Irish actress Harriet Smithson was not in attendance at Berlioz’s 1830 premiere of Symphonie Fantastique. Her absence would have been particularly biting for Hector, who wrote the damn thing about her! Well, about his obsession with her.
In happier news, I will be in attendance at the premiere of Little Eggs Collective’s 2021 SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE, in a bit over a week’s time. (Although no one is obsessed with me.)
In the rugged foothills of Camperdown Memorial Park, I interview Oliver Shermacher, whom you may know from some prestigious Australian competitions for instrumentalists, and some less prestigious but nonetheless thoroughly entertaining Instagram pages. He tells us a little of the part(s) he will be playing in the fantastic symphony.
We know about Oliver Shermacher the clarinettist, but less about Oliver Shermacher, the theatre maker. Tell us a little of where his journey began.
I think being on stage has always felt like something natural to me. I was a pretty eccentric kid so it seems fitting that I would find my footing professionally as a performer.
I loved acting and theatre when I was in school, but when I went to the Con to focus on clarinet, I unfortunately left that theatrical part of me behind.
However in 2018, I was asked along with my friend Max Harris to play clarinet and devise and perform in the Little Eggs Company production of “Pinocchio”.
The entire process was such a joy for me, being able to combine my training as a musician with my innate love of theatre. Ever since that production, I’ve been striving to bring theatricality into my solo performances, as well as devising and creating new work.
So Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, but make it a physical theatre piece. Why and how?
My partner Mat and I have always wanted to create a piece of theatre together but could never pin down an idea, until one day on a very long drive, Symphonie Fantastique popped into my head and I began explaining the story to Mat. We both realised that it would be perfect. It tells such a disturbing and insane story – obsessive love, hallucinogenic drugs, witches, friendly shepherds and a very problematic protagonist.
Berlioz himself was a pretty nutty character and the Symphony is somewhat autobiographical. He dedicated this work to a woman who had no interest in him at all and manipulated her into marrying him by threatening to kill himself if she didn’t accept his proposal. We have to ask, why do we keep glorifying these stories of obsessive white dudes having a whinge because a woman doesn’t love them back? We are very directly addressing all of this problematic and disturbing behaviour in the show.
How is this discomfort explored? (Without giving too much away!)
There are definitely moments in this show that will be rather confronting for the audience and we will have corresponding trigger warnings for those who may be uncomfortable watching it. The Artist, our main character, is an incredibly successful and entitled composer who thinks they can have anything and anyone. You can imagine how they would react if they don’t get what they want, or if God forbid, someone tells them “no”!
We have, however, taken care not to be gratuitous or insensitive when exploring this on stage. We are aiming to convey the idea that abusive and manipulative behaviour over others doesn’t know gender or sexuality, so this is naturally a Queer and relatively genderless production. The protagonist (or antagonist, that is up to you) is deeply complex and belongs to no gender binary, so this behaviour isn’t rooted in any traditional gender roles.
What do you think audiences can take from this Symphonie Fantastique (your interpretation!) in how they look at modern day relationships and situations?
It will prompt the audience to have conversations about power, abuse and boundaries. There are moments which some audience members may interpret as inappropriate, whereas others may see it as innocent and playful. That is where our interest lies in creating this show. What is fine for one, may be crossing a boundary for another.
Hopefully it will also introduce a theatre audience to classical music, and encourage them to open up to the incredible world of the orchestra.
Finally, who have been some awesome souls behind the scenes?
Well obviously there’s Mathew Lee our director, without whom this project would’ve never happened. As well, we have an insanely talented creative team and cast: Benjamin Brockman as our stage and lighting designer, Aleisa Jelbart as our costume designer, Christopher Starnawski, Madelaine Osborn and Julia Robertson as our producers and Stage Managers, and not to mention the incredible cast of seven: Annie Stafford, Nicole Pingon, LJ Wilson, Chemon Theys, Lloyd Allison-Young, Clare Hennessy and Cassie Hamilton – all fabulously talented and dedicated to this project. Special shoutout to Clare Hennessey who showed me the ropes of sound design and QLab. My four years at the Con did not prepare me for this, so I’m so grateful to have had her guidance!
What are you responsible for?
As musical director and sound designer, I’m pretty much responsible for everything you’ll hear throughout the show.
This includes everything performed live, as well as everything played through the speakers as either music, atmosphere or sound effects.
That being said, so much of what you will see and hear in the show is truly from the brains of the cast.
I’ve also included music I’ve composed myself based on Berlioz’ score, so I also have the job of combining all of this into one seamless swathe of sound.
Join Oliver and the Little Eggs Collective at the Kings Cross Theatre, for SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE.
Previews: 17th-19th February 7:30pm
Season: 20th-27th February 7:30pm