Category Archives: Theatre Reviews


By George Frideric Handel. Libretto Giacomo Rossi. Pinchgut Opera. Conductor Erin Helyard. Director Louisa Muller. City Recital Hall, Sydney. 30 Nov – 6 Dec, 2023
Reviewed : 30 November, 2023*
Photo : Cassandra Hannagan

For twenty-two years Pinchgut Opera has “scoured the period from opera’s birth to its flowering in the Baroque” to offer different opera experiences to Sydney audiences.

Their production of Rinaldo not only realises that philosophy, but with war and devastation dominating our world, and the possibility of peace seeming so remote, Pinchgut and the maestro Handel bring us an opera that includes a cease fire, a truce, reconciliations, love … and, gratefully, no tragic deaths!

In his foreword to the program Artistic Director Erin Helyard writes elegantly of Handel’s “mastery with the art form” and his ability to “take the simplest of texts and imbue them with psychological depth and expressive nuance”. He describes Handel’s “keen theatrical sensibility … unerring aptitude for writing for the voice” and his “rich and interesting orchestral effects”.

Photo : Cassandra Hannagan

All of this is brilliantly evident in Rinaldo. The story is one of hope and the joy of love. The music is resoundingly beautiful – and once again Pinchgut has managed to bring exceptionally talented artists together to exemplify all the facets of Handel’s work that Helyard described.

The company has once again attracted a cast whose international experience is overwhelming – and an orchestra whose feel for the music is sure and deft. It is so lovely to hear the harpsichord (played by conductor Erin Helyard), the theorbo, the baroque guitar – and the recorder – play such important parts in creating the atmosphere of the opera.

Jake Arditti brings a wealth of experience to the part of Rinaldo – and an actor’s feeling for the role. Rinaldo is a heroic soldier, in an army led by Goffredo, performed by Randall Scotting. It is not often two counter tenors appear together and the opportunity to hear Arditti and Scotting singing together thrilled the audience.

Alexandra Oomens returns for her fifth Pinchgut production. She brings an exuberance and light to the role of Almirena, qualities that director Louisa Muller makes important to the whole production. Whilst ensuring the voices rule, Muller also pays attention to the characters. Rinaldo and Almirena are young lovers, and Muller allows them to be joyfully affectionate and playful – just as Handel’s interludes suggest.

Photo : Cassandra Hannagan

When Goffredo meets his rival Argante, performed by Adrian Tamburini, the music changes, bringing the contrast between counter tenor and bass to play. Both Scotting and Tamburini found that contrast and the special moments of harmony – especially those that resulted in a stay of fighting.

Argante’s lover, the powerful sorceress Armida breaks that harmony, by abducting Almirena. Emma Pearson delights as Armida, matching her musical variations with expressive gestures and choreography. Once again Muller finds the essence of the character Handel has built into his score. Armida’s ‘magic’ adds complications to the plot – resulting in two beautiful soprano solos which Oomens and Pearson perform brilliantly – to the resounding delight of the audience.

Photo : Cassandra Hannagan

Bonnie de la Hunty and Olivia Payne play sirens and Armida’s attendants, while Arvin Bhattacharya and Yusuf Can Nayir are skilfully strong as Agante’s guards.

Designer Simone Romaniuk uses steps, arches, doors and mirrors to give the illusion of depth and height to the Recital Hall stage. When Almirena is alone, happy that her father has promised her to Rinaldo, Romaniuk opens an arch to reveal a wall of flowers. That same arch opens in Act 2 to reveal Armida’s enchanted mirrored palace. Shiny doors on both sides of the stage reflect the action in fleeting moments of panic and despair.

Pinchgut’s production of Rinaldo excels in so many ways. The orchestration, the voices, the acting, the set, the contrasts – and the choice of an opera that is optimistic and exhilarating.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race

By Melanie Tait. Hunters Hill Theatre at Club Ryde. Director Jennifer Willison. 17 Nov – 3 Dec, 2023

Reviewed : 26 November, 2023

Photo : Dan Ferris

Melanie Tait’s wonderful play about Australian women going into bat for equality is a great way for Hunters Hill Theatre to conclude its 2023 season. And with five women on stage, a woman directing and at least half of the creatives and crew also women, it is a tribute to the strong female cohort at all of Sydney’s community theatre companies! Go girls!

