BWW REVIEW: COSI Is A Heartwarming And Hilarious Tribute To Theatre While Being A Timely Reminder That Love Should Be More Important Than Prejudice And Fear
Tuesday 5th November 2019, 8pm, Drama Theatre Sydney Opera House
Louis Nowra's semi-autobiographical comedy COSI delights Sydney audiences with its hilarious and heartwarming exploration of combining the creation of theatre with love and community to bring together an unusual group of people. Sarah Goodes (Director) brings the second piece in Nowra's "Lewis Trilogy" to life with colour, chaos and copious amounts of comedy in all forms.
COSI, which premiered at Belvoir St Theatre in 1992 and was turned into a movie in 1996, is the story of young director Lewis' experience of being asked to direct a theatre production where his inexperienced cast are made up of patients in a psychiatric hospital. In a fire damaged hall with a leaking roof, the task that would now be considered 'drama therapy', is made even more ambitious than Social worker Justin's (George Zhao) intention of 'keep them interested' and ' bring them out of their shell' as the enthusiastic manic depressive (who would now be diagnosed as bipolar) Roy (Robert Menzies) wants the show to be Mozart's opera, Cosi Fan Tutte. Roy is joined by the food obsessed, and Lewis obsessed Cherry (Bessie Holland), obsessive compulsive numbers driven Ruth (Katherine Tonkin), pyromaniac Doug (Rahel Romahn), drug addict Julie (Esther Hannaford), reclusive mute Henry (Glenn Hazeldine) and perpetually spaced out on lithium Zac (Gabriel Fancourt).
Set Designer Dale Ferguson has created a wonderful expression of the water and smoke damaged hall with a warped panels lifting, allowing Nicklaus Pajanti's lighting design to peek through for a mysterious opening scene. The bare space with a raked stage is gradually filled with the accoutrements of the production as the patients personalise the space and bring in their ideas for set and costume components. Costume designer Jonathon Oxlade captures the spirit of the late 60's and early 70's with printed polyester shirts, flared jeans and cordroy, ensuring that each character's costuming reflects their personality. The costuming for the final performance of COSI is a delightful rainbow of assorted items indicating a wonderful recycled aesthetic.
Goodes has created a wonderful production that is uplifting, engaging and delightfully mad with good balance of farcical physical humour and intimate human interaction. Robert Menzies is fabulous as the enthusiastic theatre fan, bouncing between high energy and moments of melancholy when he doesn't get his way. His sharing of why Roy wants them to perform this particular opera is heartbreaking, allowing the audience to further connect to the man as they realise that this dream is more than just a passionate interest. Equally wonderful is Bessie Holland's portrayal of the obsessive Cherry who takes a possessive shine to Lewis, repeatedly shoving sandwiches into his mouth and threatening violence to any woman, particularly Julie, who comes anywhere near him. She easily steals scenes as the more cerebral of the patients as she challenges the opera's plot line that makes women seem stupid, deals with Doug's insults and generally expresses that Cherry really just wants to be noticed.
Making his Sydney Theatre Company debut, seasoned film and television performer Sean Keenan delivers a good balance of naïveté and curiosity as he grows from his university friends who are more concerned with global politics, particularly the Vietnam Moratoriums, than people in their own community. He lets Lewis grow from cautious outsider to becoming invested and involved with his cast as he sees that love is more important than the things his girlfriend Lucy (Esther Hannaford) and flatmate Nick (Gabriel Fancourt) are protesting for.
Esther Hannaford doubles as the domineering girlfriend Lucy and the junkie hippie Julie. She ensures that the two are clearly delineated with, in addition to costume changes, by vocal changes and change in physicality with Lucy being repressed and rigid and Julie being relaxed and free. Gabriel Fancourt also doubles, taking on the obnoxious Nick and perpetually medicated pianist Zac who, in his rare moments of lucidity, derides Mozart and wants to play Wagner on a piano accordion.
As numbers driven obsessive compulsive Ruth, Katherine Tonkin presents a picture of a woman that wants to have things clearly defined. She makes sure that the woman who struggles with the concept of acting and pretending, constantly asking if something should be real or imaginary, is clearly differentiated from the happy-go-lucky Julie. Pyromaniac Doug is portrayed with delicious danger by Rahel Romahn who also forms hilarious sparring matches a with Cherry and perpetually tries to wind Lewis up with innuendo and questions about his love life. Glen Hazeldine delivers a hilarious expression of the utterly pathetic introvert Henry who for a good portion of the first act doesn't make a sound and repeatedly tries to run out of the room, scared into submission and returning by the domineering Roy. When Henry is finally triggered into standing up for himself it is a joy to watch the downtrodden man find his voice and his soul.
This is a wonderfully presented production that is filled with joy, laughter, emotion and energy as much of the characteristics are recognisable to the audience, either personally relating or knowing people that are like Nowra's characters, even if they aren't as extreme or requiring therapy. Goodes ensures that whilst the character's mental disabilities are played upon, they eventually become a lesser component of the story with the audience engaged in wanting to be connected to the people, not the disability, therefore pulling the community, connection and love to come to the fore. It is easy to see why COSI is often performed by amateur and pro-amateur theatre groups and this production is a delight which should not be missed.
Photos: Jeff Busby