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Unexpected Delights from the Chorale’s US catalogue


An American Portrait, The Geelong Chorale, conducted by Allister Cox, Wesley Uniting Church May 21, 2017.


This unusual concert for the Chorale was reportedly not to every member’s taste. Some singers were believed to hold the view that our region’s premier choir should stick to its traditional material, drawn from classical and/or sacred musical catalogues.
But for this reviewer - and, I’d hazard, a clear audience majority - this concert was just perfect. Sure, there were some challenging moments, but for the most part, this was a concert of delight.
It took the form of five different groups of well-known American songs, each having their backgrounds explained by the knowledgeable Allister Cox before being delivered with clarity and dexterity by the Chorale.
To this history and music buff, this was concert nirvana. It was entertaining, enlightening, informative - and delivered in the most stylish musical way.

Following a short, humorous intro from Director Cox, ‘we planned this concert a year ago before political events in America overtook us..’ including a well-delivered mock Trump call,  he went on to explain the context of the first group of spirituals, neatly detailing their roots in the deep south’s slavery era. Then the Chorale delivered Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Soon Ah Will Be Done, Deep River and Ain’t Got Time To Die with joy and care if not quite the jubilation of a revivalist meeting.
Then followed a Stephen Foster medley following Allister’s potted biography which noted that the author of so many of America’s landmark tunes died with just 40c in his pocket.  The Chorale, in unfamiliar but effective formation with tenors front and centre, then delivered I Dream Of Jeanie, My Old Kentucky Home and Beautiful Dreamer with sensitive élan.

A folksong section followed, with Shenandoah, The Riddle Song, Long Time Ago and Ching-A-Ring Chaw receiving the concert’s explanation before refined delivery treatment, and then a trio of Art Songs in Samuel Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night, Randall Thompson’s ironic 1940 multi-layered Alleluia and Stephen Paulus’ The Road Home.
Then came a build-up to the concert’s finale in a section titled ‘Medleys from the Shows’.  This preamble told us, among other things, that George Gershwin sought classical training when he was the most successful songwriter in the world and that Judy Garland’s Over The Rainbow was almost cut from The Wizard of Oz as being too slow. Highlights in this section included an amazing number of hit references rolled into the chorale’s Gershwin medley;  Helen Seymour and John Stubbings’ duet in Cole Porter’s Night and Day - and the Chorale’s enthusiastic delivery of the thigh-slapping theme tune for Oklahoma!

The concert’s finale was, almost inevitably, the rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic  - but only after Director Cox had explained just who John Brown was, and why his body mouldered in the grave.  
As always, pianist Kristine Mellens gave the Chorale her fine, unobtrusive support - and I believe that the enthusiastic final applause would have won over even the most sceptical chorister.
For this was a concert of unexpected delights.

Colin Mockett


Project of  power, precision - and multiple performance skills


The Laramie Project directed by Zina Carman for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, May 15, 2017.


Just before the doors opened on this play’s preview night, first-time TTT director Zina Carman announced to the sherry-sipping foyer patrons that the company’s lighting computer had crashed and there would be a short delay while her techs rigged up some temporary lighting.
That delay was some five minutes, and the temporary lighting turned out to be a white stage wash effect that remained unchanged throughout the play. In the event, this perfectly suited the minimalist set, which comprised black drapes, a few mismatched chairs, a hatstand and some assorted-sized palettes overflowing the stage space.
This simple arrangement, coupled with two off-stage screens showing explanatory footage, reduced distractions and gave elements of authenticity to the action. It also allowed the audience’s focus to move among the play’s dozen actors as they took 64 different roles in explaining how a horrific murder in a small American mid-western town blew to national prominence in the late 1990s, changing lives and ultimately, their society.
It made for a huge task of theatrical concentration, and if the actors had been unsettled by that opening delay and changed lighting focus, they certainly didn’t show it. Together, they uniformly presented one of the most disciplined, powerful, integrated performances to have graced our stages for many years. Their multiple character changes, achieved by donning hats and coats then altering stance, attitude and accent was exemplary. It allowed the action to unfold with seamless clarity.  Their disciplined choreography around that compact space was, simply,  faultless.
And the result was a play of compelling power and theatrical purity.
Such was the acting talent involved that this reviewer is nominating eight of the 12 actors for our VO awards  - and there could have been more. The real difficulty was choosing who should be in which category, for ‘best actor’ or ‘best support’ in such a high quality assembly.
However, nominated for Best Actor are Michael Baker, for his astonishing range of skills that brought nine very different, all-believable characters to the stage and Fred Preston for his six parts that ranged from a police sergeant struggling to keep an open mind to an elderly gay farmer resigned to his lot.
The play’s best female actor noms went to TTT first -timer Sindi Renee, whose five different characters were individually different, but uniformly sincere - and the play’s producer, Terry Roseburgh, who took to the stage only after illness had caused another actor’s withdrawal, and whose six characters included the play’s pivotal narrator.
Nominated for best support female were Kathryn O’Neill and Cat Crowe, both new to TTT, both highly experienced elsewhere and each fitting into the play’s format with exemplary acting skills. The best support male actor noms went to Lachie Vivian-Taylor and Glen Barton, each of whose performances could have easily seen them on the best actor list.
Behind those eight outstanding performances were four more of high quality, from Carleen Thoernberg, whose quartet of parts ranged from heroic policeman to sympathetic waitress and Michael Lambkin, who filled three authoritarian parts with assurance; while Dianne  Buttigieg  and Rob Pow took the remaining support parts with studied discipline.
My advice for our region’s playgoers is to find a way to see Torquay’s
Laramie Project - it is powerful, compelling - a piece of outstanding theatre.
And to director Zina - please keep that plain lighting plan. It worked perfectly.
Oh.. and TTT, you might want to keep November 26 date clear..

