Monday, February 20, 2017

The Mystery of Love & Sex

The Mystery of Love & Sex by Bathsheba Doran.  Darlinghurst Theatre Company at Eternity Theatre, Sydney, February 10 – March 12, 2017.

Director – Anthony Skuse; Production Designer – Emma Vine; Lighting Designer – Verity Hampson; Sound Designer – Alistair Wallace.

Cast:  Contessa Treffone – Charlotte; Thuso Lekwape – Jonny; Deborah Galanos – Lucinda; Nicholas Papademetriou – Howard.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 19

The Mystery of Love and Sex is a romantic comedy, strictly following the traditional structure of girl meets boy, vicissitudes threaten the relationship, but love conquers all in the end.  With an interesting twist.

We see only four characters on stage. 

 New York Jew, Howard, with all the conventional mannerisms and mother fixation that Jewish men are all supposed to have.  He writes crime fiction for a living, in which the characters he creates break all the modern politically correct attitudes towards women, black people and homosexuals.  Father of Charlotte and subject of literary research by Jonny.
 Southern Belle, Lucinda, mother of Charlotte, who remembers exactly the last time – years ago – when she and Howard had sex, because he broke off part way through having forgotten a phone number to do with his writing career.  She now (Charlotte and Jonny are young adults in college) drinks and smokes, undermines Howard in public and wants to escape.
 Charlotte (white) and Jonny (black) became friends at the age of nine.  We see them at college age, and then in their mid-twenties, when the twist in their story becomes revealed and resolved behind the scenes at the marriage ceremony – in which Charlotte is marrying a woman and Jonny is in a regular relationship with a man.

So Jonny becomes Charlotte’s best man at the wedding, despite all the misunderstandings, including a physical fight between Howard and Jonny, when Jonny’s literary research is published online and reveals the nature of Howard’s fictional characters – implying that Howard is sexist, racist and homophobic.

Does it all work on stage? 

Not entirely for me, but this may be because I have just reviewed another unusual romantic comedy, the new play by David Williamson, Odd Man Out (on this blog February 9, 2017).  He, like Bathsheba Doran, has made his play about an issue of modern concern – the treatment of people with Asperger’s Syndrome – but whereas I could characterise Odd Man Out as an ‘empathetic comedy’ which brought me to tears, of both sympathy and joy in the resolution of the couple’s relationship, I didn’t have this kind of feeling at the end of The Mystery of Love & Sex.

I think Bathsheba Doran wanted me to feel this, about the mistreatment of both Charlotte and Jonny – even from when they were nine and other children rejected them as their sexual orientations became apparent (even if not to themselves until after they had time apart in their twenties).  I think the difference between the plays is in the writing of the dialogue and the intentions of the authors.

Williamson presented the surrounding family and friends of his woman character, Alice, as Doran did for Charlotte, and a stylised form of staging was used in both plays.  Both plays were also performed in small theatres – Eternity and the Ensemble – which made for direct close-up communication with the audiences, and characters in both plays on occasions spoke directly to us in telling the background story.

But Williamson kept our focus tightly on Alice and Ryan, gradually building our understanding of the issue and allowing us to identify strongly with the thoughts and feelings of both throughout the vicissitude phases of the relationship.  We wanted them to find a way to come together, even though when they finally achieved success we knew that the future would never be easy for them.

Charlotte’s and Jonny’s story became split too far into its several elements – Lucinda’s needs as a woman in a conventional heterosexual relationship; Howard’s seeing himself as a victim, being Jewish, similar in his mind to Jonny’s situation as a black man; Jonny’s understandable fear of coming out as a gay man, even to Charlotte when she wanted sex with him; Jonny’s determination to expose truth as an academic; Charlotte’s confusion about her feelings towards Jonny at the same time as feeling attraction and love for other women, as well as her need to be reconciled with her mother and father.

