Thursday, 9 October 2014

NT Live Medea

A most powerful production .Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review is a shattering , explosively powerful performance that should perhaps come with a warning to allow time to recover afterwards. In Ben Powers idiomatic translation from the ancient Greek there is no blank verse but it is still extremely powerful. Intriguingly, this is the first time that the National has presented MEDEA . The production is well directed by Carrie Cracknell. Michaela Coel as the nurse , a member of Medea’s shrinking entourage, opens the show with a chilling monologue that sets up everything that is to follow. In MEDEA we see the story of love transformed to hate, a wronged woman who revenges herself upon her man Jason by slaughtering their children. Medea , as one of my colleagues writes, is arguably the greatest of all the axe-wielding women in drama,– more inconsolable than Clytemnestra, tougher than Lady Macbeth’. Euripides’ play has been updated to the present time with contemporary costumes and a fabulous split-level set by Tom Scutt , with a Corinthian palace above and a dark forest below, symbolising the play’s division between public and private worlds, with the dark world of Medea separate from everyone else’s. Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp’s haunting , atmospheric score also adds much to the production. The Chorus of women act as bridesmaids , in Melbourne based Lucy Guerin’s strange,stiff. jerky choreography. They comment on the action, unable to stop the catastrophe from happening. They speak in almost mechanical, semi monotone voices, perhaps morphing into outward projections of the voices in Medea’s head, helping us see her her unraveling mind. They twitch and convulse with the flashes of rage in Medea’s mind, then dance, miserably and distressed, after the poisoning murder of Jason’s new wife. The show is Helen McCrory ‘s who gives a searing, impassioned performance that is a knockout. She provides a deeply complex and multi layered performance , full of contradictions, rational yet irrational, swinging from deeply loving and humaneto manipulative to fiendishly murderous. Her entrance at the end for her final monologue is Kabuki like, stylised horror and despair, – or is she an agonised Mother Courage? ! Her tear streaked face is a bleak mask with hollow eyes as she descends into madness and wanders into the foggy forest (marvelous atmospheric lighting and set). Danny Sapani’s Jason is shown as a blustering, wily politician who uses euphemisms and Sir Humphrey Appleby speak to justify his abandonment of Medea. The play also clearly reveals that it is as much his tragedy as hers. Conflicting morals within the play are also seen in the elegant Athenian king, Aegeus, who offers Medea sanctuary: as played by Dominic Rowan, he is both gentle and unselfish, yet simultaneously a dithering diplomat anxious not to offend the ruling Corinthians. This is a deeply disturbing, traumatising production of immense complexity and power . Running time 90 mins (approx) no interval. NT Live MEDEA screens at selected cinemas from October 4 For more about NT Live Medea, visit

Sondeim on Sondheim

This is a most fabulous show ! Here's my rave for Sydney Arts Guide of the best shows on in town at the moment is wonderful Squabbalogic’s SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM currently running at the Reginald at the Seymour Centre. A dazzling celebration of some of Sondheim’s work. If you are a Sondheim or musical theatre fan this is for you. The cast has scintillating talent. Theatre legend Stephen Sondheim is now 84 and this is the Australian premiere of this show which was originally devised by James Lapine in 2010. Segments of Sondheim talking about his life are interspersed with songs from some of his shows. What makes this show extra special is the screen interviews with him, where we learn about his quite troubled family life, the influence Oscar Hammerstein had on him and how he approaches his work and his various work processes, (for example, his favourite soft pencils and particular paper) and what is involved in putting on a show. Sondheim also reveals his love of collaboration, and how he regards ASSASSINS as his most polished show whilst SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE is his favourite. The production is roughly arranged chronologically , Sondheim reminiscing about his life, but what is also fascinating is we see how we learn how some of his shows were reworked/songs cut/added ( eg for ‘ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ we follow the changes from what was originally ‘Invocation ‘ to the final boisterous ‘Comedy Tonight‘). A fun , brassy showstopper (that was cut from ‘Gypsy ‘) was ‘Smile Girls’, Madam Rose trying to inspire her exhausted troupe. We see fragments or segments from ( among others) ‘Gypsy’, ‘West Side Story’ ‘Company’ ‘Merrily We Roll Along ‘ ‘Into the Woods’,’Follies’ ‘Assassins’’ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum ‘ and Sweeney Todd, but nothing from ‘Pacific Overtures’ for example. The exceptional cast of eight under the sensational direction of James Jay Moody are superb and give extraordinary performances. Each of them has solos but there is also quite a bit of ensemble work. Almost all the numbers chosen are about Love and Life. The tremendous band under the baton of Hayden Barltrop is hidden by the exciting set,–hanging mobiles of crumpled tossed paper (almost a light, movable sculpture), and a large projection screen. Otherwise there are a few small sliding stools/tables that are constantly changing shape and configuration ( for example in ‘You Could Drive A Person Crazy’ from ‘ Company’ here done as a duet ). Sondheim’s emotional range and variety is astonishing,– from large ensemble numbers to intense emotional engagement ( for example, the shattering ‘Epiphany’ from ‘Sweeney Todd’). There are so many highlights it is impossible to choose but special mentions must be made of Dean Vince as Bobby in ‘ Being Alive’ (from ‘Company ‘), Philip Lowe’s already mentioned ‘Epiphany ‘ as Sweeney Todd, and Debra Krizak’s heartbreaking , exquisite performance of ‘Send in the Clowns’ ( from A Little Night Music ). I also loved the haunting elegant, impassioned duet combining ‘ Not A Day Goes By ‘ ( from Merrily We Roll Along) with ‘Losing My Mind’ ( ‘Follies ) as performed by Krizak and Christy Sullivan. Sullivan also shines in the charming, whimsical ‘Do I Hear a Waltz ?‘ Rob Johnson gives an outstanding performance of ‘Franklin Shepherd Inc’, Charley’s breakdown on TV from ‘Merrily We Roll Along ‘ that stops the show. Very moving scenes are shown from ‘Passion’ ( Louise Kelly as the obsessed Fosca is magnificent) and a chilling sequence ( ‘Something Just Broke/The Gun Song ‘) from ‘Assassins’. So, Sondheim fans, if you haven’t already, run and book for this glorious show. It helps answer the question first posed in 1994 by New York Magazine ‘Is Stephen Sondheim God? ‘ More than recommended . Running time 2 hours 45 mins (approx) including interval. SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM is playing at the downstairs Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre until October 18.

