All posts by Alan Hartstein

Alan has worked in the media business for nearly 20 years as an editor, writer and sub editor across a large number of newspaper, magazine and online newsletter titles. He has had a passion for stage and screen for as long as he can remember and has, he admits, never been backwards in coming forwards when it comes to having an opinion. His interest in the arts runs across the full spectrum, from opera, ballet and musicals, to symphony concerts to large music festivals, pub gigs and just about everything in between.


Guess who’s back? From the ashes of early 2000s Australian politics rises Senator Hanson – one woman, one party, One Nation, one dream. It’s a pivotal time and Pauline has a big job ahead of her. Can she save our country from imminent destruction? Featuring new music!

This is your last chance to see this award-winning comedy musical!

WINNER – Critics’ Pick – Sydney Fringe 2017
WINNER – Emerging Artists Award – Adelaide Fringe 2018

THE COLOUR ORANGE: THE PAULINE HANSON MUSICAL [Facebook Event] 7PM  on the 19th May at the Giant Dwarf Theatre, 199 Cleveland Street, Redfern.  The show is part of the Sydney Comedy Festival.


Kris McQuade as June MacReadie. Photo Daniel Boud.

Belvoir is set to continue its commitment to new Australian writing with the world premiere season of THE SUGAR HOUSE, by critically-acclaimed playwright, Alana Valentine from 5th May to 3rd June.

Starring the inimitable Kris McQuade (TV’s Wentworth, Rosehaven and Belvoir’s Cloudstreet) alongside Sheridan Harbridge (The Dog, The Cat), Sacha Horler (The ABC’s Sando), Lex Marinos, Josh McConville and Nikki Shiels (The Rover), The Sugar House is directed by MTC Associate Director Sarah Goodes (MTC’s Helpmann Award nominated John and Belvoir’s The Sweetest Thing). Continue reading THE SUGAR HOUSE : A PLAY EVERY SYDNEY-SIDER SHOULD SEE



Production photos by Brett Boardman.

The Wharf Revue has become an end-of-year Sydney theatrical tradition, usually selling out well in advance. Now in its 16th year, the latest iteration, Back to Bite You, is once again written and performed by Drew Forsythe, Jonathan Biggins, and Phil Scott, with newcomer Paige Gardiner taking on the girls’ roles on the night I attended.

Like previous Revues, this one covers the year’s local political landscape, with a fair smattering of US election and a bit of Brexit thrown in for good measure. Also, like previous incarnations, some parts work better than others. Continue reading THE WHARF REVUE 2016 @ SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY


It’s not often you see a film willing to explore the depths of male friendship in the way that TRUMAN, the seventh feature from Spanish director Cesc Gay, does.

Set in Madrid, the film begins with Tomas (Cavier Camara), who lives in Montreal, returning to Madrid to visit his best friend Julian (Ricardo Darin), a stage and screen actor of Argentine origin and some renown who has terminal lung cancer, despite rounds of unsuccessful chemotherapy.

Julian, who is obviously past his prime, lives with his dog Truman, a larger-than-life but gentle and affectionate boxer, who sleeps with him and generally shares the minutiae of his life. Continue reading SPANISH DIRECTOR CESC GAY’S NEW FILM ‘TRUMAN’


STAR TREK BEYOND is the thirteenth cinematic installment of a franchise that began way back in the mid-60s with the quirky, often hilariously kitsch TV show starring William Shatner, Leonard Ninoy et al.

Director Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame has taken over from JJ Abrams in the directorial department and, according to a figure I saw, was given a $US150 million budget for this film.

It all starts innocently enough, with a call for assistance from an innocuous seeming alien to Kirk (Chris Pine) and his buddies to go in and rescue a ship lost in a region of dark, uncharted space. However, a surprise ambush finds the Enterprise under attack from hordes of swarming, wasp-like buzzing creatures under the control of the evil dictator Krall (Idris Elba).     Continue reading STAR TREK BEYOND


As someone who hadn’t actually heard Sydney’s Omega Ensemble before I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Monday night’s concert at City Recital Hall. Sure there were a lot of red faces at the end of the concert, but that had a lot to do with the fact that this woodwind/brass ensemble of about 10 musicians, give or take, had been blowing their collective guts out for nearly an hour-and-a-half.

As artists in residence, the ensemble has already clocked up an impressive list of performances to high acclaim and Monday’s program was nothing if not demanding.

