Michael Gow’s Away is one of Australia’s most popular plays and this latest production makes it easy to see why. The current Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre Production sees the play return to its second home at the Sydney Opera House (the show played here one year after it debuted at the Stables Theatre in 1986.) It’s a story that is in some ways deceptively simple and in others is quite layered and complex in its symbolism, imagery and references to different texts. This is a portrayal of three different Australian families going away on holiday in 1967 and one that remains an important and vital slice of home-grown theatre.

Away is directed by Matthew Lutton (Edward II) and stars Liam Nunan (The Golden Age) as a young, aspiring actor named Tom. He falls in love with a strong and independent young woman named Meg (Naomi Rukavina in her STC debut.) The pair met when they were performing together in their school’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Young love is a beautiful thing but this romance comes under fire thanks to Meg’s snobbish, ball-breaking mother Gwen (a terrifying, Heather Mitchell). Gwen believes her daughter is too good for this young boy — he’s the son of English immigrants (Julia Davis and Wadih Dona). Gwen also refuses to let up on her stronghold over the family, including her husband (Marco Chiappi), as well as the apron strings, much to Meg’s chagrin.

The other family out on holiday are the school principal (Glenn Hazeldine) and his shell of a wife, Coral (Natasha Herbert). This older couple is grappling with grief because their only son died in the Vietnam War. This is not the only allusion to death in this play, Tom has leukaemia and he learns that his diagnosis is bleak despite his parents’ best efforts to try and shield this dire news from him. This notion of children passing before their parents meant that Away was also described as being a meditation on the AIDS epidemic because this was happening in real life as Gow was writing it.

The lines in this play are very clever and sharp and Gow’s writing in superb. There are also some great little jokes peppering the script. Gow successfully traverses the lines between poignant and meaningful moments and themes like death, loss and conflict and other points that are quite joyous and fun (young love and the idealism of English immigrants in their new-found home, etc.)

The set itself is quite a minimalist one and this makes the audience focus on the actors and their different conflicts. There is a major change in the play where a storm erupts (thanks to some imaginary fairies) and thereafter the actors are bathed in a stark, white light. It’s interesting that in these moments where the tangible things are stripped away that the play’s most narcissistic and wealth-obsessed character can stop, take stock and learn about more important things in life than mere objects.

The actors prove a formidable ensemble cast. They are also extremely adept at realising this highly-versatile script and the many moods and themes that are often referenced in it. The actors should also be commended for their portrayal of Shakespeare’s finest characters and these complex and uniquely-Australian ones.

There is also some different musical interludes by composer J. David Franzke. The music during the scene changes is quite evocative and atmospheric, at once bringing to mind the carefree sixties and at other moments supporting the play’s darker themes.

Away is one entertaining and absorbing show about three different Australian families tackling with important, everyday issues in a tense and difficult atmosphere — the family Christmas holiday. There are moments that will make you laugh and other times where you will despair and cry. Away is ultimately a theatrical beast in every sense, because it plays with the notion of art in such a clever and skilful way and it appeals to our emotions in the most base, visceral and human sense. Amazing.

Photo credit: James Green

Originally published on 26 February 2017 at the following website:

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Dogfight The Musical is not designed to be safe or comfortable viewing, but it’s certainly a visceral experience.

The stage show is an adaption of the 1991 Warner Bros. film with the original screenplay by Bob Comfort and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. In the hands of the Blackout Theatre Company, it’s a production that will reverberate with you and make you stop and think.

The story is about a group of entitled and testosterone-fuelled young marines in San Francisco, who decide to spend their final 24 hours before deployment (they will eventually go to fight in Vietnam) with some partying and casual cruelty. The group engage in a dogfight, a bet where winnings are awarded to the guy who brought the ugliest date along (this is often unbeknownst to the poor, unsuspecting females).

Jenna Woolley is fabulous as Rose Fenny, a plain, idealistic and unsophisticated waitress. She is roped into this game – her first party nonetheless – by an inept, young hothead named Eddie Birdlace (Ryan Henderson). The latter eventually has some reservations about what he has done but it seems his fraternity of brothers – dubbed the Three Bs – wins out for the most part. At least he spends part of the second act trying to be sensitive and make amends for his wrongdoings and he does receive some form of comeuppance in the end.

The Blackout Theatre troupe features a bunch of very talented youngsters in the starring and ensemble roles (Brendon D’Souza is hilarious as a flamboyant lounge singer, Briony Burnes is a spirited Marcy while Jed Arthur makes a rather cheeky rapscallion in Bernstein). The cast’s voices are all wonderful and pitch-perfect, and these capture the musical score that borrows from ’60s pop, folk, rockabilly and the vocal groups of the era.

