‘Mad Fred’ Reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by December 11, 2013

‘Mad Fred’ is a sparkling, hilarious, musical play from WA’s multi-award winning playwright, Hellie Turner. Hellie’s plays have been presented, warmly accepted and admired in every state of Australia, winning prestigious awards and nominations throughout the country. As well as her superb theatre scripts, Hellie has won the Maj Monologues competition and received a nomination from the Society of Women Writers for an ‘Alice Literary Award’.

The Curtin Performance Studies Course has managed at the end of the year, to grab a few spare days at the iconic Blue Room Main Theatre, Perth Cultural Centre, James Street, Northbridge.

This 100-minute, black comedy based on well-researched facts, can be seen each evening at 7.00 pm until Saturday, 14th December.

 

The two rows of seating are formed ‘in the round’. Above the central, checkerboard floor performance area are cables of dimly glowing, festoon lamps (lighting – Duncan Sharp).

         It is about 1860 in a poor area of Melbourne. In a back street, a young woman (Róisín Bevan) screams as she gives birth to her scrawny son. Frederick Bailey Deeming (Pete Townsend) has been born, but with his ginger hair, he is doomed to a life of sin. As expected, years later, Fred brutally murders his wife and finds himself in court charged with murder.

       A local theatrical producer, Bertie (Daniel O’Brien) decides to put on a show based on Fred’s gruesome life. For economic reasons Bertie has one actor (Sean Guastavino) playing both the prosecution and defence. The lawyer questions the numerous witnesses, all of whom are played by the same actor (George Ashforth – excellent) with hat changes. As the evidence is produced in the court, the young actress playing the part of the court official (Sinead O’Hara) in a desire to promote her acting career struts sensually around the courtroom to the sound of burlesque music.

      Still in the play-within-the-play, at the local morgue we see the police surgeon (Ryan Hunt) checking the ‘animated’ dead body of Fred’s wife (Rebecca Goodlet – hilarious). Two old women (Bubble Maynard, Erin Craddock) are gossiping in the street, loving the excitement and grisly reports in the newspaper.

      As the theatrical production progresses, the attitude of the actors to the lousy script and the demands being made on them, causes Bertie problems. Despite being a murderer, Fred has his admirers, one girl in particular (Heather Jerrems) did not mind blatantly flirting in court.

      Will Fred be found guilty?

 

Until almost a decade ago, every year, Curtin theatre students would put on a Shakespearean play, a Greek tragedy, a full-scale musical and an old-time Music Hall; then sadly many of these disappeared. The lunchtime shows have been variable and of dubious quality, so when selecting actors for my annual Theatregoer’s Awards, I have been struggling to find any REAL talent. This show has renewed my faith. EVERY actor was worthy of an award. The drive, energy and chemistry continued at a cracking pace throughout the production. There were amazing, complex dance routines, powerful singing (in tune!) and rich characterisation. It just shows that given the chance, with a quality script and a talented direction team, that even the most shy and nervous actors will surprise and astound you.

 

Directed by Adam Mitchell, assisted by Jesse Daniels and with dramaturg help from Emily Kingsley, this wonderful musical, styled as a mix of ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Sweeny Todd’, sparkles and glows throughout. The outstanding cast, were filled with energy as they worked the stage, filling every corner, making eye contact with each member of the audience; you became part of the scene and almost felt like getting up and joining in with the bawdy, riotous dance sequences (choreography – Claudia Alessi).

Every actor belted out the funny, lewd songs, set to Ash Gibson Greig’s catchy and memorable music, with gusto. Pete Townsend gave a most impressive solo, ‘song and dance’ performance. Many of the actors had multiple parts; they changed smoothly and gave it their all.

The costumes were beautifully designed and made, and perfect for the era (Alex Vernon, assisted by Chelsea Johnston).

The main lighting was with four large LEDs, with the colour and brightness for the many changes controlled perfectly by SM / operator, Meabh Walton and Caleb Greaves.  The intricate soundscape was designed by Ash Gibson Greig and operated by Monty Sallur. There were several unusual props required, and well sourced by Nicole Courtney. The fast pace of the production was demanding on the stage crew (Polly Seah, Jarryd Dobson).

This show was a complete surprise. Because of the writer and director, I expected above average, but I was totally blown away by the talent and professionalism. This is an extremely funny, lively musical and one of the rare shows that I would love to see again.