Nineteenth Century French composer Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphonie, one of two symphonies he composed, was light and airy, paying considerable homage to his classical forebears such as Haydn and Mozart. The first two movements were pleasant enough, without reaching any great heights.

What was striking however, was the clarity of the sound, the high levels of musicianship and the impressive way in which this group filled a large venue that I’m used to hearing much larger ensembles perform at.

It was in the third and fourth movements where the piece really came to life with the flute elevated above the accompanying oboes, clarinets, French horns, and bassoons.

German composer Louis Spohr was a friend and colleague of Beethoven’s. His Grand Nonetto is one of the earliest known pieces written for a combination of violin, viola, cello, and bass with wind quintet and was the only piece on the program that featured strings.

Having never been exposed to this set-up before, I can say that there were engaging parts and those that were less so. Spohr was a prodigious composer for strings, penning 18 violin concertos, and the string section wove in seamlessly with the winds to once again produce a sound that impressed given the number of musicians on stage. Violinist Ike See particularly stood out for me and has the look and sound of a future star.

Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was always going to be the highlight of the night. As one of the great tomes of the classical canon, much of the audience I imagine shared my intrigue as to how a group of nine musicians sans strings was going to pull it off.

Given the sheer fame of this piece there were no shortage of ways that it could have gone wrong and my initial thought was that it sounded a bit like a recording of a full orchestral version coming through one channel of an amplifier.

After that relatively short period of adjustment, however, the long, expansive introduction of the first movement allowed the clarinets, bassoons, and oboes to fill those fabulous string lines in a way that was strangely compelling and equally melodic in an unusual kind of way.

The second movement relies as heavily on strings as just about any movement of a Beethoven Symphony, but by this stage I was simply enjoying it for what it was. This ensemble was carrying a tune and doing it extremely well.

The final two movements are renowned for their sheer joyousness – the lively scherzo of the third and the anthemic nature of the fourth. Once again I was not disappointed, even though the final movement seemed to be strangely truncated at the beginning.

Overall this was an enthralling and ambitious rendition where the ensemble made no attempt to substitute for the vast numbers of instruments missing but instead captured the essence of the transcription through its exemplary clarity of sound and ability to capture all of the piece’s major melodic lines.

For those that have yet to witness the Omega Ensemble, I can say that this was a rewarding experience that I would gladly partake of again.




Heard any good dick jokes lately? I have, and some fairly average ones too, having just seen THE VIAGRA MONOLOGUES, a three-man show about men’s changing relationships with their crown jewels as they go through the journey of life from infancy to old age. In fact, for the best part of this hour-and-a-half show, it was ‘all hands on dick’, metaphorically at least.

Having said that, the show offered so much more. As a natural and obvious counterpoint to the hugely successful Vagina Monologues, Geraldine Brophy (yes, it was written by a woman) ventures where few have previously gone.

As she states in the program notes, men are not noted for being particularly forthcoming when discussing sexuality and intimacy unless it’s of ‘a fantastical nature’, but ‘parenthood, marriage, celibacy, puberty, and virginity are all complex things that influence human experience, for better or worse’. Continue reading OFF THE AVENUE PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS THE VIAGRA MONOLOGUES @ BLOOD MOON THEATRE KINGS CROSS



MICHAEL FLATLEY’S LORD OF THE DANCE is approaching its 20th birthday and as someone who had never seen one of his shows before and had, I must confess, had previously little interest in doing so, I can now say that I fully understand what all the fuss is about.

LORD OF THE DANCE:  DANGEROUS GAMES is the latest iteration of the franchise that has made Mr Flatley an international megastar and was written, directed and choreographed by the great man himself.

There was obviously no shortage of hard-core fans in this opening night crowd and those that have seen the shows every time they’ve been here would undoubtedly have been expecting something bigger, brighter and better, and judging from the audience reaction, they were not disappointed. For a first-timer such as myself, this really was the quintessential ‘you had to be there’ event– impossible to convey in words just how vibrant, flamboyant, visually spectacular and downright joyous the performances were.

The show has a vague storyline– the Lord is separated from true love Saoirse and faces a formidable foe in the Dark Lord and his legions of cyborgs. Additionally, he has to contend with the seductress Morrighan so that good can triumph over evil– I won’t give the ending away.

Yes there were some slightly boring bits, graphics that veered in the direction of kitsch and a passable, if not overly memorable musical accompaniment.

