Thursday, March 28, 2024

AWKWARD - Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub.


Dancers of the Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub in "Awkward". 

Produced by Adam Deusien – Directed and choreographed by Cadi McCarthy

Performed by: Jordan Bretherton, Cassidy Clarke, Alexandra Ford, Nicola Ford, Romain Hassanin, Remy Rochester, Anna McCulla

The B, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.

Performance March 27th 2024 reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

The cast of "Awkward"

This performance of “Awkward” was presented in The B in the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, as the final stop in a regional tour taking in communities including Candelo, Tathra and Bermagui. Although only a single performance it provided an opportunity to experience the work of the Newcastle based Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub, which was established by Cadi McCarthy in 2014 to provide opportunities for mid-career and emerging choreographers, professional dancers and multi-disciplinary artists.

McCarthy has strong connections with the ACT Dance community, having established her own ACT dance company, Cadi McCarthy & Company, in 2002. For this company she created six full length works earning her Canberra Critics Circle Awards in 2004 and 2006. She has also created works for QL2 dance, most recently in 2022, when she choreographed “Shifting Ground” for QL2’s mainstage production “Terra Firma”.

Her production of “Awkward”, which she choreographed and directed, is centred around the premise of offering advice on dance party etiquette to the socially awkward. It’s a promising idea which allows her an entertaining showcase with which to demonstrate all the disciplines for which Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub was established.

The touring set is fairly minimal and arranged over two levels. A lounge suite occupies the stage, while two drink bars along with an assortment of smaller properties are arranged on floor level, providing plenty of room for the dancers. The seven dancers wear costumes that suggest contemporary party wear, and the music is provided by a sound system which the dancers are able manipulate at various points.

A moment during Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub's production of "Awkward".

The work commences with the busy hostess cheerfully setting up the accoutrements for a successful party. One by one the guests arrive, each with a contribution, and all clearly and amusingly uncomfortable in the other’s presence. The hostess announces that she has the recipe to overcome this awkwardness, and her advice, often hilarious, is demonstrated by the dancers as she delivers it.  

McCarthy’s choreography is witty, inventive, very physical, and often acrobatic. She uses the onstage furniture as an integral component of her choreography, requiring the dancers to dance on, around, over and under it. In one uproarious episode she has the hostess attempt to teach a male dancer some seriously silly disco moves. Later the mood darkens when a section on alcohol use erupts into a fight between two male dancers who engage in acrobatic fisticuffs before dissolving into a haunting solo by one of them.  Unfortunately the lack of programs made it impossible to identify individual dancers, which was a pity, because all were accomplished, and each shone in segments built around their particular strengths.

But as entertaining and accessible as this work is, at nearly 90 minutes, it would benefit from some trimming and tightening to eliminate obvious choreographic repetition, and a less shadowy lighting plot which often masked the work of dancers working around the periphery of the stage area.

                                                   Images by Ashley de Prazer

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.



Director: Cadi McCarthy

Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub, Newcastle

The B Theatre, Queanbeyan 27 March


Reviewed by Len Power 27 March 2024


Remember feeling like the odd one out at a party? Did your small-talk dry up before you’d even started? Did your pick-up line go over like a lead balloon? In “Awkward” from Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub, based in Newcastle, all those remembered fears are realized in dance.

A group of people come to a party, having been invited by friends of the host. They don’t know each other. They don’t know anyone else at the party. They don’t even know whose house it is, and their friends don’t show up. Sound familiar?

To a selection of well-known songs and music with driving beats from the past, the seven dancers, Jordan Bretherton, Cassidy Clarke, Alexandra Ford, Nicola Ford, Romain Hassanin, Remy Rochester, and Anna McCulla take you through all those cringe-worthy moments that you’d rather forget. It’s funny, appealing, easy to identify with and cleverly danced.

The host of the party is also the narrator and, at times, instructor, pointing out some hilarious do’s and don’ts of party-going. Particularly funny was a demonstration of a “cool” dance that would be sure to attract attention – the wrong type, of course.

Using the stage, steps and a large part of the auditorium floor of the B Theatre in Queanbeyan, the production used that unique 2 level environment to good effect. They must have had to adapt their choreography to work in that space and it’s a credit to them that they gave such a highly polished performance.

Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub, Newcastle is a contemporary dance and multi-arts organisation that cultivates, and champions mid-career and emerging professional dance choreographers, multidisciplinary artists, with strong programs with and for young people and the community.

