Keith Robinson, back where he belongs

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Keith Robinson and Lucia Mastrantone rehearse Twelfth Night for Belvoir. Photo: Brett Boardman

In 2006, Keith Robinson went from being a fit, active young man to suddenly being unable to walk.

The highly regarded, busy actor, known for his comedy skills, was diagnosed with a variant of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rapid-onset condition causing extreme muscular weakness, and was in hospital and rehabilitation for five-and-a-half months.

“I went from running around the block to not be able to walk in a three-week period. There was no sense of being unwell or sick, it was just like it was happening to somebody else. My whole body muscularly just powered down to nothing virtually. But then I regained some strength to where I’m wheelchair bound but I can take care of myself, sort of,” says Robinson.

A decade on, he is back on stage for the first time since his diagnosis, playing the clown Feste in a Belvoir production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by the company’s artistic director Eamon Flack.

Robinson has performed in many Belvoir productions over the years. In the early 1990s he was part of the Company B ensemble and appeared in landmark productions including Hamlet with Richard Roxburgh, Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett in 1994 and The Tempest with Blanchett and John Bell in 1995.

His other credits include the original Australian production of Les Miserables and Nicholas Nickleby for Sydney Theatre Company. He also co-wrote The Popular Mechanicals with Tony Taylor, a wonderfully mad comedy inspired by Bottom and co in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which premiered at Belvoir directed by Rush.

Returning to the stage is “wonderful”, says Robinson during a break in rehearsals.

“For better or worse I actually identified myself almost entirely through my work so when that was taken away it’s like my whole life was just ripped away from me.

“This was the first (acting) offer I’ve had and it came out of the blue. At the end of last year my agent Sue Barnett was calling me. I thought she was ringing to say ‘let’s have a coffee’ but she said, ‘no, I am actually ringing as your agent.’ All those synapses and nerves just sparked back into life: a job!” says Robinson with a laugh, admitting he now hopes others will follow.

Robinson says he doesn’t know why Flack decided to offer him the role. “That may be a question for the final night at the bar: ‘so, how did it happen?’” he says grinning.

“There seems to be a society-wide sea-change in terms of diversity in all sorts of areas and certainly in the theatre in terms of gender blind casting, ethnicity blind casting and now mobility/ability blind casting. To my knowledge this is the first time that one of the main (Australian) theatre companies has cast like this where the character isn’t in a wheelchair but the actor is. So I take my hat off to Belvoir,” says Robinson.

Chatting in the rehearsal room, where a special ramp has been built leading up onto the stage area and where there are several wheelchairs behind a wall on the set, Robinson admits that having excitedly accepted the offer to perform in Twelfth Night, he then had second thoughts.

Feste has several melancholic songs in the play – with Alan John composing the score for Flack’s production – and Robinson was worried that he wouldn’t be able to handle them.

“To be honest with you, I actually said ‘yes’ and then got cold feet and pulled out and said, ‘no, this is beyond my technical and physical capability’ because one of the things that happened to me is that I lost all my abdominal muscles, all my intercostals, all my breath support, diaphragm muscles. I just felt that the songs that Feste has were an essential part of the character and I felt, ‘I can’t do them,’” he says.

“I met with Eamon one more time and he literally batted away all the negative feelings that I brought to the table and he said, ‘we’ll deal with it, we’ll deal with it.’ And I felt, ‘well if you are willing, who am I to say no?’ So we are finding theatrical ways to render the songs that might not be expected.”

Working with Flack has been “fantastic”, says Robinson. “I wanted to be in a rehearsal room with Eamon (because) his ethos and aesthetics seemed to be like-minded to mine and a lot of the fun you have (on a show) is in that initial rehearsal period where you are delving into the piece and exploring it, and I liked his mind.

“I was so thrilled when he got the artistic directorship of Belvoir. Having seen his productions of The Glass Menagerie and Angels in America, I felt there was nobody better suited to the Belvoir company. I think he is in so many ways the natural successor to the company that it had been in the past. He will take it into new territory but not in a divorced way from what has gone before.”

Twelfth Night plays Belvoir St Theatre until September 4. Book: www.belvoir.com.au or 02 9699 3444

 A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on Sunday July 24

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Todd McKenney: What a Life!

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Todd McKenney. Photo: supplied

Todd McKenney is not one to sit around waiting for work. If he’s not in a musical or on television, he produces things for himself. And with three stage shows on the go, he is becoming quite the entrepreneur.

