Salon Soiree featuring Lisa Breen, Kym Alexandra Dillon and Allister Cox. House concert in Highton, Saturday May 27, 2023.

 There was a number of deeply personal reasons to stage this concert for its producer and principal singer, Lisa Breen.
It was a celebration that she had endured – and left behind – health and personal problems.
It was an opportunity to get together and make music with friends and colleagues to celebrate moving into a new home which had space for a ¾ Grand Piano.
The only problem was that the piano is housed in a sun-filled room where the light was likely to fade its finish. So Lisa had commissioned  textile artist Sue Rawkins to stitch a bespoke fabric protector which this concert gave an opportunity to unveil.
But probably most importantly, this concert was a collection of favourite works her parents had loved to hear her sing.
Put that all together and this was an afternoon soiree of joy, emotion – a few tears – and of fine music.
We audience were seated on plush chairs, borrowed from the studio of friend Elaine Mitchell,  in the home’s dining space looking toward the sun-room. There, Kym sat at the piano, fronted by Lisa and Allister. All were without amplification. It wasn’t needed, for the house acoustics were fine.
Their opening work was an unusual – and exquisite – Ave Maria by Cherubin, which was suitably followed by  Paer’s Beatus Vir  – Psalm 112 put to a tune for voice, clarinet and piano.
Then Lisa left, for Allister and Kym to deliver Donizetti’s Clarinet Concertino  the background story of which Allister explained in his introduction while cleaning moisture from his instrument. Then came a dual surprise, a delightful slice of opera when Lisa brought in her sister, Sue, and the pair delivered the Letter Duet from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with delightful harmonies.
Then it was Kym’s solo time, when she delivered three short pieces, the first two, House and Home she had written to a commission, before adding Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte all three delivered with her trademark accuracy, precision and sensitivity. Dead princesses rarely have sounded so good.
Then Lisa and Sue returned to present a moving version of the well-known and much loved Delibes’ Flower Duet from Lakme. This was followed by Schubert’s Shepherd On The Rock , which Lisa explained hd been a particular favourite of her father, before Sue returned for the soprano sisters to deliver, as an encore, another of their parent’s favourites, the Irish classic Danny Boy. 
This was when the emotions broke. Sue wept mid-note and Lisa took on her stanza before the siblings finished together – with we audience now moist-eyed.
Following this poignant moment, Sue Rawkins brought in her piano cover, beautifully bedecked with fairies and musical images as requested by Lisa to  arrange  on the piano for the very first time.
This was, she explained, her own piece of operatic drama in that she wasn’t even sure if it would fit. It did.
The home’s layout meant that to properly view the work, we audience needed to leave our seats to walk around the piano to the kitchen, which was magically transformed to become a cocktail bar serving a complimentary Champagne cocktail named, of course, Shepherd On The Rocks.
Together, this all made for an enjoyable afternoon slice of fine music, delivered beautifully and with an unexpected serve of drama!
– Colin Mockett

Music For Royal Occasions sung by The Geelong Chorale, conducted by Allister Cox. All Saints Church, Noble St, Newtown. May 6, 2023.
It might have been seen as a bold move byGeelong’s senior choir to schedule this concert on Coronation Day – the biggest Royal occasion.
It could have contributed to a day of regal overload, but in the event our television companies did this by each providing identical coverage – while this Chorale concert allowed us a preview of what was to provide the best part of the coronation ceremony itself – the music.
Not that this church concert was all crowning anthems and fanfares; for in selecting his material, the Chorale’s musical director and conductor, Allister Cox, had widened the choice to include music written for Royal weddings, funerals and other occasions. But it was coronations that provided the majority – and the most stirring – of the afternoon’s songs.
The concert began with Hubert Parry’s I Was Glad, a rousing intro which backed the choir with strident organ chords played by Ken George with all the stops out.
This was followed and contrasted by William Child’s O Lord Grant The King a Long Life, a gentle, pretty tune with Ken joining the Chorale to sing it a capella.
Then followed a different element again, as piano accompanist Kristine Mellens joined for Samual Sebastian Wesley’s Thou Wilt Keep Him In Perfect Peace. As always with Chorale concerts, Allister provided short helpful commentaries to explain the works and illustrate their purposes. Thus we were told of William H Harris’s Holy is the True Light, then the respectful funeral rites of Henry Purcell’s short trio of Funeral Sentences, Man That Is Born Of Woman and Thou Knows, Lord.  Keeping to the theme came Edward Elgar’s They are at Rest, before Johannes Brahms’ lyrical How Lovely is Thy Dwelling. Then the Chorale’s bass singers quietly retreated to the very back of the church to provide a moving deep drone to back John Tavener’s lovely Song For Athene which was followed by a song chosen for the funeral of Elizabeth II James MacMillan’s Who Shall Separate Us? sung in eight-part harmony.
This led to a song for a very different occasion, John Rutter’s This Is The Day was previously sung at the wedding of William, Prince of Wales to Catherine Middleton. 
It was followed by another stirring anthem, the Proms favourite Jerusalem, sung with gusto by the whole church audience with Ken George back at the organ before a final Royal flourish, George Frederick Handel’s Zadok, the Priest, accompanied by Patrycja Radzi-Stewart solo violin to appropriately close the concert.
Later this song was delivered by a much larger and more prestigious choir, used as a high point when King Charles III was screened and anointed with oils in Westminster Abbey. 
I doubt the sovereign would have known it had been preempted five hours earlier in the city which contributed part of his education – but I’m sure that he and the other Royals would have approved. Because this concert made a fine contribution to a memorable occasion.

– Colin Mockett

Geelong – Catch This If You Can!

Catch Me If You Can – the musical directed by Ben McNaughton for Theatre Of The Damned, Belmont High School Performing Arts Centre, May 5, 2023.
Since its 2017 inception, Geelong’s Theatre of the Damned has remained true to its founding concept of bringing fresh musical theatre to our region.
Catch Me If You Can, the company’s ninth show, is a classic example, having never before been staged in Geelong, despite a successful and awarded Broadway run and a raft of well-received international productions.
But this bright, catchy musical also highlighted the second, less publicised, aspect of the Damned company’s philosophy – that of giving starts to fresh young local talent.
This was young theatre-buff Ben McNaughton’s first time in the director’s chair, anywhere. His musical director, Mae Udarbe’s, only previous experience in the job was for Gypsy, brought to Geelong last year by – yes, Theatre Of The Damned. Their choreographer, Andrew Coomber, was also on his second show for the company, though, having started at the age of 10, can claim to have appeared in 26 musicals.
Their lead performer, Storm Randall, was on his first principal role, though he, too, had plenty of school productions and last year he played Marius in CentreStage’s Les Miserables.
So it was a relatively untried and inexperienced team that brought their show to Geelong’s newest venue, the newly-built theatre at Belmont High School. They had a 25 member cast brimming with youth and vitality with a handful of seasoned and experienced older performers. And the result was sensational. This show’s vitality, energy and talent flowed from every well-cast ultra well-drilled performer. They joyfully sang, danced and acted the happiest of storylines to a bluesy, jazzy band until they took well-earned standing ovations some 2 ½ hours later.
 Catch Me If You Can is based on the story of American Frank Abagnale Jr, who rose from high-school trickster and imposter to become an international con-man posing as an airline pilot and doctor in the 1960s. His proficiency – he cashed worthless cheques to the tune of $ millions – led to the FBI assigning an experienced officer, Carl Hanratty and his team to find, identify, and arrest him.
That premise led to Catch Me If You Can boasting the unlikeliest of leading couples. For although the show does have a love interest and inter-generational emotive themes, it’s basically built around the growing respect between Frank and Hanratty, the hunted and hunter, the audacious thief and seasoned veteran lawman.  As Frank, the good-looking energetic Storm Randall is every inch a theatrical triple threat. He looks like an athlete and sings, dances and acts like a mature thespian. Onstage, he owns his audience with a cheeky grin, huge presence and belter of a singing voice. But he’s well-matched, out-sung and occasionally upstaged by Duncan Esler’s Hanratty.
Though their rivalry prevails, it never dominates the show, leaving plenty of room for David Postill and Jenn Stirk to impress as Frank’s parents. And they do, with David displaying an acting masterclass as a gravel-voiced declining alcoholic failure, Jenn faultlessly accented  as his disenchanted French wife – and both singing superbly. There was Hanratty’s team of detectives, Gerry McKeague, Jett Sansom and Kefyalew Amlaku somehow managing to simultaneously appear as dumb as Keystone cops and as slick as the West Side Story‘s Jets. There was that love interest with Storm falling for competent, confident nurse Paris Walsh and enduring her parents Barry Eeles and Kim Edwards; he questioningly suspicious of, and she wonderfully, comically, stricken by Storm’s attributes.
These leads were augmented and supported by a delightful bunch of co-performers (it’s slightly unfair to call an ensemble) who filled in gaps and provided live background as nurses, doctors, hostess, pilots, managers and more while singing and dancing with elan. Take another bow Ruby Esler, David Keele, Alicia Miller, Rebecca Wik, Ava Davies, Lucy Martin, Anna Flint, Seamus Kennedy, Laura McKenzie, Ryan Milich, Tom Nouwen, Lily Petterwood, Finn Jaques, David Van Etten, Rebecca Osborne, Claire Kennedy, Delanee Collins and Poppy Charles.
All of the above were backed by conductor Mae’s slick 11-piece 60s band led by the keyboards of Phil Kearney and Brad Treloar and driven by Patrick Consedine’s off-stage percussion. His drums didn’t fit, but the rest of the band was on-stage throughout. Extra plaudits should go to Ben Anderson’s immaculate sound and Maxine Urquart’s sassy 60s costumes.
Geelong’s Catch Me If You Can runs for just six more performances. It’s highly recommended that you catch one while you still can.

– Colin Mockett

Persuasion appeals on many levels

Persuasion, directed by Amelia McBride Baker for Theatre Of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Temperance Hall, April 28, 2023.

Over its 30-year existence, Ceres’ Theatre of the Winged Unicorn has built a reputation for staging period productions with elegance and charm. This sparkling new version of Jane Austin’s Persuasion fits comfortably into that format, but with an added 21st-century twist. 
Under the direction of Amelia McBride Baker, who also adapted the book, the elegant stage is set simply. It has white draped walls surrounding three large views of 19th Century Somerset and real period furniture. The costumes and props appear authentic and the play’s unobtrusive incidental music was carefully chosen from the period.
The 13-strong cast is mainly drawn from the company’s well of past players with some talented newcomers.
They are all well-drilled and rehearsed in the clipped, clear, stilted English of Victorian times. They move skilfully and with ease on and off the small Ceres Hall stage to allow the action to flow seamlessly through five set-changes. How could this be any different? The play’s producer was TOWU’s co-founder Elaine Mitchell whose artistic flair embellishes   every company production.
What made this Persuasion different was that director Amelia and her assistant Kayla Bradford took all that company flair and added a light touch of 21st century soap-opera style.  The main difference between period plays and TV soaps is that, where the former is full-bodied, the latter is generally close-up. We TV-infused audiences are now so used to camera- close emotions on our giant flat screens, we expect to see them on-stage – and that’s precisely what Amelia and Kayla’s Persuasion delivered. 
The play’s central character, Anne Elliot was played with rare sensitivity by Julie Fryman. Though on stage throughout, it was mostly as a silent extra, quietly observing her peculiar circle of family and friends, reacting to their eccentricities without necessarily commenting, but with discreet expressions and body language. This was reflected by the other performers.
So we audience saw Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot through her eyes, played by Brad Beales as a shallow, self-obsessed vain peacock of a man. While her sister, Elizabeth, portrayed by Jocelyn Mackay with obvious relish, was clearly an uncaring dismissive bitch of a sibling. Their married sister Mary had the family’s self-centred trait, too,  but expanded with an overlay of hypochondria.
She was played by Rose Musselwhite, who clearly delighted in the role, drawing gasps, laughs and even applause for her indiscretions.  Conversely, Liam Erck was equally eye-catching  – but by neatly underplaying her patient husband. Meanwhile, Miriam Wood gave us a well-meaning but over-meddling godmother,  Ali Cruickshank a silent, scheming hanger-on and Maggie Evans an attention-seeking family friend.
Ben Crowley was a stiff, pompous Admiral of the Fleet and Katie Hall his Camilla-like wife, both well-heeled tenants essential to the plot.
But all this was just setting the scene for when two rival suitors appeared. They were the darkly good-looking enigmatic namesake cousin William Elliot, played with open charm by Simon Finch, and the dashing introverted Captain Frederick Wentworth, portrayed with gauche awkwardness  by Ben Mitchell.  Melissa Musselwhite’s Mrs Smith provided an experienced voice from the past to guide Anne’s future direction, and it’s not giving anything away to say that the outcome was highly satisfactory.
The emotions Anne went through were real, and the audience saw, experienced and appreciated every tear she shed.
They applauded long and loud, too, for what was an exceptional performance.
This Persuasion will run in the Ceres Hall until May 15. Tickets are already more than half sold,  and it’s recommended that you snap up the remainders while they’re available.

– Colin Mockett

Death, the Director – and Salesman

The Director, from Aphids at Platform Arts, Courthouse Theatre March 25, 2023

It’s normal for our reviews to begin by crediting the production’s director in bold type before listing the theatre and date.
That’s missing at the introduction above, because this play actually had two directors and both were on stage.
Lara Thoms is an artist and theatre director and Scott Turnbull was for 21 years a highly successful funeral director. 
Both are smart, contemporary and at the top of their game.
Their on-stage collaboration has created what is essentially an exposé of a taboo subject – the after-death experience that eventually faces us all.
Based on Scott’s intimate knowledge and Lara’s theatrical flair, their clever stage show The Director is a glorious presentation that digs deeply, details and de-mystifies the funeral industry in Australia.   
They explain in minute and graphic detail why there’s a homogeneity in funeral parlours’ treatments and price structures. Most are operated by a franchise company called Invocare which operates under a host of different family-company names.
They also showed, from go to woe exactly what happens when a deceased person is delivered into the industry’s care.
There’s a confusing plethora of choices that newly grieving relatives face, starting with the obvious: burial or cremation, celebrant or priest, formal or casual. But then there are the lesser, but equally important decisions; choosing the coffin, venue, flowers, reception, picture slideshow, music and more…
Turnbull and Thoms took us through each, with their importance and, probably more importantly, their costs, all explained with clarity and some wry and dry humour.
You wouldn’t normally expect that a show about such a grave subject to be both enlightening and amusing, but The Director manages this in rare style. 
That’s due to that on-stage pairing and sharing of the duo’s inside knowledge – his of the industry, hers of the presentation.
For this play was perfectly staged by two performers at the top of their craft. Their sizeable audience – word had clearly got around about The Director’s quality – left with their own wry smiles. They had been informed, entertained and were much wiser about a subject that awaits and affects every one of us.
So if you would be interested in knowing about some of the interesting things that people have requested to be buried with; which songs are commonly chosen by different sections of society – or exactly what happens when a body is cremated at 1500 degrees – you’ll find it here.
But as this was the final Geelong performance, you’ll need to seek out where next The Director is staged.
I guarantee that you’ll find it a rewarding experience.

