Cosi at Roo Theatre, Shellharbour

LOUIS Nowra’s classic Australian comedy is being given the Roo Theatre treatment in a short, sharp season running until the weekend. 

Renee Brighton as Cherry, Sean Garrett-Crombie as Lewis, Mark Rylander as Roy in the Roo Theatre production of Cosi.

Renee Brighton as Cherry, Sean Garrett-Crombie as Lewis, Mark Rylander as Roy in the Roo Theatre production of Cosi.

The semi-autobiographical work is set in a Melbourne mental institution in 1971, amid the social unrest of the Vietnam war.

Lewis, a young director is brought into the institution and tasked with producing a play with the patients who live there. His life is touched by these extraordinary people as he attempts to put on Mozart’s Opera ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’.

The cast and crew of Roo Theatre’s production have been in rehearsals for the past ten weeks to bring the story, its unique characters  and specific scene to life.

Cosi’s cast is made up of a mixture of new and familiar faces to the Roo stage. Four are making their theatre debut, three of who also work in the mental health profession.

University of Wollongong nursing academic, 43-year-old mum Renee Brighton is one of the mental health professionals among the Cosi cast.

Brighton, of Cordeaux Height,  has been drawn back to the stage after a 20-year hiatus  because of the familiarity of the play’s subject matter.

She said she had been thinking about a return for a while because her ten-year-old daughter Violet has been in some recent Roo productions. Continuing the family involvement, older daughter Bethany works behind the scenes.

Brighton said Cosi was the perfect vehicle for a return and while she was a little nervous, she was more conscious of doing a good job with her role.

‘‘I feel a bit nervous but it is just such a privilege to play someone with a mental illness. I am more worried about doing justice that than  anything.’’

 Brighton, who is one of the organisers of UOW’s unique Recovery camps for people with a mental illness, said while much had changed from the world of Nowra’s mentally ill - including the loss of large scale institutions, there was sadly important things that  had not changed much at all.

‘‘Care and treatment has definitely changed a great deal but in some ways not a lot has changed since the 1970s, not just with the stigma of mental illness but also with raising funds.

Brighton said the Recovery Camp has run for the past three years but funding and sponsorship was so tight that each year was an uncertain proposition.    

‘‘One in four Australians will be diagnosed with a mental illness across their lifetimes, more than diabetes, yet we can’t attract the same funding.’’ 

Starting her theatrical career with Theatre South (now Phoenix) and the Australian Theatre for Young People, Brighton said she was looking forward to her stage return and the challenge of her part - Cherry.

‘‘Cherry has been in the institution a long time,’’ Brighton said, ‘‘ She is what we would have called ‘institutionalised’.

She is obsessed with food and she  is quite... what’s the word?... forward. ‘‘She is very attracted to the opposite sex and  and she can be quite aggressive. Basically she has no filter.

‘‘Louis Nowra didn’t give any of the character diagnoses... Perhaps so as not to label anyone, which is quite interesting for the time because everyone was labelled.’’

Director, Sally Redman said she was delighted to bring the well-known play to Roo. 

“I feel very lucky to have been given this opportunity and to have been trusted to direct such a remarkable piece of theatre” she said. “I hope that my portrayal of the play will show audiences that being different isn’t a bad thing and that everyone should embrace their individuality.”

A percentage of the performance on March 26 will go to the Recovery camp. 

Tickets for Cosi are $20 - $25 and are available from www.roo-theatre.com.au, or by calling the theatre on 4297 2891.

Ticket prices: Adults $25 Concession $20.

The show is on Wednesday, March 25- March 28. Details on the website.