***stars

By Shannessy Danswan

Belinda Hanne Reid’s ‘Midsumma’ performance of Love, Rorem consists of a compilation of Ned Rorem’s sexually infused and romantically fuelled diary entries. The 20th century composer’s love affairs and lusty adventures are read by Reid, who deftly intertwines Rorem’s musings with his musical compositions. Essentially a tale of being ‘in love with love’, Reid captures Rorem’s never-ending desire for creative and romantic fulfilment as she emphatically reads his introspections.

A romantic red wash melts over the stage at 45 Downstairs alongside cleverly plotted occasional blackouts used to signify a space or time jump. Coady Green sits at a gorgeous grand piano and proceeds to skilfully manoeuvre his way through Ned Rorem’s elegant compositions. With minimal set pieces and no costume changes, this show flows like an intimate concert or recital. Acknowledging the piece as such, the simplicity of Love, Rorem puts a lot of pressure on its leading lady to enamour her audience. The mezzo-soprano holds herself confidently on stage, which allows for a much-needed representation of a middle-aged woman in Australian theatre to be portrayed (finally!), providing its own kind of sub-narrative in and of itself. In saying this, although I appreciate Reid as a performer and the fact that she has cultivated a very clear connection to Ned Rorem’s extraordinary life, she still somehow feels like an odd choice to have do so.

Whilst Reid is a strong vocalist and Green is undeniably talented, the 60-minute recital finds itself very stagnated by its ‘stand and sing’ approach. Although the pair create a cabaret-like feel by use of separating scene from song, and allowing each ‘bit’ to lead into the next with little effort, every song could have been the exact same to the untrained ear. Perhaps the show was inhibited by the ‘recital’ style, or perhaps the story could have been explored more authentically from a voice closer to that of Rorem’s? Whilst it was wonderful to see a female tackle a gay man’s dialogue, some more context around why she chose to do so would have aided her cause. It did not help that each monologue was very similar to the next, until the end where we learnt about Rorem’s long-term partner and his battle with AIDS, which added some much-needed dynamic to the show. In fact, the main selling point for this piece lies within its positive and powerful exploration of LGBTQIA+ related discourse, which allows Love, Rorem to find itself fitting quite comfortably into the warm and welcoming arms of most Melbourne theatregoers; a notion that would not have been heard of throughout Ned Rorem’s lifetime. In Reid’s creative expression, there is a warm undertone of altruistic alchemy that I am sure Rorem would have been proud to witness.

Love, Rorem has a lot of a potential, and should Reid perform the piece again I would love to see her embody more of who Ned Rorem was instead of purely reading from his diary. This would have encouraged the audience to engage with the sensitive subject matter more intimately, and allow us to see more of who Belinda Reid really is as a performer.

Performances 3/5, Set 5/5, Lighting 5/5, Clothing 5/5, Writing 2/5, Direction 2/5

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