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Review: A Peculiar River at Star on the Sea Theatre

By Abbie Gallagher

Manly’s Star on the Sea Theatre is a hidden gem, not easy to find. It’s been a decade since I last set foot in here to watch Ruby Moon. It’s remarkably, and welcomingly unchanged since then.

Factory Space Theatre company has assembled an ambitious project in A Peculiar River. A young, vibrant cast takes the stage in this adaptation (skillfully done by Emma Willis) of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. As the show opens, the ineffective Duke, overwhelmed by the crime levels in Vienna, (Rohin Thompson) leaves his post disguised as a friar. In his place is the deeply corrupt yet deceptively morally upright Angelo, who intends to deal with the crime wave harshly and to the fullest extent of the law.

Elsewhere, Claudio (Lewis Scamozzi) is sentenced to death for impregnating a young woman during a consensual encounter. Claudio’s sister Isabel - a novice nun - is summoned to plead for mercy to Angelo, only to find she’s dealing with a ruthless, misogynistic male who wants sexual gratification in exchange for her brother’s life.

The set design is striking, the costumes are great and there is some very clever use of lighting and music during scene transitions. Standout performances come from Tahlia Merlino in the traditionally male role of Provost, Dani Lavorneti who displays excellent comic timing as Pompey and the criminally underused Lewis Scamozzi who delights the audience with a roguish charm, but also captures the desperation of a man fighting for his life. These three were the highlight of the show for me and worth the price of admission alone!

There’s a lot to admire in this production, but sadly there are aspects missing refinement and read more like a rehearsal. Kurtis Wakefield has the physical presence for Angelo, but not the charisma or menace to back it up. Subsequently, the critical scenes between him and Isabel, while well-directed, didn’t have a truly compelling sense of danger or tension. One of these scenes is replayed in full with the genders and roles reversed. A truly ingenious idea, though probably dragged a little too long and could have been cut down. Still, I applaud this decision, especially in the Me Too era, and doubtless many people will recognise the scenario in their own lives.

A Peculiar River needs more work as an adaptation, but not having ever seen Measure for Measure, this is a great start and certainly worth going to see. You will get your money’s worth, and a very interesting interpretation of a classic.

Though truth be told, there was one glaring plot hole Shakespeare seemed to have missed. While the disguised Duke is plotting a way to remedy the dilemma Isabel faces, I found myself thinking “Why doesn’t he just go back to his post and overturn Claudio’s sentence?”

I’ll never know.

Photo Credit: Abbie Gallagher

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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