Advertisements
RSS Feed

Category Archives: Reviews

Whitely the Opera – Iconic Sydney

A chilly winter night in July in Sydney did not dampen the spirits of this avid theatre goer as I made my way to the Sydney Opera House for a performance of Opera Australia’s Whitely, the new opera by Elena Kats-Chernin and Justin Fleming, in its opening week.

I love visiting our icon of the “Harbour City”. A performance in January, the height of summer is pure magic. A balmy night – the lights of Luna Park, the ferries, a cruise ship, those dark depths of the harbour, and the Bridge. And glistening like pearls in the moonlight, those imposing, beautiful, awe inspiring shells of the Sydney Opera House. But even in winter the experience is magical; the air is clear and crisp and the cityscape more sharply defined.

I am aware of having been part of something quite special when attending the performance this week. Brett Whitely is one of this country’s greatest artists. How to encapsulate his life and his art and his legacy into a work that, because of the vagaries of live theatre, will never remain constant, will always be evolving?

But that is the metaphor. Whitely’s child like insouciance and his will-o’-the-wisp life spark can be conveyed best by performers and musicians, and indeed theatre technicians, producing a highly complex performance night after night, each performance with different nuances, and the audience each night adding its own unique reaction to the work.

I loved the experience. The story unfolds simultaneously through sung narrative, music and visual imagery. All seamlessly flow, propelling the audience through the journey of a life, flamboyant, brilliant, and by no means virtuous. David Freeman as director has created something that will have a life outside of, and long after, this Sydney Opera House season.

While I am not a musician, Kats-Chernin’s score is arresting. This is not an opera to “hum along to”, this is a poignant, beautiful soundtrack to a life. As Kats-Chernin says, in order to capture an unconventional life in music, she had to find something unexpected. “It’s a bit like cooking – you can pair unpredictable things. Salty and sweet together.”

The narrative constructed by playwright Justin Fleming is crystal clear and charts the major periods of Whitely’s life, as well as the relationship with Wendy Whitely, the addiction and the art.

While the majority of the narrative feels very real, in an almost documentary style, the denouement of the opera is less satisfying. Whiteley’s death happens so quickly, before you can take in its significance. The ending, where Wendy creates the Secret Garden at Lavender Bay, is “nice”. But for me and for my opera companion, it seemed somehow to lack the fire and the passion that characterised Whitely’s life and work. 

Visual imagery is lush and gob smacking in its ability to be the partner to the other performance elements. Huge digital screens not only provide the set, they become part of the narrative, the screens moving in and around the space, as images constantly move, grow and dissolve as projections. The towering Whitely works are digitally enlarged on the screens and lose nothing by that enhancement. The exterior and interior location vistas are painterly, and remind us that this is a work about visual art. 

But this is a performance, and it is the performers who really bring this opera to life. The ensemble cast is superb, with so many characters moving in and out of the narrative for a few brief moments each. Julie Lea Goodwin is lithe and athletic, elegant and sexual, reproducing the artistic and eccentric Wendy Whitely, and with accomplished singing.

It was Leigh Melrose’s Whitely that mesmerised me. His highly active performance left me wondering how he could sing from so many tricky physical positions! I could understand every word he sang, and at times I was moved by the sweetness and the poignancy of his voice. He absolutely encapsulated for me the life force that was Brett Whitely.

Whitely at the Opera House on Sydney Harbour. Essential and iconic Sydney.

Whitely : Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Thursday 18 July 2019

Advertisements

The Dismissal – Oz Musical Satire at its Best

The Dismissal in 1975 is one of the seminal events in Australian politics, at least for me, forging my political beliefs and engendering an interest in the mechanics of government in this country.

People often ask the question – where were you when a significant event happened? The assassination of JFK, the first man on the moon in the last century, 9/11 in this current century.

Two historical events have affected me deeply, and I can pinpoint my location for both. In 1975, the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party was dismissed from office by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, and the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal Party, was commissioned as caretaker Prime Minister.

