Saturday, February 13, 2016


Movement 9 with Elly Poletti.
Street Theatre 12th February 2016
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

There was an audible collective intake of breath among the capacity audience when, towards the end of the first set by Movement 9, a Melbourne based ensemble, saxophonist, Joe McEvilly announced “we’re not gonna talk about Amy Winehouse or the gossip. This show is about the music”.

Fine! But for those, not overly familiar with the songs of Winehouse - the brilliant but self-destructive English singer who died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27 -  attracted to this concert by the possibility of extending their appreciation of her work, some context about Winehouse and the significance of those of her songs included in this show, may have been welcomed. Especially in the absence of programs which hopefully would have provided such information and perhaps the names of the nine talented members of Movement 9, who remained largely anonymous until the final unintelligible call-out when it was revealed that several are graduates of the Canberra School of Music.

 As it was, Winehouse’s songs were represented in new arrangements by McEvilly, often without the titles being announced beforehand.

When an artist’s notoriety is used to attract an audience it creates an expectation that there will be some attempt to at least capture the essence of what was unique about that artist in the resultant performance. For this show Elly Poletti was the vocalist tasked of representing Winehouse.

Although she may well be an award-winning vocalist in her own right, there was nothing about Poletti’s dress or demeanour that suggested anything of Winehouse’s appearance or performance style. Poletti can certainly sing loudly, and occasionally softly, but she also exhibited an alarming absence of stagecraft, and seemed intent on avoiding engagement with her audience, keeping her eyes downcast during the songs, and surprisingly, reading most of the lyrics from a music stand. On several occasions she turned her back on the audience, ignoring their applause. Her interest seemed directed towards demonstrating her ability to produce jazz vocalisations rather than seriously exploring the pain-wracked lyrics of Winehouse.  

The program contained a generous selection of the Winehouse repertoire. Back to Black, October Song, What is it About Men, and Valerie were all represented in captivating arrangements by McEvilly, impressively performed by the band. Within these arrangements McEvilly had provided generous opportunities to showcase the talents of each of his musicians.

 A Tubular Bells-type introduction introduced a fine version of You Know I’m Not Good. I Heard Love is Blind showcased the excellent trombone playing of Patrick Landon, while Love is a Losing Game was introduced with a repeated delicate single piano note from John Trigg.

But without context, and with so little attention devoted to presentation, a certain monotony crept in so that it was hard to escape the feeling that one might be better served by listening to the CD which was available for purchase after the show.

Movement 9 is an attractive, talented outfit with potential. Its members have obviously spent a lot of time perfecting John McEvilly’s excellent arrangements. While their current style of presentation may work for festival stages, it certainly does them no favours in the more formal atmosphere of a theatre. Some time spent with a good director to work on perfecting presentation skills would be a worthwhile investment.

 This review also appears in Australian Arts Review -


Friday, February 12, 2016

4000 Miles by Amy Herzog

4000 Miles by Amy Herzog.  Presented by Critical Stages, Catnip Productions and Mophead Productions, produced by Cat Dibley, at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Ventre, February 11-13, 2016.

Director – Anthony Skuse; Set and Costume Designer – Hugh O’Connor; Associate Lighting Designer – Alexander Berlage; Associate Sound Designer – Alistair Wallace.

Diana McLean – Vera Joseph
Stephen Multari – Leo-Joseph-Connell
Aileen Huynh – Amanda and Lily (?)
Eloise Snape – Bec (?)

Americans describe this Pulitzer Prize nominated play as a heart-warming comedy-drama.  It’s a bit ironic that for me, not yet quite as old as 91-year-old Vera but with some of the same memory recall problems, this presentation became a bit of a mystery.

But first, the important thing to say is that the performances, the set design and costuming, the choice of recordings between scenes, and the lighting were all very effectively done.  First night in a new venue on tour can have its problems, but not in The Q’s theatre (which, after the recent showing of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, always feels “just right”).

