Hakawati is a Sydney Festival show that allows you to be swept away to an Arabian night in Western Sydney. The show is a celebration of food and stories and is inspired by an Arabic tradition where storytelling is combined with breaking bread. This event will have its world premiere at the El- Phoenician restaurant in Parramatta. We at the AU Review talked to the show’s director and organiser, Wayne Harrison AM to learn more about Hakawati, the National Theatre of Parramatta and an event where a meal can offer much food for thought.


Can you briefly describe what your role is and how long you’ve been working in the theatre?

I had my first job in the theatre when I was seven, performing in a J C Williamson’s musical. I led a double life as a student and a thespian until I ran away from Melbourne University to join a circus. I thereafter became a journalist, a dramaturg, and a theatre director – I’m combining all three to create Hakawati, although the circus may be in there somewhere.

Can you briefly describe the premise behind the show Hakawati?

It’s ‘food and food for thought’.

Why do you think people should come and see the show Hakawati?

I hope it will be entertaining, maybe enlightening – and the El-Phoenician (Restaurant) food is exceptional. The format is: first course / followed by story / second course / story / third course / story / fourth course / story.

Hakawati is inspired by the tradition of story-telling and breaking bread as well as celebrating food, music and the telling of tales. What sorts of stories can people come to expect at this show? Will participants be encouraged to share some stories of their very own?

The stories will be contemporary with a ‘1001 nights twist’ – a bit of magic realism and generational conflict, with a cameo from the odd celebrity (appearing in words only). I’m sure the concept will generate a lot of audience stories, but at this stage the format only allows for the four official story-tellers to tell their tales.

Hakawati is all about food and stories. If you could invite any three guests to dinner (living or dead) who would they be and why?

Rogan Poulier, who was my best friend at school – he was of Sri Lankan descent, taught me a lot about telling stories in a different way, and never had a problem with my double life; Jacki Weaver, who’s always good value at a dinner party; and my mother, who never really forgave me for swapping uni for the circus – this might make up for it, a bit.

Is the Hakawati Sydney Festival live event related to the novel of the same name by Rabih Alameddine? Or do the two just use similar approaches to their art?
No, the Sydney Festival event is not related to the excellent novel. It has a crossover, in that it also concerns itself with parents and children – but we are grounded firmly in Granville south with a quick visit to Kellyville (where there’s a magic lamp).

You directed the Hakawati show at Sydney Festival. What is involved in directing a show like this one? Does this show actually have a script or is it improvised?

There are four scripts – one for each Hakawati, though the fourth story is a bit of a group effort. The direction for this sort of show is all in the casting, i.e. finding four actors who can sustain complex story-telling, create all the characters, set the various moods, find the humour and the other emotional moments, take us all on the journey, invite the audience to help tell the story. I can help in this, too, but it’s mainly the actors.

Can you briefly tell us about the National Theatre of Parramatta (NTofP)? Is there anything else relating to this theatre company that you’d like to plug?

NTofP is “putting the nation on stage”, helping tell a few stories that might not necessarily get a guernsey (or look-in) elsewhere. It’s also like a door, one that new talent, or individuals new to the theatre, can knock on and enter.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers of The AU Review about Hakawati or any other upcoming events?

Well, the stage version of Felicity Castagna’s award-winning The Incredible Here and Now is coming – life and death on the streets of Parramatta and beyond – and David Williams’ Smurf in Wanderland – a take on what happens when a Sydney FC supporter frequents Western Sydney Wanderers’ footy matches. Both are NTofP productions.

Photo credit: Luke Stambouliah

Hakawati has its world premiere at the El-Phoenician Restaurant in Parramatta from January 11 – 21 as part of the 2017 Sydney Festival. For more information and tickets please visit:

Originally published on 21 December 2016 at the following website:

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Wine Island is an annual boutique wine festival which is set on Clark Island, in the picturesque Sydney Harbour. The four-day event allows patrons to learn about and experience different wines and foods, in a luxurious island setting. It sounds like a wonderful holiday idea except you may not even need to leave “home” and you can participate and learn a lot thanks to some wonderful tastings and masterclasses. The Australia Times Gourmet sat down for a chat with Kristen Francis, the founder and director of Wine Island to learn more about this exciting event.


  1. Can you briefly introduce yourself and describe your involvement in Wine Island?


Aloha!  I’m Kristen Francis, the founder and director of Wine Island.


  1. How long have you been involved with Wine Island? How did you come to be involved?


I came up with the idea a few years ago when I noticed that we had some beautiful and relatively untouched islands on our back doorstep.  At the time I didn’t think of how difficult producing an event on an island would be!


  1. Italy has around 500 different grape varieties and it looks like Wine Island may have a focus on Italian varieties. What is your favourite variety and why?


My go-to wine is Riesling. It reminds me of my grandfather, however it tastes a lot more refined these days!

Lately though, I’ve been delving into a lot of prosecco, “researching” our King Valley winemakers who will be showcasing this variety on the island at King Valley Prosecco Road.


  1. What are you most looking forward to at Wine Island? Why?


I always like to know a bit more about the story behind the wine, so I’m really looking forward to chatting to the island winemakers and also taking part in some of the masterclasses.  We’re introducing a silent disco to educate people on music and wine matching along with a Dessert Island class where stickies will take centre stage, something I’m sure they’re not used to.


  1. Wine Island takes place at Clark Island. Why was this location chosen?


It’s such a beautiful little island and no one really knows it exists.  In fact, Sydney has a lot of islands that most of us are unaware of.  I just wanted to create a little holiday in our backyard and show off Sydney to both locals and tourists.


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  1. Wine Island looks set to feature a number of masterclasses. Can you tell us more about this? Do you have one in particular that you’re looking forward to?