Jennifer Willison sets the play before a rural backdrop reminiscent of the green southern highlands of NSW where the idea for the play originated. Wooden crates and some potato sacks are the only additional requirements for the women of “Appleton” to tell their stories – stories that are representative of women everywhere.

There’s Bev, who’s worked hard all her life. She’s strong, a bit weary, the backbone of the Appleton Show Committee. She doesn’t suffer fools readily, doesn’t warm to technology and is a stickler for tradition. Linda Young finds this by making Bev impatient, dour, resolute – but also funny. She delivers Bev’s one liners dryly, straight-faced but with the hint of a knowing smirk.

Photo : Dan Ferris

There’s Barb. Bev’s long-time friend, and Secretary of the Show Committee. Tait describes her as a “People Pleaser Extraordinaire” and Judy Jankovics meets this description with all the gentle joie de vivre of an aging Pollyanna. She counters Bev’s cynical remarks with optimism and cheer – a cheer that covers a lasting hurt that once made her feel she “was being left out of life”.

Bev and Barb, lone attendees at the Show Committee meeting, introduce the history of the Appleton Show’s potato races – and the culture of the town.

Penny, a doctor, has returned to Appleton after a break-up. She’s a GP, a feminist, outspoken, upbeat – but she’s a bit disappointed in what she sees as sexism and disparity in her hometown. Caroline Lloyd makes her confident, out-spoken, openly critical about the opportunities for girls in Appleton and determined to try to change things – especially the prize money for the ladies’ potato race.

Vikki, the local hairdresser, is vibrant, a bit of a gossip and the favourite to win the ladies’ race. Tonia Davis finds her buoyancy, chirpiness and self-assured acceptance of her lot and the town. A self confidence that sees her standing up for the town in the face of Penny’s criticisms.

Photo : Dan Ferris

Rania is a newcomer from Syria. She’s an art teacher waiting for her credentials to be recognised. In the meantime, she’s determined to fit in – and that means competing in the potato race. Moja Band portrays her as lovably outgoing and aware, a listener whose responses are considered and telling:

If things changed as slowly in my country, maybe I wouldn’t have had to leave so quickly. Things changing slowly means stability.”

All these characters have faced challenges, explained by the actors in moments of introspection that are short but moving. Tait’s economy with words is effective in these instances – and in the very realistic dialogue, carefully honed to suit each character. Willison supported this with blocking that gave her cast time to think about their characters and develop convincing relationships with each other …

“Women working together … shouldering the load.” (Penny: Scene 14)

A lovely note on which HHT will close another successful season – and introduce their next.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

The Ballad of Maria Marten

By Beth Flintoff. Director Louise Fischer. New Theatre. 14 Nov – 16 Dec, 2023

Reviewed : 19 November, 2023

Photo : Bob Seary

“We have tried to create beauty so that it can be mourned.” Louise Fischer, Director

Beth Flintoff’s play about an historic act of domestic violence that happened nearly 200 years ago is heart-breaking … but also very beautiful. Louise Fischer has caught that beauty in a delicately directed production that captures Flintoff’s desire to recreate Maria as a person rather than a victim, as a girl growing up as a mole catcher’s daughter in the village of Pulstead in the early 1800s. Her friends, her sense of fun, her intelligence, her openness. The hardships, the joys, the class system that ruled the society of the time. And the attitudes to women …

Photo : Bob Seary

That Maria is portrayed insightfully by Naomi Belet, who finds the gentle, fun-loving imp that Flintoff imagined. Belet gives Maria an energy and brightness. She is light and buoyant, expressive and bewitching. She finds all the personality traits that Flintoff wrote for Maria – playfulness, maturity, understanding, compassion and vulnerability. It is a skilfully designed role and Belet, with Fischer’s intelligent, experienced guidance, finds “the intelligent, brave and wryly funny” Maria that Flintoff imagined.

Belet leads a strong female cast. Olivia Bartha, Kyra Belford-Thomas, Ali Bendall, Rhiannon Jean, Maddie Sherston, Zarah Stibbard and Jane Wallace play the women and two of the men – in Maria’s life. Every character is clearly defined. Each actor has found the ‘heart’ of their character and the strong message each sends from the past to the present.

