The Divorce

A cast of seasoned pros turn a night of romance into a comedy of errors and light opera.

It takes a terribly modern couple to thrown a party to celebrate a ‘conscious uncoupling’ but that’s just what art critic Jed (John O’Nay) and wife Iris (Marina Prior) decide to do in ABC’s The Divorce.

As a result audiences get a rare treat: a 4 part comedic opera devised purely for the screen, airing episodically over four consecutive nights. I can’t remember the last time TV decided to throw so many resources at an opera for the screen (Eternity perhaps?) in a genre that rarely thinks beyond cameras in theatres, fixated on a proscenium arch.

The Divorce works hard to become accessible. It has star casting, a light-opera tone, humour, lashings of production values and a party atmosphere.

Love is at the centre of this ensemble, with a hint of gangster jeopardy. Iris has her heart set on dashing young beau William (Matthew McFarlane) little-knowing her young sister Louise (Lisa McCune) plans to hook up with her own hubby. But her PA Caroline (Kate Miller-Heidke) is heavily in debt and some inept but shady characters (Bob Franklin & Dom Phelan) are after their money. Meanwhile budding artist Toby (Hugh Sheridan) works as a party waiter just to get close to his idol, art critic Jed.

While the bohemian guests swill the champers (warning, there is alcohol in almost every scene) and par-tay the night away, not everything goes as planned. Over the four episodes in a concept devised by Lyndon Terracini, the evening unravels in a comedy of errors and unrequited loved. Make that sometimes requited…

The book and libretto are penned by Joanna Murray-Smith with a score by Elena Kats-Chernin. The lyrics reference contemporary touchstones: Travels to Corfu & Prague, IVF, yoga fads and Twitter. Under Music Director Vanessa Scammell and a hard-working Opera Australia chorus keep the ball in the air. For the uninitiated it may take the whole first episode to come to terms with its style while the diction, notably in group numbers where it is harder to see lips, is a bit of a challenge.

But the leads are rather wonderful. We see too little of John O’May on television despite his decades of experience in the theatre. Leading lady Marina Prior never puts a foot wrong with her singing and appearance, even if her arc lacks a little bite. Lisa McCune’s Louise upstages her as the sister pursuing romance in unexpected corners.

Hugh Sheridan’s musical talents are still somewhat unfamiliar to broad audiences but he throws himself into the doey-eyed young artist Toby. He displays a thorough understanding of the style and timing required of the genre. The real surprise is Kate Miller-Heidke, entirely versatile in either popular or operatic works. I wasn’t so sold on her sub-plot with William, but that’s more to do with story construction.

Director Dean Murphy creatively stages this within the grounds of Werribee Mansion, including plenty of lengthy, elaborately choreographed sequences. Special mention must go to Director of Photography Roger Lanser, Production Designer Robert Perkins (both of whom have worked on Miss Fisher) and Costume Designer Sandi Chicello. The colours and elegance that burst of the screen are like a rich storybook and deserving of nominations next year.

At just 30 minutes each, the episodes are over almost as soon as they begin and while this won’t be everybody’s cup of tea ABC is to be applauded for offering a point of difference. And here’s a tip, if after the first night you’re still a bit unsure, the ‘recap’ at the top of episode two will help significantly at making the basics clearer for you.

The Divorce is playful, fetching and handled by a troupe of seasoned pros. Something to sing about.

The Divorce airs 9:30pm Monday-Thursday on ABC.

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