English Eccentrics: An Opera

English Eccentrics

English Eccentrics Rating

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Eccentricism is, by definition, “an unusual or odd behaviour on the part of an individual”. The Victorian Opera offers a memorable exposé of 19th-century characters of British Society who are precisely that, making for a display that is both amusing and thought-provoking.

The two-part Operatic spectacle by Sydney-born Malcome Williamson elaborately expresses over twenty characters based on the 1933 book ‘The English Eccentrics’ by Edith Sitwell. The Victorian Opera Company dazzled audiences with its interpretation of the work at Melbourne University’s Union Theatre.

Opening with ‘Goose Weather’, the company presents its first parade of peculiar characters. Most memorable include Lord Petersham and his hysterical affections for ‘snuff’, the portrayal of dirty Lady Lewson who refuses a bath, and Lord Rokeby, who comically challenges her hygiene merits with his bath brush.

The poignant true story of Sarah Whitehead later follows and is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Act I, performed by the technically exquisite Michaela Cadwgan. Cadwgan surfaces the real-life struggles of women in old British society with her illustration of the once affluent Sarah Whitehead, who was driven insane after her brother was hanged for financial fraud, leaving her destitute. Miss Whitehead becomes a weary-eyed ghost-like figure, holding the audience in condolence as snow-like confetti falls to the stage, closing Act I.

In Act II, the audience was charmed particularly by Henry Shaw’s portrayal of Philip Thicknesse, a confessed hermit, and later the dazzling Princess Caraboo, played by Alessia Pintabona, a mysterious foreigner assumed to be a Princess of an exotic land. Act II offered light-hearted and well-rounded revelations of characters, which seemed to become gradually more bizarre as the show progressed.

The performance of Beau Brummel, a madman in decline, was captivating, soul-stirring, and deeply moving. Douglas Kelly’s cosmic tonal quality closed the opera, and he sang “I owe nothing…nothing” as he symbolically walked toward the light, leaving the audience in a sudden state of teary-eyed awe.

‘English Eccentrics’ by The Victorian Opera showcased the immense technical standards of the company and its leading performers and simultaneously proved their theatrical and comedic merits. The impeccable precision of The Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra made for a thoughtful and well-supported overall performance.

Directed by Stuart Maunder, ‘English Eccentrics’ portrays stories and characters of considerable absurdity, performed by a talented cast with commitment, ever-amusing wit and excellence.

In performing work with such little recorded material available for viewing at one’s leisure, The Victorian Opera Company offers a rare opportunity to see a fine production performed with distinction and character.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Shrapnel Rating

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‘Shrapnel’, performed by Natalie Gamsu at Fortyfive Downstairs, is a distinctly charming recital depicting Gamsu’s life from being a young Jewish girl living in Namibia to performing in underground cabaret venues in Johannesburg to her life in Australia. Written by Natalie Gamsu and Ash Flanders and directed by Stephen Niccolazoo, the show is tastefully pertinent and yet totally unique.

The show runs a little over two hours without intermission, as Gamsu pulls the audience through a series of personal chronicles, beginning with her experience as a young Jewish girl dreaming to break free from the humdrum reality of her parents and the restrictive culture she was raised in.

In her opening ballad, Gamsu sets the scene – she is a hopeful young woman pursuing the world and all its wonders. The audience warms to Gamsu as she connects with every pair of eyes in the auditorium, one by one, before amusing the audience with tales of her love for exoticism through animated dialogue.

Gamsu bravely dives head first into describing experiences in matters often unspoken and outlawed as taboo. Her performance evocatively retells deeply personal experiences involving struggles with negative body image, her journey navigating a neurological health condition, and serious contemplations of suicide.

She recalls her experience being the daughter of a white Jewish family during South African apartheid, her love and loss of the black servants who raised her, and the diabolical persecution she witnessed within her community. Gamsu brings authenticity to her stories, which are so painstakingly well-written and delivered with a unique wit, allowing her audience to relax into her two-hour-long recital fully.

‘Shrapnel’ is performed in a way that dignifies Gamsu’s deepest secrets and induces the audience into bursts of laughter through a series of self-deprecating anecdotes and colourful descriptions of her favourite influential figures. Among the most memorable of these are her peculiar first casting agent in Cape Town and the eccentric directors of a cabaret club in Johannesburg.

As the recital nears a close, Gamsu describes a fond, long-awaited love from her mother amid her battle with dementia before closing her performance with ‘A Song For You’, affording herself a well-deserved and heart-felt standing ovation.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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