Monday, February 26, 2024

BRIEFS: DIRTY LAUNDRY - Sydney Spiegeltent, Entertainment Centre, Moore Park.

Dylan Rodriguez (Serenity) - Thomas Worrell - Brett Rosengreen - Dale Woodbridge-Brown - Luke Hubbard (Nastia) during a bubble fantasy in "BRIEFS: Dirty Laundry "

Conceived and directed by Fez Faanana

Performed by Fez Faanana, Mark “Captain Kidd” Winmill, Thomas Worrell, Dylan Rodriguez, Luke Hubbard, Brett Rosengreen, Rowan Thomas and Dale Woodbridge-Brown.

Sydney Spiegeltent, Entertainment Centre, Moore Park until March 15th 2024.

Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Mark Winmill - Rowan Thomas - Fez Faanana - Dylan Rodriguez - Thomas Worrell
- Brett Rosengreen - Dale Woodbridge-Brown - Luke Hubbard.

The gender-bending boys of Briefs Factory certainly take their dirty laundry seriously. This Brisbane based acrobatic troupe has been touring its unique style of spectacular burlesque circus around Australia and Internationally for more than a decade. Their current production “Briefs: Dirty Laundry” is currently ensconced in the Sydney Spiegeltent in Moore Park as a headline Mardi Gras attraction, and they couldn’t be more at home.

The cheeky opening number, cleverly choreographed around a couple of washing machines, introduced the eight performers and set the tone for the evening.  Eye-popping costumes that reveal plenty of well-toned flesh; creative presentation and breath-taking specialty acts performed by a cast of handsome, buffed and a highly skilled performers who happily participate, tongue-in-cheek, in outrageous sketches and glamorous production numbers that give the show its creative edge.


Fez Faanana in full flight.


As the host of the show, Fez Faanana, draped in a constant parade of eye-popping creations, stars in the production numbers and keeps the audience in a party mood with his risqué commentary.  He also reveals another meaning for the show’s title by requesting audience members to unpack their own dirty laundry by contributing an anonymous note revealing a dirty little secret. This strategy allows the entire cast to hilariously demonstrate hitherto unsuspected ‘artistic merit’ later in the show.   

Of this cast, Mark “Captain Kidd” Winmill, Luke Hubbard (Nastia), and Dylan Rodriguez (Serenity) a trio of glamorous clowns who teeter alarmingly on skyscraper platform shoes, keep the audience in fits of laughter with their antics, before stunning  them later with the virtuosity of their acrobatic skills.

Luke Hubbard (Nastia) - Dylan Rodriguez (Serenity - Mark "Captain Kid" Winmill
in "Briefs:Dirty Laundry"

Who would have imagined you could strip off all your clothes while manipulating a Cyr wheel?  Rowan Thomas can, and very stylishly too. However muscular Brett Rosengreen required a bubble fantasy and an entourage of male beauties to achieve a similar manoeuvre. 


Rohan Thomas and Cyr Wheel in "Briefs: Dirty Laundry"

Thomas Worrell’s gasp-inducing aerial hoop routine leaves no doubt as to why he is Australia’s Acrobatic Hoop Champion, while Dale Woodbridge-Brown demonstrated some stomach-churning tricks with a balloon that you may not have thought about before.

“Brief: Dirty Laundry” is a world class, all-male, burlesque show which ends as it began, with a stylish costume parade. If burlesque is your thing or you’re tempted to find out what it’s all about, you’d be mad to miss this opportunity.

"Briefs: Dirty Laundry" - Finale.
Dylan Rodriguez - Brett Rosengreen - Rohan Thomas - Dale Woodbridge-Brown - Fez Faanana
Luke Hubbard - Mark "Captain Kidd" Winmill - Thomas Worrell

All images by Belinda Rolland

This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.


Sunday, February 25, 2024




Henry V

Written by William Shakespeare. Directed and produced by TW Gibbings. Co-director and Stage Manager Sophia Carlton. Choreographer Annette Sharp. Cheerleading sequence Kate Loynd Costumes by TW Gibbings and Cerri Murphy. Lakespeare production team: TW Gibbings, Paul Leverenz, Denise Carlton, Sophia Carlton, Cerri Murphy, Cathy Day and Jonty Redman.

 Cast: Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Anneka van der Velde, Max Gambale, Annabelle Hansen, Alexandra Pelvin, Marni Mount, Tyler Berrigan, John Lombard, Jacob Church, Hannah Cornelia. Lakespeare. Tuggeranong Town Park Friday February 23rd at 6.30 p.m.  Bookings:


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


 As if by royal command, the midday storm that lashed Canberra abated. A clear twilight sky looked down on Tuggeranong Town Park where a large crowd gathered on blankets, rugs and chairs on the grass to watch Lakespeare’s free open air production of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