The musical numbers are true to the period and are also quite emotional and evocative. At times these seem to take precedence over the dialogue in the scenes.

The costumes by Brooke Clark are excellent and there was a clever use of props for the different scene transitions.

All of these ingredients make for a show that’s disarmingly bold and brutal at moments, as well as thought-provoking and wistful at other times. Dogfight is very much a product of the time it’s trying to evoke, because it highlights the gender stereotypes and machismo that are synonymous with old-school institutions like the armed forces. It’s an important story that is well-rendered here, because at the end of the day it shows that this rose by any other name or situation can prove to be just as sweet.

Originally published on 9 February 2017 at the following website:

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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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Actors Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada perform as Chris and Kim during a photocall for a new production of "Miss Saigon" at the Prince Edward Theatre in London May 19, 2014. The production marks the 25th anniversary of the musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

The musical was written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil who also wrote, Les Misérables. The story is actually based on Madame Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s opera about a tragic romance. In Miss Saigon the writers have taken the leads out of Japan and placed them into Vietnam with the romance blossoming between an American soldier and an innocent, young bargirl.

Eva Noblezada makes her professional acting debut as a vulnerable, 17-year-old girl named Kim. She is orphaned and accepts a bar job in Dreamland in order to survive. This seedy establishment is run by a French-Vietnamese hustler named The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones.) He is obsessed with money and concocts a “contest” where he crowns one of his working girls, “Miss Saigon” in order to charge a larger sum and commission for her services.

Kim meets an American G.I. named Chris (the dreamy, Alistair Brammer). Kim is naïve and sweet while Chris feels a bit lost in this strange environment but he also means well. The pair soon fall in love and marry. But they are separated during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Kim is left abandoned and pregnant and Noblezada does a fine job of making the audience really feel for the character. Kim also has to negotiate through the return of her cousin (Sangwoong Jo) who had been arranged to her in marriage by her late parents. But all she hopes for is a reunion with her beloved Chris.

The staging in this modern production at London’s Prince Edward Theatre is eye-catching with a helicopter appearing above the stage during the fall of the city and some black and white photography is also shown. There is also a grittiness to the poverty the poor characters experience and it’s hard to look away. The soundtrack is also a gorgeous and emotional one and the costumes are fabulous with Kim in demure pieces that set her apart from the raunchiness of the experienced, working girls. The ensemble also wear some glittery, showgirl outfits in “The American Dream” number when The Engineer reveals his big plans to move to the States.

Miss Saigon is a powerful story boasting equally large and sensitive ballads. This dramatic tale is a moving one about love, sacrifice and hope. The adaptation to the silver screen works well with the film capturing the simmering tension of the musical with close-ups honing on and emphasising the actor’s faces. This works well for the most part but at other points it does come at the expense of enjoying the ensemble’s dancing and the scenery, but this is just a minor quibble. Miss Saigon is ultimately a beguiling, melodious and downright beautiful experience that will tug at your heartstrings and leave you misty-eyed.

Originally published on 11 November 2016 at the following website:

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Watching Cinderella – The Pantomime was like stepping into a wonderful world of magic where your inner child could run free. This panto is the third one to be brought to Australia by Bonnie Lythgoe Productions and it looks poised to follow in the success of Snow White and Aladdin. Cinderella was ultimately a light and fun show full of colour and splendour and was an adaptation of the classic fairy tale and rags-to-riches story.

Pantomimes are traditionally a mix of music, theatre and dance and they typically encourage the audience to interact with the actors. The latter often break down the fourth wall and encourage everyone to boo and hiss at the bad guys and to support and cheer on the good guys as well as keep a watchful eye out for ghosts and the like. The show is traditionally pitched at children but there are enough jokes and fun things so that it can appeal to anyone aged 3 to 103.

Jaime Hadwen — who recently starred in Xanadu at the Hayes Theatre — was beguiling as Cinderella. She was humble, kind and showed real heart, even when her father Baron Hardup (Peter Everett – Ready Steady Cook) decided to remarry and chose an evil witch of a woman.

Gina Liano (The Real Housewives of Melbourne) made her stage debut as the horrid and manipulative stepmother, but she was also frequently drowned out by her cast mates, especially those who had a background of performing in front of kids. Craig Bennett and Josh Adamson were the mean stepsisters and were dressed in drag and acted in a very over-the-top way, which suited their parts. There were lots of risqué jokes about fairies and their characters being like “men” (they even played Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel like a Woman” to introduce them.)

