Tag: Malthouse Theatre

Malthouse Presents THE TESTAMENT OF MARY

Listening for a voice

By Bradley Storer

In the darkened corner of a modern apartment, a woman in blue is curled up weeping and clenching her fists. A stark blackout, and the same woman stands expressionless and walks into the kitchen to chop vegetables. With this bleak contrast of mourning and domesticity, The Testament of Mary begins to unfold the hidden story of the mother of God.

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Colm Toibin’s script, adapted from his own novel of the same name, is certainly evocative, and the passages describing Mary following the trail of Jesus’ march to crucifixion, her vigil and eventual terrified flight from Golgotha are as heart-breaking as they are harrowing. While the aim of the play seems to be to break down our historical and religious pre-conceptions of Mary, in Testament she never emerges as enough of a fully-formed character to do this. In sections describing her situation years after the crucifixion, flashes of a full-blooded Mary emerges – in a poignant description of a chair left eternally empty waiting for its occupant to return, or in her bafflement in dealing with the outlandish declarations of her son’s former followers, we can see her humanity appearing. Once the play moves on to re-telling Jesus’ rise and subsequent downfall, however, Mary becomes a reactionary character with no agency to affect her own fate. She is simply shuffled around according to the actions and desires of other (mostly male) characters, whether it be her mysterious cousin Marcus or Jesus himself, but what Mary herself desires is very rarely evident.

Pamela Rabe works incredibly hard to form a character out of these materials, and the fact that Testament works at all as a dramatic piece can be credited entirely to her as a brilliant actor. The unrelenting darkness and bleakness of Toibin’s writing begins to feel almost monotone as the play goes on, which unfortunately the direction of Anne-Louise Sarks seems unable to combat. The contemporary apartment set by Marg Horwell and Paul Jackson – while maybe intended to divorce the story of its distant historical context – alas adds nothing to the overall meaning. Steve Toulmin’s compositions and sound design, while sometimes overused, add subtle poignancy and gravitas to several key moments.

The Testament of Mary is described as having the goal of ‘to examine how myths are made, and to question who has the power to tell them’ but never offers up a strong enough voice of its own or an alternative to accepted mythology. The key divergence from biblical text, that Jesus was not the son of God, doesn’t feel like enough of a dramatic twist to build the entire plot upon. For a play about the historical silencing of women and the narrative exclusion of the feminine viewpoint, The Testament of Mary feels oddly voiceless.

Dates: 3 – 26th November

Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Malthouse, 113 Sturt St, Southbank VIC

Times: Tuesday 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Matinee Saturday 3pm, Sunday 5:30pm.

Prices: $35 – $69

Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au , boxoffice@malthousetheatre.com.au , Ph: 03 9685 5111

Image by Zan Wimberley

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Melbourne Festival 2017: WE LOVE ARABS

Political tensions, conflicts in art, relentless satire – and dance

By Myron My

In exploring identity politics and prejudice, We Love Arabs has a Jew and an Arab creating a new piece of contemporary dance piece to serve as a bridge between Middle-Eastern feuds. This satirical social commentary cleverly explores stereotypes and the powers that are at play when discussing race and cultures and to what extent art can create change in the world. 

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Hillel Kogan plays the role of a Jewish choreographer (as he is in real life) who initially explains to us the importance of this work, and how it will cross boundaries, and the deep thought he has put into its construction, and what he wants to do with it, and what he wants to accomplish with it. Before we even see any of this performance on stage therefore, we can already deduce that this work is not going to do or be anything that Kogan’s character envisions it will, and it’s not because he is a bad person, but because the Kogan on stage has essentially revealed how unaware and uninformed he is to be creating this type of work.

Kogan’s first obstacle is finding an Arab dancer, and from out of nowhere Adi Boutrous appears. As when he was alone on stage however, Kogan continues to verbally dominate the work, leaving Boutrous to passively stand and listen. The newcomer is barely given an opportunity to speak or contribute towards the creation of the performance, despite it being about him just as much as it is about Kogan. He is there to do as he is told, and Kogan’s lack of collaboration exposes his ignorant condescension towards Boutrous and his people.

The clever, self-conscious script exposes constant satirical tensions between artistic intent and cultural understanding: for example, while this piece was professedly intended to connect the two men, Kogan’s character spends much of the time focusing on their differences. He draws a Star of David on himself and an Islamic crescent moon on Boutrous’ forehead so the audience will be able to distinguish who’s who. However Boutrous reveals the multitude of problems in such labeling when seconds later he meekly announces that he is Christian. At another point, Kogan spends a considerable amount of time trying to pronounce his dancer’s surname and wishing that he’d had a more ‘traditional’ Arabic name like Mohammed.

