A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

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Flower - group shot with


A Flower of the Lips (Un Fior di Labbra) may be a new play by Sydneysider Valentino Musico, but it’s also a love letter. It’s a biographical story about his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi and is a love letter to this legendary man as well as Musico’s relatives, Calabria and Italy as a whole. This stark and bold play, which has its Australian premiere at the King Street Theatre raises many questions about divided loyalties and offers no easy answers.

This production is the fourth collaboration between Musico and director Ira Seidenstein, and the pair previously worked together on Meat Pies & Mortadella and 25Eight at Tap Gallery. The art direction is by Vince Vozzo, an eight-time finalist of the Wynne Prize. His main contribution is a large charcoal drawing that is the backdrop. This is particularly important as the show’s main character owned a charcoal works and the picture evokes the setting in the early 20th century and shows Italy’s then king, Victor Emmanuel III as well as Aloi’s ghost.

Musico was inspired to write the play after learning of the family legends and mystery surrounding his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi. The latter’s life was cut short at age 34 and his death was never properly investigated. Aloi had been an informant to the Italian police, revealing the names of deserters from the army during the First World War, even if they were his own family members (and all this despite being a committed family man). This contributed to his being gunned down in his prime and leaving behind a wife and five children.

The show is quite simple. It’s a series of vignettes that reconstruct Aloi’s life and death, or at least what Musico learnt from his family’s memories as well as some archived papers from Italy. Four actors appear on the stage for the duration of the show with Yiss Mill as the actor/author, Musico narrating and signposting each event while Marcella Franco does a good job as the enigmatic Aloi. Michelle De Rosa is excellent, alternating between young male characters, Agostino and the Shepherd Boy as well as Aloi’s feisty wife, Rosaria. Jamila Hall and Kiki Skountzos round out the cast.

The play is full of symbolism but this may be lost on some audiences. The dialogue is peppered with some Italian words, which could make things difficult for individuals that don’t understand the language. The events all transpire in a kind of reverential semi-circle (to represent the church that Aloi built in Calabria) and the actors who are not actively taking part in the scene sit and watch the darkness unfolding. It’s an interesting idea but there are moments where things feel a bit too personal or private so the audience fails to understand the true meaning of the dialogue or feel part of the action.

Burno Aloi was an interesting man and A Flower of the Lips attempts to immortalise him and pay tribute to his legacy. It’s a dark play that poses many moral questions about the boundaries between what’s right and wrong. It’s also a passionate, beautiful and wordy epitaph and celebration of Calabrese Italians from the past, present and future.

Originally published on 9 October 2015 at the following website:

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soldier's wife

The Soldier’s Wife is an intimate tale about World War I. The book is the 30thone to be written by NSW Premier’s Award-winner, Pamela Hart (who has also published children’s and adult fantasy novels under the name, Dr. Pamela Freeman). This is ultimately an emotional story about love, change, hope, grief and longing.

The narrative is mostly told from the perspective of Ruby Hawkins. She is a naïve girl who used to work in her parent’s shop in Bourke. After a whirlwind romance to the dreamy Jimmy she decides to relocate to Sydney so they can get married and she can see him off before he goes over to fight at Gallipoli.

In Sydney, Ruby undergoes a massive transformation after she takes a job in a timber merchant’s yard. It’s a man’s world but Ruby is determined and she learns a lot of lessons along the way. Eventually she blossoms into a smart and strong, independent woman who seems before her time.

The war wages on and Ruby is comforted by Jimmy’s letters that are mostly filled with love and yearning. There is some grief and tragedy along the way and it is interesting to see how the characters deal with this. Hart does an excellent job with the characterisation here, as she really gets at the underlying emotions felt by all of the individuals. She also excels in providing historical context to the setting because it makes us understand what women could and couldn’t do and Ruby’s journey and internal struggle is very much framed by all of this.