Hi-5’s Tim Maddren was an absolute sweetheart as Prince Charming while Jimmy Rees (AKA Mr Giggle) often held fort as the Prince’s servant. The lovely Lara Mulcahy occasionally spoke in rhyme as the fairy godmother and Kev Orkian was ebullient as Buttons. A “12 Days of Winter” song was mostly held together by Rees, because Everett and the others often forgot their cues or their lines. But the shambolic nature of this really added a silly looseness to the proceedings. The four male leads also performed a popular panto song involving ghosts and the kids screamed as much as the girls did for The Beatles back in the day. They also had some children from the audience volunteer for a nice rendition of “I Am the Music Man.”)

Cinderella told a classic story but it also managed to keep things quite topical and relevant for Australian audiences thanks to its script by Christopher Wood. The jokes were a mix of tongue-in-cheek humour and slapstick and included asides about the Parramatta River, the Shire and Malcolm Turnbull, to name a few. Australian hits like AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” the Vanda and Young-penned, “Love Is in the Air” and Kylie Minogue’s “On a Night like This,” were threaded into the story and sat seamlessly among the gorgeous costumes and the fine scenery.

Cinderella – The Pantomime was an engaging and charming show, which left many guests remarking that all theatre should be delivered this way. This modern day fairy tale with an Australian slant was a charming and glittery rags-to-riches show that was a real joy to watch and experience. In fact, it was so easy to sit back and have a ball!


Originally published on 3 July 2016 at the following website:

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Most people love it but what do people really know about chocolate? The team at The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney look set to change all that with a fun and informative new exhibition. Sweet Addiction allows people to experience chocolate as a botanical adventure that fuses together art, education, theatre and flora.




The exhibition is the inaugural one for the recently-opened centre, The Calyx in The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. A “Calyx” is an outer casing of a flower bud and the structure replaces the previous pyramid-shaped, Arc Greenhouse. The new doughnut-shaped space was opened to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the gardens and is a flexible, multi-purpose space that can be adapted for functions, exhibitions and more.




Sweet Addiction was curated by Jimmy Turner, the Director of Horticultural Management for the gardens. It boasts the Southern hemisphere’s largest green wall with over 18000 plants. These shrubs have been arranged to spell out hidden words and symbols and it can take three people an entire day to change. The wall is efficient in terms of water consumption because taps at the top allow the liquids to flow through little trays and anything leftover is collected again at the bottom for re-use.


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The chocolate display is designed as a self-guided, 45 minute experience. Patrons will wander through a tropical rainforest and learn interesting facts like the relationship between chocolate and orchids and how many cacao pods are required to produce a single chocolate bar. They can then trace chocolate from its beginnings and as something that was only consumed by the upper class through to the different techniques that have been employed to make it more accessible. There is also a fun guessing competition where one lucky winner will receive a year’s supply of chocolate.


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Chocolate is loved throughout the world. The average Australian will consume around 5kg per year while the Swiss eat around 12 kg. Exhibitions like Sweet Addiction will educate us about all things chocolate and allow us to experience it like never before. Patrons will be able to learn about chocolate in nature’s answer to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and to touch, see, smell and taste all things chocolate in the picturesque surrounds of the beautiful new space, The Calyx.




Sweet Addition is open daily and runs until April 2017. For more information and tickets please visit:




Originally published on 17 June 2016 at the following website:

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MatildaandMe web


The documentary, Matilda & Me is more about the latter than the former. It’s a film that looks at Tim Minchin’s background and history, charting his rise from aspiring actor to successful comedian and renowned theatre composer. The movie is ultimately a fun and vibrant one about two great characters- the fictional, Roald Dahl creation, Matilda and the clever and creative larrikin, Minchin.

The film is written and directed by Minchin’s sister, Nel Minchin as well as Rhian Skirving (Rock n Roll Nerd). The former gives us quite a personal look at her brother Tim, showing us old photographs and home movies and narrating Tim’s story. Mr Minchin may have been introduced to theatre and creative things while still at school but he was an unlikely choice when it came to Matilda. There was a long road to success and some of this journey even included some couch-surfing at playwright, Kate Mulvany’s place. But it seems that the stars aligned with Matilda because this strange choice of composer would write some award-winning lyrics and music for the Roald Dahl classic.

Matilda & Me features a diverse range of interviewees. There is Mr Minchin himself as well as his siblings, Dan and Katie, wife Sarah and friends Andrew Denton and Eddie Perfect. There is also Dahl’s cool wife, Felicity, Andrew Lloyd Webber and actress, Mara Wilson, who played the lead character in the 1996 film. There are also interviews with those involved in the stage production like: playwright, Dennis Kelly, director, Matthew Warchus and the four girls selected to play the lead character in the Sydney production: Georgia Taplin, Bella Thomas, Sasha Rose and Molly Barwick.

