Tuesday, April 23, 2024

& jULIET - Lyric Theatre, Sydney


Lorrinda May Merrypor (Juliet) - Casey Donovan (Angelique) in "& Juliet"

Music & Lyrics by Max Martin & Friends – Book by David West Read

Directed by Luke Sheppard – Choreographed by Jennifer Weber

Set Design by Soutra Gilmour – Costume Design by Paloma Young

Lighting Design by Howard Hudson – Sound Design by Gareth Owen.

Presented by Michael Cassel Group in association with MTM/Leyline.

Lyric Theatre, Sydney until July 12th 2024.

Performance on April 18th reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

There’s nothing new about musicals based on Shakespeare. “The Boys from Syracuse” (Comedy of Errors), “Kiss Me Kate” (The Taming of the Shrew), Your Own Thing” (Twelfth Night), “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, “Boys Own McBeth” (Macbeth) and of course “West Side Story” (Romeo and Juliet) immediately come to mind.

While “& Juliet” also draws on “Romeo and Juliet” for its inspiration, it also imagines a situation in which Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, unhappy that Shakespeare has allowed Juliet to die at the end of his play tries to persuade him to let her help him rewrite his play to make Juliet less compliant. In Anne's wonderfully woke version, neither Juliet nor Romeo will die.

Against his better judgement, Shakespeare reluctantly agrees to go along with his wife’s suggestions, partly to placate her, but mainly to protect his reputation.

Their resulting effort, is hugely entertaining, even occasionally thought- provoking, with new characters who struggle with gender issues and unexpected situations that force Shakespeare and Anne to re-examine their own marriage and motivations.

All of this is played out in a delightfully boisterous, happy-go-lucky production which conjures up the vibe of a troupe of travelling players while, thanks to Soutra Gilmour’s inventive scenic design, has all the glitz and panache of a major Broadway musical.

Rob Mills and the cast of  "& Juliet"

Unsurprisingly, Rob Mills is surprisingly good as Shakespeare. Mills’ devil-may-care cheekiness and natural charm is completely in tune with the irreverent tone of the show and a delightful foil to Amy Lehpamer’s rather bossy Anne Hathaway. Casey Donovan also shines with an ebullient, crowd-pleasing performance as Juliet’s nurse Angelique in a company alive with fresh new faces; many making their professional debuts.

One of these is Yashith Fernando who plays a new character, Francois, invented by Anne for her version of  the play. Francois finds himself attracted to May, another new non-binary character, charmingly interpreted by Jesse Dutlow, who explains the situation in the song, I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.

Jess Dutlow (May) - Yashith Fernando (Francois) in "& Juliet"

Adding additional spice to this particular performance was the fact that a number leading roles were played by covers. Replacing Lorinda May Merrypor,  Imani Williams offered a confident, no-nonsense Juliet, her powerhouse voice marking her as an artist to watch.

Imani Williams who played Juliet at this performance.

Jordan Koulos, replacing Blake Appelqvist, was a delightfully dorky Romeo, and James Elmore brought appropriate dignity to the role of Lance, normally played Hayden Tee.

A red hot band directed by Michael Azzopardi, made sure every song harvested from Max Martin’s voluminous songbook sounded like a sure-fire hit, while choreographer, Jennifer Webber kept the cast on its toes with funky, idiosyncratic moves, which made Paloma Young’s eccentric ‘a little bit Shakespearean, a little bit steam-punk and a lot like 'wardrobe find; costumes look sensational.

 Okay! It’s not Shakespeare, but is sure is a lot of fun. Go see for yourself.  

The spectacular finale to "& Juliet" 

Images provided.

This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.

Monday, April 22, 2024



Presented and performed by PRINNIE STEVENS.

Piano accompaniement by Dave McEvoy – Lighting Design by Darren Hawkins

The Street theatre, Canberra on April 20, 2024.

 Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Prinnie Stevens and Dave McEvoy at The Street Theatre.

Already a seasoned performer when she attracted attention during the first season of the television talent show The Voice, battling her friend Mahalia Barnes, Prinnie Stevens has gone on to establish herself as one of the country’s most accomplished performers.

The veteran of musicals “The Bodyguard”,”RENT”, “HAIR” and “Thriller LIVE”, Stevens has appeared on the West End and in New York beside the likes of Patti La Belle, Chaka Khan, Mary J Blige and John Legend. Remarkably however, given that she grew up in Canberra and still has relatives here, “Lady Sings The Blues Vol 2” is the first time she has appeared in Canberra in her own show.

It’s been worth the wait because judging by the capacity audience’s response to this performance it won’t be the last.