We’ve expanded our masterclasses this year as they were a big hit in 2015.  Part ofWine Island’s philosophy is unique wines in a unique location so we will be featuring all the tongue-twisting grape varieties that are up and coming.  There’ll be a Bubbles Off! which will feature sparkling and prosecco.  We also like to match-make so there’ll be a cheese and wine masterclass along with our silent disco drops, which is all about music and wine matching, which I’m interested in exploring a lot further as they’re two of my favourite things.


  1. Why do you think people should attend Wine Island?


Wine Island is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves wine, relaxing, great company and something ‘oh so Sydney’ in equal measure. It’s about combining our love affair with this beautiful city with quirky yet laid-back experiences with wine, food and culture. This is the place where you can feel like you’re leaving the city while entering the very heart of it.


  1. In your opinion, what makes a good wine? What things make good pairings with wine?


Wine is very subjective. So for me, I really enjoy an old smoky style of cab sav.  Then for a perfect pairing it’d have to be a good tawny port with blue cheese.


  1. Can you tell us about what kinds of food will be available at Wine Island? Why were these particular foods chosen?


We have a high-end BBQ featuring kingfish, maple-glazed pork and pepperberry corn paired up with vermouth by Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro (opening in Oct at Barangaroo). This will also feature 4 -5 of Australia’s up-and-coming vermouth brands which is one of those old-school wines we like to re-introduce and educate visitors on.


Pairing up with the King Valley Prosecco Road winemakers, who will also be showcasing Italian varieties, will be Italian food hut Puntino / A.P.E. featuring bowls of mussels, pasta wheels, etc.


Then Chur Burger will be teaming up with GAGE Roads Brewing Co. from Fremantle to introduce a beer infused burger, and to finish off the complementary food offerings, we have Hunter Valley Cheese Factory platters and roaming oyster shuckers so you needn’t lift a finger.


  1. Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of The Australia Times Gourmet magazine about Wine Island Sydney or wine in general?


Not only are we unique by location, but we also like to show off unique wines for a further point of difference.  Winemakers are experimental at heart and wine drinkers like to try different grape varieties and learn more about the process, but in a fun and relaxing environment which is exactly what Wine Island offers.  There is nothing else like it in Sydney, or the world for that matter!

The other thing that makes Wine Island special, is it’s a small island so only limited capacity which give each guest a first class experience.  No crowds here, just you and a few hundred of your closest friends.




Wine Island takes place at Clark Island, Sydney Harbour from: Thursday 10 November to Sunday 13 November 2016 inclusive. For more information and tickets please visit:


Originally published in October at the following website:

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On August 21st, Carriageworks in Sydney was transformed into a Mad Hatter’s tea party of sorts. The Sydney Tea Festival is now in its third year and it’s an event that continues to go from strength to strength. In 2016 over 80 different stallholders came together to celebrate their love of Camellia Sinensis and offered tea for two and three, and more!



The festival consisted of several parts. There were workshops where people could learn about the origins and essentials of tea, about blending their own varieties and participate in a tea reading (or at one stall a “tongue” reading) to enhance their knowledge of themselves and how it relates back to tea. A chocolate pairing workshop allowed patrons to sample truffles from Koko Black along with different types of teas. There was also a cube where patrons could either participate or witness an ancient tea ceremony.




The main part of the festival was dedicated to a large tea market. These stalls were a buzzing hive of activity where ceramics and china were for sale alongside tea cosies (including Pokémon ones!) and various tea pots and tea wares. There were hundreds of different teas that visitors could sample in the ceramic mugs that were included in the ticket price. They also had the chance to purchase boxes of tea on the day. These included things like oolongs and spicy chais to smooth green teas and robust English Breakfasts and even a purple leaf Kenyan tea that was rich in antioxidants. There were teas that promised to alleviate the symptoms of gout, arthritis or anxiety, and another that claimed to help you quit smoking.




The Tea Cosy stall reminded us that cream and jam-topped scones and tea, are a match made in heaven. The amazing Black Star Pastry had lots of gorgeous sweet teats like a lychee cake, an orange cake with Persian figs and their famous strawberry watermelon cake. Other stallholders even added tea to their desserts like Rainbow Nourishments with their chai and blueberry cheesecake.




The Sydney Tea Festival is an annual event that takes place in August, while the Melbourne instalment occurs in May. The Sydney one saw thousands of people descend upon Carriageworks to learn and experience tea, along with some passionate and knowledgeable tea and dessert artisans, in what proved to be one fun day. There was a little something for everyone at this event which meant thatThe Sydney Tea Festival proved it could be everyone’s cup of tea.


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Q&A with Corinne Smith co-founder of Sydney Tea Festival and The Rabbit Hole Tea Bar

1. Can you briefly introduce yourself and describe your involvement in the Sydney Tea Festival?
My name is Corinne Smith and I am one of the co-founders of the Festival. I also have a tea business called The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar.




2. How long have you been involved with the Sydney Tea Festival? How did you come to be involved?
I’ve been involved since the very inception as my co-founder, Renee Creer (fromPerfect South) used to sit around drinking tea, lamenting the lack of celebration of tea in Australia – which is how the concept for the tea festival was first hatched.




3. What is your favourite tea and why?
I’m an oolong fan. It’s my go-to, any time of the day or night tea and I love the variety. Within this one style of tea there are thousands of different variants and enormous breadth of flavour profiles. For someone who gets bored easily, I never tire of it!




4. What are you most looking forward to at Sydney Tea Festival? Why?
I’m looking forward to seeing all the new tea companies exhibiting for the first time. The industry is growing so fast and it’s really exciting to see the innovation happening.




5. Iced tea vs. hot tea and coffee vs. tea. What are your preferences and why?
Of course I have to say tea! I do drink coffee, but I max out on one cup a day before I start getting jittery. Tea, on the other hand I can drink almost intravenously and feel fantastic afterwards. I love hot tea in the cooler months but my go to in summer is one of our sparkling tea sodas.