Colin Mockett


Behind: Behind The Arras is a tangle of intrigues


Behind: Behind The Arras  directed by Ben Mitchell, Georgia Chara for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall, May 14, 2017.


Behind Behind: Behind The Arras’ title is a small family saga.
It’s essentially a warm and friendly exposé of the shenanigans that occur when an amateur theatre company stages a play.
The action, (and audience viewpoint) is reversed, taking place backstage, while some dialogue and movement is delivered behind, out of sight, on the stage.
Written, styled and directed by Ben Mitchell, Behind: Behind The Arras tells the story of a fictional company, the Oldetowne Theatre Troupe (OTT) who are preparing to present a play titled Behind The Arras which is, in fact, a real play written by Ben’s father, Dennis Mitchell, and which opened Geelong Rep’s Woodbin Theatre. 
The original Behind The Arras, which Dennis had written as a Deakin University project, was a sometimes caustic comedy that exposed the backstage wranglings, romances, tiffs  and petty politics of a small amateur theatre company.
But son Ben’s Behind: Behind The Arras, takes a much warmer, more benign view of amateur theatre protocols practices and indiscretions. It’s longer, too. Dad Dennis’ original Arras was a short play presented in a satire double with W S Gilbert’s's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while Ben’s double Behind stands alone as a full length play.
And if all that sounds a little complicated - hold on, because there’s much more to come.
Ben’s Behind Behind pays loving homage to his father’s original, with one character, Barry, listing the original play’s cast and crew, while some of the original colourful R & G costumes, designed by his mother, Elaine Mitchell, were displayed and worn. Plus one of Dennis’ original players, Melissa Musselwhite, appears in the new Ben version as an OTT theatre stalwart, while her daughter Rose plays an unrelated company newcomer. 
And just to add a completely innocent twist, the OTT play’s director, played by the impressive Miriam Wood, is named Rose.
Those preparatory tangles are just the beginning, with the cast encountering and experiencing plenty of plot turns including an actor feud - between over-assertive Michael Leigh and stiff Kris Smythe, some suspected dressing-room petty thievery by the smoothly believable Greg Chadwick, an apparition appearing to the supportive Melissa Musselwhite, an overhearing misunderstanding from an unpunctual Lancastrian Jocelyn Mackay - and a suspected love-triangle between femme fatale Ellie Gardner, innocent Rose Musselwhite and naive Joni Gardner, played out in stop-motion action, twice.
Stir in Ben Crowley’s nervous fastidiousness and mysterious appearances by co-director Georgia Chara as an overall-clad non-speaking  actor and writer Ben himself as a photograph extra and the play’s twists, conundrums and red herrings took on distracting proportions.

But all was brought together with a final neat - and warmly received - reference to the possible apparition being a benign former playwright keeping his affectionate eye on the new proceedings.

Colin Mockett


Moving, thought-provoking look at Australian women’s influence

Pioneers in Petticoats - the women who tamed Australia, Drop Of A Hat Productions. Potato Shed May 9, 2017