Diana McLean presents Vera Joseph, Leo’s grandmother with the right tendency to talk too much, after ten years living alone in her New York apartment since her husband, Joe, died.  21-year-old Leo, who has unexpectedly arrived at 3am, with his bike (and in the proper lycra riding costume) has dipped his rear wheel in the Pacific in Seattle, but has stopped in briefly (and unsatisfactorily) at his girlfriend Bec’s apartment, and not yet dipped his front wheel into the Atlantic to complete the ritual.

Stephen Multari’s lean, muscular build makes him the perfect bike rider, but Leo clearly has problems relating emotionally.  Gradually Vera’s role as grandmother – as Leo breaks up with Bec, tries out with drunken pick-up Amanda and finally skypes his adopted sister Lily to apologise for his past behaviour – helps him to pull the strands of his life together into the beginnings of a sense of direction.  He goes for an interview as a mountain guide, and at the end of the play is about to leave for work in Colorado.

The set design, with Vera’s old-fashioned but comfortable furniture and decorations centre-stage, is simple.  But, as if it were perhaps a serviced apartment, appropriate for a 91-year-old, the two young women fetch and carry props as needed to and from Vera and Leo, except for the scenes in which they appear as Bec, Amanda or Lily.  The effect is that the whole cast is kept together on stage, rather than splitting into two central actors and two minor players.  The feeling, as a result, is much warmer and integrated, linked together as well by well-chosen popular music and songs as illustrations of the mood on stage as the short scenes change over the three or four week period covered by the play.

Anthony Skuse’s Director’s Note would like to make this play rather more significant than it deserves, by writing: “As in the plays of Arthur Miller and Tony Kushner [Angels in America], Herzog’s family drama can be understood within a wider historical context.” 

The Miller play (which I once directed) that might seem close to 4000 Miles in form is All My Sons, but Miller focussed the quite static action in Joe Keller’s backyard to make the family and neighbourly interactions all lead to the revelation of the bigger issue of corruption in a world of capitalist profit-taking (which resulted in Joe Keller causing the death of his own son – representing all our sons killed in war).

In Herzog’s play, the issue of left and right politics is revealed only through Vera’s peripheral talk about the the family’s Marxist past, Leo’s discovering her husband’s published book on the subject and, from an American perspective, the underlying implication that it was not surprising that a Jewish family would have been Marxist.  The young women in these later times assume that means they were Communist.

The big difference between Miller and Herzog is that in his play the big issue drives the family tragedy; in hers the tragedy for Leo is the accidental death of his riding mate, Micah, riding ahead of Leo, when a passing truck trailer breaks away and rolls on top of him.  There is drama in Leo’s telling of the story of this event to his grandmother – and Multari does the speech proud as an actor – but in the end the play remains more warm-hearted comedy and much less drama (certainly not tragedy) than anything written by Miller.

What is especially pleasing about the presentation of 4000 Miles (presumably the ocean to ocean distance from Seattle to New York) is the cooperative venture between the now well-established and reputable touring company, Critical Stages, and the newly developed initiatives by quite recently graduated actors – Mutari and Snape’s Mophead Productions – and the move from acting into producing by Cat Dibley in Catnip Productions.  Aileen Huynh graduated from WAAPA in 2010, Hugh O’Connor from NIDA in 2013 and Alistair Wallace from The Actors Centre in 2010.  This is a good sign for the future of Australian Theatre – something to do with innovation and being agile.

However, despite the quality of the production, at this point my up-front question marks raise their heads and shake a little.  With my septuagenarian memory in tow, I looked at the program for the names of the characters and cast.  The cast are listed – but not the characters, nor who played them.  I apologise if I have not guessed correctly.

I think for this play, too, because the complexities of Leo Joseph-Connell’s family connections only become apparent in bits and pieces of talk, mainly by Vera, I was not sure of remembering how the bits fitted together, nor the names of characters – like Leo’s mother Jane and his riding-mate Micah, nor of Micah’s girlfriend mentioned by Bec – who didn’t appear on stage.

