Photo credit David McCarthy
Where has slapstick comedy gone? A good chunk of my childhood was spent watching the Goodies, laughing hysterically at overexaggerated misfortune, with the occasional poo and fart joke thrown in. I think perhaps the one and only time I’ve witnessed slapstick translated to the stage was a Wiggles concert attended many years ago with my baby brother – its definitely not the norm anymore for adult theatregoers. That’s why The Popular Mechanicals was for me simultaneously jarring and pleasantly nostalgic.
It makes sense to present an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a slapstick comedy. Comedies of Shakespeare’s time were pure entertainment for the masses – big personalities, crass jokes, loud facial expressions and extreme voices to tell the characters easily apart and carry the story in a time when microphones didn’t exist. The Popular Mechanicals explores the story of the five players of Nick Bottom the weaver’s amateur theater ensemble as they prepare their Pyramus and Thisbe for an amateur production award, even as their greatest thespian, Bottom, goes missing. The four remaining players, with an additional drunk ‘professional’ actor (Charles Meyer), take us on a ride of music (sometimes harmonious and sometimes not) and their assemblage of comedic rehearsed pieces.
This is definitely a show that relies on the individual’s taste. There’s no intricate satire – this is pure, crass comedy. However, if you feel nostalgic for the days of The Goodies or Monty Python (there many not-so-subtle Monty Python references throughout the show, in fact), The Popular Mechanicals is sure to delight. On opening night, the audience was in tears of laughter on many occasion (although, personally, it took some time to differentiate between the high-brow Shakespeare expectation and the awkward, comedic reality). If you go for anything, let it be the perfectly timed performances of Julie Forsyth, playing Robin Starveling, a quick witted and cheeky grandmother-figure. She is pure gold.
The Popular Mechanicals is playing at the Canberra Theatre Centre until Saturday 4th November. Tickets are available HERE.
*I attended as a guest of the Canberra Theatre Centre. All opinions are my own. You can read my disclaimer policy HERE.