In place of swords and armour, Lakespeare has set the scene as a football contest between the two rival teams of France and England. The language remains true to Shakespeare’s text carefully coached by Dr. Duncan Driver in this intelligible and captivating production of Shakespeare’s highly patriotic history play.   Director TW Gibbings’ concept of presenting the war between the two great European powers in 1415 as a modern-day rugby clash serves as a contemporary metaphor for the bitter enmity. It’s a bit of a stretch to compare a World Cup rugby match to the blood and gore of the Battle of Agincourt but for the audience seated around the open air staging, Gibbings’ metaphor was instantly recognizable. Lakespeare’s production was highly entertaining, while Shakespeare’s text lost none of its import in the telling. As the Chorus, Max Gambale’s Referee filled the space with excitement, action and the power of storytelling. His voice soared over the transfixed audience drawing them into the history and adventure of Shakespeare’s chronicle. The audience was divided into supporters of the British and French teams and supplied with flags to wave and taught to cheer for their team. T shirts. in the colours of the country and with names of each character and their team number emblazoned on the back each character and their various roles were easily distinguished. Only the editing  and sometime removal of scenes led to some confusion for an audience unfamiliar with the play or perplexity by some who may have a greater knowledge of the text, but Gambale’s clear narration and the excellent performances and abounding energy of the young cast paid due homage to the story and the themes of Henry V.

Jake Fryer-Hornsby as Henry V

As Henry V, Jake Fryer-Hornsby gives a sterling performance as the reformed Prince Hal from Henry lV Part 2. He is in every sense a king, wilful, wily, courageous, compassionate and the epitomy of an ideal monarch in contrast to Gambale’s waspish Charles Vl of France and  Anneke van der Velde’s arrogant Dauphin. From his valiant cry of “Once more unto the breach dear friends to his rallying “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" or his awkward wooing of Princess Kate, Fryer-Hornsby can be counted amongst the very best of the Henry Vs I have seen on stage and screen. The battle scenes may not have the violence and brutality of the battle of Agincourt, but the football match serves well enough to express the challenges of the combat and the sacrifices in the quest for conquest. Shakespeare and Lakespeare have highlighted the virtue of inspired leadership, the futility of war and the reward for virtuous valour. Fryer-Hornsby is thrilling to watch as he breathes fire and brimstone and gentle humanity into this complex human being.

Max Gambale as the Chorus (Referee) in Henry V

The scene between Princess Kate (Marni Mount) and Alice (Annabelle Hansen), spoken largely in French and broken English is a sheer delight. Both Hansen and Mount deliver charm and innocence in equal measure in their scene together as well as in the wooing with Henry that breaks any tension with delightful humour and natural ease.

Gibbings’ concept lends itself to a humour that underpins irony, cynicism and human folly. Even the inclusion of sponsors’ names in the text provides a ready source for laughter from the groundlings who revel in the production under an almost full moon.  This production is a perfect fit for Lakespeare and the company’s mission to present open air performances of Shakespeare’s plays to the Canberra community.

Annabelle Hansen as the French Herald Montjoy

In 1599 Shakespeare wrote the play to open the new Globe on Southbank.  In 1997 I watched Mark Rylance play the king in traditional dress as the first all-male production at Sam Wanamaker’s new Globe. Gibbings’ production is Lakespeare’s first history play and its fifth Shakespeare production. It may be unconventional but it has the power to excite and stir the heart and remind us of the virtue of true leadership. Henry V is a wonderful story, fabulously told by a cast bursting with energy and passion. There are no more open air performances sadly, but lovers of Shakespeare and aficionados of good theatre can still catch the final Down at the Pub performance at Verity Lane on Tuesday February 27th at 6.30. If you have seen it in the park, then it will be worth seeing this again in the intimacy of a Pub. It is your last chance to see “a little touch of Harry in the night.”

Photos by Martin Ollman

IDOMENEO - Opera Australia and Victorian Opera

Michael Schade as Idomeneo 


Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Librettist: Abbe Giambattista Varesco

Conductor: Johannes Fritzsch – Director: Lindy Hume

Set Designer: Michael Yeargan – Set Design Consultant: Richard Roberts

Costume Designer: Anna Cordingley – Costume Design Consultant: Mel Sergeant

Lighting Designer: Verity Hampson – Video Designer: David Bergman

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House Feb.20th to March 15 2024.


Celeste Lazarenko (Ilia) - Michael Schade (Idomeneo) - Caitlin Hulcup (Idamante) and the Opera Australia chorus in "Idomeneo"

Having rashly promised the God, Neptune, that in appreciation for saving him from a storm at sea he would sacrifice the first living creature he met, Cretan King Idomeneo is horrified when he discovers that that person is his beloved son and heir, Idamante.

To complicate matters further, Idamante has his own problems. He’s in love with Ilia, the daughter of the defeated Trojan King Priam. However, Elettra, the daughter of the Greek King Agamemnon, has her sights set on becoming Queen of Crete. To achieve her aims she must marry Idamante, and she’s not about let Ilia get in her way.

It’s a juicy story fit for its own television series, but Mozart got there first, and in 1781 chose it as the subject of his first serious opera, composing some of his most luscious music for it.

In 1979 the then Australian Opera premiered a production of Idomeneo at the Sydney Opera House conducted by Richard Bonynge with Dame Joan Sutherland in the role of Elettra. This production was hired from the Victorian State Opera.

