‘The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars’ was sensual.
As one of the first shows to premiere in Metro Arts’ West End hub for 2021, ‘The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars’ offers an intriguing marriage between old and new theatre.
As audiences walk into the New Benner Theatre, they will be hit by the electric glow of the 1980s-style illumination of the atrium. It acts as a fitting metaphor – a passage to a different time. The theatre itself is simple and intimate. With a four-post purpose-built stage and a sole violinist playing an eerie melody, audiences are greeted with an atmosphere of delicate anticipation.
Based upon the acclaimed playwright Van Badham’s 2013 play (which subsequently won a Western Australian Premier’s Book Award the following year), ‘The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars’ presents an allegorical narrative of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus. Transporting the classic tale from the labyrinths of Crete to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum (and later the Welsh seaside), Badham establishes an intriguing correlation between human interaction of the past and present.
Director Heidi Manché, one-third of the Hive Collective, calls upon audiences to use their imagination in her staging of Badham’s play. Much like its successful 2013 season at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre, the stage is left relatively vacant except for a handful of monochrome blocks. The pristine white stage acts as a blank canvas for the actors to utilise freely. Greek mythology is often filled with elements of creative eccentricity. Manché evokes this by allowing audiences to visualise the setting in their own minds – a pastiche customary of Greek legends.
Performers Sarah Ogden and Rob Pensalfini embrace the stage’s open nature, often utilising the blocks as stand-ins for objects and people. One comical instance of this is the use of three oversized blocks to establish a flirty, seductive octogenarian. The ‘less is more’ aesthetic of ‘The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars’ emphasises the importance of creative storytelling in theatre (as well as imagination).
The set’s simplicity is echoed through the costuming and lighting. Designer Sarah Winter keeps the performers’ outfits simple, yet appropriate. As referenced in the opening dialogue of the play, the protagonist Marion’s blue dress is evocative of desire and intrigue. Contrasting this is her later grey attire, which perfectly reflects Marion’s inner torment and adds to the set’s neutral appearance. Similarly, Pensalfini’s character, Michael, dresses in a suit not dissimilar to ones seen in any office space. In progressively stripping away formal elements of the suit (jacket, shoes, glasses), Pensalfini not only morphs into his dual role of Mark but also embraces the carefree rhetoric of early romance. This in turn is reflected by the lighting choices of Lighting Director, Christine Felmingham. With much of the play framed in neutral tones, the stark use of red and blue lighting for emotional effect gives the performance elevated gravitas.
Music and sound effects are provided masterfully by Composer Shenzo Gregorio. While sitting in the back right-hand corner of the stage, Gregorio single-handedly builds the atmosphere through his use of a violin, keyboard, and percussion. His composition for scenes is measured – his frenzied crescendo of a dalliance within the museum is both marvellous and unsettling.
Ogden and Pensalfini are equally charismatic. Manché’s decision to keep them from touching one another until the very end highlights how intimacy can be portrayed by more than just physical interaction. The performers’ chemistry is organic, each proving to be well versed in comedic timing and dramatic emphasis. Ogden portrays the romantically conflicted Marion with self-regulated vigour. Pensalfini’s dual Casanova-like roles of Michael and Mark expertly balance two common romantic leads: the unavailable temptation and the lovable ladies’ man. It is in the latter role where Pensalfini best shines, revelling in a humorous, laissez-faire attitude. Both performers invest in the material, elevating the story to a clever play on the classic Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus.
‘The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars’ pays homage to ideas of past and present. Audiences are called upon to use their imagination throughout the performance, offering an appropriate link to the play’s Greek mythological origins. With a small cast and creative team behind the scenes, the show’s theme of intimacy is expertly presented. 2021 looks to be an exciting year for Metro Arts (and theatre in general), and ‘The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars’ is a shining beginning to it.
‘The Bull, The Moon, and the Coronet of Stars’ performs until Saturday, 27 February 2021 at Metro Arts. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit Metro Arts’ website.