Written in 1992 by Australian playwright, Louis Nowra, Così is the story of naïve uni student Lewis’ heroic attempt to direct a play in the local psychiatric facility, with patients as his cast. Led by long-time patient and theatre fan, Roy, the motley crew of characters who sign up to be in the play include sex-mad pyromaniac Doug, heroin-addicted Julie, mute ex-lawyer Henry and obsessive compulsive Ruth.
At Roy’s urging, Lewis reluctantly agrees to stage Così Fan Tutte (‘All Women are the Same!’), Mozart’s opera about the infidelity of women. Unfortunately, it seems his cast can neither sing, nor speak Italian – the language of the opera. Undaunted, Lewis attempts to bring his highly dysfunctional, over-medicated cast together with the ultimate aim of staging the opera. Predictably, the show does not go exactly as he’d hoped.
Così is set almost half a century ago, in 1971. Writing a comedic play today about people living in a psychiatric facility might be tricky, given modern society’s ‘wokeness’. But Così succeeds because of its innate charm and gentle humour. As the ‘play within a play’ proceeds, we come to understand the characters’ motives and histories and, trite as it may seem, social worker Justin’s statement that the people in the asylum are just “normal people who have done extraordinary things, thought extraordinary thoughts” bears some truth and has an enduring relevance.
Of the cast, Rahel Romahn is exuberant as in-your-face Doug, who set his mother’s five cats on fire in order to get her attention. Romahn, who recently portrayed the bullied and put-upon ‘Piggy’ in Sydney Theatre Company’s Lord of the Flies (a character about as far from Doug as you could get), is born to be on stage and never fails to impress. Bessie Holland as the forceful and aggressive (yet still looking for love) Cherry is hilarious and physically mesmerising – such is her stage presence. And Sean Keenan as kind, albeit largely clueless Lewis is appealing and authentic, as he was playing a lead role in the excellent television series, Puberty Blues.
Esther Hannaford, who portrays drug-addicted but optimistic Julie as well as Lewis’ free-love-espousing girlfriend Lucy, told MiNDFOOD, “At first, I thought these two women were the antithesis of each other. The more I explore the text the more similarities I find. Both understand that there are double standards for women in the world, in regards to love and work.”
The play is set at a pivotal time, when the Vietnam War, feminism and free love competed for the world’s attention. “It’s interesting that now it seems that we are again at a huge point of change,” says Hannaford, “Trump and Brexit have certainly been a change agent for the western world and we’re seeing people rising up for or against global warming, equality, globalisation and the women’s #metoo movement.”
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
Now playing until 14 December