Friday, August 29, 2014


Queenie van de Zandt
In DRESS CIRCLE this week, former Canberran, Queenie van de Zandt (Pictured)  talks about her new CD “Queenie Van de Zandt live in Cabaret”.  Matty Ellis gives some background to the Ellis Collective’s new CD “Carry”, which will be launched at the Street Theatre next week and playwright/director, Michael Gow, discusses his production of The Magic Flute”, which is coming to The Canberra Theatre next week.

Matty Ellis - The Ellis Collective

Michael Gow 

In the “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment, saxophonist, Harold Luebke, joins jazz pianist extraordinaire, Julian Lee and double bassist, Craig Scott, in excerpts from their concert at The School of Arts Café.

Len Power will review Bell Shakespeare’s “The Dream”, Isobel Griffin will present “Arts Diary” and Blue the Shearer will ruminate on the church barbecue.

Julian Lee - Harold Luebke
90 minutes of interviews, reviews, music and news focussed on the performing arts in Canberra and beyond, DRESS CIRCLE is produced and presented by Bill Stephens and broadcast by Artsound FM92.7 every Sunday evening from 5.00pm until 6.30pm, repeated on Tuesday nights from 11.30pm, and streamed live on the internet at

A delicious concert of grace and charm from Imogen Cooper

Review by Clinton White

It’s no wonder that Imogen Cooper is described as ‘a pianist of virtuosity and poetic poise’.  Her concert for Musica Viva at Llewellyn Hall in Canberra on her birthday, 28 August, was that and much more.

Playing a program of Brahms, Schubert and Schumann – all composed in the Romantic period within 40 years of each other – Cooper’s lyrical, even singing, style used a vast canvass to paint a vivid picture of light and shade, brightness and solemnity, thunder and calm.

I couldn’t see her hands and, therefore, her playing technique, but the sound she produced showed consummate expression and control of the instrument and the music she was playing.  Her interpretation fitted the musical style of the period perfectly.  But more than that, it was as though she wanted to give every single note its own beauty, grace and charm.

Even though her hands were out of my view, I could see her feet and was intrigued and captivated by her extraordinarily intricate use of the sustain pedal.  It was not simply a matter of up and down at the beginning and end of phrases – very likely how the music is marked – Cooper had that pedal working ten to the dozen, but in a most delicate manner, often feathering it such that the dampers barely rose above the strings.  Individual notes, even in fast passages, were given just the right amount of sustain, yielding a clarity I had not heard before from any other pianist.

Imogen Cooper is also a person of gracious and gentle personality.  Her on-stage presence was commanding and confident but not in any way arrogant, charming but not gushy.  At the beginning of the second half she spoke to the audience in a most relaxed and engaging way about how the program was devised and the links between the works.

After the concert, her graciousness continued.  In a Q&A session, anchored by Musica Viva artistic director and very fine Australian composer, Carl Vine, Cooper answered a range of questions from the sizable gathering with humour, candour and charm.  And the local Musica Viva manager, Michael Sollis, in his usual innovative style, had a birthday cake ready for Cooper’s arrival, and prepared the gathering for a rousing “Happy Birthday to You”.

For me, this delicious concert by Imogen Cooper goes into the top five of the best of the many, many concerts I have attended over quite a few decades.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Richard Anderson

31.12.1939 – 20.8.2014

With the passing of Richard Anderson Canberra theatre has lost one of its best actors, liable to turn up whenever there was a need for a strong character role to be played with class, humor and style.

Frequently that was at Canberra Repertory but he also worked with companies such as Everyman, The Players Company/UC Players and Centrepiece. Canberra Rep credits him on Facebook with ’some 50 plays in the Canberra region’ and reminds that he also designed the occasional set.

He brought an avuncular presence and a fine line in the rolling eye to period plays like Tartuffe (1995), The Miser (2005) and School for Scandal (2006). But he could also happily inhabit more modern settings like those of Under Milkwood (1992), Jeffrey Archer’s Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1995) and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (2010).

He seemed equally at home among the extremes of toga territory in Duncan Ley’s When in Rome (2005) and the strange suburban terrors of Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane (2000).  He made Harold Hobson a convincing domestic tyrant in the old classic Hobson’s Choice (2008). His rich TV voice-overs promised ‘Botanicus Perfectus’ to any who shopped at a particular gardening store.

