All posts by John Pollak

John Pollak did Arts and Law at Sydney uni. He practised Law for a short while and went into business. He made too much money for his own good and today is not so much retired as having little to do. He plays tennis and carries the bags for his wife when she goes overseas. When prompted and badgered he does the occasional review. He goes to Ethiopia every now and then and where, with Professor McGuigan of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, he is bringing the Sodis Program for safer water to the Tigray region. When seen in public he is often hunched over a cup of coffee and a foccacio whilst immersed in a diabolical suduko. Or he is driving his wife to bridge.


This performance, like so that of so many by student bodies, is full of verve, gusto and raw excitement.  

Sondheim’s story revolves around Robert or Bobby, as he is affectionately known, played convincingly by Nic Savage.  Bobby is in his thirties, successful yet bored, a focus in the lives of many of his friends, but ultimately alone. Good looking and charismatic, he is strangely detached and isolated. He has it all…or  perhaps he has nothing.

Bobby knows that he does not know much, but it does not occur to him that out there is someone one who just might know what he does not know. As the play progresses we see that behind an assured worldly exterior lies a dark, hopelessly gloomy interior.

Bobby’s friends too echo his conundrum. Behind  their facade of apparently happy partnerships and lives, they too lead  fragile, fragmented existences. With Peter (Tavis Cunningham) and Jenny (Tash Atkins) we have the ultimate dichotomy.  Once married, they are now divorced and have never been happier in each other’s company.


It really was a dark and windy night, and we were lashed by squalls of wind and dense, sleeting rain as we made our way by train from the Land of the East (Edgecliff station) to the Riverside Theatre at Parramatta. To those of you who have not made this journey, let me commend it to you.

Upon leaving Town Hall station our white and middle class train suddenly morphed into a sort of immigrant express. From all over Asia they piled in – from Pakistan. Bangladesh, India. China, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

For many of them, exhausted from the day’s work, a seat on the train, as it glided along toward home, would have been a tender mercy. Continue reading THE AGE OF BONES @ RIVERSIDE PARRAMATTA



Have you ever considered the fate of the humble childhood toy  “Jack in the box”  ?

Well, Rosemary Dobson has:

“He crouches low and supplicant/His elbows knocking on the wood…/He waits the tapping at the locks/He hears the children calling”Jack!”…/They think he sleeps, but how he weeps/His small tears falling with no sound……”

Rosemary Dobson was a distinguished and prolific Australian poet who died in 2012 at the age of 92. Her poetry is somewhat more intellectual and detached rather than visceral…but nevertheless she still writes movingly of the human experience.

COCK CROW puts a handful of her poems in a musical context. Leonie Cambage is the poet’s voice (she trained as an opera singer), Shaun Ng plays Lute, Viola da Gamba and Theorbo, and  Diana Weston plays Harpsichord. Continue reading COCK CROW : ROSEMARY DOBSON IN WORDS AND MUSIC @ MOSMAN ART GALLERY


This Concert was at the City Recital Hall last Thursday at 7.30 pm. For those who have not been there it  is quite an unusual venue. Whereas the Opera House sits grandly on Bennelong Point at night its shells like grand ghost sails rising out of the dark, the Hall is tucked away, almost hidden in the bowels of  the city.

But while the acoustics of the Opera House are somewhat indifferent the acoustics here are superb and plush regal purple seating and wood panelling make this a delightful concert setting.

Now to the Concert.

There were four items. The first by Haydn, the other three by Mozart.

Le Matin, “the morning” by Haydn is the first of two others: Le Midi (noon) and Le Soir (evening). It was lively performance centred in part on a number of  flute vignettes beautifully played by Eric Lamb. Then followed the Clarinet Concerto played at times somewhat breathlessly by Paul Meyer, but nevertheless an exuberant rendering of this the most wonderful of melodic concertos, written by Mozart in the final year of his life. Continue reading THE OMEGA ENSEMBLE PRESENTS THREE PARTS MOZART


Production photography by Clare Hawley.
Production photography by Clare Hawley.

