Fantastic but Problematic

UMMTA ticks a lot of boxes with its take on the hilarious, absurd and incredibly sexist A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This is a traditional take on a classic farce that first opened on Broadway in 1962. Set in Ancient Rome, it follows the exploits of a slave called Pseudolus as he attempts to win his freedom from his young master by fetching the object of the boy’s lust, a courtesan named Philia.

As Pseudolus, Chris Anderson is likeable and engaging. He establishes a strong connection with the audience which he maintains throughout the show. The supporting male cast has excellent comic timing and navigate the fast-paced dialogue and lyric-heavy music with barely a slip. Special mention goes to Andrew White as Hero who, despite having a weaker voice, wins the audience over with the endearing, puppy-faced delivery of his love song early in the show.

Unfortunately, the women in the production have very little opportunity to show their performance range. Danielle Carey as the beautiful airhead Philia has a sprinkling of uninteresting lines, but is otherwise stuck in the background. Elle Richards, playing the overbearing wife, also has the odd moment in the spotlight. It is a pity that the she does not feature more, as she has fantastic comedic talent. The other women, all playing silent courtesans, only appear occasionally to parade in front of the men.

Funny Thing is undoubtedly a brilliant show, but it is also a feminist’s nightmare. Classic but problematic shows like this can be controversial in the university community and it is important that they are recognised as such, but this shouldn’t undercut UMMTA’s achievement in pulling off an enjoyable production.

The set is lavish, featuring three large, glittery houses with doors that the actors constantly rush through and slam. There are no set changes, which means the energy doesn’t drop at any point. The costumes are consistently tacky and colourful – appropriate for the silliness of the show.

In a show that relies heavily on physical comedy for its laughs, clever direction and choreography is vital. Director Amy Bryans’ blocking is spot on, and the slapstick is well placed. Neither too frequent nor too repetitive, it has full comedic impact when used. The dance numbers, choreographed by Catherine Spanti, are simple, fast-paced and vaudevillian in style. Musical director Taylen Furness did a good job of managing some minor mistakes in the orchestra on opening night.

UMMTA has brought A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to life with bucketloads of enthusiasm. It’s full of sexism and low-brow humour that won’t sit well with many people, but it is also a brilliant piece of theatre featuring a group of truly talented performers.

Chloe Dallas

UMMTA’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is playing in the Union Theatre,Union House, the University of Melbourne, from 16-24 October. Tickets are available here.

Photography: Ben Fon

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