Who doesn’t like to dabble in the occult while on a bender with your roommate? Sometimes desperate times call for some desperate wish fulfilment, even if that wish is for the reincarnation of the most famous playwright in English history. Wil and Grace is a heartfelt romp through fantasy, witchcraft, and grief in a Petersham sharehouse.
Grace (Madeleine Withington) has been having a hard time lately so her housemate Varya (Suz Mawer) decides to play into her Shakespeare fanaticism and hold a ritual to reincarnate the William Shakespeare. Just a bit of fun. Until they wake up the next morning to find a strange British man (Joshua Shediak) asleep on their couch. Grace believes that their ritual was successful and Varya and the strange British man Wil decide to maintain the fantasy to lift her spirits. But the fantasy can only distract Grace from reality for so long before she finally has to face her fears head-on.
Withington’s script is witty and humorous, especially in constructing the absurd relationship binding these three characters together. It’s a simple premise that asks the characters to suspend their disbelief alongside the audience for the mere fun of revelling in magic, if only for a short while. This simplicity allows the story a sense of innocent warmth and enjoyment that doesn’t often appear in adult entertainment, but it was when Grace re-entered reality to face her father’s death that the script took a turn to the saccharine and obvious. With more time spent illustrating Grace’s relationship with her father, the audience could have developed a more unique understanding of the secret underpinning the sweeping fantasy and it would have given greater impact to that loss.
Directed by Erica Lovell, the characters are portrayed with genuine heart. Mawer’s Varya is brash, crass, and prone to violence but she is unexpectedly funny and delivers tongue twister insults with aplomb. Grace has an air of mystery about her that mixes well with her 20-something self-conscious awkwardness and Wil was charmingly out of his depth between two women who at least have the confidence to try to do something with their lives. The cast presented strong, consistent performances that walked the line between relatability and absurdity.
The set design by Anna Gardiner was an impressively knick-knacked living room with plenty of what appeared to be genuine artefacts from the actor’s own homes. But the technical design with lighting by Jasmin Borsovszky and sound by Chrysoulla Markoulli added the needed supernatural spook that cast doubt on the boundaries between fantasy and reality. From the blue shadows and shifting spotlights to the eerie orchestral music signalling scene changes, the set was no longer a simple sharehouse in Sydney’s inner west but perhaps a portal to the afterlife.
If you too want to believe that you can just resurrect a beloved historical figure to distract you from the day-to-day, then slipping into Wil and Grace will come as welcome relief. It’s the type of theatre that reawakens a child-like sense of wonder and unbridled belief while remaining sharply funny for the adult-self, too.
Wil and Grace is running at Fringe HQ from November 24th – December 4th
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