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Glenbrook Players: Ada and the Engine -Review by Rhonda Hancock

I always enjoy a visit to the Glenbrook Theatre. It has a certain old-world charm – the foyer decked out with vintage movie posters; and cosy little nooks furnished with armchairs, lamps and side-tables from yesteryear. This venue provides the perfect ambience for Glenbrook Players production of “Ada and the Engine”.

I was very much looking forward to seeing the play, as the plot ticked all the boxes for me. A good biographical story worth telling for its social and historical significance, and featuring strong female characters. As I believed it was essentially a romance, I was concerned that it would be a little too “Austen-esque” – however this was not the case. It was so much more than a love story. This production far surpassed my expectations – director Heather McGreal has done an awesome job of bringing this beautiful story to the stage. It’s hard to believe that this is only her second directorial undertaking.

Even before the actors took to the stage I was drawn in by the set. With no traditional flats – it consisted of a few well-chosen furniture pieces and props to replicate the era and create the living areas of the two main characters. Designed and executed by Wilver Valesco and Stewart MacPherson, the set design was very effective in its simplicity. I’d like to make special mention of the machine model (built by MacPherson) which immediately sparked my curiosity as I waited for the play to begin.

From the moment Rebecca Dean walked onto the stage, I was mesmerised by her performance. Perfectly cast in the titular role, Dean was nothing short of brilliant in her portrayal of the complex personality traits of Ada. Angela Pezzano also did a stellar job playing Ada’s mother, Lady Byron, ably depicting both her austere and sensitive sides. Michelle O’Reilly rounded out the female trio, giving a strong performance in the role of Ada’s mentor, Mary Somerville. All three actresses sensitively portrayed the emotions and frustrations associated with societal expectations on women living in that time.

Another standout performance was given by John Forbes, in the role of Charles Babbage. Forbes portrayed Babbage with such conviction, skilfully highlighting all of his character quirks and nuances. Completing the ensemble was Anthony Ashdown who played a convincing Lord Lovelace, and Zak Harrison who showed a maturity beyond his years in his portrayal of Lord Byron. I particularly enjoyed the musical element – singing and choreography – that these two actors brought to the production.

It’s always difficult costuming a period piece, however Barbara Vasilescu is to be applauded for her outstanding costume design. The ladies’ gowns were absolutely stunning – accurately representing the fashion of early 19th century. Every actor on the stage looked immaculate – I could picture Vasilescu and her team backstage frantically ironing those voluminous skirts, as there was not a single wrinkle to be seen!

There are a couple of other elements of this production that are worth a mention. The transition from one scene to another was done smoothly and expertly, not only through clever direction, but the combined use of lighting (designed by Sam Hardaker) and projection (designed by Ainslie Yardley). Along with the music and sound (designed by Ian Bate) these elements came together to create the mood and emotion of the piece, and helped distinguish the difference between reality and imagination. I really liked the projections at the end of the show, depicting the pioneer women of science. It was very uplifting.

Congratulations to McGreal and her team for producing such a beautiful piece of theatre. I was so completely immersed in the story that I barely noticed the minor “glitches’ that occurred through the show. I say minor, because, to the actors’ credit, they did not bat an eyelid, nor break character – they carried on, making these glitches almost imperceptible.

If you haven’t already guessed, I loved every minute of this play – and give it 4.5 analytical engines.

Photos courtesy of Aurel Vasilescu

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