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, 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, who welcomes the audience into her world with a divine cheekiness complete with song and dance.
We then flash forward to 2043 where 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), it is but a memory that they can barely recall.
As a rebel, Eva is almost constantly in trouble and 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 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 surroundings. Throughout the production, the characters often interact with the audience but not in the way that would normally make me feel insecure about being the next person asked to participate in the show.
Likewise, all areas of the theatre are used and for a few lucky audience members, each night they are practically on the stage as part of the cabaret audience. Director Middleton also makes use of the stairs around the audience which in a way made me feel even more a part of Senser’s world which gave me a personal connection to the characters to the point where 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 Middleton 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 ponder on how I would cope in Eva’s world, which assisted in providing 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 Eva, a character unsure whether they are being plagued by mental illness or something supernatural must be seen to be believed.
There has always been a stigma about theatre that it is harder to be as creative as it is with cinema, but with Senser, the brand-new production from Melbourne playwright Brittanie Shipway, throws that untruth right out the window.
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, for me, 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.
Senser is now playing at Theatre Works until the 17th of September.
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Photography by Daniel Rabin.