Tag Archives: music

Waters to come to Gulgong

28 Apr

Picture courtesy of John Waters Official Website.

Respected actor John Waters will be the latest big name artist to perform at Gulgong’s Prince of Wales Opera House.

The multi-talented Waters is bringing his Looking Through a Glass Onion tour to the historic town in June.

The national tour, which commenced at the end of 2010 at the Sydney Opera House, is a tribute to John Lennon, dedicated to his ‘music, mystery and memory’.  The show features 31 of Lennon’s songs intertwined with a spoken monologue, exploring the essence of the great musician.

Originally created in 1992 by Waters and Stewart D’Arrietta, the show has received positive reviews and had sell-out success, touring multiple times including to London’s West End.

Booking organiser for the Gulgong Opera House, Brian Cook was very surprised when he got a call from John Waters himself wanting to bring the show to Gulgong.

So surprised in fact, that he accidently double-booked.

“We were going to get John Waters on Sunday, only we’ve got a film booked in so, I’m sorry John Waters, you don’t get precedence over somebody that’s running a film,” Mr Cook jokes.

He explains that films are occasionally shown at the theatre, and that artists wanting to book a show need to fit around the schedule of the Opera House, which includes the local Eisteddfod and performances by the local Musical and Dramatic Society.

“They’ve got to fit with what our program is, which is the real funny thing,” Mr Cook says.

The Prince of Wales Opera House holds the title of Australia’s longest continually running opera house, having been built in 1871.  The original iron bark roof creates such impressive acoustics that microphones aren’t needed, which Mr Cook believes is part of the appeal.

Other famous artists to perform at Gulgong include pianist Roger Woodward, trumpeter James Morrison and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Looking Through a Glass Onion will be performed at the Gulgong Prince of Wales Opera House on Friday June 15.

Here’s some reviews of Looking Through a Glass Onion:

‘Looking Through A Glass Onion’ by Helen Barry – Australian Stage

‘John Waters: Looking Through A Glass Onion’ – Beat

‘Looking through a glass onion’ by Lynne Lancaster – Artshub 


Theatre’s history is worth it’s weight in gold.

28 Apr

The Opera House when it was originally built in the 1870s. Picture by Gulgong Information Centre.

“Rough-built theatres and stages where the world’s best actors trod, Singers bringing reckless rovers nearer boyhood, home and God, Paid in laughter, tears and nuggets in the drama fortune plays – ‘Tis the palmy days of Gulgong – Gulgong in the Roaring Days.” – Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson wrote about it, Dame Nellie Melba sang there and boxer Les Darcy fought there – the Gulgong Prince of Wales Opera House is rich in history and continues to provide the town with entertainment.

Built in 1871, the unassuming building situated in the centre of town, holds the title of Australia’s longest running performing arts theatre.

Over 140 years on, the building hasn’t changed all that much, not unlike the rest of the historic town, whose narrow streets and charming weatherboard buildings look as though they belong to a time long-gone.

Born on the rough goldfields, the Prince of Wales Opera House was originally a bark structure with a dirt floor and no roof, built by John Cogden during Gulgong’s thriving goldrush days.  At a time when Gulgong’s population was up to 20,000, the theatre was doing a roaring trade.  People flocked from the goldfields to be entertained by some of the world’s greatest actors, singers and dancers.

Booking organiser for the Opera House, Brian Cook, says that Cogden and his business partner, international actress Joey Gougenheim, were running two shows a day, seven days a week.

The Opera House as it is today. Picture by Gulgong Information Centre.

“They were making pretty good money,” Mr Cook says.

“I’ve seen some old programs and they say they can fit 2000 people in here, which I very much doubt, but maybe 1000, and the minimum price was two and sixpence, so if you work that out they had a pretty good income each day.”

“It’d be better money than you could make these days,” Mr Cook says laughing.

Gulgong’s population is now just over 2,000 and the Opera House seats only 340, however it continues to be used for everything from plays to concerts to movie nights and for the local Eisteddfod.

“During a typical year of 365 days, it’s probably used about 150 of those days,” Mr Cook says.

The theatre is the home of the local Musical and Dramatic Society (MADS), who usually put on a theatre restaurant or one act plays every year, which are very popular amongst the locals.  Not only do MADS use the opera, but they also own and run it.

Mr Cook, also a member of the MAD Society, says up until the early seventies the opera house was being primarily used as a movie theatre, however, with the introduction of TV, it was in decline.

“That’s how our Music and Dramatic Society came to take over the building because they were going to demolish it,” Mr Cook says.

Mr Cook says that the MAD Society are very lucky to be one of the few dramatic societies that own their own theatre.

“We pay a whole two dollars for membership, so it’s pretty heavy,” says Mr Cook laughing.

“Our major expense is insurance of course, because it’s a national trust building so that’s why we’ve got to run the shows, not only because of that but because we love doing it.”

The rustic building oozes character and charm.  The red velvet curtains are over a hundred years old, the blue-patterned velvet seats lining the rows are as old as they are uncomfortable and the wooden floorboards creak as you walk.  Some locals swear the place is haunted by the ghosts of those that had once trod the stage.  The original iron bark roof creates such impressive acoustics that microphones aren’t needed.

Mr Cook believes that is part of the appeal and why it has attracted some first class musicians such as pianist Roger Woodward and trumpeter James Morrison, who regularly return to perform here.

“We get good artists wanting to use it in between our shows,” Mr Cook says.

“We’ve got John Waters coming up in June, so that’s another major show.”

Review: ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’

10 Apr

Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon in ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’

If you want humour, sex, alcohol, drugs, love and a bit of crime to top it off, look no further than Midsummer (A Play with Songs).

About a one-night stand between two people who really shouldn’t get together, and their weekend of adventure that ensues, Midsummer is a romantic comedy that will make you laugh, and at times, cringe at the hopeless mess of the lives of Helena and Bob.

Helena and Bob are, according to Cora Bissett who plays Helena, opposites with nothing in common besides being middle-aged, single and not knowing what they want with their lives.  Bob is a drop-out petty criminal and Helena is a career-minded divorce lawyer.

“They come from opposite ends of the spectrum and on paper they should never work,” says Bissett.

“But they’ve both reached stages in their life where they’re kind of in a real rut and they really don’t know how they’re going to go forward and the place that they’re in is not a happy one.  And they meet and something really works.  And so it is a very life-affirming story about finding hope and happiness in very unexpected places.”

And that it is.  Midsummer is guaranteed to leave you with that feel-good, uplifting feeling that romantic comedies do best.

A scene from ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’.

However, this is not your average play.  With only two actors, Bissett, and co-star Matthew Pidgeon who plays Bob, the show is uniquely performed through a combination of acting, narration and talking to the audience.  This approach makes the audience feel a greater connection with Helena and Bob, as Bissett and Pidgeon talk through scenes, describing their characters’ feelings, providing background information and telling us what is about to happen before they switch back to acting and continue with the scene.

Not only do Bissett and Pidgeon play the two main characters, but they play all the minor characters too.   One minute Bissett is Helena, the next she becomes Bob’s gangster boss, or Bob’s son kicking round a football.  The ease with which both Bissett and Pidgeon change persona is impressive considering neither once leaves the stage.

“It’s just two of you on stage and it’s quite irreverent and it’s quite messy and you’re completely on the stage and there’s no kind of polite entrances and exits, everything happens on stage – you change on stage, you have sex on stage, you know, it’s all bared,” Bissett says of the challenges.

It takes a well-seasoned actor to convincingly play a man while still wearing a dress,   however, Bissett pulls it off expertly.

Although the set is Helena’s bedroom, the majority of the action takes place in other locations – a bar, a church, a park etc.  This sounds confusing, but with the narration from the actors, and the improvised use of space to pretend the bedroom is in fact a bondage club, for example, the audience is able to imagine the setting.

A scene from ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’.

Music is used to help tell the story, however, the play is definitely not a musical.  Rather, an anti-musical, Midsummer features acoustic guitars and cutesy indie-type songs sung by the talented Bissett and Pidgeon, reinforcing the heartwarming, feel-good attitude.  All of a sudden, the two will grab their guitars and break out in song, which in a way adds to the comical side of the play.

The humour in Midsummer is one of its driving features.  It is blunt, satirical and at times crude – typically Scottish humour, which an Australian audience can much appreciate.  We are encouraged to laugh with the characters, at their most embarrassingly humiliating moments, as well as at the hopelessness of their situations.

“You’re going to look at the mess my life is in, but hahaha, isn’t it quite funny too? I think the humour is a little bit that, it’s kind of cheeky,” says Bissett.

Midsummer is funny, sad and romantic all in one.  For the young, middle-aged and young at heart, it has something for everyone.  We might not all be in our 30’s and facing a mid-life crisis, or still searching for our life partner, but we can all relate to that idea of change and the need to do something meaningful with our lives.  With outstanding performances by Scotland’s finest, Midsummer (A Play with Songs)is not one to miss.

The set of ‘Midsummer (A Play with Songs)’.

More Reviews:

Rom-com will melt hardest hearts

Midsummer (a play with songs)

Midsummer (a play with songs) – Arts Hub