In this latest show, Colin Mockett charts how women were integral in moulding the nation from its convict colonial roots to the modern day.  A huge amount of research has informed this production.  Thus, the audience is not only entertained and moved by the plight of Australia's women, but enlightened about social history through women's stories.  The cast comprises four talented women – Shirley Power, Reyna Hudgell, Emma Jones and Maureen Eaton.  Each presents key female characters from the country's evolution from colony to modern independent nation, through song and monologue.  Women's quest for equality parallels this process: women not only 'tamed Australia', but grew in their own journey from complete subservience towards the goal of an equal place in society.  
Songs and personal stories illustrate what could have become a dry monologue.  Colin Mockett, researcher, writer and director, also narrates the show, with his usual warmth and humour.  Photos, illustrations and documents are projected on a large screen throughout.  Eliza Batman's story (portrayed by Maureen Eaton) is chosen to show poor women's servility in 19th century society, and the very limited options they had for self-advancement.  As Eliza Thompson, Eliza was transported to Van Dieman's Land for passing a counterfeit bank note.  After a very chequered time as a convict, she caught the eye of John Batman, who married her after obtaining her pardon.  Batman later went on the settle in the Port Phillip District, where he bought the site of Melbourne for trinkets from the local aborigines. 
Two of the women whose stories are chosen are relevant to the local community – strong women like Caroline Newcomb who, ith Ann Drysdale, rode the sheep's back as graziers on the Bellarine Peninsula on equal terms with a male-dominated squattocracy.  Reyna Hudgell portrays Caroline Newcomb, telling the story of how the two women's holdings at one time stretched from Point Henry to Portarlington, and how they built Coriyule, their mansion build of local stone, which still stands near Drysdale. 
Shirley Power, as Elizabeth Austin, gives a women's perspective on settling in the Winchelsea area, including her husband's introduction of rabbits to Victoria, as game for a visit from the Prince of Wales.  Elizabeth was an altruist, one of whose many deeds was the founding of Melbourne's Austin Hospital. 
Emma Jones had a particularly difficult task – convincingly re-enacting a campaign manifesto by Vida Goldstein, a Portland-born woman who attempted five times to be elected to parliament.  Goldstein's tenets are still relevant today.  As well as equality and suffrage for women, she advocated equal and fair pay, state ownership of public utilities and pacifism.   She was anti-capitalism.  Her tenets were unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials  and charity in all things. 
The songs which punctuate the narrative add emotion to the tale – from the poignancy of The Convict Maid sung with great feeling by Shirley Power; to the nose-thumbing humour of We're a Bunch of Damned Whores; to heart-wrenching despair in Emma Jones anguished singing of Past Carin'; to empowerment  and elation in Helen Reddy's I Am Woman, sung most convincingly by Reyna Hudgell (and chorus).  The production ends on this positive note. 
Shirley Power's sensitive accompaniments, on guitar and keyboard, deserve a special mention. 
This show acknowledges that, despite the huge steps made by women towards equality, there is still a long way yet to go.  This is ironically demonstrated by the fact that Pioneers in Petticoats was both written and narrated by Colin Mockett, the only male. 
One is left with questions to ponder.  How will women influence the Australia of the future?  Will there ever be a time when Australia becomes a truly egalitarian society?  Is it ever possible to strike a fair balance between society's needs and self-interest? 
Pioneers in Petticoats, is entertaining and informative. 
It is also very thought-provoking.
- Helen Lyth

Near-faultless Joseph brings  feel-good fun


Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  directed by Davina Smith for Geelong Lyric, Playhouse Theatre, May 5, 2017.


Geelong Lyric hasn’t had the best run in recent years. The company has been on the brink of financial collapse and experienced presidential/committee upheavals. So it’s really good to see it return to what it does best, producing musical theatre.
And Lyric’s present production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was, almost as a neutraliser to the company’s troubles, a serving of pure musical theatre delight.
It was a near-faultless version of a favourite pedigree musical staged by a big, highly talented all-local cast. They presented a joyful, colourful, happy musical/visual experience liberally peppered with wry sly humour.
So it’s probably good advice to book quickly for the remaining performances; for shows with as much feel-good factor have the rarity of chicken molars.
That’s not an inappropriate metaphor, for this musical’s many surprise fun elements included a singing camel and a disassembling goat. It also included neatly subtle musical and visual references to Les Mis, Fiddler and other rival musicals. 
The production’s quality began with its top-rank backstage talent. That’s director Davina Smith, production designer Lisa Hunter, costume designer Marilyn Clark, choreographer Molly Carter and musical director Bradley Treloar, whose excellent orchestra effortlessly guided the show through unusual musical areas. For this Joseph wandered into the musical realms of hoe-down, calypso, French cellar-song, classic rock and Elvis improv as well as its big Broadway ballads.
On the way, the show looked sumptuous, thanks to Lisa and Marilyn. It moved efficiently, gracefully and smoothly thanks to Molly and Davina. All five are nominated for our 2017 theatre awards.
So, too are lead players Charlie McIntyre and Sally-Anne Cowdell.  Charlie’s Joseph looked like a younger, buffed and even more benign Roger Federer who’d mysteriously gained the ability to sing and dance, while Sally-Anne’s Narrator somehow combined teacher, interpreter and sideline commentator with a sweet elegance and exceptional voice.
Behind these, and driving the show’s fun with wit and fine harmonies were Joseph’s 11 brothers. That’s Andrew Ward, Brendan Rossbotham, Grant Whiteside, Richard Senftleben, Jack McPhail, Brayden O’Hanlon, Nick Addison, Trevor Mee, Michael Blay, Elijah Jacob and Saul Kavenagh.  The first three are nominated, too. Andrew for his brilliant hoe-down parody, Brendan for his delightful calypso and Grant for his Pythonesque imprisoned butler. 
A trio of their wives gained nominations too.  Zoe Prem, for her valiantly thwarted soprano solo,  Charlotte Crowley for her graceful stand-out dance skills and Billie Fletcher, a newcomer with the assurance of a pro. She fitted so well with the other wives, Simone Warnock, Tania Tomaszewski, Gemma Blake, Lauren Nicolls, Ella Ingles, Claire Tilley and Leanne Treloar-Lowne.   But, in truth,  there was quality everywhere in this Joseph. Connor Rawson presented his King as a wonderful Elvis tribute,  Dale Bradford and Zoe Hudgell were slave-owners with secrets and Peter Stickland's  stoic, bewildered Jacob were all portrayed with vibrant energy and sly, dry wit. And behind these was a quality adult ensemble and cute, talented children’s chorus - every one of whom deserved extra applause for the number of fast costume changes, quite apart from their polished stage skills.
So I urge you to go see this Joseph, and assure you that, like the entire opening audience, you’ll love every minute.

