The Popular Mechanicals
By Keith Robinson, William Shakespeare and Tony Taylor.
Original direction by Geoffrey Rush. A State Theatre Company South Australia Production. Directed by Sarah Giles. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. November 1 – 4 2017. Bookings: 62752700 or www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Crude, rude and ever so funny, the State Theatre Company South Australia’s production of The Popular Mechanicals is a textbook lesson in the uproarious art of coarse acting. The six rustic mechanicals of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream gather to rehearse their performance of the The Most Lamentable Comedy and Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe for the palace.
|Holly Austin and Nathan O'Keefe in The Popular Mechanicals
Photo by David James McCarthy
It would be easy to denounce director Sarah Giles’s production of this fantasized account of behind the scenes shenanigans as pandering to the groundlings “who, for the most part are capable of nothing but dumb show and noise” Not so; this highly disciplined, brilliantly comical display of clowning, performed by an ensemble of eccentric, idiosyncratic and simpleton bumpkins frolics merrily through ninety minutes of outrageous puns, slickly choreographed slapstick, spouting doggerel from the lip and conjuring moments of clever invention, such as an orchestra of sewing machine, glass bottles with water, a xylophone and even a brush upon a wooden dog. A highlight of the evening was the march of the red-combed plucked chooks ending in a fiery spray of feathers.
|Julie Forsyth in The Popular Mechanicals. Photo David James McCarthy
Gag on gag is met with gales of laughter from those whose fancies have been tickled and funny bones rubbed. The Popular Mechanicals may not be to everybody’s humour, but there is no denying the skill of the actors, the discipline of the business and the energy of a cast that bring freshness and fun to a piece that could easily have been relegated to the dustbin of dated revue material. It is spared the fate of so many flash in the pan ideas of their time by Giles’s direction, Jonathan Oxlade’s set and costume design, David Heinrich’s composition, sound design and musical direction and Gabrielle Nankivell’s choreography.
|Lori Bell in The Popular Mechanicals. Photo: David James McCarthy
The State Theatre’s cast handle the Shakespearian text as deftly as they do the various comic genres of the work. Nathan O’Keefe, Charles Mayer and Rory Walker are regular identities on the State Theatre stage, and newcomer Lori Bell joins with the multi-talented Holly Austin and the veteran Australian performer, Julie Forsyth, to make up a cast that observes Hamlet’s advice to the players with impeccable timing, sparkling energy and a vivacious sense of fun. I imagine that rehearsals would have been a heap of fun, but the production is never allowed to lapse into self-indulgence, and from the opening veiled attack on the audience with the number We love ya to the final funny performance of the play within the play, The Popular Mechanicals is good time entertainment with a capital E.
|The cast of The Popular Mechanicals. Photo: David James McCarthy