Review by Carly Fisher
In 2017 when Muriel’s Wedding the Musical hit the Sydney Theatre Company stage, audiences couldn’t help but be reminded of just how great a homegrown musical, especially one that doesn’t take itself too seriously and really plays on its Australiana roots, can be. Think Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Boy from Oz, Muriel’s…we, as Aussies, love a good local story and add a song and dance to it…well, we are hooked.
Schapelle Schapelle has proven this again and has been continuously popular since its 2019 premiere. Back on the stage for the Sydney Comedy Festival until mid-May, this show is the Independent Theatre Sector’s answer to good ole’ Muriel’s Wedding and is proof that you don’t need a big budget to bring quality Aussie theatre to the stage.
From the opening serenade to 2005 and the celebration of all that it was - Roxy, Juicy, Rogue Traders and the rest, this show team quickly digs their heels firmly into the groundings of comedy and grabs the audience along for the ride in doing so.
Whilst the show, of course, centres around Schapelle Corby and her infamous boogie board bag, the real focus is on the Australian media and how sensationalist it too often proves to be. Because of this focus, the show asks questions and asks its audience to consider the intellectual burden of the media and its role in deciding and/or creating a story, not just reporting on it. It may not be the sort of conversation you expect to have after a night at the Sydney Comedy Festival, but the show is richer because of it - the comedy is funnier because the humour stems from truth, the show is smarter and avoids the all too tempting trap of cheap jokes and witty slang at the expense of Aussies and Aussie culture. Instead the show doesn’t necessarily rely on, but certainly is enhanced by the craftiness of clever lyrics and a great book to the show.
In creating this, Abby Gallaway (Director and Co-creator) and Jack Dodds (Performer and Co-creator) have led a fantastically talented team of writers - Gareth Thomson, Mitch Lourigan, Tim Hansen and Gabbi Bolt, who, along with Gallaway and Dodds, have perfectly married humour, embedded references (I see you palm trees), Australian pop culture, empathy and some banging musical numbers to create Schapelle Schapelle. My only critique for the writing team would be that Act 2, in parts, tended to digress or slow the progression of the story. Where Act 1 was as perfect as any independent theatre production I have seen of late, Act 2 needed to be tightened an additional 10 minutes to ensure that the laughs never stopped rolling.
So how does a musical about a girl getting locked in a Balinese jail take place, and take place well, on a small stage in a University pub? How does it work? It is courtesy of the very talented cast who carry the show to perfection, particularly because of the pride that you can see each cast member has in this show. The cast's comedic contribution, the great dance numbers that certainly defy your expectation of the space, and a refined simplicity of set/costumes/props that just allow the show to flow and the cast to shine, combine to allow for perfect harmony to be achieved in this wonderful little show that could.
No question, the star of the show is Kelsi Boyden who gives Schapelle a whimsical innocence and naivety that has you feeling so sorry for her, irrespective of any preconceived ideas you may have had about the real Schapelle prior to the show. Boyden manages to completely normalise Schapelle quickly for the audience, and this skilled approach allows the audience to be completely guided by this version of the story, not the way we know it from the newspapers. It is an example of intelligent performance at its finest. Boyden’s voice was a big surprise on the night, though familiarising myself with her work after the show, I realise that her stunning vocal chops were unlikely a big surprise for many in the room. She is a beautiful performer to watch who I look forward to seeing on stage again very soon.
Also completely eye-catching was Alice Litchfield whose portrayal of the ‘sharks’ of the Australian media as Dimity is relatable, extremely well executed and ultimately, just very enjoyable to watch. Litchfield proves how strong she is vocally, and then grabs her tap shoes and blows us all away as a fantastic dancer. It was a joy to watch her throughout the production.
Jack Dodds is also one to watch. As Raymond, a young up and coming journalist battling between a leg up in his career and his morals, Dodds is sharp, witty, slimy and does not miss a beat. Taking on the role of Mick Jnr as well, Schapelle’s brother, Dodds gives us plenty of examples of strong character choices and what it is to see those characters take to the stage. Dodds shines in this show, no doubt about it.
Ruby Teys has attracted much attention for her role as Mercedes and whilst she is perhaps not the strongest vocalist on the stage, no one comes close to the execution of character that Teys achieves. As an excellent character actor and dancer, Teys holds your focus exclusively every time she takes to the stage - I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Emily Kimpton flexes her range as an actor by giving us a perfectly caring, gullible but definitely empathetic mother figure as Roseleigh Corby, then as the tough and often misunderstood Renae Lawrence and finally as the poised Julia Gillard. I was excited by Emily’s work from beginning to end and her versatility as an actor just kept making her all the more captivating.
Cudos absolutely goes too to Gareth Thomson and Mitch Lourigan, who rounded out the team of cast members, each continuing the trend of strong acting and contributing so much to the pace, humour and quality of the show.
The show, cleverly, does not try to speculate about what happened back in 2005 and whilst it does not overtly express its opinions on whether she did it or not, the closing song certainly gives us more than enough clues to work out what the show team thought of the Schapelle Corby scandal. That final number is perfection and closes out a very funny, very Aussie night at the theatre for a very excited theatre full of audience members.
The show is not perfect - it has a little bit of tweaking to go…and then, once those minor changes are made, I cannot think of a town in Australia that wouldn’t be ready, with an audience full of theatre goers, to welcome this show to its local stages.
Congratulations to the Schapelle team - you have a real winner on your hands and I can’t wait to see it again when it makes its 2022 return!
Image Credit: Monique Terry