Thursday, November 30, 2023

Christmess - A Heath Davis Film


Christmess – a Heath Davis film. Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical.  
Production Company: Albert Street Films Pty. Ltd. Produced by Brick Studios.
In cinemas around the country from November 30, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Director: Heath Davis; Writer: Heath Davis
Producer: Heath Davis  Daniel Fenech  Cindy Pritchard  Matthew McCracken
Executive Producers: Julia Scales  Nick Cole

Steve Le Marquand (Chris); Nicole Pastor (Noelle)
Darren Gilshenan (Nick); Hannah Joy, of ARIA winners Middle Kids, (Joy)

Christmess tells the story of a washed up actor, Chris Flint, who takes a job as a suburban strip mall Santa Claus where he encounters his long estranged daughter, Noelle. With the support of his caring sponsor, Nick, and a young, sharp tongued, musician in recovery named Joy, Chris sets about staying sober in order to win his daughter's forgiveness for Christmas.” (Blue Mountains Gazette, November 21 2023)

Beyond the standard idea of ‘genre’, Christmess is funny in its own truly Australian way, with a wry sense of humour.  It is much more than simple comedy.  Hannah Joy’s music creates her character ‘Joy’ in a highly original way.  The drama is in the story of how these people come to understand themselves and work out how to deal with life better through their unlikely Christmas experience.

Or perhaps, as Heath Davis explained in a Q&A, it’s not so unlikely when our culture expects extended families and long-lost friends to ‘celebrate’ Christmas no matter what.

Set in Sydney’s western suburbs, everything seems very ordinary.  This is what makes it warm and naturalistic, with none of the sentimentality or over-the-top drama that you might expect from a conventional (ie Hollywood) Christmas movie.

Interestingly, at the launch of Christmess at the Austin Film Festival, Texas, Heath Davis reports, he was surprised at how Americans were entranced by the humour.  A good thing for the new wave of Australian film-making, I think.

A fascinating aspect of the film is that a stage actor plays an actor, another stage actor plays this actor’s sponsor to help him out of rehab, while a successful musician plays an up-and-coming struggling musician.  One of the best scenes – from the point of view of a theatre reviewer like me – is when the three, on Joy’s suggestion (or did Heath say it was Hannah’s idea when improvising during the shoot?) – rehearse Chris’s attempt to meet his daughter in a role play.  Darren plays Nick playing Noelle; Steve plays Chris playing Chris; Hannah plays Joy sort-of playing Nick advising on the success of the role playing and the likely success when Chris puts it into practice.

Does he succeed? That’s for you to watch, while you think about the names Chris, Noelle, Nick and Joy, and enjoy a sometimes sad Yuletide story with a strong dose of good cheer.

I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.

A Christmess Day lunch







The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised) 

Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. Directed by Ylaria Rogers. Theatre 3. Canberra Repertory Society. Until December 2. Bookings 62571950.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Alex McPherson, Callum Doherty and Ryan Street
in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised)

Shakespeare purists may throw up their arms in despair. The groundlings, who are “capable of nothing but dumb show and noise” may wonder what it’s all about. Shakespeare lovers and those who love an evening of silliness and fun may simply enjoy themselves and leave the theatre having had a great time. And what would Shakespeare have thought of Canberra Rep’s production of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged)? How would he have responded to a show where three actors romp through all 37 plays in a hundred minutes, and throw in  audience participation , a ton of puns, physical madness and  smatterings of slapstick?. Well I think the man who wrote the Mechanicals scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and lampooned Portia’s suitors in The Merchant of Venice would have loved seeing his tragedies turned to farce, his Histories to a hectic football match and his comedies mishmashed into stock situations. Of course we will never know what the Bard would have really thought, but it was clear on this wet and stormy night that the audience who laughed and clapped and cheered at the zany antics of the trio of actors revelling in their art of coarse acting were simply enjoying a carefree night of comedy .

But comedy is serious business and director Ylaria Rogers keeps the action rollicking along with clever business and a keen eye for clarity. Rogers knows that there is no room for uncertainty and that her actors need to be on their toes every second of this crazy revue style performance. In Ryan Street, Alex McPherson and Callum Doherty, Rogers has cast three perforrmers ideally suited to capturing the lunacy of the mockery while also assuring the intelligence of the text.The text is given due credence in the recognizable speeches from Shakespeare’s more familiar plays. If however, Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield intended to eliminate the boring impact of Shakespeare studies in schools with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare  (abridged) (revised) or give their audiences a clearer understanding of the plots and themes of the canon, then audiences unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s work are unlikely to leave the theatre with any deeper insight into his works. Kayla Ciceran’s jumbled set design of piled up chairs, scraps of flats, reused set and assorted materials sets the tone for a rough and ready acting workshop. The performances are far from rough and ready but the play is indicative of an idea built on improvisation and experiment and refined with a tightly written script and carefully blocked rehearsal.

