“A Dowager hen, her juvenile charge and a posturing old cock… a study of a species in its habitat – its breeding, management and methods of most un-natural selection.”
The idea of Oscar Wilde’s ageless reflections on human behaviour as an ornithological study at a geographic society style lecture series was an intriguing lure but little did I know that the show would start in the court yard of the Hamilton Town Hall. As I waited for the doors to open, I was treated to a group of real life Wilde–like hens and their non-stop clucking about the enigma of surpluses mud cake and the crime of un–attractive handbags (an unintentional but apt demonstration of the relevancy of Wilde’s wit today). It was great to see Hamilton’s “ladies who lunch” were out supporting their local theatre.
Persevere through the first quarter of the show which is a little dull due to the protracted introduction from the overused narrator. Although extremely well played by Gary Kliger – The narrator’s cockney accent was hard to understand at times and exacerbated by the poor acoustics of the venue. The cockney accent also seemed a little out of place at a nature lecture, I found myself longing for an Attenborough-esc character. I had a frightening moment of “Oh no community theatre!” but my fears were pleasantly allayed half way through the first act as the show really got under way and Wilde’s wonder unleashed.
The cast were delightful with standout performances from the multi–talented Julie Bray as the ageing hen, and Ruth Lyons as the breeding hen. Laura Meldon was also marvellous as the juvenile male as he pursued his love interests (himself and the lovely Rosanna Brennan) and Laura also gets the prize for the best delivery of a Wilde one–liner inducing a bursting cackle from the audience. Ed Bone’s ‘mature cock’ erred a little too far on the side of camp but was never–the–less an enjoyable and (at times) creepy old cock!
Production design was well done with a fitting sound track and of course fabulous, award winning costuming by Anne Grant – the bustles proved hilarious characters of their own. The lighting design was bland and could have added polish to the show and the venue if a little more creative though it certainly didn’t detract from the performance.
On entry, a well designed, extensive and free program is available and includes welcomed information about Victorian life. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with Oscar Wilde’s work, this production makes it extremely accessible and enjoyable for all.
Wilde Life continues at The Hamilton Town hall for three more shows, one on February 3rd and two on February 4th. The Town Hall is a lovely, historical venue, although small and basic. I advise not to arrive early if it’s raining as you will have to wait outside in the uncovered court yard (no doubt a joy in the dry) however, if early is your style there is of course the Hamilton restaurant strip close by that begs to be soaked up before or after the show. I would have loved to have seen this play in a dinner theatre setting and wished I had gone in period costume! After finishing the season here ‘Wilde Life’ is heading to the Adelaide Fringe Festival where it will perform at the Adelaide Zoo which will no doubt be a wonderful setting in which to experience it.
All in all, we had an unexpectedly charming evening out in Hamilton. I was forced to reflect at how snobbish we can be about community theatres especially in light of Wilde’s acerbic portrait of society. Put aside your judgements and don’t miss out on this fun little gem!
Front Row Theatre will lure me back to Hamilton again soon.
Direction & Design – Anne Grant
Writers – Anne Grant, Julie Bray & Sue Gough