It’s a pity they were only here for one night. It was very enjoyable, funny and skilful evening of dance.  It brought up memories that most of us would prefer to forget!


Photos: Ashley de Prazer

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2024




Written and choreographed by Cadi McCarthy. Producer Adam Deusian. Performers: Jordan Bretherton, Cassidy Clarke, Alexandra Ford, Nicola Ford, Romain Hassanin, Remy Rochester, and Anna McCulla Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub.. The B The Q Theatre. Queanbeyan Arts Centre. March 27th  2024

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.


The company of AWKWARD

Choreographer Cadi McCarthy has a knack for intuitively sensing the vulnerability of the human psyche. Her latest creation, Awkward, explores the embarrassing circumstance of finding yourself at a party where you know no one and face the challenging task of meeting people and chartering your way through the difficult social situation. McCarthy’s concept is immediately identifiable. We have all found ourselves at one time or another struggling to make conversation, establish rapport with strangers or find ourselves out of our comfort zone. A party is the perfect place to demonstrate the awkwardness that can occur when you know no one and need to connect.

McCarthy’s company of dancers are perfectly placed to understand the evolving experience as they move from a feeling of isolation to tentative communication to group connectivity to physical attraction and finally to a state of inebriation. McCarthy carefully constructs a series of vignettes with tableaus, solo moments, duets and company routines. One of the company introduces the different moments in the party, describing the behaviours of the party goers and in one hilarious sequence instructing one of the dancers in various dance moves.   Joel Etherton gives a very funny and highly exhausting performance of a gauche novice at the groovy party moves. 

 Accompanied by a terrific sound track that takes the dancers from Chris de Burgh’s The Lady in Red to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart to Ariane Grande’s version of Bang Bang You’re Dead and   Jeff Buckley’s soulful All Tomorrow’s Parties. It is the soundtrack of the vulnerable, the music of the heart, the songs of experience.

Awkward is as much physical theatre as it is contemporary dance. It is performed by a versatile and athletic company of dancers who roll over each other, perform lifts and work on their own moments as well as coming together as a tight ensemble. Through the work they weave a story of rejected love, of macho conflict, of new relationships and of competitiveness. Vignette by vignette the party becomes a metaphor for the human nature. The narration gives the worl clarity and context and the audience is drawn in to the dancers’ world.

Catapult has been on a regional tour, playing different spaces in different places.In The B at the Queanbeyan Arts Centre the dancers performed on the stage and on the floor. Often the focus was split because of the two levels and I found my eyes wandering from one side to another or from the floor to the stage. It took a short while for me to focus on the key moment in the dance, and I expect that the dancers also found themselves adjusting to a different space.

That aside, Awkward is a highly entertaining piece that captures the universal state of social awkwardness. The young company is talented and exudes vitality with a clear grasp of McCarthy’s choreographic and theatrical vision. It is a work that speaks to young and old alike, those who are living it now and all those who can remember.

Photos by Ashley de Prazer




Adelaide Cabaret Festival. 

Artistic Director Virginia Gay. Executive Producer Alex Sinclair. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 7-22 2024. Bookings:

Previewed by Peter Wilkins

Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director   Virginia Gay

It’s a question asked of every Cabaret Festival director. What is cabaret? “Cabaret is beguiling in its simplicity.” says 2024 Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director, Virginia Gay. “It’s stories into song. Right?” The questions she asks begin to form the kind of unique cabaret festival that Gay promises performers and audiences alike. “We are not throwing out our legacy, those absolute icons – the Titans of cabaret. But what does the next generation of cabaret look like? What is Gen Z doing with cabaret? What is cabaret to your incredible musical comedians. Cabaret is such a broad church. How much diversity can we get in the people who are performing? Cabaret is for everybody. I just wanted to reflect the extraordinary variety across the board.”

Patti LuPone   Photo: Raha Segev

Listening to  Gay talking about the 2024 Adelaide Cabaret Festival it is easy to feel excited about the programme she and her team have put together. Her enthusiasm rockets down the phone line. Gay is no stranger to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and this is her first time at the helm of the world’s leading cabaret festival. She is a stellar Australian actor, writer, cabaret performer, music theatre icon and personality. So it comes as no surprise that she is well equipped to present a festival like no other. Of the 79 performances over twelve nights, including 17 world premieres and 23 Adelaide premieres there is something for everyone. This year’s audiences will have an unrivalled opportunity to attend performances from the USA ( Broadway legend Patti LuPone, Christina Bianco and Lisa Simone), the UK (the legendary Fascinating Aida and deadpan duo Flo and Joan) and New Zealand ( A Slightly Isolated Dog). They will be joined by Australia’s best contemporary cabaret acts. There will be a tribute to the late legendary Olivia Newton-John with David Campbell, Jess Hitchcock and Christie Whelan-Browne singing Newton-John classics with the backing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Missy Higgins will debut at the festival to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her Aria award winning album The Sound of White

