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.