Sunday, June 30, 2024



Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky . Adapted by Marilyn Campbell-Rowe and Curt Columbus-. 

Directed by Caroline Stacey. Set and costumes by Kathleen Kershaw.Lighting design by Darren Hawkins. Sound design Kimmo Vennonen.Performance coach (Josephine Gazard) Shelly Higgs. Stage management Rhiley Winnett. Street Two. The Street Theatre. June 22-July 7 Bookings www.the

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.

Christopher Samuel Carroll as Rasvolnikov and PJ WIlliams as
Inspector Porfiry in Marilyn Campbell-Lowe and Curt Columbus's
adaptation of Fyodr Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment

Through the haze a figure kneels in supplication, back to audience and arms folded behind the neck. “Do you believe in the resurrection of Lazarus” a voice asks from the shadows. “Do you believe in God? “ Kimmo Vennenon’s haunting composition floats through the air with ecclesiastic mysticism, mysteriously emanating through Darren Hawkins atmospheric lighting design. The questions are repeated as Inspector Porfiry (PJ Williams) emerges into the light to interrogate the impoverished student Raskolnikov (Christopher Samuel Carroll). An elderly pawnbroker and her sister have been axed to death in their apartment. Raskolnikov has visited the old lady and is brought in to help with enquiries. Porfiry’s search for the truth frames the conceptual structure of Marilyn Campbell-Lowe and Curt Columbus’s superbly crafted ninety minute adaptation for the stage. Incorporating Porfiry’s questioning with flashbacks to key incidents in Dostoevsky’s novel Lowe and Columbus cleverly emphasise Crime and Punishment’s provocative dialectic: Is an evil act, such as the murder of a person justifiable if it can lead to immense good? Can the death of an ordinary human being as defined by Raskolnikov as a breeder of future human beings be justified by the elevation of an extraordinary human being endowed with gifts beyond the mere ordinary human? It is a proposition espoused in Raskolnikov’s radical article “On Crime” for a university magazine. He believes that the murder of the pawnbroker will lift himself and his friend’s daughter Sonia (Josephine Gazard) out of poverty and in Sonia’s case prostitution to which she has resorted to provide for her family. Only then will they qualify as extraordinary humans capable of good deeds.

Josephine Gazard as Sonia. Christopher Samuel Carroll as Rasnolvikov

In Raskolnikov’s case his crime is not only that he has committed murder but the belief that he is entitled to take life on moral grounds and achieve the status of an extraordinary human being. Raskolnikov’s punishment is psychological torture, guilt, confusion and paranoia. Carroll plumbs the depths of Raskolnikov’s self imposed anguish. Director Stacey maintains the suspense and intrigue as we are drawn into Porfiry’s manipulative guile. Williams’ timing as the wily detective intent on entrapping his suspect is precise and effective in the true tradition of the crime genre. Carroll and Williams are superb, keeping an audience spellbound as they circle each other in their cunning game of cat and mouse. Carroll steadfastly plays the innocent while Williams subtly infuses Porfiry’s character with diversionary tactics to elicit a confession.  

Ironically, it is not Porfiry who elicits the confession, but the softly spoken Sonia, played with teenage innocence and a conviction in the power of her faith to heal by Gazard. In Campbell-Lowe and Columbus’s condensed adaptation it is Sonia who resurrects the tormented Raskolnikov, placing a crucifix necklace about his neck and persuading him to kneel and kiss the earth in supplication before his God. It is faith that will redeem the guilty and banish the psychological torture. There is a further irony that Dostoevsky’s attack on the ideology of the Radical should be combated with the resurrecting power of religious faith. This gives pause for thought.

Christopher Samuel Carroll as Rasnolvikok. P.J. Williams as Inspector Porfiry

The Street has once again staged a highly professional production of an Australian premiere. In the intimate Street Two Campbell-Lowe and Columbus’s succinct and sharply focused adaptation is riveting theatre at its very best. While Carroll plays Raskolnikov throughout, Williams also plays Sonia’s drunken father Marmaladov and Gazard plays the pawnbroker and her sister and Raskolnikov’s mother. Although first published in 1866, Stacey gives the adaptation an immediacy, reflected in designer Kathleen Kershaw’s flexible and functional platform set and contemporary,  character-defining costuming. Vennonen’s sound design and Hawkins’ evocative lighting design lend the production an air of East European solemnity that heightens the sombre and mysterious mood of Dostoevsky’s psychologically probing story. Stacey’s insightful direction, supported by her creative team, has captured the very essence of Dostoevsky’s novel. The production is highly atmospheric, richly layered with meaning and gripping from beginning to end.

Production photography: Nathan Smith Photography and Novel Photographic


Master Class by Terrence McNally


 Master Class by Terrence McNally.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, June 14 – July 20 2024.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 29

Playwright: Terrence McNally
Director: Liesel Badorrek; Assistant Director: Miranda Middleton

Musical Director/Cast/Composer & Sound Designer: Maria Alfonsine
Cast/Composer & Sound Designer: Damian de Boos-Smith
Cast: Elisa Colla; Cast: Lucia Mastrantone
Cast: Bridget Patterson; Cast: Matthew Reardon

Set & Costume Designer: Isabel Hudson; Costume Supervisor: Renata Beslik
Lighting Designer: Kelsey Lee

Dialect Coach: Linda Nicholls-Gidley; Operatic Voice Coach: Donna Balson
Theatre Stage Manager: Jen Jackson; Rehearsal Stage Manager: Emily Phillips

Photos: Prudence Upton

I’m not sure if Ensemble Theatre has reverted to the hippy days of collectivism, but their program calls all the cast members merely “Cast”.  I agree all cast members are equal, as performers, but I like to know who played the different characters.  