And I am pretty sure he was to be glimpsed as Havelock Vetinari the Patrician, urbanely, ruthlessly, but with a twinkling eye, running the city of Ankh Morpork in a long ago production at Theatre 3 of Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms.

His presence will be missed. 

Alanna Maclean


Written by Steve Rodgers
Co-directed by Kate Champion and Steve Rodgers
Minestrone by Benedict House
Wine by Royal Hotel Queanbeyan
Sourdough by Baker’s Delight Queanbeyan
Presented by Belvoir and Force Majeure
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan 27-30 August 2014

Review by Len Power 27 August 2014

Here’s a show with everything – including dinner!

In a kitchen of what seems to be a takeaway shop, possibly in an Australian country town, two sisters work side by side preparing food.  Their conversations paint a picture of their lives and memories, not all of it happy or satisfying.  Into their lives comes a young Turkish man looking for work as a kitchen hand.  Cultural collisions between them are amusing at first and we are drawn into the emotional needs and actions of the characters as the play progresses.

Writer, Steve Rodgers, and his co-director, Kate Champion, have produced a striking production which shows some very real people in an Australian setting we can readily identify with.  There is a strong blend of acting and movement in the direction that is uniquely satisfying.  The tasteful design of a love making sequence in movement and without words is beautiful and especially memorable.

Mel King as the older sister gives an excellent performance.  There is such subtlety in her playing that, by the end of the show, you know her so well it hurts to think about where her life is going.  Emma Jackson plays the wilder younger sister with great physicality, emotional strength and excellent comic timing.  Fayssal Bazzi as the young Turkish man also displays great comic timing as well as a finely controlled intensity in the later emotional scenes.

The set design by Anna Tregloan is visually pleasing and clever in its use of kitchen pots and pans as part of the design.  Martin Langthorne’s lighting design complements the set very well and is especially striking when lighting changes cause the polished bases of the pots on the wall to change colour and create a different mood.  Music composed by Ekrem Mülayim is subtle and adds greatly to the atmosphere.

What could have just been a gimmick – the cast serving food to the audience at one point – actually works very well.  It’s not just the lucky few down the front who get fed.  The cast nimbly work their way around the whole theatre offering lots of cups of minestrone, bread and red wine.  Their ad libs during this sequence were well chosen and delightfully funny.  It’s a real skill to be able to do something like this and stay in character throughout.

The play presents very real people in real situations, some of it funny, some of it bleak and unsettling.  It certainly presents a slice of Australian life that is not flattering.  The language is raw but not inappropriate for the characters portrayed.  This might be one of the most memorable plays I’ve seen this year.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Libretto by Alessando Striggio the Younger
English translation by Anne Ridler
Music by Claudio Monteverdi
Musical Director: Peter Tregear
Stage Director: Cate Clelland
ANU School of Music August 21, 22 August 2014

Review by Len Power 21 August 2014
The earliest surviving opera still in the standard repertoire, ‘L'Orfeo’, first performed in Mantua in 1607, is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus, and depicts his extraordinary love for Eurydice and the story of his descent into Hades in a vain attempt to bring his dead bride back to the living world.

Presented by the ANU School of Music, in collaboration with the School of Art and the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics, ‘L’Orfeo’ was presented at Llewellyn Hall with stage direction by Cate Clelland and musical direction by Peter Tregear. The production utilises a specially-commissioned digital set, designed by Milan-based award-winning Australian digital artist, Andrew Quinn.

There was fine singing by Nicholas Mulroy as Orfeo, especially in his Act 5 soliloquy.  Paul McMahon as Apollo, displayed a fine dramatic presence as well as singing his role very well.  Krystle Inness was in good voice as the Messenger, as were Rachael Thoms and Veronica Thwaites-Brown as the allegorical figures, Music and Hope, respectively.  Some of the less experienced soloists sang well but needed to project more.  The large chorus sang the complex music with great assurance.  However, it was hard to understand the words throughout the performance even though it was sung in English.

The orchestra, conducted by musical director, Peter Tregear, gave a fine performance of the score.  Lighting by Alessandro Chiodo added greatly to the atmosphere.  The digital projections by Andrew Quinn were fascinating and used with restraint.  They didn’t always seem to complement the action but they were especially striking in the heavenly finale.  Choreography by Liz Lea was effective and nicely performed by her small group of dancers.  The staging by Cate Clelland mostly worked well but the deliberately slow entrances and exits by the chorus were a bit dull and dreary.

