Friday, August 18, 2017


Directed by Tracy Bourne and Katie Cawthorne
Sound Design by Kimmo Vennonen
Presented by Canberra Youth Theatre

Ainslie Art Centre 17 – 19th August, 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The publicity for Canberra Youth Theatre’s “Poem Every Day” promised “an arresting new work shaped by the poetry of Canberra poet Joshua Bell, and drawing on the practices of Pina Bausch, Omar Naharin and Bertholt Brecht”.  The reality turned out to be a puzzling and unappetising theatrical experience.

On arrival audience members were handed “Artistic Notes” cheerily announcing “Surprisingly, there is very little of the actual poetry of Joshua Bell throughout this piece”. Surprising indeed, especially as the audience was also provided with a booklet of 12 Joshua Bell poems, each named after a member of the cast, but which appeared to have little relevance to the events depicted in the performance.

Instead, according to the notes, the directors had responded to the ideas within the poetry, making comments about what it means to be truly yourself by utilizing one specific poem, “Don’t Hide Your Weirdness”, which, curiously, wasn’t included in the booklet.

The performance began with the assembled audience being ushered into the main auditorium which was stripped of seating. Crouched on the floor, in the centre of the performance space, a young woman slowly began to move her arms, before hurling herself around the floor.

A large bearded man in shorts entered, lay on the floor and the two gradually moved towards each other. He lay prone on his back on the floor while the young woman climbed all over his body, seemingly encouraging intimacy, and teasingly caressing his beard with her bare feet. The paedophilic implications of this scene were deeply unsettling, prompting questions as to the propriety of the director’s intentions in requiring their young cast to perform this demeaning scene, or indeed, others that followed.

Following the opening scene, the cast assembled on the stage to present a faux-Broadway interpretation of a song in which the only intelligible words were “Tuesday” and “Fuck”, the cast apparently competing to see who could outdo the other in how many times they could repeat the latter.  Then they all dashed into separate areas around the room, where they continued shouting unintelligibly.At this point, around 20 minutes into the performance, this reviewer decided to embrace his own weirdness, flee the “Fucks”, and seek something more edifying to fill in the night.

So, after reading all the Joshua Bell’s poems in the booklet, discovering that none contained the word “Fuck”, or indeed threw any light on the content of the performance, and pondering what possible influences could be attributed to the practices of Bausch, Naharin or Brecht in “Poem Every Day”, can only question what outcome the creatives had hoped to achieve in squandering so much time and talent on such a misconceived work which served its cast and source inspirations so poorly.  

In conversation with Kim Beamish, documentary filmmaker

Kim Beamish in conversation
 By Jane Freebury

The Circle’s winter conversations for 2017 wound up with another filmmaker in the guest chair. Kim Beamish, director and producer at Non’D’Script Films, now Canberra- based, who has received international recognition for his documentary work. 

His film, The Tentmakers of Cairo, was joint winner of the prestigious Margaret Mead award for documentary film in 2015. It also won the Prix Buyens-Chagoll at Visions du Réel, and the El-Ray Award for narrative documentary excellence at the Barcelona Film Festival. 

Kim, who studied at the Victorian College of the Arts and has a degree in digital arts from the Australian National University, took us on a quick tour of his varied professional background. It includes work in media production for universities and government departments, at Bearcage Productions, long-term volunteering with community television—and a stint in the kitchen at a famous Sydney restaurant. 

He came to Canberra after his wife landed a job in the public service. A typical Canberra story, quipped Helen.

In the media area, Kim has been involved in productions featuring a number of identities including artist John Olsen, actor Lexi Sekuless, and the late Betty Churcher. He is currently teaching again at University of Canberra.

At the start of our discussion, Kim explained his aesthetic preferences. The type of documentary he prefers to make and watch is verité. His preference is for the observational approach that allows his subjects to speak for themselves, with minimal interference or input from the filmmakers, either on set or in post-production.

Verité or actuality is the approach he uses in his forthcoming film, Oyster, a doco set in a family of oyster farmers based on the far south coast of NSW. It observes their way of life and work and how they are dealing with the impact of climate change on the environment at Merimbula Lake. The human dimension of the impact of great change.

For now, Kim is best known for The Tentmakers of Cairo, the documentary he made about the small community of male artisans, known as tentmakers, who stitch traditional cloths that have been made in Egypt since pharaonic times. There is no voice of god voiceover nor music introduced to guide viewer responses. The music that can be heard is already playing on set or nearby. The emphasis on ambient sound in the covered market in Old Cairo where the tentmakers work is highly immersive.

