Since 1997 The opera Project has deconstructed Tristan And Isolde, terrorised Tosca and taken a bite out of The Berlioz, dissecting the various myths and cultural furphies that hold such classic texts together to create something new. It’s opera with a small o to emphasise the Latin meaning, a work, and the results have been frequently challenging and never conventional.

Regina Heilmann, a performer and director who has just been appointed co-artistic director of PACT youth theatre, has appeared in most of the company’s work. She was working with Sidetrack Theatre when she met The opera Project founder Nigel Kellaway, the start of a collaboration that now finds her sitting in a church at Stanmore, chatting about Myra Hindley and the new production Entertaining Paradise.

I think certainly there could be disquiet about the subject matter and it’s certainly not something you could put on in England at all, says Heilmann, whose shyness and reserve seems worlds away from her fearless stage persona. The profile of these two [Hindley and Ian Brady] is still so raw and she in particular is seen as the monster of all monsters because she’s a woman who did these things -¦

There have been various exhibitions around using Myra Hindley’s image and they’ve had to actually remove the paintings because patrons have been appalled at the fact that they’ve been given such status, given such a profile even 40 years down the track.

For those who came in late, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were convicted in 1966 for a series of rapes and murders of shocking brutality. Known as the Moors murders after the discovery of bodies buried in moors north of Manchester, the pair became notorious icons of evil, not least for their callous relishing of their acts in tape recordings and their embrace of Nazism. Entertaining Paradise, Heilmann stresses, uses the Rainer Werner Fassbinder play Preparadise Sorry Now as a starting point, and is not necessarily all about the folie ?eux.

It’s not like we’re doing a psychological analysis of what it is to behave in a monstrous way, explains Heilmann. I think Fassbinder’s writing at the time, when it was in the news, had that spark that he wanted to hook his work [on]. Even though Nazism is officially over and we can move on and sweep all this stuff under the carpet, what he was seeing in his day-to-day life were the little fascisms that were still present, especially in the small-town mentality -¦

That’s the kernel, but it actually speaks more about greater issues, like xenophobia and homophobia and cultural difference.

The cast certainly offers these possibilities, with Kellaway and Heilmann joined by counter-tenor Peretta Anggerek and improvising impresario Andrew Morrish. They’re all wearing school uniforms throughout the series of vignettes, with Anggerek offering his particular form of magic.

Sitting in rehearsal -¦ what strikes me is the amazing, exquisite beauty of Peretta’s voice, and the absolute height that human beings can achieve, the potential of human beings. And at the absolute other end of the spectrum, where people can behave in a way that is so inhumane and so cruel and so fearful.

 

Entertaining Paradise runs from 19 to 27 April at The Performance Space, 199 Cleveland Street, Redfern. Phone 9698 7235 for bookings. Tickets are $16 and $10, with all tickets $10 for the performance on Wednesday 24 April.

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