The story is ultimately an inspiring one just like the book. It shows how Minchin went from a modest childhood living on a farm and near the beach in WA to becoming hot property thanks to a successful and award-winning musical playing on Broadway and in the West End. Minchin himself is quite an engaging and interesting character. He can be quite outspoken and vocal (the recent Cardinal Pell song is testament to that) but he is also quite modest and quick to downplay his hand in the success of the show.

The DVD extras include some behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews. They include subjects like “Meeting the Matildas”, “A look at the magic of Roald Dahl” the “When I Grow Up Song” and interviews with associate choreographer, Fabian Aloise and actor, James Millar who plays the scary principal, Mrs Trunchbull in the Australian adaptation.

Tim Minchin may have set some tongues a wagging with his blue eye makeup, long hair and bare feet but he was the perfect person to work on the stage adaptation of Matilda. Roald Dahl’s magical tale has been given a new life on stage and Matilda & Me captures some of that enchanted pixie dust and the essence of the creative driving force behind it all. This documentary puts its spotlight squarely on Tim Minchin’s star and gets an intimate look at the creative composer who took the story of a little girl and ran with it and a man that looks poised to do a whole lot more.

Originally published on 27 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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WutheringheightsproductionHR-1905 - Photo by Dylan Evans


Photo credit: Dylan Evans

Love will tear us apart. This song lyric by the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division seems an appropriate way to sum up the gothic romance tale, Wuthering Heights. Queensland’s shake & stir theatre co. have produced a rather faithful and intense adaptation of Emily Brontë’s story, but it also manages to add a few cotemporary flourishes that complement the melodrama.

The play begins with an ominous crash of thunder and lightning and this serves as a signpost for the drama that is to come. Hindley (Nick Skubij who doubles as the show’s adaptor and director) and Catherine Earnshaw are privileged young siblings living on an estate known as Wuthering Heights on the Yorkshire moors. The pair are also the children of Mr Earnshaw, a character who is omitted from this production. Mr Earnshaw adopts a young, sullen gypsy boy he names Heathcliff and this act sets off a chain of events that has ramifications for multiple generations.

Gemma Willing is excellent in the starring role as the wild and free-spirited Catherine and in the second act she plays this formidable woman’s young daughter. As children, Catherine and Heathcliff (played by Ross Balbuziente who does a fantastic job, especially when playing the adult version of this character) were once inseparable friends. They would also become lovers until Catherine meets her neighbours from Thrushcross Grange, Edgar Linton (Tim Dashwood who seems a touch too feminine and almost camp) and his sister Isabella (Nelle Lee who juggles multiple roles quite seamlessly).

The meeting between Catherine and the Lintons will leave her a changed woman. She loses her youthful innocence and wild ways and instead becomes a stately and elegant young woman. She accepts Linton’s marriage proposal and rejects Heathcliff’s advances despite her heart telling her to do the opposite. Catherine is punished for this both emotionally and spiritually and descends into madness while Heathcliff is incensed and vows to exact revenge, even if he has to bide his time for multiple decades.

This adaptation is faithful to Brontë’s original tale because it shows both Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship as well as the impact of this disturbed love affair on the next generation. The actors each put in some great performances and offer subtler turns when they are playing the younger generation of children whereas more intense and visceral emotions are required for the older ones. Some of the actors play multiple roles across time but the exception to this is the pragmatic narrator Nelly Dean (Linden Wilkinson who had a hard job remembering so many lines and sometimes forgot these) and the dark and villainous Heathcliff. These two are integral to the story and really carry it.

The set is minimal but it works because it is able to double as two different manor houses as well as offer the backdrop for the treacherous moors, complete with life-like rain, thunder and lightning. Some musical motifs are repeated as the scenes change and this adds a certain neatness to the structure, especially when considering that it is such a dense and sprawling story. This adaptation also uses large video projections that really showcase the heightened emotions of the characters and their extinguished flames as they pass away. This is one sumptuous visual feast to say the least.

It is unfortunate that the set also let down the actors on at least a few occasions. There are times when the characters stood behind a shrouded curtain at the back and while this added extra mystery to the piece, it did make it difficult to hear and understand them at times. The first act was also a bit too long and while it ended with Catherine’s death, it felt a little anti-climactic with Dean finishing things by mentioning that there was something contained in a note. Thankfully the actual end of the play reached a more rousing crescendo.

Wuthering Heights is a dark and slow-burning play that sits on the knife edge of love, loss, betrayal, jealousy and revenge. It’s one complex and visceral story of a destructive and disturbing love that would shake a family to its core and be felt by the following generation. shake & stir theatre co.’s adaptation remains true to the classic tale while also offering a welcome modern slant that effectively captures the heady and human emotions of the original narrative. In short, it makes it all feel rather intense and real for a whole new generation of audiences.

Originally published on 24 March 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:

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

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