Belvoir St: Private Lives


Love… it ain’t all electric butterflies, gooey glances and ecstatic round-the-clock humping. More often than not, a head-over-heels romance comes with a side order of jealousy and insecurity – if not downright paranoia. Psychologists have compared the brains of those in the throes of passion to people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. That’s right, being in love makes you bonkers! No wonder it makes such great fodder for drama; love is about as dramatic as two people can get.

Crazy love is the undeniably scrumptious premise of Noel Coward‘s 1930s classic Private Lives. A former husband and wife, Elyot (Toby Schmitz) and Amanda (Zahra Newman), bump into each other at a seaside hotel while honeymooning with their new partners. It doesn’t take long before that old spark has turned into a forest fire and the two are inexplicably running off to Paris in the middle of the night. Their poor, bereft and much saner spouses Sibyl (Eloise Mignon) and Victor (Toby Truslove) are left to ponder how it all could have gone so terribly wrong so horribly fast.

This is a trailblazing Belvoir directorial debut for the company’s young-gun artistic director Ralph Myers. Out go the smoking jackets, the gramophones and, yes, even the accents. In go fluffy white bathrobes and a vinyl collection ironic enough to make any Surry Hills hipster snigger – think air drumming and lip-synching to Phil Collins In The Air Tonight and a dash of Sinatra’s The Girl From Ipanema. Myers abandons all the old clichés, plonks the actors on a stark white motel of a set in the here and now and lets them wallow blissfully in the sheer lunacy of it all.

He’s made interesting casting choices, too. Newman and Schmitz are an unlikely duo in the chemistry stakes, but this unusual pairing serves to underscore just how crazy this little thing called love can be, and how random. While on the surface they claim to be mismatched, we soon discover they are kindred spirits; feisty, brutal and cunning creatures who relish a verbal stoush and an all-out row even more. The result is delightful belly-buster stuff.

Coward wrote the role of Elyot for himself, so he, of course, gets all the best lines, and Schmitz doesn’t waste a single one. A quick-witted writer himself, Schmitz truly gets comic timing (he proved that rather spectacularly recently with his own play I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard) and here he has it down to the nanosecond. This is a real gift of a role for him, one he was born to play. He’s flawless and breathtaking to watch and very, very funny.

Toby Truslove lends wonderful support as the calm, collected and sweetly dull Victor. However, Eloise Mignon’s Sibyl feels a touch forced in her pouty posturing as the ingénue. It would be nice to see her let the lines do the work a little more. And Newman, at times, fails to reach far enough for the dizzying possibilities offered up by the bolshy Amanda.

“It’s a frowsy business, marriage,” Elyot tells Amanda as the two contemplate giving the whole shebang another whirl, for old time’s sake; but there’s nothing even slightly frowsy about this fiercely funny redux of a rip-snortingly brilliant British classic.

Belvoir Street Theatre presents
Private LivesBy Noël Coward

Dates: 22 Sept – 11 Nov 2012
Venue: Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir Street

This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Cirque du Soleil: OVO

It’s wet, it’s windy – and the red carpet walk may be more like wading through a soggy puddle – but it’s going to take a lot more than some apparent opposition from Mother Nature to dampen the spirits of the Sydneysiders who have rolled up in droves tonight for the opening of Cirque du Soleil‘s latest sparkling spectacular, Ovo.Read more of my review of Ovo on Australian StageIt’s wet, it’s windy – and the red carpet walk may be more like wading through a soggy puddle – but it’s going to take a lot more than some apparent opposition from Mother Nature to dampen the spirits of the Sydneysiders who have rolled up in droves tonight for the opening of Cirque du Soleil‘s latest sparkling spectacular, Ovo.

Perhaps it’s the awe of huddling together en masse under a big top that feels like a giant’s cubbyhouse, waiting to enter another world that creates the expectant hush. We’ve been promised a David Attenborough-esque peek into the life of insects and the excitement in the air is as palpable as the heavy tang of popcorn.

With countless impressive productions that have toured the world in the 30-odd years since Cirque du Soleil was founded, this Montreal-based troupe of acrobats, contortionists, clowns, jugglers and gymnasts have an extraordinary amount of hype to live up to, so it’s probably not surprising that Ovo begins more with a scuttle than a bang.  

A collective of crickets picks its way past the crowd with admirable adroitness, considering the large pair of hind hoppers they are sporting. They are joined by a host of colourful creepy crawlies, one of which, a mozzie-like Foreigner (Barthelemy Glumineau), is lugging a large egg (or “ovo” in Portuguese) on his back towards the stage. There is a brief altercation and the egg is snatched, before the insects are compelled by a psychedelic-looking beetle called Flipo (Simon Bradbury) to begin what looks a bit like an ’80s Jazzercise session. At first we are more perplexed than amazed by this panto-style acid flashback of jiggling, gyrating forms in technicoloured lycra – what’s with all this… dancing?   

But thankfully after awkward beginnings a small army of red ants arrive to get the oohing and ahhing underway. Together these six flame-coloured Chinese jugglers display superhuman dexterity as they lie on their backs flipping giant slices of kiwifruit in a fantastic display of fancy footwork.  

Next we are treated to an avant-garde interlude as an aerial artist wiggles up and down a rope inside a silk cocoon. It’s arty but not exactly awe-inspiring. But this is the way the show is set to play out. There are moments of stunning spectacle followed by pretty bits of padding. Perhaps it’s expecting too much for the ants to keep at it for the entire duration?  

That said, there are still plenty of show-stopping peaks in this production that’s assembled 54 brilliantly talented performers from 16 countries. A Ukrainian butterfly duo (Svitlana Kashevarova and Dmytro Orel) performs a breathtaking aerial ballet suspended from a swinging rope; a squadron of scarabs fly through the air with the greatest of ease on a trapeze; contortionist spiders twist into impossible shapes; a family of iridescent orange fleas support each other’s weight to reach impossible heights; the chorus of crickets returns to get the place pumping with a trampoline-enhanced series of somersaults that are outstanding in their athleticism; a firefly (Tony Frebourg) who’s a dynamo with a set of diabolos creates a juggling display that inspires rapturous applause; and a slackwire spiderman (Julaiti Ailati) proves that arachnids can indeed unicycle, all without leaving the comfort of their web.   

In between, there is whimsical clowning from the three main characters as ringmaster Flipo distracts the hapless Foreigner from retrieving his egg by helping him woo the cute and curvaceous Ladybug (Michelle Matlock). There are breathtakingly beautiful flowers that open and astound with their size and lifelike fragility. And there are undeniably imaginative costumes (Liz Vandal) and makeup (Julie Begin) that propel the feats of physical prowess into an otherworldly realm. So it’s not too hard to forgive the underwhelming dance routines that fill the gaps between the moments of magic.

, while not perhaps as perfect as it could hope to be, is still a tantalising trip for young and old alike, offering a serving of rarefied circus snippets that linger long after the insects have flown from the stage.

Cirque du Soleil presents

Dates: Sydney, Setpember 13 to November 25, 2012
Venue:  Under the Big Top on The Showring at the Entertainment Quarter, 122 Lang Road, Moore Park

This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Tamarama Rock Surfers: I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard

How’s this for a play pitch: the scene opens on a dinner party at the home of a couple of wealthy theatre subscribers. Their son, an actor whose career choice they view as dubious, unintentionally invites his older actress girlfriend, a flirty drama queen, and as the booze flows freely the spirited table talk naturally turns to the theatre – it’s relevance, or lack thereof. Sounds like a cure for insomnia, doesn’t it? And in the wrong hands, it could very well be the worst kind of entertainment: snobby, self-reverential, a real snore. It could have been an absolute disaster, a play about theatre… what was playwright Toby Schmitz thinking?

Luckily, the man who the media can’t run out of plaudits for delivers the goods with I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard. Better than that, Schmitz delivers them with a seamless wit and raging intellect, far beyond his 35 years. Yes, I know, it sounds like I’ve joined the slobbering throng – but really, he’s achieved an astounding feat that shouldn’t be underestimated, because by sidestepping an elaborate set up and settling for something insanely simple and obvious, with very little action and wall-to-wall chatter, Schmitz has been very, very brave. If his dialogue wasn’t as sparkling as a bottle of Dom Pérignon (and just as tasty and sophisticated) there would have been nowhere left to run and hide. In a sense, he is standing balls-out naked in this play and for that he truly deserves the rapturous three rounds of applause this play received when it premiered earlier this week at the Tamarama Rock Surfers’ Bondi Pavilion theatre.

So how does Schmitz do it? By writing about what he knows, the lunacy of what it’s like to be an actor and having to justify that career path to your nearest and dearest and society as a whole. It’s that intimate understanding that’s allowed him to create beautifully observed characters that are as real as they are stereotypical, and from that juxtaposition springs the play’s delightfully edgy humour.

From the outset, when Luke (Tom Stokes) makes the fatal mistake of inviting girlfriend Sarah (Caroline Brazier) around for dinner, there’s a delicious anticipation. We can’t wait for the fun to begin and begin it does, instantly. There’s no wasted set up or drag, we are smack bang into this ‘kitchen sink’ drama of First World problems.

And the elephant in the room, the absence of Tom’s gay brother, keeps us hooked with ‘will he/won’t he appear?’ tension that’s beyond thrilling.

Parents Jackie (Wendy Strehlow) and Tom (Andrew McFarlane) embody the worst and funniest upper-middle-class clichés: she does yogalates, he builds miniature battleships. They have a Whiteley in the hall (of course) and a yacht, and a water view. But it’s in their unrequited dreams (Tom settled for the mundane moneyed life of a dentist, Jackie could have been an actress) that we find a truth that’s sympathetic and powerful – they are also both rip-roaringly funny.

McFarlane is side-splitting as the posturing, know-it-all patriarch and Strehlow is endearing as the long-suffering, affluent housewife whose hobbies are her children – although one of these ‘hobbies’, her estranged gay son, seems to be troubling them more than they’ll both admit. This is an undeniably clever comedy of appearances, and while the debate on the surface revolves around the worth of acting, film and the theatre, and is stimulating and astute, the discussion is a conduit through which the inner depths of these characters emerge.

Bold, brash and magnificent in her captivating unravelling is Caroline Brazier as girlfriend Sarah. Schmitz‘ goal was to create a complex femme fatale and she is beautifully realised, thanks in no small part to a sensitive and intelligent treatment of the material by director Leland Kean. Brazier can do loopy leading lady on her ear, but it’s the subtle way that her performance simmers slowly until it soars clean over the edge that makes her so enthralling.

Tom Stokes’ Luke functions as the straight role, and that’s no mean feat with so much funny business going on around him. He keeps things rooted in the real so that the comedy doesn’t careen too far into farce.

Natalie Hughes and Vanessa Hughes have designed an elegant and versatile set that accommodates the intimate action well. Their Battle of Copenhagen in miniature is a tiny triumph that exceeds expectations. And Jeremy Silver’s sound design gives the play a super-hip vibe, ensuring that while it may make fun of stuffy subscribers, it’s not intending to appeal to them.

“I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard,” shrieks Sarah in a moment of hilariously insane lucidity that encapsulates why this play is so much more entertaining than the kind of theatre you would dutifully attend. And that appears to be Schmitz‘ ultimate point; theatre can be as relevant as it chooses to be – if the people who make it work hard enough to keep it that way, and these people most certainly have.

Tamarama Rock Surfers presents
I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard
Written by Toby Schmitz
Venue: The Bondi Pavilion Theatre
Dates: 29 August to 22 September 2012, Tues – Sat 8pm

This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Qantas Travel Insider: Top 5 Sydney Stage Shows

Spring has sprung and the Harbour City is bursting into bloom with a lively new crop of stage productions bouncing off the boards in September. Here are the five must-see shows opening around town.

1. Sex With Strangers

Walsh Bay is abuzz as Jacqueline McKenzie returns to The Sydney Theatre Company stage after last year’s saucy smash In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play. The equally titillatingly titled Sex With Strangers sees her joined by STC newbie Ryan Corr (of TV’s Packed To The Rafters) for a Gen X-meets-Y rom-com that surfs the tricky ins and outs of negotiating love online. Directed by film industry legend Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof and How To Make An American Quilt) this super-sharp singleton satire is sure to be a real tweet.

2. OVO

Forget the animals, the circus these days is all about the acrobats, so young and old alike are guaranteed to be rolling up in droves as Montreal’s magnifique Cirque du Soleil tumbles into town with its latest big-top spectacular. OVO (Portuguese for “egg”) brings together 54 performers from 16 countries in a visually sumptuous feast that gives the microscopic world of insects its macro moment in the sun. Expect to see everything from butterflies to beetles as an entire ecosystem wriggles, slithers and flutters into life before your very eyes.

3. I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard

Sydney theatre scene darling – and anointed Patrick White playwright winner – Toby Schmitz is behind the Tamarama Rock Surfers’ latest outing, I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard. Director Leland Kean (a long-time creative cohort of Schmitz’) has mustered a sterling cast featuring Andrew McFarlane, Caroline Brazier, Tom Stokes and Wendy Strehlow for this playfully acerbic thespian aficionado’s delight. The action centres on a theatre-loving husband and wife who find the drama in their own lives increasing exponentially when their son’s firecracker actress girlfriend crashes their dinner party and ignites a debate about the role of theatre. What ensues is sure to be smoking hot.

4. Private Lives

Can’t get enough Schmitz? Well why feel deprived when you can head over to Belvoir to see the playwright/actor steal the stage in the Noël Coward-penned Private Lives. A scintillating romp of romance on the rocks, the play revolves around two honeymooning couples whose worlds collide when they run into their ex spouses at the same hotel. With Coward’s wealth of wit, artistic director Ralph Myers at the helm, and a dream supporting cast including Toby Truslove, Zahra Newman and Eloise Mignon you just know this will undoubtedly be the best in show of Belvoir’s 2012 season.

5. The Sea Project

A woman, Eva, washes ashore on a beach. The only thing she remembers is her name. Bob rescues her and soon finds he’s falling in love. But then the mysterious Maciek turns up seemingly ready to reveal all. Migrating north from Launceston’s Earl Arts Centre to the Stables in Darlinghurst, The Sea Project is a stirring mediation on memory and identity from playwright Elise Hearst and director Paige Rattray – the team behind Dirtyland, which took the New Theatre by storm last year. Backed by a live musical score and the considerable talents of Meredith Penman (Richard III, MTC) it’s a production that promises laughter and tears in equal measure.
Sex With Strangers
Sept 24 – Nov 24
Sydney Theatre Company
+61 2 9250 1777

Sept 13 – Nov 4
Showring at The Entertainment Quarter
0011 800 1 548 0000

I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard
Sept 4 – Sept 22
The Bondi Pavilion Theatre
1300 241 167

Private Lives
Sept 22 – Nov 11
Belvoir Street Theatre
+61 2 9699 3444

The Sea Project
Sept 8 – Sept 29
SBW Stables Theatre
+61 2 9361 3817

Helen Barry is a theatre critic for website Australian Stage

This review first appeared on Qantas Travel Insider

Tim Draxl takes a ride on the Chet Baker Freeway

With matinee-idol good looks, supreme skill on the trumpet and the kind of silky sadness in his voice that even angels couldn’t help but weep, Chet Baker was bound to cause a stir when he turned up in LA in the 1950s. An Oklahoma farm boy fresh from a couple of stints in the army and some notable gigs in San Francisco, Chet slipped smoothly into the LA scene and soon became a linchpin in the Cool school of jazz. But like so many talented performers before him, and since, he battled a demon that was never far from his door, an addiction to heroin.

Chet Baker’s story is packed with the kind of stuff that makes Hollywood producers salivate; and indeed a biopic has been on the cards several times with various actors tipped to play him – most notably Leonardo DiCaprio – but so far it’s all come to zip. Thankfully, actor-singer Tim Draxl and journalist Bryce Hallett got together to do something about it, creating the stage musical, Freeway: The Chet Baker Journey. The show debuted in 2010 at the El Rocco Room in Kings Cross and popped up again a year later at a couple of cabaret festivals around the country, but mostly, it became the stuff of legend.

It’s not hard to see why the reviews were so rapturous. This is a beautifully conceived, immaculately executed production. Tim Draxl is sighably sublime as Chet. Yes, he has the movie-star looks but it’s his velvet vocals that are really what sends the tiny hairs on the back of my neck into overdrive as he croons “My Funny Valentine”. It’s as if Draxl is channelling Chet’s melancholy spirit and merging it with his own, rather than attempting to replicate or mimic his sound. There’s even a point, during “Travelin’ Light”, when the emotion of the song actually brings Draxl to tears. It’s a moment that’s pure and sincere rather than staged and contrived.

Segues between the songs into the narrative of Chet’s life are handled with absolute ease. In these moments Draxl speaks to us directly, as if he is Chet, with a wiry spryness that is spellbinding. While these sections convey much about Chet’s early life, his decline in later years and troubles with the law are brushed over. But that’s just fine. It indicates a gentle respect, on behalf of Draxl and Hallett, for Chet the artist rather than the addict. It’s his remarkable music that they wish to showcase rather than ridicule him for his failures.

Of course a show like this couldn’t be a success without a cohort of groovy cats on the instruments and Freeway has them in spades. The seriously tight quartet features a veteran of the scene, Ray Alldridge, who is both the show’s musical director and pianist; drummer Dave Goodman; Dave Ellis on bass; and Warwick Alder, who embodies the other musical aspect of Chet with aplomb, on trumpet. In between smiles and winks, which read like wonderful cheeky in-jokes we’d love to be privy to, the four treat us to a set that’s jam-packed with awesome aural pleasures.

The only question I’m left pondering at the end of this dream of a show is why only three nights? Why tempt Sydney with a mere morsel to nibble on when really we could have chewed on a bone as juicy as this – and sucked the marrow out of it – for weeks or months even? But perhaps that’s the way to keep the legend alive… Keep us “travellin’ light”, until next time.

This review first appeared in Australian Stage  July 2012.

Freeway – The Chet Baker Journey
by Bryce Hallett and Tim Draxl

Musical direction by Ray Alldridge

He’s Nearly Neil Diamond, well, almost

Music tribute acts get a bad rap. Like a bearded lady at the circus they can pull a crowd, but more often than not it’s of the point and snigger variety. Actors, on the other hand, can win Oscars for portraying other people – the more uncanny the performance, the greater the chance they’ll walk away with the gold statuette. They aren’t subject to ridicule for the perception they are riding on someone else’s coat tails. So, why the double standard? Around the world there are something like 85,000 Elvis impersonators working today – surely that number couldn’t be sustained on pointing and sniggering alone?Tonight, as we rocked up to Norths, the league’s club that seemingly time (and the NRL) forgot, I had probably come to snigger. It’s true. But Bobby Bruce, alias Nearly Neiland his “Aussie Band”, had other ideas. A good impersonator has an aura about them. There’s a definite art to it. They can’t just whack on a toupee, strap on a guitar, slip into some flares and pretend to be Neil Diamond, that won’t wash. In a sense, they have to beNeil Diamond in order for us to “believe”, or at least, they have to nearly be him.We are seated on plastic chairs beneath the stage at table one (pole position, nostril hair territory), on what must have once been a pumping dance floor. A vibe of hushed excitement ripples through the crowd as they gather their jugs of VB and bottles of chardy from the bar. It’s nearly time! Judging by the faces here they’ve been waiting quite a while – some of them a good forty-odd years – for an opportunity like this one. And then quite suddenly he is here. A vision in a sparkling red sequined shirt and black tuxedo trousers (complete with cummerbund) bursts onto the stage. It’s Nearly Neil – I mean Bobby Bruce – and his hair seems possessed of its own permanent wind machine. We are held captive – and not in a tied-to-our-chairs-can’t-get-away sense; nor in a pointing, sniggering kind of way. Here is a star, a true showman.Born in British Columbia, Canada, 43-year-old Bobby Bruce first discovered the delights of Neil Diamond as a boy listening to his parent’s 8-track while on summer holiday road trips. The choice to become Neil wasn’t at that point an imperative, however in 1994 magic happened. Bobby was spotted on the tribute circuit in Las Vegas doing some Neil Diamond covers by an eagle-eyed Elvis impersonator who immediately saw his potential. Thus, a legend was born, or rather Bobby joined the other impersonator legends in the world-famous Legends In Concertline-up. The point being, Bobby has been playing Neil for almost 20 years now, that’s an awfully long time to polish up an act and it shows.It’s only song number two, everybody’s favourite, Sweet Caroline, and already the audience is pushing their chairs aside to reclaim the dance floor. Those who aren’t on their feet are giving it all they’ve got with a good bit of chair dancing and hand waving. Next up is Forever In Blue Jeans. “This is Canada’s favourite,” he tells us inexplicably. Is that because they wear a lot of denim? Never mind, with all those syncopated head movements and hip swivelling there’s plenty to distract us from pondering much for long. Of course, there’s that voice. That throaty, husky, whispering purr; it’s uncanny. He has the swagger, the laidback charisma, the sheer essence of Diamond – and his sideburns, too. What’s not to love?

Together with his merry band of consummate musicians, Bobby rocks the Norths Showroom with the kind of panache it hasn’t seen in probably a good couple of decades as he whips through a smorgasbord of Neil Diamond’s greatest. Notable highlights include Cherry CherrySong Sung Blue – where a couple of star-struck audience members get a chance to croon along with him – I’m a Believer, that became a smash hit for The Monkees, and a funky new arrangement of Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.

His female backup singer steals the limelight for a fraction of a second with her Barbra Streisand-esque rendition of the duet You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, but then Bobby takes it back just in time for a big finale of I Am…I Said and another encore of Sweet Caroline – of course.

After the show Bobby and wife/manager Leanne are sitting at a table and he’s signing his own CDs. I nearly buy one, but then I don’t, because I don’t want to risk spoiling the memories I’ll have looking back on this night. And it’s that sense of nostalgia, that once in a lifetime flashback to another place and another time that gives a great live tribute act like Nearly Neil its power. Bring on the Oscars for impersonators I say, and give one to Neil, I mean Bobby, because he deserves one.

Nearly Neil is currently touring Australia. Visit for details.

Nearly Neil and his Aussie Band

Venue: North Sydney Leagues Club | Sydney, NSW
Date: Friday, June 29, 2012
Tour Dates: visit


This review first appeared on Australian Stage July 2012

Belvoir St: Old Man

“Old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were,” sang Neil Young in what has to be one of the greatest male power ballads of all time. In most cases, old Neil is probably right. Current psychological theory certainly supports his claims. Men model their behaviour on the fathers who raise them. But what happens in the absence of a man on which to model? How do these boys learn to become who they are and in turn raise male offspring of their own?It’s this puzzle of what nurture provides – or rather, the lack of it – that most interests Matthew Whittet in his latest offering, Old Man, now playing at Downstairs Belvoir. It’s a fair topic to probe given how widespread “fatherlessness” is becoming in contemporary society and the scary statistics that accompany it; it’s claimed that youth suicide, drug abuse and homelessness are all proportionally much higher in boys raised without fathers.

Whittet’s examination eschews the A Current Affair-style horror stats to take a more intimate and tender approach, peaking into the home life of one average thirty-something man grappling with the consequences of his own abandonment at the age of three. Daniel (Leon Ford) awakes one morning to find his wife Sam (Alison Bell) and their two children have mysteriously disappeared. There’s no note, no explanation, they just aren’t there anymore. Confused and bereft, he contacts his mother Carol (Gillian Jones) to help make sense of it all. But instead of gaining answers their talk simply raises more questions; and doubts. Has he been a good husband and father? And how could he really expect to be one when he never had a father of his own?

