Julian Morrow, Kristina Keneally and Amanda Vanstone

Amanda Vanstone @ Giant Dwarf

She wasn’t as “candid” as I’d hoped she would be, given the machinations in the Liberal Party over the last few weeks, but she was still interesting. Amanda Vanstone was the latest “political guest” at Giant Dwarf, having followed in the footsteps of Tony Windsor and Julia Gillard.

I missed Gillard, due to my overseas holiday, but had previously enjoyed Windsor, so when a friend asked me if I wanted to attend I signed up straight away. The premise is simple: Julian Morrow and Kristina Keneally chat to a former politician, and ask them to select some photographs from their “public life”.

Interestingly, Amanda Vanstone chose a lot of photographs of her dogs. Clearly there were some photographs chosen by Julian/Kristina, as there was one photograph which the former Senator had absolutely no recollection of, and one which she thought was a “montage”.

Although I was hoping she would reveal more about the recent machinations in the Liberal Party, she noted it was seven or eight years since she was a member of Parliament. That said, she revealed a few things. For example, she said she thought Peter Reith could have been a great Prime Minister. Sadly, Julian and Kristina didn’t press her on this, so we never learned about why. She also revealed the close friendship she had with Christopher Pyne and his family. I knew he had been her Press Secretary, but I never knew it had extended to a family friendship, and that she and Mr Pyne remained close friends.

That said, there were no further “reveals” and that disappointed me slightly. Also, the conversation at close to 100 minutes probably went on a little too long. Maybe an extra glass of wine might have helped all of us? :)

Mothers and Sons at Ensemble Theatre

Mothers and Sons

My initial attraction to “Mothers and Sons” was Tim Draxl. I’ve followed his career since the 90s, and fondly remember interviewing him as a nineteen or twenty year old singer “on the way up”. Since then, I’ve seen him perform a number of times, and I’ve seen him in a number of movies.

It was also quite a while since I’ve seen a play at Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre. As I made my way to the theatre, I thought about my friend Colin who died last year. We were “regulars” at The Ensemble, having attended opening nights on many occasions. Since Colin’s move to Newcastle (when he became ill), and his passing, I haven’t been to The Ensemble nearly enough.

Colin would have enjoyed the play, and yet he would also have been frustrated by it. The plot concerns a modern day gay couple living in New York with a son. Out of the blue, the mother of one of the men’s former partner turns up. Twenty years after his death, she remains unreconciled with her son’s sexuality and his death from HIV/AIDS. Over the course of about 100 minutes, she achieves “reconciliation”. Frustratingly, for me, the play seemed to wrap things up a little too quickly, a little too easily.

That said, I still enjoyed the play. The characters were all still believable. And having enjoyed Anne Tenney play “Molly” on “A Country Practice” all those years ago, it was great to see her on stage for the very first time. I also smiled when I saw Grant Dodwell who played “Simon” on “A Country Practice” in the audience, and chatting at the bar earlier in the afternoon. Oh yeah, and The Ensemble has a terrific harbour view.

Matthew Mitcham CD

Twists and Turns – Matthew Mitcham

I think Matthew Mitcham is stalking me. I wish. On Tuesday we jockeyed for position in the coffee queue at the ABC cafe, ahead of his appearance on Midday Interview with Margaret Throsby. This afternoon, he was in the reception of 702 ABC Sydney, ahead of his appearance on “Thank God It’s Friday”. “I loved your show last night”, I told him.

Indeed I did. He has a cabaret show – songs, stories, acrobatics – based on his autobiography, which I read a couple of years ago. At the time, I observed how amazing and complex was his life story, moving me in many ways.

As I read about his early years in Brisbane, I couldn’t help but be connected to his story. “Oh my goodness, he lived around the corner from my aunt”, I noticed. And the gay bar he went to where they allowed him in as an underage patron? I’d been there too. With a good cultural knowledge of Brisbane, I knew instantly where that was, even though he failed to name it (for obvious legal reasons). I’d also been an under-age entrant to a gay bar in Brisbane many, many years ago. I was fifteen at the time, and was accompanied by a slightly older friend. Not much older, but old enough to be able to whisper in the ear of the bouncer and guarantee me entry. Twenty years later, and it seems little had changed when Matthew found himself in a similar position. Unlike Matthew, however, I was never accompanied by my mother.

His mother was in the audience at last night’s show, along with his diving coach, and seemingly, several hundred of his closest friends because there was a lot of love in the room. There were lots of people who have obviously followed his story ever since Beijing, which, by contrast I completely missed, as I backpacked my way through Europe at the time.

Matthew’s quite a good singer, with a reasonable vocal range, and with dramatic qualities, brings life to a range of songs, many written for the show, along with others such as “True Faith” by “New Order”. He’s also a talented story-teller, and displays a charming self deprecating sense of humour. One of the highlights was a mood-lighting re-enactment of his perfect 10 dive at Beijing, accompanied by Matthew singing a rather haunting song.

