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Review: Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 at the Eternity Theatre

Review by Olivia Ruggiero


In 19th Century Russia, they wrote letters, so this is not a review but rather a letter, a love letter, to Dave Malloy and the cast, crew and creatives of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 at Darlinghurst Theatre Company.


7 years ago, I sat in Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in an aisle seat in Row H, and 2 and a half hours later I walked out a changed woman, and never saw theatre the same way again. Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 (or “Comet” as it is more affectionately known) may be set in Tolstoy’s Russia, and based on a 70-page splice of an epic, but it’s values, morals and story is one that can be seen as reflective of our own society and the word we live in today – and isn’t that just magic?


Dave Malloy, you created a masterpiece. And I am struggling to find the right word to summarise exactly what it does and how it does it and the affectation it has, but what Darlinghurst Theatre Co. proved last night is that no matter how you costume, direct, design, or play this piece – it’s art and frankly it’s flawless.


There is nothing musically wrong with this intellectually complex, riveting, and versatile score. Malloy writes beautiful music that ranges from soulful piano ballads, quartets, mockeries of Opera and Wagner, techno-pop, and Russian folk. Somehow, in some way, it manages to flow perfectly into a seamless score that can do no wrong. You won’t leave humming the tunes of Comet, you may not even remember how the songs flowed into one another, but you will remember how it made you feel. How it pulsated through you and stayed with you long after you left the theatre. It is sheer musical and orchestral brilliance in the purest form. You can’t understand it, until you witness and experience it.


So, let’s address the genius behind last night’s musical direction – Claire Healy. She deserved her own standing ovation at the end of that show and is probably the most engaging and fearless Musical Director working in Australia right now. She tackled Malloy’s epic with poise and class. Someone snavel her up because she is awesome. She captured all the nuisances and leitmotifs in Malloy’s score, she didn’t try to rewrite the rules, but rather embraced that what she was working with was already amazing enough – so she let the music do the work and used her skills to guide the quadruple threats in her band with great skill. Malloy’s melodies have breathed life into my love of theatre for 7 years and I feel I just got a fresh dose of life listening to Comet’s score under Healy’s direction. Brava.


The theatre has been completely revamped to include a rather impressive catwalk, a round platform, two boxes perched on top of scaffolding (only to be accessed by ladders, which the cast climb with gusto) and a huge disco ball hanging in the middle of the auditorium. There are barely any props, a few chairs used, and the band is in the thick of it all – because they also happen the be the cast. They sing, they dance, they act and then they play their instruments – sometimes they do all 4 of those things in the span of a 2-3 minute song. Impressive is mild. There is no word big enough in the English language to encompass the magnitude and excellence of these humans.


Grace Driscoll plays Natasha’s naivety and vulnerability beautifully and thankfully she can sing the score the way it was intended. With fabulous, sustainable technique she is simply lovely and that is all Natasha should be. Her wide-open, wondering eyes are never dull – she is in the moment. Her rendition of No One Else is sublime. This Comet fanatic approves. In this instant, she is aided by the lighting design of Veronique Benett who uses the disco ball to create the effect of snow falling on a Winter’s night in Moscow, and you are transported into this other world – Natasha’s world.


This isn’t the only moment where Benett gets to show off her talents. The show is loaded with moments of fantastic lighting, sweeping you from drawing rooms, to clubs, to outside, to studies, to opera houses… you don’t leave your seat (unless you are getting up to dance with the cast which is thoroughly encouraged) but you are moving through time and space. Enchanting is the only word for it.


Zoy Frangos might have the most sumptuous voice I have heard in Australian musical theatre in a long time. With rich baritone tones and a tenor range – I’d pay to have him sing any role, any day of the week. He is the perfectly disheveled intellect, who embodies change – a changing world, a man changing, seeing things in a new light. He is vulnerable and fierce and at times a little bit stupid but all the while just wonderfully human. You don’t even question for a minute why the show is named after him, and he seems to do so little in the first act – because no matter how small his role may seem; he has an integral part to play. His rendition of Dust and Ashes moved me to tears, and you could feel the audience holding their breath just aching for more.


Kala Gare is a show stealing Sonya. The perfect Sonya – and thank goodness. Her role carries so much weight. Her talent is 10-fold as she plays multiple instruments, and then dances and then acts and then, oh my goodness, does she sing! With a voice comparable to the brightest of Broadway stars and a belt so thick and luscious and technically sound, she could surely sustain not only 8 but 10 shows a week, this woman is a force. How wonderful to see such an interesting and brilliant woman taking the Australian stage. I want to see more from her.


Jillian O’Dowd and Marissa Saroca were excellent as Marya and Helene respectively. Two very different voices who worked so well with the material and soared to new heights. The costuming of both these characters was particularly excellent (excellent across the board but, these two deserved a shout-out!) Marya with her ridiculous headpiece and Helene in black leather and gauze – what a fabulous take on these roles. Fierce female character, portrayed by fierce performers.

Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hyaward is a fabulous Dolokhov – sexy, poised, arrogant and man, can he dance. When he is on stage it’s hard to take your eyes off him – there is a magnetism there which is undeniable.


It’s lovely to see progression in the role of the casting of the role of Anatole which is achieved with mixed success. I do love the concept of the clarinet being Anatole’s “sword” which sits on his hip in a very cool sling – another win for the costume team behind comet.


P. Tucker Worley and Lillian Hearne certainly have the most fun. Fabulously talented musicians whose rendition of “The Private and Intimate Life of the House” will stay with me for a long time. The choreography by Brenden Yates is astounding across the board. There’s not a single piece of movement that’s not so diligently thought out – but this scene was Yates just showing what he could do with the human body and how clever he can be. All he needs is a chair and a couple of bodies and he can create works of art. What a talent!

Anton Berzin is a fun and lively Balaga. I wanted to get up and party with him – what a riot of a time he’s having and as a result the audience is living for his performance as well.


This production of Comet is masterfully crafted by Dean Drieberg, whom I believe, given what I witnessed last night, has a vivid imagination, incredible vision and as a result should have the most wonderful career ahead of him. I hope he continues to make art like Comet, to see the world in a unique way and to entrance audiences with something that might be different, not necessarily the norm, but is, below the surface so much better than everyday theatre experience.


So, thank you. Thank you, Dave Malloy, Cometeers and the team behind Comet at Darlinghurst Theatre Co. Thank you for creating art. Just, thank you. Here’s to happiness, freedom, and life. May this show continue to shine as bright and brilliant as a Comet streaking across the night sky. You deserve all the success.


Sincerely,

A theatre critic who was just reminded of why she began to love theatre in the first place.


Image Supplied

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