6. The Tea Festival looks set to feature workshops and an interactive tea ceremony. Can you tell us more about this?
Absolutely. The workshops are an opportunity to discover more about tea. For those starting their journey, Tea Essentials and the Origins of Tea are where it’s at, hosted by renowned expert, David Lyons. For others, perhaps a peek into the world of tea leaf reading might hit the spot or even dabbling in blending your own tea.
The interactive tea ceremony will be an opportunity for festival-goers to experience the ancient tea ceremony ritual with a contemporary slant.




7. Why do you think people should attend the Sydney Tea Festival?
It’s a really great opportunity to discover a lot about tea in a very short space of time. There are so many knowledgeable people, passionate about great tea and ready to share that with you. For those who are already in love with the leaf, it’s an opportunity to get their hands on new blends and special Festival releases.




8. What do you think are the essential ingredients for a good tea? What ingredients should never be used to make tea?
Essential “ingredients” for good tea are quality leaves and the right amount of them, using the correct temperature and steeping for the correct time. In terms of what you can use to make a tea, really it’s only limited by your imagination, there are very few rules.




9. Is the temperature of the water important when making tea? I’ve heard that green tea requires one temperature while black requires another?
Absolutely. The lighter the tea (i.e. white, green or oolong tea), the cooler the water needs to be so as not to burn the leaves and to bring out excess astringency. Black teas and tisanes (herbal teas not actually containing the tea leaf, Camellia Sinensis) can tolerate boiling water with no trouble.




10. Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of The Australia Times Gourmet magazine about the Sydney Tea Festival or tea in general?
This is tea but not as you know it. Come and discover specialty tea and explore what could be your new favourite drink.




Originally published on 28 September 2016 at the following website:

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Graeme Simsion had lots of inspiration he could draw upon for the socially-challenged professor character (Don Tillman) in his novel, The Rosie Project. Simsion is a self-confessed “escapee” from the world of IT. For over 30 years he worked with computers and he’s also studied and taught science at University. These experiences have all helped shape his books, even if this is sometimes in an inadvertent way.

His latest novel, The Best of Adam Sharp looks poised to take a slightly different direction. This book is a first person narrative about a man grappling with the girl that got away. It’s a reflection on love, life and regrets and it even has its own Spotify playlist to help set the tone for the reader. We sat down with Simsion to have a chat about music, his work with his wife and fellow author (Anne Buist) and how Adam Sharp is being realised as an audiobook.

Can you briefly describe yourself and tell us how long you’ve been working as a writer?

I’m an escapee from the IT industry, where I spent 30 years and I wrote a couple of books on database specification. I didn’t start writing fiction ‘til ten years ago, when I enrolled in a screenwriting course, which led to a novel-writing course… My first novel, The Rosie Project, was published in 2013.

Your novel The Rosie Project was a big success. Where did you get the inspiration for the socially-challenged professor, Don Tillman?

I told you, I spent 30 years working in IT. And before that, I studied physics. I have a PhD in a science faculty and have taught at universities. I had plenty of inspiration for a socially-challenged scientist.

Your latest novel is called The Best of Adam Sharp. Can you briefly describe this book for us?

It’s about a love affair rekindled. Adam Sharp has never truly let go of the “one that got away”, the Great Love of his Life. So when she gets in touch 22 years after they met, he has some decisions to make. Like what to do about the 20-year relationship he’s in.

It’s about the nature of love and how we deal with the past. And it’s full of classic rock music – because Adam’s a pianist and rock-music lover.

The Best of Adam Sharp is about love, life and regrets in middle age. Why do you think readers should read this book?

Because they care about love, life and the things they might have done. My early readers tell me it’s compelling reading (which I’m always aiming for), moving and funny, and leaves them thinking. And the music references will bring back memories.

The Best Of Adam Sharp sounds like it has a few things in common with Alain de Botton’s work. Are you influenced by other writers and if so, who are they?

Well, in his latest book, he looks at the nature of love, and so do I, through Adam, who has to choose between what the psychologist Robert Sternberg would call “companionate” love with his long-term partner and passionate love with his old flame.

I’m influenced by many, many writers, every writer I’ve read, I suppose, and I’ve read a few! I don’t want to mislead readers though – to say I’ve been influenced by Albert Camus is not to say that reading Adam Sharp is like reading Camus. It’s more John Irving, John Fowles, Nick Hornby…

Can you please explain how the audiobook of The Best of Adam Sharp was important in bringing the characters to life?

Well, Adam Sharp’s Northern England accent was an important feature of his characterisation, so it was important that the reader could manage that! An Aussie accent (for him) would have been all wrong. But his Great Love is Australian and the reader had to get that right too without overplaying it.

It’s a first person narrative, and reader David Barker makes us feel as if we’re sitting at the dinner table or in the bar and he’s telling us a story – it’s a lovely way to experience the book and totally in line with what I was reaching for. A lot of women (my wife included) find Northern accents pretty sexy, so that may be a bonus!

You are a fellow of the Australian Computer Society and you have a PhD in data modelling. How difficult was it to transition away from your work in analytics to writing fiction?

And you’ve been looking at my Wikipedia entry. My ACS fellowship has expired!

It wasn’t any more difficult than any transition to another profession is going to be, and I took more with me than you might imagine. I studied creativity in my PhD – really useful stuff for a writer – I learned how to manage complex writing projects and I developed working practices that have stood me in good stead. The most important thing I learned from working in another profession was how long it takes to become expert. I tackled the transition with that in mind.

Who are some of your favourite authors? and Why?

My wife, Anne Buist, author of Medea’s Curse and Dangerous to Know and a swag of erotic fiction under the name Simone Sinna.

Seriously, this is such a hard question. I used to follow individual authors, reading all they wrote, but these days I tend to go from book to book – and I don’t have as much time for reading as I’d like.