With her accompanist, Dave McEvoy, seated at a shiny grand piano on a beautifully lit stage, Prinnie Stevens made a glamorous entrance, resplendent in an elegant ruby red sequined dress, long white gloves, sky high heels and her hair decorated with white gardenias.

After commencing her program with a sultry rendition of “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World (James Brown/ Betty Jean Newsome) she set the tone for the evening by adding “But it’s a woman’s world tonight”.  

"But it's a woman's world tonight" - Dave McEvoy and Prinnie Stevens.

With "Lady Sings the Blues Vol 2" Stevens continues her celebration of female singers, mainly persons of colour in recognition of her own Tongan heritage, who overcame hardship and discrimination to pursue their careers, as did she and her mother.

Acknowledging that Canberra had not yet seen her award winning “Lady Sings The Blues Vol.1”, she commenced this performance by reprising singers featured in that show, in particular Billie Holiday with “Summertime” ( George Gershwin) and Mahalia Jackson with “Amazing Grace” (John Newton).

Then followed a succession of songs, each introduced with an anecdote and represented by a song with which they are associated. Aretha Franklin with “I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You” (Ronnie Shannon), Nina Simone with “Feelin’ Good” (Anthony Newleyl Leslie Bricusse), Tina Turner with “I Can’t Stand The Rain Against My Window” (Ann Peebles) and Amy Winehouse with “I’m No Good” (Amy Winehouse).

For each song Stevens adopted vocal and physical mannerism associated with each of the singers, not imitating but rather inhabiting their style. Each was enhanced by superb accompaniments by Dave McEvoy who seemed to breathe with Stevens to accommodate her stylish embellishments.

Towards the end of the program, Stevens quietly discarded her high heels to perform Nala’s song, ”Shadowland” (Elton John/Tim Rice), from the musical “The Lion King”. Then, removing her headdress to let her long hair flow freely, she offered a heartfelt acknowledgement of country, and interpolated gentle traditional dance movements into a captivating rendition of “My Island Home”.

"My Island Home" - Dave McEvoy and Prinnie Stevens.

Her final dedication was to songstress Whitney Houston with “This Song is For You” (Claude Kelly/ Nathaniel Hills/ Marcella Araica) which she directed to her audience, and which  McEvoy embellished with intricate rippling accompaniment.

This was cabaret at its finest with tasteful lighting and excellent sound enhancing an intelligently written and superbly performed program which left its audience informed about the artists being celebrated as well as the artists celebrating them.

The audience certainly recognised this and was reluctant to let the two artists leave the stage. Their enthusiasm was rewarded with a series of stunning encore dedications to Etta James, “At Last” (Etta James), Tina Turner, “Simply the Best” (Holly Knight/Mike Chapman), Carol King, “Natural Woman” (Carol King/Gerry Goffin) and finally to Beyoncé and Diana Ross with a thrilling performance of “Listen” (Beyoncé Knowles/ Henry Krieger/Scott Cutler/Anne Previn).   


                                                       Images by Nathan Smith

        This review first published in the Digital Edition of CITY NEWS on 21.04.2024.

Life in the Old Dog, Yet

Exhibition Review: Photography | Brian Rope

Life in the Old Dog, Yet | Brian Jones

M16 Artspace Gallery | 18 April 2024 – 12 May 2024

Canberra photographer Brian Jones says he is continually fascinated by the world around him, and that is reflected in his diverse and ever-changing photographic interests. He has a Graduate Diploma in Visual Art (Photography and Media Arts) from ANU School of Art. Previous exhibitions include his 2009 ANU Graduate Exhibition (A glass half full: portraits of an age) and 2012 Bowerbird Central at Hugh Davies Gallery.

Jones has written too often, senior citizens are devalued, dehumanised and seen as merely a burden. This is especially true in the aged care context, as examined by the recent Royal Commission, which emphasised the need for dignity and respect for those in care. It is also true more generally, with seniors often seen as just a demographic, with individuals written off as ‘elderly’ or ‘oxygen thieves’ of little intrinsic worth.

Personally, I am aware that some younger folk might not think much about the seniors in their lives. I’m a senior and not aware of anyone considering me to be a burden. For that, I am most grateful. But I do understand that younger folk with their own full lives might rarely think about contacting or visiting their senior family members. I also agree that some people tend to devalue seniors, perhaps considering them to have passed their usefulness. I once had a most interesting chat with my Vietnamese GP about the “responsibilities” of younger family members to care for their parents and grandparents. It highlighted for me the substantial differences between cultures about such matters.