However, it was the sheer exuberance of the 34 performers combined with phenomenal technical skill and a vast array of fabulous costumes that ranged from traditional to fascistic military (with a bit of high camp thrown in) to cyborg that made the night so memorable.

When you get that many hot-looking, super fit, super talented people on the one stage at the one time it’s hard to go wrong. When you combine that with amazing choreography that incorporates elements of traditional Irish folk dancing and the original Riverdance concept, Cirque du Soleil theatrics and cutting-edge artistry, you have a winner.

The best numbers for me were the ones that filled the stage – rows of girls and guys clicking with a ferocity and dexterity that left spectators old and new breathless.

Morgan Comer, the new Lord of the Dance, has superstar written all over him, Tom Cunningham as the The Dark Lord more than held up his end in the dance-off ‘fight sequences’, while Saoirse and Morrighan were also memorable.

Special mention should also go to Rachael O’Connor, the 17-year-old finalist from Britain’s The Voice, who provided the musical interludes as Erin the Goddess.

And, without wanting to give away the whole ending, Mr Flatley himself puts in a special appearance via holograph that reminds everyone exactly what transfixed them about this dance medium in the first place.

The Lord of the Dance franchise has taken on a life of its own, with several shows running simultaneously to sold-out audiences all over the world, and after finally seeing one I can fully understand why– for hard-core fans and novices alike, Dangerous Games will leave you with an ear to ear grin.

MICHAEL FLATLEY’S LORD OF THE DANCE: DANGEROUS GAMES is playing the Capitol Theatre until Sunday 25th October. Remaining performances  are tonight at  8pm, tomorrow at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 3pm.


Jetpack Collective Theatre Company

Some of Sydney’s best, fastest, and funniest performers use the cult board game hit Cards Against Humanity as the basis for ________.

“Not contributing to society in any meaningful way”
“An awesome improvised comedy show”
“A micropig wearing a tiny raincoat and booties”

Featuring Jim Fishwick, Maddie Parker, Robert Boddington, Jane Watt, Bryce Halliday, and special guests!

8, 9, and 11 September at the Factory Theatre, at 9.30pm.

Tickets $15 Full, $10 Concession, plus booking fees. Book now at

Presented by Jetpack Theatre Collective as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, neither of whom have any affiliation with the makers of Cards Against Humanity.

Directed by Jim Fishwick, and produced by Kendra Murphy.




One Man Breaking Bad-The Unauthorised Parody @ The Reginald Theatre


Have you seen that one-man play paying homage to the TV show about the dying high school teacher who teams with a former student to cook the purest crystal meth ever made in the southwest US to make money for his family and pay his medical bills? Sounds hilarious, huh?

Fans of Breaking Bad, of which there are millions worldwide, don’t need to be told it was one of the greatest shows ever made. They understand all too well that strange void it left when it finished, Game of Thrones, Mad Men et al notwithstanding.

Twenty-four year old LA actor Miles Allen is obviously a huge fan and what started out as character impersonations on YouTube has grown into a unique one-hour play titled One Man Breaking Bad – The Unauthorised Parody, or alternatively all 60 episodes in 60 minutes. The show, which has already had sell-out runs at comedy festivals in Melbourne and Edinburgh, has also achieved critical acclaim and is due to open in the US some time later this year.

So how do you condense some of the most powerful and dark drama ever brought to the small screen into a single hour and make it amusing at the same time? In much the same way you condense The Complete Works of William Shakespeare into 90 minutes, I suppose.

Some of the main plot points are there, while others are glaringly missing. The main characters – Walt, Jesse, Skylar, Hank, Saul, Walter Junior, Mike and Gus Fring are all represented too, to varying degrees.

The story is narrated by Jesse, accompanied by a smattering of wigs, props and screenshots, and Allen’s impersonations coupled with his sheer flamboyance manages to captivate.

Walt is menacing, Skylar is annoying in a yellow-wigged drag queen kind of way, Jesse is totally “yo bitch”, Saul is over-the-top dodgy, Hank is ever-so-slightly behind the 8 ball and Walter Junior is obsessed with breakfast.

I particularly liked the parallel with Walt and Darth Vader, Saul’s catchphrase, Junior (who let’s face it never did do much in five whole series) and Mike’s deader than deadpan persona. As the narrator, Jesse is the character Allen is most comfortable with and is pretty much spot on, albeit in a larger and more confident kind of way.

