In fact all the various psychoses are portrayed for their potential humour and the extremeness of the asylum residents' conditions are somehow subdued, presumably by medication, to enable them to work together. The `clients' backgrounds are sketchily drawn and we are not allowed to dwell for too long on how damaged so many people become by the behaviour of others towards them. An offensive pyromaniac (David Wenham) tells us how he tortured cats and in a rare serious moment, suicidally depressed Ruth (Pamela Rabe; Sirens) is seen toying with slashing her wrists (we are told the difference between the cry for help and the sure-fire method), but the film swiftly diverts our attention. The central issue of the opera regarding double standards by men towards women's fidelity is touched upon, but not developed satisfyingly, with the examination of Lewis' own relationship and his attraction to the talented member of his cast, Julie, a recovering junkie. Meanwhile Lewis' parasitic `mate', Nick (Aden Young), his ill-advised inspiration as a director, is seen to be a pretentious buffoon with half-baked theories such as `the crucial key is to find out what sort of animal the actor is', and unsuccessfully tries to make a cuckold of him.
This production is graced by the talents of two rising Hollywood stars both from Muriel's Wedding: Rachel Griffiths (Hilary and Jackie) as Lewis' girlfriend Lucy; and a reincarnated slender siren Toni Collette as Julie (who played the plump maiden Harriet Smith in the 1996 version of Jane Austen's `Emma', as well as the more dramatically challenging role of the younger Lilian in `Lilian's Story'). Her singing voice is also a revelation when she saves the show from complete collapse with her rendition of `Stand By Me', and covers the closing credits with Neil Finn's `Don't Dream It's Over'. Jacki Weaver (Picnic at Hanging Rock & Caddie) as Cherry, who has an unwelcome crush on Lewis, crosses the line from bubbly blonde to be so scarily aggressive that one wonders if she ever succeeded with her apparent nymphomania, and she also provides the vocals for some of the film's songs. Ellery Ryan's efficient cinematography can currently be seen on the small screen in the UK in the entertaining Australian adult soap `The Secret Life of Us'.
Despite any reservations there might be about the suitability of the subject matter for comedy the actors eventually infuse their characters with some warmth and optimism. I found myself laughing almost inspite of myself due to the quality of the performances and some stagy comic moments that were plain silly and at times ridiculously over the top but still involuntarily forced me to smile. For instance, as things on the stage go increasingly wrong Roy and Lewis are electrocuted, Cherry is hoisted on a hook and flies over the audience's heads like some grotesque banshee, whilst Zac (Colin Hay), the off-the-wall musical accompanist, is abruptly halted in his obsessive desire to play Wagner's `Ride of the Valkyries' on an accordion, when he falls through a trap door. Some members of the cast from `Babe' also seem to have inadvertently wandered onto the wrong set, as piglets surreally crop up in various scenes. Even the disturbing comment on the automatic heavy sedation of a struggling patient (in this case the hapless Lewis mistaken for the escaped pyromaniac) is given a comic turn. Other reviewers have suggested that Louis Nowra's original stage play was more spontaneous and uproariously funny but this version, for which he wrote the screenplay, still worked for me. Balance in life is always needed and in our intolerant world where the ephemeral nature of life was brought harshly home to us all with last week's atrocities in the USA, this was a welcome tonic.
If you are able to ignore the implausibility of it all, and to see a group of socially challenged individuals overcoming some of their problems to step out of themselves, if only for a brief moment on the stage, then you may still find your spirit uplifted and enjoy this as I did.
I obtained a VHS (PAL) copy from The Video Shift as this is no longer available from the ScreenSound Shop.