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The Popular Mechanicals Feature

The most Popular Mechanicals in Canberra

Ashleigh Went

What do you think of when you hear the name Shakespeare?

Is it the world’s best fart joke, and 100 rubber chickens?

Probably not, unless you’ve had the pleasure of seeing The State Theatre Company of South Australia’s production of The Popular Mechanicals, arriving at Canberra Theatre Centre today.

In the spirit of transparency, I have a dark secret to share: I am not a Shakespeare fan. While I love modern interpretations like West Side Story and 10 Things I Hate About You, I’ve always struggled with the early modern English language. As a double-English major student at school, and now a professional writer, my indifference to the ‘greatest English writer’ has always brought me shame. It’s safe to say that a Shakespeare play has seldom piqued my interest—until now.

While The Popular Mechanicals will no doubt appeal to thespians and Shakespeare aficionados, Julie Forsyth (who plays Robin Starveling in the production) says that one of the great highlights of the show is its ability to make The Bard’s work accessible to the wider public.

“I think people, even I myself, sometimes find Shakespeare a bit difficult” says Julie, “because of the language.”

“What this show focusses on is Shakespeare’s incredible sense of humour and his love for idiots and fools. Some of Shakespeare’s fools were actually really wise and insightful, whereas others were just very rustic idiots. Our gang here, we’re the latter” she laughs.

16_Julie Forsyth and Charles Mayer in The Popular Mechanicals_credit Shane Reid-2

Julie is no stranger to comedy—or to theatre for that matter—with an acting career that spans nearly forty years.

“The first director I really had professionally was a Frenchman who started a company in Melbourne. My experience has not been so much Shakespeare, funnily enough, but it was actually to do with a French playwright, Molière. I developed comedic experience through doing Molière’s plays, because he too had a lot of the influence of commedia dell’arte, an Italian form of clowning that was prevalent at the time.”

This role isn’t her first foray into Shakespeare, however, Julie having been cast as Puck in Bell Shakespeare’s The Dream, another adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“I’ve never actually been in the full version” she says. “Bell Shakespeare also compressed the play. It’s interesting to be looking at A Midsummer Night’s Dream through another window, focussing on other elements. This one focusses purely on the clowns in the show.”

The Popular Mechanicals was penned by Keith Robinson and Tony Taylor, and first directed by Geoffrey Rush in 1987. It tells the story of the rude mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and reimagines what might have happened off-stage during the Bard’s most loved comedy.

Julie says that this version, directed by Sarah Giles, has been updated and refreshed.

“The direction from Sarah was very free. We stick to the script, be we’ve also taken out some pieces form the original, partly because the original was created very particularly with certain actors at the time. It’s 30 years old, so some of the jokes and some of the references, the younger audiences don’t actually get.”

This production also draws on the talents of its multifaceted cast.

“This show is a blend of everything: there’s song and dance, clowning, vaudeville, slapstick, stand-up comedy, puppetry… so all our skills were put into a bit cauldron and drawn up. Some people had great music skills, of course Lori [Bell, playing Tom Snout] is a stand-up comedian, some of had skills in slapstick or clowning, so it really is a comedy with the lot.”

26_The Popular Mechanicals_Shane Reid-2

While Julie says the crew has had “the most beautiful time together”, it’s audiences who are in for the biggest delight.

“Our experience of their response is absolute hilarity—and surprise. I think that the title can sometimes be a bit puzzling for people, but once you get them in, it’s sorted. From the very first opening shtick and song, they get the flavour of the piece. It’s lewd and bawdy—90-minutes of non-stop fun, but there’s still beautiful poetry in there.”

Shakespeare fans will love the homage to the world’ greatest English writer. Others will enjoy a riotous, fresh take on a comedic classic.

the essentials 

What: The Popular Mechanicals
Where: Canberra Theatre Centre
When: 1 November – 4 November
Tickets: From $35 For more details and to purchase tickets, visit the Canberra Theatre Centre website.



Ashleigh Went

Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. She’s currently furthering her studies in nutrition, but also has a Bachelor of Communication and is a qualified fitness instructor with over five years experience working in a gym. Among other things, she’s a lover of great food, coffee and fashion. She can usually be found shopping for activewear, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue More about the Author

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