Rhonda and Ketut: A theatrical masterpiece!
Australia has a longstanding affair with the steamy Indonesian island of Bali, but things are about to got a whole lot steamier with the world premiere of the musical Rhonda and Ketut.
Rhonda and Ketut is a triumph. Director James Cameron of Avatar and Titanic fame has cast aside his renowned array of special effects in his stage debut, delivering a show with a surprisingly light touch which is heartwarming, melodramatic and several other theatre adjectives.
Originally intended as a sequel to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, the Rhonda and Ketut script lay idle in a dusty bottom drawer of the Bali Repertory Theatre Company, only to be uncovered by an employee of an ad agency working for a car insurance company who needed to use the bathroom.
From such small moments of happenstance are theatrical legends made.
Rhonda and Ketut, the two eponymous protagonists of this bittersweet tragicomedy, are different people from radically different worlds. Like Romeo and Juliet, and Steph and Kobe, theirs is an impossible affair.
Great theatre, of course, is built on such tension. Thus, from the moment Rhonda snuggles into her banana chair on the sandy shore of a Balinese luxury resort, it is clear that her romance with Ketut is as inevitable as it is doomed.
Hugh Jackman is at his suave best in the role of Ketut, bringing pathos, bathos and tight bathers to his role. Magda Szubanski is brilliant as Rhonda, a fading beauty with an embarrassing sunglasses tan hoping for one final fling.
As Rhonda luxuriates in the opulence enabled by her wise purchase of cheap car insurance, Ketut toils away catering to her every whim. The name “Ketut” means fourth-born in the local dialect, and fourth born Balinese children are traditionally given menial jobs like winding beach umbrellas up and down.
Rhonda knows Ketut yearns for more. Ketut knows Rhonda has her yearnings too.
Things come to a head one moonlight night as the cautious couple stroll along the sands of Kuta Beach. A muscular blond surfer from Burleigh heads, played with flawless petulance by Eddie Perfect, confronts the duo.
A fist fight ensues, and the consequences are dramatic. Our lovers realise that theirs is a love which will forever remain unconsummated, and they part on AAMIable terms.
The relationship of Rhonda and Ketut is of course a metaphor for the enduring affair between Australians and Bali. That relationship fell on testing times with events like the Bali Bombings and the Schapelle Corby trial, yet has survived.
In a similar vein, you sense there’ll be countless more middle-aged drivers and hot young Balinese umbrella winder-uppers to renew the passion that foundered on love’s sharp rocks.
A rousing soundtrack from Cold Chisel completes the sensual feast. Crowd are certain to thrill to hits like Flame Trees, and Breakfast at Sweethearts and Choir Girl. Perhaps the greatest scene of the entire show is when a broken-hearted Ketut consoles himself to the strains of Cheap Wine.
Too many theatrical experiences in the contemporary arts world dwell in the realm of the fantastical, or in the dim past. This is a story for us, and a story that matters now. It is high art with Bintang singlets, braided hair and Havaiana thongs.
As an early indication that this will be a theatrical sensation, Victorian premier Ted Baillieu entered a bidding war with his NSW counterpart Barry O’Farrell for the right to host the lavish production in their respective cities.
In the end, it came down to a contest to see who could say “Eyes on the road Rhonda” most convincingly. The two couldn’t be split, so it then came down to a contest to say the classic Rhonda catchphrase “You’re Naughty”. Mr Baillieu won.
Rhonda and Ketut: The Musical opens this weekend at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Tickets $140. Contact Ticketmaster on 1300 111 011.
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