Friday, 26 June 2015

Casanova, Canberra Rep

Just your usual advance notice - this is a rave, so go do the booking thing because I'm going to like this a lot and insist you go. And, bluntly, Canberra audiences are getting a shitty reputation for not supporting newer shows and going to see the same old stuff recycled every four or five years, and if you want to change that, you need to support the good stuff with your dollars.

Anyway. Why is this the good stuff? Well, it starts with the script. You don't often see a wild rollicking adventure on stage, but that's what this is - one man, armed with little more than his wit and his charm, out to make his fortune and find his way through Renaisasance Europe. There's comedy, dance, a duel, and rather a lot of lust along the way - plus a sweet love story and some gentle pathos as the older Casanova looks back on his youth both with enjoyment of what happened and regret for what might have been. Mark Kilmurray has lightly trimmed the 2005 TV mini-series by Doctor Who scribe Russell T. Davies (which aired in the UK a fortnight before the first episode of the Who revival) into a flowing theatrical romp.

Jarrad West's production takes that script and gives it vivid life. Playful, vigorous and ever-flowing, the production draws you in with charming energy, providing great opportunities for the leads and a large ensemble to play out these wild adventures. West also designed the detailed-yet-generous stage design - plenty of decoration but with large open playing spaces for the actors to spread across.

First among the cast are the two men playing old-and-young Casanova. I've not seen Tony Turner give a better performance in about a decade of watching him. He's playful, cynical yet able to turn on dime into a pure expression of the heart, and he's heartbreaking later in the play as regret for the darker sides of his reputation start to overwhelm him. Ben Russell as the younger Casanova (the lack of resemblance between the two actors is a delicious gag) has effortless charm, displaying a keen mind  and enthusiastic wit in true leading-man style.

As the key women in their lives, Steph Roberts and Amy Dunham bring the emotion. Roberts is practically Turner's partner-in-crime in the telling of the story - eager to hear the stories but at the same time not entirely taken in either by some of the more over-the-top details or entirely sure she approves of some of Casanova's bad behaviour (she plays a vital role here, allowing the show to not be just a celebration of Casanova's libertine ways, but to also critique the dangers of not caring for consequences) . Dunham is in more restrained style than I've previously seen her (she has a wild engaging style that's appealed in shows like "Hairspray" and "High Fidelity" which isn't seen here) but she's gorgeous, classy, with still just that touch of mischief that makes her a perfect playmate for Casanova, and makes it heartbreaking when they're unable to be together.

Riley Bell as the young Casanova's servant, Rocco, is a stealthy scene-stealer - somewhat grotty, as impulsive as his master, similarly quick-witted (I'm not entirely sure all his lines are in the script) and simultaneously supportive to his master and trying in vain to recapture him back to some vague level of rationality. Bojana Kos plays two very different phases of Bellino - both as the early arrival to Venice, proper, restrained and falling towards Casanova, and the later phase where excess has taken over and started to rot, and plays them both with aplomb. Chris Zuber as Casanova's snobbish nemesis Grimani is suitably stern, staunch and dangerous, perhaps even more so when Casanova finally unlocks his secret pain.

The ensemble is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar performers, all of whom seize great spotlight moments. Kate Blackhurst and Liz Bradley particularly score as two very-friendly-sisters in a variety of different poses, Geoffrey Borny has both his usual charming gentleness as a patron and friend to Casanova, and produces some alarmingly seedy noises during the later part of the evening (it's unlocked a whole other dimension to Borny, I would love to see him be evil for an evening). Sam Hannan-Morrow shows up all over the place as various threatening, ingratiating, seedy and delightful types (including, at one point, as a nun). Bradley McDowell is delightfully foppish, Kayla Ciceran hits the heart with an emotional speech near the end of the evening, and there's also fine moments from Alice Ferguson, Emily Ridge and Tieg Saldana.

All are costumed by Anne Kay in a clever, gorgeous, beautiful array of outfits - some beautifully in period, some delightfully not-so-much (in particular the pearly-king-and-queen outfits for the London sequence). Lighting by Kelly McGannon is precise, emotive and helps the show's verve and energy immeasurably.

If it teases you in with the promise of lust and sex, Casanova lets you go with a spirit of adventure and excitement. It's a fun, gorgeous production with surprisingly emotional moments combining with wild hilarity to let your eyes, ears and heart feast on an engrossing epic.

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