Flinders University Performing Arts Society
Bakehouse Theatre
Until 25 Jan 2020

Review by Sarah Westgarth

I love a good farce. There’s something so reliably joyful and comforting about them. It’s a style of theatre defined by not taking itself too seriously, and being aware of what it’s going to offer. There’ll be mistaken identities, and situations that aren’t what they look like, and conversations where each person is talking about something different. A good farce relies on polished blocking, a strong ensemble, and a command of both expressive language and physical comedy. The Flinders University Performing Arts Society, founded in 2018, have embraced all of these elements in their production of ‘Move Over Mrs Markham.’

Set in the house of Joanna and Philip Markham, classic shenanigans ensue as it’s revealed that multiple couples have made plans to use the residence for a secret rendezvous on the same evening. Originally published in 1972, the play is very much a product of its time. There are moments that feel dated, but never aggressively so, and the cast is endearingly earnest in their approach to the text. It is not the most polished performance, which is to be expected from such young and inexperienced actors, and not all of it works as well as intended, but there’s enough charm and laughs to keep an audience entertained throughout.

The cast comprises entirely of students from Flinders University, so most are playing characters of more advanced age than themselves. They generally handle this well, and work hard to make the characters their own. Their inexperience does show; the performances are not as strong as they could be, often lacking the heightened characterisation needed to sell a lot of the laughs. A few of the lines are stumbled over, or the meaning is lost due to a lack of nuanced expression. That being said, they execute the numerous physical gags with gusto, and there’s a comfortable chemistry between all members of the cast that is a delight to watch. It’ll be wonderful to see them continue to grow in their skills over time, as their passion and joy for performance is clear. There’s no particular stand-out, though Lucas Tennant’s turn as the repressed and sensible Philip Markham has some fantastic moments—his composed delivery of the line “I have just broken a quantity of glasses” was a highlight.

Director Scott Sharrad has cast the play well, and each actor gets their chance to shine and at least a few strong laughs; it’s also clear how much fun they’re having. Sharrad has staged the action competently, which is no mean feat when there are so many exits and entrances that rely on timing and position to work. The play doesn’t have a lot of emotional depth, of course, but it’s also not trying to, and the few tender moments between the Markhams are genuinely sweet. Even while the characters are engaging in questionable behaviour, this production manages to present them all as extremely likeable, which only adds to the charm of it all. Sharrad does make an acknowledgement in the program that many of the jokes in the play have seen better days, which is true, particularly in regard to the sexual politics of the piece. There are a few gags that rely on an element of ‘gay panic’, or other such unenlightened attitudes towards the gay community and to women. There does seem to be enough self-awareness that it never feels mean-spirited, and the butt of the joke tends to be the characters’ own ignorance, but some of the language used was uncomfortable to hear.

The Flinders University Performing Arts Society is clearly a group of people passionate about theatre, and it’s a true joy to see them at work. ‘Move Over Mrs Markham’ is pure farcical fun, and I hope they continue providing these kinds of experiences for both their cast and crew, and Adelaide audiences.