Directed by Sandra Bates
18 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 27 November – 17 January
Theatre can be a grand illusion. Audiences relish the beguilement of the stage, seeing only the finished exterior and unaware of the abundance of stories that lie beneath the story we are told. And yet, occasionally an unexpected occurrence will take hold that acts as a peephole for the audience into the immense dedication, effort and rigour of the creative individuals at its core. Ensemble Theatre’s production of The Good Doctor is a prime example of unpredictable events shaking up a play, ultimately allowing audiences greater insight into the many tales that reside within a work, and culminating in vast appreciation for those who commit themselves to creating this art.
Glenn Hazeldine was set to perform the main role of Anton Chekhov, the writer of the series of short stories depicted in this play…until the day of the tech run he hurts his shoulder, ends up in hospital for multiple days and is unable to perform. I imagine this must be devastating for both Hazeldine, and the cast and crew as innumerable hours of hard work are no longer able to be revealed to audiences in quite the same manner. However, in true theatrical fashion, the show must go on! Director Sandra Bates, in her final show as Artistic Director after 30 years at Ensemble Theatre, called in Adriano Cappelletta to fill in the role. Understandably, Cappelletta performs the role with script in hand, however in multiple sections has managed to memorise the scenes. Most significantly, in spite of his incredibly short notice to prepare for the role, he delivers a deftly amusing performance. With impeccable comic timing, Cappelletta wins over the audience from the very beginning, creating riles of laughter throughout the show.
In many regards, the achievements of this show, given the circumstances, are astonishing. The whole cast has worked swiftly to adapt to the change, exhibiting great flexibility. Each actor takes on multiple roles in the various short tales that are depicted. Chloe Bayliss ranges from the ridiculous to the pitiful in her clever characterisations, contributing to a varied show. Nathan Wilson fills the stage with a warm energy and enhances the humour in an apt farcical manner. Creative use of the theatre space is employed, augmented by the set design by Graham Maclean. Depth and breadth is of the stage is extended to set the scene, through background space built into the set and use of the aisles. Costume design by Margaret Gill is rich with fabrics and colour of Chekhov’s period. By nature of the show’s episodic structure, each story conveys different emotion and ‘take away message’. Neil Simon’s writing often hits the mark, especially in the story of Peter Semyonych and his way with married women, played fabulously by Cappelletta. However, some of the episodes were too drawn out, and whilst true to the farce style, needed an energy kick to satisfy audiences. Potentially some of these scenes suffered from the last minute changes and shall improve throughout the season.
Evidently, the theatre is awash with stories both on stage and back stage. In The Good Doctor, being informed of some of the off stage drama seems to make the theatrical action only more fascinating. It is not often that the audience is privy to this insight, however this situation is an intriguing exception. I doubt that Bates could have anticipated such tumultuous circumstances surrounding her final production as the Ensemble’s Artistic Director, and yet it is a testament to her skill and experience, as well as those of her creative team, to produce a fantastic show in spite of the odds.