Some authors have been important in my past (as a teen I read the leading science fiction authors) but I wouldn’t read them today. The last three books I read were Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison, Love Life by Zeruya Shalev and The Original Ginny Moon in proof by Benjamin Ludwig – a real mixed bag.

The Sydney Morning Herald said that you are planning to write a novel with your wife Anne Buist about a man and a woman who meet on a famous pilgrim work through France and Spain. How is this coming along and can you tell us any more about it?

The SMH was correct. It’s coming along really well – and I’m working on it right now. The working title is Left Right and it will be alternating chapters from the male and female protagonists’ points of view. Anne is writing the female part and I’m writing the male – we thought we’d keep it simple! It’s a romantic comedy, but hopefully, like The Rosie Project, there will be more to it if people want to look. Publication late 2017, we’re thinking.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Expect to put in the amount and type of effort that would be required if you were learning any other profession: architecture, neurosurgery… database design.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of The AU Review about The Best of Adam Sharp or your other projects?

Get hold of the Spotify playlist for The Best of Adam Sharp  and listen to it before you read or listen to the book.

I tried to do something unusual by creating a soundtrack to the novel and this will give you the best chance of experiencing what I was aiming for.

The Best of Adam Sharp is available now as an Audiobook through You can also get a print version of the book, which is available now through Text Publishing.

Originally published on 21 September 2016 at the following website:

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When we were children most of us would’ve blown bubbles and tried to catch them. As adults there is still something magical in watching large bubbles being created as they fly through the sky before they reach the end of their transient lifespan and go “Pop!” Melody Yang is someone that knows all about this.

She’s one of the lead performers in the Gazillion Bubble Show which encourages audiences to immerse themselves in an interactive world of bubbles and bubble artistry as well as watching some special lighting and laser effects. The AU Review sat down with Melody ahead of her Australian tour to learn more about creating a 170 foot bubble and what it takes to learn bubble magic.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? How long have you been working in the arts industry?

My name is Melody Yang and I was born in a small village in Serbia, called Ruma. I am currently 24-years-old and now living in New York City where I am running the Gazillion Bubble Production with my brother which has now been running for 10 years. Both my parents have been street performers before I was born so I pretty much was born right into the entertainment and arts business. Once I was 4 years old my parents already had myself and my brother performing in talent shows, galas, circuses and more.

Can you briefly describe your show, Gazillion Bubble Show?

The Gazillion Bubble Show is a show for every age from years 2 to 102. It’s a show that combines art, science and modern special effects. The show displays various bubble tricks and techniques, for instance square bubbles, smoke bubbles, spinning bubbles, bubbles inside bubbles, audiences inside the bubbles and a whole lot more. We engage the audience by giving them the opportunity to participate. They get a chance to be involved as well as pop millions of bubbles surrounding them. Ending off the show with an epic ocean blast of bubbles and lasers.

Why do you think audiences should come and see the Gazillion Bubble Show?

They should come to see the show because they will be astounded by the numbers of things they’ll witness that can be done with just a simple soap bubble. This is an interactive show, we get everyone involved and engaged. Everybody gets a chance to burst millions of bubbles. It’s the only one of its kind where anyone can enjoy (meaning it’s not just for kids, but teens and adults as well).

The show features mind-blowing bubble magic. How did you come to learn this? How does learning bubble magic differ from regular magic?

Yes, the show features mind-blowing bubble magic but really what’s unique about bubbles is it actually doesn’t involve magic. You will witness me manipulating the bubbles and it all comes down to the science and physics. It took a lot of trial and error to understand how to manipulate bubbles. Sometimes if the air is too dry, the bubbles will pop very quickly so I will need to calculate the timing of my tricks. If there are many dust particles in the atmosphere than the bubbles are likely to burst. Also the solution becomes another factor, if my liquid is not mixed precisely according to the conditions of the environment then it may cause difficulties. But this all really is something I experienced over time and learned to overcome. Bubbles look very simple but to be capable of manipulating it took many years of experience, practice and coaching from both my parents.

In your opinion, can anyone pick up bubble magic or regular magic? What sorts of skills does one require to work in this area?

I believe anyone can do anything if they work hard enough to achieve it. However, I believe bubble artistry is not done so simply and to acquire these skills takes practice, experience and the understanding of science and physics. As for regular magic I would assume it is easier because there are not many factors that can cause a trick to fail whereas bubbles have many influences.

You hold a series of Guinness World Record titles. Which one was the most difficult to achieve? Why?

The most difficult Guinness Record was when my family and I had to create the World’s Largest Bubble. We completed the record which was 170FT long in length. The reasons why it was difficult is that first we needed to design a mechanism to construct such a large bubble that can last about 4 seconds without bursting. We brainstorm ideas to create layers within the bubbles so if one were to burst there would be another layer behind it to save it. Also the atmosphere was difficult because the record was done in Beijing China during the cold winter. We needed to come up with a solution that would not cause it to freeze.

Are there any world record titles you haven’t achieved yet but one day hope to? If so, what are they?

So far it seems as though we have beaten and achieved as many world record titles you can possibly imagine. But because we have come up with many designs and creations there are still endless ideas. Personally I would love to include something with animals and bubbles.

Do you have a favourite part in the production? What does it involve and why did you choose this one?

This is a difficult question because each segment in the show has its own special element. But if I had to pick I would say my favourite part is the Bubble-LaserFX that is at the end of the show. This segment is only done by me or my brother since my parents are unable to do it. It’s a segment that has me manipulating lasers while being surrounded with bubbles. The effects of the lasers and the bubbles gives off a sparkling effect which looks phenomenal hence why we saved the best for last.

Is bubble magic like regular magic insofar as does a bubble magician ever reveal how to do their tricks?