Maddie Sherston’s Therese fights against admitting “her John’s” violence just as vehemently as frightened victims do today. Rhiannon Jean as Lady Cook retreats from unsuitable alliances just as those from ‘better’ families do today. Olivia Bartha as Peter Matthews gives in, albeit reluctantly, to the threat of disinheritance.

Ali Bendall shows the warmth of a women who accept who they are in the face of criticism and gossip. Sarah Stibbard finds the strength of women who stand by their friends and keep watch over them. Kyra Belford-Thomas shows a woman swaying between loyalty to her friends and the teachings of her religion. Jane Wallace, as Maria’s stepmother Ann, shows the loyalty of those who are given acceptance and love.

Photo : Bob Seary

Fischer’s attention to detail ensures that the soft Suffolk dialect, carefully coached by Benjamin Purser, is as important to the production as the period costumes designed by Deborah Mulhall. The high waisted day dresses of the young women, their long cotton work pinafores; the more elegant gowns of the gentry; the knee britches, white stockings and tailed jackets of the gentlemen all set the production carefully in its place and period.

Mulhall’s choice of colours – pastels and shades of green – are offset by the tight, white, translucent curtains of Tom Bannerman’s set. Hung across a series of high, wooden beams, symbolising the barn where Maria died, the filmy fabric, lit inventively by Michael Schell, suggests places to hide and listen, and the perspectives of distance and time that overly the story.

Moments of joy in the production are accentuated with music and dance, carefully selected and choreographed by the multi-talented Naomi Belet and Ali Bendall. The dances bring lightness, the music a little solemnity at special moments, especially in one of the early scenes.

Photo : Bob Seary

Fischer make that space and distance intrinsic to the production by using different levels and shapes in her blocking. The spaces between the curtains, a step stage left, a lone spot down stage right, allow her to create ‘pictures’ that give more dimension to one scene, more intimacy to another; more detachment between the classes, more isolation. Her cast present these pictures deftly in clear, layered characters who, as they deal with classism, invisibility, victimisation, and violence, seem to cry out “why are things still the same?”.

Flintoff wanted her play to make Maria’s story “not about the past but the present”. Louise Fischer and her very clever, receptive cast make that point poignantly in this moving, carefully judged production.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

Titanic – The Diamond of Dreams

By Ken Cotterill and Tanya Paige. Richmond Players. Director: Neridah James. Richmond School of Arts. Nov 4, 11, 18, 24, 2023

Reviewed : 18 November, 2023

Photo : Penelope Johnson

The flyer says: “The movie will never be the same again” and it’s not wrong! This is a spoof on the movie, with the sort of innuendo and slapstick you might expect from a 1970s British sit com! There aren’t any chases or slamming doors, but there is a “knees up” in steerage, and some funny goings on in one of the cabins … and in a car stored in the cargo hold!

Photo : Penelope Johnson

There are some strange characters including young Rose’s fiancé, an American “sausage millionaire” and a steerage class hero – called Jack of course!  – who sweeps Rose off her feet but leaves her stranded on the ship when he jumps into one of the two lifeboats when the ship hits an ice cube – yes! An ice cube! – one of many that are thrown overboard by some big drinkers in first class …. I did mention slapstick!

The true story of the Titanic is mentioned only briefly – and discounted by the ‘heroine’. The only links to the movie are ‘plays’ on the names of the actors and characters … and a very familiar scene on the bow of the ship!

Photo : Penelope Johnson

The story of this version of the Titanic is told by old “Rose” who explains how, as that young, forsaken maid, she stayed on board while the ship drifted to Iceland where she was saved and has managed to live to an unimaginably old age. With flashbacks to that long ago journey, she shares her story with two modern day pirates who are searching for a legendary diamond that they believed was ‘lost’ with the ship.

Director Neridah James plays ‘old Rose’, bent and a little shakey but with a memory unaffected by age or time, and a personality strong enough to control the impatience of her greedy inquisitors, Lovell and Bodine played by Jared Turner and Davo Hardy.

Photo : Penelope Johnson

Benjamin Webb and Lily Ritchie play Jack and young Rose. Jony Teperski plays the haughty sausage seller. New to the Richmond stage they bring the energy and naivety of youth to the production. Nickolas Noel plays a hearty Captain Smith. He is joined briefly in flashbacks to the captain’s table and the bridge by other Richmond stalwarts Joel Baltaks, Heloise Tolar, Rachel Crew and Jake Warner (who is more often seen working behind the scenes at Richmond, rather than on the stage).

