Kat of the Musicals

Stayed: Hakone Suimeisou

We wanted to stay in a traditional style accomodation for at least one night of our trip, and Hakone seemed like the perfect place to try it! This hotel was the most welcoming and friendly of all the places we stayed during our trip. And what an experience! I loved every moment- from the very spacious tatami rooms, to the onsen on our balcony with its incredible view, to the absolute feasts that were prepared for our traditional meals at breakfast and dinner, to trying futon (incredibly comfortable). Highly highly recommend staying at Hakone Suimeisou!


And we were off again! This time it was all the way back on to the Tobou Railway to Tokyo, then from Tokyo to Odawara then onto the Hakone Tozan Railway! Whew! We grabbed some tasty grilled salmon onigiri to eat on the way ❤ Once we arrived in Hakone we headed out to find our hotel, which was fairly easy to find with an interesting little stroll along a main strip of shops. Our hotel toured us all the features of our room and then asked us what time we would like dinner (6:30) and breakfast (8:00)!

Deciding to make the most of our limited time in Hakone we headed to the nearby bus station to purchase the Hakone Pass on jumped straight onto a bus. The bus wound its way through the mountains of Hakone and we saw all the other little areas where you can stay- all of them looked beautiful. Arriving at Lake Ashinoko we were able to grab tickets for one of the last trips on the pirate ship that day. We had a few minutes to spare and I spotted a little vendor selling roasted sweet potatoes in their jackets- yum yum yum!! We purchased some of their strawberries as well, and they were equally as delicious. And then all aboard me’hearties! It was off on our pirate ship adventure (it just looks like a pirate ship, its not costume themed or anything don’t worry)!

Hakone is absolutely stunningly beautiful. Standing on that ship looking out across the lake and over the mountains was breathtaking. The ship makes its way across the lake, only making 2 more stops, before returning to the main port of departure. The ship itself is comfortable with plenty of space and sitting room if you wanted to sit inside. We were more than happy to be standing outside enjoying the view after our day of travel!

Once we returned to the port it was very easy to pop back on a bus back to our hotel. And then, it was time for our traditional banquet dinner!

We were allocated our own dining room- number 6. It was all set up when we arrived and it all looked (and tasted!) delicious. Lots of new and interesting things to try. After we finished we left our dining room to head back to our main room, which was converted to a bedroom whilst we ate. But soon after there was a knock on our door because we had left before they served dessert! Whoops! They brought it in for us so we were able to eat it in our room 🙂

In the evening we popped on supplied yukatas and enjoyed our private onsen on our balcony. If we stayed longer I would have liked to try their main onsen, but I did like having our own- especially with its view!


We both slept wonderfully on our futons.


We awoke and prepared for the day before receiving a summoning knock on our door calling us to breakfast. Again we entered our dining room which was laid out with another wonderful feast. I am such a big fan of Japanese breakfast- I wish I could have it every day!

After breakfast we headed aboard the Hakone Tozan Railway again (the upper section this time!), which supplied for some more wonderful scenery (even though we were a bit too early in the year to see the famous hydrangeas along the tracks). We then swapped train for cable car, and then cable car for ropeway! It was whilst we were on the ropeway that we got our first glimpses of Mr Elusive himself- Mt Fuji! A sight indeed! But the whole journey had some fascinating sights, including the sulfuric hot springs. Unfortunately the second half of the ropeway was down for maintenance during our visit so we had to get off at Owakudani for a bus. We did get to see more Mt Fuji! But we did have a wait in a bus line… the main issue was that there was a gap in the bus arrivals- once they all started coming we got on a bus fast but we weren’t used to waiting having become accustomed to Japan’s tightly scheduled everything! I did sneak in a mixed half vanilla half chocolate soft serve to compensate though 😉  I thought that might be tastier than the sulfuric eggs!

The bus dropped us down at Togendai Station- the opposite end of Lake Ashinoko that we were at the day before. Then we had some tough decisions to make. We wanted to try to get to the Komagatake Ropeway, but it is a bit harder to get to and we were on a bit of a strict timeline to get us back to Hakone in time for our evening Shinkansen to Kyoto. We decided you only live once and to just go for it! It was a bit stressful but we ended up getting a taxi to Komagatake, running to get a ropeway ticket and going straight up.

The view though! It was well worth all the stress- such a spectacular view of the lake, and Mt Fuji and all the surrounds.

It was easily the best view of our Japan trip. Even if we only had a very short while to enjoy it (oh and it was super windy up there! a friend who also went to Komagatake said it was almost impossible to walk when he was there because it was so windy!). Then we raced to get on the Ropeway back down and quickly figured out what would get us back to the main port of Lake Ashinoko quickest. We ended up on a more direct cruise ship (faster than the Pirate Ships) and then once we made it to the port we ran around trying to find the express bus back to Hakone… which we made and then relaxed for about 20mins (until we hit traffic!!) but all was fine and we eventually made it back to Hakone with plenty of time. We decided to grab a quick lunch of soba/ramen at one of the local restaurants before picking our luggage up from our hotel and heading to the train station back to Odawara. At Odawara we jumped on to our Shinkansen to Kyoto and I felt like I breathed a huge sigh of relief! We made it! What a day!


