Thursday, August 31, 2023



 The Children by Lucy Kirkwood. 

Directed by Tony Knight. Assistant director Sophie Benassi. Assistant director/Production manager Bel Henderson. Production Assistant Sebastian Winter Lighting design Stephen Still. Sound design Neville Pye. Vocal Coach Sarah Chalmers. Choreography Ylaria Rogers. Stage manager Sophis Carlton Chaika Theatre. ACT HUB. August 31 – September 9 2023. Bookings: 62108748 or ACTHUB.COM.AU

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Karen Vickery (Hazel), Michael Sparks (Robin),
Lainie Hart (Rose). Tony Knight (Director of The Children)

There are two reasons why it is imperative that you see Chaika Theatre’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children before the season ends on September 9th. One is to experience Kirkwood’s portentous play about the dire consequences of climate change, nuclear disaster and  intergenerational responsibility. The second is to witness under the astute direction of Tony Knight three of the finest performances from Karen Vickery, Lainie Hart and Michael Sparks that you are likely to see on a Canberra stage.

Michael Sparks, Karen Vickery and Lainie Hart in The Children

Kirkwood’s play is set in a cottage on the Eastern coast of England close to a nuclear plant. Physicists Hazel (Karen Vickery) and her husband Robin (Michael Sparks) have moved into the cottage after an earthquake, tidal wave and nuclear disaster forced them from their home to seek refuge in the nearby cottage. Ruth (Lainie Hart) returns from America and pays a visit to her friends whom she has not seen for thirty years supposedly. Kirkwood’s single setting in the cottage over a course of a day allows an audience to focus intently on the issues confronting the characters and by association the consequences of their actions on future generations, the children of today and tomorrow. The 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan puts The Children into sharp focus as a prescient warning to a society consumed by self-interest and consumerism. Kirkwood adroitly unleashes the tension that underlies the seemingly innocent interaction between old friends until each character is forced to confront their hidden secrets and desires, their age and their duty to future generations. Towards the end of the play Hazel screams out “I don’t know how to want less!” She believes that life is growth but what if that growth leads to destruction, just as sexual infidelity can instigate a destructive force in relationships. Consequently Kirkwood presents a dilemma that demands a confrontation with one’s personal desire and the responsibility that the three characters have to the welfare of future generations. Robin and Rose are compelled to accept their duty. Hazel desperately battles to resist Rose’s importation. But in the end the three physicists are forced to realize that science and personal responsibility is the only answer. Kirkwood’s dialogue resonates with the complex reality of human nature as the narrative unfolds to its powerful conclusion. The characters laugh, cry, rage and grapple with the enormity of their predicament. The audience is irrevocably drawn into the moral and ethical dilemmas that the characters face.

The Children is a play that tests the ingenuity and imagination of every actor. Knight directs his stellar actors with an intuitive understanding of the actor’s craft. Each of his actors construct a reality that is at times humourous, at times achingly painful and always visceral. Vickery’s Hazel clings to her desire for a long and fulsome life in the face of a terrible reality. Hart’s Rose hides a secret purpose and a private torment that eventually cannot remain concealed. Sparks’s Robin exposes a fragility, shrouded in pathos and guilt. Each emerges as a victim of their loss. With actors the calibre of Vickery, Hart and Sparks, The Children is a monumental theatrical tour de force. To see three of Canberra’s finest actors bring Kirkwood’s prophetic play to life at the hands of a sensitive and  insightful director is a not to be missed theatrical experience. With such a short season Chaika’s production of The Children should play to a full house every night!

Photos by Jane Duong




Written, directed and with animations by Céline Devaux

Stars: Blanche Gardin and Laurent Lafitte

A Transmission Films release

In cinemas from 7 September


Previewed by Len Power 31 August 2023


Everybody has always loved Jeanne.  These days, however, she hates herself.

When Jeanne’s much-heralded ‘sea-cleaning machine’ fails monumentally, her life suddenly unravels.  Out of a job and with nowhere to turn next, Jeanne’s internalised self-doubt begins to spill to the surface.  To earn some fast cash, Jeanne heads to Lisbon in Portugal with the hopes of selling her late mother’s flat.

A clever exploration of self-doubt and embarrassment, it’s easy to relate to Jeanne’s interior voice, depicted here in amusing line-drawing animations as the ‘little ghost’.  She might appear cool and collected on the outside but that interior voice is causing major turmoil within.

Men only add to her confusion.  Running into a former classmate, Jean, at the airport, she is thrown by his over-familiar and quirky approach.  A former boyfriend, Vitor, in Lisbon still seems interested but now has a child from an open relationship.  Nothing is straightforward and, for a woman full of self-doubt and no money, life seems overwhelming.

Director and screenwriter, Céline Devaux, artfully juggles Jeanne, the men in her life and her mounting problems.  There’s a lot of truth here amidst the offbeat humour and the screenplay has a sensitivity that is moving as well as funny.

