Ant Franzi (Director)
Given the string of controversies and scandals that have plagued on campus residences over recent years, one could make the case that of all the Daley Road colleges, Ursula Hall least resembles a mental institution. Nevertheless, the 2012 Ursies production of Cosi is as sincere as it is enjoyable, although the overall performance is not without its rough edges.
Set in an Australian mental hospital, Louis Nowra’s play depicts wannabe-director Lewis’ (Matthew Dunn) attempt to stage a production of Mozart’s classic Cosi Fan Tutte with a colourful cast of the hospital’s patients. As the production comes to fruition, the patients – and Lewis himself – all experience a degree of personal change, as vignettes of the rehearsals and the events around them flash before the audience’s eyes.
In a sense, it is perhaps this focus on shorter sequences which proves this production’s undoing at times. With its small size and claustrophobic back-stage area, the ANU Drama Lab is not built for sharp set changes, and this becomes painfully obvious when the between-scenes darkness often lingers on for just a little too long. Of course, once we are the lights come up over the action, the humanity of the play’s characters shine through all the more effectively (with assistance from the Lab’s intimate size), but something of the theatricality of it all is lost nevertheless; little things really do matter in the long run.
But there is humanity, and the characters, though occasionally over-acted, do reach into the audience’s hearts. Radiating from almost all of the patients is a certain endearing quality, and the most mild-mannered of them all, Henry (Luke Powter) and Ruth (Claire Seton), are nothing but lovable – you really just want to give them a hug. The exception to this rule of attraction, of course, is the obligatory theatre narcissist, Roy, whose self-absorbed antics (captured skilfully by Steve Harrison) are enough to make one livid, exactly as the character requires.
Above all else, however, it is Lewis who must tie all of the (literal) insanity together, and Dunn accomplishes his character’s task admirably with a very raw, natural calmness. With that said, Dunn’s predominant interpretation for the character does not necessarily translate well to some of the play’s more intense emotional scenes, although come the finale’s solemnity, this is pleasantly irrelevant.
This is, again, a college production, and so the lack of technical polish is forgivable but unfortunately still present. Nevertheless, Ursula Hall should be proud of having done justice to Nowra’s text, and for having brought it to life with poignancy and delight.