Street and McPherson and Doherty work well together, bouncing off each other but under Rogers’ watchful eye keeping the action slick and purposeful and the essential elements of the plot of each play clearly articulated whether the scene be a 12 minute performance of Romeo and Juliet or a 2 minute cooking demonstration of Titus Andronicus. It is Doherty who commands the stage with mercurial agility and an exploding energy that never loses control of character or intention. Doherty is a natural clown and a versatile actor. He is as much at ease somersaulting downstage or turning tragedy to comedy as he is in capturing the profundity of Hamlet’s  “What a piece of work is man.” Doherty is an actor with the power to move as much as the ability to make an audience laugh or cry.

Sacrilege or side-splitting spoof, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised) has been wowing audiences for decades with its unique brand of clowning  and Rep’s production has all the fun and irreverence to make it ideal entertainment for the festive season. If this style of comedy does not tickle your fancy, then at the Q Theatre across the border, luminary actor Karen Vickery takes on the greatest of Shakespeare’s tragic figures when Echo Theatre opens with King Lear this week.. Better still immerse yourself in the brilliance of the Bard with this timely double bill.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

illuminate ‘23

Photography | Brian Rope

illuminate ‘23 | Friends Photographic Group

ANBG Visitor Centre Gallery | 23 November – 10 December

There’s always an exhibition in the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) Visitor Centre Gallery. Each exhibition explores the Australian environment through diverse creative forms including fine art, craft, photography and sculpture.

The Friends of the ANBG Photographic Group brings together people interested in photography of natural phenomena, to share their experiences, update their skills via monthly lectures, workshops or outings, contribute to the ANBG's overall stock of native flora photographs and much more. The group is a haven for many photographers, with membership steadily increasing month by month.

illuminate ‘23 is the current annual photographic exhibition by the Group. ‘Illuminate’ has two meanings: one is about physical light, and the other is about intellectual or spiritual enlightenment. The images here are most definitely about physical light. At least some will add to viewers knowledge. Whether they spiritually enlighten probably varies between individual viewers.

The exhibition features a range of photographs taken within the ANBG, inviting others to discover, appreciate and value Australia’s unique flora and fauna. All photographs exhibited are for sale as well as unframed prints, cards, and specialty calendars by individual members.

This year there are just two categories of images. Firstly, there are photos of acacia in the David Cox Memorial Flora Award category. Secondly, there is the fauna category. Photographer Karleen Minney and I were invited to select three winners in each category. That wasn’t altogether easy as all works on display are of a high standard. I should emphasise that the authors’ names were not available to us until after we had advised the organisers of our decisions.

The Flora Award went to well-known Canberra professional photographer and photography teacher, Irene Lorbergs, for a delightful image showing a female Gang Gang cockatoo appearing to slide down acacia as though it was a slippery dip for birds. Lorbergs’ excellent photographic skills are very much evident in this work.

Female Gang Gang Cockatoo on Wattle; Callocephalon fimbriatum & Acacia sp., Location: Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG), Photographer: Irene Lorbergs

The runner-up in the flora category was Graham Gall, a longtime and active member of the Friends Group. His image displays stunning detail of a crab spider amongst the golden wattle, revealing Gall’s fine technical skills.

Golden Wattle with Crab Spider, Acacia pycnantha / Thomisidae australomisidia, Location: ANBG, Photographer: Graham Gall

The Highly Commended image in this category was by Helen Dawes. Her great composition results in a standout image. Looking at it your eyes inevitably will do the time-honoured thing of moving around the content in a circular motion.

Isolated, Acacia aphylla, Location: ANBG, Photographer: Helen Dawes

In the Fauna category, the selected winning image by Ben Harvey is one to laugh along with. It shows two very wet Gang Gangs - because of rain falling on them - with spiky hairdos and seemingly deep in conversation, quite possibly laughing at their own appearances. The humour conveyed is delightful.

Gang Gang Jibber Jabber, Callocephalon fimbriatum, Location: ANBG, Photographer: Ben Harvey

Phil Green’s image of a slightly wet New Holland Honeyeater on a Waratah was selected as Fauna Runner Up. A wonderful composition has the bird perfectly perched atop a flower – clearly following the photographer’s posing directions.

