Friday, July 29, 2016


Written and Directed by Julian Hobba
Aspen Island Theatre Company
The Street Theatre to 31 July

Review by Len Power 28 July 2016

Julian Hobba’s ‘The Slip Lane’ starts promisingly.  Two people meet in an Access Canberra waiting room in Gungahlin.  She’s a single mum and he’s there to suggest that a road in the suburb needs a slip lane.  When she mentions that she wants the Government to investigate a mysterious creature in the paddock across the road from her house, the guy, Matthew, sees an opportunity to get to know her by offering to investigate it himself.

The creature turns out to be a multi-eyed monster that talks a lot and is full of suggestions for Matthew - at least I think so, as it was very hard to understand anything the monster was saying with the dialogue electronically processed for effect.  From that point on, the play seemed to be a satire played as a whimsical farce.  Canberra, politicians, public servants, journalists and others were targeted and the promising relationship between two people established so nicely at the beginning seemed to have less relevance as the play progressed.

According to the writer’s notes in the program, the play ‘is about how to feel at home – in our houses, our streets, our suburbs, our cities and our Universe – but most importantly in our own skin.  We ultimately cannot plan and build an individual’s contentment or the sense of connection with the people around them that is the source of their feeling of security and worth in the world.’  If that was the intention, it all got lost somewhere along the way.

The professional cast performed their roles strongly and capably but there was no-one to really identify with and no sense of involvement.  Imogen Keen’s production design was fine but the back projection dominated proceedings resulting in awkward scene changes with a large sofa and associated props frequently being taken off and then brought back on again.  The director needed to find a better way to manage this.

The back projection worked quite well with generally good choices of images and animations by Danny Wild but the monster wasn’t very interesting to look at.  Lighting by Gillian Schwab and sound by Kimmo Vennonen (except for the monster’s voice) were of The Street’s usual high standard.

It’s good to see new plays supported with major productions here in Canberra.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.  ‘The Slip Lane’ needs a lot more thought and revision to become a satisfying and memorable play.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Artcetera’ program on Saturdays from 9am.

Our Land People Stories: Bangarra

Our Land People Stories:  Bangarra Dance Theatre at Canberra Theatre Centre, July 28-30, 2016.
National Tour dedicated to David Page.

Macq by Jasmin Sheppard  Music by David Page
Miyagan by Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley  Music by Paul Mac
Nyapanyapa by Stephen Page  Music by Steve Francis
Sets designed by Jacob Nash
Costume Design by Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design by Matt Cox

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 28

Bangarra belongs to this country in a way that I know I never fully can.  I arrived here a mere 61 years ago, invited by Australia’s non-Indigenous government as a £10 Pom with little knowledge of the country’s short history since 1788, and absolutely no idea of its true history since its First People began arriving after their long trip from Africa about 50,000 years ago.

Tonight I feel privileged to have been invited into our country by Bangarra, perhaps our only truly national theatre, whose work is as modern as today while it stretches our culture back in time, almost immemorial. 

While I might refer back to Shakespeare or Chaucer, or even with a lot of imagination back to Ancient Greece, a mere couple of thousand years, the three dances performed tonight take us first via Governor Macquarie’s declaration of war in the Appin massacre of 1816 in Jasmin Sheppard’s Macq.  Then we go on a great learning curve of understanding of the matrilineal totemic kinship system of the Wiradjuri nation still in place today right here surrounding Canberra, in the Riley family’s Miyagan.

Finally, after such powerful works by the younger choreographers, Bangarra’s Artistic Director since the company’s inception 25 years ago, Stephen Page, presents his new work derived from the art of Yolngu woman Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, in a creative exchange where her paintings are danced into our consciousness a world away from Yirrkala in far North-East Arnhem Land.  As Nyapanyapa pictures the changes over time of new experiences, such as the arrival of buffalo and the young generation’s modern music and dance, so she becomes the central figure in Stephen Page’s dances.  Like her, at my 75 years, I identify with the shock of sometimes frightening change.

