Boy Out Of The Country – By Felix Nobis

By Jane Canaway

Published on Australian Stage

It’s a while since I’ve heard an audience gasp in shock at a character’s actions onstage but the depths of sibling bastardry portrayed in Felix Nobis’s Boy Out of The Country certainly hit the spot.

Tightly written for the most part, with only a couple of flat spots, Nobis explores the multifaceted issues of family, belonging, acceptance and growth in this true-blue Aussie tale of two brothers.

Nobis opens by laying his cards on the table and presents a simple scenario that would be familiar to all Australians: Bad-boy Hunter returns to his small-town home after an unexplained seven-year absence to find his elderly mum moved into a nursing home, his rundown childhood home about to be bulldozed to make way for a new housing development, and his former flame married to his clean-living brother, Gordon.

Soon afterwards, Hunter finds himself in the town lockup being lectured by the local sergeant for brawling with Gordon.

Nobis gently develops the story like a watercolour painting, adding depth and colour in subtle layers that slowly reveal a more intricate picture in a wholly gratifying way.

It is sharp, canny and astute, but it is also very funny.

The script captures the vernacular and flows with casual abuse, but its language shines most brightly in the monologues performed by the local cop, played by Christopher Bunworth, and mum – Jane Clifton.

In the hands of these seasoned experts, not only do their characters take on a more poignant air, but the cadence and verse of Nobis’s words is also revealed.

More than once, a quotable quote hit me mid-monologue with its condensed insight and observation.

It’s a script that demands tight comic delivery balanced with laid-back country style and occasionally this was marred by a little stiffness, but quite possibly due to first-night nerves.

Credit is due to designer Rob Sowinski, whose minimal set captures the essence of country town without being overly cute or contrived.

Backing music provided by the wonderfully named Bang Mango Cools on a single guitar and recorded loop was also suitable laconic.

Interestingly, despite its relatively short run, the play is listed on the Shows for Schools website; one hopes teachers take heed of the understated ‘some coarse language’ warning before booking.


Larrikin Ensemble Theatre presents

Boy Out Of The Country

By Felix Nobis

Directed by Felix Nobis and Fleur Kilpatrick

Designer: Rob Sowinski

Original music: Bang Mango Cools

Producer: Wolf Heidecker

Amanda LaBonte & Martin Blum. Picture: Sarah Walker


Margaret – Jane Clifton

Gordon – Matt Dyktynski

Rachael – Amanda LaBonte

Sgt Walker – Christopher Bunworth

Hunter – Martin Blum


Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Dates: Until December 8, 2013

Tickets: $30-$38



Students find joy with strings attached

By Jane Canaway

Published in The Age, April 30, 2012

Eh Moo See with her violin. Picture: The Age

FIVE years after arriving in Australia as a refugee, 11-year-old Eh Moo See is still shy about her English vocabulary. Asked if she feels any different when she’s playing her violin, she smiles brightly but whispers for guidance in teacher Susan Porter’s ear.

“She says she feels more confident,” Ms Porter.

As we’re talking, Heath wriggles and flops in his chair like any nine-year-old. But as he picks up his viola, his back straightens, his eyes focus and he is engaged.

“He’s one of the most attentive when they’re playing,” says Ms Porter, who helps run a groundbreaking music program being trialled at Laverton P-12 College, in Melbourne’s west.

Asked how he feels when he’s playing, Heath says simply: “Like a professional.”

They might not get paid, but the ensemble now has a growing repertoire and has performed several concerts in the past 10 months, including one alongside the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra — no mean feat for children who had barely touched a musical instrument a year ago.

The intensive program, based on a successful Venezuelan model, introduces orchestral training and performance to children who are otherwise unlikely to experience it. While the Venezuelan experience has now reached 4 million children over the past 37 years, Heath and Eh Moo See are among the first 30 children in the Australian pilot.

Not only have the children — selected randomly from more than 70 who applied to take part — embraced the disciplined training, but a survey sent out after six months showed 90 per cent of parents noticed an increase in their children’s confidence, with 95 per cent saying their children were happier and 95 per cent now more positive about their child’s future.

The two-hour classes, led by some of Melbourne’s brightest young music teachers, are held after school three nights a week. There is no cost to parents and children enjoy “a nutritious snack” beforehand. After basic music instruction using recorders and singing, each child received a junior-sized string instrument: violins, violas, cellos or double bass.

But as Laverton P-12 College assistant principal Paul Lishman points out, “it’s not just about learning a violin, viola or cello; it’s a whole musical program, with percussion and vocal work and learning to perform as a group”.

