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.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Vale Robert Foster, who played, challenged, and inspired


Obituary by Meredith Hinchliffe

ROBERT Foster, leading Australian designer, was killed last Wednesday July 13  in a tragic car accident.

The late Robert Foster with 'the jug'

Foster graduated with a BA (Visual) in Gold and Silversmithing in 1984 and completed a Post Graduate Diploma in 1986 from the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University.

In 1986 he immediately set up a workshop in Canberra and commenced work privately. His first solo exhibition – “Between Earth and Sky” – was held at Makers Mark Gallery, Melbourne that same year. He exhibited in many group shows in Australia and internationally for the next several years and held a second solo exhibition in 1991 – “Vessels” – at Studio Noko in Sydney.

Foster travelled to Europe, studying techniques, studio methods and design, returning in 1988. He undertook contract work at the Australian National Mint in Canberra for several years, and worked as a technician in the Glass Workshop and the Gold and Silver Workshop at the Canberra School of Art, adding valuable skills to his talent for design innovation.

In 1993, Foster established FINK + Co, the first product being one with which we all so familiar: “The jug, that from which to pour”, commissioned by The Republic, an edgy restaurant in Canberra. FINK was always intended to support and be part of a network or company of artists and designers.

Foster learned under the expertise of Ragnar Hansen and Johannes Kuhnen in the Gold and Silver Workshop. Here he learned the traditional skills of hollowware, and they were integral to his body of work. He had also experimented with anodised aluminium, chosen initially as an alternative to more expensive metals, such as silver. The first jug was a small edition, made using found materials and a simple press. He recognised immediately the potential for production processes for small scale production of functional objects – many of which are quirky but all of which function perfectly.

By 2013 over forty designs had been developed, some of which were produced in very small runs. Foster had collaborated with at least ten artists in developing the designs, which included diverse materials such as glass, jewellery and moulded plastic.

Robert Foster experimented continuously, always seeking another way of making or another object that could be made more easily or more efficiently, or which could be given a fillip.

All potential designs were given extensive research and development. He always had a deep knowledge of tool making and made most of his own tools, and other artists learned from his tooling practices.

Foster used his experiments and one-off designs to develop multiples – he never drew a distinction between exhibition works and production lines. Those who worked with him benefited from this knowledge and approach to making. Sean Booth, who developed a line of tableware for the Hyatt’s three restaurants at the National Museum of Australia when it opened in 2001, and manufactured at FINK, identified many lessons learnt on the studio floor, including economic use of materials and efficient time-management.

One of Foster’s first collaborators at FINK was Scott Chaseling, a highly-regarded glass artist, and they created “The Fink Large Bowl” in 1994, made from spun, powder-coated aluminium with thermo-formed acrylic. Other artists he worked with include Elizabeth Kelly, another glass artist, creating the “Fink Citrus Squeezer” in 1995 and the “FINK Shot Glasses” in 1999. FINK, in association with others, created a range of jewellery including brooches, bangles, pendants and earrings using diverse techniques.

These collaborations were highly valued by all those involved. Artists took their experiences of cross-fertilisation of skills and processes back to their individual studios, where they continued to develop and create works of art. Foster was generous with his experience and was willing to share – both through mentorships of younger craftspeople, or by inviting others to design for FINK. Artists retained copyright in their designs and their names remained associated with the product, being highlighted in advertising. They earned valuable royalties while establishing themselves and gained a professional reputation through their association with FINK. He also opened his studio and allowed others to use his equipment.

Robert Foster initially sent his products to Sydney to be anodised but there was a high attrition rate. Eventually, he set up his own anodising plant and offered this service to other industries in Canberra.

FINK went on to foster design and small production. The generosity of spirit that Foster extended to young graduates working in metal, glass and wood is a major legacy from which the Australian community will continue to benefit. They will be losers from his untimely death.

Foster began working with lights as early as 1997, when he created the “Fink Blink Lamp”, which used his fascination with magnets. Hanging lights followed in 2005, with perhaps his most recent project being the installation of two lights in the newly refurbished Members’ Lounge at the National Gallery of Australia, in the second week of July.

Foster was commissioned to create “The Journey” for the then new ActewAGL building in the city, launched in 2010 to celebrate the company’s tenth anniversary. This ever-changing light sculpture is a landmark work of public art in the city of Canberra.

Gretel Harrison, Foster’s partner, joined FINK in 1997 and has been the “frontline of the business” according to Elizabeth Kelly. Her strong background in marketing and graphic design helped create a range of promotional materials. She maintained an international presence at trade fairs and gained valuable research, product development and customer feedback – a vital element of the process of product development. Her work is always clean, elegant and imaginative, and the use of artists photographed with their work gave an accessible, human touch to the objects.

The principles of ‘play, challenge, and inspire’ lay at the heart of Robert Foster’s practice. It is impossible to quantify the impact he has had on Australian, and indeed international, design over the last thirty years. He has influenced probably hundreds of artists in countless ways. He was once described as having the ‘natural inquisitiveness of an engineer with the creativity of a designer’.

Robert Foster will be missed by the visual arts community in Canberra, in Australia and around the world, and by those who appreciated his beautifully made, whimsical and functional works of art.

He is survived by his partner Gretel Harrison and their two young daughters.

Date of Birth: August 23, 1962, Kyneton, Victoria

Date of Death: July 13, 2016, Kowen, NSW
This obituary first appeared at on July 15 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Directed by Stephanie McAlister
Musical Director: Liz Collier
Canberra Opera
Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest to 24 July

Review by Len Power 15 July 2016

The Puccini opera, ‘Suor Angelica’, was first performed in 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, as part of the first complete performance of ‘Il Trittico’, an evening of three contrasting one act operas including ‘Il Tabarro’ and ‘Gianni Schicchi’.

Banished to a convent as punishment for bearing a child while unmarried, Suor Angelica is asked by a family member to renounce her inheritance in favour of her sister, who is getting married.  At the same time, she learns to her horror that her infant son had died two years previously.

Canberra Opera’s production, staged on the altar of the Wesley Uniting Church in Forrest, gains much from the atmosphere and acoustic of the church.  Director, Stephanie McAlister, has kept the production simple and focussed on the all important music.  It was pleasing and surprising to see the use of projected surtitles to keep the audience abreast of the story, which was sung in original Italian.

Karyn Tisdell gives a heart-felt performance as Suor Angelica, singing and acting the role very well.  Her performance of the difficult aria, ‘Senza Mamma’, was especially notable.  Janene Broere was imposing and effective as La Zia Principessa with her aria ‘Nel Silenzio’.  Louise Keast, Vivian Bachelier and Doreen Robinson sang well in the other principal roles.  The group singing of the chorus and principals was nicely done with pleasing and clear harmonies.  Italian pronunciation was also fine.  It was good to see the inclusion of the men’s and children’s chorus at the end of the opera.  The sound produced by the combined voices provided an emotional finale to the show.

Acting performances were a bit uneven amongst the cast.  There was a tendency to drop out of character and just stand there while not actually singing.  More individuality of character, given the uniformity of the nun’s costumes, would have provided added interest and it was not realistic having everyone walk slowly all the time as if in a procession.

Musical direction by Liz Collier was fine and her small orchestra played the score very well.  The sound produced by orchestra and singers was well balanced and quite beautiful to listen to throughout the one hour production.

Overall, Canberra Opera have done nice work here.  It’s a good opportunity to see a Puccini opera that isn’t done very often.

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