ABR Arts

Film  |  Theatre  |  Art  |  Opera  |  Music  |  Dance  |  Television  |  Festivals

Welcome to ABR Arts, home to some of Australia's finest arts journalism. As Australia emerges from lockdowns, we will review film, theatre, opera, dance, music, television, art exhibitions – and more. Reviews remain open for one week before being paywalled. 


Recent reviews

'NGV Triennial 2020' (National Gallery of Victoria)

Sophie Knezic
Monday, 04 January 2021

In Giambattista Battista Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra (1743–44) – a jewel in the NGV’s collection of eighteenth-century art – a dining table shows the Egyptian queen Cleopatra facing the Roman consul Mark Antony, her hand elegantly clasping a pearl earring that she is about to drop into a flute glass filled with vinegar, which she will subsequently drink. In doing so, the sheer value of the pearl will make Cleopatra the winner of a wager as to which of the two could stage the most extravagant feast.

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'Streeton' (AGNSW)

Julie Ewington
Thursday, 17 December 2020

The purpose of a retrospective exhibition is to reconsider, to come to fresh insights. Streeton, now at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is the largest exhibition of the painter’s works since his 1931 lifetime retrospective, which was also at AGNSW (the current offering is only twenty works shy of that show’s massive total of 170). It’s a feast, one that enables us to reassess the great man’s art. And like all good retrospectives, it questions older certainties.

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'My Brilliant Career' (Belvoir) 

Polly Simons
Monday, 14 December 2020

My Brilliant Career may not be Belvoir’s first post-pandemic show, but it’s surely the most joyous. Hot on the heels of a government exemption raising audience numbers to seventy-five per cent capacity, the mood on opening night was exuberant – almost as exuberant as Sybylla Melvyn, My Brilliant Career’s impossible yet impossible-not-to-love protagonist.

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Looking Glass: Judy Watson and Yhonnie Scarce

Saskia Beudel
Friday, 11 December 2020

Just inside the first large gallery space at the TarraWarra Museum of Art is a wall-size photograph of a cemetery in a palette of muted greys. The graves are homogenous, modest, tilting with age. Scattered among the headstones are sun-bleached plastic flowers and concrete teddy bears clasping empty concrete vases. In front of the photograph stands a mortuary table bearing blackened glass objects.

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Messe De Minuit (Pinchgut Opera) 

Michael Halliwell
Monday, 07 December 2020

Hooray, operatic activity in Sydney is back! Well, perhaps not quite, but performances by one of Australia’s most vibrant companies, Pinchgut Opera, occurred over the weekend. Worldwide operatic activity abruptly ceased in March when Covid-19 struck, and has only recently tentatively emerged from this enforced hibernation. Opera Australia is slated to reopen early in 2021, sooner than many other companies, while others such as the Vienna State Opera endured the frustration of resuming performances as the first wave of the pandemic subsided, only to be forced to close their doors as a second wave surged.

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Francesca Sasnaitis
Monday, 07 December 2020

Musicals remind me of watching midday movies with my grandmother in the days of black-and-white television. Years later, the revelation that many of these films were actually in colour seemed antithetical to the moral certainties they depicted.

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Oliver Sacks: His Own Life (Madman Films) 

Richard Leathem
Wednesday, 02 December 2020

Admirers of Oliver Sacks (1933–2015) may think a documentary on the famed British neurologist and author is superfluous given the number of books published on him in recent years. Lawrence Welschler’s memoir And How Are You, Dr Sacks? (2019) is impressively comprehensive. Sacks’ own partner, Bill Hayes, provided more insight with Insomniac City (2017), and Sacks himself produced two memoirs, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a chemical boyhood (2001) and On The Move: A life (2015). It is this second autobiography that would seem the final word on the subject, yet the documentary Oliver Sacks: His Own Life offers its own rewards. While it covers much of the same ground as On The Move (Sacks actually reads excerpts from it for the camera), the opportunity to see him on screen, speaking with such candour, feels like a privilege that sets it apart from the written word.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray (Sydney Theatre Company) 

Ian Dickson
Monday, 30 November 2020

The advance publicity for Kip Williams’s production of Oscar Wilde’s novella The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) makes much of Wilde’s aphorism ‘The only way of get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.’ In the past, Williams has found the fashionable mix of video and live performance pioneered by the Belgian director Ivo van Hove seductive. He has used it brilliantly in his production of Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer and less so in Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. But with his assault on Wilde’s famous work, he has yielded to it with a vengeance.

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Barnaby Smith
Thursday, 26 November 2020

Despite nearly eighty years having passed since its release, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) is never far from the centre of cultural discourse. Aside from the fact that it tops ‘greatest movie’ lists with monotonous regularity, Citizen Kane often comes into view in somewhat quirky ways as it relates to today’s world. For example, there was Donald Trump’s much-publicised and much-derided misunderstanding of the film’s message, and few years ago there a the strange report of Welles having been posthumously ‘forgiven’ by the family of William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy press baron who inspired the character of Charles Foster Kane.

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Summer of the Seventeenth Doll 

Ben Brooker
Monday, 16 November 2020

It gives some indication of the relative youth of Australian theatre that Ray Lawler, author of the watershed 1955 play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (‘The Doll’ for short), is still alive. Ninety-nine years old, he apparently even had a hand in this production, just the second staging of Richard Mills and Peter Goldsworthy’s largely faithful operatic adaptation. Premièred by Opera Victoria in 1996, then remounted by Opera Australia two years later, the opera has not been performed since. It has now been dusted off, with minor changes made by composer–conductor Mills, by State Opera South Australia as part of its three-year ‘Lost Operas of Oz’ project. It’s a mark of Anglo-Australian culture’s immaturity, too, that it remains restless and amnesiac, almost wilfully ignorant of the past in its perpetual quest for the ‘next big thing’.   

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