 2023



Amadeus by Peter Shaffer.  Canberra REP Theatre July 27 – August 12, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night July 28


Director • Cate Clelland
Assistant Director • Ian Hart; Assistant to the Director • Rosemary Gibbons

Stage Manager • Ewan; Stage Crew • Kristen Seal

Set Designer • Cate Clelland; Set Coordinator • Russell Brown OAM
Set Construction & Painting • Russell Brown OAM, Gordon Dickens, Andrew Kay, John Klingberg, Brian Moir, Eric Turner; Properties • Brenton Warren

Costume Designer • Deborah Huff-Horwood
Wardrobe Coordinator • Jeanette Brown OAM
Costume Makers • Cheryll Bowyer, Jeanette Brown OAM, Suzan Cooper, Anne Dickens, Helen Drum, Ros Engledow, Rosemary Gibbons, Rhana Good, Deborah Huff-Horwood, Jenny Kemp, Ann Moloney, Kristen Seal, Anna Senior OAM, Anne Turner, Joan White
Lighting Designer • Nathan Sciberras; Lighting Operators • Leeann Galloway, Deanna Gifford, Leanne van der Merwe, Ashley Pope
Sound Designer • Neville Pye; Fortepiano recordings • Christine Faron, Justin Mullins
Ghosts of the Future original composition • Ewan
Sound Operators • Leo Mansur, Lawrence Mays, Neville Pye, Disa Swifte


Antonio Salieri • Jim Adamik
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart • Jack Shanahan
Constanze Weber, wife to Mozart • Sienna Curnow
Joseph II, Emperor of Austria • Neil McLeod
Count Johann Killian von Strack • David H Bennett
Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg • Tony Falla
Baron Gottfried van Swieten • Ian Russell
The 'Venticelli' • Michael J. Smith, Justice-Noah Malfitano
Katherina Cavalieri • Harriet Allen

Citizens of Vienna • Charlotte Edlington, Grace Jasinski
Blair Liu, Kelly McInnes, John Whinfield, Joan White

The list is long, emphasising the value of having our Canberra Repertory Theatre Society, putting on such a quality production of Amadeus 'loved by God' – Peter Shaffer’s historical fiction study of what may have been the relationship between two composers: Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, (actually baptized without ‘Amadeus’), born January 27, 1756, Salzburg, died December 5, 1791, Vienna; and Antonio Salieri, born August 18, 1750, Legnago, Republic of Venice, died May 7, 1825, Vienna.

Just their names suggest fascinating differences between an over-the-top bumptious scatter-brain child prodigy German and a standard career oriented God-bothering Italian court composer – or at least that’s how Shaffer’s Salieri sees Mozart.  

His problem was true to history.  Though Salieri’s operas were solidly supported in official European circles in his lifetime, Shaffer says Salieri knew in his heart that Mozart’s upstart brilliance was God-given.  The point was that Salieri lived long enough after Mozart’s early 1791 death to see that brilliance grow into the musical force that we understand still today; while Salieri’s music was already outshone, even by Rossini(!), by 1825.

But the play is not simply a story of 18th Century court intrigue and competition between composers.  Jim Adamik creates perhaps his best in-depth character yet, in a tour de force charismatic presentation of Salieri.  The production depends on his commanding leadership in the role, and he leads with an assured strength – making us able to believe, in a truly empathetic way, in the sense of injustice and confusion in Salieri’s mind.  God should have known better, and made sure his work would shine eternally, rather than Mozart’s – yet he could not avoid the truth.  Though he was duplicitous in keeping up his social standing at court, we can almost feel sorry for him.

And herein is the strength of Shaffer’s play.  The truth is the truth, whatever else we personally would like it to be.  If only people in power around the world today could accept that, we might even save the Earth, from ourselves.

Canberra REP has done us proud, in Cate Clelland’s directing and in everyone’s obvious enthusiasm in the often amusing yet telling acting style, the set design (including terrific backdrop photos), the music recording, lighting and sound, with special mention of Jack Shanahan and Sienna Curnow in their wonderfully uninhibited playing of Mozart and his wife Constanze, as well for the amazing beautiful 18th Century costumes and hairstyling.

Here’s another REP production not to be missed.






