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The Man of Mode
Published on Tuesday, 09 August 2011

5 stars

C Venues - C eca (venue website)
4-13 Aug, 6:35pm-7:35pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Parental Guidance. Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

It’s a little bit Punk and a little bit naff, but it’s a whole lot brilliant. This could have flopped, bigtime: an Eighties restoration of a 1600s Etherage classic was always a risky venture. But on the Baz Luhrmann scale, ranging from horrifically produced codswallop to eccentric genius, this is much more Moulin Rouge than Australia. (Translation: they pulled it off.)

At first, I was more than skeptical. I was sat to the side of the studio, in a traditionally terrible viewing seat – my own fault for getting there a tad late – and the awkwardly long introduction didn’t immediately convince me of the production’s genius. I will confirm that the programme blurb is correct when it refers to “bad dad dancing”. But soon my mind was changed, not least because the production looked as marvelous from my seat as from front row and centre.

Though awkward in the beginning, the use of naff Eighties dance moves – I won’t spoil them for you, but they may or may not involce aerobics and leg-warmers – actually provided an undeniable sense of rhythm and flow.  That’s a component that many act-structured productions lack, and I barely noticed the movement of chairs and tables to make way for the next scene.

The fact that it’s an amateur production from a company that calls itself Braindead isn’t exactly reassuring either, but please don’t be put off; they make it seem effortless. Their use of space is excellent, with characters often placed amongst the audience. The actors are polished (delivering lines in 1600s English while surrounded by kitsch disco lighting is no mean feat) and the music is surprisingly apropriate to the context of each scene it’s used in. Perhaps the most impressive component of the production, however, is the ability to condense a roughly two-hundred-page classic into an New Romantic hour – in a way that made complete sense to someone like me, who isn’t as familiar with the original playtext as I should be.

If this were any other script, you would be forgiven for thinking that at least some of the characters were overly exaggerated, stereotyped, and clearly intended to take the mickey out of the audience and theatre itself. But since Etherage’s original piece was itself a mockery of societal class roles, the dramatic and utterly hilarious characterisations are spot-on for the play’s context.

All in all, the production is witty, unpretentious and fun. So while absolute traditionalists might be a little bamboozled, if you go in with an open mind you’ll come out in a much better mood than you went in. I was sat next to a middle-aged theatre-goer who was clearly familiar with Etherage, and she laughed out loud the entire time. So I say to you: give it a chance. You’ll come out with an appreciation of Braindead’s genius, even if you still can’t stand Spandau Ballet.

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