Sam Andrew and Mel O'Brien  The Best Of

Multi award winning comedy duo Mel and Sam will present The Best Of, described as raucous, bratty and proudly queer. There’s plenty of food for thought in shows like Christie Whelan-Browe’s brand new bubblegum pop cabaret Life in Plastic, a sparkly celenbration of sisterhood and investigation into whether a perfect life is shiny or suffocating. ACF favourites the irrepressible New York cabaret star Mark Nadler, Victoria Falconer and the outrageously inimitable Reuben Kaye will host their own revelry at the Festival of Late Nights each weekend.   Cabaret luminaries bring their own incandescence to a festival of eclectic highlights. Kate Miller-Heike will be there. So will Rhonda Burchmore. Darby James Little Squirt will set sail into the uncharted waters of sperm donation. Lisa Simone will sing the songs that made her mother Nina Simone a household name. But it is First Nations singers Jess Hitchcock with A Fine Romance – Songs That Made Me and Emma Donovan performing Til My Song Is Done who will set this cabaret festival ablaze with their extraordinary voices. Gillian Cosgriff returns with a new show Actually Good that invites the audience to tell her ten good things and then weaves a story around them culminating in a new song at the end of every performance. It is the festival of new forms, daring to surprise, stretching the genre, creating the cabaret of the future,  and attracting new audiences. These are the shows where you can say “OMG! I saw them first at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.” For Gay, her debut Adelaide Cabaret Festival will be a festival for everyone. “You may think that these shows are just for your parents.” she says. “They’re not. They’re for you. Come on in. Whatever the anti-gating thing is  - that’s what I’m interested in.”

Christie Whelan Browne in Life in Plastic

There’s one show that appears to epitomise Gay’s kind of festival. I have seen Christie Whelan Browne perform and she is remarkable, but I am intrigued by her brand new bubblegum pop cabaret Life in Plastic. “It’s one of my favourite shows” Gay says. She appeared with Whelan Brown in Dancing With the Stars and was amazed by her dance in which she brought a plastic doll to life. “I wonder if there’s a whole show in that” Gay thought. She pitched it to Whelan Brown and teamed her up with comedian and writer Lou Wall and asked Sheridan Harbridge to direct. “It’s a celebration of sisterhood, a celebration of community. It’s joyful. It’s pop.  But it’s also more.  Christie has always had the perfect body, whatever that means.” Gay says. “but she has endured a long battle with infertility. What if it can’t do the one thing you require it to do? What is perfection? What is value when we value women’s appearances more than anything else? That’s the central heart of the show. I have a feeling about this show. It will be so glorious.”

It appears to me that that is also the central heart of Gay’s festival. To celebrate. To create a sense of community. To provoke and to question. To create new work that speaks to our audiences in our time and in the case of this commissioned work and world premiere the audiences of the future.

Reuben Kaye in  The End  Songs of Finality

Gay is quick to admit that she has no favourites, but she can’t avoid confessing that the late night wind up shows are her favourite part of the festival. They conjure memories of sitting next to Cate Ceberano at around midnight while Ceberano drummed to the rhythm of her brother’s guitar. And there was the time that Gay led a conga line around the Festival theatre foyer or sang Javier’s suicide song in the original key. “You don’t see that anywhere else. One night only and if you missed it you missed it.” Gay paints a picture of a night you’ll never forget. You can roll out of a headliner, relax with a champagne and enjoy free entertainment with piano man Trevor Jones and Icon Trophy winner Libby O’Donovan in the piano bar and then for an affordable capped price of $39 rock on to one of the weekend late nighters with Mark Nadler, Victoria Falconer or Reuben Kaye. “Reuben, I don’t know where you’re going to take me,” Gay enthuses, “but I will follow you to The End.” Kaye sings Songs of Finality, the songs that you wish you could sing at your funeral or at a breakup of an affair.

