33 VARIATIONS is another wonderful offering from Castle Hill Players under the expert direction of Jennifer Willison. The beautifully woven script by Moises Kaufman draws the audience in from the start with its various layers and two separate but parallel plots. The play initially appears to be about a piece of music: Beethoven’s 33 Diabelli Variations, which he wrote based on a waltz by Anton Diabelli. The highly skilled pianist Andrew Behan weaves the Variations throughout the play and the music is also a device for exploring several other subjects from the creative process and obsession to continuing on in the face of devastating illness.

The first story is set in Vienna in the 1820s where Ludwig van Beethoven, played with arrogance and intensity by Steve Rowe, is obsessed to find a conclusion for his massive 33 Variations, despite the growing deafness which threatens his ability to create. The other story is set in New York and Bonn where the musicologist and Beethoven expert Dr. Katherine Brandt, played with powerful obstinance and determination by Michelle Masefield, is equally obsessed with trying to understand why the composer should have been so focused on what she considers a mediocre waltz written by a lesser talent.

Sadly, obsessions don’t leave much room for personal connection, and that’s certainly true with Katherine and her daughter, Clara, portrayed with a great depth of feeling and rejection by Tia Cullen. Dismissed as “mediocre” by her meticulous mother, Clara journeys to Bon to help with her mother’s illness, hoping to win her approval.

Nor can Katherine appreciate the friendship and loyalty offed by her academic colleague Gertie. Faith Jessel shines in this part as she offers assistance and support and is on occasions cast aside. Her character also has one excellent moments of humorous expressions.
Robert Snars also puts in an outstanding performance as Beethoven’s assistant and support, trying his best, despite his abysmal treatment by Beethoven, to temper his outbursts & help him continue his compositions.

Todd Beilby plays the pompous music publisher Diabelli trying to push Beethoven along and believing his own waltz. Jem Row is the kind and diffident nurse who is in love with Clara and can see the difficulties in the mother/daughter relationship but stays the distance as their relationship slowly develops. The two other ensemble performers, Anthea Brown and Chiara Arita play several roles enhancing the atmosphere and reality of the show.

Additional sound effects to the piano by Casey Moon-Watton, such as an x-ray machine or enthusiastic applause, give the characters something to react to and help set the scene for the audience. The projections on the screen are most effective, particularly those showing the sketches of the variations.

Covering several time periods the set design by Maureen Cartledge is excellent with the stage divided into different areas, both modern and old, with the characters passing from one to another during their scenes. The costumes by Anthea Brown transport us the particular time period and add contrast and clarity.
33 VARIATIONS is an absorbing and entertaining production. Playing at the Pavilion Theatre, Castle Hill Showground, Doran Drive, Castle Hill, NSW, until 24th June 2023. Highly Recommended.