Venue: Odeon Theatre, 57a Queen Street, Norwood
Season: to Sat 11th October various days and times, see the BASS web site for details
Duration: 2hrs 30min incl interval
Tickets: adult $32/conc $27/gropus $22/students 13+ $17/children under 13 $14
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or http://www.bass.net.au/events/enta/ALL2011/ or FeasTIX http://tix.feast.org.au/ticketing/EventDetails.aspx?EventGuid=f6c03789-087a-417f-8747-2a595c67186b
Ex-patriot Adelaide writer, Samuel Adamson's, play is adapted from the 1999 Oscar winning film by director, Pedro Almodóvar. In 2002 Australian producer, Daniel Sparrow, gained the rights to translate the film and develop a stage play and, in 2005, he invited Adamson to write the script. Adamson worked closely with Almodóvar in writing this, the first of his plays to be seen in South Australia, produced by the company with whom he performed before moving to London nearly twenty years ago. This is yet another coup for Independent Theatre and one of the best productions that they have staged.
The mother of the title is Manuela, the mother of Esteban, who is turning eighteen and whom she is taking to the theatre as a birthday present to see the famous actress Huma Rojo who is appearing as Blanche in a production of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. After the performance they wait outside so that Esteban can get her autograph, but Rojo hurries off. He runs after her, is hit by a car and fatally injured.
Before his death he kept a journal in which he wrote about his mother in an effort to come to understand himself and to discover who his father was. Manuela keeps this from him and all of the photographs from the past have been torn, leaving only the sections that show her. With his death she leaves her job as a nurse in a transplant clinic and goes in search of her sons father.
Her first call is to an old mutual friend of her and the elusive father. Agrado, a transvestite prostitute, dresses her as a hooker and takes her to see the nuns, in an effort to find her a job. They meet Sister Rosa, a young nun with an unusual secret, who takes Manuela to her mother in the hope that she will employ Manuela. This idea, however, does not work out.
Eventually Manuela ends up working for Huma Rojo, upsetting Huma's partner, Nina Cruz. She finds out why Huma ran off and tells her about the death of Esteban. Esteban's father, who is now known as Lola, is found and they meet. Manuela tells him about the son that he never knew he had, and she finally gets closure.
Director, Rob Croser, has assembled a terrific cast for this production and he has created a thoroughly absorbing and moving production. No doubt having the writer on hand, visiting Adelaide especially to assist with this production, would have been of great value.
There are several other stories running through this play, and Esteban's spirit is ever present, appearing in physical form to tell his part of the story. Andre Vafiadis gives a sensitive and understanding reading to the role of the young Esteban.
As the central character, Manuela, Bronwen James is truly magnificent, totally immersing herself in her character. Manuela is the link between all of the other characters and relates to each of them differently according to their needs, giving James an opportunity to create a multifaceted character who is faced with a range of challenges by those around her, requiring an emotionally complex set of responses. James brings a completely believable character to the stage.
Nicholas Ely is a show and a half, all on his own, in the role of Agrado, the hooker with a heart of gold. Ely's characterisation provides a nicely balanced mix of flamboyance, bravado and underlying fragility. He takes his character from outrageous to kind, supportive and gentle.
Michaela Burger offers another notable performance as the drug addled Nina Cruz, riddled with insecurities and ill-founded jealousy. Her portrayal is of a brittle, nervous and neurotic young woman that perfectly suits the character.
Kathryn Fisher plays the actress Huma Rojo, Nina's lover, whose career is being affected by their toxic relationship and her insistence that Nina be included in the cast of any play in which she is asked to star. Fisher really comes into her own when, as Rojo, she goes on stage in the role of Blanche, with Nina playing Stella, and Samuel Rogers doing some fine work as Mario del Toro, who plays the role of Stanley. Fisher also gives a strong end to the play with an emotive speech from Lorca's Blood Wedding.
Peta Shannon plays Sister Rosa, giving her character an initial degree of naivety and exuberance that slowly changes into a stoic determination and the revelation of an inner strength as she faces her inevitable future. There are more fine performances from the rest of the large cast, too many to individually discuss, giving a well
Rob Croser and David Roach have come up with a set that depicts part of a proscenium arch on one side with the rest of the stage serving as many other locations, assisted by a few bits of furniture and moveable set and, of course, Matthew Marciniak's lighting. Matt Shannon is responsible for the projection which, intriguingly, includes a slide of the set for Independent Theatre's production of A Streetcar Named Desire from a few years ago. The costumes, by Sandra Davis, look the part and aid the characterisations.
This is another winning production from this talented and enthusiastic team and you should certainly try to get a ticket before it sells out.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.