Review: VCA’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty

Stunning performances throughout

By Christine Moffat

The VCA School of Performing Arts’ production of Compleat Female Stage Beauty is a play about image and transformation, examining the very modern, yet age-old issues of gender and societal roles. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher imagines a tumultuous episode in the life of the real-life celebrated female character actor Edward ‘Ned’ Kynaston (Tom Heath), and charts his historical journey from darling of London society to the wilderness of potential irrelevance.

Kynaston is at times arrogant, at others touchingly fragile, and requires a transformative performance. Heath deftly makes the flawed Kynaston heroic by investing him with an unwavering honesty of intention. As Nell Gwyn, Rosie Lockhart is a standout performance, succeeding in making the historically famous and notoriously fickle Gwyn a warm and vulnerable real woman.  Matt Whitty is aptly named, as his comic timing is impeccable and his Charles II is amusing without becoming a caricature. Alice Cavanagh was also especially good in both her roles, again showing a good sense of natural comedic acting, as opposed to simply playing for laughs. It has to be said that it is difficult to only make specific mention of the performers above, as the calibre of performances from every member of this large cast was superb.

The original set design by Amaya Veccellio (beginning at the theatre door) takes the audience backstage in a seventeenth-century theatre, and helps create the sense of immediacy that continues throughout the play. On the walk to your seat the actors are right there, completing their pre-show rituals of dressing, rehearsing lines, or even grabbing a quickie. The careful lighting created by Sarah Willetts augmented by the subtle sound design of Kahra Scott-James evokes a pre-electric world, whilst ensuring that the audience does not need to strain see details. Director Tanya Gerstle deserves recognition for generating a true feeling of immersion and involvement: during a bawdy tavern scene when Kynaston is at his lowest, and undergoing great torment from his ‘audience’, my theatre companion had to stop herself from heckling back in his defence.

This classic play explores the concept of self, and how it is affected by circumstance and choice. This particular production is a poetic marriage of pathos and comedy, and a credit to everyone involved. I can thoroughly recommend it as an intelligent, engaging, and most importantly, entertaining night’s theatre.

Show information:

Sun 28 October – Thurs 1 November, 7:30pm

Fri 2 November, 2:00pm & 7:30pm

Venue: Grant Street Theatre, Grant Street, Southbank

Tickets: $22 Full/$16 Concession