Impulse Reviews

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


SX News March 2004


Oedipus the King 2003 – Sydney Morning Herald Review.

oedipusSophocles’s play, circa 430 BC, is the tragic masterpiece of what survives of ancient Greek theatre. Yet it’s not a masterpiece based on narrative surprise, then or now. It’s crucial to understand that the original Athenian audience knew every twist and turn of the story.

It explains why the blind seer Tiresias, the first major character we meet after the king, explicitly tells Oedipus what’s going to happen: “father killer, and father supplanter” he calls him, and predicts that “he that came seeing, blind shall he go”.

Oedipus spends the play gradually proving Tiresias right. It’s an uncannily odd prefiguring of the detective story genre: the king assembling the evidence that proves his own guilt. All the predicted oracular actions have occurred – Oedipus’s narrative is about his discovery that, despite everyone’s efforts, he has fulfilled the prophecy.

Even the chorus are given to occasional flights of optimism: it’s only the audience that can appreciate the full arc of this tragedy, who understand the irony of its character’s statements and can appreciate the inherent self-deceptions and find catharsis in the moment when Oedipus finally understands what we’ve known all along.

This version, directed by Stephen Wallace, is billed as a “Grotowski workshop”, in regards to the late Polish director’s style. Audiences are welcome to turn up an hour early to watch the cast warm up. Often productions dedicated to a particular performance style can use the text as an excuse for stylistic pyrotechnics and barren “look at me” performance athletics.

Fortunately, this is not the case here. Much guff has been opined about the revered Jerzy Grotowski but his key concerns were about simplicity (stripping away everything non-essential), the centrality of the actor to the creation of meaning, and ritualistic, essentialist physicality.

The production is certainly an example of the poor theatre – there are no set, almost no props and very simple costuming. The Grotowski influence also shows in its careful but subtle physicality, an economy of character-identifying gesture and simple but affecting grouping of performers.

It’s a crystal-clear version of E.F Watling’s venerable but sturdily functional translation. Graeme Rhodes’s Oedipus is very good, a quick-witted and haughtily aggressive version of a king who would have been much better off if he wasn’t so quick to anger. Aimee Moffatt’s Jocasta, Mark Newsam’s Tiresias and Caroline Downs’s Shepherd are also strong.

It’s arguable the deep taboos of the play have sadly lost their ability to arouse visceral shock. Patricide barely makes the news these days and American TV talk shows happily put on shows about incest.

Still, there’s some levelling venom in Sophocles yet: “Then learn that mortal man must always look to his ending. And none can be called happy until that day when he carries his happiness down to the grave in peace.”

You can run from fate, but you can’t hide.

By Stephen Dunne
July 16 2003

Stolen in Short and Sweet

Sydney Morning Herald


From an article in the ‘The Australian’ March 13th 2006 by John McCallum

Samara Herschs Stolen was a powerful monologue, performed strongly and movingly by Majella O’Shea, in which a disturbed young woman who steals things from shops moves on to steal a baby. She knows she is “simple” but she has a great yearning for connection. In a series of well-crafted revelations we learn about her terrible past.