Nine – Little Triangle and the question of Creative origins. (Theatre Review)

Nine

Little Triangle

The Seymour Theatre 6 Sept – 14 Sept

You can grab your tickets here.

Since their inaugural production in 2017, Little Triangle have established themselves as a high-quality theatre company that has become the go to place for rarely seen musical works. Their previous productions have raised the standard in independent musical theatre and inspired other theatre makers to take on the relatively daunting challenge of producing high quality musical theatre. Their latest challenge, Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s musical Nine, is possibly their most daunting accomplishment to date, seeing them depart from the relatively safe waters of Sondheim and Lippa. Nine is a highly controversial musical, primarily because it’s based on a highly controversial film. It devotes itself to questions of self-delusion regarding the male ego and the initial spark of creative impulse, but as director Alexander Andrews makes clear in his program notes, Nine’s relationship to ‘Women’ remains at best complicated and at worst a prayer book for women as objects of masculine masturbatory-ego fantasy. Let’s just say, this is a musical that drastically fails the Bechdel Test. The modern-day irony of Nine lies in its superb roles written for women that show case magnificent range and ability.  With strong casting decisions (showing reflective passion for the Fellini film, not the 2009 live action film) and with each cast member exceling in their vibrant, thrilling roles, Fellini is evoked, and this production inevitably focusses more on the question of creativity. We are then left with the fascinating and engaging problem that female excellence is only palatable when it centres on a male. In other words, we can only stand a superior female artist when she devotes her excellence to a male subject.[1]

This centers around a decidedly Christian perspective of what it is to create and what it means to be a ‘maker.’ God (man) is the only creator. A woman can create, but she must either inspire, or be inspired by God (man). Nine exemplifies this conundrum, and pulses at the heart of how we define female creativity. The women at the heart of Maury Yestons world (a man who very much saw himself in Fellini’s 81/2 – to the point that he added his musical in as the missing half that brings Fellini’s accomplishments to 9) are never telling their story. However, it is too easy to lay blame at Maury Yeston’s or Fellini’s feet. If we are genuinely talking about women here, and Nine is all about the women, the only question to ask ourselves is why do we need the justification of male authority in order to be able to see a female creator? It is this production of Nine that calls this question to the surface and in that way, becomes a very modern evocation of the musical and a far more intelligent approach than previous efforts have revealed. Particularly the 2009 film effort by director Rob Marshall that plays into the predictable Americanised ‘take’ on Fellini that results in little more than a thin critique that borders on worship. In stylizing this production of Nine, director Alexander Andrews has slipped past Maury Yeston and nodded toward Fellini such that he is able to call forth something more complex than the adaptive musical has been able to accomplish in the past.

This is achieved with subtle nods to the film and Fellini’s vision when the musical moves the production toward a more an Americanized sanitation primarily through casting. Key roles such as Saraghina played to perfection by Sophie Perkins appear more like Edra Gale from the original film. The same can be said for the role of Carla played by Caitlin Rose who occurs more as a Sandra Milo archetype. Tayla Jarret looks like Anouk Aimee, Andy Leonard like Marcello Mastroianni  and so forth. By drawing the casting back to Fellini, Alexander Andrews escapes the problem of his Nine becoming a musical where female emancipation comes only from rejecting or accepting one particular man and worrying about what he thinks of her. In fact, Nine is about a man’s crushing realization when he finds women don’t worship him. It’s interesting female question lies with the audience. Why must a celebration of female creativity centre entirely on a male subject? Nine and Fellini’s 81/2 tell us in language crystal clear, that we are content with this assessment.

Little Triangle have really pulled it out of the bag with this one. It is heartening to see them get better and better, building upon such a powerful base – Even though I still have a soft spot for Sunday in the Park with George that found a perfect home at The Depot Theatre. These productions of beautiful musical theatre are high caliber and it is an act of vibrant passion to make these works accessible for the Sydney theatre going public. The Little Triangle show should be a must for any theatre going Sydneysiders annual calendar and they provide hope for all our talented creatives wrestling for work when there are too few jobs available. Nine is a stellar production with a superb cast and should not be missed. It’s a genuine cerebral adventure for Fellini and cinema fans also.

 

[1] This hysteria finds its zenith in the prolife movement who seek to reduce the role of the mother as secondary in the process of life creation. A woman has no business interfering with what a man (or god) has ‘created.’

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