By Priscilla Issa
The career of Guido Contini, a former star filmmaker with a slew of successful movies to his name, is beginning to take a turn. His most recent releases were bombs. Amidst the mid-life crisis, his marriage appears to be breaking down and his ways with women are no longer serving him. NINE the musical, with its wonderfully rhapsodic score, is given a unique monochromatic treatment by Sydney theatre company, Little Triangle, the colour palette symbolic of the impending “death” of Contini’s career and doom of his marriage.
The musical is set in 1960s Italy. There, Guido (Andy Leonard) struggles to maintain a hold on his once artistic prowess. Instead, he struggles to find the balance between his professional obligations to film contracts he has signed and his personal womanising affairs. Guido does not keep his word – neither in terms of the agreement he has made with his upcoming film’s producer, the many women he courts, let alone his wife. So, in a final attempt to create the next hit movie, Guido’s trip to a Venetian spa results in him using the women in his life as pawns to secure his career. The result… a farcical and unimpressive shot at a film and losing the one woman that stood by his side til now.
NINE, with its one male, majority female cast, pays homage to the modern climate surrounding sexual assault, emotional manipulation and allegations of misogynistic treatment in the global entertainment industry. Specifically, the musical evokes womens’ increasing sense of autonomy and strength to walk away from the psychological or physical abuse of their tormentors.
The production was dominated by a truly talented female cast. Luisa, played by Tayla Jarrett, who is Guido’s wife is so busy looking after her husband’s career plight that she begins to lose sight of her own career as an actress. Jarrett’s performance, particularly her final number “Be On Your Own” is resoundingly heartfelt. She exudes pain and love in every musical phrase. Petronella van Tienen’s role as Claudia is very mature. Her ability to move in and out of her languid upper register and into her sumptuous lower register evokes her character’s desperation to defy Guido’s constant attempts to confine her as his muse.
Sarah Murr, who plays Saraghina – a women with entrancing sexual power – performed what was in this writer’s opinion the standout performance of the night. Listening to Murr’s dark seductive mezzo qualities and ferocious belting was a truly sublime experience. Even though every woman on that stage deserves praise for their incredible performance, Murr’s command of the stage and entrancing demeanour highlights that she is a theatrical force to be reckoned with.
Alexander Andrews’s direction of Guido as a cringey and sorry excuse for a husband and film director, is noteworthy. Andy Leonard’s depiction of the struggling creative and his unhealthy relationship – particularly with his mother – is appropriately uncomfortable. Of particular note are the moments he regresses into his childish self, accompanied by Oscar Langmar. Had Leonard, in scenes as a womaniser, played up his misogynistic and overtly sexual ways, the scenes where he reverts to his nine-year-old overly dependent self would have been far more (and necessarily) uncomfortable. Despite the fact the plot is centred on Guido, Andrews’s choice to situate Leonard on the fringes of the audience away from audience attention in order to prioritise the vocals, movements and control of the female members of cast is clever. It made way for powerful numbers sung by supervisor to the impending production, Stephanie (Katelin Koprivec), Guido’s producer (Michelle Lansdown). Both characters were confident in their abilities as artists and critical of Guido’s philandering ways.
Gone are the days when Maury Yeston and Arthus Kopit’s musical would be treated as just another example from the cannons about the ‘male creative’s mid-life crisis’ (think The Producers). Instead the traditionally luke-warm approach to feminism has been replaced by a valiant attempt to depict the necessity for mothers, wives and co-workers to be treated with respect.
The minimalism of the set as designed by Hayden Rodgers, the feature piece (a large film reel), the black and white costumes, and props all work together to evoke the fragmented and often chaotic monochromatic cinema piece this is. The strobe effects of James Wallis, indicative of a camera flash going off, were the perfect touch.
Madison Lee’s choreography was exceptional, to say the least. “Folies Bergeres” was a jaw-dropping number. The high kicks, the perfectly timed pirouettes, the luscious feathers and the overwhelming sensuality of the ensemble, transported the audience to mid-20th Century Paris.
NINE’s social commentary about the walls of the entertainment industry finally being broken by courageous and inspiring women aids in the continued global fight for rewriting male-centric narratives in favour of equitable treatment of women.
NINE is running at the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre from September 5th – 14th. Be sure to catch this wonderfully flamboyant and thought-provoking production.
Image Credit: Blake Condon
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.