Allen has to some extent succeeded in extracting giggles from scenes which you wouldn’t think lend themselves to it, like when Skylar gets here first real inkling of what Walt’s become – the “I’m the one who knocks” scene. Watching that I couldn’t help thinking of the “Talking Bad” parody on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show which I saw on YouTube not that long ago.

The scene where Jesse tells Walt how he wants out (from his hospital bed after being severely beaten by Hank) was another one of those moments, thanks to Allen’s adept use of audience participation.

Was it the greatest one-man show ever? No. Is it something that someone who isn’t a die-hard BB fan should see? Probably not. For fans, however, everyone has their favourite characters and moments and it was fun seeing how they’d be treated.

Turning a seminal TV show it into a one-hour comedy was never going to be easy. It took a lot of balls and Miles Allen deserves high praise for what he has accomplished.

A Sydney Comedy Festival production, Miles Allen’s solo show ONE MAN BREAKING BAD- THE UNAUTHORISED PARODY finishes its brief season tonight at the Reginald Theatre, the Seymour Centre where it has been playing since last Tuesday, 21st April.


Nick Curnow stars in the solo piece, FULLY COMMITTED
Nick Curnow stars in the solo piece, FULLY COMMITTED Pic Katy Green Loughrey

As far as one-man shows go, they don’t get much more frenetic than FULLY COMMITTED.

Written by Becky Mode and set in a dilapidated, windowless office in the basement of an award-winning Upper East Side Manhattan restaurant, this quintessentially New York piece premiered in 1999.

The play centres around Sam Peliczowski, an aspiring actor stuck in a hideous job manning the restaurant’s phone lines while the city’s glitterati and wannabes enjoy all the luxury upstairs.

Sam is forced to field a seemingly endless number of calls from every imaginable clichéd New Yorker, some of whom will do anything to land that dream table.

Continue reading FULLY COMMITTED


Adrian Tamburini as Zuniga, Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen and Dmytro Popov as Don Jose in CARMEN. Pic Branco Gaica
Adrian Tamburini as Zuniga, Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Carmen and Dmytro Popov as Don Jose in CARMEN. Pic Branco Gaica

George Bizet’s CARMEN has been wowing opera-goers for over 140 years now with its alluring mixture of the unpredictable and dangerous, love and loathing, and, as the program notes state, “the ultimate femme fatale is back to stamp her feet, toss her hair and dance”.

As a staple of Opera Australia’s programming (the last major run at the Opera House was only a couple of years ago), American director Francesca Zambello was presented with a real challenge in bringing something fresh to the story of that most famous of feisty gypsy girls and the ultimately doomed desires of her suitors, whilst at the same time maintaining the levels of passion and intensity both musically and visually that the audience has come to expect.

Continue reading CARMEN


PARANORMAL ACTIVITY2It’s a bit of a well-worn cliché for a reviewer to state that a particular film deprived them of a certain amount of time (in this case a mercifully short 84 minutes) they’ll never get back, but for want of a better description I’ll use it here.

Described as a spin-off from the original franchise and not given an official sequel number, PARANORMAL ACTIVIYY: THE MARKED ONES is nevertheless the fifth installment in this hugely successful, low-budget, schlock horror franchise and for hard-core fans of both the franchise and the genre is likely to hold at least some appeal.



The skills of the perfomers in this wondeful troupe are sublime

It’s not often you walk out of a performance completely lost for words, but even those of the superlative variety fail to do justice to EMPIRE by Spiegelworld, which opened last night in Sydney. My mate who was lucky enough to be my date for the night summed it up perfectly when he said, “it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen”.

As the program notes state, EMPIRE by Spiegelworld “smashes the boundaries of circus, cabaret, vaudeville and burlesque, reinventing the genres for a 21st century audience”.

To create EMPIRE, the Spiegelworld team, led by impresario Ross Mollison, assembled an Australian creative team of director Terence O’Connell, choreographer John O’Connell and costume designer Angus Strathie.

Continue reading EMPIRE


The big hair and tight pants may be long gone, but Bon Jovi’s show on Saturday night at the Olympic Stadium was big in every other way: big sound, big visuals (including a very big car), big anthems – big enough to fill an arena with well over 50,000 people in it.

