Saturday, November 28, 2015


Written By Tom Davis
Directed by Caroline Stacey
The Street Theatre to 29 November

Review by Len Power 22 November 2015

‘The Chain Bridge’ by Tom Davis involves a Hungarian family in Melbourne in 2010 dealing with the truth about life in Hungary during the Second World War and under Communist rule in the 1950s.  The mother believes the past should stay buried but the son wants to know what really happened.  In pushing for the truth, horrors emerge through flashbacks that test the relationships around him.

Imogen Keen has designed a spectacular set that uses the entire stage space of The Street theatre.  It looks exciting and imaginative but the setting often works against the staging of the play.  Many of these scenes get lost in the vast playing space and there are sound problems, too, when the cast are positioned at the back of the set.  In addition, the size of the set dwarfs the actors, making this a less involving experience than it should be.  Gillian Schwab’s lighting and Kimmo Vennonen’s startling sound effects work very well.

The play consists of many short scenes with the five actors playing multiple roles but always in the same costumes.  For example, the mother also plays herself as a child and her daughter-in-law plays the child’s mother.  Scenes often occur simultaneously with actors swapping back and forth between characters.  It’s an awkward device and confusing at times.

The actors do well, though.  Geraldine Turner is impressive as the mother who doesn’t want the truth to be heard.  Zsuzsi Soboslay and PJ Williams give strong performances as a Hungarian couple deeply involved with the family and Kate Hosking and Peter Cook give very real performances as the young couple.

Caroline Stacey’s work with the actors’ characterisations is fine but at over two and a half hours the script needs severe cutting.  There’s good writing in the 2010 dinner sequences and the conflict of interest between the older generation of people coming from the horrors of war and oppression and their children who want to know what really happened is a great subject for a play.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM’s ‘Artcetera’ program from 9am Saturdays.


Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula.

Directed by Michelle Higgs. Presented by Craig Alexander in association with The Street. Studio Two. The Street Theatre. November 27 – 29  2015

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Every now and again one comes across an ingenious, funny, poignant and original idea that makes one think, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” Tom Mula’s tale  of Jacob Marley’s quest to redeem the apparently irredeemable Ebenezer Scrooge is such a work. Of course, we know from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future are the agents of Scrooge’s redemption, but did we know that it was Jacob Marley, who signed the contract to ensure his own redemption and escape the ghoulish caverns of Hell. Such is the premise of Tom Mula’s engrossing Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.
Craig Al;exander as Jacob Marley in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Banished to an eternity in Hell, the tortured, dead former business partner of Scrooge signs a contract to take on the seemingly impossible task of changing the intractable Scrooge. He is allotted only twenty four hours to achieve his goal and release the pendulous chains that weigh him down with every link of his miserably penurious life. He is accompanied on his mission by Bogle, a mischievous hell sprite with a sly will to see Marley fail in his quest. In a stroke of cunning ingenuity, Marley inhabits the familiar spirits that visit Scrooge, and lead him towards enlightenment.

Mula has channelled the spirit of Dickens to tell a story, colourful in its tapestry of characters, rich in its vivid prose and thoroughly engaging in its dramatic construct. Mula is the consummate storyteller, spinning his yarn with a thread that winds through the fires of hell to the dome of St. Paul, the counting house of Scrooge and Marley and the prophetic sites of the spirits. Marley’s foreboding intensity is deliciously counterpoised  by Bogle’s impish cat and mouse Puckish playfulness.

Craig Alexander as Jacob Marley in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol poses an actor’s Leviathan challenge. Craig Alexander and director Shelley Higgs have chosen to perform the solo version of Mula’s play. Alexander is faced with the daunting task of playing all characters, plummeting at times to the depths of despair while navigating the treacherous course of his emotional rapids. In the intimate confines of the Street Theatre’s Studio Two, Alexander’s performance is electric, magnetic in its intensity, mercurial in its humour and relentless in its forceful energy. Mula’s two act tour de force demands of an actor exhausting versatility, vibrant imagination, physical endurance and keen intelligence served by a vivid imagination. In Alexander, Mula’s demands are fully realized in a performance that will have audiences captivated by an outstanding stortyteller actor. There is at times the risk of a driving energy that knows no respite, and only very occasionally does Alexander take pause to let the effect linger.  Marley’s account of his own abusive father offers a moment of deeply moving sentiment but bullroaring bluster can at times abuse the sensitivity of a moment. Reflection can offer pause to contemplate. This small quibble notwithstanding, Alexander offers a performance not to be missed.