Colin Mockett

The Other Place is simply brilliant

The Other Place, directed by John Bishop for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Shoestring Theatre, March 16, 2023
Last October this company staged Harp On The Willow in this theatre. That play featured Tracey McKeague as the tragic Irish harpist nun, Mary O’Hara, while Michael Baker played her awkward alcoholic antagonist.
This production placed the same two actors again centerstage, but in different roles and very changed circumstances.
The Other Place is set in America and its storyline tackles probably the biggest fear of our ageing babyboomer generation – the stealthy onset of dementia and its many disguises. 
This time Tracey McKeague played Juliana Smithton, a smart, highly successful neurologist who is engaged on a lecture tour promoting a new genetic treatment for the disease to audiences of medical professionals.
Against this background, her own personal life is going through a series of crises. Her marriage is on the rocks, her doctor husband had diagnosed her with a terminal brain tumour and her daughter was keeping her husband and twin daughters away from her.
All this she confided in asides to us, her (real) audience while delivering her lecture, complete with powerpoint slides, at a hotel medical convention.
She’s also puzzled by a girl in a yellow bikini sitting unconcerned among the throng of doctors; while troubled by recurring memories of The Other Place – a family retreat used by her family in the past.
And if that’s not enough, she’s also getting flashback memories of a therapy session with a female specialist who she suspects is having an affair with her husband.
To convey all this in the course of a lecture presentation is a challenging task which Tracey McKeague completed with superb acting skills.
And when her husband appears, played by another consummate actor in Michael Baker – sometimes in her thoughts, at other times in person – the play’s questions and dilemmas compound.
Because in this production, nothing was as it first seemed. The Other Place has to be the ultimate mystery play, in that we were all drawn into the uncertainties of dementia’s unpredictabilities until, piece by piece, explanations emerged.
In this short 80 minute play, with no interval, we were given a clear insight into early dementia, where facts blurred with fiction, beliefs were fleeting and time either telescoped or stayed static.
The Other Place is a fascinating play that’s beautifully written by Sharr White and carefully directed by John Bishop, with uncomplicated simplicity on a stylish, clever and well-lit set.
All this combined to make an ultra-believable scenario that kept its audience absorbed and then left them with plenty of situations to take home, unpack and translate for themselves.
But above all else, for this reviewer, TTT’s  The Other Place left a memory of a beautifully balanced and nuanced central acting performance from Tracey McKeague, which was supported by three pitch-perfect performers in Michael Baker, Todd J Curtis and Jessica Hargreaves.
In all, TTT’s The Other Place is a piece of brilliant theatre on a difficult and highly sensitive subject of  concern to us all.
Don’t miss it.

Colin Mockett

Passion, Triumph and Destiny

Fate & Destiny, Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Richard Davis, Costa Hall, Saturday February 25, 2023.

Geelong’s Symphony Orchestra continues to innovate and surprise, with this excellent concert evidence of both.
It contained just three pieces, all lesser-known works by Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Each was carefully selected to meet the overall theme of ‘Fate and Destiny’, meaning that this could have been a concert of orchestral doom, downfall and drama. 
But in the hands of conductor Richard Davis, solo pianist Hoang Pham and Geelong’s premier orchestra, this was by no means a negative experience. This concert was absorbing, informative and delightfully uplifting, drawing long and appreciative final applause.
The surprise was that such an unusual and challenging choice of material was delivered with so much stye and ease by our still relatively new orchestra.  This concert marked six years, almost to the day, since its first appearance.
The innovation came from conductor Davis and concertmaster Markiyan Melnychenko’s detailed and highly informative explanations to the backgrounds and meanings of each work, expertly dovetailed into the concert’s format. 
The concert opened with arguably its best-known piece, Mendelssohn’s lyrically layered and intricately woven Fingal’s Cave, executed with the skill and professional flair now expected from our GSO and its favourite guest conductor.
But after the applause had died down, conductor Davis put down his baton, picked up a cordless mic and explained that the composer didn’t actually write the work while he was a ship’s passenger inside the dramatic Hebridean cave, as is popularly believed, because he was so stricken by sickness on that voyage that he couldn’t write until days afterwards. But such was his recall of the occasion that the work contained such musical details as the swell of currents, rhythm of the ship’s engine and cathedral-like echoes inside the huge cave.
The conductor followed this with an illuminating preview of the concert’s next piece, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G major Op.58, explaining its complexity and difficulties and why the work disappeared after its premiere until it was revived by Mendelssohn some 28 years later. 
He then introduced pianist Hoang Pham – like the conductor, world-rated and an excellent friend of the GSO – before soloist, conductor and orchestra played the challenging piece with its awkward interactions, long pauses and apparent disjointed themes, bringing them together with glorious unity and clarity that drew long, loud applause and many curtain calls for soloist Hoang.
Following a short interval, with the musicians in position, orchestra leader Melnychenko entered to the customary polite applause. But instead of lifting his violin to play the key note to tune his players, he placed it carefully on his seat, picked up the microphone and gave a detailed introduction to the final work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4 in F minor Op.36, explaining its significance to its composer  and to the nations of Ukraine and Russia.
This told of the passions that the work engendered, its fatalistic triumphal elements and relevance today – all of which were again expertly translated into brilliant music once conductor Davis returned.
The baton-master was at his eye-catching best as he gestured, cajoled, air-caressed and commanded his orchestra to ever-greater heights.
This concert was arguably the most expressive Richard Davis that Geelong has yet seen. Always immaculately turned out in white tie and tails, the conductor’s energetic, beautifully over-exaggerated dramatic gestures gave the impression that he had determined to wear out his suit from the inside, lining first.
But aside from this flamboyance and passion, conductor David was quite clearly extremely proud of every section of his orchestra, returning again and again to invite different sections to share the long, loud applause at the concert’s end.
Could it be that, having won over Geelong’s Symphony Orchestra with his charm and passion, Richard Davis is now working on capturing our audiences? If so, he would have brought several hundred into the fold with this excellent concert.
And that can only be explained as our city’s Fate and Destiny.
– Colin Mockett

The Beast – Brecht meets The Young Ones

The Beast directed by Derek Ingles and Kat Eadie for Geelong Rep. Woodbin Theatre, Geelong West,  February 3, 2023

First, lets get the warnings out of the way. This is a long play at 2 ½ hours total, and there is plenty of profane language delivered with an amount of relish.  There’s also a farcical slapstick scene with the actors wallowing in fake blood.

Against this, there’s a swathe of pitch-perfect performances in a sharply written black comedy which mercilessly satirises the thirty-something tree-change generation of today.
Eddie Perfect wrote The Beast under commission from the Melbourne Theatre Company. It opened in 2013 and this is its first performance in Geelong. It’s much to Geelong Rep’s credit that the company seized the chance to stage it.
Because if I were asked to describe The Beast’s style, it would be a mix of  Bertolt Brecht’s black humour meets David Williamson’s sharply drawn portraits of flawed personalities all played out in frantic scenes from The Young Ones.
The play follows three couples, all in their mid-30s who have moved to the country.  But not too far. The Beast could have been set in Ceres or The Bellarine.
The couples’ common aim is to live sustainably but without changing their inner-urban ways.
They chose to celebrate by buying an ethically raised cow to slaughter for a shared feast – but when the butcher didn’t turn up,  they decided to kill the beast themselves. This opened up opportunities for old rivalries, complexes and hidden secrets to come out, along with a slew of brilliant performances from a highly competent acting team. This is led by Glen Barton as Simon, who manages to be equally pretentious, oily, overbearing and obnoxious while belittling his long-suffering wife, Gen. She’s played by Shani Clarke, who drops some quietly-delivered put-downs of her own.
The second couple has Calvin Langley as Rob, a vulnerable, damaged and mentally unstable husband to Sue, who’s calm demeanour is systematically shredded until she unravels in a madcap fight scene. All neatly and skilfully portrayed by Elva Dandelion. The third couple has  Simon Finch as introverted, put-down husband, Baird, who has hidden depths and surprises while his wife Marge, played by Simone Clarke who wears her alcoholism as a badge of honour  behind her incisive wit  and wisdoms. 
Steve Howell added some stable old-time country good sense as Farmer Brown, Liam South some wildly speculative psychedelic ramblings as a ship’s skipper, Jesse Ivelja arrived with perfect timing as winemaker Jason, and Jules Hart contributed some inspired video work to tie up loose ends.
Of course, Rep’s The Beast is politically incorrect. It’s a ramshackle, fast-paced, truthfully drawn original contemporary dark satire.

It’s also very funny. 
So… If a cutting poke at a pretentious current generation is your partiality – you’ll love every unpredictable minute.

– Colin Mockett OAM

Geelong’s hidden gem of a concert

Geelong Summer Music Camp’s grand finale concert, Costa Hall, Geelong Waterfront, January 13, 2023. 
This was the 41st GSMC final concert and I have delighted in some 25 of them. That’s just about every one since the event moved to the Costa Hall. In that time I’ve held the belief – and spread the word wide – that this is Geelong’s most under-reported and undervalued hidden gem.
It’s without doubt the biggest and most heartwarming concert of the year. The best value, too.
Every January this concert showcases the skills of around 200 young musicians in Geelong’s premier venue. Each student is eager to display what they have learned in five days of intense musical masterclasses in the hands of some of our region’s best tutors and teachers.
As the audience comprises of mostly their parents, grandparents and siblings, the atmosphere is supportive, electric – and friendly. The camp and its concert was severely affected by Covid with the past three consecutive camps cancelled.
So this was the first GSMC final concert since 2019. 
As a result, compere Stephen Horman informed us, 2023 had a record number of newcomers especially in the younger age groups.
But if we had any concerns that this might affect the concert’s renowned high quality they were quite literally blown away by the first group – the Balyang Stage Band, which opened the show with tight, syncopated big-band brass versions of Sonny Rollins’ 1950s sax-jazz Doxy then Pete Townshend’s 80s rock classic Pinball Wizard.
Both were delivered with laid-back mastery by a 30-piece combo of chilled young musicians conducted by an ultra-cool black-clad finger-clicking Sean Rankin.
This opening elegance led the way into a 2½ hour concert containing equal parts of musical discipline, skill and youthful energy but with plenty of joy and charm on the side.
Because that big band intro was followed by the Camp’s youngest group – some 40-plus junior players of wind instruments who were conducted, coaxed  and guided by director Dr Sue Arney to become the Bellarine Concert Band playing Richard Saucedo’s Groovee!, Jodie Blackshaw’s Australian first-nation inspired Belah Sun Woman then Michael Sweeney’s rollicking Port O’ Call.
Then followed a sweet treat, with Michelle John’s Otway String Orchestra, comprising 50 slightly older and more advanced students playing five short pieces to display their range and versatility. Mozart’s Alleluia was followed by Aaron Fryklund’s delightfully soft Snowfall At Dusk, then Stephen Chin’s descriptive Silver Forest, Keith Sharp’s pirate-flavoured Bilge Rat Blues then finishing with Brian Balmages’ ultra-fast-paced and very well titled Velocity.
After another fast transition neatly filled with compere Horman’s informative banter, The Surf Coast Wind Symphony with its conductor Sally Davis took the stage to deliver Randall Standridge’s well-named Impact, Rossano Galante’s Wishing Well and John Zdechlik’s Riverdance-echoing Chorale and Shaker Dance with a degree of flair well above their age-range.
Then came another Camp Concert highlight: Jodie Townsend’s choral group – now called Djilang Singers – accompanied by, and occasionally joined by the wonderful Kym Dillon, who brought their own brand of high-energy expertise starting with Dolly Parton’s Jolene, moving to Mike Batt’s Garfunkel-flavoured Bright Eyes, then Chuck Berry/Beach Boys’ Surfing USA before surprising everyone by slowing down to a precisely-delivered folk-song Nodle Kangbyon – in Korean!Their set ended with a joyfully energetic mash-up of ABBA songs created by the singers themselves and titled Carl-ABBA.
At the business end of the concert with older students involved, came two orchestras under the baton of Ben Singh.
 First, the Swan Bay String Orchestra delivered two classics with professional flair.  Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, then Gustav Holst’s St Paul’s Suite for String Orchestra, delivered with grace and elegance before the group was joined by wind and percussion players to become the 70-piece GSMC Symphony Orchestra to play Stauss senior’s Radetzky March then Symphonic Reflections of themes from Andrew Lloyd-Webber.
Then to the all-on-stage big finale, with musicians, conductors, singers, tutors, elective leaders, organisers and support staff – more than 200 people directed by conductor (and camp president) Martin DeMarte to deliver a spirited version of a highly appropriate choice of material – Elton John’s I’m Still Standing.
This concert delivered three firm conclusions.
It showed that Geelong’s traditional joyful, surprise-packed first concert was unchanged despite its three-year enforced  layoff.
It showed that our future will be in good hands when such a disciplined, talented and eager-to-learn younger generation takes over.
And..  The best musical move you could make now would be to invest $20 in buying a ticket to the 2024 GSMC concert at the Costa Hall.
It’s Friday January 12, the website to book is
And I guarantee that you will enjoy it. 

– Colin Mockett

Alien lyrics end a concert of surprises

With One Heart And One Voice –  Music of the Screen presented by  Orchestra Geelong, conducted by David Filip at the C.A.Love Hall, Geelong High School, December 11, 2022.
Orchestra Geelong is accustomed to surprising its audiences. Most frequently, this is by displaying a much higher quality musical output than could be expected from what is essentially a play-for-fun amateur community orchestra.
But even for a group used to delivering the unexpected, this concert was a doozie. First up, there was no reference to Christmas – not necessarily a bad thing during this season of saturation – but still unusual for a years-end final concert.
Instead, the afternoon’s  theme was Music of the Screen, though there was no actual mention of this in the programme. That  simply stated that this was ‘Concert Finale 2022’.
 The pre-show publicity had called the event  ‘With One Heart And One Voice’ –  which referred to the inclusion of two choral ensembles; Kym Dillon’s One Voice choir and Jeanette Johns’ Geelong Welsh Ladies Choir.
Further surprises were that the familiar orchestra/audience placement in the C A Love Hall had been reversed to allow stage space for both choirs.
These choristers were mixed and seated for the concert’s first half on either side of the auditorium that was packed with an all-ages family audience buzzing with anticipation.
But the major surprise came after all 50+ orchestra members had made their way from the back of the hall to take their places and tune up – they introduced their new conductor.
His name’s David Filip, he’s slim, dapper, immaculately dressed in dark suit and white bow tie – and he clearly had established a good working relationship with his new charges.
For the concert’s opening piece, Eric Coates’ Dam Busters March was delivered with the style and spirit expected from a seasoned professional unit.
This was followed by another surprise – Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 Movement 2 – which was included not as a masterwork, but because it formed part of the soundtrack for The Kings Speech. Still, it was presented with accomplished technique which flowed from Mr Filip’s mastery and style.
This was followed by another well-delivered classic, Johann Strauss’ Tales From The Vienna Woods, included because there was a 1934 Austrian film of the same name.
Strauss’s swirling waltz-time themes were followed by a much more stirring – and loud – number in Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator Suite.
This, and a short interval, heralded a shift to more recent works with the combined 60-voice choir onstage above the orchestra. They began simply accompanied by Kym Dillon and conducted by Jeanette John, smoothly singing the theme music to How To Train Your Dragon.
This was followed by Memories Of My Childhood with guest soloist Indianna Wylie’s amplified voice soaring over all the onstage choristers.
Then, for a final surprise, orchestra and choirs combined to deliver the musical suite from the film Avatar, with the chorus sung in Na’vi, the Alien language invented and written for the film.
Though it’s unlikely that any of those singers will be called to sing their parts ever again – it did present a realy suitable ending to an afternoon full of surprises. 