Maria Alfonsine is the accompanying pianist for Maria Callas’s master classes.  She is astute and careful to play an unassuming role as Manny, recognising Maria’s emotional frailty and providing just the support she needs.

Bridget Patterson as the first inexperienced soprano student, Sophie de Palma, doesn’t understand why her teacher is so uncompromising, and gives up in tears, despite a top-quality singing voice.

Damien de Boos-Smith has no name as the unfortunate comic stagehand that Maria treats as an idiot.  But we also know him as the secret cello player who accompanies Maria Alfonsine so well.

Matthew Reardon is Anthony (Tony) Candolini, the student not only with a tenor voice to die for, but the sense of humour and confidence that his teacher cannot easily deal with.  Perhaps she lets him go because he doesn’t need her; or because she couldn’t teach him if she tried.

Elisa Colla as Sharon Graham is the one that Maria knows will make it as a performer, so long as she can cope with life in the theatre world – on stage and in personal relationships.

Lucia Mastrantone has the role as Maria Callas which links us, in our role as potential Master Class students, to her at the time in her life when her voice, health and personal relationships are failing.  If she cannot perform any longer, perhaps she can at least leave a worthwhile legacy through her master classes for the new performers coming through.


Damian de Boos-Smith

Bridget Patterson as Sophie de Palma
with Lucia Manstrantone as Maria Callas

Elisa Colla as Sharon Graham
with Lucia Manstrantone as Maria Callas
and pianist Maria Alfonsine as Manny

Matthew Reardon as Anthony (Tony) Candolini
with Lucia Manstrantone as Maria Callas
and pianist Maria Alfonsine as Manny

Lucia Manstrantone as Maria Callas
with Damian de Boos-Smith (cello) and Maria Alfonsine (piano)

As a one-time drama teacher myself I hear the truth in Maria’s attempts to make her students understand the shift they must make beyond technique, and certainly not by imitation – which my teacher, Anton Witsel, called “acting acting” – into acting from within yourself.

Ton Witsel also warned me of how easy it is in theatre to “fall flat on your face”.  It can happen in the writing.  It can happen in the set design, the costumes design, the directing, and in the actor’s acting.  Theatre is always at risk of a flop.

Terrence McNally could have got it wrong about the real Maria Callas – but he has not written a documentary.  This play is his imagining how things might have gone for her, and these characters are his creation.  The real Maria died of a heart-attack when she was 53 in 1977.  Are these characters costumed as they would have been then?  It doesn’t matter!  But they are costumed just right for the Maria we see to react to them as she does.

But the real risk in performing McNally’s play is that the actors, including whoever plays Maria Callas, have to understand and be able work in the way that Maria says they must.  This means those playing Sophie, Tony and Sharon have to be able to work from within themselves, acting and singing, showing us that their characters don’t understand – yet – how to work from within.

This really is risky theatre.  But, surely thanks to sensitive directing from Liesel Badorrek and Miranda Middleton and the wide range of experiences these actors already have (and presumably how well they learned from their drama teachers), there are no flops here.

Quite the opposite.  The audience rose to their feet in appreciation for a new understanding of this prima donna, not as the difficult personality, nor the aggressive competitor, nor the publicity hound, nor the money-grubber, nor the failure in marriage, but as the woman who found herself, in performing from within, and so became the greatest opera singer, even despite probably the worst that could happen, when her child was still-born.

The season runs until July 20 – there is still time to make the journey to the Kirribilli boathouse, Ensemble Theatre.




GRAND KYIV BALLET OF UKRAINE - Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse.


Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine in "Forrest Song"

Artistic Director: Oleksandr Stoianov – Director/Tour Manager: Dennis Brown

Lighting Director: Maksim Zhuleu – Sound Engineer: Sarah Vandenberg

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse – 28th and 29th June 2024.

Performance on 28th June reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine in "Forrest Song".

An encore visit to Canberra by this brave  company on the tail-end of an arduous two-month Australian and New Zealand tour, with the same program it offered two years ago, provided the opportunity for a second look at a much loved heritage ballet that is based on a Ukrainian folk story with music by Ukrainian composer Mikhail Skorulskyi.

Forest Song has been performed in Ukraine for over 75 years and the Grand Kyiv Ballet is the only company to proudly perform this ballet outside Ukraine, as an example of Ukraine’s unique ballet heritage.  

Although the story and staging are old-fashioned and hopelessly melodramatic to contemporary western eyes, the ballet means a lot to this troupe of accomplished dancers whose artistic heritage is being destroyed while they share what they can with the world.

At this performance the doomed lovers were danced by Marta Kaliandruk and Daniil Kish. Both were excellent, executing the demanding choreography, which includes some spectacular lifts, with admirable style and panache.

