Northcote Town Hall is currently housing the Hayloft Project’s latest production, Arden V Arden until the eighth of December. Following this production, 2014 will see the relocation of the company to Sydney in an effort to conquer new theatrical frontiers. At the helm of Hayloft is the undoubtedly talented writer of the contemporary portion of this play, Benedict Hardie.

Unfortunately, while bold in his attempt to create a mash-up of a sixteenth century text with a contemporary adaptation, Arden V Arden failed to thrill me last Friday night and I left feeling somewhat unenthused. While there were some interesting aspects to the production, notably the attempt on Hardie’s part to pull such a thing off, overall it felt strained and muddled from my vantage point in the front row.

As for performances, (the area which engages me most as a reviewer), I felt the actors suited one half of the play but not the other which resulted in an air of inconsistency in their respective portrayals. I almost think the play could have worked better with the original text as the first half rather than being attached somewhat cumbersomely to the end. Furthermore, nobody particularly stood out in this cast. Having said this, the lead Emily Tomlins, who played Alice, did a fantastic job with the Elizabethan text, although I was entirely unconvinced by her contemporary characterisation. 

Other aspects that didn’t thrill were the staging and lighting and while the lighting and effects had a brief rebirth in the second half, overall I was unconvinced they assisted in delivering story. Upon entering the space, I was intrigued at first by the set (a big open raised space with minimal furnishings) but I was not convinced it was used wisely through the blocking. The actors also remained on the outskirts of the stage during the production, which I have seen work effectively but I wondered what the purpose was here. 

It must be said that something ignited in the second half. Perhaps it was the drama of the Elizabethan text (rumoured to have been penned by William Shakespeare himself) or perhaps it was the performances that seemed to kick into life (in most cases). Having said this though, by the time the second half came around, I was invested somewhat in the contemporary adaptation and didn’t have the energy to refocus on the characters in this new context. If a seamless transition was a goal here, it wasn’t achieved, I felt unsettled in the audience and not in a challenging way.    

I do applaud Hardie for attempting such an idea but for me, the execution and even in some cases the casting, didn’t work. The harsh change from one piece to the next was abrupt and frustrating and I found myself not invested in any of the respective character trajectories. There were a couple of laughs here and there but overall, I must say I was disappointed. I always like to entertain the fact that my review may be completely misguided and I must say that the audience did seem to enjoy themselves pretty thoroughly by the looks of it. I wish the Hayloft Project all the best in Sydney and hope that they continue to take risks because after all, the growth is in the risk taking, successes and failures aside.