All posts by Ron Desiatnik

I can’t act, sing, dance, paint, direct, or produce, but I enjoy watching and listening to those who can. However I do hold a doctorate in law, and am a published author of both fiction and non-fiction works, an editor, law reporter, book reviewer, avid traveller, cartoonist, sculptor, decorated babysitter and, when I have the time, a barrister. I now have my own website to exhibit my ceramic art- www.suprisingceramics.com. At the core of much of what I do-is writing. So, what could be better than to combine the enjoyment I get from films, plays, ballet, musicals, art exhibitions and other artistic endeavours, with the enjoyment I get from writing. Ergo – I became a reviewer.

Lynette Noni: Akarnae

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AKARNAE, written by Lynette Noni and published by Pantera Press, is an engaging book. True it is that it has recognisable elements of the Harry Potter saga, the Narnia chronicle and the X-men franchise, but they fit neatly into the story and, when it comes to sheer inventiveness, the book would satisfy any fantasy devotee. The author has clearly given her imagination a free rein: ideas such as virtual reality movies, instant food, communication by hologram, a sentient library and teleportation devices abound.

The work is clearly directed at the teenage market, and the author excels in the use of teenage cadence and expression. Continue reading Lynette Noni: Akarnae

Year Of The Abbott

PicEveryone makes fun of politicians. It’s a national pastime, and deservedly so. But to do this really well, and in a sustained manner–that takes talent.

Proof of this is YEAR OF THE ABBOTT, a wickedly funny, political satire playing, as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, at the Chippendale Hotel.

This irreverent revue is built around Timothy Hugh Govers and Shane Addison who, playing two political observers, subject the last twelve months of the Abbott government to rib-tickling scrutiny, in which both sides of politics come off second best.

Continue reading Year Of The Abbott

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Lynden Jones delivers a strong performance as the brilliant Southern lawyer Atticus Finch in the classic, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Pic Bob Seary
Lynden Jones delivers a strong performance as the brilliant Southern lawyer Atticus Finch in the classic, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Pic Bob Seary

Faced with the inevitable comparisons any audience would make with the classic 1962 film in which Gregory Peck so deservedly won the best male actor Academy Award, any playwright, director and actor involved with presenting a production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD would have to be brave indeed.

Director Annette Rowlison, and the entire cast and the creative team have stepped up to the plate and come up with a revival that is well worth seeing.

Continue reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND

When you put together five very talented actors, four of whom have acquired the unique skill of manipulating puppets to perfectly reflect the speech, movements and mannerisms of well-known television characters, and add witty dialogue which rises at times to being belly-achingly funny, you have good entertainment.

The play, written by Thomas Duncan-Watt and Jonathan Worsley,and well directed by Neil Gooding and Luke Joslin, is quite openly built around the award winning television  series, “The Golden Girls”.

CADAVRE EXQUIS

CADAVRE2Undeniably this theatre work is inventive, unconventional, modern, well-performed and, given that it includes film, dance, music, actors stripping to their underwear, and even a person in a gorilla suit, a production of commendable variety. For some, no doubt, it was an enjoyable testament to surrealism. It is suggested, however, that, judging by the number of the audience seen looking at their watches during the performance, for many the work was an unmitigated nonsense.

The concept behind the work was that three of the four directors from different theatre companies made up a 15 minute segment after having seen the last 60 seconds of the preceding segment, with the fourth director working up the initial part and having, as it were, a second bite by providing the fifth and closing segment. It is a concept adapted from a fairly universal children’s game, and it could well be a great way of developing the skills of people studying in a school for theatre. However to allow it to be the subject of a public performance which the public is charged to watch, is a pure conceit!

Continue reading CADAVRE EXQUIS

BROADWAY MUSICALS: A JEWISH LEGACY

Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy © Joe Skinner/Ghost Light FilmsPerformer David Hyde Pierce and pianist Andy Einhorn.
Performers David Hyde Pierce and pianist Andy Einhorn in
BROADWAY MUSICALS: A JEWISH LEGACY

If you like musicals [and, really, who doesn’t], then a film showing at the Jewish International Film Festival called BROADWAY MUSICALS: A JEWISH LEGACY will certainly please you. This is simply because in it you will see and hear a parade of world-famous singers, ranging from Al Jolson and Ethel Merman to Lena Horne and Barbra Streisand, perform some of the most enduring songs of the 20th century, all of which were written by Jewish composers and lyricists, ranging from Jerome Kern and George Gershwin to Lerner and Lowe, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

But, perhaps because of the capable direction of Michael Kantor, there is much more to this film than this. It has several points to make, and it makes them tellingly.

One is that a small group of Jewish composers produced a truly breath -taking body of work which was based so often on Jewish folk and synagogue melodies. Amazingly,almost every major composer of musicals was Jewish. Even one exception who springs to mind, the great Cole Porter, the film points out, was unsuccessful until he began writing, to use his own words, “Jewish music”.

