Tag: Rhiannon Irving

REVIEW: The Taming of the Shrew

This is as accessible and fun as Shakespeare has ever been

By Sebastian Purcell

If all Shakespeare was as accessible, fun and brilliantly acted as this production of The Taming of the Shrew, schools would have no trouble getting any of his texts into children’s hands. 

The Melbourne Shakespeare Company has put together a sublime ensemble that not only nails the Shakespearean tongues at incredible pace and annunciation (even more impressive outside in the elements), but also the interjection of modern references, which makes the play feel current and relatable. 

The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean, questions the essence of the feminine and masculine, power and control, truth and deceit. Each show the main characters roles are chosen by the audience, often leading to gender reversal which is poetically reflected in the production’s setting in the St Kilda’s Botanical Gardens, characters coming from Gardenvale, Elsternwick and surrounding suburbs.  

In essence the main plot is about the courtship of Petruchia (played by Emma Jevons on the day) and Katherino (John Vizcay-Wilson) the ill-mannered shrew. Petruchia takes on a bet to tame and wed Katherino in order for the younger, fairer Bianco (Saxon Gray) to marry. Bianco cannot marry until the elder sibling Katherino is wed, but Bianco already has two suitors (May Jasper and Charlotte Righetti) and is courted by another (Sarah Krndija). To add intrigue, the bet is placed as the various suitors vie for Bianco’s love, and supporting the suitor’s in their quest are their dutiful sidekicks (Emma Austin and Yash Fernando) who attempt to disguise their true intentions throughout the 90 minute performance. 

While everyone provides an outstanding performance, I think a special mention is warranted for Liliana Dalton (Trania) whom often steals the scenes and delivers the wonderful line “how now brown cow”, demonstrating a pure enunciation of the English language. Emma Jevons as the Tame and John Vizcay-Wilson as the Shrew have an authentic energy and have the most physically demanding roles. Their courtship scene is an absolute highlight of physical acting prowess. Paul Morris (Sly) on the guitar is fantastic, so much so It even felt like Tones and I’s Dance Monkey belongs in Shakespeare. 

Benjamin Almon Colley provides a masterclass in musical direction; who would have thought Kelly Clarkson’s My life would suck without you would sum up the play so gloriously? The choreography (John Reed) is tight and the use of the gardens and gazebo, as well as the set dressing (Hayley James) makes you feel part of the show. In addition, the recycled products and the digital program show the environmentally conscious nature of the Melbourne Shakespeare Company. The costuming (Rhiannon Irving) is consistent with the traditional characterisations but with the added benefit of adding a character sash to each actor making the play easy to follow and acting as clever props throughout.

This is a laugh out loud production, a comedy in all its glory. There’s so much physicality from the performers and it’s a joy to see them enjoying themselves and each other’s brilliant performances. Bring a picnic and a jumper for Melbourne’s cool evenings. This is as accessible and fun as Shakespeare has ever been. A triumphant production. 

The Taming of the Shrew plays from Saturday 7 – Sunday 22 December 2019

The Rose Garden, St. Kilda Botanical Gardens. 

Tickets are available at http://www.melbourneshakespeare.com

Photography courtesy of Jack Dixon-Gunn

Melbourne Shakespeare Company Presents MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Blithe, beguiling and fantastically fun

By Leeor Adar

Delivering yet another flamboyant jewel to the Shakespearean scene this summer, Melbourne Shakespeare Company (MSC) returns with Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing

MSC manages to hook its audiences with its flair for performing some of the great comedies of Bill Shakespeare in a way that is totally enjoyable and easily accessible by audiences of today. So much of the work comes together due to its excellent direction from Jennifer Sarah Dean and her talented crew and ensemble cast.

The start of summer in Melbourne delivered some intense rainfall, and set in the beautiful rose garden of the St Kilda Botanic Gardens, the cast of Much Ado played on. We were thankfully housed under a marquee, but the cast’s professionalism through the occasional lashings of rain was commendable. With white frocks and florals a-plenty, the production was clearly set for warm days and balmy evenings. The use of the rose garden was artful for this production, and the creative use of space in the usual MSC style, was exceptional.