In a neat twist, for her final production as Guest Creative Director of Opera Australia’s 2024 Sydney Summer season, Lindy Hume has chosen her own production of Idomeneo which she directed in a co-production for Victorian Opera and Opera Australia and which premiered in Melbourne in July 2023.  

In a stunning coup de theatre, Hume has utilised the same Michael Yeargan setting originally designed for a 1989 production of Massenet’s Werther, and re-purposed for Opera Australia’s current production of The Magic Flute.

For her production Hume has enhanced this elegant white setting with stunning video images filmed in Tasmania by Catherine Pettman brilliantly mixed with animated inkblot images digitally reworked, colour-enhanced, timed, mapped and synchronised to Mozart’s score by David Bergman. The resultant images form incredible visual representations of each character’s mood.

In addition, she’s added a stage revolve, a collection of stark white chairs, then taken advantage of the possibilities offered by the superb Opera Australia chorus, strikingly costumed in muted tones by Anna Cordingley, as well as Verity Hampson’s prodigious lighting skills, to create a succession of stunning stage pictures to keep the eyes engaged while the singers enchant the ears with superb vocals. 

Making his first Sydney Opera House appearances, Canadian-German tenor Michael Schade is a commanding figure in the central role of Idomeneo. Whether strutting the stage in a black rooster-feather trimmed cloak, or swathed in blood-red satin, his stentorian tenor negotiates the complexities of Mozart’s arias with apparent ease, evidenced early during his rendition of “Fuor del mar” (Out of the Sea) in which Idomeneo thanks Neptune for sparing his life. 

In the pants role, as Idomeneo’s son Idamante, Caitlin Hulcup is not only vocally and visually striking, but also successful in investing her characterisation with a touching depth, particularly when Idamante expresses his anguish at his father’s rejection in the aria “Il padre adorato” (My beloved father).  

Celeste Lazarenko as Ilia in "Idomeneo"

Celeste Lazarenko, as Ilia, the object of Idamante’s  affections, immediately impresses with her unenviable task of opening the show with a  superb rendition of a long aria, “Padre, germani, addio” (Father, brothers, farewell), while Emma Pearson literally dazzles as the fiery Elettra,  especially with her aria, “D’Oreste, d’Ajace” (I feel Orestes’s and Ajax’s torments in my heart”) in which she leaves no doubts to her feelings when Idomeneo anoints Idamante and Ilia as his successors.

Emma Pearson (Elettra) and the Opera Australia Chorus in "Idomeneo"

However it is in the sublime rendition of the “Death Quartet” when these four soloists blend voices with the Opera Australia orchestra under the baton of Maestro Johannes Fritzsch that the hairs on the back of the neck begin to rise.

John Longmuir (Arbace) and Michael Schade (Idomeneo)

And if that were not enough, both Kanen Breen as the High Priest, and John Longmuir as Idomeneo’s confidant offer striking, well-sung performances.

Lindy Hume’s Sydney Opera House Summer Season has been a triumph in demonstrating possible new directions and collaborations for Opera Australia. The forthcoming Sydney Winter season, the first curated by incoming Artistic Director, Jo Davies, is an enticing selection offering no fewer than three Australian operas.

Hopefully though, in its efforts to embrace a more parochial approach to its repertoire, Opera Australia will be careful not to risk jeopardising its hard won International reputation as the country’s flagship opera company.


                                                     Images by Keith Saunders

   This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.



Saturday, February 24, 2024

Last of the Red Hot Lovers


Last of the Red Hot Lovers by Neil Simon.  Canberra REP February 22- March 9, 2024.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Feb 23 Opening Night

Director: Anne Somes; Associate Director: Cate Clelland
Stage Manager: David Goodbody; Asst Stage Manager: Bede Doherty
Set Design: Cate Clelland; Set Cooridnator: Russell Brown OAM
Lighting Designer: Mike Moloney; Sound Designer: Neville Pye
Set Dressing: Cate Clelland, Anna Senior OAM; Rosemary Gibbons
Costume Designer: Fiona Leach
Production Manager: Anne Gallen

Wikipedia records: The play opened on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on December 28, 1969, and closed on September 4, 1971, after 706 performances and six previews.

And also under the heading Reception: Clive Barnes, in his review in The New York Times, wrote: "He is as witty as ever...but he is now controlling that special verbal razzle-dazzle that has at times seemed mechanically chill... There is the dimension of humanity to its humor so that you can love it as well as laugh at it."

Eugene O’Neill???  Somehow these characters in the sad comedy of the failure of sexual anything-goes a la 1969 seem somewhat out of place in a theatre dedicated to that great playwright so deeply critical of his own American culture.  

OK, I don’t mean Desire Under the Elms or Long Day’s Journey Into Night.  Just The Hairy Ape.  There’s a dimension of humanity to its humour way beyond Neil Simon.

But hey!  What should we expect in 1969?  The year in which David Williamson set his Don’s Party (which opened in August 1971 – a month before Last of the Red Hot Lovers closed). “To the party come Mal, Don's university mentor, and his bitter wife Jenny, sex-obsessed Cooley and his latest girlfriend, nineteen-year-old Susan, Evan, a dentist, and his beautiful artist wife Kerry.”

