Tag: Tom Willis

Red Stitch Presents INCOGNITO

Outstanding

By Myron My

The expression ‘the mind works in mysterious ways’ rings true in the stunning new work by Red Stitch Actors Studio. In its Australian premiere, Nick Payne’s Incognito – a poignant play about the brain, Albert Einstein and love – is a beautiful exploration of how our minds do work and how we use memories to create our identity and become the people we are.

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The story focuses on three non-linear narratives, two of which are centred on real people. Thomas Harvey is the pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Albert Einstein and became obsessed with what could be revealed from research into his brain. The second story based on fact is of Henry Molaison, a 27 year old-man who – after an operation to cure his epilepsy – lost his short-term memory which left him unable to remember the detail of conversations he had been having seconds earlier. The third story meanwhile revolves around a fictitious neuro-psychologist, Martha, who has a somewhat nihilistic view on identity and memories.

Incognito‘s narrative structure can be a puzzle to piece together, but as the story progresses, the relationships and links between characters and scenes gradually becomes apparent. Through the astute direction of Ella Caldwell and Brett Cousins, the pace is fast enough to keep momentum building and have you engrossed in the scenes playing out, but slow enough to ensure you never get left behind. The snap changes from scene to scene are executed perfectly and supported by Tom Willis‘ insightful lighting design.

The cast of four deliver accomplished performances in their portrayal of both the central characters and the eighteen additional ones, with each actor taking on between four to six roles. Ben Prendergast as pathologist Thomas brings forth a nuanced performance and Prendergast’s ability to show Thomas at varying stages of his life are a testament to his skill as an actor. Paul Ashcroft is heart-breakingly marvelous as Henry, as he obliviously remains stuck in an eternal time warp. Guest actor with the company Jing-Xuan Chan is also brilliant as both Henry’s long-suffering wife Margaret and as Lisa, a woman who finds herself in a relationship with Martha, played by Kate Cole. Cole brings to the surface the complexities of Martha’s history and views on life with ease but it is in her  evocative portrayal of Evelyn, the adopted granddaughter of Albert Einstein, where she really shines.

With the scenes that take place spanning various cities and time periods, dialect coach Jean Goodwin ensures that subtle differences are picked up on, and each actor does an incredibly skillful job in their convincing accents and being able to switch between them at the drop of a hat. With the story moving through the years, this achievement is also a great indicator of time passing by and allows us to relocate events in some order.

Chloe Greaves‘ remarkable set design perfectly captures the essence of Payne’s play. A piano rests just off centre-stage, its lid has exploded from its place and hanging in mid air, frozen in time. From inside the piano, black string spills out, reaching the ceiling and walls that results in a spider web-like cave and giving an artistic interpretation of how the brain operates. 

Incognito is an intelligent exploration of the brain, memories and identity: about knowing who you are and in some cases, about not knowing who you are. It may be a play that demands we pay attention, and perhaps ironically, puts our brain into overdrive, but it is also an extremely rewarding experience to be seeing theatre of such a high standard performed locally.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda.
Season: Until 13 August | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $49 Full | $34 Senior | $28 Student | $25 Under 30s

Bookings: Red Stitch Actors Theatre

Image by Theresa Noble Photography

Life Like Company Presents THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA

Beautiful and beguiling musical of love

By Bradley Storer

A twinkling of strings on the harp, cascading into a glorious swirl of orchestral sound under the swell of a soaring and mellifluous soprano voice – from the very first moments of the opening night of The Light in the Piazza, Adam Guettel’s sumptuous score (gorgeously conducted by Vanessa Scammell) instantly swept us into the magically romantic landscape of Florence, Italy.

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The entire cast, under the capable direction of Theresa Borg and in Kim Bishop’s stunning costumes, are close to flawless. Genevieve Kingsford as the childlike Clara Johnson has the unenviable task of depicting a character with a mental disability that is never fully explained, but Kingsford is a marvel in the part, sensitively balancing Clara’s innocence and openness with a fog of anxiety and confusion but never tips over into caricature. Her rich youthful soprano manages the difficult score with ease and her beautiful rendition of the eponymous song whipped the crowd into a roaring applause on opening night.

As Clara’s ardent suitor Fabrizio Naccarelli, Jonathon Hickey brought a bright and piercing tenor and a refreshing adolescent sincerity to the part – while his ‘Il Mondo Era Vuoto’ came off a touch too anguished, he harnessed a touching sensitivity in ‘Love to Me’. Anton Berezin was commanding and charming as Fabrizio’s father, while Josh Piterman as the older brother Giuseppe exuded charisma and flashy charm. Madison Green as Giuseppe’s long-suffering wife Franca managed to find the heart and kindness in a deeply wounded and embittered woman, as well as ably handling the trickiest moments of Guettel’s music.

The heart of this musical, however, is the central role of Margaret Johnson, the mother of Clara whose journey through the show embodies the conflict between the human search for love and the fear that true lasting love is nothing but an illusion. Chelsea Plumley sometimes pushes into moments of slight performativity as Margaret, but overall she nails the character’s charm, intelligence and courage, giving glorious voice to Margaret’s inner conflict as she addresses the audience in both direct dialogue and dramatically compelling song.

The backdrop of paintings and sculpture that fly in and out seamlessly, designed by Tom Willis, make a wonderful set and illustrate the libretto’s constant correlation of the characters’ plights with the figures of renaissance art, but at certain points they blocked the view of the action – physical transitions between scenes were sometimes made awkward by lighting that highlighted instead of concealing the cast and crew moving the scenery.

These small concerns aside, Life Like Company has produced an outstanding production that wonderfully captures the magic of this modern musical, captivating the audience from start to finish with its magnificent score and achingly-rendered story – heart-meltingly lovely and heart-breaking all at the same time. 

Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.

Times: 8pm Friday and Saturday, 6pm Sunday

Dates: October 28 – November 6

Tickets: $65 – $135

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au , 1300 182 183, at the box office.

Image by Ben Fon