– Colin Mockett

Rutter and Kookaburras – a beaut Chorale Christmas Celebration

The Very Best Time Of The Year presented by The Geelong Chorale conductor Allister Cox, December 10, All Saints’ Church, Newtown.
Each year since the mid 20th Century, the Geelong Chorale has staged a Christmas concert in a suitably elegant and acoustically pleasing local venue. For many years this was the Geelong Gallery but for the past decade or so, the annual event has been held in Newtown’s All Saints Church. Every concert has been different and eclectic but with common themes. You won’t hear songs about Santa, reindeer or jingling bells at a Geelong Chorale Christmas concert. You’re much more likely to be taken back to celebrations from Yule times of yore. You’ll also get a glimpse of how the season is celebrated internationally.
This year, the Chorale’s musical director,  Allister Cox, chose to feature the carols of a living composer, John Rutter. An Englishman born in 1945, Rutter is considered to be the most celebrated and popular composer of Christmas music alive today. He’s particularly popular in America. His music carries influences of English and French choral traditions as well as from America’s light music songbooks.
The Chorale dedicated the entire first half of this concert to his works, then, following a short interval, presented a mix of Carols old and new, with an invitation for the audience to join them.
The concert’s overall title The Very Best Time Of The Year was lifted from the first song, a sweet, lyrical opening introduction to Rutter’s composition skills. The 30+ Chorale voices blended lyrically to present it with a high Geelong polish that continued through the entire concert. The second piece, Shepherds’ Pipe Carol, was a jaunty air featuring the Chorale’s tenor voices, while the next, What Sweeter Music, featured the soprano section who were, indeed, sweet. Then followed the first of five songs that Rutter had not written, but arranged for the group that he founded, the world renowned Cambridge Singers.
The French Carol Born To Earth, the Divine Christ Child was followed by a Cornish traditional piece Sans Day Carol – instantly recognisable as the more familiar The Holly And The Ivy.
A Little Child  on the Earth Has Been Born was set to a traditional Flemish melody and Quem Pastores Laudavere a 14th Century German carol sung in Latin.
These were themselves arranged around John Rutter’s own Nativity Carol and neatly topped off with his bright and cheerful Star Carol.
The concert’s second half Carols Old And New alternated well-known Christmas songs – where the audience was invited to sing along – with some well-chosen new works.
It began with the standard O Come All Ye Faithful, nicely delivered by the Chorale, though we audience were a little bashful. The new work that followed, O Magnum mysterium was a solemn 1994 piece written in Latin by Morten Lauridsen. It was followed by the traditional The First Nowell, again neatly delivered by the Chorale, with tentative audience participation. The Angels and the Shepherds was next, a traditional Bohemian favourite that was much loved by Chorale tenor Milena Idris when she was a child, according to conductor Allister Cox’s introduction. Then, before the next traditional piece, Good King Wenceslas,  he told of the song’s controversial beginnings, of how it began as a traditional European Spring celebration song that was appropriated and reworked to become a Christmas staple much to the annoyance of purists. This brought an immediate audience response as we found our voices to match the Chorale and deliver a rousing version.
Then followed a lyrical German piece Susanni (Lullaby) then Silent Night, Holy Night, a stirring Hark The Herald Angels Sing before the afternoon’s finale, a modern Australian song by Matthew Orlovich, If Christ had been born in another time which posed the questions ‘If Mary and Joseph had travelled through the Australian outback, would there have been no room in the pub?’ ‘Would they have been turned away while drovers and stockmen jostled the bar toasting the end of the day?’ And  ‘Would the Wise Men have brought gifts of perfume and oil from the eucalypt tree or gold from a river’s bed?’ 
The writer called for this song to be opened and closed with  the sound of Kookaburras, a challenge  which the Chorale joyfully accepted to bring their 2023 Christmas  concert to a unique – and delightful – conclusion. 

– Colin Mockett

Covid Baroque in Geelong!

Croissants and Whiskey, Geelong Courthouse Theatre, December 4, 2022

There’s no doubt that the COVID pandemic lockdowns that Victoria endured has affected our society.
Quite apart from the health and stress impacts, there were any number of unforeseen outcomes from a significant lift in home shopping to a proliferation of designer dogs –  and a colossal rise in work-from-home zoom meetings.
That last-mentioned change had wide-ranging flow-on effects that ultimately brought about this concert.
Because the four people that planned and created it did it online during the 2020 pandemic lockdown.
All four are respected  young musicians who play unusual instruments in a variety of well-regarded classical ensembles.
They met online through their love of off-centre music and zoom-bonded to the extent that they planned, remote-rehearsed and found funding online to stage this concert. 
It’s title – and the group’s name – Croissants and Whiskey – refer to the favoured food and beverage once they were able to get together to physically rehearse.
And suitably for a group that found each other remotely on the ‘net, this group had no leader.
Each member took turns introducing the works which ranged from their own compositions to music commissioned from friends through to classical pieces from the 17th century Baroque era. It was an unusual mix that the musicians themselves labelled ‘prog-baroque’.
The concert’s staging was unusual, too, with the Courthouse Theatre’s seating removed to create an intimate space with its mix of seating facing a small stage placed squarely in front of the venue’s large art-deco window. With a 5pm summer sun shining through, this made a wonderful backdrop and suitable artistic frame for Joy Lee’s beautifully painted full-sized harpsichord. Left of stage was Katie Yap, who played two Baroque Violas, differently tuned.
To the right was Ryan Williams who favoured a historic-looking bass recorder but played a number of wind instruments; and seated central was Miranda Hill playing a  G Violone, which, Wiki tells me, is a six-stringed great bass viol.
All these instruments possess unique voices.
Together, individually and in duos and trios, this unusual mix played eight pieces, all without amplification and each preceded by friendly explanations with occasional banter.
The significant opening piece was written in 2020 about the pandemic. Louisa Trewartha’s spiky Full of Fear and Anger was followed by a carefully disjointed piece based on Alice Miller’s quote ‘Empathy grows as we learn’.
Then came a smoother work which highlighted Katie’s viola Aftermath, written by Emily Sheppard in 2016, with every note and sound delivered with reverence.
The pre-interval piece, written by Ryan, musically depicted the peaceful landscapes of East Gippsland. Titled Tanjil Bren Suite, it consisted of three pieces, the final of which, Whiskey in Walhalla came across as  spicy with a warm, distinct peat flavour.
Following an interval with croissants served in the foyer, Katie and Miranda opened the more formal second act with Alice Chance’s 2011 piece O Pastor Animarum – arranged by Katie –  before the group returned with a true Baroque piece from Carl Philippe Emanual Bach’s Trio Sonata in F major, which was, we were informed, rare because it was written for exactly the group’s unusual instrument line-up.
Then followed a challenging piece for Joy’s harpsichord, Louis Couperin’s 17th Century work Prelude (unmeasured) in G minor.  
The ‘unmeasured’ title meant the musician needed to find their own timing, which Joy did with ease.
Then followed a piece of happy birdsong from Ryan, in Nigel Butterley’s 1965 work The White Throated Warbler, before the group let their hair down with Elizabeth Younan’s Lebanise-themed  The Fertile Crescent – written in 2021 and consisting of three pieces, Belly Dance, Khaleegy and Dabke.
Together, this unique concert musically captured and displayed several elements of our COVID lockdown experience, from snarky initial anger to ultimate joyful release.
It also showed how technology – and very able musicians – are able to overcome the frustration of isolation – and have a really surprising, positive outcome.

– Colin Mockett  

Bleeding Tree – Brilliant Theatre

 The Bleeding Tree directed by Iris Walshe-Howling for Anglesea Performing Arts in Anglesea Hall, November 10, 2022.
 This exquisite piece of theatre came packaged under false pretences.
It’s booking site’s disclaimers listed ‘high levels of coarse language, heavy themes including death and domestic abuse. References to violence, sexual abuse and animal cruelty. Viewer discretion strongly advised’.’
In practice, this was a superbly written, intelligently staged and sensitively acted play that told a modern, adult story murder, revenge and a community’s unspoken support.
It was delivered by three female actors whose dialogues skilfully danced between poetry and prose and whose exchanges shimmied from humour to bravado to bewildered, blind fear without ever losing a trace of its grounded human truths.
And all this was achieved in just 80 minutes.
For this was a production without a wasted word or action.
The script, by Melbourne playwright  Angus Cerini, unfolded its story cleverly, logically and solely by use of dialogue delivered by Lina Libroaperto, Stacey Carmichael and Julie Fryman on an unchanging set.
The trio played a mother and her two daughters in an outback Australian town who had been subjected to long-term alcohol-driven abuse from their husband/father.
Until, in the play’s opening scene, they murdered him.
You could say that this play’s plotline is the complete opposite to that theatre and TV staple, the whodunnit murder-mystery. 
Because in The Bleeding Tree, everyone knows who did the murder, and why.
The real story is how the perpetrators and their community handle the aftermath in the subtlest of matter-of-fact Australian ways.
In the hands of writer Cerini, director Iris Walsh-Howling and that ultra-talented acting trio, The Bleeding Tree becomes a beautifully sensitive stage experience that effortlessly portrays emotions using innuendo and indirect communications to reveal the emotions and truths behind human tragedies. 
The three actors, though keeping to their main characters, played out scenarios featuring visitors – sometimes two or three at once – without ever losing a thread of the plot or the play’s impetus.
Such were their stage skills and discipline, along with director Walsh-Howling’s unobtrusive control. 
Lina, Julie and Stacey essentially presented a series of acting masterclasses inside the play’s structure.
And there was more. All of the above skills were interlaced, bracketed and supported by Kirsten Honey’s music, played live from a raised dais behind the audience.
It, too, was carefully chosen to give  an O Brother Where Art Thou old-timey feel, featuring a country cigar-box guitar and vocals laced with good-ole country outback menace. 
Add in Kip Cowland’s low-profile but pitch-perfect sound and lighting and this Bleeding Tree made for a remarkable, brilliant gem of small theatre in the modest Anglesea venue.
There are only five more performances and the advice from this critic is as simple and direct as the play itself.
Ignore the pre-play warnings. This Bleeding Tree is brilliant theatre, don’t miss it. 

– Colin Mockett

New combination, big sound

New Sounds – Ancient Resonances, Dr Andrew Blackburn and Dr Jean Penny, part of Windfire Music Festival Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Wednesday, 12th October, 2022

A tiny audience experienced an extraordinary performance on this evening of most inclement weather.   The program of music for pipe organ, flute and live electronics exploited the lively acoustics of St Marys to the full.
Both performers, as well as being expert instrumentalists – Andrew Blackburn on pipe organ, Jean Penny on flute – are also both musicologists and composers.
 The recital began with Toccata Scherzo by Ros Bonighton.  This demonstrated the full range of the St Mary’s organ and how it resonates in the Basilica as a solo instrument.  Two pieces by Lauren Redhead added a fixed electronic soundtrack to a live organ performance.    leópcwide was inspired by The Wanderer, an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem.  The organ part is slow and quiet, using the extremes of organ range enhanced by a pre-recorded soundtrack which included bell-like tones and recorded voices.   pouring was originally written for performance during a church service. The organ part moves gradually throughout the whole range of the organ from its lowest notes to the very highest.  This is set against an electronic soundscape.  
Two pieces for flute and live electronics were composed as musical responses to specific sites.  Scoria Cone, by Kenya Williams and Andrew Blackman is for flute and live electronics.  It is a meditation on the atmosphere and history of Mount Buninyong.   Lal Lal Falls by Jean Penny and Andrew Blackburn, is a semi-improvised response to the geological, historical and present-day connections of this gorge and watercourse.  Its five sections reflect the site as one moves from open plains to rock pools and precipice, cascading falls and gorge, finally returning to the open plains. 
Unfortunately, technical difficulties meant that videos prepared to be shown with these two pieces could not be screened. 
Luckily, with both sites being near Geelong, it’s probable that those at the concert have already visited the sites or will do so in the future.   
Andrew Blackburn’s own Improvisation for organ and live electronics concluded the concert.  
With both performers performing from the organ loft at the back of the space and only being visible on video feed, the audience were able to fully reflect on the sound and atmosphere created.  
It was a most rewarding concert.  I hope that, despite the small audience, the Windfire Festival committee continue to show a commitment to experimental and unusual music.
– Helen Lyth

Magnificent Seven (at the double)

The Magnificent Seven featuring Maximillian Rudd and Doug de Vries, Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre,  Saturday 15 October, 2022.
This concert was innovative programming by the Windfire Festival committee. It was a new venue for most who attended and that was a full house.
Doug de Vries began to play on the small but ideal performing stage, and was shortly joined by Max Rudd as they showcased their 7-string guitars.
The instruments were standard classical 6-string guitars with one additional bass string tuned to C (or sometimes to B, rarely to A), and the pieces chosen for this recital brought out these extra bass notes beautifully.
Doug first became enthused about the instrument in Brazil in 1990; audiences find the music written for 7 strings both unfamiliar and yet universally attractive.
The intertwining of parts from these two players was clearly demonstrated in Visitando o Recife (visit to the reef), which was followed by a Suite for Two 7-String Guitars, the first concerto written for the instrument, by Doug’s friend and contemporary Mauricio Carrilho, arranged by the performers in frugal concerto-style with Max the soloist, Doug the orchestra as they “have neither the funds nor patience to play with an orchestra”.
The second movement displayed shades of Villa-Lobos in describing Rio de Janeiro at night, and the final movement, with bass string tuned down to B, featured a beautiful, delicate solo.
The choro (Portuguese word meaning ‘to cry’) genre was prominent in Choro Negro, a piece by the master of the genre Paulinho da Viola who turns 80 this year.
Written for cavaquinho, Doug’s own composition Running the Scree is a constantly-moving workout and challenge for the fingers, which he played with glee.
Three pieces forming Music of ‘Pixinguinha’, regarded as the ‘father of the choro’, were in turn jazzy, improvisatory and full of syncopation, then much quieter and reflective, with the third notably livelier. Together they played a beautiful melody Senhorinha written by Guinga (a dentist in Rio) for his daughter.
A novelty piece by Honorino Lopes, adapted from piano repertoire of the Ragtime era, was suitably jaunty.
Doug then demonstrated his tenor guitar, much smaller and with only 4 strings, popular in Brazil as an alternative to the banjo or the mandolin. On this smaller instrument he played Migalhas de Amor (Crumbs of Love) and Um Baile em Catumby, a jaunty dance which finished in a really fast-paced, exuberant manner. Raphael Rabello was one of the greatest players of choro style and wrote Meu Avô as his tribute to his grandfather, which followed.
Then it was back to the 7-stringed guitars for Murmurando, a tune which Doug proclaimed “has everything that opens and shuts”, with both rhythmic and melodic interest.
They finished their recital with a samba encore composed by Max, a one-time student of Doug who now has a PhD in Music.
This was a superb concert, with splendid guitar playing which displayed brilliant technique, extraordinary improvisation and sensitive musicianship. It was a wonderful recital between these two friends and specialists in Brazilian seven-string guitar music.
– Marie Goldsworthy