The bubble magic is not like regular magic. I can show you how to do the trick and explain it to you but once I put you to the test you may have some difficulties. The only thing we cannot reveal is the secret ingredients to our solution (laughs).

Is there anything else you’d like to tell The AU Review about the Gazillion Bubble Show or future works?

The Gazillion Bubble Show is very visual, explaining it can only do so much. You have to see it for yourself to be amazed. This show definitely brings the kid out in everyone regardless of age. I am extremely thrilled to be coming to Australia to share the beauty and art of bubbles with Australian audiences.


Gazillion Bubble Show plays the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Canberra Theatre, Sydney’s Theatre Royal and Adelaide’s Festival Theatre in June and July. For ticketing information please consult the individual venue’s website. For more information on the Gazillion Bubble Show visit:

Originally published on 6 May 2016 at the following website:

Visit The Au Review’s homepage dedicated to the arts at:




Stephen K Amos is no stranger to Australian audiences. The English comedian has been visiting our shores for ten years and has made us laugh with his funny anecdotes and observations. The author of the hilarious autobiography, I Used to Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey, has just completed a run of shows for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and it will soon be Sydney’s turn to witness this funny man. The AU Review sat down with Stephen to talk about strange people breaking out into impromptu performances at KFC, leadership coups and what things make him laugh.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? How long have you been working in comedy?

I’m Stephen K Amos and I’ve been doing gags for crowds for almost 20 years and this my tenth year coming to Australia. That means Australia has been a part of my career for half my comedy life! I actually remember my first solo show in Australia, which premiered at the Sydney, Newtown, RSL in 2006. I ought to have got honorary citizenship for that one. My show this year is coming to Sydney at the Enmore Theatre and the Concourse in Chatswood (for those people who don’t like to cross the bridge), and if you don’t know about them, you must have missed your copy of the Gazette.

Can you briefly describe your latest comedy show, The Laughter Master?

My latest comedy show is called the Laughter Master and it’s all about big belly laughs from curtain up until close. It’s a collection of gags and my funny musings taken from a year of touring on the road. Every night is different because I like talking about anything and everything in my shows, but this year I touch on a few current affairs and material about the modern world. No need to bring a hankie, it’s just my take on things. Comedy can be a great lens to open up about some tough subjects and laugh at them together.

Why do you think audiences should come and see The Laughter Master?

Come and see the Laughter Master because I’m loving doing this show! This is the longest tour I’ve done in Australia for a while and something always happens in the room that’s completely unpredictable, unplanned and unique. I’ve taken it half way across your massive island by now and I never do a gig without finding a person in the audience who reveals something amazing about themselves and I’m just left thinking, yeah, you’ll be in tomorrow’s show.

In your opinion, what skills are necessary to be a “Laughter Master?” Can this be taught?

You can be a barrel of laughs, you can be funny, you can even be hilarious, a laugh riot, witty or droll, but I’m not sure if you can really describe yourself as the “Laughter Master”, because that would be arrogant.

What is the funniest joke or thing you’ve even seen/heard? Why do you think this is funny?

I once saw a man walk into a KFC restaurant and serenade the woman at the till with a full rendition of Boyz II Men’s classic hit of the 90s ‘I’ll Make Love To You’. This song (with pretty graphic lyrics) went on for about four solid minutes and to his credit he sang it really well. What I found funny is she gave him an extra piece of leg and told him to get out, like this happened every day.

You’ve recently toured the UK and appeared at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. How do Australian audiences differ from the ones in Europe? Do you have to change your show to include local references?

The audiences in Australian are great and they’re a lot like UK audiences so I don’t have to change much. It’s basically the same culture but separated by 10,000 miles. I do some local political references, not so much to include Australians but because your politics is so ridiculously funny. I mean you’ve had more leadership coups here than Egypt, and they’ve had two revolutions. Internationally, the Canadians are very funny too. Don’t ask me too many questions about Americans until after the November election though.

You’re a frequent visitor to Australia. What is the funniest thing to have happened to you in Oz?

You can name a different one on a daily basis. I love Australians because you say it like it is, even when you shouldn’t.

Do you ever go and watch other comedians during the comedy festivals you appear at? Are there any you would recommend to our readers?

I try and go and see as much as I can when I’m at festivals but I have to fit around my own show. I just look at the guide and find someone nearby two hours before or an hour after my show and go see them. It’s a great system because it’s really unpredictable. The best thing about a festival is seeing new acts that you’ve never seen before. In Melbourne this year I saw an indigenous comedian called Shiralee Hood who was hilarious and who had a very unique and important voice.

You’ve written a very funny autobiography called, “I Used to Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey”. What’s your favourite anecdote or scene for this book? Why did you pick this one?

Page 42 was always my favourite.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell The AU Review about The Laughter Master or future works?

There’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline in Australia and the UK but right now my focus is on doing my live show – there’s nothing in the world that compares to live comedy!

Originally published on 1 May 2016 at the following website:

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Interview: Writer, Sex-Blogger & Feminist Vanessa de Largie talks about sexuality and her best-selling books



Trigger warning: This post includes information about rape and domestic violence and may be distressing for some readers.

Vanessa de Largie makes no apologies. The former actress and feminist is now a successful author and sex blogger for The Huffington Post. Her writing is fierce, funny and honest with things like “The Blowjob Artist”, “The Squirting Princess” and “The Hum-Balls-Harlot” just some of her most recent posts. She is also a successful memoir writer with her books, Without My Consent and Don’t Hit Me! focusing on rather difficult topics like her rape and an abusive relationship which saw her become a victim of domestic violence. The AU Review sat down with de Largie to talk about feminism, sexuality and her best-selling books.


How long have you been writing and working in the arts industry?

I’ve just turned 39 and have been pushing my dream uphill since I was a kid. I started at The Johnny Young Talent School at the age of three — training in dance, singing and drama. Mum got me my first agent at 14. In 2011, I was burnt-out from the acting industry and decided to take a break and focus on writing. I’ve never looked back. Writing has given me an inner-peace that acting was never able to provide.