In other words don’t expect such inventive satire from Last of the Red Hot Lovers, the plot neatly summarised, again by Wikipedia:

Barney Cashman, a middle-aged, married nebbish wants to join the sexual revolution before it is too late. A gentle soul with no experience in adultery, he fails in each of three seductions:
Elaine Navazio, a sexpot who likes cigarettes, whiskey, and other women's husbands;
Bobbi Michele, an actress friend whom he discovers is madder than a hatter; and
Jeannette Fisher, his wife's best friend, a staunch moralist.

If you don’t know what a ‘nebbish’ is, the word is American Yiddish for “One who is fearful and timid, especially in making decisions and plans, in discussions, debates, arguments, and confrontations, and in taking responsibility.”  David Cannell does an excellent job of making us laugh at his character; but does Neil Simon intend, when Barney’s final phone call to his apparently loyal wife apparently fails to inspire her to join him, for us to laugh along with a sense of ironic comedy?  

Or should we empathise with Barney, with his head in his hands as the lights fade, and feel sorry for this 23-years married, 47 year-old, after he has attempted to explore breaking out of tedium with the sexpot, mad actress and his wife’s best friend, each played brilliantly by Victoria Tyrell Dixon, Stephanie Bailey and Janie Lawson respectively?

I have difficulty agreeing with that first review by Clive Barnes.  Despite the play’s success, and being filmed in 1972, I think Neil Simon’s early plays, The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, are much better because they were much more original in concept.  

On the other hand, though to me the character and life of Barney is not interesting enough, even to make decent satire, the deliberately over-the-top characters of the three women make the play – and this production – quite fascinating to watch.

And to think about, when you consider the superficiality of Simon’s picture of the new open sexuality – the Sexual Revolution – as he pictures it in 1969.  Could one write such characters, and see them as laughable, today?  

That’s a question which makes the production of the Last of the Red Hot Lovers as REP has done it – strictly reproducing the American accents, style and settings of 1970 – very worthwhile.

David Cannell as Barnie, with
Victoria Tyrell Dixon as Elaine Navazio
Stephanie Bailey as Bobbi Michele and Janie Lawson as Jeanette Fisher
in Last of the Red Hot Lovers by Neil Simon
Canberra REP, 2024






Written by Neil Simon

Directed by Anne Somes

A Canberra REP production

Canberra REP Theatre, Acton to 9 March


Reviewed by Len Power 23 February 2024


Neil Simon’s 1969 play, ‘Last Of The Red Hot Lovers’, coincided with a time of change in the USA. There was the flower power of the hippy movement, the sexual revolution, the increasing dominance of rock music and the debate over the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

In the play, fish restaurant owner, Barney Cashman, is aware of the changes around him and worried that at age 47 he is missing out on the sexual revolution. Although married to his childhood sweetheart, he decides to do something about his frustrations. Using his mother’s apartment on afternoons when she is absent, he attempts seductions of three very different women.

The huge role of Barney Cashman is played very well by David Cannell. His excellent comic timing gets all of the laughs in the right places. The depth of his characterisation clearly and, at times poignantly, shows the good man underneath even though he is making feeble attempts at adultery.

As Elaine Navazio, the first woman invited to the apartment, Victoria Tyrrell Dixon gives a subtle, nicely detailed performance of a brittle woman who happily enjoys extramarital sexual encounters but has no patience with Barney’s need for a more romantic start.

Stephanie Bailey as Bobbi Michele is colourful and amusing as a not very self-aware young woman who is ill at ease with herself under the surface. Bailey captures every aspect of this character very well.

The third woman, Jeanette Fisher, is married to Barney’s best friend. Played by Janie Lawson, this nervous and guilty character is given an excellent characterisation.  Lawson also has great comic timing, making every laugh line count.

The full width of the Canberra REP theatre’s stage is used by set designer, Cate Clelland. It looks like Barney’s mother has a New York penthouse, rather than a smaller apartment typical of that city. It’s nicely designed but its spaciousness may have led to the distracting lighting decision to highlight moments when the characters spend time together on a sofa. Music cues often seem awkward as well.

Overall, Anne Somes has given us an enjoyable, well-paced production with a strong cast that brings out all of the humour and pathos in Neil Simon’s 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