It is this diversity, this amazing interaction between performers and audiences in the theatres, in the foyers and at the bar, and the unrivalled experience of an Adelaide Cabaret Festival that characterizes the effusive Gay’s artistic direction. “This is what makes people take their armour off” Gay says.”You can’t just lecture people about what is wrong in the world. They put their armour on and stop listening. What you can do is tickle them, make them laugh and make them feel connected. They are having an incredible time so they take their armour off. Then you can take them over into new ideas,. That is how I believe art functions in the world. Through joy we make change.”

Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales in Chat 10 Looks 3

There is so much joy in Gay’s festival and so much more to enjoy. Mahalia Barnes and The Soulmates will rock your socks with their funky Soul frenzy. South Australia’s own Annabel Crabb with her co-host Leigh Sales will present a live recording of their podcast Chat 10 Looks 3 on the Festival Theatre stage with Gay presenting a number for the one and only time! “That is super exciting!”   Swing on This will have you swinging in the aisles when the kings of swing put you in the mood. And you won’t want to miss the cabaret stars of tomorrow when Class of Cabaret strut their stuff. Frank Ford’s commissioning bequest this year goes to Michelle Pearson for her show Skinny, a biting comedy about embracing our bodies. With so much talent to choose from it will be impossible to guess who might be this year’s Icon Trophy winner at the closing concert.

“We have just tried to offer as much variety as possible.” Is there any particular weekend you would recommend I ask. “I would say come to every weekend.” Gay says “Of course I would say that. Seriously!  It’s my festival.” Gay pauses for a moment, but only a moment. “Follow your heart. Follow what brings you joy. Absolutely see somebody you know from television, but also take the chance on someone else you’ve never heard of. I can guarantee that every person here is extraordinary. You will not be disappointed.”

Photos be Claudio Raschella

For the full program and booking details go to:





REUBEN TSANG - Wesley Music Centre

Presented by Piano+ - Wesley Music Centre, Canberra, March 25th

Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Reuben Tsang has been causing ripples around music circles since 2016. As a twelve year old, taking part in the Young Australian Showcase as part of the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition, Tsang astounded audiences with his performances of Chopin and Beethoven.  

Born and raised in Cairns, Tsang has been learning piano since the age of five. Currently studying for a Bachelor of Music at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, under the tutelage of Natasha Vlassenko, he’s been steadily building a reputation particularly for his mastery of the Romantic repertoire.

The withdrawal of another competitor just one week before the 2O23 Sydney International Piano Competition provided the impetus for his participation in that festival. With just one week to prepare a program, the now twenty year old pianist, sailed through the preliminary rounds, not only becoming the second youngest in the competition’s history to ever make the Semi-Finals but emerging as the winner of the prestigious Nancy Weir Best Australian Pianist Prize.

This recital, part of a capital city tour taking in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, provided a welcome opportunity to experience the talents of a young man clearly on the cusp of an impressive International concert career.

After acknowledging the applause and settling himself at the piano, Tsang commenced his meticulously chosen, wide-ranging program with three sparkling Scarlatti sonatas, immediately capturing the audience’s attention with his confidence and impeccable technique.

He introduced the Brahms Piano Sonata No.1 in C Major Op 1, with a smile, reminding the audience that Brahms wrote this sonata when he too was just twenty years old. Tsang’s obvious pleasure in interpreting this exuberant work in which the hallmarks of Brahms later works are obvious, provided not only a compelling listening experience, but also a thrilling demonstration of Tsang’s mastery of dynamics and phrasing.

In complete contrast, Tsang commenced the second half of his program with Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.3. Again Tsang’s phrasing was fascinating. Seemingly oblivious of the technical demands Tsang’s approach seemed almost playful, giving the impressing that he was still mining the work to share his excitement at his discoveries.

Similarly with the three Faure’ Impromptu’s that followed; the brooding number 1, the carefree number 3 and the showy number 5, the latter allowing Tsang to flaunt his virtuosity with tantalising pauses between the glittering virtuosic runs.

All of which was leading to his finale. Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole S.254. No holding back here. No histrionics. Just brilliant pianism leaving no doubting that this is a fabulously talented young musician, who, if fate favours him, is destined for a brilliant career.

Oh! And there was an encore. Perfectly chosen to settle down an over-excited audience, Faure’s gentle Romance Without Words.

          This review first published in  the digital edition of  CITY NEWS on 26.03.24.








Monday, March 25, 2024

WEST SIDE STORY - Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

Billy Bourchier (Tony) - Nina Korbe (Maria) in "West Side Story".