Fortunately I found a very useful link to the American Conservatory Theater:

The American Conservatory Theatre document also includes a handy synopsis (though I still don’t know Micah’s girlfriend’s name – was it Ali?)

But not to worry – the play is worth watching and the performance very good.

4000 MILES

Written by Amy Herzog
Directed by Anthony Skuse
A Critical Stages, Catnip and Mophead production
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 13 February 2016

Review by Len Power 11 February 2016

Amy Herzog’s play, ‘4000 Miles’ comes to us with a number of prizes already.  It was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, winner of the 2012 Obie Award for Best New American Play and named Time Magazine‘s Number 1 Play or Musical of 2012.

A deceptively simple play about a young man turning up unexpectedly to stay at his grandmother’s house in New York City after a coast-to-coast bicycle trip, it seems at the start to be an amusing battle of the generations comedy.  The play takes its time showing its true intent and it’s worth the wait as we see hidden pain surfacing in a young man having difficulty facing life and an elderly woman needing companionship but hiding behind a tough fa├žade.

What stands out particularly in this production is the depth of characterisation achieved by all four actors.  Diana McLean gives a superb performance as the grandmother – a fairly tough, occasionally funny old woman who has seen it all but who offers a quiet compassion on her own terms.  In a very believable performance, Stephen Multari plays the grandson as a disarming young man not yet ready to take on responsibility in his life and relationships and is hiding from a recent traumatic event.  Eloise Snape is particularly impressive as the young man’s on and off again girlfriend, showing the doubts, fears and needs of this young woman very well.  Aileen Hunyh is very funny but very real as a late night date that doesn’t quite work out.  She also plays the young man’s sister in a very different small role that she invests with great warmth and longing.

Also noteworthy were the very believable and different American accents by the actors.  Voice and dialect coach, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, has done fine work with the cast on this aspect.

Director, Anthony Skuse, has brought together a quietly impressive production.  It is played at a deliberate pace and is ultimately quite moving.  The set, originally designed by Gez Xavier Mansfield, made up of living room furniture but no walls works very well giving an instant impression of this old woman’s smallish New York apartment.  The lighting design, originally by Sara Swersky, with its glimmer of light coming through windows and shining across the apartment’s floor gives a nice atmosphere to the set.  Original sound design by Marty Jamieson adds another dimension to the show with a good choice of mood music and subtle sound effects.  Associate lighting (Alexander Berlage), production (Hugh O’Connor) and sound designers (Alistair Wallace) are credited in the program.

‘4000 Miles’ is an impressive drama that is entertaining as well as thought-provoking.
Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM’s ‘Artcetera’ program from 9am Saturdays.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Vale Don McInnis

One of Canberra’s best-known theatre personalities, Harry “Don” McInnis has died peacefully just two months shy of his one-hundredth birthday.

McInnis’ life of many accomplishments began modestly in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA in a household dominated by the beneficent influences of his mother Florence and his French-Canadian grandmother, Priscilla Lavalley.

His recollections of his childhood at 439 Chandler Street are detailed in the first volume of an autobiography he self-published in 1986, “The Running Years.” A second volume of autobiography was also self-published in 1990. “Cobwebs and Twigs” told the story of his years at Clark University and early work years with the US Civil Service. It also told of meeting his Australian wife Marjorie in Shanghai in 1946, where in the aftermath of WWII they were both working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

Don’s career in international development flourished in the 1950s and 60s, and took him and his wife and four children to many countries, including the Philippines and Guatemala. The highlight of his career was a two-year stint as the Resident Representative for the United Nations’ Development Programme in Seoul, Korea. After completing this he retired to Canberra, where he and wife Marjorie were joined by three of their children, who would become permanent residents and citizens of Australia.