Beyond a Beautiful Experience

Bohemia and Beyond presented by Geelong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Davis. Costa Hall, Geelong Waterfront, October 22, 2022.
From its Bohemia and Beyond title, patrons might have been expecting Gypsy violins or folk tunes. But the key words of that title were and Beyond..
For this concert displayed not only the panorama-wide scope of central European music, it also showed the breadth of knowledge, skills and pulling power of Geelong’s premier orchestra.
The concert began with a beautiful soaring patriotic melody Ma Vlast: Vltava (Die Moldau) from Czech -born composer Bedřich Smetanahow. The title means ‘My Fatherland’ but this piece was to become a tribute to the composer’s wife.
Our GSO did a superb job of interpreting its six movements which progressed from sweetly lyrical through high musical drama to majestic pride.
It set the scene perfectly for what was to follow, which was the GSO’s very own Bohemian Rhapsody, in that they laid before us a rich selection of glorious music with, really, only loose geographical connections to Bohemia.
For what followed that opening was a glittering masterpiece from guest pianist Stefan Cassomenos  whose smiling, comfortable appearance and relaxed style belied his complete mastery of a highly complex but gorgeous piece – (German-born but well-travelled) Robert Schumann’s lyrically wonderful Piano concerto in A minor Op.54. This lyrical masterpiece was delivered in silky, dazzling style with perfectly weighted sympathetic backing from the GSO.
It drew long applause and several curtain calls for both soloist and orchestra.
This also demonstrated the pulling power that our GSO now commands.
That our young, (six-year-old, two of them locked down) orchestra is now able to to attract world-ranked soloists of Mr Cassomenos’ quality, then compliment his playing with such style said much about the ability of our players. But more than this, it highlighted the extraordinary empathy of our now-regular conductor, Richard Davis.
For Conductor Davis appears to have a special relationship with our orchestra. Watching his podium style and mannerisms is almost as entertaining as the beautiful music they produce together. At times his immaculate tail-suited figure appears to be pleading with his players, then, he’ll be smiling sweet congratulations at them. When the occasion demands, his gestures appear to embrace all 65 of them, while, at triumphal moments, he adopts almost Jagger-esque chest thrust forward poses to transmit his pride. It’s all wonderful stuff, and quite clearly effective.
And the whole gamut was evident in this concert’s second half, which was given over to Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No.9 in E minor Op.95 ‘From the New World’.
This piece  was written after the composer travelled widely among African-Americans in the USA. It must have one of the most recognised musical riffs in it’s opening theme, which was lifted to become the brass-band-favourite song ‘Going Home’.
But when that melody was played on the Cor Anglais to introduce echoes from strings and woodwind, it became a hauntingly beautiful part of a glorious major work that embellished, built on and and entwined its melody towards a powerfully brilliant brass climactic-flourish ending.
It was all wonderful stuff, drawing long and loud applause and making for a special final concert for our Orchestra’s 2022 season.
 And it whet our appetites for what musical treats this group can conjure for us in 2023.
– Colin Mockett

The Spirit of Theatre – in Ceres

Blithe Spirit directed by Amelia McBride Baker for Theatre Of The Winged Unicorn. Ceres Temperance Hall, October 21, 2022

The Ceres Temperance Hall has no curtains, so the first thing we audience noticed was the quality of this play’s set. It’s well-off 1930s England, accurately reproduced and slightly reduced to fit onto the small stage. It still appears sumptuous, cluttered, tastefully ornamented with a Rembrandt among the prints on walls.
Following director Amelia’s welcome and warning to mute our mobile phones, the lights go down and Blithe Spirit begins; the scene is set by a busy maidservant clumsily wheeling in a drinks trolley and this is shortly followed by the home’s well-off owners to use it. He’s in a dinner suit and she’s wearing an elegant satin gown. As he mixes cocktails, they converse in the stilted clipped tones and short brittle cynicisms of Noel Coward – and another Ceres’ Theatre of the Winged Unicorn play is underway. 
It’s a Geelong theatre tradition, this high standard production shoe-horned in to the tiny Ceres hall. That tradition has built over thirty years and there’s now a new generation in charge, but the micro-managed high-quality theatre skills and attention to detail remains the same. That exceptional set was courtesy of the Pitt family. Son Alard designed it, while his parents, Stuart and Ingrid, built it along with Robert Kvant. The elegant costumes were made by  Bridget Dustan and Dani Krivan or drawn from the extensive ToWU wardrobe carefully curated over the years by producer Elaine Mitchell.
Director Amelia McBride Baker began with the company as an on-stage actor in the early days and she has polished her skills in England.
Each of the actors is either a long-time Unicorner or an eager newcomer loving the experience and destined to become another of the regulars.
This is what theatre traditions are about – and in truth, the play doesn’t really matter. 
Because with this company, it’s the experience that counts.
Every audience member would have bought their tickets on the promise implied by the Ceres, Theatre Of The Winged Unicorn or Elaine Mitchell names.
To Geelong theatregoers, they each imply meticulous planning, staging, costuming and actors delivering their lines perfectly and with conviction in  presenting a classic play, mostly drawn from England’s past.
Such was the case with this Blithe Spirit. It was written by Noel Coward and its storyline was lightweight to the point of being silly. It involved a twice-married novelist who invites an eccentric clairvoyant to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for a book.
The plan backfires when she manages to summon his late first wife who, unseen to everyone but her former husband, takes a dislike to, and causes mayhem for his second wife  – before there’s a surprise twist ending which I won’t reveal here.
In the hands of the Winged Unicorn team, the action is played out deliberately and with true style on that single set.
This Blithe Spirit was long, at three hours including its interval, and its opening night included a violent thunderstorm and downpour that sometimes drowned the actors voices.
But that didn’t matter at all to us in the audience, who lapped up every moment and applauded warm and long at the end.
We enjoyed Matthew Bradford’s word-perfect performance as the harassed author and sympathised with Ellie Gardner-Leigh playing his elegant second wife. We admired Allister Cox and Sarah Crowe as the couple’s doctor friend and his wife who attended that fateful séance, and we were amused by the antics of gauche maidservant Tara Dustan in attempting to meet her employer’s expectations. But we didn’t warm to any of these characters, whose Englishness appeared cold and self-centred. But we were enchanted by Miriam Wood’s wonderfully wild and totally focussed eccentric medium – and then delighted by Jocelyn Mackay’s cool, grey, bejewelled, maliciously calculating returned spirit of the first wife, Elvira. 
But above all, we were charmed by the whole experience.
For this was the Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, and it was back from lockdown. 
Blithe Spirit will be an assured sell-out season for the company. It always is, and deservedly so.
So it’s recommended to get in fast for your tickets, because believe me, you’ll be hooked by the whole experience.

Colin Mockett

Moving, joyful piece of theatre

Harp on the Willow  directed by Gay Bell for Torquay Theatre Troupe. Shoestring Theatre, Torquay, October 20, 2022.
This delightful play won its full-house first night audience’s hearts in so many ways. Its beautifully crafted script, written by Australian author and playwright John Misto in 2007, was based on a true-life incident in the life of Irish singer Mary O’Hara.
Its funny, poignant and moving themes were sensitively delivered by an acting team that brought out every nuance and the result was a glorious piece of theatre.
Mary O’Hara was a sweet-voiced singer-harpist who enjoyed success in Ireland, Britain and America in the mid 20th Century. Following the death of her much-loved American husband, Mary entered an enclosed convent of nuns in an English Abbey to recover. There, the restrictive regime and enforced silences helped her through her grieving process and she became a conscientious sister. That was, until her healing calm was interrupted by the demands of an awkward, unwanted American visitor. He, an irreverent drunken atheist, challenged and undermined her blind-faith devotion to the extent that their platonic relationship changed not just their lives, but also those around them.
Given this outline, the resulting play could have been dated,  over-sentimental or mawkish, but in the hands of experienced TTT director Gay Bell and her team it was none of these.
This Harp on the Willow  was grounded in human dilemmas, underlined with truths and threaded through with flashes of sublime humour.
It was, in short, an evening of theatrical joy.
Played out on a simple set, director Gay Bell’s light touch allowed her well-cast team of players to deliver that beautifully-crafted script with the minimum of distractions. 
The action began with Mary’s religious persona, Sister Miriam Perpetual, played with devotional style by Tracey McKeague, meeting for the first time her tormentor/liberator Tyrone, played by rollicking Michael Baker. Both are excellent actors with authentic accents. He really is American, she is Irish-born. As is her lookalike Theresa Hargan, who played the younger Mary in flashback scenes. This neat ploy showed Mary falling for her poet-husband, Richard Selig, then caring for him through his terminal cancer. Richard and this progression was portrayed with sensitivity by Lachie Errey, while Michael Baker’s own transformation from raging drunk to wry sobriety was an acting masterclass.
Theresa Hargan handled her own transitions – from reluctant girlfriend to caring wife – with unwavering loyalty, perfectly setting the scene for Tracey McKeague’s skilled handling of her own character’s complex relationships with religion, death and the chaos brought by her intrusive visitor.
Tracey achieved this with skilled assurance and both incarnations of Mary sang beautifully.
As did the well-chosen support nuns Theresa Lewis and Lynne Elphinston-Gray. Theresa brought warmth and understanding to her Mother Superior role while Lynn also added an off-stage voice of comradeship.
Andrew Gaylard’s voice was also off-stage while on-stage he added a neat cameo of a wise confessor priest; while  Ariel Tzafrir added two distinct and absolutely correct extra voices.
Add in a particularly well-chosen list of scene-transition songs and hymns – from nun’s choruses and chants to Mary O’Hara’s own records spiced with segments from Eartha Kitt among others – plus some heavenly subtitles projected on to a cloud – and the result was altogether a fine  piece of absorbing, delightfully human and unexpectedly humorous theatre.
And its opening night audience loved and lapped up every moment.
You will, too. Don’t miss this Harp on the Willow.

– Colin Mockett

Long-awaited Gypsy blockbuster

Gypsy directed by Scott Hendry for Theatre Of The Damned. Shenton Theatre, East Geelong, October 14, 2022.

Was it only five years ago that Tony and Elise set up their Theatre Of The Damned? It seems much longer because their company is now so firmly established in our theatre community. What makes them different – and probably prompted that Damned title – is their policy of introducing fresh musicals to Geelong as a challenge to the seemingly endless cycle of Les Mis/Fiddler/West Side/Sound of Music/anything Disney.
Gypsy is the latest Damned production and its quite astonishing to think that such a multi-award-winning musical, with serious credentials (book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Style, lyrics of a raft of hits from Sondheim) has been touring since 1959 while never once appearing in Geelong.
Maybe its subject matter was a little racy for Geelong’s past, but this Gypsy’s healthy ticket sales validate the Damned duo’s belief that they are providing what Geelong theatregoers want today. And surely, once word gets around following its rip-roaring opening night, it’s pretty much given that any remaining Gypsy tickets will be snapped up to bring yet another Damned sell-out season.
Gypsy is based on a true story. It’s a version of the early years of Gypsy Rose Lee, who in the 1950s and 60s was a world celebrity as the woman who presented her own version of playful, provocative and acceptable-to-the-mainstream striptease.
But Gypsy doesn’t show an act in development.
Instead, it focuses on the life of a controlling single-minded mother and her determination to turn her daughter into a stage star in America during the Burlesque era of 1920s and 30s.
This pivotal role of Rose, played by multi-talented Sophie Collins, is a real tour-de-force. She radiated energy and sheer talent throughout. The entire production revolved around her brash steely resolve and its effects on everyone in her orbit.
This, in the hands of a fine Damned production team of director Scott Henry, MD Mae Udarbe, choreographer Jacob Goulding and costumier Maxine Urquhart, presented a colourful, kaleidoscopic parade of exploited, wronged, hurt and damaged characters all singing, dancing and acting up a storm in her wake.
In the eye of her storm were Rose’s two daughters, the favoured and spoilt Delanee Collins and the overlooked, put-upon and quite delightful Issy Coomber, as well as her mightily exploited boyfriend Michael Cunningham.
The daughters’ long-set acceptance of their mother’s domination was neatly portrayed by having their younger-selves played by Molly Martin and Elektra Wilde.
Michael’s fascination, compliance and submission to Rose’s will was to later harden with resolve in a finely-drawn acting performance of subtle changes.
It heralded a number of acting cameos from established Geelong performers. These were led by Reyna Hudgell, who moved from a clipped efficient secretary to a veteran stripper-with-a-heart with ease – and superb comic timing. This led to a delightfully risqué blowsy burlesque trio segment with Paula Kontelj and Leanne Treloar.
David Postill’s stage characters moved from brash to harassed to buttoned-down;  Barry Eeles shifted from grumpy grandfather to sharp efficient director and sympathetic ally,  while Rick Peacock’s always-accurate cameos efficiently filled remaining spots. Braiden Troy gave a solo singing and dancing love-interest deception, and a delightful ensemble comprising  Mary-Ellen Hetherington; Karina Whytcross; Laura McKenzie; Abby Livesay; Rosie Whelan; Alex Aidt; Lachlan Roncon; Guy Wingrave; Isabel White; ​ Harrison Coppock; ​​Saxon Wilde and even Chowsie the dog chipped in to fill every other stage need with colour, vitality and energy.
This Gypsy came with a clever plot-twist which I won’t reveal here, with a neat revelation and change of heart. It had heartbreak, compassion and revealed a couple of future stars. But mostly, Geelong’s first Gypsy brought a really good hit musical staged by an exceptional cast, crew and orchestra – and behind that, a production company with uncommon vision.