Richard Littlehales, Graham Fairbrother and John Bell are Jack’s steerage associates with Fairbrother and Bell donning sailor’s navy and white for a brief scene in the crow’s nest! David Griffiths plays a waiter – and a tour guide on the Titanic replica!

Photo : Penelope Johnson

This is what happens when two Australian writers get hold of a silly idea – and make it even sillier. While the characters of ‘old’ Rose, and to some extent Lovell and Bodine, have some chance at character development, the flashbacks to the ship are so short that there is little chance for the actors to do much more than deliver their lines with a much punch as they can! Only the character of Molly Brown has any depth and that is mainly innuendo – which Rachel Crew delivers with appropriate suggestiveness!

Still, the production gets some laughs – and as Richmond’s final show of the year is traditionally theatre-restaurant style, the audience is well fed as well as entertained. There are two performances to go.

Check Richmond Players website or Facebook page for booking details.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

David Campbell : Good Lovin’ and More

Riverside Theatre Parramatta; 17 November

Reviewed : 17 November, 2023

Photo : Facebook

David Campbell wowed audiences at Parramatta with his usual unbelievable range and energy. In fact he’s wowed audiences at many venues on this new, much awaited tour.

But coming back to Parramatta was a little different. There is Campbell history at Parramatta! It was on that same big Riverside stage that nineteen-year-old David Campbell appeared in Michael Gow’s Away, playing the iconic role of the young hero Tom, dying with leukemia and trying to explain the need to experience more of life to his girlfriend Meg!

Photo : Facebook

The fact that Campbell cherished that memory enough to share it with his audience is typical of the man’s sincerity and openness. There is no pretension with David Campbell. I met him some years ago – in fact on the day he proposed to Lisa! In Paris! I’ve been to see him nearly every time he has performed in Sydney since. At the State Theatre. At the Capitol. At the Sydney Colosseum. At the Lyric Theatre in an unbelievable stage production of North By North West. And he doesn’t forget if I get a chance to say ‘hello’. Just like he didn’t forget to acknowledge the entrepreneur sitting in the audience who took him to America where he made his mark in cabaret before returning to Australia for shows like Shout! and Les Miserables.

Photo : Facebook

David Campbell is a man of many parts. Television host, radio DJ, cabaret singer, musical theatre singer and dancer, son, friend, husband, proud father. Anyone who doubted the last of that list should have heard him talk about his sons Leo and Billy – or seen him wipe the tears from his eyes after singing “She” about his daughter Betty and the special feelings and responsibilities “when you’re a girl Dad”.

Those tears returned for a moment at the end of the performance when the audience rose for a standing ovation when he sang “Shout!”! It’s as if the man doesn’t realise just how much he is loved!

Come back to Sydney again David Campbell! There are audiences waiting to see you!

Das Rheingold

By Richard Wagner. Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Simone Young. Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House. 16th and 18th November, 2023

Reviewed : 16 November, 2023*

Photo : Daniel Boud

Das Rheingold is the first of Richard Wagner’s four famous “music dramas” Der Ring des Nibelungen, best known as The Ring Cycle. Based on German and Norse legends, the four operas – Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung – tell a story of greed and power and love, all of which begin in  Das Rheingold, when the Nibelung dwarf Alberich forsakes love for power by stealing gold from the Rhine maidens. Fashioned into a magic ring, the gold grants the person in possession the power to rule the world – and all the problems that might bring.

Photo : Daniel Boud

The opera begins in the dark depths of the Rhine where the Rhinemaidens guard the Rhinegold. If the gold remains hidden at the bottom of the river, the world is in balance – but Alberich, smarting at being rejected by the Rhinemaidens, sees the gold when a shaft of light penetrates the water. Told of the power of the gold, he steals it and takes it beneath the earth to Nibelheim where he convinces his friends to make it into a magic ring and helmet.

Chief of the Gods, Wotan, and the giants Fasolt and Fafner to whom he owes money for building his citadel, Valhalla, hears of the gold and its power. Wotan and the fire god Loge descend into Nibelheim and trap Alberich, taking him back to Valhalla, and demanding the ring. Alberich curses the ring saying: “Through its gold comes immeasurable might, now let its owners find death”. Thus the drama of the Ring Cycle is foretold.