Book by Arthur Laurents – Music by Leonard Bernstein – Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Francesca Zambello – Associate Director Eric Sean Fogel

Musical Director – Guy Simpson – Set Design by Brian Thomson

Original Choreography by Jerome Robbins – Revival Choreographer: Kiira Schmidt Carper

Costume Design by Jennifer Irwin – Lighting Design by John Rayment

Sound Design by Des O’Neil – Revival Sound design by Jake Luther.

Presented by Opera Australia – Fleet Steps, Mrs MacQuaries Point – March 22 to April 21 2024

Opening night performance 22nd March reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

The Jets in action during "West Side Story"

It was choreographer Jerome Robbins who conceived the idea of a contemporary version of “Romeo and Juliet”. Robbins enlisted Leonard Bernstein (music) and Arthur Laurents (book) to work with him on the project. However it took them five years before a news report of gang violence between Puerto Rican and Anglo-American street kids sparked the creative impetus which resulted in one of the most celebrated and constantly revived Broadway musicals of all time.

But not even Robbins, Bernstein, Laurents or Stephen Sondheim, who by that time had joined the team, could have imagined their creation about two rival street gangs being performed outdoors on a perfect autumn night, on a giant stage, two and a half times larger than any indoor stage in Australia, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and dazzling skyline forming a spectacular backdrop to a story that remains as timeless and relevant as when it was created 67 years ago.

In a remarkable display of directorial finesse , Associate Director, Eric Sean Fogel has exploited every surprise contained in Brian Thomson’s deceivingly minimalist set design;  John Rayment’s extraordinary lighting design which kept the audience attention focussed with pinpoint accuracy;  and Des O’Neill’s masterful sound design, carefully reproduced by Jake Luther to ensure that every note of Bernstein’s ground-breaking score, and every word of  Sondheim’s  lyrics and Laurent’s dialogue was heard with stunning clarity, to expose previously unsuspected nuance in this revival of Francesco Zambello’s acclaimed 2019 production.

Although Zambello’s concept for an outdoor production requires radical technical departures in the staging, she has insisted on staying with the original Robbins choreography, which for this revival is reproduced by Kiira Schmidt Carper, together with assistants, Brendan Yeates and Luca Dinardo. Admirably they have been meticulous in insisting that their large team of accomplished dancers master even the finest details of Robbins’ still remarkable choreography.

The Sharks during the Dance at the Gym in "West Side Story". 

The size of the stage requires the dancers to cover huge distances quickly, and the fact that the stage is raked adds an extra degree of difficulty. But spurred on by Bernstein’s extraordinary score, which has rarely sounded more compelling than as interpreted here by the magnificent Opera Australia Orchestra under the experienced baton of Guy Simpson, the dancers enthusiastically embraced these challenges, attacking the choreography with exhilarating joie de vivre and purpose so that Robbins’ choreography became more than just spectacle. It was also an essential component of the storytelling.

Appropriately Opera Australia has chosen an essentially young cast of this production. Unusually though it has entrusted  the two lead roles to emerging artists both of whom are making their professional theatrical debuts in leading roles in a major  musical.  For both Nina Korbe and Billy Bourchier these roles will be star-makers.

Jayme Jo Massoud (Francisca) - Rebecca Ordiz (Rosalia) - Nina Korbe (Maria) - Emma Feliciano (Consuelo)  performing "I Feel Pretty"

First Nations soprano, Nina Korbe, is a beautiful, vivacious Maria. It’s easy to see why Tony would fall in love with her on first sight. She is also a resourceful actress who managed to make convincing the difficult “I Feel Pretty” scene in which Maria is so giddily in love that her friends can barely recognise her. If her operatically trained voice occasionally sounded too mature for her character, it should be remembered that when Bernstein made a studio recording of this show, he chose opera stars Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras for his Maria and Tony.

Although he’s covered leading roles on Opera Australia’s production of “Phantom of the Opera” as well as professional productions of “Les Miserables”, “Book of Mormon” and “The Last Five Years”, handsome Canberra born tenor, Billy Bourchier, thrilled with his confident singing and stage presence as the love-struck Tony. From the moment he launched into “Something’s Coming” the audience realised that it was witnessing something special. However it was his soaring rendition of “Maria”, when midway through, he held an unusually long sustained, “Maria” over the orchestra that earned him cheers. Questioned after the performance, Bourchier confided that there are two versions of this song. Most Tonys choose the version without that spectacular interpolation. 

Kimberley Hodgson (c) as Anita and the Sharks in "West Side Story".