Only a handful of children have dropped out — all but one due to their families moving, which is common in Laverton’s transient population.

“Not only have the children lapped it up, never complaining about the extra work, but the parents are highly supportive, too. They can see the benefits,” Mr Lishman says. “It’s had huge benefits for their whole learning, too; we’re seeing positive effects on their other work.”

As the Laverton program — called Crashendo! — approaches its first birthday, the organising body, Sistema Australia, plans to expand to Adelaide, and has had strong interest from other Melbourne schools.

The stumbling block is money.

“Depending on staffing numbers, it costs between $2000 and $3000 per student each year,” says the head of Sistema Australia, Chris Nicholls. “The current funding and pilot finishes at the end of the current term. We are seeking funding for the full program, which will take 60 children, five days per week for the school year. We need approximately $60,000 for the rest of 2012.”

The Laverton Crashendo! program pilot was funded from private donations and in-kind support from the college, Hobsons Bay Council and Victoria Police.

By contrast, the Adelaide program has secured major funding from philanthropic, corporate and government sponsors as well as donations of instruments and smaller grants. A third of the Adelaide students will pay $15 a day, subsidising free music education for those unable to pay.

Social justice is a key element in the original El Sistema program from Venezuela. It was established by economist and pianist Jose Antonio Abreu, who wanted to share his love of classical music with children, especially those from the slums.

From one children’s orchestra in 1975, the Venezuelan program now has more than 300 choirs and orchestras, and teaches 300,000 children. Its success has led to the government now funding 60 per cent of its $80 million budget.

Similar programs are now run in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Austria and the US.

With no formal background in either music or running a trust, Mr Nicholls landed his role as head of Sistema Australia almost by accident, after seeing his own son transformed through music.

“My son had learning difficulties that led to him being miles behind.” A diagnosis was found, but by then his confidence was at rock bottom.

Then at high school, all students had to learn a musical instrument.

“When we explained his learning problems, he was given one-on-one help; he really grasped it with a passion and started accelerating and was leading the cellos in his orchestra within a few months.”

At 17 he was accepted into the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. “I was flabbergasted that a child could make such progress.”

Mr Nicholls discovered the El Sistema program — and wanted to give Australian children a similar chance to shine.

Inspired, he took up the viola himself and plays in the Maruki Community Orchestra, which he co-founded with violinist John Gould.

However, his steepest learning curve has been getting the Australian version of El Sistema up and running. “I ran the idea past a lot of people; some thought ‘what a nut’, but others thought it was a good idea and were supportive, especially [choirmaster] Jonathon Welch.”

Senior Constable Sharon Radau learns with the children. Picture: The Age

Independently, Senior Constable Sharon Radau, community liaison officer with Hobsons Bay police, was looking for a creative way of tackling youth disadvantage in Laverton — her area’s most disadvantaged place — and discovered the El Sistema program. She was given Chris Nicholls’ number.

“Victoria Police wanted to help run the program at Laverton P-12,” says Mr Nicholls. “I tried to get funding but it was really hard. So I just sank everything I had into it; I don’t have a house or any money any more, but I have this program up and running and it’s working — if we could run it every day of the week the kids would probably turn up.”

To make it more attractive for philanthropists, Mr Nicholls is converting Sistema Australia from an incorporated body to a limited company. And to gauge the program’s value, Melbourne University was asked to research its benefits.

A postdoctoral research fellow in music psychology, Dr Margaret Osborne will assess it as part of a three-year study examining the value of music education.

Senior Constable Radau can already see the powerful effect of music; she is learning violin alongside the children.

“Nobody is forcing the kids; it’s all voluntary. To get kids occupied and off the streets is just gold.”

Read more:


Turns out it was pretty twisted

It was only after the play had finished that I noticed the sub title to Turns: A pantomime with a twist.

Would this have helped me understand it better?

Probably not, although I might not have been so bewildered at the opening scene as Nancye Hayes’ character, Marjory Joy, appears in cartoon-like Little Miss Muffett-type costume and leaps from one vaudeville flashback to another, occasionally joined by Reg Livermore in Little Tommy Tucker-type dress.

As Marjory claims the stage for herself, the flashbacks become a monologue of addled memories and twisted idioms.

OK, so maybe the show is about an ageing star reliving her glory days?

Reg Livermore acts as accessory at this stage, playing the parts of her dead husband, Douglas, and living son, Alistair, as their memories and realities merge in her confuddled mind.

Then comes the time for Alistair to reclaim his place in the spotlight as Marjory’s star fades away – and he shines an altogether different light on what we have seen, plus his own projection of the future.