Monkey .. Journey to the West

A most glorious show up those who remember the iconic incredibly popular TV series Monkey of the 1970’s ? Theatre of Image under the brilliantly inspired direction of Kim Carpenter, in combination with legendary John Bell of Bell Shakespeare and in collaboration with Team 9Lives have fashioned a magnificent, enthralling, visually stunning production based on a story originally from the 1500’s that enchants. For those unfamiliar with Monkey it could perhaps be compared to a Buddhist style ‘ The Wizard of OZ’ with our heroes on a mission to rescue three holy scriptures and return them to the people of China. The fable with its moral and visual symbolism lends itself splendidly to this multi layered production. Visually , as always for Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image, it is stunning and in their trademark style . There are several types of puppets used of various sorts and sizes – giant floating rod puppets , shadow puppets and others. At times scene changes are effected by a ‘wipe’ of opening or closing a curtain for example, or a character taking a deep breath and jumping. Projections are also used at various points (eg Monkey alone on his mountain) as are shadows and silhouettes. Costumes are exceptional and thrilling throughout, – for example the spider demons in Act 2 , bright pink and bubbly in disguise, terrifying black and sparkly when defeated . I also liked the wonderful headdresses of the birds Monkey used to rescue his companions. The underwater fish costumes were very bright, fun and exotically sultry too. One mustn’t forget the opulent, dazzling Indian style elegant costume of the Great King in red and gold and his scantily clad army in boiled lobster orangey-red. And the huge, looming ghost demons in Act 1 were very scary especially for some of the younger children. Kuan yin, goddess of mercy, ( Ivy Mak) is shown as pale, lunar like and with a headdress like trees rippling in the wind ( gusts of compassion? ). Sets and props are flexible and utilitarian yet stunningly designed. Stylistically, music hall (eg the spider demons) is blended with the spectacular, thrilling martial arts (for example, the battle between our heroes and the fish like Great King and his minions). Peter Kennard’s score deftly interweaves jazz, showbiz and ‘traditional’ Asian sounding music and the songs are seamlessly incorporated. Our darting , energetic, mischievous hero Monkey was splendidly played by Aljin Abella in red and black , with his iconic bandana and gold circlet crown. Will he ever really learn to humble himself ? Can he save his master Tripitaka ? You will need to see the show to find out! Greedy, lusty, vulgar Pigsy is delightfully played by Darren Gilshenan , having a whale of a time ,in a rather ugly fat suit and with floppy ears. Sandy (Justin Smith ) is played as a sort of spaced out hippy sarcastic philosopher, a ‘cool’ cat/man , long haired and bearded, with a necklace of skulls . Their master, the gentle, rather unworldly monk Tripitaka , driven on a sacred mission from Buddha himself, yet sometimes cranky with his annoying fellow travellers, was tremendously played by Aileen Huynh . A splendid , visually enthralling production for all ages of an old Chinese story steeped in tradition that totally enchants . Running time just over two hours including interval (approx) Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image’s production of MONKEY … JOURNEY TO THE WEST is playing at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre until Saturday 11th October.

Oedipus Rex

A shattering confronting play at Belvoir . Here's my artshub review Directed by Adena Jacobs, this is a ‘meditation on the myth of Oedipus Rex’, who has done nothing to deserve his appalling fate, and on the notion of suffering itself. Oedipus becomes an Everyman who suffers for no reason simply because the gods wish to punish him. Max Lyandvert’s electronic score is harsh and unforgiving, catapulting us into the world of the play. The ‘set’, if it can be called that, is like a plastic-covered entrance to a construction site, with black carpet and a single chair. Much is made of sudden snappy blackouts, to indicate the passing of time, for example. Especially the long first one is loud in its silence and then followed by a deafening roar of futuristic rumbles to help us enter the suffering and blindness of Oedipus and to reveal Oedipus in sculptural poses. At times, the lighting is very low and Caravaggio-like, or perhaps more like other dark Renaissance paintings or Goya’s nightmares. Oedipus becomes a dying, tormented, ragged being, a plague victim of the city. His life is unendurable, yet death would release him from a heavy guilt that no amount of suffering can cleanse. The play contains full-frontal nudity as Oedipus is bathed by Antigone. Carroll is also nude just before this scene, where he becomes a timeless statue with arms stretched imploringly, beseeching the gods, who don’t listen. Oedipus has a major monologue about how he unwittingly killed his father; another about the sphinx and its riddle; and another about how the city was cursed with plague and how he became the scapegoat. Carroll as Oedipus is extraordinary, giving a bravura performance of a shattered life as the old blind king who has been cursed by the gods. Sometimes he glows with regal force, yet at the same time he reveals the searing fragile vulnerability of a very young child or the frail old. Mostly he wears just underpants and a bathrobe. The childish games he plays with Antigone (building Cuisinaire rod towers, hide-and-seek, I Spy etc) reduce him to nothingness. A teddy bear is symbolically blinded in one eye before being snatched away. His voice is amazing – at times raspy because of the oxygen mask he sometimes has to use, other times it is rich, golden caramel. As Antigone, his half sister/daughter, the darkly beautiful Andrea Demetriades is at first elegantly stylish in a dark blue suit. For the second half, she changes to a stunning long Grecian-like flowing pleated red dress. She is driven to distraction by Oedipus, yet is overwhelmingly tender in her care of him, teasing and cruel. Sophocles’ play and its sequel are used a base for a gripping, challenging, sometimes almost overwhelming meditation on suffering. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Oedipus Rex Director: Adena Jacobs Designer and dramaturg: Paul Jackson Composer and sound designer: Max Lyandvert With Peter Carroll and Andrea Demetriades Belvoir, Surrey Hills 21 August-14 September