But it wasn’t over yet! After arriving in Kyoto we navigated their train lines onto the metro lines to Shijo Station and checked in to our hotel. Then we headed to the nearby main district to track down some dinner and we found the BEST tonkatsu place- more cabbage more rice! (also had the most delicious yuzu drink which was apparently unique to that part of Kyoto so I never found it again !__!) Before finally heading back to the hotel for some much needed rest!

Stayed: Nikko Station Hotel Classic

Another fantastically located hotel- right across the road to JR Nikko Station! Although that did make it further away from all the “sites” of Nikko, I think it’s always preferable to be staying closer to the “base of operations”. That way you can get everywhere from where you are, and you don’t have to factor in all the extra travel time when you’re arriving or departing. The rooms were basic but nice, and a good deal bigger than those in our Tokyo stay. Our little window had a view towards the mountains, and as it was rainy and misty for most of our stay in Nikko it made for a wonderfully eerie site! Their buffet breakfast was also incredibly delicious! Especially their homemade jams… drools


This was our travel day from Tokyo to Nikko- and it is a bit of a trek! In order to take the most advantage of our JR Pass we opted for the route that took us from Shinjuku to Omiya Station, onto the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya Station, and then a final transfer onto the JR Nikko Line! We stopped at Utsunomiya Station and went out for some Gyoza which I spotted from the train as we rolled in. I am always on the lookout for tasty food! Apparently Utsunomiya is known for gyoza, so it was a good pick.

The Tobu Railway Nikko Line was a much smaller (cuter) train, and it was actually really interesting watching the countryside along the way. So many rice paddies- and so different to Australia where everything is basically grazing for cattle! We didn’t see any herd animals at all.

After arriving at Nikko we headed straight across the road to our hotel to check in, and then it was straight back out for adventures! Nikko operates a bus service through most of the sites, so we went back to the station to purchase a ticket. The bus timetable is quite frequent and there was an easy bus stop just next to the station. The bus also helpfully announces (in Japanese, English, Chinese) the stops and sites as it goes along, so you know where you are and when you need to get off.

We also purchased this map, which was quite useful to have as a quick reference (as there is a lot going on in the Nikko area!)

Our first stop was Rinnoji Temple, but as it is under construction it didn’t really feel as though it had that “wow” factor. We ended up walking through it pretty quickly. Having been put off a little by the price for the (not-so-great) experience, we then decided to just walk around the area. The rain made everything so tranquil- the greenery was so vibrant and there weren’t a lot of people around so it was just really nice to wander down paths and up stairs and not much care about where we were headed. A very different atmosphere from busy Tokyo. We did eventually make it to Shinkyo Bridge and that definitely had the wow factor. Again I praise the weather, but it really felt like we had a chance to appreciate the awe-inspiring bridge by ourselves without flocks of tourists around.

After this we decided to go further up to the location labeled The World Heritage Shrines and Temples of Nikko, and here we visited Toshogu Shrine. This experience had a far greater impact than we experienced at Rinnoji Temple. In particular, if you take stairs to the right- the Sakashitamon Gate marks the start of a 5min ascent (a bit of work up some steepish steps, but manageable) through the woods to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum which is described perfectly as “subtle and austere, yet dignified”. And through the shrouded mist and light rain it really felt like it had incredible presence. It was definitely one of my favourite moments/experiences of the trip.

It was starting to get a bit late now, so we headed back in to town and wandered around on the streets for quite a while trying to find somewhere to eat. A bit of a difference to Tokyo! Eventually we found a place, and although it was more aimed at drinking + snacks we put together a good meal with items like chicken skewers, miso beef and butter corn!


Although the rain was still falling we got up early and took the long (but picturesque) bus ride all the way up the mountains to Lake Chuzenji- hoping to see some spectacular views of the Kegon Waterfall. Alas! The beautiful mist which was creating such a spectacular atmosphere for our Nikko visit also meant that both the lake and waterfall were completely hidden from view!

Kegon Waterfall

Hoping the mist would clear if we gave it some time we decided to wander around the town and down along the lake, and grabbed some dango to eat along the way. Although obscured the lake still made for a pretty remarkable sight.

The mist still hadn’t cleared closer to lunch, so we decided to have some food and then make a decision. We had delicious udon and tempura mess, with soy-milk skin! It was a nice hot meal and seemed like an appropriate dish for the damp weather. After returning outside there was still no shift so we did a final wander around town before heading back to the bus to go back down the mountain. Fun story! The toilets at the bus terminal had no toilet paper, you had to buy some nearby. I made sure to buy two packs just in case so I ended up with a lot of toilet paper!

It was such a shame we didn’t get to see the lake and waterfall in all their glory, but I’m still glad we did the trip up the mountain. Yet again the experience was so surreal amongst the weather, and the absence of more tourists gave it more weight.

On the way back we decided to get off in the main town area (instead of back to the station and our hotel) so that we could see a bit more of Nikko and we walked back from there. We also stopped for delicious soft serve icecream that was served with honey (yummm) and bought some delicious strawberries!

That night, not really feeling like trying to find another place to eat dinner, I located a supermarket on Maps and we decided to give that a go. What fun!! I actually really like grocery shopping, especially when it’s a unique experience being in another country, and it was really enjoyable walking along the aisles and finding bits and pieces to try. We ended up with a bit of a feast!

Next stop- sunshine in Hakone!

Stayed: Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku

This hotel was in a fantastic location, really close to the main districts of Shinjuku with lots of food options and of course the HUGE Shinjuku Station. Albeit confusing I think this station is the best to be near because it goes everywhereee!

The hotel was clean, comfortable and welcoming, the rooms were slightly small but not unmanageable for two people and the breakfast buffet was varied and all delicious. Highly recommend adding that to your booking!


Our plane arrived super early in the morning – 5:30am! Knowing this would be the case I made plans and we headed straight to the airport showers after picking up our luggage and going through a smooth immigration process. There was a little bit of a wait for the showers so we took a ticket and then wandered nearby to pick up our WiFi device from Pupuru (which I will talk about in a seperate blog because WiFi devices are so useful!). The showers at Haneda Airport are basically your own private little room complete with shower and vanity dresser with sink, and they’re absolutely lovely. Very modern and very clean! We booked a half hour, which is plenty of time to get out of plane clothes (ugh), shower and get redressed in fresh clothes! I had made sure to pack my suitcase so my fresh change of clothes was right at the top. The shower room also provides amenities like towels, soap, shampoo etc. My only wish was that the room included a toilet, but there is a share one that you can use that is kept just as clean. ~$12 well spent!


After feeling much refreshed we headed to pick up our Japan Rail Pass (more details in a seperate blog for this one too!). The JR office opens at 6:45am at Haneda Airport and there was already a bit of a line when we got there around 7:15am so I do recommend heading over there as soon as you can. We were unsure as to whether we would be able to use our JR Pass from the airport to Shinjuku so we purchased a bus ticket, and then missed the bus after waiting in line for the JR Pass! Ha! But it turned out ok because you can indeed go from the airport to Shinjuku with your JR Pass, you just need to take the Tokyo Monorail and do one easy change at Hamamatsucho to the JR Yamanote Line to Shinjuku.

We arrived in Shinjuku around 9am so it was still way too early to check into our hotel, but we headed over there anyway as we wanted to leave our big heavy suitcases with them until we could check in at 2pm. They were very accommodating, and I used their foyer bathroom which was really very fancy!

Then (feeling more than a little jetlagged) we decided to head to some gardens for some fresh air and nature revival. First up was the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden which was beautiful. Not a super large garden it was easy enough to wander through in about an hour- and if you’ve seen The Garden of Words this is the place and it looks exactly like in the film! It was turning out to be a very sunny day though and I didn’t have a hat! We made purchase of an umbrella but when that wasn’t really cutting it we headed out towards some nearby shops and I bought a very large hat a Forever 21. I was also getting very hangry at the point so it was time for our first Japan meal! Delicious cold soba ❤

After our soba recharge we headed to another garden- this time the much larger Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine and surrounding gardens. To get there we took the train to Harajuku, and whilst we were at the station we decided to pick up Suica cards as well. Although it ended up we could get most places on the JR Pass, the Suica card was still useful to have for those trips here and there where we couldn’t use the Pass. And it was very easy to get one at the self-service vendors located everywhere at the stations (they have an option to select English as the language), and it’s just as easy to recharge them.

At the start of the gardens we purchased the first of the many soft serve ice creams we would be having on this trip (this one was Hokkaido vanilla milk) and then walked and walked and walked. Eventually we came upon the shrine itself, and they were having some sort of ceremony (maybe a wedding, we weren’t sure) which was cool to watch!

By this point we were really tired out so we headed back to Shinjuku to check in and have a bit of a rest before heading out later to hunt down some dinner. After adventuring around we found a tasty looking tonkatsu place within Shinjuku station, and so began our addiction to tonkatsu in Japan- the crunch! The sauce! The cabbage! The FREE refills of rice and cabbage! ❤  I miss it so.


It was time to head to one of the most important locations of this trip- the Pokemon Centre! I have followed Kim Dao on YouTube for quite some time and her vlogs were so incredibly useful for planning the Tokyo portion of our trip. I really recommend checking her videos out if you are travelling to Japan in the near future! At Kim’s recommendation I decided Sunshine City was the place to go and wow! This was a cool shopping centre! We did get off at the wrong end of the station at Ikebukuro though so cue a bit of unnecessary walking but oh well! The Pokemon Centre did not disappoint and I bought almost the entire shop.

