Sexy Strangers in Symphonie Fantastique

"Symphonie Fantastique" cast members in rehearsal. Photo: Christopher Starnawski.

Clare Hennessy, cast member of a new staging of the psychedelic symphony, Symphonie Fantastique, gives us an insider’s view of the production.

I am one of the cast members in Little Eggs’ latest offering, Symphonie Fantastique, based on the Berlioz Symphony of the same name written just under 200 years ago. Today, in rehearsals, our cast of seven is practicing singing in seven-part harmony. 

We are not singing words. We are singing the orchestra.

Approximately, I am singing the violin part; Annie is singing the oboe; Chemon, the harps; LJ is singing the flute part; Lloyd is the double bass (low voice alert!); Cassie is the viola; and Nicole the timpani.

I’ve never had to do anything like it before. Not only is the music frankly insane (blending choral arrangements with trance and dubstep) the story itself is out of this world. In fact, it’s considered the world’s first psychedelic symphony.

Beyond being a story of unrequited love, I can’t tell you what happens (spoilers, obviously) – but I can tell you about good old Hector Berlioz.

Basically, he fell in love with an actress after seeing her play Ophelia in Hamlet. He wrote her this symphony, but she didn’t turn up to opening night. She eventually heard his music, and when they finally met, he said that if she didn’t marry him (a complete stranger), he would off himself.

They were married that spring. Tres romantic.*

Clare Hennessy in rehearsal for Symphonie Fantastique. Photo: Christopher Starnawski/supplied.

From a 2021 lens, the sprawling symphony takes on a different tone to the one Berlioz intended. We’re interested in exploring the fragility of ego, the gendered expressions of obsession … and for me, the very human tendency to develop a bit of an unrequited crush.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot as we rehearse; I’m not sure about you, but I frequently develop crushes on actors. I saw the Steppenwolf production of Sex with Strangers at the Sydney Theatre Company when I was barely out of the woods of puberty and I developed a very robust admiration for the leading man (whose name, for my own dignity, I will omit).

So what turns a crush into something creepy? I didn’t write that actor anything, but that was simply due to a lack of imagination when it came to wooing (read: I would have done it if it had occurred to me). I did, however, feel so inspired by the show that I decided to become a playwright.  

Could I actually chalk up a decision that changed the rest of my life to hormones? I’m not sure … but the idea of sex with a stranger certainly changed the course of Berlioz’s life. 

*They did eventually divorce, thank god.

Symphonie Fantastique, directed by Mathew Lee and presented by the Little Eggs Collective in association with KXT bAKEHOUSE, plays the Kings Cross Theatre, 244-246 William Street, Potts Point.

Previews: Wednesday, 17 February to Friday, 19 February. Season: Saturday, 20 February to Saturday, 27 February. Times: Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 5pm.

For tickets ($30–$35) and further info, visit www.littleeggscollective.com.