“I’ve got a big mortgage, I have to,” he says with a big laugh.

“That’s the problem with buying a big house, it comes with a big mortgage. It does motivate me to keep getting out there but I am also single. I’ve got my dogs and I’ve got my career. I don’t have a partner. I don’t have any real distractions. If I’m not (working) I’m just sitting at home. And I love (performing) so why not do it?

“I do think it’s a double edged thing,” he adds. “Because I work so much I don’t get out to meet people but then if I had a partner I don’t think I’d work as much – so I don’t know if I really want one or not. It’s a cliché but I’m pretty much married to my work.”

McKenney’s latest show What a Life! premieres at Glen Street Theatre in Belrose on July 7 and then tours to Dapto, Campbelltown, Bankstown and Rooty Hill, with performances in Melbourne at the end of the year.

Although it celebrates his 30 years in showbiz, McKenney says that it won’t be a chronological survey of his career. “I don’t want it to be a musical theatre show. I want it to be artists and music from whatever genre that have influenced me growing up. Every single song has had a big impact on me,” he says.

“It’s a really mixed bag of material. There’s some Peter Allen, of course, but not much of it. There is everything from The Andrews Sisters to Bette Midler, Tom Jones, Prince – all the music that I grew up with – and a medley from Cabaret so it’s musical theatre meets pop meets nostalgia meets Peter Allen.”

The former hoofer has decided to dust off his tap shoes for a rendition of I Got Rhythm to end Act I. “I put them on and clopped around my lounge room making sure my feet still know what to do – and they did.  My dogs were looking at me thinking, ‘what the heck?’ But that was when I got the biggest wave of nostalgia. I haven’t choreographed tap dancing for myself in 25 years,” he says.

The show will end with a Peter Allen mega-medley. “I think I’d by lynched if I didn’t do Peter Allen. But I want to try and do slightly different arrangements of things and some songs that aren’t in the Peter Allen show,” he says.

His other shows include the popular Todd McKenney Sings Peter Allen, performed with his band and backing vocalists (which arrives at Penrith Panthers on July 1 and Mittagong RSL on July 2) and The Piano Sessions, a more intimate show touring regional NSW from September, which he describes as a cross-between the Peter Allen show and What a Life!

In September, McKenney also plans to launch a series of Sunday afternoon “in conversations” at the Ensemble Theatre where he is patron, at which he will interview a musical theatre performer and intersperse their chat with songs.

As he says: “I’m not short of an idea!”

What a Life! plays at Glen St Theatre, Belrose, July 7 – 9. Bookings: 02 9975 1455. Touring details: www.toddmckenney.com.au

 A version of this story appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on June 26

Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark

Wharf 1, June 19

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Richard Higgins as Hamlet and Matt Kelly as Claudius. Photo: Prudence Upton

Anyone familiar with children’s comedy duo The Listies will know that fart, poo and vomit jokes feature large – and a Listies production of Shakespeare is no different.

The Listies are a classic odd couple with Richard Higgins as the sensible straight man and Matt Kelly as the goofy mischief-maker. Their latest show Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark, was created in cahoots with Declan Greene (of renowned queer Melbourne theatre group Sisters Grimm).

It’s a terrific match. Greene, who also directs, has helped them streamline their shtick into a more tightly structured show without losing any of the ridiculous fun that they are known for.

Presented by Sydney Theatre Company, Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark begins with Higgins and Kelly in usher’s outfits doing a lackadaisical job of guiding people to their seats. But when the lights go up on stage, there’s not an actor in sight. It turns out they are all suffering from “the brown plague” having eaten blue cheese that was 400-years past its use-by date, which Matt gave them in an opening night gift basket.

Rather than disappointing the audience, the duo decide to perform the play themselves with Rich in doublet and hose as Hamlet and Matt as everyone else except Ophelia, who they talk the stage manager Olga (Olga Miller) into playing.

However, they only have 60 minutes because that’s how long it takes for the brown plague to turn your innards to liquid, and Matt has made Rich taste the poisonous cheese too.

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Olga Miller and Matt Kelly. Photo: Prudence Upton

Aiming for a “confrontingly traditional” production, Rich does his best to stick to the plot, explaining it in simple terms for children and jumping from one big moment to the next. But before too long things start spinning out of control. Matt can’t help playing up and Olga’s feisty Ophelia isn’t going quietly to a nunnery and instead heads to Planet Nunnery with Claudius, returning as a zombie.