Old Man is a play of two styles. “Part One”, as director Anthea Williams refers to it, is a kind of rambling first-person narrative where the characters speak directly to the audience. Their emotions pour out unfiltered as genuine reactions rather than considered responses. The effect is that the action flows over us and through us, we become a part of it. We are inside the characters heads thinking their thoughts and feeling them. This could be ponderous stuff, but Williams has a lightness of touch; when pressure is applied it’s meaningful because she hasn’t been beating us about the head with it relentlessly.

Of course plaudits must go to the cast. Leon Ford, like Whittet, a father himself, has put that emotional homework to good use here crafting a performance that is sensitive, astute and restrained – when it needs to be. Most men don’t let it all hang out, even when no one’s watching, and there’s an acknowledgement of that in the pitch of Ford’sperformance. Even in the height of despair he holds it together. Because that’s what a man has to do, right? It’s this question of how to “be”, how to behave and react, that lies at the heart of this work and is its most fascinating aspect, from a performance point of view.

When we flip over to “Part Two” sans interval via blackout, we are given a diametrically opposed style of emotional walls, as the fourth wall abruptly arrives to push the characters back inside themselves. What is said and left unsaid now becomes the riveting focus of a plot that turns everything we took for granted on its head.

While Ford carries the bulk of Old Man on his shoulders – in this, his impressive Belvoir debut – barely leaving the stage for the tightly wound 75 minutes duration, Alison Bell’s subtle influence as Sam resonates throughout and is profoundly felt. Madeleine Benson sparkles as headstrong teen Charlotte, a young actor with a bright future indeed; and Peter Carroll lends weight as absent father Albert by hiding all the answers Daniel seeks behind a gentle, cheery countenance.

Whittet won the 2010 Philip Parsons Young Playwrights Award with his proposal for this play. It’s a work well suited to the close embrace of the Downstairs space, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were to creep Upstairs at Belvoir sooner rather than later.

Belvoir presents
Old Man
by Matthew Whittet

Director Anthea Williams

Venue: Downstairs Theatre | Belvoir St Theatre, 25 Belvoir St Surry Hills
Dates: 7 June – 15 July, 2012

This review first appeared on Australian Stage June 2012

Margaret Pomeranz: Top 5 films for the marooned

Film critics Margaret Pomeranz and  David Stratton celebrate 25 year’s of onscreen bickering. Picture: Renee Nowytarger 

It’s been a quarter of a century since Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton squabbled their way onto our TV screens. To celebrate, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is presenting Margaret & David: 25 Years Talking Movies, featuring everything from Pomeranz’s fabulous, larger-than-life earrings to Stratton’s ASIO file. But what would the screen queen watch if marooned on a desert island? The credits are rolling…

Nashville (1975)
Director: Robert Altman
My favourite film of all time. I saw it in the mid-’70s when I’d come back from Europe and married a filmmaker [Hans Pomeranz] and I started going to films in a different way. I didn’t go because of the stars. I started being dragged along to see directors’ work. So I developed this passion – not only for Australian cinema, which was going through a new wave, but for cinema as a whole. I’d heard about Nashville on the radio and dashed off to see it. I was blown away by what Altman had done: this big sprawling epic mourning the loss of American innocence – because it was post-Watergate. It was a very cynical, satirical look. But also, he is a man who loves his country and actually hates what’s been happening to it. It’s full of music. The stars wrote their own songs. Keith Carradine won the Oscar for I’m Easy, so it’s funny and poignant, and it has all that overlapping sound that Altman was famous for. People are talking all over the place and it’s chaotic and wonderful.

The Flower Of My Secret (1995)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
It’s one of Almodóvar’s least-seen films and it is absolutely delightful. It’s about a woman who’s a writer of romance novels, and she’s sick of writing them. She wants to write something serious, but her publisher doesn’t want that. Then she gets a chance to write an article (under a pseudonym) that’s a critique of the romance novelist. She wants to tear her apart, but the editor of the paper loves the romance novelist and so he starts writing the novels for her. You know, it’s melodrama! Almodóvar is the ultimate melodrama maker.
I don’t know that this is his best film, but it’s one I absolutely adore and it’s got the most fantastic dance sequence in it. It’s in red, his favourite colour.

The Women (1939)
Director: George Cukor
It’s all women – the actors, the dogs and the horses. And it’s star-studded: Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine and Paulette Goddard. It’s upper-class New York society. It’s about a woman who discovers, through her network at the beauty salon, that her husband is having an affair with the girl who sells perfume at one of the department stores, and she is devastated. The seductress is played by Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer plays the betrayed woman. Rosalind Russell is the catty friend who just wants to stir up trouble. It is delicious – and beautifully done. I love the costumes and it’s got this conceit  – a 10-minute sequence in the film – at a fashion show that’s in colour. The rest of it is in black and white, but this fashion show is in colour and it’s lovely. But this film also has feminist undertones (her real women friends stand up for her and exact revenge) and I think that’s why I like it.

Magnolia (1999)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
This is the film that turned me on to Aimee Mann’s music. But also, I think Paul Thomas Anderson is a real talent and it is so raw, this film. It drags you through this moment in people’s lives in a way that’s so painful and moving. Once again, it’s a really impressive cast, and it’s Tom Cruise, I think, at his very best. He is extraordinary as the guy who’s trying to teach men how to treat women badly. I love daring filmmakers and this is a very daring film.

In The Cut (2003)
Director: Jane Campion
It’s based on Susanna Moore’s book. When I read it I thought it was unfilmable and it got terrible reviews – no-one else liked it the way I did. Meg Ryan was dumped on from a great height, but I’ve been in love with Mark Ruffalo ever since. It’s about a serial killer in New York. This woman [Meg Ryan] saw the murdered woman in a dimly lit room with a man the night she was killed, but she sees only the tattoo on his wrist; and the cop who comes to question her has the same tattoo. It has got a lot of grit. When I came out [of the screening] I was dizzy. The film affected me physically. It was an extraordinary experience.


This article first appeared in Qantas The Australian WayNovember 2011

Killing Time with actor David Wenham

Richard Cawthorne (left) and David Wenham (right) on the set of TV series Killing Time. Picture: Craig Borrow.

DAVID WENHAM – his name alone is enough to conjure up some of the most memorable performances.

He sent chills down our spines as the cold-blooded psychopath Brett Sprague in The Boys, and made millions of women go weak at the knees as the irresistibly hunky Diver Dan in SeaChange. This versatile actor has also left his mark on Hollywood, after playing Faramir in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Dilios, the storyteller, in 300.

The Aussie actor is set to have you glued to your screen yet again in TV1’s stunning new drama series, Killing Time. Wenham portrays Andrew Fraser, the real-life former criminal defence lawyer who made his name representing Melbourne crime figures including Lewis Moran and Dennis Allen.

Ironically, when FOXTEL magazine caught up with Wenham, he had very little time to kill. “Every day is crazy,” he said during the quick chat he managed to squeeze into his hectic filming schedule. “[Working] 12 to 14-hour days isn’t unusual. What is slightly unusual is the fact that on this project I’ve been doing that five days a week for something like 13 weeks. “I don’t think I’ve done a project like this before, where I’m literally in every scene bar about three. It’s a marathon,” Wenham said.

The 10-part drama series has also proved to be an experience where Wenham must run the emotional gauntlet as he takes viewers through the life and times of Andrew Fraser. A man who became rich by helping some of Australia’s shadiest criminals avoid jail time in the high-flying ’80s, Fraser crashed and burned – and wound up in prison himself.

“He’s a man who is extremely intelligent, extremely talented – a formidable lawyer at the top of his field – yet he has a fatal flaw which becomes an addiction to drugs, which causes his downfall,” he said. “I found that interesting, the fact that we follow the journey of a man at the height of his powers, and see how that is taken away from him.”

Prior to succumbing to a $1000-a-day cocaine habit, and ending up in maximum security after being found guilty of drug trafficking, Fraser had a client list that read like a who’s who of Australian crime. He represented everyone from the Pettingill family, who were implicated in the cold-blooded murder of two Victorian police officers; to footballer-turned-drug trafficker Jimmy Krakouer; and even troubled businessman Alan Bond.
“You can’t invent these characters,” Wenham said. “The things they do are seemingly so far fetched and incredible.”

Throughout the series, which is told mostly in flashback as Fraser sits in his prison cell, we meet many of his clients in a production that’s recruited some of our best actors. “We’ve got some wonderful people in there,” he enthused. “We’ve got legends of the Australian screen. People like Colin Friels [who plays Lewis Moran], who’s just wonderful to work with; Diana Glenn, who plays my wife; and then you’ve got Richard Cawthorne, who plays Dennis Allen – an amazing character and Richard has just run with that.”

Wenham’s attraction to the project stemmed from the completely new perspective offered by telling these true-crime stories: not from the cops’ side or the criminals’ side, but from the point of view of a successful defence lawyer. “It’s a totally fresh look on stories and narratives we may be familiar with,” he said. “Fraser sort of straddles both worlds.”

Playing Andrew Fraser also provided a much-needed opportunity for Wenham to take a stroll back to the dark side. “People who aren’t perfect interest me,” he said. “I hadn’t delved into that sort of territory for [a while], and it must have been time to scratch that itch again because when I read the script it was a compelling read. I thought it had the essence of really good drama.”

But perhaps most irresistible, was the chance to drown Diver Dan once and for all. “I think characters like this go some way to debunk that,” Wenham said. “Andrew Fraser is sort of an energetic and charismatic character at times, but he also does some hideous things that I think may appal some people.” “But I like that, because he is a very divisive character,” he said.

This article first appeared in FOXTEL magazine, November 2011.

Alan Ball: Vampires, Death & The Mundane

“Vampires are sex”, explains scriptwriter Alan Ball when asked to explain the appeal of his bloodsucker-centric, smash-hit HBO TV series, True Blood. For once self-confessed “super fan” Wil Anderson, who’s been asking the questions tonight, is stumped. But judging by the deafening applause coming from the crowd at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall – a motley crew of aspiring writers, hardcore Fang bangers (aka True Blooddiehards) and curious onlookers – there’s no need to elaborate. The attraction for audiences worldwide to Ball’s supernatural series set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, in America’s Deep South is obvious; it’s that whole sex and death thing, plain and simple. Or as Ball likes to put it, “it’s lady porn”.For the uninitiated, Alan Ball is only the god of screenwriting for both TV and film on the face of the planet right now. From his unconventional, Emmy Award-winning family drama set in a funeral home, Six Feet Under, to that plastic bag that made us gasp at the enormity of just being alive in the Oscar-winning American Beauty, when Alan Ball writes, people can’t help but pay attention. Tonight is all about trying to find out exactly how he does it.

Hard work seems to be the short answer. An off-Broadway play he wrote back in the early ’90s, Five Women Wearing The Same Dress became his entrée into TV writing for Grace Under Fire. Next came three years of what Ball describes as a living hell writing “moments of shit” for actress Cybill Sepherd’s eponymous sitcom. What could have easily become a plodding career as a hack (including a stint on a show writing dialogue for a talking dog) was miraculously turned around when Ball stayed up late at night after coming home from frustrating days on Cybill and hammered out a very angry draft of the script that would change everything, American Beauty. Flash forward to Ball at the Oscars for said script plying himself with a hipflask of scotch just to keep it together. Thankfully he did, and went on to create the moving, funny and disfunctionally charming Six Feet Under, and now the raunchy, darkly witty and riveting vamp-fest True Blood.

The key to his works’ appeal, he says, is his ability to combine death and humour. It’s a coping mechanism he learnt when he came face to face with the grim reaper, when his sister died, as he puts it, “literally all over me” in a car accident. The experience changed everything, setting him on the path to taking from life and working “organically”, letting his characters guide the way.

While the night is mostly a series of questions from Anderson and film clips bringing everyone up to speed on Ball’s career, the best bits (like Ball’s work itself) are in the details. We discover how he gets his dialogue to work so well: he writes it aloud, while listening to music that gets him in the zone. He reveals the joy of writing characters that explore murky emotional territory – they are neither victims nor villains, but instead an imperfect mingling of both. He shares his innovative approach to structuring satisfying TV: the more characters and the more diverse they are the merrier. That way everyone can find someone to relate to.

Ultimately though, what’s really satisfying about being here for Vampires, Death & The Mundane is hearing Ball so enthused about TV as a medium. For unlike a two-hour film that by necessity must stick to a finite amount of character developments and a limited number of plot points, TV offers a “broad canvas” on which to play. The result is characters that can, and often do, believably pull off 180-degree turns over the course of a season, surprising us with the unthinkable. And Ball is positive about the future of TV, pointing to the kind of challenging stuff being produced now. He mentions Breaking Bad and Dexter and even South Park as proof that we are in a “Golden Age”. It’s stimulating stuff, and with any luck his message will inspire the next generation of TV writers to think well beyond the confines that were once prescribed to the box.


Venue: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Date/Time: 7pm, Thursday 8 September, 2011
Bookings: 02 9250 7777

This review first appeared on Australian Stage September 2011


New Theatre: A Quiet Night In Rangoon

The year is 2007. A young Australian travel writer arrives in Rangoon, Burma, ostensibly to write a piece of “fluff”: ancient temples, local customs, tourist drawcards – that sort of thing. But when student demonstrations against the ruling military regime begin to gain momentum and the revered Buddhist monks join the fray she quickly finds herself embroiled in a much bigger story, one with global significance.Written by Aussie playwright Katie Pollock, A Quiet Night In Rangoon dramatises the real-life events that took place in Burma and came to be known as the Saffron Revolution. It’s the kind of subject matter that is notoriously difficult to bring to the stage. Not least because you’re dealing with an emotionally raw historical event that still exists in living memory; but there’s another crucial reason, one that Pollock freely admits: this isn’t our story. It’s the story of the Burmese people, a people still so oppressed that they can’t freely tell it themselves. Therefore there’s a delicacy required. A careful, gentle hand is needed and a measured approach. The play gets this right in some respects, but unfortunately falls well short in others.

The strengths of this production lie in its well-drawn and developed characters: Piper (Kathryn Schuback), the writer whose quest for the truth has a deeper personal dimension; Kitty (Aileen Huynh) a local girl who is keen to help but has complicated loyalties; Mickey (John Buencamio) a novice monk who wrestles with the demands of staying true to his religious path while attempting to settle an old score; The Major (Felino Dolloso) the military man who must convince himself that the ends justifies the bloody means; and Pluto (Barton Williams) a wounded student who has suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hands of soldiers like The Major.

Each of these characters has a rock-solid inner truth and an interesting internal conflict to deal with (compulsory components for good drama) and is brought to the stage by actors who have carefully done their homework and weighed up the nuances required. Felino Dolloso’s Major, in particular, is a finely tuned and powerful performance that has the ability to move us and draw us into the emotional complexities of being trapped on the darker side of the struggle for freedom. Indeed as the oppressor it becomes pointedly clear that he too is equally oppressed.Dolloso’s monologues are the high point in this production and indicate an actor of great depth who’s full of exciting promise.

Where A Quiet Night In Rangoon falters and ultimately fails, however, is in the theatrical device it employs to lighten the mood. This comes in the guise of a character that plays The Internet (Sonya Kerr). So jarring is the comedic approach taken here that we are jolted back out of any meaningful point of connection (that had been gaining momentum) into a place that’s facile and trivial. Laughter in a play of this sort just seems grossly misplaced and inappropriate to the extreme, at least that was my response to it. It made it difficult to move through and then reconnect with the more weightier and meatier elements that I was keen to be absorbed by, which was a real shame.

While I’m always keen to encourage audiences to get out and see new Australian work, particularly with such a rich and interesting multicultural cast as this one, with the case of A Quiet Night In Rangoon I’m left slightly reluctant to do so. I do believe, however, that there is a good play in here trying to get out, and with some sensitive structural adjustments it just could be a great one, but it’s not there yet.

subtlenuance in association with The Spare Room presents
A Quiet Night in Rangoon
by Katie Pollock

Venue: New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown
Dates: 18 August – 10 September 2011
Times: Tuesday – Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday @ 5pm
Tickets: Full $30 | Concessions $25 | Preview Wednesday 17 August $20 | Cheap Tuesdays $10 (min)
Bookings: 1300 306 776 |

This review first appeared on Australian Stage August 2011


Wil Anderson Man vs Wil

If you only knew Wil Anderson from such TV shows asThe Glass House and The Gruen Transfer, you could be forgiven for consigning him to a box marked “Smug Gen-X Wanker”. Clever? Sure. And quick with a comeback? Always. But vulnerable, humble and profound? You must be talking about some other Wil Anderson. Perhaps the one that strolled out onto the stage at the Comedy Store on Friday night to bring us his much lauded, Helpmann-winning show, Man vs Wil. For while this Wil Anderson may bear a striking physical resemblance to the one you’ve watched at home, there’s this uncanny Invasion-Of-The-Body-Snatchers type of sensation that his essence has been sucked out and replaced with… well someone else entirely. A vegetarian cat lover who thinks he could be “just a little bit gay” and is terrified of horses, to be precise.Well, whoever this guy is, he’s damn funny. Over a decade on the comedy circuit has moulded Wil Anderson into a consummate performer. He truly understands the craft of setting up and building a joke just right, so that the payoff will leave us with a real belly-buster. What’s most endearing about this Wil is he’s not afraid to look like a wimp or a loser – if there’s a laugh involved for the audience then he’s more than happy for it to be at his expense. It makes a refreshing change from the ever increasing pool of comedians out there who prefer to take driving pot shots at the rest of humanity. Instead Wil is happy to dive in and take the bullet on our behalf. Bless!Man vs Wil is a personal show on many levels. We hear of Wil facing his fears in order to woo the woman he loves; confessing the ethical reasons why he can’t get off on porn; and even why Righty is so much better than Lefty when it comes to making sweet love to, er, well, himself. So, it’s “intimate” to say the least.

There’s something more meaningful here too, in between the jokes about Americans and how to get the most out of long-haul flights. Wil wants us to GROW. You can feel it. It’s in the way that he pushes this mostly mainstream audience into uncomfortable territory and pleads with them to dip their toe into the in-between places, the murky shades of grey.

When it’s curtain time, I find I’m left with a warm and fuzzy projection. It’s Wil, and he’s home alone in his little flat snuggled up with his three purring moggies, reading the Kinsey Report to them; and possibly musing on the peculiarities of gender constructs in the Western world. Now there’s nothing possibly smug or wankerish about that.

Token Events presents
Wil Anderson

Venue: The Comedy Store
Dates: August 4 – 28, 2011
Time: 7pm
Tickets: $30 Thurs & Sun; $35 Fri & Sat
Bookings: 02 9357 1419 |


This review first appeared on Australian Stage August 2011

New Theatre: Piranha Heights

We open on a rundown council flat in London. Alan(Heath Wilder) is fussing about the place when his brother Terry (Jason Langley) stumbles through the door seemingly unannounced and smashed off his head. Inexplicably he’s brought a young girl with him, Lily(Emma Griffin) who’s hidden beneath a traditional Muslim hijab. Terry’s brought flowers, or at least a bunch of stems, in honour of Mother’s Day. Except dear old mum is dead.It’s a simple enough set up, we could be watching The Billor Eastenders; it feels safe, almost staid. But it’s all a cunning ruse created by clever UK playwright Philip Ridley (The Pitchfork Disney) so that when Lily’s psycho boyfriend Medic (Matthew Hyde) and Alan’s wayward son Garth (Brynn Loosemore) turn up he can hijack our expectations and assumptions and take us on a wild ride to destination Unknown.

Piranha Heights is full of revelations, surprises and, when Medic and Garth crash in, the kind of frenetic, crazy adrenaline-charged energy that makes for dynamite theatre. What starts as an emotional family drama: two brothers arguing over the title deed to their dead mum’s apartment quickly careens into something akin to a Tarantino movie on acid as Medic and Garth start to bond over a shared penchant for a bit of the ultra violence. It’s an incisive exploration of what happens when two unstable personalities, each just holding it together on their own combine; what happens when Nitro meets Glycerine or when one piranha meets his flesh-eating soulmate.

Matthew Hyde is mesmerising as Medic, a dangerous, pumped up speed-fuelled dreamer who longs for his and Lily’s baby son Bubba (a plastic doll) to build a time machine so they can go back and find out what really happened to Elvis. Brynn Loosemore is equally engaging and more than just a little bit twisted as the tormented teen Garth. He’s the kind of kid who makes Damien from The Omen look really well adjusted.

Jason Langley is sympathetic and assured as the do-gooder brother who unwittingly brings Medic and Garthtogether, while Heath Wilder lends strong, solid support as Alan, helping to firmly balance the juxtaposition of the real and surreal in this exciting and energetic production from talented director Fiona Hallenan-Barker.

In a local theatre scene that’s been a bit hit and miss of late, this darkly funny, outrageously perverse and yet strangely endearing comedy is a definite must-see on the independent hit list for those who like to take their theatre laced with a dash of “KA BOOM”.

Shedding Skin and The Spare Room presents
by Philip Ridley

Director Fiona Hallenan-Barker

Venue: New Theatre | 542 King St, Newtown
Dates: 16 June – 2 July 2011
Times: Tues – Sat @ 8pm, Sunday @ 5pm
Tickets: Full $30, Concession $25
Bookings: 1300 306 776 |

This review first appeared on Australian Stage June 2011


Belvoir St: The Seagull

Maeve Dermody in The Segull. Photo Heidrun Lohr  

The man responsible for creating the Method, Stanislavsky, once said that when encountering Chekhov’s plays for the first time you might think, “This is good, but… it’s nothing special, nothing to stun you with admiration”. He was of course talking about the surface of them. Because on the surface they are very ordinary; not much plot, nothing really “happens”, just a lot of people killing time and gasbagging away. But beneath this flimsy façade there’s subtext bubbling away – buckets of it. Or as Stanislavsky puts it, it’s in the recalling that the full impact hits you. “You recollect some phrases and scenes, you feel you want to think about them more, think about them longer… then you realise the depths hidden under the surface.”
In essence, director Benedict Andrews’ new Belvoir production of The Seagull is a case in point. RippingChekhov’s 19th century play out of Russia and transplanting it into contemporary Australia, to a fibro shack ‘somewhere on the coast’, draws attention to how little it actually is about time and place, and how much it is about basic humanity and “real life” (whatever that is) and the way we live it. We humans, it seems, have changed very little. We bicker, we fight, we love, we betray one another, and the world just keeps on turning.

And yet there’s more to it than that – of course. The Seagull is also a play about plays and it’s this self-reflexive nature that has Andrews enthralled. He couldn’t have made a better choice than to put Judy Davis smack bang in the middle of it as the fading actress Irena Nikolayevna, whose ego is hungry to hold on to the glory days, that is if he wanted to stir up questions about the “old guard” and when they are going to get off the stage and give the kids the floor. With so much of the theatre in this country still being made for Boomer audiences and by people well past their prime, it’s easy to see his frustration. Of course at Belvoir the guard is changing, too, and The Seagullembodies that in the form of Konstantin (Dylan Young), Irena’s passionate young aspiring playwright son who is bursting at the seams to get out there and try to produce something much better, more challenging and interesting than anything she’s ever done (new artistic director Ralph Myers, anyone?).

All Belvoir parallels aside, The Seagull is a much broader meditation on art and life. It’s all there in the big bold neon stage lights “Real Life” (designed by Ralph Myers). It seeks to ask, can we represent life truthfully in art, and indeed, what is truth anyway, when what is real for one is a lie to another?

