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Così

Louis Nowra
King's Head Theatre
(2011)

Così production photo

In that it is playing at the King's Head, which has re-branded itself as London's Little Opera House, Così is not quite what one might anticipate.

Rather than a new version of Mozart's opera of mistaken love, Adam Spreadbury-Maher has chosen to direct a play about love and lunacy by his Australian compatriot, Louis Nowra.

Così is set in a Melbourne asylum in 1972, as Australians were struggling to come to terms with their own identities in the midst of the war in Vietnam.

Gauche, bearded Lewis (suggesting an element of autobiography?) played by Matthew Burton has been recruited to provide some drama therapy. However, having only just emerged from university, the budding director is ill-equipped to do so.

The whole project seems doomed from the start. Inspired by Edmund Dehn as inmate Roy, Lewis is asked to put on a production of a grand opera in a burned-out theatre with the aid of half a dozen patients, not one of whom can sing.

This is the device that Nowra has chosen to explore free love, left-wing politics, Australian involvement in Vietnam, the nature of performance and its therapeutic powers and last but not least, the comic possibilities of incarcerated mental patients.

For just under 2½ hours, on Cherry Truluck's nicely conceived set, the actors have fun in a play that lacks narrative drive and too often reveals the writer's motives rather than those of his characters.

Lewis really has his work cut out in encouraging this cast of neurotics to turn in a performance. His unsteady equilibrium not helped by the side issue of his girlfriend's unfaithfulness with his best friend, who also happens to be a far more talented director than poor old Lewis.

Lewis' actors are something else. Roy is a producer manqué who specialises in impractical ideas. The ladies, respectively played by Maggie Daniels, Sophie Brabenec and Shelley Lang, are all rather one-dimensional. Cherry is a nymphomaniac, Ruth a prim, neo-perfectionist and Julie a hippyish drug addict exuding sexuality.

The most interesting parts go to Nathan Lang, who has a field day as the edgy pyromaniac, Doug and David Price playing catatonic lawyer, Henry, with Cameron Harris offering music and eccentricity as Zac.

With its asylum setting, Così comes from the same stable as Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade and Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest but fails to find the dignity amongst patients that made both of those works special.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher