There has always seemed to be a stigma about theatre that it is harder to be as creative as it is with cinema but the brand production from Melbourne playwright Brittanie Shipway (A Letter For Molly) throws that untruth right out the window.
I think what I found most engrossing about this production was the fact that it told a story that would be my worst nightmare. See the world that we find ourselves watching on the stage during Senser is a world without music and that to me would be one of the worst nightmares that I could ever imagine.
Directed by Miranda Middleton (Not Today) Senser begins in Berlin in 1943 as the audience are invited into what resembles an underground Cabaret which celebrates Sex! Liberty! And MUSIK! The host is the Cabaret Queen (played by Adam Noviello – Maltilda The Musical) who welcomes the audience into her world with a divine cheekiness complete with song and dance.
We then flash forward to 2043 Berlin is once again under a tyrannical reign. Amongst the things that have been banned is music and for a generation of youngsters, including Eva (Luisa Scrofani – In The Heights), it is but a memory that they can barely recall.
As a rebel Eva is almost constantly in trouble and as a result is no stranger to one of the Regime’s Doctors/Officer (also played by Adam Noviello). But just when it seems she has finally pushed him too far she learns that he has a secret… a secret that soon transports her and the entire audience back to the world of the Queen of Cabaret.
I found Senser to be something very special. This is a production that completely uses all of its surrounds. Throughout the production all characters are often interact with the audience but not in the way that would normally make me feel insecure about the possibility that I might be the next person asked to be part of that interaction.
Likewise all areas of the theatre is used and for a lucky few audience members each night that are practically on the stage as part of the cabaret audience. As a director Middleton also makes use of the stairs around the audience which in a way made me feel even more a part of this world which gave me such a personal connection to the characters at hand that it was impossible not to feel myself getting emotional at times.
Middleton further pushes the boundaries of theatre by using what is largely a minimalistic yet creative set that seems to have an ever supply of areas that open up to reveal another secret. Those boundaries are further tested with people magically appearing out of pianos and on-stage fires – something that I feel I need to congratulate her on as it must have caused some creative nightmares as well.
The creative aspect of Senser is further enhanced by a creative team that is not afraid to mix and match the style of theatre that is playing out in front of us. From deep and dramatic scenes between the two characters at hand where at times it feels like Eva’s life is in danger through to amazing original cabaret songs that just steal the show over and over. I felt throughout the production that I never really knew what was going to play out in front of my eyes next and I loved having that feeling throughout the night.
I also found that the powerful script made me think just how I would cope in a world like Eva is in and at the same time it was the reason why we had two of the most powerful acting performances that we are likely to see on stage this year. Noviello seems to seamlessly morph between the Queen Of Cabaret and the role of a stern-yet-troubled Officer while Scrofani’s portrayal of a character unsure whether they are being plagued by mental illness or something supernatural has to be seen to be believed.
Normally I don’t enjoy productions that involve so much audience interaction but I felt a strange calm throughout Senser… most likely because it is so well written and performed that I felt like I was very much part of the production… certainly there was a strange emotional connection with the characters that is rare in theatre. Senser is guaranteed to make you think and above all surprise you at every turn.