The work is thus more performance art than traditional dance with the choreography balanced upon graceful and controlled movements that are filled with tension and frustration, especially when Kogan barks orders to the silent Boutrous about how and when to move his body. In this way, Kogan the actual creator uses the choreography to highlight the differences that his ignorant on-stage persona fails to understand or acknowledge. When Boutrous seems to have any form of control or power through his movement, you see how this autonomy does not accord with what Kogan’s character wants to create and how he perceives things, highlighting the issues that arise when creating work about other cultures, races, ethnicities, or minority groups, but refusing to actively collaborate with them.

We Love Arabs explores the sweeping generalisations and lack of insight that people who have the best intentions at heart can act upon, resulting in more harm than good being accomplished. At the same time, the show is also a satirical and self-deprecating look at political art and whether it can make a change in the world. Whichever way you choose to approach it however, We Love Arabs is an engaging and entertaining piece of inspired performance art that actually says something worth listening to.

We Love Arabs played at Malthouse Theatre between 18 – 22 October 2017.

Malthouse Presents THE REAL AND IMAGINED HISTORY OF THE ELEPHANT MAN

Famous tale powerfully retold

By Jessica Cornish

In a modern world where interesting things continue to be collected and people that are different are still being shunned by society, the heart-breaking historical tale of Joseph Merrick is bought to life in the 2017 season of The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man, currently showing at the Malthouse Theatre.

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Joseph is born different into an cold and industrial society that spits him out on to the cruel streets of nineteenth-century London. People flit in and out of his life, and ultimately he finds himself trapped as a patient at a hospital, entertaining aristocrats and posing as an educational tool for doctors. It is at once his saving grace and downfall, whereupon eventually he decides to return to the streets to live a life of a different nature.

Under the adroit direction of Matthew Lutton, the script as written by Tom Wright is heavy and bleak, but remains scattered with moments of comic relief that break through the darkness. The strong cast of five performers (including Paula Arundell, Julie Forsyth, Emma J Hawkins and Sophie Moss) are well-rehearsed and confident and easily draw you into this atmospheric world.

Leading man Daniel Monks gave an incredible performance, showing great strength and vulnerability as Joseph Merrick. The actor himself also did an extraordinary job in convincingly morphing into the physicality of this character across the entire night, including contorting his face for the duration of the performance.

The stage was remarkably bare and stark, with the muted and minimal set design of Marg Horwell, whereupon feelings of isolation, hopelessness and entrapment laid heavy upon the world of Mr Merrick. This was mirrored in the severe lighting design by Paul Jackson that relied heavily on silhouettes and harsh flood lights.  However, this enduring sterility was then complemented by a beautiful delicate soundscape designed and composed by Jethro Woodward that bought an element of tenderness in to the performance.

This was an inspiring reimagining of the famous real-life story, that shows the best and worst of humanity. It asks its audience to connect themselves to his world and to do what his peers struggled to accomplish: recognise the man that is Joseph Merrick, and allow him to simply be.

The Elephant Man will be showing at the Malthouse Theatre from 4-27 August 2017.

Bookings: Malthousetheatre.com.au

Tickets: Standard / $69, Senior / $64, Concession / $49 , Under 30s & Students / $35

AUSLAN INTERPRETED PERFORMANCE: 7.30pm, Thursday 24 August

Image by Zan Wimberley

Malthouse Theatre Presents REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN.

Tear down the wor(l)d

By Leeor Adar

Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. directed by Janice Muller is a perpetual play on words, and a play on what those words mean to us. It isn’t just a revolution within our society, but a collective ‘revolt’ at our own bodies, and at the male gaze for which women squirm under. Yes, it’s a raging, raging work. It probably needs to rage, because what Birch tells us is nothing new to a woman’s struggle within the constraints of her world, the sharp lines that fix her within it – whether that is her workplace, her lover’s place, her child’s place – or any place in which she exists.

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Birch’s text takes us to many dimensions of existence – at first it’s the constructed box that sits on the stage, vignettes of conversations that throw sex, marriage and work upon its head – women asking to be utterly present in the acts society inflicts upon them. Marg Horwell’s set design is effective here, the sound even strains within the ‘four’ walls created. Soon enough, this world revolts upon itself and a woman (Sophie Ross) climbs out of the four walls to really talk about the things we don’t talk about – about the damage women inflict upon our bodies, in a beautiful and hideous memorandum of all our physical evils – to be endlessly sexually available.

