Sunday, May 19, 2024

From the archives: SUN RISING - The Songs That Made Memphis (Jun 2015)


Space Theatre, Thu 11 Jun

Sun records holds a prestigious place in the history of early American pop music, and the Sun Rising Band have put together a selection of mostly well-known hits recorded at the Memphis Recording Studios in the 1950s. I, and many in the audience I imagine, have read the story many times, heard all the songs, and watched documentaries of this period, But seeing it recreated live on stage was much more engaging and a great way to relive those exciting times.

Sam Phillips was the main man behind Sun Records and is credited with launching the careers of many musical luminaries – among them Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. Front man David Cosma narrated the stories behind the songs, and in an accidental touch of authenticity, plays a right handed guitar upside down (Some early blues players apparently did this because they didn’t know any better. I don’t know what David’s excuse is!).

Photos of all the early Sun recording stars were displayed on a screen behind the excellent band as they played their songs. Damon Smith on piano is a blues/boogie virtuoso, and Trent McKenzie is a treat to watch plucking away on his double bass. Local singer Cookie Baker provided an infectious cameo appearance to represent the female Sun stars.

Musically this show couldn’t be faulted. The band transformed relatively simple pieces of blues, pop and rock and roll into musical showcases. I wondered if the Sun singers back then had musicians of this calibre.

Towards the end the narrative was let slip and we didn’t get to hear what happened to Sam Phillips and Sun records in the long run and that was a shame. But by then most of the audience was too busy enjoying the music to notice – at least half the audience rose for a standing ovation at the close of a really enjoyable reliving of the roots of pop music.

Thursday, April 04, 2024



Holden St Theatres
Wed 4 April 2024

A conversation with someone who sexually abused you when you were 12 years old is never going to be easy. Blackbird is a tense exploration of a past relationship between 40 year old Ray, and a 12 year old girl, Una.

Una is now 27 and she drops in unannounced on her abuser at his workplace. He’s shocked. And angry. Initially he just wants her out of there. But she will not go quietly. She is also sitting on a volcano of anger and frustration.

It’s not quite clear why she goes back there. She wants to know the truth certainly. She wants him to feel her pain. And slowly he starts to listen. Together they relive happy and traumatic events. There’s still a spark of some fatal attraction that neither of them quite know what to do with.

Was this just a case of sexual abuse or was there some real affection between them back then? Can they resolve the lingering feelings of guilt that apparently haunt them both?

Blackbird is not always easy to watch.  Dialogue frequently spirals into angry shouting matches that display raw emotion stronger than any words can express. You want them to resolve things – they do seem to care about each other deep down under the toxic mess that their relationship created.

This is not your typical presentation of a dominant older male screwing with the life of a young girl. It does appear to be more nuanced than that.  And we’re kept guessing till its surprising conclusion.

Marc Clement and Monika Lapka do a really good job of balancing Ray and Una’s fear and hatred of each other with their apparent desire to reconcile. Apparent because nothing in Blackbird is quite what it seems. The two major roles are quite demanding, and require moving along an emotional spectrum that is extreme, potentially violent, potentially loving, and then trying to make it all seem credible. In this they largely succeed.

What is abundantly clear is that relationships based on uneven power relationships have dire, long term consequences. This brave production deserves a wide audience.

Presented by Solus Productions
Directed by Tony Knight

This review also published on The Clothesline.



Tuesday, April 02, 2024

The Children - State Theatre Company - Review

 FEB 9 2024

In 2011 a nuclear power plant in Fukushima caused a radiation scare when its reactors were destroyed as a result of an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. British playwright Lucy Kirkwood has created a similar scenario in a small English town for her 2016 play, The Children.

Despite the background drama The Children gets off to a very low-key start with a commanding looking Tina Bursill standing in a kitchen that is obviously not her own. She plays the part of Rose, and she has let herself into the house of old acquaintances, Hazel (Genevieve Mooy) and Rob (Terence Crawford).

Things are a little tetchy between Hazel and Rose – they are clearly not great friends. When Rob appears a little later we find out why. On the surface The Children just seems to be about renewing social connections after decades apart. Sure there is talk of ‘an exclusion zone’, contaminated water, and intermittent power supply but these aspects of life are just woven into everyday conversations with little drama. It almost seems that life is pretty much normal. Perhaps the point here is the frog in boiling water principle: that people can get used to anything.

In any event Rose has returned with a grander plan. She is looking for older recruits to shoulder more responsibility and enable younger people to leave the area for a chance at a longer, healthier life away from a nuclear contaminated region.

This implausible course of action only has value if seen as allegorical. It would seem that Kirkwood is suggesting that it is incumbent upon older generations who have overseen the gradual destruction of much of the natural world to make amends before they exit the planet. They have a moral responsibility to bear the brunt of the damage and put themselves on the front line of the battle. Rose and Rob seem willing, but Hazel’s not so sure: “I come from a line of long-living women!”

The Children is effortlessly played by three veterans of stage and film, and as expected all three are totally convincing in their respective roles. Dialogue is crisp and witty, and dance and yoga scenes towards the end add visual clues about the complexity of their relationships.

The Children is an intriguing night out. It’s entertaining, and poses big questions without being didactic or too depressing. Quite charming really.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Paulina Lenoir: Puella Eterna


Paulina Lenoir: Puella Eterna

The Yurt at the Courtyard of Curiosities at the Migration Museum, Tue 12 Mar

Paulina Lenoir was busy preening herself in front of a mirror as the audience filed in. We were able to take in her extensive wardrobe and props collection draped around the stage and allow the music to get us in the mood for Puella Eterna – the Eternal Girl. All of this was brought to an abrupt halt by a welcome to country. It was an intrusion into an artistic process, the building of relationship between audience and performer, that was already underway.

Fortunately, it didn’t seem to bother Lenoir. She moved seemlessly into her strangely bewitching style and announces that she has big plans for the universe tonight! An endless striptease has the audience laughing along. Then, in a madcap slightly deranged way we travel her whole life with her.

She introduces her baby-self as a puppet – “I did not choose to be born” and requires audience assistance to communicate and eat in some classic slapstick. She progresses to the toddler stage and manages to move around and talk with more of the audience on her knees in quite endearing fashion. She soon grows up – quite literally!! But it’s a rapid ride and menopause is soon upon her and is the occasion of some of the strangest dance moves you’ll ever see!

She has many ploys for engaging the audience in her brief life – many in the audience get real roses – and she regularly checks in with her timekeeper to make sure she has enough time to get to the end of her life and die before the show’s over!! But it doesn’t quite end there ….

Lenoir’s clown is disarmingly ingenuous, and likes to appear as if she’s a bit of a duffer but one has this sneaking feeling that behind that innocent smile she is having the last laugh. But you’re not sure why. Or even if it’s true!

But therein lies the joy and mystery of it all. On the outside you’ll be smiling and laughing throughout; on the inside you may be asking questions that have no answers!

This review also posted on The Clothesline.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Irish Concert Songs Of Luke Kelly And The Dubliners With Dave Clark: A Lovely Way To Spend An Afternoon


Singing Gazebo Clarendon, Sun 23 Feb, 2020

One of the nicest places to play and listen to live music in South Australia in recent years was The Singing Gallery in McLaren Vale. It was an enchanting place to be for both musicians and audiences. The people behind this delightful place, Dave Clark and Kate Townsend, have moved on and created a scaled down version at The Singing Gazebo in Clarendon, and it has a similar welcoming charm.

Irish Concert Songs Of Luke Kelly And The Dubliners is a cross between a Celtic session at the local pub and a concert. Dave Clarke led us through songs that mostly everyone knew and we heartily sang along to the choruses of well-worn classics like The Wild RoverDirty Old TownWhisky In The Jar, and Black Velvet Band. And likewise on a couple of Dave Clark originals – he was clearly playing among friends! He was accompanied by Kate on ukulele, piano, accordion and concertina, and Dave himself switched between guitar, bodhran, and banjo.

Special guest Jack Brennan provided delicious instrumental textures with Irish flute and the evocative Uilleann pipes, and added a couple of endearing stories to the afternoon’s narrative. Acoustic bass and fiddle completed the musical line-up.

Kate’s version of A Song For Ireland was a special moment – beautifully sung.

This was a remarkable event on several levels – it’s remarkable that there are so many people, Irish or not, dedicated to the singing and preserving of these folk classics; remarkable that Dave and Kate have managed to recreate another live music venue with the same spirit and warmth as The Singing Gallery; remarkable that they served every member of the 50 strong audience a free piece of cake (with cream)! Remarkable, too, that there is an implicit understanding between players and audience that such events are group efforts. This was not a performance as much as a celebration of community and the radiant joy of sharing songs in good company.

This is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

This review also published on The Clothesline.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

A Centennial Story of the Chinese Fiddle


Pilgrim Uniting Church, Sun 3 Mar.

That different cultures across the world have found their own solutions to life’s matters is a fascinating aspect of humanity. Cultures develop distinct ways of dressing, different foods, types of housing, and music. The sitar is the unmistakable sound of India; the Middle East gave us the oud. When you hear that haunting melancholy tone of the erhu you recognise it immediately as Chinese. The erhu is a two-stringed bowed instrument that has a small sound box at its base that is covered with python skin. And according to Wikipedia “its characteristic sound is produced through the vibration of the python skin by bowing.”

Silk Strings are an Adelaide based group of Chinese musicians whose mission is in part to make the music known as huquin more accessible.  The erhu, or Chinese fiddle – its central instrument – has been around for centuries. A Centennial Story of the Chinese Fiddle is designed to showcase the music of the erhu from the last one hundred years.