Photo : Daniel Boud

The two-hour long musical drama that is Das Rheingold is “told” by an orchestra of over a hundred musicians including four harpists, and fourteen opera artistes, who take the audience from the deep waters of the Rhine to the turrets of Valhalla, meeting the legendary dwarf and giant characters and being warned of the damage that the magic gold ring will bestow!

It’s a complex story, that Wagner tells in musical motifs and dramatic ideas that Simone Young and the orchestra relate vividly, from the cold, dark depths of the Rhine to the high spires of Valhalla. Young is a delight to watch. Her familiarity with this incredible piece of music is strong, her confidence and control amazingly clear as she brings the orchestra together, or momentarily ‘nods in’ one singer or another.  It is always a joy to watch a conductor and orchestra in that special synchronicity … and Wagner requires this more than most.

Photo : Daniel Boud

Any performances of his work – especially The Ring Cycle – attracts artists from all over the world. To see and hear fourteen internationally acclaimed artists together on the stage of the Concert Hall in concert is a special privilege. To have them, Young, the SSO and Wagner is a once in a lifetime event for many those who filled the Concert Hall to sit in awe for two hours, spellbound by the music, the voices and the atmosphere of mystic myth that Wagner created.

The performance began in total dark, the “E flat low in the orchestra” trembling through the hushed Concert Hall “until a shaft of light” revealed the “gold” of the brass horns and glittering strings of the harps. It was a dramatic opening, to a performance that accentuated the drama and theatricality that is intrinsic to Wagner’s music.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

*Opening performance

The Master & Margarita

Adapted and directed by Eamon Flack, from the book by Mikhail Bulgakov. Belvoir St Theatre. Nov 11 to Dec 10, 2023

Reviewed : 15 November, 2023*

Photo : Brett Boardman

Twould be wonderful if Mikhail Bulgakov could be spirited into the Belvoir St Theatre to the see what Eamon Flack, his cast, and a host of creatives have made of his book The Master and Margarita. He’d see all his characters – the Devil, his assistant, a naked witch, a huge black, talking cat with a liking for vodka, an assassin, a poet, a writer, Christ and Pontius Pilate – corralled together in a riotous romp that’s mad and magical – and as mischievous as Bulgakov meant it to be!

Written in secret during the mid 1900s, the book was Bulgakov’s reaction to Stalinist Russia, and was not published until twenty-six years after his death. Eamon Flack introduced the book to some actors at Belvoir during the 2020 lockdown – and they saw the possibilities of putting Bulgakov’s imaginative genius on to the stage. Afterall, Bulgakov was foremost a playwright, though his work was banned by Stalin for some time.

Photo : Brett Boardman

The result is a piece of theatre that is brave, chaotic, funny, mesmerising … and uplifting! There is so much happening! Entrances, exits. Surprising entrances, even more surprising exits! Lighting effects, costume effects, sound effects, special effects! A reflective marbled revolve that fills the stage. A falling garden. A giant neon letter W.

Even Bulgakov could not have imagined this wild, wicked interpretation of the book that he wrote, burned because of its contentious content, rewrote from memory, and was secreted way from the world until 1966. Many have considered productions of The Master and Margarita, but it took a pandemic, some imaginative actors and an open-minded theatre company to say, “we can do this!”. And they have!

Ten actors and a musician (Gary Daley) tell the tall tale, moving from Russia to ancient Jerusalem; from a park in Moscow to the hill of Calvary. They move fast at times, stand stock still at others. They question, accuse, strike out, shout, whisper and scoot around the revolve as if it were a skate park, as they tell the story of Satan raising havoc in a city that doesn’t believe in God or the Devil; and Margarita, who would go to hell for her lover, The Master, who is writing a story about Christ and Pontius Pilate.

Photo : Brett Boardman

As Bulgakov’s book was their inspiration, so it becomes their primary prop, held devotedly by Matilda Ridgway, their resolute Narrator. Ridgway uses the power of pause both to manage the action and to underline her comic timing. She is a constant in the production, controlling, directing chastising, comforting.

Paula Arundell is Wolan, the Devil, sweeping into the action, her powerful voice commanding attention and obedience, her eyes shining, her body tense and ware. Beside her is Josh Price as Behemoth, the big, black talking cat who acts before he thinks; and Gareth Davies as Azzazelo, the assassin, who hits, kicks, trips on the revolve, stumbles over words – and does it all with perfect comic timing and a ridiculous grin!