Another tragic event five years later in 1980 affected me as deeply – the assassination of John Lennon in the archway of the Dakota building in New York City. Both these events sent me into a period of mourning for lost freedoms and values on one hand and the senseless loss of a hugely influential figure in music and culture on the other.

So it was with some trepidation that I regarded attending the Squabbalogic performance at the Seymour Centre of The Dismissal last Friday night. I certainly didn’t want that particular event trivialised and sent up. It was just too significant in the history of this country and in my own personal history to treat so lightly.

Squabbalogic has a reputation for theatre that’s innovative, clever, and not afraid of a challenge. This production is all of the above. Wow! What a night! We were led to believe this was a kind of workshop performance, trialling the musical for another more fully developed run. All I can say is that audiences at the seven performances in this short season agree that The Dismissal is a brilliantly written, sophisticated satire that also showcases some pretty fine acting, singing and dancing!

What has been achieved is a really funny musical. And surprisingly, the explanation of the facts of the dismissal are clearly set out. My rather rusty knowledge of some of the events was brought into sharp definition by the entertaining narrative. The “Loans Affair” with the shadowy figure of Khemlani at its centre was a good example.REPORT THIS AD

But it was the startling characterisation of the main protagonists that was so effective. Gough Whitlam (Justin Smith) and Malcom Fraser (Andrew Cutcliffe) were believably portrayed: humorous, yes, but not belittled by caricature. Sir John Kerr, played ably by (female) Marney McQueen, was part character, part caricature. However the villain of the piece was the outrageous vulture like Sir Garfield Barwick (Blake Appleqvist), an unforgettable caricature straight out of a Victorian melodrama.

While the musical accurately reflected the accord that existed in the latter years of Whitlam and Fraser, it had a few kind words for Kerr too. Not so for Barwick.

The show was hosted by Norman Gunston, aka Gary McDonald, who is remembered for being on the steps of Parliament House on that memorable day in 1975 when Whitlam spoke to the nation. Norman Gunston, played by Matthew Whittet almost stole the show! I say almost, because everyone is so good in this production. He WAS Norman Gunston. The look, the voice, the physical mannerisms, and the ability to ad lib – we were back in the seventies watching the man himself.

Undoubtedly accolades must go to the creative team who gave birth to the musical – the book written by Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody, and the music and lyrics by Laura Murphy. And a big shout out for the outstanding direction by Jay James-Moody too.

The show had a standing ovation the night we went, and I believe that happened at other performances as well. The future of original musical theatre is in great hands if this Squabbalogic production is anything to go by. I loved this funny and yet respectful satire on such an important political event.

The Dismissal: Seymour Centre Friday 21 June 2019

Bills Darlinghurst – Sydney Food Icon

I’m always interested in restaurants that stand the test of time. Sydney has a few, but I think the place that has consistently delivered quality food, retaining iconic dishes over the years, while introducing contemporary menu additions, is the famous bills in Darlinghurst.

For me, Bills IS Sydney, as much for the friendly and laid back vibe as for the food that showcases lovely produce and simple, good cooking techniques.

Bill Granger, the man behind the name, is an Australian who has restaurants worldwide, but the original bills, located in Darlinghurst, is my regular, and the one I am reviewing today.

As Bill says: ‘This is where it all began, in 1992. bills Darlinghurst is where I did my growing up. The miniscule kitchen and tiny dining room in one of Darlo’s old backstreet pub buildings set the tone for what we still do today. Local by-laws allowed us only a few seats – hence the now much-copied communal table where everyone ate together, reading the newspaper or striking up a conversation with the person enjoying scrambled eggs next to them. Today, it’s still a simple Sydney corner café, serving a menu of bills classics.’