Written by Peter Shaffer

Directed by Cate Clelland

Canberra REP production

Canberra REP theatre, Acton to 12 August


Reviewed by Len Power 28 July 2023


‘Amadeus’, a fictitious drama about the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Austrian Court Composer of the time, Antonio Salieri, premiered in London in 1979 and was a big hit on Broadway in 1980.  A subsequent film based on the play won eight Academy Awards including Best Film.

Canberra REP’s production has a cast of 16.  It looks great with colourful period costumes designed by Deborah Huff-Horwood and an atmospheric set designed by the director, Cate Clelland.

The story, told in flashback by Salieri, covers the arrival at Court of Mozart.  To Salieri’s horror, Mozart is foul-mouthed and foolish but also a musical genius.  Salieri recognizes that Mozart’s ability is far superior to his.  He feels betrayed by God and plots a deadly revenge.

The huge roles of both Salieri and Mozart dominate the play.  Jim Adamik gives a towering performance as Salieri showing all aspects of this man reacting to a perceived threat to his position and blaming God for it.  There is an impressive stillness at times in his performance which gives way to thunderous outpourings of emotion.  This is a dangerous man to cross.  His soliloquy with God at the end of the first act is memorably powerful.

Jack Shanahan is a superb Mozart.  Underneath the uncouth behaviour and lack of tact in Court, Shanahan gives us a Mozart who is aware that he must control his offensive behaviour but also shows us a young man who loves life and has an extraordinary musical talent.  He is most impressive and touching in his final scenes as he desperately works on his Requiem while losing touch with reality.

There is also fine work by other actors in major roles, including Neil McLeod as an amusing and doddering Joseph II, Emperor of Austria and Sienna Curnow as Mozart’s wife, Costanze.  Tony Falla, David H. Bennett and Ian Russell are all highly effective as the Court officials.

Justice-Noah Malfitano and Michael J. Smith as the ‘Venticelli’ (little winds) provide the gossip on the happenings at Court.  Both give skilful performances in these difficult, fast-paced roles.

The rest of the cast as Citizens of Vienna and Harriet Allen in the smaller role of opera singer, Katherina Cavalieri, all add strongly to the play’s atmosphere.

The music, recorded by Christine Faron for Mozart and Salieri to ‘play’ on stage, has been skilfully done.

Cate Clelland, the director, has given us a memorable staging of this very entertaining and thought-provoking play.


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


Thursday, July 27, 2023


Written by Joshua D. Maurer, Timothy Prager, Jimmy Smallhorne

Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan

A Transmission Films release

In cinemas from August 3


Previewed by Len Power 20 July 2023


In this age of Hollywood blockbusters, it’s nice to see that the film industry is still capable of producing films that quietly touch the emotions.

‘The Miracle Club’ is a heart-warming film about three ordinary women and close friends, Lily (Maggie Smith), Eileen (Kathy Bates) and Dolly (Agnes O'Casey) from a hard knocks community in Dublin, Ireland.

Chrissie (Laura Linney), has returned from the U.S. after a long absence for her mother’s funeral.  She gets a hostile reception from Lily and Eileen for reasons that become clear as the film progresses.

 As a result of a local talent quest, the three women win a pilgrimage to Lourdes in France.  Chrissie also joins them at the last minute.  During the trip, this uneasy group must confront their past while searching for personal miracles.

Maggie Smith, Agnes O'Casey and Kathy Bates

The film impresses with its very real characterizations, its deliberate pacing, its photography and the performances of the four women and the colourful community of people around them.

 Maggie Smith is superb as Lily, a religious woman whose son drowned many years before.  Well known for her comedic performances, this is an opportunity to see this fine actress in a serious role.  There are still flashes of humour - Maggie Smith is priceless as a backup singer in a talent contest.

Maggie Smith as Lily

Kathy Bates, well-remembered for her roles in ‘Misery’ and ‘Titanic’, is convincing as a bitter Irish woman, Eileen, who is unable to forgive the past and Laura Linney is quietly effective as the woman returning from the US.  Agnes O’Casey as Dolly, is very real as a younger woman struggling with domesticity as well as keeping her own identity.

Once in Lourdes, the film fascinates with its depiction of the pilgrims visiting the grotto and the healing springs.  The basilica and the area surrounding is photographed beautifully by John Conroy.

Do the women get their hoped for miracles?  There have been so few miracles documented at Lourdes over the years that it seems unlikely.  Maybe there are miracles that they are not looking for?