Colin Mockett


Savages Of Wirramai - compelling, powerful, intense theatre


The Savages of Wirramai directed by Iris Walshe-Howling for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, April 28, 2017.


The Savages Of Wirramai is a deliberately challenging title.
Wirramai is fictional Australian country area, the Savages a property-owning family who live there in isolation.
Outwardly, there are three of them, a middle-aged daughter looking after her elderly, ailing parents on a property recently turned over to become a wind-farm.
The action takes place over a long weekend when the couple’s other two daughters and favoured grandson return for a reunion based around their parents wedding anniversary on the eve of Anzac Day. This occurs during a sweltering downpour.
Inside this oppressive structure, playwright Sandy Fairthorne created a pressure-cooked family saga of truth and consequences, retribution and repercussions. 
In the hands of director Iris Walshe-Howling, this became a powerful social drama that wasn’t always pretty but was always gripping.
The full-house opening night audience sat in pin-drop silence for much of the play, punctuated by gasps, the odd tension-breaking laugh - and deserved applause at the end, and during short scene changes.
Director Iris presented the play simply on a clever, realistic set in one piece - 100 minutes without an interval - which allowed its tension to build without distraction.
And her faultless acting team tightened the family pressure with a string of outstanding performances.
They unravelled
layers of family trauma, beginning with post-Vietnam War syndrome and including drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, gender discrimination, unreported child abuse, marriage breakdown and blackmail. The initial and concluding wind-farm syndrome was but a slight backdrop to this assembly of familial disorders.
Central to the disharmony was the obnoxious, dominating, controlling Ron Savage, served with cold rage by Philip Besancon in a portrayal of pure pent-up power, and his rebellious, tragic, substance-abusing daughter Cassie, played  by an out-of-control Stacy Carmichael.
Lisa Berry pitched her subdued and submissive wife/mother role perfectly, while elder daughter Kethly Hemsworth’s valiant struggle to keep some element of composure was masterful. As the middle daughter, who suffered a marriage break-down, family rejection and blackmail during a single meal, Amber Connor managed to portray rising incredulity with anger and self-belief while her favoured son, played by Tom Bartle, literally learned a series of home truths on the run.
The Savages Of Wirrama made for powerful, compelling drama.
At times it was unsavoury, at others, confronting. But as a piece of intense theatre it was simply outstanding.

I’m nominating the play, its director an every on-stage performer for awards.
- Colin Mockett


Marie Antoinette stripped to the bones made a compelling show


Tort E Mort - Songs Of Cake And Death presented by Anya Anastasia, The Potato Shed, April 8, 2017.


This one-woman show arrived via the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, among others. There must have been many, many  performances to hone such a slick, skilled presentation.
And although the show centred on the show’s highly visual writer and presenter, Anya Anastasia, this wasn’t a one-woman show. For Anya shared her stage with an excellent percussionist in Bec Matthews, while Joy Sparkes’ wraith-like dresser/assistant contributed occasional vocal harmonies as well as inscrutable glamour.
There was also an uncredited tech assistant operating a host of sound and lighting cues with immaculate timing - adding to the show’s impressive professional gloss.

The show itself was built around Ms Anastasia’s considerable skills.
She wrote both words and music, creating what was essentially a framework to showcase her abilities in a number of areas.
Physically, Anya is tall, willowy and strikingly attractive. She plays keyboard, ukulele and sings with a clear alto-soprano voice covering some three octaves.
She arrived, immaculately dressed as an 18th Century Marie Antoinette, to deliver pointed, witty and outrageous statements and songs on the subjects of cake, Champagne, myths and history, sprinkled with wryly slanted references to Donald Trump’s inauguration, global warming - and much more - during the course of a mesmeric 75 minutes.
At one point she stripped to her underwear while singing a song titled ‘I Don’t Do Burlesque’ involving some athletically elaborate contortions - because her hands didn’t leave her keyboard.

At another point she stood astride a stage-side table dressed as a  skintight red devil extolling the virtues of living in Hell.

You’ll understand by this that although Anya Anastasia may do burlesque, she doesn’t do ordinary.
Her show was packed with surprises, wacky, unconventional and certainly out of left field. At one point she even stripped to her bare bones, courtesy of clever body paint and ultra-violet lighting.
Bec Matthews contributed with a little shadow puppetry inside a bodram to cover an Anya quick change, while Joy became a silent magician’s assistant to accommodate some macabre headless tricks.

