Sunday May 27, 2018


By Diana Simmonds
April 9 2017

THE POPULAR MECHANICALS, State Theatre Company South Australia with Sydney Theatre Company at Wharf 2; 8 April-13 May 2017. Photography by Lisa Tomasetti – the company

As Shakespeare once said, get the best co-writers and you’re laughing. And when they are Keith Robinson and Tony Taylor, you just know it’s going to be alright on the night. The Popular Mechanicals, in truth, is what Tom Stoppard was trying to achieve with Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Alas, poor Sir Tom.

And so it was, once upon a time – 30 years ago, actually – those three comedics of Olde Surry Hills, with the collaboration of Geoffrey Rush as director and the comical genius of Kerry Walker, Gillian Hyde, Peter Rowley and Paul Blackwell, made an unforgettable bit of comedy history at Belvoir with this show.

In the intervening three decades I’ve been privileged to be at the best and most extraordinary theatre performances Sydney has had to offer, but none do I recall with such clarity and melting fondness as The Popular Mechanicals. To say I loved it is an understatement. And I love it still. It is silly, rude, childish, clever, erudite, idiotic, painful, comical, really awful, quite brilliant and it features the very best rubber chicken dance in all of Shakespeare and the English-speaking canon.

In this instance, Sarah Giles has undertaken the director’s role and as her past experience includes being assistant to Simon Phillips on the aforementioned Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it’s fair to say she has learnt a lot and does a particularly fine job of keeping Pop Mex on the rails, with its company now consisting of Lori Bell, Julie Forsyth, Charles Mayer, Amber McMahon, Tim Overton and Rory Walker.

The story is of course the most lamentable comedy of the tradies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – whose little entertainment is in the running to amuse Theseus and Hippolyta on the occasion of their wedding. They – Peter Quince the carpenter, Snug the joiner, Bottom, the weaver, Flute, the bellows-mender, Snout, the tinker; and Robin Starveling the tailor – have come up with the most lamentable comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe. It is a tale of benighted lovers who are not only ill-met by moonlight but also are forced to communicate through a chink in a wall and withstand the ravages of a lion. 


The friends rehearse and otherwise go about their business until they learn that their play has been preferred – o joy, o panic. Off they go to the palace to perform it. At its conclusion Theseus declines their offer of an epilogue or further delights. The end. 

Designer Jonathan Oxlade has given the show a neat raised stage which greatly enhances the chicken dance as well as providing a raison d’être for tea urn gags. There’s also a marvellous ironing board, while the lighting by Mark Pennington would make any scout hall volunteer feel right at home and sound designer, composer and musical director David Heinrich has obviously had enormous fun, as has choreographer Gabrielle Nankivell.

Into its 90 minutes are packed every bit of comedy nonsense and brilliance from that beloved of the bawdy-minded Elizabethans to fart jokes that would delight a kindergarten class. The actors throw themselves into it with utter conviction, discipline, skill and energy and the result is joyous balderdash of the best kind. 

The Popular Mechanicals is not for the po-faced, but as it’s already close to sold out they can stay home and lament the death of thea-tah instead. Personally, if a season ticket were available, I’d have one. Recommended.



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