But Macq brought me to tears as it made me think of the teenagers in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Juvenile Detention centre, seen being violently ill-treated even to the point of torture on ABC TV’s Four Corners last Monday night.  The words spoken by the NT Chief Minister back in 2010 about putting juvenile ‘criminals’ in a ‘concrete hole’ and actions of the detention guards were no improvement on Governor Macquarie’s diary record of 1816 justifying killing all who failed to obey his soldiers’ orders.

Miyagan in contrast was a wonderful positive experience to watch, as the dancers played for real, in their very dancing, the theme of the work: ‘Wiradjuri culture, language and customs are alive; our heartbeat is resilient and strong’.

It’s that heartbeat, knowing that Bangarra dances are for real, danced with knowledge and understanding of their history and culture, that makes this company unique and essential for all of us Johnny-come-latelies to learn from.  May we learn to mind our ways.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Resident Alien by Tim Fountain

Resident Alien by Tim Fountain.  The Street in association with Cameron Lukey at The Street Theatre 2, July 27 – August 7, 2016.

Director – Gary Abrahams; Set Design – Romanie Harper; Lighting Design – Rob Sowinski; Sound Design – Daniel Nixon.
Performed by Paul Capsis

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 27

Paul Capsis is brave to present his re-creation of the ascerbic Quentin Crisp, the English epitome of the intellectual queer, late in his life holed up in a cluttered claustrophobic room in Manhattan: in United States’ terminology, a ‘resident alien’.  Crisp’s character, based on his life and writings, is alienated from any ‘ordinary’ kind of life: he even proposes a law to say everyone must die by the age of 60.  The punishment for not dying will be to keep on living!

Capsis keeps us on the edge of wanting to feel sorry for Crisp’s loneliness – for which Crisp would condemn us for insulting him – and valuing the stringent truths about the human condition which we avoid at our peril.  In the end, as he boils a potato and fries his last egg, almost grimly eating as his spotlight fades, we are left to understand that we each must die alone.  That’s the only reality.  Life is just a short interlude between birth and death.

We are aware of Capsis’ bravery in the long pauses between speaking, sometimes brief ironically amusing stories, sometimes a flurry of critical assertions, by a character with a whole raft of tiny physical actions.  This is an extraordinary representation of a clearly recognisable Quentin Crisp, showing both the outward public figure who appeared on television, published book reviews – the intellectual stirrer – alongside his underlying insecurities. 

Gary Abrahams’ directing must be given full credit here, as it must for the wonderfully/awfully grotty set design by Romanie Harper, the abstract half-threatening background sound by Daniel Nixon – fading and swelling with our feelings – and, especially I thought, for Rob Sowinski’s lighting which gave the small space a living dynamism as lights subtly took us to different places and different degrees of emphasis.

I’m pleased, too, that the show was in the small Street Theatre 2.  The intimacy of almost being in the room with Crisp gave the play strength which I wonder might be harder to achieve on a larger or especially a proscenium stage.  As a Street Contemporary Drama Presentation, Resident Alien is a great success.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


National Capital Orchestra
Canberra Choral Society
Canberra Brass
Turner Trebles
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano
Susannah Lawergren, soprano
Tobias Cole, countertenor
Jeremy Tatchell, baritone
Conducted by Leonard Weiss
Llewellyn Hall Saturday 23 July 2016

Review by Len Power

The vast number of chairs and music stands onstage at the Llewellyn Hall prior to the start of this National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society combined concert made it clear that this was likely to be quite an event and so it turned out to be.

Three very different works were presented - Richard Wagner’s Prelude To Lohengrin, Act Three, Sean O’Boyle’s River Symphony and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

The Prelude To Lohengrin was nicely played by the orchestra but the item’s brevity seemed to catch the audience off guard as there was no applause at the end.

Sean O’Boyle’s River Symphony was commissioned by the Brisbane River Festival and premiered outdoors in 2001.  It’s a beautiful and dramatic work conjuring up strong images of Australian rivers in all their seasonal moods and visual and aural beauty.  Leading the orchestra, choir, Canberra Brass and sopranos, Sarahlouise Owens and Susannah Lawergren, Leonard Weiss produced a remarkable performance, bringing out all the colours and atmosphere of this work.  It was thrilling to listen to and the audience responded with great appreciation at the end.

Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, composed in the mid-1930s, has become a very popular concert piece over the years.  The opening sequence even turned up as the theme music of a TV coffee commercial some years ago!  Its dramatic and quirky characteristics make it a very enjoyable work for audiences, even if they don’t know what it’s all about.  Based on the Codex Buranus, a collection of poems and passion plays, written around 1230 AD, Carmina Burana is about love in all its forms, physical and spiritual, and even throws in a few drinking and gambling songs as well.

Soloists Tobias Cole, countertenor, and Jeremy Tatchell, baritone, – replacing an ailing David Greco – captured the spirit of the work especially well with their fine singing and ability to project the humour of their sequences.  Susannah Lawergren sang ‘In Trutina’ with great feeling and her short ‘Dulcissime’ sequence was exquisitely sung.  The children’s chorus, Turner Trebles, sang charmingly and with impressive precision.  The choral singing was mostly fine, clear and colourful, but at times seemed a bit under-powered against the orchestra.  Given the nature of this work, it would have been good to see more animation in the faces of the choir.  It was distracting to see three choir members taking a swig from water bottles while a soloist was singing.

Leonard Weiss conducted with assurance and overall this was a very entertaining performance of this work.  The audience clearly enjoyed it, giving very strong applause at the end.  A massive undertaking by all involved, it was a memorable evening of great music.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Artcetera’ program on Saturdays from 9am.


Directed by Katie Cawthorne
Presented by Canberra Youth Theatre
Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, July 21st to 24th 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

An unusual collaboration between Canberra Youth Theatre and Canberra Dance Theatre’s GOLD Troupe has resulted in a compelling, often touching, exploration of the differences in perceptions between youth and old age.

Working with a cast of ten 13 to 15 year old Canberra Youth Theatre members, and six 65 to  80 year old members of the GOLD troupe, director Katie Cawthorne has devised a visually arresting, one-hour work, to explores concepts of love, death, anxiety and family.  

The Verbatim Project cast. 

The setting is simple - a large black box studio space and sixteen bright yellow chairs. The dialogue is the thoughts of the cast, gathered utilising a variety of verbatim theatre techniques. Some dialogue is spoken live during the performance; some is played as recorded voice-overs, or edited video images recorded by the cast over the three month rehearsal period.

Throughout the piece the cast arrange and re-arrange the chairs, interact with each other, swap voices and ages, and perform tightly choreographed sequences to accompany their comments on a range of subjects related to the passage of life. Striking mood lighting, and at one stage, a gentle shower of white feathers, compliment the movement to provide a constant flow of striking images to accompany the dialogue.

During one sequence the younger cast members annunciate observations on happiness and love, recorded previously by the older cast, and vice-versa. The result is curiously revealing as well as amusing. In another, cast members swap chairs, and react to unconscious body contact. Perhaps the most powerful sequence involved one of the cast , born in 1935, sharing poignant recollections of her response to learning that her brother was fighting in the war as a bomber pilot, followed immediately by the recollections of a young cast member, born in 2001, of her father fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The spoken word sequences are delivered with admirable clarity and confidence throughout and supported by excellent technical elements to produce a memorable and thought- provoking theatrical experience.

   This review first published in CITY NEWS digital edition on 22nd July 2016.

Friday, July 22, 2016


Directed by Katie Cawthorne
Canberra Youth Theatre
Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre to 24 July

Review by Len Power 21 July 2016

Canberra Youth Theatre’s ‘The Verbatim Project’ presents a slice of sixteen individuals’ experiences in their lives so far, provoking the question, ‘Does age matter? In the end aren’t we all just having human experiences?’

This one hour presentation involves ten 13 to 15 year old performers and six from the 65 to 80 year old range.  Katie Cawthorne’s production is entertaining as well as thought-provoking.  Starting from audio and video interviews with the performers, the production has been developed into a theatrical experience using those interviews in various ways.  Some moments are scripted using words and expression as originally heard in interview while others use the device of ‘headphone verbatim’ where performers listen to the voice of someone else, while repeating exactly what they’re saying with the same rhythm and expression.

