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Australian Stage review: Duets for Lovers and Dreamers

This review of Duets for Lovers and Dreamers was written by Simonne Michelle-Wells for Australian Stage. See it in it’s original context here.

Duets for Lovers and Dreamers
By Simonne Michelle-Wells
Sunday, 21 November 2010

fortyfivedownstairs is one of my favourite theatres in Melbourne. I am yet to be disappointed by any of the shows I’ve seen there. You have only to walk down the stairs to the delightfully grungy space below to know you’re about to have your senses courted.

Duets for Lovers and Dreamers, a tantalizing combination of theatre, music, dance and multi-media, woos your senses with its clever artistry and then claims them with its heart. Writer, Sandra Fiona Long, describes it as ‘like a song cycle, translated into theatre’.

The script comprises six stories, or duets, that take everyday activities and render them both painfully intimate and wholly transformed. Occasionally the result is too oblique and the narrative is obscured, particularly in the case of the last duet, Girl Up a Tree With Clouds. Despite this infrequent clumsiness in an otherwise beautifully crafted text, Duets for Lovers and Dreamers is an astounding piece of theatre.

It’s a tricky thing to seamlessly combine so many genres of performance in a one hour show, but director Naomi Steinborner, along with an exceptionally talented group of designers and performers, has achieved it. The music, composed by James Hullick, is inspiringly unique. Emily Barrie’s set design is beautiful in the space. The paper screens cleverly and stunningly transform every duet with an uncanny simplicity, and the video projections by Nicholas Verso and D.B Valentine then add a complexity to the whole production that lifts it to a whole other level.

But the highlight of Duets for Lovers and Dreamers is the performances. This is one exceptional cast, all with beautiful singing voices and all capable of an aching restraint that has you inching forward in your seat. Helen Morse is breathtaking in this production. In perhaps the most touching duet (certainly the one with the strongest narrative) an old woman lets herself remember the ecstasy and the tragedy of her marriage and, with just one word, Morse reduced me to tears with an alacrity that surprised me. Dancer Matt Cornell is simply exquisite, and the voice work of actors Phillip McInnes and Katherine Tonkin is extraordinary. The contemporary vocal music by the cast is faultless, with some beautifully unexpected moments, including Cornell’s beatboxing and a haunting lament by Morse.

Duets for Lovers and Dreamers is one of the most seamless productions I’ve ever seen. It makes you realise how unbearable life would be without art.

Photo by Michelle McFarlane.

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