Don’t have time to read the full review? Click here for a quick summary of the who, what, where and wine of this production.
Grace and Varya are close friends, working out life one wine or vodka at a time – until a drunken séance brings a naked man into their house claiming to be William Shakespeare and everything turns upside down. Written by Madeleine Withington, who also stars as titular character Grace, Wil & Grace is a quirky comedy with a lot of heart.
Set on a stage cluttered with mismatched furniture, books, plants, candles and bottles, we’re unmistakably somewhere in Sydney’s inner west. Varied and creative use of everyday sounds – thunderclaps, the tidying up of glasses and other props, and the odd bit of instrumental music transport us through several weeks, stages of grief, evolving relationships and personal growth in the space of only 85 minutes, an impressive achievement.
Each of the three-person cast is strong in their performance in delightfully wacky ways, and the bond between the actors is clear in the story they tell together. Their use of physical comedy both individually and as a group elevates the plot and enlivens the stage throughout the show.
Lead Grace is immediately lovable. A dreamer and literary fanatic, Withington’s performance beautifully captures both the light-hearted naivety and immense vulnerability of her character as she moves through stages of denial, childlike determination to believe in the impossible, desperation and acceptance.
Housemate Varya’s unfailing love for her friend so clearly drives her character that no matter what she’s saying or doing, we’re on board. Played by Suz Mawer, she’s night to Grace’s day, with a larger-than-life personality, lude jokes, and never-ending career changes from sex phone operator to spin instructor to children’s entertainer. Mawer is captivating to watch on-stage as she fearlessly exaggerates every move in a way that should be too much, but in practice is just right.
Meanwhile, Josh Shediak takes great advantage of all the opportunities the role of Wil offers. His performance is strong and motivations clear whether he’s sparring with Varya, baring his soul with Grace, or soliloquising like the Bard himself.
Shakespeare in many ways becomes the invisible fourth character of the story through Withington’s clever use of dramatic irony – we as the audience know much of what’s happening before Grace, and we root for her as she goes on the journey to realisation in front of us. Rather than alienating those in the audience without much interest in or knowledge of Shakespeare, Withington grounds her high concept storytelling in reality by poking fun at the devices her character has such reverence for, nicknaming Shakespeare ‘Willy Shakes,’ (I’ll never call him anything else ever again) swearing liberally and at one point outright slamming the plot of one of his most famous plays!
This story sets out to explore the complex web of love, loss, fear and belief in the impossible, which after two difficult years for independent theatre feels very timely and worthwhile. Wil & Grace is a triumphant debut for Withington and a spectacular return for Sydney Fringe.
Hug your friends. Call your loved ones.
Wine Pairing | Fiano
Fiano is an Italian white wine varietal similar to Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay. It’s biggest difference from these more common varietals is its lower acidity, which reduces some of the tartness you not enjoy in your Savvy B.
My Pick: Pete’s Pure Fiano 2019
Like Wil & Grace, Pete’s Pure Fiano is excellent value for money and enjoyable drinking for anyone and everyone. Dry, fruity and fun, it has a pronounced flavour with delicate yet distinct notes of pear, almonds and honey. Its medium body, alcohol and acidity allow the rich flavours to come through yet remain fresh and exciting on the palate, so it’ll go with even the worst of Varya’s cooking!
A bottle of Fiano costs around $12-15 from the bottle-o, I enjoyed my bottle as part of my Good Pair Days description.
|Aussie Season||24 Nov to 4 Dec 2021, Fringe HQ Newtown|
|Theatre Type & Genre||Play, Aussie, contemporary adult, independent theatre|
|See it if you like||quirky, heartfelt plots, outrageous acting, twists and turns, supporting independent theatre|
|Criteria for Wine Pairing||medium acidity, fresh citrus flavours, easy drinking|