At the heart of The Seagull is also this understanding that we are all constantly moving into our new forms – like it or not! The only other alternative is to be trapped in the birthing process and the result of that can mean only one thing, death.

Of course it’s a great cast: Judy Davis, David Wenham, Bille Brown, John Gaden, Anita Hegh, Emily Barclay, but as it’s such a big ensemble play they don’t get to flex their individual muscle as much as the audience may like. They get moments.

When Barclay mooches onto the stage draped in chiffon as Masha and squats to pull a bucket bong, you just know that this is not going to be your usual Upstairs fare. She’s the depressive of the play and yet her performance is a firecracker. Anyone who saw her in the film Suburban Mayhem will remember she does bogan to a tee, but here she’s that and oh so much more as she slurps cornflakes out of a bowl drowned in vodka heartbroken overKonstantin, who ignores her. When she’s on stage she’s riveting.

More disappointing are the roles for Wenham (whose Trigorin is so self-obsessed that there’s very little to observe on the surface of things) and for Davis, in particular, with this clever casting ploy somewhat back-firing. Largely it’s because Davis is so perfect for the role of Irena that she has the appearance of simply drifting through the action. She just “is” the version of herself that we all want her to be: predictably spoilt, self indulgent, trying to fan the flames of a youth that’s gone out with a hiss. Although, there is a moment that’s a revelation, dragging us back into “the real”. When Davis pulls the skin back on her face to indicate the price of fame and the role we, the audience, have played in it – the ridicule, the insecurity and the surgery that results from being held too long under the microscope – we are in awe!

Billie Brown is warm and captivating as the lothario doctor DornJohn Gaden is witty and wry as Irena’s brotherSorinMaeve Dermody is fragile and doomed as the aspiring young actress who sucks up men’s hearts like a vacuum cleaner; and Dylan Young is all intense angst and impotent rage as the neglected Konstantin, whose mother is so consumed with loving herself that she just has time to barely notice him.

With the pared back set, all the bells and whistles are in the casting – and in those moments. Andrews’ “montage” moment as the ash falls from the sky and the actors stay stuck as time passes is one that works brilliantly. It’s in times like these that we recognise that there’s something of each one of these characters in all of us. They become vessels for our own memories of life’s mistakes, heartbreaks and betrayals. We are each and every one of them. We are The Seagull

Belvoir presents
The Seagull
by Anton Chekhov
in a version by Benedict Andrews

Directed by Benedict Andrews

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 4 June – 17 July, 2011
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: Full $59. Seniors (excluding Fri/Sat evenings) and Groups 10+ $49. Concession $39
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 |


This review first appeared on Australian Stage June 2011

Belvoir St: The Kiss

What a novel idea (pardon the pun), take four short stories of the same title, The Kiss, by four different writers and deliver them to the downstairs Belvoir stage unabridged and “untampered” with. Think of it as a kind of literature-meets-performance experiment. Of course, much like most great scientific breakthroughs, with this kind of thing there’s always the equal chance of discovering something that will change the world as there is of creating a monster. And, so it is here.

Nineteenth-century French writer Guy de Maupassant’s take on sexual politics opens the evening in somewhat pedestrian style. Here a woman’s power is measured in the volume of her caresses and the weight of her ultimate weapon, the kiss. It’s a straightforward adaptation job – not rocket science – as the story is a first-person monologue. Rita Kalnejais delivers it word for word with a twist of sexual tension (an interesting choice considering the final reveal of the narrator’s identity) as she wriggles and twists in her chair – we’re not really sure why, but at times it’s distracting. And this brings us to our first inkling that adapting a short story directly for the stage – with no chopping or changing or “mucking about” as it were – has one big problem, it’s going to require a high degree of concentration from the audience. Sure, you could argue that you have to expect to be more actively engaged when you go to the theatre than say, blobbing in front of the TV – and that would be true, but usually the theatre draws on a variety of senses to engage you, and actors become the characters through the use of a nifty little thing called “dialogue”. Unfortunately here what we are offered is an evening that relegates them to narrators of their own fate, trapped forever in the third person and we listen, listen and listen as they describe things they could actually be doing or showing, in other words, acting.

That said; Aussie writer Peter Goldworthy’s heartbreaking tale of lost mateship, the second piece of the night, manages to transcend this to become the most successful adaptation of the evening. It’s got some great writing, but largely the triumph is down to the actors, Steve Rodgers and Yalin Ozucelik. They are able to move, to “swim” through the air suspended above the stage, creating an enchanting visual element that strengthens the prose rather than distracting from it. It’s a nice choice from director Susanna Dowling to give the actors something to “do”. The result is a blending of the images that form in the mind as we listen with the action taking place on stage. It’s a kind of active imagining that makes the whole night worthwhile – and Steve Rodgers is, it has to be said, magnificently riveting.

There’s a lovely comedic quality created in Kate Chopin’s story of love versus money, thanks mainly to an inventive juxtaposition of facial gestures with the lines of the text. It’s short and sweet, but again we’re aware of the dislocating affect of actors speaking in the third person, being separated from their natural environment: dialogue, embodied and freely expressed.

In the Chekhov piece the same frustration builds, but by now the story’s sheer length (unabridged, remember?) combined with the fact that it’s the end of the night amplifies the demands on the audience’s attention further still, and despite earnest efforts to maintain focus you can sense the crowd shuffling in their seats, the experiment has worn them out and they’ve come to the end of their tether. It’s a shame really. It’s an interesting idea with a nice bunch of actors all working their guts out to deliver, but rather than breaking the mould to bring us something splendid, instead The Kiss only serves to highlight how wonderful plays already are and that the form itself has a great deal to do with that.

Lost also is the theme that ties the whole night together. As fellow theatre critic Augusta Supple (who just happened to be sitting beside me) whispered in my ear as the lights came up, “Less talk, more kiss.” Indeed, no-one could have summed it up better.

Belvoir presents
The Kiss
by Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, Peter Goldsworthy & Guy de Maupassant

Director Susanna Dowling

Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre
Dates: 12 May – 5 June, 2011
Times: Tue @ 7pm, Wed – Sat @ 8.15pm
Matinees: Sat @ 2.15pm, Sun @ 5.15pm
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 |

This review first appeared on Australian Stage May 2011

Small Time Gangster reboots the Aussie TV crime genre

While criminal underworld exposés are the television genre du jour, Movie Extra’s Small Time Gangster is decidedly different. For starters, it’s a black comedy. “The original concept came from my abiding love of old crime movies,” explains co-writer and producer Gareth Calverley. “A few of the filmmakers I like had always made films that focused on the blue-collared guys.”

With this in mind, Calverley and collaborator Joss King invented Tony Piccolo, a Melbourne standover man who hides his real profession from his family by moonlighting as a carpet cleaner. “He’s trying to juggle these two lives and, of course, it all comes crashing down,” says Calverley.

Featuring a top-notch Australian cast including Steve Le Marquand, Gary Sweet, Gia Carides, Sacha Horler and Geoff Morrell, Small Time Gangster is aiming for something much more intriguing than your average straight-up comedy. “We’ve taken a look at the two worlds, the crime world and the suburban world, and heightened the situation by keeping the actors grounded to the core of their characters,” explains director Jeffrey Walker.

He describes the end result as something in the vein of the Coen Brothers. “The series is intelligently written, it’s subtle on the whole, and there’s plenty for audiences to enjoy.”

It’s this meeting of the mundane set against the backdrop of crime that gives the show it’s unique flavour. “Juxtaposing what people do for a living with ‘did you get the milk, by the way?’ is kind of interesting,” says actor Geoff Morrell, who plays Tony’s mentor, Les.

For Aussie film buffs, one of the show’s drawcards will be seeing actor Steve Le Marquand (Two Hands, Last Train To Freo) in a long overdue leading television role as Tony. Plus there’s Gary Sweet as the menacing mob boss Barry, Gia Carides as the streetwise underworld go-between Darlene and Sacha Horler as suburban mum, Cathy.

And for those of you who want to see some action, this eight-part series will not disappoint. “We’re doing scenes with rocket launchers,” enthuses actor Jared Daperis who plays Barry’s wannabe gangster son, Charlie. “We’re used to the true crime genre, but this is just bold and adventurous.”

Q & A with Steve Le Marquand

Your character Tony is leading a double life and there are a lot of balls to juggle… It’s kind of like playing two characters, which is what I love about it. You’ve got the family guy, who’s a loving husband and father, and on the other side of the fence you’ve got this guy working as a standover man for this bunch of hardcore crooks. He’s obviously switched-on to be able to keep those lives separate for so long. It’s not until a series of unfortunate events causes those two worlds to collide that things start to get a bit hairy for him.

Was the whole gangster thing something you got right into? Absolutely. But the far more challenging stuff for me was actually playing the loving husband and father; it’s very rare I get cast as the gentler guy.

Q & A with Sacha Horler

This is a different character for you… Cathy’s a good girl. It’s interesting for me because I don’t usually play ‘lipstick roles’. My husband said, ‘what are you doing? Have you got your no make-up dirty scrag look going on?’ and I told him, ‘no, in this one I get to wear nice dresses and they put lipstick on me’.

And she really thinks she’s married a carpet cleaner? Well, she has married a carpet cleaner. As far as Cathy Piccolo is concerned he’s one of the best in Melbourne. And that’s why it’s such a good script because he’s not a big, fat drug dealer – he’s a small time gangster and that means he’s been able to lie successfully.

This article first appeared in FOXTEL magazine, April 2011

Sydney Festival: The Giacomo Variations

Photo Brigitte Lacombe

We wanted Hollywood icon John Malkovich and we got him, but sadly The Giacomo Variations, the 2011 Sydney Festival’s big-ticket item, that’s arrived here after premiering in Vienna, is an odd, farcical, repetitive and ultimately tedious production – which is an awful shame. This is Malkovich, after all; one of the world’s most celebrated character actors. A man whose own parody of himself in Charlie Kaufman’s 1999 film Being John Malkovich is a work of utter genius. How could this not be great, right? Well, unfortunately, it just isn’t.

A strange hybrid of genres, where opera and theatre take turns in telling the story of the legendary 18th century Lothario, Giacomo Casanova, the production largely fails because it’s trying to be all things to all people. While Malkovich fans are sure to get a kick out of seeing the magnetic man in the flesh, they are also bound to be equally frustrated by the truncated nature of the performance. The dramatic scenes are interspersed with opera from three of Mozart’s best: Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro, so just as Malkovich is hitting his stride as the silver-tongued charmer (depicted here in the twilight of his days, looking back on his greatest conquests aided by his colourful memoirs) the performance is brought to a crashing halt by a musical interlude.

Meanwhile, the folks who have come for the opera part of the proceedings – which is delivered with great gusto by singers Andrei Bondarenko and Martene Grimson, who stand in for Casanova and his various lovers respectively – may well find it difficult to take the whole thing seriously. Perhaps that’s because, most of the time, the duo find themselves singing in various stages of undress and on more than one occasion engaging in simulated sexual acts, all while the Sydney Symphony Orchestra plays on – in other words, it’s kind of awkward.

The set, too, a collection of three large corset-shaped tents complete with petticoats on wheels is equally cumbersome. There’s an amateurish twee-ness about it, bordering on – dare I say it? – a musical production directed by the likes of TV’s Mr G (Chris Lilley). When we do finally get to bask in a bit of quality Malkovich time, the poor man finds that he is largely preoccupied with wheeling the ridiculous things about or hoisting up the side of their “skirts” and fastening them back to reveal rooms that sometimes seem to serve very little purpose.

Actress Ingeborga Dapkünaité lends good support to Malkovich as a female admirer who has come to enquire about publishing his memoirs, however the required sexual frisson is noticeably absent. And while most audience members would probably find Malkovich mesmerising, even if he was just reading the phonebook, there’s not much of a sense of him ‘working’ to maintain our attention here; rather, he seems to be drifting on through with very few shifts of tone or energy level. Sure, he’s got some pithy one-liners and they are great, but as a whole, this is more like a snapshot than a complete performance.

“I was never capable of repeating the same thing twice,” Casanova tells us. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for director Michael Sturminger’s The Giacomo Variations. Instead, the tales of Casanova’s raunchy and outrageous conquests are flogged to death by a format that endless recycles itself: we are told something then we are shown it, over and over again. The result, I’m afraid, is more monotonous and soporific than either arousing or entertaining.

Sydney Festival 2011
The Giacomo Variations

Director Michael Sturminger

Venue: Concert Hall | Sydney Opera House, East Circular Quay
Dates: January 19-22 at 8pm
Duration: 2hrs 30 mins, including interval
Tickets: $125 – $60
Bookings: Sydney Opera House 02 9250 7777

This review first appeared on Australian Stage January 2011

Sydney Festival: Live

Jarvis Cocker pictured

Jasmin Tarasin’s Live
, a video installation that’s currently on in the Lower section of the Town Hall as part of the Sydney Festival, is billed as “intimate”, and that’s a spot on way to describe it. As you make your way into the darkened underground room past long black curtains collecting your personalised headset along the way, you get the sense that you’ve been invited to a VIP event; a one-night-only kind of affair. What awaits inside the inner sanctum is something special; but ironically, despite the show’s name, it’s not actually “live” at all, rather, viewers are greeted by four large screens – each roughly five metres across – which feature the recorded performances of twenty talented musicians from both Australia and abroad.

Like glorified buskers in a mega-mall, local indie-darling Sarah Blasko, Canadian cool-kid Peaches and Britpop legend Jarvis Cocker from Pulp fight it out against the rest in a simultaneous visual battle for your attentions. There’s a certain music-festival kind of pleasure in being able to wander between them at will, starting and stopping to listen as you see fit by tuning in or out of their songs on the different channels of your headset.

Roisin Murphy (from famed electro-pop duo Moloko) won’t break your gaze, while Yim Yames (frontman of My Morning Jacket) keeps his eyes closed and Dan Kelly hides behind sunglasses. These different approaches to connecting with the viewer serve to highlight the interesting dichotomy of performance itself: It’s an act that’s both an internal private moment for the musician and at the same time something to be shared with the audience. This tension between the two creates some of the most interesting moments in Live, as you get a measure of which performers choose to stay grounded completely in their own world and which ones seek to cross over into ours.

While they are still “performing” for a camera, the black-and-white imagery, plain white background, lack of editing and the single, static shot break down the usual music clip razzle-dazzle we’re used to having these kinds of performances mediated by. This approach creates the feeling of something more authentic; as if they are carriers of a song, stripped of all their artifice they become merely a vessel for the music itself. It’s a stirring experience, an antidote for the MTV generation.

Although visually the installation has a raw vibe, the sound doesn’t get quite the same treatment. The arrangements are stripped back, sure, but you’d hardly call most of them a cappella. With the exception of Julian Hamilton’s from The Preset’s rendition of My People, there are backing tracks on most, and there’s still a sense of something that’s been polished or “produced”. So your experience is still being guided and manipulated to a degree, but that’s something that’s obviously impossible to entirely avoid in any recorded (and indeed even truly “live”) performance.

The private viewing booths off to the side of the main “stages”, which have room for only a handful of people, work somewhat less well. Possibly this is because the screens here crop and trap the musicians into tighter portrait-shaped frames from which they seem desperate to escape. There’s less room here to experience what Tarasin refers to as “duende”: a Spanish word for the kind of soul or emotion a performance can hold. Really though, this inadequacy, instead of detracting, serves to highlight just how good those four main screens are and the performances on them. Everyone up there is in fine form: Jarvis Cocker, Juliette Lewis, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Feist, Clare Bowditch, Lisa Kekaula; Kram from Spiderbait with his awesome look-no-sticks-ma drum solo and Indigenous artist Jimmy Little’s heartfelt personal tale with its country vibe.

Sydney Festival goers would do well to get along to Live and lap up the chance to see some inspiring and all-round fun performances in a unique up-close-and-personal setting that just might move you.

Sydney Festival 2011
Live: An intimate video study of the art of performing

Curator Jasmin Tarasin

Venue: Lower Town Hall | Sydney Town Hall, Sydney
Dates: January 14 – 23, 2011 (closed Jan 17)
Timed entry: 11am-7.15pm (closes 8pm) on Jan 14-16, 18, 23
11am-9.15pm (closes 10pm) on Jan 19-22
Tickets: $15/$12
Bookings: Sydney Festival 1300 668 812 | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038

This review first appeared in Australian Stage January 2011

Looking Through A Glass Onion

Both were born in England in the ’40s, developing lithe, tall and somewhat awkward frames. Both sport noses that hang decidedly downwards, and both were given the Christian name John. But is that where the similarities end? John Waters has been bringing the life and music of John Lennon to the stage in his show Looking Through A Glass Onion for just shy of two decades now, and it seems the longer the show continues the more a kind of melding of the two is taking place.

No doubt other reviewers have spoken of Water’s performance of Lennon, which comprises a spoken monologue interspersed with his songs, as a “channelling” of sorts, but perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak of him as a kind of funnel. For in this arresting, live performance – which he first staged back in a Sydney pub in 1992 with the help of talented musical director Stewart D’ArriettaWaters takes all the stuff that made up Lennon: the music, the cocky dry wit, the loves, the madness of Beatlemania and the nowhere-ness he felt at key turning points and distils it into the essence of John – the good, the bad and the misunderstood.

Waters speaks of Lennon as “an older brother” and it’s not hard to see that there is a soul connection here, a resonance in this piece that is infused with that sense of “family”, for both – to greater and lesser degrees – have dealt with the mad beast that is fame. Both are men who have felt deeply and have strived through their careers to articulate emotions, and in so doing have helped others understand themselves a little better. It’s easy to imagine (pardon the pun) the two of them sitting down and sharing a few jars, laughing at the bitter sweetness of life. Perhaps that’s why John Waters being John Lennon works so well – you believe that Lennon would not only approve of his incarnation, but would probably laugh and cry his way through the show, if he were still fortunate enough to be around to enjoy it.

With the help of a backing band of deft musos including the spectacular D’Arrietta on the piano and keyboards, co-musical director Paul Berton on guitar, Greg Henson on drums and Tony Mitchell on bass, Waters takes us inside the mind of a man we all thought we knew intimately, but probably only skimmed the surface of. There are rousing renditions of Come Together, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away and heartbreakingly moving versions of Jealous Guy, Julia and Beautiful Boy – and of course Imagine – in an evening that’s a rich, rewarding journey of laughter and goosebumps mingled with tears.

The dramatic lighting (Peter Neufeld), which at one point sees Waters become a disembodied head, is stylish, if at times a little dazzling; and the sound (Adam Burbury) hits us with a gutsy velocity that transports us utterly and completely.

Taking off on a national tour around the country that takes in everywhere from Brisbane to Perth, Canberra and Albury, and a whole lot of places in between, this is one show that fans of the late, great John Lennon must see – and if you’ve already seen it? Well… it’s most definitely time to see it again!

John Waters
Looking Through A Glass Onion

Venue: Sydney Opera Playhouse
Dates: from Tuesday 30 November, 2010
Duration: 135 minutes (includes 20min interval)
Tickets: Saturday Evening: All tickets $99 | All other performances: $99 / $89 Concession $75
Bookings: (02) 9250 7777 |

This review first appeared in Australian Stage December 2010

Nigella Lawson gets back in the Kitchen

A pinch of this, a “splosh” of that, and “hey, presto!”, a delectable dish appears from thin air. only Nigella Lawson, the UK’s most influential food writer and self-anointed “domestic goddess”, could possibly whip up something so miraculous with a jar of marmite and a fistful of spaghetti.

of course, her new series Nigella: Kitchen has much more to offer than just minor miracles; it’s a cooking philosophy that she says will help you achieve “maximum flavour for minimum effort”.

As a busy mother of two, Nigella understands it’s all about beating the clock. But she also knows there’s something infinitely satisfying about delivering a no-fuss feast your family will love.

“The joys of food are so great that I really do believe that those who cannot allow themselves to wallow in them have lesser lives,” she recently declared in the Daily Mail. And it’s this joie de vivre that underpins her efforts in this new series. From a no-effort seafood roast, to instant orange and blackberry trifle, or even the rather racy “slut’s spaghetti” – Nigella’s take on the traditional Italian puttanesca (the literal translation is whore’s spaghetti) that substitutes fresh chillies for bottled jalapeños – everything is fast, fabulous and full of flavour. But best of all, there’s no need to feel ashamed of this hassle-free approach.

“I don’t feel guilty that I make my ‘slut’s spaghetti’ more or less by opening a few jars; indeed, I revel in it,” she says.

But Nigella: Kitchen seeks to bring viewers something more than just quick recipes that inspire, it also ushers in a whole new attitude to the place she calls “the heart of the home”. Instead of a domain of drudgery, Nigella illuminates the kitchen for what it truly is, a welcoming place you’ll want spend time in. “The kitchen is my favoured

space,” she says, “my messy haven and ramshackle sanctuary.”

However, it’s not always a quiet room – frequently it’s under siege by ravenous, rumbling tummies. Nigella’s solution? she keeps an arsenal of short cut recipes on hand that will feed the troops at a moment’s notice. There’s crustless pizza and small pasta with salami for the kids, while the grown-ups get to enjoy the delights of do-it-yourself chicken fajitas.

For the budget conscious there are also plenty of surprises in store. Instead of throwing out those old veggies in the crisper, why not transform them into a south Indian vegetable curry feast? Forget about tossing that stale loaf, you can transform it into a to-die-for chocolate chip bread pudding. And have you ever considered buying those cheaper cuts of meat like pork knuckles but didn’t know what to do with them? Nigella knows – braise them in beer and serve them up with apples and potatoes. Yummo!

And if you’ve been craving a vacation but are lacking the funds, why not become a “Kitchen Tourist”? Whether you’re hankering for exotic Asia, mouthwatering Italy or saucy Spain, a holiday for the tastebuds is on its way with Venetian carrot cake smothered with rum mascarpone, cheeky churros with a drool-worthy chocolate dipping sauce, and a lip-smackingly good chicken teriyaki with noodles and sugar snap peas that’s definitely not lost in translation.

Aside from the clever and innovative recipes, the real draw card of this series is the witty, and endearing Nigella, who explains the rewards of the kitchen best in her tasty tome Forever Summer.

“Cooking is not just about applying heat, procedure, method, but about transformation of a more intimate kind; none of us cooks without bringing our own character to bear on the food in front of us.”


This article first appeared in FOXTEL magazine, November 2010

Sydney Theatre Company: True West

What does it take to unhinge us? Everyone has a breaking point; and there’s nothing like your nearest and dearest to know exactly how to take you there. Relationships that push buttons lie at the heart of Sam Shepard’s darkly witty True West, the play which sees Philip Seymour Hoffman returning to the STC’s directors’ chair.

It’s a story of brothers, one, Austin (Brendan Cowell), who seemingly has it all, and the other, Lee (Wayne Blair) who’s running on empty. Austin is a Hollywood screenwriter – the success story of the family, while Lee is a small-time crook who has spent months living a hand-to-mouth existence in the Mojave Desert. The two face an uneasy reunion when Lee drops around unannounced to their mother’s home in Southern California and finds Austin’s looking after the place for her. Austin’s hoping to get some quiet time to finish his latest script, which he’s sure is going to be a real money spinner, but Lee has other plans, crashing in and disrupting Austin’s precarious equilibrium.

The next hour and 40 minutes of intense stage time sees the two go head-to-head in an all-out mental and physical battle of wills – the way only brothers can. Blair is a wild, untamed brutal force to be reckoned with as Lee. He walks the delicate line between belligerent, manipulative abuser and happy-go-lucky opportunist in a way that elicits shocked gasps from the audience one minute and raucous laughs the next.

Cowell is unerringly “on” in all the right ways. From his timid facial ticks and agitated reserve through to his spectacular degradation as an alcohol sozzled, loud-mouthed loser who finds pleasure in the simple things in life – like toast!

Together, Blair and Cowell amplify each other’s performances to great effect in a perfect piece of casting that’s as good as it gets. Alan Dukes and Heather Mitchell lend suitable support in minor roles as film producer Saul and the boys’ mother respectively. And the whole proceedings whip along at the same exhilarating, breakneck speed as the two gooseneck cattle trailers chasing each other across the desert in the outline of the screenplay that Lee dictates to Austin, and which becomes the source of increasingly bad blood between the two.

Not an opportunity is missed in this super-smart production that takes advantage of set changes as emotional gearshifts. There in the fluorescent green in-between space we watch transfixed as Blair and Cowell prepare for the next onslaught egged on by loud jarring riffs from the rock soundtrack by Max Lyandvert. The set itself (Richard Roberts) a small kitchen/alcove space provides the perfect pressure cooker environment as Austin’s domesticated comfort zone gets blown to smithereens by a barrage of attacks from the unstable, erratic tornado that is Lee.

The wild west, the west of folklore and dreams, and the “true” west of ’80s America mingle and merge impeccably in this outstanding production that goes above and beyond all the hype to achieve something that’s truly extraordinary.

Sydney Theatre Company present
True West
by Sam Shepard

Director Philip Seymour Hoffman

Venue: Wharf 1 | Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Dates: 2 November – 18 December, 2010

This review first appeared on Australian Stage November 2010

I Know There's A Lot Of Noise Outside But You Have To Close Your Eyes

Female friendships are the ultimate paradox. On the one hand they can be intimate, nurturing and honest, on the other they might be superficial, false and downright cruel. Often, they are both – at the same time. In a sense, female friendships provide a conduit through which women play out their innermost hopes, dreams, insecurities and disappointments in a far more volatile way than they would with, say, their partners.

In a true female friendship a woman is free to unleash it all: the good, the bad and, more often than not, the ever so ugly. And that’s what Katie (Anna McCarthy) and Imogen (Zoey Dawson) do in the sometimes funny, often dark and undeniably-squirm-in-your-seat intense, I Know There’s A Lot Of Noise Outside But You Have To Close Your Eyes. 

The set up is all too familiar in the Facebook Age. Two old high school chums who life has drawn apart decide to collide for one night of rum and cokes and cosmos to see what has changed and what, if anything, hasn’t.

Together with director Allison Wiltshire, McCarthy and Dawson are part of Melbourne-based pussy posse, I’m Trying To Kiss You, who put on self-penned performance works that touch on everything from tuna pasta to patriarchy. Gutsy stuff. And so it is with the intriguingly long (in the name sense) but short in duration (60 minutes)I.K.T.A.L.O.N.O.B.U.H.T.C.Y.E. 

The “noise” of the title refers to the preening and posturing or “constructed identity” that lies on the surface of female relations; the look-how-fabulous-and-successful-and-totally-happy-I-am wall of defence that masks the I’m-lonely-and-single-and-haven’t-had-sex-in-months reality that you’ll find if only you “close your eyes”. Through the course of the evening Katie and Imogen oscillate between these outer and inner worlds of representation, discovering along the way that neither are quite what they seem at a cursory glance.

Both are dynamite performances. Dawson and McCarthy are witty at times and ragingly bitter and daring at others. It’s a play of extremes, an emotional roller coaster that demands a lot from its audience in terms of its complexity and intensity. If you’ve come for Sex And The City you’ve taken a wrong turn (unless it’s the episode where Miranda fantasises about choking Carrie with one of her Manolo Blahniks). But if you like your theatre to slap you up the side of the head and say “wake up and smell the nail varnish, bitch” then it’s vodka shots all round.

I’m Trying To Kiss You presents
I Know There’s A Lot Of Noise Outside But You Have To Close Your Eyes

Director Allison Wiltshire

Venue: Parade Studio, NIDA, 215 Anzac Pde,Kensington
Dates: Mar 6 – 23, 2013
Tickets: $18 – 28

This review first appeared on Australian Stage


Sydney Theatre Company: The Secret River

The Secret River is, in a very real sense, Australia’s creation story. Set on what was the New South Wales colony’s new frontier, the Hawkesbury River in the early 1800s, it details the struggles and ultimately brutal resolve of the renegade convict settlers who claimed the land as their own by force from the indigenous people inhabiting it. The Secret River illustrates the choices made by our forebears, for better or for worse, which led to the expanding of the colony and an irreparable dispossession for the indigenous people of this country. It is a tragic and important history lesson, one that must be told sensitively and expressively if we are ever to reach anything close to an understanding of what went wrong in the beginning and why.

Kate Grenville’s novel, the source material for this play, is full of beautifully crafted and powerful prose. Transforming a piece that is already perfectly executed into a new form is a monumentally difficult task. It could be said that the greater the original text the more obstacles the adaptation will face in equalling or, in rare instances, surpassing it. This is because a great work inherently resists modification. Choosing what should stay and what should go becomes that much harder when everything has already found its snug resting place.

And so it is with The Secret River. Playwright Andrew Bovell has been reluctant to let go of Grenville’s signature voice and in his efforts to preserve it he has hamstrung this production somewhat with an onstage narrator. The result is a talented cast that are rendered impotent as they stand and wait their turn to fit in around the narrative, while the action is beholden to a staccato rhythm rather than a flow. This is a tale where point of view is everything and yet here we have an aboriginal narrator (Ursula Yovich) reciting text that is mostly sympathetic to the troubles of the settlers. While this may be an interesting attempt at unifying the characters instead it backfires, jarring with the plot irreconcilably.

There are a great many challenges from a directorial standpoint, too. With action that focuses mostly on exteriors Neil Armfield opts for minimalist staging and a bush that is largely imagined. Stephen Curtis’ towering ghost gums and a fully functional campfire help to lend the required ambience, as does Mark Howett’s subtle and quite lovely lighting, while Iain Grandage’s live musical accompaniments create a sense of intimacy. However, decisions such as making actors behave like barking dogs and disembodied branches bashed about the actors to indicate they are moving through dense bushland push otherwise serious scenes into the realm of farce.

There are, thankfully, many strong performances here. The entire indigenous cast are phenomenally good. Roy Gordon is magnetic as Yalamundi; Trevor Jamieson shines as Ngalamalum; Jeremy Simms is a standout as the dangerously unhinged settler Smasher Sullivan; Colin Moody is wonderfully moving as click here
Thomas Blackwood, the only settler who has found a way to happily coexist with the locals; Miranda Tapsell is charming as Gillyagan; and Judith McGrath lends nice comic relief as the long-suffering Mrs Herring.

Best of all the child actors imbue The Secret River with an effervescence and a lightness that keep it buoyant at crucial junctures, especially when the darkness threatens to drag it irretrievably away. But ultimately, this production cannot turn the tide, and it ends up slipping away without being as powerful or as meaningful as it most certainly deserved to be.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
The Secret River
by Kate Grenville | adapted for the stage by Andrew Bovell 

Directed by Neil Armfield

Venue: Sydney Theatre | Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay NSW
Dates: 8 Jan – 9 Feb, 2013
Tickets: $105 – $50

This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Belvoir St: Peter Pan

Peter Pan, JM Barrie’s story of the boy who never grows up may be a classic but it’s also a parable for modern times. If you live in inner-city Sydney chances are you’ve met one – a “manchild”, that is. Mid-thirties, skinny-legged jeans brandishing a beard, never goes anywhere without his skateboard. Surry Hills is a mecca for these Lost Boys. They mill about sipping soy lattes and eating sourdough, praying they’ll never have to get a mortgage or a real job. It’s a pretty shrewd move then on Ralph Myers part to put Peter Pan on the Belvoir main stage smack bang in the middle of manchild central. And in this production he gives them exactly what they are craving: a fantasy world full of fairy dust and make-believe, where their inner child can run rampant, stuffing its face with sweets without fear of counting calories.

Myers’ production is basically a panto for grown ups. Sure, children are most welcome, and with its fast-paced 1hr 30min running time sans interval they are sure to enjoy the show, but this is much more a rollicking ride for the young at heart. Adapted by Tommy Murphy from four source texts (Barrie, ever the perfectionist, tinkered with his tale for thirty years, resulting in myriad versions) this is a cleverly condensed play that may skip lightly over the Indians and turn the mermaids into a bit of a sideshow but it captures the essence of all that is great about the original flight of fancy.

Meyne Wyatt is charismatic and magnetic as Peter, with his exuberant youthful energy and naïve narcissism. When he says, “come fly Wendy” we wish he’d take us, too. Geraldine Hakewill is perfectly prim and proper as Wendy, the little girl Peter takes to Neverland to play mother to the parentless Lost Boys. John Leary is hilarious whether he’s crawling around on the floor as Nana the dog or indulging in a bit of swashbuckling tomfoolery as Nibs or Smee, as is Gareth Davies who gets very much into the childish spirit of things as Slightly. Harriet Dyer draws big laughs as Twin One and Two, while Jimi Bani is sweet and endearing as young John and very entertaining as the Captain-Hook-hungry Crocodile.

Of course, the real fun is reserved for Charlie Garber who plays Hook, the plotting pirate whose every fibre is focussed on finding Peter Pan and making him walk the plank. more info Garber grabs this role hook, line and sinker (pardon the pun) and runs far and away with it. In his stage directions for performing a “fairy play”, such as this one, JM Barrie states that: “The difference between a fairy play and a realistic one is that in the former all the characters are really children with a child’s outlook on life. This applies to the so-called adults in the story as well as the young people”. Garber, perhaps better than most, understands this distinction implicitly. Hook, therefore, is a child’s version of evil, larger than life, simplistic and one-sided, as is his real-world foil Mr Darling – which is just as it should be.

However, the ultimate joy of this production is in Robert Cousins’ ingeniously imaginative set design, which playfully recreates the make-believe world of children with the kind of deft versatility of a Wes Anderson or Michel Gondry film. A child’s bedroom is the backdrop that becomes Neverland with no-frills transformations. Blankets turn a wardrobe into rocks where mermaids squawk like seals, and then become the rising waters which threaten to drown Wendy and Peter. A bunk bed miraculously becomes a pirate ship at full mast. Even a single bed proves to be a cunning predator.

On the whole, Myers’ Peter Pan proves to be a fun-filled nostalgia fest that will transport adult audiences back to those early wonder years where anything and everything was possible. And, as an extra bonus, after the manchildren in the audience ride their skateboards home they might like to practice their new flying technique – now that they know how it’s done.

Belvoir presents
Peter Pan
by J.M. Barrie | adapted by Tommy Murphy

Director Ralph Myers

Venue: UPSTAIRS Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Previews: 5 – 6 January 2013
Dates: 9 January – 10 February 2013
Tickets: $65 – $45 | Family (2 adults and 2 children) $130 (additional children $25)
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 |

This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Sydney Theatre Company: Sex With Strangers

Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. Wi-Fi. Trolling. It wasn’t long ago that these weren’t even words, let alone predominant forces governing our lives. In the blink of an eye we’ve gone from the kind of creatures who value privacy and intimacy to ones that are willing to “share” practically every detail of our day with anyone who has access to a computer. It’s the biggest social shift since the invention of the telephone or the automobile. We are evolving, but into what?

Sex With Strangers by Brooklyn-based playwright Laura Eason explores the ramifications that our online lives have for our real-world relationships. Olivia (Jacqueline Mckenzie) is a talented thirty-something writer who has stalled after her critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful first novel. She’s holed up during a blizzard at a rural Michigan Bamp;B trying to finish novel number two when in blows Ethan (Ryan Corr), a handsome mid-twenties blogger whose salacious “fratire” memoir of one-night stands with hundreds of women he picked up in bars has propelled him onto the New York Times bestseller list. In true rom-com style his gen-Y arrogance rubs up against her gen-X insecurity and bingo, here come the fireworks.

If it sounds a tad formulaic, that’s the problem, because it kind of is. While Mckenzie and Corr are delightful and give wonderful, naturalistic performances that are warm and endearing, there simply aren’t enough places for them to go emotionally with this. It’s a bit like the feeling you get when you’re watching a chick flick of the predictable Must Love Dogs variety. Sure, it’s enjoyable for a bit of Sunday afternoon viewing when you’re flopping about on the couch, but it’s not terribly deep or satisfying. It’s not going to challenge any of your preconceived ideas, instead it will reassuringly confirm them so you can feel better about what you already believed. This is not a production that’s boring, exactly, as the action is sustained; interest very rarely wanes, but it’s not theatre in the capital “T” sense. It’s not going to move you.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, a veteran of the Australian film industry, has been behind some of the best cinema ever made in this country. Proof (1991) starring Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving was a psychological masterpiece. Here, she handles her theatre debut with the utmost assurance, creating a visually fully-realised world that is immersing, thanks to the accomplished abilities of Mckenzie and the bright young talent of NIDA graduate Corr (of TV Packed To The Rafters fame).

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Tracy Grant Lord’s set is charming. It brings the Michigan woodland indoors one minute then reveals a stylish library that looks straight out of design mag Wallpaper the next. The transitions are beautifully handled with projections by Matthew Marshall displaying quotes on love and writing by literary luminaries that run across the stage. And the hip musical interludes from sound designer Steve Francis keep the energy appropriately up.

Sex With Strangers is a sweet, funny and playful production, enjoyable but not terribly profound. In a sense, Laura Eason has achieved what she set out to, which was to create a play that “can speak to this moment, the one we are all living in right now”. A place where attention spans are short and 140 characters says it all.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
Sex With Strangers
by Laura Eason

Venue: Warf Theatres, Walsh Bay
Dates: 28 September – 24 November

This review first appeared on Australian Stage

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, a production or a performer comes along that stops me in my tracks – one that’s so undeniably good that I’m literally lost for words. Thankfully, such experiences are tantalisingly rare – or I’d never get any work done – but when they happen, I find myself in awe of the power of theatre and it’s ability to transport us beyond the bounds of language alone. Trevor Jamieson is such a performer and Namatjira is that kind of production.It’s true that you can’t have a great performance without good material, and Jamieson has been given a gift in this regard, based as this production is on the true story of our most famous Indigenous artist, Albert Namatjira. It’s a life that’s laced with a series of intriguing historical firsts. For Albert was not only the first Aboriginal to learn to paint in the European style but, as a result of the international fame his exquisite watercolour landscapes received, he also became the first to be offered citizenship (something that in context actually comes off as rather farcical when you consider that the main motivator at the time was to tax him on the fortune he was making).

But more than the extraordinary life of one man, Namatjira is a story about friendship, as it chronicles his connection with mentor Rex Battarbee (the whitefella who taught him how to wield a brush); and it’s a tale of love: both between Albert and his soul mate Rubina and between Albert and his extended community that, for better or for worse, he finds he must financially support.

While it’s a great yarn in and of itself, it’s how it plays out that leaves me dizzy, grasping for words. Scott Rankinand Wayne Blair unite to co-direct a piece that pays tribute to a diverse array of musical genres. From moving missionary songs sung in snippets of the Western Arrente language to a full-blown camp cabaret version of Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” the terrain is expansive, entertaining and highly original.

Jamieson frequently juggles multiple characters in conversation with each other, the result being something that feels akin to a channelled performance. One minute he’s Albert, the next he’s Battarbee and yet the back-and-forth illusion is jaw dropping. And the way he moves is something else entirely – his agility in conveying a sense of place with his body is simply unparalled. His cohort, Derek Lynch, is a firm crowd favourite too. A talented young performer, Lynch frequently generates rapturous rounds of applause thanks to his many hilarious costume changes which serve to lighten the mood at appropriate junctures.

The innovative stage design (Genevieve Dugard) which features a carved movable platform resembling a rocky outcrop, much like the ones Albert painted, is inspired; however it’s the actual descendants of Namatjira, who surround the stage working on a marvellous chalk mural of ghost gums and rolling hills together, that’s the ultimate touch of magic. Oh, and did I mention that the acclaimed portraiture artist Evert Ploeg (who’s won the People’s Choice Award at two Archibalds) paints Jamieson as Albert throughout the show?

This super smart, highly evolved and ambitious piece of theatre is a real testament to the production company that made it, Big hART. A not-for-profit organisation that works intensively with disadvantaged communities creating social and political change through art and performance, Big hART were behind the award-winning Ngapartji Ngapartji (which was co-created and performed by Jamieson). With this production they’ve built on the connections they made in Alice Springs, spending two years developing this piece directly with Albert Namatjira’s family and community. The actors even travelled to Hermannsburg where the family taught them how to paint.

The meticulous care and love that’s been put into this production is written all over it, and the result is a triumph of art-meets-storytelling-meets-song-meets-music that’s a one of a kind.

Belvoir & Big hART present
by Scott Rankin

Directed by Scott Rankin & Wayne Blair

Venue: Upstairs Theatre | 25 Belvoir St Surry Hills
Dates: 25 September – 7 November, 2010
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday – Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: Full Price $57, Concession $35

This review first appeared on Australian Stage October 2010

Belvoir St & Big hART: Namatjira

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, a production or a performer comes along that stops me in my tracks – one that’s so undeniably good that I’m literally lost for words. Thankfully, such experiences are tantalisingly rare – or I’d never get any work done – but when they happen, I find myself in awe of the power of theatre and it’s ability to transport us beyond the bounds of language alone. Trevor Jamieson is such a performer and Namatjira is that kind of production.It’s true that you can’t have a great performance without good material, and Jamieson has been given a gift in this regard, based as this production is on the true story of our most famous Indigenous artist, Albert Namatjira. It’s a life that’s laced with a series of intriguing historical firsts. For Albert was not only the first Aboriginal to learn to paint in the European style but, as a result of the international fame his exquisite watercolour landscapes received, he also became the first to be offered citizenship (something that in context actually comes off as rather farcical when you consider that the main motivator at the time was to tax him on the fortune he was making).

But more than the extraordinary life of one man, Namatjira is a story about friendship, as it chronicles his connection with mentor Rex Battarbee (the whitefella who taught him how to wield a brush); and it’s a tale of love: both between Albert and his soul mate Rubina and between Albert and his extended community that, for better or for worse, he finds he must financially support.

While it’s a great yarn in and of itself, it’s how it plays out that leaves me dizzy, grasping for words. Scott Rankinand Wayne Blair unite to co-direct a piece that pays tribute to a diverse array of musical genres. From moving missionary songs sung in snippets of the Western Arrente language to a full-blown camp cabaret version of Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” the terrain is expansive, entertaining and highly original.

Jamieson frequently juggles multiple characters in conversation with each other, the result being something that feels akin to a channelled performance. One minute he’s Albert, the next he’s Battarbee and yet the back-and-forth illusion is jaw dropping. And the way he moves is something else entirely – his agility in conveying a sense of place with his body is simply unparalled. His cohort, Derek Lynch, is a firm crowd favourite too. A talented young performer, Lynch frequently generates rapturous rounds of applause thanks to his many hilarious costume changes which serve to lighten the mood at appropriate junctures.

The innovative stage design (Genevieve Dugard) which features a carved movable platform resembling a rocky outcrop, much like the ones Albert painted, is inspired; however it’s the actual descendants of Namatjira, who surround the stage working on a marvellous chalk mural of ghost gums and rolling hills together, that’s the ultimate touch of magic. Oh, and did I mention that the acclaimed portraiture artist Evert Ploeg (who’s won the People’s Choice Award at two Archibalds) paints Jamieson as Albert throughout the show?

This super smart, highly evolved and ambitious piece of theatre is a real testament to the production company that made it, Big hART. A not-for-profit organisation that works intensively with disadvantaged communities creating social and political change through art and performance, Big hART were behind the award-winning Ngapartji Ngapartji (which was co-created and performed by Jamieson). With this production they’ve built on the connections they made in Alice Springs, spending two years developing this piece directly with Albert Namatjira’s family and community. The actors even travelled to Hermannsburg where the family taught them how to paint.

The meticulous care and love that’s been put into this production is written all over it, and the result is a triumph of art-meets-storytelling-meets-song-meets-music that’s a one of a kind.

Belvoir & Big hART present
by Scott Rankin

Directed by Scott Rankin & Wayne Blair

Venue: Upstairs Theatre | 25 Belvoir St Surry Hills
Dates: 25 September – 7 November, 2010
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday – Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: Full Price $57, Concession $35

This review first appeared on Australian Stage October 2010

Jim Jefferies: No Angel

Like most Australians, up until recently, I’d never heard of controversial comedian Jim Jefferies, the former Sydney local turned international megastar who last year pulled off the astounding feat of scoring his own HBO special in America. But with reviews for his stand up ranging from “better than Jesus” (The Scotsman) to “sick and repellent” (Christian Voice UK) my curiosity was, understandably, piqued. Would this be the comedy equivalent of the Second Coming? Were we about to be blessed by the presence of one of the funniest men on the face of the planet? These were lofty hopes, I admit, but surely we had the right to expect something special, if not something miraculous? Instead, what we got was something quite different. I’d been warned to leave my political correctness at the door, which was totally fine by me, and as a person with a keenly developed black sense of humour I was sure that however offensive Jefferies intended to be it was nothing I couldn’t handle… I was wrong.The scruffy looking satirist strolled onto the Comedy Store stage and took a slug of his schooner of Jack and Coke. What followed was an hour of comedy that was so far beyond the realms of “offensive” that to call it that seems too tame, too benign – a bit like referring to cancer as an affliction rather than a disease. For over the course of the show Jefferies takes aim at – and irreparably insults – almost every member of society. The first group to cop it are women, who he claims wouldn’t know the price of the night’s ticket because they’d never be willing to fork out the cash for it… Hello? Had we just jumped in a time machine and gone back to the 1950s? I looked around to see the other women in the crowd gritting their teeth in violent grimaces as they shifted uncomfortably in their seats. We were only thirty seconds in and already he’d put half the audience offside. Was this a brave move or sheer lunacy? It seemed too early to tell, so I decided to hang on in there.

Next, he put lesbians through the wringer for the usual clichéd character flaws you’ve heard time and time again. According to Jefferies gay men are much more fun; although you’d wonder how he’d know as he doesn’t strike you as the type to be lending support at a gay pride rally. There was safer territory when he mixed toilet humour with blind guide dogs. True, it was tasteless, but still chuckle worthy stuff. But the centrepiece of the night was a true story, about helping a mate with muscular dystrophy get his rocks off with a hooker. For the first time there were genuine laughs to be had. Largely that was because the disabled man’s brother was actually in the audience and Jefferies kept checking in with him to make sure that the story was above board. Because of this it was actually touching in parts and very funny, although like a horny schoolboy Jefferies couldn’t resist a good gross out moment, which was a pity.

But as the hour wore on it seemed like the Jack and Coke started to do more of the talking as he stumbled around the stage and turned nasty on an Irish heckler down the front. The poor bloke got more than he’d bargained for when Jefferies started insulting his dead mother in ways much too foul to mention. Then, quite abruptly, the night was over, as Jefferies slurred, “My bladder’s full. I need to take a piss”, and we all gratefully ran for the door a bit shaken more than stirred. As we walked down the stairs and out onto the street I overheard a girl ahead of us say, “I feel like I need to be disinfected”, and I knew exactly what she meant; because trying to laugh at the jokes of Jim Jefferies is a bit like being handed a colourful cocktail of super-strength rocket fuel. At first you think “woo hoo, I’ll give this a burl”, but as soon as it’s down the hatch you quickly discover it’s actually a glass full of battery acid and razorblades.

Jim Jefferies
No Angel

Venue: Comedy Store Sydney | The Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park (Formerly Fox Studios)
Dates: Wed 30 June – Sat 3 July & Tue 6 July – Sat 10 July, 2010
Times: 8:30pm (Bar opens 7pm); two hours featuring supports
Tickets: Tues $10.00, Wed $15.00, Thurs $20.00, Fri $25.00, Saturday $30.00
Bookings: Comedy Store Sydney Box Office 02 9357 1419 |

Persons under 18 years must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.


This review first appeared on Australian Stage July 2010

Belvoir St: The Power of Yes

How does that old saying go? “What would you do if everyone said yes?” While that might be a great hypothetical question to pose to a friend who can’t decide what the hell to do with their life, it seems that someone should have warned the world’s bankers that such an ‘airy fairy’ positive construct should in no way be applied to them. Perhaps, instead, someone could have suggested that a more appropriate motto for the people who held the planet’s purse strings to live by would be: “no means no.” Maybe then we could have avoided the calamity of August 2007 when the world’s financial institutions went into meltdown due to the subprime collapse that burst the liquidity “bubble”.Of course, I’m not claiming to be an expert in such matters, in fact, until recently if you’d asked this reviewer to tell you anything even vaguely financial the silence would have been deafening. However, that was all before I saw David Hare’snew play The Power of Yes, and now I can’t shut up about it. For not only does this intelligent finely crafted piece of theatre make the global financial crisis intelligible, it also makes finance – dare I say it – fun! And that is obviously no easy feat. Part of the genius of Hare’s text is his choice to locate himself within it as a character who’s a writer that’s seeking to research the financial crisis in order to write a play about it. In this he offers the audience a conduit through which all the information can pass in a manner that is entertaining and accessible. Throughout the course of this fast-paced and ferociously witty piece the playwright is circled by a competing series of financial heavy weights, characters that attempt to tell him the “story” of what went wrong. Thanks to the use of clever metaphors to explain concepts such as securitised credit: “you stub your toe and your elbow hurts” and the whole system of banks around the world holding each others bonds like cards in a game of Cluedo, the whole affair unfolds like a lively comedy heist filled with colourful characters who are all chasing that elusive big bag of cash.

Featuring a flawless cast including Rhys Muldoon, Marshall Napier, Christopher Stollery, Graham Rouse andLuke Mullins among others, who all talk the talk and walk the walk like bona fide bankers across a stage that’s strewn with multi-coloured balloons that have all been burst like the proverbial bubble, this is an exceptional production that’s also a hoot. The groovy jazz soundtrack (Steve Francis) and inspired stage design (Dale Ferguson) which includes a stage within a stage that’s viewed through a window which also acts as a whiteboard, combine to give this production a slick and polished feel that keep the audience’s imagination constantly engaged for the duration of this one-act marvel. The use too of inflated balloons in the play as props provides an inspired and playful way to illustrate the buoyant and upbeat attitudes of the times that led to the reckless actions of so many of the players involved in the markets’ undoing.

Forget all the dry, dull and confusing ideas you may have about finance, catch The Power Of Yes and you are guaranteed to come away buzzing with a new understanding that in the very least is sure to provide fertile fodder for your next meeting with your local bank manager.

Company B Belvoir presents
The Power of Yes
by David Hare

Directed by Sam Strong

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre, Upstairs Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 17 Apr – 30 May, 2010
Times: Tue 6.30pm; Wed-Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5pm.
Tickets: $35.00 – $57.00
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 | 


This review first appeared on Australian Stage April 2010

Belvoir St: The End

Robert Menzies Photography Heidrun Löhr

The American filmmaker Woody Allen once lamented: “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.” He wasn’t having a beer with Samuel Beckett at the time, but if he had been the Irish playwright would have no doubt grinned and agreed with him. Because that’s the absurdity of the human condition that Beckett so brilliantly illuminates. We are born, we live, we breathe, we bitch and moan about it, and then we die.

In The End – Beckett’s 22-page novella that is here adapted in its entirety for the stage – his lone male narrator is as downtrodden as they come. We may not know much about him, but we can be sure of one thing, and that is that life has already given up on him. The local charity organization certainly has, they won’t even let him shelter in the cloister for much longer than the rain lasts. And then he’s forced to rent the only lodgings he can find, a squalid basement devoid of natural light, where his only pleasure is looking up the skirts of the women passing by. Later, he finds momentary salvation with a Hermit in a cave by the coast where fish and shelter are plentiful. However, this fleeting promise of paradise is not to be – he can’t stand the sea! Of course, things get worse, as you’d know doubt expect, after all it is Beckett. The narrative follows the sad, and often perversely funny ramblings of this poor soul as he marches ever onward from the embrace of despair into the arms of death.

The extraordinary Robert Menzies, an actor of the highest calibre, brings this incredibly challenging material to the stage in a 65-minute monologue that’s as intense and tightly wound as a mousetrap. Without the usual distractions provided by an elaborate set and high-tech sound wizardry the opening-night audience were captivated, unable to look away as they sat rigid in their seats, hanging on his every breath and anxious twitch. The only respite was the brief breaks between paragraphs, when Menzies paused momentarily and stepped away from his mark on the floor. Kudos should go to Teegan Lee for her delicate and subtle lighting changes that help to refocus the action during these crucial shifts.

Director Eamon Flack has ably coaxed an immensely vulnerable performance from Menzies. However, with the despair so absolute from the get-go there were times when it seemed, to this reviewer at least, that there was nowhere further down to go. Perhaps too this minimalist production missed out on the opportunity to visually show the degradation of this character through breaking down the costuming. For at the close of the play Menzies’ neat white shirt and trousers have barely a crinkle. Of course the purists out there would surely say that’s piffle – it’s an inward journey we are watching and anything that obvious may have come across as distracting window dressing. And who knows? Maybe they are right, but still, it would have been fun to see excrement and muck flying into the front rows.

Fellow writer Harold Pinter once said of Samuel Beckett “the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him”, and that, pretty much, sums up what an audience should ultimately expect to gain from seeing this production of The End.

Company B Belvoir presents
The End
by Samuel Beckett

Directed by Eamon Flack

Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 15 April – 9 May, 2010
Times: Tues @ 7.00pm, Wed – Sat @ 8.15pm, Sun @ 5.15pm.
Tickets: Full $42. Seniors (Excluding Fri/Sat Evenings), Concession $32
Bookings: 9699 3444 |

This review first appeared on Australian Stage April 2010

Sidetrack Theatre: Stories from the 428

Photography Leah McGirr

How many times have you wondered about the people you sit next to on the bus? Who are they? Where are they going and why? While for the most part catching public transport is an uncomfortable experience that sees us squeezed into a tin can and forced to rub armpits with strangers, it also offers surprising encounters which stimulate our imagination. It was with precisely this in mind that Stories From The 428 – a group of new short plays based on eight playwrights’ experiences of travelling the 428 bus route from Circular Quay to Canterbury – was conceived. Thanks to the passionate efforts of creative director Augusta Supple, who has marshalled the whole thing together, what we get is a lively snapshot of the inner worlds of commuters.Week one of this two-week program offers a myriad of movable delights that are brought to the stage by directors including Zoe Carides, Glenn Hazeldine, Ian Zammit andSupple herself. While the evening gets off to a slightly slow start the audience is well and truly on board by the time we reach the third stop, a little vignette titled You Are Here#1 from playwright Alison Rooke. Thanks to the affable charms of actor Felix Gentle, who plays a young uni student, Ben, who’s studying to become a mortician, we get a funny, touching and at times tender tale about the unrequited yearnings he has for a fellow traveller, Lily (Bridgette Sneddon). While the two never speak, Ben’s rich internal dialogue is playfully externalised as a one-way conversation that works effectively to both engage and entertain in equal measure. Towards the end of the night we revisit these characters from the reverse perspective in You Are Here#2, but the at times sombre sequel is less successful than it’s predecessor.Playlist, a monologue written by Sime Knezevic and featuring some hilarious dancing by Stephen Peacocke as a music-loving ipod addict reveals the soundtrack to a life; while Fizzy Brown Water (written by Phil Spencer), Sleight of Hand (Brooke Robinson) and An Advertiser’s Dream (also by Robinson) give us glimpses of the slightly deranged folk that we frequently move seats to avoid while commuting.

The masterpiece of the night is Vanessa Bates’ Confetti#1 which weaves together elements of observation and nostalgia into a potent mix that truly transports us. Featuring the fine acting talents of Anna Lise Phillips and comedy stylings of Robert Jago, this gem of a play is worth the price of admission alone.

While some of the other pieces on the night have small failings, all in all it’s an intriguing collection of work that should be welcomed and applauded for its originality and scope. So climb aboard the 428 if you’re after a riveting ride with plenty of interesting pit stops along the way!

Stories from the 428
4 Directors, 2 Weeks, 8 Writers

Venue: Sidetrack Theatre | 142 Addison Road, Marrickville, NSW
Dates: Week One: 8pm Wednesday – Saturday, 24, 25, 26, 27 March & 5pm Sunday 28 March
Week Two: 8pm Wednesday – Saturday, 31 March, 1, 2, 3 April & 5pm Sunday 4 April
Tickets: $25 full, $20 concession


This review first appeared on Australian Stage March 2010


Q&A: Make-up magnate Napoleon Perdis is ready for his close up

Like his famous namesake who took on Europe in the 19th century, make-up mogul Napoleon Perdis is a conqueror in his own right with a worldwide empire which boasts retail stores around the globe and celebrity devotees including everyone from Paula Abdul to Renée Zellweger. Now, in his new reality show, Get Your Face On, he’s taking the next step, putting 12 promising make-up artists through a gruelling series of challenges covering a gamut of styles including bridal, body art, high fashion and even drag, in a bid to find the perfect protégé.

When did you first discover your passion for make-up?

My muse for make-up is my mother. I remember always watching her doing her make-up and getting her face on every day. One day I just said to her, “I want to do your make-up”, and I must have been like 13 or 14, and she let me do it; and I think I made her look like a drag queen (laughs), but she was so proud, she encouraged me. My dad, of course, used to call it “Operation Christmas Tree”!

Where did you get the idea to do your new show Get Your Face On?

I was looking for a protégé, someone who could live up to being creative but could also think. What I wanted to communicate was that make-up is passionate at every level. I believe in [it] not only because I sell it, but because I love it. It’s a form of expression. I never stop working because I don’t look at it like that, it’s my love, it’s my passion.

What are you looking for in a make-up artist?

Someone that shuts up, listens, learns, and has passion. It’s really basic. A make-up artist is part of a team, you are not the leader. In the scheme of things, you are one of many stories that a woman puts together during the day.

What’s the worst mistake a make-up artist can make?

Make-up artists tend to want to try to own the face they’re working on. But it’s not their face, it’s only there for a moment for them to create a story. An architect does one building and it’s there forever, a make-up artist doesn’t, it’s one face and it changes and you move to the next; and you’ve got to be prepared to do that.

What’s it like hosting a television show in Hollywood?

In Hollywood shows like mine are considered small, but by Australian standards it’s gigantic! I have a four-level studio all to myself. I have a personal assistant; I have a dressing room, a make-up room, a chill out room. I have everything, I have my own personal bathroom – it’s very exciting!

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, February 2010

Cheese man Will Studd is a slave to the rind

Whether it’s young and mild or old and mouldy, Will studd, the host of TV show Cheese Slices, is never afraid to give any dairy delight a go. “I think you have to try everything once,” says the British-born Australian-based Master of cheese, who’s spent the last six years on a “global odyssey” tracking down the world’s most unusual varieties for his popular show. “We’ve gone to places that I never would have expected to find really great cheeses.”

In an itinerary which takes in destinations as diverse as Norway, Italy, Denmark, scotland, Wales, France and Germany, Studd uncovers unique cheeses and the fascinating people who dedicate their lives to making them. “It’s such a labour of love, it’s not something you do to make a lot of money,” he says.

Along the way studd has some surprising adventures. In Italy, there’s a traditional truffle hunt in piedmont and a visit to a Dickensian cheese maturing room in sicily; while a jaunt to fantastical Norway reveals both the best and worst cheese of the trip. “Gammelost was one of the most disgusting cheeses I’ve tried in my entire life,” he says of the pungent Norwegian cheese reputed to smell like old socks. however, the sweet, caramel-coloured ghetost was a revelation. “It’s a bit like fudge, but it’s a beautiful sweet goat’s cheese and lovely with coffee.”

Part travelogue and part foodie frolic, Cheese Slices also has another important role to play. “Nobody has ever mapped artisanal cheese,” he says. “At the risk of sounding boring, we are actually recording cheese history.”

This article first appeared in FOXTEL magazine, January 2010

Q&A: Chef Miguel Maestre has gone troppo

We catch up with Boys Weekend chef Miguel Maestre to find out about his hot new show Miguel’s Tropical Kitchen which explores the stunning locations and exotic taste sensations of north Queensland.

This is your first solo hosting gig, are you excited or nervous, or both?

Are you serious?! I get excited just to get up in the morning and make breakfast, I just love cooking! And then I get the chance to host my own show in a place like tropical north Queensland…

What have been some of your favourite spots up north so far?

Some of my favourites were the ones I didn’t expect. I got up at 5:00am one morning to cook breakfast at sunrise at a place called Thala Beach in Port Douglas. We had the whole beach to ourselves and it was absolutely spectacular. We also spent a week filming in an exclusive resort called Elandra in Mission Beach. I had an incredible kitchen by the pool on the cliffs overlooking Dunk Island. I felt more like a rock star than a chef.

Can you tell us some of the delicious recipes you’ll be featuring?

There’s a crayfish risotto with soy sabayon that I cooked on Green Island with one of the biggest crayfish you’ll ever see. I whipped up the lightest yoghurt mousse with chargrilled passionfruit next to the stunning Millaa Millaa waterfalls; there was a bus load of tourist lining up to try that one!

What are some of the more unusual ingredients you’ll be using?

I was blown away by some of the exotic fruit we discovered in tropical north Queensland. There’s one called a black sapote, which tastes just like chocolate pudding. The jackfruit is a huge prickly beast which tastes like a tropical cocktail, and soursop is amazing, like kissing a mermaid from Cuba.



1 massive crayfish 2 eschallots, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1⁄2 stick lemongrass 1⁄2 bunch coriander 100g butter 1 cup arborio rice 200ml fish stock Splash of mirin


Pinch palm sugar 2 egg yolks 1⁄2 cup soy sauce


Portion the crayfish into bite-size pieces with shell on and fry in a very hot pan for two minutes, then set aside. In a medium saucepan sauté the butter, the eschallots, garlic, lemongrass and coriander until soft. Once cooked add the crayfish pieces and sauté all together. Add the rice and slowly add the stock, stirring occasionally until rice is cooked. To finish add a splash of mirin and chopped leaves of coriander.

For the sabayon, cook palm sugar, egg yolks and soy sauce over a bain-marie, stirring with a whisk in a metal bowl until mixture thickens. Then pour over the risotto. And wow!

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, January 2010

Michael Bublé sings the praises of Canada

He’s a multi-platinum, Grammy- Award winning singer who made his fortune by covering jazz standards, but don’t try and put Michael Bublé in a box or he’s sure to bust straight out of it. Case in point is his latest album, Crazy Love, which debuted in the top spot on the US pop charts.

“I’ve fought categorisation like every human being does,” says the 34-year-old Canadian. “But it’s not a very easy thing to do, especially with the media. When they write the article they want to say, ‘Oh it’s Sinatra in sneakers’ or ‘our generation’s guy’ and I get that, but at the same time I can only be me.”

Luckily, it seems that the “me” he’s referring to is a man of diverse talents; and now he’s set to make the most of them by becoming FOXTEL’s ambassador for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. And to say Bublé is pumped about his latest assignment would be putting it mildly. “It’s a great honour, considering I’m a huge fan of Australia,” he says. “I love it very much, and I feel like I’ve been welcomed by the people with open arms, so as a proud Canadian it seems like a genuinely perfect fit for me.”

Bublé’s role as ambassador is set to be a multi-faceted affair. It begins this month with the one-hour special Michael Bublé’s Canada, which sees him acting as a tour guide to our very own Sophie Falkiner, sending her on a whirlwind trip around the country to check out some of his favourite hot spots. While talking to the star, it’s clear he’s as passionate about Canada as he is about his music.

“I’m a proud Vancouverite and a proud Canadian and our country has a lot to offer,” he enthuses. “I think that it’s a great chance for me to show people how diverse it is, and to show people some of the similarities that would make them feel comfortable coming and some of the differences that would make it exciting for them.” During Bublé’s tour, Falkiner takes in everywhere from his hometown Vancouver to Niagara Falls, Whistler, Toronto, Lake Louise and even the French-speaking province of Quebéc in a special that is sure to open Australia’s eyes to all the incredible things Canada has to offer.

“There are so many different beautiful things to see,” he says. “We’re a large country, to get from one side to the other takes a long time and as you pass [through it] you find incredibly different and distinct cultural differences. You can go from watching whales to seeing bears in their natural habitat.”

While Bublé is clearly happy to take us sightseeing, there’s another part to his new role that seems even closer to his heart. A keen ice hockey fan – he even owns his own team, the Vancouver Giants – Bublé is set to jump into the commentators’ box to share his love of the sport at the Winter Games. But don’t expect him to put on his serious hat. “I don’t pretend to be a professional or someone who knows what they’re talking about, I’m just a huge fan of the game, and it’s exciting for me just to let myself go. I get a serious kick out of it!”

When asked what it is about the sport that rings his bell, that excitement comes shining through. “It’s the fastest game on earth. These are men – and women, by the way, play the game as well – travelling 40 and 50km/h at full speed with a heavy disc [puck]. There’s precision passing, there’s beauty, and at the same time it’s an aggressive, tough sport. I believe it’s the most exciting game on the planet.”

But what does he think Australians will make of this unusual game where two teams fly madly across the ice chasing a slippery puck? “Oh, I think the same thing that Canadians make of rugby,” he says, “which is, ‘what a great game. What an exciting, fast, intricate, beautiful game.’”

The fact that the Olympic Winter Games is being held in his hometown also adds an extra thrill, and he’s quick to point out that there’s a lot more than just the ice hockey to grab viewers’ attention. “I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of the snowboarding events, the skiing events, the cross-country, the speed skating – I think everything becomes that much more exciting because there’s such a stake in it, and there’s such national pride.”

Of course, what Bublé fans will be itching to know is if he might actually grace the mic and belt out a few of his trademark tunes during the opening ceremony; but on this topic he’s uncharacteristically tight-lipped. “I hope so,” he says. “That’s all I can say. I would like to very much.”

As the conversation slips back to his music, we speculate about what the future might hold for him, more broadly speaking as an artist, and whether he might find more ways to give that old box the heave-ho once and for all. “I feel very much like the Benjamin Button of music,” he muses. “All the other people start off with punk rock and end up doing standards records. I started with standards records and ended up with pop.”

So, five years from now we might just be listening to a Michael Bublé “thrash metal” album? The quick-witted singer smiles, takes the bait and quips: “Pretty soon as a matter of fact”; and then offers a parting suggestion, “Michael Bublé and Silverchair?”

This article first appeared in FOXTEL magazine, January 2010

Funny business: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better

A valiant effort earned two Aussie writers the chance to make I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better, a cheeky look at the serious side of making comedy.

Back in 2007, writers Sean Condon and Robert Hibbert weren’t flying on much more than a wing and a prayer when they stormed into the screen Producers Association of Australia conference with a clever idea and a five-minute video in their hands. Little did they know that their slap-dash pitch would knock the jaded Comedy Channel executives’ socks off and secure them $25,000 to write a pilot episode.

Two years later, their idea about the goings on behind a TV sketch comedy show has become the real deal, starring actors Colin Lane (of Lano & Woodley fame) and Toby Truslove as thinly-veiled versions of themselves, named Conlon and Hillbert.

“Colin and Toby kind of suck [as us],” says Hibbert with plenty of sarcasm, “but they are bigger names so they got the roles.” “We’ll, we can’t act,” interjects Condon. “It was a bit of a sticking point.”

Their catchy new pilot screens this month, and the duo are keeping fingers and toes firmly crossed this special will springboard into something more than just a one off. “We’re hoping it will become a series,” says Hibbert. “we have a lot more funniness to explore.”

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, December 2009

Italian chef Stefano de Pieri talks cucina rustica

Ready for a mouth-watering meander? Italian chef Stefano de Pieri whisks us down the Murray River to share his fresh and flavoursome food in LifeStyle Food’s Stefano’s Cooking Paradiso – and he spills the beans on the ultimate cheat’s chocolate cake recipe, too.

You’ve been living in Mildura in Victoria for close to 20 years, what do you love about the place?

This place is an inland oasis of great beauty. We have the most extraordinary sunsets, and sunrises that take your breath away.

The region is renowned for its produce, what are some of your favourites?

I’m a big fan of our Murray River salt flakes. They look fantastic and turn eating a simple ripe tomato into a memorable experience. I also enjoy the wide variety of citrus that comes out of our area. I’m fond of blood oranges and mandarins.

What kind of cooking will you be sharing in Stefano’s Cooking Paradiso?

My food’s what I’d call “cucina rustica” [simple, country cooking]. It makes the most of good ingredients and doesn’t play with them too much. Most dishes viewers can do at home, even though I’ll be cooking a lot of them in a very romantic wood-fired oven.

Do you have any simple tips for home cooks?

I find that in general, Australians haven’t quite grasped how wonderful it is to cook with extra virgin olive oil. So, get hold of the best olive oil from your local producer and don’t be shy when pouring it over your food, even after the food has been cooked.

Stefano de Pieri’s Olive Oil Chocolate Cake

This is an amazing cake for cheats. The oil keeps it moist, but instead of real chocolate you use drinking chocolate. Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 20-30 minutes Serves10


7 eggs, separated 1 cup castor (superfine) sugar 125ml extra virgin olive oil 1 cup self-raising flour, sifted 1 3/4 cups drinking chocolate (not cocoa), sifted 125ml (1/2 cup) warm water 1/4 cup sugar when beating egg whites


Preheat the oven to 180o C (350o f) Beat egg yolks with castor sugar until fluffy. If the mixture tends to be thick, add 1 tablespoon of warm water. This will help the mixture turn fluffy again. With the beater on medium speed add the olive oil, bit by bit, like making mayonnaise. Add dry ingredients to the mixture on low speed and beat until all combined. Add the water. Whip the egg whites until thick, add the sugar and beat until it dissolves. Pour chocolate mixture into a large bowl and gently but swiftly fold in the egg whites. When well combined pour into a greased 23cm cake tin and bake for 1 hour or until cooked.

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, October 2009

New Theatre: Brand Spanking New Week Two


Brand Spanking New festival director and self-proclaimed “talent truffle pig” Augusta Supple has done it again with another gobsmackingly good line-up for week two of this must-see short theatre festival. While week one presented various delights of a consistently good standard, this time around it’s a selection that aims to push our buttons and stretch the boundaries of the format. It both succeeds and fails in parts, but that’s the point really isn’t it of theatre? There’s not much point pushing the boat out if you’re not prepared to get wet.Within the eight plays on the night there’s a huge range of meaty characters and scenarios on offer; from xenophobic checkout chicks to silly self-help gurus, lofty proposals and adult fairytales, even Frankenstein-like monsters and souls adrift both literally and metaphorically. Each play is as different as you could hope to have, and it goes to show that there really is an abundance of ripe and unique playwriting talent alive and kicking in the Sydney scene.