Anna Stoianova repeated her eye-catching turn as the Field Mermaid, while Kseniia Dronova and Margaryta Kuznietsova were outstanding as the vengeful bride and her mother.

However it is in the second half of the program that the company really shines. Scenes from the ballet Don Quixote featuring the original Petipa choreography and stirring Minkus music, provide the company with the opportunity to show off some spectacular scenery and costumes as well as thrilling dancing.

Japanese ballerina Mia Nagasawa as Kitri in Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine's production of
 "Don Quixote

The company is fortunate to have diminutive  pocket-rocket Japanese ballerina Mie Nagasawa as the only non-Ukrainian dancer among its ranks. Nagasawa displays an exceptional technique, amazing extensions and a confident, endearing personality making her perfect casting as the cheeky heroine, Kitri.

She’s perfectly matched with the strong, ebullient, Viktor Tomashek as her Basilio. Together they dance up a storm thrilling the audience with a succession of exciting lift’s and catches, among them the famed lift in which Tomashek balances Nagasawa on one arm fully extended high above his head while the music pauses until the dancers are ready to continue. It’s a thrilling move which only the most skilled dancers can accomplish. This pair repeats it twice just to prove the first time wasn’t a fluke.  


Mie Nagasawa (Kitri) - Viktor Tomashek (Basilio) in "Don Quixote"

Oleksandr Harkavenko as Kitri’s father had his hands full trying to control his wilful daughter, while Anna Stoianova, this time teamed  with Marta Kaliandruk, delighted as her two girlfriends. 

Kristina Kiiko and Myloka Khoma tore up the floor as the flamboyant Street Dancer and Toreador Espada and Vladyslav Yevtushenko survived being tossed dangerously high as a   delightfully mischievous Sancho Panza to Zack Tidswell’s elegant, if misguided Don Quixote.

Though they could have been forgiven for looking a bit jaded after such an arduous tour, the perfectly groomed, fastidiously trained ensemble was anything but, accomplishing multiple quick costume changes and dancing with admirable accuracy and flair to provide enthusiastic support throughout.

Following the finale, and after acknowledging the enthusiastic applause of the audience, the entire company re-assembled on stage to remind the audience of its mission by singing an emotional rendition of the Ukrainian National Anthem for which the principal dancers draped themselves in the Ukrainian flag.   

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.



Conducted by Brad Tham

Holy Covenant Church, Cook June 29


Reviewed by Len Power


Under the baton of musical director, Brad Tham, Musica Da Camera presented a beguiling and contrasting program of suites and serenades, including works by John Dowland, Dag Wirén, Ralph Vaughan Williams and John Rutter.

Brad Tham is in his final year as a double degree student at the ANU, studying psychology and music. He has held several concertmaster positions, and he has formed the Ellery String Quartet, which is in its third year.

The Pavane from John Dowland’s 17th century instrumental work, Lachrimae Antique (Old Tears) was a good opening item for the concert with its grand, measured melodies. The orchestra gave it a fine performance.

Moving to 1937, the next item was Serenade For Strings by the Swedish composer, Dag Wirén. Its four movements were quite different to each other. The busy and dramatic first movement contrasted with the plucking of strings under an enticing melody in the second. The third movement pulsated with energy and the fourth, entitled Marcia, had a tune that was instantly recognizable as the popular theme from the 1960s British television program, ‘Monitor’. All four movements with their contrasting styles were precisely and pleasantly played by the orchestra.

Musica Da Camera with Brad Tham conducting

Vaughan Williams’ Suite For Solo Violin and String Orchestra (Concerto Accademico) was composed in 1924-25. It was considered a homage to Bach, specifically his Concert For Two Violins in D minor, a composition that Vaughan Williams admired. The conductor, Brad Tham, played the solo violin part.

Brad Tham

From its dramatic opening movement through a beautifully sensitive second movement and a rousing final movement, the complex and changeable rhythms must have been challenging to play, but Tham and the orchestra gave it an excellent performance of particular clarity. It proved to be the highlight of the concert.

The final work, Suite For Strings, composed by John Rutter in 1973, had four movements named after old and well-known English folk songs. The rich and nostalgic melodies were well-played by the orchestra, and it was a great finale for this very accessible and enjoyable concert.


Photos by Peter Hislop


This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 30 June 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



Saturday, June 29, 2024

THE DATASET - Australian Dance Party


Sara Black and Alison Plevey perform "The Dataset"

Co-Directed, and performed by Alison Plevey and Sara Black

Sound Design by Sia Ahmad – Lighting and Production by Jordan Hodge

The Vault, Dairy Road Precinct, Canberra. 27th to 29th June 2024.

Opening night performance on 27th June reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Sara Black in "The Dataset"

Australian Dance Party is a professional dance company established in 2015 by WAAPA graduate dancer and choreographer, Alison Plevey, specifically to create site-specific dance works exploring environmental issues through the medium of dance.

Plevey and her company have won many awards and accolades for her creations which continue to subversively prick consciences and raise awareness.

For The Dataset Plevey has collaborated with VCA graduate dance maker, Sara Black, independent sound designer, Sia Ahmad and event organiser and technician, Jordan Hodge, to create a powerful expose of how the collection of data is infiltrating our daily lives. For this purpose they could hardly have chosen a more appropriate venue.

