The first thing that strikes you as you enter the theatre space at the Old Fitz for the latest staging of Marshall Napier’s FREAK WINDS is Lisa Mimmocchi’s set, walls Tuscan red with rising damp, paint peeling and damp bubbling, depicting and anticipating the troubling to come.
This decrepit and decaying house is the habitat of Ernest, who may or not be a homicidal maniac. At the beginning of the show he appears to be a harmless and somewhat debilitated man dependent on a cheap Zimmer frame.
On a wild and freakishly windy evening, insurance salesman Henry Crumb literally blows into Ernest’s lair, determined to sell him a policy. When part of his pitch mentions children, Ernest’s bonhomie evaporates, he rushes from the room, and vomits.
Left alone, Henry spies a scrapbook which he discovers is full of cuttings about sinister events.
The keen sound of the sharpening of a knife emanates from the area Ernest has disappeared.
From a double doors built into the staircase burst a woman in a wheelchair. This is Myra, quick with an offer of massage for the hyper tense Crumb.
Anna Bamford as Myra swings from fragile victim to Ernest’s foul sluttish heir during the course of the second act, from prim paraplegic to skittish school uniformed fetishist and self-proclaimed sexual deviant.
Ben O’Toole as Henry Crumb has all the sweaty swagger of the cocksure salesman and energises his role with a charge that would short circuit the battery bunny.
Marshall Napier as Ernest has the benign menace of a mild mannered maniac, bespectacled beast on callipers, conjuring a Richard III, although we know he’s up for sportive tricks determined to prove his villainy.
FREAK WINDS is Australian Gothic , a grotesque and grandiose Guignal playing in the bowels of The Old Fitzroy through March
In this latest performance, called INTIMATE LETTERS, the ACO combined with the Bell Shakespeare Company have somewhat abandoned the usual established concert format. Under the direction of special guest London Symphony Orchestra concert master Gordan Nikolic and theatre directors Peter Evans and Susanna Dowling , INTIMATE LETTERS is a unique blend of theatre and music.
Actors Ella Scott Lynch and Marshall Napier from Bell Shakespeare read excerpts from the letters of Janáček, Mozart and Smetana linked to the ACO’s performance of the related musical works of the three composers .
Mozart’s ‘Divertimento in F’, the first work on the program, was perhaps slightly out of place in when considered alongside the later anguished works of the two Czech composers that follow.
The sunny ‘ Divertimento ‘ one of three composed by the sixteen-year-old Mozart in 1772, is a brief, charming Italianate piece in three sprightly movements. The second, middle movement is the saddest and most lyrical in feel.
The first letter of the evening was a 1772 letter written by a young Mozart to his sister, Maria Anna. Ella Scott Lynch , in a beautiful, long blue flowing tie dyed dress, obtained some laughter from the crowd before the ACO started performing with her delicious reading of the composer’s goofy, rather oddball remarks and use of repetition. The exquisite tone of the ACO’s playing was showcased particularly in the second Adante movement and their playing in the first movement was glorious with sustained, precise balance.
The other two works performed were in starks contrast .
Entitled ‘Z mého života’, or ‘From my Life’, Smetana planned his work to be a snapshot of his life, starting from his youth and his initial interest in the arts to his permanent deafness, with which he was diagnosed at the age of 50.
The piece was deemed ‘too orchestral’ for a quartet, and Smetana’s work was given its first performance by a larger body of strings (including, notably, a young viola player named Antonin Dvořák), which, sadly, he was completely unable to hear.
The first movement begins explosively, subsiding to an eerie theme in the viola section. Smetana entitled this the “Call of Destiny” theme, a ominous foretelling of his future misfortunes. Having lost his hearing, Smetana was still bothered by constant buzzing, shriekings and high-pitched whistles, which he found so disturbing that they often hindered him from composing.