Amber McMahon is Korovyev, Wolan’s assistant/translator, a jester-type character. Sporting stripes and a curly moustache, McMahon weaves lithely in and around the action, strong and watchful and a bit wicked.

Marco Chiappi is a Pontius Pilate, contemplating the fate of Yeshua of Nazareth. Tom Conroy is a “not very good” poet who ends up in a psychiatric asylum along with The Master (Mark Leonard Winter) who bemoans his inability to write and the loss of his lover Margarita, who only went away for a day and came back to find him gone! Anna Samson is Margarita, a loyal lover, true and faithful, prepared to bare all and in the search for her Master.

Photo : Brett Boardman

Jana Zvedeniuk plays Yelena, Bulgakov’s second wife, who has guarded his book in secret and lies on the stage reading the final words of the book as the production closes around her.

And those are just the characters they play. They also play people in the park and party goers. They move props, pick up flowers, run around the revolve and dance wild and naked! They work joyfully together bringing this complicated, eccentric story to life.

Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita in Soviet Moscow over 70 years ago. It was held safe by his wife Yelena until times were much brighter. Once published, it became a best seller, its ‘way out’ characters denouncing the oppressed society of a harsh dictator. Belvoir brings it to the stage in a production that is theatrical, dramatic, flamboyant – all the things that theatre can be but isn’t very often!

To that end: be forewarned that the production includes full nudity, references to suicide, strong language and adult themes.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

*Opening performance


The Wharf Review : Pride in Prejudice

By Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe. Soft Tread Productions. Director Andrew Worboys. Seymour Centre. 8 November – 17 December, 2023 and touring.

Reviewed : 12 November, 2023

Photo : Vishal Pandey

Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe are looking back on another year with their usual perspicacious percipience, pertinent parodies and just a little poignant plaintiveness! They satirise prominent politicians with punchy pride, bi-partisan prejudice and intense irreverent irony. And if you find that little lot of alliteration laborious,  imagine writing a whole sketch of it! In fact, imagine planning a program of sketches satirising people and politics – and performing them perfectly!

Ok! Ok! I’ll stop!

Deciding who and what to satirise must be tricky – deciding how to go about it even trickier. Because revues aren’t just ‘lampooning’. They are performances. Each sketch is based on astute observation and wise judgement. Each has a beginning, a middle and a clever end. Because the material is topical, it’s relevance is short-lived, so it must be written quickly. Because it’s political, it must be selected judiciously and written with wit, wisdom, and judicious restraint. Because it’s entertainment it must have variety, pace and universal appeal. Because it’s ‘revue’ it must also be funny!

Photo : Vishal Pandey

That’s a lot to ask, but Biggins and Forsythe, with Phil Scott, have been meeting all those requirements in their Wharf Revues for years. They choose their subjects shrewdly. They are astute, clever writers who know their audience, know what appeals, know how far they can go. They know the importance of variety in form and style and presentation. They also must be prepared to suffer the “slings and arrows” of outraged pollies, their follower … and critics.

Revues require skilled, experienced actors who can impersonate, create caricatures, make quick character and costume – and sing and dance! Biggins and Forsythe meet all those requirements, as do Mandy Bishop and David Whitney who join them in this 2023 revue, Pride in Prejudice. With Andrew Worboys in the director’s chair and at the keyboard, they take the audience on a risqué romp through the year, with nods to Canberra, Washington DC, Moscow and the South Pacific.

Photo : Vishal Pandey

The production is precisely planned, meticulously rehearsed and performed with the energy, pace and clarity that is essential in the delivery of satirical material. Every word and note in satire counts. Every walk, stance and gesture is significant. Every character – and there are many – must be recognisable without being too offensive.

That said, Biggins, Forsythe, Bishop and Whitney perform a plethora of characters, beginning in true BBC “bonnet drama” style with a send up of Jane Austen. Biggins, as Mrs Bennet, delights with gems such as decrying the local priest, ‘Cannon Fodder’, offering “gluten free communion wafers”. It is a great start and the sketches that follow are many and varied, including …

A double spoof on the ABC’s Q&A and the musical “Avenue Q”, with puppets of Hannah Gadsby, Mark Latham and Peter FitzSimons fielding the questions. An excellent, energetic impersonation of Groucho Marx singing a parody of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” to Senator Lidia Thorpe, and David Marr leading a biting “Livid Festival” discussion on Robodebt.

