Impulse Theatre Production of Cosi by Louis Nowra 2006 -Sydney Stage E-Magazine Review.


Louis Nowra’s much-loved Cosi deliriously comes to life reminding us why it’s so wonderfully invigorating to be mad! This semi-autobiographical Australian classic, set in 1971 during the increasing protests against the Vietnam War, unravels in a dilapidated warehouse set within the compound of an asylum in Melbourne. Lewis, a university student and social idealist, naively decides to direct a group of patients in a Brechtian play, as part of the institution’s new therapy programme. His plan soon disintegrates as the ringleader of the patients, the eccentric and dominating Roy, has his own ambitious agenda of performing Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte and what’s more, in Italian! With Lewis juggling between each of the patients’ idiosyncrasies, negotiating with Roy’s extravagant operatic dream, and convincing his flatmate and girlfriend that he himself hasn’t gone mad, Lewis has his work cut out for him.

It’s no wonder that Cosi became a literary landmark and a vital part of the local academic curriculum. Its provocative themes of insanity, reality, illusion, violence, politics and love are beautifully related through the endearing and colourful characters of the patients and the transformative journey that Lewis embarks on. Impulse Theatre has passionately tackled Nowra’s text in what is an energetic, hilarious, well-performed and truly loveable production.

Graeme Rhodes’ brilliantly lively performance of the mad screwball Roy personified a genuine love for the character. Enraptured by Roy’s explosive and unpredictable tendencies, Rhodes added a spring to his step, threw in a couple of sly winks and a cheeky tongue click after satisfactorily arguing a point. Rhodes in essence became Roy. Equally effortlessly immersed in character was catatonic Henry performed by Greg Bull. With hunched shoulders, a guarded and anxious disposition with a fondness for toy soldiers, Bull succinctly conveyed Henry’s innocence while hinting at his explosive edge, which when erupted, had all at a standstill.

Design in terms of set and costume also greatly contributed to make this world so rich. The turbulent 70’s came to life with flaired trousers, platform shoes, vests and denim, with each costume also evocative of each of the character’s peculiarities. Obsessive compulsive Ruth was appropriately donned in a high-neck shift dress with hair pulled back with a matching Alice band. Roy’s zany character became even more believable with his trousers made a couple of inches too short.

With only one location, the production was able to afford a detailed set. The formerly burnt warehouse came to life with its blackened walls, bric-a-brac furniture and assortment of random objects including a dressmaker’s mannequin. The staging for the performance of the opera then cleverly unfolds when a framework is wheeled out of the background for a swift and slick transition.

There is an element of feeling like you’re going mad when you watch Cosi, a little like Lewis as he becomes more and more submerged in the lunacy. The irony is of course, it is this very insanity that is the most genuine feeling of all. Unlike the hippie movement of free love and the hypocrisy of Nick’s moral values, it is the blunt, disturbing and open revelations of the patients that speak the most truth. As the patients melodramatically mime the Italian opera with their ridiculously gaudy pantomime costumes, we cannot help but revel in the farce and so we laugh like mad and become as liberated as Lewis.

It is evident that the ensemble cast of Impulse have taken the philosophy of ‘holy acting’ quite seriously. This concept of Jerzy Grotowski acknowledges acting as a transcending experience, claiming that through meditative reflection of one’s character and situation, one would work towards offering their body and mind as a gift to the art of performance. It was indeed a remarkable gift in this case and furthermore, a wonderfully appropriate play to Grotowski’s ideology where moral conflicts present themselves and love prevails through the turmoil… with a bit of madness thrown in for good measure.

Written by Selma Nadarajah
Saturday, 20 May 2006