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POSTED: 05 JANUARY 2010

Malthouse has some fun with Fo's Elizabeth*

Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre will add a distinct touch of fun to historical revisionism when it presents a new translation of iconic Italian playwright Dario Fo’s fabulous monstrosity, Elizabeth, Almost by Chance a Woman.

Michael Kantor directs a cast of Australia’s finest comic actors, including Julie Forsyth as Queen Elizabeth I and Billie Brown as her attendant Grosslady, as they blunder through the draughty corridors of power, intrigue, warfare and subterfuge — as well as a few beauty treatments along the way — in a new translation of Nobel-Prize winner Fo’s work by Louise Fox and Luke Devenish.

Set in the boudoir of Elizabeth I in the midst of political upheaval, the “virgin” Queen waits for the arrival of her lover, the Earl of Essex, who is busily preparing for an attempted coup d’etat against her.

Haunted by her actions in the beheading of her cousin Mary Stuart, Elizabeth suspects everyone is out to get her — even that “theatrical tub thumper” William Shakespeare who seems to be basing all his works on Elizabeth’s life.

As well meeting our decrees and dealing with affairs of the state, there is the small fact, almost by chance, that Elizabeth is a woman. And as such she calls on her grammerlot-speaking grotesque quack of an aid in the form of Dame Grosslady and her ever-suffering maid Martha to assist her in her preparations.

Buffoonish and irreverent in its tone, Dario Fo’s masterpiece speaks as much to the excesses of today and the vestiges of power as it does to a historical epoch.

The play — with its origins in the commedia dell’arte style and its improvisational story telling — is a gift for actors and a director to have fun with.

In this new translation, the anarchic spirit that Fo brings to all of his work shines as it attacks the political zeitgeist as well as theatrical convention itself.

Dario Fo, a respected satirist, playwright, theatre director, actor and composer, is most characterised by his ability to use comedy and laughter as a weapon against conservative political establishments.

He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1997 and his most famous works include Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Mistero Buffo and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!.

Julie Forsyth returns to the Malthouse stage after her critically acclaimed performance as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days and is joined by her Exit the King ensemble members David Woods, who recently charmed Malthouse Theatre and then Edinburgh Festival audiences in Optimism, and Billie Brown.

Billie is an internationally renowned stage and film actor and has recently been seen on Melbourne stages in Spamalot and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Elizabeth, Almost by Chance a Woman will run from 2–24 April in the Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse.

*Based on media release issued by Malthouse Theatre.

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