This exhibition encourages viewers of the work to celebrate the humanity, dignity and value of senior citizens. The quality black and white portraits of a substantial group of women and men in their 70s – one is 82 – reveal people who are very much alive. Their expressions convey something of their enjoyment of life. These are real people, happily posing for the artist, enjoying the experience. The images are fresh. The subjects “look sharp”.

Di Cooper, 77, 2023 © Brian Jones

We also learn that the subjects are all highly active. They still contribute to society and enjoy life, notwithstanding the “ravages of time” revealed in lined faces. Apparently, some have had joint replacements, might be living with cancer, or have slowed down in some respects. But they haven’t stopped living. Their contributions include political and environmental activism, volunteering, grand-parenting and providing other family support.

Jill Jones, 74, granny, 2023 © Brian Jones

As well as the portraits already mentioned, there are equally excellent action shots – images showing these people are very much alive. They bushwalk, run, play croquet and tennis, swim, busk, participate in athletic throwing events and work on body building.

Bushwalking mob, Watson’s Crags, 2017 © Brian Jones

Bob Gingold, 72, croquet, 2023 © Brian Jones

Jan Banens, 82, hammer throw, 2024 © Brian Jones

Jones himself is a subject. There is a self-portrait and an action shot of him throwing a discus. For the latter image he set his camera up on a tripod and activated its burst mode. His wife pushed the shutter release to trigger the camera into capturing many shots, from which he selected the one being shown. Of course, the exhibition also reveals that this senior is actively involved in creating photo artworks.

Brian Jones, 75, discus, 2023 © Brian Jones

Jones says the seniors he has photographed accept being ‘old dogs’ and showing a bit of wear and tear, but are certainly not ready to shuffle off quietly into the sunset. He suggests that senior citizens are an under-explored area in contemporary Art. He hopes this exhibition will inspire other artists to explore the space and some other old dogs into action.

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

Sunday, April 21, 2024


Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, 21 April 2024


Reviewed by Len Power


Promising stormy vocal works by Baroque composers, Apeiron Baroque presented works for voice by Ariosti, Vivaldi, Handel and Hasse. In addition, there were instrumental works of other baroque era composers Biber, Uccellini, Cazzati, Vilsmayr and Bononcini.

The instrumentalists were John Ma, violin, Marie Searles, harpsichord, Lauren Davis, violin, Brad Tam, viola, Clara Teniswood, cello, and Henry South, double bass, with Tobias Cole, countertenor, performing the vocals.

Both John Ma and Tobias Cole gave the audience interesting and often entertaining and funny insights into the works they were about to perform. The works themselves required different combinations of instruments.

Commencing with il Naufragio (the Shipwreck) by Attilio Ariosti, Tobias Cole, countertenor, and the players created an atmosphere of the terror and heartbreak of a shipwreck. The last part of the work, the Largo, was especially memorable with its calmer beauty tinged with regret. It was played and sung with a moving sensitivity.

John Ma, violin. and Marie Searles, harpsichord, followed this with a performance of Marco Uccellini’s Sonata No. 2, la Luciminia Contenta. With its alternating fast and slow passages, it was a charming work played with great feeling.

All of the players with countertenor, Tobias Cole performed Mea Tormento, properate! (My torments hurry) by Johann Adolph Hasse. The dramatic and emotional allegro was followed by a reflective Lento that Tobias Cole performed with notable tenderness.

John Ma (photo by Joris-Jan Bos)

The other instrumental works by Cazzati, Bononcini, Purcell and Handel were given fine performances. The work by Heinrich Biber was especially interesting as the performers all plucked the strings of their instruments, creating a pleasing ambiance for the work.

The Aria and Gigue by Johan Joseph Volsmayr began as a beautiful violin solo by John Ma. Suddenly, unseen violins could be heard off to the side and behind the audience, creating an echo effect that was unexpected and delightful.

The concert finished with Vivaldi’s Cantata, Cessate omai cessate (Cease, now cease) with all of the players and Tobias Cole. This emotionally dramatic work was given a strong, heartfelt performance by Cole, especially the aria, In the Horrid Cavern.

This tour through the baroque era with these composers was a thoughtfully devised and entertaining program. It was given well-earned applause by the near capacity audience.


This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 22 April 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 https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.


Friday, April 19, 2024


Ayşe Göknur Shanal, soprano

Embassy of the Republic of Türkiye, Yarralumla 18 April 2024


Reviewed by Len Power


Ayşe Göknur Shanal has won many prestigious awards and scholarships here in Australia and overseas. She has performed widely in the USA, UK, Europe and Asia including Opera Australia, Turkish State Opera and Opera Queensland.

She was accompanied by John Robinson, oud and guitar, Tarik Hüseyin, kanun, and Faruq Bin Buchari, percussion.