The show continued to unfold in a form of almost controlled delirium, somehow managing to blend dark wit with historical whimsy, wacky off-the-wall satire and clever, neatly presented musicality.

Anya Anastasia is smart, sexy and lyrically and musically gifted.
Her language is salty, her humour black and wacky and her presentation brought us a show that was fascinating and compelling - and unlike any seen on our stages for many a while.
All credit to the Potato Shed for continuing to sharpen our theatre’s leading edge with such presentations. More, please…

  1. -Colin Mockett


Northern Lights display our accomplished orchestra


Northern Lights concert from the Geelong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Brett Kelly. Costa Hall, March 31, 2017.


This Northern Lights concert marked another strong step in the growth of  Geelong’s orchestra.
It’s content - emotional, lyrical music chosen from composers born in Russia, the Czech Republic and Finland - was both challenging and reassuring.
The challenge was to recreate the musical colours, moods and patterns describing  northern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries with a recently formed group of mostly young 21st Century passionate Australian musicians.

Mussorgsky, Dvorak and Sibelius wrote their scores for performance by full-time professional musicians with time to ponder and practice distraction-free for weeks, sometimes months beforehand.

In contrast, the Geelong Symphony had but a handful of rehearsals with its guest conductor Brett Kelly, some of them missing players as a result of our hectic comparative lifestyles.

With this in mind, just completing the programme could be considered an achievement for any orchestra.
But to do so with such accomplished ease and skill was impressive - and very reassuring.
Because this Geelong orchestra, launched last year on a wave of warm anticipation, was displaying  an ability to handle a difficult, complex programme outside the expected popular norm.
It thrilled with the opening piece - Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain - with its large, lyrical string section holding musical dialogues with its lusty augmented brass players, all neatly contrasted by lyrical harmonies from the woodwind and delicate gentle elaborations from the flutes.
It then played with tactful, refined restraint to allow the evening’s accomplished guest soloist Michael Dahlenburg to display his passion and skills - he has a glorious abundance of both - in performing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, while the orchestra provided a neat and lovely supporting musical framework from those strings and predominant horns.

Following an interval came the compelling, repetitive patterns of Sibelius’ Symphony No 2 in E minor.
This piece had stirring anthems and challenging rhythms, textures and colours - all inside recurring patterns and all executed with aplomb and no mean skill by an orchestra that appeared to have grown in stature throughout the evening.
It was reassuring, too, to hear the appreciation from an audience of healthy numbers considering the concert’s comparative lack of big-name drawing power.
It will be interesting to see the crowd at the Geelong Symphony’s next Costa Hall showing, in August, when our orchestra performs a couple of big names - Mozart and Beethoven - in a concert titled A Night In Vienna.
This promises to be a concert of rare pride for Geelong - and an event not to be missed.

  1. -Colin Mockett.


Sisters Design a High-Octane Supercharged  Chitty Chitty Musical


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang directed by Sam Heskett & Narelle Bonnici for CenterStage Geelong.  Playhouse Theatre, March 10, 2017.


Sibling co-directors Samantha Heskett and Narelle Bonnici don’t venture into Geelong’s theatre circles often enough. They lend their musical talents most often to the theatre companies around Melbourne’s west in Altona, Williamstown and Werribee.  But when they do grace our stages, it tends to be memorable and appreciated - the sisters have a swag of Geelong awards in their virtual cabinets.   
And following this big, vibrant, colourful and energy-packed production of Ian Fleming’s flim-flam fantasy there’s a strong possibility of more to come.
This show’s pre-publicity made much of its special effects and canine content.
There were two real vintage cars on stage, and, apparently, five dogs.

But in practice - if the opening night experience is any indication - these were the least memorable elements of a production that was bursting with talent, energy - and discipline. And that’s very much down to Sam and Narelle, who had assembled a lead cast with talent in depth, then backed them with an oversized ensemble chorus packed with singing and dancing skills - then coaxed and drilled them all to a vibrant, energetic performance level worthy of professional theatre. 
Because the sisters were not just co-directors, they were the show’s co-choreographers, too.  And they chose to treat Ian Fleming’s lightweight children’s fantasy as a high-octane supercharged pantomime, with a cast of righteous heroes and comedy villains. It’s a treatment that was just spot on.

