Peter Craven

is a literary and culture critic.

By this author


News December 11, 2021

The prison journals of Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell spent 13 months in prison before his conviction for child sexual abuse was overturned by the High Court. During his time in jail, he wrote diaries musing on faith, sport and life.

Culture September 04, 2021

The Magician

In 2005, Irish writer Colm Tóibín published The Master, a work of fiction about Henry James that went to great lengths to plumb the gay depths of that notably celibate man. The novel was widely admired but struck some of us as having an oily …

Culture August 14, 2021

The White Lotus review

At once hilarious, savage and tragic, Mike White’s The White Lotus defies categorisation.

Culture July 10, 2021

Actor Virginia Gay

Virginia Gay’s new gender-flipped adaptation of the French classic Cyrano de Bergerac  takes the tragedy out of the comedy.

Culture April 24, 2021

Shadow and Bone

In Netflix’s impressively realised Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo’s popular fantasy books find a sumptuous apotheosis.

Culture April 10, 2021

Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith

After a long and successful career, dramatist Joanna Murray-Smith returns to her roots with a new play opening this month at the Melbourne Theatre Company.

News December 05, 2020

The Vatican’s financial scandals

As the Vatican reckons with scandals involving hundreds of millions of euros, the Holy See’s former treasurer George Pell has given his first interview since returning to Rome.

Culture December 05, 2020

The Fire of Joy

It’s typical of Clive James to leave us an anthology of poems he knows by heart that is eccentric and compelling in equal measure, with an introduction that will charm you, even if you’re dumbfounded by his selections. James has the supreme critical …

Culture November 28, 2020

Playwright Kendall Feaver

At 31, Kendall Feaver continues her brilliant career with her new adaptation of Miles Franklin for Belvoir. “I’m wary of black-and-white thinking … I’m interested in the ‘why’. Why is this fracture happening? Why is this so divisive, so deeply felt and fought over?”

Culture October 17, 2020

Mayflies

It’s been years now since Andrew O’Hagan established himself as an heir to Orwell in the way he can glide from fiction to nonfiction and back again with no loss of literary quality or indeed imaginative power. His latest novel, Mayflies – …

Culture September 05, 2020

The Tolstoy Estate

Steven Conte won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Literary Award for his first novel, The Zookeeper’s War, so it’s not hard to imagine that this new book, The Tolstoy Estate, has been much awaited in the 12 years since. The proof …

Culture July 25, 2020

Hamilton

Audiences salivating over the impending arrival of Hamilton to the Sydney stage in 2021 can get an early, small-screen taste of the hit musical, courtesy of the Covid-19 disruptions and Disney.

Culture July 04, 2020

Actor Toby Schmitz’s live wire

For actor Toby Schmitz, there’s nothing like the exhilaration of being on stage, but for the past week he’s replicated some of that feeling in a series of live-streamed performances of Will Eno’s Thom Pain. He speaks about playing Hamlet, the vitality of theatre and keeping his ‘art spark’ alight in the Covid-19 lockdown. “The audience is the final director that teaches you things you would never have thought of. You know, if one person moves their leg it may mean nothing, but if four people do, then you’ve lost them somehow.”

Culture June 20, 2020

The Trials of Portnoy

It’s instructive to remember what a relatively illiberal society Australia was only a few decades ago and this account of the obscenity court cases about Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint in the early 1970s – written by a young author …

Culture May 30, 2020

Young Vic’s A Streetcar Named Desire

The Young Vic’s 2014 production of A Streetcar Named Desire, recently rebroadcast during the Covid-19 lockdown, reminds this viewer of the work’s power but also of the test of matching the smouldering energy of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh.

Culture May 30, 2020

The Dragons and the Snakes

David Kilcullen is the former Australian army officer who was seconded to the surge force in Iraq at the special request of then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in lieu of people of much higher rank, and he is brilliant. His Quarterly Essay about …

Culture May 16, 2020

The Ratline

This is the story of the kind of Nazi no one wants to know about: one you might find sympathetic. Philippe Sands, barrister and professor of law, has written the weirdest and most compelling possible account of Otto von Wächter, who rose to be a governor …

Culture May 02, 2020

The Adversary

This is a rather extraordinary first novel. It is written in a style that ravishes the reader because it is constantly inventive and nervily inflected with a maximum suggestiveness. Ronnie Scott is superb at capturing the intimations and innuendos that …

Culture April 25, 2020

National Theatre Live’s Twelfth Night

With theatres around the world closed, stage productions are now entering our homes, via the internet. The fourth streaming performance from Britain’s National Theatre, Twelfth Night, takes its audience on a rollicking journey of mistaken identity and besotted love.

