Così | Play Review

Lachlan Parry

The year is 2012. I’m in Year Nine at an outer suburban Sydney high school. I’ve chosen drama as one of my electives because I’m that kid. In class we’re looking at the play Così by Louis Nowra as mandatory reading for Australian theatre. I get cast as Roy, I’m thrilled. I go home that night and Puberty Blues is on TV, the entire country falling in love with Sean Keenan as Gary. Life is good.                

Seven years later, Melbourne and Sydney Theatre Company come together to put on Così by Louis Nowra. I am sure I am not the only Vertigo reader who studied Così in Year Nine drama but for those of you who didn’t, it is a story about Lewis—a recently graduated, wannabe theatre director—who takes a job at a mental health facility in Melbourne’s outer-suburbs. Hilarity ensues as the facility’s patients decide to perform Mozart’s famed ‘Cosi fan tutte’ opera, gunning towards opening night of an Italian opera where none of the actors can sing, let alone speak, Italian. Set in the early seventies, the text gives insight into an Australia amidst the Vietnam war and an Australia that still very much stigmatises mental health. 

27 years after Così’s original debut at Belvoir, and the line between what is funny and what is offensive has shifted, but now with a greater understanding of mental health. So while strongly valuing political correctness, each actor shows the fragility and humanity of their illness, which allows the audience to enjoy them. There are clear parallels between the social climate of the show and now, in the way that men talk about women and the shifting political climate, with the show exploring Australia revolting against our involvement in the Vietnam war. 

Sarah Goode’s direction is so exciting to watch. From completely farcical to intimately honest, the show ensures that there is never a dull moment. I felt like I was watching a show and characters that were directed with love, and you can bet that made me there for every moment of the journey. Dale Ferguson’s set design makes a place that is dark and desolate feel like a home, while Jonathan Oxlade’s costume design is perfectly disordered. 

Bessie Holland (Cherry) and Rahel Romahn (Doug) steal the show, with Holland able to reduce the audience to tears with a mere facial expression and Romahn bringing the heat to his explosive character. Roy, played by Robert Menzies, is as camp as Glenn Hazeldine’s Henry is fragile. And of course, Lewis, played by Sean Keenan, is so much more than the boy that Australia (or at least I) fell in love with watching Puberty Blues all those years ago, he has strengthened as a performer and gives a heartfelt and lively performance.

Fourteen-year-old me,would have had such a good time at this show. If you want to have a night of laughs from a play that is a staple in Australian theatre, Così is playing at the Opera House until 14 December. 

Find tickets here.