Their lead players, Mark Monroe and Rachel Allen were new to Geelong audiences; he being an international trouper, she an experienced singer making her  theatre debut. They took the film parts played by Dick Van Dyke and Sally Anne Howes and made them their own. He with an impressive range of  singing/dancing/acting/clowning skills, she with a stage sweetness and beautiful, true singing voice. But behind these leads was a supporting cast of equally high standard.  David Mackay’s tantrum-prone Baron and his manipulating child-hating wife Michele Marcu were comedy gems, as were the show’s droll pantomime villains, Patt Ryan and Tim Maloney.  Child leads Sophia Grant and Kempton Maloney were gratifyingly wholesome. Lachy Turner added his perfectly quirky grandfather - and all of the above sang their big numbers faultlessly backed by the show’s excellent 13-piece live orchestra. This was conducted by Daniel Heskett, and if the name appears familiar, he’s husband to co-director Sam.
The Heskett/Bonnici family involvement didn’t end there - they had a couple of children in that high-energy ensemble, which, itself, had familial connections throughout. This Chittty Chitty was a true family show. And those support and ensemble actors all deserve a mention for their parts in such a well-presented, disciplined piece of energy-packed, happy musical theatre.  So take a bow, support actors, Mitchell Walters, Trent Inturrisi and Chris Anderson. Adult ensemble, Alicia O'Bree, Amy Curtis, Anna Flint, Ariane Gavin, Ben Krahe, Cassidy McFadden, Charlie Scanlon, Cheryl Campbell, Connor Moloney, Daim Hill, Damian Caruso, Gemma Eastwood, Isabella Moloney, Jacinta Van Etten, Jasmin Wilson, Jasmine Harvey, Jo Jarwood, Katie Loxston,  Michael Hawthorn, Nicola Gibson, Shenae Zanardo, Tracey McKeague, Will Johnston and  Xavier Curtis: Children's ensemble, Charlotte Piec and Alex Conroy (understudies to Sophia and Kempton) along with Ashton Bryan, Ava Shaw, Benjamin Belsey,  Claire Brodie, Cooper McKee-Young, Ebony Plowman, Eloise Wingrave, Elyssa Jeffreys, Emma Bradley, Genevieve Mackay, Guy Wingrave, Harry Scanlon, Jake Birley, Jema Hely, Lana Karlusic, Lauchlan Maloney,  Matilda Jarvis, Melody Campbell-Gordon, Milla Best, Mitchell Bonnici, Monty Henderson, Olive Pobjoy, Rosie Jarwood, Ruby Dillon, Tejana Symons-Heskett, Tess McBurney, Tilly Lewis, Trinity Marrell-Seach, Winter Jarwood and Zara Howell.
This show wasn’t perfect, it suffered from a couple of opening-night sound glitches, but these were swiftly corrected and overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm, skills and energy involved. And the professional production standards, too, for this Chitty Chitty was impressively costumed and gloriously be-wigged.
If I have one criticism.. Surely, with the technical expertise available to CenterStage, they could find a way to pipe the dry-ice stage smoke to appear from underneath the flying car, rather than billowing in from either side to rise over the vehicle and obscuring its singing passengers?

But that’s enough. Go see this impressive, big, happy, professional-standard musical. You’ll love it for what it is - a true family show.
How could it have been otherwise? It’s a sister act...
— Colin Mockett.


Fascinating, Uplifting, Heartwarming - Marvellous Deakin!


Marvellous Deakin: The Man Who Dreamed Australia.
Colin Mockett and Shirley Power for Drop of a Hat Productions. Morning Showtime at the Potato Shed, March 7, 2017.


Oh yes, Deakin…..he was a Prime Minister, wasn’t he? Way back. First name was Alfred, I think! Can’t remember much else. Ah, there’s a university called after him.

I don’t know if comments such as this were aired by Potato Shed patrons, but I suspect that for some in the audience, myself included, it may have represented something close to the sum total of their knowledge of Alfred Deakin.
However, for those of us lucky enough to be there, the life and times of this truly remarkable man were brought to life during the course of a delightfully informative and musical morning with historian and raconteur Colin and musician, Shirley.
I know the audience related strongly to both Deakin the man and Deakin the politician by their audible, empathic  responses to facts such as his giving back, on his return to Australia, almost half of a thousand pounds given to him to attend a meeting in London!

The story of Alfred Deakin (1856-1919) can be described as fascinating, uplifting, heartwarming and given the measure of his political success, totally awe-inspiring.
Between living as a 2 year old with his elder sister in a girl’s boarding school in Kyneton and dying at age 63 with dementia in Point Lonsdale, Deakin’s life highlighted the qualities of intelligence, integrity, decency, resilience and an ability to commit for the long term to an idea, indeed an ideal, the federation of Australian States.

Colin amassed a large number of photographs of Alfred as a young child,  a Melbourne University student, a fledgling Victorian politician and a mature internationally admired statesman to the final poignant picture in his last years at his home in Point Lonsdale. These photographs and the choice of music helped make Deakin 'real'.

Shirley played music that Alfred and his wife Pattie called ‘their’ song (Soft As The Stars that Are Shining by Puccini) and their favourites such as Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms and I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.
The musical tone from the keyboard captured what I might have expected to hear in the drawing room of a cultured Victorian home in the last few decades of the nineteenth century. I thought it clever to insert several American popular songs to capture the mood of the time such as Deakin’s return to Australia after successfully negotiating Australian Statehood with British politicians with When Johnny Comes Marching Home
And to end with Stephen Foster’s classic Beautiful Dreamer captured the poignancy of a life well lived.