In the embassy’s beautiful Lalezar Hall, the seated audience surrounded the performers on all sides, giving the concert, Falasteen in Song, sub-titled “a concert in human solidarity with the Palestinian people, especially in Gaza”, a strong sense of community.

Ayşe Göknur Shanal and Faruq Bin Buchari, percussion

Shanal sang Palestinian and Turkish songs, both traditional and contemporary. There were laments and songs of homeland and childhood, as well as songs of struggle and loss.

Each song was preceded by translations given by Shanal and her rich soprano voice gave the songs a clarity of emotion that was quite moving.

The atmospheric accompaniment of the Turkish instruments added immeasurably to the effect of the songs.

Joining the instrumentalists on the oboe for the song, Yumma mwein al Hawa, was guest, Laith Ismael, an esteemed woodwind performer who has worked with the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. Another guest, Farah Jirf, performed Zahrat al Mada'en in a duet with Shanal.

Many of the songs were known to the audience who joined in the choruses, the warmth in their voices adding further to the moving communal spirit of the evening.


Photo by Len Power

This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 19 April 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 https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Billy Elliot - The Musical




Billy Elliot – The Musical.  Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall.  Music by Elton John.
Free Rain at Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre,  April 9 – May 5 2024.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 16

Director: Jarrad West; Asst Director: Jill Young
Musical Directors: Katrina Tang & Caleb Campbell
Choreographer: Michelle Heine
Set Design: Dr Cate Clelland; Costume Design: Tanya Taylor
Lighting Design: Jacob Aquilina; Sound Design: Dillan Willding

Keys 1/Conductor: Caleb Campbell; Keys 2: Vivian Zhu / Katrina Tang
Reed 1: Lara Turner; Reed 2: Caleb Ball
Trumpet: Sam Hutchinson / Elsa Guile
French Horn: Carly Brown / Dianne Tan
Guitar: Dylan Slater / Michael Rushby
Bass: Hayley Manning; Drums: Brandon Reed

Billy Elliot – Fergus Paterson and Mitchell Clement
Michael Caffrey – Charlie Murphy and Blake Wilkins
Jackie Elliot – Joe Dinn; Tony Elliot – Lachlan Elderton
Mrs Wilkinson – Janie Lawson; Mum – Jo Zaharias
Grandma – Alice Ferguson; Mr Braithwaite – James Tolhurst-Close
Debbie – Zahra Zulkapli and Madison Wilmott

David Gambrill, Tim Maher, Thomas Walker
Dave Collins, Sian Harrington, Jordan Dwight

Easington Cast                                  Maltby Cast
Florence Tuli, Addyson Dew             Eleanor Ladewig, Ella Field
Millicent Fitzgerald, Laura Keen       Sophie Kelly, Kaity Hinch-Parr
Rosie Welling, Amber Russell           Mia Veljanovsky, Laney Himpson
Heidi McMullen, Taylor Bollard       Giselle Georges, Ellie Grace de Landre
Caitlin Hunt                                       Bella Henness-Dyer

Ash Syme, James Morgan, Anneliese Soper, Liam Prichard
Cameron Sargeant, Sam Welling, Jackson Dale
Bianca Lawson, Cassie Ramsay

Billy Elliot the Musical is about community.  Not just a coal-mining community in northern England in 1984 where the story is set.

On strike when PM Mrs Thatcher closed the coal mines.

Jarrad West and his huge cast make the evening about celebrating the performing arts in our community right here.

The whole community in Christmas celebrations

The audience in The Q were as energetic and enthusiastic as the onstage dancers, singers and actors in being together.  In community, in action.

It’s the real-life warmth of feeling that flows off the stage that makes this production so enjoyable to see.

The story itself is of a government cruelly destroying a community, and that community is divided even within families, which makes the original movie a tragedy for Billy to fight against.  His need for self-expression and determination to go his own way against the odds makes an engrossing drama.

But watching on a screen, at an emotional distance, means we focus on his individual experience.  In the theatre with a real Billy singing and dancing, real police tap dancing through their duties, and all those young girls showing Billy the way, life is clearly so much more positive – and we are no longer just watching but enjoying with the performers their expression through the art of performing.

And, of course, that’s the other theme of Billy’s success, even at last in his father’s eyes, at least, despite his never really understanding ballet.  The great thing was about seeing (I think on my night) Mitchell Clement as Billy showing exactly what his stage dance teacher Janie Lawson as Mrs Wilkinson sees in him, a potential Royal Ballet School entrant.

Billy ready for audition.  Father still doubtful.