Once one illusion is dashed, more and more tumble like dominoes, getting more bizarre and being delivered with increasingly tight scripting.

Now things are happening – suddenly things are falling into place.

Then, just as a rather neat ending had, I thought, been revealed, back comes the song and dance routine again. Ah well.

Reg Livermore devised and wrote the whole creation with himself and Nancye Hayes in mind and there is no doubt that they are the perfect pair to carry it off.

Their timing and delivery are a joy to watch and some of the lines and concepts are breathtakingly brilliant. Reg especially can drag the audience along in revelling in raucous revelations – only to shut them down in a flash of realism and remorse.

In his introductory note, Reg Livermore writes: “It isn’t exactly the show we discussed but it does I think give us a chance to show what we’re made of, show what we like to do on stage and what we thing we do best, a series of theatrical turns tailored especially for this occasion”.

That is does, but some of the enjoyment was lost for me in the confusion of it all; maybe this is a clever device to mimic the confusion of old age and the lies, imaginings, half-truths and shadows that make up many people’s lives – or maybe the plot just got lost.

Fans of Hayes and Livermore will enjoy this, no matter what – as will anyone who enjoyed the inter-reliant relationships in the TV show Mother and Son – and there are few plays around that include such good live piano solos as offered by Vincent Colagiuri.

The trick to ‘getting’ it is, perhaps, not to try, but instead to follow producer Christine Dunstan’s advice: “Please hand yourself over to the Turns experience and enjoy the ride”.


Turns is at the Playhouse Theatre at The Arts Centre until Saturday, July 9.



Tripod Versus the Dragon

Tripod Versus the Dragon, live at the Forum

THE nerdometer was going off the scale as patrons filed into the Forum Theatre discussing probability curves and statistics.

Nerd nostalgia and pride are central to Tripod’s new show; it’s a musical homage to the original role-playing game that developed a huge cult following – Dungeons and Dragons – and it celebrates the ‘’coming out’’ of awkward teens who wore cardigans over ankle-length slacks and excelled at maths but now have the confidence to embrace their love of the underworld game they probably kept quiet about at school.

Not that you need to be a D&D fan to understand or enjoy the show – it opens with two of the Melbourne-based trio – Scod (Scott Edgar) and Yon (Simon Hall) initiating D&D virgin Gatesy (Steven Gates) to the game, giving them license to explain the some jargon and rules.

Tripod Versus the Dragon then fills with all the witty ditties and self-deprecating comedy fans have come to expect, but the for the first time introduces in a foreign body to the formula – a girl, armed with a full set of girl germs.

Elana Stone plays the role of Dungeon Master and later, the dragon, guarding the secret place on the magic map that the trio set out to explore. She brings not only a fresh element to the Tripod chemistry, but a huge musical and comedic talent of her own, as well as a stunning set of lungs; her first solo won the biggest applause of the first preview night.

The script is clever, mocking their own love of the cult subject while parodying a classical tragedy, complete with a dangerous quest, love interest, betrayal, tragic death, morality and redemption – plus a chorus, even if it is one that answers back.

Special effects include a guitar, chair, overhead projector, a sheet and a stick with a pointy bit, but the simple, honest way they are used brings another level of comedy again.

The plot seems to lose a bit of momentum about three-quarters of the way through, when a couple of the songs could have been cropped or sped up a bit, but otherwise it’s an enlightening hour, whether you’re a D&D virgin or fan.

Tripod Versus the Dragon is upstairs at the Forum Melbourne, corner Flinders and Russell streets, Tuesdays to Sundays at 9.15pm, until April 18.


Musical’s flush of brilliance

menopause the musical

Right up until a straitlaced housewife from Dubbo starts crooning the Platters hit  ‘Only You’ to a quivering, magenta-pink phallic microphone, the material in Menopause the Musical had been entertaining but not confronting.

The title alone gives fair warning that issues of hot flushes, fuzzy memory and lost youth would covered, but her friends’ entreaty to try out some ‘Good Vibrations’ took the production to a different level – both in terms of joyful laughter turning raucous, and in the message of self-discovery behind the fun.

Menopause the Musical turns of the contrivance that four women meet in a department store and, over a battle to secure a bargain bra, form a sisterly friendship that involves singing daggy versions of pop classics.

Retail therapy takes on a new meaning as the four explore various departments, discussing as they go their discomfort, anguish, fear and confusion at the dreaded Change that is overcoming their bodies and with it, their self-image, careers and relationships.

Most of the songs are cleverly reworked – such as “In the guestroom or on the sofa, my husband sleeps at night” sung to The Lion Sleeps Tonightand It’s in His Kiss bemoaning chocolate binges going “On my Hips”.

While the characters – a Power Woman (Maria Mercedes), a Soap Star (Jennifer Levy), Earth Mother (Michelle Collins) and Dubbo Housewife (Andrea Creighton) remain nameless stereotypes we can both laugh at yet relate to – all four performers (plus swing performer-cum-resident director Carolyn Waddell) deliver them with excellent singing voices, which were matched by simple but effective choreography. Originally set in American, and offering a few new songs and new cast to the last Australian production, this version is a month into a six-month Australian tour.

I found the phrase “delightfully daggy” ruminating around my head as I watched the first half and listened to the audience slowly warm into joyful, spontaneous laughter.

Then came that pink microphone.

There are many reasons why incontinence and female masturbation are rarely discussed – common embarrassment and cultural taboos among them – so for playwright Jeanie Linders to deal with them while causing only minor audience squirm amid the laughter speaks volumes about her skill in creating lovable characters that you can comfortably laugh at as well as laughing with. Much of that comes from their honesty and vulnerability, and their lack of judgement when sharing their anxieties.

It’s not a subject or style that will suit everyone – teenagers are unlikely to get it – and a couple behind me left after the first song, although I sincerely hope it’s because she had a hot flush or he was worried he’d left the oven on, because otherwise they would have missed an uplifting message of self-love and shared support for nothing.

Menopause the Musical is at the Comedy Theatre, Exhibition Street, until August 29. Details:

Slick sister act’s rock-solid

Stonefield aka Iotah, photographed for Triple J's Unearthed High contest

Stonefield aka Iotah, photographed for Triple J's Unearthed High contest

UPDATE 2011: When I interviewed Iotah in 2008, after they won the Macedon Ranges Push Start Battle of the Bands contest, I was struck by both their maturity and eclectic taste in music – lots of Hendrix and Zeppelin style rock, but all the new alternative sounds, too.

I was stoked, but not surprised, when the girls beat bands from across Australia to win Triple J’s Unearthed High contest, earning them a day’s recording time in Sydney and a free concert at Holly’s new school, Gisborne High, playing backup to rising Melbourne band British India. Since then they have enjoyed growing airtime on Triple J and, despite having to change their name to Stonefield due to a clash of naming rights, have a huge fanbase across Australia and growing media presence. A residency at iconic Melbourne venue the Tote and an invitation to play at the UK’s classic festival, Glastonbury, are the next steps on their broadening horizon.


June 10, 2008

Macedon Ranges Telegraph

Words: Jane Canaway

On a windswept hill just outside of remote Darraweit Guim, a shed pulses to the sounds of slick, solid rock.

It’s being produced by the four music-loving sisters of award-winning bank Iotah, who are working on their distinctive form of old-school rock.

Citing Led Zeppelin as an inspiration, the girl – Amy, 18, Hannah, 15, Sarah, 14, and Holly, 10 – have been playing together for about three years and have a remarkably democratic work ethic.

While Amy, the lead vocalist and drummer, writes most of the lyrics, the rest is collaborative.

“We all do a little bit; like if I come up with something on the guitar, we’ll work out some stuff around that,” says lead guitarist Hannah.

“Yes, but we also give each other ideas,” adds keyboardist Sarah.

Holly, whose bass guitar is almost as big as her, started playing about three years ago, around the time her sisters also took up their instruments.

Surprisingly for siblings, the four admit they have always played and worked well together and say their parents’ choice of music was a strong influence.

Last month, Iotah won the 2008 Macedon Ranges Push Start Battle of the Bands – and with it a day’s free studio time at The Sound Vault Recording Studio. They also won the Mitchell Shire Battle of the Bands. They will thrash it out against other young musos in the Push Start’s version of regional finals in October.

All four practise daily, rehearse together weekly, and believe they will play together for many years.

Amy is doing a bachelor of Australian popular music degree at NMIT and plans to follow that with a teaching degree. Hannah is taking VET music at Whittlesea Secondary College and Sarah, also at Whittlesea, has also chosen a musical elective. Holly is at Darraweit Guim Primary School.

With several live perforance behind them – from 50th birthday parties to school fund-raisersj, open mic sessions and at the Youyth Week finale in Broadmeadows earlier this year – their next challenge is against about 400 bands in the worldwide Emergenza contest.

Dozens of Victorian hopefuls will plan int ehfirstround play-offs in Richmond in June and Jly for the chance to represent Auastralia at the international finals in Germany and, ultimately, win six weeks’ paid studio time in Sweden.

  • Iotah lays at the Central Club in Richmond on July 7. Contact them via their wepage at