Review by Stephanie Lee
In fair Melbourne where we lay our scene, opening night of the award-winning show The Will To Be is performed by creator and co-producer Mark Salvestro at the La Mama Courthouse Theatre. It is Shakespeare, it is queer, and it is such an engaging story that it will have you hooked on Salvestro’s every last word.
Interlaced with quotes from Shakespeare’s classics, the plot of the show follows William O’Halloran, a Junior University Lecturer that has just been dismissed from his probationary teaching position. Set in 1962 Australia, when homosexuality was illegal, the work explores queer history, societal treatment of homosexuality and forbidden romance. As Will packs up his office, he takes the audience on a trip down memory lane, explaining the events leading up to his dismissal and reflecting on his experiences with love.
Mark Salvestro, as a charmingly dorky William O’Halloran, is so compelling and a master of storytelling that you will be lost in the world of the show. Successfully building an emotional connection to the audience with his earnest and deeply empathetic portrayal of his character’s suffering, Salvestro is a delight to watch perform. His use of the middle and far gaze throughout the flashbacks, effectively creates the invisible presence of other people and pulls the audience into those intimate moments with him.
The staging of the play is simply Salvestro, a desk, a chair, a coat rack and a shelf- all with a few items on them. However, the minimalistic set designed by Carmody Nicol works greatly to Salvestro’s advantage, as it allows him to carefully manipulate the space to continually change time and location throughout the show.
Assisting his shifts in between reminiscing and the reality of the present moment are the clear and effective changes in lighting designed by Lachlan McLean. The two different lighting positions- one focusing the light more towards upstage right and the other focusing the light on the centre of the stage- help the audience follow the constant fading in and out of memory without having to mark the changes verbally.
Similarly, the intricate props scattered around the desk and shelf not only add personality to the set but also help engage the audience when Salvestro moves them around and packs them up into his box throughout his long monologues.
The props, set and costume also effectively add to the aesthetic of the show by clearly situating the action in Australia during the 60s, and the personal touch of graduate certificates and suit jackets give a University office feel.
Although I was not instantly sold on the Shakespeare quotes at the start of the show because they felt a little clunky amongst the modern English, as the performance progressed I felt they added a unique layer of personality to William that would be lost without them.
For instance, the ending of the show is a St Crispin’s Day moment call to arms. Despite the fact that it would appear odd at the start of the show, by the end you are so immersed in this world of a Shakespeare lover that it seems like the only fitting words for William to rally the queers in his fight against injustice.
However, this show is not just a slice of LGBTQA+ history, or a modern Shakespeare adaption of Romeo and Juliet, it is a deeply personal story about one man’s heartbreaking search for true love and society’s intent on destroying it once he has found it. It will make you laugh, think and possibly even cry.
The Will To Be is around until this Friday 23rd of April as a part of the Midsumma festival and if you are asking yourself to watch or not to watch… The answer is definitely to watch!