Character acting was also forceful, and engaging at times in less than pleasant situations:

Photos side by side as if
Billy and Grandmother opposed to boxing lessons with Mr Braithwaite and Michael

Billy with his father, brother and dance teacher
Billy Elliot the Musical
Free Rain 2024
Photos supplied

 Overall, a highly successful production of a rather different kind of musical.


Concluding thought:

In closing down the coal mines Mrs Thatcher perhaps ironically foreshadowed our need now to close down as much fossil fuel industry as possible.  We can only hope our government can manage the transition to renewables with fair treatment of the communities involved. 



RBG: Of Many,One


RBG Of Many,One by Suzie Millar.

Directed by Priscilla Jackman and performed by Heather Mitchell. Designer. David Fleischer. Lighting Designer. Alexander Berlage. Composer and Sound Designer Paul Charlier. Assistant Director Sharon Millerchip. Voice and Accent Coach. Jennifer White. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. Bookings:02 62752700 or www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


It is almost two years since I reviewed Sydney Theatre Company’s production of RBG:Of Many, One. (See below) Last night at the Canberra Theatre Centre’s Playhouse, I viewed the touring production through the prism of passing time. Heather Mitchell’s performance remains as monumental as ever. Her embodiment of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s spirit, character and physicality is as though the Supreme Court judge was on stage recounting her life and career to a full house. Her seamless and entirely convincing transitions to other characters in Suzie Millar’s funny, provocative, and moving  play is to be bewitched by the brilliance of a  chameleon of the art of acting. With a change of voice or gesture she presents Presidents Clinton and Obama, her beloved husband Marty, her childhood and younger self and an assortment of characters and colleagues. Director Priscilla Jackman has made this revival as fresh, as alive and as thought provoking as ever. RBG: Of Many, One is as though it is as fresh minted as when I saw the production at STC’s The Wharf Theatre in 2022.

But time passes and world events throw a different light on the production. Ginsberg’s passionate response to gender inequity and the dominant presence of men in positions of power and authority appears more pronounced with the fervent sense of injustice from an intellectual giant. Sadly Ginsberg lived long enough to bear the bitter disappointment of Hillary Clinton’s defeat, but not long enough to witness Joe Biden’s electoral defeat of the much despised Donald Trump. One can only imagine how she would react to a presumption of Trump’s return to the White House. Or the implications behind  Grace Tame’s experience and the Brittany Higgins affair.

Director, actor and writer have given audiences a revival as magnificent as the performance reviewed below and a tribute that continues to pay grateful homage to the remarkable legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. But it does more. It reminds us of the ideals that motivated this remarkable woman and that her battles and her achievements are signposts to a better world for all irrespective of race, colour or creed and under the guidance and protection of the law.

Although performed on a different stage in a different city and at a different time, I include here my 2022 review. Last night’s performance was as powerful as I remember and on a second viewing spontaneously brought me to my feet in ovation with the entire audience.


Heather Mitchell’s performance as Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg in STC’s RGB: Of Many, One is pure perfection. Playwright Suzie Miller has crafted a theatrical eulogy as brilliant as Ginsberg’s legal mind. Director Priscilla Jackman’s tight and engagingly fluid production is as sharply staged and as clearly revealing and logical as Ginsberg’s judgements and battle for universal equality for women.

But it is Mitchell’s performance that places her at the very Pantheon of the actor’s craft. In 95 minutes of magnetic and unforgettable acting Mitchell bestrides the Wharf Theatre stage like the legal colossus that Ginsberg  inhabited upon America’s Supreme Court. We discover Ginsberg impatiently waiting for a phone call from President Clinton to confirm her appointment to the Supreme Court. Miller reveals a woman as human and as nervously expectant as anyone who might be awaiting  life changing opportunity. Throughout the performance Miller and Mitchell introduce us to a woman, who, in spite of her position, her indefatigable battles for justice, her courageous will to be true to herself, her profession and her mother’s early advice remains simply human. Her girlish passion and belief in what she knows to be right, her reliance on her mother’s wisdom, her girlish awe in the presence of a president, her victorious delight at every case that she wins and her resolve not to be cowed by defeat or confrontation all reveal an extraordinary woman who believed in what she knew to be right and dedicated her life to creating a better world for both men and women.

Mitchell’s astounding performance traces Ginsberg’s life over her childhood to her last breath in 2020. With only the occasional stage hand to pass her a prop or change a setting, Mitchell, chameleon like transforms from schoolgirl to young wife to feisty defendant, grandmother to the Associate Justice at lunch with Obama, in the court, at the opera or at her exercises. This is a panoramic account of a woman, whose indelible mark on the judicial system and humanitarian cause has left a legacy to inspire generations of lawmakers.