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 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023


The Australian String Quartet

Gandel Hall, National Gallery Of Australia 23 July


Reviewed by Len Power


“Florescence”, or full-flowering, was an apt theme for this dazzling concert. The program consisted of four works designed to show the composers at their best.

The Australian String Quartet has been performing internationally since 1985. Based at the University Of Adelaide, where they are Quartet-In-Residence, the four performers, Dale Barltrop (violin), Francesca Hiew (violin), Christopher Cartlidge (viola) and Michael Dahlenburg (cello), have a formidable set of individual credits between them.

From left: Dale Barltrop, Francesca Hiew, Christopher Cartlidge and Michael Dahlenburg

Commencing with “Movement For String Quartet” by Australian violist and composer, Justin Williams, this work, written in 2020 during the Covid lockdown, was dark and edgy with a mood of uncertainty, contrasting with joyful flashes of optimism. It captured the emotions of that year perfectly.

The second work performed was Franz Joseph Haydn’s “String Quartet In B minor”, one of six quartets by the composer that were published in 1781. The first movement was unusual, having only one melody instead of the traditional two. It was inventive and playful and led on to a joyful second movement of question and answer phrases that were a delight.

The third movement was a slow, stately dance and this brought us to a wild and furious finale that was brilliantly played.  It was the highlight of the first half of the concert.

Fantasia No. 6 by Henry Purcell opened the second half of the program. Written in 1680 for four viols (predecessors of today’s string instruments), it is has four different melody lines, two fast lines and two slow. The slow sections were sublimely atmospheric, ending in a peaceful resolution.

The final work presented was Antonin Dvoȓák’s “String Quartet No. 14 in A-Flat Major”. Composed in 1895, it was his final string quartet.

The work is full of warm, dance-like melodies, at times reflective and lyrical, and with Dvoȓák’s use of Czech folk music. Each part had its own unique sensibility, leading to a final movement that brought it all together to a satisfying and triumphant close.

The performance of each of these works was masterly and clearly demonstrated that this quartet is at the top of their game – in full-bloom, you might say.


Photo by Laura Manariti

This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 24 July 2023.

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



The Michelle Nicolle Quartet

The Street Theatre 21 July


Reviewed by Len Power


One of the great composers, J.S. Bach’s music and its often abstract nature makes it a good choice for re-imagination and improvisation.

Jazz ensemble, the Michelle Nicolle Quartet, in their concert at the Street Theatre, showed a sold out audience how this could be achieved with spirit and superb musicianship.

For 24 years, the Michelle Nicolle Quartet has been interpreting and re-imagining music as a 21st century improvising chamber group.  Vocalist, Michelle Nicolle, was joined onstage by guitarist Hugh Stuckey, bassist Tom Lee and drummer Ronny Ferella.

From left: Michelle Nicolle, Ronny Ferella, Tom Lee and Hugh Stuckey

The Bach Project was initiated by the University of Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium, inviting the MNQ to perform for the 2014 Bach Festival. The quartet’s arrangements showcase the mastery of J.S. Bach’s compositions and add a new flavour to the improvisational elements found in these great works.

The quartet performed 10 works, most of them from The Bach Project.  There were also two other songs – “Naturally What” and “One Beer”.

They commenced with “Bist du bei mir”, haunting and sensuous and a perfect mood-setting piece for the evening. Nicolle’s voice just draws you in and the musicians accompanying her are with her all the way.  The result is spell-binding and continued throughout the evening.

They continued with other Bach works in their unique musical style including “Minuet in G”, “Musette in D Major” and “March in D(Ornette)” – a re-imagining of this work as if it were played by Ornette Coleman.

There were also superb arrangements of “Fugue in Gm” combined with “Round Midnight” by Thelonius Monk and “Sarabande (from Partita No. 1) fused with “Lonely Woman” by Horace Silver.  These were the highlights of the evening.

The final work performed, “Komm, süsser Tod” (Come Sweet Death), their interpretation was full of the yearning for rest in death and Heaven. In their hands, it was strangely uplifting and a perfect end to this sublime concert.


Photo by Len Power

This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 22 July 2023.

