Karralyka Centre, Ringwood
13 – 21 October
Babirra Music Theatre
I recently had the opportunity to see Babirra’s latest production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum at the Karralyka Centre. Originally performed on Broadway in the early 1960s, the themes of Sondheim’s comedic farce are quite dated by today’s standards. However, many companies who perform the show in this day and age will often alter some of the jokes or at times, many sections of the book to suit a modern, open minded audience, for better or for worse. I felt when I saw it that Babirra’s adaptation was for the better and even though some of the pop culture jokes made by some of the characters were unnecessary for the show’s ancient Roman setting, the humour still managed to get the audience laughing throughout the production’s run time and even turned some of the misogynistic jokes into something empowering.
Fulfilling a dream of his, Ashley Weidner took centre stage as the director of Forum and his trademark humour and comedy style made him the perfect choice to bring the Roman comedy to life in all of it’s glory for the 2020s theatrical audience. Weidner’s infectious humour certainly rubbed off on all of his performers, influencing them to have as much fun as possible bringing their characters to life and his creative vision was highly reminiscent of the ancient Roman and Greek architecture and lifestyle in a directorial effort that was can be described as humorous, harmonious and happy-go-lucky. Mal Fawcett and his band were literally instrumental in getting the cast to sing through a score of one of the most complex theatrical songwriters who ever lived, whether voice was their strongest or weakest triple threat element. Fawcett managed to get the cast singing in beautiful harmony, especially in big numbers like Comedy Tonight, Bring Me My Bride and Funeral Sequence in a turn as musical director that was both organised and ovation worthy. Natasha Harvey also added her own modern spin to the show’s narrative through her choreography skills, most notably in the number The House Of Marcus Lycus. Even though the number still remained a presentation of the courtesans who were yet to be sold as brides, Harvey made sure that the number focused mainly on the courtesans, giving full control to all of the ladies performing in the number, in an almost role reversed fashion. She utilised her choreographic skills to take a step forward in the right direction in a dance display that was ebullient, effective and on some occasions, educational.
At the helm of the entire show was Tony Burge, who played Forum’s lead actor and host Pseudolus, a newly freed slave from the house of Senex. He may have been on stage for almost the entire show, but Burge never broke character once, displaying a really strong commitment to his craft in every scene and his experience was placed on a pedestal for the world to the see in a performance that was dashing and dedicated. By his side was Dean Mitchelmore who played the more dutiful Senex slave, Hysterium. Mitchelmore too gave his all with his performance and left the audience in hysterics as his character was put through the ringer in one situation after another, never breaking character in a role that was dynamic and debonair. Others in the main cast also brought their A-games with their portrayals in many different ways. Natasha Bassett’s performance as Domina was a standout from her performance of the song That Dirty Old Man alone, as it entertained the crowd through and through and she had command over the entire audience with every lyric. Domina’s sleazy husband Senex managed to get many laughs thanks to a spot on performance by Darren Mort, who embodied his character so effortlessly, you would think the role was tailor made for him. David Torr and Bean both played two of the more goofier characters in the show, Marcus Lycus and Erronius respectively. However, both of them managed to give their characters are real element of heart and emotion to their roles, especially with the big reveal near the end of the show. Steven Saxton made a grand return to the stage after an over five year absence with his portrayal as Miles Gloriosus. His was a performance to be reckoned with, especially with classical vocal chops to match his high class role, proving to the audience that he’s ready to take on the theatre scene once more and that his staying power is one that can’t be beat.
The king and queen of the production though, despite Forum’s sixty year history, were the two youngest members in the lead cast, Michael Syme and Greta Wilkinson in the roles of Hero and Philia respectively. Both brought something incredible to their characters individually but together, they were absolutely magical with electric chemistry to boot. Throughout this show year, there has been something about Syme’s performances that keeps me coming back for more and his portrayal of Hero is no exception as he handled it with such poise and passion. From starting 2022 in a more serious role, before progressing into a romantic one and now a comical one, his performance versatility is way beyond his years and he is definitely a young performer to keep your eye on as the new show year edges closer. As for Wilkinson, she gave an acting and vocal performance that was unquestionably filled with grace and glee as her character prepared to be sold for marriage but instead found true love at first sight. Her movements were so light on feet and flowed around the stage so elegantly, that I thought that she would levitate off the ground and fly across the stage. Wilkinson’s performance was highly reminiscent of an early Disney Princess and with only her second performance at Babirra, she has established herself as a leading lady for many years to come.
Babirra’s production of Forum proved to be another entertaining show for theatre goers everywhere. It was really silly and funny in all the best ways possible, the show’s original politically incorrect premise definitely won’t fly today, but Babirra did their absolute best to bring it to a modern audience in a great fashion. If you’re looking for a good laugh you’ll definitely find it with this show.
Check out the latest on What’s on Stage in Melbourne here.
Special shoutout to my friend Ashley Weidner for his directorial efforts, I’m so glad you finally fulfilled your dream of bringing this show to life. To Michael Syme for yet another ground breaking performance as Hero and to Steven Edwards, James Kaiser, Aaron Kelly, Maria Roitman and Paul Santzaridis in the Protean trio and ensemble respectively. If you haven’t gotten your tickets, make sure you get them to their final weekend this week, support the company and congratulations to the company for a fine end to an incredible production year.
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