At the end of the show there was a 15 minute or so Q&A session. He was asked whether or not he would be going to any of the Mardi Gras parties. “Oh no, I don’t know how to party safely”, he told the audience, showing a greater level of self-awareness than I did at that age.

After the Q&A everyone wandered outside for selfies with Matthew, and for the purchase of a range of signed merchandise. A fun evening was had by all.


Belvoir Street Theatre has a warning in their publicity for “Radiance” that it may raise issues for people who have experienced sexual assault. “OK, a bit grim”, I thought, but I was still really keen to see the play, as I’d heard so many good things about it over so many years. I also knew there was a movie based on the play, which I’d read was Rachael Perkin’s feature film. But I’d never seen it, so I didn’t know too much about the play. But I really liked the sound of the play, and I was really keen to see the cast: the amazing Leah Purcell, and two actors I’d come to know through the wonderful film, The Sapphires: Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the play concerns three women (half sisters) who come together for their mother’s funeral. One of the daughters had been living and caring for their mother through dementia, having previously worked as a nurse. There’s a couple of really upsetting descriptions of the mother’s experience with dementia, by the way. Another had been living a wonderfully casual life, with no real career, and was pretty fond of spending time with a lot of men. You soon discover, she’s probably the most similar to her mother. The oldest was a world-famous opera singer who had been living overseas for a number of years, and although she had “sent money home” to her family, hadn’t had all that much contact with her sisters.

At the heart of the play is how they confront some of their family secrets and myths with tears and laughter. There were moments in the play when we laughed out loud, side-splitting humour. There’s a scene with a vacuum cleaner which is both hilarious and wonderfully dark. There’s also a moment in the play which had me in tears, almost on the verge of sobbing. There were a couple of occasions when I almost had to get up and leave. How embarrassing would that be? And what a terrible diversion it would have been to the experience of others enjoying the play. That said, a bloke sitting in front of us looked around as if to say “are you okay?”. I pulled it together, though I left the theatre with red eyes.

It’s a wonderful play. I’d highly recommend it, and this production was excellent.

Choregoraphed cleaning ahead of the Bangarra Dance Theatre 25th celebration at Sydney Opera House

Bangarra 25

“I don’t mind if we get wet. I love getting rained on”, I said to Kate as we sat on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. In hindsight, I probably should have checked the weather before leaving the house, but since I wearing shorts, I figured getting wet wouldn’t be much of a problem. And besides that, it was a great thing to be part of, the 25th anniversary performance by Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Kate arrived earlier than I did, and so secured us terrific seats in the front row. For a couple of hours we sat there, chatted, ate and drank a little, as we watched and waited for the show to commence.

As I checked the weather radar, we overheard a couple of security guards chatting, offering their thoughts on the likelihood (or rather unlikelihood) of the show going ahead. For a while it didn’t look good. On two or three occasions cleaners came on stage to mop off the water. Even that had a certain theatricality about it. “You could put that in a theatre, charge thirty bucks, and say it’s edgy”, I joked.

The sheer risk of electrocution for the band and injury for the dancers meant they were only about to deliver a much scaled down version of what was planned. Nonetheless, it was a great evening, and one we (and many others) enjoyed very much.

Giant Dwarf Radio Play

“This could be really good or really lame”, I said to my friend Michaela the other week when I invited her to join me for the “Radio Play” at Giant Dwarf Theatre. I’d read about the event a few weeks ago on Eventbrite, and I heard Tom Ballard who wrote/directed the event on 702 ABC Sydney this morning.

“You know, we’re the only people old enough to actually remember radio plays”, I said to her as we met at the theatre. The crowd was very twenty-something, though we did spot a bloke who was actually older than us. “He’s here with his daughter”, Michaela noted.

The whole idea around tonight was to do a night of “modern radio theatre”, and I suspect it was a passion project, more than something which was seen as commercially viable. That said, there was a reasonably good crowd at the Giant Dwarf tonight.

As “modern radio theatre”, the concepts behind the sketches was also very modern: a sketch involving an orgy on the Lower North Shore, a piss-take on “Serial” (the new podcast from “This American Life”) which was really, really funny and, to be honest, a third sketch which I don’t actually remember a couple of hours later (obviously because we’re so old).

We sat right up the front and chose a seat which WE THOUGHT would avoid some degree of audience interaction. How wrong we were. “I hate audience interaction. Don’t go there”, Michaela told the host/writer/creator, Tom Ballard when he singled her out for some audience interaction. I’ve previously seen him doing standup and thought he was pretty average, pretty lame, to be honest. In contrast, we both agreed tonight was surprisingly good. In parts, it was probably a little over-written. But overall, it was a really great night of theatre, written and performed with passion. And it was great to see a bit of live radio theatre. Apparently, it will eventually turn up somewhere as a podcast. I’ll edit this item and post a link if/when it turns up, because it’s worth a listen.