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


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

On the Beach


On the Beach - by Nevil Shute, adapted for the stage by Tommy Murphy
Sydney Theatre Company at Roslyn Packer Theatre, July 18 – August 12, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 24

Director: Kip Williams
Set Designer: Michael Hankin; Costume Designer: Mel Page
Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper; Composer: Grace Ferguson
Sound Designer: Jessica Dunn; Dramaturg: Ruth Little
Associate Costume Designer: Emma White; Assistant Director: Kenneth Moraleda
Fight & Movement Director: Nigel Poulton; Intimacy Coordinator: Chloë Dallimore
Voice & Accent Coach: Jennifer White

Matthew Backer, Tony Cogin, Michelle Lim Davidson, Emma Diaz, Vanessa Downing, Tai Hara, Genevieve Lee, Ben O’Toole, Contessa Treffone, Kiki Wales, Elijah Williams, Alan Zhu

Opening scene
radiation cloud backdrop


Mary is planting daffodils.
“They should be flowering by the end of August,” Mary said.  “Of course, they won’t be much this year, but they should be lovely next year and the year after. They sort of multiply, you know.”

Moira says:

“Well, of course it’s sensible to put them in.  You’ll see them anyway, and you’ll sort of feel you’ve done something.”

Mary looked at her gratefully.  “Well, that’s what I think.  I mean, I couldn’t bear to – to just stop doing things and do nothing.  You might as well die now and get it over.”

Page 191 On the Beach by Nevil Shute, 1957, available at

In 1961, as the Cuban crisis was developing, I remember talking with my newly arrived English Literature lecturer at Sydney University, Peter Davison – later to become a renowned expert on George Orwell and his novel of the future 1984, and writing in 2020
“starting to teach ‘Scholarship’ to the fourth-year honours class immediately (in which Germaine Greer and Clive James, both far more intellectually distinguished than their alleged teacher, loomed large)”  – about where we would go west of the Blue Mountains to avoid the atom bomb which we seriously expected could be dropped on Sydney.

This novel in its time and Murphy’s stage adaptation in our time is no joke.  By 1963 I was teaching in the Far West at Broken Hill.  

Vladimir Putin has placed his stock of nuclear missiles in Belorus; his mercenaries are training very close to the border with Poland, now patrolled by Polish forces; Ukraine will not give in; and China is vacillating (Shute had China and Russia bombing NATO).  Why would a nuclear World War III  as Shute predicted in 1957 to have happened by 1963, not be in the offing now?  Fortunately for Peter Davison, Germaine Greer, Clive James and me, John F Kennedy ‘quarantined’ Cuba to keep the Russian missiles out and Nikita Khrushchev reached a compromise, as Wikipedia records:

After several days of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev: publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement to not invade Cuba again. Secretly, the United States agreed with the Soviets that it would dismantle all of the Jupiter MRBMs which had been deployed to Turkey against the Soviet Union. There has been debate on whether or not Italy was included in the agreement as well. While the Soviets dismantled their missiles, some Soviet bombers remained in Cuba, and the United States kept the naval quarantine in place until November 20, 1962.

In Shute’s novel, the radiation cloud resulting from massive numbers of bombs deployed in his WW III in the northern hemisphere, gradually floats south of the equator.  Mary’s flowers may bloom by the end of August, but the (AUKUS?) submarine surveying the radiation’s progress reckons no-one in Melbourne will be alive to see them by the end of September.  As radiation sickness takes hold, the novel ends as people take pills to ease the pain of dying.

The periscope used under water for safety from radiation cloud
searching for living human activity on sea and onshore

Tommy Murphy has made the dialogue in the play true to the words spoken in the novel,  maintaining the characters as Shute imagined them and tells the story in Melbourne and on the submarine on its impossibly hopeful journeys, switching back and forth in a series of scenes.

Michael Hankin has created a stage design of great flexibility, representing the ever-threatening cloud in a fine white all-encompassing floating material – until the very end.

What would Peter and Mary’s baby daughter, Jennifer, see if it were possible for her to have grown up?  Mary had planted a tree with those flowers.  In Murphy’s final scene a teenage Jennifer slowly approaches, circles and touches the now grown up tree.  We all know that if she were real, she would be entirely alone on the whole of the earth.

The novel’s end is uncompromisingly bleak as Moira, on the beach, “put the tablets in her mouth and swallowed them down with a mouthful of brandy, sitting behind the wheel of her big car.”