The final leg of the BECAUSE WE CAN world tour which began at the start of this year, the staging of the show is ambitious in every way, with a stage comprising huge screens, dozens of smaller televisions and an enormous Buick Electra 225 named “Sofia”, which, according to the program notes, took three cranes to construct and 26 containers to ship to Australia.

Continue reading BON JOVI


Ash King as Wild Delilah

COKE AND SYMPATHY is billed as a 90-minute rock and roll cabaret show based around the stories of Wild Delilah, groupie and rock and roll historian “who loses her heart to an enigmatic and destructive rock guitarist on his one-man quest for fame and glory”.

The show, narrated by writer and producer Ash King as Wild Delilah, mixes anecdotes, some well known and some more obscure, surrounding the origins of the songs of rock’s greatest icons such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix (mixed with plenty of salacious sex and drug gossip from Delilah herself), with performances of the songs by Delilah and her band.

As stated on the show’s website, Ash King is a self-confessed rock and roll addict. She can also sing and tell a yarn with some stage presence. Unfortunately though, many of the yarns seemed to drag on for far too long and the songs often weren’t strong enough to make up for the lull and sustain the show’s momentum.

Maybe some of the stories, like the ones about every man and his dog’s obsession with Patty Boyd (not just Clappo and then husband George Harrison) and the relationship debacles involving members of Fleetwood Mac during the making of Rumours may have appealed to those young enough to have never heard them before but they kind of reminded me of one of those ageing dullards on Spicks and Specks droning on interminably.

According to the web site, the show is “tumultuous and titillating”, but sadly I found it neither, despite Delilah’s exhortation that sex, drugs and passion are imprinted on the soul of rock and roll.

The web site also bills the show as “featuring a full live rock band, who are just as wild as Delilah”, but from where I was standing that struck me as just a tad silly. Yes, the band was more than efficient and Chris Long (keyboards), Dan Maher (guitar), Brendan Clark (bass) and Nick Meredith (drums) certainly did their best to propel the show along. Maher especially, who is only 21 years old, deserves special praise for some truly gutsy guitar riffs, especially in a memorable rendition of Eric Clapton’s Layla.

The trouble is that they kind of looked like they’d been plucked from the Rockwiz audience and there was nothing “wild” in a rock n roll sense about them at all, especially when juxtaposed with the stories being related about Mr Hendrix and Miss Joplin. In fact, I had a hard time imagining these boys throwing even one TV out of a hotel room window, let alone nailing the furniture to the ceiling or snorting coke from any cleavages, ample or otherwise.

Then there were the renditions of the songs themselves, some of which were kind of cover bandish, which was a pity because Ash King’s rock and roll heart is definitely in the right place and there was no lack of passion per se, but it just seemed that some of the songs, like the Stones’ Wild Horses and The Beatles’ Something were so insipid that they were unable to fill the void left from the not-so ripping yarns that had preceded them.

Having said all that, there were highlights, like Delilah’s heartfelt and passionate renditions of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” and The Carpenters’ “Superstar”, both of which deserve special mention.

Some of her anecdotes were more successful than others too, like the one about Leonard Cohen meeting Janis Joplin in the Chelsea Hotel in New York and dedicating the song of the same name to her, which worked far better than that well-worn yarn about Rod Stewart’s semen swallowing record – yes, I get it, it’s a spoof, or that old Mars Bar up the vagina chestnut.

In the end, the trouble with COKE AND SYMPATHY was that, unlike the hugely successful Johnny Cash show, there was an absence of a particularly strong narrative which left the storyline often meandering aimlessly between the songs.

In the end though, Ash King should take heart from the fact that there was enough to like about the show to make this reviewer want to know what she is going to do next.

Ash King’s rock concert show COKE AND SYMPATHY played The Vanguard, Newtown on Wednesday November 27.







Olympia Bukkakis as Honey Sue Washington in SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN. Pic Marg Howell
Olympia Bukkakis as Honey Sue Washington in SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN. Pic Marg Howell

Strangely alluring would be one way to describe SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, now playing at the Stables Theatre in Darlinghurst.

Part drag show (well, very large part drag show}, part ‘Streetcar Named Desire’, part ‘Gone with the Wind’, part ‘Django Unchained’, the show works on a number of levels, partly because of its inherent hilarity, but also because it manages to blend irreverence with a refreshingly new take on a very well worn period of history.

SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN is set in Georgia just after the outbreak of the American Civil War, where family patriarch Big Daddy is awaiting the return of his beloved daughter Honey Sue, who left home in mysterious circumstances 10 years prior. Meanwhile, his younger daughter Daisy May, innocence personified, is engaged to the dashing military man Clive O’Donnell.

As the authors Ash Flanders and Declan Greene, the Sisters Grimm, state in the program notes, “unlike most homosexuals, we identify very strongly with headstrong, fallen women of the past. And for this reason, the Southern antebellum epic – in all its lush tragedy – is exactly where our hearts would beat, if we had them.”

Adapting the genre to the stage in 2013, they added, “presented a myriad of problems regarding representations of gender, race and sexuality”.

Yet pull if off they have, and in quite a spectacular way, if the audience reaction to Friday night’s performance is anything to go by, and all within a 65-minute timeframe.

Like all ripping historical yarns, especially involving southern belles and their broken hearts, the plotting, scheming and back-stabbing moves along at a frenetic pace, revealing more than just a few skeletons in the family closet.

The snappy dialogue is also aided by some wonderful performances by an impressive cast.

Olympia Bukkakis and Agent Cleave are hilarious as sisters Honey Sue and Daisy May Washington. Yes they camped their roles up to the max, but despite the inherent absurdity of much of the melodrama, they still managed to imbue in them a sense of empathy, despite the obligatory undercurrent of nastiness and bitchiness. Honey Sue in particular channels Streetcar’s Blanche Dubois to perfection.

Genevieve Giuffre as Mammy, the long-suffering negro servant who finally finds a voice after 40 years of servitude is brilliant behind a rag doll, using just the right mix of humour and pathos.

Peter Paltos is also impressive as Daisy May’s fiancé Clive O’Donnell, the dashing military man intent on drawing the rest of the family into his web of intrigue.

But the highlight for me was Bessie Holland’s portrayal of Big Daddy, the larger-than-life family patriarch, heartbroken by his perfect daughter’s indiscretions. Holland’s character is like a strange hybrid of Jackie Gleason and Colonel Sanders, combining bellicose self-righteousness and indignation with just the right amount of hypocrisy.

Yes, it’s a drag show, and a hilarious one at that, but SUMMERTIME proved to be much more. There are genuinely moving moments and writer/director Declan Greene has done a superb job in capturing the absurdity of the mores of the times, as viewed in a modern context, through the grossly overstated reactions of his characters, most of whom have almost no moral fibre at all, as it transpires.

The costumes and set decoration also deserve praise, contributing much to the play’s vibrancy within a relatively confined space.

SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN is an invigorating, entertaining romp, and whilst it could have possibly done with a few less plot twists, it still deserves a big thumbs up.The production opened at the SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross on Friday November 22 and runs until Saturday December 14, 2013.



BLACKFISH, a documentary about an orca, or killer whale, that literally becomes a killer, offers a powerful insight into the lives of these majestic creatures and the consequences of what can happen when they are ripped apart from their intricate family structures to provide amusement for humans in theme parks.

Produced by Dogwoof, the same company responsible for Food Inc and The end of the Line, and billed as “a mesmerising psychological thriller, which shows how nature can get revenge on man when pushed to its limits”, BLACKFISH was never going to be easy to watch, and there are plenty of confronting scenes.

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in the US earlier this year to critical acclaim, BLACKFISH tells the story of Tilikum, a performing whale captured as a two-year old who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of three people while in captivity.

It follows his path from capture to placement in various Sea World theme parks, revealing how his treatment ultimately caused the psychosis that led to the attacks on the park’s trainers.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has, through a combination of archival footage and numerous interviews with both whale experts and Sea World trainers, past and present, made a taut and compelling documentary which gives the viewer a vivid insight into the extraordinary nature of these animals, the horror of their captivity and the pressures brought to bear on the trainers in the multibillion-dollar sea park industry, whilst also challenging the viewer to consider our relationship with nature as a whole.

It also reveals just how little was known about orcas and the complexity of their communities when the theme park industry sprung up in the 70s. The footage of ORCA, KILLER WHALE, released at roughly the same time as JAWS, did about as much for the understanding of orcas as JAWS did for sharks. In fact, as one whale expert pointed out, there is actually not one reliable documented case of an orca harming a human in the wild.

But place one in an oversized bathtub 20 metres wide by 30 metres deep when they are used to roaming up to 180 kilometres a day and a case such as Tilikum’s was bound to ensue.