Kim explained the serendipity involved in The Tentmakers. It was made in Egypt during the early stages of the ‘Arab spring’, beginning in 2011 when he accompanied his wife and young family on a 3-year posting. Kim knew he wanted to record some aspect of the tumultuous events taking place in Egypt, but just wasn’t quite sure what or how to go about it. At that point, no one knew what direction events would take either.

Initially he had wanted to work with Egyptian filmmakers, but found they weren’t interested in documentary.

We were keen to hear how he had managed to film in Cairo during such a turbulent time. After he was introduced to the tentmaker community by quilt expert Jenny Bowker, Kim immediately developed a strong rapport with the subjects of his film. It was Jenny, a Cairo resident and wife of a former ambassador to Egypt, who was his first key contact.

Kim’s status was then confirmed with a walk through the market neighbourhood in the company of a prominent member of the tentmaker community. A demonstration that the young stranger at the side of the ‘elder’ was a welcome guest to be protected.

Kim had to find his way around Cairo with Arabic that was minimal at best – ‘shway’ – and no guarantee of entrée. Moreover, brandishing a cinematographic camera without journalistic or other accreditation, Kim could have landed himself in trouble. Every journalist he knew had had their camera smashed, he said.

Despite the risks, the production proceeded to post. The Tentmakers of Cairo premiered at the Canberra International Film Festival in 2015, and it has been screened in Egypt. 

One of the virtues of observational doco style, we all agreed, is that it is open to a variety of readings.
Finally, Kim talked briefly about his first documentary feature, Just Punishment, ‘a film about life and death’, the case of the Australian Van Nguyen who was executed in Singapore in 2005 for drug trafficking. The production, involving three years back and forth between Singapore and Australia, was an experience that still troubles Kim, who has remained close to the man’s mother. 

He did not have the same level of creative control over this first film either, and it is observational only in part. His new film Oyster, is thoroughly in the observational mode, however.

It was particularly interesting to hear how Kim worked as an independent filmmaker, how he obtained funding in the development stages of production and received ongoing support. We were impressed by Kim’s openness and by his dedication to the integrity of his craft. 

Oyster, which Kim is making with veteran filmmaker Pat Fiske, will premiere at the CIFF this year.

Blue Love

Photo: Simon Wachter
Blue Love at Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, August 16-17, 2017.

Director/Writer/Designer/Choreographer: Shaun Parker
Original Direction by Shaun Parker & Jo Stone
Dramaturg: Kate Champion (Founding Artistic Director of Force Majeure)
Performed by Shaun Parker, Lucia Mastrantone & Jo Stone

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 17

When a show so cleverly satirises the criticism of art, what am I to write in response?  Can I just say, “Well done!” and be done with it?  Or better, “Extremely well done!!!”

Maybe a little verbal dancing will save my critical bacon.  The great writer on criticism, the poet TS Eliot, pointed out that “There are several forms which criticism might take; there is always a large proportion of criticism which is retrograde or irrelevant; there are always many writers who are qualified neither by knowledge of the past nor by awareness of the sensibility and the problems of the present.”

Am I so qualified?  I can’t dance like Glenn and Rhonda Flune.  Or sing mediaeval French folk songs like them.  With a bit of redevelopment of ancient experience, I might be able to act a bit like them, and fool my audience into not being sure if they are fictional or real.

I’m pretty sure I can’t write like Shaun Parker, even with the help of such a spot-on dramaturg as dance-drama expert Kate Champion.  My imagination is just not so wonderful.  I think I should accept Samuel Beckett’s criticism:

VLADIMIR: Abortion!
ESTRAGON: Morpion!
VLADIMIR: Sewer-rat!
ESTRAGON: (with finality). Crritic!
He wilts, vanquished, and turns away.”

But maybe that’s just my being qualified by knowledge of a past sensibility – 1960’s absurdism.  In modern times, Blue Love is remarkably original.  Yet I was reminded that it does have antecedents by the flyer, perhaps ironically left on my seat. 

“An acrobatic exploration of the place we call home.”  “Thought provoking...heart stopping.”  “The finest piece of circus I’ve ever seen.”  To which I would add, “The funniest piece of theatre I have seen for a very long time.”  But wait.  These paeans of praise are about Landscape with Monsters (not the ‘funniest’ bit), the show by Circa at the Canberra Theatre on 6-9 September.  Did the front-of-house staff realise these words are as true of Blue Love as we hope they will be of Landscape with Monsters.

And I’m sure I saw a line of history back to the original Circus Oz.  Shaun Parker’s sense of humour is wild in that same vein.

