Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

Fiddler on the Roof

Book by Jospeh Stein.  Music by Jerry Bock.  Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.  Rockdale Musical Society.  Rockdale Town Hall.  March 2 – 11, 2018.

Photos: Rod Herbert

The characters of Fiddler on the Roof remind the world of the effects of oppression in one of the most effective ways possible – through theatre and music. Though set in the mythical, 19th century town of Anatevka, the effects of change and discrimination faced by that small community are not too far away from the changing and troubled places in the world today.

Director and designer Colin Peet – with assistance from his brother Bob – gives his production the faithful attention that this gem of musical theatre demands. The costumes carefully recreate the historical, traditional and economic background of the time. The accents and gestures recreate the distinctiveness of a small Jewish community immersed in its beliefs and traditions. The blocking and choreography reinforce the authenticity of the period – and Jerome Robbins’ well-loved original conceptual vision.

This is a musical that requires believable acting as well as fine singing, and this cast assures both.

With a talented cast – and over twenty musicians led by Peter Sampson – Peet brings Tevye, his family and the community of Anatevka to convincing life in a production that finds both the humour and pathos of the drama – and the power and beauty of the music. This is a musical that requires believable acting as well as fine singing, and this cast assures both.

Adam Scicluna recreates the role of Tevye with a clarity and strength that finds all the devout and social dimensions of this character so well-written by Joseph Stern and so accurately translated into song by Bock and Harnick.

Photo: Rod Herbert

Scicluna has a strong and commanding stage presence and the vocal range that’s needed to take Tevye through a complexity of notes and emotions. This role is a tour de force in musical theatre, and one too often compared with its original creator, but Scicluna’s portrayal is singularly perceptive and totally his own.

hopefully this production of Fiddler will play to large and appreciative audiences.

As Golde, Charmaine Gibbs brings similar musical and theatrical experience to the production. Her Golde is feisty, strong but caring and protective of her daughters and the values she holds dear. Gibbs’ voice adds intensity and power to the role, especially in the duets with Scicluna. Sunrise, Sunset is a highlight of this production,

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Wildebeest and Valley

Form Dance Projects. Dance Bites 2018. Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. February 15 – 17, 2018
Photo : Heidrun Lohr

Choreographer and performer Omer Backley-Astrachan sees dance as a language – a form of communication “to be witnessed and reflected”.

Such is the challenge of contemporary dance. It requires an empathetic, compliant audience, willing to yield to the to the messages expressed, and prepared to translate and interpret them based on their own experience … and perhaps a brief suggestion from the choreographer.

In this ‘double bill’ of his work, Omer Backley-Astrachan has explored differing aspects of human relationships using choreography that is both sensitive and perceptive.

Wildebeest/The Human Flytrap

Performers: Chimene Steele-Prior, Naomi Hibberd, Allie Graham, Mason Peronchik, Sharon Backley-Astrachan

In Wildebeest, Backley-Astrachan looks at “the artifice of social behaviour through a distillation of human interactions”.

He establishes a small world where his performers are brought together in intricately expressed movement, then separated by distance and stillness. Stripped of the façade of costume or finery, they are alone, reaching out across barren space, some searching, some tempting. They make contact, or are rejected. Such is the

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Visiting Hours

By John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi. – Kings Cross Theatre.  (bAKEHOUSE ) February 7 – 17, 2018.

Photo: Clare Hawley / Asparay Photographics

Through dimly lit stairways and passages chillingly lined with black plastic, groups of twenty triaged ‘patients’ are led into the dreamy, delusionary miasma and hazy treatment wards of an off-the-grid sanatorium. Here, led by an obsessive clinician known only as The Doctor, a team of eccentric medical recruits ghoulishly prepare to share some unconventional therapies based on bizarre research and questionable experiments.

 . . . a production that is a striking example of the creative teamwork that is the mainstay of theatre. . .

This ‘new, improved’ formula of their 2016 box office success, Visiting Hours, is yet another example of bAKEHOUSE theatre’s commitment to new ideas and unconventional theatrical experiences. Based obviously on his sharp insight and personal experience of the vagary and caprice of the medical profession, John Harrison has joined with Costantine and Michael Costi to create an immersive experience that is both dramatically, and surgically, theatrical!

Usually hidden rooms and quirky corners of the historic King’s Cross Hotel*, have been transformed by designer Anna Gardiner into a dislocating suite of ‘wards’. Some are clinically austere, some weirdly cosy, all are somewhat unsettling. Smoky and moodily lit by Benjamin Brockman, their unnerving atmosphere is further creepily enhanced by sound designer Tegan Nichols.

