The love of the Nightingale Contemporary with a strong message

**** Stars

By George Dixon

 2021, the return of live theatre, with the added restrictions of social distancing.

Can this work?

The Glasshouse Theatre Works, St Kilda, have applied their smart solution; “Clear Perspex Booths”, of various capacities, set in a box formation, leaving a centre, as the stage.

This allows you to sit in comfort, while having a front-row seat, right up to the edge of the stage. For the cast, there is no place to hide.

The solution works, and while it’s early days, concern regarding sound clarity, still need to be addressed.

Performing in the round presents its own issues regarding staging and direction, which can be improved with further adaption.

The love of the Nightingale, written by the award-winning New York-born, British based playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Is a contemporary feminist adaptation of the Greek myth “Philomela.” Written in the late Eighties.

This dark Greek tragedy was commissioned for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

As an opera by Richard Mills, Its run time is over two and a half hours.

The play annotation runs for a comfortable seventy minutes.

This current production is staged by an enthusiastic ensemble of up and coming performers.

With little time for the audience to take in the events unfolding, the pace seemed hurried, concurrently, the dialogue was not rushed, although, at times, it was hard to hear and understand.

Some of the dialogue issues may have been due to the Perspex screens, combined with the balance of voice projection, while at other times it would have been because the dialogue was coming from the far side of the stage.

The time restrictions may have been due to the back to back scheduling of plays; therefore, some grace and allowances should be applied.

I enjoyed the contemporary approach to the costuming. Having more significant costume distinction between God’s, mortals, and others would have made the play less confusing and easier to follow. The boys’ character would have been more apparent if the costume was more age-appropriate.

The use of tape to indicate the silencing of Philomena may have also added to her condition, as not everyone in the round, would have witnessed the torturing event of having her tongue cut out.

Other stage props apart from the swords where well presented and used.

The sensitivity of Philomela’s rose and dagger scene was incredibly poignant and tastefully handled.

The minimal staging added to the atmosphere and was very well used.

The casting of Gretel Sharp (Philomena) and Monique Marani (Procne, her sister) was masterful. Sharp portrays the innocence and playful nature of the younger sister, full of curiosity about life superbly, with her captivating smiles, and girlish abandonment.

Philomena’s’ strong-voiced retort to the actions of Tereus, is both emotional and disturbing. It’s presented from the females perspective, and cries out from her innocence “What have you done!”

The cry that adds to the horror of the rape by her sister’s husband; Tereus. The King of Thrace (Greece). Played by Emlyn Sugden, who is enchanted by the Goddess Aphrodite.

Maclaren projects the “Heckle and Hyde” aspect of the situation, using His office and nobility as a cover for his lust for Philomena. Which relates well to the silencing characteristics recently exposed within the # Me-to movement.

The play is powerful today as it was back in the eighties, It is no wonder this season was a total sell-out in record time.

There is little doubt that we will see it returning.

Images: Wing Sze Chong

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