Reviews | Much Ado About Nothing, Relative Values, Slut: The Play, Hissy Fest 2017

Much Ado About Nothing

Upstage Theatre,

at Maddies of Bolwarra

Extra show on November 25

THE setting of this production of Shakespeare’s classic comedy in World War II England is brightly established in the opening when women in 1940s clothing are shown attending to washed clothes while the popular war-related song from that era, We’re Going to Hang Out Our Washing on the Siegfried Line, is heard. The women are largely seen after that in military garb, as females who are involved in tasks such as air raid wardens while their men are fighting abroad.

Director Andrew Coates, the actors and the staging team, make this story about men establishing relationships with women after returning home to celebrate a victory very enjoyable in a beautiful outdoor setting. Amusing things happen, such as people hiding behind bushes and trees, and listening to conversations, with these fitting well into the story. The production’s biggest change from the original text is to leave out a masked ball at which the two pairs of eventual lovers learn things which either disturb or encourage them when other guests don’t realise who they are. Instead, they overhear the remarks at military meetings.

The returning soldiers, Benedick (Tony Anthony) and Claudio (Matthew Bailey), are friends with very different views about women. Benedick is an associate of Don Pedro (Tim Moran), here a prince who is in exile from his homeland, and makes uncomplimentary remarks about Beatrice (Ann Croger), the niece of a governor, Leonato (Robert Moore), with her responses matching his sarcasm. Claudio, on the other hand, is instantly attracted to Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Katy Avery) and she clearly shares his affection. Don Pedro’s sister, Countess Joan (Jessica Rose), a brother in the original text, doesn’t like him, and does her best to give his associates a bad time, adding to the problems of Benedick, Claudio, Beatrice and Hero.

The changes of sex of many of the characters work well, with Karen Lantry’s Dogberry, a male in the text, becoming the very amusing and practical constable in charge of the community’s female night watch team.

All the members of the large cast do excellent work, with Dominic Moore’s singer and musician Balthasar leading the audience in an upbeat song at the end. (Moore also composed some of the show’s background music.) The technical team involved multiple people in most aspects, including costuming and hair styling, and their work adds to the appeal of the show.   

 *  *  *  *

Relative Values

Newcastle Theatre Company,

NTC Theatre, Lambton

Ends November 25​

NOEL Coward amusingly looked at the changing status of people working as servants in this engaging 1951 comedy, and director Fran Hodgson and the cast show the timelessness of the situations, with the employees of a titled woman having to deal with her reactions and those of her upper-class friends to a Hollywood starlet her son brings home as his fiancée. And the confusion and demands on the retainers are intensified by unexpected events. The 10 actors move briskly around the elegant drawing-room style set, with revelations adding to the chaos and the laughs growing.

Household attendants were background figures in Coward’s 1930s and 40s plays, but here they are often present when the conservative upper-crust people have difficulty in making decisions and offer good advice. Brian Wark’s butler, Crestwell, is certainly adept at handling the concerns of Felicity, the Countess of Marshwood (Leanne Guihot), who is worried that the failure of her son’s first marriage could be repeated. The countess’s lady’s maid, Dora Moxton (Alison Cox), on the other hand has a good reason for being concerned that the planned marriage will go ahead. The reactions of her ladyship to that problem, when she is told about it, are very amusing, with Crestwell coming to the rescue, at least momentarily, with a well-considered proposition.

Nothing, of course, goes the way that the Marshwood household members hope, with the problems amusingly growing. The fiancée, Miranda Frayle (Belinda Hodgson), turns out to be an even better actress in real life than onscreen, and son Nigel (Kris McCord), who is now the Earl of Marshwood, is shown to be less adept at manoeuvring other people than those around him. The surprise arrival of another good-looking young man (Lee Mayne) adds to the confusion, with the servants having to work harder at trying to get the result desired by Felicity.

The other characters include Felicity’s cousin, Peter Ingleton (Noel Grivas), who has a knack for seeing beyond the upper class, titled neighbours, Sir John and Lady Cynthia Hayling (John Dickeson and Kathleen Warren), and a young house maid (Natasha Steggles). The story moves at a steady pace, with Fran Hodgson’s costume designs very much of the period, as is Robyn Greenwell’s set design of a library that is used as a lounge room.     

 *  *  *  *

Slut: The Play, Hunter Drama’s Actors Company, Young Actors Development Centre, Broadmeadow

Hissyfest: 2017 – Hot + Cold, Tantrum Youth Arts, Civic Playhouse, Newcastle

Both shows ended Saturday

The skills of young people involved in theatre in Newcastle were evident in these two shows. Slut: The Play, based by writer Katie Cappiello on the experiences of teen girls living in New York who found themselves called sluts for actions such as refusing to have sex with demanding males, was a gripping work, with Mia Sifflet as Joey, a 16-year-old who is raped by two boys while in a taxi, never offstage for the play’s 80 minutes. She and the other six girls, directed by Emily Daly, movingly revealed situations that had led to them being called sluts, often in a sarcastic manner.

Young performers, writers and directors were prominent in this year’s Hissyfest, in 10 original short plays built around the themes “hot” and “cold”. Writer-director Alexandra Jensen’s The Exhibition, for example, amusingly showed how a woman in a portrait art show was coldly distraught about being placed between works showing Marilyn Monroe and Mona Lisa, with all three being attracted to the armless grey statue of a largely naked young man. And Nicholas Tan’s Melted Butter had a man wearing one of his deceased mother’s dresses warmly reflecting on his relationship with her.