Some of the more challenging footage in the film involved the marks left by Tilikum’s fellow whales which were constantly attacking him, the result of the tiny spaces they were confined in and the fact that they were effectively left in darkness for two thirds of their lives.

And whilst there will be the inevitable comparisons with 1993’s Free Willy, BLACKFISH succeeds by packing a lot of information into a genuinely thought-provoking narrative, viewing the tragedy from a number of angles.

One of these is the often-complex nature of the relationships between the trainers and the whales. The film contains numerous interviews with ex trainers who genuinely believed they had made real and lasting bonds with the whales. Some undoubtedly had, yet the real tragedy of Tilikum’s story is how, with all the best intentions in the world, even the most faithful of handlers were powerless against the unpredictability of wild animals kept in these conditions, borne out by shocking footage of the physical injuries suffered by the males, virtually all of which had collapsed dorsal fins.

For its part, Sea World plays the role of evil, heartless multinational to perfection, with everything from the appalling treatment of the whales to its equally awful treatment of the trainers, to its denial that there was anything amiss in courtroom statements following the tragedies involving the deaths of the trainers.

According to one interview with an ex-trainer, there were at least 70 documented cases of training accidents and mishaps involving Sea World trainers that was never disclosed to him when he accepted his position.

To her credit, Cowperthwaite goes out of her way to debunk the lies spread by Sea World such as the one that killer whales actually live longer in captivity, something which research has shown to be blatantly false.

There is a lot to like about BLACKFISH in the way in which it exposes this industry for what it is. Having said that, it seemed almost a shame that it took these human tragedies, as awful as they were, to bring attention to the shameful exploitation of these highly intelligent, sentient fellow mammals.

As one of the experts interviewed said, in 50 years time people will look back at these theme parks and wonder at their barbarity.

BLACKFISH opens nationally on Thursday November 21. It has received an M rating and has a running time of 79 minutes.


Sylvia Keys stars in Paul Gilchrist's new play CHRISTINA IN THE CUPBOARD
Sylvia Keays stars in Paul Gilchrist’s new play CHRISTINA IN THE CUPBOARD

Writer, director Paul Gilchrist has achieved a lot with his production of CHRISTINA IN THE CUPBOARD, now showing at the TAP Gallery in Darlinghurst.

Described in the program notes as “an experiment in comic magic realism”, the play is primarily effective due to the richness of its dialogue and powerhouse performances by a mainly young and exuberant cast.

Christina (Sylvia Keays) has retreated from the world, locking herself in a cupboard in her bedroom and apparently “withdrawing” from life, in part to do battle with her own “Leviathan”, a shadowy monster of the mind.

This has a profound effect on her family and friends who are all attempting to process the supposed abnormality of her actions, what role they played in her decision and what can and should be done to get her to come back to reality. They then embark on a number of strategies to coax her out of her situation.

Whilst those closest to her seem overly concerned about her well being, Christina herself seems strangely inured to their concerns, seeing nothing overly wrong with her desire to shut herself off, for a time, to disengage as a way of re-engaging with the world. As she says, “there are 7 billion of us out there” and her situation is undoubtedly being repeated elsewhere in the world somewhere.

This was this reviewer’s first trip to the TAP Gallery theatre and its surroundings left me not expecting very much, if the truth be told. Yet having seen plenty of Sydney theatre over the years full of lavish sets and big-name thespians, this show turned out to be a surprise joy on a number of levels and the sparseness of the set meant that all that was left were the words and those delivering them, and neither disappointed.

Keays shines in the lead role, where she is thankfully not confined to a cupboard but is free to roam the stage expressing the complexity of a character much wiser and worldly than her age would suggest.

She is constantly making comparisons with Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed taking the necessary time out to “find” themselves, and as absurd as these comparisons initially seem, they certainly provide the fodder for some of the play’s more amusing exchanges.

Alice Keohavong delivers a passionate performance as little sister Anna, beset with her own issues but needing her sister to be there for her.

Sonya Kerr and Sinead Curry are particularly memorable and provide much of the comic relief as Christina’s “best” friends Erica and Belinda, whose puerile competitive streak and obsession with social media and their number of Facebook “friends” offer a striking metaphor for the banality of the so-called real world, the one in which Christina is trying to escape from.

