Guido is a master filmmaker with an illustrious career that has taken a turn for the worse with a string of lacklustre releases. When his career reaches crisis point, the consequences of his shortcomings become painfully clear and his womanising ways won’t save him anymore. Little Triangle’s NINE is an unsympathetic fall from grace, a welcome reckoning.
Set amongst the glamour of 1960s film culture, Guido (Andy Leonard) is struggling to hold together all the fractured pieces of his grand image as an artistic genius. In the mixed concoction of his private and professional lives he is a neglectful husband, a selfish lover, a self-absorbed director, and a disappointing filmmaker. He makes promises he can’t keep and over and over relies on the women he has swept into his fantasy to hold him up top. Now, in an ill-fated trip to a Venetian spa, Guido oversteps the last boundary, turning the women who love him into characters and finally cracking the veneer of his success.
In response to how the #MeToo movement has begun to unravel systems of misogynistic power in entertainment industries locally and internationally, Little Triangle’s NINE attempts to shift focus from Guido’s fallen hero narrative to the women who seize their autonomy and walk away.
Unsurprisingly, then, the women are the shining stars of this production. Tayla Jarrett as Luisa, Guido’s wife who lost sight of her own acting career while working to support his, is elegant and reserved with a powerful determination in her final number “Be On Your Own”. Claudia, played by Petronella van Tienen, is a difficult character to capture as she must defy the shallow muse role Guido keeps her in and assert her individuality. Van Tienen’s portrayal of Claudia’s internal struggle to accept her disappointment and move on is touching and very well conveyed.
Another stand-out performance came from Sarah Murr as Saraghina who features in one memory from young Guido’s (Oscar Langmar) first experience of a woman’s intoxicating power. With a dangerous edge and exceptional vocals, Murr brings a decidedly different tone to the stage and cuts through the air of fantasy surrounding Guido’s narrative.
Direction from Alexander Andrews quickly establishes Guido as an unsympathetic man with his corny demeanour, cringy attitude towards women, and unaccountable success. While he forms the central figure of the production, he is often moved off-stage, placed out of the spotlight or amongst the audience as a directorial eye but also decidedly removed from the audience’s attention. In this way, Andrews is able to prioritise the movements, words, and presence of the women cast members and diminish the overt presence of Guido. He is additionally challenged by the dry critique of Stephanie (Katelin Koprivec), a supervisor brought in by Guido’s producer (Michele Lansdown), who doesn’t let him ever forget his slipping talent. Koprivec remains on stage through dream sequences and film scenes, injecting her humourless attention into every aspect of the production, like a healthy dose of sceptical reality.
While these are valiant attempts to redirect the attention of NINE, Little Triangle undertakes a difficult task of undermining decades of connotations surrounding the musical as a risqué mid-life crisis that reinforces ideals of masculine control. A common defence against misogyny is to encourage men to remember women as mothers, sisters, daughters and, hence, as worthy of respect and safety. Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s NINE is a work soaked in this luke-warm feminism when perhaps representations of women’s lives regardless of their connection to men would be a more radical approach.
Hayden Rodgers’s set design plays into the grandeur of mid-century film with a large unspooling film reel decorating an otherwise bare scaffolded set. Flurries of movement transitioning scenes with chairs and stools aplenty turned this blank film set into a myriad of scenes all captured in the illusion of cinema. Lighting design from James Wallis featured isolated strobes like the flash of a camera, a countdown to climax, which incorporated the entire stage within this constructed, evanescent world.
The choreography from Madison Lee had fleeting moments to shine including two exceptional numbers from side characters. Guido’s producer reminisces about her time on stage in Paris as La Fleur in “Folies Bergeres” with the requisite feather fans and high-kicks. In Saraghina’s single scene her accompanying dancers show-off a surprising expertise with the tambourine in a racy lesson on life. Largely the dance ensemble did well to fill out the story with laughter, chatter, and enthusiasm.
In 2019, the entertainment industry and the systems of power the underpin it are in flux with walls of silence finally being broken down. NINE addresses the repercussions of such inequality in one man’s career and four women’s lives with an interest in rewriting the narratives that continue to privilege men’s perspectives.
NINE is running at the Seymour Centre’s Reginald Theatre from September 5th – 14th