Blanche Gardin, who was very funny dealing with a social media problem in the 2020 film, ‘Delete History’, is superb as Jeanne, cool on the surface but a mess underneath.  Handsome Laurent Lafitte is a delight as the quirky former classmate, Jean.  Who wouldn’t be drawn to the charm of this man, even if he seems a little mad?

Laurent Lafitte (Jean) and Blanche Gardin (Jeanne)

There are good performances, too, from Nuno Lopes as the former boyfriend, Vitor, and Maxence Tual as Jeanne’s brother, Simon.  Marthe Keller makes effective ghost-like appearances as Jeanne’s mother.

Blanche Gardin (Jeanne) and Maxence Tual (Simon)

The film is a reminder that we should not take ourselves or our failures too seriously.  Jeanne’s problems may seem insurmountable and her inner voice is holding her back but is there a glimmer of light at the end of this long tunnel?


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

Monday, August 28, 2023


Kotaro Nagano, piano

Wesley Music Centre, Forrest 27 August


Reviewed by Len Power


Kotaro Nagano has performed in cities across Japan as well as in Europe, Canada and Australia. He was the First Prize Winner and the People’s Choice prize winner of the second Australian International Chopin Piano Competition 2014. He has returned to Canberra many times since to give concerts for the Friends Of Chopin Australia. This was his first recital in Canberra with the Friends since Covid.

This program gave an insight into the major styles that Chopin composed in for the piano. It also demonstrated Chopin’s ability to compose small, intimate miniatures through to major long form works.

The program opened with these shorter works – Mazurkas, Etudes, Preludes and Waltzes. Some were well-known works by Chopin like the Fantasie Impromptu and the Prelude in E minor and the longer Scherzo in E major completed this first part of the program. Nagano impressed with his calm manner and the depth of emotion he achieved in the works. He seemed through his playing to find another dimension in works you thought you knew well.

The second part of the program commenced with Chopin’s superb Nocturne in E flat major. Again, Nagano gave a thoughtfully restrained edge to this work that made his interpretation truly memorable.  It was followed by the Berceuse in D flat major, a sensitive lullaby. Nagano gave it an appealing softness in his playing.

The final work of the program was Chopin’s Sonata in B minor. This challenging, long work with its changing emotions was given a thrilling performance by Nagano.

As if that was not enough, he calmly gave two encores to the delight of the audience who gave him a well-deserved standing ovation.

Photo by Peter Hislop 

This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 28 August 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


MISS SAIGON - Opera Australia


Abigail Adriano (Kim)  and Bryce Li (Tam) in the Australian production of "Miss Saigon"

Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg – Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. & Alain Boublil

Directed by Laurence Connor – Australian production directed by Jean-Pierre Van Der Spuy

Musical Staging by Bob Avian – Production designed by Totie Driver & Matt Kinley

Costumes Designed by Andreane Neofitou – Lighting designed by Bruno Poet

Sound designed by Mick Potter – Projections designed by Luke Hall

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House – September August 17th to 13th October.

Official Opening night on August 25th reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Seann Miley Moore (The Engineer) - Bryce Li (Tam) - Abigail Adriano (Kim)
in the Australian production of "Miss Saigon"

The timing for this production of Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Boublil & Schonberg’s “Miss Saigon” could hardly have been better, opening as it does in the very week in which Australia is commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the war in Vietnam.

Although labelled ‘new’ this production was actually premiered in London in 2014. However Mackintosh has charged his director for the Australian production, Jean-Pierre Van der Spuy, to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Australian casting to adapt and evolve this production, even to the point of bringing in Australian designer, Jennifer Irwin, to redesign the Engineer’s costumes.

As a result this spine-tingling production feels as unnervingly prescient today as when this show was first seen in Australia in 1995. From the moment the sounds of helicopter’s hovering overhead rattle the theatre during the overture, and a vulnerable, young Vietnamese girl, dressed in white, is glimpsed  among the teaming bustle of Saigon, the musical sweeps the audience into the horrors of the lives of people trying to survive in a city under seige. 

Abigail Adriano in the Australian production of "Miss Saigon"

Loosely based on the opera “Madam Butterfly”, this sung-through musical tells a similar story focussing on the travails of a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese girl, Kim, who falls in love with an American Marine named Chris. Chris rescues her from the clutches of an opportunistic night-club owner, known as The Engineer, but during the fall of Saigon, the couple are separated and lose touch with each other.

The circumstances under which they’re eventually re-united provide the shattering conclusion to her story.

Seann Miley Moore (The Engineer) in the Australian production of "Miss Saigon"

Utilising state-of-the-art stage effects and technology undreamed of in 1995, this production keeps the   audience on the edge of its seats with a succession of spectacular set-pieces, commencing with the thrilling “The Heat is On”, during which the crowded streets  magically transform into the frenzy and decadence of The Engineer’s night club. 

