Friday, 27 November 2015

The Lost Aviator
an amazing film his fascinating Australian documentary about Bill Lancaster was put together by the Lost Aviator’s  great nephew, filmmaker Andrew Lancaster (Accidents Happen).
Captain ‘Bill’ Lancaster, (no relation to the author of this review), was a pioneer flyer of the twenties and thirties who disappeared on a flight over the Sahara in 1933. It took twenty-nine years before his mummified body was found beside the wrecked plane. His log-book, was tied to the wing, and his diary contained the calm yet moving record of his horrific wait for death eight days with virtually no water and his poignant devotion to Chubbie. Bill Lancaster’s horrific end was in keeping with his racy, colourful life, love of planes and constant search for adventure.
His service career established his reputation as a man without fear, and when he left the RAF in 1926 he turned to trailblazing including entering long haul flight competitions. An attempt to be the first man to fly a light plane from England to Australia saw him unexpectedly become involved with ‘Chubbie’ Miller who Lancaster trained during the flight to become a top female pilot. Together they both neglected their families, and they flew together for four years until the Great Depression forced them to cease and try and find work.
Miller was born in Australia and Lancaster  in the UK. The celebrated aviator flew to Australia in an Avro Avian with Miller in 1927, (the Red Rose – symbol of the House of Lancaster) making her the first woman to manage the grueling England-Australia passage. We learn how Bill Lancaster made a desperate effort to retrieve his fortunes,and how Chubbie fell in love with an American writer, Haden Clarke, while he was away working.  Clarke was shot dead on Lancaster’s return, leading up to a full account of what became one of the most sensational murder trials of the century. Was it a suicide? Did Lancaster murder Clarke? Was he covering up for Miller or she for him? As to what actually happened we will never definitively know.
The documentary featured interviews with Andrew Lancaster’s parents and his aged great aunt. THE LOST AVIATOR cleverly includes black and white footage of the time and newsreels as well as current family interviews and voice overs of letters and diaries. As well the doco featured footage from The Lancaster-Miller Affair screened on Channel 9 during the 1980’s. (The most recent cinematic interpretation was the 2009 French film, The Last Flight, with Guillame Canet and Marion Cotillard). There is even an interview with the actor who played Bill Lancaster, as well as American forensic specialists and legal experts.
Whilst Lancaster was cleared of all charges, it remains a very controversial murder trial, which whilst  now 80 years ago,still raises many questions today. It is worth noting that if the trial would have been conducted today it would have been carried out in a very different way.
We see visits to various sites in the US, the UK and Australia – including the house in Miami where the murder took place and the courtroom – and also the Sahara Desert site where Lancaster’s plane crashed . The wreck of his plane, the Southern Cross Minor, was recovered by an intrepid , very dangerous expedition in 1975 and brought to Australia and is now held as an exhibit in the Queensland Museum. Mention is also made of celebrated British writer Ralph Barker’s book about Lancaster entitled, Verdict On A Lost Flyer.
The author has sifted through the material surrounding  the media frenzy and the speculation that has followed over the last 80 years. He holds firm to his conviction that his great uncle was in fact guilty and admits that he wishes that he could be proved wrong. Many within his family have made peace with their uncertainty…The author’s own parents have accused him of ‘dragging up old coals’.
Composer Matteo Zingales‘ score adds a lot to the film, balancing sadness and reflection with exuberance.
A tale as exciting as the jazz age in which it is set, its sad conclusion still leaves the reader free to decide their own verdict on Bill Lancaster, adventurer and pioneer aviator.
THE LOST AVIATOR screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival held in June and also had screenings at the recent  British Film Festival held at Palace cinemas.

