Adelaide Fringe 2017. Davine Interventionz Productions. Star Theatres.
The Tony nominated musical Violet is the emotional journey of a disfigured girl travelling through the segregated American south in the 1960s to meet a televangelist who she hopes can make her beautiful. Produced by Davine Interventionz Productions for the 2017 Adelaide Fringe, under the Direction of David Gauci and Musical Direction of Peter Johns, the performance will be a South Australian premiere.
The show stars Casmira Cullen in the title role of Violet, with Mitchell Smith and Fahad Farooque as soldiers Monty and Flick.
“When Violet is thirteen she is playing in her fathers shed and an axe comes loose and… cuts her face. Twelve years later she has saved up a bunch of money to go on a pilgrimage, so gets on a bus and travels from North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma with the idea that she is going to find a famous televangelist that is going to heal her scar” explains Cullen.
“On the bus she meets two soldiers who are played by Mitch and Fahad, and she has as bit of a romance with each of them.”
“Obviously [the accident] has a big impact on Violet – she is carrying this scar not just on her face but also in her heart and soul” Farooque explains.
“It is all about the relationship with Violet’s father; that is pretty integral because… he is the one that caused her to have the facial scar, and so there is a very complex relationship there” Smith adds.
The young Violet holds a lot of resentment towards her father and it is emotionally trying for her.
“There’s a young violet and an old Violet…” Cullen continues. Younger Violet is played by Eloise Q Valentine.
Despite both younger Violet and older Violet being portrayed in the musical, the show only spans a relatively short period of time; specifically the bus journey to Tulsa.
“The younger Violet is mainly seen through my memories” Cullen explains. “All of the flashbacks are about how [the incident] affected their relationship” Smith adds.
“Violet is really sheltered, she has spent her entire life just on a farm on the side of a mountain…. [and] hasn’t been exposed to anything - she is [also] an only child.” says Cullen. The journey is “an education [about] the outside world, a really late coming of age; and slightly deborturous! She’s an incredibly lonely person. She’s vulnerable. But, she knows what she wants and she owns it. Part of her journey is that she comes out of her shell a little bit.”
Farooque’s character is a black man during the height of racial tensions in 1964.
“Flick is an African American… and being set in the 60s - for a white girl to be interested in a black guy – that is a quite a big deal” Farooque explains.
“Monty is a white solider, and we have a relationship in the sense that we are both part of the army, but there’s kind of a feeling that if we weren’t thrown together by the army, we probably wouldn’t be friends” he continues.
Smith describes Monty as the privileged white boy out to prove himself.
“He is a bit younger than Violet and Flick… conventionally attractive, he has always gotten what he wanted” Smith explains. “The army is a good way for him to be part of something bigger.”
“He doesn’t quite expect the impact of their relationship”, Cullen adds. “Violet somehow manages to get people off guard; to get them to reveal themselves… she disarms people… and it kind of happens to Monty – Violet brings him out a bit.”
Flick and Monty both have feelings for Violet but express them in different ways. The beauty in the story surrounds how each of them is changed by meeting the others - like ripples in a pond colliding, and changing forever.
“I think [Flick] reminds Violet of her father; like a father figure” Farooque acknowledges.
Equally, Violet sees Flick as more than just a black face. She sees him as a man; as a person; she gives him validation.
“Violet feels a [connection] to Flick because she knows what it feels like to be isolated because of the way she looks” Cullen says. “It is something that’s very skin deep”.
Set in the 1960s the musical genre of the show is heavily influenced by the time, but also follows Violet’s travels through the American south.
“As you travel on the bus [the music] goes from country, and then to blues-rock, and then Gospel towards the end of the show” says Cullen.
“The music is really beautiful… just the lyrics and the way the songs have been constructed is fantastic” Farooque adds.
Adam Goodburn plays Violet’s father, “I have been so excited to finally work with him” says Cullen.
The Preacher is played by Andrew Crispe, “It’s going to be super fun” Cullen adds, “the second act has a lot of confrontation, big emotions, lots of yelling and lots of crying” she laughs.
Crispe describes the show as being unlike anything he has ever seen. “It reminds me of an ocean in the way if flows from one thing to another, and the music is like that too. There are scenes happening with the younger Violet at the same time as the older Violet” he says.
Like multiple waves crashing the time periods overlap and coincide.
Farooque has worked with Director David Gauci and Musical Director Peter Johns before, but for some of the cast, including Cullen, it is the first time.
“They are awesome” Farooque begins, “David gives us this liberty to bring our own truth to the characters – he gives us everything we need to make them our own. Peter is so precise – with cut-offs and crescendos and dynamics – he’s brilliant. He brings a level of professionalism that is very rare in musical theatre in Adelaide”.
Members of the ensemble have also been blown away by the production team and the lead actor’s performances.
“David Gauci is so utterly lovely. I’ve never felt so welcomed or worked with a director who is so warm” says Ruby Pinkerton. Kaitlyn McKenzie says David “makes you feel like family”.
Joshua Barkley has worked with Peter Johns before and describes his musical direction as “precise”. The whole cast agree that the experience is always positive.
Ensemble member Ray Cullen has been particularly impressed by Casmira Cullen’s portrayal of Violet.
“I’ve never seen a person connect to a character as much as Casmira does” he says, “she effortlessly turns into Violet.”
Farooque says, “It is a real privilege being part of the show”, and Cullen agrees.
“Doing the show is having a profound effect on me as a person, experiencing her journey… is something everyone on the face of the planet can relate to on some level” she says.
“The show hits on civil rights stuff, it hits on the Vietnam War, and it’s a real turbulent era - but [for] a woman to believe that all of her inherent worth is in the way she looks, and the way she looks is wrong, so she has to fix that otherwise she is never going to be happy... is still relevant, and is something that a lot of people will relate too” she continues.
“People will love you, and respect you, and see you for who you are… regardless of the way you look. The fact that [Violet] has that revelation is really touching” Cullen concludes.
Cullen is quietly optimistic about the show and the impending opening night, “I’ve never had this much fun working with a cast before” she says, “everyone is so good at what they do, Peter and David are so good at what they do, they are so positive. There is a real sense of cohesiveness in the cast because of [David]… we all get along super well and there is a huge amount of mutual respect.”
Smith gives a succinct summary of the production saying “The whole point of Violet’s journey is that she has this superficial wound that [she believes] if healed… [will make] all her problems go away. Along the journey she potentially learns that maybe, all of her scars are not on her face.”
“Violet just wants to live her life and not feel so held back by what’s happened to her” says Cullen.
She may have set out to heal her superficial disfigurement, but it is the emotional connections she makes that, in the end, give her what she needs most.
Violet plays at the Star Theatre in the 2017 Adelaide Fringe from the 22nd of Feb to the 4th of Mar.
The ensemble cast also contains Russell Ford, Jenny Scarce-Tolley, Alisa James, Lisa Simonetti, Carly Meakin, Emily Glew, Brad Tucker, Tegan Gully, Andrew Kelly, Daniel Watkins and Sandy Wandel.
Bookings can be made online at adelaidefringe.com.au
When: 22 Feb to 4 Mar
Duration: 2.5 hours
Where: Star Theatres, Hilton