Leeanna Walsman. Photos – Brett Boardman

Like champagne that’s lost its chill, life can lose its thrill.

The word thrilling becomes chilling for actress Myrtle Gordon as she is in the final throes of rehearsing a new play. Chilling replaces thrilling every time she struggles with the line. It’s telling.

Her life, her thrill, has been her work in the theatre, and that thrill has taken on a chill with this latest production. Although she is working with a director she has had success with before and an actor she has respect for, this latest role is proving elusive.

Based on the screenplay by John Cassavetes, Opening Night is a theatrical re-imagining of the 1977 film adapted and directed for the Belvoir stage by Carissa Licciardello. This production follows her critically acclaimed main stage directorial debut and adaptation of another classic work, A Room of One’s Own, at Belvoir last year.

Leeanna Walsman stars as the besieged actress cast in the role of a lifetime that could be the death of her. Opening night is rapidly approaching but something’s not quite right. She cannot connect to the character and a contentious piece of physical violence becomes a sticking point and stumbling block.

Conflict between her director, the playwright and her co star create more drama off stage than on. Then a tragic accident befalls a young, besotted fan named Nancy and Myrtle spirals into an unsettling state where reality breaks through the parameters of the play, an incursion that creates a haunting experience.

This adaptation and production of Opening Night is a tour de force, keeping faith with Cassavetes belief in the actor as auteur. Myrtle’s method as an actor is a gestalt form. The lines are written, the emotion improvised, necessarily charged with the changes in the actor’s own life, in the present.

Walsman is stunning in the role and is splendidly supported by Caitlin Burley as Nancy, the besotted fan whose posthumous appearance is escalatingly eerie, Jing Xuan-Chan as Kelly, the practical production manager, Luke Mullins as the shows director, Manny, Toni Scanlan as Sarah the play’s perplexed but sagely wise author and Anthony Harkin as Marty, the bewildered actor trying to cope when Myrtle goes off book.

David Fleischer’s set is stylish and functional, serving as both a set within a set as well as other locations, augmented by Nick Schlieper’s coruscating lighting, illuminating both physical set and mind set.

Theatre that’s thrilling and chilling, Opening Night is dark, surreal, strange,  and gripping. A must see.

Event details

Belvoir presents
adapted by Carissa Licciardello | based on the screenplay by John Cassavetes

Director Carissa Licciardello

Venue: Upstairs Theatre | Belvoir St Theatre, NSW
Dates: 26 February – 27 March 2022
Bookings: belvoir.com.au/productions/opening-night | (02) 9699 3444

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