Kimberley Hodgson, so impressive as Gigi in “Miss Saigon”, confirmed her versatility as the fiery Anita, opposite experienced Broadway performer, Manuel Stark Santos, in his first Australian production, as her possessive boyfriend, Bernardo.

Given that every member of the cast offered strong, committed performances, it seems invidious to single out individual members. However particularly eye-catching, were Molly Bugeja, who bought an unexpected vulnerability to her interpretation of Anybodys; Luke Jarvis seething dangerously with suppressed anger as the headstrong Action, and Wayne Scott Kermond who offered a masterclass in how to make a small role memorable with his authoritive performance as the café owner, Doc.

Wayne Scott Kerman (Doc) and Billy Bourchier (Tony) in "West Side Story"

Over the years this reviewer has been fortunate to have experienced many versions of “West Side Story”. Most have been excellent, but none have eclipsed vivid memories of the original 1960 Australian production in the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, performed by an American cast which included dancer, Ronne Arnold, and conductor, Dobbs Franks, both of whom stayed on to enrich Australia’s theatre history. Memories of Jean Rosenthal’s remarkable lighting design, the red fire-escapes which appeared magically out of the blackness, the remarkable ribbon curtain which preceded the dance at the Gym, and the stunning first act curtain, are seared indelibly into the memory.

Although none of those moments are duplicated in this production, it produced that same sense of excitement and discovery as experienced all those years ago, and will now join those memories for the authenticity with which it has captured the creators intentions.  

                                        Images by Keith Saunders

   This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.



Sunday, March 24, 2024




Written and performed by Alexander Wright. Composer Phil Grainger. Wright & Grainger.. Co- produced by Dionysus and Lexi Sekuless Productions. Major partner: Elite Event Technology. The Mill Theatre. at Dairy Road Fyshwick. March 23 & 24 2024.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 Over four hundred years ago Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens painted The Fall of Phaeton, a graphic depiction of the Greek myth that describes the fall of the son of the Sun God Helios from his father’s chariot as he lost control of the horses and it veered chaotically too close to the earth, scorching  the land and too far from the Earth during the impending chaos, freezing parts of the earth. Rubens’ baroque painting captures the very moment when tragedy strikes and Zeus releases thunderbolts to strike Phaeton for his hubris and send his body falling to earth from the chariot. Writer and performer, Alex Wright draws inspiration for his touring one man show Helios from Rubens’ artwork. Helios is no simple retelling of the myth. It is a brilliantly conceived interpretation and transposition to a rural village in Wright’s home county of North Yorkshire. It is a story of a young boy Phaeton and his dream to fly a plane like his pilot father. It is the story of a dream to chase the sun.

In the intimate setting of The Mill Theatre, a number of helion lamps both tall and small light the space. In a circle around a group of tall lamps, Wright has placed a number of red cards, accompanied by a white sheet of paper. Composer Phil Grainger’s score plays from a laptop and an audience sits expectantly in the 67 seat theatre. Wright establishes an immediate rapport with the audience, asking them who knows the myth of Phaeton? Who can describe facts about the sun? A couple of people respond and Wright’s modern day allegory begins with an explanation of the Greek myth. The audience is instantly engaged, hanging on every word, captured by the storyteller’s seductive unfolding of his contemporary version of the ancient myth. His Phaeton is a young Yorkshire lad who lives halfway up the hill towards a castle forbidden to reach at the top. His father has promised him that on his eighteenth birthday, Phaeton will be allowed to fly his father’s plane. On the school bus, Phaeton is teased by Michael Dale with the chant Tony. Tony. Tony. However the relationship changes when Michael Dale and Phaeton, after a party, crash Dale’s father’s car into a hedge. An alliance evolves and the two become friends. The story gains momentum as Phaeton catapults towards his eighteenth birthday. Cards are handed to audience members to read the parts of Michael Dale in bold type. They become accomplices in the unfolding drama, building the urgency and heightening the suspense.

Wright’s narrative assumes a breakneck pace, compelling an audience to listen, to hang on every word and become mesmerised by Wright’s masterful narration. They are taken aback by the account of Phaeton’s brother’s death, mystified by the evolving relationship between Phaeton and Dale. Wright’s script blazes like darting light rays from the sun, driving the action forward and hurtling the captivated audience towards the inevitable climax. At one point a member of the audience is asked to time his monologue. The words tumble from Wright's lips and the audience is transfixed. He calls out Stop. The time on the stopwatch is 8 minutes and ten seconds, close enough to the time of 8 minutes and twenty seconds that it takes for the light to reach Earth from the sun. Wright’s timing is precise, his sense of the drama magnetic and his performance incandescent in its storytelling.

