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.


The Nexus Quartet is a miniature “Big Band”. It is a big sound and often evocative when in the jazz mode of the mood of the 30’s, the era of the Speakeasy, of smoke filled rooms, money, danger and illegality. The quartet are four classically trained Saxophonists and there being a dearth of classical compositions for this type of quartet, it often dips into the the oeuvre of the great composers such as Ravel, Debussy and Cesar Franck to play transcriptions of their works.

From the classical genre we heard Debussy’s  ”Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune” with Emily Granger at the Harp. Emily is Chicago’s great loss and our great gain. In Chicago she was principal harpist and since coming here has firmly established herself as an outstanding addition to the Australian concert scene. The prelude is one of the most popular in the concert repertoire and its performance was a contrast in tone, timbre and gravitas.

The mellifluous, sonorous voices of the saxophones contrasted the twinkling agile magical sound of the harp, so superbly played by Ms Granger, a lithesome figure with her long blond hair draped over her shoulder as she bent forward to play an enormous golden Harp. Continue reading THE NEXUS QUARTET : SAXOPHONE HEAVEN @ THE INDEPENDENT THEATRE


All images: Ranui Young

FIVE ELEMENTS concert . (Enigma Quartet and Riley Lee)

The Shakuhachi is a Japanese flute whose sound embodies ancient Japan .  The world then was thought to comprise of five elements ( earth fire water air and ether ) melding into a divinity of nature its plants and animals.

The Enigma Quartet comprises four adventurous and accomplished female musicians. There’s no surprise that they fell in love with the Shakuhachi and one of it’s foremost exponents, Riley Lee, an expatriate American musician now permanently living in Australia.

It was a great concert .  The shakuhachi is both hypnotic and spiritually soothing. Listening to it you sense  the stillness of a falling leaf  .. mists descending through mountainous ravines… a small bird  capturing it’s prey in full flight…the sudden swiftness of death. Nature is sacred and ephemeral and primordial and the sound of shakuhachi is an embodiment of it. Continue reading ENIGMA QUARTET: A DIALOGUE BETWEEN EAST AND WEST


Andrew Chubb gave this Recital to celebrate Glass and his oeuvre last Sunday afternoon, 17th September, at the Independent theatre, Miller Street, North Sydney.

It was a masterful performance by him. Chubb is an Australian pianist composer and educator, the latter being via the Newcastle Conservatorium where he has been for the last 18 years. He is also a noted promoter of other contemporary composers and has premiered performances of their music.

Glass is a contemporary modernist composer, and his best works  are characterised by repetitive hypnotic rhythmic patterns which are often an underlay to striking melodic lines. The results tend to capture the insecurities and brittleness of today’s consciousness. Not surprisingly Glass’s  work has featured in a number of films, especially The Hours, the score for which earned him an Academy award nomination. Continue reading PHILIP GLASS @ 80 : ANDREW CHUBB ON SOLO PIANO @ THE INDEPENDENT THEATRE


Prior to the performance there was a pre-concert talk by Mark Grandison. His exposition of the works by Borodin and Brahms was by itself worth attending…highly illuminating without lapsing into a dirge of technicalities.  

The Omega Ensemble is another nascent rising star on the Australian Music Scene. It was founded in 2005 and Simone Young is its current patron. Much loved composer George Palmer is also a supporter.

The program commenced with Schumann’s Fantasiestucke for Clarinet and Piano. Maria Rospopova at the piano  (she is  co Artistic Director of the Ensemble with David Rowden)  sensitively accentuated the light and shadow of this piece frantically composed by Schumann in just two days. Continue reading ThE OMEGA ENSEMBLE PRESENTS ‘A BRAHMS AFFAIR’ @ THE CITY RECITAL HALL


“All the jolly chase is here
With hawk and horse and hunting-spear,
Hounds are in their couples yelling,
Hawks are whistling, horns are knelling…”

Hunting Song by Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)

The Australian Haydn Ensemble is garnering an iconic reputation as one of Australia’s best chamber music performers.

Their performance last Sunday of works by Haydn Mozart Janitsch was a sell out event. It was held in the Utzon Room of the Opera intimate setting looking out past the opal blue bay of Farm Cove towards Mrs Macquarie’s chair.

The program derived its inspiration in part from the 18th century fascination with the Hunt, in particular Haydn’s Op1 No.1string Quartet “La Chaisse”. Also in the program was an Oboe Quartet in G Minor By Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, an eighteenth century German Composer whose prolific output of chamber and orchestral symphonic works is beginning to be recognised.

The performance featured some some sterling performances by its particular violinist Simone Slattery whose playing with a baroque bow and  infectious enthusiasm breathed life and vitality into both the Janitsch and the Mozart String Quartet. Anthony  Albrecht’s cello playing gave the concert depth and incisiveness. Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, composed to show off the virtuosic talents of his friend Friedrich Ramm, was effortlessly played by Amy Power, indicating the profound evolution of the instrument and its technique over the past few hundred years. The Janitsch was a moody and reflective work, interesting and quite uncharacteristic of the era.

The occasion also was one of maternal celebration for Skye McIntosh the founder and Artistic Director of the ensemble, who had recently had a child…coincidentally as pointed out by the cellist Anthony Albrecht, both the string quartets the ones by Haydn and Mozart which buttressed the program, were in b flat major, a key said to reflect hope and optimism  …a motherhood key!



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. Continue reading STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S ‘COMPANY’ @ STUDIO ONE, UNI OF NSW


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