Right from the opening tableau, which features the entire cast onstage preoccupied in a rhythmic reading and scrunching of paper to the dreamy yet playful score of composer Catherine Robinson, we know that this a theatre experience that is bigger than the sum of its parts. There’s a unity to it that’s reinforced byPaul Matthews inspired set design, a compartmentalised structure of fantasy-like filing cabinets stuffed with reams of paper, which brings to mind both the intangible and unconscious landscape of thoughts and ideas as well as the very concrete nature of the writing process itself.

Through the course of the evening we get to embrace the myriad of guises a small play can take. There’s the monologues, Self Service and White Wedding which engage us directly with their passionate protagonists, the three-handers The Bermuda Love Triangle and Lone Bird, which demand we take sides; and of course the tense intimacy of the two-handers, if i could be anything i would be something differentPolly Pocket is Not a Princess andKing of the Mountain. Rather than being a limitation we discover that the short play can be quite a liberating fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing where anything and everything can plausibly happen. Of course, that’s an illusion though really, because it takes a great degree of skill to make this kind of elasticity seem effortless, and the majority of the playwrights here have it in spades.

Notable mentions for the night must go to Mary Rachel Brown for her beautifully observed understanding of the entrenched racism in the Australian psyche in Self Service, delivered with charming wit and brave realism byChristine Greenough; to Maxine Mellor for her naughty, inventive and playfully fun Polly Pocket is Not a Princessin which Mairead Berne shines as a evil bitch Barbie who deserves a good roasting. And, to the absolute showstopper of the night, Lone Bird by Verity Laughton, who is clearly quite the master of the craft, blowing us away with her deft and fluid ability to create a psychologically thrilling encounter all with the minimal number of brushstrokes. It’s greatly enhanced too by wonderful performances from Tim Allen as the sinister ferryman Stan andFiona Press as Susan, one of his hapless passengers.

All in all, Brand Spanking New week two is a resounding success both for the industry and audiences alike, and judging by its sell-out opening night you really should be getting on the phone to the New Theatre right now if you want to catch it before the week is out!

New Theatre presents
Brand Spanking New

Week One 30 September – 3 October 2009
Week Two 7 – 10 October 2009

Venue: New Theatre | 542 King Street Newtown NSW
Times: Wednesday – Saturday @ 8pm
Tickets: $22
Bookings: 1300 306 776 |


This review first appeared on Australian Stage October 2009


Kitchen queen Margaret Fulton turns 85

She was the first Aussie food writer who dared us to be different. We catch up with the delightful doyenne of Australian cooking, Margaret Fulton, as The lifeStyle Channel assembles an all-star cast to celebrate her 85th birthday.

What was it like looking back on your life for a show like this? 

When I look back the only thing I remember is that when I started doing food everyone thought I was crazy.

Obviously you didn’t have celebrity superstar chefs back then…

Oh, heavens no! It was a totally different world. It was during the war, so all the girls I knew wanted to get a nice American who would give them silk stockings and get married.

So why do you think you were different to them?

I think I was a sort of a funny person in that I often went against the grain. My mother was very supportive and I just found that it was fascinating doing this, doing food.

What caused Australian food tastes to move on from the traditional meat and three veg?

During the Second World War, women started working in factories. You know, you might be canning peaches and there would be a lovely Italian girl next to you who was also canning peaches [laughs] and the Italians would say, “What are you having for dinner tonight?” And they’d be having exciting things, and the [Australian’s would think], “Oh why can’t I cook that for dinner?”

So Australian women were ready for something new?

Yes! We come from adventurous stock. You see, things like this didn’t happen in America and didn’t happen in England. Communities are still cooking the way they’ve always cooked. They haven’t absorbed other methods of cooking, whereas in Australia we’re a sort of a give-it-a-go country.

What excites you about Australian cooking today?

I thought that Masterchef was marvellous. My cardiac specialist has put in a kitchen and he wanted a steamer and he wanted this and that and I kept thinking, “Why don’t you stick to what you know?” [laughs]. And that’s what pleases me more than what the chefs in different restaurants are doing; the fact that the Australian public are doing this, that professional people in other fields are turning to cooking.

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, October 2009

New Theatre: Brand Spanking New Week One

For those who like their theatre fresh, tasty and bite-sized there’s plenty to love about this year’s season of Brand Spanking New. Now in its second year, this two-week festival of short theatre which aims to showcase the best new works by emerging and established Aussie playwrights has hit its stride. Festival directorAugusta Supple has out done herself, assembling a rich and varied smorgasbord of dramatic delights for week one that are sure to have you giggling and gripped in equal amounts.There’s Homemade, a witty and at times poignant monologue on family, loss and sausage rolls from accomplished writer Vanessa Bates. It’s delivered with a nice sense of timing and sensitivity byJane Phegan, who holds the audience utterly captive for the duration of the piece.

Next there’s Matt Lauer a super-sharp rip-snorter by Rick Viedewhich focuses on a teenage boy’s obsession with the real-life host of NBC America’s Today Show. It’s a deviously dark piece of cultural comedy that takes aim at society’s sycophantic relationship with celebrity. Actor Julian Lovick is intense, strong and utterly hilarious as the boy, who lives his life according to the values he’s gleaned from his TV idol.

Fit For A King is a kind of oddball comedy from Scottish playwrightPhil Spencer, about three wacky inmates who pass the time by playing a gastronomic game of food guessing. It’s punchy in a Tarantino meets Peter Greenaway in a street fight kind of a way – i.e. the thugs are very clever and chatty, but you’re not sure whether you’re dreaming or awake.

Tamara Asmar’s Queen of The Night is a brilliantly written two-hander about an encounter between an aging prostitute and a stitched-up female ‘John’. What starts out as a ballsy sex comedy with Queenie (Abi Rayment) detailing her “bedroom degustation” menu soon moves into an exploration of relationships which is deep and undeniably real. Rayment is wickedly funny as Queenie, a character who is crying out for a longer format to roam around in.

Last Ride by Ross Mueller is the story of two old codgers who find their night veering wildly off the rails when the try to score drugs for a bird they’ve met in a bar. It’s an interesting premise which seems ripe for some laughs, but when the girl they’ve met seems completely unfazed by the violence that threatens we’re questioning where we are and how the hell we got here.

The most thought-provoking play for the night is Jonathan Ari Lander’s Measure which takes on the story of a suspected Cambodian Khmer Rouge soldier who is forced to face his past. It’s brimming with depth and realism, thanks to an emotionally charged and vulnerable performance by Felino Dolloso as the accused murderer Lohr.

Jonathan Gavin’s The Return rounds out the evening with a rollicking romance which takes it’s inspiration from the journals of Matthew Flinders, who, the play suggests may have been a much better navigator than he was a husband. This laugh-out-loud jaunt sees Flinders (Matt Charleston) returning home to face the music after leaving wife Ann (Natalie Saleeba) home in England for almost ten years while he’s been off gallivanting across the oceans with his cat Trim. Saleeba and Charleston have a ball with this very funny material and bounce off each other with superb comic timing. It’s a wonderful ending to the night that leaves the audience spilling over into the foyer grinning from ear to ear.

Brand Spanking New is simply a great, fun night of theatre that is sure to leave you feeling optimistic and pleasantly surprised about the range of talented playwrights that are out there right now. And on that note, after all the fuss in the press this week that’s seen Neil Armfield dodging bullets over Belvoir’s 2010 “boys club” line-up, it seems worth pointing out that perhaps the answer to the question: Where are all the talented female writers and directors in the Sydney scene, has already been answered – a fair few of them are hiding out at the New!

New Theatre presents
Brand Spanking New

Week One 30 September – 3 October 2009
Week Two 7 – 10 October 2009

Venue: New Theatre | 542 King Street Newtown NSW
Times: Wednesday – Saturday @ 8pm
Tickets: $22
Bookings: 1300 306 776 |


This review first appeared on Australian Stage October 2009

Sydney Theatre Company: A Streetcar Named Desire

Joel Edgerton (Stanley) and Cate Blanchett (Blanche) Photography Lisa Tomasetti

It’s Saturday night and all the stars are out and suitably shining. It could easily be the red carpet at the latest Hollywood premiere – because that’s the buzz – but it’s actually something much better. It’s blockbuster theatre! Forget about CGI, there’s been no countless millions squandered on mythical creatures to get bums on seats here. Instead, the Sydney Theatre Company has the essence of magic itself, a world-class performer, in the shape of their captivating co-artistic director Cate Blanchett, an outstanding local cast, and a dazzling international director, the enigmatic Liv Ullmann.Now, you might say there’s been a hefty dose of hype injected into the proceedings. There are t-shirts, posters, and even a tiny commemorative “Desire” tram (which lends the play its title) on sale. But none of these trashy trinkets, nor the headlines about Blanchett’s unfortunate injury during the preview caused by a flying radio can detract from the power of this dream production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

For those unfamiliar with Tennessee Williams play or Elia Kazan’s iconic 1951 film featuring Marlon Brando, the action centres on a troubled thirty-something Mississippi schoolteacher, Blanche DuBois, who comes to New Orleans to visit her younger sister Stella and meet her new husband Stanley. To Blanche’s horror she finds Stellaliving in a dilapidated tenement building with a man she perceives as a rough, brutish “polak” (of Polish descent) well beneath Stella’s station in both manners and prospects. What ensues is a battle of wills between Blanche andStanley as each attempts to stubbornly assert their authority over the other, while Blanche spectacularly unravels in the process. It’s a play that’s brimming with both insightful wit and desperate sadness as Williams expertly straddles the polarities of human experience with the kind of emotional intelligence that’s timeless.

Cate Blanchett glides and flutters as BlancheTennessee Williams’ “moth”, and we are drawn to her as if to a flame. When she first appears on stage dressed in the divine white floaty two piece by designer Tess Scofield we instantly perceive both her power and her vulnerability. It’s this paradox of lightness and strength that Blanchettwields so well, and it’s what allows her to make Blanche’s neurotic and gut-wrenching emotional transition as smooth as silk. But she’s also incredibly funny, executing Williams’ clever lines with the skill of a comedian. As far as parts go, this is one of the great roles of the twentieth century, and Blanchett turns in nothing less than a five-star performance, the intensity and focus of which is flawless.

Of course there is another commanding role on offer here in the guise of Stanley, and with Brando’s breakout role seemingly unsurpassable it was with much expectation that I waited to see Joel Edgerton’s take on it. In between rehearsals Edgerton has clearly put in some serious gym time to bulk up for the part, and embodies the requisite beefy and “ape-like” physicality, but the real craft is in the way he moves as Stanley. He’s much more than a clumsy primate, instead he’s a muscular panther who’s ready to pounce. He also seems, dare I say it, more psychologically engaged than Brando, and imbues Stanley with the shrewd skills of a cunning manipulator who knows exactly how and when to apply the pressure.

Together, Edgerton and Blanchett are enthralling. And while Stella (Robin McLeavy) often seems to blend into the background, in a sense that’s her role. She’s not there to steal the spotlight, she’s merely a tool for both of them to bat back and forth in a relentless game of cat and mouse.

The supporting cast are equally skilled. Most notably Tim Richards as the lonesome bachelor Mitch, who finds himself irresistibly falling for the calculated charms of Blanche; and Mandy McElhinney is charming too as the loud-mouthed upstairs neighbour Eunice.

Director Ullmann has channelled the spirit of Williams’ vision with a remarkable sensitivity to the huge range of emotions at play. There are moments of sublime humour, but she also understands the very real and heart-wrenching pain too. And there’s a mix of styles brewed into a delicious concoction of theatricality and refreshing naturalism that gets the balance just right.

Ralph Myers pink, mould-stained set is nicely complimented by Nick Schlieper’s beautifully nuanced lighting, while Alan John’s piano playing give the proceedings the required rag-tag New Orleans feel.

I must say I really did try not to gush, but with a production this good that’s almost impossible as A Streetcar Named Desire is without a doubt the best production that I’ve seen all year, and theatregoers should beg borrow or steal their way into it. Just see it, any way you can!

Sydney Theatre Company presents
A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams

Director Liv Ullmann

Venue: Sydney Theatre
Previews: 1-4 September 8pm
Season: 5 September – 17 October
Duration: 3 hours 15 mins including interval
Bookings: STC Box Office 02 9250 1777 |


This review first appeared on Australian Stage September 2009

Q&A: Cook Anna Gare on beating the boys

The Best In Australia is back for another season and cook Anna Gare has only one aim: to outdo the two chefs and be number one.

When did you first start cooking?

I went to a groovy little alternative school and we didn’t have a canteen, and I decided that we needed one – so I made one. And then I was in a rock’n’roll band (The Jam Tarts) at 13 and while we were touring we were always in hotel rooms, and I was always making up recipes.

Did you ever do a cooking course?

I really wanted to do an apprenticeship, but I couldn’t because we were always going on tour. [But] while I was in the band I always worked in restaurants, because I had to subsidise my income.

What’s your cooking philosophy?

I don’t like to mess with food too much I guess. I just love fresh, beautiful, clean food.

What’s on the menu for series three?

There are great themes. Everything from best burger and best bang-for- your buck to best ’70s dish. We also have celebrity judges this time.

Like who?

One of my favourite groups was the sportsmen. We had famous athletes and they’re just so honest, fantastic and funny.

Ben won series one, Darren won The Best In Australia series two, is it your turn to shine?

I’d just like to remind you that it has been very close for me [in the last two series] and I have come second!

Would you call yourself competitive?

I’ve always wanted to beat the boys, A) because I’m a girl, and just because I want to have the pleasure of beating the boys for all the girls out there, and B) because I’m not a chef, and you don’t have to be a chef, it’s just all about making yummy food.

Is there anything you’ve picked up from the guys?

Just not being afraid. Try anything!

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, August 2009

Griffin Theatre: Dealing With Clair

I hate spoilers – those terrible, selfish people who can’t keep their mouths shut about the big reveal and go blithely and blitheringly ahead to tell you exactly what happens and ruin the surprise – the bastards! So in a bid to avoid being a hypocrite of the worst kind, this reviewer is going to tread very carefully when it comes to talking about Martin Crimp’s Dealing With Clair. My first suggestion is don’t read ANYTHING! Not even the director’s notes (until after the show) if you really want this production to shine. You can of course read this review – that goes without saying, right?Dealing With Clair, which is gracing the stage for the first time ever in Australia at Sydney’s The Stables, is a rather crafty little piece of theatre. It’s an early work (1988) by British playwright Martin Crimp, the man who has been lauded as the heir apparent to such masters as Pinter and Mamet and whose most recent play The City is also currently on at The STC. The action centres on a pretty twenty-something real estate agent, Clair (Laura Brent), who finds herself becoming the meat in the sandwich when her vendors, Liz (Sarah Becker) and Mike (Ed Wightman) an upwardly mobile couple trying to sell their house for an exorbitant sum engage her services to secure a sale from a mysterious prospective buyer, James (Boris Brkic). This dark satire takes aim at the inherent greed of capitalism to reveal the ugly reality of a world where anything, and indeed anyone, can be bought – at a price.”There’s a certain kind of man who would exploit this kind of situation, isn’t there Clair?” the accommodating agent is told on more than one occasion. Exactly how far these characters will exploit her and the situation becomes dangerously apparent as the stakes – both financially and morally continue to rise.

Brent is both fragile and charming as Clair, the agent whose ambition is a by product of her circumstances. She is not, so it would seem, greedy by nature. The same cannot be said for Liz and Mike, who, when they are not conspiring together about how best to extract even more cash from the buyer, keep their baby’s nanny, a young Italian girl named Anna (Kelly Paterniti), a virtual hostage in their fourth windowless bedroom. Becker is suitably austere as the calculating ice queen wife Liz, while Wightman embodies the pathos of the emasculated husbandMike perfectly. There are laughs to be had here, but for some audiences members these characters may be a little too close to the bone! The real cracking guffaws come courtesy of Paterniti, the saucy barely clad nanny whose scenes with Josh McConville (who plays both a tradesman and her part-time Italian lover) are among the most hilarious. Meanwhile Boris Brkic manages to be both warm and sinister as James the mysterious moneyed buyer.

Director Cristabel Sved has orchestrated a tight and polished production technically, where set, sound design and lighting all come together in the service of the actors to heighten their performances. The roped-off stage by William Bobbie Stewart is particularly affecting when combined with Verity Hampson’s lighting which at times makes the action seem reminiscent of a great black-and-white noir flick.

In lieu of saying too much and giving away the ending – I promised no spoilers – let’s just say that Dealing With Clair will leave audiences either marvelling at Crimp’s audacity to deliver a conclusion which is both bold and simplistic or perhaps fuming that they’ve been had by an elaborate parlour trick.

Griffin Theatre presents
Dealing With Clair
by Martin Crimp

Director Cristabel Sved

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
Previews: 22 & 23 July
Dates: 24 July – 15 August
Times: Mon 7pm, Tues – Sat 7pm, Sat Mat 2pm (last Saturday only).
Tickets: Full: $30.00 Senior: $26.00 Concession, Preview, Matinee: $23.00 Group (8+): $26.00 Under 30: $26.00 (Mon – Thurs only) (Booking fees may apply)
Bookings: 02 8002 4772


This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Q&A: Project Runway Australia’s Henry Roth gives the season 2 scoop

Henry Roth (above left) with fellow Project Runway Australia judges

Last time, it was the floaty and feminine frocks of Juli Grbac that charmed host Kristy Hinze and the judges to nab Project Runway Australia’s top spot. Who will be this year’s sartorial star? We get the scoop from Henry Roth, designer and mentor to the 12 wannabes vying for the ultimate prize – a coveted spot at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week.

What can we expect this series?

We’ve got some incredible challenges and guest judges. There is more bitching, more tension, more creativity and there are many more tears!

Tell us about the designers…

They are much more savvy, much more competitive and hard-nosed, because they know what’s at stake. This group unequivocally has a higher skill set than the group before.

What kinds of personalities will we see in the work room?

There are super-sized egos. For some, still waters run deep, for others, a total flamboyance. I’m seeing substance and deep contemplation. I’m seeing dramatic characters, but all in the context of one important thing, which is they’ve got to deliver, and they are delivering!

Any friction during filming you can divulge to us yet?

There has been a bit of ganging up [over one judgement]. The person they thought should have been out really copped it.

Is it hard to stay impartial?

No, it’s not, because every person that is in Project Runway Australia has been squeezed from the very freshest and best talent there is, so I am dealing with some of the top 12 up-and-coming designers in this country, and they deserve my equal respect, attention and passion for their fashion!

Do you ever blow your top?

As fun as I can be, I can be pretty tough as well, and I won’t accept it in my work room. So all I can say is watch out designers!

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, July 2009

Q&A: 4 Ingredients cuisine queen Rachael Bermingham

4 Ingredients hosts Rachael Bermingham (left) and Kim McCosker 

The busy Queensland cuisine queens behind the massively successful 4 Ingredients cookbooks return with a second series on The LifeStyle Channel. We catch up with Rachael Bermingham (left) to learn why 4 Ingredients is all you need.

Why 4 ingredients?

It’s as refined to the bone as we could get without compromising on taste and quality. If we could have written a book called 2 Ingredients we would have.

Who do you think 4 Ingredients appeals to?

Every busy person on the planet! It is for food fanatics who love food and who are inspired by interesting ideas. It shows people how they can quickly whip something up in a fast and fabulous way without breaking the bank.

How do you explain the success of the show?

It’s lots of fun, it’s light-hearted. It makes getting in the kitchen a fun experience rather than a chore.

Why should people watch the show and not just buy the book?

You can walk past the telly and see how to make mushroom risotto and think ‘I’ve got those ingredients in my cupboard I might do that now’. It’s just for that spur of the moment stuff which is fantastic.

What will be different about the second series?

There’s a lot more cooking, there’s a lot more recipes per show which is fantastic. And we’re covering recipes from both our books and our new one which isn’t even released yet.

What are your top 4 ingredients?

Definitely rice, because that will go with any vegetable. I love using sour cream, it’s really versatile. And I like to have some self-raising flour or plain flour. And the fourth ingredient is whatever vegetable you’ve got living in the fridge.

What do you like about the show?

I’m a really visual person. I love the show, because you can see these recipes being put into action. I mean, you hear about how to make a fruit cake with three ingredients, but you can’t believe it could be done until you’ve see it.

Here’s how to make a classic sponge cake, the 4 Ingredients’ way:


4 eggs (room temperature)

3⁄4 cup caster sugar

3⁄4 cup self-raising flour, sifted 5 times

Dash vanilla essence


Preheat oven to 210C. Beat eggs and sugar with an electric beater for 15 minutes, add vanilla just before beating completes.

Gently fold in flour with a spatula until combined.

Line a lamington tin with baking paper and place in oven, bake for approximately 14 minutes.

Remove, cool, cut in half and serve with jam and freshly whipped cream either as a single layer or double. (Hint: During the cooking of a cake, if the top starts to over-brown, cover loosely with aluminum foil.)

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, May 2009


Peter Moon: Whatever Happened To That Guy?

The career of Fast Forward funnyman Peter Moon has waxed and waned, but now the Aussie comedian is back in the driver’s seat as the creator and star of his new sitcom, Whatever Happened To That Guy? We catch up with him as he embarks on the greatest role of his career – playing himself!

Back in the early ’90s Peter Moon was on top of the world as one of the stars of Fast Forward, a show that was arguably the most successful Australian sketch comedy series ever. Remember Victor, the “unattractive” Russian newsreader and Abdul, Steve Vizard’s “Fakari” rug-selling sidekick? These were just some of the iconic characters that Moon made his own.

Although a successful long-running radio gig followed after the show wrapped, his fellow Fast Forward alumni were moving on to bigger and better things and he found himself slipping off the radar. The lowest point came when Moon was sacked from his radio show and had to sell his house. “Suddenly I felt like, what’s going on? I was sort of doing really well and now I’m almost persona non grata.”

He says he soon became someone that people half-recognised and, even worse, thoughtlessly insulted. “People would come up and say, ‘I think you’re hilarious, I think you’re as funny as…’ And then they’d name someone who you didn’t think was funny at all.”

Flash forward to the present day and now Moon is having the last laugh with What Happened To That Guy? a sitcom based on his life, but with “all the bad things turned up to 11”. In this hilarious new show viewers will meet a selfish ex-B-lister who refuses to acknowledge that he’s no longer a star.

Inspired by Seinfeld creator Larry David’s hit show Curb Your Enthusiasm, Whatever Happened To That Guy? features a who’s who of Australian comic favourites including Michael Veitch, Red Symons and Russell Gilbert, all playing fictional versions of themselves. And Moon is thrilled he’s no longer the “second banana”. “It was just great for me to be working with people that I really liked on something. It was fantastic. It was better than winning the lottery!”

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, May 2009

Q&A: Katey Sagal on Sons Of Anarchy

She won fans as housewife Peggy Bundy in hit sitcom Married… With Children, now Katey Sagal explores the dark side of motherhood as a motorcycle-club matriarch in the new series Sons Of Anarchy.

Your role as Gemma Teller Morrow in Sons Of Anarchy was written for you by your husband, Kurt Sutter, is that right?

Yes, that’s correct. He said, “I have a part in it that I want you to play”, but he didn’t really tell me what it was. I knew that it took place in the motorcycle world and I thought it was a fantastic part when I read it. I was looking to do something more dramatic and this is definitely more dramatic [laughs].

She’s a real piece of work isn’t she? What did you like about her?

At the end of the day, Gemma would do whatever it takes to protect her family, her son as well as her club – which is part of her extended family. She’s like the queen bee. So I liked that about her. She’s a “scrapper” you know? She’s somebody that has probably had to make her way most of her life just on her wits.