The Greats at the Art Gallery of NSW

Allow plenty of time to see this stunning, superb mega-blockbuster exhibition that will have you enthralled for hours. THE GREATS– MASTERPIECES FROM THE NATIONAL GALLERIES OF SCOTLAND is part of the Sydney International Art series.
This exhibition represents one of the most significant collections of Old Master paintings ever seen in Australia and features over seventy paintings and drawings from a time span of over four hundred years.
Aside from two works, this is the first time these paintings have been seen in Australia. The exhibition features the works of major artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, El Greco, Gauguin, Boucher, Cezanne, Velasquez, Monet and Vermeer.
This is a huge, sprawling exhibition, elegantly laid out and displayed. Make  sure to examine the numerous drawings included and beautifully displayed throughout the exhibition.
The first room includes the oldest work in the exhibition, – the luminous, delicate and fragile The Virgin Adoring The Sleeping Christ Child by Botticelli (c.1485) that is full of beautiful,  textured detail. The room also includes Titian’s Venus Rising From the Sea (1520-1525 ) with its feathery brushstrokes, and Veronese’s (1580’s) swirling, turbulent Venus, Cupid and Mars.
The second room is dominated by Van Dyck’s Saint Sebastian Bound for Martyrdom (c.1620-1621), an absolutely huge painting, with its dynamic composition and billowing red cloak of the soldier. The eerieAn Allegory (Fabula) (c.1585-1595) by El Greco is sensational and this room also contains the Velasquez An Old Woman Cooking Eggs ( 1618). Elsheimer’s  The Stoning of Saint Stephen,  whilst a small work, is full of busy detail and the swirling use of curved and diagonal composition.
Moving into the third room, our attention is caught by the deceptively clear, simple composition of Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary (c.1654-1655). Vibrant and alive, it resembles a twenty-first century watercolour. This room also holds the luscious, startled A Woman in Bed by Rembrandt (1647) and the glorious, quietly luminous Young Man in Yellow by Jan Lievens (c1630-1631). Alert viewers will note links between the Raphael work and the Rembrandt painting.
The fourth room enables us to sample the delights of the large Boucher triptych- three pastoral scenes that take up close to an entire wall with its delicate exoticism. This room also includes the close to allegorical Watteau work Venetian Pleasures  (1718-1719) and the superb, glittering The Plaza San Marco, Venice by Guardi (c1770 -1775).
Sir Joseph Reynolds The Ladies Waldegrave (1780-81) demands our attention  in Room five along with works by Gainsborough and Constable. Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892) is dynamically elegant,  and this room also features the iconic Raeburn painting of  Rev Robert Walker skating (c1795).
Room six is furnished like The Octagonal Room in The National Gallery in Edinburgh and contains distinctively Scottish works including paintings by Landseer, Wilkie, and Raeburn.
Room seven moves us much closer to contemporary times, featuring several of the major Impressionists including works by Degas, Gauguin, Corot, a shimmering, exquisite Monet, and a dark,ominous Pissarro. This room also includes a sharp, spiky, angular work by Cezanne and a vibrant painting by Seurat.
In an alcove, by itself, is the huge Niagra Falls, From the American Side(1867) by Frederick Church. One can  just feel the mist and the water….
An exceptional, riveting exhibition of works that, unless you actually fly to Edinburgh, we would only get to enjoy as reproduced prints in art history books. Required viewing for anyone interested in art and art history. Go see!
THE GREATS– MASTERPIECES FROM THE NATIONAL GALLERIES OF SCOTLAND is on exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW until 14th February 2016.

Grey Gardens

An amazing show - brilliant .Here's my artshub review
f you haven’t already, book now for this extraordinary, shattering performance, the latest musical by wonderful Squabbalogic. This is the Sydney premiere production, with stellar performances from an exceptional cast .
Based on the 1975 documentary by David and Albert Mayseles, Grey Gardens tells the story of Jackie Kennedy's eccentric and reclusive aunt and cousin. The play explores the searing and twisted relationship between Edith Boiuvier Beale and her daughter.
Outstandingly directed by Jay James-Moody, with songs by Michael Korie and the score by Scott Franke, there is an aura of American Musical of the 1940's throughout. The musical Grey Gardens Act 1 is mostly set in 1941, when it was regarded as one of the poshest houses in the filthy-rich East Hamptons.
Act 2 transports us forward 30 years to show the Bouvier Beales as the 1975 documentary film presented them: living in a ruined house surrounded by a large number of cats, with querulous, demanding Edith drawing to the end of her life and trapped Edie wearing a rather strange line of home-made clothing.
It is at times a very tense emotional roller coaster ride. We see Edie’s happiness deliberately destroyed on the eve of her engagement and other bleak, almost sinister examinations of the parent/child relationship particularly the mother/daughter one.
Caitlin Berry marvellously plays the younger Edie in the first act, with Beth Daly playing her mother in an extraordinary performance. In Act 2, Daly becomes the older Little Edie, and Maggie Blinco plays her mother, Big Edie.
The young Edie as gloriously played by Berry is in the prime of her life with the world before her. She is about to become engaged to Joe Kennedy and has a Broadway career lined up. She never married however and moved back to Grey Gardens, officially to care for her mother. They remained in seclusion there, the house crumbling into disrepair.
Daly's performance in particular is enormously impressive, shocking us in a mesmerizing and compelling portrayal. Berry and Blinco are also extremely accomplished theatre veterans who give detailed, finely nuanced performances.
The script is biting and witty; at certain points the dialogue is extremely emotionally revealing and harrowing, at others it explodes into joyous musical. The delightful score is in part a homage to great musicals of the 1930s and 40s and Shondelle Pratt's exuberant, precise choreography complements this. Benjamin Brockman‘s lighting is magnificent.The band under Hayden Barltrop was terrific.
The delightful George is suavely played by Blake Erickson with definite echoes of ever so elegant Noel Coward ( including a red plush smoking jacket). Simon McLachlan is in splendid form as Joe Kennedy and then Jerry. Russell Newman is gruffly delightful as the Major and Norman Vincent Peale .
Simon Greer's set design is amazing. When we enter at the start of the show there is an extremely dingy, dilapidated feel with tattered dirty curtains and rubbish everywhere mixed in with dying plants. Quite a Miss Havisham aura. The transformation in Act 1 back to its beautiful glory days is enchanting. Then ​time shifts again, as the home begins to become run down at the start of Act 2. Most effective use is made in Act 2 particularly of the upstairs level – the attic and Edie's bedroom.
A powerful show that makes us think about the position of women in society, families and independence.
Rating: 4½ stars out of 5