Can you briefly describe your book, Don’t Hit Me?

Don’t Hit Me! is a collation of journal entries, poems and lyrical prose about my journey through domestic violence.

Why do you think people should read Don’t Hit Me?

Basically, I published my raw journal. I would like to think that my book offers hope and nourishment to survivors.

You have written brutally honest books about being a victim of domestic violence and rape. How did you prepare yourself to write about such difficult material?

Without My Consent is about my journey through rape at age 20. I never intended to write about it. It wasn’t something I discussed. Rape culture breeds fear in rape victims. Victims don’t tell anyone in fear that they will be disbelieved, judged or interrogated. Although the book is only novella-length, it took me 18 months to write. Many writing sessions ended in tears, anxiety and alcohol.

Was the process of writing about these horrific events cathartic at all? What advice would you give to individuals who are facing similar circumstances?

Very cathartic. Reliving the violence whilst writing about it, enabled a release. It was a very healing experience. I encourage all survivors to use writing as a form of therapy.

How important is it for victims of domestic violence and rape to have secure support networks? How big a role did your friends and family play with respect to your own circumstances?

Whilst I was living through the violence in Don’t Hit Me! my brother and father died and my mother was fighting terminal brain cancer. Mum’s death was the catalyst for leaving my abuser. I couldn’t grieve for Mum, Dad and my brother Damian whilst being physically abused. Domestic and sexual violence are a very secretive business. I think support networks sound great in theory but I’m not convinced they work in reality.

You have a blog dedicated to covering feminist issues and sexuality. What issues would you like to see covered in more detail in the mainstream media? Why did you choose these ones?

I was fortunate to land a gig as a sex-blogger for The Huffington Post. From the very first article it just took off. Many sex-blogs written by women are tame and politically correct. My blogs are fierce and male-friendly. I also run an additional sex-blog called The Victress.

I have no interest in female-friendly porn, sensuality or romance. My blogs are for women and men who are seeking something fiercer, dirtier and un-PC. There is a definite inequality in literature and what is deemed acceptable for women to write about. I’m promiscuous and I make no beg-your-pardons. Interestingly enough, I was advised to tone down my writing by others in the industry. They believed it would sabotage my career opportunities. Thankfully I kept true to my voice. If anything, my sex-writing has only increased my opportunities in the mainstream. I want to see sexually fierce women like myself represented in mainstream media. I want it to become so normal that it no longer shocks.

Who is your feminist icon and why? What advice would you give to young women who may be struggling to identify as feminists?

Germaine Greer would have to be my feminist icon. She is more fierce than most women half her age.

I’m not sure about this new brand of feminism that is sold to girls.  It’s very sugary and shallow. But I do understand the reason for mass-marketing it this way with slogans like: If you believe that women should be treated equally then you’re a feminist.”

Feminism is much more complex than that. I believe that being a true feminist is your ability to support a woman in her choices, whatever they may be — sex-work, porn, stripping, promiscuity etc. I would encourage young women to read, read, read. I’ve been reading books about feminism and gender since I was a teen and I still have so much to learn.

Your work includes being a regular sex blogger and columnist. What is one of the biggest myths that people believe with respect to sex?

The biggest sex-myth is that women have lower libidos than men. The second biggest sex-myth is that women require emotional attachment in sex. It’s BS!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell The AU Review about Don’t Hit Me! or your future works?

Don’t Hit Me! has been a #1 Amazon Bestseller in four countries. It is the recipient of two international book awards. The book was originally self-published but was picked up by a Seattle publisher and re-released as a paperback and eBook.


For support and 24 hour assistance regarding domestic violence, please visit the National Sexual Assault Online Service at: or call 1800RESPECT

For more information about Vanessa’s books Don’t Hit Me! and Without My Consent visit: and

Originally published on 22 April 2016 at the following website:

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Daffodils_HERO photo by Garth Badger


Punk band, The Scavengers once sang about true love being beautiful. You could also say that Daffodils is a gorgeous romance story set in New Zealand where the aforementioned are from. The play is actually a Kiwi cabaret based on a real life love story between two teenagers, a farm girl named Rose and a Teddy boy called Eric. The pair are actually the parents of New Zealand screenwriter and playwright, Rochelle Bright and the production celebrates New Zealand’s finest recording artists including Crowded House, Bic Runga and Chris Knox, to name a few.

We sat down with Rochelle Bright to learn more about the sonic and visual splendor behind the heady love story that is the ballad of Eric and Rose.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? How long have you been working in the arts industry?

Hi, I’m Rochelle Bright. I’m a screenwriter/playwright currently based in Auckland. With my collaborator Kitan Petkovski, we are Bullet Heart Club. I studied at Tisch (New York University) and the projects I enjoy the most are collaborations with bands. It has been more than 10 years now that I’ve been in the arts industry – working in various roles from writer, composer to producer.

Can you briefly describe your production, Daffodils?

Daffodils mixes iconic New Zealand songs with theatre to tell the story of my parents. It’s true, my grandparents and parents both met at the exact same place by the daffodils by the lake – 20 years apart. It’s become a family legend. Yet while their love may seem fated, life is always much harder and more complicated. This production takes you right into their personal journey, played by two actors (Todd EmersonColleen Davis) with a live band made up of LIPS (Stephanie Brown & Fen Ikner) and Abraham Kunin.

Why do you think audiences should come and see Daffodils?

If you love good music (indie, pop, rock, electronic) this is a good show for you. If you love a good love-story, this one is a heartbreaker (we’ve heard many a sniffle in the theatre). Daffodils is performed in a unique way – the two actors never once look at each other. They give everything to the audience. From the responses we’ve had so far from those who have seen the show, I would think audiences should come to see Daffodils because it’s a story that feels close to home and at the same time it hits you with music you’ll love.

