Masquerade

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, January 9

Louis Fontaine, Helen Dallimore and Nathan O'Keefe. Photo: Brett Boardman

Louis Fontaine, Helen Dallimore and Nathan O’Keefe. Photo: Brett Boardman

Laid low with cancer as a child, Kate Mulvany fell in love with Kit Williams’ classic picture book Masquerade while in hospital. She has now adapted it for the stage, interweaving the moving story of a very sick child and his mother.

Co-produced by Griffin Theatre Company and the State Theatre Company of South Australia, and playing as part of the Sydney Festival, Masquerade is a delightful family show that captures the style, tone and quirky magic of the quixotic book.

Masquerade tells a strange, fantastical, riddle-filled story. The Moon is full of longing for the Sun and so sends the bumbling Jack Hare to deliver him a message of love along with a golden, bejeweled, hare-shaped amulet. Given the laws of nature, Jack has just 12 hours to complete his mission between sunrise and sunset.

Along the way he meets all kinds of crazy characters from Tara Treetops and The Man Who Plays the Music That Makes the World Go Round to Sir Isaac Newton. But when he reaches the Sun Jack finds he has lost the amulet and forgotten the precise wording of the message.

Published in 1979, the book became a phenomenon not just for its story but for the wonderfully detailed paintings (also by Williams) that illustrated it. In each picture was hidden a hare. On top of that, the book contained clues to a real golden amulet that Williams had hidden somewhere in England (which was discovered in 1982).

Williams is now something of a recluse but Mulvany managed to make contact with him through his wife Eleyn (a jeweler) and visited them at their home in Gloucestershire. Touched by the story of her own connection to the book, Williams gave Mulvany permission to adapt it for the stage on two conditions: that she include her own story and that the production be a family play for anyone aged nine to 90.

Mulvany’s adaptation begins in a hospital where a single mother called Tessa (Helen Dallimore) starts reading the book to her son Joe (Jack Andrew at the opening performance, a role he shares with Louis Fontaine) to help cheer him after chemotherapy. As she reads, the story unfolds around Joe’s curtained hospital bed.

Mulvany adds a second act in which Tessa and Joe enter the world of the story and try to help Jack Hare (Nathan O’Keefe) find the amulet.

Directed by Lee Lewis and Sam Strong, the production features a vibrant, clever design by Anna Cordingley that references the look of the book while creating an aesthetic of its own.

Pip Brandon, Nathan O'Keefe and Kate Cheel. Photo: Brett Boardman

Pip Brandon, Nathan O’Keefe and Kate Cheel. Photo: Brett Boardman

A band of letters frames the stage (as it does the drawings in the book) and is used to spell out the answers to the riddles. Joe’s hospital bed sits centrestage on a revolve, with images projected onto the curtains when they are drawn. The bed is replaced by another structure for the second act.

Cordingley’s wonderful costumes are colourful and inventive, though the text cries out for a more dazzlingly gold suit for the Sun (Mikelangelo) than the rather subtly shiny one he wears.

Geoff Cobham’s lighting also brings colour and magic to the stage, though some performers occasionally got caught in half-light on opening night. The silvery light for the Moon (Kate Cheel) could be a little more luminously otherworldly, but there are lots of nice lighting effects.

The production also features original music and songs composed by Pip Branson and Mikelangelo and performed live by Balkan cabaret band Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, which work a treat.

Running two hours including interval, the first act unfolds a little slowly and could be tightened. Some people who didn’t know the book were also slightly bemused by some of the characters.

In Act Two, however, the play finds its rhythm. Mulvany has included lots of fun word play with jokes for adults and children. Jack’s lusting for carrots, in particular, caused much laughter from the young children near me.

The emotional dimension of the play also really kicks in after interval (though it has been building towards the end of the first act). Mulvany hasn’t shied away from darker themes of mortality, pain and grief (as well as the power of love) ­­– though the way she uses the explanation of death from The Man Who Plays the Music That Makes the World Go Round is movingly and gently applied.

Louis Fontaine, Kate Cheel and Helen Dallimore. Photo: Brett Boardman

Nathan O’Keefe, Louis Fontaine, Kate Cheel and Helen Dallimore. Photo: Brett Boardman

There are terrific performances across the board. O’Keefe is outstanding as Jack Hare, bringing oodles of endearing charm and sweet, goofy comedy to the pivotal role.