Brilliant use of darkness, shadows and haze in the production and lighting design constantly confuse the eye so that evocative set-pieces swirl and glide around the stage allowing it to transform seamlessly into gaudy nightclubs, squalid dressing rooms, spectacular military parades, even a romantic candle-lit garden for an impromptu wedding ceremony.

Perhaps the most spectacular transformation of all is achieved with the staging of the fall of Saigon, with its famous helicopter scene, which has never been more convincingly portrayed than in this stunning iteration, the climax of which leaves the audience ducking in their seats as the helicopter departs.

The Fall of Saigon in the Australian production of "Miss Saigon"

But despite the brilliance of the staging, it is the performances of the cast which linger in the mind. Particularly that of newcomer, Abigail Adriano, luminous in the central role as Kim.

Herself only eighteen-years-old, and undertaking her first leading role, Adriano is heart-breaking as the tragic Kim. Her acting is already extraordinarily assured, as is her singing.  Her duets with the young Marine, Chris, sensitively portrayed by Nigel Huckle, provide a series of poignant high points, especially their soaring performance of “The Last Night of the World”.

Abigail Adriano (Kim) and Nigel Huckle (Chris) in the Australian production of "Miss Saigon"

However it’s Adriano's dramatic duets with other characters that best demonstrate her range and accomplishment. The superbly staged duet “I Still Believe” with Ellen (Kerrie Anne Greenland), and the terrifying “You Will Not Touch Him” with Thuy (Laurence Mossman), and especially her heart-rending solo, “I’d Give My Life for You”, which she sings to her little son, Tam, played on opening night by Bryce Li, one of six no-doubt equally adorable children who play this role.

The other stand-out performance is that of Seann Miley Moore as The Engineer. Portrayed as a flamboyant, opportunistic survivor, Moore dazzles with his flair and inventiveness climaxing with his extended, show-stopping performance of “The American Dream”. 


Seann Miley Moore (The Engineer) and the Australian cast in "The American Dream. 

Throughout, the singing of the large cast is superb with memorable highlights provided by Kimberly Hodgson (Gigi) with “The Movie in My Mind, Nick Afoa (John) with “Bui Doi” and Kerrie Anne Greenland (Ellen) with “Maybe”.   

Apart from the masterful staging, dazzling choreography and accomplished performances on offer, there is also the additional pleasure of hearing William David Brohn’s masterful musical arrangements for Schonberg’s magnificent score performed by the superb 25 piece orchestra, conducted by Guy Simpson, who delighted in highlighting details like Craig Driscoll’s wailing clarinet solo introduction to “The Last Night of the World”, while insuring that none of the all-important lyrics were overpowered.

But, although exhilarated by skill and pizazz of the cast and creatives involved in creating Opera Australia’s stunning new production of this musical masterpiece, it was hard to avoid the realisation,  that Australia is already reflecting on the continuing human cost of  involvement in the terrible events, depicted so powerfully in this musical, while searching for ways to prevent threatened re-occurrences.

Whether you will be re-visiting “Miss Saigon” or seeing it for the first time, this is a spectacular, thought-provoking production you should not miss.

(PS - At the risk of being parochial, both understudies for the leading role of Chris, Bill Bouchier and Sam Ward, cut their theatrical teeth in productions by Canberra musical theatre companies, while Opera Australia’s Senior Producer, responsible for this production, Pella Gregory, is the daughter of well-known Canberrans, Gordon and Alpha Gregory OAM).

All images by Daniel Boud with the exception of the "Fall of Saigon" image which is by Matthew Murphy & Johan Persson.

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.arts









Sunday, August 27, 2023


Rupert Boyd, guitar

Laura Metcalf, cello

Wesley Music Centre 26 August


Reviewed by Len Power


Canberra born classical guitarist, Rupert Boyd, and his American wife, cellist Laura Metcalf, are the duo of Boyd Meets Girl. After a Covid-interrupted Australian tour in 2022, the pair have returned to tour the country with their eclectic mix of music from Bach to the Beatles. They have toured throughout the USA, India, Nepal, New Zealand and every state and territory in Australia.

The duo arranges much of their repertoire themselves, drawing inspiration from artists across all genres. During their performance, they provided the near-capacity audience with interesting anecdotes about the music and why they are playing it. Their intimate, friendly style quickly won the audience over.

Their program included a number of works by Brazilian composers such as Jaime Zenamon, Radamés Gnattali, Chrystian Dozza, Marián Budoš and Heitor Villa-Lobos. Their playing of these pieces brought out all the passion and vibrancy of this music. Dozza’s very busy “Beetle’s Dance” and Budoš’s intricate and atmospheric “A New York Minute” were the highlights of these works.

The well-known Debussy work, “Arabesque No. 1”, with its sublime melody was given another dimension by the combination of guitar and cello and Franz Schubert’s art song, “Gretchen am Spinnrade”, was haunting and sensitively played.

