Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Platform Papers No 54 by Sue Giles

Young People and the Arts: An Agenda for Change by Sue Giles.  Platform Papers No 54, Currency House, February 2018.

Commentary by Frank McKone

Expectations around theatre for young people are prescribed and the barriers to exploration and risk taking are many and high. Adults who bring children to works for young people have strong opinions on what is acceptable; and yet, and perhaps because of this concern, the arts for young people are not highly valued as art....

We work with and for a demographic that has no buying power or whose buying power is indirect and in the power of others.  Demanding recognition of the importance of this audience and of the merit of the work created for this audience is
a constant issue for the sector, whether we are outright activists or rely on our work to speak for itself in the world.

To appreciate what Sue Giles, Artistic Director of Melbourne’s Polyglot Theatre might mean by An Agenda for Change, I went to the website at to discover what her company does to put into practice what she means when she asks “Can we consider the child as a cultural citizen? Can we challenge the dominant definition of the child and consider a different one, where the child is the key to a more engaged sector and a more inclusive society?”

There I found videos of what I regard as exemplary presentations of forms of theatre for the very young, often including the attending adults, in which the children were clearly engaged in the action, initiating where the storyline might go, and therefore learning about drama by doing it themselves, guided by frameworks set up by the adult actors. 

If this is “seeing the child as a cultural citizen”, then I’m all for it.  I have in the past consistently been critical of the sorts of shows mentioned in Chapter 4. Content:

“There is a school of thought that says children’s theatre must have a particular aesthetic: colour and movement, slapstick, happy endings, simple story lines, engaging characters, costumes and songs. Blockbuster touring works like Disney on Ice, but also home grown works like Wiggles in Concert or High5, fulfil this brief and are considered purely entertainment for children and families. Distraction is central to this form of entertainment and it’s for this reason that ‘entertainment’ is seen as distinct from Art.”

Throughout the Paper Giles provides a series of definitions to frame her discussion, an overall rationale, and chapters:

1. The Landscape for young people and the arts – then and now.
2. Questions of value.
3. Our point of difference.
4. Content.
5. Artistic practices that are shifting the ground.
6. Shifting our thinking: Showing adults what is possible.
7. Conclusion, in which she states:

“If we, adults, can begin to hear clearly and without judgement the opinions of children, see clearly and without bias the ways children choose, we might start to
understand how the jigsaw will be more complete when children are involved. If we can accept the knowledge and power of young people in the creation of art as equals in the journey then our art will be the better for it. They know things that we don’t and we can benefit from their shared knowledge. So let’s do that. The artists exploring in the TYA sector in Australia have a handle on this that can open the door for others, and not just in the arts.”

In the end, Sue Giles’ Platform Papers No 54 is a detailed and highly valuable statement of advocacy.  The focus on this aim, however, limits her argument to assertions and descriptions, without showing more exactly how to turn the “handle on this that can open the door for others, and not just in the arts.”

Currency House at  has a webpage link to Paper No 54, and I will follow up Sue Giles’ important work with further discussion of the principles behind drama method which is focussed on the participants having agency in practice – in theatre work for, with and by the young, rather than at the young.  This will be available shortly in an extended form on my blog – search for Drama Education Principles - Platform Paper No 54.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Review by © Jane Freebury

One of the original blonde bombshells of the golden years of Hollywood, Gloria Grahame, played the bad girl until the very end, it seems.  There were four husbands, there were scandals - including the rumour that she had been discovered in bed with a young stepson - and there was a lot of plastic surgery.

So with hindsight it is easy to imagine that her persona in films like The Bad and the Beautiful and The Big Heat, and the real Gloria were one and the same person.

Maybe so. It’s more or less the take that this film has on the screen siren, which is, after all, adapted from a memoir by a young lover, Peter Turner, an aspiring actor.

He could only see the good, and stood by her to the end. The film covers the few short years of their time together, their romance told in flashback from the present when Grahame is at work on stage in England, but gravely ill.

