It’s 1931 in Vienna and the young and naïve Marianne (Hayley McElhinney) is set to wed the dull but reliable Oskar (Steve Le Marquand) who’s the local butcher – problem is, she can’t even bear to kiss him! You see the marriage is the bright idea of her father, Leopold (John Gaden) the local toyshop owner, who plans to marry her off so that he can retire and relax. Ironically, his plan leads to anything and everything but this, when the willful Marianne rebels by falling for the charming but hopeless gambler Alfred (Eden Falk). All manner of hilarious misfortunes ensue as we head into the strange and hilarious world created by Hungarian playwright Odon Von Horvath in Tales From The Vienna Woods.
Firstly, it must be said that it’s truly a treat to see a play with such a large and talented ensemble cast – there’s 20 roles in all which are juggled by The STC Actors Company, and this kind of large scale production is a good fit for them.
The play itself is a frolicking rollicking romp that’s like having a few too many schnapps and waking up in someone’s chalet with the cast of The Sound of Music all trying to get into each other’s pants. There’s German sausage jokes galore and plenty of foul-mouthed but good spirited profanity – and a bit of nudity thrown in for good measure.
Hayley McElhinney and Eden Falk are delightful as the lovers thrown together by fate – who it seems has an extremely wicked sense of humour. Deborah Mailman is gutsy and immensely entertaining as the man-eating Valerie and John Gaden’s Leopold reminds us that you’re never to old to get frisky with a young filly in the woods.
Horvath’s interest in dialect and language is wonderfully captured in Tom Wright’s adaptation. He’s cleverly found modern day counterparts for the German colloquialisms that don’t jar with a contemporary audience. Director Jean-Pierre Mignon has delivered a play with an intriguing and unpredictable flow that captivates with it’s visual gags and witty one liners delivered with snappy aplomb.
The set has to be seen to be believed. It’s been designed by Andrew Hays and Kimm Kovac, who together have created monumental stages for Opera Australia, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Chicago Opera Theatre. It’s truly a versatile mechanical wonder, as it miraculously transforms from a set of shop fronts, to the Vienna Woods, to a nightclub and back again, all in a matter of seconds.
There’s also plenty of fantastic costume changes (Hays and Kovac again), and character changes in this whirling dervish of a production that is folk morality tale meets cabaret. Oh, and speaking of cabaret! Paul Capsis is brilliant as both the nightclub MC and the mischievous and downright malicious grandma. He’ll literally have you rolling in the aisles.
While this play does have a serious side – it alludes to the impending shadow of the Nazi’s and fascism, who are about to burst into Austria and spoil all these high jinks – the references are subtle and interspersed between some truly amusing shenanigans, so any subtext will probably only be noticed by the more astute historians amongst you.
All in all, it’s a fun night out, that will have you feeling the kind of silly that happens only when you drink too much champagne – just that little too quickly.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
Tales From The Vienna Woods
By Ödön von Horváth
In a new translation by Tom Wright
Venue: Drama Theatre | Sydney Opera House
Previews: 13 – 16 November 2007
Opening Night: 17 November 2007
Season: 19 November – 15 December 2007
Plays: Mondays at 6:30pm, Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8pm
Matinees: Wednesday matinee at 1pm, Saturday matinee at 2pm
Price: $73/ $60 concession Matinee $65/$54 concession
Bookings: (02) 9250 1777
Photo by Tracey Schramm