Left - (l-r) Jacob Derwig and Elsie de Brauw. Cover - Hadewych Minis. Photos - Jan Versweyveld
Opening Night in the broadest terms is about a play within a play. It portrays the backstage drama surrounding an opening night and the customary rush to prepare the production for an audience. But as the work unfolds, it reveals a myriad of subtext, complex character relationships and delicate interactions.
Toneelgroep Amsterdam in collaboration with NT Gent and director Ivo van Hove have created an impressive theatrical and logistical feat. Opening Night expands the imaginative and physical space of the performance, extending the action into the backstage of the Arts Centre as well as out into the auditorium.
Opening Night tells the story of Myrtle Gordon (played by the wonderful Elsie de Brauw) an aging actress cast in a play called The Second Woman. A few days before the play opens, a young fan Nancy (Hadewych Minis) is killed in an accident outside the theatre. Myrtle is plagued by the fan’s death and starts to emotionally and physically unravel as she starts to come to terms with her own aging body, fading career and inevitable mortality.
Based on the movie of the same name by director John Cassavetes, Opening Night successfully incorporates multimedia elements - namely the filming and projecting of close-ups of the cast live onstage. This device lent a unique dynamic to the work, so it seemed all at once cinematic and theatrical, with overtones of a television soap opera.
The fluid camera work offered alternative perspectives for the audience and shed new light on character relationships. Close ups are not generally seen in the theatre (at least not in productions staged in venues that seat over 500 people) and so allowed the actors the option of subtly in their performances.
The actors slide seamlessly between their onstage personas and their characters within the play, creating a dual reality that intertwines fantasy with actuality, weaving a rich tapestry of dream-like sequences and unresolved questions. Opening Night has humorous self awareness underpinning the drama, indulging in some theatre in-jokes, but never becoming alienating or smug.
The cast is excellent - led in an absolute tour de force from lead actress Elsie de Brauw. Particularly beautiful are the ending scenes, where the frenetic pace of the production slows and we are able to see the actors truly soar in a tender set piece
Opening Night is a complex work that comments on the obsession with age and the desire for youth. It is a concern that is particularly pertinent in the performing arts - an industry obsessed with outward appearances. It comments on the purpose of theatre and is a clever and affectionate homage to an artistic form that continues to endure, almost despite itself.
2010 Melbourne International Arts Festival presents
by John Cassavetes
Directed by Ivo van Hove
Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse | 100 St Kilda Road Melbourne
Dates/Times: Wed 20 - Sat 23 Oct at 8pm
Duration: 2hr 20min no interval
Tickets: $75 - $25
Bookings: the Arts Centre 1300 182 183 | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038