‘Home’ in Blue Love is Rhonda and Glenn’s home, which includes all of us visitors, welcomed with snacks and beers.  We are entertained by them for an hour or so, as they tell us the story of how they met, fell in love, married, bought their house, lost their first child, had two more.  We never quite get to the Darby and Joan stage, as ‘lurv’ seems to fall apart while we watch their home movies and listen to a startling sound mix of lines from just about every recorded love song of the past hundred years.  Even TS Eliot when writing the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in 1917 might have been thinking ahead to Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (even apparently under water in Blue Love).

To describe Shaun and Lucia’s choreography in words is impossible.  A Youtube virtual reality headset would be the only way.  As Eliot said about poetry: “It is not always true that a person who knows a good poem when he sees it can tell us why it is a good poem.  The experience of poetry, like any other experience, is only partially translatable into words."

So that’s it.  Good theatre can’t be translated into words.  You have to see it to believe it. Blue Love is an experience you should definitely not miss.  Because you will love it.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


Shaun Parker and Lucia Mastrantone in "Blue Love"

Directed, Written, Designed and choreographed by Shaun Parker

Presented by Shaun Parker and Company

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre 16th & 17th August 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens 

Defying categorisation, but deliciously subversive and irresistibly entertaining, this cleverly devised work began life as a diversion to fill in time during breaks in the filming of Baz Luhmann’s Moulin Rouge.  At the time Shaun Parker was performing in Moulin Rouge as a tango dancer.  Originally conceived with performer, Jo Stone, Parker’s experiments morphed into award winning dance films, then finally, this stage version, which has been performed widely in Europe and Australia.

Incorporating the films blended with physical theatre, dialogue and dance, Blue Love is a quirky, character based work, which cleverly satirises the pop culture clichés of modern romance and suburbia.

Performed by Parker and Lucia Mastrantone, in the guise of Glenn and Rhonda Flune, two characters who may well have been neighbours of Kath and Kim, Blue Love commences with the audience being plied with beer and popcorn by Glenn and Rhonda, and welcomed them to their trendy lounge room (or as they describe it – love arena) to share the secrets of their “perfect marriage”.

No cliché is left unexplored during this eye-opening sharing. To a very funny narration liberally sprinkled with mispronounced Italian, French and who-knows-what, their guests are treated to home truths, home movies (reviewed by David and Margaret no less), a Norman Lindsay party, the decorum of which is threatened when Rhonda spitefully picks at the artfully placed bunch of grapes protecting Glenn’s modesty, and an hilarious argument using lyrics from well-known 80’s pop songs.

Memorable episodes include clever physical comedy involving an amazing pas de deux in which a seemingly boneless Rhonda is tossed around by Glen, and an eye-watering routine performed while both simultaneously execute push-ups.

Constantly surprising, clever and entertaining, Blue Love may not solve your romantic problems but it will undoubtedly prove the perfect antidote to a dull day in the office.     

Shaun Parker and Lucia Mastrantone in "Blue Love"

                                               Photos by  David McCarthy

This review first published in Australian Arts Review.

The Inheritance

The Inheritance by Greg Gould.  Budding Theatre at Belconnen Community Theatre, August 16-19, 2017.

Directed and designed by Cate Clelland; Lighting Designer – Andrew Snell; Costumes - The Cast

The Three Daughters: Linda Chen – Gina Essington; Alexandra Howard – Amanda Essington; Jess Waterhouse – Emily Essington
The Parents: Victoria Hopkins – Dianna Essington; John Kelly – Lesley Archibald Essington
The Lawyer: Rob Defries – John Lauder.  Lawyer’s Clerk: Vivek Sharma – Paul
The Daughters when young: Erin Stiles – Young Gina; Martha Russell – Young Amanda; Vivien Murray – Young Emily

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 16

Greg Gould has written a conventional morality play in a unusual style.

The story might seem a little reminiscent of Shakespeare’s King Lear, but is centred on the roles of the women in the family of a dominating man.  Gina is clearly Cordelia, Emily perhaps Goneril, Amanda would be Regan, the lawyer John is the sensible Kent, while Paul is Oswald the fop.  Les Essington, like Lear, has to learn the value of his youngest daughter’s integrity.  Dianna has no parallel in Shakespeare’s play, of course, since Lear’s wife is never even mentioned.

Gould’s story is less grand.  Les is a self-made wheeler and dealer, a billionaire in his robust sixties, who competed with Alan Bond to try for the America’s Cup, but who surprisingly dies while having sex with his young mistress (not a bimbo, but a biochemist).  Only a few months prior, he had made his lawyer redraft his will – apparently leaving Gina nothing.  But there is a twist: Gina accepts his decision, and his only gift – a ragged looking doll which he had refused to let her keep when she was a young child.