 – Colin Mockett

The Passion and Glory of Windfire

J.S. Bach – St John Passion, presented by the Windfire Music Choir with the Geelong Chorale and Windfire Orchestra all conducted by Joseph Hie. St Mary’s Basilica, October 8 2022

Bach’s first setting of the Passion story, based on the Gospel of St John, written four hundred years ago, appeared as fresh and relevant as on its first performance on Good Friday in 1723.  
The Passion recounts the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and is a foundation stone of the Christian religion.  For those listening to the work in isolation, there is little hint that there is more to this story – the ultimate climax of Easter’s resurrection.   This performance, conducted by Joseph Hie was the opening concert in the 2022 Windfire Festival. 
From the first ominous chords of the opening chorus Herr, unser Herrscher (‘Lord, thou our Master’), there was a sense of impending doom.  A bass pulse underllaid each bar, rising and falling as the purpose of the work was outlined – to tell a key narrative to those attending a service on Good Friday. 
While the work was originally written as part of the liturgy, modern performances are almost always performed in concert.  This allows the full drama of the work to shine. 
Conductor Joseph Hie had a sure control of his forces.  As a chorister himself, Joseph appears to have an instinctive talent for bringing out every nuance from his choir.  It is an extremely difficult task to move emotionally from a howling mob baying for the death of Jesus, to become Christians, commenting with compassion, sorrow and faith, on this horrific story of politics, power and ultimate crucifixion.  The fifty-strong chorus sang the challenging work with absolute conviction. 
The story is narrated by The Evangelist, sung here by Robert Mcfarlane.  Bach’s recitative setting is dramatic.  Mcfarlane had a consummate skill, word-painting the text from the softest falsetto to declamatory fortissimo, always in control, with Rhys Boak (organ) and Edi Cardingley (cello) providing a flawless continuo. 
The role of Jesus was performed by Adrian Tamburini, whose commanding presence and superb bass voice dominated the action.  
Other characters who appear in first person, Pontius Pilate, Peter, a maid and a servant were performed by the soloists – including baritone Tom Healey who sang Pilate, while also joining the bass line of the chorus. 
The solo arias, like the chorales sung by the chorus, comment directly on the action.  Danielle O’Keefe sang the alto arias with a clarity and conviction.  
It was refreshing to hear a woman singing this part in a work dominated by the male perspective.  Her two arias were, for me, a highlight of this performance. 
Lee Abrahmson’s rich soprano and soaring line added glorious warmth to the soprano arias – demonstrating that she is equally at home singing Bach and Wagner.
Henry Choo sang the tenor arias with clarity and a lovely vocal line. 
Of particular note was the first aria.  This is a fine example of Bach’s use of small forces for effect.  Two violas and continuo accompany the tenor as he painted an analogy to explain Christ’s suffering as a sign of God’s grace. 
Other examples of Bach’s instrumental economy abound in this work. 
While the instruments may have been considered as accompaniment, such compositions are really equal partnerships between players and voices. 
With limited rehearsal time, the musicians must form a bond as strong as those of a string quartet (who may have had the luxury of many hours working together).  In this regard, Joseph Hie’s leadership was vital. 
In this Windfire performance, technique became incidental as the tragedy unfolded over two spellbinding hours of timeless  Bach music. 
The story this passion recounted is as fresh and relevant in our strife-riven times as it was two thousand years ago. 
One was left to wonder whether humanity has moved forward at all over the millennia. 
What is certain was that this performance was amazing. A triumph to all concerned.
The Windfire Festival continues over the next week.  Information and tickets are available from 

– Helen Lyth.

Relate to a moving new show

Relate, directed by Benji Leeks for Fresh Creative Entertainment. The Potato Shed, Drysdale October 6, 2022

This mint-new show was the premier performance of a production that is now bound for the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
It will surely enhance that platform, because this was a show with the lot!
This Relate loosely brought together a whole pallet of theatrical skills and genres to depict a number of confronting issues relevant to today’s society.
 Written by local theatre identity, Chantelle Fava, Relate  focusses on a seven-strong group of friends who are each under pressure from a number of different issues. There are two married couples, one an abusive relationship, the other adjusting to changes brought on by a new birth. The husbands are brothers. Their friends each face their own issues. There’s a grieving mother clinging to her daughter who is, in turn, struggling to find independence; while the seventh member is a woman trying to normalise her gay status against the background of parental rejection. 
All this was depicted on stage in an uninterrupted 70 minutes that used a rare and potent mix of dialogue, mime, recorded music, projected images,  dance and straight old-fashioned acting.
And quite clearly the seven skilled performers had been in long rehearsals, for their every move was ultra-slick, professional and highly polished, including a realistically choreographed on-stage fight between the brothers.
The result was a piece of powerful, confronting ensemble theatre that kept its audience engrossed throughout- then at the end, following a short stunned silence, bursting into long, loud applause. That was because Relate’s issues were brought to a believable – if uncomfortable and unfinished – resolution by a bonding sisterhood.
At this point it’s normal for a review to single out individual performers for their abilities and/or skills, but that’s pretty much impossible here.
That’s not only because this show had an even quality of skilled performers – but as a play it had no cast list, no credits, no programme, no naming or recognition of the actors in the foyer or on the company or venue’s websites. This must be deliberate, so I’ll respect this and simply say that every cast member played their parts with sympathetic, dramatic and energetic skills. 
This was most especially the two well-muscled and very well-matched brothers; one was patient and understanding, the other an abusive drunken junkie. Both danced with outstanding gymnastic athleticism, while each of their five female colleagues, though facing different degrees of pressure, angst and anguish displayed a uniform degree of talent in movement, acting and dance.
Some of the scenes in this Relate were pure ballet, while others were high drama – while the rest was excellent theatre.
There were a couple of first-night glitches with sound disparity and images projected on to a black curtain rendering them quite unclear – but these will be easily fixed.
I highly recommend that you find a way to the Bluestone Church Arts Space in Footscray when Relate reappears as part of this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival. You’ll be mightily impressed.
– Colin Mockett

Sweet, Sensual and Surprising

A Sweet Serenade from Orchestra Geelong conducted by Janice Wilding. C A Love Hall, Geelong High School August 14, 2022. 
One of the nice things about attending an Orchestra Geelong concert is the element of surprise. In the past, I’ve seen a member of parliament, police and sportspeople among its members – it’s a true community orchestra – and its choice of concert themes tends to range from ambitious to adventurous.
Today’s orchestra comprises a pleasing mix of ages from students to elders and their concert’s  ‘Sweet Serenade’ title was enigmatic enough to cover a variety of musical genres.
Yet it still brought unexpected elements from its heart warming start to a polished, arousing finish. We even saw clarinet and keyboard maestro Michael Wilding – husband of the orchestra’s conductor – displaying his percussion skills on kettle drums.
The start was a novel and very welcome musical version of acknowledgement of country, titled ‘Long Time Living Here’ written by Deborah Cheetham with spoken elements in English and the Wadawurrung language by Corrina Eccles. The words were delivered by orchestra director Janice Wilding, against a quietly droning melodious rhythm from a quartet of woodwind instruments.
The closing item was a solo guitar Brazilian piece announced by its player Maximillian Rudd as ‘licentious’ but perhaps better described  as ‘seductive’ – it certainly provoked loud and joyfully enthusiastic applause from around the hall.
In between these, we experienced some fine music and more surprises, not all of which were planned. 
Following that unusual opening, the next item was Giovanni Gabrielle’s Canzon No 4, a brisk and breezy band piece crisply delivered by five members of the orchestra’s brass section standing to orchestra’s right.
Once returned to their places, the full orchestra delivered Sally Greenaway’s short, sweet and evocative tribute to The Blue Mountains before conductor Janice announced the next piece to be Gerald Finzi’s Introit  for Solo Violin and Orchestra.  This was itself unusual, as introit is an ecclesiastical term for ‘opening’ and our orchestra was using it as a central part of its programme
Then the soloist took her place. This was orchestra leader Edwina Sekine standing to shed her uniform black to reveal a glamorous evening frock in which she delivered the work with rare panache.
This meant her violin flowed from smooth pastural melodies to quirky high staccato birdsong that she accompanied with an equally dazzling range of smiles. 

Then, to close the concert’s first half, the brass quintet stood out again to play Bach’s Fugue No.7. It’s another challenging piece during which the musicians lost their way a little, to be reset by conductor Janice calling gently – and sweetly – from the rear of the string section, ‘I think that we need to stop there…’
Stop they did, began again and delivered the piece perfectly at second attempt to warm and appreciative applause.

Following a short interval, the full orchestra returned to present Schubert’s Symphony No 8 in B minor, The Unfinished Symphony. This is a work in three pieces which moved through flowing passages to soaring crescendoes before arriving at its sweet final passage Andante con moto
Then came two pieces from guest guitarist Maximillian Rudd, the first Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto in D Major, RV 93.
For this smoothly complex work,  the majority of the orchestra left to join the audience, leaving violins, violas and cellos to accompany the master guitarist seated beside the conductor’s rostrum.
We augmented audience gave the work an appreciative reception – but that was well overshadowed by the final piece. 

  Though they didn’t play in that last cheerfully seductive Brazilian piece Mafua by Armandinho Neves, the orchestra’s strings remained where they were, but turned to face Maximilian and essentially placing him as a soloist in the round.
So that delightful work and its highly appreciative reception generated smiles everywhere and brought this concert of surprises to a highly suitable conclusion. 

– Colin Mockett   

Chorale’s own world music trip

Around The World in 80 Minutes with the Geelong Chorale conducted by Anne Pilgrim. All Saints Church, Noble St, July 10, 2022. 

There was something unfamiliar and slightly unsettling, hearing the Geelong Chorale singing folk songs. It was a little like discovering your genteel maiden aunt politely shouting umpire abuse at the footy.
But it only took a couple of songs to acclimatise to this out-of-repertoire experience. The format, as laid down by the group’s musical director Allister Cox, was for Chorale and audience to take a virtual plane journey around the world experiencing a song or two at each stopover.
He didn’t personally take part in the journey, being on holiday himself. But he did leave his able deputy Anne Pilgrim in charge as well as a sheaf of notes for compere John Stubbings to utilise as boarding and landing announcements.
Our trip began and ended in Australia, of course, starting with Click Go The Shears sung very much Chorale style, with precise diction and neatly defined harmonies. Even a bevy of okker-costumed members and corks hanging from their conductor’s hat couldn’t disguise the singers’ refined delivery which probably leant more toward the hair salon than shearing shed. But it did quite literally set the tone for what was to follow.
That was a stopover in Israel, where the tenors and bass singers stood in front of their seated fellow singers to deliver a spirited, but still vocally meticulous version of Have Nagila. 
This settled us fellow-travellers for the short hop to Latvia.
There, accompanied by their immaculately costumed accompanist Kristine Mellens, the Chorale’s 20 voices delightfully sang the pretty folk song Kurs Putninis Dzied Tik Kosi which included the classic line ‘On bended knee he offered me his hand, and cheese in the local pub, fa-la-la-la’.
Then, just to make the point that Europe was not all about cheese and romance, we landed in former Yugoslavia, where the choir sang a plaintive song titled The Unfaithful Lover which contained the immortal lines ‘my sweetheart she loves me no longer, my own sweetheart. Woe is me, Oh woe is me…’ which  underlined the maxim that travellers sometimes come across unhappy people. 
That wasn’t the case with the next item, though. This was a Swedish pastoral love song delightfully delivered solo by soprano Fiona Squires. It was called Uti Var Hage which translates as in our meadow and it listed the numbers and varieties of flowers available for Fiona to make a floral crown for us, which, she promised,  would bring joy to our hearts.
But while we were still contemplating this, the full Choralereturned for a short flip to Italy singing of their love for the sun O Sole Mio, accompanied by Kristine.  This was followed by a trip over the border to Germany, for a sweet and lyrical version of Johannes Brahms’ In Stiller Nacht.
A melodic saucy French piece, Aupres De Ma Blonde finished the European segment before no fewer than four songs from the British Isles. 
England provided Just As The Tide Was Flowing which returned to the theme of a fair maid picking flowers, but this time from a sailor’s perspective. He remarked on the number of times his advances were checked and finally accepted in keeping with tidal flows. Then followed two more fluid British songs in Scotland’s Loch Lomond followed by The Parting Glass from Ireland. The former was correctly sung as a lament – it was written in Carlisle jail by a Scottish soldier following the battle of Culloden – while The Parting Glass was delivered as a moving solo by Fiona with all the reverence due to a song representing countless millions of pub farewells.
Then the Tenors and Basses returned for a hearty, stirring and passionate version of the Welsh rugby anthem Men Of Harlech.
This was followed a short stopover in America, represented by a beautifully melodic rendition of Shenandoah and Stephen Foster’s cheerful homage to Nelly Bly, who apparently had ‘a heart warm as a cup o tea, and bigger than a sweet potato down in Tennessee’. 
A quick call into Asia saw the Chorale’s sopranos and altos delivering a sweet version of the back-to-nature Japanese Children’s song Hotaru Koi, followed by a Taiwanese tea pickers song Diu Diu Deng which cleverly mimicked their steam-train journey up the mountain to their plantation. 
Following such exotic fare it was could have appeared somewhat ordinary to return to Australia and Waltzing Matilda, but the Chorale made it into a spirited send-off.
And the time? That 17-song global journey took exactly 78 minutes. It encompassed a repertoire as wide as conductor Pilgrim’s smile when accepting the audience’s warm and well-deserved applause.
I’m sure that Philias Fogg couldn’t have been more proud.
– Colin Mockett

Celebration of Female Excellence

Love, Loss and What I Bore directed by Nikki Watson for Anglesea Performing Arts, Anglesea Hall June 4, 2022.

This neat production bore all the familiar APA hallmarks.
It was a piece of intelligent theatre, delivered with professional flair in the charming surrounds of the township’s community hall.
Though in fact, it was two different and distinct one-act plays that had been perfectly dovetailed together.
The first, Don’t Say Bubba was written by Melbourne playwright Fleur Murphy with input from the APA players themselves.
The second, Love, Loss & What I Wore, was written in 2008 by New York screenwriter sisters Delia and Norma Ephron. It’s a multi-awarded but little-known favourite that initially played off-Broadway for a 2½ years.
In Anglesea, both plays were staged by the same team of director Nikki Watson and her pool of seven female actors.
Each play offered different insights into elements of feminine thinking, with its humour, its irrationalities, its perceptions and comprehensions – but mostly its deep well of understanding.
The first play, Don’t Say Bubba, saw a heavily pregnant Julie Fryman-Kristy visiting her mother’s house for a pre-birth catch-up with friends and relatives. Their mother-daughter relationship was cautious, not only because of generational differences and past histories, but Julie was experiencing a pre-birth hormonal surge with its resulting insecurities and tetchiness.
 Hence the play’s title, for the mother-to-be’s ground rules had banned any mention of the upcoming birth.
This was shaped into a game by her mother – breezily played with homely charm by Janine McKenzie – so that every time the subject was broached, the speaker had to clip a clothes peg onto her collar and change the subject.
Both were (rightfully) wary of the arrival of outspoken Auntie Lou whose loose but well-meaning plain speaking was rewarded with flurries of pegs, and who was wonderfully portrayed by a joyfully oblivious Lina Libroaperto. Neighbour friends Kirsten Honey and Zoe Lander came to sympathetically, but unsuccessfully, attempt to placate and calm the situation before Julie’s best friend from childhood unexpectedly turned up.
She, played by Sarah Crowe, showed a depth of feminine intuition and understanding that not only smoothed the situation, she laid a pathway to the play’s neat but quite properly unfinished ending.
Following an interval cuppa, the same actors, minus Julie – who was in real-life heavily pregnant – but with the addition of the baby-faced but highly experienced actor Stacey Carmichael, presented Love, Loss & What I Wore .
The actors, all wearing  black, were seated in a line across the stage, flanked by a display board and clothes rack.
They used their normal Australian accents to individually stand and deliver the play’s sharp New York Jewish humour – and it married perfectly with its pre-interval sister-play. 