The program delivered nine pieces in chronological order as either solo pieces, or duets with erhu and piano in the beautiful Pilgrim Uniting Church. There’s something delicious about hearing traditional Chinese music in a Christian church. The atmosphere and acoustics are perfect for this kind of performance.

The earliest piece was from 1928, and like so much of Chinese nomenclature, it has one of those poetic titles intended to impart a lesson before a note is played – Birds Singing in a Desolate Mountain. A gorgeous folk song from China’s north-east was entitled The Crescent Moon at Three in the MorningGalloping Battle Steeds sounded as it suggests. The sounds of galloping horses is a recurring motif in music from northern China and Mongolia, and is mimicked by interesting bowing techniques.

The final three pieces were more recent arrangements for erhu and piano involving some quite intense collaboration. One was an interpretation of a gypsy tune by a Spanish composer. The final two pieces in a more modern vein had the erhu sounding more like a violin, and therefore less Chinese.

It’s understandable that musicians would want to stretch themselves and branch out into fusion or more modern forms of their genre, but it may be at the cost of losing that distinctive sound that made older forms of the genre instantly recognisable, and perhaps revered.

Beautiful music exquisitely played in a near perfect setting.

This review also published on The Clothesline.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Sounds of the Hazara - Adelaide Fringe Music Review


Nexus Arts Venue, Sat 25 Feb, 2024.

The Hazara are one of the many ethnic groups that make up the population of Afghanistan. They in particular have been subject to harassment and violence since the return to power of the Taliban. There are approximately 40000 Hazara now living in Australia.

As Keith Preston told us in his introduction the Adelaide Fringe is slowly but surely becoming more representative of the diverse cultural make-up of our society – due in part it must be said, to the tireless efforts of people like Keith who strive to make it happen.

And so we gather at Nexus Arts to enjoy Hazara folks songs led by the humble, gracious Feroz Ansari on vocals and harmonium. Ansari is supported by fellow countryman Mehran Yawary on keyboards and electronic percussion,  well-known Adelaide musician Quentin Ayers on dobro and guitar, and Preston on santoor and bouzouki. It was a line-up that worked really well in the end. There were some issues with instrument balance earlier in the show where the harmonium and vocals were being dominated by the keyboard and percussion. The program does refer to ‘fusion styles’ – and it’s always a challenge to get the blend of traditional and modern instruments in the right balance. Once this was sorted the music quite rocked!

Most songs followed a similar pattern with a quieter vocal intro with harmonium, with other instruments joining in once the song was established. Some of the programmed percussion arrangements were wonderful – complex and catchy. Ansari’s vocals were right on the money – melodic and plaintive with that lovely central Asian/Middle Eastern style of vocal where the singer slides into and across notes that the Western pentatonic scale doesn’t feature. There were some lovely instrumental moments from Preston on santoor, and Ayers on guitars.

Ansari mentioned that the poetry of the original songs was very difficult to translate into English but it seemed that one way or another all the songs were about love.

It is sadly ironic that Australian audiences are now fortunate to have ethnic musicians of this calibre living amongst us who can participate in such events and enrich our cultural life. A really enjoyable performance of music from another world.

This review also published on The Clothesline.

Silly Little Things - Theatre Review

Star Theatre Two at Star Theatres, Fri 23 Feb, 2024.

Laura Knaggs has written a delightful story, and tells it beautifully. She plays the part of Rosie, a young woman who is finally free of an oppressive long term relationship and desperate to celebrate her freedom;  start a new more exciting life. But it turns out she’s not that good at making decisions on her own. Her best friend is dealing with her own problems, her nosy neighbour keeps making life difficult, good men are hard to find, and her flower shop is going under. And the last thing she wants to do is give in and go back to her mother for help. Perhaps a few more shots of tequila will fix things? They don’t.

Rosie takes us all along this frustrating, entertaining ride with mostly good humour, sporadic misplaced optimism, and an honest vulnerability. She’s pretty hyper early on and it’s as if her speedy enthusiasm is plunging her into train wreck territory. But luckily for Rosie a near disaster opens her eyes just enough to help her see the good that’s right in front of her.

She still has that lovely bouncy personality but it’s not so manic now. She’s calmed down and has become a much nicer, smarter person.

So there is a moral to the story if you’re looking for one. Or you could just sit back and enjoy Knagg’s charming manner, the tightly scripted narrative, her impressive range of acting skills, and great sense of comedy. She’s a natural, and is clearly very much at home on the stage.

One small peeve – I think the title of this show belittles it. There’s a lot more going on here than Silly Little Things, but I guess that’s how Rosie may have seen things at the time.

This review also published on The Clothesline.

From the archives: SUN RISING - The Songs That Made Memphis (Jun 2015)

  Space Theatre, Thu 11 Jun Sun records holds a prestigious place in the history of early American pop music, and the Sun Rising Band have p...