Throw in a dancing dinosaur, tea towel aliens, a giant ear, silly string, a communal version of “To be, or not to be” and a trademark list and you have one of the funniest introductions to Shakespeare imaginable.

Renee Mulder’s set (a painted castle which looks like a storybook pop-up) and wonderfully silly costumes complement the shenanigans perfectly.

Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark is recommended for ages 5+ but there is plenty of smart humour for the adults too, with young and old all laughing along together at the riotously funny Bard-arse show.

Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark plays at Wharf 1 until July 17. Bookings: www.sydneytheatre.com.au or 02 9250 1777

 A version of this review appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on June 26

Inner Voices

Old Fitz Theatre, June 17

Damien Strouthos in INNER VOICES (c) Ross Waldron

Damien Strouthos as Ivan. Photo: Ross Waldron

Written in 1977, Inner Voices was one of Louis Nowra’s earliest plays and signalled the arrival of an Australian playwright with an exciting imaginative scope and a keen sense of theatre.

The play premiered at Nimrod directed by John Bell with a cast including Tony Sheldon, Robert Alexander and Jane Harders. It hasn’t been staged professionally in Sydney again until now, presented at the Old Fitz Theatre by Don’t Look Now in association with Red Line Productions.

It’s fascinating to see the play in the light of Nowra’s The Golden Age, written in 1985, which was staged earlier this year by Sydney Theatre Company. While The Golden Age is a more expansive, ambitious play, the seeds of Nowra’s brilliantly roving theatricality are already evident in Inner Voices: a play bursting with ideas and savage wit.

Inner Voices is inspired by the life of Ivan VI, who was born in 1740. At just two months old he was proclaimed Emperor and his mother named Regent. However, a year later a distant cousin seized the throne and Ivan and his family were imprisoned. Kept in isolation for around 20 years, which impacted on his mental health, a group of officers led by Vasily Mirovich plotted to free Ivan in 1764 and put him on the throne, ousting the ailing Catherine the Great. However, Ivan was killed by his guards. Nowra takes these basics but imagines what would have happened had Mirovich been successful.

The play begins in Ivan’s cell where isolation has taken a severe toll.  Unable to talk other than to chant his own name, he appears to be “an idiot”. The rapaciously ambitious Mirovich – a man with a gargantuan appetite for food as well as power – believes that Ivan will be easily manipulated once they get him on the throne, but things don’t go to plan, with Ivan quickly turning tyrant.

Phil Rouse directs a wonderful muscular production with first-rate production values. Anna Gardiner’s dungeon-like set with ladders and metal rails, Martelle Hunt’s period-inspired costuming, Sian James-Holland’s sickly lighting and Katelyn Shaw’s nerve-jangling sound design combine to create a dark, threatening environment.

Damien Strouthos is superb as Ivan, changing the way he holds his mouth to alter the sound as Ivan’s ear adjusts to human voices and he gradually learns to speak, and also evolving the character’s body language. It’s a minutely observed performance physically, emotionally and psychologically.

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Julian Garner as Leo and Anthony Gooley as Mirovich. Photo: Ross Waldron

Anthony Gooley is extremely funny yet still menacing as Mirovich, a grotesquely comic character in an ever-expanding fat suit. The rest of the cast are all on-point: Julian Garner as Mirovich’s unfortunate co-conspirator, Annie Byron as Mirovich’s long-suffering, genial servant, Emily Goddard as the fake Princess Ali and Baby Face, the showgirl who becomes Ivan’s chosen lady, along with Francesca Savige and Nicholas Papademetriou in supporting roles.

Examining power and its abuse, as well as the psychological and emotional impact of isolation on people, Inner Voices is a darkly funny, provocative play given a very meaty, satisfying production.

Inner Voices plays at the Old Fitz Theatre until July 9. Bookings: oldfitztheatre.com

Back at the Dojo

Belvoir St Theatre, June 22

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Luke Mullins as Patti and Brian Lipson as Danny. Photo: Brett Boardman

All writers inevitably draw on their own experience but some do it more directly and consciously. Playwright Lally Katz frequently draws on her own life and family for inspiration and then mixes in fantasy and dashes of magic realism.