Bills Darlo reflects his ethos for food and dining. When you walk into bills, the vibe is friendly, warm and generous. The communal table in the centre of the sunny space, allows everyone to share in each others’ dining experiences, while reading the paper, or people watching. This table of plenty has flowers, fruit and plates of cakes and other sweet delicacies. It’s a little bit like being at a family celebration in one’s childhood, with the anticipation of being able to tuck into the goodies so invitingly laid out.

There are some dishes that bills is famous for – creamy scrambled eggs, fluffy ricotta pancakes with banana and honeycomb butter and sweet corn fritters with roast tomato, spinach and bacon. These two latter dishes are available breakfast through to lunch. Everyone who has gone to bills has eaten these at least once! Bills burgers are pretty good too, the current beef version is a burger with comté, dill pickles, smoked chilli and onion aioli and maple bacon crumb. There’s a really spicy, sweet chicken burger too, with chilli, sesame and peanuts.

Desserts are simple, the offerings on the menu on my visit were cookies, salted caramel peanut brittle, daily baked cakes and white chocolate and pistachio pavlova with rhubarb and yoghurt cream.

This is my favourite! Who doesn’t love an Aussie pavlova, and the Darlo bills version, a little individual pav with its crunch of pistachio, slight tartness of rhubarb and hint of rosewater, is a delight to eat.

The bills concept is now worldwide, with restaurants in the UK, US, Japan and Korea. I’m looking forward to visiting Granger & Co in London for a comparison. And I know that famous pav is on the English menu. Yum – I can’t wait!

If you haven’t been, visit bills in Sydney or in other parts of the world. Consistently good food in a relaxed and friendly space. Highly recommended.

Two Chaps – Melbourne in Marrickville

7406CE20-90F8-4F95-A263-50C1FCFB8ED7
27946B5A-CDA4-4040-B241-9CF8D19F2D54

Breakfast. The best meal of the day as far as I’m concerned. Whether eating out or making it at home, breakfast is a joyous occasion, each and every day. So I do tend to go out for breakfast…a lot.

I have some advice: if you want to remain anonymous, don’t post your latest drool worthy restaurant dishes on Facebook or Instagram, as you are giving your friends – and stalkers – a GPS map of your daily movements! Certainly my nearest and dearest are able to track me down via my breakfast posts. Kind of doing away for the need for any personal contact… it’s a weird world we live in.

So I visit Melbourne fairly frequently, mostly to see theatre, as reviews soon to be published on this blog will attest, but I also go there to eat. Fitzroy, Carlton, Brunswick, all great destinations for the curious diner.

Back to breakfast. As a regular visitor to Melbourne I do admit to being unfaithful to my home city of Sydney on the important matter of breakfast.

Melbourne cafes just do it better than Sydney.  That is my belief. With one notable exception – a charming and hipster-esque cafe, located on a quiet suburban street in Marrickville, doing the very best breakfasts in Sydney.

You could be in Fitzroy. The urban terrain is similar. The quaintly named Two Chaps has all the right credentials to be a breakfast icon – officially vegetarian but caters for vegans, uses sustainable and ethically sourced produce, artistically designed and Insta worthy dishes, and saving the very best to last – they make everything in house! Slow proved sourdough loaves, rustic and full of deep flavour, flaky croissants with artful toppings (think torched meringue) and oh so sinful donuts! Yummy, really chocolatey house made notella – not to be confused with that commercial choc hazelnut spread – plus jams, preserves, honey and pickles. All artfully displayed as you enter the space, and then there are those donuts!

81130353-10AB-41C5-9F6C-28E84A97F63D
1EBBE95C-3D38-4670-808A-CC58D5864A0B

Timing is a consideration to visiting Two Chaps. Saturdays and Sundays are buzzing, and a 20 minute wait is the norm, but worth it, and also rather fun, standing or sitting on the pavement where the vibe is cheerful and coffee can be ordered while you wait. But weekdays there’s usually no wait, though the cafe is always lively. So it’s up to you whether you want the to join the #Marrickville-on-Sunday-morning #justoutofbed #Ineedmycoffeefix crowd, or enjoy a leisurely weekday breakfast sans millennials but with a few yummy mummys and maybe a mamil or two. Up to you, I like either vibe!