Quite remarkable in this production is the use of light as a leitmotif in Marley’s search for salvation of his own soul and the redemption of Scrooge’s miserly, inhumane past. Suitcases hide moments of illuminating magic, while candles flicker and fade at will to reveal moments of awareness or the dark and frightening abyss of human failing. Alexander operates the lights as an integral part of the action in a setting of suitcases, ladder and lights designed to create an eminently tourable show.
Craid Alexander as The Bogle in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol

Audiences should be aware that this production offers a darker insight into Dicken’s immortal Christmas tale, but Mula has interwoven the spellbinding appeal of Dicken’s story into his original and clever conceit. We should all be comforted by the fact that Marley, too, though seven years dead, may also be afforded redemption, as may we all if only we too may listen to the spirits, ignore the sprites and deserve the words of Tiny Tim “God Bless Us, Everyone.” Yes, Tom Mula’s play also has a moral, but then what is a good fable without a good moral, and Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol is a jolly good fable.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Written by Tom Mula

Directed by Shelly Higgs

Street Theatre 27-29 November 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

As performed in this production, Tom Mula’s award winning play recounting the Dickens Scrooge story from the point of view of Marley’s ghost seemed to have lost something in translation and failed to engage on opening night.

The concept for this production was as a “show in a suitcase”, with the premise being that everything used, including lights, sound and set pieces could all fit in a suitcase and be easily set up in a variety of performance spaces.

Craig Alexander in "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol"

The performance began promisingly with the audience entering the theatre to discover actor, Craig Alexander, casually arranging and adjusting props in a circular area marked out on the floor by candles, stacked suitcases, a ladder and some theatre lights.

Nothing about the setting, or Alexander’s costume, suggested Dickens, but theatrical magic had been promised, so this added to the anticipation.

As the audience settled in their seats, Alexander engaged some in conversation, setting up a casual atmosphere. When all were settled he gently segued into his story, switching out the auditorium lights to let his special lighting take over.

Adopting a variety of voices and accents to differentiate characters, Alexander incorporated small torches and other props into the performance. Unfortunately these props were not sufficiently well handled to provide the expected magic or create atmosphere.

As the show progressed, it became increasingly clear that managing the lighting and props was distracting Alexander from his performance which soon lapsed into coarse acting with rushed, shouted lines, wildly varying accents, and undisciplined movement with little of the finesse and polish necessary to make a one-man show memorable.

Therefore, experiencing difficulty engaging with any of the characters, the story, or indeed, the production, which surprisingly captured little of the expected Dickensonian period or sensibility, this reviewer took advantage of the interval to escape.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Art Song Canberra
Louise Page, Soprano
Phillipa Candy, Piano
Caitlin McAnulty, Oboe
Rachel Best-Allen, Clarinet
Wesley Music Centre, Forrest 22 November

Review by Len Power 22 November 2015

With the theme of  'Dance, Sing, Love, Live!', you would expect a program of great variety and that's just what Canberra soprano, Louise Page, gave us in Artsong Canberra's latest Sunday afternoon concert.

Ranging from Canteloube to Delibes, Mahler, Berlioz and others, the chosen songs gave Louise Page every opportunity to show the full range and colour of her voice.

Whether singing joyously or with strong emotion, Louise Page gives full weight to the intent of a song as well as singing every note with great clarity and precision.  The intense emotion of the opening number, ‘Song Of Happiness’ by Berlioz was perfectly captured and the well-known ‘Bolero’ from ‘Songs Of the Auvergne’ was sung with great feeling.  By contrast, Delibes’ ‘The Girls Of Cadiz’ was delightfully humorous.  The rapture displayed at the end of the Strauss song 'Secret Invitation' was especially moving as was her singing of a second highly emotional Strauss song, ‘A Dedication’.  The highlight of the concert was the presentation of songs by Australia’s Calvin Bowman, especially her delicate singing of the haunting, ‘Words By The Water’.

For an encore, Louise Page delighted us with a flirtatious and sexy ‘My Kisses Are So Hot’ (with real kisses for some lucky audience members) from Franz Lehar’s ‘Giuditta’.

The accompaniment on piano by Phillipa Candy was excellent and there was sublime additional accompaniment by Caitlin McAnulty on oboe and Rachel Best-Allen on clarinet in the selections from ' Songs of the Auvergne'.

Once again Artsong Canberra provided a perfect afternoon's musical entertainment.