In Canberra Don established a home in the suburb of Chapman, and began to devote himself to creative writing. In an invocation he had written on a copy of Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss”, gifted to him by an English teacher when he turned 16 in 1932, he had written:

“Today, the 24th of October, 1932, I received ‘The Mill on the Floss’ as a personal gift from Mr. Post, my English Five teacher. I somehow feel that with this book has come the first real incentive to attain that goal of literary success of which I have often dreamed. May God give me the strength to persevere to this end.”

Highlights of McInnis’ writing career were local productions of two of his plays. “Will: Man from Stratford,” produced by Tempo Theatre,  ran at the Canberra Playhouse for a week in July, 1982. His family were involved in all aspects of the production which was so well-received.

McInnis  imagined a future on Broadway. Alas, it was not to be, but another highlight of his career as a playwright was the production of “Turn O Libertad” by the TAU Community Theatre in 1989. The play about downtrodden masses and indifferent aristocrats in Third World countries referenced the poet Walt Whitman because the 19th Century American poet was, as was McInnis, ever-optimistic about the transformative power of democracy.   

After wife Marjorie died in 1997, McInnis lived alone at his home on Chauvel Circle, which was one of the few houses to survive the Canberra bushfires of 2004. When he  was 93 he had a catastrophic fall at home. After that, he lived in high care residential facilities.

At Victoria Shakespeare Cottage in Curtin his children and grandchildren and friends visited regularly, and Don busied himself by doing the ‘Quick Crosswords’ in the daily paper.

In the final days of his life, when it became apparent he would not  to survive until his hundredth birthday in April, the American Embassy flew a flag in his honour.

Harry Donald McInnis, 18 April 1916 to 2 February 2016.

Text provided to the Canberra Critics’ Circle by Shelley McInnis

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Looking for Grace

         Review © Jane Freebury

In the three feature films that Sue Brooks has made so far, we have driven into the wide, open spaces of the inland to look at what makes us tick. It's a canny strategy, this journey into the red heart, and the two first films that Brooks has to her name, Road to Nhill and Japanese Story, show it has been a popular one. The journey as motif, a road trip towards the centre with a motley crew of characters, their panoply of quirks on display, can hold a mirror to us all.

In Road to Nhill, a party of lady lawn bowlers are upended on an outback road in north-west Victoria and have to wait ever such a long time for help. In Japanese Story a young woman accompanies a visiting businessman through the ancient, red bluffs of Pilbara when their burgeoning relationship is suddenly over before it has begun.  Brooks has a knack for making strange.

A montage of gorgeous natural textures opens Looking for Grace, in which we head out on the road again. Among them a bird's eye view of stretch of road bisecting the wheat belt of Western Australia, on its way east. We track a bus with a couple of runaway teens on board, apparently headed for a concert in Ceduna. Sixteen-year-old Grace (newcomer Odessa Young who could pass for Miranda Otto's other younger sister) and her friend Sappho (Kenya Pearson).

Before Grace's devastated parents, Denise (Radha Mitchell) and Dan (Richard Roxburgh), set out from Perth to find her—with retired detective (Terry Norris)—friends gather at their home to provide comfort. It's here you realise there is something odd going on. The words are tumbling out but they never get a grip. No one is really connecting.  

If we have moved on from the gruff, monosyllabic retorts that passed for conversation in Australian films in earlier times, the communication here is not a lot better. Is there really still so much left unsaid between us? The spaces between characters is signified in images of a vast desert emptiness, and by the beige and bland interior of the family home.

In transit, the girls split when Grace is attracted to the handsome young stranger who boards the coach and begins exchanging glances with her. Three's a crowd and Sappho opts out. But in an instant there is only one when Jamie (Harry Richardson) sneaks out the next morning, making off with thousands of dollars in cash. Grace had emptied the safe at home.

For most of the time we can only speculate on the reasons why Grace stole  her dad's business takings and ran away.  It was no problem for her: she had helped him set up the combination and considered it her money too!  The 'Sorry Mum' note she left behind could seems a teasing McGuffin until the resolution, when motivations are revealed. Withholding the reasons for Grace's escape as adeptly as it does, is one of the film's triumphs.

