Theatre Review: Symphonie Of The Bicycle

It’s a winner!

It’s a winner!

Presented by: State Theatre Company South Australia, presenting Brink Productions’ show
Reviewed: 14 May, 2024

In less than 90 minutes, Hew Parham tells us about Karl Freiherr von Dreis’ invention of the bicycle (and the invention’s volcanic raison d’être), the two Frenchmen who together thought up the idea of the Tour de France, andhow to teach a Millennial to use a laundromat. He introduces us to Gavin Chestnut, the Prince of the Pedal, a cliché-encrusted motivation guru. (I, for one, will never forget The Piñata of Pain.) We get to meet World War II champion cyclist Gino Bartali, winner of the Giro d’Italia in 1936 and 1937, and the Tour de France in 1938. Also present in this bicycle bonanza is professional cyclist Jake, Hew’s childhood friend, against whom Hew still nurses a simmering grudge. This is a very crowded one-man show. 

Written by Parham himself, it’s a brisk, bright patchwork script of ideas and feelings which have been skilfully woven into a satisfying set of stories with not one flat moment. With Chris Drummond listed as both Director and Dramaturg and Caleb Lewis cited as Dramaturg, it is likely that the collaborative wit and wisdom of these three fine theatrical people have honed the text into its current glittering state. The first-night audience laughed, cheered and engaged much more robustly than most Adelaide first-nighters are wont to do. A crackling script performed by a skilled actor and physical theatre practitioner proved the right recipe for success.

Parham‘s mastery of body nuance lies at the base of each character he plays. His physicality is exact; it is evidence of careful observation and years of acting and Pochinko clowning training. His vocal work is excellent; in this he has been aided by  Vocal Coach Anna McCrossin-Owen. Accents are well observed while never obscuring vocal clarity. Parham’s mesmerising ability to shift from character to character using only face, body and voice, makes this work eminently watchable.

Set, costume and lighting design are all from the design skill of Wendy Todd.  Her set is spare, functional and dramatically lit.  Lighting helps the storytelling along throughout the piece.  The floor-mounted transverse lights are especially effective. Composer and Sound Designer Will Spartalis enables quicksilver mood shifts, enhances quietly introspective moments and builds tension whenever required. An appropriate classical-based playlist helps propel the story forwards. Mozart’s Requiem is pressed into service. An elegant soprano rendering of Handel’s Laschia ch’io panga while Hew begs for three bananas to be found for Bartali was just right. 

All of the above observations relate to the current show. However this show was premiered in September 2022. I saw it last January, when it was called Symphonie de la Bicyclette. I really liked it then. Now, a bit of a comparison between what I saw tonight and what I saw last January.  There has been a deal of re-writing, which has served to tighten up the storytelling, sharpen emotional highlights and enable this rapid-fire narration to still be accessible whilst it entertains at a very high level. The lighting design is even better than it used to be – and it was very good indeed when I last saw it. Parham is now completely at ease with his material and his audience.

Finally, Hew Parham’s show has philosophic integrity at its very heart. The last two lines quote unassuming Italian cycling champion and resistance hero Gino Bartali: “Good is not something you talk about. Good is something you do. Medals aren’t worn on the chest; they are worn in the soul.”  When we applaud Hew Parham, we also applaud that honourable Italian and all the good that he did. 

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson 

Photo credit: Tracey Leigh

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre 
Season: 14 – 25 May, 2024
Duration: 1 hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Tickets: $75:00 (Concession $65:00)

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