There have been so many different musical and non-musical versions of the Orpheus legend over the years and the story continues to fascinate audiences.  This production was a great opportunity to see the earliest surviving musical version.  Peter Tregear and everyone involved in it have done a fine job with this production.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 24 August 2014 from 5pm.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

L to R: Yalin Ozucelik (John Worthing J.P.), Rory Walker (Rev Chasuble), Lucy Fry (Cecily Cardew),
Anna Steen (Hon.Gwendolen Fairfax), Nancye Hayes (Lady Bracknell), Nathan O'Keefe (Algernon Moncrieff).
Off stage: Caroline Mignone (Miss Prism)

Caroline Mignone (Miss Prism), Rory Walker (Rev Chasuble)

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.  State Theatre Company of South Australia, directed by Geordie Brookman.  Designer: Ailsa Paterson; Lighting: Gavin Norris; Composer: Stuart Day; Hair, Make-up and Wardrobe: Jana DeBiasi.  At Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, August 18-23, 2014.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 19

An enjoyable, if conventional, production of Wilde’s highly amusing comedy of manners, this production stands out for the stage design and a clever approach to stylising the acting.

The set, made by the Company’s workshop for touring, has its own circular curtain which defines the acting space for whatever stage the performers find themselves on.  It’s simple in concept but, with a minimum of props, furniture and suspended lights, and sections of curtain with different decoration, the mood, location of the scenes and the historical period are quickly and smoothly suggested as the butler draws the curtain around.

As the design takes us out of the convention of a naturalistic box set, it follows that the acting includes choreographed movement which takes on a life of its own.  The humour of the play is already built in to Wilde’s one-liners and highly unlikely plot, while, under this director and I suspect his assistant director Yasmin Gurreeboo,  physical actions are used to define each of the characters and how they relate to the others, adding substantially to the comedy.  Perhaps for the first time I was able to see Wilde’s work in the context of English absurdism, which for me goes back to Laurence Sterne’s 18th Century novel Tristram Shandy and on through the university traditions which spawned shows like The Goodies and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  I could almost see John Cleese’s funny walks and Faulty Towers in the making.

Instead of finding myself wondering if Wilde should be compared with his more or less contemporary Bernard Shaw, this production made it clear that Earnest is nearer to farce than Shaw’s comedies of social analysis, and that this is not a bad thing.  The basic structure of the play is not too far from a Feydeau farce, though Wilde’s servant class do not much more than roll their eyes at their ‘betters’, rather than undermine them.  Wilde focusses on and exposes the human foibles of the upper class without pontificating.  The fun of doing this is what has kept this play alive well into its second century, even in ‘classless’ Australia.  We may not have too many real Lady Bracknells in Canberra, but we surely have plenty of micro-managerial operators, and plenty of young people falling in love with superficial features in the opposite sex and bonding or arguing immediately they meet with others of the same sex.

The performers – Nancye Hayes (Lady Bracknell), Lucy Fry (Cecily Cardew), Nathan O’Keefe (Algernon Moncrieff), Yalin Ozucelik (John Worthing), Anna Steen (Gwendolen Fairfax), Caroline Mignone (Miss Prism) and Rory Walker (butlers Lane and Merriman, and Rev Chasuble) – were all up to the professional mark required, as we expect nowadays from the mainstage companies, both as individuals and as a close-knit ensemble.  The result was a very satisfying presentation of a favourite English classic.

Saturday, August 16, 2014



Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kip Williams. Sydney Theatre Company and UBS. Sydney Theatre Company Mainstage. July 21- September 27.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Hugo Weaving as Macbeth.

Melita Jurisic as Lady Macbeth. Hugo Weaving as Macbeth

While watching director, Kip Williams’s highly original staging of Shakespeare’s prophetic warning of the tragic consequences of “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself” I was reminded of Cassius’s words to Brutus in “Julius Caesar” : How many times shall this our lofty scene be acted o’er in states unknown and kingdoms yet unborn?”