Coming under fire were the lack of ladies in the coalition, the intricacies of the Westminster System, and government inaction on numerous issues.

Donald Trump and Rudi Guiliani appear sporting prison stripes and chains; the late Queen appears in a dream to Charles Rex; and Costa Georgiadis decries every pesticide imaginable and their effect on a sad list of extinct species.

Photo : Vishal Pandey

Serious moments such as that are special in the work of these writers. This year, as well as the environment, it is the Referendum that brings a serious hush. Sung to the tune of “Bad Moon Rising’, Forsythe’s tribute to the lost Voice is moving in its words and haunting harmonies.

The Revue wouldn’t be the same without a parody on a musical. This year, predictably, it is South Pacific, starring President Biden, Caroline Kennedy (both beautifully caricatured!) and a diplomatic adviser who elucidates alliteratively!

Congratulations to Biggins and Forsythe. Their selection of topics and clever writing continues to amaze and amuse. Congratulations to all five performers on a performance that, as always, is fabulous, fast, funny and facetious.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

The Wharf Revue: Pride in Prejudice also tours in 2024 to:

      • Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Wollongong: January 30 – February 3
      • The Pavilion, Sutherland: February 6 – 7
      • Capitol Theatre, Tamworth: February 9 – 10
      • Union Theatre, University of Melbourne, Carlton: February 13 – 24
      • Cessnock Performing Arts Centre, Cessnock: February 27
      • Riverside Theatres, Parramatta: February 29 – March 2
      • Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane: March 5 – 9
      • The Arts House, Wyong: March 12 – 13
      • Glen St Theatre, Frenchs Forest: March 14 – 28
      • Dubbo Regional Theatre: April 3
      • Civic Theatre Newcastle: April 5-6
      • Adelaide Festival Centre: April 8 – 13
      • The Glasshouse, Port Macquarie: April 16 – 17
      • Orange Civic Theatre: April 19 – 20
      • The Round, Nunawading: April 23 – 24
      • The Joan, Penrith: May 2 – 4

The Lives of Eve

By Stephen Sewell. White Box Theatre in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre. KXT on Broadway. Oct 27 – Nov 11, 2023.

Reviewed : 5 November, 2023

Photo : Danielle Lyonne

The text in this latest work by Stephen Sewell is almost as dense as the lengthy treatise on the work of psychiatrist Jacques Lacan that is made available to audience members should they have the time or inclination to read it. After seeing the play, I decided to take that time in order to see if the information therein might change my ‘gut reaction’ to the production. It explained in some detail Lacan’s complicated theories about the development of ‘self’ – aptly described by some as “novel’, ‘complex’, ‘obscure’ and ‘enigmatic’ – and his methods of psychoanalysis, which shed light on some of the ‘clinical’ staging and blocking used by director Kim Hardwick.

Photo : Danielle Lyonne

However (and I know it is grammatically incorrect to begin a sentence thus) it would have been better had I used the reading time to write from the ‘gut’ because, though I now see how many of Lacan’s theories and practices have influenced Sewell’s writing, I still can’t see the need for the concentrated and intensely convoluted dialogue. All the ‘theories’ were there in the characters, their frailties, and their fraught relationships, but they were made heavy by trying to make them exemplify too many of Lacan’s “diagnostic categories”.

Don’t get me wrong, the cast handled that dialogue superbly and the tension they developed under Hardwick’s direction was tight and oppressive – almost as oppressive as the heavy red Persian rugs that enveloped the set. The overall mood of the production was one of despair, though lightness came in some humorous exchanges and the appearance of a ghost.

“Distance” was a feature of the production – distance between patient and practitioner, distance between husband and wife, distance between mother and daughter. Hardwick stretched the small transverse stage at KXT to make that distance taut and wired with tensions that kept the characters edgily wary of each other.

Photo : Danielle Lyonne

Helen O’Connor as Eve, the Lacanian psychoanalyst, carries much of the dramatic burden of that tension – in her consulting room and at home. O’Connor holds herself tightly throughout the long first act but becomes increasingly strained in both her seeming lack of empathy with her client, Sylvia, and her husband. She shows this in her stance, the way she holds her head, her fixed, guarded eyes. With Sylvia she sits out of direct sight and listens rather than asking questions – as Lacanian practice suggests – but her reactions to Sylvia’s words seem personal rather than clinical and detached. The reason is obvious later in scenes with her husband, Paul.