The audience sits in astonishment as Phaeton gives the car full throttle on his eighteenth birthday and lets fly over the land’s edge and high above the water to chase the sun.

Helios is no allegory in praise of moderation. The blue plaques on houses in Wright’s homeland do not salute meritorious moderation. They are a testament to all who strive to catch the sun, to fly high and dare to reach the castle on the hill or steal a kiss from another boy within the forbidden castle’s wall. Helios urges audiences to dare.

Sadly Helios played only two performances in Canberra. For those fortunate enough to see this outstanding production from Wright and Grainger they have been witness to an amzing theatrical event.


Holding the Man

Photo: Daniel Boud

 Holding the Man by Tommy Murphy, adapted from the book by Timothy Conigrave.  Belvoir St Theatre, March 9 – April 14 2024.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 23


Playwright: Tommy Murphy; Original Author: Timothy Conigrave
Director: Eamon Flack; Asst Director: James Elazzi
Set Designer: Stephen Curtis; Costume Designer: Mel Page
Lighting Designer: Phoebe Pilcher; Composer & Sound Designer: Alyx Dennison
Choreographer: Elle Evangelista; Fight/Movement Director: Nigel Poulton
Vocal & Accent Coach: Laura Farrell;
Associate Sound Designer: Matthew James; Aerial Consultant: Finton Mahoney
Community Engagement Coordinator: Thinesh Thillainadarajah
Stage Manager: Luke McGettigan; Asst Stage Manager: Mia Kanzaki
WAAPA Stage Management Secondment: Sam Rechichi


Tim – Tom Conroy; John – Danny Ball
Russell Dykstra, Rebecca Massey, Guy Simon. Shannen Alyce Quan

I hadn’t thought previously of Tommy Murphy being in Shakespeare’s realm, but Holding the Man is surprisingly a kind of parallel to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  

John/Hermia loves Tim/Lysander despite Father/Aegius’s prejudiced refusal to accept any such relationship.  Although the parallels get a bit messy when adding in Helena and Demetrius, Tim the Drama person and John the Football Captain come together in the rehearsals of a play within this play.

The big difference is that the King and Queen of the fairies are not visibly present but Puck has done his infecting work, and Oberon becomes HIV in a nasty relationship with Titania’s AIDS.

And so the comedy, of which there is plenty in Murphy’s Act One, turns into tragedy in Act Two, in a reversal of Shakespeare’s comic deaths of Pyramus and Thisbe as an entertainment for the audience of nobility, Theseus and Hippolyta.

The other difference, of course, is that Timothy Conigrave’s memoir Holding the Man is real life.  My own grandson is named for the teenage family friend with haemophilia who picked up AIDS from a necessary blood transfusion, dying in 1984.  And despite his comedy, Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died, aged just 11, probably of plague, as he was writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1596.

The adaptation of Conigrave’s memoir is also interesting for using the device of Tim stepping out of the action on occasion to tell us about what actually happened as the result of what we have just seen acted out.  In this way we see the story written by Tim, reworked by Tommy as a playscript, worked up by Eamon as director, played by Tom as Tim, working with Danny as John, and with Russell, Rebecca, Guy and  Shannen as the other characters – including Juliet who clearly could have fallen in love with Tim from when they played as Juliet and Romeo in Shakespeare’s play – with ‘Tim’ filling in gaps by speaking to us directly.

And, in addition, the characters often interact personally with members of the audience, individually with some in the front rows of this almost in-the-round arrangement, and on a group basis with cheer-leading of us in enthusiastic arm-waving and cheering.

By interval we feel we know everyone as friends involved together in a theatre group, just like Tim’s, or indeed Belvoir’s.  And so then we feel we know John personally, and Tim, as signs of sickness come on.  Then the most awful part is when Tim decides he has to tell John of his past outside their close relationship, and the likely way he and now John have become positive to HIV.

What Murphy has achieved, in this production with such lively directing and choreography, is a play without sentimentality, engaging to watch, and using aerial performance to stylise the most emotional points in the story, giving us permission to understand the depth of the HIV AIDs tragedy in silence as John dies.

As Tim says “The End”,  the silence is broken by instant applause in praise of the actors’ performances – and also for the life and the love between these two.






