Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Much Ado About Nothing - Theatre Review

What: Much Ado About Nothing
When: 2-17 December 2017
Where: St Kilda Botanical Gardens
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jennifer Sarah Dean
Musical Direction by: Ben Adams
Choreography by: John Reed
Performed by: Syd Brisbane, Nicola Bowman, May Jasper, Khisraw Jones-Shukoor, Dion Kaliviotis, Lelda Kapsis, Jonathon Lawrence, Ella Lawry, Jacob Machin, Madeleine Mason, Fabio Motta, Johnathan Peck, Hunter, Perske, John Reed, Paul Robertson, Bridget Sweeney, and Annabelle Tudor.
Set by: Alia Syed
Costumes by: Rhiannon Irving
Stage Management by: Lauren Rosato

Annabelle Tudor and Lelda Kapsis - photo by Burke Photography
It has been a long time since I have seen such an energised, exciting, and engaging Shakespeare but Melbourne Shakespeare has finally brought the Bard back to life. Their production of Much Ado About Nothing, being presented at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, is one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.

This laugh-a-minute pantomimic romp doesn't stop from beginning to end. Luckily it is a generally young cast because they need all the energy of youth to keep up with the speed of light entrances and exits! Of course Melbourne's iconic patriarch of the stage, Syd Brisbane (Leonato), manages to keep up with nary a misstep or hiccough to interrupt his stride.

Much Ado About Nothing is a tale of disception, love, and misinformation. Benedick (Fabio Motta) and Beatrice (Annabelle Tudor) are in love but refuse to admit it to themselves and the world. There are hints of The Taming Of The Shrew in this relationship. On the other hand Claudio (Jacob Machin) and Hero (Madeleine Mason) are in love but through the stirring of rumours, call off their wedding. As with all Shakespeare's love stories, though, all's well that ends well... (pardon the pun).

Jennifer Sarah Dean (director) and Ben Adams (Musical Director) have given this energetic romp a modern edge by making Don Pedro (Khisraw Jones-Shukoor) a music producer and having the cast engage in singing battles in the tradition of hip hop battles. There is not a lot of tampering with the script to make it fit this conceipt but occasionally it does come across as slightly forced.  To be honest this is true of nearly every contemporary adaptation though, and this troupe do it way better than most.

The play is performed in the rose terraces at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens and Rhiannon Irving (Costumes) has celebrated the location with stunning impact in her magnificent costuming which made the whole event feel very English tea party, strawberries and cream. Alia Syed (Set) also shows impeccable restraint in her set decisions, and also a wonderful attention to detail with the elements present.

Dean demonstrates a brilliant understanding of comedy in this production and with such a large cast and such a full script I was really impressed with how she kept the detail in the high jinks and slap stick from beginning to end with no lulls or dips. The impulsive energy inherent in the text is embodied by everyone on stage in every moment and whilst the play has some adult themes (such as cuckolding) this is beyond child friendly - it is kidtastic!

Motta, Lelda Kapsis (Antonia), and Nicola Bowman (Margaret) steal the show a bit but only because what they are doing is so evidently embedded in their soul. This is not a slight on any of the others because this is some of the best ensemble work I have ever seen.

Adding to the humour is the great stings by John Reed (choreographer). The homage to Bob Fosse was an act of complete genius and is probably the stage moment of the year.

I can say nothing else except this is completely unmissable. You will not see a better Shakespeare production for many years to come so get on down and see it while you can. It is only on til mid December. You will find it hard to ever have more fun with a piece of theatre ever!

5 Stars

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Lost: 5 - Theatre Review

What: Lost: 5
When: 22 November - 3 December
Where: Irene Mitchell Studio, St Martin's Youth Theatre
Written by: Daniel Keene
Directed by: Michele McNamara
Performed by: Pearce Hessling, Fleur Murphy, Kiniesha Nottle, Stephanie Pick, and Marty Rhone
Lighting by: Jason Bovaird and Maddy Search
Sound by: MBRYO

Stephanie Pick
The works of one of Melbourne's great playwrights, Daniel Keene, is not seen on our stages as much as it used to be so there is a sublime joy in experiencing his poetic and evocative storytelling in Lost: 5 presented as part of the 2017 Poppyseed Festival season. Presented by Ilumi-Nation Theatre (the same team who brought us 4.48 Psychosis earlier in the year), the show is a journey through the dignity and complexity of our lost homeless ones.

Michele McNamara has selected 5 of Keene's monologues and interwoven them to try and create a complex tableau of the invisible people in our world. It is always tricky to present a range of monologues as a complete piece of theatre and Lost: 5 comes as close to working as I have seen achieved in a while. The styles and assortment of monologues selected have an enticing texture and the performances are very, very good. For the most part the dramaturgy is good too.

For me the biggest flaw was the choice of 'The Rain' as the connecting through line. The piece is highly repetitive and this works when it is a whole because the poetic structure is strong. Once you split it apart though, the rhythm fails and meaning becomes obscure.  'Two Shanks', on the other hand - which was also split into two segments - stands strong and proud. It is hard to say why one worked and the other didn't.

Part of the answer may lie in the performances. There is a saying in performance - start strong and end strong and it doesn't matter what happens in the middle. Lost: 5 seems to do the opposite. Fleur Murphy gives a heartfelt performance, but it is incredibly naturalistic and almost too ordinary for the incredible complexity of this wonderful woman who is drowning in the detritus of kindness. The calmness of her performance sets a mood and pace which the rest of the cast work hard to overcome. And yes, I am going to say it - you do not use stage makeup to age your face in an intimate theatre.

Stephanie Pick is up to the challenge though, and the humour and pathos of the beautiful story of a babe found in a bin punches through even my cynical exterior and her exploration of the rhythm in the writing is mesmerising. Kiniesha Nottle breaks the sombre mood with her feisty portrayal of 'Getting Shelter'. The language of this monologue is highly stylised and brought to mind the children's speech patterns in Beyond Thunderdome. Nottle's energetic use of the stage was some sort of Beckett/Shakespearean blend which created this amazing sense of the underclasses being a place somewhere in Middle Earth.

The show settles into a slightly more predictable pace as Pearce Hessling shows us his pet in 'A Foundling' and Marty Rhone tells us his story in 'Kaddish'. Rhone's performance was a masterpiece of structure and delicacy as he tells the story of his lost love and as he rages in pain, we rage with him.

The reason the show doesn't quite hold together is because the mise en scene is confused. It is meant to be a scape reminiscent of Flinder Street but it is really a mish mash of items which are meant to signify park benches and street corners but they have not been assembled in any logic and they are inconsistent in their symbology. The biggest mistake is the hotel room for 'Kaddish' though. One of the first lines in the monologue is that "she didn't want to die in a room like this" but I couldn't help thinking the room looked fine. It had an ensemble mattress, a wooden side table and a sitting chair. The poverty being discussed is missing in everything including Rhone's costume.

There is a definite style to Ilumi-Nation's work and Jason Bovaird's angular, shard-like lighting is a great metaphor for these lost people in our society and how they disappear in the cracks and are only ever briefly seen. It would have been great if it could have gotten darker more often because the blocking cried our for spots rather than washes.

MBRYO has created a gentle yet evocative scape full of the complexity and dignity of the stories being portrayed, yet full of industrial sounds keeping us centred in a cold, industrialised, urban society. Bovaird's architectural enhancement of the exposed performance space worked in tandem to disassociate these characters from our warmer world of love and comfort.

Ilumi-Nation has also developed the motif of putting MBRYO on stage which seems to insinuate the presence of the writer. Whilst I love this idea as a post-truth symbology, it does not work as effectively as it did for their previous performance. There was one moment late in the play when Murphy crosses worlds with him. More of this would have developed this idea to a more integrated level.

Lost: 5 is a wonderful collection of writing and the performances were complex and sincere. As beautiful as all this was I admit to wondering why it was being performed right here, right now though. This is possibly the biggest issue for me. The show comes across as a showcase rather than a piece of theatre with intention. Having said that, it is beautiful and I would recommend seeing Keene's work any time you can.

3 Stars