Adelaide Fringe. Davine Interventionz Productions. Star Theatres. 24 Feb 2017
David Gauci once again brings a stunning premiere musical to Adelaide with his latest offering, Violet. The 2016 announcement of the production garnered much attention and excitement from local performers and as such an outstanding cast has been assembled to bring Gauci’s vision into reality.
The hype is true, this is a wonderful show, and at its epicentre, is one of the most exciting performances seen in local theatre for some time.
The central character Violet, played by Casmira Cullen, hails from a small farm on the side of a hill in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Violet seeks the miracle working prayers of a televangelist in Tulsa, Oklahoma to heal the scars on her face, caused by the head of a wayward axe as a child. On her journey, aboard a greyhound bus, she meets two young men – both soldiers – who change her life. They are black army sergeant, Grady ‘Flick’ Figgins played by Fahad Farooque, and white army paratrooper, Montgomery ‘Monty’ Harrell, played by Mitchell Smith.
Cullen, in the title role, plays the self-shaming, tomboyish Violet with absolute conviction, laced with a subtle underlying vulnerability and an air of hope. Cullen’s Violet is easy to warm to even when her character is completely cold towards others. She nuances over the lyric with ease and transitions effortlessly from dialogue to song. Cullen perfectly encapsulates the helplessness and desperate desires of an isolated and seemingly naive young woman into the warm shell of a down to earth country girl who just wants to be loved; and it is stunning to watch.
She is ably supported by a stellar cast, many leads in their own right, but it is Farooque and Smith who make Cullen’s journey as Violet all the more rich with Eloise Q. Valentine brilliantly echoing Cullen in flashbacks to her youth, weaving detail into the rich tapestry of the story. They all give lovely performances, balancing Violet in their own way; Flick is generous and caring, Monty is charming and self-confident. Both are tenacious in the pursuit of Violet’s love.
Valentine’s Young Violet makes visceral the anger and resentment of her older self, revealing the girl who becomes the woman behind the scar.
Adam Goodburn is Violet's father and brings both heart and guts, manifested in his struggle to relate to Violet and through the guilt he suffers for her disfigurement.
The whole cast sing beautifully, and most especially when they are harmonising in chorus. On My Way is particularly stirring – sending shivers down one’s spine - as are numbers which draw threads through the show such as Water In The Well, and All To Pieces. Musical Director, Peter Johns has clearly drilled the voices and the orchestra to note perfection, and the hard work of many is a massive reward for the audience.
Gauci’s production tackles the difficult task of playing scenes in multiple locations successively and in some cases concurrently quite well. For the most part the setting of individual scenes is wonderfully successful, adequately conveying time and place, but on the whole there is a feeling of disjointedness and patchiness in the set, which is not aided by some poorly-focussed lighting design which brings parts of the set into the fore when it should be receding from view. Whilst all aspects of the set add to the overall storytelling in their own way, this is certainly a production that could benefit from a less is more approach where lighting plays a bigger part in the transitions.
That being said the performances of the entire cast still surpass any grievances, and the production is supremely enjoyable to watch.
It is Cullen’s outstanding performance that really makes this show soar. The fact that she shines so bright above a cast of such high calibre is tribute to her superlative abilities.
When: 25 Feb to 4 Mar
Where: Star Theatres, Hilton