Dallimore and Andrew work beautifully together as the deeply worried but loving, stalwart Tessa and the terminally ill Joe, both giving authentic, moving performances that never tip into sentimentality.

Cheel is lovely as the ethereal Moon and ebullient Tara Treetops, while Zindzi Okenyo – who juggles the roles of a Fat Nurse, a dancing Fat Pig, the mean Penny Pockets, the yoga-practicing Dawn and a friendly fish – does a great job of creating very different, clearly delineated, quirky characters.

The musicians also take on roles with Mikelangelo as The Sun and The Practical Man, Branson as The Man Who Plays the Music That Makes the World Go Round and Sir Isaac Newton, and Guy Freer, Sam Martin and Phil Moriarty as a tone-deaf Barber’s Quartet reduced to a trio.

The production will doubtless be finessed as it develops but already Masquerade is a gently charming, moving show made with a lot of love.

Masquerade plays at the Sydney Opera House until January 17. Bookings: www.sydneyfestival.org.au/masquerade or 1300 856 876 or 02 9250 7777

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on January 11

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Black Diggers

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, January 19

The cast of Black Diggers. Photo: Jamie Williams

The cast of Black Diggers. Photo: Jamie Williams

The words “Lest We Forget” are movingly evoked at the end of Black Diggers but, in fact, this new Australian play is more about illuminating a little known part of Australian history – the role and treatment of around 800 Aboriginal diggers during World War I.

Sydney Festival is presenting the premiere of this important Queensland Theatre Company production written by Tom Wright and directed by Wesley Enoch to coincide with the centenary of the start of the Great War.

Drawing on verbatim and other source material held by the Australian War Memorial, with research by David Williams, Wright has created a script full of short scenes and little vignettes, punctuated by song, which come together powerfully to offer a shocking and moving insight into the subject.

We see why Aboriginal men joined up to serve a King and country that didn’t even class them as citizens, the camaraderie and friendships they forged with other Australian diggers in the trenches and on the battlefields where colour became irrelevant, and their dashed expectations as they returned home having enjoyed an equality they hadn’t previously known, only to find that nothing had changed in Australia.

As one of the characters so eloquently puts it: “They painted my colour back on the day I got off that boat.”

Worse, many found that their own lands were taken away from them and given to other returned servicemen as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme, which Indigenous soldiers were ineligible to apply to. On top of that, many were ostracised by their own communities. And, of course, many suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

Enoch directs all this with a light touch, balancing the dark moments with a genial, knockabout humour, though never shying away from the tough themes.

The all-male Indigenous cast play a wide range of characters, black and white, and do a terrific job of delineating them all, sometimes in very brief cameos.

Featuring George Bostock, Luke Carroll, David Page, Hunter Page-Lochard, Guy Simon, Colin Smith, Eliah Watego, Tibian Wyles and Meyne Wyatt, some of the cast are more assured as performers than others but they work together as a strong ensemble and all deserve praise.

Stephen Curtis’s clever set (dramatically lit by Ben Hughes) works on both a practical and metaphorical level. Black walls frame a black stage with a raised central platform and a fire in an oil drum to one side. As the play progresses, the names and dates of soldiers and the battles they fought in are chalked on the walls until they have become covered in white – symbolic of the whitewashing of the Indigenous diggers’ role in our history. Finally, having filled in this gap in our knowledge, the cast wipe away some of the white to spell out the words “Lest We Forget”.

Running around 100-minutes without interval, Black Diggers is a compelling piece of theatre. It tells an important story but does so without hectoring or lecturing, moving us instead to laughter and tears. It deserves to be seen widely.

Black Diggers plays at the Sydney Opera House until January 26. Bookings: 9250 7777 or sydneyfestival.org.au

LIMBO

Spiegeltent, Hyde Park, Sydney

January 9

Heather Holliday in LIMBO. Photo: Prudence Upton

Heather Holliday in LIMBO. Photo: Prudence Upton

Right now, Sydney resembles a three-ring circus – in the nicest possible way – with audiences very happy to “roll up, roll up” to around a dozen shows that fall under the circus banner, all happily strutting their stuff in venues around town.

Most high profile are the sexed-up circus-cabaret-burlesque cocktails, which Sydneysiders just can’t seem to get enough of. The three biggies are Spiegelworld’s Empire, which is playing in a Spiegeltent at the Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park; La Soirée in the Studio at the Sydney Opera House; and LIMBO, the main house show in the Sydney Festival’s Spiegeltent. (The Festival is also presenting a number of smaller shows in the more intimate Circus Ronaldo Tent).