The set, an office to one side and a bathroom-toilet on the other, doesn’t change but the action takes place mainly in the lawyer’s office at the gathering of the widow and daughters for the reading of the will, or in the bathroom with Dianna refusing to come out of the toilet, interspersed with flashback scenes between Gina and her father.  In the final brief scene, we see Les reappear and drink a scotch with his lawyer – perhaps a flashback to when they met to change the will; or suggesting that Les is not actually dead (so the reading of the will is a ploy to bring his recalcitrant family together); or suggesting it is Les’ ghost celebrating in John’s imagination.

The writing of the dialogue is well done, capturing the different characters of the three daughters, the manic behaviour of their mother, and the good nature of the lawyer.  In the first scene with the youngsters, the playing is quite naturalistic (and the three young performers are very good), but after that I couldn’t be sure whether the exaggerated style in the acting was intended by the author; or whether Cate Clelland was using exaggeration as a device to make the script work.

On reflection I think it was the latter.  The script, if played straight, would become a melodrama, a typical moralistic tale.  Played this way, Paul’s character would be no more than a cardboard cutout of a servant.  But Vivek Sharma makes him into a highly over-the-top caricature of a gay man, almost to the point of a politically incorrect stereotype.  He does it very well, and gets plenty of laughs to balance the internecine verbal warfare between the three sisters and their mother.  The style of all four women, especially in Jess Waterhouse’s Emily, is exaggerated, not to the same degree but still enough to contrast with the very natural style used for John, who finally has to stand on his digs and bring the battles to a standstill so that the will can be read in something like the proper manner.

Going at it in this way meant, I think, that the issues – such as the rights and lack of power of women, and the acceptance or not of the right to be wealthy – became clarified.  If the style had been kept naturalistic all round, the play would seem to be no more than a very ordinary sentimental and unbelievable story.

This doesn’t mean that I can say it’s a great play.  It falls too much between the stools of satirical comedy and straight social commentary.  I think the model that Greg Gould could work towards is the tv show, The Family Law, where the comedy and social criticism sit more comfortably together.  Clelland has written in her Director’s Note of these characters that “Their immense wealth makes them larger than life and highly theatrical”, achieved very well by all the adult women performers, “but their problems make them believably human”.  Though the actors under Clelland’s direction achieved some moments where we could emotionally identify with those characters, the script will need more development to shift us more easily from one stool to another.

Clelland notes that she “would like to thank Greg for deciding to finish this play and for trusting us with taking it for its first run”, and I can certainly support her in this.

Victoria Hopkins as Dianna Essington
John Kelly as Les Essington

Photos by Reid Workman

Martha Russell as Young Amanda
Erin Stiles and Vivien Murray
as Young Gina and Young Emily

Alexandra Howard as Amanda Essington and
Linda Chen as Gina Essington

Linda Chen as Gina Essington and Jess Waterhouse as Emily Essington

Rob Defries as lawyer John Lauder

Vivek Sharma as Paul

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Belvoir announces new Executive Director

We are thrilled to announce the appointment of one of Australia’s most prominent and experienced arts administrators, to the position of Executive Director.

Posted by Frank McKone

We are thrilled to announce the appointment of Sue Donnelly, one of Australia’s most prominent and experienced arts administrators, to the position of Executive Director of Belvoir, recently vacated by Brenna Hobson.

Sam Meers, Belvoir Chair, said today, “I’m thrilled to be announcing Sue Donnelly’s appointment as Executive Director and Co-CEO of Belvoir. Sue has been appointed after an extensive recruitment process that included interviews with an impressive short list of potential international and Australian candidates. The breadth and depth of Sue’s experience across the industry, and the esteem in which she is held by colleagues worldwide, make her the standout choice as our new Executive Director. We look forward to an exciting future under her joint leadership of the company with our Artistic Director, Eamon Flack.”

Our Artistic Director Eamon Flack said of the appointment “This is very good news. Sue is an old friend of Belvoir’s, she knows the company from the inside and she’s very much at home with its idiosyncrasies. Her sense of the work we make and the kinds of risks this company is built on, is excellent. She knows what makes Belvoir special and she’ll fight the good fight. I’m particularly pleased because Sue was the acting General Manager when I joined Belvoir as the Literary Manager in 2006. She was tough-minded and kind-hearted then, and she is now. We’ll make a good odd couple, I think, in the best possible way. It’s terrific news.”