Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Cosi by Louis Nowra

The Cast
Cosi by Louis Nowra
Cosi by Louis Nowra.  Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company at Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre, November 1 – December 14, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 16

Director – Sarah Goodes; Set Designer – Dale Ferguson; Costume Designer – Jonathon Oxlade; Lighting Designer – Niklas Pajanti; Composer & Sound Designer – Chris Williams; Fight Choreographer – Dr Lyndal Grant

Gabriel Fancourt – Zac/Nick                Esther Hannaford – Julie/Lucy
Glenn Hazeldine – Henry                      Bessie Holland – Cherry
Sean Keenan – Lewis                            Robert Menzies – Roy
Rahel Romahn – Doug                         Katherine Tonkin – Ruth
George Zhao – Justin
Photos by Jeff Busby

L-R: Rahel Romahn, Robert Menzies, Sean Keenan and George Zhao
as Doug, Roy, Lewis and Justin in Cosi by Louis Nowra

Rahel Romahn and Sean Keenan
as Doug and Lewis in Cosi by Louis Nowra
 The quality of Louis Nowra’s writing was entirely unconstrained in this wonderful production of Cosi.  Laughter brought us even unto tears as Lewis spoke directly to the audience at the end – in recognition of the achievement of success in the illusion of theatre, and of the reality as he told us of Julie’s death by overdose some years later.

Esther Hannaford as Julie in Cosi by Louis Nowra
 ‘Julie’ of course was just a character in a play; but we felt for her, and for ‘Lewis’, as if they were people we knew well; though we had known them only for the “two hours’ traffic” of the stage.  It was enlightening to be reminded that of all our Australian playwrights, Mark Doyle aka Louis Nowra is the closest to being our Shakespeare.  If The Golden Age is his The Tempest, Cosi is his A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Though ‘mental asylums’ of this kind are now a thing of the past, having flown over the cuckoo’s nest, it struck me as significant that the original production of Cosi – in 1992 – was already looking back 25 years to the days of Vietnam War ‘moratorium’ marches (which I had taken part in), described by the Australian National Museum as meaning ‘a halt to business as usual’.

The Miramax film of 1996 had the subtitle ‘Cosi: A Comedy That’s Not Quite All There’, but Doyle – despite becoming for all intents and purposes his ‘stage’ name Louis Nowra and naming his autobiographical character ‘Lewis’ – was clearly ‘all there’ as far as the seemingly insane politics of 1960s' Prime Ministers Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon were concerned.  As Shakespeare realised, setting his play in ‘another country’ in the past opens up the opportunity for universal meaning.

Presenting the play now, after another 30 years, also opened up for Melbourne Theatre Company opportunities for new thinking about acting, stage design, costuming and technicals.  Sarah Goodes and her team grasped them all with every hand.  Rahel Romahn’s Doug made me seriously wonder if the other bane of Shakespeare’s career – burning down the theatre – might really happen.  While the bane of Doug’s pyromaniac career, Bessie Holland as Cherry, nearly brought the house down.

Bessi Holland and Katherine Tonkin
as Cherry and Ruth
in Cosi by Louis Nowra

So if you can take up the opportunity, make the journey to Sydney Opera House.  December 14 is barely a month away, but I can promise you any trip, like my 300 kilometres from Canberra, is absolutely well worth it.

Robert Menzies, Esther Hannaford, Glenn Hazeldine, Katherine Tonkin and Sean Keenan
as Roy, Julie, Henry, Ruth and Lewis in Cosi by Louis Nowra
performing as characters in Cosi Fan Tutte by Mozart