Play review by Meredith Fuller psychologist|author|theatre maker
“Love at first sight, a battle of wits, a devious plan, a marriage, a death and another marriage…There’s no mistaking; this is definitely a classic Shakespeare plot!”
We had an uplifting Melbourne experience tonight – an outdoor summer entertainment at Fairfield Amphitheatre watching a romantic comedy classic. A warm welcome at the kiosk box office, collection of deckchairs and drinks, following the fairy lights to the venue, and settling in with live entertainment before the 2 hour play. As the sun set during the performance, we enjoyed the birdsong, balmy air, reflections on the Yarra, the crickets, and even a Kookaburra who managed to co ordinate his laughing with comedic moments. The venue was fabulous for varied actor entrance and exits, as they cavorted up and down the steps, crawled around the river bank, or skulked within the audience.
The cast of 12 playfully interacted with the audience, and added current day quips (Murdoch, Trump, feminists), deadpan illustrative examples that brought a contemporary edge, and pertinent droll ad libs according to each night’s audience.
Grace Maddern & Jack Wilkinson, co founders of gjproductions have fused their passion for Shakespeare and musical theatre for the past four years with outdoor theatre and assisting high school students to access the great writing of Shakespeare. He wrote about the psychology of the human condition: people – their emotions, behaviours, and relationships; perennial themes with much to reveal for us today. We could easily imagine all of the action taking place on social media, as people fall in and out of love, cruelly manipulate, and get up to mischief.
A minimal set and 1940s/50s costumes worked well. The play begins with two beauties making a colourful, cheery entrance in their frocks. Glorious orange, pink, and purple were juxtaposed with Italian uniforms of beige as dancers twirled with energy and joy; a visual feast. The choreography by Grace Maddern was uplifting, the fight choreography by Geoffry Weber was exciting, and the director’s blocking worked beautifully as the actors used their stage and surrounds to good effect.
The cast worked well as a team working to bring out the best in each other. They all endeared themselves to the audience with their ‘asides’, antics, and delivery.
James Martin was mesmerising in his role as Benedick. His portrayal of this character was superb and he embodied his character with agility and humour. A fine actor, he also revealed deft comedy when hiding under the arbour.
Peter Hatherley was the anchor with magnificent gravitas and verisimilitude. His soliliquy was palpable.
Grace Maddern and Joanna Bakker were strong, funny and engaging throughout. Bakker’s song was delicious – she’s cool. Jonathan Shilling’s dramatic appearance as Friar Francis was hilarious, and Jennifer Piper’s Don John was insouciant.
The cast obviously had a ball together, and this was infectious.
It is a long play – perhaps there are some scenes where actors could streamline or tighten their nonverbal ‘business’ and shave off some time. The sight-gags and interactions usually work better when swift.
If you haven’t seen Shakespeare, if you’d like to lounge outside under the stars, and if you want a feel-good summer night picnic experience with cognitive benefits, book now.
Director Jack Wilkinson
Benedick James Martin
Beatrice. Grace Maddern
Claudio Daniel Agar
Hero Marissa Ecomono
Leonato Peter Hatherley
Margaret Jessica Gadsden
Don Pedro Samuel Anderson
Don John / Sexton Jennifer Piper
Borachio Joanna Bakker
Conrade / Messenger Kyle Cuthbert
Dogberry Richard Mealey
Verges / Friar Francis Jonathon Shilling
Fairfield Amphitheatre, Fairfield Park
4 further performances:29th, 30th, 31st January and 1st February