In her latest play, Back at the Dojo, she draws on stories that she heard as a child about her father’s involvement with a karate dojo in Trenton, New Jersey (where she was born). There, a tough Japanese sensei helped him recover after almost blowing his mind with hallucinogenic drugs as a young man in the late 1960s. It was at the dojo that Katz’s father Danny met her mother Lois.

In telling her father’s story, Katz makes no bones about her appropriation, calling the characters Danny Katz and Lois – though there’s plenty of fiction mingling with fact. For starters, in the play her mother Lois is dying in hospital, while the real Lois was very much alive and well at the Belvoir opening night.

Katz has also drawn on another experience for the play. In 2010, when she and Kohn began talking about Back at the Dojo, she happened to meet a New York woman on a bus who revealed that she had been born a man but was now transitioning to the woman she always knew herself to be.

That story inspired a fictional character, Danny’s grandson Patrick, now a woman called Patti in honour of Patti Smith. The two inspirations weave around each other to create the play.

Commissioned by Melbourne indie company Stuck Pigs Squealing and co-produced with Belvoir, Back at the Dojo begins in an Australian hospital room where Lois lies in a coma. Danny (Brian Lipson), now in his 70s, doesn’t accept that she is dying and refuses to leave her side or sleep. Instead he sits holding her hand or moves through a karate routine to help keep his sanity.

Into the room storms Patti (Luke Mullins), who hasn’t been in contact with her grandparents for two years and who was still Patrick last time Danny saw her. An emotional mess having just been dumped by her boyfriend Rex, Patti is uptight, petulant, anguished, still struggling with who she is, still disappointed in life and tripping on LSD.

As she and Danny try to connect with each other again, the past invades the hospital room, rewinding to follow Danny as a young man (Harry Greenwood): his difficult relationship with his own father (Dara Clear), his hippie drug-taking in Kentucky, his recovery at the dojo and his relationship with Lois (Catherine Davies), the sister of Jerry (Fayssal Bazzi), a gentle young man at the dojo whose progress is held back by his club foot.

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Harry Greenwood as the young Danny and Catherine Davies as Lois. Photo: Brett Boardman

Interestingly, rather than staging the scenes from the past as if the older Danny is reliving his memories – which would make more sense in straightforward narrative terms – Lipson’s Danny remains oblivious to them until the very end. Instead, it is Patti who watches the past unfold, initially as if the scenes are part of a drug-induced hallucination, then memories of stories she has heard since childhood. Eventually the two worlds and time frames merge.

Katz certainly knows how to spin a compelling yarn and her writing has a lovely ease and flair to it. She is able to inject humour into pain and heartache without undercutting the poignancy of a scene though the the play does feel a bit over-egged emotionally towards the end. Jerry’s fate doesn’t have enough of a lead-up and Patti’s anguish begins to feel overwrought. But the performances keep it feeling real.

Mel Page’s detailed, naturalistic set design of an open hospital room makes the Belvoir stage look as big as it ever has. A large window along the back wall, looking out onto the hospital corridor, is cleverly used for various scenes from Danny being harassed in Kentucky to a beautiful image of the sensei slowly rising as she sings to Patti’s frenetic dance to a pounding song by her namesake, staged with a surprise twist.

Kohn directs a fast-paced, fluid production, while Jethro Woodward’s music and buzzing, electronic sound design is very evocative in underpinning emotion, tension and a sense of mystery.

Early in the development of the play, Kohn brought a Melbourne-based sensei called Natsuko Mineghishi into the project and Katz started training with her as part of her research. A diminutive but commanding presence, Mineghishi plays Danny’s sensei on stage and makes the theme of discipline and honour tangible.

Having a real sensei there leading a fair amount of karate (having trained the cast in the basics with a class each day during rehearsals) gives the play a visceral physicality and exhilarating energy. The crack of Mineghishi’s bamboo cane across the younger Danny’s body makes you wince, while a fight between the sensei and a brown belt is thrilling.

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Natsuko Mineghishi and Dara Clear. Photo: Brett Boardman

The performances are excellent across the board. Lipson’s accent feels a little wayward but he anchors the piece as the older Danny. Mullins plays Patti as if every nerve ending is exposed, hands tremoring, eyes and nose dripping in the grip of engulfing emotion.

Greenwood has enormous charm as the younger Danny and the chemistry between him and Davies as Lois really sparks. The rest of the cast do a terrific job in several roles apiece. Bazzi is touching as the gentle, unhappy Jerry, Sharri Sebbens exudes a warm, positive energy as the kindly nurse, Lois’s rambunctious sister Connie and a mysterious old man, while Clear is Danny’s conservative, judgmental father as well as a redneck Kentucky farmer and an unsympathetic karate brown belt.

