The setting of a burnt-out theatre depicts the miserable environment the patients of mental institutions are forced to live with. As they are ostracised by the community, a lack of care and support is shown through the rejected and deteriorating theatre. The patients’ considerable enthusiasm highlights their unfortunate circumstances, since even a chance to spend their time in an old building performing a play causes much excitement. Arabian Phoenix
The women in both Così Fan Tutte and Così are compared with the Arabian Phoenix. The mythical creature is a representation of women, for it is beautiful and enchanting, capturing men such as the god Apollo with its voice. This reflects the power of women to attract men. Nevertheless, its rarity, as often commented in Cosi, is linked with the seemingly infrequent loyalty demonstrated by women.
The lights in Act 1 Scene 1 highlight Lewis’ entrance into a new world, where he associates with patients who will ultimately, help him in learning and self-development. At first Lewis possesses a ‘pitch black’ perspective of the world, along with Lucy and Nick. This is a representation of their modern beliefs that circulate around politics and the war. When the lights are turned on, Roy is present, demonstrating that the patients of the mental institutions are the source for Lewis’ changing perspective throughout the play.
The physical setting of the play is “A burnt out theatre” with “a bit of a hole” in the roof and some problems with the wiring. The physical dereliction of the theatre represents, on one level, the attitudes people have towards the mentally ill – neglectful – and where the mentally ill find themselves in society – on the edge, ignored. There is also another symbolic level to the setting. In the opening scene, the theatre is “pitch black inside.” The entrance of Lewis, Nick and Lucy brings a “chink of daylight”. This very much symbolizes a physical crossing from the ‘normal’ world into a different world not seen from the outside. It marks the beginning of a journey for Lewis.
Louis Nowra uses a number of symbols to mark key points in Lewis’ journey throughout the play. The darkened, derelict, burnt out theatre at the start of the play: The neglected, burnt out theatre represents the attitudes that society has to mental health – it’s neglected, and the mentally ill are marginalised. It also represents a different world for Lewis that he needs to enter into. A world that is much different to his own and where he will ‘test’ himself. The flickering fuse box: The electrics in the theatre are faulty, and throughout the play the lights flicker as the fuse box flickers. This represents Lewis’ uncertainty – his lack of confidence about what he is doing.
The fire: Doug lights two fires – the second one gets him taken off the play. The fire represents an initial hurdle for Lewis and the other characters – it’s an obstacle that nearly derails the whole play. However, just like real fire, Doug’s fire brings with it change and new beginnings. The characters collude with Lewis to come up with a story about the fire to make sure the play keeps going. When Doug departs, Lewis also takes on the part of Ferrando, which draws him deeper into the play. The rain: At the beginning of the second act it is raining. Rehearsals are going well – the characters are beginning to take more ownership over the play and relate it to their own real‐life experiences. Rain represents life, and this is what is happening at this stage in the play.
The characters are using the opera to explore their own lives and feelings. Zac’s white stage design: Zac’s stage design is a stark white back drop. He says the inspiration was like “Annunciation Light”. Light represents knowledge and understanding. In the first part of Act 2 the characters are going deeper into the meaning of Cosi Fan Tutte – the stage design represents the understanding that Lewis in particular gains from his participation in the play. This symbol comes just before the dark and the kiss where Lewis comes to see how important love is.
The theatre thrown into darkness: Lewis must fully immerse himself in the world of the mental institution to complete his journey. The darkness represents his journey to a point far away from the outside world. In the darkness he no longer sees the things he normally sees, or thinks the things he normally thinks. He experiences complete change.
The kiss: The kiss between Lewis and Julie is the point where Lewis finally transforms from the character he was at the start of the play, into a character with a deeper understanding of his own identity and values. To make this final transition, he needs to embrace this new world – the kiss does this.
Lewis turning off the lights at the end of the play: As an audience we like happy endings – we would have liked Julie and Lewis to be a couple in the end, for Roy to become more empathetic to Lewis. These things don’t happen. Instead, Lewis narrates, in a very matter of fact way, the death of Julie and Henry, the fact that Roy goes from ward to ward. Lewis’s final act is to turn the lights off. This heightens the impact of what he has said, and leaves us with the feeling that what we have seen is a snapshot of a set of lives that didn’t all miraculously change in a Hollywood‐ending way. Life happened and after the lights go out life will continue to happen. And as the chorus says at the end of Cosi Fan Tutte, we need to accept this.