Alison Plevey in "The Dataset".

The Vault is a huge pillar-free concrete bunker that is now re-emerging as an exciting new special events venue in the Canberra industrial area. It provided the perfect environment for an unsettling surreal work imagining a future where data is deeply centred into everything we do.

For the purposes of this work The Vault became a rejuvenation centre, the latest facility for Biomet, a data capture, analysis and transfer operation that invites clients to experience the best in data-led living.  

Once through the rather forbidding small door which allows entrance to The Vault, audience members were greeted warmly and invited to relax in front of a cosy fire and take advantage of the well-stocked bar.

Eventually the black curtain, which had divided the interior, was suddenly whisked away revealing a cavernous performance area delineated by an array of pulsing fluorescent lights. 

A disembodied voice encouraged the audience to occupy the seating arranged around the perimeter of the area, and then began to explain the advantages of a treatment offered by the patented Biomet Humechanical Uploading System TM.

Gentle electronic sounds suggest busy technology going about its business, leading to an uncomfortable feeling that somehow one is unwittingly being caught up in some sort of advertising scam.

Alison Plevey and Sara Black perform "The Dataset"

Eventually spotlights reveal two figures, Plevey and Black, costumed in futuristic white boilersuits.

They appear benign about following the instructions of the disembodied voice, which identifies as Ethan, as it continues intoning an endless list of mental, physical and imaginary benefits that will result from the treatments, reinforced by a continuous chatter-box stream projected on to the stark black wall behind.

The pseudo-scientific aspects of the production are brilliantly realised, creating a slightly surreal hypnotic effect as Plevey and Black progress through a series of tests and exercises, which ultimately lead them to pile up the fluorescent lights to form glowing campfires around which audiences members were invited to gather in a happy family’s environment.

It is then that the significance dawns of a chilling small-print message, available only to those who bothered to read the QR code program:  “Upon entering Biomet’s Datacentre participants give up the rights to all data uploaded. Access to participant’s data is given upon uploading and is assumed beyond cancellation. Biomet can adjust groups of data to create optimal recommendations. Any recommendations made by Ethan cannot be changed or altered”.

                                                              Images by Lorna Sim

     This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.



A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. 

Directed by Anne Somes. Associate director Dr. Cate Clelland. Set design. Dr. Cate Clelland and Ron Abrahams. Costume design Fiona Leach. Lighting design Craig Muller. Sound design Neville Pye. Stage manager Maggie Hawkins. Sound and lighting operator Maggie Hawkins. Vocal and dialect coach Sarah Chalmers. Intimacy coordinator Karen Vickery. Marketing direcvtor Olivia Wenholz. Promotional photography. Janelle McMenamin. Production photography Jane Duong. Free Rain Theatre Company. ACT HUB. June 20-29


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Meaghan Stewart as Stella. Tim Stiles as Steve, Lachlan Elderton as Pablo,Alex Hoskisson as Stanley,
Lachlan Ruffy as Mitch, Amy Kowalczuk as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire

Director Anne Somes and Associate director Dr. Cate Clelland’s casting of Free Rain’s A Streetcar Named Desire is nothing short of inspired.  Tennessee Williams is the actor’s playwright, penetrating the very soul and psyche of his characters. His writing probes the psychology of his characters, exposing their nature with such stark realism that we are transfixed by Blanche Dubois’ agonizing vulnerability, sister Stella’s innocent love and loyalty and Stanley Kowalski’s disturbing brutishness. In Free Rain’s superbly staged production of Williams’s masterpiece every moment draws forth the tensions that are exposed by Blanche’s arrival at the New Orleans home of her sister and Stella’s American born Polish husband. From the very moment that Amy Kowalczuk enters the stage we sense a fragility, a cautious trepidation that hints at an inner fear as she approaches the tenement Hers is a performance of such extraordinary complexity, spiralling into a vortex of delusion, alcoholism and self-destruction. Kowalczuk traverses Blanche’s desperate search for love and kindness to escape the loneliness that consumes her and which she seeks to expunge in the arms of Stanley’s poker-playing friend Mitch (played with sensitivity by Lachlan Ruffy). As Blanche seeks absolution from the guilt she feels at her gay husband’s suicide, so too does Williams seek to absolve himself of the guilt-ridden responsibility for his sister’s suicide. It is a guilt, drowned in alcohol and escaped by lies and illusion that can only be resolved by Blanche’s committal to an institution. Kowalczuk’s final descent is riveting, gut wrenching and possessed of pathos and we are left consumed with empathy for Blanche’s cruel fate. Kowalczuk’s Blanche is like a fiery comet blazing across Canberra’s theatrical sky.

Amy Kowalczuk as Blanche Dubois, Meaghan Stewart as Stella Kowalski

Meaghan Stewart’s performance of Stella perfectly captures the sister’s conflicting allegiance to the elder sister she loves and the common husband she adores. Stewart, usually associated with more brittle edged roles has in this sensitively nuanced performance demonstrated her versatility and honest interpretation of Stella’s foil to Blanche’s neurosis.  She too is drawn irrevocably into the conflicts that disrupt the earlier balanced and simple circumstances of her life. Her grief at Blanche’s removal at the end of the play, which she has instigated is heart breaking. Stewart excels at playing the guilt of her action and her eventual choice between her husband and child and her sister’s welfare.