Slightly wet New Holland Honeyeater on a Waratah, Phylidonyris novaehollandiae / Telopea speciosissima, Location: ANBG, Photographer: Phil Green

And winner Ben Harvey was also Highly Commended for his cleverly titled Kangaroo Alley image. The delicate colours of this image of a bird amongst kangaroo paw flowers are just delightfully soothing to the eye.

Kangaroo Alley, Anigozanthos sp. / Acanthorhychus tenuirostris, Location: ANBG, Photographer: Ben Harvey

The exhibition successfully displays, in print, numerous aspects of Australia’s beautiful natural environment as seen through the lenses of the exhibitors’ cameras.

All the prints are worthy of close examination, and I encourage readers to visit and see for themselves if possible.

All photographs on show are for sale – and would make good Christmas presents. Additional copies of some works can be ordered, and other items for sale include unframed prints, greeting cards, and specialty calendars.

The exhibition supports and raises awareness of the aims and values of the ANBG and highlights the wide-ranging diversity of flora and fauna there. The participants should be pleased and proud of their works.

This review is also available on the author's blog here.



Noa Wildschutt and Elisabeth Brauss in concert.

Llewellyn Hall, Canberra. 27th November, 2023. -  Reviewed by Bill Stephens

From the very first unison notes of the Schumann "Violin Sonata No.1 in A Minor", with which Noa Wildschut and Elisabeth Brauss began their Canberra concert, the audience could sense that this concert would be something very special. And indeed it was.

Though both are still in their twenties and have achieved impressive individual  accolades, it is the partnering of Dutch violinist Wildschut and German pianist Brauss  that has been hailed as one of the most exciting musical partnerships heard in years.

The program chosen for their first Australian tour was both eclectic and challenging, offering an enticing selection of works by Schumann, Debussy, Enescu and Messiaen, as well as a new work especially composed for the duo by Australian composer, May Lyon.

Looking relaxed, confident and remarkably youthful as they took the stage, Wildschutt and Brauss gracefully acknowledged the welcoming applause before quickly settling at their instruments.

Schumann’s “Violin Sonata No 1 in A minor” commences with a whisper quiet conversation between the violin and piano.   Immediately achieving a perfect balance in sound between the lush warm tone of Wildschut’s 1750 Guadagnini violin and Brauss’s arresting piano phrasing, the two immediately captivated as they launched into the Schumann, quickly losing themselves in the joy of the music.

Apparently oblivious at the inherent technical challenges, each smiled gently at the other’s response to some unexpected nuance of phrasing or simply grooved on the pleasure of sharing what they had discovered with a new audience. It was obvious that they were enjoying making music together.

Messiaen’s “Theme et Variations”, also commences quietly.  Then, after a series of asymmetrical phrases for the violin and fluttering chromatic shifts for the piano, reaches a dramatic peak, ending so softly that the musicians paused after the last note, appearing frozen in time. So much so that no one in the audience dared to applaud until it was clear that both were still breathing. It was a magic moment.

Debussy’s last work, “Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor”,  with its more conventional melodies and harmonies,  allowed the duo to demonstrate their technical virtuosity and mastery of this more conventional  repertoire without compromising any of their ability to surprise and delight with their  relaxed, confident showmanship. 

After interval, a complete change of style with a premiere performance of a work specially composed for them by Australian composer, May Lyons.  Introduced by the composer herself, the work, “Forces of Nature” is a fiercely impressionistic exploration of the full range of the two instruments to evoke two polar opposites; the summer melt of ice sheets and an erupting volcano.

Watching and listening to  Wildschut and Brauss interprete this work was a mesmerising experience. Commencing with the solo violin alternating sliding effects with jagged bowing in an uncanny approximation of melting ice, the piano quietly enters, firstly with single-note dripping sounds, before building with discordant chords to the climatic volcanic eruption, remarkably achieved by the pair with the same confident virtuosity they had displayed throughout.  

The final offering was George  Enescu’s lush “Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano”.  Infused with  Romanian folk music, with a third movement replete with swirling rhythms so intense that  violinist Wildschut felt inspired to break into dance in her efforts to  express it. This work proved the perfect  climax for an outstanding, revelatory  concert . 

Of course there was a standing ovation, graciously rewarded with a joyous rendition of Paul Schoenfield’s delightful “Tin Pan Alley”.  

                                            Image by Tony McDonough     

   This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.







The Street Theatre November 26


Reviewed by Cassidy Richens


Fred Smith’s Canberra album launch was an intelligent moving performance, offering a “Look” into the personal side of this award-winning singer songwriter.

Smith’s performance was impeccable. A consummate storyteller weaving together childhood memories and ANU student days, before bringing us into present time through stories of inspirational relationships and significant life events.

