Reviewed by Frank Barnes

The King and I

By Rodgers and Hammerstein
Directed by Christopher Renshaw
Designed by Brian Thomson
Costumes by Roger Kirk
Princess Theatre, Melbourne

Some people dismiss musicals as meaningless fluff and, watching some of the recent jukebox shows, they could well be right. But they should look again at the shows from Rodgers and Hammerstein. Last year we had a revival of South Pacific and this year we have a revival of this Tony Award-winning Australian production from 1991.

It is a luscious and sumptuous feast for the eyes. Elephants are everywhere as are crystals, and the costumes are exquisite. The performances are terrific, with the lovely Lisa McCune shining again as Anna, and while she performs and sings really well I wish she had been a bit more British — but perhaps I am wanting too much Deborah Kerr.

In the current production, Lou Diamond Phillips plays the King, replacing Jason Scott Lee, and in Sydney he will be played by Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Diamond Phillips played the role on Broadway, and while he can’t really sing, he is a surprisingly formidable actor. His King is sly and strong and his death is really moving.

I saw it at a matinee, and noticed a couple of the singers had trouble with their top register, but that was a minor problem.

This play deals with male/female relationships and power within that as well as the roles of women in society. It also deals with slavery, and the presentation of The Small House of Uncle Thomas (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) is one of the many highlights of the show.

Unlike modern musicals where they contrive to have everyone on their feet for the final song this one finishes with a death and no song but it is still Something Wonderful.

Brothers Wreck

Ruben (Hunter Page-Lochard), right, and Rarriwuy Hick in Brothers Wreck.
Photo: Brett Boardman

Written by Jada Alberts
Directed by Leah Purcell
Belvoir Upstairs

Belvoir continues its long commitment to Indigenous theatre with this timely play about the effects of youth suicide on the immediate family and friends. This is a moving, emotional but sometimes funny look at the aftermath of a suicide and how it sends Ruben, a young cousin in his early twenties, into a spiral of drugs, alcohol and generally bad behaviour.

His family, sister Adele and her boyfriend Jarrod do what they can, and the state-appointed counsellor, David, does all he can to break through. But it is when Aunty Petra arrives that things start to happen.

This was a superbly cast production, beautifully directed by Leah Purcell and while all the performances were great it was Hunter Page-Lochard as the troubled Ruben who stole the show in a finely-gauged performance. I hope this show gets a continuing life and that Belvoir continues its commitment to good Indigenous theatre.


Choreography by Stephen Page
Music by David Page
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Drama Theatre, Opera House

Until I saw this show I had never thought that Dawes Point was named after anyone or who William Dawes was. There is quite a lot known about Dawes as an early visitor and as an astronomer but it is his work as a linguist and his relationship with Patyegarang, who teaches him the basic language spoken by her people in the Eora nation, that is focused on here. This is a wonderful show from Bangarra, which get more assured with each outing. The troupe’s dancing technique is getting better and the performances show it. The Page family sure is a force to be reckoned with. And what great shows to celebrate NAIDOC Week with.


Written by Lachlan Philpott
Directed by Fraser Corfield
Sydney Theatre Company and Australian Theatre for Young People
Wharf 2

Facebook recently suggested that I might want to “friend” Lachlan Philpott. At the time the name was familiar until I realised he was the writer of this wonderful play that has been my big surprise show of the year. It is the story of a young woman going missing in Berlin and her Sydney western suburbs grandmother searching for her but on the way she becomes the DJ M.ROCK in one of Berlin’s biggest clubs. This is a funny and clever play that is in some ways a coming-of-age story for both the girl and her grandmother. I saw it in a full house on a Monday night and the whole audience loved it. It was a refreshing and fun moral tale. Great production and a knockout performance from the always excellent Valerie Bader.

20 Questions at Belvoir Theatre will finish on Monday August 11. If you haven’t been to see it, there are still a few opportunities to watch this simple, wonderful and informative show. On my second visit we were able to learn all about singer/actor Christine Anu and indulge in her life through her own eyes and the sheer joy of listening to her sing “My Island Home”. One of the delights of seeing the show again was to compare the different evenings. Christine was more relaxed than Rachael Maza, who I saw earlier, and she had better knowledge of language. While she professed to be far less political there was an underlying level of politics in everything she said. She also admitted to a fondness to “poo” jokes. Do try to get along.

A show I took in one afternoon was Status, staged as part of AIDS 2014, the conference held in Melbourne. It was a simple montage of stories told by four actors about the stigma that that has attached itself to people with HIV since the virus first started to now. With the debate about sex education still happening (I hoped I had won that 30 years ago) this is an important contribution.

Frank Barnes is retired and is in Melbourne to see the new production of Les Miserables and Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.