Friday, February 23, 2024



Last of the Red Hot Lovers 

Written by Neil Simon. Directed by Anne Somes. Associate director and set designer Cate Clelland. Costume designer Fiona Leach. Lihting designer  Mike Moloney. Sound designer Neville Pye. Theatre 3. Canberra Repertory Society, February 22-March 9. 2024. Bookings: 62571950.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Canberra Rep has scored a winner with its latest production of its 2024 season. Neil Simon’s cautionary tale of temptation and infidelity is given a stylish, slick and entertaining production that is an ideal choice for Canberra’s long-standing repertory company. Last of the Red Hot Lovers is laced with irony and Simon’s trademark wit. Barney Cashman (David Cannell) is facing a mid-life crisis. The 47 year old owner of a fish restaurant has been faithfully married to Thelma for 23 years, but finds life and opportunity slipping by and decides that it is time to embark on a marital affair. His clumsy attempts with sophisticated and experienced Elaine (Victoria Tyrrell Dixon) offers little comfort to a man inexperienced in infidelity. Nor does his liaison with fantasizing paranoid bimbo Bobbi(Stephanie Bailey) provide fulfilment. Barney is forced to face reality when confronted by his best friend’s wife, Jeannette (Janie Lawson), a middle-aged neurotic depressive out to avenge her husband’s infidelity. Simon cleverly introduces each woman separately in the three acts of the play. Only Cannell appears in each act, which is a demand that Cannell meets superbly. He is a natural clown while also capturing the vulnerability of a man confronting the anxiety of his illicit encounters.

Director Anne Somes has cast the production with an eagle eye for the distinctive personalities in Simon’s rib-tickling comedy. Tyrrell Dixon perfectly plays the detachment of a woman in search of her own sexual gratification to give her life meaning. Stephanie Bailey is outstanding as the goofy neurotic nightclub singer fabricating a life of fame and adventure, fused by the haze of pot. Bailey’s performance shines with the promise of a bright theatrical future. Lawson’s Jeannette is a difficult role, created as a voice of conscience and reality by Simon, with the possible touch of autobiographical reflection. Lawson has been well cast as the mirror image to Cannell’s Barney. Simon has left his moralising to the final act as a warning of the dangers of the mid-life crisis and the consequences of embarking on an affair.

Daved Cannell as Barney Cashman

It is Cannell’s perfectly timed performance of the bumbling Barney and his skill in conveying the pathos of the sad clown’s physical business that makes his performance a highlight to savour. Somes directs her cast with assurance and empathy for each character’s vulnerability. She balances the hilarious comedy and wit of Simon’s situations with a deeper appreciation of human frailty in a production that is guaranteed to entertain and offer food for thought.

Rep’s usual high production standards are again evident in Clelland’s set design and sound designer Neville Pye’s choice of popular 60’s hits as a homage to the period of the play. My only quibble is with the lighting changes and unnecessary cross fades from Barney’s mother’s apartment to the couch. Maybe they are there to focus on the unsuccessful attempts at seduction, but with a cast as strong as this and a director as clear-sighted the play could be staged without the distraction of puzzling lighting changes at the preview.

Rep has again produced a show by a master of comedy that may appear dated to some but will still have you laughing out loud and maybe taking a moment for personal introspection. Whatever the case, you can be guaranteed a great night of entertainment at the theatre.


Thursday, February 22, 2024


Ilse De Ziah, cello; Ian Date, guitarist

The National Film and Sound Archive 21 February


Reviewed by Len Power


For an emotional journey through traditional Irish music, cellist, Ilse De Ziah, first presented a screening of the film she made with Maarten Roose called Living The Tradition: An Enchanting Journey Through Old Irish Airs.

The film, a documentary, shows Ilse’s search around Ireland for the background and locations of many traditional Irish tunes and their composers. Along the way, she meets with composers, scholars and local characters who help to provide a deeper understanding of the roots of this emotionally charged music.

Dynamic, colourful, lush and romantic, the country’s history and politics are never far away in these tunes. Beautifully filmed, the atmospheric and unique scenery of Ireland, coupled with the country’s traditional music, make this a memorable journey.

Taking the stage after the film, Ilse De Ziah with her cello and Ian Date, guitarist, entertained with a selection of music from their debut album, Here & There.

Ilse De Ziah

Ilse De Ziah is a cellist and composer famous for her cross-genre style. She has worked across contemporary, classical, rock and roll, traditional Irish, jazz and experimental music. As a cellist, De Ziah is known for her daring and emotionally charged performances which connect at a deep level with people from all walks of life.

Ian Date

Ian Date is regarded as one of Australia’s great guitarists. Known for his lyrical, inventive style and virtuosity, Date has performed extensively as a jazz musician since the 1990s.

Presenting nine of the songs from their album, the pair displayed their virtuosity, individually and together. They commenced with The Ambush, a work inspired by the history of a place where they had lived in Ireland. It was a dynamic piece which combined chaos, emotion and melody and displayed their skill at working harmoniously together.  Other works were inspired by music from Mexico and Argentina as well as other Irish stories and melodies.

Their performance made an immediate connection with the audience. De Ziah clearly loves performing and sharing her music with others. Constantly smiling, her relaxed rapport with Date and the audience was very appealing.

Both performers presented the audience with fascinating detail of the origins of each tune. Date’s personal interaction with the audience was also very down-to-earth, easily showing his enjoyment in playing this music.


Photos by Peter Hislop


This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 22 February 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


Sunday, February 18, 2024

NEXT TO NORMAL - Queanbeyan Players

Andrew Finegan (Drs Madden & Fine) - Sarah Hull (Diana ) - Luke Ferdinands (Gabe)
Dave Smith (Dan) in Queanbeyan Players' "Next to Normal"

Music by Tom Kitt – Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey.

Directed by Christopher Bennie – Musical Direction by Jen Hinton

Choreography by Belinda Hassall – Set Design by Jen Hinton

Costume Design by Lillee Keating – Lighting Design by Jacob Aquilina

Sound Design by James McPherson – Stage Management by Rachel Laloz

Belconnen Community Theatre 15th – 24th February 2024 - Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Queanbeyan Players production of the excoriating chamber musical Next to Normal received an almost hysterical reception at its opening in the Belconnen Community Theatre last night.

When it premiered on Broadway in 2009, Next to Normal won three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for drama. With a book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, Next to Normal follows the experiences of an outwardly normal family.  Dan’s an architect; his wife Diana rushes to pack lunches, pour cereal and make sandwiches (on the floor). Their son and daughter, Gabe and Natalie, are bright wise-cracking teens.

They appear to be a typical family but their lives are anything but normal, because the mother, Diana, has been battling worsening bipolar disorder for 16 years.

The musical explores the effects that managing Diana’s illness has on her family. With its challenging content dealing with grief, depression, self-harm, suicide, drug abuse and the ethics of modern psychiatry, it demands strongly committed performances from its cast; and because 90% of the dialogue is sung,  the ability to express complex psychological reactions convincingly through song.

Queanbeyan Players have assembled an accomplished cast of excellent singer/actors who have obviously devoted considerable time into perfecting these requirements.

Dave Smith (Dan) - Luke Ferdinands (Gabe) - Kara Murphy (Natalie) - Sarah Hull (Diana)
in Queanbeyan Players' "Next the Normal"

In the central role of the mother, Diana, Sarah Hull gives a luminous performance, successfully capturing Diana’s frustrations at her predicament and her growing suspicions about the efficacy of her psychiatric treatments.

Dave Smith as Diana’s loving, but increasingly perplexed husband, Dan, fascinates with his touching and carefully nuanced depiction of Dan’s gradual slide into defeat with the realisation that Diana may never overcome her challenges.

Kara Murphy is totally convincing as their over-achieving daughter, Natalie, resentful at the attention being given to her mother’s problems, and reluctant to accept the love offered by her slightly dorky, good-natured friend, Henry, charmingly portrayed by John Whinfield.

As their ever-present son, Gabe, the source of most of his family’s problems, Luke Ferdinands supports a powerful presence with a strong performance, and although the differences are hardly obvious, Andrew Finegan brings appropriate dignity and authority to his portrayal of both psychiatrists, Dr. Fine and Dr Madden.

An unusual feature of this musical is the use made of the cello in the musical arrangements. This subtle use of this instrument, beautifully played by Enola Jeffries, to underline melancholy moments was a striking feature of the excellent support provided  by Jen Hinton’s small ensemble, to the excellent singing of the six-member cast, which performed the many solos, duets, and group numbers and negotiated the complex harmonies and different singing styles, with confidence and panache.

Jen Hinton also designed the setting, but as attractive as this setting was, this was a case where less might have been more. Because, despite its attractiveness, the setting also provided unnecessary clutter, thereby adding an additional overlay of visual complexity to the proceedings, particularly for scenes which occurred outside the kitchen setting.

Director, Christopher Bennie’s solution to have the actors make premature entries with props, or to take up position on the limited stage space before the preceding scene had finished,  had the distracting effect of pre-empting the scene which it was meant to follow.

Despite being a musical, Next to Normal depicts tense intimate moments between the characters which need to be seen by the audience. It is important to see the actor’s faces during these exchanges. Too often on opening night, faces were lost in shadows or lighting being whizzed around the stage. There are moments in the show when a little razzle-dazzle is required, and these were effectively achieved, but elsewhere intelligent lighting must be used very accurately to achieve a desired effect.    

Similarly, no doubt inserted in an effort to lighten the mood and add colour and movement, the choreography often appeared clumsy and unnecessary, where stillness might have been more powerful.

These criticisms apart, Queanbeyan Players deserve commendation for pushing their boundaries with this intelligent, thoughtful and occasionally moving production of an important, contemporary musical.

                                                Images by Ben Appleton - Photox   

        This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 17th February 2024.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

How To Have Sex




 How To Have Sex – movie by Molly Manning Walker.  
Canberra Palace Electric Movie Club previews February 17, 18, 25, 27; Dendy Sunday Session Preview February 25. Release date: 7 March 2024

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 17

Directed by Molly Manning Walker; Written by Molly Manning Walker
Produced by Emily Leo, Ivana MacKinnon, Konstantinos Kontovrakis

    Mia McKenna-Bruce
    Lara Peake
    Samuel Bottomley
    Shaun Thomas
    Enva Lewis
    Laura Ambler

Cinematography: Nicolas Canniccioni; Edited by Fin Oates; Music by James Jacob
Production companies:
Film4, BFI, MK2 Films, Head Gear Films, Metrol Technology, Umedia
Wild Swim Films, Heretic
Distributed by    Mubi
Release dates 19 May 2023 (Cannes), 3 November 2023 (United Kingdom)
7 March 2024 (Australia)
Running time 91 minutes
Countries: United Kingdom, Greece, Belgium
Language: English

Sixteen-year-old best friends Tara, Em, and Skye head to the party resort of Malia on the Greek island of Crete for a rites-of-passage holiday. While Em will be off to college in the autumn, Tara and Skye are less certain of their futures. The girls all look forward to drinking, clubbing, and hooking up in what should be the best summer of their lives. Tara, the only virgin in the trio, feels pressure to match the sexual experiences of her friends.

