BWW REVIEW: The Challenge of Finding A Balance Between Art, Innovation, Love and Life Plays Out In SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
Saturday 9th September 2017, 8pm, Depot Theatre
Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine's (book) award winning SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE is presented with heart and humour by Little Triangle company for Sydney Fringe Festival. Director and Designer Alexander Andrews has created a wonderful expression of the iconic musical, allowing Sondheim and Lapine's work to shine with a beautiful simplicity.
For those that may not be familiar with SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, this intriguing work focuses on innovative painter Georges Seurat's life, particularly his obsessive dedication to his work that became all encompassing, to the detriment of relationships and love. Centred around Seurat's famous large-scale work Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, a work that introduced Chromoluminariasm and Pontilissim to a previously traditional art world, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE contemplates the possible stories of the characters in the painting and the fictionalised version of Seurat, George (Owen Elsley), the only character not seen in the tableau.
Andrews has kept the Depot Theatre's stage relatively bare for this 16 person production, the only significant set dressing being a pair of large canvasses, one of which bears Seurat's signature on the expanse of white. In keeping with other productions of this work, Andrews has been creative in devising a way to include the dogs and monkey that occupy the lower part of Seurat's river side scene and he makes small additions to the stage to take the work from the park to Seurat's apartment and studio and the contemporary gallery where his work is honoured a century later with the new art installation Chromolume No. 7.
Late 19th century styling, inkeeping with the Paris portrayed in the painting is captured in Sami Eskin's costume design with a touch more cream than Seurat's colourful capture but when set against the black floor, the work has a high level of visual impact. The hilarious fashion of the 1980's is revived for Act II's exhibition of the Chromolume No. 7 and the work that inspired it. Lighting designer Chris Starnawski helps indicate the different times of day in which George sketches and paints, transitioning from soft light to brighter 'sun' and evenings in the studio "finishing the hat". Bolder lights express the art gallery's exhibition and shadows represent the 20th Century George's desire to spend a moment of reflection on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Musical Director and Cellist Conrad Hamill has paired back the orchestrations to piano, played by Alexander Mau, and Cello to create a full enough sound for the intimate space and generally not overpower the unamplified voices. It is refreshing to see a musical presented acoustically in an intimate space, demonstrating the skill and strength of the performers which all deliver wonderful performances, both vocally and dramatically.
As George, Owen Elsley delivers a beautiful performance, capturing the artist's intensity in his single minded devotion to his work. He handles Sondheim's detailed and rapid lyrics with clarity and understanding and connects with the audience well, particularly in Finishing The Hat and Putting It Together. As George's model and lover Dot, Georgina Walker is delightful, presenting a playful and youthful exasperation with the oblivious artist. Walker gives Dot a lovely unique sound which adds to the young woman's charm and her characterisation and different sound for Dot's daughter Marie, now 98 at the time of the Chromolume No. 7 exhibition captures the age, wisdom and intrigue of the older woman who believes herself to be the daughter of the woman in Seurat's famous painting.
This production of Sondheim and Lapine's Pulitzer Prizewinning SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE is a must see production for its wonderful interpretation presented with a simplicity that allows the story to shine as the story behind and within the artwork is imagined with incredible detail by Sondheim and Lapine. Filled with fabulous music, this cast captures the emotion in music and lyrics that Sondheim is so famous for, moving from comic to tragic, leaving at least a few damp eyes in the audience as George examines his life, love and legacy in the shadow of the park that inspired his great grandfather's work. This first production from New Theatre Company Little Triangle shows that it is definitely one to look out for. The quality of this production rivals any mainstream independent theatre and should not be missed, particularly for lovers of Sondheim and musical theatre.
6-16 September 2017