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Metropolis - Hayes Theatre Co (NSW)

Book and lyrics by Julia Robertson & music and orchestrations by Zara Stanton, presented by Little Eggs Collective in association with Hayes Theatre Co.

Review by Caitlin A. Kearney World premiere Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point) 21st April - 20th May Tickets: https://hayestheatre.com.au/event/metropolis/


4.5 STARS

“What other use is there for mankind than to profit, to progress, to advance?”


Julia Robertson and Zara Stanton have joined their considerable forces to bring us a new adaptation of Thea von Harbou’s Metropolis, oft remembered by Fritz Lang’s incredibly influential German Expressionist film. An iconic tale of an oppressed class slaving to power a perfect futuristic city they have never seen - criticised in its time for its Communist messaging - is getting the musical theatre treatment. This you have to see, but most importantly hear.


Nick Fry’s beautiful industrial Art Deco set, symmetrical and striking, manages to give the immediate impression that we are simultaneously amongst the world of the machines and viewing it from the outside. Within this, the stunning amount of work that doubtless went into Ryan McDonald’s lighting concept has more than paid off, with the scenery issuing constant surprises throughout. The whole thing audibly thrums with something akin to aliveness, but what’s most important about it all is that, in opposition to the machines in the story, it has come to life to serve the cast. Atmospheric haze, hundreds of individually programmed light bulbs, and plenty of other bells and whistles frame and support the bare open space in which all the action takes place. In this hellish underside of utopia the music is the hero, and everyone involved is here to champion it.


Photos by Grant Leslie


I was initially nervous about the volume of the band, which seemed too high for even Joshua Robson’s immensely powerful voice to compete, but this proved to be a very infrequent concern for the remainder of the performance. It’s just as well; the lyrics and period dialogue are both heavily layered with cultural, political, and - at times - religious context that feel increasingly relevant for us to reflect on now, here from our real future viewpoint crowded with the anxieties surrounding artificial intelligence and the pressures of late Capitalism. The tale is of Freder (Tom Dawson), the privileged and naïve youth from up above who defies his domineering father by switching places with one of the workers and experiencing their pitiful existence firsthand. It's one that hums consistently with an intense sense of danger.


The standard in this cast is formidably high across the board, but standout performances include Thomas Campbell as the richly embittered inventor Rotwang, Tomas Parrish as the crushingly innocent and vulnerable Georgi, and Shannen Alyce Quan, who delivers not one but two exemplary performances between their achingly hopeful Maria and the manic animation of Rotwang’s robot Futura (represented in the first act by a remarkable and unsettling puppet).


In terms of the narrative, I believe the mitigation of a romance storyline was an effective choice to help centre the more community-focussed values specific to the adaptation, but I am interested to see how this could extend slightly further to engender a different kind of intimate moment between Maria and Freder. What we saw seems a little at odds with the pacing of the rest of the story.


After seeing as many Hayes shows as I have, I have also begun to wonder if blocking moments in the centre aisle of the audience seating is an actual contracted requirement of using the theatre. In a space of that shape and size, I sometimes feel that this convention has an opposite effect to the intended one of immersing the patrons further in the action. It’s just not always necessary. That being said, a virtuosic violinist like Dominic Lui is welcome to play as close to my ear as they like.


I have been racking my brains all day to try to recall when I have ever heard such arrestingly beautiful choral arrangements in any type of musical.

I am thoroughly baffled by the fact that this is Zara Stanton’s first musical. I allowed myself to enter the space without having dreamed too much on what a genre-defining century-old scifi story might sound like in this context, and as the kind of musician who sometimes compulsively guesses at resolving phrases in their head whilst hearing new music, I have seldom been both so wrong in the space of eighty minutes and so pleased to be. Formed in large part by unconventional scales, this score is complex without ever becoming tiresome, compelled ever forwards with the urgency presented by the towering stakes and the relentlessness of the machine city, but regularly opened up with the pure and precious sense of yearning for the outside, for human connection, for an end to the suffering. Where I was expecting frantic jazz to colour the nightclub Yoshiwara, I was again surprised by the brief look-in of heavy bass house music. At the conclusion of the first act, between the moment when the combined force of a full cast of voices cuts off together with a blackout and the subsequent rapturous applause, there is commendation of the most sincere kind- a soft, ecstatic “Oh!” from the audience in the very brief silence.


I have been racking my brains all day to try to recall when I have ever heard such arrestingly beautiful choral arrangements in any type of musical. Across both acts, but particularly in the second, the cast carried each of Stanton’s sweetly detailed phrases with such delicacy and precision and lifted them up together with the strength of a group trust I find to be unique to small, tight-knit ensembles. This kind of real bond evident in the company also allows the community portrayed on stage and their banding together under threat - and later in the face - of utter catastrophe to be wholly believable.


This reviewer had not been this excited for a new musical for some time. I was curious to learn how a masterpiece remembered for such visual scale, such decadent darkness would translate to an intimate music theatre space. The answer is in something unflinchingly fresh and truly special. I am licking my lips with satisfaction, and I recommend you too go and get your fill.

 

Presented by the Little Eggs Collective in association with Hayes Theatre Co

Book and Lyrics by Julia Robertson.

Music by Zara Stanton

Director Julia Robertson Music Director Zara Stanton Assistant Director Natalie Low Set Designer Nick Fry Lighting Designer Ryan McDonald Costume Designer Ella Butler Sound Designer Christine Pan Producer Harry Flitcroft

Starring Thomas Campbell, Tom Dawson, Sam Harmon, Selin Idris, Dominic Lui, Amanda McGregor, Tomas Parrish, AJ Pate, Joshua Robson, Anusha Thomas, Shannen Alyce Quan, Jim Williams.



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