The unlikely couple crossed paths at a boarding house in Primrose Hill, London. Gloria, played by the wonderful Annette Bening, invites Peter into her room to help her practice a dance routine.
It is the first time in a long time that Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) has had an opportunity to show his dance moves, and Bening reveals she is no slouch on the dance floor either. It was the late 1970s, the era of disco and Saturday Night Fever.

It is a tribute to both actors that the romance between these two is so convincing. It is always a pleasure to spend time with Bening on screen, and this new lead role for Bell is a revelation. His ability to portray emotion with tenderness and conviction does, in my view, eclipse her here.

Still, Bening is the perfect choice for the role of the ageing film star who never stopped being the coquette and femme fatale. Just on the cusp of 60 years, she looks great and has a warm and sunny charisma to match. So refreshing to see an ageing female star who isn’t some kind of monster, like Gloria Swanson was in Sunset Boulevard or Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Just before Grahame died at 57 years, from either peritonitis or a relapse of breast cancer, she was a guest at Turner’s family home, a modest terrace house in Liverpool. When she collapsed on stage, her former lover rushed to the rescue and prevailed on the basic decency and kindness of his parents to help him look after her.

The dependable, sparky Julie Walters is lovely as Peter’s mother, a sensible, kind woman who may well have been caring for a woman around the same age as herself. The Turner family’s bemused and down-to-earth attitude to the star is touching.

So, it is for us to wonder where old film stars do go to when they want to drop out of the public eye. The back streets of Liverpool might be as good a choice as any.

There is something to admire about Grahame as she is portrayed here. Her resilience, her upbeat nature, her embrace of risk, flouting convention with her young lover, though it isn’t hard to imagine some of these admirable traits also contributed to her fall from grace.

It is hard to ignore the fact that she was found in bed with her 13-year-old stepson, the son of Nicholas Ray, the director. A decade or so later, the pair did marry, have two children, and it was Grahame’s longest lasting marriage too. The same can be said of Woody Allen, but it doesn’t make the behaviour any more excusable.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool just glances across the surfaces of Grahame’s personality with its contradictions and vulnerabilities.

Retreating behind dark glasses isn’t enough. There could have been more to this sweet film if it had taken a peak into the dark places of one of the screen’s first ladies of film noir.

Rated M, 1 hour 45 minutes

3 Stars

Also published at Jane's blog and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

Monday, March 19, 2018

DON QUICHOTTE - Opera Australia

Ferrucio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte
Opera in 5 acts by Jules Massenet - Libretto by Henri Cain

Conducted by Guillaume Tourniaire - Revival directed by Hugh Halliday

Set designed by Ralph Funicello for San Diego Opera

Costumes designed by Missy West for San Diego Opera

Lighting designed by Chad R. Jung - Choreographed by Tomas Dietz

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 15th to 28th March 2018.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Disaster was averted at the premiere of  Opera Australia’s much anticipated production of Massenet’s “Don Quichotte”, when guest artist , Ferruccio Furlanetto, considered the supreme interpreter of the role of Don Quichotte, was struck down with a severe throat infection and unable to sing. Understudy, Shane Lowencev, stepped in at short notice to save the day...or at least this performance.

The role of Don Quichotte is a star part requiring a singer who can dominate the stage. Tall and lanky, Lowrencev, an experienced singer, certainly looked the part. Not surprisingly though, his singing and acting were both rather tentative. However, the audience was in a forgiving mood and when Artistic Director, Lyndon Terracini took the stage to announce that Lowencev was replacing the ailing Furlanetto at this performance, the news was greeted, not with a sigh of disappointment, but instead, with a sympathetic and supportive round of applause. At the end of the performance his bows were greeted with enthusiastic applause.

Warwick Fyfe and chorus in Opera Australia's 2018 production of  "Don Quichotte" 

Warwick Fyfe provided the highlight of this performance with his finely realised interpretation of Quichotte’s faithful manservant Sancho Panza, in whom he imbued a touching sense of dignity while filling the theatre with resonate vocals.

“Don Quichotte” is an opera in which not a lot happens. An eccentric Knight arrives in a town with his squire. He becomes bewitched with the glamourous Dulcinea, promises to retrieve her pearl necklace which has been stolen by bandits. After locating the bandits and convincing them to part with the necklace, he returns it to Dulcinea expecting her to reward his bravery with her hand in marriage. When she rejects him, he dies of a broken heart.