The flat and uninflected exchanges between people that leave so much unsaid are less effective, although they make a point. Whether or not you agree with Brooks' perspective, a rather out-dated one I think, there is comedy here too and a gimlet eye for what can be satirised in our personal interactions.

Having key characters tell the story of Grace's leaving home from their perspective, provides some insight, importantly into Dan's character. However the diverse points of view in the narrative structure are not as revelatory as you would hope.  A kind of restraint holds things in check until that final devastating rupture.

This change in direction reminded me of the jolt I experienced with Japanese Story. It takes a brave filmmaker to attempt it, but the point that life can be like that is hard to deny.

3.5 Stars

 Also published at

THE DESIGNER: Decorator or Dramaturg? by Stephen Curtis

THE DESIGNER: Decorator or Dramaturg? by Stephen Curtis. Platform Papers No. 46 February 2016: Currency House.

SYDNEY: Launch of THE DESIGNER by director Neil Armfield (Secret River), with Stephen Curtis in conversation with critic Martin Portus. When: 6pm, Monday 15 February 2016 Where: Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton St Darlinghurst All welcome. Free. Essential to book on 

ADELAIDE: Launch of THE DESIGNER by playwright Andrew Bovell (Secret River), with Stephen Curtis in conversation with scholar/director Julian Meyrick. When: 6pm, Tuesday 23 February 2016 Where: State Library of South Australia, North Terrace All welcome. Free. Essential to book on

A pdf of Currency House’s Platform Paper 46 available on media request: media enquiries to Martin Portus at
Available for sale at or in bookshops from 1 February.

Commentary by Frank McKone
February 9

Having read Stephen Curtis’ Paper, it’s an enormous disappointment that I am unable to be present at the launch in Sydney next Monday.  His Paper is at once thoroughly erudite and highly engaging.  His relationship with director Neil Armfield while working on The Secret River (now in its second run at Sydney Theatre Company, Roslyn Packer Theatre until February 20) forms a fascinating case study in Chapter 8: A Designer at Work.  To see them together would complete the theme of the written words: “When people see the design they can see what the production is going to be.” 

When I look back to my review of the first run of The Secret River (which I saw at the Canberra Playhouse, February 14-17, 2013), I am now thoroughly ashamed to note that I did not make any reference to the set or costume design, or even name the designers.  Curtis’ conclusion summarises my failure.  I wrote about “the pen of Andrew Bovell and the directing of Neil Armfield”, and how “The casting is excellent throughout, but I have to say that Ursula Yovich was quite extraordinary in her role of narrator, and her singing at the very end drove the tragic feeling into our very souls.”  But nothing about the stage design which is essential to creating the right theatrical space for me to have that experience.

Curtis writes: Our practice today is a synthesis of the design legacy of our last century of Australian design.  Today and beyond, the mercurial designer brings together all aspects of our role: as artisan and technician in command of our craft; designer as artist with the expressive power to communicate; occasionally designer as auteur with the vision to command; designer as accomplished and professional image-maker who knows how to keep a hundred balls in the air and get the show on; designer as experimenter testing new ways of connecting with our audience; designer as manager holding together the fine detail and the big picture; designer as dramaturg interrogating meaning, and yes, as ‘decorator’ orchestrating the aesthetic values of the production; and as collaborator and ‘wicked‘ theatre-maker. The designer is all of these.
See what we do. We are here to help spark that awakening.

I was, of course, warned early in the Paper’s Introduction: "An overview of contemporary Australian theatre writing in newspapers, blogs, radio interviews and journals reveals how little our arts journalists see. While now the design will usually be mentioned, it is almost always in terms of aesthetics; only occasionally will it be discussed in terms of how it works, even less often in terms of how it feels, and rarely if ever in terms of how it contributes to the production’s meaning."