The two stories of Back to the Dojo may not totally come together and the play may verge on melodrama at times but it weaves a powerful spell and moved me to tears.

Back to the Dojo plays at Belvoir St Theatre until July 17. Bookings: www.belvoir.com.au or 02 9699 3444

All My Sons

Roslyn Packer Theatre, June 9

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Chris Ryan, John Howard and Eryn Jean Norvill. Photo: Zan Wimberley

Even if you know nothing about Arthur Miller’s classic play All My Sons, the foreboding set for Kip Williams’ shattering Sydney Theatre Company production tells you immediately that all is not well.

Instead of the usual naturalistic backyard, designer Alice Babidge sets the action in a black box with a flat cut-out of the Keller family home. The blank façade gives little away though you can see art on the walls through the windows. Later, the set will be used to echo the revealing of secrets, as lies that lurk at the heart of the play are laid bare.

In the brighter opening scenes, the darkness of the set does rather undercut Miller’s initial depiction of a happy family apparently living the American Dream. But as the play unfolds, the setting adds to the feeling of something rotten behind closed doors.

The stark staging throws a laser focus on Miller’s beautiful writing and on the exceptional performances, which stand out in sharp relief against the dark, oppressive backdrop, while Babidge’s costuming anchors the play in its period. The production is eloquently lit by Nick Schlieper while Max Lyandvert’s music subtly underscores the building of tension.

Set in 1946, wealthy factory owner Joe Keller (John Howard) was exonerated for knowingly supplying faulty aircraft parts during the war but his business partner Steve, who took the rap, is still in jail. Meanwhile, Joe’s wife Kate clings to the hope that her son Larry, a fighter pilot missing in action for three years, will return home.

Their other son Chris (Chris Ryan) has invited Ann Deever (Eryn Jean Norvill) home and Kate and Joe are on edge. Ann is Steve’s daughter and Larry’s former girlfriend. When Chris announces that he wants to marry her, a tragedy is set in motion.

Williams directs with a searing clarity, beautifully served by a cast who are able to reach deep into the emotions gnawing at the characters from within. Nevin is heart-breaking as Kate. She looks so tiny and fragile, wracked by an anguish she is too scared to acknowledge, yet she can still muster a sharp humour and a desperate cheerfulness.

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Robyn Nevin, Josh McConville and Eryn Jean Norvill. Photo: Zan Wimberley

In a wonderfully measured performance, Howard’s Joe is big and bluff with a geniality tempered by something guarded, while his sudden bursts of anger are quickly suppressed. Ryan radiates determined optimism as the idealistic, clean-cut Chris yet manages in little ways to suggest that he hasn’t completely recovered from the war. Hit hard by the truth, we watch Chris snap as his world falls apart. Norvill’s stylish Ann seems delicate yet stands her ground with surprising strength as she clings to the possibility of love.

As Ann’s avenging brother George, Josh McConville arrives (in crumpled suit) with a blast of energy.  His body is tight-wired and physically wracked as he struggles with a whirlpool of emotions: rage, guilt and long-standing love for the Kellers.

In supporting roles as the Keller’s neighbours –  Bert LaBonte as Jim, a world-weary, unhappily married doctor, Anita Hegh as his rather sour, nagging wife Sue, John Leary as the over-chatty handy-man Frank who is doing Larry’s horoscope for Kate, and Contessa Treffone as Frank’s sunny wife Lydia – the rest of the cast deliver well observed performances.

Telling a story of cowardice, denial and profit at others’ expense, All My Sons still resonates as powerfully as ever. Beautifully structured as it moves inexorably to its terrible conclusion, I felt as if I had been holding my breath for ten minutes or more by the play’s end, almost as emotionally drained as the actors.

All My Sons runs at the Roslyn Packer Theatre until July 9. Bookings: www.sydneytheatre.com.au or 02 9250 1777

 A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on June 12

The Literati

SBW Stables Theatre, June 1

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Gareth Davies as Tristan Tosser and Miranda Tapsell as Juliet. Photo: Daniel Boud

In his latest Molière adaptation, Justin Fleming has one of the characters bemoan the proliferation of over-rated writers:

“They seem to pop up everywhere, as if we somehow breed them;                                          With so many people writing, it’s a wonder there’s anyone to read them.                            And there are people who cannot write, re-writing authors who could,                                    And giving us appalling version of works that used to be good.”