Elena Maximova and chorus and dancers in Opera Australia's 2018 production of "Don Quichotte"
However, it is packed with luscious melodies, rich choruses, and lovely arias, all of which are superbly sung by the large cast.  Although the role of La Belle Dulcinea offered her limited opportunities, Russian mezzosoprano, Elena Maximova took advantage of every one of them to display her creamy contralto, her dancing prowess, and even win a laugh with her “I’m bored” response to her numerous ardent lovers.

Jane Ede, Anna Dowsley - Elena Maximova - John Longmuir
Opera Australia's 2018 production of "Don Quichotte"
Jane Ede and Anna Dowsley get the opportunity for some cheeky cross-dressing to join John Longmuir and Graeme McFarlane as a quartet of suitors competing against Don Quichotte for Dulcinea’s favours.

Anna Dowsley, Graham McFarlane, Jane Ede, John Longmuir in
 Opera Australia's 2018 Production of "Don Quichotte" 
Effective mood-setting Spanish dance sequences, choreographed by Tomas Dietz and beautifully performed by the eight dancers, added welcome movement to the crowd scenes, which suffered from old-fashioned staging which for some reason often required the chorus to be crowded together at the back of the stage.

Flamenco dancers and chorus in Opera Australia's 2018 production of "Don Quichotte"
The sets and costumes, courtesy of San Diego Opera, are lovely, but it was surprising to hear excerpts from Massenet’s ballet, “El Cid”, interpolated throughout the score, presumably to cover long set changes. Although these excerpts, lovingly interpreted by Guillaume Tourniare and superbly played by the Opera Australia orchestra, allowed the audience to relish the beauty of Massenet’s orchestral writing, and richness of the orchestral sound resulting from recent improvements to the orchestra pit, they did slow down the flow of the opera, and extend the playing time unnecessarily.

Ferrucio Furlanetto and Warwick Fyffe in
Opera Australia's 2018 production of "Don Quichotte" 
Reservations apart, this production of “Don Quichotte” offers a rare opportunity to experience a magnificently performed opera, packed with glorious music and with a moving finale scene which is likely to stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.
                                                      All photos by: Prudence Upton
This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. 





Oedipus Schmoedipus – a quick note.

By post (Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose) Directed By Zoë Coombs Marr and Mish Grigor.  Canberra Theatre. Thurs Mar 15.

This eccentric show probably found its true audience in front of a small group of college kids at a schools matinee.

Reminiscent of a year 8 improvisation that will last all lesson if it is permitted, it started with scenes of gore from the classics, complete with much fake blood. The crew then took forever to clean up the stage to the accompaniment of opera then Mish Gregor and Shelly Lauman of company post went on to ironic discussions and increasingly long sections done by an invited set of locals who worked impressively off autocue.  

Some of this was musings on death.  Some of it was a commentary on theatrical styles and preoccupations and canon.

Moments of beauty arrived – ghosts in the traditional white sheet with eye holes and a surprised ring-in wearing a niqab - as a possible vision of the after life.

The show seemed to be testing out the traditional forms of theatre somewhat like Beckett but without the intensity of feeling and perception. We are not used to seeing this without theatrical tuning up. So we were not altogether sure what it was saying at times.

There are expectations that it should be more conventional. We’re trained to a sense of how long is long enough. But is that part of our cultural theatrical conditioning? There are places in the world where performance starts and stops without reference to western theatre rhythms.

Those college students will have plenty to ruminate on.

Alanna Maclean


Jan Preston, piano and vocals
Mike Pullman, percussion
Jess Dunn, bass
The Street Theatre 18 March

Reviewed by Len Power

One of my earliest music memories is of Winifred Atwell playing ‘The Black and White Rag’.  Judging by the large number of people of a certain age at The Street Theatre for ‘Jan Preston’s Wonderful Winnie’, Atwell is still a much-remembered and loved performer.