Marlon Brando’s wail of remorse as he cries “Stella!” for forgiveness has been immortalized on film and in the western theatrical canon. It is the moment when Williams shows us that even this brutish, bestial man fights against his vulnerable nature. In Free Rain’s production Alex Hoskisson presents a performance that is compelling, dangerous and unpredictably volatile. Hoskisson’s brooding anger at the poker table as he loses at cards is a time bomb that can only be released in an explosive outburst of rage against any weakness. Hoskisson’s performance as Stanley is titanic. He is a creature of the flesh, instinctive, impulsive, both violent when aroused and sexually animalistic, untamed and almighty. “I am the king” he screams. And yet, Hoskisson captures the innate intelligence of Stanley with devastating consequence when he uncovers the truth of Blanche’s fantasies and the entitlement proscribed by the Napoleonic Code in the state of Louisiana. The hold that Hoskisson has on his audience is magnetic. We wait in curious anticipation for Stanley’s reaction, shocked by his violence against Stella and repulsed by his rape of Blanche.

Alex Hoskisson as Stanley. Meaghan Stewart as Stella

A Streetcar Named Desire is essentially a saga revolving around three family members. We are inextricably entwined in the performances of Kowalczuk’s Blanche, Stewart’s Stella and Hoskisson’s Stanley. However, Williams is too good a writer to ignore the characters that contribute to the drama that unfolds in Stanley and Stella’s plain New Orleans apartment. Every character is drawn by Williams to outline aspects of the three major characters’ story. Lachlan Ruffy’s Mitch is pivotal to Blanche’s prospect of salvation and inevitable decline. He is unwittingly her real life saviour who also condemns her to her damnation. Ruffy plays Mitch with naïve honesty that makes the character even more significant in the derailment of Blanche’s streetcar of desire to the track followed by the other streetcar Cemeteries.

Somes and Clelland have created an ensemble where every role is significant in contributing to Blanche’s final destination. Apartment owners Steve Hubbel (Tim Stiles) and Eunice Hubbel (Sarah Hull) are plain folk living out the lives of ordinary people – honest, hard-working and part of Stella and Stanley’s world. Pablo Gonzalez (Lachlan Elderton) offers a brief glimpse of New Orleans’ Latin American society. James Morgan gives a gauche performance as the young collector for the Evening Star who awkwardly confronts Blanche’s seductive wiles. The multicultural nature of the community is also depicted in the performances of Rina Onorato as the Mexican woman and Rica Oyollo and Mercy Lelei alternate in the role of a Negro woman. David Bennett and Olivia Wenholz arrive at the close of the play as the doctor and matron to take Blanche away. This tragic conclusion to Blanche’s  journey provides ironic comfort as she says “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers” leaving a wailing sister and the normal resumption of the usual poker game.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a tragedy of a time when there was no care for mental health sufferers or domestic abuse victims.  Free Rain’s illuminating and powerful production reminds us of the advances made since Blanche was committed and Stanley lashed out in anger. It is also Williams’s desperate plea for understanding, compassion and a better life. Free Rain’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire at ACT HUB stands tall upon the shoulders, professional and amateur that have gone before. I write this on the day that its all too brief season comes to a unanimously praised close. I can only hope that Free Rain’s highlight of Canberra’s theatrical year will be revived in the not too distant future  for all Canberra theatregoers to see.


Thursday, June 27, 2024

A Streetcar Named Desire


 A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams.  Free Rain Theatre at ACT Hub June 19-29 2024.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 26

Directed by Anne Somes
Associate Director: Dr Cate Clelland
Set Design: Dr Cate Clelland and Ron Abrahams
Costume Design: Fiona Leach; Lighting Design: Craig Muller
Sound Design: Neville Pye; Sound & Lighting Operator: Maggie Hawkins
Stage Manager: Maggie Hawkins
Vocal and Dialect Coach: Sarah Chalmers; Intimacy Co-ordinator: Karen Vickery
Marketing Director: Olivia Wenholz
Photography: Promotional – Janelle McMenamin; Production – Jane Duong

Cast:                                                            Ensemble:
Amy Kowalczuk as Blanche DuBois         James Morgan
Alex Hoskison as Stanley Kowalski          Mercy Lelei
Meaghan Stewart as Stella Kowalski         David Bennett    
Lachlan Ruffy as Harold Mitchell             Olivia Wenholz
Sarah Hull as Eunice Hubbel                     Rina Onorato
Tim Stiles as Steve Hubbel
Lachlan Elderton as Pablo Gonzales

“I don’t want reality” says Blanche DuBois in – perhaps – one of her more lucid moments.  What makes Free Rain’s production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire brilliant is how real Amy Kowalczuk makes that terribly disturbed character understandable; and how our empathy is engaged by Meaghan Stewart’s realisation of the impossibility of her sister’s situation.
Williams, of course, was the brilliant writer.  Perhaps a bit like Blanche he had his fantasies, calling himself “Tennessee” rather than Thomas Lanier Williams III (March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983), but then becoming considered, along with contemporaries Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller, one of the three foremost playwrights of 20th-century American drama.