So, suitably castigated, I followed Curtis’ story through

1: The Evolution Of The Designer: From Decorator To Dramaturg?
“No, this Platform Paper is not a whinge about how bad things are for Australian performance designers.  Our position—as costume and set designers, lighting and sound designers—is on the whole a good-news story....”

2: Design Experimentation
“In contemporary theatre practice this disdain for aesthetic, ‘decorative’ values, if not universally held, is deeply entrenched....”

3: The Artist-Designer
“The next era of Australian theatre and design—from the 1920s to the 1950s—is fascinating: three decades and three waves of revolutionary theatre thinking brought to Australia by theatre-makers returning from abroad and post-war refugees emigrating from Eastern Europe [who] broke the hegemony of the big commercial producers to make room for home-grown theatrical talent. These were the ground breakers, the artist-designers....”

4: The Standardbearers: The Professional Designer
“It was up to the next wave of designers, from the 1950s through to the last decades of the last century to bring a new coherence of conception to the Australian stage....”

5: The Dream, Not The Drawing Room
“The designers of this next wave in the early 1970s were the iconoclasts, rejecting the realist orthodoxy and all of its values of descriptive, literal design....”

6: The Collaborators
“Design was driven conceptually, fired by an unequivocal desire to communicate to the audience the ideas of the production and its very particular interpretation. It was design as grand metaphor.... With theatre reverberating with all this change it was the next wave of designers, of which I was part—the designercollaborators— that was to make collaboration the centre of our practice....”

7: The Next Wave
“The role of the designer has become increasingly more professional and disciplined in contemporary theatre practice. And discipline is the operative word: directors, performers, producers and our audience can rely on their designer....”

8: A Designer At Work
“There is no template in designing. But there is a process, and as an insight into our dramaturgical role and how designers work I would like to share part of my process as set designer on the Sydney Theatre Company’s The Secret River....”

9: Design Value
“The whole design process—from first meeting to opening night on a production of the scale of The Secret River would typically take a set or costume designer twelve to fourteen weeks fulltime, or a designer responsible for both costumes and sets seventeen to twenty weeks....”

And so now I have absolutely no excuse.  Stephen Curtis has given us critics plenty of material from historical and current practice to be able to see a production as well as watch it, and to look for the elements in design which we think suit or fail to suit the nature of the play. 

In my own defence, I can give an example.  I wrote of Sydney Theatre Company’s recent King Lear: “Being mythic does not imply that the setting must be in an ancient past, nor limited to any time or place.  [Set Designer] Robert Cousins has understood this so well that clothing may be modern, words may be amplified with modern technology, nakedness may be explicit as it can at last be on a modern stage, rain may be real water, swords may be no more than short knives; and all may be presented for the first half in black empty space foreboding awful things to come, yet turn white in an even more frightening open space than before.  Every element in costumes, props, becomes significant and imbued with meaning in a weird way.  Every detail stands out in our minds because there are no boundaries which allow us to sit back satisfied.”

Even so, when I spoke to musician and author Peter Best, the brilliant stage and film composer, in the foyer following his Goldilocks and the Three Bears, he had quite definitely disliked the design and stylistic intention of King Lear.  Where the ‘empty space’ (Curtis makes a point of clarifying what Peter Brook actually meant) made me feel for Lear, however foolish, and made me see what Shakespeare meant in writing the play, Best found himself coldly cut out of empathetic feeling.  I think he saw the design as having taken over the production, becoming a visual end in itself, creating no more than an intellectual idea about the play.

The importance of Stephen Curtis’ essay is not that we should all learn to love stage designers, but that by coming to understand the complexity and diversity of approaches in our Australian tradition, we are given a new breadth of language to use in our criticisms.  This is why I am more than glad to have read Platform Paper 46, and why I am very disappointed that I will not be there to witness the long-term collaborators – director Neil Armfield and designer Stephen Curtis – in action in Sydney on February 15 (nor indeed the author/adaptor Andrew Bovell with Curtis in Adelaide on February 23). 