Rupert Boyd and Laura Metcalf

The duo also played J.S. Bach’s keyboard compositions of four short “2-Part Inventions”, in their own refreshing and pleasing arrangements that sounded as it if they must have been composed for guitar and cello.

They also played the arrangement by American composer, Caroline Shaw, of “Shenandoah”.  While the well-known melody was played on the cello, the arrangement for this piece for the guitar gave the work an unexpected memorable depth and emotional sensitivity.

In a lighter mood, they also played two works by Lennon and McCartney, “Blackbird” and “Eleanor Rigby”. These well-known songs with their complex and appealing arrangements were also well played.

Photo by Peter Hislop 

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

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Tim by Colleen McCullough


Tim by Colleen McCullough (1974), adapted for the stage by Tim McGarry (Currency Press 2023).  Presented by Christine Dunstan Productions, at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, August 25-26 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 25

Director – Darren Yap
Set Designer – James Browne; Costume Designer – Lucy M Scott
Lighting Designer – Ben Hughes; Composer – Max Lambert
Sound Designer – Zac Saric; Movement Director – Nigel Poulton
Stage Manager – Kirsty Walker

Cast in order of appearance:
Ben Goss – Tim Melville; Andrew McFarlane – Harry / Ron Melville
Akkshey Caplash – Jim / Nate / Raj
Valerie Bader – Emily Parker / Joy Melville
Jeanette Cronin – Mary Horton; Julia Robertson – Dee Melville

Tim was Colleen McCulloch’s first novel, 1974.  I have not read it, nor seen the 1979 movie, so I can only judge the play as it stands now, clearly updated to our era of smart phones and Google, though still locked in to on-course and TAB betting on the dogs and gee-gees, and an old-fashioned tradie working-class style.

The production of the play is excellent, both in the energy and focus in the acting by an expert team and in the originality of the set design, lighting and sound design.  The use of the classical music of Percy Grainger, Chopin, Schubert and Scriabin brilliantly illuminated the role of the upmarket Mary Horton.

Assuming, though, that the storyline is not changed from the original, the play is clever but not great.  Despite Darren Yap’s careful delineation of the characters – and each actor’s success in creating them – the play is a contrived piece rather than presenting characters developing their understanding of themselves and each other (as McCullough might have seen in, say, an Ibsen play).

The intention of raising the issue about the rights, and especially the sexual rights, of people with disabilities, still comes through as I suppose McCullough was aiming for; but the marriage, including legal arguments about powers of attorney, is certainly unlikely.  I’m probably onside with Tim’s lawyer-sister Dee on that point.

I can’t compare Tim McGarry’s work with how the novel feels on reading, but to say that it has been ‘sensitively’ adapted, as Currency’s blurb says, is not what I felt when seeing the play on stage.

Because it does raise important issues and because it is skilfully presented, this production of Tim is certainly well worth seeing.  Ben Goss does an excellent job of showing Tim’s particular kind of autism, in physical movement and in his ‘literal’ reactions.  But for depth of character and storyline development, if they are there in McCullough’s original work, perhaps another adaptation may be needed for a little less theatricality and rather more believable emotional drama.

Above: Jeanette Cronin and Ben Goss
Below: Valerie Bader, Julia Robertson, Ben Goss, Akkshey Caplash and Andrew McFarlane
teaching Tim to read
in Tim adapted from the Colleen McCullough novel by Tim McGarry


 Adapted by Tim McGarry from Colleen McCulloch’s novel

Directed by Darren Yap

The Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to August 26


Reviewed by Len Power 25 August 2023


Collen McCullough’s popular 1970s novel, “Tim” has been adapted by Tim McGarry who has set his play in the present day when issues surrounding disability and appropriate sexual behaviour are often the subjects of lively debate.

A chance meeting between Mary, a career-driven business executive in her mid-50s, and Tim, a handsome 25 year old labourer with an intellectual disability, leads to a relationship developing between them. Tim’s sister, Dee, has a deep suspicion that Mary is just interested in Tim sexually while Mary is concerned at the way society may view their relationship as she struggles with her growing feelings towards him.

This is a story of love, embracing differences and opening up to life’s opportunities. It also shows the cruelty that can exist for disabled people in the workplace and the over-protectiveness of family members.

“Tim” has been given a lavish touring production. The substantial and attractive set with a double revolve, designed by James Browne, enables the show to flow through multiple scene locations with ease. Sound design by Max Lambert and the lighting design by Ben Hughes add considerable atmosphere to the show.

Jeanette Cronin as Mary gives her role a touching sensitivity in her scenes with Tim and his family but she is a force to be reckoned with when she berates Tim’s workmates for their unthinking abuse of him. Ben Goss is fully believable as Tim, child-like in a man’s body. His non-verbal behaviour as well as his vocal delivery are completely convincing.

