Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 17 – 27, 2021
Director: Mathew Lee
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Alex Beauman, Cassie Hamilton, Clare Hennessy, Annie Stafford, Nicole Pingon, Chemon Theys, LJ Wilson
Images by Patrick Boland, Julia Robertson
In 1830, French composer Hector Berlioz created Fantastical Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist… in Five Sections, a work from the Romantic period that is now considered seminal in what is known to be the Program music genre. The piece involves obsessive love and morbid fantasies, which the Little Eggs Collective, under the direction of Mathew Lee, extracts to use as central themes in their 45-minute theatrical presentation, named Symphonie Fantastique after the original French. Examined through contemporary eyes, Berlioz is less romantic, and a lot more rapey.
Transformed into a genderless protagonist, the reimagined maestro is frustrated, cowardly, out of control. Grandiose and insufferable, their story is reminiscent of Fellini’s 8½, in which we see an artistic genius trapped inside their own paranoia-filled process, filtering everything they encounter into a self-serving narrative, as though the world has been created in their own image. The play Symphonie Fantastique is virtually wordless, with deconstructed interpretations of Berlioz’s music (by Oliver Shermacher’s inventive and inspired musical direction) forming a foundation, on which the show is built.
The ensemble of eight are called on to dance, act, sing and even to play musical instruments, for a multidisciplinary exploration of the performing arts, that audiences will find captivating, at least on sensorial levels. Director Lee has a tendency to be overly literal with his storytelling, but the unfettered impulse to surprise, makes for an enjoyable experience. Performer LJ Wilson offers a strong portrayal of the lead character; not always detailed with emotions being conveyed, but certainly a magnetic presence. As a team, the eight are tightly rehearsed, and extraordinarily cohesive with the constantly undulating energies they bring to the stage.
Visual concepts are ambitiously concocted, and manufactured, for this Symphonie Fantastique. Costumes, hair and makeup by Aleisa Jelbart are marvellously assembled, with an impressive eye for sophistication and finish. Lighting and set designer Benjamin Brockman’s combination of mirrored surfaces and bold colours, insist on firing up our synapses, for unforgettably transcendent moments that are nothing less than electric.
There is a considerable amount of gender bending in this iteration of Symphonie Fantastique, and if the dissolution of gender parameters is essential in approaching, or perhaps advancing, a feminist theatre, then this production is on the right path. There are conundrums, of course, as is the case whenever we attempt to address problems of a sexual nature, whilst working simultaneously to dismantle old frames of thought. We want to bring justice to victims, yet we wish to deny hierarchical power structures their persistence. Feminism is the key to a future where no one is powerless, but it also presents the greatest challenge, for us to understand our world, without tops and bottoms.