Lean, mean and assured, there’s a rigor at the heart of director Peter Evan’s tough new adaptation of Julius Caesar from which everything else seems to flow.
A huge, crumbling column, evoking the great power of Rome, dominates the space; fenced in with scaffolding, we know its’ power will wane.
Anna Cordingley’s design – a kind of arena beautifully lit by Paul Jackson, who frames the space with iconic old Fresnel lamps – is sharp and spare; suggesting, but not dictating, and serves well the stylized staging of this production, and it’s gutsy 10 actor ensemble.
The plot to assassinate Julius Caesar and the subsequent disintegration of the state seems especially topical, maybe it always does.
But for all the acuity of it’s political observation (and if you want to understand how ‘spin’ works, it’s in the ‘I come to bury Caesar’ scene) Julius Caesar is redolent with portents and auguries, and Kelly Ryall’s disquieting sound design lends them full weight.
Kate Mulvaney (also the dramaturg) gives a supple performance as Cassius. Calculating and hungry there is both intelligence and authority here, and a genuine pathos in her death. Alex Menglet as Caesar is her perfect match- a magnetic force of nature, at once suave, remarkable and terrifying. Colin Moody is a strong and conflicted Brutus.
The second half falls away somewhat, the tension sucked out with the death of Caesar and Daniel Frederikson’s misjudged, lackadaisical performance as Mark Antony.
But this is smart, compelling theatre, and it’s inventive: everything you’d hope for from a national touring company.
Famous actress Elizabeth (Meredith Penman) has remained mute since her last performance as Elektra. Young nurse Alma (Karen Sibbing) cares for her silent patient at a psychiatrist’s seaside cottage. One refuses to speak (stubbornly? helplessly? because to do so would mean playing yet another role? adopting another persona?), the other speaks incessantly, falling into Elizabeth’s silent void, her sense of self, unraveling in the process. What is the nature of these women’s strange and increasingly merged relationship and how much of what we see is real? Does Elizabeth’s husband (Daniel Schlusser) really visit the cottage and mistake Alma for his wife? Does Elizabeth actually say a few words at one point?
This collaborative theatrical re-imagining of Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 modernist film classic is directed with forensic attention to tone and nuance retaining Bergman’s fine text, while skillfully transposing the film’s enigmatic and slippery reality. Head mikes enable actors to play much of the action far up stage through cottage windows, thereby creating both a collusive intimacy and striking depth of field.
Despite the play’s tantalizingly unstable narrative, it’s impossible not to try and make some ‘story’ of what we see in this beautifully realized meditation on the nature of truth and impersonation, memory and loss, and the limitations of language.
Consistently powerful mise-en-scene: subtle sound and design, rich text, excellent performances and smart direction, all combine in evoking multiple interpretations. This is a weird and wonderful theatrical experience: sleep on it, and let your unconscious decode its meanings for you.
AT THE SANS HOTEL
IN front of a series of giant projected images of ordinary people holding handwritten signs that read ‘see me’, a young woman with a French accent wearing a simple cotton frock introduces herself as Sophie.
She is charming, funny, eager to please and utterly confounding. Who is she and what is she on about? Her frenetic energy urges us to respond to a plethora of self-reflective questions including what is happiness? Are we lonely? What do we think of her (is she not brilliant) and what do we make of the show so far? What indeed?
It is a rush of artful chaos – Sophie flirts with audience members; one non sequitur leading to another, tells random anecdotes and squirts aerosol cream onto a plate of marshmallows.
At The Sans Hotel is uniquely structured; its surface fragmentation belies the writing and performer’s ingenuity whilst outstanding sound and set design serve to deepen the piece’s metaphoric reach. Nicola Gunn challenges us with her peculiar brand of meta-theatre.
Half way through the show takes an abrupt U-turn and charming, disarming Sophie morphs into characters far more dark and desperate.
Gunn was inspired by the case of Cornelia Rau, the schizophrenic German citizen who after being discovered wandering the Australian desert was unlawfully detained in 2005 as part of the Australian Governments mandatory detention program. She refused to reveal her true identity.
Is this a play about psychic disintegration, mental illness and identity breakdown? Probably. Is it original, funny, smart, uncomfortable and beautiful? Absolutely.