In was in the  late 1960’s that Baader Meinhof Gang in Germany found its roots. Initially they were a student organisation dedicated to , amongst other things, stopping the Vietnam War and toppling oppressive regime of the Shah of Iran . Violence bloodshed and death resulted when the German Police and other Authorities pushed back against its extremist ideology and tactics.

In turn Baader Meinhof became increasingly more violent  in time becoming labelled a terrorist organisation, ultimately hijacking a plane in 1977. During a 10 year period they dominated the West German political and news psyche  by being at the centre of bombings , psychological warfare and murder.

Sound familiar?

This then is the long bow drawn by Van Badham to connect what was happening then to what is happening today in many western countries. There was a desire then toward simplicity of analysis where in fact there were a multiplicity of issues and layers of reality. Van Badham suggests that perhaps we might look at terrorism today in the same light . Continue reading SYDNEY UNIVERSITY DRAMATIC SOCIETY PRESENTS VAN BADHAM’S ‘BLACK HANDS DEAD SECTION’


Theatre can be interesting sometimes because sometimes it can challenge one’s idea of what actually is theatre. THE HANSARD MONOLOGUES : AGE OF ENTITLEMENT which we saw last night does this. It a recitation of some selected parliamentary speeches in the plush Glen St Theatre in Forestville.

An impressive line-up of actors , headed by John Gaden, presented speeches by Abbott and his two Bishops , Turnbull Shorten and Plibersek and the rest of the gang.  It is stuff we have all heard before. Does it gain anything by being presented in a theatrical context?!

The characters come to a microphone, identified by the name appearing on the screen at the back of the stage. It is a minimalistic set , a large gavel and neatly organised volumes of books on a large table.

None of the actors pretended to be a Turnbull or a Shorten or Bishop… In this sense they didn’t really act.

There is no plot, no suspense, no unfolding drama , no comedic moments, no ending, no beginning. We all listened intently but there was scarce a wet eye or chuckle to be seen or heard.

Tragedy perhaps….listening to them out of their parliamentary  context, you get a sense that it is all senseless and surreal.

But is it theatre?!

You be the judge.

THE HANSARD MONOLOGUES : AGE OF ENTITLEMENT by Katie Pollock and Paul Daley, and directed by Timothy Jones is playing the Glen Street Theatre for a very brief run till July 31.




Production photography by Michael Snow,

This is a marvellous play by David Auburn about courage, doubt, faith, love, and genius. The play has won a Pulitzer prize, the New York Drama Critics award and a Tony award. The current New Theatre production is directed by Derek Walker.

Catherine lived with her father for the last years of his life, as her father, once a famous Mathematician, slides into mental illness and death. She herself is a gifted mathematician who may have inherited at least some of his genius but seems have been wasting her time (and her own genius) away. Or has she?!

This is the central conundrum of the play, and the answer to it unfold steadily to a dramatic conclusion. Continue reading FREEFALL PRESENTS DAVID AUBURN’S PROOF @ NEW THEATRE NEWTOWN


Set in England in the late eighteenth century the title of this movie LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP is deliciously ironical because it is about just the opposite. But do not be deterred. This movie is full of wit, epithet and epigram. It is loosely based on a novel by Jane Austen.

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) who is stylish elegant and most attractive, has been recently widowed and is in dire financial straits. Her attempts to alleviate her predicament leave no stone unturned. Her first point of leverage is her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) and she spends some time trying to marry her off to someone fabulously wealthy. Lady Vernon is ever flexible and also explores other options.
Continue reading LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP


Tim and Kevin2

This is a short revue style performance on the first floor of the Harold Park Hotel ..just over an hour.

Nathan Lentern plays a very credible Kevin Rudd, capturing his unique blend of ockerism, condescension and cynicism. He also does that pain Pyne with his cadet corp /high school prefect manner.

