Laughter is the best medicine’ proclaims the subtitle of Cosi, the latest touring show by HIT Productions and Monday Night at St. Martins Theatre certainly proved there was to be no shortage of guffaws, giggles and hearty explosions.
A realist drama set in the 1970’s in Melbourne by Australian playwright Louis Nowra, Cosi explores interactions between a young theatre director and a group of asylum patients who decide to stage the Italian comic opera Cosi Fan Tutte. The play is described as ‘funny, warm and wonderfully mad’ but it can be argued that its highlights are in fact the insights it offers into the lives of those who are no longer considered ‘normal’ by society’s standards.
Don Bridges gave an exceptional peformance as the leading enthusiast Roy, skillfully plunging to the deepest of lows only to soar back again to the highest heights with unquenchable gusto. Fellow patient from C Ward and resident pyromaniac Doug (Jacob Allen) was also a quick favourite with the audience, especially as he spoke volumes with his pelvic region and probed into society’s morals with delicious curiosity.
Honoring the time and setting of the original, the production under the direction of Denis Moore, succeeds in offering a glimpse into the tensions that abounded at the time; the conflict between notions of love and fidelity and the prejudices that accompany a society’s definition of normality. Yet there were other prickly issues that were not sufficiently explored. The notion of a burnt out space, the emotional journey of those ‘outside’ the asylum and the commentary upon the role of social workers and their efforts to bring asylum patients ‘out of their shell’ through theatre are just some of these.
Overall, the very capable cast revealed a gamut of emotion and depth of character. But, for me personally, too few moments, such as those delivered by Henry (Jim Daly), a former lawyer and ‘right wing nut’, were recognized for the truth and pathos that they carried. And while young theatre director Lewis (Michael Wahr) did engage with the conflicting loyalties and his own ideas of what would be the correct way to work with ‘these people’, his lack of stage presence in the first half of the play was decidedly noticeable.
Nevertheless, Cosi is a production that has plenty to offer an audience and has the potential to resonate on multiple levels with people of all ages. With plenty to shout about make sure you also take the time to recognize the truths that are hidden beneath the veneer of colorful comedy and you might just walk away with more than a great night of comic theatre.