The rental and housing affordability crisis is seemingly everywhere, breathing down our necks, and now it is being satirically staged by the Victorian Opera in their production of ‘Melbourne, Cheremushki’.
Delivered as part of VO Emerges, a programme created to provide performers, technicians, and musicians with less than ten years’ professional experience the opportunity to flex their skills in a State Opera production, this tongue-in-cheek show was buoyant and engaging from start to end.
Based on ‘Moscow, Cheryomushki’ by Dmitri Shostakovich, this contemporary take on a story that was originally written 50 years ago shows that, somewhat uncomfortably, we may have more in common with 1950s Soviet Russia than we might like to admit. Despite this heavy underlying message, the show is indeed a comedy, upbeat and goofy throughout, delivered with perfect hammy energy by the talented cast of performers. This production is presented in English, with plenty of very local references for the discerning Melbourne audience – you don’t have to look too closely to spot a legendary kebab bar or famous local furniture mogul. These nods to Melbourne ‘culture’ added to the upbeat vibe, and several instances of breaking the fourth wall put the cherry on top to really pull off the quirky tone that this production set out to convey.
The performers were wonderful, a talented cast of newcomers were all able to shine at points throughout the show; Leah Phillips was a delight in the role of Lucy, her melodic vocals so enjoyable that I’m sure she could take the most grating advertising jingle and turn it into a joy to hear. Similarly, Douglas Kelly as Boris truly hit all the right notes. The relationship between Boris and Lidochka (played to perfection by Teresa Ingrilli) was a personal favourite, but something special about these two characters and their plight truly captivated the crowd.
As the tale unfolds we follow a slew of characters navigating an attempt to find their homes, battling greedy landlords and building managers. I think I’ll have nightmares about the slimy character of Barabashkin, played in a creepy yet hilarious manner by Nicholas Beecher, for years to come. The story tells of inequality and corruption which all may seem familiar in a contemporary setting, but provides hope in the form of collective community action – it seems like the messages we hear today about making a change and taking action really are as old as time – or at least the 1950s.
The set was captivating, with set designer Dann Barber making use of the full height, depth and breadth of the stage and the music, with its flavours of the story’s Russian origins was a delight to hear.
This quirky show was as far from the perception I had of stale elitism that opera could be – it was approachable, incredibly contemporary, and yet still embraced the beauty of its traditional form. A great gateway production for the opera illiterate, and a wonderful performance from some of the next generation of performers.