Snow White (La Boite, Opera Queensland & Brisbane Festival)
La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre
September 3 – 24
Below a chaotic forest of mirrors and musical instruments aloft La Boite’s Rounhouse Theatre stage is an intimate place of beautiful song and mesmerising music. Mirrors are cleverly used to help bounce rays around the space as audiences are dropped in to the dark fairy-tale world of a potently-reimagined “Snow White”.
Using Suzie Miller’s poetic text and Zulya Kamalova’s eclectic musical score, the part opera, part musical, part play not only retells the familiar story but, under Lindy Hume’s direction, upends fairy-tale expectations from the outset. As the corseted and quite fantastic The Mirror, Kanen Breen tangos in temptation by the Queen one minute and sexualises Snow White the next.
Clearly The Mirror (and its associations with vanity in society) has a significant role in the text’s darkness and destruction. More musical than operatic in his stage presence, as emcee of sorts interacting with the audience in beguiling voice and brightening the stage with his every appearance, Breen is the villain the audience hates to love; his voice in song is exquisite and his characterisation is fabulous.
The story of “Snow White” is certainly suited to operatic treatment given its intensity and larger-than-life scale, despite centring on the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship. And Italian-born mezzo soprano Silvia Colloca is a wonderful Queen, initially powerful and vain, but later of broken-down fragility. Stephanie Pickett is similarly strong as Snow White.
Together their voices harmonise beautifully in the poison apple scene climax. And Colloca’s vocals of guttural-like mourning soon-after are almost palpable with emotion. Baritone Michael Tuahine is similarly a multi-faceted and morally-conflicted Huntsman who literally chases Snow White as prey around the theatre’s stalls.
The four character narrative (sans dwarves) is musically driven, expressed succinctly through singing, which is all excellent. The music is like-wise impressive, evocative and eclectically bright, but also brutal as it memorably journeys the audience from the foreboding of the Huntsman’s chase of Snow White to an almost jaunty number as he sets in for her slaughter to Ben Hughes’ sinister steely-blue lighting.
This is, indeed, a lush and lavish production down to its every little detail of Sarah Winter’s set design, like the apples that line the stage edge. And its sophisticated lighting adds significantly to its experience in the aftermath of the poison apple scene, for example, where it supports the haunting cello sounds that hang in the air.
Seeing the two Brisbane Festival Snow Whites within the same week may have brought anticipatory expectations of comparison, but La Boite Theatre’s contemporary reimagining of Grimm’s fairy tale really is beyond compare. This is an at-once enticing and confronting theatrical experience. It’s sex, violence and swearing ensure that it is very adults only, despite the array of stuffed animals that appear at intermission to populate the forest.
While its second act slows comparative to the measured pace of Act One, and therefore seems to fall flatter, as years later Snow White’s beauty blossoms her into womanhood as her mother withers, there is still much to rave about with regards to the production. Its years of collaborative planning have paid off significantly with a killer show of great things as its juxtapositions of genre merge in vision to become a truly memorable night of theatre.
Photos c/o – Dylan Evans