Poppy seed Theatre Festival until 11 DECEMBER 2016

‘LADYCAKE’ till 27 November

This satisfying production of a ‘modern refashioning’ of the myths surrounding the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette who lived like a rock star against the backdrop of a blood thirsty revolution’, was created and performed by Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn, and Anna Rodway.

What a clever title from this impressive trio who graduated from the VCA and formed their theatre company in 2015. In LADYCAKE their plaiting of past to present day was sophisticated and seamless, and the plasticity of their expressive faces was hilarious. They have done their research, and their storytelling is superb.

The crew was a confluence of effectiveness, similar to the three creator/performers. Audience engagement and laughter was strong, despite uncomfortable chairs and an unfortunate late arrival.

Hutchinson – an inflatable construction artist – created phallic trees that provided ongoing sight gags and spearheaded the collapse of Versailles in tandem with the removal of stratospheric wigs and poufy hooped gowns. The trees’ deflation provided apt visuals for the disappointment and precariousness of their peripheral lives attached to their Queen of celebrity. Poppenberg’s set design was potent in simplicity. Spraying the flowers with glitter was a deft touch. Crick’s strobing segment, with a gaggle of severed heads flowing into focus was a masterstroke.

This cut off Marie Antoinette's head
This cut off Marie Antoinette’s head

Bellman-Sharpe’s music and sound design was as fascinating as Wilkins’ costume design. I was impressed by his contemporary reference to carriages thundering along, the ominous waiting… (more anticipatory than 2001 A Space Odyssey), and several stylised pieces that reverberated long after we left.

These three women worked beautifully as an ensemble. Madelaine Nunn grabbed our attention from the beginning and her precision retained it throughout. I was reminded of the young British character actor Joyce Grenfell, known for her portrayals of naïve earnestness.

When commentating on Marie Antoinette, their technique of placing their idol on a pedestal contrasted with tearing her down with nastiness was reinforced by arching their bodies upwards into light and high pitched froth versus squatting in darkness to herald their descent to dark, guttural bitching. Like Grenfell mixing it with the girls from St Trinian’s, Nunn managed to charm us with her benign quips delivered just after the beat, not quite measuring up to the visceral viciousness of the other two.

Anna Rodway and Candace Miles encapsulated the competitive and toxic bitch archetypes respectively. Having written the psychological book  ‘Working with Bitches: Identify 8 Types of office mean girls and rise above it’ I was gratified by their verisimilitude; their characters hung well together. We can recognise these women, and they are us; a confronting mirror.

Bizarre and witty, this play was tragi-comic. The King actually required small surgery in order to eventually consummate the marriage so their exhortations to ‘stick that baguette inside you’  and produce an heir were rather cruel; although his preoccupation with the mechanics of locks and clocks was rather Freudian.

Stylised dancing and quipping was employed as an amusing bridge they traversed from past, to present, and future. The use of a diary to record every moment of everyday life morphed into social media today. Indeed, whatever has been written cannot be taken back; demonstrating how gossip and ignorant criticism undermines and destroys our humanity. Here is a reminder that we must take back our projections, or ‘off with our heads’ it shall be, to paraphrase a different Queen.

I would have liked to see Nunn hold her diary/iphone downstage in stillness with cut to black as a stronger finish than wandering off stage, and possibly the letter-reading from the Empress or some dance steps could have been tightened. But these are minor points.

Having seen the rehearsal for ‘Mill on the Floss’ dir by the supremely energetic Tanya Gerstle (Optic Nerve), I was struck by Nunn’s capacity to embody whatever she does. Rodway was elegant, and Miles was almost evil. These birds are enchanting and I await their next production with curiosity.

The concept of the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival with its’ emphasis on collaboration and much needed support for original theatre practitioners is timely and vital. I was disappointed I missed ‘Blessed’ and note that the next play, ‘What’s Yours Is Mine’ features Tom Halls as one of the performer/divisors. Having observed Hall’s career trajectory since he was fifteen, I am delighted to see that this highly talented ‘performance anarchist’ is receiving the acclaim he certainly deserves. He’s in good hands with director Virsik who’s the real deal. I personally attest to her generosity with time and meticulous support to newcomers of all ages and stages.

The fourth play is F. Teenage sex in a post-internet world, yet another intriguing theme. It isn’t too late to attend the four – BOOK NOW www.poppyseed.net.au

‘LADYCAKE’ runs Tues to Sat 8pm and Sun 4pm at the Trades Hall New Ballroom, Carlton, please don’t miss it. Bookings via poppyseed.net.au

Share with: