Breaking barriers and redefining comedy

Published on 04 September 2023

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Watch This, Australia's only Sondheim repertory company, is about to make its highly anticipated debut at Chapel Off Chapel with a remarkable twist on the classic Broadway musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This ground-breaking production features an all-female-identifying cast, defying traditional gender roles and offering a fresh perspective on this timeless comedy.

We had the privilege of sitting down with Melanie Hillman, the brilliant director behind this innovative endeavour, to delve into the inspiration and vision driving this daring production.

Melanie Hillman

[Pictured: Melanie Hillman]

Q: Watch This is renowned for its fresh and innovative interpretations of Sondheim's works. What inspired you to reimagine ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ with an all-female-identifying cast?

Melanie Hillman: We were faced with the challenge of dealing with outdated attitudes towards female characters in a musical rooted in ancient Roman theatre. To preserve the essence of the piece and empower the female characters, we made the bold decision to change the gender of the actors. By doing so, we aim to maintain the play's humour and style while giving the women agency and a fresh perspective.

Q: Congratulations on receiving an Arts and Culture grant from the City of Stonnington. How do you believe this grant will enhance the production and contribute to its overall success?

Melanie Hillman: Receiving the grant from the City of Stonnington was an incredible boost for us. With this support, we can present specialised performances that cater to a diverse range of audiences, including those who are neurodivergent, hearing-impaired, deaf and blind. It's an opportunity to ensure inclusivity and accessibility in the theatre, allowing more people to experience the transformative power of our production.

Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from this production and their experience at Chapel Off Chapel?

Melanie Hillman: Above all, I want audiences to have a fantastic time and leave the theatre with laughter ringing in their ears. I hope they develop a newfound appreciation for Stephen Sondheim's exceptional craftsmanship and artistry. Additionally, I want them to see the versatility and humour that women bring to the stage, regardless of age, size or background. Through our reimagining of this classic story, I hope audiences recognise the importance of diverse voices and cultural identities in storytelling. It's an opportunity to expand their perspectives and embrace the richness of our world.

Don't miss this unique production of ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ at Chapel Off Chapel from 8 to 24   September. Experience laughter, inspiration, and the transformative power of reimagining a classic with an all-female-identifying cast.

Check out what's on at Chapel Off Chapel to view more events.