BWW REVIEW: CHAMBER POT OPERA Returns To Sydney to Take Over The Sydney Opera House Ladies Lavatories
Saturday 13th April 2019, 7pm, Playhouse Ladies Lavatories, Sydney Opera House
First seen in Sydney's Queen Victoria Building bathroom in November 2016, the quirky little CHAMBER POT OPERA returns to Sydney to take up residence in the Sydney Opera House's ground floor Ladies lavatories. The unique work by creator/director Clemence Williams has been staged in similar small venues for Adelaide Fringe, Edinburgh Fringe and the Access Point-Summer Festival of the Arts in Saint Petersburg along with a 2017 encore Sydney QVB season.
For the 2019 Opera House season, seating has been increased to approximately 45 seats with the installation of tiered seating in the large space between the banks of toilet stalls in the ladies lavatories. While the previous Queen Victoria Building bathroom staging was presented in a traverse style with approximately 30 audience members seated or standing along the side walls of the elegant space, this incarnation adopts a more traditional end on theatre viewing of the more utilitarian space which does change the effect of the work somewhat. The rake of the seating means that only the front rows of each level have any chance of a decent view with half the audience trying to peer around the heads in front of them. The large black leather bench seat that usually sits at the back of the space has been shifted to form a focal point closer to the washbasins but proves to move the action below the sightlines of the already straining audience. The shift to the end on staging also distances the audience from the work. The original staging had the audience feel more connected to the work in an almost immersive style of fly on the wall voyeurism. This staging reduces that immediacy and impact of the story along with diminishing the novelty of the setting. It also changes the effect of the mirrors and performers facial expressions which were previously seen side on, further disconnecting the audience from the emotion.
The performances have also changed in their impact and clarity. This is potentially a combination of the difference between a bold new work in 2016 and more lived in characters along with the need to adapt to the new space. Darci Gayford joins the production on keys while Sally Alrich-Smythe, Britt Lewis and Jessica Westcott have reprised their roles as the victim of domestic violence, a timid woman feeling her way through a new relationship, and a woman getting ready for a celebration with a new outfit. Whilst the story is still of the sisterhood amongst strangers and finding camaraderie and solace in an unusual space, the new staging and dramatization makes this fanciful story feel even more absurd as pieces feel too overplayed and forced, lacking the emotional connection. That said, the moments of breaking from the operatic works for snippets of dialogue does seem jarring and incongruent with the rest of the work and could be expressed with appropriate dramatization.
The quibbles aside, if you haven't seen CHAMBER POT OPERA, want a 45 minute introduction to Opera in a less formal setting, or enjoy seeing theatre in unusual spaces, make sure you get in line (no allocated seating) early to secure one of the dozen or so good seats at the front of a level and as close to the performance space as possible.