Grey Gardens 
Director: Jay James-Moody
Musical Director: Hayden Barltrop
Choreographer: Shondelle Pratt
Set Designer: Simon Greer
Lighting Designer: Benjamin Brockman
Sound Designer: Jessica James-Moody
Costume Designer: Brendan Hay
Stage Manager: Nicole Eyles​Director: Jay James-Moody
Musical Director: Hayden Barltrop
Choreographer: Shondelle Pratt
Set Designer: Simon Greer
Lighting Designer: Benjamin Brockman
Sound Designer: Jessica James-Moody
Costume Designer: Brendan Hay
Stage Manager: Nicole Eyles​
Cast: Sienna Arnold, Caitlin Berry, Maggie Blinco, Kelly Callaghan, Beth Daly, Blake Erickson, Sian Fuller, Jenna Keenan, Simon McLachlan, Russell Newman, Timothy Springs

The Reginald, Seymour Centre
Running from 18 November – 12 December, 2015​

Dinkum Assorted at the New Theatre

Wonderful!  There are not that many plays with tremendous parts for fifteen women and a goat!
Linda Aronson’s wonderful play, full of music and with plenty of tap dancing, in a terrific production that has just opened at the New Theatre is splendid. Under Sahn Millington’s precise, deft direction the large ensemble performs exuberantly. The script is witty at times, much fun, at others dark, pessimistic and extremely tense.
Set in the fictional north Queensland country town of Warrabadanga, Aronson’s play follows the lives of a group of women working in a biscuit factory during World War 11. Their factory is one of the major businesses in town  but is going through hard times. Will the factory survive, threatened with closure, survive? 
Through the course of the play we see  how the dynamic, resourceful workers fight to save the factory, organise what could be called a ‘Mum’s Army’ Civil Defence Unit, ( with hilarious scenes of air raid wardens and first aid training ),  how a huge show for the War Effort is produced – and how they manage to deal with the fact that two thousand US airmen have just been stationed outside town at an army base.
We also see how they deal with numerous other issues- the air raids, the major workplace tensions explode at times, how hidden secrets are revealed and how the characters cope with betrayal, death and romance. And most importantly how they can ‘kidnap ‘ Rita, the regimental goat!
The show is also about  the women seeking freedom and self expression – young Vi, played by Amanda Laing, is desperate to escape the crushing atmosphere of the small town.  Both Vi and her friend Rosie, played by Hannah Raven Smith,  are wannabe showgirls hoping to escape to the big lights and excitement of a city and become theatrical stars .
There are tense, dramatic scenes too – will Millie, played by Bodelle de Ronde, commit suicide or not? Does Joan , the new girl and outsider, played by Sonya Kerr, manage to fit in?  What secrets is she hiding?  Why does Connie, played by  Debra Ryan, in a icily magnificent performance, become friends and confide in Joan?
Marshall- Martin’s set is fluid and simple featuring a few archways, a raised platform   and a piano. Various parts of the set are slide in/ out (for example, the lockers for the change room ) for the many scene changes.
Aronson’s play was written in the late 1980’s, yet the script is of the 1940’s in a way , acknowledging the style and language of the time that has been placed in.
There are wonderful production numbers including Women of Australia , Sorry Uncle Orrie,  There’s a War On which turn out to be rehearsals for the grand finale, We Are the Dinkum Assorted Girls. 
This show is a vibrant, inspirational celebration of women and community.
Running time – 2 hours 40 (approx) including one interval.
DINKUM ASSORTED is playing at the New Theatre until the 19th December 2015.