Mia McKenna-Bruce in How To Have Sex. Photograph: Mubi

This is the movie that needs to be shown at the very beginning of Schoolies Week, Saturday morning November 16, 2024. To every participant, and perhaps again every day.

I suspect the Gold Coast venues may not be quite as over-the-top as in, what Anthony Frajman in The Saturday Paper calls “the holiday hotspot town of Malia, Crete”.  If it is, it’s thumping loud, frantic, and openly about getting laid – equally aimed for by girls as by boys.  I don’t remember it being quite like this when I was their age some 67 years ago.  The Modern Jazz Quartet, which my father called jazz on tiptoes, was more my thing.

The essence of the movie is an awful sense of foreboding as Tara begins to realise that this is not all fun and nervous laughter, when the raucous mcee has two boys up on stage holding drink cans out like their penises, and girls come up to have ‘pee’ poured down their throats.  Gross is just not the word for it.  And it gets worse, which I will not try to describe.

Can Tara escape and not become the centre of attention?  Apprehension and dread are strong synonyms for foreboding.  I felt all of that with her.  And her mental and emotional confusion when she is given no choice, losing so much more than just her naivety.

The flight home to London is not an easy ride.  Molly Manning Walker tells Frajman (The Saturday Paper, February 17-23, 2024) How To Have Sex is ‘partly drawn from [her] holidays in Majorca and Ibiza as a teenager and in her 20s, but it also reflects her experience of being sexually assaulted in London on a night out when she was 16.  Echoing the frankness of How To Have Sex, she speaks about her assault with incredible candour. “No one talks about it,” she tells me.  “And when [an assault] happens, it sucks the air out the room and you can’t talk about it openly, and as a victim, it makes you feel even more shame and even more guilty about it because you’re like, ‘Maybe it’s my fault.  Maybe they don’t want me to talk about it.’”

As Tara begins, just a little, on her way home, to laugh like her friends again, I knew she was covering up, pretending it’s ok enough to not completely lose her social life.

And I knew what the issue of ‘consent’ is really about.  And I thank the writer/director of How To Have Sex, and the actors who make the story so real.

And hope the movie is seen widely, and definitely at the next Schoolies Week, where it might be renamed “How To Have Sex, Not



Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery Of Australia


Reviewed by Len Power 16 February 2024


Although Johann Sebastian Bach held the position of Thomaskantor, director of church music, in Leipzig, Germany for 27 years until his death in 1750, he was not the first choice for that position.

Although Bach was an applicant, the position was offered to Georg Philip Telemann, who ultimately turned it down. The Leipzig Town Council then offered the position to a new applicant, Christoph Graupner, who was forced to decline the offer as he was unable to be released from his current position. Only then was the position offered to Bach.

Salut! baroque’s The Genius concert celebrated the work of Bach and his contemporaries with a music selection from the baroque period of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The artists who performed in various combinations, were Anna Fraser, soprano, Sally Melhuish and Alana Blackburn, recorders, Sally Walker, baroque flute, Meg Cohen and Sarah Papadopoulos, baroque violins, John Ma, baroque viola, Tim Blomfield, bass violin, Simon Martyn-Ellis, theorbo and Monika Kornel, harpsichord

As well as two works by Bach himself, the program included pieces by other composers of the period such as Buxtehude, Hurlebusch, Telemann, Keiser, Monteverdi, Reincken, Caldara, Handel, Bach’s son, Johann Christian Bach, and his rival for the kantor position, Christoph Graupner.

Anna Fraser (soprano) and ensemble

It was a fascinating journey through the baroque period. All works were well-performed and highlights included Bach’s Aria, Aus liebe will mein Heiland sterben (Out of love my Saviour will die), with Anna Fraser’s beautiful soprano soaring above the accompaniment of the flute and two recorders, Monteverdi’s Madrigal, Lamento della Ninfa (Nymph’s Lament), with soprano, theorbo, flute and recorders as well as pieces by Hurlebusch and Keiser.

Simon Martyn-Ellis (theorbo) and Anna Fraser (soprano)

Bach’s Ouverture; Badinerie from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in which Sally Walker’s flute playing was delightful, brought this rich and enjoyable concert to a close.