The first movement was powerful and passionate, evoking Smetana’s interest in Romanticism and its ideals. The second movement was brighter, and shows Smetana’s love of dance and the pride he took in his achievements as a composer.
The second movement was played with great control by the ACO giving it a sense of proud Slavic nationalism instead of joy, which is appropriate for the work.
In the third movement, Nikolic and the first violins were glorious in haunting,sad violin swells of interlocking rhythms and layers of melody.
There were soaring tears of solo sections, and the group took full advantage of the rich, luscious harmonies. The fourth (final) movement begins happily ,but is interrupted by the occurrence of a high ‘E ‘over a tumultuous body of strings, which represents Smetana’s deafness, and the A-flat Major 6th chord he reported hearing daily between the hours of 6 and 7.
As the movement drew to a close, the phrases end more abruptly, indicating the disintegration of Smetana’s hearing. Napier, dapper in an elegant grey business suit gave exquisitely eloquent readings of Smetana’s letters, and at one point says ‘ Therefore the ‘E’ must be played fortissimo throughout’ and emphatically directs the ACO to do just that . There is also use of atmospheric golden lighting .
Principal cellist Timo-Veikko Valve has been responsible for arranging Leon Janáček’s ‘ String Quartet No 2 ‘– known also as the ‘Intimate Letters ‘- the title piece- for string orchestra. Janáček wrote these letters over the last decade of his life to Kamila Stösslová, a young woman he was passionately devoted to.
Janáček and Kamila exchanged over 700 letters, in which she was rather primly aloof, and he was clearly smitten. Their correspondence created extra tension between Janáček and his already estranged wife Zdenka, but didn’t appear to concern Kamila’s husband, who was probably consoled by the age gap between the two of nearly 40 years (when they first met Kamila was 25, Janáček was 63). The actors draw out the crackling tension in magnificent performances.
The work begins spikily but there are swirling, lilting tender sections too, Some segments are to be played on the bridge in the viola and cello parts. Principal viola Christopher Moore’s superb performing deserves a particular mention. Sometimes the music is achingly sad, at other times tremulous, spiky or searing .There was fine, vibrant playing by the ACO and all involved gave an impassioned performance .
An unusual , emotionally gripping and exciting performance . Running time two hours (approx) with one interval.
INTIMATE LETTERS was on national tour between the 18th August to the 2nd September.
Announced earlier this year, Darlinghurst Theatre Company will open Eternity Playhouse with Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS, which will preview from November 1, and open on November 5.
We used to celebrate Guy Fawkes on that date and hopefully the date will auger well with a cracker show full of theatrical fireworks.
The choice of an American play to open a new venue by Darlinghurst Theatre Company follows the precedence set at their inaugural space in Greenknowe Avenue, where they premiered The Woolgatherer, a fairly ordinary play and a fairly ordinary production.
Fortunately the space played host to a number of home grown pieces, most notably Christopher Johnson’s works, one of which, The Young Tycoons, is being resurrected.
The 2014 season kicks off with the Tony Award-winning musical Falsettos, perfectly timed to open around Mardi Gras. Wickedly funny lyrics accompany a live piano score in this quirky yet tender tale about family, growing up and what it means to be a man.
The impressive line-up continues with the fiercely satirical The Gigli Concert, the wickedly subversive comedy The Young Tycoons, the new Australian play Every Second by Vanessa Bates, Nick Payne’s West End hit Constellations, the return of the sell-out 2013 hit The Motherf**ker with the Hat and rounding off the season is the deliciously fast-paced comedy about love, loneliness, food and friendship, Nick Enright’s Daylight Saving.
The Eternity Playhouse is set to become a prominent and iconic theatre destination in Sydney. With its stunning architecture, brand new state-of the-art facilities and iconic place in Sydney’s history, the repurposed Burton Street Tabernacle will be a very special place to see live theatre.
SYDNEY REVIEWS Screen + Stage + Performing Arts + Literary Arts + Visual Arts + Cinema + Theatre