Jeanette Cronin (Mary) and Ben Goss (Tim)

Andrew McFarlane is very real as the warm and caring husband and father who gambles more than he should but is concerned for Tim’s future. He also gives a vivid performance in a second role as Tim’s abusive work boss. Julia Robertson is appropriately strong as the over-protective sister who is suspicious of Mary’s motives.

Valerie Bader gives a warm portrayal as Tim’s mother and also shines in a second role as Mary’s feisty down-to-earth neighbour.  The scenes between them where Mary confides her concerns about her growing relationship are touching and unexpectedly amusing.

Akkshey Caplash plays three roles as Dee’s well-meaning partner, Tim’s abusive workmate and the trusted friend that Mary turns to for advice. All three characters are nicely distinctive due to Caplash’s skilful playing.

Darren Yap, the director, has produced a warm and sensitive show that is quite touching, enjoyable and leaves you thinking.


This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 26 August 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




Tim. Adapted by Tim McGarry from the novel by Colleen McCullough. 

Directed by Darren Yap. Set designer James Browne. Costume designer. Lucy M Scott. Lighting designer Ben Hughes. Composer Max Lambert. Sound designer Zac Saric. Movement director Nigel Poulton. Associate Producer. Vanessa Wright Red Line Productions  Stage manager. Annette Rowlinson. ASM Kirsty Walker. Technical Manager Sam Rea. Christine Dunstan Productions The Q. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. August 25 – 27 2023. Bookings 62856290.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Valerie Bader as Joy. Julia Robertson as Dee. Ben Goss as Tim.
Akkshey Caplash as Nate and Andrew McFarlane as Ron in TIM

At the time of publication, Colleen McCullough’s Tim was considered quite controversial. It tells the story of a relationship between Tim (Ben Goss) a slightly intellectually impaired young man of 25 and an older woman Mary Horton (Jeanette Cronin), twenty-nine years Tim’s senior. Mary initially employs Tim as a gardener and their relationship burgeons into one of love. Playwright, Tim McGarry has skilfully adapted McCullough’s novel into a moving and absorbing 90 minute stage play with no interval. Director Darren Yap moves the action seamlessly through the scenes between Tim and Mary and the members of his family, maximising the use of James Browne’s revolve on his elegant touring set.

 Jeanette Cronin as Mary. Ben Goss as Tim in Tim

McGarry’s adaptation accompanied by Max Lambert’s evocative composition and sound designer Zac Saric’s use of classical compositions of Percy Grainger and Chopin to heighten the atmosphere provide a potency to the selected episodes in the family’s life. There is a heightened depth to the production that arouses an emotional response to the performances.  Ben Goss’s Tim is appealing in his naïve innocence and honest responses. Jeannette Cronin’s Mary Horton personifies the older single woman, bewildered by her feelings for Tim and perplexed by her predicament. There are excellent performances by every member of this company. As Tim’s mother and father Joy and Ron, Valerie Bader and Andrew McFarlane exude loving parental devotion to their son. They are honest, hard working and devoted parents who do the best they can for their intellectually impaired son. Tim’s younger sister, environmental lawyer Dee (Julia Robertson) demonstrates a deep sibling love for her brother but is threatened by Tim’s unusual relationship with an older woman. McGarry’s carefully selected scenes parallel Dee’s protective love for her brother with her bitter distrust of    Mary and Ron’s antagonism towards Dees’ artist boyfriend Nate (Akkshey Caplash).  

Yap directs an outstanding cast who in ninety minutes succeed in imbuing each character with depth and conviction. Cronin and Goss play Tim and Mary throughout while McFarlane also plays the head gardener Harry  with Caplash as his offsider Jim. Caplash also plays Mary’s former colleague Raj, who works as a carer and lends a pragmatic ear to Mary’s dilemma.  Bader provides comic relief and the wisdom of experience as Mary’s next door neighbour and straight talking confidante Emily. Their ability to transition so convincingly between characters is a masterclass in ensemble acting.  

 Christine Dunstan’s production has enormous heart. Yap and his actors embrace the spirit of McCullough’s characters. These are good people caught in an unusual circumstance. Times have moved on and acceptance is more widespread although bullying, prejudice and conformity still pervade contemporary attitudes. At its heart Tim is about love, a love that defies social norms and expectation, a love that grows from familiarity and reliance in the case of  Joy and Ron, a love between siblings Dee and Tim and a love that is unexpected and liberating in Mary’s case. McCullough was writing for a more generally conservative readership when Tim was published fifty years ago. However, Christine Dunstan’s creative team and excellent actors prove that McGarry’s adaptation of McCulloch’s 1974 novel still holds the power to move and enlighten. Don’t miss this touring production of Tim if it comes to a theatre near you.  


