three-birds-theatre-ladycake-photo-by-sarah-walkerNow in its second year, the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival is a curated programme of works by independent theatre companies. For their part, Three Birds Theatre present LadyCake, a play that puts a new slant on events from the life of the Austrian Archduchess who would be the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.

We would only feel the presence of Her Highness through the experience of other characters, played by recent VCA graduates Candace MilesMadelaine Nunn, and Anna Rodway, also the work’s creators. The piece aimed to consider “the way speculation, gossip, assumption and physical criticism can cruelly undermine a woman.”

We begin with our three players as handmaidens at the royal palace in Versailles, giddy about the arrival of the princess and her impending magnificence. Marie would be an object of fascination, virtually a pop star, to these women. Years at the palace would hold challenges; an apparent lack of consummation of the marriage intended to join two empires, difficulties in childbirth, and time spent with a Swedish prince ‘confidant’.

The adoration of Marie by her servants wasn’t universal outside of the palace. Lighting design from Jason Crick sharply switched us to and from a parallel, increasingly hostile world where MilesNunn, and Rodway were scathing critics of the Archduchess-cum-Queen’s gambling and lifestyle excesses.

We were given the sense that Marie was a polarising figure, but as we never saw her, or even heard her referred speech, I’m not convinced that dissent amongst the peasants ‘undermined’ her – comparing the lead up to the French Revolution with the trolling of prominent women of today might be a bit of a stretch.

Further, I wasn’t even so sure that LadyCake made much of a case for why we should have sympathy for a figure born into privilege whilst so many subjects had such miserable lives of deprivation.

It may be that LadyCake tried to take on a little too much, and in oversimplifying some historical events for brevity lost some of their import. However, the conclusion listing many contradictory ‘facts’ about Marie Antoinette, including cruel comment on her relationships, did recall a sense of the pettiness and lack of basic decency observed in the words of critics of public figures.

Visually, LadyCake is a delight. Lucy Wilkins’s costume design is fitting for late 18th Century France, having the players in suitably feminine pink hoop skirts with tall platinum-blonde hair. This was complemented by Anastasia Poppenberg’s set design, except for when the world was upended and the use of black briskly registered a tonal change.

Liam Bellman-Sharpe’s sound and music design suitably foreshadowed the accumulation of tensions over Marie’s time in Versailles, with the sophisticated entertainment of classical music pushed towards its breaking point. In the performance audiences were given a novel idea, performed with a fine balance of dramatic and humorous moments, which mostly moved along at a good pace and kept us engaged along the journey.

Clearly the mentoring model provided by the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival is working well in promoting the growth of the next generation of tall poppies in Melbourne’s theatre scene. Let any audience finding some theatre around to be stale bread, be advised: let them eat (Lady)Cake.

Creators & Performers: Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn, Anna Rodway Costume Design: Lucy Wilkins Set Design: Anastasia Poppenberg Sound & Music Design: Liam Bellman-Sharpe Lighting Design: Jason Crick Production & Stage Manager: Amelia O’Brien

New Ballroom – Victorian Trade Hall, 54 Victoria Street, Carlton
Season continues to 27 November 2016
Information and Bookings:

Image: LadyCake – photo by Sarah Walker

Review: Jason Whyte