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IN the grounds of an unnamed mental asylum an old theatre lies abandoned, monument to the cloistered communities on which these institutions were built.

But this is the late 1960s and the world outside is encroaching on its walls. The asylum’s patronising social worker has decided he wants a diversion for the patients, so he enlists Lewis, a director straight from university, to mount a production and bring order to the people he supports.

Yet it’s clear from the beginning neither man is driving these proceedings. Six patients are variously cajoled and seduced into taking part. Their unofficial leader, Roy, has a vision: he wants nothing less than a full-costume production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, performed as an opera. That none of the patients can sing – much less understand Italian – only adds to his determination.

One by one the patients confide in Lewis as he begins to see how being institutionalised has dented their personalities. And what an opportunity Cosi might be for them to shine. Trevor Stuart’s ‘Roy’, with his unrelenting standards and savage putdowns, and Jennifer Flowers’ ‘Ruth’, with her obsession for detail, counting every step she walks and learning everyone’s lines, glow brightest.

But this is also a story-within-a-story. Lewis’s production, if ever completed, cannot but help be infused with both opposition to the Vietnam War raging outside, and crumbling certainty as his life is undermined within. While spirit of those times—naivety coupled with a new-found political exuberance—may be unfamiliar to a youthful audience, the machine-gun dialogue and sharply-drawn characterisations kept the entire auditorium laughing for most of the way. By the end, everyone had recognised a little of themselves in the aspirations of those having their moment on the stage.

And what a choice of reflections we’re given. As a playwright, Cowra was influenced by the characters that populated his unconventional upbringing—a mother who meted out theatrical punishments for his shortcomings, and both grandmothers who ended up in asylums like this one—and a life that continually challenged his notions of love, both giving and receiving. His patients are believable. But make no mistake. 45 years on they all still live on somewhere. It’s only the asylum walls that have moved.

Ultimately though, Cosi is about hope. Dare to dream. Follow your passion. Feel love, and see where it leads you. Happy endings have their own special magic. And with this production you’re never quite sure if that’s where it will end. But there’s plenty of possibility along the way to think that it might.

Cosi is showing until March 8 in Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre. DETAILS: Click here

 

 

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