HMS Pinafore

A great show much fun. Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review Messmates ahoy! If you like a straight, quite traditional version of G & S then this is for you. This year the production by the renowned Savoy Arts (now performing as Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Sydney) is HMS PINAFORE, first performed in 1878 and regarded. as one of their ‘big three‘ ( along with The Mikado and Pirates of Penzance). Directed by Elizabeth Lowrencev and under the graceful , inspired musical direction of maestro Rod Mounjed this is a production that vocally and musically delights and enchants . Ignore the ridiculous plot twist at the end that theoretically puts all to rights. Just sit back, relax and enjoy. The set design of the ship is terrific , light and elegant and there is more space here for the orchestra than there is at their old venue at the Zenith. Firmly set in rigid Victorian times , with lavish costumes of the period. Lack of wealth and class being the major impediments, can true love prevail ? As dashing Captain Corcoran, Brendan Iddles is superb , terribly handsome in his sensational uniform and is in fine voice.He is a good, polite man loved by his crew. No wonder Buttercup is secretly in love with him! His ‘Fair Moon I Sing to Thee‘ reveals his lonely, sadder and softer side. Sir Joseph Porter QC KCB, ruler of the Queen’s navy , was brilliantly played by Dean Sinclair.Wickedly delightful Sinclair plays him as a mincing popinjay , a sneering supercilious dandy peering at people through his lorgnette , very full of himself , with perfect comic timing. He dazzles and is resplendent in full court regalia , white kneebreeches and stockings and glittering bejewelled jacket . Brilliant . His ‘When I was a lad’ sets the tone and there is a wonderful hilarious unexpected sight gag during ‘ Never Mind The Whys and Wherefores’ . Our hero Ralph Rackstraw was tremendously played by Michael Handy. Tall blonde and very handsome, he has a great tenor voice and is very popular with his fellow crew (except Dick Deadeye) His unobtainable love (or is she ?) Josephine , our leading lady, was delightfully played by Sarah Arnold who sings marvellously. In Act 1 she is a Spring vision in pink and green sprigged muslin. She is torn between being a dutiful daughter and her love for Rackstraw - her ‘ The Hours Creep on Apace‘ in Act 2 was heartfelt. Gyspy bumboat woman Buttercup was wonderfully played by Anne-Louise Finlayson in a yellow apron, black skirt and red corsetry. She is dark and mysterious and has the means to set everything right, but will she?! Her rollicking introductory song was splendidly done as were here duets with Corcoran (‘ Things are seldom what they seem’). Mention must also be made of the terrific performances of the Botswain ( Anthony Mason ) and the unpopular villain ,sneak and informer Dick Deadeye ( Gordon Costello ). Some of the ensemble choreography felt a little squashed and stilted, a bit artificial, but Act 2’s ‘Never Mind The Whys and Wherefores’ makes up for all that, with a hilarious Morecombe and Wise style finale to the number. Oversize cousin Hebe, like a galleon in full sail , out to fuss over and capture Sir Joseph, was delightfully played by Ella Arundel. Auriophiles will admire the cute white and fluffy ship’s cat and notice the play on words when the ‘cat’ refers to the cat of nine tails . A most impressive and delightful production full of British patriotism and rollicking enjoyment that upholds the stirring tradition of the British (and Australian ) navy . Three cheers for Her Majesty! Running Time 2 hours 20 ( approx ) including one interval. There are three more opportunities to catch this ship before it sails out of town. HMS PINAFORE is playing the Smith Auditorium Lyric theatre, Shore School, William Street, North Sydney next Friday 3rd October at 8pm and then Saturday 4th October at 2pm and 8pm. Bookings- Share this:11

