The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Directed by Shane Bosher

Mop Head Productions in association with Red Line Productions | The Old Fitz Theatre (http://www.oldfitztheatre.com), Surry Hills, Sydney | Until 12 November

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is a theatrical adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 German film of the same name, which tells the story of a successful fashion designer, Petra (Sara Wiseman), who becomes infatuated with a younger, attractive woman, Karina (Taylor Ferguson), recently estranged from her husband.

It is clearly established from the beginning of this sleek production that Petra is hugely successful in what she does. Georgia Hopkins’ stunning and transformative set design glazes the three walls of the stage of The Old Fitzroy with mirrors.

Instantly, we have entered the narcissistic world of fashion and Daniel Learmont’s superbly stylised costume design significantly contributes throughout, as characters come and go from Petra’s past, reminding us constantly of the superficial nature of the world of haute couture.

Placed perfectly on this impressive set is Petra’s dedicated assistant, Marlene (Matilda Ridgeway), who silently multi-tasks — paying bills, corresponding, squeezing juice, mixing cocktails, arranging her wardrobe, adjusting designs, etc.

Ridgeway glides through the show without a word, but her perfectly executed and modulated body language economically signals to the audience a ‘huge’ back-story. So, although silent throughout, she, at many times, becomes the most mesmerizing and authoritative character on stage.

Karin (Taylor Ferguson), young, beautiful and recently estranged from her husband arrives on the scene, and Petra falls wildly in love. The relationship eventually disintegrates and Petra starts drinking heavily becoming abusive and aggressive, throwing tantrums and behaving very badly!

Sara Wiseman precisely plays and shades this arrogant and ambitious woman who has lost herself in a game of assumed identities. The supporting cast ably assist by instantly and succinctly suggesting her back story — fashionable friend and producer Sidonie (Eloise Snape), rapidly followed by Gabrielle (Mia Rorris),  Petra’s 15-year-old daughter, recently returned from boarding school, and  Petra’s mother, Valerie (Judith Gibson), back from yet another vacation. All effectively collage her past.

This excellent examination of power and powerlessness is precisely directed by Shane Bosher, who clearly establishes the required chemistry between the actors. At all times, even during Petra’s melodramatic meltdown, Bosher ensures the characters remain convincing and plausible in this most intricate psychological drama.

This is a play of operatic proportions that journeys into obsessive infatuation resulting in the devastating agony of rejection. At its core it is a deeply moving examination of both the age-old love triangle and the master/servant bond. Highly recommended.

Above: Sara Wiseman and Taylor Ferguson. All images: Clare Hawley.

Sara Wiseman.

Sara Wiseman, Judith Gibson and Mia Evans.

Taylor Ferguson, Matilda Ridgway and Sara Wiseman.