Putting this all together I need a better word for the work of all the actors, designers, coaches, managers and directors in this StreetcarExquisite.  As in the best-cut jewellery, the natural brilliance is brought out in all the detailed facets.  In this play about the contrasting lives of the two sisters, Blanche and Stella DuBois, the horror of emotional collapse which Amy captures is matched by the struggle Meaghan reveals that we all must face in coming to terms with reality.

And only then do we see it is the same for the men, represented by the man full of self-entitlement, Stanley, whom Stella has married; and Mitchell, hoping for and seeking comfort in Blanche while having to compete with the Stanleys of the male world.

And then it is amazing to reflect on the surrounding figures: the next door neighbours; the poker players; the passers-by in the street, all played with just the right simple clarity by the ensemble members.

I had arrived on a freezing-cold night in a somewhat distant mood at the old wooden Hub.  I left positively excited at how such top quality drama could take me out of the immediate into such a warmer understanding of humanity.  

After that, there are more reasons to see the play and, I think, this production.  Though Free Rain is an amateur company, I would hope that a way can be found to extend the run of their A Streetcar Named Desire, or take it to other venues.  It would certainly suit my favourite intimate theatre, Ensemble, in Sydney.  It’s set would not need much adjustment there, and would also work on stages like the Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse.

The quality of the acting, voice work and movement is all at professional standard.  The fact that this is true of Canberra’s small theatre productions at ACT Hub, The Mill and Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre has been under discussion for a long time, suggesting that we should be touring companies out as well as touring companies in.  In recent times Jordan Best's Playhouse Creatures was taken to the 16th Mondial du Théâtre in Monaco, and toured in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, but it’s a long time now since Women on a Shoestring, when I was writing in 1999:

At the Crossroads, reviewed in The Canberra Times at its first presentation in February 1998, was described as "polished theatre from a longstanding, very experienced team, designed to be toured to city and country venues around Australia".  Based on stories gathered from people in the bush, the play tempered an examination of racist attitudes - through the experience of a middle-class country woman whose mother is Aboriginal - with clever use of humour, movement and song.  How has the tour gone, I wondered, as I sat down at the café in Gorman House to talk with the Women on a Shoestring: Camilla Blunden, Julie Ross and Chrissie Shaw.
[ ]

I’m almost an historical monument myself now, but I think the issues of male and female relationships, with some touching on male-male and female-female lived experiences, which are central to the 1947 play by Tennessee Williams, are as important to deal with today is they were then – especially when it comes to women’s emotional and intellectual stability under the new pressures of what is called ‘social’ media and our new understanding of ‘cohesive control’.

As a homosexual man himself (before the word  ‘gay’), and having a sister who may have been a model for Blanche, Williams’ plays are surely exemplary for wider presentation today.  There’s an interesting study at .

And finally, in our local community, this production has a fascinating twist.  How could it be possible that Amy Kowalczuk, whom I mentioned in reviewing her first directing work [ The Boys - ], - saying  that many will know her as Amy Dunham.  I must raise the possibility-of-bias flag, since I taught her parents, Kathleen Montgomery and Trevor Dunham, in the first drama class at Hawker College in 1976/77, when they directed, with Sue Richards, the first student written and directed show – a rock/folk musical Anna.  It’s great to see theatrical tradition continuing through the generations. – now has married into the Polish family Kowalczuk!

Not quite Tennessee Williams’ ‘Kowalski’?
Kowalczuk Name Meaning: Polish: patronymic from Kowal ‘blacksmith’.

So there is a special resonance when, in Streetcar, Stanley (what an English-sounding name) yells at Blanche in frustration that “Polish people are called Poles.  I am NOT a Polack.”  Which in Australia in 1947 would have been to call him a Wog.  Wogs in Australia have turned the insult on its head in recent times, as a joke.  Yet I remember, when performing, in 1965, Lick Jimmy, the next-door Chinese greengrocer in Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South, written in 1948, how the way my character was presented – though essentially sympathetically – as a bit of a joke because I couldn’t speak English.  My entrances, exits and returns were only because I had to use the Darcy’s toilet – with appropriate miming choreography.

In Free Rain’s production Alex Hoskison does a terrific job of making the deprecating insult a genuinely serious issue for Stanley Kowalski, as it should be today.  Yet it seems from the political use of anti-immigration sentiment that assumptions about social class and ethnic distinctions are not yet resolved.

In fact, the Poles in Williams’ American city seem to be as poor as the Irish in Ruth Park’s Surry Hills in Sydney in 1948.  Blanche can’t believe that her sister – born into the French slave-owning upper class of the Mississippi – could have married a Polack, even though she admits that their plantation property is ‘lost’.  It is Stanley who intelligently queries what has happened to the money, but Blanche can’t explain.  

So rather than see the play as a social-sexual psychological drama, you may see Blanche’s breakdown as the effect of social change bringing her down from seeing herself as part of French colonial aristocracy – an inevitable social change in an America which has just won World War II.

Stanley, then represents the new sense of self-entitlement that some would say is at the centre of the USA today.

What a play!  What a performance!  What a production success!

L to R: Meaghan Stewart as Stella Kowalski; Alex Hoskison as Stanley Kowalski
Lachlan Ruffy as Harold 'Mitch' Mitchell; Amy Kowalczuk as Blanche DuBois

Amy Kowalczuk as Blanche DuBois; Meaghan Stewart as Stella Kowalski
in A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Free Rain Theatre, Canberra 2024
Photos: Jane Duong







American Idiot. 

Music by Green Day. Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong. Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer. Musical arrangements and Orchestrations by Tom Kitt. Directed by Bradley McDowell. Musical directors Jen Hinton and Brigid Cummins. Choreographer Nathan Rutups. Costume design by Sammy Marceddo. Set design by Kyle Maley. Lighting design by Jacob Aquilina (Eclipse) Sound design by Telia Jansen (Eclipse) Properties master – Sarah Abramowski and Sophie Hope-White. Production Manager – Britt Lewis. Stage manager Rachel Laloz.

A Queanbeyan Players Production, The Q. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. June 20-29. Bookings: 02 6285 6290

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Let me say from the outset that Queanbeyan Player’s production of rock musical American Idiot is an absolute triumph. From the moment that the ensemble burst onto the stage in the title song the production explodes with the energy of youth pumping out their tribal cry for recognition in an alienating world. Every aspect of this hugely ambitious staging of Green Days’ rock opera for a modern generation is touched with brilliance.

Declan Pigram as St. Jimmy, John Whinfield as Johnny and Ensemble
Queanbeyan Players have been forging an enviable reputation in recent years but American Idiot takes their productions to a whole new level. Having said that this rock opera casts a shadow across a post 9/11 society. The youth have become disenfranchised and disenchanted. Three country lads Johnny (John Whinfield), Tunny (Darcy Kinsella) and Will (Zac Izzard) decide to escape from their fictional country town of Jingletown to the city for adventure and a new life.  Will learns that his girlfriend, Heather (India Cornwell) is pregnant and resentfully decides to remain in  Jingletown. Johnny falls in love with Whatsername (Shelby Holland), whom he sees on a street corner and succumbs to the influence of drug dealer St. Jimmy ( an insidious performance by Declan Pigram) and Tunny joins the army and is wounded in action. He ends up in a rehab hospital where he hallucinates about Extraordinary Girl ( an exquisite performance by Abigail Dunn). Eventually in a There’s no place like home epiphany the three young men find the support they seek back in Jingletown.

Sex Pistols meet Rent in this demolition of the American Dream. Director Bradley McDowell, musical directors Jen Hinton and Brigid Cummins and choreographer Nathan Rutups not only imbue this highly professional production with intuitive appreciation of Green Day’s accusation of  a nation that expects its people to believe in it when it won’t believe in them. It is the anger that erupts with dynamic force in Rutup’s choreography, the band’s expertly played performance, Kyle Maley’s set design and McDowell’s fiery, fluid direction. In a production charged with the fury and frustration of such numbers as American Idiot, Too Much Too Soon and  Letterbomb, there are also the gentler numbers of longing and reflection such as Johnny's’s Whatsername and When It’s Time. In a song of reconciliation and awareness, the company join Will, Tunny, Heather and St. Jimmy in Homecoming

Johnny (John Whinfield) and the Office Girls
Ultimately, American Idiot is a cautionary musical that resonated powerfully with the largely young audience in the Q theatre. At the close, guitarist Daniel Isherwood comes out and the company joins in with Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time After Time) The lyrics echo the experience that Johnny, Tunny and Will have gone through to arrive home in Jingletown.

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why

It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time It's something unpredictable
But in the end, it's right. I hope you had the time of your life

Darcy Kinsella as Tunny, Abigail Dunn as Extraordinary Girl
As the screams of delight rang through the audience and the clapping and cheering continued unabated, it was clear that the audience had had the time of their life. This production of American Idiot can rightly claim the jewel in Queanbeyan Players' crown.


BAND . Drums: Jen Hinton. Bass: Pete Jak. Guitar: James McPherson. Guitar: Jeremy Tsuei and Chris Bennie. Keyboard/Accordion: Brigid Cummins. Violin Bronwyn Potter. Viola: Zigi Yang/Mia Hughes/Pippa Newman. Cello: Nicki Philipse.

Pit singers: Valeria Arciniega Vidurrizaga (Swing). Tara Davidson/Remus Douglas/Benjamin Martin/ Shennia Spillane

Photos: Photox  Canberra Photography Service




Wednesday, June 26, 2024


Christopher Samuel Carroll (Raskolnikov) - PJ Williams (Inspector Porfiry)
 in The Street Theatre's production of "Crime and Punishment"

Written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Adapted by Marilyn Campbell-Lowe and Curt Columbus

Directed by Caroline Stacey – Lighting Design by Darren Hawkins

Set and Costume Design by Kathleen Kershaw – Sound Design by Kimmo Vennonen

Performance Coach (Josephine Gazard) Shelley Higgs.

Australian Premiere season at The Street Theatre, Canberra June 22nd to July 7th 2024.

Performance on 25th June reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Despite the intimate performance space of the Street’s Theatre Two, Caroline Stacey has managed an epic production of a work which demands the audience consider questions it might otherwise choose to dodge

Adapters Marilyn Campbell-Lowe and Curt Columbus have compressed Dostoyevsky’s novel into 90 minutes of intensely demanding narrative that argues questions around one person’s right to take the life of another.

