Thursday, April 07, 2016
It has been a long time since I was active in the Canberra theatre scene. This is a shame, because there is some amazing stage talent in this town, and since becoming a father I’ve have hardly any time to even go to shows, much less have any involvement. But I’m hoping to turn over a new leaf this year, and Mrs. Lemming and I finally managed to organize a babysitter and get out to the Q to catch Playhouse Creatures last weekend.
April de Angelis’s play is a historical fiction set during the English restoration, when women were first allowed to perform in the Theatre. Historical accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of getting many of the era’s iconic performers on the stage together. This works very well. Not many modern Australians care that the Bettertons and Nell Gwynn worked for rival companies (although both performed with the Marshall sisters). But anyone who goes to the show will appreciate having them sparring on the same stage.
The play tells a story of Ms. Gwynn’s drive to break into the theatrical profession, and follows her and her contemporaries through the various challenges that faced women working in the field at that time. There is a strong feminist element to this, as the actresses navigate the fickle tastes of theatre patrons, recriminations of spurned ex-lovers, witch hunts and fires. The similarities between these struggles and the challenges facing modern working women were effective, and added another of many layers to the performance. Anyone interested in feminist takes on these pioneers of the stage should definitely catch the show this week before it closes.
But even for those who are not drawn to the stage by feminism, the play has a lot to offer. The roles are deep and challenging and diverse, with the actresses playing historical actresses both back-stage, practicing their craft, going about their lives in and around the theatre, and in something like half a dozen plays within the play, as excerpts of various period performances which the characters performed. Fortunately for the audience, the roles were performed by some of Canberra’s finest actresses, with expert direction from Jordan Best. As a result the show is worth the price of admission simply to see great performers bringing challenging roles to life with humor, yearning, and passion. Anyone wishing to see great performers rise to the challenge of complex roles should enjoy this show.