‘The Song was Wrong’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by June 6, 2015

‘The Song was Wrong’ is having its highly anticipated, World Premiere at the Studio Underground, in the State Theatre Centre of WA, 178 William Street, Northbridge.

The Perth Theatre Company’s most creative Artistic Director, Melissa Cantwell, has written this innovative piece.

If it was not for directors and playwrights like Melissa, the Perth theatre programme would consist of the ‘old faithful’ plays trotted out annually. Ms Cantwell fearlessly tries new scripts, with daring scenes and brand new approaches to regular themes, giving us intelligent productions; WAAPA postgraduate, Melissa has provided for us some of Perth’s most exciting, cutting edge and memorable plays over the past few years. Theatre MUST progress, and thankfully, WA has a talented leader who is determined to take the Arts to the community.

 

The scene is the 1970s in an Australian city. To the left is an upright piano. The stage is filled with a display of 1-metre high photographs (set design – Bruce McKinven, photographs by Melissa Cantwell).

 

      The curtains open to show an art gallery, where dozens of people are milling around admiring the stunning images by French photographer, Cécile (Astrid Grant). At the side of the gallery a Bohemian pianist, Christian (Felix Jozeps) is playing. As the guests leave, Christian starts to play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, when his eyes catch those of Cécile, it is love at first sight. He finds his fingers turning the famous sonata into how he feels for the photographer, thus creating Cécile’s theme (composed by Nick Wales).

      Soon the couple are living together and enjoying a passionate affair. However, not surprisingly with two artists, finances become tough and Parisian Cécile becomes homesick.

      We jump forward about 40 years to the present day. A blind man (George Shevtsov) is pushing a pram along the pavement; is this simply a more stable version of the white cane? Or could he have another reason for pushing it. A man (Thomas Papathanassiou) with tears in his eyes is standing looking at the flowers surrounding a florist kiosk on the street corner, he asks the young girl in charge (Jacinta Larcombe) for best bunch as he meeting someone special, someone he has waited to meet all of his life. The next customer is a proud mother (Sarah Nelson), who on seeking advice, has the significance of each of the flowers explained to her.

       The blind man falls in the street and the florist helps him to his feet, a strong bond develops between the two.

       We go back four decades to Christian, and find him a sick man, alone, penniless and distraught, but still filled with determination to seek out Cécile and rekindle their immense love. Will this be the case? Or is he too late?

 

Cantwell’s play is richly layered, with numerous story threads crossing three generations. It is a tale that requires a great deal of thought, concentration and consideration. You may well go home pondering dozens of questions, such as ‘Did she plant those flower seeds to suggest human fertilisation?’, ‘Was she in the womb?’ and ‘Were those two characters the same person?’ This rare quality of a writing skill demands a second viewing.

Assisted by award winning director, Ian Sinclair, with dramaturgic support from Peter Matheson and John Carter, director Cantwell has gathered a magnificent team of lateral thinkers. She has given them a chance to use their imagination, thus producing a beautiful and exciting visual experience. Some of the audience may leave the theatre asking themselves what certain scenes or symbolism meant, e.g. Christian being so depressed that he became ‘rooted’ to the earth. Little touches like the white contact lenses showing the corneal dystrophy of the blind person. The plane trip, with Sarah Nelson as the passenger, was so well observed that I found myself laughing aloud.

Lisa Scott-Murphy and Sarah Nelson took the standard, plodding stage movement into a breathtaking, almost balletic style. For example, in a crowded street scene – with lines of shoes on the floor representing the crowds – the actors swayed as they ‘danced’ with their spinning umbrellas. Later, there was another piece of visual magic from designer Bruce McKinven, as Christian stood in the pouring rain with water streaming from his umbrella, yet there was no rain from above! Bruce also gave us numerous surreal, ‘living’ locations, including a hospital, the Paris Metro and an ethereal woodland scene. The visual ingenuity was complemented by Ben Collins’ superb sound effects. Cye Wood and Jason Noble played Nick Wales’s subtle, melodic string and woodwind music.

Renowned Australian designer Aurelio Costarella, who was partnered by Fleur Kingsland, gave us the perfect costumes. Cécile at the photographic exhibition wore a stunning, sheer – almost diaphanous – gown with an unusual nylon sheen to the textile. In one scene, the flower girl wore a colourful tie-and-dye dress with a massive train, giving a dreamlike appearance.

Lighting designer, Matthew Marshall, shared the massive task with his associate, Chris Donnelly. There was hardly a floodlight in sight, instead there were tiny floor level ‘pups’, mobile light boxes containing battery powered LEDs – controlled by an i-Pad, Pendant lights, lights inside umbrellas, an internally lit light-table and a myriad of flowers in the park each one having its own small glow. A huge amount of work but worth every second of effort. Truly an extraordinary design team.

The two main characters not only had to be great performers but have a natural rhythm and musical talent. Cécile, Astrid Grant, worked with the Paris troupe, Théâtre du Soleil, before travelling to Argentina for further theatre know-how. This experience gave her a natural, authentic French accent. Christian’s (Felix) beautifully acted demise certainly hit a few heartstrings. The whole cast did not miss a beat on this complex production.

The stage management was a huge task for SM Louise Wardle and her ASM Rhianne Perrie (production interns – Meabh Walton and Sean Guastavino) as the scenes changed almost every couple of minutes throughout the play. The set moves, props – in and out – and the organisation of the actors, who not only had to play several characters, but also doubled as sceneshifters. The stage work was slick and silent. A memorable visual experience throughout.

There will be the odd audience member who thought it a little too long, with not enough exciting action. Forget them; this is amazing quality in every section of theatrical practise. See this show, be blown away and remember it for years to come.