Though there were very funny scenes, especially centred on Howard’s Woody Allen-like constant need to explain everything, and the very cleverly performed nude scenes by Contessa Treffone and Thuso Lekwape, there were other scenes which dropped out of comedy into what we seemed to be expected to take as straight reality.  Howard’s and Jonny’s violence seemed quite outside either of their characters (even though in theory this might be explained by their internalised fears), while the bickering between Lucinda and Howard, for example, turned into a different side-story of their bitterness which also had to be resolved – at least to some degree in a sweet tickling episode between mother and daughter and by Howard's giving his daughter the perfect wedding dress – so that by the end of the play Charlotte's relationships with Lucinda and her father could both end on a positive note.

So the play ends up being too ‘bitty’, and the dialogue too often a kind of display – whereas Williamson kept to a single thread which allowed the dialogue to be felt more deeply.  Doran’s play kept me at a distance, while Williamson’s drew me in.

The symbolism of the off-level set and an upside down tree was right for this out-of-kilter play, and so was the choreographed style of acting.  Though Eternity is a great little theatre, reminiscent of The Q in Queanbeyan, its acoustics struggled a bit with the women’s high-pitched loud Southern accents bouncing around, while at the other end of the scale the soft rounded tones of the self-deprecating gay descendant of slaves – Jonny in much of the first act – could often be hard to follow.

So though I enjoyed the performance and certainly recommend this production and the play for presenting a different take on some of the mysteries of love and sex, perhaps because I am not an American I missed a quieter approach with more depth of humour that could bring out the emotions more fully.  Of course, Bathsheba Doran is not herself American, having grown up and been educated in Britain, but is now based in New York.  So for a different point of view than mine, please read the New York Times review by Charles Isherwood at

Friday, February 17, 2017

Manchester by the Sea


 Review by © Jane Freebury

It is no small irony that the main character in Manchester by the Sea is a dependable handyman who can fix anything and everything. The problems that daily life present him with, like blocked drains and snowbound porches, are relatively simple and straightforward, requiring a bit of brawn and stoicism. 

It’s when it comes to dealing face-to-face with clients that Lee (Casey Affleck) has difficulties. A blocked cistern or a leaky tap may be nothing compared with a testy female client looking for offence, or another one trying to flirt with him. Clients can be rude and demanding, or charming and welcoming but whatever they do, they get the same stony response. Over a series of interactions, we see that Lee has a bit of a problem. It comes into sharp focus when he throws a punch at strangers at a bar, for little apparent reason, a chilling reminder of the one-punch phenomenon that has emerged in recent years.

Life suddenly becomes complicated for Lee when his older brother dies prematurely. Joe (Kyle Chandler) succumbs to heart failure, leaving behind his teenage son, his only child, in Lee’s care. Sixteen-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is a bolshy pain in the neck, if ever there was one, who believes he has all rights and no responsibilities. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Patrick. Is he obnoxious because he can’t grieve properly for his dad? Maybe. Either way, it turns out that both he and Lee have trouble managing their emotions in dealing with pain and loss.

I’ve read that the idea for this film was taken to Kenneth Lonergan, the screenwriter and director, by some high-profile friends of his in the business, including Matt Damon, with the request that he work on it and make it his own. Giving an emotionally traumatized young man the guardianship of a nephew who needs him is a great idea. When Patrick comes to understand that he can’t be close again with the mother (Gretchen Mol) who left the family years before, he sees that his Uncle Lee is all he has. Lee is it.

As the circumstances behind Lee’s withdrawal from the world are revealed, it is heart rending. He is broken and he can’t fix himself. Every now and then you hear about a trauma like this, and you wonder how the survivors could ever get over it. When Lee meets his former wife Randi (Michelle Williams) again, she has begun to rebuild. His own predicament is etched in stone.
Around ten years have passed since the family tragedy, and Lee still cannot move on. Will he heal eventually, the film asks? Lonergan, who has said he wanted to explore the limits to healing, hasn’t put a creative foot wrong.