Jonas Holt gives a long monologue at the end as Tony Abbott and again he comes to light as a vaguely reptilian political animal, struggling to coordinate the brain with the voice box, his tongue accommodating the interval between thought and word, as he struggles to find the right sentence.


It actually snows inside! EL CIRCO BLANC


017_ BLANC 04.06.15. Jesse Jaco. W_ low res

Featured photo- Aerial Artistry, Pic by Jesse Jaco. Photos above- 1. It actually snows inside EL CIRCO BLANC. Photo supplied by Slide. 2. Live vocals accompany a romantic aerial act”. Photo credit Petr Sedlacik. 3.  Brioche pastry filled with layers of salmon, mushroom and rice, served with a lemon butter and chive sauce. Photo credit Jesse Jaco.

So where do you go with your special lady, friend or even your wife on a Wednesday night? Or with your mates on a boys’ (or girls’) night out? Somewhere memorable. Unusual. And not too noisy…

You go to SLIDE  at 41 Oxford St Darlinghurst and see El Circo Blanc.  And you eat a five course degustation menu. Slide is a cabaret lounge that used to be a Commonwealth Bank.

The theme of this production is a circus and it is playing every Wednesday night. It is based on a concept by Marc Kuzma, and directed by James Taylor.



Genesian-secondProduction photography by Mark Banks.

Tucked away in inner city Kent steet is the Genesian Theatre. With its luxuriant velvet curtain and plush red seats, it is  amongst the most elegant and intimate of Sydney’s theatres. Thomas Hardys’ “Far from the Madding crowd, adapted by Mark Healy, is currently being performed here.

It is a sumptuous, generous play with a large cast and production crew. Hardy wrote it in the late 19th century, at a time when England was transforming from a mercantile, rural society to a  harsher industrial one. Mores too were changing, and the Great Era of Women’s Emancipation glimmered in the distance. The heroine, Bathsheba Everdene (could there ever be a name more grounded, independent  and respectable than that ?!), graciously played by Nicole Harwood, saves the life of Farmer Oak ( solid, working class), played with great gusto by Ben Dewstow. From then on their lives become inextricably entwined.

Hardy never has much time it seems to me, for the upper middle classes. His faith lies with the working class. The upper classes are invariably cheats and ne’er do wells. The lower are the salt of the earth.

The beginning finds Farmer Oak in burgeoning financial circumstances and Bathsheba relatively impecunious. In a twist of fate this is reversed. Bathsheba become wealthy and Farmer Oak becomes poor.  Farmer Oak remains the same but she becomes delicate and vulnerable to being preyed upon by the upper classes.

It is a gripping tale, played across 40 scenes with 12 actors playing multiple roles, in which rural England comes to life amid scenes of song, dance and celebration. it is a stellar cast and for my part, I was particularly drawn to Bathsheba’s maid and rock of support Liddy, played by  Kathryn Hutchins. Her character is another of Hardy’s metaphors for the working class being the solid backbone of England.

The Genesian Theatre has been the provenance of many fine actors, including John Bell, Baz Luhrmann, Bryan Brown and Judi Farr.

The current performance is in the spirit of these great actors.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, directed by Debbie Smith, is playing the Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent street, until the 25th June 2016.




Above – Isobel Dickson and Rebecca Clay in Wayne Tunks Flame Trees. Production photography by Isobel Markus-Dunworth

”Who needs that sentimental bullshit anyway?” decries the pamphlet that I grabbed before going in to see FLAME TREES at the Depot Theatre in Marrickville last night.

The answer seems to be that we all do. For this play is all about sentiment. And about fire, fires and an old flame.

The Depot is part of the Marrickville Enmore/Newtown burgeoning theatre scene. Vibrant Young and Raw. The play is a reflection of that. Tess Ashley, finely played by Isabel Dickson,  returns to the small town she left many years ago and we all wonder why. The reasons are gradually revealed in this drama which has it all. Love, sacrifice, crime, punishment, betrayal and duplicity. It is also a psycho drama and a whodunnit. Have I left something out?


RMS Reefer Madness ReeferMadness_Press-10Production photos by Chloe Snaith

It was a dark and stormy night when your intrepid theatre critic ventured into the bowels of Marrickville to find The Depot Theatre and to review this musical. We drove into a forlorn precinct in which there were a scattered miscellany of various buildings and there, suddenly a dimly lit sign “The Depot” . An uncertain push, or was it a pull of the door and we were inside and then ushered to our seat amidst a sea of bright earnest young faces.

We were now part of the young Sydney Theatre Scene. Continue reading ROCKDALE MUSICAL SOCIETY PRESENTS REEFER MADNESS @ THE DEPOT THEATRE, MARRICKVILLE


Avenue Q- second

So I went to the Bexley RSL club on Stony Creek Road Bexley to see this play.

It is on a very busy road. Cars drive along it, some furiously, in a desperate hurry to get nowhere in particular. You cross it at your peril. The club itself  displays a WWII Ordnance QF 25 pound Horwitzer Gun out the front. At least that is what I think it is. Then one mounts and  walks over rather morose orange brown  pavers  to gain entrance and  behold  the club’s rather cavernous carpeted interior.

Inside there is a small segmented area for a theatre space. Continue reading CANTERBURY THEATRE GUILD PRESENTS AVENUE Q @ BEXLEY RSL CLUB




If you have seen Florence Foster Jenkins then you must see this movie.

It is quite the opposite. Here the human spirit prevails and one gets a sense of its divine spark, both in a humane and creative sense in this, a true story of one of the legendary mathematicians of the 20th century.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, superbly played by Dev Patel of Marigold Hotel  fame, is a lowly Indian civil servant at the turn of the 19th century in British Colonial India. Continue reading THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY


florenceforsterjenkins-queenofthenight- second

If you have faith in the goodness of man and the the nobility of the human spirit do not see this movie. If you want to see some very fine acting by Meryl Streep it is a must see.

This film is set in New York in 1944 in the lead up to Florence Foster Jenkins debut performance at Carnegie Hall. The era is quite fastidiously recreated. The clothes, the cars and the furnishings of the apartments give authenticity to a time when the tide had turned in the War and there was a sense of optimism that the Allies would prevail. Continue reading FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS


One of the advantages of the gig for occasional critic for SAG is to uncover parts of the Sydney Arts Scene one was previously only dimly aware of. Such as the theatre precinct of Enmore Rd in Newtown. Complimenting this are a stack of niche fooderies, such as a Turkish ice cream parlour and a wine bar specialising in cheeses. So going to the Enmore Theatre last night was a lively evening.

We saw Marty Bright there. There are a number of venues in the theatre and this was a small intimate one. There was a warm up act preceding Marty, Kyle Legacy from Manchester in England. Kyle looks like a white Jimi Hendrix. Kyle connected easily with the mainly young audience and there were lots of giggles and hoots for the ten minutes or so as he prepared us for the main event.

Marty Bright is an Australian comedian who has toured the US and Canada as well as starring in Comedy Festivals in Melbourne and Adelaide. Marty Bright is not his real name …it’s a play on it . He is quite handsome. You know those paintings of a bearded hippy Jesus. Think Marty Bright. Marty is one of those comedians that goes through life genuinely interested in the people he meets. Telling us about them, stirring the audience, there were plenty of laughs in this hour long show. And, I almost forgot to mention, Marty’s imitation of Elvis Presley is pretty good too.

Marty Bright is performing his comedy show again tonight – Wednesday – and Thursday night.



ZOOTOPIA – CHIEF BOGO, head of the Zootopia Police Department. A tough cape buffalo with 2,000 lbs of attitude, Bogo is reluctant to add Judy Hopps, Zootopia’s first bunny cop, to his squad of hardened rhinos, elephants and hippos. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
ZOOTOPIA – CHIEF BOGO, head of the Zootopia Police Department. A tough cape buffalo with 2,000 lbs of attitude, Bogo is reluctant to add Judy Hopps, Zootopia’s first bunny cop, to his squad of hardened rhinos, elephants and hippos. ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.