How does being a mother yourself help you relate to her?

I have a very strong maternal instinct. I mean, you wouldn’t want to cross my children. I don’t think I’d put a gun to your head like Gemma might, but, you know, anybody who’s got children can relate to that.

Has it been fun playing her?

Oh yeah, she’s very fun. You know, we all have dark impulses, all human beings do. So it’s fun to explore them in a very upfront-and-centre kind of way.

Were you worried at all about how audiences would respond to her after Peggy Bundy?

I wasn’t worried. I think people know that this is just one character. And I don’t think anybody is going to go, “Oh no, she can’t do that”. I think people are smarter than that.

How do you think Australians will respond to the show?

I think Australians will very much like this show. It has a spirit. What I know of Australians – they’re a spirited bunch. I love Australians; I don’t know why I think it will be a good fit. I just think it will be.

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, April 2009

Q&A: Renee Bargh on her B430 bucket list

Channel [V]’s Renee Bargh (left) with her co-B430 hosts

Before you turn 30 the world is your oyster – but where do you start? Channel [V]’s B430 solves the conundrum, and kicks off by unearthing the world’s coolest must-do music festivals. We catch up with Renee Bargh, one of the show’s team of globe-trotting VJs. to learn more about making the most of life “B4” the thirties hit.

What was the idea behind B430?

Basically, it’s a really fun look at how to travel before you turn 30, and how to visit all the best festivals around the world.

What does this show have to offer the under-30 crowd?

It’s a great show travel-wise, because it is showing kids the best ways to get overseas to these amazing festivals, and how to do it on a budget [or] if you’ve got the money.

Which festival did you check out?

The Sziget festival in Budapest, and it was absolutely incredible. It’s on an island, and it’s one of those crazy European festivals where everything that you ever dreamt of is there.

What crazy stuff did you see?

There was a counselling tent, a fortune-reading tent and a wedding tent – people where getting married there! There was a hire tent where people were hiring a mum for the day or a masseuse or whatever they wanted. There was bungy jumping and a massive flying fox… it was very cool.

What do you think is the best thing about being under 30?

You can just live your life and have fun. After you’re 30 you might not want to camp with half a million people on an island, going to a festival where there are crazy Europeans running around half naked, you know?

What do you think is a must-do for people before they turn 30?

Well, I jumped out of a plane – but I don’t recommend that! Everyone that says they need to go skydiving before they die is really insane. But I think just travel. And definitely go to a music festival in Europe, because there is nothing that compares [to it].

What haven’t you done yet that you want to try before you’re 30?

I would love to go backpacking around Europe. My parents live in Nepal, and I’ve been there a couple of times and I’ve done some trekking, but I want to tackle the Mount Everest base camp before I turn 30.

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, March 2009

Entourage’s Adrian Grenier goes green with Alter Eco

Meet the green “alter eco” of Entourage star Adrian Grenier as he shows us how easy it is to save the planet without skimping on sustainable style!

Adrian Grenier’s fans are used to seeing him as the super-smooth Hollywood actor Vincent Chase living large in LA in the show Entourage, but many may be surprised to discover that in real life Grenier is, well, a bit of a greenie. Brought up by his “flowerchild” mother, Greiner was exposed to alternative lifestyles from an early age, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he feels an earthy connection with the world. “I’ve always had an appreciation for health food and recognising the importance of taking care of one’s own environment,” says Grenier.

Now Grenier has put his money where his mouth is as executive producer and host of The LifeStyle Channel’s exciting new 13- part series, Alter Eco. The title refers to the “side of us that wants to do the right thing, but in a fun, exciting, energetic, creative way,” he says. Part greenie handbook and part sustainability makeover show, Alter Eco promises to give a much-needed image lift to the environmental cause.

Every green guru needs a sidekick and in this case Grenier’s got a whole “green team” to help him save the planet. There’s eco-builder Darren Moore; online activist Boise Thomas; Angela Lindvall, the model with an eye for environmentally kind fashion; and last, but certainly not least, is Rick Byrd, the real estate developer who Grenier describes as “the Fonz of the crew”. Together they give Grenier’s 1920s Spanish home a dazzling eco facelift, offering advice as well as introducing viewers to eco-friendly paint, food, clothes, furnishings and even surfboards.

Always the optimist, Grenier believes the key to saving the world lies in all of us making different choices. “We have to make sure that we invest in the new technologies, in the new innovations, which will actually give us the same luxuries, but just in a more futuristic, high-tech way so that it’s not as wasteful.”

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, March 2009

José González

Photo – Fredrik Egerstrand

The first surprise about José González is the crowd he attracts. For an artist who dwells on the “folky” side of things I expect earnestly serious hippie types – but there’s barely a smattering. Instead, for the most part, it’s the distinctly mainstream and straight-laced corporate types who have flocked to the Angel Place Recital Hall to catch the Swedish-born classical guitarist with Argentinian roots.As we shuffle into the hall we’re greeted by the warm, rich golden syrupy sounds of the support act, Aussie duoLuluc; who spend a good deal of their set compulsively tuning up their guitars, awestruck by the size of the gathering. But they’re sweet, sincere and pretty damn good once they settle in. With harmonies reminiscent ofThe Carpenters they take us back to a bygone, innocent era of wondering and wandering. By far, the best of their tracks is the catchy ditty ‘Little Suitcase’ which has scored a decent amount of airplay on Triple J and deservedly so. The pair, who are touring with González for the rest of his Australian tour, are well worth a listen.

The excitement is palpable as it gets closer to José time. The auditorium feels like a pressure cooker full of teens high on Red Bull at a rock gig who can’t wait to “cut sick”. It’s an odd vibe for a guy whose acoustic indie melodies seem so far from anything that could generate that kind of giddy electricity. But when the lanky Swede arrives on the moody smoke-filled stage the audience goes off – and he doesn’t disappoint. There’s an instant intensity and focus as González works his way through a mix of tracks from his first album Veneer and his latest offering In Our Nature. He’s joined for most of the set by his two compadres (who also featured on his latest album), Erik Bodin on percussion and Yukimi Nagamo, who takes care of backing vocals and the occasional cow bell.

There’s rousing renditions of ‘Love Stain’, ‘How Low’ and ‘Down The Line’ as swirling organic projections sail out across an audience who whoop and cheer at the slightest provocation. We’re all having a fine upbeat time, in spite of the brooding introspective nature of the tracks. Which is what lies at the heart of González’ appeal – his ability to explore the angst of stormy internal states without succumbing to them.

And while his accompanying musos lend strong support, González is at his best when they leave the stage and he flies solo. It’s the stripped back authenticity of his sound that we’re seeking and González delivers, with his masterful command of the acoustic guitar and his soulful and heartfelt vocals that can’t fail to move you.

As the show builds to its climax there’s a sense that we’ve been on a journey with him through some dark and intriguing places that speak volumes about the human condition. But it’s not a show that’s without humour. WhenGonzález takes a break to tune up, he makes a cheeky quip about how he was planning to get a midget to tune his guitar for him on stage. He pauses for a beat to let the politically incorrect nature of the gag sink in before adding in a somewhat Borat-like fashion, “But that’s not cool.” And belly laughs echo around the room.

Interestingly, he saves the covers which have gained him much international attention for the encore. It’s hard to tell whether this deliberate ploy to isolate them from his original work is to make people aware that they aren’t really his – or whether it’s a straightforward acknowledgment of exactly how popular these reinventions are. Either way, the crowd go nuts for his fresh reworkings of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’, The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’ and Kylie Minogue’s‘Hand On Your Heart’.

When he does eventually wind up and leave the stage, after a truly awesome set that flies, his presence still hangs heavy in the air. There’s a sense of elation tinged with sadness, and it’s clear that we’ve seen an amazing performer who’s left an indelible mark on us all.

José González 
with Luluc

Venue: City Recital Hall Angel Place | 2 Angel Place, Sydney
Date/Time: Friday 6 February 2009 at 9:00pm


This review first appeared on Australian Stage February 2009

Fare Play: Charlie Pickering jumps into the Cash Cab driver’s seat

There’s a new cabbie in the driver’s seat of Channel [V]’s Cash Cab. Meet Charlie Pickering, trivia tragic and man of the people

Try telling the new host of Cash Cab, comedian Charlie Pickering, that trivia is… well… trivial, and you might get more trouble than you bargained for. “People like inviting me to pub trivia nights because I know all the music questions,” he says. “But I get so competitive that, about halfway through the night, they really regret bringing me along.”

So it’s just as well he’s the one asking the questions on the show where contestants stand to take home a surprise windfall just by hailing a taxi on the streets of Perth. “It’s a great chance to have random people get in and be totally taken by surprise,” says Pickering of Australia’s first quiz show on wheels. “To someone who’s just got in a cab, it’s a pretty amazing bonus to win a couple of thousand bucks and a Nintendo on the way to wherever they are going.”

Pickering says the toughest part of the gig is the three-strikes rule, where contestants hit the curb if they get three questions wrong. “Oh, it’s heartbreaking. Heartbreaking,” he says. “We had these two 18-year-old girls and they were lovely, but they knew nothing. I kicked them out and felt so bad.”

And he’s keen to draw on his acclaimed stand-up comedy roots, creating a hilarious cabbie character. “He’s got an accent and we don’t know exactly what the accent is. And he likes to ask weird hypothetical questions of the people who get in the cab,” he chuckles.

But for him it’s the characters that he meets that make his new job so amazing. “We had three professional wrestlers as passengers and they were enormous guys – they barely fit in the cab. But they were the nicest, most fun- loving guys; like they’d win 20 bucks and they would lose their minds.”

This article first appeared in OPTUS magazine, December 2008

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson on making music together

When husband-and-wife duo Shane Nicholson and Kasey Chambers sat down last year and began writing songs together, their attitude was “we’ll just see where it takes us,” says Chambers. Both were already accomplished songwriters in their own right, with Chambers, in particular, a huge presence in country music circles, having notched up three consecutive platinum solo albums. They were feeling relaxed, in love and excited about making beautiful music together.

“We didn’t really tell many people that we were making a record and we didn’t have a record label at the time, so we had no pressure from anywhere,” she says. “And living with someone you’re writing with takes the pressure off, because you don’t have to have something finished by the end of that day.”

But there was one big stumbling block in their path – the writing process itself. “I used to think differently about song- writing. For me, it used to be not so much about the craft, as it was a therapy session. If I was feeling down or confused about something, or just had stuff on my mind, I would sit down and write a song instead of talking to someone.”

Luckily, Nicholson came to the rescue with a new approach. “We had to step outside of ourselves and not write from such an internal point of view,” he says. “We had to verbalise everything we were thinking, and it made it easier to come up with characters.”

Chambers was thrilled with the result and relieved to discover that song-writing could be something much lighter than she’d previously experienced. “It was really fun to learn from Shane, (mostly) about the actual craft… I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t quite so depressing!”

Still, working in a domestic setting posed its own logistical challenges. “We were writing around screaming children,” laughs Chambers. “We were like, ‘You’ve got to drop the kids off at school and then we’ll come back and finish the song’.”

Miraculously, in spite of life’s little obstacles, they managed to write, record and release their ‘rootsy’ first album, Rattlin’ Bones, all within the span of one year. It’s an amazing achievement in itself, but what surprised Chambers even more was the public’s response to it. “I can’t believe that this album debuted at number one [on the ARIA charts]. I mean, that’s pretty weird for an album of this style.”

But the couple certainly aren’t complaining. Coming off the back of a nation-wide tour supporting the album, they’re about to share the stage for a special performance of The MAX Sessions, filmed at the Opera House and screening exclusively on MAX in August. “I’ve played The MAX Sessions before, and I just loved it,” smiles Chambers. “It’s still one of the best gigs that I’ve ever done.”

And she’s looking forward to taking to the stage in spite of any nerves that a live television recording of this scale might create. “TV things usually freak me out, but at least if you’ve got a live audience you think about them and you don’t think about the cameras.”

Another big plus for Chambers is the concert-style format of The MAX Sessions. “A lot of times when you do TV you get to play one or two songs and then that’s it, but with The MAX Sessions you get to play a whole set of music.”

Most thrilling of all for Chambers is the achievement of a long cherished goal that the two have had since this album’s inception.“We didn’t know if we were going to get many opportunities on a record quite like this one, but we said, ‘If we get to do one thing, can we please try our hardest to get The MAX Sessions, ’cause it just feels like this record would really suit that style of gig’. So we’re really looking forward to it.”

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, August 2008

Gossip Girls: Judi Dench and the cast of UKTV drama Cranford

“It’s all go at Cranford,” exclaims the kind-hearted spinster Miss Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) to the town’s newest addition, the self-described “indiscreet and incautious” Miss Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon).

Ironically, Smith has just arrived from the bustling metropolis of Manchester to the tiny town of Cranford, which provides the backdrop for UKTV’s lavish new 19th-century period drama of the same name. But true to Miss Matty’s word, Cranford is far from the sleepy hollow that one might expect. Rather, it is a happening hive of gossip, speculation and intrigue where anyone’s business is in fact everyone’s and a good rumour travels faster than a rat up a drainpipe.

A comedy of Victorian manners wrapped up in the guise of an engaging social drama, Cranford is based on the plots and characters created by Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. A lesser-known contemporary of Dickens and biographer Charlotte Brontë.

Gaskell had a keen eye for the humour inherent in the social morays of the era. But unlike her literary predecessor Jane Austen, who was widely lauded for her biting social commentary, Gaskell was actually much better acquainted with the realities of life for the lower and middle classes. “She had a broader spectrum of life than Austen, says Eileen Atkins, who lays Miss Matty’s sister and the town’s moral conscience, Deborah Jenkyns. “She did actually work among the poor.”

Judi Dench, a best actress nominee along with Atkins for her work in Cranford at this year’s BAFTAs (she was trumped by Atkins on the night), fondly remembers the works of Gaskell from her childhood. “Recently, a neighbour lent me a copy [of Cranford]. It was just like the little red copy that I read at school with a raised portrait of Mrs Gaskell in the corner,” says Dench. “I remember I used to lick my finger and press it against that raised  oval and have the outline of her on my thumb. I remember that so terribly well, and I’ve loved coming back to the novel again.”

With its quaint customs and old fashioned insights, Simon Woods – who plays the brash new young doctor – believes that many viewers will find themselves tuning in to Cranford to escape the modern world. “If you look at the TV schedules these days, there is always some kind of loud character swearing in the middle of it all. We live in an ‘F-word’ world. Programs like Cranford are different… In all the loudness of modern life, period drama quietly reminds us of our lost values.”

But this five-part adaptation, created by the team who brought you the acclaimed BBC series Pride And Prejudice and Wives And Daughters, is far more than simply a flashback to a more ‘civilised’ past. “Cranford is light and funny and yet packs a real emotional punch,” explains executive producer Kate Harwood. “It is a complex portrait of a real town. On top of that are these delicious characters with this absolutely brilliant cast – it’s a winning combination all round.”

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, November 2008

Q&A: Behind the scenes with Bryan Cranston from cult TV hit Breaking Bad

Walter White is having a midlife crisis that’s like a rash – it’s spreading. Already struggling to make ends meet, when the high school chemistry teacher finds out he has terminal cancer, he does the unthinkable – he teams up with the local drug dealer to start cooking crystal meth.

We catch up with former Malcolm In The Middle star Bryan Cranston to find out what life is like on the dark side as he takes on the role of Walter White in Breaking Bad series one.

What attracted you to this project?

The thing that leaps out at you about Breaking Bad is the script. Surprisingly most scripts that actors get are not well written, so when you do stumble across one that is you go after it like a tiger.

The comedy in this show is very dark. Was it hard to get the balance right?

Comedy is a very subjective thing, and there are some people who will watch the show and not really get that there are moments sprinkled throughout the episodes that really are intended to be lighter or humorous… A lot of times [in real life] you have two people at a cafe and on the street they’ll see someone trip over a sidewalk and fall down. And one person will crack up laughing and the other person will be aghast, ‘Oh that’s horrible!’ They just witnessed the exact same thing, and one person’s laughing and the other’s not. And it just goes to show you how different we are and how differently we’re wired as human beings.

Was it important for the audience to like Walt from the beginning?

Well, I think the whole series hinged on Walt being likeable and if he wasn’t the series is over. And Vince (Gilligan, Breaking Bad’s creator) and I talked about it at length, [and we decided that we had to] make him real and set the circumstances, the conditions of his life so people can relate to them, and if he handles that in an honest way I think people will like him.

It seems like shows where we empathise with the ‘bad’ guys are on the increase. Why do you think this trend towards darker heroes is happening now?

I think what’s finally happened is we have now come to embrace characters as we would embrace our own humanity. It used to be if you’re a good guy, then you’re a good guy all the way and every trait about you is good and that’s too black-and-white. Ultimately I think people realise that’s a fantasy world, and in the real world we have much more of a colour palette to deal with… By having the courage to show that, you get more people relating to what they’re seeing.

Do you think this show proves that anyone will do anything if they are desperate enough?

I do think that there are people who, if pushed in a corner, become extremely dangerous, and they can be the most mild-mannered type of person you’d ever know. I think anyone pushed to their limits could be a dangerous person and that’s what’s fascinating about this story.

Turning a mild-mannered man into someone who makes and sells drugs could be interpreted by some as dangerous territory. How do you respond to the show’s critics?

We were talking about the comedy earlier… if you choose to laugh, fine; if you get angry at us, fine; if you accuse us of promoting crystal meth, that’s your opinion as well. I can dispute that and defend that we’re not doing that, but it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous work in the sense that it’s emotionally dangerous, and danger is always exciting [laughs]. Danger is my middle name.

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, August 2008

Q&A: Wrong & Wronger – comedy kings Merrick & Rosso

Merrick & Rosso return to the place where it all began for them, The Comedy Channel, with The Merrick & Rosso Show.

You did Planet Merrick And Rosso with the Comedy Channel back in 1997. Does your new show feel like a home coming?

M: In some ways it does, because the first television we ever did together was on The Comedy Channel. And I’ve still got a coffee cup that they paid me with for my first week – because they didn’t have money in those days they used to pay you in merchandise.

What have you got planned for the new show?

M: It’s in our nature with the type of work we do to be a little bit cheeky and prankstery, so that will be an element of it. But we’re also looking forward to having a studio with a live audience in it, because obviously we really enjoy an audience.

How is it different, having a live audience?

R: The audience just tend to give you permission to shine.

M: Like that song.

R: Yeah, Permission To Shine. They give you the impetus to take things to different places, and the encouragement to push things further, and we’ve always responded very well to that. But it is truly the first time that you’ll get a sense of the energy of our live show. We haven’t been able to capture that before in a TV show, so hopefully this time we really will.

You’re going to have celebrity guests on the show. Who have you got lined up so far?

R: Well, no one yet. Lots of people have said yes, but until we actually see them in the studio I won’t believe it.

M: Yeah, like George Clooney, he’s going to get back to me apparently.

R: There are a few people we’ve talked to who’ve said they’d like to come on, people like Hugh Jackman and Keith Urban, and we hope that their schedules mean that they can.

So what kind of things are you going to get these guests to do?

R: It depends on who they are, or what they do. If they happen to be really good at riding horses or something we might go horse riding with them.

M: Or not – actually that’s probably more likely if they don’t like going horse riding.

R: Imagine if we had Cameron Diaz in town and we’d go, ‘OK Cameron, we’re going off and you’re going to learn how to shoot a bazooka. And if you manage to blow up that tree 50 metres away, we’ll give a thousand dollars to a small family in Ethiopia… ‘There’s a lot of pressure on her for that, but ultimately a tree dies and a family lives.

You’ve been together for a long time, does it feel a bit like a marriage?

M: Yeah, it does.

R: Yeah, since we stopped having sex it feels exactly like a marriage.

So the honeymoon phase is over?

M&R: Yep.

M: Well, now it’s probably less like a marriage because there’s this extended thing that we call wives.

Do you ever talk about breaking up?

M: We do, but just not with each other.

This interview first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, July 2008



Project Runway Australia host Kristy Hinze settles in for a stitch and bitch

Fabulous frocks are whipped up at a moment’s notice using the sparest of materials, and creative tensions erupt under the tighest of budgets. Welcome to the sartorial splendour of Project Runway, where aspiring designers are “either in or out”, and solid television gold is made.

Now, at last, the popular US program gets its eagerly anticipated Australian twist as Project Runway launches a home-grown version. Based in Australia’s style-central, Melbourne, no one is more excited about the launch of the show than the newly anointed host, Aussie model Kristy Hinze.

“You get hooked on watching it,” says Hinze, who’s a huge fan of the top-rating program hosted by German supermodel Heidi Klum on ARENA TV. “It’s hard to believe that someone can make a dress out of a bunch of leaves and flowers, and get it on to a catwalk and it actually looks fantastic – it’s just amazing!”

Hinze is thrilled that this opportunity has landed in her lap. “It’s such an honour to be able to do this show… I hope people get addicted to it the way I am to the American one,” she says.

Boasting a talented bunch of 12 “cute and quirky” designers and fashionistas with a variety of experience and areas of expertise, they’ll be put through their paces by an esteemed judging panel of industry insiders, including the hot and oh so ‘hip’ Australian darling of design Jayson Brunsdon.

“He’s just an incredible Australian designer who is really forging his way overseas in New York, London and Singapore,” she says. “He is doing extremely well, and he’s one of our biggest talents, so we’re really excited to have him on board.”

Also climbing aboard the Project Runway express is New-York based bridal designer Henry Roth, who has big shoes to fill with the mentor role that’s been performed so memorably by style guru Tim Gunn in the American series. Gunn’s ‘make it work’ motto has become a mantra for the US contestants and fans of the show.

The judging panel will be rounded out by the no-nonsense nous of fashion forecaster Sarah Gale, who’s worked as a buyer for some of Australia’s biggest retail chains. “I think she’s going to bring a really great element of more commercial design – things that will sell – and she really knows what she’s talking about,” says Hinze.

Though Hinze is tight-lipped about the exact design challenges the group will face, she hints that they “will reflect the Australian lifestyle and the Australian people… There’s going to be a lot of stuff that is really going to push them creatively and like the American show, we’re going to give them very little time to do it and very little resources.”

But the prizes on offer are sure to inspire and make any would-be designer drool. “They get a 2008 Fiat 500, a six-page fashion spread in Madison magazine and the opportunity to design and showcase their own collection to the value of $100,000 at the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival in 2009. So they are all pretty excited about that.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be Project Runway without special guests and fashion icons dropping by. “We’re going to keep it as a little bit of a surprise, but we will have some fabulous guests on, ranging from really big designers to celebrities.”

Meanwhile the six guys and girls who will fight it out for couture supremacy are getting used to their new über-cool address. “They are living at a fabulous apartment complex in the new Docklands area [in Melbourne]… They aren’t doing it too hard at the moment,” laughs Hinze.

But once the show gains momentum the claws are sure to come out. “They are all high-fiving each other and are really friendly now, but when it starts getting down to people leaving the show, and they start realising that this is a competition, I think we’ll start to see a lot of their personalities clash. I hope they are getting their sleep before it really kicks in because they are going to need it. They are going to be put through the ringer over the next twelve weeks.”

