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The Public Domain Opera - Review

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by Aridhi Anderson (subscribe)
Aridhi Anderson is a theatre director, writer and performer based in Melbourne. She writes about live shows, arts, culture and more at www.arichecksthingsout.com.
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A surreal, bold, unconventional show that makes you think
The Public Domain Opera is playing at The Butterfly Club from 10-16 September as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2018.

The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Imogen Gardam.
The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Imogen Gardam.


The Public Domain Opera by Montague Basement is a brave and ambitious show about resilience in the face of setbacks. It is also a show about politics, money, sexism, power, protest, incels, intellectual property, and a whole bunch of other things that need a lot more than an hour to unpack, but Montague Basement gives it a go anyway. So perhaps this show is about Montague Basement being a theatre collective that likes to make the most of what they have.

The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Mary Angley.
The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Mary Angley.


Don't go in expecting to be lightly entertained. Don't go in looking for warm fuzzies. Don't even go in expecting to follow a coherent plot. Definitely don't go in expecting to relate to the characters and passively become one with their story. Watching this show is like the experience of navigating a dream: most moments feel real, even the strangest moments are played with conviction, and the wild leaps between scenes feel alright at the time, but when you take a step back and think about it, the only natural reaction is a mildly stressed "what the...?"

The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Mary Angley.
The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Mary Angley.


The Public Domain Opera is thoroughly Brechtian theatre. It is social, it is political, it is farcical, it constantly breaks the fourth wall and compels the audience to engage with the material rationally and intellectually rather than emotionally. Originally titled "The Threepenny Opera (Adjusted for Inflation)", this show was meant to be an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's famous 1928 work, The Threepenny Opera, which was itself based on John Gay's 1728 work, The Beggar's Opera. There was going to be electropop and hip-hop; think German ballads reimagined as autotuned pop songs. But a week and a half before the show's opening, the group were served with a legal notice in relation to the copyright status of the works they had based their show on. They took this blow in their stride, though, and admirably reworked their show to be IP-compliant. The IP-compliance consisted, inter alia, of muting all the potentially infringing material and replacing it with IP-compliant commentary. (This was brilliantly executed, and ended up being one of my favourite aspects of the show.)

The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Mary Angley.
The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Mary Angley.


The indisputable highlight of this show, however, was the strong performances by Jack Dixon-Gunn, Laura McAloney, Sophie McCrae, Laura Strobech and Clare Taylor, as well as by the director Saro Lusty-Cavallari who was as much a part of the actual performance as any of the credited star cast. The performers were bold, engaging, clearly skilled in their craft, and they came together cohesively to pull off an intentionally surreal and disjointed, commentary-heavy script: this is no mean feat.

The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Mary Angley.
The Public Domain Opera at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Mary Angley.


The Public Domain Opera is a tense show with strong comedic moments that both heighten and diffuse the intensity of its heavy themes. It is likely to be enjoyed best by people who already have some exposure to theatre and Brecht but still has a lot in it for those who don't. If you like to watch unconventional shows that make you think (and keep you thinking for hours afterwards), this may be a good fit for you.
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*Aridhi Anderson was invited as a guest
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Why? Surreal, bold, unconventional theatre
When: 10-16 September 2018
Phone: (03) 9660 9666
Where: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Pl, Melbourne
Cost: $27-$34
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