Adelaide Festival

Adelaide Festival Review: Watershed: The Death of Dr Duncan

A sublime showcase of musical, and theatrical talent


Presented by:  Feast Festival, Adelaide Festival and State Opera South Australia

Reviewed 5 March 2022

In 1972, English-born Dr. George Ian Ogilvie Duncan arrived in Adelaide to take up a lectureship at the University of Adelaide Law School. Six weeks later, as he was walking along the banks of the River Torrens, he was drowned. Suspicion was that he was thrown into the river as a prank, by some policemen who were harassing gay men using the riverbanks as a beat. At the time, many gay men were bashed, harassed, humiliated, and even killed. But Duncan’s killing was writ large in the public imagination, as he was a professional, bespectacled, Doctor of Laws. Social and legislative views started to shift, resulting in South Australia becoming the first state in Australia to decriminalize homosexuality.

In honour of the 50th anniversary of Dr Duncan’s death, this oratorio, Watershed, was commissioned.

With music by Joe Twist, and libretto by Alana Valentine and Christos Tsiolkas, this is work which soars off the stage and into the stratosphere. Here is sublime melody, rooted in the choral tradition, with nods to varied genres.  Here too is a libretto which twists and turns, with those magical Tsiolkas moments finding beauty in the obscene, and obscenity in the quotidian. And here also are the expected, and much-needed, moments of humorous levity.

Under the baton of conductor and musical director Christie Anderson, The Adelaide Chamber Singers display their unquestionable talent, but also their ability to embrace innovative works and make them their own. Soloists included Pelham Andrews as Mick O’Shea, cop, and lawyer, Ainsley Melhamas as Lost Boy, and Mark Oates as Duncan and Dunstan. All give fine performances both in terms of voice and characterisation. Dancer Mason Kelly is breathtaking as the central, symbolic figure, spending most of his time twisting on a wire.

Simple but effective direction from Neil Armfield ensures Watershed is a treat to the eye as well as the ear, working hand-in-hand with Ailsa Paterson’s masterful production design. The latter includes a shallow river downstage which is used to spectacular effect.

How wonderful it is to see new art being made, especially for the Adelaide Festival! This combination of musical, literary, and theatrical talents becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. It becomes rare perfection.


Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Venue:  Dunstan Playhouse
Season:  5th March-8th March 2022
Duration:  1 hour 40 minutes, no interval
Tickets:  $30-$99

Rating out of 5: 5

Photo Credit: Andrew Beveridge

#Adelaide @Adelaidefest #adelaidefestival

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