Palace Opera and Ballet - Paris Opera Ballet triple bill
Part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season this latest dance offering featured a brilliantly danced triple bill from the Paris Opera Ballet.
This was Benjamin Millepied’s premiere programme, coming in his first season as the Artistic  Director of the Palace Opera Ballet. The performance filmed took place on Thursday 1st October.
Millepied introduced each of the three works and the film also showed short interviews also with a couple of the dancers. The works were performed in reverse chronological order. All three pieces were plotless, with very demanding and revealing choreography and very little set to speak of. The predominant colour throughout was blue, the dancing dazzling…
Millipied’s piece Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward was the opening work, an abstract work which featured sixteen members of the corps de ballet, rather than the usual soloists or etoiles (stars/principals).
The demanding choreography required laser sharpness and a very clean ‘line’. It was starkly, sparsely, ominously lit with just a couple of swinging overhead lamps. There was an eerie use of shadows and some snappy, controlled blackouts. The lighting and set design were jointly credited to United Visual Artists and Lucy Carter.
A bench stage right provided a resting place when needed for the performers who all stayed on stage for the duration of the performance. always on stage. Millepied’s choreography included posed sculptural group tableaux as well as some astonishing entwining pas de deux. At one point the men were like rocks, on the floor, anchoring the standing women, who displayed elegantly undulating, seaweed like arms .
One could see the Balanchine influence, (Millepied openly acknowledges his work has been influenced by both Balanchine and Robbins), as well  as inspirations from Forsythe and McGregor.
There were some breath taking pas de deux. The women, in metallic mesh leotards, had incredibly steely pointes and exhibited wonderful control. The men were in bluey- grey outfits. A long, fluid line was also demanded.
There was no emotion, the dancers were neutrally cool. The score byNico Muhly crashed and pulsated and like the work of the dancers was driven, relentless, and almost other worldly.
The next work performed was  Opus 19/The Dreamer, a work originally created for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride in 1979. The piece opened with a lovely sculptural tableaux of a chorus of six ladies in blue and a single male dancer in white. This was  a poetic, dreamlike work about a male dancer searching for his beloved.
Mathieu Ganio had a sensational opening solo. The main ballerina,  Amandine Albisson for this performance, wore blue, but a slightly different shade to the other ladies.
Interestingly, in this work I was reminded of Balanchine’s style – there were allusions to his Prodigal Son and Apollo, and also traditional Petipa works such as Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty .
The dancers performed to Prokofiev’s glorious music.  The choreography, at times, was sharp and spiky, at other times lyrical. There were some extraordinary pas de deux and some “Russian” style lifts. One pas de deux in particular was sort of Orpheus and Eurydice like as Ganio refused to look at Albisson’s face.
In another hypnotic pas de deux embodying ‘The Idealised Woman’ there was extensive use of pas de bouree on pointe around the male. In one segment there was a strong, challenging dance for the seven men and a slinky, emphatic duet for the main couple.
The final work was Balanchine’s 1947 work Theme and Variations performed to Tchaikovsky music. This work represented the choreographer’s nostalgic return to his Russian Imperial Ballet heritage and featured plenty of tutus, tiaras and the like.
The work featured allusions to works such as Swan Lake andNutcracker, both musically and choreographically. There were echoes of the Grand pas de deux at the end of Sleeping Beauty as well as its final polonaise.
Theme and Variations was full of Balanchine’s trademark fast, fleet footwork yet it also demanded extreme control especially in the adage. There was an intricate interweaving/folding in/out for the corps de ballet of women and the ballerina.
Leading lady, Valentine Colasante, was  dazzling, cool, elegant yet also refined and regal. Simply glorious! François Alu, in the Prince role,  featured in some tremendous, showy solos, and displayed ease and grace in his numerous spectacular turns and jumps. What a terrific, fluid line and glorious soft ballon! What a splendid way to end this all American yet made in France evening!
The Palace Opera and Ballet season presentation of ROBBINS, MILLEPIED, BALANCHINE screened in cinemas between the 13th and 18th November. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes including one interval.

