It’s hot. My iPhone weather app tells me it’s twenty-three degrees, but it feels like forty. In the corner, a standing fan provides a gentle breeze, trying its very best to cool down the 20+ bodies in attendance at this rehearsal. I’m at the fourth last full run of Fab Nobs’ A Little Night Music before production week hits, and I’m losing concentration on my feature-writing duties. Not because of the stifling heat, but because the performance in front of me is so damn good.
A Little Night Music is one of Sondheim’s most beautifully constructed masterpieces. It is often forgotten, however, amongst his wide repertoire of murderous Todds, mysterious woods and various other compositions of rhythmic complexity. How, then, does one distinguish it? Director Nicholas Kong provides an answer; ‘I think out of all of Sondheim’s work, it is the one that is most accessible. It deals with an emotion all of us are familiar with; love.’
Now, you may not know the story from cover to cover, but think a bit, and you’ll find you know a little about the show already. It’s starred some pretty famous ladies in the past, Opera Australia presented it not so long ago and, ah yes, it contains that all too famous ditty Send In The Clowns.
A Little Night Story . . .
Set in Sweden at the turn of the century, it involves a virginal bride, a former mistress and some rekindled romance. Add a sensuous maid, a pretentious Count, a son in love with said virginal bride, some wry humour and an old lady who owns a lavish house in the country and there you have A Little Night Music. Now, I’m not going to spoil the story by giving away too many plot points. Rather, that is what this here link is for.
The Glamourous Life . . . of creating a show (sets and all) . . .
A Little Night Music is usually staged with no spared expense. It invites lavish costumes and grand, sumptuous sets. How then, will a humble factory in Bayswater perform such an epic feat? Assistant Director Hamish Anderson enlightened me, speaking of how they set out to create the time period in ‘a space that [is] not conventional . . . subtleties [were] important’. The idea was to strip back the show to its essential thematic material. They endeavored to create a space that invited the audience to imagine and feel the time and place, rather than provide them with a literal translation, in terms of giant sets and epic scenery.
As I foray through the costumes and pick my way through the props, I am transported immediately to the time period intended. Costumes, set pieces and props were chosen for their ‘detail and points of interest’. The audience are so close to the stage in the factory, that it was important to choose ‘glamorous and beautiful pieces, that didn’t seem outdated. . .'. Anderson also mentioned how they aimed to source 'things that were unique and different – attention to detail was paramount.’
President of Fab Nobs, Leane Gooding has only praise for the way in which Kong and Anderson have approached the design of this production. ‘I think the set is amazing, and [Anderson] has done an amazing job with the costumes . . . so much research. Obviously it can’t be huge and it can’t be elaborate for our small stage. . . but I think they’ve done a really good job.’
This is Kong’s first directorial project, but he is no stranger to the art of theatre, having been involved in it for most of his life. He discovered Sondheim at age 13, and after forming an obsession with A Little Night Music, vowed one day to bring it to life. So much time and heart has gone into his vision for the show, adapting what is so often produced with extravagance into an ‘intimate chamber piece’. Along with the periodic references in simplistic, minimalist sets, Kong dreamed that the full orchestra score be reduced to a string quartet. Enter Lucy O’Brien, musical directress extraordinaire, who took on the challenge and ‘reorchestrated most of the score’ with a little help from some clever musical contacts.
This show looks stunning, and the cast sound beautiful. Kong, Anderson and O’Brien have banded together to create a production that will be a visual, aural and heartfelt treat for the Fab Nobs' audience. On what the audience should look forward to, Kong remarks ‘A Little Night Music is a love story. That’s what we as a production team have striven to bring to the forefront of the piece’
Send In the Cast . . .
