Review: Ode to Nonsense

Ode_To_Nonsense_PortraitPresented by Slingsby and State Opera of SA
Reviewed Friday 26th April 2013

Iinnovative theatre company, Slingsby, has joined forces with State Opera to create a “family opera”, based on the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear (1812-1888) who wrote The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.

The text, by Jane Goldney, combines the humorous writings of Lear and a little of his life story. The opera opens with a young Lear attending a circus and being fascinated by what he sees. We then jump forward to the end of his life when he and his servant, Georgio, return to San Remo. There he is reunited with Gussie, the woman he has secretly been in love with.

Lear’s epilepsy has been linked to his creativity and this work draws on that. His poems are a seizure, taking him from the real world to the Gromboolian Plains, a land of his own creation.

The work features the marvellous music of Quincy Grant. This is played superbly by the Adelaide Art Orchestra under Musical Director, Timothy Sexton. There are also three much-loved Adelaide singers involved – baritone, Nicholas Lester, playing Lear, soprano, Johanna Allen, as Gussie, and tenor Adam Goodburn, as Georgio.

Lester brings a fine air of dignity to the dying Lear. His performance is very sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of Lear’s life. However, he also embraces the other Lear, the nonsense poet who has slipped into his own imaginary domain to mingle with the strange characters that he created.

Allen’s experience in a number of genres, from opera to cabaret, serves her well in the role of Gussie. Her characterisation is that of a gentle person, but not beyond having fun with Lear. Her cheeky sense of humour prevents them from dwelling too much on Lear’s health.

Goodburn gets a chance to play two very different ranges of emotional involvement, as the concerned and supportive manservant, Georgio, caring for his ailing master, and a string of highly comedic interludes. This culminates in him sporting an extravagant costume as “the Turkey who lives on the hill” who marries the owl and cat, when the entire cast sing The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.

Then there is the excellent children’s chorus, including three very clever circus performers: Josh Croal, Lisa Goldsworthy and Dylan Phillips. The young people play characters from Lear’s imagination in excellent costumes and masks by Ailsa Paterson. Larissa McGowan is behind the very effective choreography.

Geoff Cobham designed both set and lighting, using dim, shadowy light for the thoughts in Lear’s mind, where his creations can be seen gradually becoming tangible. The projections, by Cindi Drennan and Illuminart, animate many of Lear’s drawings, especially a stunning display of his brightly coloured illustrations of birds.

The concept and direction are by Andy Packer and, for the most part work well. Although the opera is really suited to adults and older teens. While the opera is in English, it is filled with neologisms and is sung in full operatic style. This means the actors are sometimes drowned out by the orchestra and it is not always easy to distinguish the words.

This is still a worthy effort and some minor adjustment in balance between the orchestra and singers should have had a beneficial effect.

We all need a bit of nonsense in our lives so go along ‘cheeriously’ to catch this production.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Critic, Glam Adelaide

Slingsby web site

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: to Saturday 4th May 2013
Duration: 1hr 10mins
Tickets: $22.50 to $39
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here

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