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Photo by Patrick Bolland

Symphonie Fantastique

Little Eggs present SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE, a self-devised work led by Matthew Lee and Oliver Schemacher, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT) at the Kings Cross Hotel. 17th FEBRUARY - 27th February 2021.

Oliver Schermacher remembers: Matthew Lee travelling in a car from Canberra with musician Oliver Shermacher,  when he hears for the first time Hector Berlioz’s SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE, at

full blast – bopping in my seat and enthusiastically head-banging to Berlioz’ erratic and colorful music. Mat became intrigued when I described its deranged story and the eye-brow raising background of the piece as a love letter to a woman he had never met.

Though Berlioz did stalk and woo her for seven years, finally threatening to over dose on heroin, before she, actress Harriet Smithson, capitulated and married him. (Ultimately, of course, the marriage failed!)

The music piece, “SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE is a passion-filled quasi-autobiographical love note by the (then 26 year old) Berlioz to his unsuspecting muse, who had repeatedly rejected his advances. Likewise, his composition pens a protagonist driven to a hallucinogenic suicide by the indifference of his female beloved who haunts him. In 1830’s Romantic France, it was revolutionary and even today is revered as a masterpiece of unrequited love.”

So, during the 13 month Covid-19 time of contemplation Matthew Lee (Director) and Oliver Schermacher (Musical Director/Sound Designer) gathered artists Benjamin Brockman (Set and Lighting Designer), Grace Stamnas (Movement Coach), Aleisa Jelbart (Costume Designer) and a team of  seven performers : Lloyd Allison-Young, Cassie Hamilton, Clare Hennessy, Nicole Pingon, Annie Stafford, Chemon Theys and LJ Wilson to construct a contemporary performance piece that explores the creative angsts of the composer’s struggle to produce his work. The language that this co-operative, Little Eggs, has chosen is mostly an a cappella sound/noise scape accompanied by a disciplined physical choreography where the collective toss centre stage and dress in a grey tailcoat and trousers, LJ Wilson, as our protagonist (perhaps the artist, Hector Berlioz), whilst they become a kind of supportive Greek-chorus in action.

The Set Design, by Benjamin Brockman, of a mirrored raised floor with a low hanging roof is dramatically lit by the same Mr Brockman to create illusory visual reflective effects that could be interpreted as part of the hallucinogenic experience of this artist – (perhaps, the representative of Berlioz). In the Costume Design by Aleisa Jelbart we are given skimpy underwear and draping blouses and other accessories all black with silver trimmings – a supposedly suggestive S&M (that is mostly quasi) I guess is the effect desired – that culminates in the principal performer being placed in a leather harness attached to a long, silver choking chain yanked by some of the cast in the climaxing moments of the 50 minute work.

Composer, Oliver Schermacher, has created a score that may use some of the famous musical thematics of the Berlioz Symphonie (I am not musically educated to guarantee that), but in his own composition/sound design seems to dwell in a European pastiche of seventies and eighties disco dance venue sounds – it begins in the pre-show sound scape and is, for us oldies, a relaxing entrance to the night.

However, one gets what the piece is doing within five minutes of the performance beginning and the Design elements and Sound choices merely become cliches of repeated boredom, and while one can admire the vocal and physical disciplines achieved by Matthew Lee and Grace Stamnas with this company, one is quickly intellectually bored. This 50 minutes is a very long night in the theatre.

One desired some original heft, some  provocation, since in their program note they suggest:

But we dig deep. Within our psychedelic narrative, we explore the fragility of our artist’s ego, how their rejection descends into an obsession and visions of violence, and ultimately, steers their own path to their own destruction. … We are eager to explore the mind of a person who does not get what they want and what they feel they deserve.

They go on to say :

In a contemporary world of artists in positions of power behaving badly, our queer team – aged around the same age as Berlioz at the time – aim to question if his masterpiece can be harnessed to probe whether he deserves celebration for a work that champions a persistent sex pest.

Wow, their objectives are many and complicated to discuss, and possibly could be exciting to engage with, so it is sad, then, that none of that is really explored with any clarification in its kinetic offerings on the KXT stage. They have not dug deeply enough,  and they haven’t found the method or language to argue their case.

Covid-19 should have provided a long time to wrestle with this work to find the  contemporary way to arrest an audience to its concerns, but LIttle Eggs misfires spectacularly in its many visual cliches in this present work called SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE.

P.S. It is amusing that the company wanted to provoke us to consider whether we should celebrate this work of “a persistent sex pest” and yet still to be encouraged by Mr Schermacher in his Musical Director’s notes to celebraate it: “(I) warmly encourage you at home to find a recording, have a few glasses of wine, lay back with some headphones and let this piece wash over you.” Clearly, Mr Schermacher has made up his mind in this endeavour. Listen to the Berlioz – it’s a masterpiece no matter the present political concerns, he thinks. I do agree with him, by the way, no matter the time spent with Little Eggs.