Casanova by Mark Kilmurray. Directed by Jarrad West. Theatre 3. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3, Acton. Until July 4.
Giacomo Casanova's immortal words adorn a sign above the door to Jarrad West's eclectic theatrical set design: "Economy in pleasure is not to my taste." West's production of playwright, Mark Kilmurray's Casanova offers pleasure in excess. In a setting, extravagantly and anachronistically plastered with old Canberra Rep posters, West's large cast joyously romp through the sexual adventures and madcap situations in the perilous and exhausting life of the young Casanova (Ben Rissell), as told by the old Casanova (Tony Turner) to his maidservant, Edith (Steph Roberts). In a theatrical setting where artifice exposes truth, Canberra Rep's production reveals an ornate tapestry of ludicrous characters, acting out their absurd existences. Set in 1798, the play flashes back and forth between Casanova's youthful exploits and his declining days. Audiences are whirled at one minute along by the sheer ebullience of excessive pleasures or transported to a moment of poignancy as Casanova and Henriette (Amy Dunham) struggle with the pain of unrequited love.
The plot is predictably picaresque. Casanova loves the enchanting Henriette, who is engaged to the arrogant and aristocratic Grimani (Christopher Zuber). Casanova seeks solace in wild sexual exploits, as in the hilarious scene with two of his conquests (Liz Bradley and Kate Blackhurst). He seduces and weds the castrato Bellino (Bojana Kos), who eventually rejects him for wealth and fame. Thrown into prison by the jealous Grimani, Casanova escapes with his manservant Rocco (Riley Bell) and makes his way to England, pining for the love of Henriette, only to be confronted by Grimani, now the Venetian ambassador and challenged to a duel. Once again he escapes and we discover the old Casanova once again in the library of a Bohemian castle. Such is the stuff of legend, and the Romanticism of the age. Kilmurray's Casanova speaks to our time. Dunham's Henriette is the voice of feminism, trapped in the vortex of her dilemma. The instinct to survive is paramount in the actions of characters trapped by circumstance. Sex offers an escape, but only true love offers a solution. For Casanova, young and old, Henriette and Grimani it remains elusive and disempowering. In the end, the legend of Casanova remains the tragedy of unrequited love.
West's direction of his talented cast bursts with energy and bold theatricality. Too often, the ensemble scenes skyrocket into unfocused confusion, sacrificing clarity of action and dialogue. It is the focused ensemble tableaus, and scenes between Russell and Dunham, Casanova and his prison inmate (an entertaining and idiosyncratic cameo performance by Sam Hannan-Morrow) and Casanova's confessional scene with the doddery priest (another delightfully observed characterisation by Geoffrey Borny). There are excellent performances also from Steph Roberts in Edith's search for the truth behind the legend and Tony Turner's aging struggle with a forsaken youth and the fading hope of being reunited with Henriette.
Fact or fiction? Legend or con man? Lover or charlatan? That is for the audience to decide, but rest assured, Canberra Rep's stylish production will have you laughing, sighing, or maybe even wiping away a tear at the company's thoroughly entertaining production of Kilmurray's theatrical romp.