Jenifer Ringer Dancing Through It

A marvellous new dance book , intimately and eloquently written this is an engrossing ballet autobiography. Jenifer Ringer is an American ballet dancer. She joined the New York City Ballet in 1990 and was promoted to soloist in 1995. She took time off soon after, and, in 2000, was promoted to principal. Earlier this year she retired from performing. She has a BA in English from Fordham Uni and is a recipient of the Dance Magazine award and the Jerome Robbins award. She is now head of the Colburn Dance Academy . Ringer was born in North Carolina and raised in Summerville, South Carolina. She began studying dance at age ten and joined the School of American Ballet after attending the Washington School of Ballet for two years. In the book a lot is written about her inspiring teachers . Ringer is married to ex principal dancer also with NYCB , James Fayette. They have a daughter, Grace and son Luke. For ballet lovers what is fascinating is how Ringer takes us inside the dancer’s world, in great detail she described the daily grind of a ballet dancer’s typical day, – class and rehearsal and performance preparation, and the extraordinary pressures that these athletic artists have to deal with on a regular basis. Ringer shares exhilarating stories of starring in Balanchine productions, working with the famous Peter Martins, and the almost fairy tale sounding story of meeting her husband and falling in love at the New York City Ballet. Stories about accidents on stage and other last minute crisis are included too. Much is written about two of her favourite works, Balanchine’s ‘ Serenade’ and Jerome Robbin’s ‘ Dances At A Gathering’ , both from a performing and audience perspective. What is also fascinating from a balletomane’s perspective is her insights into working with various choreographers and their different approaches in the rehearsal studio and working towards the finished product. Also , how various choreographers and dancers analyze and hear the music so differently. And dealing with the ways different partners hear the music and approach, for example, lifting in pas de deux for example. Ringer also talks candidly of Alistair Macauley’s stinging critique of her weight in his 2010 New York Times review of ‘The Nutcracker’ that ignited a public dialogue about ballet and weight. Ringer describes the whole incident wittily as ‘Sugarplumgate’. She unhesitatingly describes her personal struggles with eating disorders and body image, which nearly killed her, and shares how her faith helped her to heal and triumph over these challenges. A committed Christian, this book is very unusual for dance books, in that the author describes her spiritual path. She talks about joyously dancing for God, also about dancing as part of church services, dance as part of worship, and the importance of prayer. We also learn how she somehow juggles her career with her life as a mum with two young children. She is teaching her daughter Grace how to love her body and herself. “I feel so grateful for my career,” Ringer says. “But I wouldn’t choose it for my daughter.” The book is beautifully set out with an excellent table of contents at the start and a terrific index and ballet glossary at the back as well as quite a few pages of photos . From the stage fright moments waiting in the wings before a performance , to her appearance on ‘The Today Show ‘ and ‘Oprah’ discussing weight and body image among dancers, DANCING THROUGH IT is intimately revealing , gripping and inspirational . Hardcover, 288 pages Publisher: Viking Books ISBN: 0670026492 EAN: 9780670026494

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Simon Tedeschi Pianist and Prankster

This was at Monkey Baa - wonderful fun.Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review has 88 keys and no lock? (Answer: a piano ). The packed audience was wildly enthusiastic and loved this joke. Perfect school holiday fare the current show at wonderful Monkey Baa is SIMON TEDESCHI: PIANIST AND PRANKSTER, is a solo autobiographical show pitched at Primary school age children, mostly about his childhood. Directed by Eva Di Cesare. Tedeschi’ s exuberant personality and love of music come enchantingly across and are infectious . We see quite a few photos of the young Simon growing up .He has a very mobile and expressive face and makes the show Fun. His inspiring approach really draws the audience in. Tedeschi is one of Australia’s most renowned and sought after pianists who regularly performs with orchestras around Australia and globally. At age fourteen he was declared a genius by tenor Luciano Pavarotti and his portrait has been entered in the Archibald Prize. From the opening showy William Tell overture Tedeschi’s blindingly brilliant piano technique covers an amazing range of styles, from Bach to Brubek, Beethoven to booggie-woogie and everything in between. Corny cringe-worthy jokes are told and audience participation sought at certain points ( for example asking ‘Who here has…. ‘ ). At one point an adult is selected as a page turner for the Minute Waltz ( with many stops starts and practices ) and a child is asked to time the Waltz using their mobile phone,– to much excitement. And the Waltz is played blisteringly fast. Tedeschi’s mischievous side is evident when ,for example, he puts in vampire fangs to play an ornamental Bach fugue. This can also be seen in the anecdote about how he replaced the school bell for recess with an recording of the Chopin Funeral March. Music is Tedeschi’s life and passion so we learn about his getting up at 5am (groan) to practice, practice and practice .And yet more practice. He has great fun with the Hanon set scales and repetitious practice, reading Doctor Who books while doing so! Mention is also made of his being inspired by a particular friend called David! For much of the show Tedeschi is in bright multi coloured Pollock style leggings, a green top and a black evening dress jacket. He refers during his show to an embarrassing moment when he wore his pajamas to school. For the last third of the show he is in full concert evening togs. We learn about his life at school, how he was not good at maths, who some of his favourite teachers were… Various family photos and news clippings of prize winnings are included in the projections . Whilst most of the show is upbeat there are some quite sad sections (a Chopin mazurka as a tribute to his Polish grandmother )and lyrical bits,-for example Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ – as a tribute to Lisa Simpson! Mention is also made of the many Eisteddfods he participated in and won and how he played at the Sydney Opera House at age eight and won with a dramatic version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star .The show finishes with a dynamic boogie-wooggie version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee that had the audience entranced. For an encore -don’t try this at home! – Tedeschi acrobatically played ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ lying with has back on the piano stool and hands just able to reach the keyboard. A captivating, exuberant show that has something for young and old. Running time without interval SIMON TEDESCHI: PIANIST AND PRANKSTER runs at the Monkey Baa Terrace 2 Theatre, 1-25 Harbour Street, Darling Harbour between the 20th and 27th September.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Last Confession