The Australian Ballet in 20 :21

here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide
In 20:21 the Australian Ballet have brought us a thrilling triple bill combining new works with old favourites. Technically the dancers were in dazzling form, performing with relentless, incredible energy.Of the  three works, the opening piece, Balanchine’s work, Symphony in Three Movements, felt a little dated and left me a little cold though it was superbly danced.
Created in 1972 it is very obviously ‘of its period’ – one of Balanchine’s neo classical leotard ballets – think Agon or Four Temperaments.
The opening, with all the women in white leotards, referenced hisSerenade but also made me think of synchronized swimming, even Busby Berkley musicals. There was another section with women wearing black leotards, and the men wore black and white.
Some of the choreography was extremely demanding and revealing – Balanchine’s trademark fast fleet footwork was included but his work also called for incredible control in the slow adage.
There were three leading couples – we saw Ako KondoChengwu Guo, Lana JonesAndrew Killian, Amber Scott and Rudy Hawkes on opening night.  The women in various shades of pink had dazzling pas de deux and solos to perform as well as having to join in the complicated, intricate ensemble work.
The orchestra under the baton of Nicolette Fraillon played Stravinsky’s difficult music superbly.
Explosively sizzling, dark and electric, Tim Harbour’s Filigree and Shadow, with its slinky black and blue costumes and clean set dominated by a curved wall was riveting. The set was brilliantly lit by Benjamin Cisterne and featured some very effective and sinister use of shadows, contrasted with washes of colour. The crashing, pounding, specially commissioned score by Ulrich Muller and Siegfried Rossert featured a pounding, remorseless rhythm.
In some ways this work was similar to Forsythe’s work In The Middle, Slightly Elevated and there were also hints of a  Graeme Murphy influence.
The cast performed its spiky, angular, sometimes dangerous choreography with razor sharp clarity, and passionate commitment. There were some very demanding jumps, a wonderful, very strong male trio at one point, and some slithery, spider like floorwork.
During Tim  Harbour’s piece Rudy Hawkes and Dimity Azouryperformed an amazing pas de deux. The atmosphere throughout was punchily, almost savagely aggressive. The audience roared its approval at the end.
Another audience favourite, dynamically, exuberantly performed, was the riveting In The Upper Room by Twyla Tharp, first performed by the Australian Ballet in 1997. Tharp’s work  references in part Mahalia Jackson’s gospel song In the Upper room [ with Jesus] .
Full of breathless energy and dazzling partnering, this work featured a cast of thirteen , including ‘stompers’ who opened the work, and the red socks and pointe shoe wearing section which Tharp called “the bomb squad”.
The work was full of the trademark Tharp style , sleek,  driven and elegant. The Phillip Glass score surges, throbs and pulsates. Various dance styles were incorporated including tap, ballet, yoga and boxing and a backwards run.
The costumes worn were at first blue and white stripe pyjama like wear, then the dancers stripped down to revealing elegant red dresses for the women and red briefs for the men.
This was  an exhausting, marathon of a work and the cast were marvelous with their febrile energy that leaves you gasping with the jump-snap at the end.
20:21 was a very exciting triple bill performed by the dancers with amazing, explosive ENERGY .
Running time – 2 hrs 30 mins including 2 intervals
The Australian Ballet in 20 : 21 is playing at the Joan Sutherland Auditorium at the Sydney Opera House until the 21st November.

