Blue Sky Theatre with the Gardens Open to the Public Scheme. 10 Jan 2020
Outdoor theatre is alive and well in the hands of Dave Simms.
He can take one of the corniest 18th Century plays in the history of theatre and trick it up to a funny, zany, and delicious garden entertainment. The secret not only is in the adaptation of the play to a chic and accessible period, in this case the 1920s, but the rallying of a cast of versatile actors who have the professional oomph to deliver old school projection clearly audible to all. Not only but also, they come equipped with the enviable energy and agility to bound tirelessly around expanses of deep, spongy lawn.
In the case of opening night, it was set on the vast lawned lushness of Crozier Hill at Victor Harbor but the ongoing 2020 Blue Sky season of She Stoops to Conquer will move the show on to the lawns of Stangate House in Aldgate, The Cedars at Hahndorf, and Wittunga Botanic Gardens in Blackwood.
Hence, the sets are very simple and portable, and also comical in their own way. With micro sets in a macro setting, Simms does not miss a trick. Interval aligns with sunset and powerful floodlighting materialises for the second act. For the chill of night, blue blankets are supplied to cosy up audience members. The whole picnic theatre experience has been well thought through with box suppers for those who don’t care to bring their own spread. Wine, tea, coffee, cheese and crackers are all on sale. It is very convivial, with a jolly good laugh to top it all off.
In that cause, there’s Oliver Goldsmith’s cornball story of mistaken identities, family matchmaking, trickery, loyalty, class, and manners. Charlie Marlow is agonisingly shy with women of his own class. He depends on his bestie, George, to be his wingman to get through meeting the lovely heiress his father has chosen for him. Thanks to some dastardly mischief the two friends end up thinking that her posh family mansion is a hotel, much to the perplexity of their host, her dad, Richard Hardcastle. General mayhem follows with George wooing the Hardcastle niece while Kate tries to break down handsome Charlie’s shuddering phobia by pretending to be the maid. Poor dad spends a lot of the play in apoplectic indignation while his doltish step-son Tony tries to manipulate everything and everyone. The characters have been wonderfully cast, Gary George absolutely owning the stage with the most glorious display of blustering and eye-popping incredulity as the hapless Hardcastle. Ashley Penny, with poise and polish, plays the daughter in her two guises while Simon Barnett’s astute characterisation actually makes the audience sympathise with the abject shyness of Charlie, despite the gradual realisation that he is also a total upper-crust shit. While there are super support performances from Leighton Vogt, Joshua Coldwell, Kate van der Horst, Lee Cook, Miriam Keene, Steve Marvanek, and Angela Short, it is the rumbustious comic presence of Nicole Rutty as the conniving loudmouth stepmother, Dorothy Hardcastle, which steals the show. Rutty uses a repertoire of fearless physical comedy to embody this gauche rich bitch. It is a tour de force, made all the funnier by the absolute delicacy of the exquisite 1920s dresses she is wearing. What an array of shimmering period beauty has been created to costume the women for this show and, as for the men, they are impeccably dressed from top to toe as befits fancy gents of the Gatsby period.
Betwixt and between, the snappily-dressed Gin Swings quartet jazzes the air with its music and backs the cast for the odd Charleston.
In all, Blue Sky is giving us a very classy show as befits some of the classiest locations in the state. Again.
Dave Simms fills a very special niche with these brave and whizzy productions of quaint period pieces. Indeed, so good are they that it is time to recognise him as a quiet genius of the Adelaide theatre world.
When: 10 Jan to 1 Feb
Where: Crozier Hill at Victor Harbor 10, 11 and 12 January 2020
Stangate House in Aldgate 18 and 19 January
The Cedars at Hahndorf 24, 25 and 26 January
Wittunga Botanic Garden in Blackwood 31 January and 1 February