Paul, played by Noel Hodda, is gentle, forbearing but beleaguered by Eve’s lack of warmth and the distance she keeps between them. It is a difficult role and one Hodda plays well, continually reaching across the distances and taking Eve’s rebuffs with gentle understanding that hides growing hurt and dismay.

Photo : Danielle Lyonne

Louisa Panucci plays Sylvia. Confused, but erudite, she wants answers, but knows that Eve, as a Lacanian, listens rather than asks questions. And Sylvia is happy to talk … about her sex life, her friends, her relationships … but really she wants Eve to explain rather than let her find out for herself. Panucci finds all the frustration that Sylvia feels, her developing irritation, her continuing disappointment, her growing anger with Eve. It is a difficult role, filled with emotional ups and downs that Panucci handles skilfully.

Annie Byron plays Madeline, the ghost of Eve’s mother, a quiet, gentle ghost that is Eve’s own ‘Lacanian analyst’, who listens, sometimes quizzically but always sympathetically. The appearance of Madeline in the second act breaks the oppression engendered in the long hard scenes in Act 1, and Byron, drifting into the darkened set, drink in hand, brings a muted ‘mauve-ness’ that lightens the tension and shows another image of Eve. There is humour in the comfort of their ‘conversation’ and the succour Eve seems to gain from it.

Photo : Danielle Lyonne

The gentleness of that scene fades quickly as further confrontations between Paul and Eve – and Sylvia and Eve – lead to revelations that are unexpected … and though contrived, give some theatrical denouement to the production.

This play is about women and their feeling, frustrations and follies – but they are drawn out too analytically, too bleakly.


By William Kentridge. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. 2-4 November, 2023

Reviewed : 2 November, 2023*

Photo : David Boon

William Kentridge creates across the arts. In drawing, writing, film, performance, music and theatre he creates works that transverses cultures and generations. His work is represented in museums around the world. He has directed operas in New York, Milan, London, Lyon and Sydney. And for three days he returns to the Sydney Opera House with his cross-disciplinary work, Sibyl.

The performance begins with a film The Moment has Gone, shown on a filmy white screen that stretches across the opera theatre stage. The film shows Kentridge at work on plans and drawings in his animation studio. Slivers of film map the process as works come into being from initial lines to faces, scenes, figures that grow and change, move, and sometimes disintegrate. Some lovely touches of humour in the filming, and the accompaniment by pianist and musical director Kyle Shepherd and four vocalists are symbolic of Kentridge’s ability to fuse art forms.

Photo : David Boon

Shepherd and returns to accompany Kentridge’s chamber opera Waiting for the Sibyl, a Gesamtkunstwerk production combining music, dance, projections and shadow plays on a huge hand painted backdrop.

In Greek legends the Sibyls were prophetesses who made predictions about the future. In this production the ‘predictions’ are sayings and poems that are thoughtful, humorous and sometimes facetious comments about life and fate. They are sung in four Bantu languages and translated into English in large projections that are printed over pages of a dictionary.

The four vocalists – Ayanda Nhlangothi Zandile Hlatshwayo Siphiwe Nkabinde S’busiso Shozi  – are joined by vocalist and dancer, Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Xolisile Bongwana and dancers Thulani Chauke, Teresa Phuti Mojela, and Thandazile ‘Sonia’ Radebe to bring this amazing artwork to life.

Photo : David Boon

The filmy screen rises and falls over several scenes. In the first Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Xolisile Bongwana introduce the Sibyl’s predictions – singing and swirling, while other performers sift through handfuls of paper and drop them to drift and litter the floor. Shadows play on the screen behind the dancer. In another scene chairs become the centre of attention – and humour. Technology and timing are come together here in a segment that pays homage to the zannis of commedia dell‘arte.

Music, dance, drawing, film, comedy and mythology are cleverly interwoven in this production that is thought provoking as well as being colourfully entertaining. Sydney is fortunate to have William Kentridge back in the Opera House with Sibyl, his ingenious combination of so many theatre and visual arts.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

* Opening performance