Palace Opera And Ballet - The Royal Ballet in Romeo and Juliet
a terrific performance here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide
This glorious, glittering production marks the 50th anniversary of this landmark work, choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, now regarded as a classic by the Royal Ballet. It gets the 2015/2016 Palace Opera and Ballet season off to a tremendous start.
With its sumptuous sets,including a portcullis for the outside of the Capulet mansion, looming scary angels for the crypt scene and Byzantine like paintings for the church scenes,  very detailed and ornate costumes, wonderful lighting and the lush, lyrical, achingly passionate Prokofiev music, the Royal Opera House orchestra under the enthusiastic energetic baton of Koen Kessells were sensational, this is a splendid version. This ballet feels as fresh as if it was created yesterday, and MacMillan’s extraordinary, very detailed and at times extremely difficult choreography dazzles.                         
Based on Shakespeare’s play, the narrative is clear and concise, the ensemble work for the corps de ballet  tightly controlled and yet thrilling. There are large blocks of group movement yet every character within the  group, whether the dancer be the page, a serving girl, a harlot, is clearly defined .The dynamic, exciting sword fighting is boisterous and exciting.
Sarah Lamb as our Juliet is fabulous. A blonde beauty, she deceptively looks like a cross between a Botticelli angel and a fluffy kitten, with huge expressive eyes. Underneath her delicate, refined exterior there lives a young woman with a steely resolve. Lamb handles the solos and the difficult pas de deux superbly.
We see this Juliet  change from a young, naïve, shy girl to a determined woman. She appears the dutiful daughter and eventually succumbs to the family pressure to marry Count Paris but her heart secretly clings to her Romeo.
Soon, in one of this production’s highlights, she  sings the billowingUlanova Run  to Friar Lawrence. Juliet drinks the potion given to her by Friar Lawrence as a desperate last resort.
Red haired Australian Steven McRae charms and enthralls as Romeo. McRae has the look, patrician and refined, and is gifted with an incredible technique. Through the performance he performs soaring, soft, high jetes, many of them, and is a very considerate, supportive partner in the pas de deux. His balcony and bedroom pas de deux scenes with Juliet are electric.
McRae portrays Romeo as a dreamy romantic, struck by cupid when he meets Juliet.
Gary Avis delivers a forceful performance as Tybalt. Avis portrays him as an coldly charismatic, elegant, sneering villain,
Mercutio and Benvolio, Romeo’s good hearted friends, were fabulously danced by Alexander Campbell and Tristan Dyer. The portrayals were clear. Here were two boisterous, charming cheeky young lads about town. They are shattered by Tybalt’s slaying of Mercutio.
Ryoichi Hirano portrays Count Paris as cooly aristocratic, refined, kind and gentle, and already in love with Juliet.
The harlots with their frizzy hair–Helen CrawfordOlivia Cowley,Itziar Mendizabal, and Helen Crawford– boisterously skitter across the stage, sometimes lifting their legs and ‘flaunting their wares ‘ to entice the male customers.
The mandolin dancers in white-face, led by James Hay are terrific, and Lara Turk is a beautiful, elusive, aloof Rosaline, the young lady Romeo starts the play being infatuated with, and is seen wearing the height of the era’s fashions.
This was an exciting, captivating production that we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to see in the cinema.
Running time is three hours and thirty minutes. The film includes ‘behind the scenes’ short documentaries and interviews with conducted during the intervals, of which there are two.,
This Palace Opera and Ballet screening only has a short season that began on Thursday 29th October and concludes on Wednesday 4th November. Your final opportunities to catch this dazzling production are tomorrow- Wednesday- at the Palace Norton street cinema at 11am and the Palace Verona at 11.30am.

