THE audience had come prepared to rock with laughter, thrill to the divine sounds, marvel at the prima donna's garb and perhaps blink back a tear or two. Ninety minutes later, no hands were smarting from excessive applause and an air of resignation, mingled with regret, hung over the Studio Theatre almost as visibly as the emissions from the smoke machine. An amazingly accomplished performance - but where was that essential bond between artist and spectators? With so much going for Helen Noonan, it should have been forged moments after she appeared on stage. But, sadly, she never came entirely to life, but then she never had the ghost of a chance. At the faintest flash of humour, the tiniest glimpse of the devastating diva she used to be, the connection would be broken, leaving artist and onlookers in limbo. There is no denying Noonan's virtuosity. This much-lauded Australian is a skilled actress and has a voice, which if not brilliant, makes satisfying work of the 10 arias featured in Recital, but where this piece of music theatre falls down is in its devising: too clever by half. One can only marvel at Noonan's timing as full-blooded rendition becomes cracked record and animated diva is suddenly reduced to clockwork figurine, eyes blank in that kabuki -white face. It would work wonderfully if the script allowed real characterisation - such potential for pathos and wicked satire - but Noonan and director/co-writer Douglas Horton are more concerned with form than substance. The penalty is harsh: a mesmerising, but ultimately shallow portrayal instead of a tour de force.