Avove: Taking over the asylum. Below right; Lewis, played by Aaron Dora and Roy (Brent Schon). Photos by Adam Finch.
By Louis Nowra
Directed by Timothy Wynn
Beenleigh Theatre Group
Crete Street Theatre
Season: April 21- May 6. Booking: beenleightheatregroup.com/booking/ or: 07 3807 3922
Cosi is set in 1971 to the background of student protests against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. It is the story of a university student who agrees to direct a play in a lunatic asylum and use psychiatric patients in a social experiment to assist with their therapy.
However, it becomes rapidly clear that he may have bitten off more than he can chew with the large range of mental disorders that affected the patients, particularly as one of the patients, Roy, insists on the patient perform Mozart’s opera Cosi fan Tutte.
It turns out to be a big ask because no-one can sing opera, let alone learn it in Italian, so Lewis (played by Aaron Dora) who is the ‘director’, translates it into English and they decide to learn the songs later and ‘pop’ them in.
The interaction of the ‘normal’ to the not so normal is the key to this play with art being the conduit that breaks down the barriers. Humour is rife throughout the play, from the great one-liners, to the antics of the patients themselves.
The seven members of the cast who play the psychiatric patients are: Roy (Brent Schon), Doug (Bradley Chapman), Cherry (Elodie Boal), Henry (Benjamin Bray), Ruth (Rachel Hunt), Zac (Andrew Alley) and Julie (Jermia Turner). Each one had their own idiosyncrasies which further added to the comedy as the patients clash with each other as Lewis tries to keep the peace.
All the patients are in their own way pleased to be doing something other than being in the ward, and tempers/emotions boil over in one scene, where Doug (who is a pyromaniac) sets the toilet on fire and Cherry loses her cool and attacks him with a flick knife.
Brent Schon as Roy, who must have everything the way he envisioned it or it will not work, was incredible. He had some of the great one-liners about Lewis like ‘he couldn’t direct his way out of a brown paper bag’, but much more colourful. His tantrums were works of art.
Bradley Chapman has been cast as Doug twice previously and has the part down pat. Elodie Boal was fabulous as Cherry, especially as she becomes smitten with Lewis and insists on making sure he was fed by shoving sandwiches in his mouth.
Her temper boiled over as she and Doug clash frequently and she gets highly jealous of Lewis’ girlfriend Lucy. Her character, particularly with the shorts and the side ponytails made me think that her alter ego was Harley from Marvel’s Suicide Squad. I think though, the funniest of the lot was Andrew Alley playing Zac. He is the piano player brought in to play Mozart, but insists that it would sound better on a piano accordion and plays Wagner instead.
The other cast members who round out this play and add the extra elements are Matt Steenson (Justin, the asylum’s social worker), Skyah Fishpool (Lucy) and Dudley Powell (Nick – Lewis’ mate and an active communist supporter). All members of the cast were superb. The casting had been well done and the director, Timothy Wynn, had a talented bunch to work with to bring this play to life.
The set was simplistic, yet clever, recreating a burnt out theatre on the grounds of the asylum. Entry to the theatre was two double doors at stage left, a small but functional stage at stage right, and a door to the back centre stage that exits to the toilet and other places you would normally find backstage like the fuse box. Props were minimal – a trellis used for fixing lights, table and chairs, plus incidentals such as cups, clipboard, and satchel.
Use is also made of the front curtain on to which the words ‘Act 1’, ‘Act 2’ and ‘Intermission’ are directed, as well as at the beginning of the play there is a montage of black and white footage of the Vietnam war and street protests. This was for me the only flaw as such, because I am visually impaired, the footage looked to be out of focus and some scenes were so dark as to be unfathomable.
However, this is not the main part of the play and is only there to set the time period and political thinking of the day. I do have to make mention of a cleverly choreographed scene change in the first act where the actors moved props in time to the music soundtrack which had also been well selected – opening with Cherry Bomb and also featuring ACDC’s Thunder.
Costumes were for the most part fairly normal wear, with one patient being in striped pyjamas and ugg boots. When it comes to the actual Cosi performance however, the girls are all in the silliest and cleverest looking costumes – all wore the same black wig and white tops and bottoms, with a wire skirt similar to the old fashioned hoop, which was adorned with items they had obviously flogged from the asylum – folded paper plates, toilet rolls and disposable gloves. The two boys, Lewis and Roy, had the daftest blonde wigs set upon their heads. All gave the impression as it was supposed to, that they had no budget whatsoever and had made do with what they could get their hands on.
I thoroughly enjoyed Cosi. This was the first time I have ever seen this popular Australian play and it was immensely funny and well worth a night out.