The play focusses on an impoverished law student, Raskolnikov, who having self-justified his murder of a pawnbroker attempts to outwit a wily police inspector intent on having him confess to the murder.

Christopher Samuel Carroll, as Raskolnikov, captures exactly the right degree of arrogant insolence with his portrayal of a character who refuses to be bowed by his circumstances, and who, recognising that he has a worthy intellectual adversary in the wily Inspector Porfiry, relishes the cat-and-mouse aspect of their encounters.

Similarly PJ Williams, as Porfiry, balances gravitas with an occasional hint amusement while indulging himself in a game in which both are aware can only have one ending. Both actors offer masterly, finely honed performances to savour.  

Director Stacey has framed those encounters in a dark, brilliantly conceived production which strips away unnecessary detail to focus on Dostoyevsky’s powerful ideas.

These are presented as a series of verbal pas de deux punctuated by narrative incidents depicted in abstract episodes in which, surprisngly, Josephine Gazard appeared out of her depth portraying the female characters. 

Christopher Samuel Carroll (Raskolnikov) - Josephine Gazard (Sonia) in "Crime and Punishment"

The deceptively minimalist setting, designed by Kathleen Kershaw, effectively utilises the brick walls of the theatre space. Two separated rows of rostra, in front of which is strewn crunchy gravel, two chairs, a microphone on a stand and very few other items, are all that are needed for Stacey and her brilliant lighting and sound designers, Darren Hawkins, and Kimmo Vennonen to conjure up vivid impressions of Dostoyevsky’s gloomy Russian environment in which danger lurks in dank, foggy alleyways, where idealists and anarchists harangue crowds and shop-owners are murdered without mercy.

The resulting production is not only an impressive piece of theatre-making, and one that will reward audiences seeking mental challenge and stimulation, but also, for the theatrically curious, one which could serve as an enlightening introduction to the writings of Dostoyevsky. 

                                                      Images by Canberra Streets

      This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.

Monday, June 24, 2024





Lisa Simone  Keeper of the Flame

A Daughter’s Tribute to Dr. Nina Simone Big Band Concert. Festival Theatre. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 22 2024.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins 


What a way to end my Adelaide Cabaret Festival experience.!  It begins with the big bold sound of an all star 12 piece brass band accompanied by piano guitar and drums. It trumpets triumphantly forth before settling into the jazz rhythms of the Big Band era in homage to the era of Glen Miller and Nina Simone.. Smooth as silk, Lisa Simone slinks and sidles onto the stage. The cyclorama glows red as a backdrop to Simone’s haunting rendition of Miranda Lambert’s Keeper of the Flame. Simone is “walking in her mother’s footsteps, singing her old songs". Her mother blazed this trail she’s treading on. Lisa is the teller of the story, the keeper of the flame, for" the ones before her like fireflies in the rain.”

Lisa assumes her mother’s moniker of High Priestess of Soul, wearing Nina Simone’s mantle with love and pride to continue the fight for freedom and justice. From Pop to Gospel and backed by the rich full sound of the big band  Simone found her own true voice in the memory of her mother’s seductive  spell.

It is Lisa Simone’s bewitching guile and playful humour that sways the audience and lures them in to the web of homage through the songs her mother gave to the world. She pounds the rocks with her arms flailing at the chain gang  injustice of  Work Song . This contrasts with the beautiful spiritual faith of Take Me To The Water. The gospel sound continues with Nina Simone’s call to prayer, to survival and the hope for a better world. There is the desperation, the cowardice and the courage of All the  way down to the River. The High Priestess of Soul lives on in her daughter, who sings her mother’s songs with pride and the spirit of resolve.

“Are you ready to party?” Simone cries out. “Are you ready?”. The seductress of soul draws her audience to her and they respond with eager anticipation, clapping their hands, singing along with her, following her with their heads as Simone sings through the audience and holds them in awe as she holds a note that soars unleashed through the air. The sound transcends time, releasing the anguish, overcoming the pain and holding the audience in her thrall. Lisa Simone is the new generation. The haunting melody of introspection and search for identity in Nina Simone’s Who Am I? has found the answer in the daughter whose rousing talent and gift to music is her own.

Nina Simone’s legacy lives on in Lisa Simone’s soul stirring legacy. The lessons of struggle and pain become in Simone’s tribute the resilience and the resolve of a new generation, fired by the cries of the past. “I know who I am.” Simone tells the audience. She has become her mother’s legacy. The anguish of the blues is turned to defiance and confidence. It is a promise made by Simone at the start of the concert. It is a promise kept in the powerful rendition of Hold On with the audience chanting ”Hell!” in defiance. Simone keeps the legacy alive.

It is a legacy of hope and the audience leap to their feet, dancing in the rows to the big band sound and lush, powerful rendition of Feeling Good. Nina Simone’s legacy is a new dawn,, a new day, and a new life and Lisa Simone is feeling good.

Keeper of the Flame is a transformative experience. One views the world through a kaleidoscope of emotion, carried along by the stirring sounds of the big band and the rich seductive voice of the High Priestess of her mother’s legacy. The applause echoes through the theatre as the curtain falls on Lisa Simone’s unforgettable and transcendent tribute to the High Priestess of Soul, the great Nina Simone. The flame shines brightly in a daughter’s inspiring homage.