Friday, August 25, 2023

Miss Peony

Image: Dan Boud
 Miss Peony by Michelle Law.  Belvoir St Theatre (Sydney) at Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, August 23-26, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 24


Writer - Michelle Law; Director - Courtney Stewart; Set & Costume - Jonathan Hindmarsh

Asst Set & Costume - Keerthi Subramanyam; Lighting Designer - Trent Suidgeest

Composer - Dr Nicholas Ng; Sound Designer - Julian Starr; Assoc. Des. Sound - Zac Saric

Choreographer - Kristina Chan; Singing Teacher - Sheena Crouch

Vocal Coaches - Laura Farrell, Amy Hume

Fight & Intimacy Director - Nigel Poulton

Gabrielle Chan 陳金燕 Adeline; Deborah Faye Lee 李淑菲 Marcy; Stephanie Jack 盧恩典 Lily

Mabel Li 李美宝 Sabrina; Shirong Wu 吴士容 Joy; Jeffrey Liu (JËVA) Zhen Hua


If you imagine that serious satire must be sharp and essentially cold-hearted, you will be surprised – pleasantly – by this warm-hearted satire of Chinese-Australian culture about the Miss Peony Competition, modelled on Miss Australia, Miss World and even Miss Universe competitions, which began in this country “from humble beginnings” as the Miss Australia Quest, as a charity fundraiser – according to the National Museum of Australia – in  1907.

China Global Television Network tells us [  ] in “Peony wins national flower vote”, how “The peony originated in China, and has been planted since 4,000 years ago. It was considered a symbol of the country during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), and was the favorite flower of the people at that time. In Chinese culture, the peony represents prosperity, elegance, solemnity, and is nicknamed the ‘monarch of the flowers’”.

These are the very qualities in this very Australian-Chinese comedy which are ripe for satire. Yet the story behind the writing is one of warmth and respect for ancestors, specifically dedicated by Michelle Law to her Ma Ma, Law Wong Ching Lan.  An Australian Born Chinese (ABC), in her Writer’s Note, Michelle describes her visit to Hong Kong, aged 11, where she watched the Miss Hong Kong Pageant on tv.

“It was incredible witnessing so many women who looked like me being celebrated for their appearance and connection to culture when I’d learnt to dislike these things about myself and assimilate in order to survive living in a western country.

“One contestant stood out for me: a woman struggling to answer interview questions in Cantonese before ultimately giving up and speaking in English.  She had an Australian accent.  I remember sitting straighter on the couch as I watched her.  She sounded like an ABC and a banana, just like me – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.  She gave me hope that maybe there was finally a place where I belonged.  And then she was eliminated from the Pageant.”

And so began the story of Lily’s grandmother, having felt the “unique sense of displacement experienced by diasporic peoples” on coming to Australia, becoming famous two generations later for having won the Miss Peony Pageant which was still funded by a sexual predator businessman, Lam.

Being young Australian women today, accepting such behaviour is not on for Marcy, Sabrina, Joy and Lily as it was necessary in her grandmother’s day, perhaps to win – as they discover from Adeline.  Though she has died, Adeline’s ghost cannot rest until Lily has played her part in the Miss Peony Pageant with integrity and honesty.

And, being Australian in today’s social media world, the show becomes like an extreme Youtube influencer event with fantastic dancing, speaking (translated into the three languages Cantonese, Mandarin and Aussie English surtitled on a screen above the action) and (sometimes almost literally) stunning technical effects in sound and light.  LaughOutLoud is the mood, with individual moments clapped and cheered throughout the show, especially by the many young women in the audience.

But it was not only about sexist men and patriarchy.  Zhen Hua, the Pageant MC, comes to understand himself as Lily gives the most powerful speech in the Pageant, and true romance begins as the show ends.  La commedia è finita on a note of respect.

You have only one more day to see Miss Peony in Canberra, but you can catch it at Merrigong Theatre Company: 30 Aug – 2 Sep 2023; and Geelong Arts Centre: 6 – 9 Sep 2023.






Thursday, August 24, 2023

MISS PEONY - Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse

Shirong Li (Joy) - Deborah Faye Lee  (Marcy) - Jeffrey Liu (Zhen Hua) - Stephanie Jack (Lily)
 Mabel Li (Sabrina)

Written by Michelle Law – Directed by Courtney Stewart

Set and Costumes designed by Jonathan Hindmarsh – Lighting Designed by Trent Suidgeest

Composer: Dr Nicholas Ng – Sound Design by Julian Starr - Choreographed by Kristina Chan

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse August 23rd – 26th 2023.

Performance on August 23rd reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Shirong Li (nurse) - Gabrielle Chan (Adeline) - Stephanie Jack (Lily)

Michelle Law’s latest play is a disarming affair. Given a terrific production by Belvoir Theatre and directed with flair by Courtney Stewart, the play vacillates unsettlingly between broad parody and moments of thoughtful comment about fitting into the country in which you were born but are considered alien.

The audience first meet Lily, played by Stephanie Jack, at the deathbed of her grandmother, Adeline (‘Poh Poh’ in their native Cantonese). A former beauty queen herself, Poh Poh (Gabrielle Chan) makes Lily promise that she will carry on her legacy by entering and winning the forthcoming Chinese community beauty pageant, Miss Peony.

