Theatre review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Chapel Off Chapel

An explosive musical comedy by an all-female-identifying cast.

An upbeat band and chic Roman-inspired set established a gleeful atmosphere. The audience was greeted by the instantly charming lead character Pseudolus (Charmaine Gorman). Playfulness abounded and jokes were free flowing as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum delivered what the opening number clearly states as its intention – “comedy tonight!”

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was a reimagined production of the classic Broadway musical, giving the spotlight to all female-identifying players to deliver a highly entertaining performance to the audience. The story centres on Hero (Milo Hartill) and courtesan Philia (Mel O’Brien), a pair of seemingly star-crossed-lovers. Hero’s slave, Pseudolus, bids to help his young master to court Philia in exchange for his freedom. However, Pseudolus’ plan is riddled with wackiness – cue the hilarity.

Gorman delivered an exceptional layered comedic performance executed with confidence, grace and unflattering jester-like energy. Her character tied the three central plots together as the cast took off and vaunted their talents. Hartill and O’Brien had a sweet chemistry accentuated by O’Brien’s natural flair for audience interaction. Guided by Pseudolus, the two need to navigate the various obstacles thrown at them impeding their love; for example, the meddling but sensible slave Hysterium (Jacqui Hoy), the greedy pimp with a sultry baritone voice Marcus Lycus (Sarahlouise Younger), and Hero’s parents Domina (Sophie Weiss) and Senex (Cathy Woodhouse).

What director Mel Hillman especially excelled at in this musical was showing that an all female-identifying cast could tick all the elements that make comedy funny with or without the subject matter specifically relating to gender. This was something this reviewer had only previously experienced while at an all-girls high school when the drama teacher cast us in various plays, but didn’t restrict us to playing only female roles – a novelty at the time! This was a pivotal inspirational moment for this reviewer in her pursuit of comedy. The industry continues to make strides in gender equality and intersectionality, and hopefully this musical will contribute to galvanising progress.

As the musical neared the end it was given the energy boost it needed. The pace and stakes were heightened by fantastic performances from Luisa Scrofani, Judith Roberts and the delightful and multi-talented Kristie Nguy playing the entire ensemble. For lovers of comedy and musicals A Funny Thing delivered a wide spectrum of enjoyment, which may have been even further elevated by closer attention to harmonies and instrumental sound mixing. 

Read: Performance reviews: One Who Wants To Cross, Dalo Chips and Imli Chutney and WATER-MIRROR, Sydney Fringe Festival

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was a well-executed musical, giving audiences the opportunity to get away from it all and enjoy “comedy tonight and morals tomorrow”.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Stephen Sondheim and Ken Thorne
A Watch This production supported by City of Stonnington
Cast: Charmaine Gorman (Pseudolus/Prologus Act 1), Milo Hartill (Hero), Jacqui Hoy (Hysterium), Mel O’Brien (Philia), Sophie Weiss (Domina), Luisa Scrofani (Miles Gloriosus), Cathy Woodhouse (Senex), Sarahlouise Younger (Marcus Lycus), Judith Roberts (Erronius) and Kristie Nguy (All the ensemble including courtesans)
Director: Mel Hillman
Musical Director: Trevor Jones
Choreographer: Sophie Loughran
Assistant Director: Bobbie-Jean Henning
Set Designer: Sarah Tulloch
Costume Designer: Jemima Johnston
Lighting Designer: Rob Sowinski
Sound Designer: Marcello Lo Rico
Production Manager: Anna Davies
Creative Producer: Dean Drieberg

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was performed from 8-24 September at Chapel Off Chapel.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Chido Mwat is a Zimbabwean comedian, writer, film and web content maker living in Naarm (Melbourne, Australia). She performed her first full length show 'She-Nanigans The Show' at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Fringe Festival 2022. In 2022 Chido was selected to participate in the Melbourne Theatre Company x Emerging Writers's Festival program First Stage. Her writer/directorial debut short 'For Becky' has been featured on SBS on demand, placed third at the Sunshine Short Film Festival (2021), and was an official section at the African Smartphone International Film Festival (2021). Chido has produced online content for the Department of Family, Fairness and Housing to promote COVID Safe behaviour and was a writer for a series of TikToks by Cinespace about anti-racism.