18th century French drama and glamour has landed at the Northcote Town Hall with Heartstring Theatre’s production of David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette. Filled with florals and tulle and the talent of six exceptional performers, this show is modern in its presentation but true to the history of the French revolution and the last Queen of France’s story.
It’s a classy, ambitious and well executed show for the new company, founded in 2016, and fulfills their fantastic manifesto to address the shortage of great and interesting roles for women by producing plays where at least half of the roles are female. It earned them a Green Room Award nomination for their all female season of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, and works well with their strong chosen female performers who dominate the stage in Marie Antoinette.
Elisa Armstrong shines, terrifies, beguiles and breaks down as Marie Antoinette, portraying her as sassy, absurdist and slightly feminist, as well as with a big side of ADHD and a little bit of mania. Gabriel Partington is delightful as Louis XVI, a petulant, overgrown child, clueless leader and antagonist to Armstrong’s older but equally clueless and pampered Antoinette.
The actors all age well and transform across the show, and all but Armstrong and Partington play multiple characters, transitioning from each role with ease. Eleanor Howlett’s transformation from Polignac, royal favourite and lady in waiting, to the child Dauphin is particularly notable, with the audience in hysterics at her childish behavior. Jessica Tanner dazzles with charm and grace and infectious energy in all of her roles, Heath Ivey-Law is a particularly powerful and unsettling presence as Joseph, Holy Roman Emperor and then as a revolutionary, and Conor Gallacher manages to make all of his roles enticing, gruff and sort of sleazy.
The show centres on the conflict of Antoinette being born and bred to be queen, and it not being her choice, her mental state as the events of her life unfold, her journey to maturity (or close to it) and what is real. It’s witty, awkward and outlandish, colourful and bright but sharp on the issues of the day. Elements of the show are hard to follow, such as the sheep that continue to appear, as if to warn Antoinette of what is to come, like elements of her subconscious or questions of her sanity bubbling over. The show aims to hold a mirror up to our contemporary society to examine whether we are entertaining ourselves to death, and the privileges or repressions of wealth. Do we pity these characters? Do we hate them? Do we sympathise with the raw and emotional performances? The show leaves much open to interpretation about what Heartstring Theatre have presented.
The show is well staged, with a completely minimalist and clean feel, few set pieces and the clever use of projections to provide timing and context of the show. Sliding panels on the back of the stage are used well to allow the cast to enter and exit the space and aids the empty stage to fill constantly explored and utilized.
A highlight not to be forgotten, opening night audiences witnessed the most spectacularly timed and aimed throw of a bonnet onto Partington’s head, landing perfectly to the roars of approval from viewers.
Marie Antoinette must close at the Northcote Town Hall, Studio 2, on 15th July. Tickets and more info: http://www.northcotetownhall.com.au/calendar/calendar.asp?Date=5/07/2018