Before I write about Billy Budd — which deserves all the words I can find — a quick mention of the very, very funny Die Fledermaus I saw at the Conservatorium on Thursday night. Mostly I hate it when companies who perform light opera/operetta in English (original or translated) feel obliged to shoehorn in a few pop culture references. But fashioning an entire adaptation from nothing but pop culture is a different beast; in a sense, an artform in itself. And that's what Mary Rachel Brown's adaptation, directed by Matthew Barclay, does. It translates every last detail of the plot into the terms of tacky Australian celebrity culture.
So Gabe Eisenstein, star cricketer, is married to ex-model Ros. Adele is a Hollywood obsessed live-in beauty therapist. Falke is a gay sports agent in love (possibly requitedly) with his star client. And so on. You get the idea. All the familiar havoc ensues, facilitated by the terribly artsy party of one Prince Bartholomew Barnaby ("Barrie" to his friends) Kos(lovs)ky. Summarised like that, it might sound absolutely awful. And it easily could have been. But the new dialogue is well-written and genuinely funny, the pop culture references grow ever more uproariously absurd, and the cast could actually act.
Whether they could sing is another matter. Actually, no, that's a terrible thing to say. They could all sing. I just don't think they're all opera singers, but that's fine, and when you're taking this kind of approach to the piece, it isn't a huge hindrance to enjoyment. The women were good: Natalie Aroyan was suitably bright-voiced and expansive as Ros, and Regine Sturm hit all the right notes in "Mein Herr Marquis". Possibly the best sounds of the night came from Ji-Hye Kim's delightfully deadpan Koslovsky. And from the chorus, actually, who sounded excellent. The men were not so good. Vocally that is. They could carry a tune, but projection, diction and beauty of tone all tended to fall by the wayside.
But guess what? I didn't care. It didn't matter. They sang because it's an operetta and they had to, but the true fabulousness was in the dialogue and this was a cast of true comedians. John Komadina's take-off of brainless "Aussie legend" sports celebrities was spot on, right down to the assault charge and the endorsement of Hair Replacement Therapy. Lorenzo Rossitano was a scream as "opera fusion" singer Alfredo; his jail cell rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody was priceless. John Donohoe's trigger happy Officer Frank deserves his own show. And I adored Simon Halligan as Falke — he gets bonus points for playing gay without going ridiculously over the top, and also for stylishly pulling off the production's one, brief moment of near-seriousness, a bitter toast to "our true identities" as he realises the man he loves will never acknowledge his.
There are all kinds of other very fun flourishes to this show; but cataloguing them would never convey their humour, so too bad. Although, I will say that being handed, as I entered the theatre, a mock tabloid front page carrying the headline "BATMAN LOSES ROBIN IN MARDI GRAS ROMP" was a definite highlight. And yes, alright, this was far from the most musically wonderful Fledermaus, but it was a whole lot of fun, and that's fine with me. Besides which, any production of Fledermaus which uses the Act Two party as an opportunity to declare André R*eu the Antichrist has my blessing.