Helen Tonkin (Gwen) and Peter McAllum (Robert) put in first-rate performances as exasperated parents trying to process the notion that their daughter is in some way abnormal and that they had done something wrong to bring about this situation.

The parental perspective also gives the production a powerful counterpoint to the youthful perspective of the rest of the characters, and they are not afraid to ask some of the tougher questions, both of themselves and the others: are we any wiser just because we’re older? Is parenthood something people enter into out of a sense of obligation, because they are taught that it is the right thing to do, because it satisfies a primordial urge? Do mothers by definition love their children more than their children love them?

McAllum also provides some of the most memorable comedic moments, replying to Christina’s references to God with a very loud “Christ”.

Stephen Wilkinson as Christina’s nervous ex boyfriend Gabriel and Kelly Robinson as the somewhat enigmatic Lucinda are also highly believable.

Aside from the acting, what really makes this production work is the way in which Gilchrist’s dialogue has successfully captured so many aspects of life in a 90-minute timeslot: the struggle for acceptance, what constitutes normality, the need to conform to feel accepted, the struggle against loneliness, what is responsibility and what are the consequences of shirking that responsibility, all of which are explored through a myriad of characters within the confines of one small stage.

The theme of normality is one that underpins the play from the get go and what is particularly interesting is how some of Christina’s soliloquising constitutes some of the most level-headed thinking in the play.

CHRISTINA IN THE CUPBOARD  is a must for serious theatregoers with a sterling cast, some of which may well be household names in the not-too-distant future. As an audience member, I entered a little theatrical cupboard in a gallery basement, and left with a feeling of being part of the grand magic of the theatre as an art form and with the philosophical duty of inquiring about, and answering the questions, of what it means to be human.

Subtlenuance Theatre Company’s production of Paul Gilchrist’s CHRISTINA IN THE CUPBOARD opened at the Tap Gallery on Wednesday November 6 and runs until Sunday November 17, 2013.






















Geoff Sirmai (Max) and Eleanor Ryan (Kristen) light up the stage in a scene from Sean O’Riordan’s APPLES AND PEARS. Pic Ahron Eisman Aeona Photography

English-born writer/director Sean O’Riordan has returned to his London roots with APPLES AND PEARS, his fourteenth play since arriving in Australia.

Combining elements of absurdity and realism, as he puts it in the program notes, O’Riordan has created characters drawn from London’s rich criminal underworld that the viewer can readily relate to, allowing for a compelling, if at times flawed, viewing experience.

A heady combination of regret, revenge, chance and the best-laid plans of crims and their chess sets, the play takes place entirely in a squalid little apartment atop a rickety staircase, occupied by Max, the quintessential London geezer hiding from a crime gone horribly wrong 27 years ago that irrevocably changed his life, and the consequences of which he is still living with. After much soul-searching, he has decided to make peace with the past and come clean to those most affected by that incident. Or has he?

All four characters in APPLES AND PEARS are inextricably linked to each other, yet the cleverness of the writing does not make much of this immediately apparent, especially to the characters themselves, adding layers of intrigue to an otherwise seemingly straightforward narrative.

Geoff Sirmai’s Max is a bit of a slow burner, highly unlikeable initially, he becomes an increasingly sympathetic character, almost to the point of affability. Sirmai certainly captures the absurdity of his situation admirably, particularly in the scene where he makes a full recovery from involuntary dental surgery (courtesy of a pair of pliers), followed by the even more inexplicable enjoyment of a nice hot cup of tea almost immediately after said surgery.

Co-director Deborah Jones adds more than a touch of outlandish silliness to the pivotal role of Judy- wife, mother and betrayed lover with an agenda all of her own, due in no small part to the costume department, while Eleanor Ryan is more than adequate as Kristen, the daughter unwittingly dragged into the plans of her elders.

But it is O’Riordan himself, as Max’s menacing nemesis Les, who steals the show in the second half, wonderfully outfitted in an off pink 70s suit and channelling more than just a little of Ben Kingsley in SEXY BEAST.

This was a highly entertaining romp and, in the end, whilst it might pay not to dwell overly on some of the plot twists and turns, there are more than enough of them to keep the viewer totally enthralled for the entire duration of the play. APPLES AND PEARS is many things, but boring is definitely not one of them, and writer, cast and crew should be justifiably proud of this effort.

APPLES AND PEARS is playing the Old 505 Theatre, Suite 505, 342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills until November 24, 2013.