BWW Review: CAN YOU HEAR COLOUR?: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2018 at Main Theatre, Adelaide College Of The Arts

BWW Review: CAN YOU HEAR COLOUR?: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2018 at Main Theatre, Adelaide College Of The ArtsReviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 9th March 2018.

Can You Hear Colour? is an introduction to music and opera for youngsters, presented by Patch Theatre Company as a part of the Adelaide Festival. It draws on the phenomenon of synaesthesia in which something that affects one of the senses, such as music on hearing, triggers an involuntary response in another sense, such as seeing/imagining a colour. The composer, Olivier Messiaen, is mentioned in the publicity for this production as having synaesthesia. So did Alexander Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Messiaen, however, was also fascinated by birds, calling them "the world's greatest musicians". Birdsong features extensively in his music.

He would instruct people playing his works as to what colour they should strive for when playing each note or chord. He would explain that a chord raised an octave grew paler and, lowered an octave, grew darker, but had the same colour. Changing key, changed the colour. He clarified that he did not see the colours with his eyes, but in his mind's eye. They were not simple, primary colours, either, but complex combinations. In describing his work, Couleurs de la cité céleste, he uses terms such as "blueorange", or "yellow topaz". He explains more fully in the fascinating work, Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color: Conversations with Claude Samuel.

The concept in this charming production is the reverse, with a girl who sees colours and, consequently, hears music. It does, though, also involve a bird, the rainbow bird, whose brightly coloured feathers are found by the girl, who then listens to their music.

There is also the 'bad guy', a man who collects the feathers and puts them in tightly stoppered bottles to negate their influence. He is bent on tricking the rainbow bird into eating a birdseed that will remove all of her colour.

Michaela Burger is the girl, Bethany Hill is the rainbow bird, and composer, Alan John, is the man. They are not alone, though. Kathryn Sproul's set, one more in a long line of superbly clever ideas, and her fine costuming, coupled with Ben Flett's wonderfully colourful lighting and, of course, Alan John's music, are all just as much a part of the performance as the three of them. Director, Naomi Edwards, has brought all of these elements together in a well-paced and captivating show for younger people.

Burger is bright and bubbly, with plenty of energy, as the young girl, skipping about the set, dancing to the music that only she can hear, and finding ways to help the audience to hear it with her. Hill has all the birdlike actions down pat, and captures bird sounds in her operatic flights, until she begins to mimic the girl and discovers words. John is mean and grumpy, but very funny, as The Man who hates colour and wants to remove it from the world. The three have a great rapport and convey their love of music clearly to the audience.

In the end, they reconcile their differences and they all discover that being different is not necessarily a bad thing, after all.

I did notice that, in the wordless, more operatic passage, some of the children became a little restless and disengaged, but their attention returned soon after. Perhaps a small cut to that part might be in order if that is seen as a trend.

This is another clever and sensitive work from Patch Theatre Company and your children will love it. Get some tickets, if you can.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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