The kpop group Lovelyz performed in the middle of the centre by chance that day too- which was super fun! For lunch we ate at one of the (many) options at the top of the shopping centre, where we had fantastic udon. It’s going to be a trend with these blogs but the food in Japan is honestly so good. Such high quality and so delicious.

After lunch we went up to the SKY CIRCUS observation deck, which I actually thought was a better experience than SKYTREE (which we went to the following week). There was little quirky exhibitions up there and less people, and the views were just as wonderful.

Afterwards we decided to train over to the Imperial Palace to view the Gardens. Pro tip! Check what days the gardens are open first! As it turns out they weren’t open on Monday… so we just wandered around the outside of the palace for a bit (still very interesting!) before heading back to the hotel.

That night we ventured into the nearby little district of food places in Shuinjuku and had our first ramen in Japan! The little vending machine type ordering systems in Japan are quite fun ^.^


In the morning we travelled out to Saitama to visit the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, which is well worth the trip if you are a fan of bonsai ❤

After getting back to Tokyo in the early afternoon we went to visit restaurants in the top of one of the nearby department stores of Shinjuku (I can’t remember the name of it sorry!) and had very fancy sushi lunch- we opted to try new things like sea urchin so some were a bit hit or miss but an experience nonetheless! After that we wandered around the shopping centre for a little bit (bought some things at uniqlo and embarrassed myself by not taking off my shoes for the changing rooms… don’t do that) and then! We discovered Kajitsuen Libre Shinjuku, which was right across the way from our hotel, and had THE.BEST.CAKE.I.HAVE.EVER.HAD.IN.MY.ENTIRE.LIFE. This thing was incredible words really don’t do justice. It made me really understand the cake obsession in anime though, because when I had the first bite my eyes sparkled and tiny love hearts floated around me.




Continuing with our “fancy” meal theme of the day we headed back to the same department store restaurants for dinner, this time for sukiyaki- one of my all time favourite Japanese dishes ❤ and yes- it was the best sukiyaki I have ever had! My mouth is watering just remembering it…


more anime sparkling eyes it was time to visit Akihabara!

Towering buildings lined up one after the other filled to the brim with everything you could possibly imagine as a piece of anime merchandise. Case after case, floor after floor

of figures, cosplay, posters, keychains… ❤  After dragging G around a single figure store for about an hour he decided to head off to visit the National Museum, leaving me to otaku out! After grabbing a quick tempura soba I spent several more hours wandering around the floors of merch, trying desperately to make decisions. Spoiler: I didn’t and had to return to Akihabara another day to make my purchases! But it is just so magical being surrounded by all the things you love.

Now I was in full shopping-mode so I took the train (I LOVE JAPANESE TRANSPORT) over to Harajuku to wander through another magical place for another couple of hours. Now here I bought things! So many clothes and accessories! Although the styles are repeated a lot store to store (like in Korea) I knew that back in Australia they’d look quite unique so I was more than happy to stock my wardrobe! I also had to do the “Harujuku thing” and bought a crepe. Best crepe of my life. WHY IS JAPANESE FOOD SO DELICIOUS.


Also on my Harujuku itinerary was to visit Alice on Wednesday, being as I am a big Alice in Wonderland girl. It’s a little tricky to find, and I thought I was going in the wrong direction when maps started talking me along a quieter road off the main street until I saw the little Alice door! Its not a very large place, but the décor is wonderfully Alice! The store has three levels, each with its own little store area with accessories and things, and if you’re an Alice fan then its definitely one to add to your list. I bought quite a few cute things! ^.^

By this time my wallet was considerably lighter, and my shopping bags considerably heavy, so I dragged myself away from all the things and headed back.

That evening it was raining but we decided to visit Shibuya to see what all the fuss was about! We saw Hatchi and crossed the Shibuya Crossing but to be honest I was very glad we decided to stay in Shinjuku over Shibuya. Although admittedly we didn’t see a lot of it, Shibuya just felt a lot more commercially touristy.

We had tasty tsukemen (with extra eggs and extra corn!) for dinner before deciding it was too wet and that we had seen enough of Shibuya.


After double checking first that they were open this time, we made our second trip out to The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. They are absolutely worth a visit if you can make the time! Probably my favourite of the three gardens we visited in Tokyo- they were just so interesting and varied as you walked around. We got to look inside guard houses, and see views from lookouts, and admire a koi pond. A really nice place to recuperate from the busy, more modern, parts of Tokyo.  We spent a good couple of hours there 🙂

Afterwards we wandered around the business-y district outside of the Palace trying to find some food… which ended up being a lot more difficult than we envisioned! Eventually we found a little underground food court of restaurants and I ate Japanese curry while G had tempura.

That night we wandered out around Shinjuku again as it was our last night in the city ❤  It was honestly so nice to just wander around out there at night- lots happening, lots to see and it just feels so safe. We stopped in to one of the many food options for dinner and I had a pork belly rice bowl while G had a kobe beef ramen. I also snuck in a green tea ice cream sandwich!

Then it was time to say goodbye to Tokyo (for a little bit) and head to Nikko the next day!

A beautiful opera sung by a fantastic cast. La Traviata is quite a heavy one though, so I’m not sure I would want to see it again and again!

From the first notes of the overture we know that this will tell a tale of sweet tragedy. And music doesn’t lie- La Traviata is exactly that tale of unfortunate souls bound together in a romantic love that ends in tragedy all too soon. But it is a beautiful tale all along the way, even its heartbreaking finale.

The opera is known for originating some of our most loved modern stories- including Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge, and it isn’t hard to see why. Even in its theatrical form the opera is rooted in its story and not over the top in execution. In many ways the opera is very much like a film, following the story of characters with whom we are encouraged to empathize with. And empathize we do!

Violetta and Alfredo are believably in love, and as we see their story progress we understand a love that is true and steadfast. Our story moves along quite rapidly, but is detailed in single scenes and conversations, and even though we feel like we have joined their story somewhere in the middle it doesn’t take us long to catch up.

Lorina Gore as Violetta is outstanding. Her soprano rings out, sweet and flirtacous, romantic and impassioned, strained and heartbroken. Lorina makes the incredible notes of her many arias seem all so natural.

Both Alfredo (Rame Lahaj) and his father Giorgio Germont (Jose Carbo) are equally exceptional in their roles. Alfredo is a handsome and steadfast romantic, and has a voice that woos its audience. Lahaj makes efforts to attend his gaze into the audience whilst still making it feel as though it is entirely directed a Violetta, which makes it feel almost as though his declarations are for us both. Giorgio Germont is a loving father who has to make a difficult decision. He could easily be perceived as the “bad guy” here, but his sincerity and remorseful behavior towards Violetta help us understand the pain of his decision. Carbo’s baritone voice is comforting and warm in his role.

The set designs here are exquisite- we move from an extravagant party of wine and velvets, to a beautiful courtyard of falling autumn leaves, to the devious room to an echoingly empty room. The realness of the set is encouraged through the use of great opening windows, which let in that “sunlight” which spills onto the set, and at times there is off stage singing which makes the whole set seem larger than the stage itself.

La Traviata is a very passionately romantic opera, but the tragedy is not in its romance, which makes for a bittersweet end. Although our Violetta dies, she dies in the happiness of her lover’s arms, a final pleasure.

I understand the hype- it’s definitely in the Book of Mormon bucket of musicals for the non-musical fan. And the performances were good, but the musical itself is just not for me.

Since its first performance in 2003 Avenue Q has become a crowd favourite in the land of musical theatre. Its lovable puppet characters, the realness of its book and its darn catchy songs make it an easy musical to like- even for those who are not so into musical theatre.

On Avenue Q live a strange bunch of people- puppets and humans coexist together, in a supportive neighbourly way as they all search for their greater “purpose”. The story is not shy- delving headfirst into social issues such as racism, homosexuality and homelessness. And although all are dealt with in a highly comedic way, there are also more serious moments with truly poignant messages about life and its hardships too.

It’s all a little bit blunt, but that’s the beauty of Avenue Q! Be prepared to have songs like “the internet is for porn” and “everyone’s a little racist” stuck in your head for days after (people might give you some strange looks if you sing out loud though). Some of the jokes are a little dated, or a bit Americanized, but you understand their charms nonetheless.

The cast is magnificent here, with most commandeering puppets and making both the puppets and themselves shine. Leads Madeleine Jones and Matthew Predny have such outstanding voices, and even though they do a fantastic job of letting their puppets take centre stage it is no less fascinating to watch their own facial expressions as they play out these realistic characters. Nicholas Richard’svoice is incredible, as he switches between Nicky and Trekkie with their more eccentric way of communicating (Trekkie in particular!).

This is a hilariously feel-good fun musical. Be prepared to come along and laugh like crazy, accept a lot of politically incorrectness and get abnormally attached to puppets. I’m sure even the Bad Decision Bears would agree that you should come. But that this is a good decision. Come see it, yayyy *wavy hands*

One of the biggest surprises in my entire theatre reviewing career- I completely wasn’t expecting it to be but it is definitely one of my most favourite things I’ve ever had the privilege to watch.

Roald Dahl’s stories, with their unique tales and clever writing, have delighted young audiences for decades. These young audiences have often grown up into adults who still find that same delight in Dahl’s writing. This new stage production of The Witches is a perfect representation of its ability to hold both ages of the audience completely and utterly captivated.

The adaption has been perfectly reimagined for a stage play- the pacing holds your attention for the (very) seemingly short 40mins and covers the majority of the book’s major plot. Before the play begins Guy Edmonds explains what is going to happen, a clever device to help the children understand that he will be playing all the characters and using his voice and body to switch between them. He also asks that we pay close attention and not talk throughout the performance, to which even the very young audience obediently follows.

