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Review: Shakespeare Ghostbusters at St. Martin’s Theatre - MICF

Review by Naomi Cardwell

It takes a particular kind of madness to attempt the adaptation of an iconic 1980’s Action/Comedy and mash it up with Elizabethan language. But like French Fries dipped into a chocolate ice cream sundae, The Ghostlight League’s Shakespeare Ghostbusters is an improbable treat you absolutely have to try. 

The play’s storyline keeps close to Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd’s 1984 hit Ghostbusters, which follows disgraced academic Peter Venkman and his team’s foray into supernatural pest control for profit. As Venkman, Danny McGinlay is perfectly sleazy and cynical, delighting the audience with his wry and rubber-faced quips. Narrator Rik Brown runs the show like a hilariously disgruntled ringmaster, calling the characters into action, lyrically setting the scene for us, and grousing away in all his asides. 

It’s the female cast, though, who make this play truly soar. As scientist Dr Egon Spengler, Elysia Janssen is deliciously deadpan as she prowls the space, hilariously operating her ghost-detection equipment and invasively investigating everybody and everything. Donna Prince’s puppetry is brilliant, with movements and facial gestures that mirror her puppet’s affect seamlessly, and the ruff-sporting ghost puppets themselves – also created by Prince – make for a highlight of the entire Comedy Festival.

As Janine, the aggressively bored receptionist as well as a whole host of other characters, Tam Dahmen’s physical comedy is an absolute scream - she steals every scene she’s in, turning her multiple roles into a showcase of her talent and infectious wit. Producer/performer Cassandra Hart is a consummate comedienne: at once sexy, funny, and riotously arch in her portrayal of femme fatale Dana Barrett.

While not explicit at all, the play is full of spicy jokes and ribald humour – one ghost’s late-night visitation to a character still has me giggling inappropriately a day later. On the night I attend, there are lots of children in the audience whose squeals of laughter throughout are a better review of the overall show than I could ever write. However, parents should take into consideration the show’s 15+ rating, which is definitely well-earned.

Patrick Slee’s lighting design is frighteningly good, with the sparse set relying on his intuitive brushstrokes to move us between locations. One memorable scene, featuring the gang peering into a fridge, is so convincingly well-lit I still can’t believe there wasn’t an invisible refrigerator on stage sputtering cool white light into the characters’ faces. Sandro Falce’s sound design is full of easter eggs, with an outrageous line-up of pop music tinkling away on harpsicord throughout the show and a cheeky Wilhelm Scream thrown in for good measure. 

The production runs on fumes and absolutely revels in it. Who needs special effects when you have pool noodles? Who needs complicated sets when you have snappy, witty dialogue and an energetic cast comically scrambling full-pelt across the stage to arrange scene transitions? The play has all the spontaneity and scarcity of a night of improv, with all the chops and polish of a well-written, thoughtfully constructed comedy adaptation.

This is in no small part thanks to the direction of Rob Lloyd of Shakespeare Aliens fame, whose arrangement of The Coincidence Men’s script keeps the dialogue tight, the action high and the laughter flowing. I can’t wait to see what Lloyd gets up to next, and I’ll certainly jump at the chance to catch the Ghostlight League’s next madcap adventures, as they fast cement themselves as a cult fixture of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. 

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