Love, Loss & What I Wore is essentially a compilation of individual female memories, delivered as respectful and very witty monologues.  Each linked moments of their childhood and early years with recollections of their inappropriate or unsuitable clothing at the time.
These were illustrated  by the poster display and cute cartoon versions of the clothing from the rack.
This neat format was occasionally interrupted and enlivened by delightful and insightful recollections of random collective memories. These ranged from inappropriate motherly advice to embarrassing moments through to shared experiences in dressing rooms.
All were well chosen, beautifully written, spiced with humour and delivered with charm and wit by six smart, sassy and very well rehearsed actors.
And this segment/play was drawn to a clever and entirely appropriate surprise ending. 
All told, Love, Loss and What I Bore presented a wholly satisfying theatrical experience.  Though entirely female-oriented, it gave we males in the audience much to enjoy, laugh along with – and to digest and learn from, too. 

– Colin Mockett

A Les Mis of exceptional standard

Les Miserables, directed by Martin Croft  for Centre/Stage Geelong, Costa Hall, June 3, 2022.

If you’re thinking of giving this production a miss because you’ve seen Les Mis plenty of times before, I can give you a host of reasons to reconsider.
First, Geelong’s Center/Stage chose the newest Cameron Mackintosh/Royal Shakespeare Company version of the world’s most popular musical. This was revised and reworked in 2019 to much acclaim.
It’s not just slicker and smoother than previous productions, the show’s tearjerking and passion levels were tweaked to new highs.
Plus this production, staged in Geelong’s most prestigious venue, looked, sounded and moved like a capital city big-money production – but with seats at non-professional prices.

The experience begins on entry to The Costa Hall where a fully built set is on stage.
How this was achieved in an essential wingless space designed for graduations and symphony orchestras can only be explained by Keith Greenwood and his team of set construction wizards.
Then, as the orchestra struck the first chords of Look Down, the production’s work song overture, it became clear that musical director Phil Kearney and his team had brought together a really accomplished orchestra. 
As prisoners and warders appeared from the mists with their actions and voices smoothly coordinated, we audience knew that director/choreographer Martin Croft and lighting designer Jason Boviard and their teams were at the top of their form.
It then became clear that the show’s costume and wig teams – headed by Sharon Clearwater and Nicole Plowman – had worked their theatrical magic to a high level of excellence.
The show’s programme credits a 150-member backroom team, and every one of these can take credit, along with David Greenwood’s production unit for resourcing all of the above to such high standards.
But then… Take on board the on-stage talents, and wow! This was a simply brilliant all-in production.
There was high-performance quality everywhere from the consistently excellent Nick Addison’s Jean Valjean – who set the show’s high standard in both acting and singing.
Though this was intentionally countered by Shaun Kingma’s steely-voiced Javert – a relentless unflinching opponent with an absolutely correct stolid manner.
Their encounter with Dan Eastwood’s Bishop of Digne, whose rich compassionate voice complimented theirs perfectly,  was the first in a succession of show highlights. 
These ranged from the heartstring-tugging voice of Erin Cornell’s tragic Fantine to the show’s stirring anthems led by Samuel Allsop’s Enjolras and the exaggerated pantomime of Barry Mitchell and Michele Marcu’s Thenardier criminal-comedy innkeepers.
There was Shani Clarke’s plaintive Eponine wringing every ounce of sentiment from her torn plights and the unlikely but believable – and successful – love story played out between Storm Randall’s Marius and Jessica Faulkner’s Cosette
As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a precociously talented bunch of children playing on audience heartstrings. Take a bow, Jessie Grinter, Evie Walsh, Samarah Parker, Zoe Baker, Emerson Hudson-Collins, Campbell Van Elst and Daniel Lim.  
While behind all these, supporting every move and every song with a colourful elegance of harmony and precision was a backing ensemble led by Michael Cunningham, Jack McPhail, Ashley Thompson, Bram Harris, Ben McNaughton, Jett Sansom, Bailey Mitrovski, Finn Jaques, Nelfio Di Marco,  Kevin Chang, Amy Whitfield, Ashleigh Nearn, Ava Davies, Ava Wiese, Bella Harper, Charlotte Charles, Cheryl Campbell, Ella Edwards, Jasmin Wilson, Jennifer Stirk, Jess Senftleben, Laura Williams, Leticia Bayliss,  Louise Walter, Lucy Lorenne, Lucy Martin, Marja Le Hunt,  Murray Plowman, Ned White, Nicole Hickman, Paris Walsh, Paul Noonan, Rimon Abohaidar, Sabrina Horne and Sienna Campbell.
I’m aware that listing the ensemble takes up a reader’s time and writer’s space, but these people were essential to the uniformly high standard of this show.
Together, all of the above talented people combined to bring to Geelong a Les Miserable of such exceptional quality that it would truly be a tragedy to miss it.

– Colin Mockett

TTT’s 33 reasons to celebrate

Thirty Three, directed by Skye Staude  forTorquay Theatre Troupe, Shoestring Theatre, Torquay, June 2, 2022

One of the wonders of theatre is its ability to open a window into other times, cultures or emotions. This is most frequently built around significant events or sentiments – think of the many murders or farcical situations built into classic dramas or comedies. But it’s a rare play that captures a segment of society that is up-to-the-minute and accurate, without mockery, parody or sensationalising.
This play does exactly that. It’s set in today’s time, in the rented Sydney house of a single woman about to celebrate her 33rd birthday with a group of friends.
As such, it is a snapshot of the language, passions and emotions of young adults in Australia in the early 21st Century. It illustrates their strong vocabulary and recreational use of drugs and alcohol, too, which could be a warning to some theatregoers – and a mark of authenticity to others.
There are no murders involved in this play, no wars, robberies, heists or farcical chases. Instead, there are close-up insights into personal and family relationships and the way they intertwine and overlap.
All of the above seen from that unusual thirty-something viewpoint.
There are glimpses of thwarted ambitions, lost and abandoned loves, unresolved rejections and buried resentments.
It’s essentially a rich segment of modern life, really well captured by playwrights Michael Booth and Alistair Powning and authentically portrayed by a talented cast selected and directed by Skye Straude. 

Ms Straude and four of her six actors are new to the Torquay Theatre Troupe and it’s very much a compliment to the company’s committee to take this generational leap of faith.
 Because such is the quality of stagecraft and acting involved that this Thirty Three deserves full houses with audiences across the age spectrum.

The onstage action is centred around birthday girl Saskia who is discovered alone, quietly preparing for her celebration dinner with a few friends.
That fly-on-the-wall audience perception is cleverly maintained through the use of a single unchanged set, quick blackout changes and some neat lighting effects.
Saskia, stylishly portrayed with understated authority by Melissa Langley, holds the production together through some unexpectedly surprising twists and turns.
These came early, with the first arrival who was not an invited guest, but her estranged younger brother Josh. He was played by Kerrin Whiting, and he didn’t just act his distressed and confused part with believability, he bore a sibling likeness to Melissa.
But then the guests arrived.
These were a choice bunch led by randy over-the-top estate agent Maya, joyously and energetically portrayed by Kelly McConville.
Then came arty musician Lily, who, on the way had been text-dumped by her lesbian lover.  This challenging role was neatly depicted by Alexandra Boston with a fine mix of airy sadness with downplayed anguish.
Last to arrive was a pair of blokes who had clearly began their celebrating very early.
This was Lachlan Vivian-Taylor’s Tim, husband to Maya and suffering her rejection in open torment with Ethan Cook’s Lachie – an over-hearty life-of-the-party chancer whose inflated ego and ambitious exaggerations served to trigger, then shape the party from a celebration into a splintered gathering of damaged egos.

I’m not going to describe any of these here, because much of the delight of watching Thirty Three is in the building and shelving of different situations.
It’s enough to say that this rare piece of theatre gives an honest insight of a segment of our society that is rarely scrutinised. 

It’s extremely well staged and well worth a visit – but definitely for adults only.
– Colin Mockett

Charm and Magic at the Love Hall

Shimmering Chaminade And A Touch of Magic, presented by Orchestra Geelong, conductor Janice Wilding, C.A. Love Hall, Geelong High School, May 29 2022

Orchestra Geelong is a true community orchestra, in that all its members are amateurs who play purely for their love of creating music. Such is that love, they pay for the privilege. The orchestra has been an entity in Geelong for around three decades under a number of names and this critic has seen and enjoyed its growth and progress over the years.
The 2022 Orchestra Geelong consists of 42 players of all ages, from students to seniors. It’s feminine gender-oriented, with a ratio of around 3 women to each male, and this concert introduced a new female conductor in Janice Wilding.
She began her term by selecting a challenging programme, with that ‘Touch of Magic’ in the concert’s title referring to her opening piece, Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture, which her orchestra  carried off with proficiency and a surprisingly large, round, sound.
This was achieved courtesy of the orchestra’s make-up, with strings comprising almost half the players, significant woodwind and horn sections and light on percussion and bass. 

The concert’s second piece, Elena Kats-Chernin’s Dance of the Paper Umbrellas showed another element of the orchestra – its mastery of the work’s sharp, hypnotic dance rhythms. These, conductor Janice smilingly explained, could be due to the piece being written by a spurned female and gifted to her lover on the day he wed another.
Then followed the piece that put the ‘Chaminade’ in the concert’s title – another female composer, Cècile Charminade’s  Concertino for Flute and Orchestra with guest flautist Suzanne Moodie. This piece’s flowing melodies  and lush harmonies charmed the hall’s packed audience and sent Suzanne and the orchestra into their interval on a wave of warm applause.
The concert’s second half was given over entirely to the orchestra playing Beethoven’s symphony No 1 in C major. This major work’s five pieces range from the opening Adagio Molto’s big, bold brush strokes to the neat precise patterns of Allegro con brio and  through to the stirring triumphal Allegro motto e vivace.
The works’ sudden shifts were handled with polished assurance by the orchestra which appeared to grow in stature with each succeeding piece.
This was in no small way accomplished by conductor Janice’s warm, appreciative podium style. She conducts with neat precision, accompanied only by warm approving smiles.
This was consolidated and emphasised by Janice’s act as the final chords of Beethoven’s work were still resonating from the glass-walled C.A. Love Hall.
Then, she left her podium to lead the audience applause for her orchestra.
This was thoroughly deserved. It went on long and loud, embraced Janice and each orchestra member – and it marked a delightful concert that had displayed several kinds of magic.

– Colin Mockett   

Amazing life’s work captured in song

Vaughan Williams, A Life In Music presented by The Geelong Chorale, conducted by Allister Cox, All Saints Church, Sunday May 15, 2022.

Ralph Vaughan Williams has to be the most prolific English composer.
He completed more than 800 works in a writing career spanning more than 60 years, as conductor Allister Cox said in his always-interesting links between pieces. What was surprising was the diversity of those works. Ralph Vaughan Williams appeared to be able to turn his composing pen to anything, creating operas, ballets, chamber music, hymns, religious vocal works, and no fewer than nine symphonies.  His music ranged from delicate songs of love to powerful anthems, folk songs to devout religious masses – and that was despite his declared atheism.
It became clear through his intros that conductor Allister had made a close study of Ralph Vaughan Williams during his own musical career so this concert was in many ways a labour of love. It was certainly deeply researched with its 15 pieces carefully selected to cover much of that amazing musical diversity. They were performed by the full-strength Chorale with four highly capable – and glamorously attired – young guest soloists in soprano Amelia Wawrzon, mezzo soprano Syrah Torii, tenor Ben Glover and baritone James Emerson. In turn all were accompanied by Kristine Mellens on piano and Ken George on the church’s  organ.
Attendance at the church was full, with organisers scrambling to find extra chairs for late arrivals before the concert opened in style with Chorale and organ setting a vigorous scene with a rousing rendition of the anthem O Clap Your Hands.  This theme was continued by baritone James with his hearty rendition of the jaunty Vagabond before the Chorale returned to switch the mood completely. They presented three Elizabethan partsongs, the aptly titled Sweet Day, lyrical Willow Song and winsome O Mistress Mine. Then followed another solo, this from the clear mezzo voice of Syrah describing a picturesque Watermill,   before a thundering organ solo from Ken, when he delivered a blasting  Prelude on Rhosymedre.
Enter the immaculately evening-suited  tenor Ben to deliver Whither Must I Wander, a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson which Vaughan Williams had set to music.
Then came what was for this reviewer, the concert’s first highlight. It was three simple folksongs, first a lyrical Scots piece in Alister McAlpine’s Lament, followed by the equally flowing Turtle Dove from baritone James in full Celtic mode with the segment ending with the Chorale performing a delightfully delicate song Just As the Tide Was Flowing.
Then entered glamorous soprano Amelia to perform the cooly emotional Silent Noon, before the choir brought a rousingly patriotic finale to the first half with Antiphon which ended with the line… ‘Let all the world in every corners sing – My God and King!’ This was warmly applauded even by the room’s republican atheists.
Following a short break to reassemble, Chorale and soloists combined to present the composer’s Mass in G minor in its four disparate parts before ending the event with another rousing religious anthem in Lord, Thou Has Been Our Refuge.
Quite apart from highlighting the depth and breadth of Vaughan Williams’s work and the Chorale’s and soloist’s expertise, this concert also demonstrated the All Saints’ venue’s excellent acoustics, which resounded to the composer’s lyricism, the performers’ clarity – and then with long, appreciative well-earned applause. 

– Colin Mockett. 

Our GSO Warms and Shines!