Winifred Atwell was a child prodigy on piano in Trinidad in the West Indies, where she was born.  She went on to an international career with her honkytonk, boogie/ragtime piano music, sold millions of records world-wide and lived in Australia for the last 20 years of her life.  She became an Australian citizen and worked tirelessly to raise money for various Australian charities.

Jan Preston was born in New Zealand and is a superb piano player, singer and composer who has won five music awards.  She also composes music for films and wrote the theme for ABC’s ‘Australian Story’.

Preston gave us a musical journey through the life of Winifred Atwell in a tightly written and well-presented show that utilized a large number of projected photos of Atwell from the archives of the National Library of Australia.  Not just a chronology of Atwell’s life in performance, Preston’s script gave us an insight into the personal life of this fascinating woman at a time when life as a black woman was not easy as well.

Atwell’s most remembered musical items were presented including ‘Five Finger Boogie’, ‘Alley Cat’, Big Ben Boogie’ and ‘The Black and White Rag’.  They were well-played by Jan Preston who has her own disarming performance style.  We were also treated to songs written by Preston about Atwell that informed as well as entertained.  She was well-supported by Mike Pullman on percussion and Jess Dunn on bass.

Jan Preston engaged the audience right from the start with her down to earth delivery, her flashes of distinctive humour and red-hot piano playing and singing.  There was a real sense of celebration about the performance and I’m sure Winifred Atwell would have approved.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Oedipus Schmoedipus - Canberra Theatre

An anatomy lesson on death (photo by Rob Maccoll)

Review by John Lombard

“I’m going to die.”

Oedipus Schmoedipus rests on a great idea: ransack the classic plays by “Great White” males for death scenes, and stitch them together in a gory and glorious absurdist romp.

And that is exactly what Post performers Mish Grigor and Shelly Lauman delivered in the first ten minutes of the performance. The darkness lifted on the pair dressed all in white in front of a white backdrop, like a pair of sociopathic painters. In a montage set to rap they then re-enacted a cavalcade of death scenes: tongues were cut out, hands severed, poison quaffed, and there was every variation of stabbing. The blood that spurted out decorated both the set and the performers’ clothes.

After this strong opening, the play opted for a deliberate lull: cleaners tried to mop the stage, filling it with more blood before finally wiping it clean. While this sequence was intended to defuse our expectations, it went on for too long, and erased the momentum created by the strong opening.

The pair returned with microphones, and begin an oral dissertation on their theme: death in theatre. Theatrical death has weird rituals: the dead body must always be surrounded by candles, mourners inevitably shake with grief, and the dying always need some snappy last words.

These descriptions were acted out by an ad hoc troupe recruited mostly from Canberra local theatre. This group was given only a few hours prep, and followed instructions on a teleprompter: odd numbers shake, or evens wail. In an absurdist flourish one of these local performers carked it quite early, and spent the rest of the night lying on the stage as a dead lump. A lot of the fun came from watching this barely oriented group being thrust into weird situations.

The performance had a tendency to over-explain itself, and highlighted a lack of inclusion in the classical canon at the expense of the more relevant, but equally ripe for satire treatment of death in modern plays. The pair made a joke about the title of Angels in America, but the content of a 1991 play about death by a gay playwright was outside the show’s satirical remit. Even Willy Loman’s famous demise was too "modern" to make the cut.

The volunteer performers took over the stage for the finale, each individual - young and old - making a sober announcement that they were going to die, before performing a choreographed boogie of death.

The show was sometimes moving, and sometimes very funny, but the analytical approach to the topic struggled to match the visceral energy of the opening. Often the night felt like a revue of loosely connected sketches rather than a unified idea: famous death scenes were put on the spit, but not turned enough to receive a full roast.

Oedipus Schmoedipus entertains, but puts the catharsis before the hearse.


Written by David Auburn
Directed by Derek Walker
Tour director: Tyran Parke
FREEFALL Productions
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 17 March

Reviewed by Len Power 14 March 2018

In 2001, ‘Proof’ won both the Tony Award on Broadway for Best Play and also the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  The play focusses on Catherine whose father, a brilliant mathematician, has just died after a long illness.  In the days immediately following his death, Catherine’s relationships with older sister (Claire) and young student (Hal) are tested.  The issues of sibling rivalry, mental instability, trust and genius are brought to the surface with an electrifying discovery in Catherine’s father’s papers.

