The Lady’s Not For Burning

(Brisbane Arts Theatre)


“In my plays I want to look at life at the commonplace of existence as if we had just turned a corner and run into it for the first time.” Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning certainly lives true to his sentiments, with a certain zaniness thrown in for good measure.

Essentially a romantic comedy, it proves a good choice for Brisbane Arts Theatre, allowing upcoming talent to work alongside veterans of the stage. Fry’s script is similar in style to Shakespeare’s, with the dialogue part drama, part verse littered with clever poetic device. But if with subtlety Shakespeare uses a quill, Fry uses a sledgehammer, surprisingly giving the script an overt sense of reality behind its quirky façade.

As a medieval tale, much of the show relies on its design which succeeds splendidly with Una Hollingworth and Janet Cook’s intricately beautiful set and costuming. Incidental music composed by Tim Wotherspoon adds a suitable wistfulness which complements the action on stage.

The story is told in 1400 where we soon discover that Jennet Jourdemayne (Louise Marshall) has been accused of witchery. As the hysteria builds outside, she begs the mayor (Hugh Buckham) to dismiss the sentence of her execution. Meanwhile the mayor has been dealing with Thomas Mendip (Peter James) who has climbed through the window demanding to be hung. If that wasn’t enough the mayor’s philandering nephew, Humphrey (Andrew Ross) due to be married to convent girl Alizon (Melanie Zanetti) soon discovers that the romantic interests between the copying clerk, Richard (Marcus McSorley) and his fiancée are mutual.

Newcomer James heads the cast ably with a sarcastic humour necessary for the role. Marshall is brilliantly believeable, well-spoken and sensitively treats her role with emotion. McSorley also displays his acting ability, particularly in the later scenes. Andrew Ross and Marcus Costello as brothers Humphrey and Nicholas err towards the melodramatic but manage to receive many laughs from the crowd. Much humour also comes from Buckham whose mayor is as manically zany as he is corrupt. The love story that buds and blossoms between McSorley and Zanetti’s characters is well maintained, even when the focus is elsewhere. Margaret (Alison Fraser), the mayor’s sister, is hilarious and suitably highly strung.

Director Pat Wallace has created an interesting theatre piece with what is essentially a difficult script due to its poetic wordiness. One criticism lies in the occasionally rushed delivery of lines with which the audience has to think very quickly. Most of the actors are guilty of this, but James in particular needs to pay close attention. A minor quibble is the characters’ accents, which range from Australian to Irish to sing-song Cockney. A uniform and neutral accent needs to be adopted by all to not only increase authenticity but make the speech easier to understand.

The opening night crowd turned up in force, and few would have been disappointed at the confidence of this production. While you may hear vocabulary that you never hoped would have existed you are assured a night of medieval madcap comedy with a romantic twist.

— Grant Pegg
(Performance seen: Thu 31st July 2003)