Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jan 11 – 31, 2016
Book and lyrics: Tom Jones
Music: Harvey Schmidt
Director: Helen Dallimore
Cast: Laurence Coy, Martin Crewes, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jonathan Hickey, Garry Scale
Image by Marnya Rothe
Every day everywhere in the Western world, groups of enthusiasts come together to stage intimate productions of well-known musicals. Their shows are invariably minuscule versions of big budget monsters that had found success on Broadway and the West End. Many are able to prove that money has little to do with the enjoyment and appreciation of a great work, but many more reveal the musical format to be heavily reliant on bells and whistles that can only be acquired by exorbitant sums of cash.
There is a meaningful story in The Fantasticks about the nature of life and love, and the value of emotional pain as children grow into adulthood. Along with beautiful songs that stand the test of time, it is no wonder that this 56 year-old piece is being revived for a Sydney season. In the absence of elaborate sets and other visual wizardry, director Helen Dallimore relies on her excellent cast of five to tell a story of young love and its disappointments. Their talent is undeniable, but the performers are often left to their own devices, and we feel an inadequacy resulting from that lack of support. The stage seems to need more action. On this occasion unfortunately, simply having strong actors do their best on a bare (but pretty) stage does not quite cut it.
Music is also extremely minimal, with only Hayden Barltrop on keyboards and Glenn Moorhouse on guitars, but their work is effective. A surprising and delightful consequence of the quiet accompaniment is that the vocals are beautifully prominent, which is not usually the case at this particular auditorium. Sound Designer Jeremy Silver has clearly done an exceptional job for this production. Also wonderful are Bobbie-Jean Henning and Jonathan Hickey who play the teenage love-birds, both committed and compelling, with sensational voices and irresistible charm. The duo is endearing from the start, and believable until the very end, but the show depends too heavily on their magic, and we see them struggle with some of the heavy lifting in concluding scenes.
It must be noted that the controversial number “Rape Ballet” is kept intact. One cannot imagine a song like it to be written today, so the decision for its inclusion is a problematic one. We should not be a society that disallows any subject matter in our art, taboo or otherwise, but sensitive topics need to be treated with extra care. The word “rape” seems to be on the verge of joining an increasingly long list of words that are to be avoided at all costs in the public domain, but art must not abide by this rule of convenience. It is art’s responsibility to unpack the prohibitions of society, and use its ingenuity to present these issues in ways that will mean progress and enlightenment. This instance of the “Rape Ballet” might be offensive to many, but its omission would have been cowardly. A better solution is to invest immense thought and sensitivity into the matter, and whether or not the creators have done sufficiently here, is entirely debatable.