Songs for Europe

Songs for Europe
Two short plays about Eurovision. Written by John Richards and Lee Zachariah. Directed by Lucas Testro. A Shaolin Punk Production at Broken Mirror, Brunswick. September 19 – 29, 2013 (Thursday to Sunday)

Most Melbourne fringe offerings are interesting; some are good, and occasionally one is excellent. Songs for Europe falls very distinctly into the latter category. Don’t think Fringe at all….just think great theatre. These two short plays, linked together by Eurovision song contests of years gone by, are refeshingly original – the writing is crisp and multi-layered and the performances terrific. Do not be misled by the title.  These are not light, camp, undercooked frippery. John Richards is a hugely talented writer with great depth. He understands character and empathy and totally engages us from the first minute.

 

Fortunately, in the first play – Nothing he has the sublime Marta Kaczmarek as his lead Sonja– a Diva whose greatest claim to fame is that, back some 30 years ago, she scored Nul Points for her performance in Eurovision. Though Sonja has struggled on with a career, she has never lived it down. She failed in front of 150 million people, and that’s not something you recover from. And now a young freelance reporter, Patrick – beautifully and naturally played by Nicholas Colla – wants to dredge the whole story up again. As a revolution wages outside the club, the two form a bond, a closeness which is totally credible in its poignancy. But Patrick is there to serve the Sonja story, and Mr Colla does that perfectly.

Marta, a wonderful actress whose thick accent might be a drawback in some plays but is a huge asset here, gives Sonja so many facets and so much truth that you feel as if you have been a part of this woman’s life forever. She is both proud and defiant and hurt and beaten. She’s also funny, as is the play, so you laugh while being moved to tears. It’s a stunning performance, and you cannot help but be touched. Despite her vanity you sense she has no fear of the revolutionaries outside, and in fact wouldn’t care if they put an end to her life as she goes through the motions. Yet every now and then she gives Patrick, and us, glimpses of what it meant to be a star…to be SOMETHING…not nothing. Some audience member remarked that she looked like Ethel Merman but acted like Meryl Streep. It’s a good analogy….this performance is of the same calibre we’d expect from Streep but don’t expect in an upstairs studio theatre. Absolutely marvellous.

 

The second play, Carnation Revolution, written with Lee Zachariah, takes us to Portugal in the 1970s, where three revolutionaries wait in a bar for the signal that the revolution is starting. The signal is a radio DJ playing a popular singer’s Eurovision song. But the DJ also plays the same singer’s new single….which confuses the revolutionaries… “it’s the signal…no it’s the single, the single is not the signal.” It’s delicious stuff with a tense undercurrent throughout. Jack Beeby has a small part as the club owner in the first play, but here, as the nervous, dorky, would-be revolutionary Carlos, he steals the play, like some Portugese Frank Spencer. Angus Brown (Alejandro) and Chris Broadstock (Diego) both have great stage presence and are compelling to watch. Noah Moon (Braulio) and Petra Elliott (Eva) give fine support. In truth there isn’t a single weakness in casting in either play.

Director Lucas Testro, best known to us for his television directing, does an excellent job with both plays, adding nuances and subtext that could easily have been overlooked. He handles his actors beautifully and draws the very best from their performances. The design and technical achievements on a miniscule budget are of a high standard. But the night belongs to Marta – and, though this deserves to be in better known venue like Chapel off Chapel (they would be a perfect fit) you should consider this an absolute must see of the Fringe.

Coral Drouyn

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