Although she is about to set off to London to establish a new life, and loathes the idea of participating in a beauty pageant, Lily reluctantly agrees allowing Poh Poh to happily expire.  But, not for long, because Poh Poh soon reappears as a ghost who, unless Lily achieves her promise, is destined to linger in Limbo and determined to prevent that outcome.

Deborah Faye Lee (Marcy) - Shirong Wu (Joy) - Stephanie Jack (Lily) - Mabel Li (Sabrina) 

The rest of the play is taken up with the actual beauty pageant, during which Lily becomes life-long friends with three of her adversaries, Marcy, Sabrina and Joy. Each of whom is depicted as a broadly-performed cultural stereotype.

During the Q & A that is part of the beauty pageant, we learn that Marcy (Deborah Faye Lee) hopes to advance the success of her family’s business by winning the pageant; Joy (Shirong Wu) is looking for a romantic partner; and Sabrina (Mabel Li) is intent on portraying herself as a typical Western-Sydney ethno-Australian.

Despite the apparent shallowness of each of the contestants the actors manage to invest them with a sense of authenticity, so that during the exuberant staging of the lavish beauty pageant with its appropriately cheesy K-pop soundtrack, it is easy to become invested in the outcome for each. That outcome itself is one of many surprises imbedded in this production.

Among others are the endlessly surprising set and witty costumes by Jonathan Hindmarsh which capture the glamour and gaudiness of these events; Kristina Chan’s spot-on choreography; and the scene- stealing performance of Jeffrey Liu as Zhen Hua, the smooth, silver-tongued compere and producer of the beauty pageant.


Gabrielle Chan (Adeline) - Stephanie Jack (Lily)

But it is the performance of Gabrielle Chan, as the irascible Poh Poh, which anchors the fantasy that is central to the success of the production.

Able to switch from matriarch to witch in a flash, Chan has an elegance which makes her completely believable as a former beauty queen, and an inherent grace which allows her maintain an unworldly presence as a formidable ghost. She also wears a remarkable costume which delivers surprises of its own.  

However, perhaps the most intriguing feature of this production is how well the device works of having the dialogue delivered and captioned in three languages, Mandarin, Cantonese and English.  This provides the production with an unusual authenticity which somehow defuses criticism of the broad acting style, which, despite of the contemporary subject of the play, often hints at traditional Chinese theatre.

With “Miss Peony” Michelle Law and her director Courtney Stewart have crafted a clever production which besides being thought-provoking is also terrifically entertaining. 

                                                     Images by Jason Lau

     This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.




Miss Peony 牡丹小姐 . 

Writer Michelle Law 羅敏儀 Director Courtney Stewart. Set & Costume Designer Jonathan Hindmarsh. Assistant Set & Costume Designer Keerthi Subramanyam. Belvoir Costume Supervisor Belinda Crawford. Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest. Composer Dr Nicholas Ng 黄建文 .Sound Designer Julian Starr. Associate Sound Designer Zac Saric. Choreographer Kristina Chan 陈小宝. Singing Teacher Sheena Crouch. Vocal Coach Laura Farrel.l Vocal Coach Amy Hume. Fight and Intimacy Director Nigel Poulton. Cast: CAST Gabrielle Chan 陳金燕 Adeline. Jing-Xuan Chan 陳敬璿 Marcy. Stephanie Jack 盧恩典 Lily. Deborah Faye Lee 李淑菲 Marcy (Alternate). Mabel Li 李美宝 Sabrina. Shirong Wu 吴士容 Joy. Jeffrey Liu (JËVA) Zhen Hua. Belvoir Theatre. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. August 23-25 2023. Bookings: 62752700.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Gabrielle Chan as Adeline. Stephanie Jack as Lily in Miss Peony

Patti La Belle’s lyrics flash across the screen at the start of Belvoir Theatre’s production of Michelle Law’s  Miss Peony. “Beat my heart like a drum. Beat it hard with some real emotion. ” And that is exactly what Law does, assisted by a fabulous cast under the snappy and sharp direction of Courtenay  Stewart. Wit and wisdom combine in a kaleidoscope of glitz and glamour in Michelle Law’s funny and heartwarming comedy about what it is to straddle two cultures. Miss Peony specifically refers to the Australian-Chinese diaspora and the challenges faced by living under the influence of two cultures. Law’s story is deeply personal. It holds a mirror up to the challenges that she and her characters face in holding on to one’s ethnic identity while navigating the influence of living within the culture and customs of the adopted homeland. The result is a brilliantly written glimpse of her Chinese heritage, which emerges as a window through which we may see the conflicts faced by all people who live their lives apart from their family’s homeland.