It was one of those dreary Sunday afternoons with little to do and plenty of time to do it.

“We should take in a  movie” I said to the little boss. ZOOTOPIA.

“Whaat..the one with those funny actors! Forget it! ” she said. She was feeling persnickety.

“No. You are thinking of Zoolander.

In trepidation I took  her to see it.. Hallelujah! There is a god! She loved it.

Indeed it is hard to score this movie, which is a CGI cartoon by Disney at less than 9.5/10. The Boss gave it 10/10.

Take yourself to see it. If your partner is in one of those moods take her.

Take you mother, your grandmother, your son, your daughter, and any child to see it. They will all love it.

It is clever, witty, insightful, in parts pure genius, and just plain funny. The portrayal of the crime czar Mr Big is incomparable. The sloths are hilarious  …especially, especially in the final scenes.

And the story, well it makes sense too. If you are tired, sick of, can’t understand Deadpool , any/all of the superhero movies and want to see a movie that will carry you comfortably to the end, with no jolts, bumps or dumps along the way, see it. On the big screen.

You will always remember it with a smile.



The Lady In The Van- second

We saw this movie on the big screen at Bondi Junction recently.

People often say “This is a TV movie, I’ll watch it at home”. Don’t do it. And especially for this film. The cinematography is great, capturing the lush green English countryside and the quirky quiet streets of London , their coziness and sense of neighbourhood. For make no mistake this is a film that is ultimately about the human condition and the sense of caring we all have, albeit an unwilling one , when the situation is foisted upon us. Continue reading THE LADY IN THE VAN


This is a show playing at the Chauvel Theatre until Tuesday. It is part of Sydney’s Mardi Gras celebrations.

We arrived somewhat early to see it and serendipitously stumbled across the Paddington Reservoir which is beneath the street adjacent to the Theatre. We were intrigued by its vast rounded caverns and arches, built in brick in the nineteenth century . There was an amazing “tasting” there of various pristine drinking waters sourced  from North  Queensland to Tasmania .

Now to Panti.

Panti is a drag queen from Ireland and she (he) bursts upon the audience in an electric racing green cocktail dress and a dazzling Farah Fawcett style wig. Shapely elegant feminine legs stand in beige pink classic high heel shoes. Panti is a comedian segueing seamlessly over disparate topics from Australian TV coffee and crocodiles to being HIV positive (she is). It is a high energy, high voltage performance very much in keeping with that dress. She works the audience, up around and down the perimeters of the Chauvel, taunting flirting querying, but never rude or a boorish. Her style and ease are consummate , her connection with the audience personal and never aloof. Continue reading PANTI IS ROOTING FOR AUSTRALIA @ THE CHAUVEL PADDINGTON


A scene from Vortex Temporum performed during the 2016 Sydney Festival (photo by Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival)
A scene from Vortex Temporum performed during the 2016 Sydney Festival (photo by Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival)

We saw this play last night at Carriageworks in Redfern. This multi-platform performing arts centre is a collection of magnificent one hundred year plus industrial buildings where a sense of a bygone era impacts upon one strongly.