Released in November 2023 “Look” is an eclectic assortment of autobiographical observations. With wide-ranging compositions, drawn primarily from folk, bluegrass, and country stylings, it demonstrates Smith’s versatility and award-winning songwriting prowess in catchy choruses, thought provoking ballads and rollicking sing-alongs. His absurd humour pleasingly present.

Backed by Canberra musicians Dave O'Neill (violin, electric guitar, mandolin), Matt Nightingale (double bass), Mitch Preston (drums), Jacquie Bradley (banjo, vocals) and Hayden Kinsmen (piano), the live concert also featured a handpicked selection from his past catalogue.

Fred Smith (centre) and band

“Time Flies,” a compelling composition with a bluegrass Celtic feel, and featuring O’Neill’s unrivalled fiddle playing, provided an upbeat opening. The electric guitar accompaniment and smooth country riffs in “Long Long Way,” working wonderfully with Nightingale’s double bass again highlighting O’Neill’s masterful musicianship. Smith’s quirky self-portrait summoned up lots of laughs. The opening track on “Look” also features a surprising harmonica twist.

Dave O'Neill (left) and Fred Smith

The funky bass line and rockabilly feel of “For Myself” showcased Kinsmen on keys and vocal harmonies from Bradley and Nightingale. I particularly enjoyed Bradley’s vocal harmonies in “She is My Song”. Also, off the album, Smith’s song about his wife cleverly transitioned from verse to chorus; incorporating iconic Canberra people and places, it pulled us back to the 90’s with humorous and touching one-liners, before leaping through life with themes of isolation and regret.

His “Corners of my Mind” COVID ballad performed solo on guitar, a song of introspection penned during six stints of hotel quarantine portrayed Smith’s tender side; also present in the sparse guitar and haunting harmonies of his Leonard Cohen tribute “Lenny.” The “Come and Say Goodnight” waltz that gracefully brought the concert (and album) to a close, a wonderful contribution to the reflective gentle tone of his new album.

O’Neill's brilliant melodies performed with intoxicating punch and elastic elegance, perfectly suited Fred’s storytelling. In a beautiful space with excellent sound production, it really was a special night.


Photos by Shelley Higgs 


QL2 Dance

Gorman Arts Centre to 26 November


Reviewed by Samara Purnell 26 November



QL2 have presented this year’s “Hot to Trot”, where dancers in the Quantum Leap youth dance ensemble are given the opportunity to choreograph and direct a dance work of approximately eight minutes long, performed by their peers. 


As a prelude, a short film was screened, discussing QL2’s 20-year relationship and collaboration with the Bangkok Dance Academy. Contemporary dance was a relatively new concept in Thailand then and the collaborators were keen to use dance as a way to avoid youth drug addiction. 


Emma and James Batchelor both speak of their experiences during their time with QL2 and the positive outcomes of the programs. Both the Thai and Australian facilitators, teachers and students speak of the ongoing connections they have formed and the way dance is described, including as a “good friend”, is beautiful and unexpectedly emotional. The overarching legacy given to those who participate is “opportunity”, as described by many in the film. 


Jahna Lugnan’s “Hazy Misconceptions” was an exploration of media and “fake news”. The topic would not have been obvious without an introduction, but that didn’t detract from the performance. Her trio of dancers performed to melancholy music, distressed, trapped and tumultuous. The use of the space was admirable and the precision and timing of the dancers with each other was exceptional.


Two of the dances explored the theme of colour. 


“Coloration”(sic) by Julia Villaflor explored the colours blue, green, red and yellow and their manifestations and how colours both complement and contrast with each other. Coloured parkas were utilized to create fun sequences before the dancers “tried on” other colours to explore them, in a nice twist. Sign language was used to express parts of the dance and this light-hearted piece was performed expressively by Villaflor’s dancers.


 “Polarised Light” choreographed by Calypso Efkarpidis was a striking piece, performed in Asian-inspired costumes of black and red, and using detailed hand gestures. A static, pulsing soundtrack accompanied by impressive lighting design concluded with the dancers in the dark, adorned with fluorescent body paint, waving and morphing into the blackout.  


Purple ribbons, a stocking-covered face and the ominous presence of giant corporations loomed over the environment in “You Did This”, by Emily Smith. The insidious consequences of mining, emissions and mass production took over the landscape as horrifying statistics were read out. 