The film also demonstrates how, at first, their musicals were about outsiders, as a metaphor for themselves[“My Fair Lady”,” Hello, Dolly!”], but then developed to focus on themes further removed, but still connected, to  Jewishness, such as race [“Showboat”, “South Pacific”] and anti-Semitism [“Cabaret”]. So mature did the music and lyrics then become that even Nazism [“The Producers”], homosexuality [“La Cage Aux Folles”] and faith itself [“Fiddler on the Roof”] could be, and were, explored.

 This film includes rare and delightful footage of Irving Berlin singing, Rogers and Hammerstein working together, and Mel Brooks speaking sensibly.

This is an intelligent documentary. The commentary is both clear and pertinent, thereby helping the viewer appreciate the creativity, and the risks taken, by a roll-call of gifted composers and lyricists who, between them, produced most of the great musicals of our time .Above all though-there is, throughout the entire film, the music itself, and, as the song goes-who could ask for anything more!

BROADWAY MUSICALS: A JEWISH LEGACY Is screening twice at the Festival on Thursday October 31 and November 9, 2013. For more information and bookings visit the Festival site on www.jiff.com.au.

ROCK THE CASBAH

Take no Prisoners in ROCK THE CASBAH
Take no Prisoners in the disturbing ROCK THE CASBAH

From the start it should be stated that ROCK THE CASBAH, a film in Hebrew and Arabic with English sub-titles, about the first Intifada in 1989-is disturbing. That, however, is not a criticism of its obviously talented director, Yariv Horowitz, or it’s truly admirable cast-but is solely the consequence of its subject matter.

The hostility between Palestinians and Israelis, which is at the core of the film, is depicted both overtly, for example by a horrible scene, the killing of an Israeli soldier through a washing machine that is thrown on him from a rooftop, and subtly, for example by the look on a Palestinian woman’s face as she tears up money given to her by an Israeli. The film is not action packed, although it is fast-paced at times. Indeed, much of the screen time is taken up showing how a group of four soldiers, comrades of the deceased, try to stave off boredom while keeping watch from that rooftop in an attempt to catch the perpetrators. The tension this engenders between them, and between the occupants of the house and them, is gripping. There is one moment, involving a child, which is absolutely nail-biting.

Yes, disturbing it is, but the film does make you think. No-one in the conflict is shown to benefit from it. All, Israelis and Palestinians alike, are shown to suffer from it. Given this is an Israeli film, the emotional pull of it is, surprisingly, well balanced. The scene where the father of the dead soldier is taken to where his son died is truly heartrending, but equally haunting is the repeated image of a Palestinian mother asking the whereabouts of her son who has been detained by the soldiers.

The film depicts the reality of the conflict-not just the horror and futility of it, but, in some remarkable scenes, its absurdity. The movie is not meant to win hearts and minds, but, undoubtedly, it will affect your heart and your mind. No-one could call it entertaining-but it will, most definitely, hold your interest.

CUPCAKES

CUPTAKES- a comic take on the Eurovision Song Context
CUPTAKES- Eyton Fox’s comic take on the Eurovision Song Context

It is, sadly, all too common to sit through a film which is fairly predictable. What is rare, however, is to see such a film and yet to thoroughly enjoy it.

CUPCAKES, a film directed by Eyton Fox, with a cast of actors and actresses so talented you simply do not realise that they are acting, falls squarely into the latter category.

At its core it is a gentle satire of the Eurovision song contest, an event familiar to most people, but it adds layers of real-life personal challenges and telling observations about today’s society. It emanates warmth, vibrant colour, wit, and great foot-tapping music [the last song being particularly appropriate].

The film’s story-line, while it does deal with matters such as self-awareness, practicality, relationships, and the use of power, is really uncomplicated. Essentially it is about friendship, and just how good that can be. The dialogue is sharp-even the title is meaningful. It is a fast-paced production, perhaps a touch too fast in that it takes some effort to both keep up with the action and read the sub-titles in full.

It will be no surprise at all if CUPCAKES, a film in French and Hebrew with English subtitles, becomes one of the hits of the Festival. Few films can bring both a smile to your face and joy to your heart, without being over the top. This one does.

The film will screen at Event Cinemas Bondi Junction at 9pm on November 13, 2013 as part of this year’s Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF). The Festival’s official website is http://www.jiff.com.au.

Tickets for CUPCAKE can be purchased in a number of ways,- from the website- http://jiff.com.au/films/cupcakes, by calling the Event Cinemas Box Office on 93001555, or by purchasing tickets from the Event Cinemas Box Office located at Level 7/8 Westfield Shopping Town, 500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction.

