Cosi – Tea Tree Players

Cosi – Tea Tree Players

It is always a pleasant visit to the cutest little theatre in Adelaide, the Tea Tree Players Theatre, where the welcome is warm, the wine reasonably priced and the ambience cosy. The Tea Tree Players have a long and proud history of fine productions, lining the walls with cast photos of previous shows. Tonight’s production of “Cosi” will join them as a proud addition to this fine record of entertaining and well directed shows.

Written around the idea of Mozart’s 1790 Opera “Cosi Fan Tutte”, this play by Australian playwright Louis Nowra is set in 1971 inside an old, burned out hall on the grounds of a Melbourne mental institution. The play premiered at Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre in 1992, and went on the be the basis of the 1996 movie of the same name, earning Australian actor Jackie Weaver an Oscar nomination for her performance as the over-sexed inmate “Cherry”. The oft used theme of “a show about putting on a show” describes the premise that gets a cast of mentally ill (or should I say “neuro-diverse”) individuals together in a room with a fresh-outa-university director and an officious social worker. Along the way we also see a betraying mate getting a smack-in-the-mouth we don’t condone but secretly applaud, and a cheating, whining (ex) girlfriend along with the sweet, fresh love interest, ironically and somewhat poignantly both played by Kahlia Fireride.

This interesting mix of characters is covered well by the cast. The stand out character is Roy, played superbly by Barry Hill OAM. Barry has played Roy before, and it shows. Barry’s version of Roy is annoying, loveable, laughable and tragic all at the same time, just as we might imagine such a tortured soul may well be. Kyle McCarthy as “Lewis” the rookie director offers a solid foundation for the other characters to play off. His role is a challenging one, often in danger of being swamped or upstaged by the other quirky collection. Kyle handles his role well, especially with his dialogue with Roy. Clinton Nitschke plays a menacing “Doug”, the inmate with a “burning desire” to ignite things. As recorded on the theatre’s photo wall, Clinton has played dark menacing characters before. His stage presence ensures he can do “scary” very well.

Two stand out performances deserve a special mention. Alejandra Arbe plays a competent “Ruth”, the bashful pedant who at first divests all her energy into worrying about the number of steps she must take. Alejandra deftly takes this character from hopeless case to one full of promise a hope as she finds fulfilment and purpose in the play. Mike Phillips demonstrated his ability to craft a character we at first have a hard time relating to. Mike brings “Henry” out of his protective screen of withdrawn doubt and into a character with a complex backstory setting his moralistic code. The character is surrounded by lust, infidelity, war and betrayal, yet he personally maintains his integrity throughout. Mike’s development of this character was very well received.

Yet, this play was not well received by some. The strong language and challenging themes displeased a few of the older subscribers who left at interval. While unfortunate, this is definitely not a criticism. Tea Tree Players should be congratulated for staging this challenging and thought provoking play. Director Gigi Jeffers has deftly blended a cacophony of 1970s Australian politics, the Vietnam War moratoriums and the challenging themes of love, betrayal and sex, all within the purview of a 19th Century Italian Opera being performed inside a mental institution.

I guess you just had to be there to witness some talented actors displaying a little bit of insanity. Or in the words of Mozart (allegedly assisted by his contemporary Antonio Salieri), “So do they all”!

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