Much Ado is one of the more popular Shakespearean comedies, where the arrows and slings between leads Beatrice and Benedick, make for some enjoyable viewing. If you can get past the cruelty of Claudio’s treatment of Hero, it makes for a charmingly feather-light play.

Leading as Beatrice, Annabelle Tudor embodied the character’s classic snarky attitude and emotional range with humorous flair and passion. Tudor makes an excellent Beatrice, and her understanding of physical comedy (like much of the cast) is quality. As Beatrice’s counterpart Benedick, Fabio Motta gives a charming and delightfully warm performance, which is unusual for the Benedicks of productions past who often resort to snideness and arrogance to portray the character. The pair are supported by a fantastic cast, who perform in lively synchronicity with one another. Madeleine Mason made for a sweet Hero, the cool hippy vibe of the Friar played by Hunter Perske added another dimension to this enjoyable production, and everyone equally jumped in for solid performances and fun. May Jasper and Jonathan Peck were a satisfyingly slapstick pair as Dogberry and Verges, and Khisraw Jones-Shukoor was the definition of disco-sleaze as Don Pedro.

The musical element of this MSC performance was not the strongest, even where it definitely added to the comedy. Musical director Ben Adams, who directed an astonishingly fun and talented a cappella group in The Comedy of Errors in March this year, couldn’t quite get the performers to hit that mark this time with the evident exceptions of the delightful Nicola Bowman (Margaret) and Motta. The enthusiasm was there, but the quality of the musical talent did not match the excellent quality of the acting on this occasion.

A real highlight is Rhiannon Irving’s imaginative costume design, which once again adds a great deal to the delight of the performance. The choice of elegant white was utterly appropriate for the outdoor setting in summer, special mention must be made of the fascinating fascinators fashioned from CD’s, cassette tapes, and heat-affected records, and the consideration that went into Don Pedro’s flashing headgear was noted and greatly appreciated.

Despite the rain I really enjoyed myself, and have no doubt MSC’s future productions will continue to deliver.

You can catch MSC’s Much Ado About Nothing in the beautiful rose garden every weekend of December leading up to Christmas, 2pm and 7pm. For tickets visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/much-ado-about-nothing-by-melbourne-shakespeare-company-tickets-39610284427

Image by Burke Photography

Australian Premiere of THE HAUNTING

Chilling visions of Dickens

By Owen James

A haunted, secluded mansion plagued by visitations from spectres and spirits is no new story, but remains irresistible to the creative mind. In The Haunting, writer/adaptor Hugh Janes has taken five short stories from the supernatural-obsessed Charles Dickens, and refashioned them into this two-handed drama-horror. This library of Dickens’ tales is aptly set inside a library, with the young book dealer David Filde cataloguing the books of Lord Gray, as a series of strange and unexplained events haunt the unsettled pair.

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As we enter the deceptively intimate Athenaeum, we are met with the beautiful set designed by John Kerr. There are dusty, cobwebbed never-ending shelves of the desolate and abandoned library, and a nightmarish tree beyond the window, eerily bare of leaves. This evocative, thematically overbearing Gothic mansion, like the play itself, conceals secrets in every nook and cranny, with intricate design and not a detail overlooked by Kerr.

With a sudden stab of sound and a dramatic dropping descent of lights, we are instantly transported to this haunted Victorian world crafted by director Jennifer Sarah Dean, where nothing and no-one can be trusted. We are hypnotically drawn slowly into the sceptical minds of our two characters, and lured into a false sense of security – the perfect victims for chills and jump-scares a plenty. While the first few of these were received with small bouts of laughter, the audience’s bemused titillation descended into audible gasps. Kyle Evans’ eerie sound design played perhaps the biggest part in this. Almost a whole other character, the sound effects and soundscape are perfectly effective and always precisely timed – but could afford to be louder. The walls of the haunted Athenaeum could shake and rattle a little more.