What is particularly exciting about this production is the way all the elements have been brought together into a complete theatrical experience.  Using only a number of uniformly coloured chairs on a bare stage, the cast create vivid dramatic moments through voice, movement and stillness.  Everyone onstage displays great confidence and skill in their playing through a series of concepts involving age, gender, anxiety, war, love, family, justice and death.  Particularly powerful was the relating of the experiences of an older and a younger person to different wars.

The assured and imaginative direction by Katie Cawthorne makes this a very compelling production.  She is aided by the excellent lighting design by Brynn Sommerville which adds to the atmosphere as does the sound design by Ethan Hamill and Kimmo Vennonen.

Being a part of this troupe of performers must have been a great learning experience about theatre and life in general.  For an audience it’s a production to enjoy and remember.

Len Power's reviews can also be heard on the Artsound FM 92.7 'Artcetera' program from 9am on Saturdays.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Extinction by Hannie Rayson

Extinction by Hannie Rayson.  Red Stitch Actors Theatre and Geelong Performing Arts Centre production at Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, July 20-23, 2016.

Director: Nadia Tass; Designers: Set – Shaun Gurton; Lighting, Photography and Video – David Parker; Sound and AV – Daniel Nixon; Costume – Sophie Woodward; Composer – Paul Grabowsky; Sound-system – Russell Goldsmith.

Cast: Brett Cousins – the veterinarian; Natasha Herbert – his sister, the academic ecologist; Ngaire Dawn Fair – his zoologist putative wife; Colin Lane – the ‘evil’ mining magnate.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 20

At first Hannie Rayson’s Extinction seems rather like a theatre-in-education exercise for adults.  This is not a bad thing.  It’s good to see a play raising the big issues of species extinction and climate change caused by human behaviour.  It’s also fascinating to see an ending in which at least the immediate future looks better for the animals in the forest (the Otway Ranges in Victoria) than for the other animals in the built environment of academia in Geelong (for non-Aussie readers, pronounced Jil√≥ng).

This is where the design team have done an especially wonderful job.  The locations of the many short scenes shift rapidly from surrounding forest with complete sound-scape (the tangled shapes and colours of the Australian bush) to the straight-edged reflective glass and concrete of the modern university.  Minimal furniture is moved on and off in dim-outs, while the video on the cyclorama transports us from location to location.  On the screen the computer, phone and security-door images – all essential to modern academic research – allow us to appreciate what the characters are seeing on their touch screens.

For once, here was technology entirely and properly integrated into the stage text.  I assume that the published play will include the dvd ready for playing while you read, or for a later director to use in a new production.

Acting was excellent in a play where the characters are, in a sense, written from the outside in.  Each has a characteristic attitude towards those big issues which defines their behaviour.  An interesting contrast in recent Australian playwriting is Andrew Bovell in Things I Know To Be True (reviewed here June 9, 2016) where characters grow from the inside out.  Both ways of working can work equally well.

In Extinction the Vet operates on his sick or injured animals, from cows, cats and dogs to tiger quolls, according to the Hippocratic Oath – which he takes to include applying euthanasia when there is no chance of normal living without pain.

His sister, the academic Head of Ecology Research, cannot reasonably refuse tainted money to rehabilitate the forest habitat for her tiger quoll study (a parallel situation to Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara where an arms manufacturer will supply funds for the Salvation Army).

The Vet’s potential wife, a Santiago zoologist leading the quoll research, heart warmingly mothers every animal – her oath does not include euthanasia.

Into this triumvirate Rayson injects a locally-born and raised farmer’s son who has become a coal mining magnate, yet with fond memories of his grandfather who, expressing his love for nature, had logged the forest.  Today’s realist offers the money made from open-cut coal mining, which both destroys good agricultural land and continues to worsen climate warming, to fund the tiger quoll research.  He may be ‘evil’ but he is also surprisingly sexually attractive to both women.

The play could be comedy, but only in parts.  It could be tragedy, as it also is in part.  It could be a sentimental story of hope despite adversity.   There is hope, but not mawkish sentimentality.  It’s an interesting study of life in the face of certain death, far beyond an academic concern about the extinction of quolls. 

The Vet’s story contains a secret that I must not reveal here, at least while Extinction is still a new play.  You must see the show to catch my drift.  You should see this show in any case, for its challenging ideas – and not least for the quality of its design and execution.