There have been complaints at the scarcity of new Australian works at the Olympic Arts Festival, but there's no shortage of uniquely Australian adaptations of European classics, and none better than "Shine" thesp Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield's gleefully irreverent and delightfully playful treatment of "The Marriage of Figaro."

There have been complaints at the scarcity of new Australian works at the Olympic Arts Festival, but there’s no shortage of uniquely Australian adaptations of European classics, and none better than “Shine” thesp Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield’s gleefully irreverent and delightfully playful treatment of “The Marriage of Figaro.”

This engrossing, good-natured study in hypocrisy, manners, cynicism and intrigue opens with a hilarious prologue about the effect of the Olympics and Australian politics on Sydney. All the cast has fun with a script that encourages self-mocking performances incorporating jokes about the vagaries of translation and playful references to play’s prequel “The Barber of Seville.”

Underneath, however, is plenty of biting, subversive commentary on issues of power, politics and cynicism that have been alive and well in Oz leading up to the Olympics that underwrite this production.

Polish-born Jacek Koman (Figaro), Leah Purcell (Suzanne) and Helen Buday (Countess Almaviva) especially bring a lively feistiness — and occasional craziness — to their characters. Only note of concern is standup comic Alexander Gutman as Count Almaviva. While suitably distanced from the other characters’ capers at his expense, Gutman never quite manages to give anything more than a flat perf, and lacks the dramatic flair to really bounce off the playful characterizations from the other thesps.

Still, Rush and Armfield bring a deft touch to what could have been a pedestrian affair, combining sharp, dark and occasionally existential comedy with insightfulness while maintaining a light and laid-back air that makes the three hours pass pleasantly.

This adventurous production shows that, given proper resources, innovative groups like Armfield’s Company B Belvoir can really bring something new, memorable and unmistakably Australian to classic theater.

The Marriage of Figaro

Sydney Opera House Drama Theater; 544 seats; A$60 ($36) top

Production

A Company B Belvoir and Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival presentation, derived from a Queensland Theater Co. production, of the play in two acts by Beaumarchais, adapted by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush.

Creative

Directed by Armfield. Sets and costumes, Dale Ferguson; lighting, Rory Dempster; music, John Rodgers; sound, Sean Peter. Opened, reviewed Aug. 19, 2000. Running time: 3 HOURS

Cast

Figaro - Jacek Koman Suzanne - Leah Purcell Dr. Bartholo - Peter Whitford Marceline - Carole Skinner Cherubin - John Leary Count Almaviva - Alexander Gutman Bazile - Keith Robinson Countess Almaviva - Helen Buday
With: Meaghan Davies, Peter Rowley, Gary Waddell, Richard Sydenham, Jack Charles.
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