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, July 2008 

Bell Shakespeare: Hamlet

I don’t care what anyone says, good Shakespeare should come alive on the stage, it should buzz, it should whirr, it should sing. It most certainly shouldn’t be a historical document that we wheel out, shake the cobwebs off and mount productions of purely to make ourselves feel like we are perpetuating a culture of ‘real theatre’. “So, what,” (I wondered aloud to myself in typical Shakespearean fashion) “was this much-hyped production ofHamlet featuring Brendan Cowell as the big man to be, or not to be then, eh?”Well, it is with complete and unreserved enthusiasm that I say it’s pretty damn fine indeed. Hamlet most certainly is alive and kicking in Cowell’s incarnation as a prince who truly “rocks” (in the rockstar sense) as a very modern royal. In fact, he’s the kind of prince who wouldn’t be out of place on a boozy bender with the Windsor lads William and Harry – perhaps with Paris Hilton along for the ride! But this is praise, (just in case you mistook it for something else) for this is entirely what director Marion Potts wants us to see in the character. Hamlet is lost. Sure, he’s got cash, prestige and plenty of privileges, but there’s a sense here that he’s overindulged and until the moment where the apparition of his dead father appears and asks him to avenge his murder he’s a man (barely) without a mission. Thus, the ghost sets him on a course that will end in disaster, but will surely teach him a lot about life and himself along the way.By stripping away the emphasis on politics in this version Potts has allowed us to focus much more readily onHamlet’s inner journey, and this goes a long way towards helping us understand him. Cowell works tirelessly in this department to make Shakespeare’s prose hum. Every word is clear and full of true meaning and coupled with his moments of child-like whimsy this performance is a delight to behold.

Also truly sublime is the choice of Sarah Blasko as composer. Her musical accompaniments add a layer of melancholy rapture to the performance which goes to the heart of Hamlet’s grief, anger and loss. Ingeniously,Blasko is incorporated into the production itself as one of the players, which creates a seamless quality to her musical interludes.

Meanwhile, Colin Moody’s Claudius is a revelation. His soliloquies go a long way towards creating an empathetic window into the soul of a character that has so often come across as one dimensional in previous productions.

Barry Otto is simply scrumptious as Polonius, whose playful verbosity succeeds in boring the characters on stage, while he charms the audience off it, which is precisely the way that Shakespeare intended it.

Gertrude (Heather Mitchell) plays a trophy-wife style of queen who seems to be making the most of a bad situation. While Rosencrantz (Tim Richards) and Guildenstern (Matthew Whittet) provide beautifully timed comic relief that really does make the audience laugh out loud at their antics.

If I had to pick the weakest link, I’d say that it’s Ophelia (Laura Brent). Unfortunately, her interactions with and aboutHamlet don’t really make us believe that she is in love with him, which leaves a rather gaping hole in the love-story side of things. And while her mad turn in act IV is suitably kooky it’s too late for us to make the leap.

The set design (Fiona Crombie) is highly functional, yet stirring and poetic. And Nick Schlieper’s lighting design – particularly when Russell Kiefel’s spooky, night-of-the-living-dead ghost glides onto the stage – is highly effective.

If we could give stars for theatre (and this is such a star-studded production that I don’t see why we can’t) I’d be giving it four and a half – and Brendan Cowell really does deserve every single one of them.

Bell Shakespeare presents
By William Shakespeare

Venue: Drama Theatre | Sydney Opera House
Dates: 6 June – 12 July 2008
Bookings: Sydney Opera House Box Office 02 9250 7777


This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands

Last year, director and choreographer extraordinaire Matthew Bourne brought us a revolutionary revamp of the timeless ballet Swan Lake. The piece, which featured male swans bounding around the stage in a bold display of athletic machismo, breathed new life into the classic and was lauded by critics as a must-see, once-in-a-lifetime event. Now, Bourneis back with a new take on Tim Burton’s twisted cult cinematic fairytale Edward Scissorhands.It’s a lovingly crafted adaptation on the poignant themes of difference, loneliness and isolation which are embodied with such tender and touching nuance by Edward (Dominic North, on the night I attended), the boy who is ‘born’ with scissors for hands. Like Pinocchio or Frankenstein before him Edward is the creation of an eccentric father figure who yearns for a ‘real’ boy. In Bourne’s version Edward stumbles into 1950s suburbia and is found and adopted by the Boggs family, who seek to offer him a fresh start, complete with a new preppy-style wardrobe to go with the stitched up values that he must learn to observe. But Edward thrives nonetheless and brings his own brand of magic to the place in the form of fantastical topiary creations and cutting-edge hairstyles all rendered magnificently through the use of his unique snippy appendages.Bourne’s talent for harnessing the subtlety in minuscule gestures provides this piece with a powerful visual narrative. Bereft of dialogue we must rely on movement, costuming (Lez Brotherston) and facial expressions alone to learn the attitudes of the characters and follow the story, and this is achieved to great effect here. From the greasers, to the 1950s housewives and cheerleaders each dancer captures the stereotypes with a vivid fluidity which is energising to watch.The set design (Lez Brotherston) is sumptuous and Burtonesque. There’s an effective use of screens that add a dreamlike dimension to the space, and the large whimsical topiary creations inspire pure and unadulterated childlike wonder.

Fans of the original flick’s memorable score by Danny Elfman will be enchanted by Terry Davies new arrangements on the familiar themes. And Paul Groothuis’ sound design – when coupled with the poetic flourishes of Edward’s scissor-like hands – create surprising moments of emotional connection for an audience who seemed to hang on the edge of their seats like kids entranced at a school holiday pantomime.

This is a slick, well-executed production, but the first act is by far the strongest. This is largely because the story elements are well thought through here. As we enter the second act it seems that large dancing set pieces take predominance over the narrative, and the romance between Edward (Dominic North) and Kim (Noi Tolmer) seems to come more as an after thought, rather than the unifying principle around which the action takes place. But still, there is plenty for Tim Burton diehards to enjoy, and lovers of contemporary dance will delight in the scope of genres that are incorporated into this fun flight of fancy.

This article first appeared in Australian Stage

Jimmy Barnes gets Up Close And Personal

Over the years Jimmy Barnes has had more hits than just about any other Aussie artist, and he holds the record for the most number one albums in a row to prove it. This month Barnes features in two great programs, Jimmy Barnes: Up Close And Personal on Ovation and as a co-host on MAX’S pop-culture panel show The Know.

For a man who’s already reached living-legend status he’s incredibly down- to-earth. “I’ve just always connected with people,” says Barnes. “As much as I feel like I can relate to somebody who works in a car factory… I feel like I can relate to the best singers in the world. I don’t think they are any better than me or I’m any worse than them, and it’s the same with people in general.”

Such humble words are surprising considering he’s had a career that many would envy, having started in the ’70s as the frontman for what would become our biggest ever pub band, Cold Chisel, then moving on to massive success as a solo artist.

But things haven’t always been plain sailing for Barnes. The ’90s in particular proved to be a difficult time, beset with financial trouble. But the experience proved to be a wake-up call.

“I got rid of everything and paid off my debts. I sat back and I had nothing, [but] I had my voice and I had my family. And it made me realise that they were the only things that were really important to me.”

More recently he’s turned another corner after undergoing major heart surgery last year. Refusing to lay idle while recovering, he found “a new sense of urgency”, and set to work writing songs. The result is a new album, Out In The Blue, which features songs that he believes are his best ever. “I sat down and I got out the emotions that I wanted to put into an album. So from a songwriting point of view, I think they’re the best songs I’ve ever written.”

If Barnes is feeing inspired, it’s a much purer force that’s driving his creativity these days, after a well-documented battle with drugs and alcohol. “My kids inspire me now. My daughter [E-J] is touring with Neil Finn’s son [Liam]. They’re making really interesting records… it’s sort of a genetic progression. The kids are like upgraded software.”

After over thirty years of singing everything from rock, to blues, and soul, you would think that finding new ground to break would prove challenging, but Barnes is full of ideas. “Well I haven’t really done a country record yet. I think that really great country music is like white people’s soul music… it means a lot to us socially and emotionally. I also want to do an album of traditional Australian songs in the sense of The Wild Colonial Boy and Waltzing Matilda; there are a million songs like that [which] haven’t surfaced. I know there are lots of songs that the Scottish and Irish sailors brought over. It’s a real part of Australian history.”

Then there’s the possibility that he might team up again with mate and musician Neil Finn after their successful collaboration Blue Hotel on his latest album. “Neil wants me to do an album of ‘crooner’ ballads… So who knows that might happen.”

Is there anything he won’t do? “I think it’s pretty safe to say I wont do a jazz record, ’cause I can’t scat.”

As for the perfect duet, considering he’s already sung with such greats as Tina Turner and John Farnham, is there anyone else he’s keen to share the mike with? “Oh, Aretha Franklin, I’d love to do one with Aretha.”

And who knows, considering his boundless energy and seemingly endless enthusiasm, it certainly seems that if you are Jimmy Barnes, anything is possible.

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, May 2008

Tears and tantrums on Australia’s Next Top Model with Jodhi Meares

The claws are out, the stilettos are sharpened and the pouts are primed to perfection as Australia’s Next Top Model returns for series four.

Imagine jetsetting around the world clothed in the finest fashion as you rub shoulders with the A-list – then imagine moving into a house with 12 other girls who want that just as badly as you, and are prepared to fight for it. That’s the high-stakes world of FOX8’s hit reality show Australia’s Next Top Model.

Here the supermodels are separated from the wannabes through a series of gruelling model challenges that serve to show exactly which girl has what it takes to be the next Kate Moss on the cutthroat catwalks of the world. While the weekly winner progresses to the next round and scores fantastic prizes, the loser faces elimination from the house.

In series three, the long and lanky Alice Burdeu amazed the judges as she survived the bitchy catfights and blitzed the challenges to be crowned Australia’s Next Top Model – and now she’s strutting her stuff on the catwalks of New York.

Former model, swimsuit designer and glamour-puss host Jodhi Meares is thrilled by the quality of the talent this time around. “Alice has really raised the bar in terms of the casting when we travel. We’re amazed at the calibre of girls that turn up,” says Jodhi.

But what everyone is really dying to know is the catty credentials of this year’s contestants. “They’re extremely cheeky,” laughs Jodhi. “They’re all gorgeous for different reasons and they’re very different. It’s a really eclectic group.”

As the girls get comfy in their palatial Sydney waterside mansion, their individual personalities start to emerge. “You get the alpha personalities that come out straight away. Where one might have a strength the other might have a weakness and that’s what the challenges are about. You get to see where they excel and where they don’t.”

The pressure-cooker environment pushes the girls to emotional extremes – and the result? “Plenty of fights, plenty of tantrums. They’re sort of an hourly event I think. They’re under quite a bit of pressure and at the end of the day they’re still only kids, they’re babies.”

This season the show’s format gets a revamp with the departure of photographer Jez Smith. Now, judges Alex Perry, Charlotte Dawson and Jodhi Meares will be joined by a different top fashion photographer on the panel each week. Guest judges include Vogue’s Kirstie Clements, make-up king Napoleon Perdis, and a host of celebrity guests including everyone’s favourite fashionable Olympian Ian Thorpe, shoe designer Mary-Kyri and catwalk coach Mink Sadowski. And Jonathan Pease is back as the girls’ trusty mentor.

Not only do the girls get great goodies each week, the winner’s prizes are a paparazzi princess’ dream come true. “They’re wonderful… An eight-page editorial in Vogue, the face of Napoleon Perdis’ brand, and a car – you know these girls are spoilt rotten,” giggles Jodhi.

With such hot talent and fierce competition, Jodhi admits choosing the winner is tough. “I guess the girl who can prove that she can do it all is ultimately the girl who will win.”

This article first appeared in AUSTAR magazine, April 2008



Q&A: Ewen Leslie on Riflemind

Ewen Leslie from the cast of Andrew Upton’s Riflemind talks to Australian Stage’s Helen Barry about every actor’s ultimate dream job – working with director, Oscar winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and star Hugo Weaving, in this year’s most anticipated STC production.Actor Ewen Leslie from the cast of Andrew Upton’s Riflemind talks to Australian Stage’s Helen Barry about every actor’s ultimate dream job – working with the director, Oscar winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and star Hugo Weaving, in this year’s most anticipated STC production.

So when did you first hear about Riflemind and how did you come to be cast in it?

I heard about a year ago, when the brochure came out and it said that Hugo Weaving was going to be doing a show that Andrew Upton had written and Philip Seymour Hoffman was directing.

I think just about everyone thought – well, no one knew what it was going to be about – and I didn’t even know that there was going to be a role in there, but I think like most actors I thought the goal would be getting an audition for it. To meet him and work with him for ten minutes or whatever.

Then at the end of last year, around December, I found out that they were seeing a group of guys and that I had managed to be part of the group of guys that were going in.

Then I went in, I think in early January and auditioned for him, which was really cool and that was pretty much it. I remember leaving the audition and just going “I didn’t make an idiot out of myself.” But I wasn’t thinking it was great, it wasn’t great, but it was good enough and that was fine.

I was living with a guy at the time who said “well, you’ve already won, you’ve got the audition,” so I figured that was it. I did the audition and I met him. Then I got a call the next day saying that I was on hold for the job and I was in Newtown and I started jumping around in the street!

Then I had to wait two weeks while he made up his mind. Then I got a call saying I got the job at the end of January.

So was it different auditioning for a director who happens to be an Oscar winning actor?

I guess the weirdest thing is a lot of the time when you audition for stuff, it ‘s usually with people who have seen you in stuff before, so I guess the different thing was that he knew nothing, he had no idea if I’d done any film, theatre, where I was from. So I guess we all kind of went in a bit sort of fresh.

It was pretty nerve-wracking, but he makes things very relaxed and even then if I think back, it wasn’t like “nice to meet you, now stand in the middle of the room and do your piece,”  it was very much like sitting down, like this, with scripts in front of us and just going through the scenes. Then he’d say “do it again, but this time do a bit of that.”

But there was certainly no feeling on leaving the room that I had the job. But I guess – he’s a actor and an amazing one, so he understands what it’s like going into an audition and understands how nerve wracking it is – auditions in general, so he was generous and he made it easier.

So lets talk about the rehearsals, what was Hoffman’s approach to working?

We spent the first week just sitting around the table reading through the play. In the mornings we’d come in and everyone could bring in a piece of music. So we’d spend the first twenty minutes listening to music and it didn’t have to be rock ‘n roll, anyone could bring in anything.

So by the end of the first week, we were up on the floor going through it. But it’s been really easy – the way he is – it’s been great.

For the last week of rehearsals we just did non-stop runs, every day, we just kept running it. Then we would work on bits and then even going into the space for tech rehearsals – which can usually be absolute nightmare of a time, because you’re just not prepared and all of a sudden people are going to be there and there’s lights and oh my God what’s going on! – but we did a run before the tech in the space, which was really good, because all of a sudden it was really relaxed. I mean, it was one of the most relaxed tech rehearsals I’ve ever done.

Because usually you stop and start?

Yeah and getting in there and trying to work out the space and he was kind of changing little things as we did it, but I guess what he said before going in was that he doesn’t like to treat tech rehearsals as purely about the technical stuff, he still likes to keep it about the acting and the scenes and the play. So that was really good. It still felt like we were kind of rehearsing even though things were happening around us.

Riflemind deals with fame and the aftermath of fame. Does it have a message do you think?

I think it does, it’s hard to talk about without giving things away that I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to say! Not to you, but just when we did Q & A’s Andrew said (whispers) “don’t mention anything,” and that’s Andrew, because it’s his play.

I think people will be really surprised in a way, because it doesn’t necessarily go down the path that you expect it to. I think a lot of audiences have really wanted it to be a certain thing, that it doesn’t end up becoming. After the first half you think it’s really going to go in a certain direction and then it takes twists and turns that you don’t expect it to.

I guess one thing that it’s essentially about is trying to recapture your youth in a way, and at the end of the day whether that’s something you really want to do and how attractive that would be and can you go back? And if you go back to something, is it going to be the same? There’s no way it’s going to.

But, it’s a tricky one to talk about, because when it begins I think you’ve got expectations of the play. Especially about a band. Because it’s about this idea of this famous band getting back together, it doesn’t necessarily go down the direction that you think it’s going to. I think, if anything, there is really one thing that it’s not about, and that’s music. It’s really not about music at all. You know we did the Q & A for the subscribers and one of them asked if we needed to be down with the music scene and it was like no, not at all. It’s actually got nothing to do with that.

You’re playing Lee a musician, what’s his role in the play?

So it’s about a band. This band was massive – like Nirvana massive and they’d made that sort of dent in the zeitgeist, or whatever, you know, they were huge!

It’s about them reforming and they’re a three piece and part of them getting back together to tour, they decide that maybe it would be a good idea to bring in some fresh blood to bring in a new sound.

So I play a young guitarist from Los Angeles who’s brought in, kind of a Dave Navarro guy, who comes along for this weekend in a kind of an audition sort of sense. I’m there to play with them and by the end of the weekend they’ll work out whether or not they want me in the band.

But a lot of that’s got to do with Hugo’s character John. He’s the lead singer and lead guitarist, so it’s a bit of a sore point bringing me in and it has to be handled carefully. It’s kind of a bit ambiguous going in, how much he knows about me, or whether or not he knows I’m coming along and how he’s going to feel about that.

I think essentially Lee’s a really smart guy and he’s smart enough to know that the best thing he can do is walk into this scenario and keep his mouth shut, pay attention and work out what the histories are, where the tensions are and try not to get involved.

{xtypo_quote_left}…with Philip, it’s always felt like he’s discovering it as much as we are. Do you know what I mean? He’s always been very inquiring and is the first to ask “what do you think about that?” And it’s never a test, it’s like “I want to know what you think because I kind of think this, but – talk to me.”{/xtypo_quote_left}
You mentioned Hugo Weaving. It’s a great cast, what’s it been like working with those guys?


The first week, I was really nervous and I’ve known about this since January, but because Andrew had been doing a lot of re-writes on the script there hadn’t really been much of an opportunity to sit down with it and do the work. I got a call four days before we started rehearsals saying  “your character’s now from LA.” So all of a sudden it was like a complete sort of, you know what I mean?

Because they’re an Australian band and you’re from LA?

Yeah so everyone’s Australian, pretty much, except for me, which has it’s own challenges.

The first week I was really nervous. I was nervous about Philip and I mean it’s Hugo, Jeremy Sims, Susie Porter, Marton Csokas, Susan Prior and Steve Rodgers. There’s a lot of really good people in this play. People that I’ve seen do a lot of stuff and have admired for a long time.

But I think the wonderful thing about Hugo is that he’s so supportive and such a good leader. He’s just a leader and for him to be playing the lead role – which is huge, like he has to carry the play really – and to also be the front man of a band, it makes a lot of sense that he’s doing it.

He’s always been very supportive and in the first week, because it’s Philip, you just want to get up and be amazing immediately and you want him to go “great, that’s why I cast you and it’s going to be awesome,” and that’s never going to be the case.

So there’s been a lot of sort of falling on our arses and I have especially and getting up and attempting an accent and trying things out and having Philip go “no,” but he’s always been really supportive of that.

Hugo’s really into “yeah lets try this, lets try that.” And watching him try things and it not working and him going “oh well” has been a really amazing thing. I mean it’s Hugo Weaving! And all I ever see is the finished product and to watch his process of going through the play and through the role and the mistakes he’s made and things that have worked…no, it’s been amazing, really! To be working with that group of people, with that director is just incredible. If you’d told me that I would be doing that when I was at acting school I just wouldn’t have thought – I mean, with that cast and that director I probably would have thought I’d be on a film making a million dollars (laughs) but it’s really quite a dream come true, in many ways.

What’s it’s like to be back stage on a show like this one? What’s it like before you guys go on? Do you all have different ways of preparing?

Yes definitely. Well, I don’t want to give anything away. Every one’s different! I mean there can be a lot of tension and sometimes I think especially early on like this, I think it’s all a bit sort of unknown. As the run progresses it will get a bit more relaxed and chill out a bit, but I think early on like this it’s kind of a bit – there is a lot of tension and some people handle it differently.

I tend to go into my own space and just pace. All I do is pace up and down, going over things and thinking about things – which is probably the worst thing you can do before going on really!

But there are other people who like their privacy and sit and relax. Then there are other people who just want to get in your face. You know what I mean? People who want to rile everyone up.

It is really weird this early stage, because the pressure and the tension is really high. It’s funny because having a part that’s small, a lot of my moments are very small. I mean even early on there’s this kind of build up and they talk about me and then I come on for like two minutes and then I’m gone. And it’s tricky with those, because in some way I’m sure there are people in the cast who would look at my role and go “oh well he’s got the easy job,” but really it’s quite hard to not have the time on stage to relax and get into something. You’ve only got a really short amount of time to get across what you’ve got to get across and Philip is incredibly detailed you know, he’s incredibly detailed.

In terms of notes?

Yeah and in terms of – he’s obviously a really detailed actor – and in terms of what he wants. He’ll kind of give you something to do, you know “try it like this” and then you kind of work at that until you get it, then he’ll go “o.k. now put this on top of it.” Then you kind of do that and he just keeps slowly layering. Until in the end where you’ve got like ten to fifteen things going on at once which is great.

Sometimes it can get a bit sort of “aww what am I doing,” but he’s really good like that. There’s never been a sense that he’s… you work with directors who walk into the room and they’ve got it all sussed out and they’re going to basically wait till you catch up and guide you through something. Where as with Philip, it’s always been, because it’s a new work (which I think is predominantly what his company does in New York, is creates new works) it’s always felt like he’s discovering it as much as we are. Do you know what I mean? He’s always been very inquiring and is the first to ask “what do you think about that?” And it’s never a test, it’s like “I want to know what you think because I kind of think this, but – talk to me.” And it’s always been great like that you know! But it becomes tricky, it does become tricky.

Because you’ve got so much going on?   

Yeah and I’m sure to the audience they think it’s an incredibly simple moment, where as you’re kind of going through all these, (gestures) you know?

But I think as long as you stick to the thought to thought moments, you can’t really go that wrong. If there’s ever a moment where you’re like “this feels a bit icky,” or it’s wrong, then it’s probably because you’ve missed a couple of steps. And that’s one thing that he’s always been big on and I think that he’s completely spot on.

I guess you can build a performance in that way and it probably makes you less self conscious to have those moments that you’re working towards.

Yeah. Completely, completely. Look, the scary thing always – and it’s never happened on this show – but it’s happened on other shows, is where you don’t actually know what you’re aiming for. Where you don’t really know where you want to be and that’s never been the case with Phil or this show.

There’s been times where you go, alright I’m really going to pull out something new for him today and see what he thinks and you do it and then you run up this flight of stairs and you open the door and he’s kind of there finishing the ciggie going “Well done. Now I need you to..” You know? He’s a pretty smart cookie, for lack of better words.

So Riflemind previewed last week. What’s the audience response been so far?

Really good, you know? I think the tricky thing is this kind of level of naturalism and the way that Phil sets up things and the way he directs is that you really just kind of have to go “I’m in a lounge room with John, (Hugo) and that there’s no one else here. I mean it’s actually just us.”

Philip has always been very heavy on “you guys are going to get laughs and you’re going to have to go through them” – if they miss lines it’s their fault. He’s like “I don’t want anytime at any moment where someone is thinking I’m watching a performance, a play – or we’re going to lose them! You have to keep it real and as real as possible.” That’s kind of a bit of a challenge in itself.

Well, good Luck Ewen! I hope it goes well. I’m sure it will go well.

I think it’s going to be good. I think it’s going to be great! I really do! I mean there’s a lot of times when I’ve gone “how’s this going to go down” and this one, beyond my performance or whatever, I just know it’s going to be really good – but I could be eating my words in a week (laughs) but we’ll see!

Riflemind opens this week at the STC and runs until December 8th – seats are strictly limited. For further information aboutRIFLEMIND click here»

This article first appeared on Australian Stage