Here's my reveiw for Sydney Arts Guide of the first things that you notice before you even enter the auditorium is the delicate smell of incense wafting through. An olfactory cue that we are in the Vatican, as is the glorious choral music. First performed in 2007 as part of the Chichester Festival and then with a massively popular London season and international tour , ‘The Last Confession’ written by Roger Crane and directed by Jonathan Church, is a gripping behind the scenes political thriller set in the Vatican during the reigns of Popes Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. Most of the action centres around the unexpected demise of John Paul I in 1978 after only 33 days in the papacy. Conspiracy theories are still floating about regarding the real cause of his death – including rumours the Pope was murdered by communists, Freemasons, corrupt bankers or ultra-conservatives. Was he?! THE LAST CONFESSION doesn’t make any direct accusations, nor does it detail any specific plot, although it does establish the possible motives for murder by a number of Vatican power players. ( Cui bono? ) What it does do most effectively is cast doubt over the ‘official’ version of events , raising doubts about the Church’s alleged poor handling of the issue : the medical handling of things for instance is presented almost as a shambolic joke. Was everything in fact quietly hushed up ? From that aspect, the play can seem more of a documentary than an imagined retelling. Crane’s script is fiercely intelligent and its premise inspired, with some witty, incisive dialogue that the audience loved , but also it relies heavily on telling and/or describing rather than actual showing of events /evidence.Very important moral issues are raised. William Dudley’s huge set design is gorgeously heavy and opulent , recreating the luxuriant reds and cage-like rather grim ironwork of the Vatican, as well as fragments of some of the famous paintings. There are numerous swift scene changes with the ironwork and other sections shifting which could at times be rather cumbersome and annoying .Fotini Dimou’s ecclesiastical costumes are sumptuously ornate and also vividly dramatic in their reds , blacks and purples (and not forgetting the Renaissance uniforms of the Swiss guards). International star David Suchet ( famous for his playing of Hercule Poirot) is Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, a businesslike and serious Catholic moderate who battles with doubts about his faith and challenges the intransigent conservatism of the cardinals who dominate the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that advises the Pope. Benelli acts as narrator and provides the framework and structure of the show as he is giving his ‘ last confession ‘ to his confessor. It tracks the trajectory of events from the last year of Pope Paul VI (Donald Douglas), to the election of Albino Luciani (Richard O’Callaghan) as Pope John Paul I, and the associated power struggles, reform agendas and financial corruption of the Vatican Bank. Suchet is superb , charismatic with his huge eyebrows ,glowing eyes and fabulous velvety chocolate voice that hypnotises . It’s a substantial leading role which Suchet seems to have gleefully appropriated. He dominates the stage in moments of anger or frustration, and shines equally in the moments of Benelli’s questioning vulnerability. Richard O’Callaghan, as Cardinal Albino Luciani ,who became John Paul I, was extremely engaging and really looked the part of ‘The Smiling Pope’. He is presented as benign , popular with the people and extremely caring , liberal , free-thinking and trying to introduce changes but blocked by tradition and a clique of cardinals who had power. We see how he is buried under mountains of paperwork and extremely stressed. He actually talked to gardeners! Shock horror! His gravitas however as Pope is crucial in a number of pivotal scenes. A compassionate , sweet natured man of God, he unfortunately alienated the arch-conservatives with his determination to introduce the sweeping Vatican II reforms. In this play completely dominated b y the patriarchy, only one female character appears in ‘The Last Confession ‘, Sister Vincenza Taffarel, a nun and sometime assistant of John Paul I, is warmly , delightfully portrayed by Sheila Ferris (who married David Suchet in 1978). There are twenty extremely gifted and polished Australian , British and Canadian actors in this production , but special mentions need to be made of Nigel Bennett as the inflexible traditionalist, Cardinal Villot, and Australian John O’May, who plays Cardinal Felici with an icy, dangerously menacing reserve. Hulking Stuart Milligan is sinister, intimidating and confrontational as the rather dodgy American financial manager, Marcinkus, and Kevin Colson is somewhat irritatingly highbrow as pompous Cardinal Baggio. A wonderful production for those who like whodunits , David Suchet fans and those fascinated by the history of the Catholic church. Running time 2 hours 30 mins (approx ) including one interval. THE LAST CONFESSION plays at Sydney’s Theatre Royal between the 24th September and the 12th October 2014 For more about The Last Confession, visit