Millar does far more than make audiences aware of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s  professional achievements, her generational contribution to legal reform and her elevated status to cultural icon. First and foremost Millar reminds us that Ginsberg, apart from her achievements in law was a human being. RBG: Of Many, One is a moving and heart -warming love story between Ginsberg and her husband, Marty. It depicts her joy at motherhood and her devotion to her grandchildren and their reciprocal love. We hear her admission of shame and guilt at her outburst against Trump, not because it is the natural reaction of a concerned American, but because of the conflict it exposes between her duty to the law and her professional responsibility to remain detached from the political process. However, Mitchell’s performance leaves one in no doubt. RBG was a compassionate, loving and also vulnerable human being.

Photos by Prudence Upton


Monday, April 15, 2024

RBG: Of Many, One - Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse.

Written by Suzie Miller – Directed by Priscilla Jackman

Designed by David Fleischer – Lighting Design by Alexander Berlage

Composer and sound design by Paul Charlier.

Assistant Director: Sharon Millerchip – Voice & Accent Coach: Jennifer White.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg performed by HEATHER MITCHELL

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse 11-24th April 2024.

Opening Night performance on 12th April reviewed by Bill Stephens.

You may not know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or any of the other justices who sat on   Supreme Court of the United States of America for that matter. However, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court and a fierce advocate for gender equality and reproductive rights.

How Bader Ginsburg achieved legendary status by the time she died in 2020 is the subject of Suzie Miller’s brilliant one-woman play, written specifically to showcase the talents of another legend, one of Australia’s most celebrated and admired actors, Heather Mitchell.

Heather Mitchell as the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg in "RBG: Of Many, One".
Suzie Miller’s play “RBG: Of Many, One” traces Bader Ginsburg’s life from the age of 16 until her death at the age of 87. Heather Mitchell’s portrayal traverses significant events in the life of Bader Ginsberg in which she addresses the audience directly while out significant conversations with the likes of Presidents Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and even Donald Trump.

During her performance she literally ages, physically and vocally, leaving the audience with a  strong sense of Bader Ginsburg’s determination while battling against gender discrimination which attempts to deny her employment within her chosen career path, as well as the ravishes of cancer. It’s a remarkable story and one brilliantly performed by Mitchell.

Heather Mitchell as Ruth Bader Ginsburg awaiting an important phone call.
Among a stream of Suzie Millers cleverly rafted scenes is one in which Bader Ginsberg expresses her-stream-of-conscious thoughts while waiting impatiently for a phone call from President Clinton to advise her whether he has recommended her for appointment to the Supreme Court. At the same time she is fending off sympathetic advice from her beloved husband Marty.  Mitchell had the audience rocking with laughter with the brilliance at her portrayal which was delivered without any hint of caricature.

Later she drew tears as Bader Ginsberg reading out a speech written by Marty in which he talks affectionately about their marriage, but which he never got the opportunity to deliver. Bader Ginsberg discovered this speech after Marty’s death just four days after their 56th Wedding Anniversary.

 Mitchell’s performance in this production is a master-class in theatrical story-telling. But as memorable as her performance is, it also burnished by the contributions of those creatives who framed her particular genius with their own unique skills.  

Heather Mitchell as Ruth Bader Smith at the height of her career.

In particular, playwright, Suzie Miller, who conceived and wrote the words Mitchell delivers with such memorable skill, and director, Priscilla Jackman whose subtle, inventive direction illuminates both the play and Mitchell’s performance.  

Then there’s David Fleischer’s elegant, understated setting, sensitively lit by Alexander Berlage to ensure that nothing distracts from Mitchell’s performance, and Paul Charlier’s haunting soundtrack that celebrates Bader Ginsburg’s deep love of music, especially opera.

If you didn’t know much about Ruth Bader Ginsberg before you saw this production, you’ll certainly come away informed about this remarkable woman. Better still, you’ll come away dazzled and moved by having witnessed a truly remarkable acting performance by a great Australian actor which is likely to remain among those treasured performances that keep you returning to the theatre. 

Following this sell-out Canberra season, the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of “RBG: Of Many, One” will tour to Melbourne, Brisbane, Parramatta, Perth, and it’s rumoured, Broadway. Wherever you get the opportunity to see this remarkable production, be sure to take it. It really is something to cherish. 

The final image of Heather Mitchell as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in "RBG: Of Many, One".

Images by Prudence Upton.