They’re all terrific in their own way but for my money LIMBO is in a class of its own.

Rather than just consisting of one different trick or act after another, LIMBO creates its own enthralling netherworld. Fierce, highly theatrical, full of joie de vivre and sexy without trying, it has a coherent aesthetic, style and sense of drama, having been created by an ensemble from the ground up.

It is produced by Strut & Fret (the Australian company behind last year’s Sydney Festival show Cantina) in association with Edinburgh’s Underbelly Productions and London’s Southbank Centre.

Directed by Australian Scott Maidment and featuring a supremely skilled, versatile, international cast, LIMBO combines staggering circus acts (given a fresh spin) with some sensational dance routines and little linking vignettes.

It’s all tightly choreographed to an eclectic score played live by a funky band led by New Yorker Sxip Shirey, with knowing winks and smiles from the physical performers.

A contorted Phillip Tigris. Photo: Prudence Upton

A contorted Phillip Tigris. Photo: Prudence Upton

Acts include astonishing contortion by the suited Phillip Tigris, delicate Chinese pole by Mikael Bres complete with a floating feather, unbelievable balances by Danik Abishev, who hops on one hand along a series of poles, eye-popping sword-swallowing and fire eating by Heather Holliday, and aerial hoop by Evelyne Allard.

Dancer/choreographer Hilton Denis (So You Think You Can Dance Australia) taps up a storm and is one of a trio with Bres and Abishev in a surprisingly beautiful sway pole act over the audience’s heads that elicits gasps as they narrowly miss each other, while collecting glasses and programs from the audience as they swoop past.

Dramatically lit by Philip Gladwell with sexy Weimar-esque costumes by Zoe Rouse, LIMBO is an entrancing, exhilarating, rollercoaster ride. I laughed, I marveled, I sat opened mouthed and I thrilled to the theatricality of it all. Highly recommended.

LIMBO plays in the Spiegeltent in the Festival Village, Hyde Park until January 26. Bookings: http://www.sydneyfestival.org.au or 1300 856 876

An edited version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on January 12

Amanda Palmer

The Spiegeltent, Festival Village, Hyde Park, Sydney

January 9

Amanda Palmer at the Sydney Festival. Photo: Jamie Williams

Amanda Palmer at the Sydney Festival. Photo: Jamie Williams

I have to confess that I was an Amanda Palmer virgin – in the sense of never having seen her live – until now. I’ve read about her, of course, and I’ve heard her songs but never encountered her up close, in the flesh.

My 20-something plus-one, meanwhile, knew nothing about her beyond her letter supporting Miley Cyrus’s right to twerk. We were both blown away.

The post-punk cabaret star, who was one half of pioneering cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, has toured here regularly, most recently with her new band the Grand Theft Orchestra.This time it’s just her on keyboard and ukulele performing in the decadent timber and mirrored surrounds of The Spiegeltent – a venue that seems almost tailor made for her – for Sydney Festival.

We heard her before we saw her, as robust strumming on the ukulele from the back of the tent heralded her entrance. Singing “In My Mind” unplugged she wandered through the tent before hitting the stage.

In slinky, cream satin vintage gown with long black gloves, fishnets and those famous, arching eyebrows, Palmer has a charisma that quickly draws you into her orbit as she weaves an almost immediate, spell-binding rapport with her audience.

Her patter moves from the droll to the personal and pointed. Her gorgeous, versatile voice cajoles and seduces. She reduces you to mirth one minute and breaks your heart the next, seemingly effortlessly.

Her repertoire ranged from the comic “Vegemite (The Black Death)”, which she wrote for her author husband Neil Gaiman who unlike Palmer loves our yeasty spread, to an intense version of Ted Egan’s “The Drover’s Boy”, during which performer Sabrina D’Angelo emerged from a Drizabone and Akubra to heighten the drama of the song.

Other numbers included “Map of Tasmania”, Palmer’s joyously cheeky ode to the unclipped female bush, the Dresden Dolls’ perky “Coin-Operated Boy”, Bat for Lashes’ “Laura” sung as a beautiful duet with Brendan Maclean, also dressed in a slinky slip with a spiky blonde quiff, and a moving song about her tough last year.