Manchester by the Sea is a fine film that has been garlanded with awards and critical acclaim. As it didn’t speak to me as strongly as I expected it to, I’ve come to think that I needed to hear more from Lee, some of the inarticulate speech of his troubled heart. Even though the obvious point is that he cannot express or reach out, more of his inner life would have served the film well, with less of the reactive violence and more of Lee the person from screenwriter Lonergan. The filmmaker has the language—he is the son of psychiatrists—and co-wrote Analyze This, incidentally, the hilarious comedy with Robert de Niro and Billy Crystal as the mafioso and his psychiatrist. Lonergan had wonderful actors in Affleck and Williams. It would have worked.

The Massachusetts fishing village that serves as the landscape of a young man’s inner life, seems to be in a state of permafrost. I wonder how the community of Manchester by the Sea feels about this bleak tale of grief and loss that has brought it to everyone’s attention. It’s too bad that we never get to see the place in summer, but that would not have been true to the emotional arc of Lee’s journey. 

4 Stars

Also published at Jane's blog


Opening Concert of 21st National Multicultural Festival
Sarv Ensemble
Miriam Lieberman
Chinese Orchestra of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theatre
Presented by Ausfeng
Llewellyn Hall 16 February 2017

Review by Len Power 
The opening concert at Llewellyn Hall for the 21st National Multicultural Festival was packed full of extraordinary artists making stirring, unusual and enjoyable music.

The concert began with the Sarv Ensemble, which was established in Australia in 2001 as a band of professional Iranian musicians. They presented five items which were dynamic and very interesting musically.  To be able to watch these artists playing instruments unfamiliar to us and hear the variation in sounds they can produce and combine together with vocals by Maliheh Moradi was musically very pleasing.

They were followed by Miriam Lieberman, a singer songwriter with a very distinctive voice who also plays the Kora, a 21-string West African harp.  Her songs seamlessly blend contemporary folk with West African influences and are in essence a collection of stories, beautifully told through strings, powerful lyrics and her emotive voice.  Also playing with her were violinist Lara Goodridge and cellist Kate Adams.  Dancer, Lucky Lartey, added his own magic to the performance with his charming dancing to the songs.

After interval, the Chinese Orchestra of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theatre took to the stage with conductor, Hongxia.  The orchestra uses a combination of western and eastern instruments including the sheng, an ancient flute, the liuqin mandolin, the guzheng, a Chinese zither, and the gaohu and erhu, sometimes referred to as ‘the Chinese fiddle’.

They commenced with a dynamic work called ‘Jasmine Flower’.  The large orchestra played with great discipline and clarity.  This was followed by an Erhu concerto, ‘The Great Wall Capriccio’ with the soloist giving a very sensitive performance of this lyrical work.

Singer, Yafen sang two songs ‘Beautiful Taihu Lake’ and ‘The Mountain and streams’.  Her crystal clear voice was both beautiful and haunting, soaring over the orchestra magnificently.

On the guzheng, the soloist superbly played ‘Dancing Ink’  a melodic and atmospheric work and this was followed by the highlight of the evening, a Chinese Bamboo Flute Concerto, ‘Lovers’ Bridge in South China’.  Flautist Ma Yunhe played brilliantly and this melodic work was a joy to listen to.  All of the female soloists wore spectacularly beautiful dresses which added to this glittering occasion.

This was a very exciting concert and a perfect start for this year’s Multicultural Festival.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program from 9am on Saturdays and also on other selected Artsound programs.

Always... Patsy Cline - The Q

Review by John Lombard

A tale of two jes' folks - Always... Patsy Cline travels back to the heyday of the honky-tonk for an affectionate tribute to the country music legend (Courtney Conway a very chic Patsy Cline), viewed through the eyes of her number one fan, divorced mum of two Louise (Mandi Lodge).

The script by Ted Swindley (also original director, although this production has been helmed by Denny Lawrence) splits the show between Conway's soulful recreation of Patsy Cline's signature tunes and comic patter from Lodge's gauche and obsessive but good-hearted fan.

Louise first spots Patsy Cline on morning TV and plonks down next to her kids to gape at the young, pretty and talented singer.  As a tough and hardy woman she sees her own life experience expressed by Patsy, in the way that great musicians can speak for us better than we can for ourselves.  She immediately begins to bombard the local radio station with music requests and when her idol comes to town on tour she pounces at the chance to meet her hero.

Of course, in a fairy-tale development the unlikely pair become fast friends, a situation more charming because it is difficult to imagine happening today with megastars like Kanye or Adele - well, maybe with Tay Tay.  But with Patsy Cline at the cusp of fame and a more innocent 50s setting the fairy-tale becomes believable.

Early on the script establishes that Louise is smart, tough and accomplished, and this means that while she is a figure of fun it is not of contempt.  In Louise's own words, "fool I am and a fool I shall always be".  Lodge plays her with a mincing skip and a lot of brass - outrageous, zestful and indefatigable.

For much of the show Louise speaks for Patsy, lathering on her many virtues, while Cline is strangely distant and doll-like, especially after she sheds her cowgirl duds for a succession of trim and tailored frocks.  Louise informs us that they tell each other their darkest secrets and form a deep friendship, but we never hear the details, except that Patsy unfurls some of her marriage problems.

A serious take on the situation would have untangled some knotty and interesting issues, especially since Conway's idealised Cline seems to leap straight off the television and into Louise's kitchen.  Is this just a performer putting on a persona for an enthusiastic fan?  Does Louise invest too much in Pasty Cline, and by extension are we too celebrity-mad?

But for a tribute show the tone is adroitly judged, with Louise savvy enough to know that when they part after two days of adventures that the celebrity will probably not keep in touch.  When Louise does get letters and phone calls from the genuinely friendly country star, it feels like a reward for her restraint and nous.

Courtney Conway believably covers Patsy Cline, finding the singer's toughness and practicality that invests even the songs of heartbreak with a sense of resilience and endurance.  With Louise slipping down into the audience to cavort, the line between the tables watching the show and the honky-tonk on stage was delightfully blurred.  The sparse but effective set with a microphone, mini-jukebox, and period kitchen table and window perfectly evoked the era.  The band were also lively, with Louise forcing the drummer to keep an appropriate country tempo by mime a particular comic highlight.

Always... Patsy Cline is everything a fan could want from a tribute, a better than real memory of a great singer.  The real Patsy Cline was not seen on stage, only hinted at, but by having Louise as the lens through which we view her the show provides a fresh twist on the dead famous person genre. 

Mandi Lodge delights us with her humour and Courtney Conway moves us with her singing, a double act greater than the sum of its parts - an immensely charming salute to Patsy Cline.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

RESTLESS GIANT: Changing cultural values in regional Australia - Media Release February 1, 2017

RESTLESS GIANT: Changing cultural values in regional Australia by Lindy Hume

Regional launches of RESTLESS GIANT: Changing cultural values in regional Australia  are being held at:

Candelo – 3 February 6.30pm – Candelo General Store, 48 William Street, Candelo
Bundaberg – 7 February 6pm – Moncrieff Entertainment Centre, 177 Bourbong St, Bundaberg
Lismore – 9 February 5.30pm – Lismore City Hall, 1 Bounty Street, Lismore
Ballarat – 20 February 6.30pm – Helen M. Smith Theatre, Arts Academy, Camp St, Ballarat
Warragul – 21 February 6.30pm – West Gippsland Arts Centre, Albert/Smith Street, Warragul

CANBERRA – 23 February 12.30pm – Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra - Lindy Hume, with Currency Press Founder Katharine Brisbane
Bathurst – 28 February 5pm – BMEC Bathurst, 105 William Street, Bathurst 

All welcome. Free. Essential to book through local venues.

To celebrate the fiftieth edition of its quarterly voice of the arts sector, Currency House turns to the cultural promise of rural and regional Australia.

In a landmark Platform Paper No. 50, celebrated opera and festival director Lindy Hume traces the rise of an assertive, rebellious counter-urban movement ready to make a profound impact on our national culture.