The King and I

Loved it , this was fabulous. Herer's my Sydney Arts Guide review Australia have brought to Sydney a most splendid production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘The King And I ‘ with a gigantic cast and glorious , lavishly opulent ,dazzling sets and costumes .Directed by Christopher Renshaw ,it is an aural , olfactory and visual feast and treat : Brian Thomson’s set designs are outstanding as are Roger Kirk’s costumes. The curtains, screens etc allow for almost cinematic fluid scene changes , torches burn brightly and incense wafts through the auditorium. The production broke all box office records before it even opened – over $8.4 million ! .And it is estimated that over a quarter of a million people will have seen the show by the time it finishes its national tour. THE KING AND I is based upon Margaret Landon’s novel, ‘Anna and the King ‘; which draws upon the real life Anna Leonowens’ memoirs.Premiering in 1951,‘The King and I ‘ presents us with an enchanting , delightful (if already outdated then , let alone now) imagined Siam, a nation that had avoided direct colonial rule and was governed by an absolute monarchy until 1932. Siam officially became Thailand in 1948. With the surrender of Japan also still fresh in people’s minds as well at the time of writing the musical , the submission of an autocratic Asian emperor to the principles of Western democracy adds yet another layer to this story of a deified ruler intrigued by the modern world and the feisty English governess he employs to teach his many children about it . Lisa McCune is absolutely tremendous as Anna , loving yet firmly determined to stand up for herself and what she thinks is right. She gives an excellent if somewhat delicate vocally performance of her set pieces, – ‘Hello Young Lovers ‘ ‘ Getting to Know You ‘ etc. and a spunky , rather funny version of ‘Shall I Tell You What I think of You ?’. Her ravishing gowns are more than exquisite and she deserves great kudos for her deft management of the huge crinolines. At one point she is a vision in pink and white. Charismatic Teddy Tahu Rhodes is in superb form and glorious voice as the King, bald and extremely imposing , glittering in red and gold , encrusted with jewels . He follows in the now legendary steps of Yul Bryner who will be forever associated with the role. His natural dignity is combined with Mongkut’s volcanic explosiveness ,incorporating Bryner’s macho, imposing stance. His singspiel soliloquy ( aria? ) ‘A Puzzlement’ almost becomes a tumultuous inner battle of the soul. Some of the lighter moments are , however ,perhaps a touch awkward. One of the main highlights is the staging of choreographer Jerome Robbins’s show-within-a-show, ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas ‘, which the huge ensemble (under the eagle eye of Susan Kikuchi and glorious in Roger Kirk’s costumes) executes tremendously , showing the blend of Eastern and Western cultures in the angular arms, Buddhist ‘angels and Kabuki like representations of water etc .and the striking almost a-tonal music . The singing was superb. Another is the ‘March of Siamese Children ‘the twelve children of assorted ages (representative of the 67 the actually king had) being enchantingly cute. Some of Hammerstein’s script now sounds ultra awkward at times. The writing for the thwarted lovers ,new Burmese concubine Tuptim (Jenny Liu) , given as an unwilling present to the King and her secret lover Lun Tha (Adrian Li Donni) presents them as sweetly childlike. Their voices though and musically they are lushly operatic. There is marvelous work in the other supporting roles, led by Shu-Cheen Yu as Lady Thiang , the head wife desperately in love with the King , (her‘Something Wonderful’ is magnificent)and Marty Rhone as the rather cold ,severe Kralahome (Prime Minister) .(It’s a shame the role does not give the former 70s pop star much of a chance to sing.)John Adam gives the British diplomat Sir Edward Ramsey immediately charming and sympathetic life with just the tiniest touch of G&S perhaps. Under the enthusiastic baton of Peter Casey the marvelous orchestra does justice to the lush romantic Orientalism of the score, the sweeping joy of the music. Much ink has been spilled over the political incorrectness of the production , whether it should be on at all and the casting .But this is such fabulous production who cares ! Yes , it was opening night but it is most unusual for virtually the entire House to rise for a cheering screaming standing ovation at the end. Fabulous. Running time 2 hours 45 mins (approx) including one interval THE KING AND I runs at the Joan Sutherland Auditorium Sydney Opera House until November 1, 2014.

Hofesh Schecter's 'Sun' at the Sydney Opera House

hmmm ... Here's what I thought wearing my Dance Informa hat is the masterpiece of Hofesh Schechter, a choreographer who is now based in the U.K. but was born and raised in Israel. He has an international profile now after a meteoric rise in the U.K. over roughly the last decade, and he recently co-directed the Brighton Festival. At the start of the work in its recent Sydney season, a voiceover informs us repeatedly that Sun is about light and dark, white and black. There are many layers of meaning throughout this deep work. Death in this work is always lurking. There is the wolf killing the sheep, and other stories are told using large plywood cut-outs that also form the figure of a murderous coloniser shooting helpless indigenous people, and representations of the modern killings we read about globally every day. The baddies eventually become a contemporary banker and a young person in an obscuring hoodie. The skipping sheep with their beautifully pointed feet and silly little scampering jumps are at first cute then eventually become annoying. Philosophy and truth are important. The work is about politics and freedom. There is an emphasis on colonization and slavery and the mistreatment of First Peoples. The use of darkness also emphasises our feeling of being vulnerable. There is a long blackout at the start, then “We thought we’d start by showing you some of the ending” explains the ominous voiceover, “so you know it’s all going to be fine.” Dressed in white, the dancers suddenly appear and exuberantly weave through frieze-like celebratory steps to Wagner. The lights are suddenly switched off and rewind to the beginning. There is possibly a Cunningham/Cage influence with the fragmented use of time, counts and rhythm, etc. Hofesh Shechter’s ‘Sun’. Photo by Jess Bialek. It is also about the ‘Sun’ – as in the planet – which is represented by a gold ball shining on a white cloth at various points. Choreographically, Shechter includes an ever-changing mix of sources from folk dance to militaristic marching to the controlled and graceful softness of ballet to contemporary angular gestures all skillfully blended and dynamically performed. There are courtly twirls, amazing balletic leaps and Tharp-like backward lunges. Certain phrases of movement are repeated. Two halves of the ensemble at times do separate moves that end up neatly dovetailing together. Technically, the dancing was more than superb, fluid and graceful. The company performed with overwhelming, inspiring energy throughout. Lee Curran’s lighting includes blinding, snappy blackouts and also features a massive hanging grid of light bulbs, which comes on in a blaze of white or in swirls of moving light. There is also much use of dry ice. The audience is assaulted by overly loud music, which is an eclectic mix of world music including bagpipes, African, Western classical, Jewish, a much loved hymn, and others. Shechter’s Political Mother, which was seen in Sydney now several years ago, was a knockout experience. Sun is completely different – far less coherent, more “bitty’ and fragmented. It sure gave rise to lots of thought provoking discussion by the audience afterwards.