She ended in upbeat fashion with “Ukulele Anthem”, her paen to the power of music and creativity even if – or especially if – it’s on a simple ukulele that anyone can learn to play.

It was a beautifully balanced song list from across her career that would have delighted fans (though there was no number from her latest album “Theatre is Evil”) as well as serving as a brilliant introduction to newbies.

After the first show Palmer tweeted: “oh my god that was surreal. so many people who didn’t know me at all. this festival is going to be actual WORK.” But work that will doubtless win her umpteen new Aussie fans.

During the show she confessed to being “obsessed” with Australia. Right back at you Miss Palmer! Come back soon.

Amanda Palmer plays in The Spiegeltent until January 19. Bookings: Sydney Festival 1300 856 876

An edited version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on January 12

Oedipus Schmoedipus

Belvoir St Theatre, January 11

Mish Grigor and Zoe Coombs Marr with volunteers. Photo: Ellis Parrinder

Mish Grigor and Zoe Coombs Marr with volunteers. Photo: Ellis Parrinder

Given the advertised subject matter – famous death scenes in the theatre canon from Aeschylus to Shakespeare and beyond – it’s a fair guess that the two actors dressed all in white, standing smiling on a gleaming white stage, will soon be splattered with blood. And so it proves.

Written by the trio post (Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose), performed by the former two, and presented in association with Belvoir and the Sydney Festival, Oedipus Schmoedipus begins with a bang, literally.  The frenzied opening sequence hurtles through a barrage of gory deaths (think Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, Woyzeck etc etc), graphically enough performed that a few people left the theatre, others watched through their fingers, while some shrieked with laughter.

It’s a powerful opening that thrusts you straight into their chosen theme, and one that won’t be forgotten – though the squeamish may find it tough.

From there Oedipus Schmoedipus disintegrates. Purporting to ask the more general question “What is death?” it descends into glib observations and some inane wordplay along the lines of: great white male playwrights/ great white sharks; bitter/ bitters/Angostura Bitters/Angostura Bitters are death. They also flirt briefly with the idea of death as a dream but go nowhere insightful with it.

The show also features 25 volunteers of all ages who have had just a few hours that day to rehearse – though their lines and movements are relayed to them on screens, which the front rows of the audience are able to turn around and watch.

Acting as a chorus, much of what they do seems equally superficial and pointless but in the end it was the fascination of watching people with little or no stage experience negotiating the experience of being there in the glare of the lights that made Oedipus Schmoedipus bearable. For people without acting experience it was an act of bravery – so it was a shame that a couple of actors in the opening night audience laughed so loudly ‘at’ one of the older, less relaxed volunteers.

The play strikes a late chord with the simple statement by the volunteers that they will die, as we all will, and ends in rousing fashion with everyone dancing to Rhianna’s Love the Way You Lie (“just gonna stand there and watch me burn”) but it’s far too little, far too late.

Coombs Marr and Grigor are engaging performers but the material they have given themselves would defeat anyone. Oedipus Schmoedipus must have sounded good on paper for it to launch Belvoir’s 2014 season under the umbrella of the Sydney Festival. In practice it takes a profound subject with plenty of potential for any number of fascinating stage treatments and skates over it with a glibness that is eventually mind-numbing.

Oedipus Schmoedipus plays at Belvoir St Theatre until February 2. Bookings: www.belvoir.com.au or 02 9699 3444

2013: The Year That Was

December 31, 2013

The last day of 2013 seems a good time to look back over what happened on the boards during the last 12 months. Here are some personal arts highlights from Sydney theatre predominantly: productions and people that will live on in my memory long past tonight’s Sydney Harbour midnight firework display heralding a new year.

MUSICAL THEATRE

Tony Sheldon, Katrina Retallick and Matt Hetherington in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Tony Sheldon, Katrina Retallick and Matt Hetherington in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

It was a pretty patchy year in musicals. My two out-and-out highlights were The Production Company’s Gypsy in Melbourne and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in Sydney.

