Downstage Theatre
May 6-10 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

MEEKLINGS, merkins and murderous teens dominate Downstage Theatre this week, host to the return season of three diverse plays from the Fringe Festival 2008: March of the Meeklings (Three Spoon Theatre), Sensible Susan and the Queen’s Merkin (Theatre Militia) and 2 b or nt 2 b?. The season gives the shows a chance to further develop their successful productions.

First up is Three Spoon Theatre’s March of the Meeklings, which won Best Show at the Fringe Awards. I missed this in the Fringe, but was highly impressed with their subsequent offering, The Storm. Being a collectively devised work, March of the Meeklings is a far less structured work than the scripted The Storm. Whilst my preference would be for the latter, I have to commend the production for being wildly inventive and humorous.

March of the Meeklings begins with the entrance of the agent of the Apocalypse, clothed in a monastic robe with bright red shoes sticking out the bottom. The story then follows her influence on three “meeklings”, all of whom have received poor treatment as a result of their social awkwardness. Gary (Thomas McGrath) was fired from his beloved job as a librarian for talking about Phil Collins too much; Jeff (Shane Boulton) who never got his burger after he was mistaken for religious celebrity Father Hungry and Warren (Brigid Costello), a pubescent gamer hassled by a cruel call centre operator after his computer crashes. Inspired by the Apocalyptic agent (aka Renee – played by Alexandra Lodge) they are taking the phrase ‘the meek(lings) shall inherit the earth” to its literal fulfilment as they embark on a mission to overthrow the President of the World. A variety of “other characters” (played by Charlotte Bradley and Edward Watson) also receive their come-uppance on the way. As with The Storm, it is hard to fault their performances, although vocal projection was an issue at times.

In terms of the staging of the show, the production has adapted to Downstage well. They make use of the balcony by seating the three musicians up there (Hollie Fulbrook, Tane Upjohn-Beatson and Adrianne Roberts). Fulbrook’s haunting voice summarises the events of each scene with a short refrain. In both of their productions the marriage of music and play has been perfect. The set was an interesting mish-mash of items, and props and costume were well suited to being quickly changed to reflect the multiple scene and character transitions. An impressive element of this group is that the cast fill all of the production roles.

It is noted in the programme that March of the Meeklings was a “little show staged on a shoestring budget over two nights” that was an “unexpected success” originally. I think that although it may have been a Fringe favourite, translation to a larger theatre illustrates some of its weaknesses, particularly in the area of plot. The show doesn’t really have a lot of substance, but it sure is fun and crazy. It would be great to see it in a less static space than on a stage – this show seems made to be set in a non-theatrical venue. It’s quite geeky – but apparently geek chic is “in”.

Following the March of the Meeklings was Sensible Susan and the Queen’s Merkin. This was one of my favourite shows of the Fringe, illustrating that Theatre Militia can do comedy as well as drama. I have little to add to my original review except to note that the production seems to be have been tightened up and fine tuned in places, particularly the “Spice Girls” scene and the chorus work in general. I’m still not entirely sure why Pandora has a broad Aussie-sounding twang though.

A second viewing emphasised the intelligence and absurdity of the humour – it is definitely not lost on a repeat viewing. This play has adapted well to a venue change also – although this is perhaps not surprising as it was originally staged in a theatre (Bats). Ryan Prebble once again provided excellent musical accompaniment and the actors (Richard Dey, Felix Preval, Bex Joyce, Hannah Smith and Simon Smith) were hilarious and raucous. They are complemented by excellent lighting (Marcus McShane), set (Glen Ashworth) and costume design (Nell Williams) and Rachel Lenart’s astute direction. If you didn’t see it first time round, then go – it is not often that you get to see morality theatre these days. If, like me, you did see it in the Fringe then go again – it’s worth it!

The final show of the trio is Sarah Delahunty’s 2 b or nt 2 b?. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for this one, but I enjoyed it in the Fringe. The story takes famous characters in plays and re-envisages them as 21st century teenagers, filled with angst and bombarded with technology. It is an ambitious concept that is well executed by Delahunty and her young cast and is well worth seeing. I’ve been told it has not changed substantially from the first production, which was also set in the Downstage bar.

I’d highly recommend going to all three shows and making it an evening at the theatre – all three shows are excellent and highly enjoyable. It is a chance to see different, experimental theatre presented by young practitioners. Watch out for their future productions too.

See also:
» Sensible Susan and the Queen’s Merkin (Reviewed by Helen Sims)
» 2 b or nt 2 b? (Reviewed by Helen Sims)