Knox Community Arts Centre
17 to 25 March
I returned to Bayswater just one week after performing there to attend the opening night of the new SLAMS MTC production of A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder. My introduction to more absurdist musical comedies was a relatively recent one and despite the fact that many of their plot lines can be rather repetitive and predictable ones in this day and age, I’ve often surprised myself by how they keep me guessing each time I view one. These kinds of shows have proved to be either hit or miss in the amateur circuit for many years now but I can safely say that SLAMS’ first show of the year has proved to be a hit and a true honour to the original Tony award winning musical, which will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of its Broadway debut this year.
Gentleman’s Guide may not be the first musical that will pop into anyone’s head by a long shot, but the marvellous production team managed to make sure that SLAMS’ adaptation was going to shine a light on this comic masterpiece. Known more for his directorial efforts at PEP Productions, Justin Cleaver made a triumphant directorial debut for the company, fresh off his Guild win for Best Director for last year’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical and did justice to the comedic source material given to him once again. His efforts saw a creative vision that placed you right into the heart of early 20th century high society in the United Kingdom despite occasional surrealism and a rich, noble family that seemingly had worse luck than the Kennedys, but that’s a whole other story. What I appreciated most about Cleaver’s directing was how natural the comedy was portrayed both verbally and physically. It may have been one of the most melodramatic shows I’d ever seen, but it truly fit the setting of the musical, none of the jokes felt forced upon the audience and none of his actors were desperately attempting to fish for laughs throughout, resulting in a display that was both smart and sharp. Julia Roper and Glen Barnett had the shared duties of musical director with Roper focusing mainly on the vocal selections while Barnett remained in charge of the band. Together, with their trusted band, they presented the audience with a score that beautifully combined classical crossover and traditional musical theatre music of yesteryear to deliver a melodic and in the best ways, maniacal symphony that could make even Sondheim and Bernstein jealous. Heavily choreographed dance routines may have been limited compared to her previous choreography, but Natasha Harvey still managed to bring out truly seductive and at times, sultry storytelling from each of her dancers whether they were wooing a lover or sticking like glue to their picture frames. The movements displayed from the male cast were filled with charm while the female cast’s movements were loaded with grace and when they collided, it was like watching both an erotic, romantic movie and an elegant, English period drama all at the same time.
As for the cast, both leads and featured ensemble showcased real loyalty to their craft whether they were a commoner, a noble, a judge, a detective, a servant or even a picture frame, as they truly made their characters interesting ones no matter how big or small their roles and I give props to the featured ensemble for all of their dedication and hard work bringing this show to its fantastic level. Leading the troupe with their performance of Montague Navarro was Michael Syme, who last year established himself as one of the finest young actors in the amateur theatre circuit in three shows, including a Guild nominated turn as Hero in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. As Navarro, Syme utilised his trademark youthful Cary Ewles charm on not only his two love interests but the audience as well and despite his character’s murderous intentions, you couldn’t help but fall head over heels for him as he funnily yet flirtatiously took you on Monty’s unconventional adventure into the society built by his new found ancestors. Monty’s journey began with one woman, Miss Shingle played by Latecha Khairy, who informed Monty of his mother’s noble heritage before she was shunned out of the family because of the suitor she chose to fall in love with. Khairy took influence from multiple classic musical theatre characters for her portrayal, including Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and Madame Thénadier in Les Misérables, making her limited time on stage memorable and masterful, as she did whatever it took to see poetic justice for the D’Ysquith dynasty and its long lost relative. Lead actors tend to have one great love interest throughout the duration of a play or musical, but alas, Monty had two in the form of Sibella Hallward and Phoebe D’Ysquith who were portrayed by Greta Wilkinson and Laura Steel respectively. The idea of two female love interests falling in love with a man who’s two timing them both may be a quite dated scenario in today’s world, but both actresses demonstrated that their characters were so much more than that in a battle that can be compared to Catherine and Annette in Cruel Intentions, except with Disney princess-esque vocal chops. Wilkinson, who performed as Syme’s love interest in Forum, reunited with him and reignited the onstage chemistry they previously had, but this time around, she did a total 180 to her previous role with her portrayal of a conniving social chaser who would hurt the men who adored her in order to grab the brass ring. Despite Sibella’s flaws though, Wilkinson did everything in her power to assure the crowd that her character was more than just one dimensional, even when jealousy got the better of her with a performance that would be deemed steamy and sensual. Meanwhile, Steel’s portrayal of a distant cousin who falls for Monty for all the right reasons even as her relatives are dropping like flies all around her and is courageously willing to sacrifice everything to save the man she loves proved to be a passionate and pristine one. Steel unlocked both the delicate and strong sides of her character with just a snap of her fingers and took it upon herself to let the audience know that despite the charade displayed by the rich, they too have feelings and good heart beating inside.
The king of this production, however, was a man who portrayed not one but almost ten members of the D’Ysquith family, Mr. Patt Ryan. His multiple portrayals of the good, the bad and the ugly of each family member was like watching a masterclass on space jump and improv comedy, as he glided through each different character so effortlessly and eloquently and no matter how many times he had to die throughout the show’s runtime, he constantly assured that each one would be funnier than the last. Ryan constantly took it upon himself to see each exit and re-entry as a chance to begin anew and so, he created a spectacle of comedic acting for the ages in a cabaret style that can blow any audience’s minds whether performing in a full blown stage musical or a one man show.
SLAMS have truly done it again with their first production of the 2023 season by providing us with another laugh out loud production to follow up last year’s Tick, Tick, Boom and Rock Of Ages. Their adaptation of A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder was a very hilarious take on it’s titular themes and if you weren’t aware that it wasn’t written by Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman, you could swear it was written by comedy geniuses like Monty Python, Seth MacFarlane and Rowan Atkinson. If you love British humour or absurdist humour, then this black comedy is guaranteed to give you a good night out full of laughs and liveliness. Special shoutout to Michael Syme, Joshua Lowe, Maria Roitman and Tim Semmens for their wonderful performances throughout the production and also to Julia Roper for beautiful vocal direction to make sure no note was out of place. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, make sure you get them while their still up for grabs, support local theatre and the company, they’ve been dying to have you. Congratulations to SLAMS and the cast and crew associated with Gentleman’s Guide for another thrilling show, chookas for the rest of your run and be careful out there with a murderer on the loose.
Check out the latest on What’s on Stage in Melbourne here.
#whatsonstagemelb #melbournetheatre #melbournetheatreinfo