Willoughby Symphony Last Night of the Proms

a marvellous concert here's my thoughts for Sydney  Arts Guied:   n the grand tradition of Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, this was a quintessentially British concert with several old favourites included. Music lovers came to the concert determined to enjoy themselves and that they certainly did. This was a  return to our Imperial British roots.  Her Majesty Queen Victoria would have loved it.
The concert, held at the Concourse, Chatswood where the WSO is the resident orchestra, featured huge cast of performers with the  combined forces and talents of the Willoughby Symphony, the Willoughby Choir and the Willoughby Band.
Dr Nicholas Milton conducted with gusto and flair,  and introduced the various works and soloists. 
The concert began with William Walton’s stately, shimmering Crown Imperial, featuring  its crashing percussion. (This piece was revised in 1953 for Queen Elizabeth 11’s coronation and was the recessional for Kate Middleton and Prince William’s wedding) .
Then came Handel’s Zadok the Priest , which has been sung at every British coronation since 1727, with its lush string opening and thunderous choir. The ‘Rejoice!’ bubbles, burbles and leaps joyously to a dynamic, well nigh dizzying finale.
Following on from this piece was  Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Op.36 featuring soft, melancholic strings with the woodwind and horns eventually joining them. The strings built up to an almost turbulent passion and went far softer towards the end.
Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy followed, featuring superb playing by soloist Josephine Chung on violin. Chung wore a stunning long, elegant red lacy dress.
Originally composed for the 1946 film Humoresque, this piece adapts some of the much loved Bizet opera  Chung and her violin became the fiery voice of Carmen , dramatic, mesmerizing and passionate. The violin sang and flirted seductively, and rippled in the wild Flamenco and gypsy rhythms. Chung deservedly received repeated thunderous curtain calls.
The stirring, thrilling Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, not listed in the programme, followed. The very moving, haunting, wistful and melancholic Londonderry Air, as arranged by Percy Grainger, came next. And to take us to interval we heard the ultra- British (almost their second national anthem) Land of Hope and Glory – Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No .1.
First work after interval was John Williams’ electrifying Olympic Fanfare and Theme (1984) which required extra horn players and crashing cymbals.
That was followed by the catchy, jaunty and inspiring The Dambusters March by E Coates. The lofty, exuberant heights of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, from The Messiah, with the choir singing magnificently, followed.
To complete the official part of the programme we then had a dynamic, towering performance of Tchaikovksy’s 1812 Overture – dramatic ,turbulent and passionate but at times lilting and lyrical with hints of his Nutcracker and Swan Lake.  
One of the fiery, speedy Brahms Czardas with sharp, languid pauses, was played as an encore. Then came Blake’s  Jerusalem, many in the audience singing along with the choir, with the assistance of the lyrics that were provided in the programme.
The night finished, in a traditional style for a Last Night, with Rule Britannia featuring  soloist Penelope Mills. There was much fanfare, flag waving and streamers…
A glorious two hour plus concert. All three performances were sold out. Book in early for next year!
For more about the wonderful WSO visit-

Legally Blonde

Much fun.Here's what I thought for Sydney Arts Guide Oh My God you guys, it’s PINK!
Yes, bright pink is the signature colour of this show from the very beginning. Excellently directed by Courtney Cassar, this show is high octane energy. Whilst seeming to be superficial this show does look at contemporary issues such as chauvinism, gender politics and the law.
Based on the novel Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown and the 2001 film of the same name, this musical tells the story of Elle Woods, a sorority student who enrolls at Harvard Law School, complete with purse pooch, in an attempt to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner. She grows and changes as she discovers how her knowledge of the law can help others, and successfully defends exercise queen Brooke Wyndham in a murder trial. No one really has faith in Elle Woods throughout the show, but she manages to surprise them when she defies their superficial expectations and transforms from law school embarrassment to valedictorian.
The orchestra, conducted by Mark Pigot, is tremendous. The show is slick and fast paced and the cast perform with a relentless, boundless energy.
Jess T’s snappy choreography combines traditional ‘showbiz’ choreography with a dash of Fosse, breakdancing and Irish dancing among other styles. Paulette and Kyle’s leading the cast in a wickedly delightful Michael Flatley take–off in Act 2 brings the house down. And the dynamic Bend and Snap is quite hot and steamy.
Scenery, costumes and lighting were sensational, with plenty of streamlined, fly in-out scene changes and the very effective use of a plain but atmospherically lit curved cyclorama screen at the back .
There was terrific ensemble work and the huge production numbers like Whipped Into Shape were tightly and precisely performed. The ‘Greek chorus’ of Elle’s Delta Nu friends worked well.
 Our leading lady Elle Woods was superbly played by Laura Sheldon. It’s a big role. Laura changes from  blonde to brunette and back again, and there are plenty of costume changes.
Laura  shows great comic timing in the courtroom scenes where Elle uses her infallible ‘Gaydar’, and with the help of  the rest of her team, unlocks the case and reveals the true culprit.
Warner Huntington 111, whose break up with Elle inspires her to follow him to Harvard, is well played by Peter Meredith. He is played as a pompous, stuffed shirt,
Snobby, elegant Vivienne Kensington, Warner’s icy new girlfriend, the snobby, elegant Vivienne Kensington, was well played by Bonnie Kellet.
Miriam Ramsay impresses in the part of imprisoned murder suspect Brooke Wyndham and brilliantly leads the cast in the high energyWhipped Into Shape.
Shaun Young was a delight as the handsome, curly haired,very intelligent, caring and enthusiastic teaching assistant Emmett Forrest.
Kevin Potter shone as the tall, elegant, very distinguished Professor Callahan. Ruthless, he advises his students he wants to see Blood in the Water.
Jocelyn O’Brien had some scene stealing moments as beauty parlour owner Paulette and particularly impressed in the number Ireland.
Plenty of loud cheers even screams greeted the end of this exuberant production.
Running time 2 hours 40 mins (approx) including one interval.
The Willoughby Theatre Company’s production of LEGALLY BLONDE is playing the Concourse, Chatswood until the 25th October.
Cast List:-
ELLE WOODS- Laura Sheldon
-BROOKE WYNDHAM- Miriam Ramsay
MARGOT- Stephanie Edmonds
SERENA- Cassandra Smith
PILAR- Erin Carlton
KATE-Skye Roberts
DEWY/KYLE- Damien Schmitt

