‘The Bull, The Moon and the Coronet of Stars’ by Van Badham is a great script. What a pleasure it must have been for director Lee Lewis to have it land on her desk. It has everything going for it to make it an incredibly successful production: sophisticated ideas that take classic Greek mythology and reinterpret these stories in a modern context, terrific characters whose relationships reflect the complexity of choices we make in falling in love and running from it when the pain hits, fast-paced witty dialogue that exposes our tactics, weaknesses and desires, clever use of technical elements, motifs and even cupcakes. Mmm…cupcakes.
So what could go wrong? What would stop me loving it? What choice could Lee Lewis make that would distance me from the multi-layered, engaging ideas and staging of this play? One word: casting. It’s a simple case of getting the casting so very wrong.
Let me be more explicit. Here’s the description of our female protagonist, Marion, as given by Van Badham, as spoken by the character Michael in the script and in performance, “He thought: short. Marion wore her light brown hair in plaits much like a younger woman, had glasses. Short and fat- and not his type.” Contrast this to the description of his wife; “His wife was a taller woman. Freckles and long legs and straight dark hair. Smaller breasts…thin and pretty.” We never see his wife. We only see the male characters played by Matt Zeremes and Silvia Colloca playing Marion. Colloca is a gorgeous Italian thin, modelesque-proportioned actress. See the dilemma??
Let me break it down with our physical criteria. Is Colloca short? No. Fat? No. Does she more fittingly describe the wife rather than Marion? Yes actually, she does. Would you ever look at her and not recognise straight away how beautiful she is? Are you blind? Does this matter? Yes. I think it does.
You see Marion’s beauty is in how it sneaks up on you and one day, bam, she seduces you with the blue dress, the curves, the humour, the cupcakes. When Michael says, “She’s nothing like his wife…she’s beautiful”, I have to say, ‘She’s exactly like your wife. She’s exactly how you described your wife. WTF?’
I mean, are there no 30+ women out there in the acting world who are curvy, short and not classically beautiful? Can you honestly tell me that Colloca was the best person for this role? That her video audition tape, sent from Milan (with her husband Richard Roxburgh reading in the male roles) was the most obvious casting choice? I cannot believe that is the case. I think Lee Lewis has been seduced by more than the blue dress. She’s been ‘Lysandered’. Puck has dropped the damn love potion in Lee Lewis’ eyes and she’s blind to how this will read to her audience. Colloca is a fine actress. She is just in no way right for this role.
If this was a play where your physical notion of self was irrelevant, then I could run with it. But Marion’s appearance is integral to the play. The men who fall in love with her dismiss her initially. She doesn’t even rate on the radar. I just don’t get it. I don’t need the blue dress or any of the described costumes or settings or props. I can easily imagine them. But I cannot see Colloca as anything but a slender and beautiful woman. Big mistake. What it means is that the tilt of the men, when they suddenly see Marion in a new light doesn’t happen. It was obvious from the start. Lewis can argue that they decided to abandon all the physical descriptions in order to liberate choices as much as she likes but in the end she's also abandoned a very powerful notion of being surprised by desire because she has put beauty front and centre.
Alright. I’ve made my point. Moving on to other elements of the play. Loved Zeremes. Great range of characters from beast, man, God. Enjoyed Anna Tregloan’s set and incorporation of the ‘blue’ in the carpet, the multi-purpose scaffolds that can be reconfigured but still expose our characters journey and narration, the disco balls that suddenly show us the coronet of stars when lit beautifully by Verity Hampson, Steve Francis’ creation of action, atmosphere and environment in his sound composition and design. The physical commitment of the play was impressive.
I know I’ve slapped Lewis across the face with the casting but she’s done a nice job on stage honouring Van Badham’s words into a performance text. And that’s what I love the most. The script. I couldn’t wait to read it as soon as I got home.
This play is good. Very good. But it could have been magnificent. Coulda, shoulda. Casting.