Review: Nine

Natasha D'Souza 15 May 2013


ADC Theatre, Tues 14th – Sat 18th May, 7.45pm

The curtain rises, the spotlights flash on, the camera is set aaand…and? Chaos. No script, no cast, only a week to go and yet only the babble of women can be heard, fawning over troubled director Guido Contini (Robbie Aird), who really has only himself to blame. With less than two weeks to most exams, Cambridge students will sympathise with the Italian’s tragicomic quest for original creation and desire amidst guilt-ridden memories of the past, here portrayed through the self-conscious unveiling of the theatrical backdrop as the deceptive stage of the life it both portrays and becomes. The cast successfully seduces the audience into this troubled lair of conception, a playful yet destructive web of music, art, love and passion.

The staging worked well, as did the lighting, which was used to particular effect in the second half of the play. At first, I was not utterly convinced by the use of projected film to explore Contini’s memory but I think (as for many, perhaps) my view may have been coloured by knowledge of this play’s predecessors in film, particularly the most recent adaptation by Rob Marshall. Yet the comic use of silhouette by the chorus to explore the sometimes absurd, often manic, search for ideas was brilliantly done. Although the stage is not the ‘exquisite backdrop of Rome’s chic sixties’, as the audience is promised, this is more than compensated for by the vibrant luxe of coloured silks that define, and dance as seductively as, their beholders.

At the beginning, slight mistiming and dubious Italian accents (although admittedly difficult for all to have pulled off without question from a pedantic critic) made me wonder whether the performance was intended to be a mise en abyme of the troubles of theatre and performance in life and on stage. Perhaps a subtext many might have failed to appreciate?However, once the music, which was used to great effect in exploring the blurry boundary between remembering and forgetting, started any worries that certain roles had got off to a shaky start were allayed.

Aird did extremely well given the difficult persona of the main character but the awards go to his ‘Muses’- it was his women that collectively took the show to its heights and depths. Lauren Hutchinson’s beautiful voice and emotional performance as Contini’s wife stood out, so too that of Claudia (Lily Grieve) and Carla (Victoria Fell) who most successfully reproduced the Italian notes in song and speech. The first of the two most memorable and entertaining episodes, however, was that of Lily Parham, the convincing and surprising cabaret dancer-come-manager, Liliane La Fleur, in the hazy, French rose pink of the Folies Bergere. The second stand out moment was the daring (rather outrageous!) scene of primal lust, with Maria Pawlikowska as the street-wise Sarraghina. She was a brilliant lead for a very impressive routine, as was Parham.

I highly recommend Nine as the perfect distraction from any tragicomedy of your own this term!

Natasha D’Souza