This venue is a an appropriate place for a philosophic analysis of time via movement and sound. Time..the present as the interstice, the space between the past and the future…The present as the vortex through which the past moves  to become the future. Time as a consciousness of the present through which we move…in constant transition from memory to anticipation.
A fine Belgium ensemble, conducted by Georges-Elle Octors, played reflective and contemplative music in an acoustically perfect, vast concrete space.
This was not a performance for everyone. The music was atonal, striking, layered…a cacophony of tone and timbre. Dancers moved to it in a rhythm at once provocative and unpredictable, graceful and free flowing.
An English reviewer , Mark Monahan of The Telegraph UK described the performance as “narcoleptic” and described a member of the audience wanting to leave in such a hurry that he almost tripped, giving the impression of throwing himself through the wall in his eagerness to depart.
VORTEX TEMPORIUM is after all a Sydney Festival event, so audiences did expect something out of the ordinary. To the contrary of Mr Monahan’s observation, on this night many members of the audience lingered to give these dedicated dancers and musicians a sustained applause.
This was a joint Belgium /Australian production. It was more introverted than what we are used to.  The production was given a refreshing touch by the work of Australian choreographer, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.
The work at Carriageworks continues to excite our imagination and our sense of space.
This show will challenge your ideas about music and movement.
VORTEX TEMPORIUM will challenge your ideas of time music and movement. This production is playing at Carriageworks until the January 18.


Tucked away in a tiny space in the opera house, in a corner just beneath one of its plunging sails  is an intimate space with a postcard view of the harbour. The Utzon Room. It is a concrete rectangular box with “hear the pin drop” acoustics.

We heard the Australian Haydn Ensemble performing here today- Sunday 20th December, 2015- taking the guise of the Haydn Esterhazy Orchestra as it might have played in the Schloss Esterhazy, Vienna 1761.

The Orchestra performs with a dry, clear sound and the individual instruments seem more clearly articulated than  their modern counterparts. This makes for hearing Haydn in a new light with a sound less sumptuous but clearer than what we are used to. Continue reading THE AUSTRALIAN HAYDN ENSEMBLE PRESENTS HAYDN’S ESTERHAZY ORCHESTRA


Inset pic-Tom Conroy and Colin Friels. Featured pic- Tom Conroy and David Valencia in Angela Betzian’s MORTIDO currently playing upstairs at Belvoir Street theatre. Production photography by Brett Boardman.

We saw this play the other night.

Quite a bit of Sydney theatre is basically elegant pap. Or noisy chaotic pap presented as high drama. Or where actor and director are in an embrace of mutual congratulation and admiration, the audience almost irrelevant….mere observers.

One often goes to the theatre like a prospector hoping that at the end of the day there, at the bottom of the pan will be a speck or two of gold or even a nugget. Continue reading ANGELA BETZIAN’S MORTIDO @ BELVOIR STREET THEATRE

Our Father Who Art (Nearly) In Heaven @ Reginald Theatre Seymour Centre

The ambit of this play felt too wide and overly ambitious …

The scenario finds an old man dying and various relatives gather at his bed side to ostensibly pay their respects. In reality they have come to ensure that they wont be forgotten when his estate is distributed.

Slapstick,  comedy, folly and  farce weave themselves through four or five, it could be even more absurd plots and agendas, that take up some ninety minutes of stage time.     Continue reading Our Father Who Art (Nearly) In Heaven @ Reginald Theatre Seymour Centre

The Comedy Circuit @ The Lane Cafe/Restaurant/ WineBar

The Comedy Circuit- inset

We saw this last night.

It was brilliant. I could barely remember when I enjoyed comedy as funny and as insightful as this, much of it apparently spontaneous and unlaboured and well paced.

Pacing of course is very important in Comedy. You don’t wan’t  to be banged incessantly on the head. You, as a member of the audience, need space and time to let it sink in dwell on and then laugh at the proposition. 

Gretel Killeen was the MC. Gretel has three great loves in her life.  Her Daughters, Being On Stage, and Men. Clearly in thrall about the first two she was gloomy about Men…she gave up on the last one when he insisted that wombats ate coconuts.

Gretel glittered on stage. She was genuinely interested in her audience and directed the lights to be turned up so that she could engage with us. Mildly megalomaniacal..“I’m Gretel Killeen ..You haven’t heard of me..Where have you been..? Mars..?”.  She was perfect as the MC…Sexy, sparkling, welcoming and mercurial. Continue reading The Comedy Circuit @ The Lane Cafe/Restaurant/ WineBar