Pastorale, presented by Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Richard Davis, Costa Hall, May 7, 2022

I don’t think that the Geelong Symphony Orchestra realises just how good it is. This concert could have graced any concert hall in the country up to and including the Sydney Opera House. It was musically and technically perfect, beautifully presented and excellent in every aspect – bar one. And that was excusable.
The content, which began with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending featuring a wonderfully talented guest violinist in Erica Kennedy, sensitively and perceptively supported by the GSO. This was followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No.6, the Pastoral, which saw the orchestra in full masterful flight.
But this choice of programme, with its themes of birdsong, babbling brooks and peaceful countryside was so out of step with current circumstances that it took a while to win over its audience. For they had arrived scarved and waterproofed in Geelong’s unexpected first autumn cold snap of icy wind and rain. What’s more this was an audience with nerves jangled by weeks of a blanket news cycle dominated by European war and a squabbling, seemingly endless domestic election campaign.
You would think those themes of peace and tranquillity would have calmed and warmed its audience and indeed it did. But it took a little time. And the event’s unseasonal aspect was really beyond the organiser’s control. It was due to Covid lockdowns and postponements. And I believe that the high quality of the concert’s first piece contributed, too.  I’ll explain.
This performance of Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending was so breathtakingly beautiful that rather than calming and relaxing us, we audience were energised and awake. On the edges of our seats, even. We were all aware that we were experiencing something very special.
The Lark is a work of exquisite elegance with its silences as meaningful as its glorious swoops and crescendos. This, Erica Kennedy understands completely and performed exactly. I can’t recall the last time I sat in the Costa experiencing such pin-drop silence between every perfectly timed graceful musical stanza.
Erica took several well-earned curtain calls before the orchestra reformed for the evening’s major work. Given the pastoral theme, she was expertly shepherded by conductor Richard Davis.
Richard has conducted the GSO on several occasions. Enough to understand and bond with our musicians and he invariably draws excellent performances from them.  This was one of those occasions.
A bonus is that Richard’s conducting style is wonderful to watch. It’s a mesmerising mix of air-stabbing baton, embracing, smoothing gestures and dramatic swoops using both arms to conjure crescendos. All delivered with smiling elegance. And it’s so effective that far from being calmed, we were again energised by both conductor and orchestra before the skills of Beethoven took over and we became relaxed by the music.
The concert’s program pointed out that Beethoven’s Pastoral is unusual in that it comprises five movements, the final three performed as one. Such was the quality of the jaunty introduction and smooth lyricism of the second that the audience broke into spontaneous applause before that busy, all-encompassing final movement with its tranquil expressions, musical squall and post-storm soothing serenity. All of which was handled by the GSO with such faultless expertise that the serene finale was followed by warm,  long and highly appreciative applause. This saw conductor Davis in full shepherding mode. He bowed, beaming, and left the stage, to return and proudly invite each musical section to stand and take their bows. Several times each.
A special appreciation was given to stand-in concertmaster Robert John, whose unspectacular, but efficient and effective skills matched and complemented those of the entire orchestra.
It’s enough to say that this concert, and the GSO, left its audience in a warm and highly appreciative mood – one that was very different to the way they had arrived.
– Colin Mockett

Bright Star-Quality in Vivacious Bluegrass Musical

Bright Star directed by Katie Williams for Theatre Of the Damned. Shenton Theatre, April 29, 2022

This unusual, challenging musical had to be the perfect antidote for Geelong’s election fatigue/Covid aftermath.  Though set far enough away in time and place to remind us of our own different times, its themes of thwarted love, power abuse and gender manipulation reflected issues still raw today.
But what made this Bright Star such an excellent remedy was that those themes were handled with a cheerfully light touch, thanks to a storyline written by comedian Steve Martin, coupled with a hearty, thigh-slapping bluegrass musical score from Edie Brickell.
Their work was delivered with swagger, swing and a great deal of panache by a talented young cast. But before I get down to describing this, there’s another couple deserving recognition here. Theatre Of The Damned founders Tony and Elise Dahl started their company five years ago with the stated intention of bringing fresh musicals and talent to what they saw as Geelong’s jaded theatre scene mostly stuck in a routine of restaging a list of proven favourites.
This Bright Star, their seventh show, had a troubled start including lockdown postponements, unforeseen withdrawals, illness and personal tragedies.
So it was wonderful to see the smile on Tony’s face at the show’s end as he thanked the outgoing audience for their support – a TOTD tradition – while bathing in a warm glow of delight from a mightily satisfied audience after the show’s house-full opening night. It was particularly well deserved.
This was all the more so because that success was brought about by a trio of first-time talents in the production’s key positions.  That was director Katie Williams, musical director Jason Harrison and choreographer Andrew Coomber. Each brought fresh ideas that gave the production its vitality and energy.
MD Jason had brought together what has to be the most unusual 11-piece band ever assembled in an orchestra pit. It had two keyboards, two banjos and a mandolin with cello, viola, fiddle, guitar, drums and a bowed upright double bass. But this versatile combo drove the production through yee-hah ho-down exuberance to sombre laughter-through-tears chords… With thanks to neat balancing from Ben Anderson’s sound work.
Andrew’s crisp dance originality flowed from his peppy production numbers through to the show’s scene-changes, all of which were affected by cast members shifting multi-use wooden boxes and a wheeled do-hickey thingy. 
But most kudos should go to director Katie, who  kept the action rolling at a brisk even pace while drawing uniform high-quality performances from her cast.
In brief, Bright Star is set in America’s southern state of North Carolina in 1946 with frequent  flashbacks to 1923. (The date neatly displayed on milk churns.) The action, inspired by a true story, told one woman’s journey through joy and tragedy to eventual fulfilment.
This central role was carried in masterful fashion by Kimberlee Bone whose accent, singing and movement was flawless. But then, she was matched by her on-stage partner Liam McWhinney, with an equally dominant performance. These two carried the show – one or other was on stage virtually throughout – with a combination of powerful acting and vibrant singing.
Once in full flow, Bright Star’s action essentially followed three couples, their interactions, diversions and overlaps. The second couple were all charm, with Lachlan Whatman’s wholesome appeal delightfully matched by Gemma Eastwood’s mischievous  attractiveness. The third couple were mischievous, too, having (supposedly) grabbed an opportunity to form de facto pair from the support ensemble. So take a cheeky bow Alicia Miller and Ben McNaughton for your clever opportunism.
Keeping the action flowing around these couples were fathers Shane Lee, Rick Peacock and David Postill – Shane full of country charm, Rick torn by righteous dilemmas and David by overriding ambition; while Mary-Ellen Hetherington showed motherly understanding and compassion.
 I should point out here that every actor on stage sang and danced with practiced ease and a good deal of verve. This was a highly polished and very practiced show.
This flowed through the support players, including  Gerry McKeague’s wily lawyer, Paul Tyson’s corruptible doctor,  Rebecca Wik & Hannah Senftleben’s lovely dependable friends, Tom Nouwen’s thwarted suitor and the sterling adaptable ensemble of Amy Curtis, Poppy Charles, David Van Etten and Gabby Peacock. The voices of Rachel Helwig and Layla Peacock bolstered the big musical numbers. The whole cast was perfectly suited and costumed by Maxine Urquhart and her team, while the big cast was shepherded and managed by stage manager Scott Warren props man Derek Ingles and their teams.
That was a long list to include, but every one can take credit for this show’s quite outstanding Bright Star quality.
It was delightful, and worth every ounce of effort that you put in. Thank you. You deserve full houses and similar ovations for the six shows to come.
– Colin Mockett

Sacred Words perfectly presented

The Seven Last Words of Christ, Windfire Choir and Orchestra conducted by Joseph Hie, Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Yarra St, April 8, 2022.

Despite its simple title, this was a mammoth sacred work made all the more difficult by pandemic postponements, restrictions and last-minute replacements.
The titular seven ‘Words’ are in fact eight distinct oratorios, each based on statements credited to Christ while dying on the cross.
They’re sung in Latin based on priests’ regular narrations that developed over centuries into chants. These were gathered together and set to music by 19th Century French composer, Theodore Dubois, who used an orchestra, chorus and solo soprano, tenor and baritone voices.
His pieces, traditionally performed together, last a little under an hour which doesn’t really work for a 21st century concert.
So Music at the Basilica director Frank De Rosso added three related sacred works to lead into the main performance.
These featured the evening’s soloists but without the orchestra or chorus. 
This meant the concert began with all the dramatic force of Manfred Pohlenz’s operatic baritone thunderously delivering Auguste Descarries’ Pie Jesu, accompanied by Frank on a small electronic organ with amplifiers set on ‘full power’.
This mighty opening was followed – and neatly contrasted – by Soprano soloist Teresa Duddy’s  beautiful rendition of Dubois’ lyrical Ave Verum.  For this delicate piece, Teresa’s warm, rich voice was balanced by Allister Cox’s clarinet clarity and a  much more subdued organ from Frank.
This was followed by Dubois’ Panis Angelicus from tenor David Campbell, whose silvery tones were mirrored by Carter Harris Smith’s cello, highlighted by Jacinta Dennet’s harp and again supported by Frank’s sympathetic playing.
A short break allowed the orchestra and chorus to assemble, with the musicians at ground level and soloists seated in front of the tiered chorus. 
Thus all were in plain sight of conductor Joseph Hie, who controlled the entire concert from that point.  Conductor Hie didn’t use dramatic flourishes. His confident, restrained demeanour  encouraged rather than demanded excellence from his musicians and singers – and the concert’s overall standard reflected this.
Those seven sacred ‘Words’ were delivered with reverence as well as the emotional tones that their messages dictated. 
They began with the introduction O vos ones, doubtless written for a boy soprano but delivered with rare style by Teresa Duddy. This piece was to set the tone for what followed, ranging from delicate near-whispers to thunderous crescendoes.
The first ‘Word’ Pater dimity – father, forgive them for they know not what they do – had tenor David, orchestra and chorus working together softly and most respectfully  while the second, Hodie mecum eras – verily thou shalt be in paradise with me – was a quieter conversational duet between tenor David and baritone Manfred. The third Word Stabat Mater – see, O woman, behold thy son beloved – was a delicate, finely balanced piece using all three soloists and chorus with emotional rises and falls. The fourth Word Deus meus  – God, why have you forsaken me? – had Manfred’s fine baritone in a pensive questioning solo, while the fifth Word Sitio – I am athirst! – saw David, Manfred and male members of the chorus using big, dramatic pleas. The sixth Word, Pater in manus twas – father into this hands I commend my soul – was delivered by tenor David in suitably solemn, restrained tones while the seventh and climactic ‘Word’ Et claimants Jesu – captured all the emotional dramas, passions and emotions that had gone before and led them to a triumphal climax.
Taken together, this made for a wonderful evening of sacred music performed by fine Geelong talent in the most suitable of settings. 
A reverend delight that even atheists could appreciate.
– Colin Mockett

An Unusual Musical Treat

Internationally and throughout Australia, Tom Healey has serious musical credibility.
Quite apart from his 11 years as director of music at Geelong Grammar, he’s the organist and choir director at St Paul’s and has sung, played and conducted for more than 30 years in venues ranging from Notre-Dame de Paris to Princetown in the US.
So if and when Tom were to invite you to sing in his Vox Angelica choir, you would make time and perform at your very best.
And should Tom Healey stage a concert, choosing everything from programme to singers to accompanist to venue – you know it’s going to be memorable.
So it was for this concert, which was at times superb, at times glorious – but never dropped below the level of special.
Tom’s Vox Angelica Chamber Choir is, to this reviewer’s knowledge, the only paid professional choral ensemble in Geelong. That professionalism showed throughout a carefully selected programme that included two American spirituals and songs by 9th Century hermits,  a choral version of Elgar’s Nimrod and works by Monteverdi, Healey Willan, Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds and a Ukranian piece researched, rehearsed and included in just two weeks as a gesture of solidarity with the besieged Ukrainian people.
The venue had been selected, Tom said, because it stands as ‘the best acoustic room in Geelong’, and nobody present would have argued with that view. The accompanist was the elegant and sensitive pianist Sonoka Miyake and the solo vocalist was a revelation. It was Tom Healey himself, displaying a powerful, precise baritone perfectly suited to the selected material.
There were, in all, 13 pieces in a concert that went for a little over an hour.
Its opening was impressive, with the choir quietly entering then bursting without preamble into Monteverdi’s glorious In Illo Tempore which conductor Tom confessed he would much rather have been singing than conducting, such was the work’s beauty.
 This was followed by a modern piece, Drop Drop Slow Tears by Canadian composer Stephanie Martin, which set a 15th Century text to new music that had the Vox sopranos sending soaring crescendos around the gallery’s rafters. The choir’s opening set finished on a reflective note with Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine, exquisitely sung and deftly supported by Sonoka’s delicate accompaniment.
Then came the first solo, Samual Barber’s The Crucifixion with Tom’s rich, powerful voice adding sombre tones to the layered text.
The choir returned with a jaunty spiritual Great Day contrasted by the gently quiet Sure On This Shining Light and a sublime love song Rise Up My Love My Fair One from the Song of Solomon.
Tom’s second solo stint was two short Celtic Hermit songs. The first, The Heavenly Banquet had the hermit praying for ‘a great lake of beer’, among other things, while the second rueful piece titled Promiscuity was just one page long, half of which was piano accompaniment. But then, as Tom noted, what would a 9th Century monk know about promiscuity?
The polished and simply beautiful vocal version of Elgar’s Nimrod followed, displaying the choir’s near-perfect tonal balance and  the Ukrainian tribute piece, which set John Donne’s No Man Is An Island to a moving tune by Ukrainian ex-pat Paul Stetsenko.
The penultimate work Only in Sleep used the highlighted voices of sopranos Helen Seymour and Jane Standish with Jane’s brother Richard from the male-voice section. These three voices against the choir’s textured background were gorgeous – and neatly contrasted as the concert ended brightly and spritely with another traditional spiritual This Little Light Of Mine.
This was followed by long, sustained applause from a highly appreciative audience that rose, fell, and broke in waves over Tom his choir and Sonoka, all looking slightly embarrassed.
Instead of a final wrap, I’ll say this. If you’re rueful because you have missed this unusual musical treat – it’s being repeated in the larger venue of St Paul’s Church in LaTrobe Terrace 7.30pm Friday April 29.
Find tickets at
Believe me, you won’t regret a note of it.
– Colin Mockett

Soaring Dreams and Visions

Memories, Hopes and Dreams presented by Geelong Concert Band, part of the Windfire Festival, Friday March 18, 2022 in St Mary’s Basilica.

This was the fourth concert in the2022 Windfire Festival and it illustrated the Memories, Hopes and Dreams of three Geelong musicians. First, the forward thinking of Frank De Rosso who, 12 years ago, started this idea of a festival of fine music spread around Geelong’s churches. He then kept the windfires alight through pandemic lockdowns. Frank’s vision was further embellished this year when he commissioned a new work by Geelong composer, Kym Dillon, to close this concert in fine style. But more of that later.
Completing and complementing these two Geelong musical visionaries was the Geelong Concert Band’s musical director and conductor, Shannon Ebeling, whose own vision was built on the recognition that churches have excellent acoustics inbuilt into their design. This was originally intended to impress congregations by sending the word of God soaring aloft from preachers and choirs. But in the 21st Century, that architectural device works naturally to conduct ensemble music with beautiful clarity without any electronic  amplification. This was neatly illustrated by the concert’s first piece, Frank Tichell’s Pacific Fanfare. For this work, conductor Ebeling took members of his 55-member band – mainly horn and percussion units – and strategically placed them around the Basilica, in transepts and choir stalls (I’m not across all the terminology) in order to send their sounds swirling and sweeping around its high vaulted hardwood ceiling. The work lent itself admirably to this, starting as it did with a solo oboe and building to a crescendo of fanfares. It made for an impressive opening that was expanded by the second piece by Percy Grainger. This 1918 work, Colonial Song, was both melodic and intricate, not at all in the composer’s usual style of building on folk songs. For this instrumental song,  the instruments  challenged, complimented and combined to make a series of flowing melodies.
This was followed by another change of style. The aggressive staccato machine-like Red Machine, which had been commissioned by London’s Coldstream Guards for its band to play when trooping its colours around Buckingham Palace.
Then Geelong’s premier band turned to a complete contrast  with Eric Whitacre’s Sleep, a number that required a sung introduction and conclusion. The GCB didn’t bring in a vocal ensemble for this – they simply put down their instruments and sang, beautifully and in perfect harmony, before, without missing a beat, lifting their instruments and completing the gently flowing melodies.
This was followed by the bright and cheerful Festival Prelude by Alfred Reed which turned out to be the perfect introduction to the evening’s final piece.
This was the aforementioned Veni Creator Spiritus, Kym Dillon’s specially commissioned work. This was, the programme noted, ‘a narrative symbol of the creative spirit of people finding their place within the larger story of the world through the creation of and engagement of art.’  So suitable for composer, commissioner and band.
The evening’s longest work had echoes and intertwining musical references to all of the themes it had followed.
And it’s own melodies neatly covered and combined all of the memories, hopes and dreams of the concert’s title aspirations, too.
So it was entirely appropriate that composer Kym stood with the band to take the long and warm audience appreciation of her work.
It made a fitting end to a well-chosen concert that showcased the extraordinary skills – and visions – of some very fine Geelong musicians.
– Colin Mockett

Festival Opens On A Double High

Journeys, presented by Orchestra Geelong and Geelong Youth Orchestra conducted by Mark Shiell, opening 12th annual Windfire Festival, Friday March 11, 2022 in St Mary’s Basilica.

