“Let’s take this play. Let’s dump it upside down and see if we can’t find something human in it.”

You won’t hear any character speak this line on the Belvoir stage for the premiere season of Opening Night. It’s from John Cassavetes’ 1977 art horror film of the same name, a slow-creeping masterpiece that uses formal experimentalism to powerfully express ideas of power relations in ageing and gender, the invisible laws that govern creative spaces, and individuals’ capacity to subvert them. Now considered a cult classic, it starred Cassavetes himself and Gena Rowlands, the great American screen actress and Cassavetes’ wife.

Leeanna Walsman Opening Night

Leeanna Walsman in Opening Night, Belvoir, 2022. Photo © Brett Boardman

Carissa Licciardello’s adaptation, which she also directs, takes this ‘play within a film’, and skilfully reimagines it as a ‘play within a play’, an updated version that makes it clear who and what it is championing. Like its lead female character, Licciardello ultimately does uncover the human. And when she does, it is – in the language of the new script – “thrilling”. Yet with some early lacklustre performances counteracting a building tension, the late-hour triumph...