The play, however,  leaves us with just a faint hope that we, meaning all of us the whole world over, will not let our children be left alone to die.  It’s a worry, of course, that burning fossil fuels and overheating the earth may cause our demise instead.

But an important aspect of Tommy Murphy’s adaptation is that he allows Kip Williams, as Director, to expand and develop the humour and strength of the characters – especially and very effectively in the women.  The novel is written in a plain narrative style, recording what a character does and what they say.  Shute’s language is descriptive but quite unemotional in effect – I suppose because his purpose in writing is essentially polemical, about the issue.

Williams has turned this into a slightly over-the top style, which to my mind works well to make us understand the anxiety which underlies these characters’ words and behaviour.  

And so I find the staging of On the Beach, while staying true to the novelist’s intention, brings out better our feelings about the stupidity of warfare and the absolute insanity of ultimate war with nuclear weapons.  Not to be missed.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

CHOPIN'S PIANO - Musica Viva Australia

Jennifer Vuletic and AuraGo in "Chopin's Piano".

Written by Paul Kildea and Richard Pyros - Directed by Richard Pyros

Lighting designed Richard Vabre – Costumes and Props designed by Christina Smith

Sound Designed by Kelly Ryall. Performed by Aura Go and Jennifer Vuletic

Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, 19th July 2023.

Performance reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Musica Viva is to be applauded for its efforts to explore innovative ideas for the presentation of classical music.

To this end, the idea of showcasing the prodigious talents of Musica Viva’s 2018 “Future Maker”, Aura Go, by presenting all twenty-four of Chopin’s preludes against the background of the fascinating story of the small pianina from Majorca on which Chopin composed them, offered enticing prospects.

Adding to the enticements were the facts that author, Paul Kildea, would work with director, Richard Pyros to adapt his best seller, “Chopin’s Piano: A Journey through Romanticism”, and that both celebrated actress, Jennifer Vuletic, as well as the featured artist, pianist Aura Go, would enact the adaptation.

Given therefore that the concert was entitled, “Chopin’s Piano”, and that Chopin’s actual piano was a rather small instrument, it came as something of a surprise, when entering Llewellyn Hall, to discover that the program would be performed on a full sized concert grand, rather than a period instrument and that both Go and Vuletic would interpret a number of characters during the performance.

Jennifer Vuletic in "Chopin's Piano"

The concert commenced promisingly with Vuletic, a striking figure in the costume of an  Eighteenth century gentlemen, beginning  the story of the piano, while Aura Go, dressed as Mozart, commenced the first of the preludes.

It quickly became obvious that Go was indeed an exciting pianist. However it was also obvious that the acoustic on the vast concert hall stage favoured the piano. But as attractive as the piano sounded, the acoustic reverb muddied the spoken word, so that when Vuletic changed characters, and adopted histrionic, theatrically heightened, European accents; it became nearly impossible to understand what she was saying.

Further acerbating the problem was the fact that as Vuletic’s costume for all four characters in the first act; Juan Bauza, George Sand, Franz Liszt and Eugene Delacroix, remained pretty much the same, making it difficult to keep track of which character was which, particularly for those in the audience unaware that George Sand was a female with a penchant for wearing men’s clothes.

Jennifer Vuletic and Aura Go in "Chopin's Piano"

For the second act, Vuletic changed into a period female costume to portray Wanda Landowska and Peggy Guggenheim, then a Nazi Officer and back to Juan Bauza. 

Go, an untrained actor, was given an impossible task which would have challenged even Sir Laurence Olivier. That  of providing convincing portrayals of five male characters, Alexander Binder, Henri Lew, Constantin Brancusi, a Nazi Office, US Immigration Officer, as well Wanda Landowska’s lesbian protégé, Denise Restout, while interpreting the rest of Chopin’s preludes, still  wearing her Chopin costume. It’s doubtful whether Olivier could have managed the preludes, but Go did, superbly.

Aura Go and Jennifer Vuletic in "Chopin's Piano"

Although director, Pyros, made effective use of lighting and silhouettes to create some striking stage pictures, even if every line of dialogue had been crystal clear, his over-ambitious effort to cram too much superfluous detail into what surely was meant as a showcase for Aura Go’s pianistic virtuosity, may have been better served by simply accompanying her preludes with a simple narration.

                                                        Images by Aaron Francis

      This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.