Gypsy

Caroline O’Connor was phenomenal as Rose, giving us everything we’d hoped for and so much more: a stellar, unforgettable performance that was both monstrous and heartbreaking. For me, it was the musical theatre performance of the year.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Matt Hetherington was impressive as Herbie in Gypsy but really came into his own with a superb performance as the vulgar Freddy Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Co-starring with Tony Sheldon – who made a welcome homecoming from the US as the suave Lawrence Jameson, a part tailor-made for him – Scoundrels was a delightful, perfectly cast, stylish, laugh-out-loud production. Amy Lehpamer shone as Christine Colgate and Katrina Retallick was riotously funny in a scene-stealing performance as Jolene Oakes (after another scene-stealing turn in The Addams Family earlier in the year). Scoundrels was a real feather in the cap for up-and-coming producer George Youakim. The show deserved to sell out but despite reviews your mother might write, it struggled at the box office. Instead Sydney audiences opted for the familiar, even when reviews were much less favourable.

Squabbalogic

Confirming its growing value to the Sydney musical theatre scene, indie musical theatre company Squabbalogic led by Jay James-Moody enlivened things immeasurably with terrific productions of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Carrie with Hilary Cole making an impressive debut as Carrie.

Jesus Christ Superstar

The British arena production starring Tim Minchin, Mel C and Ben Forster really rocked with Tim Minchin in commanding form as Judas – giving a superstar performance, in fact.

ELSEWHERE IN MUSICALS….

The Lion King proved just as stunning visually a second time around but the first act felt flat with the dialogue scenes slowing the action, not helped by some underpowered performances. However, Nick Afoa made a promising debut as Simba.

Premiering in Melbourne, King Kong was an ambitious production and the puppetry used to create Kong himself was breathtaking. In fact, Kong the creature was awesome, the musical’s book less so. Esther Hannaford was lovely as Ann Darrow.

Lucy Maunder was the standout in Grease, owning the role of Rizzo. Her moving rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was the emotional and musical highlight of the production.

Michael Falzon as Leo Szilard. Photo: Gez Xavier Mansfield Photograph

Michael Falzon as Leo Szilard. Photo: Gez Xavier Mansfield Photograph

Michael Falzon was in superb voice as physicist Leo Szilard in new musical Atomic, giving a beautifully wrought performance. In fact, the entire ensemble was terrific. Written by Australian Danny Ginges and American Gregory Bonsignore (book and lyrics) and Australian Philip Foxman (music and lyrics), the structure of the musical could do with some honing but the show has great potential.

I also enjoyed Jaz Flowers and Bobby Fox in the 21st anniversary production of Hot Shoe Shuffle. And what a treat to be able to see Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in concert at the Sydney Opera House within 10 days of each other.

THEATRE

It was an impressive year in Sydney theatre both in the mainstream and independent sectors with a large number of excellent productions and performances. Never has the discussion among the Sydney Theatre Critics in the lead-up to the Sydney Theatre Awards (to be presented on January 20 at Paddington RSL) been so protracted, agonised and, at times, heated.

Among my own personal highlights were:

Waiting for Godot, Sydney Theatre Company. Directed by Andrew Upton after an injured Tamas Ascher was unable to fly to Australia, this was a mesmerising production full of tenderness, humanity, pathos and humour to match the bleakness. Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, Philip Quast and Luke Mullins were all exceptional. Wow to the power of four.

Hugo Weaving, Philip Quast,  Richard Roxburgh and Luke Mullins in Waiting for Godot. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

Hugo Weaving, Philip Quast, Richard Roxburgh and Luke Mullins in Waiting for Godot. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

The Secret River, Sydney Theatre Company. Eloquently staged by director Neil Armfield, Andrew Bovell’s stage adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel used both English and the Dharug language to tell the story movingly from both sides.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Sydney Theatre Company. Another fabulous STC production starring Toby Schmitz and Tim Minchin, directed by Simon Phillips on a brilliant set by Gabriela Tylesova that played with optical illusion.

Angels in America, Belvoir. Staging Parts One and Two, this marvellous production directed by Eamon Flack confirmed that Tony Kushner’s play is a truly sensational piece of writing that sweeps you up in its epic vision. The fine cast included Luke Mullins, Amber McMahon, Marcus Graham and Mitchell Butel – all superb. (Mullins also gave a fine performance in Kit Brookman’s Small and Tired Downstairs at Belvoir. What a year he’s had).

The Floating World, Griffin Theatre. A devastatingly powerful production of John Romeril’s classic Australian play directed by Sam Strong. Peter Kowitz’s performance left you utterly gutted. Valerie Bader was also excellent.

