“Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” written by Kurt Vonnegut, directed by Cate Clelland, Canberra REP at Theatre, until August 4. Reviewed BY LEN POWER
EVERY now and again, something comes together perfectly, better than anyone could have planned or imagined. On this late-summer Friday, at the seldom-used stage in Glebe Park, there was some extra magic in the air.
Riding a bike toward the music from the pre-show band, there were people coming from everywhere to join a huge and genial crowd of more than 1800 people.
Everything about this production was good. The large performance area allowed for highly physical choreography to support the fast-paced dialogue. This meant that the comedy and plot were played at a scale that could be clearly understood and appreciated by the large and lively audience.
The sound and lights were both effective and unobtrusive. Played over twilight, darkness fell as the plot thickened. The theatrical lighting gradually became more apparent, tightening the tension and heightening the drama. The voicework was dynamic and outstanding and was sensitively reinforced with well-mixed radio microphones.
Co-directors and lead actors Lexi Sekuless and Duncan Driver are well-known Canberra players. In this show, they not only made stellar performances, but also led a tight and skilled local cast to make something far greater than the sum of its parts.
The casting was faultless. Helen McFarlane who played both Don John, Don Pedro’s bastard brother, and Dogberry, a constable in charge of the watch, showed great versatility and clowning skill. Jo Richards’ Hero was captivating throughout. Rob De Fries slid into the role of Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, as if it were a favourite pair of shoes.
But the greatest triumph of this show, is that it happened at all. Executive producer TW Gibbings (who also played a lively and funny Friar) says that the production clicked into place in July. In that short time, a huge amount of fundraising, hard work and skill went into pulling of this free, high-quality and well-attended series. In his opening address, Gibbings said he hoped we would leave the show feeling more humanity. In this aim, I have no doubt he succeeded.
The final performance is at Queen Elizabeth II Park, 55 Collett Street, Queanbeyan, 6.30 pm-8.45pm tonight (Saturday, February 17), bookings to eventbrite.com.au