Directed by Sarah Giles
A State Theatre Company South Australia Production
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 4 November
Reviewed by Len Power 1 November 2017
Taking its inspiration from Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and its play-within-a-play, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, this Australian play, ‘The Popular Mechanicals’, details the rehearsals and eventual performance of the bumbling group of amateur actors – the rude mechanicals - chosen to perform the play before royalty.
A highly theatrical piece, it’s cleverly written with opportunities for clowning, vaudeville, farce, slapstick and a unique and recognizable Australian sense of rough anarchy that works well with the real and pretend Shakespeare-type dialogue.
Director, Sarah Giles, has the show moving at break-neck speed and there are some inspired sequences, including fun and games with the word ‘bottom’, an extended fart joke that really is very funny and a hysterical puppet show involving chooks and recognizable classical tunes that is worth the price of admission alone. Costumes and props were colourful and imaginative and the show was cleverly lit.
The strong acting ensemble of Holly Austin, Lori Bell, Julie Forsyth, Charles Mayer, Nathan O’Keefe and Rory Walker presented individually delightful characters with their polished physical and vocal comedy skills and they all displayed excellent comic timing.
However, right from the start, there was a sense of remoteness about it all. Their smallish stage set was positioned too far back from the front of the Playhouse stage, creating a large gap between audience and players. There would be greater involvement in a more intimate venue.
There were long sequences where it was not possible to understand what the actors were saying and there were times where, although the actors were working hard, the comedy seemed forced and less funny than it should be.
It’s a funny and enjoyable show with moments of brilliance and originality but it’s a bit lost in the Playhouse theatre. However, don’t miss the chooks sequence. You’ll never forget it.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.