‘Cosi’ is a dark, dramatic comedy that was written by Australian playwright Louis Nowra at the age of 40. It won the NSW Premier’s Literary Prize in 1992, and then in 1996 the film won an AFI award for best-adapted screenplay.
Nowra has written more than thirty plays and half a dozen novels. Last year he won the pinnacle of prizes, The Patrick White Award.
This modern classic is being presented by the Phoenix Theatre Inc. at the Phoenix Theatre, in the Memorial Hall on the corner of Rockingham Road and Carrington Street, Hamilton Hill.
The two-hour play is showing nightly at 8.00 pm from Thursday to Sunday, until Saturday 17th May. There is one Sunday matinee on the 11th May at 2.00 pm.
The simple, but most effective set (Wayne Gale, Kerron Muller) consists of three large flats depicting the stage of an old damp, disused theatre in the grounds of an asylum.
It is 1971 in an Australian mental institution, and the senior administrator, Justine (Kathleen Uhlmann) feels that the patients’ intelligence should be stretched, and so suggests that the asylum should produce a theatrical show. However, Justine is one of these sycophantic, smiling, incompetent bosses with no practical skills, and so she employs enthusiastic, newly graduated, Lewis (Cody Fullbrook) to put on a simple show.
Lewis’s girlfriend, Lucy (Kate Lloyd) and his old Uni mate, Nick (Sean Drill) are annoyed that by accepting the job, Lewis will miss the ban-the-bomb moratorium. Bolshie Nick is even interviewed by a reporter (James Buckland) for the TV news.
To Lewis’s horror, an inmate Roy (Shaun Griffin), who is a real drama Diva, suggests that they mount a production of Mozart’s opera, ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ with him as the ‘Star’. At the risk of making a total fool of himself, Lewis decides to go ahead and put up a cast list. The half dozen enthusiasts who put their names down are less than capable. They include a disbarred solicitor, Henry (Pat McMahon) who is a manic-depressive, rarely speaking hence a disaster as a singer. In fact the only really eager, semi capable patient is the pyromaniac, Doug (Anthony Smith – excellent). Doug thinks that most actors have sex all day, and wants to f*** the pedantic, quiet Ruth (Olivia Finlay) who has an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and any other girl available.
The overeater, Cherry (Katrina Murphy) is worried about Lewis’s lean figure and is desperate to fatten him up – before making passionate love. At rehearsals, the drugged up musician, Zac (Ryan S. McNally) manages to play a few notes before passing out. However, as the show progresses, it is quiet, intelligent junkie, Julie (Leah Fitzgerald) that is subtly moving in on Lewis.
Will the show go ahead, and if it does will it be an utter catastrophe?
With a large cast, most of whom are on stage throughout the play; director Jayde Clark kept the actors moving around so that they held the audience’s attention very well. I saw the final rehearsal, but the performance was first class. Each cast member has a very different character’s condition to depict, and it was obvious that they had done their homework, conquered the part and gave very convincing performances. It is often easy to think of a part with little dialogue to be a ‘minor part’, in ‘Cosi’, there are no minor parts, and every character has to be portrayed throughout. Henry possibly had the least to say, but Pat’s eyes and body language said volumes about the sadness and anguish behind the face. You can feel the tension and jealousy that exists amongst the inmates. Special mention for Katrina Murphy and Olivia Finlay who really dominated the stage at times.
When a play has several deep and dark messages to present, the show can become tedious and light relief is required. In ‘Cosi’ it is Doug that supplies the laughs. Anthony, on a set of crutches (he had damaged his foot), managed to cover the stage in seconds and incorporate the disability to the play’s advantage. The whole cast were well above average.
The director has used the auditorium floor area in front of the stage apron, along with every entrance and exit in the theatre; this of course makes the audience feel part of the asylum.
Alex Coutts-Smith and Brett Muller’s lighting was most effective, with a good fire scene effect (considering the available light units). The sound was well recorded and presented by the sound operator, Jamie Martin. To carry out quick set changes with a dozen cast on stage and in the way, can be tricky, but Emma Muller and her assistants Daniel Muller and Jessica Byrum were quick and efficient.
I have seen this play several times over the years, but still found this version refreshing and professionally presented. Although it is an adult storyline, the comedy and skilful delivery means it is truly a good night out for the family.