There are several delightful surprises in stall throughout the production, and despite the relatively small size of the theatre the whole space is cleverly utilized. There are wonderful effects with lighting and sound, great use of minimal props, and delightful surprise moments of smoke and strobe. It’s a lot of fun!

Edmonds rapidly switches between the characters- an eager young boy, the bent over and hacking Grandmother, the chubby Bruno and his parents, the evil Grand High Witch and even cleverly depicts the changed mice through his hands.

In this one man show Guy Edmonds is just absolutely spectacular. He captures the rapt attention of children for the full 40mins, and the obvious admiration of all the adults too. His ability to switch between so many characters so rapidly, and to so clearly depict these varied characters through change of voice and body language, is simply mesmerizing to behold. My favourite part of the whole experience is watching his fantastic facial expressions, as with just his eyes he is able to illustrate the character’s intentions.

This was an absolutely wonderful play that was carefully created to delight both children and adults alike. I laughed and gasped throughout, and simply can’t wait to see Edmonds in another production. Although this was sadly the last performance of The Witches, I am sure the Monkey Baa Theatre has several other exciting productions lined up that will be just as fun so I will be making sure to keep an close eye out! And I’ll be keeping that same close eye out for any Witches too!

This was my first Pinchgut Opera experience- a bit different to OA but I quite enjoyed it! Also the first time I had ever heard (or even knew of) counter-tenors! Really unique vocal!

Vivaldi’s Bajazet is rarely performed; in fact it is so rare that there exists only a single recording of the Opera. It is thus exceptionally special to see this opera recreated on stage in Pinchgut Opera’slatest production, with its stunning arias and soaring music.

As skeletons leer down onto the stage from the stalls the orchestra opens the opera in a music-only sequence. This sets the scene for the remainder of the opera, for the music is what takes precedence here. The orchestra itself it seated at the front of the stage, level with the audience, creating rich and encompassing sound.

The story takes place solely within the palace of the ruler of the Tartar empire, Tamerlano (Christopher Lowrey), has taken the defeated Turkish sultan Bajazet (Hadleigh Adams) and his daughter Asteria (Emily Edmonds) prisoner. So begins our intricate web of love and tradegy, as Asteria is in love with the Greek prince Andronico (Russel Harcourt) (who returns her feelings yet is afraid to anger Tamerlano) and Tamerlano demands Asteria as his own despite already having been promised to the Greek princess Irene (Helen Sherman), and Irene is less than happy at having been shafted to Andronico… And in the case of most operas you know this isn’t going to end with everyone happy.

The opera itself is predominantly made up of solo arias, a feature recognizable from the first developments of opera- where the style moved from singers performing solo pieces into this developed style of story and multiple performers. These arias are all quite repetitive, again in that style of early Baroque. This leads to the feeling of being a slight disconnect with the story but it is interesting to experience something that is a little bit unique in its style.

Something else that was quite new to me was the presence of two counter-tenors in the leads. This was the first time I have heard this particular style of vocal performed live, and it does take a little getting used to before you settle into marveling at the handle both men have on their unique vocals. The story does lean you towards being a little less favourable to all three men though- one a proud father whose throne is lost along with any of his power, the next a cruel sleaze who thinks only of himself, and the third who proclaims a sincere and pure love and yet seems slightly swayed at times and is unable to admit his true feelings to himself yet alone to the one to which he professes love.

Here the women speak with slightly more handle on the situation and a bit more clear-headness (a bit). They also rather steal the show with their incredible vocals. My favourite performer of the evening was Andronico’s friend Idaspe (Sara Macliver). But all three women sing out the most stunning repertoires, and it is within their voices that the audiences become captured. Stand out pieces from each include Idaspe’s “Nasce rosa lusinghiera”, Asteria’s “Amare un’alma ingrate” and Irene’s “Sposa, son disprezzata”.

Almost as interesting as watching the action unfold on stage is watching the animated gesticulations of conductor (And Artistic Director) Erin Helyard, who leads the orchestra through the incredible score. This is of course helped along by the wonderful acoustics of the Recital Hall, which can be all at once perfectly silent and then fill the whole space with such a intimately close and soaring sound. This is no more evident than when throughout a particular strain of an aria the lights are dimmed to a single spotlight on the singer and the orchestra is silent, before swelling into an all encompassing sound.

This is a stunning production of Bajazet, made no less special by the knowledge that you are witnessing something that is so rarely performed. Which is a shame, as Vivaldi’s composition and his carefully selected arias create something that is truly music to your ears, and something like that should certainly not be forgotten.

Didn’t actually see the play for this one! Just did the interview…

Brendan Cowell’s Men is confronting expose of what it is to be a guy, with a twist that will leave you breathless. The AU caught up with Ben O’Toole, who plays one of the “men”, to discuss the production and that confronting question.

