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24 September, 2019

A masterfully innovative theatrical experience

Invisible Cities is an awe-inspiring production, in scale and execution, that brings to life Italo Calvino’s ethereal 1974 novel.

Staged in an enormous vacant warehouse in Yeerongpilly, I was wonderstruck upon arrival, overcome with questions of logistics and cost.

Director Leo Warner and various collaborators have concocted a fusion of performance art, dance, design, lighting and projection, that teleports you to Calvino’s imagination.

I was quite the fan of British horror series Penny Dreadful, so was star struck when I recognised Danny Sapani as the later-in-life but no-less-dictatorial emperor Kublai Khan.

But Sapani’s captivating performance finds ineffectual counterweight in Matthew Leonhart’s Marco Polo.

Leonhart’s performance struggles to find the complexity and nuance that helps Sapani steal the show.

The Rambert Ensemble is excellent, at once free and precise, and may very well bring to life Polo’s fantasies with more evocation than the production’s immense and immersive – but sometimes overbearing – technical component.

The worlds created through vast changes in stage, as well as the use of lighting, sound, scrim, projection, and even water are nothing short of astounding, but the effort required to enact such transformations necessitates interludes that pull you somewhat back to reality.

Invisible Cities flourishes in the second half, not only because its conceptual vision is clearer, but the dramatic change of set minimised these transitions, allowing for a more immersive experience.

What is most striking with this ambitious and triumphant production are its musings on place: over two hours, cities are woven out of words, light and movement, in a massive disused space on Brisbane’s outskirts.

It is the ideal signature event for a Festival celebrating this city.

Visually spectacular, the occasionally airless invisible cities might lose some of its emotional power to the pristine cinematic staging, but on the whole, is a thought-provoking and entertaining production.