The ending to The Soldier’s Wife is a little too swift. But that said, the rest of the book is very detailed and engaging as it really gets at the true cost of war. The Soldier’s Wife is full of characters that feel real and are easy to relate to. It’s a beautifully-written romance and historical fiction book that is entertaining and hits more high notes than low.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit:




Nomanslanding is a world first, a 120m interactive floating artwork installation on Sydney’s Cockle Bay. It is part of public program of events commemorating the centenary of the ANZACS that was produced by Australian, Dutch and English artists: Robyn Backen, Andre Dekker, Graham Eatough, Nigel Helyer and Jennifer Turpin. Darling Harbour is also the host to a poppy remembrance wall and is holding workshops enabling you to make your own poppy as well as exhibitions of historic images and timelines and a contemporary portrait exhibition by Turkish-Australian artist, Mertim Gokalp.

The AU Review spoke with Michael Cohen, the co-curator of Nomanslanding and Creative Producer for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to learn more about this fascinating exhibit and some of the important historic details relating to the famous war port, tourist attraction and family-friendly destination known as Darling Harbour.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself like what was your involvement in Nomanslanding? How long have you been working in this capacity?

Well actually I think I’m the one who started the whole ball rolling – I guess in a producer capacity. About 3 years ago I started fishing around for international partners to work with on a big installation to float on the waters of Cockle Bay. It’s one of the really special features of Darling Harbour and doing something special there provides visitors with an experience they can’t have anywhere else. But I knew such a big project needed collaborators because it’s of a scale that would be very difficult for Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to accomplish on its own. So I managed to secure some great partners and since then we’ve been working as co-curators to seek out the artists, gestate the project concept and then develop the work for each of our locations.

2. Can you tell us a little about Nomanslanding?

Nomanslanding provides visitors with an extraordinary experience of this part of the city. You’re ushered out onto the waters of the harbour along some narrow walkways and you enter what is effectively a floating wooden chapel with about 40 other people. It’s a moment out of time for people – some quiet contemplation floating in the harbour of a busy city. And in the context of the Centenary of ANZAC, visitors get to take this time for a very personal experience in a work that contemplates loss across all different cultures.




3. Nomanslanding is in place to commemorate the centenary of the ANZACs. Were there any stories or things in particular that inspired this exhibition?
In our creative development for the project, the artists were very struck by the fact that in WW1 the people on opposing sides of the war were often from (the) same professional background and the same social background – they often had the same diets and social habits. And yet there they were shooting each other across this divide of terrain that came to be known as no man’s land. So the notion of confronting the enemy and potential death is effectively about confronting yourself and your own mortality.

4. Nomanslanding is a world-first, 120m interactive floating artwork. How did this installation come about?

It’s a massively ambitious project building a floating structure and walkway – and it’s a kind of engineering impossibility really! So Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority could not have undertaken something like this without some solid partnerships. We secured two European partners who will also show the work later this year. (Nomanslanding will tour to the Merchant City Festival in Scotland and Germany’s Ruhrtriennale Festival of Arts).So between us, we were able to dream big and deliver something that we all think is quietly extraordinary.

5. What are some of the highlights of the Nomanslanding installation? What are some of the highlights of the talks program?

One of the highlights is really seeing how people from all different walks of life are introduced to the historical jump-offs for the work (WW1, ANZACs, Darling Harbour as a war port) via what is really an abstract and ‘feelingful’ kind of experience. It’s not a telegraphed through interpretation of war – people go on a quiet experience with a group of other people and they are left to ask their own questions – about war, about death and dying, about loss by all peoples.

The talks program gave people a chance to get behind the scenes and dig in for some finer detail on the making process.




6. Why do you think it’s important to have this artwork? Why should people visit it?

I think it doesn’t happen often enough that we are encouraged to ask our own questions about history. And artworks like this enable that kind of questioning in an interesting way that is free of the usual stuff that can accompany some commemorative projects. It’s not a jingoistic, flag-waving exercise at all. It actually makes that subject of WW1 commemoration a kind of personal experience that you can interpret in your own way.

And really it gives people an opportunity to experience the harbour in this part of the city in a way that they cannot do in ‘everyday life’.




7. Darling Harbour has been a significant port in terms of its involvement in the military and industry. Can you tell us more about this?

We know it was a loading port for departures and that some people also arrived back home from WW1 here.

We also know that a lot of German internees (many were Australian citizens) were sent off to Germany from here during the war.

