By Kimberley Thomson | Photo via



Hopes and dreams seemed to be felled in New York City faster than you can say, “One salmon bagel to go, please.” In ‘Between the Bars’, Sunny Koll imagines five women, all dealing with the ebbs and flows of New York City life – some who stoke the dying embers of success, some still hoping to stumble across it.

Melbourne’s Bennetts Lane may lack the sleaze of an NYC jazz club, but it is atmospheric in its own right. Koll utilises the rather compact Bennets stage, relying merely on her soulful voice and some deft characterisation to tell the story.


Staged as a series of vignettes, each of Koll’s characters delivers a monologue detailing various woes: romantic troubles, career gripes; but each are delivered with an equal sense of humour and pathos.


When Koll plays for laughs, she gets them.”


Koll is no stranger to the world she has imagined here; she has been performing in blues bars since the age of 15. In the play she appears as herself – the singer in the jazz club where the narrative unfolds – but she remains a peripheral presence, overseeing her tableaux of characters.


After penning the script herself, Koll recruited Meghan Jones to direct. On stage, she is backed by a suitably black-clad band: Steve Paix on piano, Barnaby Gold on drums, and Anton Delecca on saxophone.


Possessing a natural comedic bent, when Koll plays for laughs, she gets them. Her most idiosyncratic characters prove the most entertaining. Early on, a Jewish mother fusses about on stage, nattering about bagels, Band-Aids and Barbara Streisand. The storytelling here is vivid and at its best.


We are treated to an unexpected operatic turn halfway, when a character belts out a little La Boheme, much to the delight of the audience. A few soul classics are also included; Aretha’s ‘Respect’ gets the Bennetts bar staff jiving.


The final character – a waitress from down south – summons a note of naive optimism. She shines the bar’s silverware and wonders if she’ll ever make it in the big city. The take-home message seems to be success doesn’t guarantee emotional fulfillment, and we are to both pity and admire the young waitress’ innocence.


Koll’s storytelling is engaging and ’Between the Bars’ proves a showcase for an undeniable talent.


Between the Bars runs until September 25 at Bennets Lane, Melbourne CBD.




Kimberley Thomson is a freelance writer, editor and fingerer of various creative pies. Her twitter perch is @2bottlethomson.

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