If you are able, please book with Currency House at – and write your comments here as you see fit.

Monday, February 8, 2016


Composer: Gioachino Rossini - Libretto: Cesare Sterbini
Conductor: Andrea Molino - Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan - Costume Designer: Dona Granata
Presented by Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until March 22nd 2016.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

In 1995 Elijah Moshinsky had the inspired idea of presenting his production of “The Barber of Seville” as if it were taking place in a silent Hollywood movie. His designer, Michael Yeargan, matched his inspiration with an inventive multi-level set complete with plenty of doors to slam, and outrageously lurid wall-papered rooms for his characters to inhabit.  To ensure that the characters weren’t swamped by their surroundings, costume designer, Dona Granata has clothed them in a Kaleidoscope of witty period costumes.

What a pleasure it is to have the opportunity to experience this production again in this beautifully cast and meticulously produced 2016 revival.

Maestro, Andrea Molino, conducting the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, immediately raised audience anticipation with a crisp, carefully detailed performance of Rossini’s familiar and justly famous overture, which, if you didn’t already know, contains not one reference to the glorious music to follow.

Rossini’s endlessly inventive opera of mistaken identities and thwarted love, comes to delirious life in this splendid revival in which the audacious concept and design are matched by the outstanding cast of superb singers  ready and willing to take every opportunity to explore the endless comedic possibilities offered in this madcap world in which every improbability almost  seems  logical.

Anna Dowsley (Rosina) Paolo Bordogna (Figaro) 
With a reputation of being one of the world’s outstanding buffo interpreters, Paolo Bordogna, has already become an audience favourite with his cheeky comedic performances in Opera Australia’s earlier productions of The Turk in Italy and The Marriage of Figaro.   However, as Figaro in this production, he’s irresistible.

Displaying his expansive baritone to great effect, he tosses off the famous “Largo al Factotum” with the expected panache, then keeps the audience’s eyes glued on him whenever he is on stage. His inspired clowning transforms him into a sort of genial ringmaster amidst  the chaotic events swirling around him.

However in the buffo department, Bordogna has some stiff competition. Samuel Dundas and Jane Ede, looking like two Adams Family escapees as Ambrogio and Berta, create a pair of remarkably off-handed servants who almost steal the show with their deadpan antics ushering a continuous procession of hapless patients through Dr Bartolo’s surgery.  The busy Dundas also gets to demonstrate his versatility as Almaviva’s servant, Fiorello, and as the Notary, and is unrecognisable in all of them.

Warwick Fyffe (Dr Bartolo)  Paolo Bordogna (Figaro)
Warwick Fyffe also mines the rich vein of humour inherent in his role as the cantankerous, Dr Bartolo, excelling in the scene where he suspiciously presides over Rosina’s singing lesson with the disguised Almaviva.

As the thwarted young lovers at the centre of the opera, Anna Dowsley and Kenneth Tarver are a delightful pairing. Tarver, making his first appearances in Australia in this production as Count Almaviva, is widely recognised as the bel canto tenore–de-grazia of his generation. That is easy to believe as he impresses, not only with the beauty of his floating tenor voice, and the ease with which he negotiates the bel canto passages of his arias. He also demonstrates a wicked sense of humour which fits perfectly with Anna Dowsley’s wilful Rosina.

Kenneth Tarver (Count Almaviva) Anna Dowsley (Rosina)
Dowsley, making her role debut in this production as Rosina, also impressed with her confident singing, her elegant sense of style, and especially, her ability to hold her own on a stage on which she is surrounded by some of the world’s most experienced exponents of the opera buffo style, performing at the top of their game.

This production of “The Barber of Seville” is one to be savoured and judging from the continuous hearty laughter throughout, and the enthusiastic audience response during the curtain calls, the audience at this performance were doing just that.

                                                      Photos: Keith Saunders

          This review also appears in Australian Arts Review