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The Lost Echo.

(SYDNEY THEATER; 850 SEATS; A$69 ($52) TOP)

SYDNEY A Sydney Theater Co. presentation of a play with music in four acts based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, conceived by Barrie Kosky and translated by Tom Wright. Directed by Kosky. Choreography, Lisa O'Dea. Set, Kosky and Ralph Myers; costumes, Alice Babidge; lighting, Damien Cooper; musical director, Kosky; sound, Max Lyandvert; production stage manager, John Reid. Opened, reviewed Sept. 9, 2006. Running time: 8 HOURS.

With: STC Actors Company, Paul Capsis, drama students of National Institute of Dramatic Arts.

Barrie Kosky is renowned for infusing classics with D sex and gore, madness and mayhem, and his first production in Oz after five years in Europe delivers as expected. Which is not to say Kosky hasn't matured as an artist during his time away. In scale (it runs eight hours in two parts) and ambition (it features 35 players, music from Cole Porter, Schubert and Muller and 1970s Britpop act the Nolan Sisters, among others) "The Lost Echo" is a gargantuan achievement.

One just can't help wondering if a tighter package might have been just as good, or better. Eight hours is a big commitment from the audience, but it's a commitment Kosky matches himself, sitting at a piano in the pit throughout, accompanying and occasionally interacting with his players.

Adapted by Tom Wright and Kosky, "Echo" is inspired by 12 tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses, unfolding as 12 interlinked chapters.

Act one opens with thesp John Gaden on a park bench as a recurring Teiresias, the blind witness to what might be Kosky's greatest theatrical achievement, "The Song of Phaeton." A rollicking, explosive, multilayered romp that employs a maddening jump-cut style and Baz Luhrmann-esque musical mash-ups somehow achieves thematic coherence.

Peter Carroll as Jove wants to seduce Callisto and disguises himself as Diana (Paul Capsis) to do so. One of numerous thesps cast against gender, Capsis has a huge following in Australia as a female impersonator/cabaret performer; he makes a stunning Diana, well matched by Amber McMahon's Callisto.

Kosky's relentless portrayal of explicit sexuality is designed to confront the audience, but it's also sometimes bewildering. Early in act one, Teiresias is joined onstage by a handful of stiff marching kewpie dolls sporting yellow wigs and huge bloodied phalluses. When Teiresias urinates a broad are from his bench, the dolls, like lapping dogs, attempt to drink.

Elsewhere, a woman performs oral sex before gagging on white foam; Callisto is sacrificed naked at the end of act one; gangs of schoolkids take boisterous turns around the stage, "West Side Story"-style, to the tunes of Noel Coward, Porter, Jerome Kern and Puccini.

Among numerous standout comic perfs is Deborah Mailman's Satirino, played as an uncouth schoolboy, and Pamela Rabe's Juno as a statuesque goth.

Act two brings a distinct change of mood and gear, with a greater use of narrated storytelling. For the withering "Song of Mestra," sisters Procne (McMahon) and Philomela (Mailman) describe verbally and with sign language the harrowing tale of Philomela's abduction and rape.

Act three, "The Song of the Bacchus," is more old-school Kosky--confined, constricted and hard going. The tale, set in a "Trainspotting"-type men's toilet, is imposing and grim as hell.

Act four is "The Song of Orpheus," accompanied by Schubert's "Die Winterreise" (The Winter Journey). The whole company is onstage, interacting in slow motion but singing in real time a melancholic opera that eventually erupts into dance. In this haunting crescendo, Carroll is weighed down with lament, but the act is not without joy and matches act one in visual appeal.

There is some repetition over the eight hours, and Kosky is prone to throwing non sequiturs at the audience. Also, his fondness for undermining songs with atonal or breathless delivery sometimes grates.

Nevertheless, this is the bold, visceral work Kosky has always promised, and Sydney Theater Company has given him the time and money to pull it off.
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Author:Boland, Michaela
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Theater review
Date:Sep 25, 2006
Words:651
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