Culture Club Talk - Understanding Orlando and Virginia Woolf

As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”
Virginia WoolfOrlando
The first of a new series of inspirational and informative talks entitled the Culture Club, this was set against a glorious backdrop of the Harbour with ships sailing by and a jeweled, gently billowing and pulsating sea.
With an enthralled ,packed audience listening intently this talk was all about Virginia Woolf and Orlando , the current magnificent Sydney Theatre Company production on at the moment in the Drama Theatre starring the brilliant Jacqueline McKenzie.
First ,we were welcomed by Louise Herron, CEO of the House , and Ann Mossop , head of Talks and Ideas .
When she published A Room of One’s Own in 1929, Virginia Woolf became a major symbol of artistic independence to generations of women writers and artists. But her ideas about gender and the relationships between men and women were also an important part of her fiction, as Orlando (published the year before) and To the Lighthouse demonstrate.
Annamarie Jagose is a professor at the University of Sydney and a scholar in feminist studies and queer studies. She is the author of four academic books, most recently Orgasmology. She is also an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Jagose talked first about Woolf’s being ‘born Victorian’ ( ie of that era) and her ‘scandalous’ life living in the Bloomsbury group. Woolf had a heightened sense of living through historical change and throwing off Victorian values and attitudes. Woolf actively distanced herself from Victorian values. She wanted to ‘repossess the lives of women” and fight for their freedom and equality. By the time Woolf had published Orlando in 1928 she was already the author of five other major books including The Voyage Out. Mention was also made of Woolf’s relationship with Vita Sackville West. Jagose described Woolf’s writing of Orlando as smart ,funny and sarcastic and full of in-jokes. When published in 1928 sales of Orlando took off like a rocket .
Sarah Goodes is a Resident Director at Sydney Theatre Company graduating with a Postgraduate Diploma in Theatre Directing from the Victorian College of the Arts. For STC, she has directed Battle of Waterloo by Kylie Coolwell, Switzerland by Joanna Murray-Smith, The Effect by Lucy Prebble, Vere (Faith) by John Doyle, The Splinter by Hilary Bell and Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson. This year, Sarah was Associate Director on STC’s The Present by Andrew Upton, directed by John Crowley and she has been a recipiant of The Glorias Payten Fellowship.Other directing credits include productions at Belvoir St , the Old Fitzroy Theatre , Darlinghurst Theatre and The Studio at the Sydney Opera House . Starting off with the question from Jagose ‘’What do directors actually do ? “ Goodes then talked about the casting and rehearsal process , adapting a novel to the stage and so on. This version was first performed by an American company in 2010 . She described Orlando as ‘ very tongue in cheek” , warm and funny. They sought to translate images and metaphors into a play .Much use is made of the Drama Theatre double revolve and Renée Mulders design of a split staircase with concealed doors , drawers and hidey –holes.  There isn’t really much dialogue in Woolf’s book and in the stage adaptation various cast members act as narrator .Interesting use is made of the male chorus and there is much cross-dressing ..
Goodes stressed that they were trying to capture the spirit of the play .She mentioned how long it takes to get a show on stage  - this production of Orlando has taken about 18  months , with design and tech meetings, casting , rehearsals etc – and problems with getting the rights to some of the music that were sorted at the last minute. The difficulties of adapting a novel for the stage were discussed , as well as  the creative rehearsal process involving the cast , the use of different theatrical ‘styles’ at various points in the play.The issue of contemporary ideas of gender – both in Woolf’s time and now – was also raised . 
There was a short time allocated for q & a from the audience .
The main overarching theme though throughout was the celebration of the spirit of Virginia Woolf and her novel Orlando .
 STC’s Orlando is playing 9 November - 19 December at Sydney Opera House.
Understanding Orlando and Virginia Woolf was in the Utzon Room of the Sydney Opera House 23 Nov 2015
Running time an hour 15 no interval