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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Making theatre a happy and joyous place to spend time in. If you want a fun night out, this show is the one to see.

Watch This is a Sondheim only repertory company and their latest show is an all female-identifying cast of this farcical comedy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, directed by Melanie Hillman, Assistant Directing by Bobbie-Jean Henning and musical direction by Trevor Jones.

Inspired by ancient Roman Farces, this show was written in 1962 by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart with music and lyrics by the genius that is Stephen Sondheim.

Walking into Chapel Off Chapel, the stage has been transformed into ancient Rome with the use of Roman Columns, statues and busts. The 3 houses referenced in the show are highlighted with the use of curtains. With minimal space, Set Designer Sarah Tulloch created depth and sense of place on the stage. Lighting Design by Rob Sowinski, was faultless.

As this is a show that was written with male-identifying actors in mind, little was done to highlight the fact that this show was played by all female-presenting actors. Costumes by Jemima Johnston, were reminiscent of a Roman themed costume party. While this doesn't detract from the show, it does feel a bit lacking.

Choreography by Sophie Loughran is simple and works to each of the performers abilities, with seamless transitions into the movement.

What is very clear about this production, is that they cultivated a stacked cast. All 10 actors shine in their respective rolls and showed how much talent can be found in Melbourne if you're willing to look beyond familiar faces. It does however, feel at times like the actors were in different shows, with varying amounts of melodrama expressed. While this is a farcical show and melodrama is to be expected, when the actors aren't on the same page as to the level of melodrama, it does feel mildly jarring.

Leading the cast is Charmaine Gorman as Pseudolus (not to be pronounced 'p-seudolus'). Gorman is soon on fire, after warming into the show, captivating the audience and taking us along for the ride. She is clever and engaging and finds the realism within the farce.

Milo Hartill (Hero) and Mel O'Brien (Philia), make a wonderful pairing. Playing off each other with ease. While not matching quite in their levels of 'hamming it up', the duo eats up the stage and leave everything on the floor.

Doubling as an alternate keyboardist and on stage in the criminally underwritten role of Domina, Sophie Weiss blows the house down in her only song taking place in act 2. Weiss milks her limited stage time and is joyous to watch.

Louisa Scrofani excells as the Roman General, Miles Gloriosus, giving a considered and powerful performance. Scrofani's appearance as the Eunuch - while only about 20 seconds - gives us further insight into their comedic chops.

MVP of the show though, has to be Judith Roberts as Erronius. Roberts shows what can be done with a smaller role, absolutely stealing the focus whenever on stage, leaving the audience in fits of laughter. Special mention also needs to be made for Kristie Nguy, who represents an army, several slaves and multiple courtesans. Nguy is everywhere and absolutely revels in each role they got to play. Rounding out the cast of powerhouse's is Jacqui Hoy (Hysterium), Cathy Woodhouse (Senex) and Saralouise Younger (Marcus Lycus). Each performer gives their all and are wonderful to watch.

Some of the more technical moments of the show where the farce really came into play, could be tightened up as there were moments clunkiness, particularly towards the end when all the actors are on stage. But that is bound to happen as the performers get more in sync with the rhythm of the show as it goes on.

Choosing to cast all female-identifying actors, Director Mel Hillman asks, “whether hearing words from a female voice overrides the antiquated tropes of the female characters. By changing who says the words, we may just encourage a modern audience to question the socially constructed gender roles that still exist and their own unconscious gender biases. Exploring themes of power, agency, and ambition through a female lens provides a platform for women’s voices and perspectives, where women’s experiences are valued and heard. Reviving a production from the 60s allows us to acknowledge how far we’ve come but how far we have to go. The concept for our production presents an opportunity for us to continue to platform female-identifying performers, creatives, and crew.”

While it does work as a whole, it also poses the complementary question, 'could the same explorations still be challenged if it was cast as written?'. This comedy may not have been received as well if it was played by actors of the gender in which it was initially devised, due to the current climate. But perhaps spotlighting questionable behaviours of the past as written, may have shown why we need to allow for education and growth so as not to return to a world where misogynistic sex-farce's were the norm just as much as an all-female identifying cast would have.

A topic worthy of being explored more, Hillman does a wonderful job with the production and does indeed maintain the wit and acuity of the original piece, also showing that, "women can be funny, and that feminine beauty and charisma comes in all different sizes, ages, and colours. And that you can have more than one middle-aged woman on a stage in this country."

Generally if you hear the phrase, 'the cast looked like they were having fun' in the foyer after the show, it's taken to mean the show wasn't great. However, this could not be further from the truth in this production. The actors appear to be genuinely loving their time on the stage and as a result, the audience love it more.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is playing at Chapel off Chapel until September 24th.

*Photo credit: Jodie Hutchinson

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