Current project stage

We hosted Hayat Selim, part of our writing team, in Australia in February 2023. Here’s what Helen Musa said about Hayat Selim and Camelia in her 2023 City News article. And from Jessica Cordell in Canberra Weekly

Also, here’s Hayat Selim on Street Talk.

The next step with this project is to fundraise for comprehensive work on script and score. We will build on the great relationships developed as part of Hayat Slim’s recent residency in Australia. The goal will be to get all the artists together in 2025 (when we bring Hayat to Australia for a couple more concerts, pending funding and host venues). Then, once the script and score is ready move to a first reading stage, rehearsing at ANU School of Music, then staging the reading at an appropriate venue in our region.

Here’s a 2022 Her Canberra story on our work on Camelia.


Ian Batterham began work on Camelia in 2012, having long been interested in Egypt and the world of this story. His skills as a researcher and extensive background as an archivist provided the ideal platform on which to build this project. Ian invited Dianna Nixon to undertake creative development tasks on the work to look at his early drafts of this music theatre work. He had drafted some dialogue sequences interspersed with ideas for songs, some of which were later arranged for piano and string ensemble by various local composers.

These creative development processes revealed that what was needed was a rigorous approach to developing the dramatic impetus of the work, and creating a sound world that truly represents this story. There was also a pressing need to bring cultural awareness to the work, by including collaborative artists with the appropriate skills and background.

A great work of music theatre is a highly integrated work of art, where music, text, drama, dance, design intersect and work together to create a unique world for the audience. This is how the great and long-lived music theatre works were created, and why they draw audiences for long seasons, and in many countries, and have a very long life.

Camelia is such a unique story, and Lilian Cohen (her real name) such a fascinating character, that we are in no doubt that this work could take its place in the music theatre canon, if we go about developing it in the right way, holistically, with the best possible team of collaborators to support Ian’s original vision.

The 2016 and 2017 creative development processes were financed by Ian Batterham, and supported by The Street Theatre. The excellent team of artists assembled to do this work provided valuable insight and suggestions for the work. We ended the process with a clear set of priorities for taking the work forward.

The concept, the main character, and the world of this work is fascinating and rich with possibility, that was clear. However, the dramatic structure and impetus, the script and the songs were not where they needed to be. We needed to find the right team. We needed a director with deep understanding of the era, the place, the culture, as well as professional expertise in the creation of dramatic structure and shaping a throughline, and, particularly for a musical, the specific requirements for shaping words and music together. We needed to find a lyricist, composer, songwriter, to explore this diverse world of musical and cultural influences and place the story sensitively within them. The team needed to have appropriate and specific cultural understanding, personal experience, and the right skills set to produce the songs and score.

We now have that team. And what a team it is.


The show’s initiator, Ian Batterham, is an expert researcher and archivist, having spent his career working as conservator at the National Archives of Australia. In retirement he is lecturing in Cultural Heritage at the University of Canberra. He is a storyteller, passionate about Camelia’s life, a lifelong Egyptophile, and brings his detailed research and initial story and song elements to the table.

Mohammed Hashem is an Australian Egyptian director of theatre and films and musicals. He has been in the industry in Australia since 1990 after falling in love with media from a young age from his mother who was a broadcaster. He has been producing and directing plays in Australia, France and Spain and for the past seven years in Cairo. He teaches filmmaking and storytelling at the American University in Cairo and collaborates with international actors journalists and filmmakers on new and exciting projects. Despite Covid, Mo has not stopped working. He has been directing work online with international casts from Colorado, London, Australia and Chicago. During Covid lockdown he worked on two projects – one about online dating and the other about an Honour Killing. 

Hayat Selim brings exceptional skills as composer, singer and musician. We’ve now experienced this first hand during her residency in Australia in Feb 2023. Hayat is a media composer and singer-songwriter from Cairo. Having graduated with a masters in composition for screen from the Royal College of Music, she is currently based in London. In 2019 Hayat’s song Mirage (for the short film by Lena Srinivasan) was nominated in the Best Song category of the Jerry Goldsmith Awards 2019. See the embedded video. In 2020 she was commissioned to be the singer and lyricist for Sonuscore and Steinberg’s Ethnic Vocal Phrases virtual instrument library. Hayat writes and performs music for film, games and TV in parallel with her own song releases.

Vidya Makan – Dianna saw Vidya perform one of her own brilliant songs, Hugh Jackman, at Chapel Off Chapel in 2019 as part of the Home Grown series. Vidya then came to Canberra to participate in a music theatre creative development project at The Street Theatre. Vidya was very in demand, until Covid shut the arts down, including bringing the Australian production of Six to a sudden halt, in which Vidya played Catherine Parr. Thankfully, Six is back touring again, with Vidya on board. Vidya’s skills as lyricist and songwriter, and her deep understanding of music theatre performance bring another very strong element to the team. 2023 has seen her musical The Lucky Country premiere at The Hayes, and she is a cast member in Melbourne Theatre Company’s new musical, Bloom.

Vidya directed, produced and wrote the viral sensation I NEED YOU TO SEE ME; a call to action to the entertainment industry for visibility and inclusion, featuring 101 BIPoC and CALD performers aged 18-25. Vidya has been commissioned by the likes of NGV and Chips & Gravy; writing songs for the Screen Australia funded comedic web series She Becomes Her. She is working with Hayes Theatre Co Ltd on her music theatre work, The Lucky Country. Performance credits include: Hayes Theatre’s Merrily We Roll Along, Altitude Theatre’s Once On This Island, Dot/Marie in Sunday In The Park With George (Watch This) earning her a Green Room nomination for Best Performance In A Leading Role, Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet (Australian Shakespeare Company), the Australian tour of Green Day’s American Idiot (Shake & Stir). Vidya is a proud graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium’s Bachelor of Musical Theatre and holds minority storytelling at the heart of all of her work.


We completed a fundraiser on the Creative Partnerships Australian Cultural Fund website, which partly financed the artistic residency by Hayat Selim in Canberra in early February 2023. The residency also included a performance by Hayat (accompanied by Dianna Nixon), a film composition masterclass at the ANU School of Music, and a Q and A about Camelia. artsACT supported Dianna’s work on this project. Find out more about this on the Mirage page.

The next step will be an intensive writing room to develop the story and script in preparation for creating songs, and score. Dianna has met with Diversity Arts Australia to discuss ways we can ensure the work is culturally appropriate, and deals with the story with sensitivity. 

Important dates and activities

1/ Funding yet to be raised – Mohammed Hashem and Ian Batterham will work closely together to create a synopsis, a dramatic structure, then a scene list. With this material they would then craft the detail of the whole script, in collaboration with the composers and lyricists. There will be close collaboration with the lyricist/composers in this process.

2/ Funding yet to be raised – Hayat Selim and Vidya Makan will work closely together to research the sound world of this drama. They will determine genre, style, scale of the musical and sound world, integrating elements including the cabaret scene, music of the period, as well as the influence of cinematic scoring and foley sound elements. Once they determine the musical language of the work, they will craft the songs and lyrics, and Hayat will orchestrate the work. There will be close collaboration with the script writers in this process.

4/ Funding yet to be raised – Creative development and intensive writing process.

5/ Rehearsed reading and investment pitch at an appropriate venue in our region.