Little Ones Theatre crystallises Wilde’s classic with bittersweet intensity
By Bradley Storer
Little Ones Theatre return after the critical success of their productions The Happy Prince and Merciless Gods with their second work based on an Oscar Wilde fairytale, The Nightingale and the Rose – the classic story of the high costs involved in both love and art.
Director Stephen Nicolazzo conjures an air of mystery and intensity from the very start, the song of the Nightingale emerging against Eugyeene Teh’s beautifully simple moonscape set. Characters emerge from darkness seemingly out of nowhere thanks to the ingenious lighting design of Katie Sfetkidis. The first throes of young love are invoked wittily through strains of Morrissey and the Smiths, while Daniel Nixon’s original compositions and sound design amp up the tension in the darker and quieter sections of the story.
As the central dynamic force at the heart of the piece, Jennifer Vuletic as the eponymous Nightingale manages the tricky balance between stylised expression and emotional reality with aplomb. Vuletic floats across the stage as though walking on air with her eyes wide in wonderment at the beauty of love. Her dark-hued soprano ably handles intermittent sections of French and Italian operatic arias, piercing the soul in a climatic a capella rendition of Puccini’s ‘Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore’. It’s a moment that neatly ties together the work’s exploration of how love and art intersect, even as it tears at the heart.
Brigid Gallacher brings an affectingly androgynous charm to the Student whose love-sick woes initiate the plot, morphing convincingly from awkward romance to deep disillusionment. Justin Wang displays a dancer’s sensual poise and grace as the various rose bushes encountered by the Nightingale, and a hilarious flippancy composed of equal parts camp and callousness as the materialistic Lover.
While the bitterness and bleak humour of the tale’s end are classically Wildean in tone, reflecting (in a way that feels intensely relevant even today) on a society that devalues the work of artists while simultaneously squandering their gifts, it does leave a bad taste in the mouth. Perhaps this bitterness also leaves the desire for some form of emotional closure, especially after evoking such powerful feelings beforehand. Nevertheless, Nicolazzo and the company of Little Ones capture the bittersweet and painfully beautiful nature of Wilde’s original tale with great artistry and obvious passion for the text. So as the company plans ahead for an adaptation of a third story in the future, we can only hope for more!
The Nightingale and the Rose is being performed at Theatre Works, St Kilda until 10 June. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9534 3388.
Photograph: Pia Johnson