 

 

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD

Toby Schmitz, Christopher Stollery and Tim Minchin.  Pic Heidrun Lohr
Toby Schmitz, Christopher Stollery and Tim Minchin. Pic Heidrun Lohr

Many talents contribute to the making of a fine play, and in ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD which opened to an enthusiastic full house at the Sydney Theatre Company last Saturday, those talents were clearly visible.

The production was seamless, Simon Phillips’s direction flawless, the set both perfectly functional and satisfyingly inventive, the sound effects appropriate and the lighting (and, at all the right moments, the total darkness) effective.

As for the actors, all the cast were excellent and gave consummate performances. The stand-out ones, because of their major roles, were Tim Minchin as Rosencrantz, Toby Schmitz as Guildenstern, and Ewen Leslie as the Player. The play is long (about two and a half hours), and one has to admire their ability to memorise so many lines. Because the play is, in effect, a “three-hander”, its success, or otherwise, rides squarely on their shoulders. It can be stated, without reservation, that each meets that challenge adeptly. Indeed, for a large part of the play, Schmitz and Minchin are on the stage alone yet, by their actions, voices and timing- they seem to fill it.

Nevertheless, none of the above is truly memorable unless the play itself is a good one. History tells us that Tom Stoppard’s play must be very good, as it has been performed innumerable times all over the world since its premiere in 1966. Certainly it is replete with one-liners, puns and wit, and these all drew much laughter. But it must be said that without a knowledge of HAMLET you would not have any idea about the storyline, and even with that knowledge there were long periods where you would be equally lost.

 It is an existential play, outwardly hugely comic, and inwardly very sad. If you do not like this unique combination, then the fine exercise of all the aforesaid talents still won’t make watching this play a totally enjoyable experience. However if you do like that mix, then this production is truly great theatre.

This Sydney Theatre Company and Commonwealth Bank production of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, directed by Simon Phillips, opened at the Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Saturday August 10 and is playing until Saturday September 14, 2013.

AN EVENING WITH BERNADETTE ROBINSON

The wonderful Bernadette Robinson
The wonderful Bernadette Robinson

Ultimately the litmus test for the worth of any performance is the answer given to this question, posed after it, to audience members: “Are you glad you saw it?” In the case of Bernadette Robinson’s show at the Slide Lounge in Sydney, the answer would be a resounding-“Yes!”

Certainly there were a few minor faults. For example, at odd times, for whatever reason, her words were hard to understand, the song she sang for an encore was poorly chosen in that it hardly matched the fame of the songs that preceded it, and the show started half an hour late with no apology being given.

However saying that is to be curmudgeonly. In truth, nothing could dim the quality of her voice and the various ways she put it to use.

Her voice is amazing. It is clear, powerful, warm and has a great range. She can, and does, turn it to singing opera, jazz, blues and popular music at will and with consummate ease. She can, and does, effortlessly change herself from a diva to a torch singer and back to a diva.

In doing this, her acting skills match her vocal ability. Her impressions of Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline and Judy Garland are admirable. Her comic talents are well honed as well, the highlights of her performance being the singing of “I could have danced all night” as it would have been sung by no less than Barbara Streisand, Dolly Parton, Maria Callas, and Shirley Bassey, and showing how Julie Andrews would have sung to a disco beat, both of which are bitingly funny.

To boot, she is a polished entertainer. She was not only at ease on stage, only a metre from the audience, but clearly was enjoying herself. Her choice of songs was perfectly in tune with the audience’s tastes and there was variety in her material. Her back up pianist, Paul Noonan, not only enhanced the delivery of her singing, but was a talent in his own right.

In short, judging by the ovation that came at the end of Bernadette Robinson’s performance, everyone who came to see her was very, very glad that they had.

 

MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN

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If ever there was a film which produced mixed feelings, it is MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, the film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s prize- winning novel of the same name.

At its core this is a tried and true theme of babies, both boys, born at the same time at the same hospital, being swapped, the film focusing on the life of the child born of poor circumstances who is then brought up by an affluent family, a life meant for the other child. What complicates this theme and both dilutes and enriches it, is that the births of the babies occur at the very moment [at midnight] of the declaration of independence of India and Pakistan, and the momentous later events in the histories of these countries are interspersed with the later events in the lives of the two children.

In addition, throughout the film, and central to it, is magic, in the form of the ability of the main character to conjure up, at will, other children born when he was [hence the film’s title],who all have “powers”, including in the case of one, the power to make people invisible.

Bearing in mind the film lasts about two and a half hours, the inevitable result of this exotic mix is,unfortunately, a film-goer’s confusion and a lack of involvement with the characters.

Nevertheless it must be said that the acting is superb, the concept is epic, the colour and vitality of life in the subcontinent is perfectly captured, and there are a number of truly memorable moments in the film.

Perhaps the best way of summing up the film is this: for its entire length it holds your interest and it is enjoyable to watch, but, at its end, you are left wondering why that was so.

MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN is screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.