Williams is obviously cognisant of how well-known is the dramatic tale of Macbeth’s fearful fall from grace; how familiar the text with its plethora of instantly identifiable soliloqies. His production unabashedly strives to jolt his audience into disconcerted attention, thrusting them from their complacent comfort zone and challenging them to sit in judgement of the unfolding tale. Narrow and largely uncomfortable tiered seating on the mainstage rises from the reduced performance space with the vast auditorium behind. To display his own inversion of his usual directrorial and storytelling practice, Williams also inverts the audience and his actors. Already, such brazen assault upon the Mainhouse convention demands an altered perspective on the action.

To take it even further, only eight actors play out the swelling scene, at first seated about a long table and allowing Shakespeare’s imagistic text to tell the bloody story of a brave and honourable soldier who, at his ambitious wife’s urging, murders his noble king, Duncan ,played with gracious gentility by John Gaden, and sets about a train of events that will inevitably lead to his terrible doom. Only Hugo Weaving, bestriding the narrow stage like a colossus, plays the solitary, titanic role of Macbeth, while the remaining seven performers assume witches, apparitions, soldiers and murderers and the principal characters of the tragedy.
 Eden Falk as Malcolm. John Gaden as Duncan
Williams’s idiosyncratic minimalism continues through designer, Alice Babidge’s random costuming from T shirts and jeans to ermine and fur to Eden Falk’s Malcolm in doublet and hose, pantaloon and ruff to draw us back to the Elizabethan stage. If nothing, Williams’s production is consistent in its inconsistency. It is to the credit of the cast and production team that Shakespeare’s irony and ambiguity, cloaked in the contradiction of antithesis drives the powerful narrative through the text. Voice and text coach, CHarmian Gradwell  has tutored her actors well. Only Paula Arundell’s Banquo speaks the speech trippingoverly on the tongue, thus diminishing Banquo’s soldierly stature. She rises more effectively to the occasion during the horrific slaughter of Lady Macduff and her son.

Williams restrains theatrical effect throughout the exposition, preferring minimalism and storytelling to excessive theatricality.  After Duncan’s assassination the full impact of the horrendous deed is heightened by Nick Schlieper’s lighting and Max Lyandvert’s soaring composition and sound. Dry ice shrouds the stage to draw an audience towards the “dunnest smoke of hell” following the heinous deed. Banquo’s fearful flight from fate into the knives of his murderers takes place in the auditorium as does the news of the slaughter of Macduff’s family. Strobe flashes across Macbeth’s swordfight and snow seems to cascade upon the battlefield as the tyrant is drawn towards his inevitable fate.

Throughout, Weaving’s Macbeth is a man possessed and obsessed. Melita Jurisic’s Lady Macbeth may act the catalyst, but Weaving’s noble hero corrupts at the prophesy of the witches and the sheer power of his performance gives full credence to his total usurping of the role of protagonist, allowing Jurisic’s Lady Macbeth to play the fragile strains of neurosis from the outset and cast her fateful trajectory towards the vale of insanity. Her twisted, tormented sleepwalking soliloquy reveals a more fragmented spirit as her feet turn upon a spot upon the floor. Here is utter degradation, lending plausibility to her impending death.  Hers is one of Shakepeare’s most challenging and elusive female roles and Jurisic makes it entirely her own, eliciting some sympathy for the woman whose loyalty and devotion sealed her irrevocable demise.

But it is Weaving’s Macbeth that towers above all expectation. His performance is riveting, charging inevitably towards utter degradation and defeat as he crawls in contorted agony to grasp the ankles of victorious Macduff, played with vocal authority and conviction by Kate Box. Williams’s decision to cast a mere eight actors may disturb conventional expectation, but it does create a strong ensemble, who serve Shakespeare’s simple plot with the storyteller’s art of engagement, mystery, suspense and resolution.
Eden Falk as Fleance. Paula Arundell as Banquo
Sydney Theatre Company’s Macbeth is a director’s playground, allowing Williams and his company to tell a familiar morality tale afresh. The universality of Shakespeare’s commentary on immoral ambition, fate and consequence gives licence to a contemporary staging of a story that will contain for all time the eternal nature of the human condition. This production tells it as it is, simply, truthfully and with powerful allegiance to Shakespeare’s mirror up to nature.

The production is not without controversy, but that is theatre’s function throughout the ages and this production is a full uninterrupted  two hours traffic upon the stage that seeks not to elicit empathy nor offer catharsis, but invites us all to witness and to judge the eternal battle between good and evil through one tragic hero’s fatal flaw.
Melita Jurisic as Lady Macbeth

All photographs by Brett Boardman