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BETTY CHURCHER 1931-2015

BETTY CHURCHER 1931-2015

By Diana Simmonds News Posted on March 31 2015

Better Churcher was one of the true greats of Australian art and culture. She wanted people to understand and share her own passion for art and she achieved that through her work first as an educator and as Director of the National Gallery of Australia; through her two ABC TV series, Take Five and Hidden Treasures. And, more recently, with her two volumes of sketches of her most-loved great works from around the world published as Notebooks, in which her own always-downplayed talent as an artist became clear for all to see and enjoy. In everything she did, she was a great communicator. 

Born Elizabeth Ann Cameron in what was then a semi-rural part of Brisbane, her keen eye for nature and beauty is evident in a memory she recalled for Robin Hughes in the Australian Biography project interviews. She described a creek that formed the boundary of the family home:

“...it was the most magical creek. It was one of those lovely little creeks that had crystal clear water and that green, cow cropped grass going right up to the edge.

“And every now and then, a little bit of, ah, the bank would break away and become a little island, topped with this lovely little pad of green grass. I used to sit on that, and just watch the water run by and dream, and that was really probably one of my favourite spots.”

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JUMPY

JUMPY

By Diana Simmonds Review Posted on March 29 2015

JUMPY, a Melbourne Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company co-production at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 29 March-18 May 2015. Photography by Brett Boardman; above: Caroline Brazier, Tariro Mavondo and Jane Turner; right: Brenna Harding and Jane Turner.

Pamela Rabe is as canny in her choice of plays to direct as she is as an actress. Her last production in Sydney was the excellent In The Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)  and with Jumpy  she seems to be continuing with an emerging theme of exploration of the lives, travails and laughter of women. And also bringing to public attention playwrights whose work is little known here.

English playwright April De Angelis was virtually unknown – in Australia – until this 2012 play from the Royal Court was picked up by MTC and STC and opened recently in Melbourne before travelling north. But she’s been a fixture in the UK for more than 20 years during which time each of her plays has been a commission, that is, not once has she written on spec; and her latest is for the Royal National Theatre. So, within minutes of curtain-up you can see why this one in particular caught the public imagination (a successful West End transfer post-Royal Court).

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AIDA - HANDA OPERA ON THE HARBOUR

AIDA - HANDA OPERA ON THE HARBOUR

By Diana Simmonds Review Posted on March 28 2015

AIDA - Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Opera Australia at Mrs Macquarie’s Point; 27 March-26 April, 2015. Photography by Prudence Upton (main) and Hamilton Lund (right). Above: Mililani Nikolic and Latonia Moore.

Gale Edwards is crazy-brave. When the director took on this Aida at short notice last year after the (male) first choices had either run for the hills, flat refused or broken out in terminal hives, there were some who thought she was crazy. However, to be a great director, a certain craziness is necessary to do the impossible, wrangle 90+ performers, work with the (invisible) conductor and orchestra, imagine the unimaginable and then pull off the kinds of coups de theatre that must live up to and not be overwhelmed by one of the world’s most overwhelming settings: Sydney harbour and its Opera House.

And make no mistake, Gale Edwards is  a great director: check out the CV and you’ll find she is Australia’s most internationally successful director of theatre and opera currently alive and working. Lucky us that she defied good sense and took on Aida. If for nothing else, her political and creative acumen in dreaming up a Triumphal March to end all triumphal marches should become legend.

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LES MISERABLES

LES MISERABLES

By Diana Simmonds Review Posted on March 27 2015

LES MISERABLES, Cameron Mackintosh’s new production at the Capitol Theatre, 26 March 2015. Photography by Matt Murphy, above: Trevor Ashley, Lara Mulcahy and the company; right: the company at the barricades.

According to the program statistics, Cameron Mackintosh’s take Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel’s take on Victor Hugo’s classic novel of 1862 has been staged in 42 countries and been seen by 65 million people, as well as adapted for the cinema with an all-star not particularly musical cast; all of which partly helps explain it’s position as the most popular stage musical of all time. 

Exactly why it is so popular is one of those mysteries that anyone (including Sir Cameron) would give a quid to solve, because if anyone knew for sure what makes a runaway success, you can be certain there wouldn’t be so many multi-million dollar turkeys flapping their last on Broadway, the West End and in theatres around the world.

Why this particular - all new and visually refashioned - version of the show that first opened in London in 1985 has proved so successful on its national Australian tour is a little more obvious: it’s a fine production and the major casting is similarly excellent.

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ORFEO ED EURIDICE

ORFEO ED EURIDICE

By Diana Simmonds Review Posted on March 25 2015

ORFEO ED EURIDICE, Spectrum Now Festival at the Art Gallery of NSW, 14-29 March 2015. Photography by Rupert Reid: above Silvia Colloca, right Silvia Colloca and Catherine Bouchier.

On an autumn evening with the steps leading up to the Art Gallery of NSW’s portico wet with recent rain, a small crowd politely mills about, waiting for instructions or for something to happen. It slowly becomes clear that everyone needs a purple wristband and a program, a quiet queue forms. Possession of these two items brings calm and subdued snatches of conversation.

A troupe of young men and women in sleeveless black cocktail frocks emerge from the Gallery and make their way through the throng to the foot of the steps. A gleaming black car with black windows draws up. Orfeo (Silvia Colloca) emerges from it, her eyes and half her expressive face are obscured by movie star shades. The demeanour of the tall, simply dressed figure is of deep, scarcely bearable pain. She is helped towards the doors by the frivolously-clad but compassionately watchful attendants. 

The crowd parts, hushed, attentive, for all the world as if, with the arrival of the chief mourner, the funeral can begin. The attendants gently usher the audience/mourners into the Gallery’s domed entrance hall where its shape and size take on a beautiful new meaning as it resonates with the sound of a choir and orchestra and the soaring opening of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. And there, in the centre of the sound and the silent assembly, surrounded by masses of red roses and white lilies, is the object of all sadness, Orfeo’s love, the beautiful Euridice (Catherine Bouchier).

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ALAN SEYMOUR - 1927-2015

ALAN SEYMOUR - 1927-2015

By Diana Simmonds News Posted on March 24 2015

ALAN SEYMOUR - 1927-2015

Born in Fremantle on 6 June 1927, Alan Seymour died peacefully in Sydney on March 23. His most famous and enduring work is the play One Day of the Year. First staged in 1958, its swingeing critique of the two-up drunk-fest of Anzac Day was then controversial in the extreme but is now seen as a necessary balance to the jingoism that then prevailed. Its more recent revivals have served the same purpose and its place in school curricula is also significant.

Alan was educated at Perth Modern but left at 15. His first job as an on-air announcer gave him the opportunity to write short radio plays for the station (Radio 6PM) and they were broadcast live: a great education for a playwright. When he was 18 he moved to Sydney and 2UE and further honed his dialogue and plot skills as an advertising copywriter. At the end of WW2 he returned to the West and another educational post: as ABC Radio’s film critic.

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