With producers Suzanne Millar and Andrew McMartin, Harrison and Michael Dean direct over 20 actors, singers and musicians to become the weird – and increasingly self-medicated – emotionally unbalanced health workers in this multi-faceted establishment. ‘Patients’ are led into hazily-lit rooms where compulsory ‘medication’ is administered and the dreamy notes of the Off-Duty Nurses Orchestra eventually introduce a . . . . .

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

The Unbelievables

The Works Entertainment. Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Dec 19 – 29, 2017;

Photo : Jacquie Manning

Glitz, glam and lots of lights and decibels herald this new show from the producers that took ‘The Illusionists’ and ‘The Golden Age of Circus’ from their Sydney premieres to the international touring circuit. In this production, they expand from a single theme to bring together performers from different “genres and skillsets” in a show that combines circus, magic, dance and music – and a little bit of Las Vegas-style hype.

New York comedian/magician Harrison Greenbaum powers the show into the Concert Hall with drums drumming, guitars strumming, a kaleidoscope of lights – and the constant, loud, fast American ‘stand up’ patter that is inevitably effective but often hard to understand.

Photo : Jacquie Manning

Nevertheless, he gets the audience in with some local jokes and a few tricks, then introduces a variety of acts in a show that is smoothly professional. From fast-change artists Sos and Victoria to Artem Lyubanevych (The Titan) who glides high above the stage on a flying swing pole, the production is carefully paced to keep the audience watching and wondering. If the stage needs to be cleared and re-set, it is done quickly and efficiently, while six ballroom dancers swirl or Greenbaum resumes his “lightning-fast wit”.

Acts that would not normally ‘work’ in such a large venue are brought to the audience via cameras and the large screen. Julia Kurkina’s sand art for example ….

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

The Seagull

By Anton Chekhov, (adapted by Anthony Skuse). The Depot Theatre, Marrickville, NSW. (Secret House) December 6 – 16, 2017

Directed by Anthony Skuse

Photo : Bob Seary

Anthony Skuse has adapted this four-act work by Anton Chekhov into an almost two-hour production that retains the melancholy of the thwarted ambitions and tortured relationships of his nineteenth century characters yet brings them into a more contemporary frame. And, a multicultural cast using their native dialects, highlights the universality of the themes, especially the depressing effects failure and despair.

New NIDA graduate Kyle Jonsson has designed a set that conjures the ‘grey’ of the Sea of Azov in Chekhov’s homeland by filling the inset stage it with tiny pieces of slate-coloured rubber providing a thick, dark carpet that ripples under the feet of the actors. Whether it symbolises their insecurities or merely the bleakness of the

They are backed by a skilful supporting cast who bring more natural compassion and a little humour to the play.

landscape, it centres the action inside a darkened space and mirrors it in heavy plastic side screens. Liam O’keefe has emphasised the gloom with the shadowy effect of subdued lighting. And the decision to use live sound – the clinking of china, the low ringing of a crystal glass, and the gentle strum of a guitar played by Yakov (Matthew Bartlett) – effectively accentuates the naturalism of the play.

Photo : Bob Seary

With the ubiquitous chairs that have become symbolic of the opening scenes of The SeagullI, and a table that becomes Nina’s stage, Skuse pushes the pace of the action beyond Chekhov, but still maintains the impending gloom that haunts so many of Chekhov’s characters. And by choosing not to break the performance with an interval, the pervading pessimism of the play suffuses to the audience.

James Smithers as Konstantin takes Chekhov’s tragic hero from youthful optimism and first love…….

Continue with the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Taking Steps

by Alan Ayckbourn, Ensemble Theatre, 23 Nov 2017 – 13 Jan 2018. Directed by Mark Kilmurry.

Photo : Prudence Upton.

I know I’m in a minority, but I’m not a great fan of Alan Ayckbourn’s style. Nevertheless, I went along to see Taking Steps with a relatively open mind. I say ‘relatively’ because I was a little bemused about why a play requiring a three-storey set had been selected for the restricted stage of the Ensemble theatre. My concern was confirmed.

The attempt by designer Anna Gardiner to ‘imagine’ three storeys by dividing the stage into three rooms separated by the suggestion of stair railings and having the actors ‘prance’ along the imaginary stairs may have been funny for some of the audience. For me (and others), it just didn’t work!

One of the main premises of the play is based on the deficiencies – plumbing noises, leaks, squeaking floorboards – of the building which the landlord, Leslie (Andrew Tighe) is trying to sell to the existing tenants Roland (Peter Krowitz) and his wife Elizabeth (Christa Nicola) who has left a note to Roland informing him that she is leaving him.

