Cosi – King’s Head Theatre, London

Writer: Louis Nowra (aka Mark Doyle)
Director: Wayne Harrison
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

Cosiis set in an Australian psychiatric hospital during the late 1960s when the Vietnam war was raging and the population of the country was beginning to regret the country’s involvement in it. This black comedy is the story of a social experiment, the engagement of some of the patients in a production of Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte. This ambitious idea is pursued with alacrity by some of the protagonists but with less enthusiasm by others. There is even a move to perform some Brecht instead or, if it must be a musical, Hair. The result is predictably tragi-comic. Predictable but effective.

The first half is concerned with the introduction of the various characters, patients with their individual problems, which include pyromania, drug addiction and murderous intent, together with well-meaning staff and social workers. It is often quite difficult to distinguish which is which, as they engage a professional director who, having auditioned the volunteers, realises that they are a pretty hopeless bunch when it comes to singing opera. The only member of the cast with any pretensions to musical ability is a pianist who insists that the show should be introduced by his playing a Wagnerian overture on his piano-accordion.

Faye Bradley has designed a set to be viewed almost entirely in the round. It is sparingly furnished with just a rickety dais for a stage in front of what passes for a piano. Along with a tea trolley and a few plastic milk crates, a meagre institution is suggested. By the end of the first half, all is still in a state of confusion and the seats are becoming a little hard.

After the interval, the mood changes. To recorded music, the province of Philip Matejtschuk, the “performance” takes shape and as it does so, the tales of infidelity and broken trust are played out in real life. Some lives are changed by the experience and some are not.

A particularly admirable aspect of the evening’s entertainment is the clarity of the performers delivery. Every word as clear as a bell and in Australian accents presumably coached by their native-born Director. A light-hearted look at a serious subject, and a clever theatrical ploy, to put this spoof on in conjunction with a “proper” staging of the opera it apes.

Runs until 23 April 2016, alternating with Cosi fan Tutte | Image:Andreas Grieger


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