In “Parasitic Waves”, a sophisticated collaboration between Arshiya Abhishree and Maya Wille Bellchambers, the dancers wore satin pants in a soft blue-green. They confidently performed lifts and holds, with an ease of interaction between the group. The music changed from flowing and relaxing, to staccato as a mesh costume (calling to mind fishing nets) was used to demonstrate the invasion of “parasites”, disrupting the cohesion of the “waves”, to form a new dynamic.


Charlie Thomson, who danced brilliantly throughout the production closed the show with “Humanchine”, where his youthful approach and playfulness allowed his 14-year-old creativity to come to life. Using cartoon-style comedy in 90’s style costumes, the rise of technology, digitalisation and screen addiction took the form of a boy-band style routine, followed by a costume change into black and ending with a “digital hangover”.


“Hot to Trot” was a cohesive production across dance styles, music and lighting, with the group of 13 all presenting a polished and high quality dance performance. The choreographers have done an impressive job to create and direct their work and their dedication to each other’s work shows. Again, the word “opportunity” comes to mind: To be given this opportunity as young dancers and creators and for giving an audience the opportunity to be a part of it.  


Photos by O & J Wikner Photography 

Sunday, November 26, 2023


Alexander Gilman, artistic director

Snow Concert Hall, Red Hill, 25 November


Reviewed by Len Power


In their first Australian concert, The Young Soloists, an award-winning group of young virtuosos between the ages of 14 and 23, showed why their world-class reputation has preceded them.

Established in 2013 by violinist Alexander Gilman, who plays in the orchestra, the group members perform as soloists with the orchestra, accompany each other, and share their passion for music. They have performed in many of the prestigious concert halls in the world.

In the first half of the concert, the ensemble performed a wide-ranging program of works by the composers Holst, Bruch, Paganini, Skoryk and Bottesini.

The whole orchestra commenced with Holst’s “St. Paul’s Suite”, a work full of colour with dramatic moments that clearly showed the skill and passion of these players.

Alexander Gilman (4th from left in foreground) and The Young Soloists

“Kol Nidrei” by Bruch was the second item, with 14 year old Lyam Chenaux playing solo cello with the orchestra. His assured performance of this well-known work was one of the highlights of the concert. Chenaux may not yet be as tall as his cello but he showed he will be a giant in the music world in years to come.

Lyam Chenaux

Paganini’s “La Campanella” from Concerto No.2 is a formidable work for any violinist to play. Ji Eun Park skilfully played the solo part on viola, giving it a rich, appealing sound.  There was a second Paganini work, the ‘Variation on the Moses theme by Rossini” and Tara Stranegger played the solo cello part with great sensitivity and passion.

The “Melody” by Skoryk was given a beautiful, romantic performance by Agnes Oberndorfer on solo viola and Clarissa Bevilacqua on solo violin and Alexander Heather on solo double bass played Bottesini’s “Gran Duo Concertante”, giving an electrifying performance of this dynamic work. They made parts of it seem like a good-natured duel between their instruments.

The second half of the program was a performance of Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 9 (‘Kreutzer’) Op. 47 for Violin and Strings”. Haeun Honney Kim played the solo part on a rare and priceless Stradivarius “Kreutzer” violin.

Haeun Honney Kim and the Stradivarius "Kreuzer" violin

The first movement was full of drama with an excellent performance by Kim. The second movement with its beautiful melodies and then its rousing finale made this a memorable performance by the orchestra and soloist deserving of the standing ovation given by the audience.

Two encores followed – “Czardas” by Monti with Emmanuel Webb on solo violin and Alexander Heather on solo double bass and a superb arrangement of, surprisingly, “Yankee Doodle” with Haeun Honney Kim on solo violin.


Photos by Peter Hislop


This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 26 November 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, November 25, 2023

MARIEDL, Selfies with a Giantess - Street Theatre

Ursula Fatton and Maxi Blaha in "MARIEDL, Selfies with a Giantess" at the Street Theatre

Written by Penny Black – Directed by Angelika  Zacek

Costume design by Julia Klug – Dramaturgy by Verena Humer

Performed by Maxi Blaha and Ursula Fatton

The Street Theatre –November 25th and 26th 2023. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Fresh from filming episodes of the German crime series “Tatort” and the film adaption of Arthur Miller’s “The Performance”, Austro-Australian actor, Maxi Blaha has returned to The Street Theatre to premiere the English translation of her latest one-woman show “Mariedl –Selfies with a Giantess”.

Discovered in a small village in the Tyrol Alps, Maria Fassnauer (Mariedl), a woman afflicted by Gigantism, was for six years exhibited in theatres across Europe, at the Brussels World Fair and in the Hippodromes of London and Manchester as the tallest woman ever seen.