Elizabeth’s brother, Mark (Simon London) knows of the note, but is more concerned about his fiancée, Kitty (Emma Harvie) who has returned, having run out on him on their wedding day. Simon takes her into the vacant attic room without informing the others of her presence. A bumbling solicitor, Mr Watson (Drew Livingston) is attempting to finalise the sale of the house.

Photo : Prudence Upton.

In typical Ayckbourn style, everything becomes confused – and in normal circumstances the running up and down the stairs from one level to another would be one of the highlights of the play. In this production, the ‘prancing’ along the imaginary stairs seems silly rather than funny and, to a certain extent, demeans some of the characters and the plot.

Despite this, the almost farcical scenes in the second act give the cast the chance to make full use of their comedic skills. The pace is fast and the sight gags and pratfalls work.

The characters are the stock characters one also expects of Ayckbourn – idiosyncratic, eccentric, a bit quirky. Kowitz, Tighe and Livingston typify each of these and together have some very funny scenes. London plays the confused, bewildered bore effectively. The two female characters are less cleverly written, but Christa Nicola makes the most of Lizzy’s flourishes and Emma Harvie finds quiet humour in the awkward confusion of Kitty.

Though there were noticeably some empty seats after interval, most of those who persevered seemed to enjoy the faster tempo and humour of the second half of the production.



Night Slows Down

By Phillip James Rouse. Produced by Don’t Look Away Theatre Co and bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co. Director: Phillip James Rouse. Kings Cross Theatre, Sydney. 17 November – 9 December 2017

Photo : Ross Waldron

Indie theatre continues to bring us plays about things that matter … and do them well. Playwright and director Phillip James Rouse fears that, based on recent happenings in the world, it is possible that society and governments could “change and grow into something cancerous.” It’s a fear many have begun to share in the past year. Could there be a future where right wing extremism rules? It happened once before. What damage could it do today?

…. well directed theatre that is hard-hitting, issue-based – and aims to bring awareness and make a difference.

In his play, Rouse imagines such a time. A far-right government has been elected in an English speaking country somewhere in the world. Rabid, white, right wing, extremists are in power. Truths like climate change are derided. So are the experts who espouse them. Ordinary people have been cuckolded with the cry of “For the Future”. As disasters loom, people riot and die in the street.

Rouse describes the mayhem that ensues through a family torn apart by conflicting views and underlying envy and resentment. Their story is a microcosm of the turmoil and havoc that rage around them.

Photo : Ross Waldron

Sharon is a highly respected engineer who is environmentally and socially aware. She is married to Martin, whose family came from the Middle East. They are estranged from her brother Seth because of his racist attitudes.

As Seth rises to power in the new regime, his racist views become even stronger and acceptable. He has Martin ‘detained’ as an alien and uses this to blackmail Sharon into overseeing a very doubtful and dangerous project. Despite her warnings of the need to go slowly and gauge the impact of the project on the environment, Seth allows it to go ahead. Later, when she warns that the forecast of a major weather event will have disastrous effects, Seth refuses to stop the project. The result is catastrophic ..

Photo : Ross Waldron

Andre de Vany is cold and callous as Seth. He holds himself as inflexibly as the views his character embraces, his face set, his eyes hard, his shoulders stiff. The undercurrent of sibling envy makes him even harder and more callous. This is not a nice character to play and de Vany makes him heartlessly cruel and unlikable.

Rouse invests the character of Sharon with compassion, the will to fight and a vestige of hope. Danielle King’s depiction shows a woman who is strong, intelligent, gutsy and loving. There is steeliness in her resistance to Seth’s demands, wretchedness in her entreaties to stop the project, fervor in her pleas to free Martin, utter dejection in her powerlessness. This is a carefully written role and King finds every dimension convincingly.

Photo : Ross Waldron

Johnny Nasser plays Martin, the victim of the new regime’s xenophobia – and Seth’s racist venom. Nasser juxtaposes Martin’s love for Sharon with his distrust of Seth in a performance that illustrates the lasting and debilitating effects of vilification and discrimination.

The whole production is tight, the tension between the characters electric at times. Fear and futility hover menacingly … just as Phillip James Rouse hopes it will. Can this really happen? What can we do to stop it? Is there hope?

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki believes so. In an address to the audience after the play on Sunday 26th November he talked about affordable renewable energy sources that could easily be set up IF governments and bureaucracies were on side. He urged the audience to get involved in politics rather than letting deniers and right-wingers have their way. And his arguments, as always, were scientifically based and plausibly optimistic – albeit delivered a little fast and furiously. But that’s Dr Karl!

