EXTRA EXTRA! The Front Page at New Theatre is the scoop of the century. Frenetic, wise-cracking and witty, director Nicholas Papademetriou (‘Nico’) hits another home run in this classic screwball comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The play is inspired by the duo’s career in the shady world of tabloid journalism, producing a script that has become a timeless smash hit.

The performance on Friday 26 April was preceded by a short speech from Nico on some casting issues which required role re-shuffles at the 11th hour. It harked back to the speech he gave at the premiere of It’s a Wonderful Life which faced similar circumstances. Whether Nico is just uncannily lucky or freakishly-talented or both is almost certain, given both productions were smooth sailing in terms of performance delivery.

This one-act one-scene play spanning almost two hours is set in a press room in Chicago, but the play never feels static. There is in fact, lots going on, with a plethora of journalists talking over each other, making frantic calls, playing cards and so forth. The set is stylised and open, revealing the back doors of New Theatre which becomes an entrance for the actors. A large prop window on stage left is balanced with a prop door on stage right, when the action comes to the foreground. Also on stage left is a restroom prop door. That this play makes use of several doors and exits / entrances allows for exciting reveals to be made, as characters rush into and out of scenes. There is also a strategic hiding place for one of the characters providing much farce and laughter.

In this busy ensemble there are some particular standout performances worth noting. Rose Treloar (playing Hildy Johnson, star reporter) is a magnetic force of alpha-woman by which the men orbit around her. Treloar’s performance never fails to impress, having orchestrated her own incredible production Watch Me Sleep at Meraki Arts Bar. Her stage presence, commanding vocal delivery and comedic timing lights up the stage. It is worth coming to see this play just to watch her knock it out of the park.

Alison Chambers (playing Mrs Grant, Johnson’s soon-to-be mother-in-law) is also a hoot, always delivering a commanding rendition of an austere old dame who won’t put up with nonsense. In Relativity she was the devoted starchy-housemaid of Albert Einstein, in Wonderful Life she was the miserly Potter. Here, she counter-balances Johnson’s feisty spirit by threatening to squall on the press room’s secrets. Seeing her being carried off stage indignantly Tarzan-style drew much audience laughter.

Georgia Nicholas (playing Rita Bensinger / Officer Inga Stenber) shines as a female reporter engaging in war-of-the-sexes banter with her boorish male colleagues. Her animated swooning at being singled-out and praised by her ruggedly handsome boss was a comedic gold moment.

Gerry Mullaly (playing Walter Burns) has an engaging role as managing editor of the newspaper. Burns is also secretly in love with Hildy but is too cocky to let that on, instead poking jabs at her prim and proper fiancée Bruce (played by Michael Smith). The acerbic humour is old-school Cary Grant in portraying Walter Burns as a charming louche.

The set, props, costuming and sound effects all show excellent attention to detail, right down to different coloured candle-stick phones and striking red accessories that pop against vintage pastel colours.

Pacing wise, the verbosity in the first half can sound a little obfuscating, disrupting its euphonious rhythm. But by the 60-minute mark, once the play has its full complement of characters, is when the play hits its stride.

The full cast includes: Barry French, Reuben Solomon, Gerry Mullaly, David Allsopp, Barret Griffin, Georgia Nicholas, Dereck Cameron, Cassady Maddox Booth, Callum Stephen, Rose Treloar, Megan Heferen, James Yeargain, Michael Smith, Alison Chambers, Nathan Porteous, Braydon May, Diego Retamales, Andrew Waldin.

The Front Page is playing at New Theatre till 18 May 2024. For tickets and showtimes go to https://newtheatre.org.au/the-front-page/

Images: Chris Lundie

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