This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Shoe-Horn Sonata



The Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto. Lexi Sekuless Productions at the Mill Theatre at Dairy Road, Canberra, April 10-27 2024

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 13

Production Team
Director: Lexi Sekuless
Sound Designer and Composer: Leisa Keen
Production Designer: Annette Sharpe
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Wright
Production Stage Manager: Katerina Smalley
Production Photography and Film: Daniel Abroguena
Interviewer voice: Timmy Sekuless
Set Construction: Simon Grist
Producer: Lexi Sekuless Productions
Publicity Photographer: Robert Coppa
Publicity Hair and Makeup: Vicky Hayes
Major partner: Elite Event Technology

Bridie: Andrea Close
Sheila: Zsuzsi Soboslay
Contingency: Tracy Noble

Bridie: Andrea Close,  Sheila: Zsuzsi Soboslay
in Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto
Lexie Seculess Productions 2024
Photo supplied

This is an unusual sonata, being a duet for trumpet and piano.  It’s the story, based on true stories from nurses captured by the Japanese in World War II, of “Bridie” and “Sheila” who saved each other’s lives more than once during the period from 1942 to 1945, following the failure of the British administration and security to prevent Japan’s forces invading Singapore.

Nurses come in different shapes and sizes.  Bridie is tall, a strongly built Australian, a get up and go, let’s do it now no matter what, type of nurse.  She tells it as it is.  We would say, No Bullshit.  

Bridie trumpets at; while the English Sheila is softer and more tuneful, playing her scales for rather than at.  Yet there is a time when her grand opera, a Tchaikovsky 1812, bursts out.  And in the end her quiet secret, kept for 50 years, escapes, and brings Bridie to a new understanding about Sheila’s private strength; and a new self-awareness for herself.

The setting is a television interview with an invisible voice-over asking the questions, sometimes responding to the stories the women tell of what happened to them, as they were shipped out in crowded small boats from Singapore harbour; met each other nearly drowned when the Japanese Air Force fired on and sank their boats; and survived against soldiers and tropical sickness at a secret inland jungle camp with no known end to their incarceration.  Japan’s intention was that all the women (and even their children from Singapore families) would die – but in secret, to avoid the Japanese being called to account for their war crimes.

In the foyer Lexie Seculess has displayed the real diary, kept by the real Betty Jeffrey, writing in pencil on exercise books stolen from the supervising soldiers, amazingly kept and kept secret until publication after the war as White Coolies.  John Misto read this when young – and so began this play.

Betty Jeffrey's diary published as White Coolies

Betty Jeffrey's pencil
Photos: Frank McKone

The fascinating, yet in a sense awful, aspect, while watching the performance (with occasional snippets on a 1960’s tv set of how they looked on screen), is how these traumatic experiences generate both often dreadful criticism of each other at the same time creating an unbreakable bond of mateship.  It is the revelation of the secret Sheila kept for 50 years which seals the bond at last during the interview.  What is revealed is as powerful in its effect on us, watching, as it is for Bridie.

The performances of both Andrea Close and Zsuzsi Soboslay are outstanding.  The Mill Theatre is small and they are very much up close.

Bridie: Andrea Close and Sheila: Zsuzsi Soboslay
in Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto
Lexie Seculess Productions 2024
Photo supplied

And we never miss even the smallest turn away or look towards, expression of concern or sudden anger between these two such different but bound together characters.

You should take the chance as I and others did to meet the actors and director in the foyer after the show.  For me the essential value of our meeting was for the women to explain how the mateship bond in war is so different for women than for men.  These women – those who survived, and those who did not – knew from when they were girls how they were always under threat from men.  So for these women – these actresses – telling the stories of these wartime nurses, the sense of threat and the need to be so brave in the face of an army of men instructed to literally rape and kill, or just leave to die, provided the energy and determination which created their characters with such strength.

And so this play is not merely an historical documentary – which it might look like on an external screen – but becomes a plea for men – in or out of war – to treat women with the respect and honour with which they should treat their own mates.

And in a case of amazing serendipity I have also just reviewed RGB: Of Many, One with precisely the same demand, and warning if we men fail, from eminent human rights lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Don’t miss.

BILLY ELLIOT - Free Rain Theatre


Fergus Paterson as Billy Elliot - Joe Dinn as Billy's father Jackie Elliot in Free-Rain Theatre's production of "Billy Elliot"

Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall – Music by Elton John

Directed by Jarrad West – Choreographed by Michelle Heine

Musical Direction by Katrina Tang and Caleb Campbell

Set design by Cate Clelland – Costume Design by Tanya Taylor

Lighting Design by Jacob Aquilina – Sound Design by Dillan Willding

The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre April 9 – May 5, 2024

Opening night performance on April 11 reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

Janie Lawson as Mrs Wilkinson with her dance class.