Once again, hats off to Rouse, bAKEOUSE Theatre, Don’t Look Away and theatres like KXT for giving us good, well written and well directed theatre that is hard-hitting, issue-based – and aims to bring awareness and make a difference.


The Fury of Mungo Fogg

By Kent Mayo; Directed by Josie Dwyer; Richmond School of Arts (Richmond Players); 18th Nov –  2nd Dec .

Richmond Players present this gory melodrama in the style of the old-time music hall, complete with a Master of Ceremonies (Michael Newcome), a pianist and sing-alongs between scenes. They go to a lot of trouble to do it right! The audience is seated at round tables, tastefully set. The afternoon audience is served with afternoon tea, the evening audience a two-course meal. Carafes of water are provided, but wine glasses are provided should you wish to ‘bring your own’! Members of the Players, dressed appropriately, serve food and clear tables. The atmosphere is friendly and sets the mood for everyone to boo, hiss or cheer as the predictable plot unfolds.

The play itself has all the usual melodrama characters – hero, heroine, aging parents, ‘poor boy’, and of course, the villain, Mungo Fogg himself, played with fitting posturing and bluster by Nicholas Noel who makes the most of every nasty threat, every sweeping flounce of his cape and every wicked, menacing laugh.

His partners in crime are just as villainous. Cribbins, played by Jeremy Collins is equally mean and malevolent. As is his wife, the notorious Pussy Galore, played with much revealing posing by Catherine Gregory.

In his bid to make a fortune in mining coal, Fogg needs to take over Lavender Cottage, and will stop at nothing – including getting rid of those who stand in his way. Much blood is spilt, and spilt often! Even the glossy, well-designed program is interspersed with drops of blood and a bloody handprint.

The Lavenders (Anne McMaster and Nathan Arnott) own the cottage. They are struggling to make ends meet but are determined not to sell up. Eventually their young daughter, Lucy, played with simpering heroine-style innocence by Heloise Tolar, is the only one left to defend her home – and her virtue – from the wily Fogg.

She is not alone, however! Kent Mayo pads out the plot with an array of other stock characters.

There’s poor, crippled Toby (Ben Curran0, lurching around the stage on twisted feet and a wooden crutch. Curran makes the most of this appealing character and the audience love him. There’s Cecil the gardener-turned-policeman, played by Aurel Vasilescu, who obviously relishes the comic antics of this stock melodrama ‘clown’.

But, as they say, there’s still more! Penny Johnson brings a bit of London ‘class’ as Mrs Windsor, who comes to stay at the cottage as a paying guest, and a ‘medicinal man’, Mr McGillicuddy (Nathan Arnott) and his wife and daughters, bring some Irish humour to the plot.

And finally, there’s the reluctant hero, Ernest, played by James Warren-Smith. He eventually gets his girl, but not without help … and more bloodshed.

Richmond Players brings a bit of fun and frivolity to the end of the year – and do it with enthusiasm and cheer.


Schools Spectacular

24-25 November, 2017. Qudos Bank Arena, NSW Department of Education.

The Schools Spectacular is a wonderful, awe-inspiring extravaganza of music and movement, light and colour, imagination and creativity. It’s also a very special celebration of the talent and diversity of the teachers and students from NSW public schools.

From Armidale to Westmead, Bellevue Hills to Yass, Lake Cargellico to Mosman, Wagga Wagga to Winmalee, over 5000 students and their teachers from over 300 schools have converged on Olympic Park to be part of the 34th Schools Spectacular. Some have travelled over seven hours to take part in the four days of rehearsal and performance that make this event one of the highlights of the education year.

Backed by 2,700 voices in the combined choir, 100 musicians in the orchestra and stage band, a backstage crew of 59 VET Entertainment Industry students and over three thousand dancers, 44 talented featured artists ask the thousands of people in the audiences to “Own the Moment” – just as they have in their commitment to this 2017 spectacular event.

Who would have predicted that a “Schools Concert” organised in1983 to test the acoustics of the newly built Entertainment Centre, would lead to the iconic cultural event that the Schools Spectacular has become – or, without doubt, the biggest and best advertisement for the public education system.

The Schools Spectacular was the beginning for many Australian ‘stars’ – Human Nature, Felicity Urquhart, Darren Duggan, Nathan Foley and musical maestro John Foreman who returns each year to host the event – and this year’s line up of featured performers will surely go on to great things as well.