And for those not fortunate to have been at the Potato Shed, here is your crash course in the history of Alfred Deakin: three time Prime Minister of Australia and the man voted by a body of academics in the 1960s as Australia’s best PM. Although not a member of the Labour Party (that's right not Labor until 1912) his social sympathies lay strongly with the working class. His scrupulous honesty were major factors in his popularity. And last but not least he was one of the driving forces towards Australian federalism.

Thank you, Alfred Deakin -

..and Colin and Shirley.
— Bryan Eaton.


Bittersweet, laughter-filled, insightful, triumphant Quartet

Quartet, directed by Geoff Gaskill for Geelong Repertory Theatre Company.  Woodbin Theatre, February 2, 2017


This was the production where everything came together perfectly. The combination of a fine script with a meticulous, pernickety  director, a highly talented cast sympathetic to the writer’s motives; a clever, colourful all-purpose set and even the Woodbin’s compact size worked towards this play’s success.
Small wonder this first play of the company’s
2017 season earned that rarest of accolades, a Woodbin encore.
Even this seemed highly suitable, given the play’s subject matter was, vaguely,  opera.
Ronald Harwood’s Quartet is set in an English retirement home which attracts elderly opera singers and musicians.
It focuses on four former lead performers who had been invited to recreate one of their former triumphs as part of a forthcoming celebration of Verdi’s anniversary.
The pressure and tensions of this invitation, on top of their individual eccentricities of ageing gives Quartet its whimsical, charming framework.

But then Rep’s team built on that framework to produce a triumph of theatrical delights as bittersweet as marmalade.
This Quartet was funnier than most comedies, drawing loud and long laughter that sometimes overlapped the dialogue.
It was more insightful than many dramas, drawing occasional gasps from its enthralled audience.
And it was beautifully, delightfully joyfully acted - resulting in that sincere ovation when sustained applause drew the four surprised actors back to take several extra bows.
Much of the play’s success was down to director Geoff Gaskill, who built the team, designed the production and drilled his actors to his high standards of thespian perfection. This included his curved multicoloured all-purpose set and non-intrusive backstage crew.
The four actors moved all props themselves, even changing costumes and donning make-up on stage to create a seamless, uninterrupted flow.  Even the play’s sound and lighting cues were timed to perfection - most especially the lunch break pips - adding to the production’s whimsical comedy. This was further enhanced by the Woodbin’s compact size, which essentially put the cast and audience in the same rooms together, allowing close -up views of all those eccentricities.

These began with Tony Wright’s beautifully portrayed randy, dirty-talking but cheerfully incapable baritone, who lusted ineffectually after Majella O’Connor’s happily vague, ever-so-slightly lost contralto.
Both were masterly underplayed, which neatly contrasted the intensity of Bryan Eaton’s artistic cerebral tenor who was prone to passionate foul-mouthed meltdowns when triggered by a jam-bearing nurse, and further unsettled by the arrival of his former wife. This was a self-obsessed faded diva portrayed by Claudia Clarke.
This quartet worked brilliantly together in uncovering hidden and long-buried secrets that they made Rep’s Quartet memorable  - and unmissable.

Go see it while there are tickets. You won’t regret a moment.

— Colin Mockett


What a Wicked taste of talent


Wicked, directed by Alister Smith for Footlight Productions.  Playhouse Theatre, GPAC, January 27, 2017


This production was promoted as ‘a fantasy that covers the untold stories of the witches from the Wizard Of Oz’.  But it was much, much more than that.
Wicked’s opening scene is set at the end of the Wizard of Oz, with the announcement by good witch Galinda of the death by melting of her rival, the wicked witch  Elphaba.
“But weren’t you once friends?” asked a reporter, thereby sparking a series of flashbacks to a period long before the Dorothy/Oz film, that covered, explored and re-explained its entire story.
This brilliant concept allowed the Wicked writers, Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz, to include threads that parallel many of our own political and human shortcomings, from the effects of familial influence to hatred based on skin colour - right through to the egotism of political leaders and their manipulation of  ‘news’ to control public opinion.
Sharp resonance here to the current regime change in Washington, with its depiction of ‘truth’ as a flexible concept.