How do you think Men creates its position as a “nerve-bending expose of what it is to be a guy”? What IS it like to be a guy?

Men does this quite simply I think by placing 3 men in a small room right before the end. The end of what…? You’ll have to come and see for yourself, but it basically explores the vast insecurities 3 very different men have, and the way they love each other, hate each other, and project their own insecurities on each other. It’s like this in every way to be a guy. Alpha male, pack mentality. Masculinity is an obscure thing, mostly obscured by dominance. When that dominance is taken away, there are some big question a guy has to ask himself, like “why should people listen to me when I speak” etc… These are confronting questions, and often not asked.

What is your character like? Do you think you’re similar to him in any way?

I see similarities in Crazy Bob. I see them with all the characters though. I think thats what makes this a bit confronting, is there is a bit of everyone in the characters. Or vice versa. Bob would be a bear if he was an animal. A very inappropriate bear.

What is it like to work on one of Brendan Cowell’s productions?

It’s great. This is the 3rd show of his I’ve done, and I love them. They’re raw, unapologetic, and there is always a bigger picture. His work revolves around themes that aren’t typically addressed in the outside world, and will bring people to question this behaviour.

You have worked almost equally on stage and on screen. Do you prefer either and is it easy to switch between the two?

I have been lucky to work a bit in both, yes. I love both of them equally, as they are both completely different, and yet the core remains the same. The truth always being paramount, but the technical skills required to tell the story differs. I love doing both because they both keep me pursuing truth in different ways, constantly giving me different tactics in different character situations.

Your next project is bringing to life the extraordinary life of Peter Allen in Not The Boy Next Door. What was it like working on the series?

Peter Allen was great fun. I had a blast. Peter was surrounded by colourful characters, and being given the opportunity to bring some of these characters to life on screen was a treat.

Do you have a dream role, either in theatre or film?

It may sound weird, but I don’t have a ‘dream’ role as such. I am constantly trying to understand people. I find people fascinating, and I love playing characters separate from myself, and finding what we have in common. I love working with people that are as interested in uncovering truths.

And finally, what should audiences expect from Men?

Audiences should most certainly expect to be confronted. Ideally the audience will leave the theatre trying to unpack what it truly is to be a ‘man’.

My absolute favourite opera performance ever. Ever. Yonghoon Lee was something else! As I mentioned in a “Favourites of 2015” article-

“This is the opera that has made me fall in love with opera. Graeme Murphy’s latest production of Puccini’s Turandot is nothing less than absolutely stunning- beautiful sets, soaring music and the incredible tenor Yonghoon Lee. It was perfect.”

Opera, by its very definition, should be grand and dramatic. It should be colourful and magnificent, with soaring notes and breathtaking sets. Its story should capture you completely for that moment that you are in the Opera Hall, lost in that world of poetry and romanticism. Opera Australia’s latest production of Turandot is exactly that opera, and I was completely captivated from the first note.

Turandot was Puccini’s final opera, and one that had to be completed by Franco Alfano after his death. The opera is of course most famous for its pinnacle aria, Nessun Dorma, but the music that surrounds this famous piece is no less grand. There are several beautiful traditional Chinese melodies that are interwoven into the score. The strong leitmotif for the Princess herself is perhaps my favourite, an all at once fierce and beautiful piece of music.

The story is quite unique for an opera, as it is not all death and tragedy (although there is a little, couldn’t stray too far from the norm!). Instead it tells of a cold-hearted, ruthless and (of course) unobtainably beautiful Princess Turandot. The first moment she is introduced is breathtaking- as the music soars giant fans unfurl to reveal the imposing figure set upon a high pedestal. Lise Lindstrommade for a fantastic Turandot, her commanding voice reaching out from the stage and demanding that we both love and fear her.

The princess enforces that any prince wishing to marry her must first pass her test of three riddles, and if he fails than he is to be executed. Turandot’s justification in her reign of blood is that her ancestor Princess Lou Ling was taken, ravished and murdered by an invading foreign prince, and she will not let any man possess her in revenge. We are soon introduced to the newest suitor for the Princess, the young son of an exiled king whose name is Calaf. He glimpses the princess and is immediately enraptured by her, so declaring that he will answer her riddles despite the pleading of his father and the young slave girl Liu, who is in love with Calaf.

In the role of Liu is Hyeseong Kwon, who is perfect in the role. Her voice rises with such beautiful tragedy… empathetically pulling at your heartstrings with her loyalty to her unrequited love, and conveying her feelings through the most aching facial expressions and pure voice.

Calaf enters the palace, brave and determined- and succeeds in answering all three riddles. The Princess is furious, and so Calaf challenges that if she is able to discover his name before the sun rises that she may execute him. It is here that he sings of the sleepless night, that Nessun Dorma, and oh wow. Nothing could really prepare you for hearing this magnificent aria sung live, with the full orchestra and the incredible vocal talents of a magnificent tenor. The crowd was in thunderous applause, and I couldn’t help but feel a little teary at how breathtaking it all was.

Turandot drags sweet little Liu into the palace for questioning, but Liu will not give up her love and so fatally stabs herself (there is our operatic tragedy). Left alone, Calaf boldly kisses Turandot in an attempt to convey his emotions and Turandot, feeling for the first time, sheds tears. Declaring it no longer matters Calaf reveals to Turandot his name, at which she strides boldly to the palace and declares she has discovered the secret. That his name is Love. The lovers embrace and the music soars into the happiness of ever after. A happy ending! Finally!

Everything is conveyed beautifully by Graeme Murphy’s direction, the movement throughout the stage is fluid and sweeping with Oriental gowns, long hair and giant fans. Weapons gleam in the light, shining into the crowd with blinding brilliance. The chorus is large, and gathered on the relatively small stage their presence seems even larger. Throughout there are several moments that are just so exquisite that they take your breath away.

Although all the performances are spectacular in this opera, none stands out more than the incredible Yonghoon Lee. What a voice! Although Calaf could be considered quite frustrating with his desire for the Princess and proclamations of “I must have her”, with that voice he can be easily forgiven for his flaws. Yonghoon is a perfect representation of Calaf, his stance bodes fearless determination and his expression stoic proclamations of love. He is also quite handsome, and you feel yourself hoping for his success, which I feel contributes significantly to the overall success of the opera!

Every moment had me breathless, a magnificent spectacle of soaring music and grand costumes. I was enraptured by the characters, and captivated by the staging. I have seen many operas before, but this production of Turandot has made me fall Calaf-style in love with opera.

Well… it wasn’t Aladdin: The Musical, but it was one of my first pantomime experiences! An easy-to-watch bit of fun 🙂

Originally posted on The AU Review.

An enjoyable theatre experience is the combination of two things- naturally it is the performance itself, but it is also the audience. Very often the energy of the audience determines the success of the performance on stage so when you have an audience full of the uncontained excitement of children you are sure to feel a buzz! In Aladdin and his Wonderous Lamp it is the delight and participation of the children in the audience make the night a thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment.

Aladdin is a modern family pantomime- combining music, song, dance, slapstick comedy and a script packed with topical jokes. The production is light hearted and fun, taking us through the magical tale of Aladdin and his magic lamp. This is not the Disney version of the tale mind, but closer to the original tales from The Arabian Nights. With a modern-ish sort of twist.

In this tale Aladdin (Mat Verevis) is the son of a (cross-dressing) washer-woman (Ian “Dicko” Dickson) who falls for the Princess Yasmina (Lauren Brant) after gazing at her through and apple orchid. The evil wizard Abanazar (Josh Adamson) attempts to trick him into retrieving the lamp of the Genie (Beau Ryan), but the lamp falls into the hands of Aladdin first- who wishes for the wealth to marry the princess. This is, of course, all told along with the help of several recognizable pop songs that you can clap and sing along to. Think the Princess singing Britney Spears, Abanazar singing Phil Collins and a cross-dressing Dicko singing Taylor Swift.

As our tale continues now-rich Aladdin is all set to marry the princess, but Abanazar tricks her and gets his hands on the lamp. He then whisks the princess away to naturally await rescuing by ol’ Al and everyone lives happily ever after!

There are some truly fun characters along the way as well- Aladdin’s brother Wishee Wahee (Kev Orkian) is a whole lot of entertainment, and interacts with the crowd to keep the energy high and the laughter flowing. I also thought Abanazar was quite hilarious in his role, and brought the character a delightful joviality.

It’s really Beau Ryan as the Genie who stands out here though, and not just because of that body (although that certainly does stand out). Although his acting skills might not quite be up there you can tell he’s really going all out and putting in his full effort, and the crowd LOVES him. He takes on the genie character brilliantly, bringing to it a wonderful sense of humor and delightful charm that makes him easy to like.

What makes pantomime really special is the amount of interaction with the audience. The crowd is instructed to boo for the evil characters (which they do loudly and with relish, poor Abanazar!) and cheer for the good characters. They loudly call out suggestions for the characters, settling comfortably into their role within the panto. The actors make a considerable effort to keep this interaction high, talking and joking with several audience members and further encouraging loud reactions. It’s lots of fun! It wouldn’t work if the audience didn’t respond, but with half of the crowd children you soon find adults to be bellowing “hissssss” out just as loudly as their younger counterparts.

With dazzlingly colorful costumes, sets and lighting this Aladdin pantomime is a delight to watch. There may not be anything exceptionally remarkable here in terms of acting and singing, but there doesn’t really need to be. The lightheartedness of the comedy moves the performance along and you can clearly hear the delight in the young audience. This is a great night of enjoyable family fun that will put a smile on everyone’s face, especially with the help of one rather muscular and smirking genie.