Canberra Choral Society and Soloists

Directed by Dan Walker

St Paul’s Anglican Church, Manuka, 23 March 2024.


Reviewed by Len Power


With the autumn sun streaming through the windows of the church, this program of music for Easter certainly had the perfect atmosphere.

The thoughtfully devised program consisted of works by the composers Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Thalben-Ball, Tavener, Elgar and Parry. The choir was joined by the soloists Rachel Mink, soprano; AJ America, mezzo-soprano; Charles Hudson, tenor; and Alasdair Stretch, baritone.

The accompanist on the organ was Callum Tolhurst-Close. He and the soloists were in the gallery above and behind the audience. The resulting spacial sound of the choir on the altar level before the audience, the vocalising of the soloists and the playing of the organ above was well-balanced and gave the concert a notably warm and enveloping feeling.

The concert began with the Mass in G Minor for SATB soloists and double chorus by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The soloists gave memorable performances, and the choir also sang with a depth and confidence that was at times quite thrilling.

Tolhurst-Close then played the solo Elegy For Organ by George Thalben-Ball - Australian born, but considered an English composer. This meditative piece was given a fine and sensitive performance by the organist.

Next on the program was Gerard Raphael Finzi’s Lo, The Full, Final Sacrifice, written in 1946. A moving work, it began quietly and built in intensity, soloists and choir giving it a moving clarity and radiance.

It was followed by John Taverner’s The Lamb, a beautifully tender work set to the poem by William Blake. It was sweetly sung by the choir.

Then, Elgar’s Benedictus Op 34 No 2 built from a quietly reflective beginning to a thrilling climax. The choir sang it superbly.

Dan Walker’s meticulous direction of the company was evident in the high quality of the performances throughout.

The final work on the program was Hubert Parry’s Crossing the Bar, the music set to the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It was sung with warmth and an uplifting sense of hope and it was the perfect, quiet ending to this memorable concert for Easter.


Photo by Len Power

This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 24 March 2024.

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




You Are A Doughnut.

Director/Designer/writer/lyricist David Lampard. Composer Mark Simeon Ferguson. Stage Manager Amanda Rowe. Sound designer Rodney Hutton. Performer Rod Schultz as Oesoph A Gus, PJ Oaten as Dewey Dean. Vocal Coach Rosie Hosking. Set Construction Paul Crocker.  The Science Gang. The Q Theatre. Queanbeyan. March 23.


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 I wish The Science Gang had come to my school to teach me science. Maybe then I would have passed. David Lampard follows his smash hit show The Amazing Alphabet of Science from A to Z with another highly digestible show You Are A Doughnut about the intricacies of the Digestive System. In a crackerjack paced one hour show straight man Oesoph A Gus (Rod Schultz) and funny fall guy Dewey Dean (P.J Oaten) take young and old on an hilarious journey from the mouth to the anus via the oesophagus, the stomach, the duodenum, the colon, the small intestine,the large intestine, the rectum and finally in an explosion of information the anus.

With catchy tunes by composer Mark Simeon Ferguson and witty lyrics by director and writer Lampard You Are A Doughnut is a rollercoaster ride of vaudevillian entertainment with songs, slapstick sketches, corny jokes and full throttled fart and pooh jokes. Oesoph A Gus, bearded and bespectacled is the facts man with a serious intent to teach the facts. Dewey Dean just wants to have fun. They are the perfect odd couple and between them they keep the audience oohing and aahing and groaning when it gets to the poohy bits. At one point the excited audience of 5-12 year olds scream with delight as they are bombarded with a shower of pin pong enzymes. They may forget what an enzyme does but they’ll never forget being pinged and ponged by Dewey Dea. It’s a tonne of fun.

It would be a mistake to think that young audiences will leave with a more insightful understanding of everything that happens on the journey from mouth to bum and beyond. We’ll know that we are “a great big fleshy lump with a remarkable hole running all the way through your middle – your digestive system.” In the contest between Oesoph A Gus and Dewey Dean, Dean wins out even drawing the more sedate Oesoph A Gus into his cray, wild comedy routines, songs and dances. You Are A Doughnut is a funny, clever and entertaining introduction to this biological lesson to raise awareness of the digestive sytem. It’s the magical way to grab the interest and then let the real teachers take it from there to fill in the information hole. Once the students have had a taste of You’re a Doughhnut they’ll be hungry to swallow the rest of this fascinating diet of knowledge about the digestive season. And at just one hour, the show is long enough to digest the information, the comedy and another Science Gang success.