This review was first published in Canberra City News Digital Edition 23 November 2015.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM’s ‘Artcetera’ program from 9am Saturdays.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Presented by QL2 Dance

QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre

November 21st and 22nd 2015           

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

“Hot to Trot” is an annual showcase of new works created by Quantum Leap dancers, for which selected dancers with choreographic ambitions are each provided with the facilities and support necessary to create and produce a contemporary dance work which is then given two performances before a paying audience. The choreographers must choose and train their dancers, source costumes and music, consider lighting design, write program notes and schedule their rehearsals so that their work is delivered on time. After each performance opportunity is provided for audience members to comment and question the choreographers and dancers about the works presented.

Although a polished product is expected, and the choreographic choices and execution is limited by the ability and experience of the young participants, it’s the process that is important, and the results are often startling in their originality and sophistication.

This year the choreographers were inspired by some unlikely topics like atomic forces, fractals, meditation and the refraction of light. How well their works realised these inspirations provided a fascinating program of 10 original dance works.

Among the more successful was a delightful duet called “Ember” danced by the creators, Ruby Ballantyne and Milly Vanzwol, which attempted to explore in dance terms,  the different ways light refracts, reflects and absorbs.

An eye-catching dancer, Ballantyne appeared again with Caspar Ilschner and Nasim Patel, in a cheerful little piece by Jason Pearce called “What are You Waiting For” which explored how people move and react while waiting, and in perhaps the most original work of the evening, “9.81 metres per second” choreographed by Ilschner and Jack Clements inspired by contrasting aspects of gravity.

Ursula Taylor composed her own soundscape to accompany her work “Feeding line” for which she used a large wooden cube to explore the interactions of individuals. Walter Wolffs incorporated ropes, plastic toys and silver balls for his playful piece, “Snowflakes” which focussed on the mathematical phenomenon of fractals. 

Abstract projections featured in Caroline De Wan’s interesting piece, “Something That’s Not” exploring altered states of consciousness, a topic also explored by Ayla Scholtz with her cleverly fragmented work “Mind over Matter”.

Elyse Lenehan tackled self- image for her work for three dancers, “The Norm?”, while Nasim Patel rounded out the program with his ambitious work “Recess” for which he worked with six dancers to create a playful work focussed on memories of childhood.

Lighting, costume and music choices for each of the works were intelligent and appropriate, and given the limited time available to each choreographer to prepare and rehearse their piece, the standard reached in the execution of the works was impressive.

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 23.11.15  

The Chain Bridge- The Street Theatre

Review by John Lombard

Script by Tom Davis. Directed by Caroline Stacey.

Few people in real life host dinner parties so they confront their guests with accusations - at the very least, it is extremely bad manners. Even so, historian Imre (Peter Cook) and his wife Sarah (Kate Hosking) do just this with Imre's mother Eva (Geraldine Turner) and her close friends Jozef and Katalin (PJ Williams and Zsuszi Soboslay), inviting the three survivors of World War 2 Hungary over for bad soup and a vicious interrogation on just how they survived not only the Nazis but the Communists.

An even half-alert audience member is aware that if Eva and her friends don't talk about their experiences in these harrowing "bloodlands", it is probably because the truth is too brutal and horrible and degrading to reveal over bad fish soup. Nonetheless, Imre is a zealot, hounding his mother with the rigour of a prosecuting attorney, pouncing ferociously whenever her story does not quite match the few surviving documentary records.

The script works hard to give Imre a lot of motivation to coax the truth from his mother. First, he is a struggling academic, and the book he is writing about her experiences could make his reputation and career. Second (and more implausibly) he and his wife have been engaged in a longstanding debate over the nature of truth, and his mother telling all just might save their slightly frayed marriage. On a more deep level, Imre's mother was a "bad" one and he is struggling to save his own life by finding out what traumas stripped her of her ability to give him love.

Eva is a fabulist, filching scraps of other people's stories and inventing a heroic past for her family to replace the tawdry and dismal one they left behind. She is also worn out, reduced to the role of carping mother-in-law who joylessly criticises husband and wife for their many inadequacies. A tantalising glimpse of her years before, early in Imre's romance with Sarah, reveals a much softer woman, suggesting that her souring may be shockingly recent - perhaps she has wilted because of her son's blooming hatred.

In the end, the truth about Eva comes out, and we also learn that Imre was keeping secrets of his own. Importantly, we only have one brief glimpse of Imre's childhood: we never have enough evidence to say whether Eva really was a bad mother, although we can understand how her experiences might have stripped her of her ability to love. There is a mystery at the heart of the script, and the final scenes makes us question whether the events we saw really happened. Did Eva tell the truth? Did this night of confrontation and revelation really happen?

The play is fascinated with how people experience horrors but somehow are able to find the strength to endure them and even thrive. Elderly couple Katalin and Jozef are in the throes of lifelong romance, still singing and dancing and loving each other with fervour into old age. They have secrets of their own, but somehow they have not been swallowed by them. P. J. Williams and Zsuzsi Sobolay are delightful as this joyful couple - and form a vivid contrast with the bitter Eva - but the script is humane enough to show us that Eva's heartlessness is not entirely her own fault.

Finally the characters reach a mutual conclusion: "fuck history". However that is not the response the audience is likely to have, because the more the truth is revealed the more we connect with the characters. This is close to Imre's initial thesis that what is important in history is empathy and understanding - a thesis that is, strangely enough, the opposite of his actual actions during the play.

The recurring symbol of the fish soup is closer to the play's message: Imre meticulously dictate the recipe followed by his mother, but somehow the soup always comes out bad. Only when Imre and Katalin take over and add what's not written down does it come out right.  What's written down may be rigorously true, but we are wise to be alert to silences as well.

Even if Imre is destined to go on making bad soup, this play has all the right ingredients - a stunning cast, a strong script and excellent staging create a powerful, thought-provoking experience.

Don't Dress For Dinner

Don’t Dress For Dinner.

 Written by Marc Camoletti. Adapted by Robin Hawdon Directed by Walter Learning. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. November 21 - December 5 2015.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Monique Dyson as Jacqueline. Peter Holland as Bernard. Michelle Cooper as
Suzanne in Canberra Rep's Don't Dress For Dinner.


Canadian director Walter Learning returns to Canberra to direct Canberra Rep’s final production for 2015. In keeping with an enviable and popular tradition of ending the year’s programme with a comedy, audiences are treated to Marc Camoletti’s French farce, Don’t Dress For Dinner, guaranteed to make the belly shake with laughter and set your mind spinning through a tangled web of deception, misconception, bumbling evasion and back-peddling explanation. Learning’s tightly directed and expertly timed production ensures an evening of hilarity and mirth with careful observation of the essential elements of farce: quicksilver timing, buffoonery and clowning, slapstick and physical exaggeration. Rep’s production has all this and more. The improbable becomes probable, the lie becomes the truth and none is whom they seem until it all becomes unravelled and the audience is led down another path of absurd probabilities.
Michelle Cooper as Suzanne. Robert De Fries as Robert.
Natalie Waldron as Suzette in Don't Dress For Dinner

Good farce is defined by its plot and situation. Bernard (Peter Holland) has arranged for his mistress Suzanne (Michelle Cooper) to visit while his wife Jacqueline (Monique Dyson) is at her mother’s. Jacqueline learns that their Best Man, Robert, is also coming, and feigns illness to continue her secret affair with Robert (Robert de Fries). Suzette (Natalie Waldron) arrives from the Bon Appetit Agency to cook a birthday meal for Suzanne and Bernard. Bernard convinces her to pretend to be Robert’s mistress. Suzanne arrives and is talked into playing the role of the cook. And the rest is farcical mayhem and madness as characters weasel and worm their way through a maze of twists and turns in which they change identities and stories. Robin Hawdon’s adaptation of Camoletti’s ingeniously convoluted sequence of events remains true to the fierce pace and absurdity of the farce, challenging an audience to keep up with the sudden shifts in the plot.

Robert De Fries and Natalie Waldron in
Don't Dress For Dinner
Learning has assembled a strong cast for Don’t Dress For Dinner. He is particularly fortunate to have two of Rep’s comic stalwarts in the roles of Bernard and Robert. Holland and De Fries bounce off each other with split second timing. From droll to demonic; from triumph to terror, these two masters of the double take and comical timing lend the production a turbine thrust forward. Camoletti’s female characters are less well developed and the three female actors make the most of their roles, which do little more than serve the action, driven largely by Holland’s Basil Faulty -like Bernard. Waldron in the role of the coquettish, opportunistic Suzette is someone to watch out for in the future, and there is a strong cameo performance from Daniel McCusker as Suzette’s bewildered husband, George.
Robert De Fries and Peter Holland in Don't Dress For Dinner

Don’t Dress for Dinner is what a Rep audience could expect from Canberra’s longest running, well established and highly respected repertory company. The production values, evidenced in Andrew Kay’s professionally created renovated barn setting, are high. Performances are engaging and the production in the hands of a professional director ensures the success of the farce. Rep has hit on a perfect precursor to the Festive Season and if laughter is the best medicine, then Don’t Dress For Dinner is the ideal remedy for the furrowed frown.
An edited version of this review was published in The Canberra Times on November 24th. 2015