Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & playwright (21 plays). Pub. Currency Press. Teacher Scriptwriting 2019, Melb Polytechnic; Worked as actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation, Playwriting. Kate was Head of Drama/Teacher, NMIT; Former Coordinator of Writing/ Editing, Swinburne Uni. Read reviews here or: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer doesn't always work on blog.
Friday, 8 August 1997
The Popular Mechanicals, Aug 8, 1997
Mechanicals by Keith Robinson, Tony Taylor Shakespeare Mudfest
At Dancehouse until
August 16, 1997
Reviewed by Kate
Hebert around Aug 7, 1997
Acting badly is easy. Pretending to act badly is really
difficult. Performing a parody of a Shakespearian comedy that requires comic
actors to satirise bad acting is near insanity. Such is the bravado of a group
of Melbourne University students as part of the Mudfest.
The Popular Mechanicals is a witty send-up of the
"mechanicals" or tradesmenwho rehearse and perform 'the very tragical story of Pyramus and Thisbe'
in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.ˇ
Writers, Tony Taylor and Keith Robinson have integrated the
original scenes from The Dream with some hilarious backstage Amateur Dramatic
Society antics of the characters from the play. They draw on numerous comic
styles ranging from Flanagan and Allan vaudeville routines and stand-up comedy
to musical comedy chorus lines and puppet play.
The Am-Dram references abound and anyone who has ever
rehearsed a classic with an amateur drama club will recognise the rigid
artistic hierarchy, theatrical ignorance, waspish behaviour and poor acting of
its members. The group's mindless adoration of a ring-in professional artiste
from London is a scream, particularly when he is revealed to be a drunken hack
with an ego the size of the MCG.
The text is fast and funny if a bit too camp for some
tastes. It emphasises word plays and confusions, utilises linguistic and
theatrical anachronisms and gives an after-life to these well-loved characters
in a simpler manner than does Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but
he was adapting from a tragedy, not a romantic comedy.
This student cast, directed by Simon Day who also performs,
give the play their all. They are enthusiastic, lively and obviously having a
great time that is the whole point of student drama.
There are a few moments that are in tune with the fast and
furious slapstick of the play. The shark puppet aqua-ballet to Strauss is one
and the comic business in the background of the Pyramus and Thisbe story is a
The problem is that the whole piece needs to pace up and
cues need to be tightened. Much of the comic 'lazzi' or slapstick is laboured.
The cast miss so many of the stylistic allusions and have such limited clown
skills that the production is no longer a parody but an example of its comic