Daffodils features a great soundtrack by artists like Crowded House, Bic Runga and Chris Knox to name a few. What’s your favourite song that is used in this production? Why did you choose this?

Oooooooo… hard one. Each track in the show is part of the great NZ songbook. They’re all favourites. I guess… the section we’re most proud of in the show is connected to the song, “Language” (by Dave Dobbyn). This song speaks to a generation of men who struggle to communicate. I choose the song because it so perfectly expresses the dramatic moment without being cheesy/saccharine. We were so nervous the night Dave Dobbyn came to see the show. Thankfully he liked what we did!

How did you come to pick the songs in this production? Were there any that were left on the cutting room floor? Why?

Throughout the writing process each song was picked differently. For example, listening to Crowded House late one night while almost asleep, I could picture the key turning point in the story. This was the first song I picked. Later on while skyping with my Mum, she told me a story about my Dad when they were dating. There was a kind of sadness in her voice that when I listen to a particular The Mutton Birds track I hear/experience the same feeling – so that song was added. Some songs felt like they picked themselves – if you’re doing iconic NZ songs, you gotta have this…. One of the best discovery moments was looking at APRA’s Top 100 NZ songs of all-time list and finding a song by Blam Blam Blam. I had not heard it before as it was before my time, but as soon as I listened to it, I knew it had to be added. Blam Blam Blam’s songs represented perfectly the tension in our country during the 1980’s. There wasn’t any cutting room floor songs per se; we did try swapping one song out with another during an early read through but we always found ourselves going back to the original song list.

The production features some great images by Garth Badger. Do you have a favourite image from this production and why did you pick this particular one?

We shot all the images in one wild crazy day with Garth in his studio at Thievery. It was super hot and we had to put our lead actress Colleen Davis into a full on wedding dress. We shot from above with a confetti gun. The result was stunning, like a snow globe. This imagery is followed by my parents’ actual 8mm wedding footage. It’s my favourite moment – as the new and the old come together in a really beautiful way. We love working with Garth, he’s such an amazing creative force!

Do you have a favourite scene in the production? What’s it about and why did you choose this one?

Another really tough question. The great thing about live theatre is that in every show the performers find new moments. In each performance they shine and create magic in different parts. So for me my favourite scene changes. It’s the delicate moments when in a performance the band, actors and story just hit a special sweet spot. It can be a really cute flirt, or a moment when the cast simply break apart in front of you. Music plays a huge role in this show, so sometimes it can be a musical gesture. For example, at the moment I think my favourite musical part is during a Mint Chicks song, the band has added a little Brian Wilson salute in the backing vocals, which I just love!

Daffodils is about young lovers, Eric and Rose. How would you describe their relationship? Is it one people should aspire to?

Their relationship is true to life – through slightly romanticised through my eyes. There is a natural/immediate push and pull between them. Both stubborn and proud, they put their own feelings aside for others. Drawn on details from family and friends, their relationship is based on true events. The way Eric speaks to Rose is taken from letters my Dad wrote to my Mum. Elements of fiction have been added, to keep the story moving and to protect my family. I think we all hope/aspire to meet someone who we truly love. We also know that to keep such a love is the hardest thing we can do in one lifetime – especially when we cannot control the actions of others.

What are Eric and Rose’s favourite vinyl records? Do you think these sum them up as individuals?

Eric and Rose meet in 1964. Rose would be listening on repeat to Gene Pitney “Only Love Can Break a Heart” & Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’”. Eric, he’s got a different style, with The Beatles “Hard Day’s Night” & The Rolling Stones “Little Red Rooster”. Have a listen to these tracks, and you’ll hear them: Rose the farm girl and Eric the Teddy boy.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell The AU Review about your adaptation of Daffodils or future works?

This year we finished a Daffodils Ep – Lips Remix with the band and we are currently working on adapting Daffodils into a feature film. We’re really excited to be working with Rose and Eric’s story again in this new medium.

Bullet Heart Club is also working towards a couple of new stage shows; one is a collaboration with an Australian artist and the other with artists from Sweden. It’s early days, but you can follow us at to see what comes next.


Daffodils plays at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta from May 12-14. For more information and tickets visit


Originally published on 21 April 2016 at the following website:

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Emily Brontë’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights has inspired many different adaptions and other art forms since its initial publication in 1847. It has inspired everything from a Kate Bush song to a Hindi movie and a Death Cab for Cutie track, to name a few. Australia’s very own, shake & stir theatre co will also be staging their own adaptation of this gothic love story in a production that promises to be both broody and faithful to the original source material. The AU Review sat down with Nick Skubij, the adaptor and director of this adaption of Wuthering Heights to learn more about Heathcliff and Cathy’s turbulent relationship.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? How long have you been working in the arts industry?

I’m Nick Skubij – I’m the Co-Artistic Director of shake & stir theatre co and the adaptor and director of Wuthering Heights. I have been working in the industry for approx. 15 years as an actor, producer, director and writer.

Can you briefly describe your adaptation of Wuthering Heights?

My adaptation of Wuthering Heights is a (relatively) faithful, distilled version of the entire novel. Unlike a couple of adaptations out there, I have chosen to present the whole story, not just the first generation. My production is sharp, strange, terrifying, romantic and beautiful – just like the novel.

Wuthering Heights is an adaptation of Emily Brontë’s gothic novel. Do you have a favourite quote or scene from the book?

My favourite quote from the play belongs to Heathcliff and comes at the end of act one. He states “You said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”. It sums up the all-consuming nature of love lost perfectly and oh so dramatically.

In your opinion, how true is your adaptation of Wuthering Heights compared to the novel?

I aimed for my adaptation to be true to the original novel but not slavishly so. I think that you can’t really present an adapted work which is a 100% extraction of the source material – there needs to be some sort of treatment to give it a unique voice. I hope that it gets the tick of approval from the purists but contains certain unexpected moments that surprise.

Who is your favourite character from Wuthering Heights? Why did you choose this one?

My favourite character is our Narrator, Nelly Dean. I find her role in the whole story fascinating. She reminds me of a ringmaster in a human circus, pulling the strings and guiding the audience through her version of events. I think that a lot of people would consider that Heathcliff is the villain of the story but what about Nelly? Maybe the real devil wears a housemaid’s outfit…

Why do you think audiences should come and see your adaptation of Wuthering Heights?

If audiences want to see some fantastic actors, a great story and some absolutely stunning technical moments, they should definitely come and see this production. shake & stir has developed a national audience who have come to expect ultra-high production values and this one raises the bar. Of course, anyone who has ever loved with every atom of their being might find a bit to relate to…

Do you have a favourite scene in the production? What’s it about and why did you choose this one?

I really like the end of act two. This is where we pull out all the stops theatrically and where we finally find out why Heathcliff has acted the way he has. I think it is a really nice and surprising moment for Heathcliff – we should think twice about what we thought of him throughout the story.

The novel, Wuthering Heights has inspired everything from a Kate Bush song to a Hindi movie and a Death Cab for Cutie track, to name a few. Can you name your favourite adaptation of this work or a work that was inspired by the book? Why did you pick this one?

I like the 2011 film adaptation by Andrea Arnold for its moody capture of the environment. This adaptation is not very text heavy but it shows the mood of the piece brutally and beautifully though close up extended shots of the characters being battered by the elements.

The show features Ross Balbuziente, Tim Dashwood, Nelle Lee, Linden Wilkinson, Gemma Willing and yourself. How did the actors prepare for their roles?

I think actors prep is very personal and each actor has their own methods. One thing I insisted on in the rehearsal room was to speak the language in a way that each actor could relate to on a personal level. I wanted to avoid put-on accents and over-annunciation and for the actors to bring their own personalities and real truth to their characters.

Originally published on 17 March 2016 at the following website:

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Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore are two famous, Australian writers. But what people may not realise is that the pair were also lovers and secretly betrothed. This information has only come to light in the couple’s surviving letters and in Gilmore’s memoirs and forms the basis of a new play titled, All My Love. It’s a show adapted for the stage by Anne Brooksbank and promises to be an intense and tragic love story.

The AU Review sat down with All My Love’s director, Denny Lawrence to talk about the play, Australian history and famous couples from yesteryear.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? How long have you been working in the arts industry?

I started as a child actor in theatre and did some television in early adolescence. Then I applied to NIDA out of high school and after my time there worked as an actor in theatre and television before starting to direct in theatre. After a few years, I decided to move into directing film and television, so I applied to AFTRS and was accepted. Since graduating I have worked in all three media as writer, producer and director.

Can you briefly describe All My Love?

This is a poignant story of two of Australia’s iconic literary figures: Mary Gilmore and Henry Lawson and their little-known secret betrothal.

All My Love tells the untold love story of two famous Australian writers, Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore. Does the show feature many quotes from their actual, individual works? Are there any famous ones in particular that you’d like to discuss for us?

They were both so prolific it was hard to include very many of their poems (let alone Henry’s short stories) but writer Anne Brooksbank has cleverly used some of Mary’s poems as a kind of ‘sub-text’ in the narrative and it is especially evocative to hear the passion Mary expressed in her work.

Why do you think audiences should come and see All My Love?

The story is historically significant yet quite relevant to a contemporary Australian audience. It is great getting to know more about these highly regarded cultural figures – and most of all to experience their relationship, which continued throughout their lives until Henry’s premature death.

Do you have a favourite scene in the production? What’s it about and why did you choose this one?

There are so many but perhaps one favourite is the scene where Mary and Henry meet after he has been away at the West Australian goldfields and she believes (wrongly) that he has not written to her. It reveals the key turning point in their relationship – and the tragedy of their never getting together. Anne has written it with tremendous insight, as well as humour. Henry’s weaknesses come out, so he is seen as more than just the great artist: he was also a flawed man.

Do you have a favourite piece of text or a favourite quote from either Lawson or Gilmore? Why did you pick this particular one?

Again, there are so many – but possibly this piece of Mary’s that so well sums up her strength of character, her stoicism:
Never admit the pain
Bury it deep,
Only the weak complain,
Complaint is cheap.
Cover thy wound, fold down
Its curtained place,
Silence is still a crown,
Courage a grace.

The show stars Kim Denman (Neighbours) and Dion Mills (It’s A Date). How did the actors prepare for their roles?

They both did a massive amount of research. I think they each read everything their characters ever wrote! They also read historical accounts of the time, and Kim was able to listen to some extensive radio interviews that Mary did late in her life, which were a great help to her.

All My Love sounds like a sad romance tale. If you could invite any couple from history to dinner who would it be and why?

What an interesting question! And another one about which it is hard to be selective. I have actually co-written a play about the weekend that Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier had Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller to stay. That would be a great dinner!

The play is taking place at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres. The suburb itself was in the news fairly recently because they had found some historic relics buried there. Does the location of the play have any sort of impact on the show? Does it produce better performances in the actors?

Parramatta is one of the few places in Sydney that still has some sense of history. I know that both Kim and Dion are keen historians and will react to that find with interest. As to affecting their performance, I think it is all about responding to the live audience as they enter the imagined world we have all created together. That is the great thing about theatre.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell The AU Review about “All My Love” or any of your other upcoming projects?

My next two projects are both for HIT Productions: Educating Rita, starring Colin Moody. Great play, great actor. And then I direct Always Patsy Cline – about another real person, the wonderful Country singer of the title. I believe that show will be playing at Riverside.

Originally published on 12 February 2016 at the following website:

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