Culture March 28, 2020

The Plot Against America

HBO’s The Plot Against America, based on the Philip Roth novel, brings together Winona Ryder and John Turturro in a reimagining of America’s World War II history. Now the slickly produced series is more pertinent to current times than the creators could ever have imagined.

Culture March 14, 2020

The Mirror and the Light

Hilary Mantel has been at it for years now with her Wolf Hall/Thomas Cromwell novels and they are a thing of wonder. The nasty Cromwell – not to be confused with the English Civil War chap who ruled a monarchless Britain with a fist of iron …

Theatre March 14, 2020

Emerald City

MTC and Queensland Theatre’s revival of Emerald City brings the distinctly Australian dramatic idiom of playwright David Williamson into focus once more. Skilfully led by Nadine Garner, the work still has much to offer.

Culture March 07, 2020

A Couple of Things Before the End

Every so often we’re reminded with a jolt that Australian realism doesn’t – to use Patrick White’s phrase – have to be dun-coloured. In fact it can be kinky, it can be ludic, it can be in the tradition of that shaggiest of shaggy-dog stories, …

Theatre February 01, 2020

Home, I’m Darling

Boasting a superlative performance by Nikki Shiels, Home, I’m Darling combines high farce and drama to interrogate gender roles.

Culture November 30, 2019

Publisher and writer Hilary McPhee

Once a powerhouse of Australian publishing, Hilary McPhee traded the comfortable life she knew for a mysterious job with Middle Eastern royalty. In writing about this adventure and the collapse of her marriage to Don Watson in her new memoir, Other People’s Houses, she traces her strange journey back to herself. “I dreaded coming back to Australia because I left feeling I’d lost everything, I’d lost my marriage. We’d been together for more than 20 years, so it was quite a lot of life.”

Television November 09, 2019

His Dark Materials

With a superb cast and a cracking pace, the BBC–HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials proves television is the perfect vehicle for the beloved trilogy.

Culture November 02, 2019

Yellow Notebook

The myth of Helen Garner’s diaries is immense. When she published Monkey Grip 40-odd years ago, with its riveting depiction of emotional and drug squalors in inner-urban Melbourne, she evoked a world that had never been written about before. …

Culture October 19, 2019

The Second Sleep

Robert Harris is arguably the classiest trashmeister alive, unless we include le Carré, or Thomas Harris on the long-ago basis of the first two Lecter books. But it’s Robert Harris who gave us Fatherland, with its central conceit of the Nazi …

Theatre October 05, 2019

Anthem

As a piece of ambitious drama – brimming with compassion and moody delights, and performed by a superb ensemble cast – Anthem hits the high notes.

Theatre September 07, 2019

Ulster American

With its pitch-perfect production of David Ireland’s wickedly funny Ulster American, Red Stitch Actors Theatre continues to do some of the most interesting work to be seen on Australian stages.

Culture August 17, 2019

The Borgias

You couldn’t make up the Borgias. After Giuliano della Rovere – the man who would become Pope Julius II, the great warrior Pope who commissioned the Sistine Chapel ceiling from Michelangelo – finally took the chair of St Peter in 1503, he said, …

Culture August 03, 2019

Alexander Briger and the Australian World Orchestra

Under the disciplined baton of founder Alexander Briger, the Australian World Orchestra played an impressive concert of works by Westlake, Janáček and Sibelius.

Culture July 06, 2019

A Little Night Music

While Victorian Opera’s production of A Little Night Music may fail to dazzle, it satisfyingly portrays Sondheim’s witty insights into the sweetness and sorrow of the world.

Culture June 15, 2019

Faber & Faber: The Untold Story

Faber & Faber always looked like the class act of British publishing. You could tell their paperbacks were just hardbacks slumming it – they even had the same superior paper and on top of that there was the myth of T. S. Eliot as the far-seeing …

Culture June 08, 2019

Everything in Its Place

It’s not hard to see why Oliver Sacks captivated the world. The great neurologist – whose case histories in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat could almost have been science fiction had they not been so crystalline and so compassionate …

Culture June 01, 2019

Actress Kat Stewart’s realms of possibility

Although Kat Stewart is well known for playing dark, in-your-face characters, her life experience has led her to a greater appreciation of hope and contentment. Her latest stage role is in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Heisenberg. “The idea I really love is that we spend all this energy trying to control our lives and take comfort in that … but we have very, very, very little control and what this play confronts you with is: What if that is not a bad thing?”

Culture May 18, 2019

Malthouse Theatre’s Cloudstreet

Although the Malthouse Theatre’s production of Cloudstreet is flawed, its failings cannot overshadow the fundamental power of Tim Winton’s novel.

Culture April 06, 2019

Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical

With the transformation of Muriel’s Wedding for the stage, some of the film’s winsome ugly-duckling charm has been lost, and along with it the story’s emotional reality.

Culture March 09, 2019

Ellen Burstyn variations

Ellen Burstyn, in Melbourne to star onstage in 33 Variations, has a film career spanning six decades and including such cinematic touchstones as The Exorcist and The Last Picture Show. She talks tabout Beethoven, spirituality and recruiting Scorsese to direct her in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. “I asked that he be the director. He had already made Mean Streets, but it hadn’t been released and he was deeply grateful that I wanted him. This doesn’t mean that I gave him his start. And there was no stopping him, anyway – he would have got there in any case. But, you know, there was never any sense with Marty of working with a monster, with a master in the nasty sense. He’s marvellous, he’s an original. He’s smart and fiery and rough and excitable and alive.”

Culture March 02, 2019

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child succeeds in furthering J. K. Rowling’s remarkable canon, with a greater dramatic thrust than the films but all the heart of the books that seduced young and old alike.

Culture March 02, 2019

Nobody’s Looking at You

Janet Malcolm is the most celebrated essayist in America since Susan Sontag, and if something makes you say essayist – despite the books demolishing covens of psychoanalysts, or the monographs on everyone from Chekhov through Gertrude Stein to Ted Hughes …

Culture February 09, 2019

Antony and Cleopatra

The National Theatre’s modern, militarised take on Antony and Cleopatra – ‘the greatest of Shakespeare’s history plays’ – offers a flat production but fine performances from Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo.

Theatre December 08, 2018

MTC’s Twelfth Night

Simon Phillips’ MTC production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night may lack a little of the comedy’s melancholy, but in Tamsin Carroll and Richard Piper it has performances as good as seen anywhere.

Theatre November 09, 2018

Astroman and Krapp’s Last Tape

MTC’s childish ’80s romp Astroman – unsuccessfully transplanted from New Zealand to Geelong – is unlikely to appeal even to schoolkids, but more adult audiences will revel in Max Gillies’ masterful turn in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape.

Theatre October 13, 2018

Barry McGovern’s Watt

Barry McGovern’s one-man adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt is a masterpiece of poignant, pratfalling absurdity

Culture September 29, 2018

Choreographer Liam Scarlett

Choreographer Liam Scarlett, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet whose Midsummer Night’s Dream will soon tour China, seems destined to join the ranks of the all-time greats. “With every premiere you sit back and watch it for what it is. You think I could tweak this or I could tweak that. But I was happy with it, it was such a relief when it was over but it’s probably the thing I’ve done which I felt most proud of.”

Theatre August 25, 2018

‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’

Solid acting from Marta Dusseldorp and her supporting cast at MTC can’t save A Doll’s House, Part 2, an unnecessary and misguided sequel to Ibsen’s masterpiece.

Culture August 04, 2018

Christie Whelan Browne’s theatrical life

Actress-singer Christie Whelan Browne catapulted to the attention of theatregoers at a young age, untrained but bursting with talent. Here, she talks about fate, timing and discovering a love of musical theatre. “I was the clown, I really made people laugh. Boys told me I was ugly … I used comedy to fit in.”

Theatre July 14, 2018

‘Gloria’ at MTC

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ much-hyped Gloria is well executed by MTC, but its pretensions outweigh its eminence.

Theatre June 02, 2018

‘The Wizard of Oz’

A tricked-up Andrew Lloyd Webber version of a timeless classic has the viewer realising they’re not in Kansas anymore.

Life May 19, 2018

The reality of ‘Real Housewives’

In the contrived and uproarious relationships of The Real Housewives of Melbourne, emotional truths emerge that are poignant as well as entertaining.

Opera April 21, 2018

Opera Australia’s ‘La Traviata’

Elijah Moshinsky’s interpretation of Verdi’s tragic masterpiece La Traviata has been wowing Opera Australia audiences since the ’90s. The latest iteration – both visually rich and lovingly handled by its stars – doesn’t let down the canon.

Theatre March 10, 2018

‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ and ‘The Show Goes On’

While the cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical fails to deliver an uplifting experience, Bernadette Robinson, in her solo performance of The Show Goes On, is transcendent as she channels the great women of song.

Culture February 03, 2018

Theatre director Ivo van Hove

Theatre director Ivo van Hove is often drawn to adapting film screenplays for the stage, but his latest work, juxtaposing three warrior kings from Shakespeare’s histories, shows he also finds contemporary relevance in the classics. “Richard III just wants to be king, but once he’s got the crown, he’s totally bored. He can only reign, only live, only feel in order to have power.”

Theatre December 01, 2017

‘The Father’ at MTC and STC

John Bell delivers perhaps his finest performance as a man suffering dementia in Florian Zeller’s masterpiece The Father.

Theatre October 21, 2017

Simon Stone’s ‘Yerma’

Billie Piper’s performance in Lorca’s tragedy Yerma caps a powerful production at the Young Vic for the ‘antipodean Orson Welles’, Simon Stone.

Theatre September 15, 2017

‘Angels in America’

Gary Abrahams’ production of Angels in America is stark and shrewd, and has in Helen Morse a virtuosic display of restrained acting.

Theatre July 21, 2017

‘Noises Off’

Sam Strong’s production of the timeless farce Noises Off  falters in pacing and believability, delivering an awful production of a play that is about an awful production of a play.

Culture July 15, 2017

Charles Edwards steps into ‘My Fair Lady’

As a child, Downton Abbey’s Charles Edwards listened to the classic My Fair Lady recording with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. Now he's playing Henry Higgins, with Andrews directing.

Culture June 17, 2017

Jai Courtney and his formidable Macbeth

Actor Jai Courtney, the latest Australian to make headway in Hollywood, returns to the theatre to give MTC’s Macbeth his muscle.

Theatre May 27, 2017

MTC’s ‘Minnie & Liraz’

In Lally Katz’s latest play, the MTC fails to capture the dramatist’s magic, despite fine performances by two grand dames of the stage.

Theatre April 08, 2017

Red Stitch Theatre’s ‘Rules for Living’

In the style of Alan Ayckbourn, Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living for Red Stitch portrays middle-class disarray at its most engaging.

Theatre February 24, 2017

MTC’s ‘John’

Sarah Goodes’ MTC production of John features two actors at the height of their powers, in a drama from the master playwright Annie Baker.

Theatre February 11, 2017

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon, from the creators of South Park, is a blasphemous riot of bad taste, making it a musical not to be missed.

Culture February 04, 2017

Lars Eidinger on Richard III, Hitler and Trump

German actor Lars Eidinger, performing his arresting Richard III at the Adelaide Festival next month, talks about Shakespeare, Trump and the value of being open to contradiction.

Theatre December 10, 2016

Opera Australia’s Ring cycle

Neil Armfield’s stark but powerful Ring delivers Wagner’s masterpiece as a triumph of the Australian stage, as good as could be imagined anywhere.

Theatre November 26, 2016

Red Stitch Theatre’s ‘Uncle Vanya’

Nadia Tass’s production of Uncle Vanya for Red Stitch suffers from some pretensions, but a superb cast does the incomparable Chekhov justice.

Theatre October 22, 2016

‘Switzerland’ at MTC

Joanna Murray-Smith’s drama about thriller writer Patricia Highsmith’s dying days sequestered in Switzerland is brilliant, sinister entertainment in the Hitchcock mode.

Culture September 24, 2016

Kate Cherry takes centre stage

Director Kate Cherry takes the helm at NIDA with a vision of the school not just as an incubator of dramatic talent but of the nation’s cultural future.

Theatre September 17, 2016

MTC’s ‘Disgraced’

The brilliance of the MTC’s latest production, Disgraced, completes a trifecta of fine Australian shows.

Theatre August 06, 2016

Malthouse Theatre’s ‘Edward II’

A new production of Marlowe’s classic Edward II strips back the original until what remains is a flat facsimile.

Theatre July 09, 2016

Malthouse Theatre’s ‘The Events’

A masterful portrayal of the survivor of a mass shooting bears witness to the challenges of faith, healing and compassion.

Theatre May 07, 2016

MTC’s ‘Miss Julie’ misfire

Talented actors are left adrift in MTC's adaptation of Strindberg's masterpiece, 'Miss Julie'.

Theatre March 26, 2016

MTC’s ‘The Distance’

MTC's The Distance is an enjoyably unpredictable comedy-drama.

Theatre February 06, 2016

MTC’s ‘Ladies in Black’

Ladies in Black, as Aussie as SeaChange or Prisoner, is one of the finer recent attempts at the elusive form of the musical.

Theatre November 28, 2015

MTC’s ‘Buyer and Cellar’

MTC falls short in its one-man deconstructive tribute to the incomparable Barbra Streisand.

Theatre October 17, 2015

Theatre Works’ ‘The Bacchae’

Director Adena Jacobs takes a classic Greek tragedy and sets it free – with an erotic vengeance – in the hands of a troupe of teenage girls.

Theatre September 05, 2015

MTC’s The Weir

MTC’s production of the supernaturally tinged Irish pub drama The Weir is a slow-burning pleasure.

Theatre August 08, 2015

MTC’s Death and the Maiden

This stark new production sadly robs Ariel Dorfman’s modern classic Death and the Maiden of its considerable power.

Culture July 18, 2015

Moshinsky’s Verdi deeds

Opera director Elijah Moshinsky returns to Australia after 15 years to restage his monumental Don Carlos.

Theatre July 04, 2015

Love and Information – a dazzling piece of theatre

Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information is drama down to its bones, with so much living in the spaces in-between.

Theatre May 23, 2015

Nadia Tass directs Pulitzer-winning play The Flick

Red Stitch’s production of The Flick is a luminous and intimate examination of changing relationships.

Theatre April 18, 2015

Miriam Margolyes’s cast of character

The astonishing Miriam Margolyes is wasted in the greatest hits show The Importance of Being Miriam.

Theatre March 07, 2015

Jane Turner helps lift MTC’s Jumpy off the ground

Led by Jane Turner, the women in Jumpy make a mockery of those who turn their noses up at simply being entertained.

Theatre January 31, 2015

Strictly Ballroom a dream half realised

Baz Luhrmann's film-turned-stage-musical may be a little out of step, but it hits some high notes.

Theatre December 13, 2014

Benedict Andrews’ big screen A Streetcar Named Desire.

In Benedict Andrews’ A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed for cinema, Gillian Anderson delivers a lustrous Blanche DuBois.

Theatre November 08, 2014

Stage version of Once hits the right notes

An intimate musical on a grand stage, Once cleverly entwines its songs and story by telling a tale of people with music in the blood.

Theatre October 11, 2014

David Suchet’s Last Confession

Most famous as TV's moustachioed sleuth, David Suchet’s onstage role as a cardinal is cashing in on his mass appeal.

Theatre September 06, 2014

The Sublime explores dark matter

Brendan Cowell’s MTC play about the horrifying world of footballers and sexual abuse is a Jacobean triumph.

Culture August 02, 2014

Is there anything writer, actor and director Wayne Blair can’t do?

He’s worked with Oscar winners, directed a hit film and now brings to life the story of a revered Indigenous Australian.

Theatre July 26, 2014

Missing Bisley takes shine off MTC’s Glengarry Glen Ross

Mamet’s monster of a play is given a mousy rendition, save for its star.

Culture June 21, 2014

From stage to screen for Simon Russell Beale’s King Lear

He has enchanted audiences and critics alike, but for Simon Russell Beale the dark souls of his subjects leave a lasting impression.