The Lovers ★★★★

Based on A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare. Writer, composer Laura Murphy. Bell Shakespeare company Oct 23 – Nov 20, 2022.

Have you ever seen a show that is a hair’s-breathe close to being just perfect? The Lovers by Bell Shakespeare is so close to being a bona-fide five star slam-dunk I can taste it. And that last star is just down to budget – this is a hit, a palpable hit. Goddammit, this is the original Australian musical I’ve been waiting for.

Backstory: The Lovers is a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream turned into a rom-com musical. the lazy comparison is that this is Six but for Shakespeare, but The Lovers goes beyond that obvious touch point. Yes, we have pop-songs. Yes, we have the original Shakespeare verse (abridged). But there is an alchemy at play that makes The Lovers more than the sum of its genuinely awesome parts into something that is, magically, all its own.

When The Lovers was announced I wasn’t instantly enthused. I saw the corpses of the multiversal ways this could go wrong. Would the songs be bad? Would they awkwardly squeeze Shakespeare’s verse into an outdated pop formula? Would the story be bastardised into modern gibberish in an attempt to stay current? I’ve watched enough bad Shakespeare to fear every possible outcome. But in Bell we trust! So I booked a ticket and dived into the theatrical potentiality like Ant-Man throwing himself into the Quantum realm (see, I can do pop-culture references too)!

Look, if you’re a Shakespearean purist you already know you’ll hate this so don’t even bother (you know you’re just buying a ticket to give yourself an excuse to be angry and the world is already filled with too many people looking for excuses to be angry so just grow up and, you know, don’t). But the power of Shakespeare is the ability of his works to be adapted and hold their core emotion truths of humanity, and The Lovers does that. It strips A Midsummer’s Night Dream to the core and amplifies the emotional truth to a new level that speaks to the universal truth of Shakespeare’s writing. This is a translation into a new form, a pop musical, that respects the source but speaks truth to a modern power.

We already know that Shakespeare’s verse is legendary, but The Lovers power lies in Laura Murphy’s songwriting which morphs styles to accentuate characters and moments. Yes, here’s where the comparisons to Six kick in. The songs mimic pop styles we know, but layer them within the narrative. I left singing lyrics and humming tunes in a way that I haven’t with any new Australian musical in a while (sorry Fangirls, but I wasn’t that much of a fan, and I was overseas when Muriel’s Wedding hit). 

It helps that these tunes and story are handed over to a universally talented cast. There is no weak link here. I walked in with high expectations of Blake Appleqvist and Monique Sallé which were met and then some, but Natalie Abbott, Britannie Shipway, Jerrod Smith and Stellar Perry were revelations to me. I’m dying to see a cabaret of Perry on her own. Strong Meow Meow vibes from that one. But all are names I’ll be looking for in the future. Can we just line up a Showtunes Sunday at Dulcie’s King’s Cross now? Thanks.

So we have & Juliet coming, a different musical based on Shakespeare, but The Lovers is a totally different proposition. & Juliet is the right kind of jukebox (Max Martin pop tunes set in a post-Romeo & Juliet world), while The Lovers is an original reinterpretation. I hate jukebox musicals (sorry Tina, but no) but & Juliet is one of the rare exceptions to that rule. While the surface similarity to The Lovers is there (a pop music reinterpretation of Shakespeare) the two are brilliantly complementary.

I have quibbles, but they’re the sort of minor adjustments I have to flip something that is very, very good into something great (and they’re subjective). Look, I have notes. What do you expect from a gay, story producer sitting in the stalls! I’m talking about a lighting cue, and a lyric tweak, or a change to the staging (but there are, no doubt, budgetary concerns involved). All this needs is the pressure and money of a commercial producer to really polish this gem into sparkling form and grab that low-hanging fifth star.

As I said, this is so close to being perfect for me, I can see it, I can taste it. I’ve not been this energised or invested in a new musical in some time so The Lovers is definitely worth laying down the cash to see now!







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