Lily (Stephanie Jack) is about to leave for London to face a new life away from Australia. Her grandmother who had been a famous beauty queen in Hong Kong, dies shortly before Lily’s proposed departure. On her death bed she pleads with Lily to enter the Miss Peony Beauty pageant that is exclusively held for entrants of Chinese descent. Lily is reluctant but finds that she has no choice after her Por Por’s spirit returns as a ghost to instruct Lily in the beauty queen’s art.

Courtenay Stewart directs an outstanding ABC (Australian Born Chinese) ensemble cast with panache and flair. Setting the play in the Miss Peony Beauty Pageant allows Law to infuse the gloss and glamour of the competition with serious themes and issues pertaining to the struggle with identity and cultural connection to community. Her writing skillfully captures the comical absurdity of the competitiveness as well as the moments of pathos.  The characters represent a diversity of the Australian Chinese character. Stephanie Jack endearingly plays the innocent protagonist, prompted to embrace her grandmother’s legacy and her Chinese heritage. Each character exhibits the inculcation of the new homeland’s character. Marcy (Deborah Faye Lee) has become a successful businesswoman of Ausway, her family’s firm. Joy (Shirong Wu) is a politically astute activist and staunch feminist. Sabrina (Mabel Li) is the bogan from the Western suburbs, who is offered a fork in a Chinese restaurant because of her broad Australian accent. The only male character and Lily’s love interest, Zhen Hua, played with gusto by Jeffrey Liu is the pageant’s producer and ebullient MC. Gabrielle Chan gives a striking performance as Adeline, returning to teach Lily the ways of her community and win the competition.

Law has written the play in English, Cantonese and Mandarin and the dialogue is projected onto surtitles, further accentuating the cultural challenges that every character needs to negotiate as well as the wealth of cultural diversity that exists in Australia. The production resonates with universality. The first act reveals the insecurities that any audition/interview process can arouse, The second act is set during the pageant, exposing behind the scenes male sexual lharrasment, cultural attitudes towards gay sexuality and, in the case of the Miss Peony Pageant camaraderie between the contestants.

Miss Peony is a funny, revealing and warm-hearted glimpse into the lives of people displaced from their cultural roots and assimilating into a new society. Playwright Law and Belvoir’s cast and creatives are raising an important new awareness on the Australian stage in a show that is immensely entertaining while reminding us that however different we may be, we are also very much the same. Miss Peony is on a national tour. Catch it if you can.    








Written by Michelle Law

Directed by Courtney Stewart

Presented by the Canberra Theatre Centre and Belvoir St Theatre

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 26 August.


Reviewed by Len Power 23 August 2023


In ‘Miss Peony’, Lily’s grandmother was a beauty queen back in Hong Kong. She doesn’t care that times have changed, that Lily lives in a new country and a new century. She sees a granddaughter caught between worlds.  No matter how hard Lily tries to wriggle out of it, her grandma won’t take no for an answer.

Michelle Law’s comedy has a lot to say about the experience of a Chinese girl born in Australia and not feeling at home in either culture.  She thinks of herself as an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) and like a banana – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.  It’s not just about the difficulty of feeling Australian but looking Chinese, it’s also about the expectations demanded by a traditional culture that is hard to relate to.

Director, Courtney Stewart, keeps the show moving at a swift pace.  The arguments between Lily and her grandmother are the highlight of the show.  The Beauty Queen Contest provides ripe opportunities for a great deal of the humour but, behind the scenes, there is just as much to laugh at as the girls prepare nervously for the various segments of a competition that demands a knowledge of Chinese traditional values that they just don’t have.

The set and the lavish costumes, designed by Jonathan Hindmarsh, are attractive and the clever lighting design by Trent Suidgeest works well for the supernatural scenes in the plot and the bright TV-style lighting needed for the competition.

Stephanie Jack as Lily and Gabrielle Chan as her grandmother, Adeline

A standout in the cast is Gabrielle Chan as Lily’s grandmother, Adeline.  Formidably bossy and demanding, she is a force of nature throughout the show, providing many of the best laughs.  Stephanie Jack as Lily, the Australian-Chinese girl struggling to fit into a contest that her grandmother has pushed her into, gives an appealing and  finely detailed performance of a girl caught between two cultures and feeling she belongs to neither.

The other contestants are more stereotypes but they are played well with good comic timing by Deborah Faye Lee as Marcy, Mabel Li as Sabrina and Shirong Wu as Joy.  Jeffrey Liu nicely captures the character of the polished and flashy pageant host, Zhen Hua.

Jeffrey Liu as Zhen Hua with the four contestants

There was too much emphasis on the pageant scenes in the second half of the show and the resolution of the supernatural element was weak.  The strength of the play was in the cultural conflicts experienced by Lily and the other contestants and the amusing way they were presented.

The show is surtitled in English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese as the characters switch between English, Cantonese and Mandarin, just as they would do in real life.  At times, we were distracted from the frenzied stage business by the need to read the surtitles, but otherwise it was good that the surtitles had been provided.

It certainly was refreshing to see a play told from the Chinese-Australian point of view.


Photos by Jason Lau

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