The Motherf**ker with the Hat, Workhorse Theatre Company. The independent scene was unusually strong in Sydney in 2013 and this was one of the real stunners. Directed by Adam Cook in the intimate space at the TAP Gallery, the tough play kept you on the edge of your seat. Troy Harrison and Zoe Trilsbach gave riveting, grittily truthful performances. If you missed it, the production has a return season at the new Eternity Playhouse in September.

Cyrano de Bergerac, Sport for Jove. Sport for Jove’s outdoor Shakespeare productions are now a highlight on the Sydney theatre calendar. Damien Ryan’s production of Edmond Rostand’s sweeping, romantic comedy Cyrano de Bergerac was gloriously uplifting with an inspiring, verbal tornado of a performance by Yalin Ozucelik as Cyrano.

Lizzie Schebesta and Yalin Ozucelik in Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo: Seiya Taguchi

Lizzie Schebesta and Yalin Ozucelik in Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo: Seiya Taguchi

Jerusalem, New Theatre. A wonderful production of Jez Butterworth’s brilliant play directed by Helen Tonkin that has justly snared a large number of nominations at the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Penelope, Siren Theatre Company. Kate Gaul directed a tough, challenging, indie production of Enda Walsh’s play, set in the bottom of a drained swimming pool, which riffs on the ancient myth. Another clever use of the small TAP Gallery, here playing in traverse.

Sisters Grimm. It was great to see the acclaimed, “queer, DIY” Melbourne company in Sydney with two of their trashy, gender-bending, outrageously funny productions: Little Mercy presented by STC and Summertime in the Garden of Eden as part of Griffin Independent. A hoot, both of them. (How drop dead beautiful was Agent Cleave in Summertime in drag and beard?). Can’t wait to see their production of Calpurnia Descending at STC in October.

All My Sons, Eternity Playhouse. The beautiful new Eternity Playhouse, a gorgeous 200-seat venue now home to the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, opened its doors with a fine, traditional production of All My Sons directed by Iain Sinclair with great performances all round, among them Toni Scanlan and Andrew Henry.

OTHER OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES….

Besides those mentioned above I loved Sharon Millerchip in Bombshells at the Ensemble, Lee Jones in Frankenstein also at the Ensemble, Cate Blanchett in The Maids for STC, Paul Blackwell in Vere for STC, Ewen Leslie in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and in Hamlet at Belvoir (where he took over from Toby Schmitz whose performance I also liked very much), John Bell as Falstaff in Bell Shakespeare’s Henry 4 and Damien Ryan as Iago in Sport for Jove’s Othello.

OPERA AND BALLET

The Ring Cycle, Opera Australia. I was lucky enough to see The Ring Cycle in Melbourne. It was my first Ring and I was utterly thrilled by it. Numerous visual images will stay with me forever as will performances by Terje Stensvold, Stefan Vinke, Susan Bullock, Warwick Fyfe and Jud Arthur among others. As is his forte, director Neil Armfield brought the relationships to the fore and found enormous emotion and humanity. Conductor Pietari Inkinen, who took over at short notice, harnessed the musical forces superbly. A very special experience.

David Hansen and Celeste Lazarenko. Photo: Keith Saunders

David Hansen and Celeste Lazarenko. Photo: Keith Saunders

Giasone, Pinchgut Opera. At the other end of the spectrum, small-scale, indie company Pinchgut delivered a sparkling production of Francesco Cavalli’s baroque opera with countertenor David Hansen dazzling in the title role.

Cinderella, Australian Ballet. Alexei Ratmansky’s beautiful, witty Cinderella was a joy with some meltingly lovely pas de deux for Cinderella and her Prince, divinely performed by Leanne Stojmenov and Daniel Gaudiello. Jerome Kaplan designed the gorgeous costumes and some clever surrealist staging effects.

VISITING PRODUCTIONS AND ARTISTS

How lucky we were to see Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy, the National Theatre’s brilliantly bonkers production of One Man, Two Guvnors, Kneehigh Theatre’s Brief Encounter, the Paris Opera Ballet’s exquisite Giselle, Semele Walk at the Sydney Festival, which gave Handel’s oratorio a wacky twist in a catwalk production with costumes by Vivienne Westwood, and firebrand soprano Simone Kermes singing with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.

There was much, much more. Barry Humphries‘ Weimar cabaret concert for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, for example. In the end, too much good stuff to mention it all.

And now, bring on 2014….