A fascinating feature of Mariedl’s story is that during her touring she was courted by a similarly afflicted man from Wagga Wagga, who had dreams of siring giant children.

Mariedl’s story however is certainly not tragic.  It appears that she was a shrewd business woman. Although her parents had negotiated a lucrative contract for her services, insisting that Mariedl be accompanied throughout her touring by her younger sister, Rosa, Mariedl augmented her contracted fee with sponsorship deals and hard work which involved standing for hours posing and selling postcards of herself.

Mariedl was also aware of the power of publicity. So when Australian giant, Clive Darril from Wagga Wagga made his infamous marriage proposal in front of the press, Mariedl suspected that he was probably an opportunist so had little compunction about turning him down, also making sure there were plenty of press present.  

Mariedl appeared before Royalty and as her fame spread made a huge sum of money which she gave to her parents and a variety of charities. Deeply religious, Mariedl had planned to become a nun after she finished touring, but died at the age of 38, before that ambition could be achieved.

Maxi Blaha as Mariedl the giant woman of the Tyrol

In a beguiling performance, Blaha conjured up Mariedl’s 2.42 metres height by standing on a raised platform, her lavishly embroidered Tyrolean costume echoing Mariedl’s insistence on always wearing a traditional peasant costume together with a tall hat to make her look taller, when being exhibited.   

As the audience entered the theatre, Blaha as Mariedl on exhibition, greeted them with “Come one, come all, come and see Mariedl, the giant woman of the Tyrol”, each time repeating her statistics in indication of the monotony of Mariedl’s existence.

In a clever twist of ambiguity she invited the audience to take selfies on their cellphones, and to message in their questions; a reference to Mariedl’s habit of selling postcards. Each ping of her own phone providing the opportunity to demonstrate the repetitive, inane and often very personal questions Mariedl had to endure every day.

Blaha’s superbly nuanced monologue allowed the audience to sense the loneliness behind Mariedl’s pride in honouring her commitment despite not being allowed to be seen in public in order to maintain the curiosity of the public. She encouraged them to revel in Mariedl's mischievousness when relating her response to Clive Darril’s courting, her curiosity when describing some of her fellow freaks, and her deep love of family and nature, both of which she deeply missed while on tour.   

Integral to the success of Blaha’s performance was the superb accompaniment of harpist, Ursula Fatton, who miraculously conjured up fair grounds, grand ballrooms, moments of dread and elation to enhance the story-telling, before finally gilding the one song which provided a perfect ending for the show, a wistful rendition by Blaha of the Duke Ellington song “In My Solitude”.


                                                 Images by Novel Photographic

      This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.


Friday, November 24, 2023

Metaverse of Magic


Metaverse of Magic.  JONES Theatrical Group, presented by Sydney Coliseum Theatre, Canberra Theatre and Queensland Performing Arts Centre, at Canberra Theatre November 23 – December 3, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night, Canberra, 23 November

Co-Creator & Director: Siobhan Ginty; Co-Creator & Producer: Suzanne Jones
Co-Creator & Associate Director: Del Wynegar

Interactive Game Design: ZEBRAR – Simone Clow & George Kacevski
Technical Direction & Design: Nick Eltis (TechNick)
Production Design: Patrick Larsen (Studio Bound)
Lighting & Video Design: Paul Collison (Eleven Design)
Composition: Adam Gubman (Moonwalk Audio)
Magic Design/Consultant: Adam Mada (Magic Inc)
Choreography: Lauren Elton; Additional Script: Eddie Perfect
Sound Design: Julian Spink; Production Management: L’Argent Wilson

Character Roles:
On stage: LenoxxAsh Hodgkinson aka Ash Magic
On screen: DIGIErin Bruce

Charli Ashby (Australia); HARA (Japan); Horret Wu (Taiwan)
Jarred Fell (Aotearoa New Zealand); Sabine Van Diemen (Netherlands)


Bronte Carrington; Damon Wilson; Max Simmons; Mei Yamada; Tim Mason

Ash Hodgkinson as Lenoxx
on his way to the Inner Realm

The magic of theatre is that it is nothing but illusion.

The Metaverse of Magic, an “Interactive Magic Spectacular”, is theatre about illusion.

The magic performed on stage is real, yet the drama – in the form of a four-dimensional participatory computer game with a happy ending – is just an illusion.

With the central character “i-Gen magician” Lenoxx and the “all-knowing Game Master” DIGI - via wi-fi on their smartphones - members of the audience “embark on a thrilling quest to reveal the secrets of the four masters of illusion and strive to gain access to the prestigious Inner Realm.”  They begin at “Legacy”  level (magic as it was in the days of Houdini, when I was young), pass through “Creative” levels and at last achieve “Courage” – the happy ending.