The swipe at the number of new adaptations of classic plays seen on Sydney stages in recent years (including his, of course) was met with a huge roar of laughter on opening night.

The criticism of “appalling versions” can’t be levelled at Fleming who has cornered a market adapting Molière’s satirical comedies for Australian audiences, writing them in rollicking verse laced with colourful, contemporary slang.

After staging his laugh-out-loud versions of The School for Wives in 2012 and Tartuffe in 2014, Bell Shakespeare has joined forces with Griffin Theatre Company to present the third in a winning trifecta.

The Literati is adapted from Molière’s 1672 play Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies): a piss-take on literary and intellectual pretention. Fleming has anglicised names, removed a couple of characters – an aunt and uncle whose functions in the drama are given to other characters – and turned the scholar Vadius into a woman, all of which works a treat.

In a nutshell, young lovers Juliet (Miranda Tapsell) and Clinton (Jamie Oxenbould) want to marry. Juliet’s sensible but hen-pecked father Christopher (Oxenbould again) approves of the match. But her mother Philomena (Caroline Brazier) and sister Amanda (Kate Mulvany), both dreadful cultural snobs who host a Tuesday book club, are determined she marry the aptly named Tristan Tosser (Gareth Davies) who they idolise.

In fact, Tosser is a third-rate poet described as “one sausage sanger short of a barbie” who would “bore the arse off a Mallee bull”. Though he’s a complete charlatan with an eye to their fortune, he’s a more foolish, passive villain than the devious Tartuffe and doesn’t feel as much of a real danger. As a result, the play is fairly predictable.

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Kate Mulvany as Amanda and Caroline Brazier as Philomena. Photo: Daniel Boud

Nonetheless, it’s a gloriously funny production, directed by Lee Lewis (who also directed The School for Wives), in which the virtuosity of Fleming’s verse writing is matched by brilliant comic performances all round.

Fleming mixes up his rhyme schemes so that as well as frisky rhyming couplets there are a couple of other verse patterns. The changes of gear keep things fresh and varied.

Designer Sophie Fletcher works wonders within the tiny space to evoke a chic, bourgeois Parisian home with designer furniture. An eclectic mix of art on the walls speaks of someone buying work deemed collectable rather than a reflection of personal taste and passion. At the centre of the stage is a raised revolve, which Lewis uses very cleverly to keep the action moving without overdoing it.

Dramatic Baroque-flavoured music, co-composed by Max Lambert and Roger Lock, punctuates the drama with humour while quick-smart doubling from the cast of five adds another level of fun, with all the actors except Davies playing two characters. Brazier is a commanding presence, moving with skilful ease between the domineering, pashmina-draped Philomena and the wise scholar Vadius in black jacket. While Vadius maintains her elegant poise, Philomena becomes increasingly dishevelled as the play unfolds.

Mulvany is hysterically funny as the uptight, fierce, wilfully deluded Amanda who once rejected Clinton but now won’t accept that he could have transferred his affections to Juliet. The way she edges sideways onto the raised revolve in her tight skirt and high heels is a hoot in itself. And where Brazier’s hair slowly becomes messier and more unkempt, Mulvany’s entire body is upended at one point by the comical goings-on. She also plays an officious attorney in tightly belted raincoat.

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Jamie Oxenbould as Christopher. Photo: Daniel Boud

With just a baseball cap to differentiate them, Oxenbould flips convincingly between Clinton and Christopher, bringing the house down in one hilarious scene in which he plays them both.

Tapsell glows as the guileless Juliet and the bolshie maid Martina, sacked by Philomena for her bogan-phraseology (“the woman’s a walking earache”) and crimes against language. In an interview, Tapsell told me that she uses her native Darwin accent for Martina (which she worked very hard to lose while at NIDA).

As Tosser – or Tossère as he would have it – Davies, in artfully draped scarf and jewellery, poses and speaks with a quiet, affected languor.

Running 160 minutes including interval, The Literati makes its point about intellectual pomposity versus true wisdom, while its discussion about marriage and women’s role in society still strikes a strong chord, but mostly it’s heaps of silly fun. Recommended.

The Literati runs at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross until July 16. Bookings: www.griffin.com.au or 02 9361 3817

 A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on June 5