Throughout February Lindy Hume will speak about her findings with local arts leaders in public forums in regional centres from Bundaberg to Warragul. 

Regional Australia, says Hume, is no longer just the site of colourful country yarns about place or passive audiences waiting for touring city companies.

A rural-based artist herself, Hume challenges the historic mindset that regards ‘regional’ as inferior to ‘metropolitan’ and proposes that our national cultural landscape and narrative could be so much richer for the amplification of the distinctive, eloquent voices of artists from regional Australia.

In RESTLESS GIANT: Changing cultural values in regional Australia, Hume shows how a fresh perspective has inspired bold performance work and how a better integration between regional and metropolitan arts ecosystems could reshape Australia’s cultural identity.

She celebrates the experience of the counter-urban artist – the conscious decision to live and create in regional Australia, away from the city’s white noise – and explores some of the barriers, not least the huge resource imbalance, preventing regional artists from contributing more to the national conversation.

Lindy Hume has served as artistic director for the Sydney Festival and the Perth International Arts Festival and is director of Opera Queensland where the integration of city and regional arts is her special focus. An internationally renowned director, she has chaired the boards of South East Arts and Regional Arts NSW.

Lindy is available for spirited interviews, and Media is welcome to review or extract her new Platform Paper.

Media enquiries to Martin Portus at or 0401 360 806.

Posted by Frank McKone


Directed by Denny Lawrence
Created and originally directed by Ted Swindley
Christine Harris & HIT Productions
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan
Playing in the Bicentennial Hall, Queanbeyan to 18 February

Review by Len Power 15 February 2017

Patsy Cline, the American country singer, had a tragically short career, dying in a plane crash in 1963.  Her hit songs including ‘Crazy’, ‘I Fall to Pieces’, ‘Sweet Dreams’ and ‘Walking After Midnight’ still resonate with music lovers around the world.

According to the publicity, ‘Always…Patsy Cline’ is based on a true story about Cline’s friendship with a fan from Houston named Louise Seger, who befriended the star in a Texas honky-tonk in 1961, and continued a correspondence with Cline until her death.  In this show, there is very little insight into Patsy Cline, the person, and there’s far too much about the fan.

Patsy Cline is played by Courtney Conway who has very few lines of dialogue but sings the Cline songs to perfection.  It’s worth seeing the show just for her performance of the songs.

Mandi Lodge, playing the fan, Louise Seger, gives an over the top and irritating performance with a hint of desperation about it.  To be fair, the script by Ted Swindley doesn’t give her much to work with in the first place and maybe Lodge is over-compensating as a result.  Her character is a clichéd loud-mouth of a blowsy Texan woman who loves the sound of her own voice.  The poor script also gives her the job of jollying the audience along with the usual pub show stuff like dragging an audience member up to dance, repeating an unfunny visual joke where she prances around to supposedly demonstrate driving in the car she calls ‘Sexy Dude’ and, of course, there’s the obligatory ‘Are you enjoying the show?  What?  I can’t hear you?’

The set design by Jacob Battista looks fine for the Patsy Cline bandstand but the other half showing the fan’s home is pretty dull.  I know it’s supposed to be an ordinary home but surely more imagination could have gone into the design.  The lighting was designed by Clare Springett.  I don’t know if she set the lights for this performance but there were too many shadows on faces.  The sound was a bit unclear in the first half but was fine in the second half of the show.  If costume co-ordinator, Sophie Woodward, was responsible for Courtney Conway’s costumes, she did a fine job.

Director, Denny Lawrence, who has done fine work in the past with ‘Love Letters’ and ‘Educating Rita’ at the Q, has done a disappointing job here but the script is at the heart of the problem.  Anyway, the music was good.

The Q Theatre is presenting the show in Queanbeyan’s Bicentennial Hall with the audience seated at tables cabaret style which worked fine and is worth exploring for future suitable shows.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program from 9am on Saturdays and on other selected Artsound programs.