Though titled Journeys, this concert might well have carried the name Contrasts, for this first event in the postponed 12th Windfire Festival of Music fell very much into two distinct halves.
And that was surprising, because the music for two independent but connected Geelong community orchestras was chosen from the same palette and both were directed and conducted by the same man, Mark Shiell.
The first half had the 55-member Orchestra Geelong presenting 19th Century pieces by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Jacques Offenbach with soloists showcasing works by Elgar and von Weber.
Orchestra Geelong grew from our city’s Geelong Community Orchestra, which began in the 1980s as an group of amateur musicians with a common love of playing in ensembles.
Now, 40 years on and with the established leadership of Mark Sheill, the orchestra has grown in stature and expertise.
Added to this, it displayed two new, non-musical but significant elements.
First there was the conductor’s enthusiasm, displayed by his cheerfully inclusive introductions and reinforced by his conducting style. This was, broadly speaking, to keep the music’s tempo by bouncing on the balls of his feet while his smooth, graceful arm movements and smiling countenance urged and charmed his musicians to his will at every beat. 
The second added element was the sheer joy that individual members showed at playing together in public following two years of Covid-enforced lockdown. This had included, Mark told us, attempts to rehearse via zoom – and it’s easy to visualise the impossibility of bringing together 55 instruments using the fragile zoom infrastructure. Maybe it did help bring the players together, because this short concert did not lack cohesion.
It started brightly and effectively, with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Alborada, then moved to a more mellow and sombre tone with the 1st movement from Elgar’s Cello Concerto impressively delivered by young soloist Ilana Idris. This was contrasted again with the smooth melody of Offenbach’s Barcarolle, followed by the second soloist, Dean Cronkwright, leading  the 1st movement from von Weber’s Clarinet concerto in F minor. Dean’s programme notes said that he had been unable to play his instrument for 15 years following a throat injury. It was wonderful to see, hear – and feel part of – his remarkable comeback. 
Then a neat return to Rimsky-Korsakov with his thrilling Dance Of The Tumblers brought the first act to a suitable end.
Following a short chair-shuffling interval, the Geelong Youth Orchestra moved into place for its first-ever concert. This was again conducted by Mark Shiell, who directs both orchestras. 
Apart from the ages, there were several differences, between the evening’s two orchestras. The GYO is smaller, with fewer strings and a larger wind section.
This allowed, for this critic, a more evenly balanced sound.
But probably the biggest change was that, where Orchestra Geelong’s volunteers showed their joy at playing together, the GYO is built around talented music students who applied their learned skills in an atmosphere of measured concentration. 
The result was they produced a remarkably crisp clarity of sound that was magnified by the venue’s excellent acoustics.
Their concert selection included two intricate Mozart pieces, each perfectly executed and contrasted by two smooth film scores by John Williams. These were different, too, with jaunty magical Highlights of Harry Potter and the concert’s stirring finish using climactic themes from The Empire Strikes Back
Plus there was the familiar overture to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliette and, for the sake of continuity,  Rimsky-Korsakov’s Themes from Scheherezade.
All were performed with such talent and skill to earn a standing ovation from the Basilica’s packed opening-night audience.
This ovation, though thoroughly deserved, caught both conductor and orchestra by surprise, with conductor Mark apologising and admitting that they hadn’t prepared an encore.
But in truth, we audience didn’t need one.
For us, it was enough to have experienced such an evening of contrasting musical skills and emotions – and the opportunity to witness what must surely be the beginning of a new musical force in our city.
Colin Mockett

The Pick Of A Big Weekend

Vienna – City of Dreams presented by Geelong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mario Dobernig. Costa Hall,
Saturday March 5, 2022.

Perhaps because the GSO is still relatively new, it tries a little harder. Maybe it was the joy of performing live music again after lockdowns. It could have been one of those rare times when all the stars align and magic happens.
It was, most probably a combination of all three.
But either way, this concert, which promised ‘much loved music from the golden era of Vienna’ delivered so much more.
Enough to earn five standing ovations, no less, and a buzz of satisfied appreciation that carried the audience out through the foyer onto the waterfront to mingle with dampened rev-heads leaving the Geelong Revival.
This concert crowned an exceptional weekend in Geelong. It slipped unpublicised between the headline-grabbing Foo Fighters at the Stadium and Midnight Oil at Mount Duneed – all against the background of that heavily promoted waterfront vintage-motor rally.
I have no doubt that of the four, it was this concert that left its audience with the biggest smiles, the most satisfaction and the greatest pride in their city. For in the comfortable Costa Hall we audience had enjoyed Geelong’s premier classical musicians performing at their best under a super young guest conductor in Mario Dobernig.
The Melbourne-based but Austrian-born star musician was on home ground with this programme of Viennese classics.
He brought out the best from our musicians with his panache and added some neat touches of humour.
He was passionate; with windmilling arms and the appearance that he might to leap from the rostrum and join his orchestra at any time during his energetic conducting.
Then, for quieter passages, he relaxed into beaming wide generosity, with his arms embracing all 55 of his charges.
When Mario decided the upcoming pieces needed little explanation, he did so with charm and authority – even delivering a short abridged history of the Austro-Hungarian empire, albeit with a twinkle in his eye. Small wonder that the GSO responded by delivering their programme of Strauss’ waltzes, Lehar’s gypsy dances and 19th Century mid-European classics with smooth elegance.
And when joined by the evening’s class-act soloists – soprano Lee Abrahmsen and tenor James Egglestone – the conductor’s energy and charm embraced them, too.
His enthusiasm was such that he mouthed the words of every song whilst coaxing and encouraging his musicians.
For their part, Lee and James caught that energy and carried it further. They not only delivered their solos immaculately (Mario having suggested that the city in James’ Vienna, City Of My Dreams could have been substituted with ‘Geelong’..) and Lee’s Vilja being standout performances.
But these were surpassed by their duets, when they coyly held hands, flirted, teased and danced with each other all whilst still singing. At one point they waltzed away from their confined space, delivering the final note of O soave fanciulia actually off-stage.
Another memorable moment followed the orchestra’s spirited delivery of the passionate Hungarian Dance No. 5 when the entire string section got up and moved their chairs and stands back to allow a free space to the conductor’s left.
Then, to our surprise, instead of the expected grand piano, the diminutive figure of violinist Emily Su took the space and immediately owned it, the Hall, and everybody in it.
A tiny figure in her red velvet dress, 18-year-old Emily stood only slightly taller than concertmaster Philip Healey, who was seated.
But, wow! Didn’t she use that space cleared for her when she delivered Saint Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso Op. 28, with vivacity and passion.
She moved, swayed, postured and poured pure flamboyance into every note in a performance of visual and aural joy.
So it was of no surprise at all that following the concert’s fitting final Strauss piece On The Beautiful Blue Danube we audience stood to record our appreciation.
Conductor Mario then brought back the soloists to play a humorous bird-call encore, after which we stood again.
So he returned again to encore, we stood again, and finally this pattern was broken when our orchestra produced a final spirited rendition of The Radetzsky March which prompted that final ovation and warm buzz of musical pride in our city.
Bravo GSO! Here’s looking forward to Saturday May 7 and your Pastorale, works by Beethoven and Vaughan Williams. Tickets are at GAC and I’d advise to book early on the back of this triumph.
Colin Mockett

A Celebration of the Ordinary

The Kitchen Sink, directed by Michael Baker for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Shoestring Theatre,  February 25, 2022

It’s both appropriate and fitting that Torquay’s TTT chose this play to be it’s first full-length production in its new theatre space.
That is, it’s Shoestring Theatre which the company worked for years to create; opened with flourish with a quickly-assembled clutch of one-act plays and then had to close for two years due to Covid restrictions.
Now here it was under a spanking new lighting rig (the company’s techs clearly having made the most of that enforced break) presenting a play to a second-night full house of expectant locals.  The group has built its following by presenting excellent theatre in the local Senior’s Centre which they regularly temporarily converted into a comfortable, if makeshift theatre. Their palette of plays over two decades covered a wide range, but always with an accent on human stories with a good sprinkling of British humour. 
So this Kitchen Sink suited them perfectly.
Playwright Tom Wells’ story set in a Yorkshire family’s kitchen exposed a slice of  modern life with its frustrations and joys, its disappointments and limitations all presented with several shades of humour.
There were no murders, no mysteries, no desperate chases – this was a celebration of the ordinary.
And that, in these days of Covid/Climate/Putin uncertainty, is a welcome breath of fresh air.
The play’s plot, in broad terms, had the family’s father stoically clinging to his declining and unprofitable milk-round while his wife, a school-dinner cook, presented her family with unusual and exotic meals to counter her daytime job of producing chips in bulk.
Their gay son, obsessed with Dolly Parton, was unsure about pursuing a place in art college while their little toughie of a daughter, her father’s assistant, spent her time repelling the tentative and tender advances of good-natured sweetheart neighbour who had aspirations to become a plumber.
All this was carefully rolled out and neatly portrayed by an ensemble cast under Michael Baker’s  diligent direction.
Fred Preston’s dour, taciturn father was perfectly weighted to contrast his wife, Lisa Berry’s, beautifully portrayed swings of temperament.
Newcomer Will Hamilton gave depth and balance to his edgy anxieties, while Lauren Atkin bristled with authentic awkwardness in resisting the shy and well-meaning advances of Ryan O’Connor.
Thanks to Covid lockdowns, this production has taken two years to stage. With so much rehearsal, it’s understandable that the cast was word and action perfect.  And that prolonged time allowed a good deal of polish, too.
There were a couple of standout scenes – both featuring Lisa Berry’s mother. Her reaction to the younger generation’s smoking a split was worth the price of admission alone; and her venting of frustrations by wildly hammering her malfunctioning kitchen tap was a delight.
I’m not sure that some of the props will survive this production’s run, butI am certain that the Torquay Theatre Troupe will emerge from it with a lot of knowledge and expertise as well as good memories.
 Please go to see The Kitchen Sink in Torquay. It’s neat, polished, and entirely suited to its purpose. And it’s very good theatre, too. 

– Colin Mockett 

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

The Dream Laboratory, presented by Essential Theatre, Shorts Place, Geelong January 7, 2022.
Once upon a time a Geelong property developer had a dream to create the biggest and best night club and bar complex the city had ever seen. They spent buckets of money converting a former night club and bar in the city centre only to find that the concept wouldn’t financially stand up. So their project sat empty and stalled for several years until Geelong’s Essential Theatre came along with a dream of its own. It was an unusual concept for Essential Theatre. The company had won its reputation by staging quality productions of Shakespeare’s plays in regional open air venues – wineries and gardens – each summer. But it took to its new indoor project with care, theatrical flair and prudent planning – only to be met by a couple of unforeseen snags.
First came Covid with its postponements and restrictions, which meant the dream’s planning and prep stages had to be extended way beyond expectations; then on the official opening night the heavens over Geelong opened with a summer thunderstorm downpour and the venue leaked. Meaning cast and crew found themselves mopping up instead of performing.
And that’s how this critic found himself standing in downmarket Shorts Place, behind the former Eureka Hotel, with 30 fellow patrons at 8.30pm for a postponed opening night. We had all been screened, Covid vac—checked and stamped with an Eye of Horus to prove it.
We were waiting to be allowed entry to the second staging – but official first night – of The Dream Laboratory. This brand-new original production was promoted as ‘an immersive theatrical experience’ which gave a promise of innovation and avant-garde thinking. Beyond that, nobody in our little band quite knew what to expect. Once the doors opened we were lightly questioned on our sleep patterns then ushered into a stark former bar-room, now repurposed as a laboratory, where a female subject lay sleeping on a gurney inside the central bar.
Meanwhile a handful of lab technicians in pink coats surveyed us with innocent questions about our own dreams.
Then the stern project leader announced that we were to witness a new experiment whereby we would all be able to experience the dreams of the sleeping subject, whose name was Hermia.
We were welcome to wander at will among her dreams, she said, which would occur in the rooms and corridors surrounding the lab. We could touch, open and experience everything but not take anything away. And on the the cue that Hermia had reached REM, a wall curtain was raised revealing a tall ultra-high-heeled violet-painted drag artist miming to ‘Lilac Wine’ who in turn opened up doors to dreamland.
This was to be fifty minutes of surreal theatrical magic inside the former nightclub’s spaces that were themselves pretty bizarre. The whole experience left every one of us dazzled, spellbound and eventually feeling that we had indeed been part of a dream. The encounters and adventures were so many and ongoing they were difficult to recall – just like the dreams they portrayed. There were odd tasks to carry out, scores of strange spaces, cupboards and drawers to open and explore – each with surreal contents from sinking ships to ladders to lilac dolls and eyes – always eyes.
There were peculiar people for us to meet, from a strange smiling Puck-like gnome encouraging us to experiment further, to a mysterious mistress asking how she could escape the pink boudoir that imprisoned her.
Rival Shakespearian heroes held sword-fights then disappeared; Peter Quince appeared performing tricks and vanished, too.
For every event, emergence and occurrence carried that remarkable ethereal and unreal dream-like quality.
An emerging rival dressed in skin-tight sequins took on more prominence as the dream progressed until she led us all back to the original laboratory where Hermia awoke and we all were all delivered back to reality.
This highly unusual piece of theatre had no programme or list of performers, so I can’t give you the usual run-down credits.
But I can say that such was the quality of the Essential Theatre’s writing, direction and acting skills that talk among those of us marked with the Eye of Horus walking to our cars past Little Malop Street’s restaurants was that it felt that we had really experienced a dream. And the outdoor diners, wait staff and floodlit venues – though attractive – to us all appeared remarkably ordinary. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the mark of a truly unreal experience. I can’t recommend The Dream Laboratory highly enough. Please go and experience it – and you’ll see for yourselves how creative theatrical minds can turn a failed nightclub into a dream venue.

– Colin Mockett