An early contender for a best independent theatre award for 2021, Little Eggs Collective’s inventive, brilliantly staged and sharply drilled ensemble piece is a must-see.
Symphonie Fantastique is derived from composer Hector Berlioz’s 1830 masterpiece of the same title, a swirling five-part orchestral self-portrait describing what was then an unrequited romantic obsession with the Irish actress Harriet Smithson.
Tipped by some as an early contribution to the canon of psychedelic music, there is some evidence to suggest at least parts of it were written under the influence of – or were at least inspired by – Berlioz’s opium use.
Queer-identifying writer and performer LJ Wilson takes on the role of Berlioz (who was just 26 when he wrote his Symphonie). In a script of notably few words, the composer’s wild mood swings, artistic tantrums and toxic behaviours are exposed in a series of vivid tableaux.
Just 45 minutes long, the staging reflects the Fantastique’s five-part structure. We experience the development of the composer’s idée fixe in the form of a musical motif. In a party scene, we observe the artist frustrated by their inability to reach the object of their affection.
In part three the artist finds brief respite in the countryside – though still haunted by visions of their Beloved. Eventually, the artist is driven mad by the Beloved’s final and irrevocable rejection. Nightmarish visions ensue.
Under director Mathew Lee, the action is handled with flair and humour, with the ensemble taking on roles ranging from sheep, to country and western-styled yokels, to demonic partygoers.
Musical director/sound designer Oliver Shermacher’s score blends elements of Berlioz’s composition with throbbing club beats and synthetic swooshes. The ensemble’s choral singing is excellent.
Visually, it’s just as impactful. With a polished stage surface to bounce lights off, designer Benjamin Brockman’s lighting plot is rich and exciting. Aleisa Jelbart’s eye-catching costuming runs the gamut from period, to fetish leather and chains, to rhinestone cowgirl.
The acting performances are energetic and alive with detail, with Wilson centred throughout as the tempestuous artist-abuser. The ensemble – Lloyd Allison-Young, Cassie Hamilton, Clare Hennessy, Nicole Pingon, Annie Stafford and Chemon Theys – is terrific.
The ample promise of Little Eggs’ 2019 Rime of the Ancient Mariner (which features some of the same performers) has been impressively realised here. The company is doing unique work. Don’t miss it.