ACO/Bell Shakespeare Intimate Letters

This was glorious. Here's my review for Sydney Arts Guide this latest performance, called INTIMATE LETTERS, the ACO combined with the Bell Shakespeare Company have somewhat abandoned the usual established concert format. Under the direction of special guest London Symphony Orchestra concert master Gordan Nikolic and theatre directors Peter Evans and Susanna Dowling , INTIMATE LETTERS is a unique blend of theatre and music. Actors Ella Scott Lynch and Marshall Napier from Bell Shakespeare read excerpts from the letters of Janáček, Mozart and Smetana linked to the ACO’s performance of the related musical works of the three composers . Mozart’s ‘Divertimento in F’, the first work on the program, was perhaps slightly out of place in when considered alongside the later anguished works of the two Czech composers that follow. The sunny ‘ Divertimento ‘ one of three composed by the sixteen-year-old Mozart in 1772, is a brief, charming Italianate piece in three sprightly movements. The second, middle movement is the saddest and most lyrical in feel. The first letter of the evening was a 1772 letter written by a young Mozart to his sister, Maria Anna. Ella Scott Lynch , in a beautiful, long blue flowing tie dyed dress, obtained some laughter from the crowd before the ACO started performing with her delicious reading of the composer’s goofy, rather oddball remarks and use of repetition. The exquisite tone of the ACO’s playing was showcased particularly in the second Adante movement and their playing in the first movement was glorious with sustained, precise balance. The other two works performed were in starks contrast . Entitled ‘Z mého života’, or ‘From my Life’, Smetana planned his work to be a snapshot of his life, starting from his youth and his initial interest in the arts to his permanent deafness, with which he was diagnosed at the age of 50. The piece was deemed ‘too orchestral’ for a quartet, and Smetana’s work was given its first performance by a larger body of strings (including, notably, a young viola player named Antonin Dvořák), which, sadly, he was completely unable to hear. The first movement begins explosively, subsiding to an eerie theme in the viola section. Smetana entitled this the “Call of Destiny” theme, a ominous foretelling of his future misfortunes. Having lost his hearing, Smetana was still bothered by constant buzzing, shriekings and high-pitched whistles, which he found so disturbing that they often hindered him from composing. The first movement was powerful and passionate, evoking Smetana’s interest in Romanticism and its ideals. The second movement was brighter, and shows Smetana’s love of dance and the pride he took in his achievements as a composer. The second movement was played with great control by the ACO giving it a sense of proud Slavic nationalism instead of joy, which is appropriate for the work. In the third movement, Nikolic and the first violins were glorious in haunting,sad violin swells of interlocking rhythms and layers of melody. There were soaring tears of solo sections, and the group took full advantage of the rich, luscious harmonies. The fourth (final) movement begins happily ,but is interrupted by the occurrence of a high ‘E ‘over a tumultuous body of strings, which represents Smetana’s deafness, and the A-flat Major 6th chord he reported hearing daily between the hours of 6 and 7. As the movement drew to a close, the phrases end more abruptly, indicating the disintegration of Smetana’s hearing. Napier, dapper in an elegant grey business suit gave exquisitely eloquent readings of Smetana’s letters, and at one point says ‘ Therefore the ‘E’ must be played fortissimo throughout’ and emphatically directs the ACO to do just that . There is also use of atmospheric golden lighting . Principal cellist Timo-Veikko Valve has been responsible for arranging Leon Janáček’s ‘ String Quartet No 2 ‘– known also as the ‘Intimate Letters ‘- the title piece- for string orchestra. Janáček wrote these letters over the last decade of his life to Kamila Stösslová, a young woman he was passionately devoted to. Janáček and Kamila exchanged over 700 letters, in which she was rather primly aloof, and he was clearly smitten. Their correspondence created extra tension between Janáček and his already estranged wife Zdenka, but didn’t appear to concern Kamila’s husband, who was probably consoled by the age gap between the two of nearly 40 years (when they first met Kamila was 25, Janáček was 63). The actors draw out the crackling tension in magnificent performances. The work begins spikily but there are swirling, lilting tender sections too, Some segments are to be played on the bridge in the viola and cello parts. Principal viola Christopher Moore’s superb performing deserves a particular mention. Sometimes the music is achingly sad, at other times tremulous, spiky or searing .There was fine, vibrant playing by the ACO and all involved gave an impassioned performance . An unusual , emotionally gripping and exciting performance . Running time two hours (approx) with one interval. INTIMATE LETTERS was on national tour between the 18th August to the 2nd September.