Free-Rain Theatre’s production of the Elton John/Lee Hall musical "Billy Elliott" certainly packs a punch both physically and emotionally.

Based on the 2000 film of the same name the musical revolves around a motherless boy who begins taking ballet lessons in a British mining town during the 1984-85 UK miner’s strike in North East England’s County Durham.

Jackie Elliot (Joe Dinn) discovers Billie (Fergus Paterson) in Mrs Wilkinson's dance class.

Against fierce opposition from his father and older brother, both of whom are involved in the union battle for better wages and conditions for coal miners, Billy finds a champion for his ambitions in his dance teacher, Mrs Wilkinson who eventually convinces his father to let him audition for the Royal Ballet.

Confidently directed by Jarrad West and choreographed by Michelle Heine, this musical makes huge demands on the young actor playing Billy Elliot. He is required to depict Billy’s story from novice dancer to one exhibiting enough talent to be accepted into the Royal Ballet School. He’s also required to sing well and act convincingly.

On opening night this role was played by Fergus Paterson, whose performance in this critical role constantly drew cheers from the audience.

Paterson breezed through Heine’s cleverly staged production numbers, "Shine" , "Born to Boogie" and the extraordinary "Angry Dance". He delighted in the effervescent duet "Expressing Yourself" partnered by his friend Michael, this role performed with considerable panache by Charlie Murphy.

Michael (Charlie Murphy) and Billy (Ferguson Paterson) perform "Expressing Yourself"

Paterson astonished in the spectacular "Swan Lake Dream Ballet" which he shared with accomplished ballet dancer, Jordan Dwight and broke hearts with his rendition of  "The Letter" with mum, Jo Zaharias. But it was his confident singing and dancing in  his big solo number "Electricity", that had the audience cheering even before he led the entire company through Heine’s spectacularly staged "Finale".

Jordan Dwight (Older Billy) and Billy (Fergus Paterson) perform the "Swan Lake Dream Ballet"

The Roles of Billy and Michael are shared in later performances with Mitchell Clement and Blake Wilkins, so you may have to see this show twice. However that should be no hardship because this production also contains a surfeit of excellent performances.

Among them Janie Lawson in a star performance as the hard-bitten dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, outwardly tough, but with a heart of gold, who recognises Billy’s talent and champions him.  Her opening number “Shine” is one of the many highpoints of this show.

Mrs Wilkinson (Janie Lawson) and Billy (Fergus Paterson) and the dance class perform "Shine"

Joe Dinn brings impressive depth to his portrayal as Billy’s rough miner father, Jackie Elliot. At first violently opposed to Billy’s choices, Jackie’s eventual capitulation is movingly portrayed.

Similarly Lachlan Elderton gives a powerful performance as Billy’s strong-willed brother Tony Elliot, who struggles with the pressures caused by his loyalties to his workmates and his family’s upheavals. The physical violence between Tony and his father is convincingly staged although both performances would benefit from a little less shouting.

Jackie Elliot (Joe Dinn) and Billy's brother Tony (Lachlan Elderton) menace Mrs Wilkinson (Janie Lawson).

Completing the Elliot family, Alice Ferguson delights as Grandma whose antics eventually draw the family together.

Among the hard working ensemble, Tim Maher successfully mined his role as a duplicitous miner for comic opportunities, as did James Tolhurst-Close as Mrs Wilkinson’s long-suffering repetiteur, Mr Braithwaite. Zahra Zulkapli was delightfully precocious as Billy’s dance class friend, Debbie.

To accommodate the many large production numbers threaded throughout the show, Cate Clelland has designed a spectacular setting that takes up every centimetre of the Q’s stage.  Draped with union banners it represents the Miners Union Hall in which Mrs Wilkinson also conducts her dance classes.

Although this multi-purpose setting occasionally leads to confusion as to where the action is taking place, particularly for the domestic scenes involving the Elliot family, clever pop-outs and careful lighting allows an attentive audience to follow the storyline, enhanced by Tanya Taylor’s costume designs which appropriately conjure up ballet schools and miners protests.

Caleb Campbell and Katrina Tang share the Musical Director responsibilities as well as participating in the excellent tight musical ensemble which accompanies the show.

Unfortunately the sound design on opening night vacillated between deafening and too low, making it difficult to understand much of the North East dialect in which lyrics and dialogue are written.

Hopefully this blemish will be corrected for later performances so that Free Rain Theatre’s excellent production of this extraordinary musical can be enjoyed to the fullest.

The Miners protest in "Billy Elliott"

                                                         Images by Janelle McMenamin

An edited version of this review published in the digital edition of  CITY NEWS on 12.04.24