But all these deep and meaningful messages were packaged into the many layers of a big, bright, brash musical set to a score of rock-anthem songs and aimed at a family audience.
The really Wicked thing about this show was that it made only passing references to The Wizard Of Oz, yet cleverly disassembled and re-told its story in a much more palatable form with a charm and pizazz of its own.
And none of the above would have come out were it not for Footlight’s ability to create such a slick, stylish, professional-standard musical in Geelong. For this Wicked’s casting was excellent, with not one mismatched character. Its starkly simple set allowed the action to flow over two levels and occasionally soar above them - after all, it was about witches - while in the pit, John Shawcross’s faultless three-keyboard, percussion-heavy orchestra drove the show with rocky verve.
Director/choreographer Alister Smith’s subtle style ensured the Wicked messages came across with smooth clarity, while vocal director Anna Lee-Robertson brought a flawless performance from a really skilled on-stage team. 
This was led by witches
Morgan Heynes and Sophie Collins, the former green, put-upon and defiant, the latter blonde, shallow and  privileged - both displaying brilliant voices and superb acting skills. This pair was exploited, attracted to, or used by Hayley Wood’s manipulative tutor; Josh McGuane’s handsome playboy/hero; Georgia Nicholls’ pathetic schemer;  Andrew Doyle’s well-meaning dupe; Vaughn Rae’s doomed animal master  and Lochlan Erard’s spellbound primate - while Jamie McGuane Trumped them all with a cameo Wizard who was masterful in his duplicity.
Supporting, linking and enhancing this team was an ensemble of monkeys, Munchkins and Ozians so adept that they’re nominated for a Virtual Oscar in their own right.
That’s  Ashley Boyd, Cassie Chappell, Kelsey Dunlop ,Tara Dunstan, Liam Erck, Perri Espinoza, Nicole Kaminski, David Keele, Josh McInnes, Charlie McIntyre, Rebecca Newman,  India Ney, Aashlea Oakes, Amanda Paris,  Hannah Pohlenz, Casey Reid, Dom Roussety, Liam Ryder, Tyler Stevens, Anthea Tsatsaronis, David Van Etten, Greg Shawcross, Callum Smith, Christie Walter and Melissa Warren.
That’s just one of ten nominations this Wicked show has earned.
Together, the above group, with another score or more of backstage helpers has brought to Geelong a Wicked musical of outstanding quality. 
Go see it. You’ll be blown away - at one point almost literally.
— Colin Mockett


Camp Musical Thrills On A Chilling Date

Geelong Summer Music Camp 2017 end of camp concert, Costa Hall, Jan 13, 2017


There was a big turnout in the Costa Hall despite - or perhaps because of - this being a concert held on Friday the 13th.

And predictably, the organisers had selected music within creepy ghoulish themes to suit the date.
Not that this was really appreciated by the audience of mainly mums, dads, siblings and grandparents. Nor, really, did it resonate with the 240 young musicians on stage, who were each concentrating on performing at their best the music and lessons they had learned during the last week.
That’s one of the many delights about this, Geelong’s first, biggest and must uplifting of concerts.
To those few of us unrelated to the performers, this concert combined an appreciation of that palpable concentration with an awe that so much good music and discipline could be learned in such a relatively short time - not to mention the amount of organisation needed to stage such a large concert.
There were 237 students involved, aged from 9 to 20, along with 30 tutors and six conductors, playing in seven ensembles from a choir to a full symphony orchestra - and finishing with a spectacular all-on-stage finale.

The evening began with the Dave Jeffrey Swing Band under the control of Ari Farrer. He was a wafer-thin young conductor flowing to every musical movement. They were a large, sax-heavy wind unit producing crisp, polished versions of The Opener, Codename Istambul Angel and the cool modern-jazz flavoured Little Beau Cool.
Then, following the first of a series of disciplined changeovers, it was a complete change of scene and pace as the Fiona Gardner Concert Band took over. They’re the younger, newer campers, whose conductor, Sean Rankin, following a dramatic arrival in dark cape and horned helmet, elicited neatly skilful versions of Through Darkened Sleepy Hollow and three classical references drawn from Walt Disney’s Fantasia
Then the tiny Heather Tetaz Strings players and their conductor Martin DeMarte surprised  and delighted with highly capable performances of three creepily titled but familiar numbers, The Addams Family theme, Caulderon and Skyhooks’ rocky Horror Movie.
Ingrid Martin, in charge of the senior Harry Hood Concert Band  set her young charges several challenges with a complex trio the city-noise flavoured Metroplex, Storm & Urge and Galloping Ghosts all of which were presented with adroit skills.
Then came the Eileen Martin Singers - 33 mostly female voices bubbling with energy and fun under Tania Spence’s fluid control. They presented Grim Grinning Ghosts, Seize The Day, Pure Imagination and the obligatory Zulu chant Aya Ngena  with flair and élan. I’m not sure what Tania looks like from the front, but from the back she was mesmerising, flowing with every note and using her very fingertips to extract a delightful performance from her young choir. 
The evening’s skill levels built with two large senior groups, the Wendy Galloway Strings and Malcolm John Symphony Orchestra, both under the sure control of Kevin Cameron, and both achieving fine standards. Their repertoire, too, was heavily film theme oriented, with the strings playing River Song, the Theme from Schindler’s List and two strands from Henry V while the Symphony played Funeral March of a Marionette - more  familiar as the jaunty, lugubrious theme from Alfred Hitchcock’s TV series.
The big all-on-stage mass final number was an exclusive, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, arranged specially for the concert by Kym Dillon. It demonstrated once again the versatility, discipline - and fun - engendered during the camp. That came too from compere - and former camper - Stephen Horman’s cheerful and informative linking patter. All in all, it made for yet another memorable GSMC concert.

Colin Mockett



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