There’s a place waiting on the concert stage or the recording studio for those who sing as beautifully as Elyse Sene-Lefao or as sensitively as Gus Noakes and Tana Laga’aia. There’s definitely a place waiting in musical theatre for someone who can sing, dance and act as well as Cooper Dallimore.  Many of the dancers will go on to greater things in dance companies here or overseas. Some of the young singers in the choir will become ‘featured artists’ in the years ahead.

Whatever their futures, they will remember the thrill and excitement of the ‘Schools Spec’. They’ll remember the buzz and fun of rehearsals, the crushed ‘togetherness’ of the dressing rooms, the enormity of the big stage, the wonder of the lighting effects, and the ‘high’ of rushing on to be part of the enormous, glitzy finale. That’s what, as an ex-Arts teacher, whose students loved being part of this special ‘gig’, I also  remember.

Schools Spec is an amazing opportunity. Through the Arts Unit and the production team it gives teachers and students a chance to move out of their schools into a bigger and brighter arena. For some their school has no real performance space, no band, no specialist music teacher, no choir, no dance or drama ensemble. Schools Spec encourages them to ‘have a go’ – and gives them the support and scaffold to do so.

There are many examples of this.

For remote and regional schools the magic of technology allows them to meet choreographers ‘on screen’ and learn routines much more easily. For some of those students it will be the first time they will travel to Sydney, let alone become part of such a huge ‘family’ of creative young people.

The 2017 Aboriginal Dance Company brings together talented indigenous performers from twenty-nine different schools across the state in a celebration of dance, song and language. The very special D’Arts Ensemble gives thirty-eight kids with disabilities the chance to shine. This year they performed to brother and sister duo Ezra and Olina Loau singing the evocative words of “If the World Only Knew”.

For some of the featured artists their very special talent may not even have been recognised without the chances that the ‘School Spec’ provides – and the opportunities offered by the many Arts Unit ensembles and the nurture of the Talent Development Project.

For two days each year thousands of kids from public schools across the state get the chance to showcase their talent and skills, whether it be singing, dancing, swinging from a trapeze, bringing to life one of John Deakin’s famous life-sized puppets, playing in the orchestra or performing with military precision as a member of the Millennium Marching Band.

For those same two days each year, hundreds of enthusiastic and talented teachers from across the state watch proudly from the wings while their gifted, hard working students excel – and have fun.

And at the performances over those two days – having filled in multiple permission notes, paid for t-shirts and costumes, got their children to and from buses and trains at ungodly hours, shouldered the expense of transport, tickets, and sometimes accommodation as well – thousands upon thousands of parents have watched with pride and amazement the great ‘Spectacle’ of organisation and talent that Schools Spec really is!

For those of you who missed it, it goes to air on Channel 7 at 7pm on Saturday 16th December. Watch it and celebrate with the performers and those who bring them to the stage.

This article has also been published in Stage Whispers magazine


Australia Day

By Jonathan Biggins. New Theatre. November 14 – December 16, 2017

Photo : Chris Lundie




In the imaginary town of Coriole, a committee of six has the task of organising the annual Australia Day Celebrations. They are character types one might find among the members of any organisation, country or city – an aspiring politician, a green feminist, a redneck denialist, a token ‘new’ Australian. To put them together on the Australia Day Committee of a small country town provides the basis of comic satire, for which playwright Jonathan Biggins is well known.

Photo : Chris Lundie

It it also means that they could appear as stereotypes. Finding their third dimension depends on the vision and passion of the director. Lousie Fischer, in her director’s notes writes: “They (the characters) are funny, flawed, feisty and sometimes not very nice. But they are human, they have hearts and intentions that, whilst maybe misguided, are meant well … I wanted to find truths rather than caricatures.”

Thus Fischer uses the first scenes to try to make the characters believable as well as recognisable. Sure, the wit of Biggins’ dialogue and banter makes each character ‘type’ very clear right from the beginning, but Fischer and her cast aim to find their strengths as well as their vulnerabilities. This makes them a little more convincing whilst still sustaining the humour that arises from the coming together of their very different outlooks on the contemporary world.

Peter Eyers plays Brian Harrigan, chair of the committee. Owner of the local hardware shop, he is also the mayor and is seeking pre-selection for the next election. Eyers finds humour in the arrogance and pomposity of this character as he tries to curry favour and support, especially that of fellow councilor Robert Wilson, who is the secretary of the committee.

Martin Portus establishes Wilson as a good manager, who tries to keep the calm and see everyone’s point of view. As such he listens, watches and interferes when things get heated in