This thought-provoking play has been well-directed, originally by Derek Walker and by Tyran Parke for the current tour.  All but the father character of the original Sydney cast are in this touring production.

Former Canberran, Ylaria Rogers, returns to this region for the first time professionally as Catherine.  She gives an excellent performance of great depth in the role of the troubled daughter.  Appearing mostly in flashback, Gerald Carroll really gets under the skin of the father character, Robert, and plays his conflicting aspects very well.  Alexander Brown as Hal, the student, achieves a nicely naïve quality as a young man with his own self-doubts and dreams and Julia Christensen gives a strong performance as the well-meaning but pushy older sister, Claire.
Alexander Brown as Hal and Ylaria Rogers as Catherine.  Photo by Michael Snow.
Set design by Jeremy Allen is attractive and substantial.  Lighting designed by Alex Berlage provides a strong atmosphere for the outdoor setting and cleverly signals the shifts in time as the play progresses.  Costumes by Christopher Pitcairn, based on original costume designs by Caitlin Hodder, have been well-chosen for the characters.

The play is unpredictable as it progresses.  The first surprise, occurring early in the play, grabs your full attention from that point onwards.  You’re then drawn deeply into the action and really care for these characters.  Beautifully written, directed and performed, it’s a play you’ll remember for a long time afterwards.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Can You Hear Colour? 

Collaboratively created by Naomi Edwards, Alan John, Kathryn Sprout,Ben Flett,Michaela Burger, Bethany Hill and Sally Hardy with Nathan O’Keefe, Tim Overton and Chris Petridis. Directed by Naomi Edwards. Composed by Alan John. Designed by Kathryn Sprout. Patch Theatre. AcArts Main Theatre. Adelaide Festival . March 9-15 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Patch Theatre's Can You Hear Colour. Photo: Paoli Smiths'

With its latest production, Can You Hear Colour, Patch Theatre continues its fine tradition of providing high quality theatre experiences for very young children. Before the play begins a member of the company talks with the small children who have been brave enough to leave their parents in the tiered seating and sit along the front of the stage. In a gentle, friendly voice she asks “What is your favourite ice-cream flavour?’ and “What is your favourite colour?” Eager arms shoot into the air.
Suddenly a girl (Michaela Burger) comes dancing onto the stage, leaping at leaves and listening to them. She has the gift to hear music in Nature and see colour in Nature. Every leaf she holds has its own musical sound, and in a world where music is so often a background accompaniment, the young audience is encouraged to listen for and hear  the unique components of music and see colour without distraction. The children’s eyes sparkle as their vivid imaginations take flight and Alan John’s composition fills the stage with music and song.
Like every good story, there is always a problem to be solved.  A captor of colour (Alan John) enters to remove the leaves strewn across the stage and bottle then in a colourless glass container, while the young girl runs to rescue them.  A dithering, comical figure, speaking in rearranged sentences, the bumbling villain of the piece is easily outwitted, but continues his quest to find the Rainbow Bird (a gloriously sung operatic performance by Bethany Hill). What ensues is the struggle to bring colour back to the world. And teach the colour captor the beauty of music and colour in his world.
Like every good story, an You Hear Colour” ends happily ever after and the girl’s gift restores colour to the beautiful Rainbow Bird and the man removes his drab colourless clothes to reveal a rainbow coloured costume beneath. And all delight in the magical world of colour and music.
Director Naomi Edwards directs this story with simple, easy charm. There is no high flying technical wizardry, although there is the magical appearance and disappearance of colour in the glass jars. There is no evil, terrifying villainy, but only the foolish, silly collector of colours. There are no  complex notions or facts, but only a delight in the imagination and the love of colour and music in the world around us.
Patch is a company with perfect understanding and appreciation of its target audience. Burge’s central character is as innocent and playful and imaginative as her young audience and adults too can delight in this production’s colour, music and infinite charm.