Above – Adam Noviello and Luisa Scrofani. Photo – Daniel Rabin

A dystopian world in the not-too-distant future. No music. No singing. No dance.

In Brittanie Shipway's Senser, everything related to music, song and dance is considered contraband. A sin. Items such as musical instruments, sheet music and microphones were long ago confiscated or burnt by authorities in what’s become known as the ‘Purge’.

Ava (Luisa Scrofani) is just old enough to wistfully remember a time when music existed. She can recognise what singing and dancing are, but has no idea how to pronounce the words — no one has dared utter them for so long.

Now, Ava — and we gather her fellow citizens — are under the supervision of a faceless government which gives orders remotely, and minders or ‘Guardians’ who oversee their charges’ every move.

Despite the authorities’ efforts to silence their citizens, or ‘degenerates’ as they call them, people continue to be tormented by the music which plays in their heads. The treatment: magic pills and tonics.

For Ava, her faint memories of a melody and the piano her father used to play when she was a young child are the only connections she has left to her ancestry. With this comes her greatest act of defiance — her refusal to completely mute the sounds or music in her head.

Ava takes the audience with her on her search for answers into another world — that of German Kabarett Qween (Adam Noviello).

We first meet our Kabarett Qween in a wonderful opening number. Wearing a diamanté winged headband, a satin dress and heels, she literally sparkles. She knows how to work her audience, especially those sitting at the small round tables in the front. From the warm glow of tea light candles on the tables to the shimmering turquoise curtains, this is not a dark and dingy club. It’s bright and full of life — a stark contrast to the colourless and silent monsoon conditions of Ava’s present world.

The influence of the Kabarett club in Berlin, Nazi Germany, is an interesting choice, but one that works well to remind us that the totalitarianism, censorship and cancel culture of Ava’s world is not so far from reality. A world like hers, to some extent, has existed before. As our Kabarett Qween points out, the only real difference between she and Ava is that despite the restrictions put upon them in Berlin, our Qween and those in her club refuse to be silenced.

Grace Deacon's set and costume design, along with Aron Murray’s lighting, skilfully works to differentiate, blend and transition between these two contrasting worlds, without the need for set changes.

Noviello effortlessly embodies the role of Kabarett Qween. Singing, dancing, oozing sex appeal and delivering comedic lines with cheek and expert timing, Noviello does it all. Such a vibrant character and performance, almost everything that follows seems quite plain. And, to a certain extent, this is the point. But, when Noviello takes on the role of Ava’s Guardian, they don't seem quite so at ease. As the Guardian’s character develops and his own demons are revealed, Noviello is given more to work with, but the Guardian fails to provoke our empathy as much as he could or as we’d perhaps wish.

Scrofani is a stellar performer, gently allowing us to follow Ava’s transformation from a feisty, somewhat hardened character, to someone yearning for her past, and then discovering the delight to be had from singing, dancing and using her own imagination. Shipway has given her a likeable and complex character and we are more than happy to follow her, dancing and singing along the way.

When Ava and the Kabarett Qween come together, the real magic happens. Under Miranda Middleton’s direction, there is some fine choreography and wonderful comedic timing. Scrofani’s small stature alongside the tall and striking Noviello only adds to their unlikely but joyous coupling.

Both Noviello and Scrofani more than do justice to Jess Newman’s original music and songs. 'Walk the Tightrope' is particularly catchy and its lyrics, reflecting the story and questioning of compliance, linger long after the lights fade.

It’s a joy to watch the Kabarett Qween as she takes the tentative Ava under her wing, mentoring her — reluctantly at first — to find the music within. And, to embrace rather than suppress, and in the process, find a more confident, sexier version of herself.

In this very enjoyable production the message is clear — while there may be little hope of Ava’s world changing, Ava can now create a melody, make music, and write a song anywhere and anytime she likes. As long as she surrenders to what comes naturally, joy and pleasure can always be found. They’ve been inside her all along.

Event details

Theatre Works presents
Senser
by Brittanie Shipway

Director Miranda Middleton

Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland St, St Kilda VIC
Dates: 7 – 17 September 2022
Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au

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