As mentioned above, I got a glimpse of this talented bunch and was considerably impressed. What most amazed me, however, was how the ladies managed to swan about in their rehearsal corsets in the searing heat of the factory. Elegant and poised, they executed lines and caressed lyrical phrases exquisitely. The gentlemen too, though un-corseted and free to stride about in casual pants, exuded turn of the century grandeur. And just who are these ladies and gents? Well, I present you now with the cast, and some of their thoughts on the characters and the show;
Julia Sutherland plays Desiree Armfeldt, a ‘multifaceted woman . . . with a caustic wit and a large heart’. Sutherland is relishing 'scratching the surface' of this unique woman and finding the intricacies of her personality.
Zak Brown plays Fredrik Egerman, a character who he describes as ‘dealing with the conflict of what he feels in his heart and the ideal in his mind’, a character that has much to sink his dramatic teeth into.
Jennie Kellaway brings to life Madam Armfeldt. Reflecting on her character, she describes the Madam as a woman with ‘a wry sense of humor who loves to cause a drama. . . a lovely part to play!’. Kellaway is thrilled to be back at Fab Nobs, this time in the new factory. 'I've worked with most of the people in the cast before . . . it's lovely renewing acquaintances. It's wonderful being here at Fab Nobs.'
Lauren McCormack plays Anne Egerman, a young girl encompassing ‘naievity and innocence’. As I interview her, Lauren is full of spark and describes her growing anticipation for the shows opening; 'I'm really excited, I think it's going to end up being a really lovely show'.
Jack van Staveren appears as Henrik, a boy with ‘an overly strong sense of morality’ who does the best he can with the ‘ridiculous situation’ he is in. Van Staveren recently saw the show on Broadway, and has drawn upon what he observed in that production to create Henrik. 'I thought the guy who played [Henrik] was great. . . I remember watching him . . it's something to aspire to'
Johnathan Guthrie-Jones plays Count Magnus, who according to Guthrie-Jones is a ‘horrid person . . . everything in life one should not be. The most extraordinary ego-maniac’. A last minute addition to the cast (in what was a save-the-day kind of affair for everyone), Guthrie-Jones has made a stellar effort, learning and perfecting those last minute lines in the file room at work at any available chance.
Lizzie Matjacic gives life to Charlotte, wife of the Count. Lizzie mentions that Charlotte has ‘the most wonderful one-liners’ and brings to the story a ‘reflection of the women of the day’. Lizzie speaks of her adoration for the attention to detail which has been put into this production, '[Kong] has such a clear image of what he wants for the show, the love he has for the show really comes through'
Yasmin Ismail portrays the ‘very prim and proper’ Fredrika, daughter of Desiree. This type of character is one Ismail has not yet embodied, but has delighted throwing herself into with the help of a supportive cast who have taught her much about the craft of theatre.
Kate Barnett plays Petra, the character a ‘little less straight laced than the others, she provides . . the passion and fun’. Barnett has drawn on various interpretations of the role to build her own unique Petra for the Fab Nobs stage.
We then have Sam McPartlan as Frid, who gets to have a bit of fun with the sensual Petra, and then a delightful assortment of maids and butlers. These are animated by Michael Butler, Scott Dundson, Rachel Juhasz, Karlie Gooding and Rachael Conway. Juhasz, who mentions ALNM as being a ' very different show to what [she is] used to', reveals she's drawing on the articulate finesse of Julie Andrews to find her inner maid. Conway is taking inspirational cues from Austen's Pride and Prejudice and, of Kong and Andersons simplistic set, she says 'it's almost a commentary in itself'. Dundson loves getting stuck into the chamber ensemble singing provided by the score, and Gooding does too; 'I love being part of the singers, it's quite a close group . . . it's all a fantastic challenge, the music is awesome'. On talking to all these delightful thespians, it is clear they have bonded together in their Night Music collective experience. The answer given when asked, ‘What do you enjoy most about the show?’ elicited the same two words from each, ‘The cast’.
A Little Night Music will be playing from the 4th to the 19th of November at the Fab Factory in Bayswater. You can book online or over the phone by calling Anne (not Egerman) on 0401 018 846 to book your tickets.