Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 - Reviewed by Madelaine Empson | Regional News Connecting Wellington

Photo by Bentley Stevenson

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Written by: Dave Malloy

Directed by: Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew

Hannah Playhouse, 20th Apr 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is a sung-through musical by Dave Malloy based on a scandalous segment of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It follows Natasha (Lane Corby), a naïve young woman who begins a torrid love affair with Anatole (Henry Ashby) despite her betrothal to Andrey (Glenn Horsfall). In the eye of the storm of repercussions are Natasha’s cousin Sonya (Áine Gallagher) and godmother Marya (Frankie Leota); her future in-laws Mary (Rachel McSweeney) and Prince Bolkonsky (Glenn Horsfall); and Anatole’s friend Dolokhov (Kevin Orlando) and brother-in-law Pierre (William Duignan), a depressed alcoholic who’s friends with Andrey and (unhappily) married to Hélène (Jade Merematira). Even the troika driver Balaga (Patrick Jennings) gets involved. Struggling to keep up? A hilarious Prologue opens the show with a pop, bang, and blinding sparkle to explain the whole thing.

Allow me to attempt to scratch the surface of all the jaw-dropping moments in this kaleidoscopic fever dream of a production. WITCH Music Theatre and technical producer and set designer Joshua Tucker-Emerson have completely transformed an unrecognisable Hannah Playhouse into a theatre-in-the-round, illuminated by Alex ‘Fish’ Fisher’s brilliant lighting design. Disco balls dazzle and performers literally fly (aerialist Jackson Cordery) across the stage as the exquisite ensemble entices and the core cast – draped in diamonds and swathed in silk by costume designer and creative producer Ben Tucker-Emerson – astounds the audience with whirlwind choreography (Emily McDermott and Greta Casey-Solly) and vocal chops fit for the world stage. The picture is heady, opulent, intoxicating.  

With technically flawless sound design by Oliver Devlin, a supreme live orchestra, and many of the cast playing roving instruments, the sound is full and raucous, yet sumptuous and smooth when called for. Sitting centre stage at an in-ground piano is conductor, music director, and ringmaster Hayden Taylor. Anyone listening to a single bar of any song from this production, whether belted or softly whispered, thrummed on bass or tinkled on keys, would kill to have Taylor in the music director’s seat.

Guided by directors Maya Handa Naff and Nick Lerew’s blazing vision, WITCH deserved every second of their standing ovation and then some. Bring your sunnies and something warm for the goosebumps.

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