Circa's 'S' at Parramatta

This was terrific .Only a very short season unfortunately. Here's my review for Sydney Arts Guide‘S’ by Circa from Brisbane is Sinuous and Surprising for starters. It combines elements of circus work, dance and physical theatre that are mesmerizing. The Helpmann –award winning show is based on the shape and sound of all sorts of words using the letter ‘S’ including for example ‘Sleep. Snore. Surge. Stretch. Strength. Stability. Song. Soprano. Sinuous. Shadows. Symphony. Spiral. Space. Share. Suspend. Support. Slip. Seamless. Syncopated. Somersault.Spin.Spring. Struggle. Sway. Sizzle. Sound. Strain. Skip. Stacked. Swoop. Swing. Scary. Squish. Solitary. Swivel. Spin. Shimmer. Stamina. Supple. Storm. Survival. Serene. Silhouette. Spotlight. Sinew. Spine. Sweat. Sound. Smile. Strange. Schoolyard. Splash. Spill. Smooth. Straight. Strong.’ As performed by the cast with spectacular, tightly controlled choreography that creates sculpturally symmetrical shapes, twists and curves .Circa has been taking its distinctive style of circus internationally , touring to 28 countries since 2006 and this is part of a national tour. This production demands incredible control from the extraordinary cast of seven (Nathan Boyle, Jessica Connell, Casey Douglas, Daniel O’Brien, Brittannie Portelli, Kimberley Rossi and Duncan West) who are apparently boneless! There is a contortionist segment, tumbling, balancing and aerialist styles all fluidly combined with the grace and highly pointed feet of all the dancers. An incredible feat of hula-hooping is accomplished with intense precision and energy, the blue hoops blurring in an electric swirl. The display of challenging virtuosity goes even higher when her colleagues walk through the torrent of “hula” swirls undamaged. The thrust stage with its special mat surface is mostly clear save for aerialist silks and at one point water bowls. The cast are all in theatrical black – the men topless, the women in beautifully designed leotards created by Libby McDonnell . For the opening and closing segments, full of power and mystery, a female performer bends over backwards, lit by a single lamp, her head to the audience and upside down. She twists her neck and turns her body into contortionist like moves that are seemingly humanly impossible. There is humour performed in a charming, fresh, teasing way (for example the amazing miked duet where the man is taped and has a mike in his mouth and on his chest. We can hear every thump whistle and groan as he lifts and shifts his partner. Some of the seemingly not-looking runs and catches are incredible, not forgetting to mention the balancing water bowls! I am not sure which is more impressive, the man balancing several in the crook of his elbows or the woman doing a headstand and balancing for a while her colleagues do tumbling twists across her body. Emphasis is put on the muscular bodies, the feats of strength the cast perform and the complicated sculptural shapes they work together to produce. Dramatic fast tumbles, bodies perched five high, lifts, rolls and death-defying throws are also included. Another thing I noticed was the precision in placing of hand or foot for example in the balancing and throws and the degree of trust and teamwork between the cast members is amazing . Created by Yaron Lifschitz and produced by Danielle Kellie, the overall effect is perhaps similar to a contemporary dance performance, with the sinuous energetic choreography performed to a blend of inspiring, pulsating music from the Kronos Quartet, Kimmo Pohjonon and Samuli Kosminen. The score is electronic and ranges from the sea and heartbeats, to almost lyrical, to hisses and beeps and pulsating noise and includes classical orchestral, tribal, and Celtic music. Jason Organ’s minimalistic lighting, was used to great effect to create different moods for each segment. For Circa, a serious ensemble dedicated to circus creation, the letter S as a concept for a show offers infinite possibility. Compared to Circus Oz, Circa is far more restrained and refined. ‘S’ has been developed into a spectacular display of strength and acrobatic skill that had the audience roaring and cheering its approval at the end. Running time 90 minutes without interval. Circa’s ‘S’ played at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre between the 21st and 23rd August. For more about S by Circa, visit

Chunky Move's Keep Everything

Sorry for the delay in updating the site ... I saw this at Carriageworks .Here's what I thought for Sydney Arts Guide of the ‘Score’ Festival of Sound and Movement presented by Performance Space at Carriageworks, this is a fresh, challenging work by Chunky Move from Melbourne, directed by and choreographed by Anthony Hamilton. Their current Sydney season is part of a current national tour. Hamilton uses spoken word, repetition of sounds, repeated phrases of movement and improvised movement sequences to follow human evolution from primates to robots and space exploration and back again. It celebrates our primal need to interact with one another. Director and choreographer Antony Hamilton came up with his new show after asking himself the questions:- what if I created a work from ideas he had discarded in the past? What would it mean to take these ideas that had been left, and instead keep everything?! Those who choose to sit in the first few rows of the audience should be aware that there is a huge amount of dry ice/stage fog used at the start and end of the show. There is a white floor and two piles of assorted clean ‘junk’ on stage when the audience arrives and is being seated. Two of the cast are visible ,crouched and waiting. Eventually we see that the cast are in white pyjama–like outfits with smudged dirty ‘bruises’. Benjamin Cisterne’s great lighting is snappy ,playful, powerful and futuristic. The electronic score by Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes ( aka ‘The Presets ‘) hums, throbs, pulsates, clicks , roars and whirls. Speech, animal and nonsense sounds are also included at various points. The trio of performers are amazing, seemingly boneless and deal with the fiendishly difficult demands in their work with great skill. Some of Hamilton’s choreography is repetitive, angular and robotic, other sections are almost acrobatic yoga. Sometimes the performers form eerie frozen sculptural tableaux, or enfold twisted around each other. At other times they have small weird mini-solos. There are also some difficult, awkward, acrobatic lifts –the trio using each other’s bodies as chairs, ladders and bridges as part of the work. At one point they all appear wild and simian, in another the elegance of human knowledge is extolled. There is one ironic section where the cast fold themselves almost inside out and twist themselves into knots, where questioning statements about humans are made and they always say yes in answer when sometimes it should be no. Special mention must be made of a blisteringly fast, seemingly impossible breathless number/rhythm counting sequence by Langlois and Macindoe that had the audience cheering at the end. Benjamin Hancock, with a blonde patch of hair and a dark widow’s peak is at first almost invisible, buried under the front dark pile of rubbish. He has the opening monologue, chatting to the audience as he rolls out from the pile and is revealed. Lauren Langlois Is a strong, tough performer who glows. Her range, from crying like a baby, to harassed mum, to hot, breathy ‘yes’, is extraordinary. Alisdair Macindoe is also an extraordinary , terrific performer of great grace , power and versatility . In this striking work, absurd and sometimes vulgar spontaneity, is used to examine the fragility of human nature. The work is very cleverly constructed, but like life itself, much is left messy and incomplete. While the individual performances were amazing and the quite mixed audience , I was left feeling emotionally uninvolved and perhaps a little disappointed. Running time – just over an hour (approx) no interval Chunky Move’s KEEP EVERYTHING, part of the Performance Space :Score Festival of Sound and Movement at Carriageworks, is running between the the 13th and 16th August.