But not everyone is a winner, including oldies like me who forgot to take their phone!

Sabine Van Dieman, HARA, Charli Ashby, Horret Wu
Masters of Magic


Technically amazing, with magicians who are skilful and therefore as surprising and mysterious as they should be, the show is the ultimate crowd-pleaser.  Jarred Fell’s pickpocketing was the highlight for me.  However hard you looked, you just couldn’t see him do it.  He would get away with never being proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt.  But I did notice the only slip out of illusion in the whole show, when Sabine’s whip failed to extinguish the last of the four lighted candles.  But I’m sure that won’t happen again.  Leaving Lenoxx with just the right number of petals, left on the rose he held in his teeth while she whupped from metres away, was a winner.

The use of multiple screens, scrims and hologram effects on such a scale certainly is engaging, even while I watched people near me focussed on tapping incomprehensible details on their phone screens to gain points in the game, but at the end of the day I wondered if this is no more than bread and circusses for the modern generation.

DIGI set up moments of success, points where Lenoxx and the players had not yet got there, pats on the back for the leaders at each of the levels, and praise be to everyone at the final countdown.  

But after all, "Metaverse" – meaning Beyond Life Gaming – is a steal from Mark Zuckerberg, whose influence on society is unfortunately not an illusion.  The history of the origin of Facebook for his male student mates to judge women pejoratively, and the extension of this ‘game’ into so-called ‘social’ media across the internet has now reached the point democracies are twisting and squirming towards new forms of autocracy.

The Metaverse of Magic crowd may want to believe in the happy ending, but the reality – which the best theatre helps us understand – is that we are going to need much more than Level Four Courage to survive the next few decades.

Enjoy the magic and the technology, but beware the illusion that laughter is all we need.  

And, to be honest, from the real people on stage, and even from the more remote DIGI, there was respect and in that sense, love was there, made clear especially in Jarred Fell’s working with and thanks to the youngster and adults who went up on stage.

Jarred Fell
Master of Ceremonies






Co-creators: Siobhan Ginty, Suzanne Jones and Del Wynegar

Directed by Siobhan Ginty, Associate Director: Del Wynegar

Production: JONES Theatrical Group, Sydney Coliseum Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre and Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre to 3 December


Reviewed by Len Power 23 November 2023

It used to be enough in magic shows to just have a magician, a props table and a pretty assistant. Now the computer generation has “Metaverse Of Magic”, a spectacular, interactive show that dazzles the eyes with stunning production values built around a troupe of very clever magicians.

The magicians, Charli Ashby, HARA, Horret Wu, Jarred Fell, Sabine van Diemen and Ash Hodgkinson aka Ash Magic are a young, international group. All of them perform astounding illusions with great style leaving us open-mouthed with wonder.

Illusionist, HARA

This is a show on two levels. You can sit back and be entertained in the usual way by this colourful, energetic entertainment or you can choose to interact with a computer game that is part of the show and works via your phone.

Ash Hodgkinson aka Ash Magic checks the game scores

Clearly a lot of thought and planning has gone into this game by Simone Clow and George Kacevski of ZEBRAR.  It was easy to follow the set up instructions issued before the show and it added an exciting and challenging extra dimension if you decided to play it.  I had a woeful score at the end of the game compared to other players, but I certainly had fun playing it.

This co-production brings together the work of a number of very creative people. The eye-popping production design is by Patrick Larsen of Studio Bound, the lighting and video design is by Paul Collison of Eleven Design, sound design is by Julian Spink, composition is by Adam Gubman of Moonwalk Audio, choreography is by Lauren Elton and Nick Eltis of Technik is responsible for the technical direction and design.

It is a slick entertainment utilizing the best in current computer technology and is full of top class illusions. It is hugely entertaining and suitable for children as well as adults.


Photos by Jeff Busby

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, November 21, 2023



Marcel Cole in "The Ukulele Man"

Directed by Dave Collins & Louiza Blomfield – Sound & Lighting Design by Lucy Van Dooren

 ACT Hub Theatre November 16-18. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

It’s taken Canberra a while to catch up with other Australian cities, but now it can finally boast its own Cabaret Festival. 

An initiative of ACT Hub and curated by Dave Collins and Louiza Blomfield, the festival began modestly with five different shows presented over three nights, with the laudable goal of providing a platform for emerging Canberra artists.

The Festival began promisingly with Tim Maher having the unenviable honour of being the first cab off the rank with his show entitled “CafĂ© Boomer”.

Tim Cole in "Cafe Boomer".

