Review: Cosi – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse Theatre

Images: Dylan Evans Photography (Main Image L-R: Trevor Stuart, Jessica Marais, Amy Ingram, Anthony Standish, Benjamin Schostakowski, Jennifer Flowers, James Stewart)

Cosi by Louis Nowra is a much-loved and, by now, a classic in the canon of modern Australian plays. According to David Berthold, it’s also the playwright’s personal favourite. It’s certainly admired by La Boite Theatre Company who have produced it three times over the years. The latest has just opened at the Roundhouse under the direction of Mr Berthold and it’s a production that finds the rhythm of the play’s compassionate heart.

Filled with marvellous characters, and set in an asylum during the Vietnam War, Cosi follows the adventures of young Lewis (Ben Schostakowski) a uni student, who gets a job helping the inmates “put on a show.” He’s all for a bit of Brecht but Roy (played with glorious gusto by Trevor Stuart) is adamant that the music of the spheres must be heard in their shabby little theatre, and so it’s Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte that gets the nod. It’s as nutty an idea as is possible to imagine, and perfect given the play’s setting. No one can sing, one can hardly speak – all are damaged and apparently incapable of any kind of cooperative activity. Young Lewis (‘Jerry’ to Roy’s ‘Martin’) is clearly out of his depth.

Aaron Davison and Benjamin Schostakowski - Photo by Dylan Evans
Aaron Davison and Benjamin Schostakowski

‘Putting on a show’ plays are ready-made for comedy. Typically we are treated to agonising (hysterical) auditions; shambolic (hysterical) rehearsals and, finally, awful (hysterically awful) performances. There are often great one-liners and in-jokes for the theatre crowd so there’s a lot to laugh at. By the way, the little theatre that designer Hugh O’Connor creates in the big room at the Roundhouse is just delightful. Cosi is no different in this regard, but there’s a whole lot more going on.

One of the great strengths of Nowra’s play is its ability not only to make us laugh but also to make us feel the hurt of those we’re laughing at. Cosi also makes plain the importance of so much we take for granted. As we watch the hapless troupe and their director grope and stumble around it’s clear that they are, perhaps for the first time ever, rediscovering what it means to be useful. No longer isolated they come together squabbling, arguing points of view finding a kind of collective wisdom and joy on the fly. Continue reading Review: Cosi – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse Theatre

Conversation with the audience: Sven Swenson (Interview 4)

Photo: Leesa Connelly

I’ve known Sven Swenson and admired his work since 1996, the year his first play Vertigo and the Virginia workshopped for Queensland Theatre Company.  Since then Sven’s completed 15 plays, but he notes there are 33 others “in various stages of disrepair.”  His latest work, The Bitterling premieres next week as the opening production of the inaugural La Boite Indie program; ‘opening’ and ‘inaugural’ – a lot of firsts, and a lot of expectations.  He’s writer and director.

He tells me, “We know we are the indie guinea-pigs, we’re all keenly aware of this.  There is constant dialogue between the participants and La Boite, who are extremely supportive and available.  They have a genuine and profound desire to see good indie theatre develop.”  He goes on, “There’s a real air of excitement right now, and it’s helping us to create at our best.”

I’m glad to catch up with Sven, one of Brisbane’s most prolific and also proudly parochial writers.  I want to know more about the inaugural winner (2002) for Road to the She Devil’s Salon and then finalist (2008) of the prestigious Queensland Premier’s Drama Award.  His play Beautiful Souls was produced Off-Broadway (2007) and also in Los Angeles.  Among other things we talk about beginnings, influences, how he works, and the local theatre scene. He has a few surprises for me along the way. Continue reading Conversation with the audience: Sven Swenson (Interview 4)