15 April 2010

Review: Elizabeth - Almost By Chance A Woman

Elizabeth - Almost By Chance A Woman
Malthouse Theatre
7 April 2010
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse


If the Shakespearean malepropism "sporty bras of foreplay"* leaves you dabbing your eyes with your long white handkerchief, then get ye to Elizabeth - Almost By Chance A Woman.

Elizabeth is directed by Micahel Kantor. I love how Kantor has developed the Malthouse Theatre program. We've felt the impact of having artists and a dramaturge in residence, the Tower program has let many independent companies reach much wider audience and we've seen brilliant artists from all over. Of course, folk have whinged (some as they have free plonk at the opening night party), but sometimes it's just because they aren't part of the program.

I just wish I could connect and feel something when Kantor directs. His theatrical voice is distinct and bold and totally his. As an over-analyiser, I can always see the intent and the thought behind his work, but I don't go to the theatre (or read a book or watch TV) to admire technique. I go to wake up my heart and be taken somewhere amazing with people who make me feel and care.

Every artist in the Elizabeth team has been let free to create at the peak of their skill and imagination. Anna Cordingley's design is (as always) so exquisitely detailed that your eyes have to orgasm to take it all in; Louise Fox and Luke Devenish have written a gloriously bawdy script, filled with Aussie slang and cunt jokes that must have Dario Fo laughing from the heavens and wishing that "Mary Scrag of Scotts" would work in his original Italian; Billy Brown gets to wear a frock and swear like an old drag queen in a bitchy mood after a dozen midori and lemonades (and be Shakespeare); and the super cast get to wear amazing frocks and have a sing song.

Everyone is having a total ball and loving themselves sick as the audience are hypnotised by the bright pink tights, work to recognise the songs that were written in the later reign of Elizabeth II, and wish they had a boutique pale ale to scull every time that Billy said something about vaginas. Elizabeth leaves us so busy admiring all the very clever pretty that the story almost disappears. And there's a kick-ass story up there about a dying woman who is losing control of her mind and her personal life and her kingdom, while being harassed by Shakespeare.

Julie Forsyth as Elizabeth is so amazing that she keeps bringing the audience back. She understands the tone of Kantor's direction and uses all of its extravagance to make her monarch someone memorable.  But her performance doesn't feel completely supported by the rest of the show, apart from Paul Jackson's lighting that brings emotional light and shade to the stage when it's lacking.

No matter how good something is by itself, it is doing bad if it distracts the audience, who, after all,  are who the production is for. If pink tights are so memorable that it's all we look at in the scene, bring out the flesh coloured ones. If "clitty cheese" is making us laugh at Billy's smirk and and not at Donna's manipulation of her queen, the connection with the characters is lost. "Neverending Story" was so beautiful that I want a mini-windup version to put on my mantlepiece, but I have no idea what purpose it served in the story, as it created a faux-nostalgic emotion that wasn't for the suffering souls being played on the stage.

There's an old fashionista trick that says, before you leave the house turn around in front of the mirror and the first thing you see – take it off. There's a well used self-editing trick that says, highlight the phrases and words that you know are brilliant writerly writing – then cut them. If something is distracting from the story, a director should take it away.

Elizabeth has too much wonderful in it to be so emotionally unrewarding.


*Fortinbras of Norway, but I know you all got it!

This review appears on AussieThearte.com.

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