Accompanying himself on an artfully disguised keyboard, and drawing on his experience as a physiotherapist, Maher fashioned his show around relationships, beginning with a sly parody of Billy Joel’s “Honesty” before launching into Leon Russell’s “Masquerade” to support his proposition that “we are all wearing masks”.

Moving away from the keyboard, Maher launched into an amusing discourse on relationships of various kinds, emphasising particular aspects by weaving in songs from well-known musicals, some of which were accompanied by pre-recorded soundtracks. Among them, “To Break In A Glove” from the  Michael Park/Ben Plat musical,  “Dear Evan Hansen”; and two Stephen Sondheim songs, “No More”, from “Into the Woods”, and a virtuosic rendition of the challenging “Franklin Shepard Inc. ” from “Merrily We Roll Along”.

A monologue from Yasmina Reza’s play “Art”, a quote from Michael Leunig and a medley combining Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy”, John Farnham’s  “You’re the Voice” and finally The Beatles, “All You Need is Love”, rounded out an engaging, confidently performed  and thoroughly entertaining presentation.

Marcel Cole had already presented his cabaret “The Ukulele Man” at the Adelaide and Sydney Fringe Festivals where it won him plaudits and prizes. Directed by Mirjana Ristevski, “The Ukulele Man” tracked the story of British music hall star, George Formby, who with his ukulele and repertoire of double entendre songs, became Britain’s highest paid entertainer, and winning world-wide fame during the 1930’s and 40’s mainly as a result of a series of popular B grade films, and for his indefatigable efforts entertaining troops during World War 11.

With considerable charm, and eschewing a microphone, Cole told Formby’s story through a selection Formby’s most popular songs, including of course,  “When I’m Cleaning Windows”,  “With a Ukulele In My Hand”, and “Leaning on a Lamp Post”, accompanying himself on both ukulele and banjolele.

A surprising feature of Formby’s story was the influence exerted by his wife, Beryl, a former entertainer who managed his career with an iron fist.  

Katie Cole and Marcel Cole in "The Ukulele Man".

 In “The Ukulele Man”, Beryl was played by Cole’s mother, Katie Cole, who not only portrayed Formby’s wife, but also Formby’s disapproving mother and a BBC announcer;  contributing accompaniments on keyboards, violin and ukulele, while accomplishing  lightning-fast costume changes.

All these she achieved with considerable panache, as Cole also changed costumes, stylishly portrayed emotional moments, and even included some eccentric dancing.  Well-chosen sound effects and lighting all contributed to a hugely enjoyable, brilliantly executed cabaret experience.

For their cabaret “That’s What Friends Are For” Cabaret Festival curators, Dave Collins and Louiza Blomfield, drew on their personal friendship and finely-honed ad lib  skills to present a relatively unstructured, but delightfully entertaining selection of ballads and show tunes utilising pre-recorded piano accompaniments.

Dave Collins and Louiza Blomfield in "That's What Friends Are For".

Both are superb vocalists, so particular highlights included a captivating arrangement of “Over The Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” blended with  “Home” from “The Wiz” sung by Collins, who also contributed an emotional rendering of Jason Robert Brown’s “It All Fades Away”.

Blomfield scored with her powerful rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” from “Mamma Mia”, and their duet, “The Song That Goes Like This” from Spamalot, is probably the funniest version of this song you’re ever likely to hear.  

George Belibassakis in "Be Brave, Changeling".

For his cabaret, “Be Brave, Changeling”, George Belibassakis drew songs from a variety of sources to illustrate an excoriating, deeply personal, account of his life so far.  An arresting a Capella rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” followed his revelation of self harm, The Door’s, “Hello, I love you”, explained his efforts to reach out. Thomas A Dorsey’s “There Will be Peace In the Valley” and Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Somebody” brought an often confronting, but ultimately optimistic cabaret to its conclusion.

The Festival ended with an intriguingly entitled show “Cruise Ships and Crematoriums” presented by Lawson Reid.

Revealing an engaging personality, and an enviable talent for stand-up, Reid regaled his audience with a stream-of-consciousness account of his life working on cruise ships, living in government subsidised  hotels after being made homeless by floods, then finally discovering his niche as a “Pet Aftercare Specialist and Corpse Removalist”.

Accompanying himself on guitar, Reid augmented his own original songs with others including Carrie Underwood’s “Drinking Alone”, The Eagles “Hotel California” and Willy Nelson’s “On the Road Again” while keeping his audience agog with his revelations so bizarre that they had to be true; thus providing a fascinating climax to Canberra’s first highly successful Cabaret Festival. 

An edited version of this review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 20.11/23