Photos by Peter Hislop

This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 17 February 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



Friday, February 16, 2024

The Great Escaper




 The Great Escaper – movie. Release date: 7 March 2024 (Australia)
Media Contact: Sue Dayes

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Directed by Oliver Parker; Written by William Ivory; Produced by Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae
Starring: Michael Caine, Glenda Jackson
Cinematography: Christopher Ross; Edited by Paul Tothill; Music by Craig Armstrong

Production companies:  Pathé; BBC Film; Ecosse Films; Film i Väst; Filmgate Films
Distributed by Warner Bros. Entertainment UK
Original release date: 6 October 2023 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 96 minutes

    Michael Caine as Bernard (Bernie) Jordan
        Will Fletcher as young Bernard Jordan
    Glenda Jackson as Irene (Rene) Jordan, Bernard's wife
        Laura Marcus as young Irene Jordan
    John Standing as Arthur; Jackie Clune as Judith, manager of the care home
    Danielle Vitalis as Adele, Brennan Reece as Martin – care home workers
    Wolf Kahler as Heinrich; Ian Conningham as LCT Commander Parker
    Elliott Norman as Douglas Bennett; Donald Sage Mackay as Nathan
    Carlyss Peer as Vicky; Isabella Domville as Susan Everard
    Joe Bone as Tim; Victor Oshin as Scott

I find myself thinking of The Great Escaper, with its quite simple storyline, as if it were a stage play.  The central set would be of the rather well-resourced room in a retirement home where Bernard Jordan, who was born on June 16, 1924, lived with his wife Irene (‘Reenie’).  In real life Bernard died at 90 in hospital on December 30, 2014, and Irene a week later at 88 on January 8, 2015.

The dates are especially significant because the story is about Bernie’s determination –  as a retired sailor who had been on duty that day – to attend the 70th Anniversary in France of the Invasion of Normandy – D-Day – on June 6, 1944.  This was a ceremonial event attended by Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama, with travel and accommodation arranged by the returned soldiers.  Reenie is not well enough to go.  But the real issue is that Bernie forgot to book a place in time.  What will he do?  Make his own way across, of course; especially to visit one of the 5000 graves in the Bayeux War Cemetery.

Approaching 90, needing a walking stick, but otherwise apparently in reasonable health, he leaves for a morning walk on the beach (at Hove, East Sussex, where he was born and died).  

On stage there would be scenes such as when Bernie meets other old soldiers like Arthur and even a German pilot, Heinrich, who may well have shot at Bernie’s landing craft on the day, on the forestage, while Reenie remains in their room dealing with the retirement home staff and her own health scares.  Then there would be projected scenes on screen of when they were young, meeting up at a wartime dance and of what happened on the landing craft, until the final scene at that huge war cemetery.

There are 3000 such cemeteries cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorating over 575,000 men and women in France.  “What a waste!” says Bernie.

On stage with the live actors communicating directly with the audience, I can imagine the depth and strength of feeling we would experience.

But there is an awful irony in watching this film.  Michael Caine turned 90 in March, 2023.  Glenda Jackson died aged 87 in June.  Filming had been planned for June 2021; finally got underway in September 2022; and “Parker screened the finished film for Caine and Jackson a few weeks before the latter's death on 15 June 2023.”

I feel somewhat hesitant to criticise the film in the circumstances, but it doesn’t achieve the dramatic power I imagine as live theatre.  This is not to do with the quality of the acting.  

Perhaps the problem is that the story of Bernard Jordan is real, and appears on film too much like a documentary, a documenting of the events.  But this movie is a fictional recreation based on the true story.  At the same when we watch any film we feel we are seeing reality.

Ivory, as the writer, uses flashbacks to represent actual memories and and their emotional impact, but when filmed, the younger versions of Bernie and Reenie don’t look enough like or their voices don’t have the same accents or manners of speaking as the Bernard and Irene we see in old age.  So the illusion of theatre is broken.  But maybe my reaction was influenced by my being an 83-year-old one-time Cockney.

The flashbacks to the scenes on the landing craft certainly created the horrifying effects of being under fire from the German aircraft, showing what happened to the tank, and the soldier Bernie persuaded to drive it out into danger.  But it was filmed for us as observers, instead of being a memory from within Bernie’s viewpoint.  

Caine and Jackson created their personal relationship very well, so that we (as we would have in a play) easily found ourselves identifying with each of them and feeling the bond between them.  But other scenes, such as Bernie’s meeting up with the Germans, being introduced by a ‘French’ hotel manager who didn’t sound like a real native French speaker, nor like a Frenchman trying to speak German, just didn’t seem real.  On stage it might even have been funny, rather than creating the tension that was likely if it had been real – nor did it create the other sense of recognition between fighters on such opposite sides, and the feelings that made Bernie and Arthur give Heinrich their tickets to the memorial function.

I certainly, though, could recognise the feeling of satisfaction that Bernie achieved when leaving his memento at the grave in Bayeux, after my wife and I had ourselves searched for her grandfather’s grave in Normandy, where he died in 1918, and where we saw the respect with which the local people keep up the maintenance of all those cemeteries.  

So though the film is made with good intentions, and raises important issues about warfare and its glorification, the writing and directing is inconsistent as a 90-minute drama.  

Yet it stands as a recognition of Glenda Jackson and Michael Caine’s acting capabilities, even their determination – like that of both Irene and Bernard Jordan – to go where he knew he must go, despite old age and the expectations of others.