Compleat Female Stage Beauty

The Stirling Players. Stirling Community Theatre. 23 Mar 2012 

It’s taken from 1999 until now for someone to put American Jeffrey Hatcher’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty on the boards in Australia, and bully for the Stirling Players for doing so.  This is a most amusing theatrical production about a major turning point in English theatre – King Charles II in 1662 issued a royal warrant forbidding male actors to play the female roles on stage any longer.  This is the story of the most famous female impersonator of the Restoration, Ned Kynaston.  Did he have the balls to make the change?

The play is a wild and whacky feasting on the power relationships, social norms, fashion, and gender-bending of the day.  And if you think we live in sexually interesting times, the comings and goings of this lot would make a crow blush.  Director Megan Dansie transports us nearly 400 years back and shows us much of the present.

There is much to be admired in this production with its large cast.  Dansie’s design includes a delightful trompe l’oeil of columns and arches.  The ensemble work, songs, and numerous scenes flowed like sonnet verses.  Aldo Longobardi presented a Kynaston of graceful effeminate affectations with the required showbiz dazzle, counterpoised with irony by his dominating physicality, but I wanted more emotional dexterity from the man behind the make up.  Joshua Coldwell as Charles II was perfect – he combined a regal bearing and commanding voice with a sense of fun and love of theatre.  The costumes and wigs were to die for – authentic-looking and glorious – you’ll want one for Halloween.  Not to mention the titillating question – Just how far do you go with simulated sex scenes?

The final scene of acting instruction and deconstruction of Desdemona’s demise at the hands of the Moor was brilliant in the revelation of each new idea, and intensely followed by its execution – a very exciting scene.  It is here you get to see history in the making.  A delightful night at the theatre about the theatre.

David Grybowski

When: 16 to 31 Mar
Where: Stirling Community Theatre