As a baker of all things yeasty I often go for the crumpets, always on the menu.  I am in awe of their sourdough crumpets, which are light as a feather, and fabulous in either their savoury or sweet incarnations. I have eaten them lots in both forms.

Here are “Sourdough crumpets, spicy green tahini, deep fried cauliflower, harissa oil, pistachio and pink peppercorn dukkah + poached egg”, and a sweet offering “Chocolate sourdough crumpets with buttermilk ricotta, rhubarb jam, beetroot poached pear and candied pecans”:

D9DE7C7C-30E2-4B63-917A-5508B248A3CD
084F68FF-7CC0-4F89-B2E4-CC5F2588FAA4

Even with my sweet tooth I don’t always have to have a sweet fix, and to prove it, here is a tasty savoury concoction: “Hash browns, sautéed medley of beans and rainbow chard, poached eggs and green goddess sauce”. 

02E19B6C-92E8-47A1-B357-BEBCBCD2D151

I’m saving the (current) best to last! Just last week – Friday 12 April – I was in breakfast heaven, had reached Nirvana, and whatever other purple prose I can get away with to describe the experience…

Visiting on a whim with one of my breakfast partners in crime – Quirky Sister the Elder – we both ordered something that rightly should have been dessert, but hey, I can do all kinds of sweetness and claim it as a nutritious experience!

We had “Passionfruit curd brioche, Kristen Allen’s labneh, torched Italian meringue, banana, house made notella, hazelnuts”. Here it is, smashed into, already half eaten. Completely and utterly delicious.

BCC27640-8BE1-4362-9CA6-B53B2F1CD1BB

Two Chaps https://www.twochaps.com.au

122 Chapel St.
Marrickville NSW 2204

(02) 9572 8858
info@twochaps.com.au

The Quirk and the Review – New Kid on the Block!

The Wharf – Sydney Theatre Company

I love cooking and I love eating – one of the reasons I write this blog. But I thought it was about time I wrote more foodie reviews. And I wanted to write about some of my other passions, theatre and music, as well as some quirky bits and bobs.

So The Quirk and the Review is the new blog, sister to The Quirk and the Cool. Click on the link above to see what we’re reviewing.

Two Chaps – Melbourne in Marrickville

 

 

Midnight Oil: Back Home and Back in Form


Wow! Back home the Oils were at their energetic and acerbic best in the Hunter Valley in October, delivering raw powerful rock with a not so subltle message,  exhorting us to save our planet and save our species (morally at least) from further destructive acts.

We’re at Hope Estate. It’s Saturday 21 October and we were about to witness the much anticipated – and much hyped – return of Midnight Oil to the stage. I write this post on the day of the culminating Oz event for the Oils,  the concert in the Domain in Sydney, Saturday 11 November. Which will be mega, as they play to their home town crowd.

We were back in the Hunter too. The Doctors and the Rock Chick, who has been my partner in crime in lots of adventures. We’ve been to many gigs over the years – who could forget Led Zeppelin in 1972? We were young, single and fancy free, but now at least we’re single once more and still very much fancy free!

After a world tour that took them to venues in both hemispheres, Midnight Oil were back home and back in form!

The weather behaved – a classic Hunter Valley spring night – cloudless, inky black and starry.

Hope Estate was packed, with a capacity crowd usually only seen for uber celebrity rock acts like the Stones or the Boss. The crowd spanned the ages, mums and dads, little kids, grandads and grandmums, and loads of Gen Xs who grew up on  the music. The Gen Ys seemed a little mystified with the rock star reverence that their parents were showing as iconic song followed iconic song.

The band played for a non-stop 2 hours. So much energy on stage! Rob Hirst’s drum solo was exhilarating, so much Power in his drumming with so much undoubted Passion!

But it’s front man Peter Garrett who is the riveting performer onstage. His voice, punching out the lyrics, his literally huge presence, and his Joe Cocker like disjointed strutting  across the stage, are what Midnight Oil are all about.

And we are left in no doubt about the message. The Oils may not directly directly influence politics, but it’s clear that their huge following may just be the ones to start off that process of social change.

Peter, your music speaks so much louder than your politics…

Set List Saturday 21 October 

Redneck Wonderland

Read About It

In The Valley

Stand in Line

River Runs Red

Truganini

Hercules

My Country

When the Generals Talk

Short Memory

US Forces

Kosciusko

Only the Strong

Put Down That Weapon

Beds Are Burning

Blue Sky Mine

Forgotten Years

Dreamworld

Encore:

The Dead Heart

Power and the Passion

Best of Both Worlds

Encore 2:

King of the Mountain

 

 

Steely Dan in the Hunter Valley 2011 – Vale Walter Becker

It was sad news today hearing that Walter Becker had died, one half of that amazing musical collaboration that has created the various incarnations of Steely Dan.

I’m a long time fan and a Steely Dan tragic. I wrote a post a few years back on a wonderful outdoor  performance in the Hunter Valley where Steely Dan featured, so I thought I would reproduce that review today in memory of Walter Becker and his quirky genius.

One of the nicest ways to enjoy live music – particularly rock acts – is an outdoor concert at one of the wineries in the Hunter Valley NSW. Part concert, part festival, part picnic, a Day on the Green is seriously cool, and very retro.

I have been to quite a few over the last few years, and it’s now the only way I want to enjoy rock music. I’m tired of large internal arena spaces where you’re seated so far away that binoculars are the best way to enjoy the act you’ve paid mega dollars to see.

On the Green the buzz of several thousand people, with a variety of ages from those not yet born when the bands were in their heyday, to the seriously geriatric, all gathered to listen, watch, drink, eat and mingle, is exhilarating.

The night is always clear, moonlit and starlit. I don’t know how the promoters manage it. A good upstairs connection I suppose! There’s something about being in the country, with that vast expanse of land and sky that is awe-inspiring, and makes you realise just how constrained our city lives are…

Santana, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Carole King were all memorable winery concerts. But as a Steely Dan tragic, the two concerts I’ve been to in the Hunter are my standouts. However I can’t tell you much about the 2007 gig. It was Steely Dan’s first time in Australia. I was so overcome with actually seeing them in the flesh that I sat completely transfixed, unable to do anything except feast my ears and eyes on the band that I was finally seeing live. I couldn’t even bring myself to take photos.

In 2011, I am relieved to say I was less awe struck and up to viewing them a little more critically and actually documenting my memories with photos.

I should mention the other act of the night was Steve Winwood. If you’re a fan of the man or of Traffic, you would have had a blast. He looked and sounded great! No apparent aging unlike some other rock legends who look exhumed or exsanguinated rather than animated…

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys from the album of the same name was a standout.

As this is not really a concert review I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and the Steely Dan 2011 tour line-up were fabulous.

The Miles High Big Band
featuring The Embassy Brats
Jim Beard Keyboards
Keith Carlock Drums
Jon Herington Guitar
Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery Vocals
Michael Leonhart Trumpet, Keys
Cindy Mizelle Vocals
Jim Pugh Trombone
Roger Rosenberg Baritone Saxophone
Catherine Russell Vocals
Freddie Washington Bass
Walt Weiskopf Saxophone

Just listening to the opening riff of Josie gave me goose bumps. The reference to Muswellbrook in Black Friday from the 1975 album Katy Lied, at a concert in the heart of the Hunter was funny and sweet and somewhat disconcerting from our American friends. Every number was consummately performed, at least in the somewhat biased view of this writer.

 

%d bloggers like this: