Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Sovereign Wife, Sisters Grimm, July 12, 2013 ***1/2

Written by Ash Flanders & Declan Greene
By Sisters Grimm, MTC NEON Festival 
MTC Lawler Studio, July 12 to 21, 2013 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 12 
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published  in Herald Sun online on Tues July 16, 2013 and then in print. KH 
 Ash Flanders in The Sovereign Wife

In The Sovereign Wife, Sisters Grimm delivers a bizarre, irreverent and furiously entertaining conflation of styles, anachronisms and characters in drag that is expected from this inimitable, queer theatre company.

Declan Greene’s production, set on the 19th century Ballarat goldfields, looks like a Victorian melodrama colliding with a 21st century drag show, and its great strength is that it never takes itself seriously.

Over three acts, the play charts the life of naive, Irish immigrant, Moira O’Flaherty, as she struggles to survive the goldfields, her marriage and a cunning enemy who returns to plague her.

The clever script (Ash Flanders, Greene) counterpoints witty dialogue with appalling clich├ęs, while the performance style balances intentionally amateurish acting and staging with broad parody and moments of subtlety.

Cheesy soap opera bumps into poignant dramatic scenes, shambolic staging contrasts with sharp choreography, and colonial Australia exists alongside a drug-addled, club-dance scene.

The style, narrative and characters reference the spectrum of bad Australian movies: early talkies, Chips Rafferty in The Eureka Stockade, Jedda in the desert, Jimmy Blacksmith’s violence, and Nicole Kidman’s awkward performance in Australia.

A different actor (Genevieve Giuffre, Ash Flanders, Jason De Santis) plays Moira in each act, starting with a doe-eyed Moira suffering the indignities of a drunken husband and a randy neighbour.

Eight years later in act two, the now-wealthy landowner, Moira – played in perfect drag by Flanders – faces demons from her past.

The confounding final act, with its weirdly satisfying denouement, sees 19th century Moira juxtaposed against contemporary Australia– but I won’t spoil the surprise.

The racially diverse cast plays intentional stereotypes and intentionally racist, clownish depictions of Chinese, Irish and Indigenous characters on the goldfields.

The characters are outrageous rather than offensive and provide an unexpected, political commentary on Australian society.

There is an obvious unevenness in the quality of performers, but Flanders shines with his uncanny ability to play a woman genuinely, and his skill in balancing broad farce with moving, truthful, dramatic moments.

Paul Blenheim, Giuffre, Morgan Maguire and Peter Paltos are versatile in multiple roles, and Joseph Chetty’s diva leads a rousing finale.

The show is riddled with anachronisms: 21st century music, topical references, language and sensibilities that bang up against colonial tunes, historical facts and period details.

Nobody is spared the scathing satire and parody of the Sisters Grimm in this often shriekingly funny, zany and sometimes bewildering production.

By Kate Herbert

Director Declan Greene; Writers Ash Flanders and Declan Greene; Set Design Romanie Harper; Costume Design Owen
Phillips; Composer & Sound Design Jed Palmer; Lighting Design Katie Sfetkidis; Producer Bek Berger; Dramaturgy Nakkiah Lui
Cast Paul Blenheim, Joseph Chetty, Jason De Santis, Ash Flanders, Genevieve Giuffre, Bessie Holland, Felix Ching Ching Ho, Morgan Maguire, Peter Paltos

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