Duo Cameron Daddo and Gig Clarke build the tension and suspense necessary to pull off this piece, and clearly enjoy working with each other. Watching their combined terror mount with each heightened descent into the nocturnal haunted world invites us to join their trepidation and jolting surprise, being as much the victims of this haunting as they are.

Daddo does a commendable job presenting the cautious and austere Lord Gray as a man perturbed by compromise and change. As Gray moves from certainty to fear, building to hysterics, his counterpart takes an almost mirrored approach. Clarke as the seemingly tentative yet curious David Filde is a delight to watch, delivering the character and his stories with perfectly executed stress and anxiety – perhaps symbolising Dickens’ own obsession with the supernatural world.

Tehya Nicholas provides a chilling visual performance as Mary, hitting her marks to execute the well-timed moments of shock and intensity. Her ghastly costume by Rhiannon Irving appears always briefly, but memorably. Jason Bovaird’s chilling lighting reveals every darkened corner and cavity at just the right moment, and aptly focuses our attention when and where required. The warm sunlight and misty Gothic nighttime invoke diurnal safety and tense claustrophobia respectively, creating the ideal sinister aesthetic for the piece.

The tension built by the strong first act is unfortunately hindered by a weaker second act and anticlimactic ending. The strong performances and technical elements do their best to keep up, but ultimately we are left questioning how to feel for these characters, and where or with whom our sympathy should lie. The Haunting is a visually evocative and beautifully atmospheric piece that provides a wonderful ride, where it’s best to enjoy the journey but perhaps not the destination.

The Haunting haunts the Athenaeum Theatre until July 1st. Tickets through Ticketek: https://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=HAUNTEDD17

Photography by Nicole Riseley

Melbourne Shakespeare Company Presents THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

Faultless farce

By Leeor Adar

Shakespeare is reimagined in this marvellously funny production of the Melbourne Shakespeare Company. No one left Brunswick’s Siteworks where the production was held without having cackled with joy.

The Comedy of Errors.jpg

Shakespeare’s comedies are at times something to be endured with gritted smiles at out-dated jokes that haven’t been reined in for their times, but director Jennifer Sarah Dean and assistant director Paul Robertson have masterfully done justice to the work.

The production follows the usual case of mistaken identity of two long-lost twin brothers (Nathaniel Schneider and Jonathan Peck) and their forlorn father (Hunter Perske). Throw in two tumbling manservants (Nicola Bowman and Madeleine Stewart), sisters of differing temperament (Jaqueline Whiting and Lelda Kapsis), a courtesan (Annabelle Tudor), and a magician-esque doctor (Bridget Sweeney), and you have a comedy of seismic proportions.

I rarely get the chance to commend a production for all its elements, but The Comedy of Errors is perfection. The cast delivered with humour and panache in such synchronicity that their talent coupled with the direction of the performance provided an unprecedented professionalism (other companies should take note). Costuming by Rhiannon Irving was unique, colourful and striking. Each cast member donned a wig, which appeared to be put together by some seriously talented arts-and-craft person. A special mention must be made to the costuming of the a capella group (Andrew Isles, Ryan Smedley, Mitch Ralston and Patrick Hill), who sported brightly-coloured stripes and matching beards and lipstick. Irving’s creation was so imaginative and charming, the entrance of each character brought more marvels to admire.

Musical director Ben Adams concocted a mix of delightful old and new-school tunes for the a capella group to perform at opportune moments of the show. At times our quartet would enter from an unsuspecting part of the outdoor setting with a flourish and in unison, that would send the audience into fits of laughter. It was a modern touch that provided plenty of entertainment throughout the show. Further, the choice and use of Siteworks’ outdoor space from varying entrances, exits and positions made for an excellent and surprising use of space. The cast of characters had full use of the performance arena, and as an audience, we would shift our heads in wonder at all the happenings around us.

Overall, I am absolutely thrilled with the choices made in this production at every level. I would happily sit through the performance again and cart out every person I know in what would surely be a lively and enjoyable night.

The Comedy of Errors was performed March 25 – April 2, 2017. For upcoming productions, visit https://www.melbourneshakespeare.com/