8. What is the most interesting fact or thing about Darling Harbour that most people wouldn’t know about?

• When Europeans arrived there were cockle shells piled up for metres and metres and metres all around the foreshore – this was traditional cockle-eating place for Aboriginal people – that’s where the word Tumbalong comes from (in reference to Tumbalong Park within the Darling Harbour precinct).
• The world’s first refrigerator was invented at Darling Harbour.

9. What other events or things are coming up at Darling Harbour?

• Vivid Sydney starts in May
• A really cool celebration of winter, called ‘Cool Yule’ during the NSW winter school holidays – (to include a massive floating ‘ice-berg’ on Cockle Bay)
• An assortment of cultural festivals – check out ‘Culture Beats’ on for more details.




Nomanslanding is a free exhibition open daily from 11am at Darling Harbour. It will remain there until 3 May 2015 before it travels to Scotland and Germany. For more information please visit:


Originally published on 20 April 2015 at the following website:

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Vera Brittain was a feminist trailblazer, pacifist and activist. Her memoir about World War I, Testament Of Youth, was a detailed account of her coming of age and experience as a volunteer nurse on the frontline.

Her story has recently received its second adaptation (the first was as a TV series decades ago), and while it’s not a seamless transition to the silver screen for director James Kent, it is still a good and worthy story.

This period drama stars Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair) as the rebellious, headstrong and determined Brittain. Vikander absolutely shines in this role and encapsulates the heroine’s extraordinary spirit with a classy but respectful air as well as showcasing the full extent of her emotional struggles. Brittain is no saint but thanks to Vikander she is portrayed as an amazing, independent woman and role model.

The costumes in this film are quite sumptuous at times and the cinematography is warm and beautiful during the periods of peace, and raw and gritty during the war. Brittain had had a promising career awaiting her after she passed the Oxford entrance exam but she puts this all on hold after her brother Edward (Taron Egerton); his friend, Victor (Colin Morgan); and Brittain’s fiancé Roland (Game Of Thrones’ Kit Harington) enlist and are sent to the Western front.

Testament Of Youth offers a unique, complex and female perspective on the devastation of war. It shows the life of an upper-middle-class British family and lovers struck by tragedy (and the Swedish-born Vikander does a great job with the accent). The film is well-crafted and mostly true to the memoir, and elegant and restrained in its telling. In short, this film is something that will continue to haunt and resonate; a touching reflection on the human suffering and misfortune that is typical of war.


Originally published on 8 April 2015 at the following website:


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Giles Waterfield knows a lot about history. This is particularly evident in the independent curator and writer’s fourth novel and historic fiction book, The Iron Necklace. The author of The Long Afternoon has had some excellent ideas while developing this novel but the finished product is let-down by his method of execution as the chapters (while short) are slow, nuanced and occasionally boring.


The story is about a British family and a German family who are brought together by a marriage. After the First World War is declared this sends members of the two clans into a kind of disarray (like the rest of the world). English artist, Irene Benson is forced to grapple with being an enemy in her newly adopted home of Berlin while her brother Mark is a diplomat who is struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality.


Waterfield frequently switches between characters and periods with lots of short chapters but this often makes things rather confusing. A lot of the characters (especially the ancestors in the modern day) are not fully explained or realised. This then makes it hard for the reader to become engaged in the story or to genuinely warm to the storytellers.


Irene’s sister, Sophia is perhaps the most interesting individual but her narrative plays second fiddle to Irene and her husband, Thomas’ one. This is a shame because Sophia is an intriguing, independent woman who is working hard as a nurse on the Western front. Her relationship with her suitor and her parents is one of many to be tested in the chaos that is World War I.


The biggest problem with The Iron Necklace is the frequent use of German dialogue for the characters from this country. This shouldn’t be a problem except that absolutely no English translation is offered. So it’s then left up to the reader to either find their own translation (which means that we may not get the author’s true intentions) or we skip entire paragraphs (which could take important elements out of the story).


The Iron Necklace is a great idea that was letdown by too many characters, points in time and chapters. It means that this book is drowning in detail and fails to be the entertaining family drama or insightful historic narrative it could have been. In short, this is one for people who are fans of World War I and who don’t mind a novel that is presented in a challenging way.


***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: