(Queensland Theatre Company/State Theatre Company of South Australia)


Scapin is an enjoyable farce, well performed and with splendid sets and effects. Yet as with many heavily promoted shows (especially one with a successful interstate run behind it) it fails to live up to expectations basically, in not being the uproarious laugh-a-second comedy it promises to be.

The story is thin, but this needn’t matter if other elements can be brought together effectively, including the script re-write. The original angle taken here is to include great slabs of Hamlet soliloquies as the clown Scapin enacts his desires to be a tragedian. In a perverse way this works best to show the magnificence of Shakespeare in contrast with the rather meaner Moliere, at least in translation. Scapin’s final “the rest is silence” was, for a split second before the laughter cut in, quite moving; his playing of Hamlet is very good.

A brilliant design from Dean Hills gives a comic book effect, with an upward sloping stage peppered with awkwardly leaning buildings. Quality light effects from Mark Shelton include the lit windows of buldings near and far. Model trains far above the stage stop and start in time with movements of the drama. Costumes and hair styles are creatively ingenious, while rollicking and often extemporised music from Adam Couper blends well with the action.

There are lots of clever gimmicks, including the frequent appearance of a whole troop of policemen most of whom on closer inspection are revealed as inflatable dolls. To add to the fun is a degree of audience interaction. But some of the stunts, such as the endless knocking on locked doors, wear a bit thin.

Paul Blackwell as Scapin is indeed good, especially in such moments as his rapid fire accents when playing tricks on Michael Habib’s portly and effectively villainous Geronte. Yet he lacks that super dimension of the central clown. One can’t help comparing the show with Bell Shakespeare’s Servant of Two Masters of mid-year, whose clown, Darren Gilshenan as Truffaldino, was simply outstanding. This show doesn’t reach those heights.

Queensland’s own Bryan Probets is one of the best of the cast as Octave, capping off a very good theatrical year for him. Andy McDonell is an impressive Argante.

The women have generally lesser roles Helen Cassidy plays the long-lost Hyacinth; Caroline Mignone the long-lost Zerbinette (you can see the plot doesn’t amount to much). Particularly noteworthy is Annie Lee as head policeman, among other roles. She has not many lines, but makes wonderful use of her face in mime.

In all, an amusing and entertaining night out, if not quite the expected over-the-top gag-fest.

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Fri 5th December 2003)