Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 20, 2022
Writer: Laura Murphy (adapted from William Shakespeare)
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Natalie Abbott, Blake Appelqvist, Stellar Perry, Monique Sallé, Brittanie Shipway, Jerrod Smith
Images by Daniel Boud
William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is given the musical treatment, by Laura Murphy who condenses one of The Bard’s most accessible stories, into something even more digestible. In her new work The Lovers a distinct pop sensibility is applied across everything she touches on, but art lovers be warned, Murphy’s appreciation of pop is a lot less Andy Warhol, and a whole lot more Taylor Swift. Like Swift, Murphy’s lyrics can be criticised for not being poetic enough, with an attitude too devoid of sass, to be considered legitimately cool. Commercial success however, has shown time and again to have little to do with cool, and it appears The Lovers does contain all the requisite ingredients that make it a crowd-pleaser.
Intensely romantic, and silly on more than a few occasions, songs in The Lovers are unquestionably, and thoroughly catchy. Reminiscent, and some might say heavily derivative, of chart toppers from the last twenty years, it can be said that the frothiness of Murphy’s writing, is the perfect companion for Shakespeare’s light-hearted classic. Murphy’s own musical arrangements, along with musical direction by Andrew Worboys, ensures a score that keeps us exhilarated for the entire 2-hour duration, The heady experience is further enhanced by extraordinarily well-executed sound engineering, with Todd Hawken credited as Head of Audio.
Director Shaun Rennie demonstrates great attention to detail, through his delivery of technical brilliance and exceptional polish, for the staging. Rennie’s work is thoroughly energetic, with an uncanny ability to have his audience roused at will. Marg Horwell’s colourful and intentionally cluttered set design, is a visual manifestation of the chaotic exuberance that is characteristic of The Lovers. Her costumes too are captivatingly vibrant, although not always flattering on the cast. Lights by Trent Suidgeest are dynamic and exciting, a relentless manipulation of tones, intensities and configurations, that really take advantage of this collision between pop and Shakespeare.
The only one stealing the show however, is performer Natalie Abbott who delivers the most endearing Helena imaginable, with an impeccable quality of singing that beautifully incorporates a stirring soul style, with the crispness demanded of the Broadway format. Also very charming is Jerrod Smith, who brings unexpected believability to the role of Lysander. Oberon is played by Stellar Perry who stands out with her confident musicality, and a physical stillness that proves an appealing contrast against the rest. Monique Sallé is a gregarious Puck, Blake Appelqvist brings precision to his Demetrius, and Hermia is performed by Brittanie Shipway who injects much needed grit into the romantic heroine. The team shows itself to be well-rehearsed and innovative, with a compelling chemistry that makes tolerable, Shakespeare’s ridiculous love story.
There may be little that is worldly that constitutes the essence of The Lovers, but there is certainly no shortage of sophistication, in how the show has been put together. It is meaningful though, that our attention is brought to the subject of love, frivolous as it may seem, through the lens of young romance. At a time when our troubles are taking us to the end of tethers, it is perhaps necessary to be reminded that love alone, is capable of moving mountains.