For all the seriousness of the work, the audience laughs with tears in their eyes at some scenes, and sometimes we flinched away – we couldn’t look upon what was before us. I sat behind male audience members who I confess I enjoyed watching too throughout the piece; in context, I admit I was morbidly fascinated at how they would react. Of course they laughed when it was appropriate, and sometimes when it was totally inappropriate, because on some level it was surely uncomfortable for male viewers to see a woman getting angry or opening her body up with Birch’s visceral words – but I can tell you that looking around the room at the women was an different story. Many moments of the play were a bitter reminder, unravelling us at the seams.

The cast is five-strong (Belinda McClory, Elizabeth Esguerra, Ming-Zhu Hii, Gareth Reeves, and Ross). Each actor delivered their parts with total abandonment and intensity – it is an absolutely demanding show to watch, but also to act. The words are hard, and they’re almost too funny and also too damn real. You know Birch is onto something good when you physically react to the words.

For all its power, the total breakdown of the world presented to us loses shape as characters throw costumes on, haphazardly run about, throw themselves on stage, shake, spit, shiver, deliver – it ceases to be a functional whole. Oddly enough, the work held its power until the final dimension and then disintegrated. Was it meant to show us how bad we really had it – apocalypse femme? I can’t say. But sometimes in an effort to rattle its audience, the hyper-modern piece loses us.

Did it change my outrage, or the message? No. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. remains a daring exercise to deconstruct everything that shapes womanhood in a violent world.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. will be performed at the Malthouse Theatre until 9 July. Performance dates, times and bookings available here: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/revolt-she-said-revolt-again

Image by Pia Johnson

Malthouse Presents WILD BORE

Frightfully funny

By Caitlin McGrane

Where to even begin with this one? My best friend and I have this long-running joke where we text each other photos of slightly out-of-place objects, like an abandoned sock on the ground or a lonely piece of graffiti on a wall, alongside the caption, ‘but is it art?’ I’m not sure quite how this started but it never fails to make me laugh. And this week while I watched Wild Bore at The Malthouse I was reminded of this joke because it seemed as though the creative minds behind this project may have been in on it as well.

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The production starts with bottoms. Gloriously unfiltered female derrières proudly presented to a somewhat bemused audience. This is a show about answering your critics (or is it?) and the opening (pun 100% intended) sets the tone from the start – this is going to be fun and deeply bonkers. Zoë Coombs-Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Trustcott led us up and down on a wild, wild ride. The show is extremely visual, with most of the show a long-running graphic joke about sticking stuff up your bum. It also features probably the most wonderful and well-executed knob gag I’ve ever seen. It was amazing. I loved it.

After years of writing about film and theatre, wanting to tear my eyes out with rage and disappointment at yet another ‘sad heterosexual white boy’ play about a moody woman who just. won’t. love. him, I was practically punching the air with joy at the end of Wild Bore. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to stand up in a theatre and scream ‘WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?’ and this show seemed like the perfect, jaw-achingly funny reply to this question, which is that we’re here, and we’re not fucking going anywhere.

Happily, the show didn’t feel like it had a paucity of representational identity politics, Coombs-Marr, Martinez and Trustcott spoke for themselves, on their own terms and with their own real voices. They were joined all too briefly by Krishna Istha who lit up the stage with their dazzling consciousness-raising speech demanding better treatment and representation of people of colour, trans and gender non-conforming people in the arts. I was utterly blown away by this show and am beyond thrilled to see Coombs-Marr, Istha, Martinez and Trustcott setting the bar so high for truly interesting theatre.

The show was well-supported by set and costume design from Danielle Brustman (I want a pair of those bum-less trousers to use in reply whenever men tell me to smile), sound design from Raya Slavin and lighting design from Richard Vebre truly helped sustain the laughter, while stage manager Harriet Gregory made some excellent deliberate dramaturgical decisions.

This show deserves support not just because it includes better gross-out humour than Bridesmaids but also because it makes no apologies for doing exactly what you’re ‘not supposed to do’; by answering and gently mocking critics, the performers allow us to see how ludicrously seriously we sometimes take ourselves, including the impossibly high standards we set for performers, especially women. Tearing down expectations is not the same as tearing down critics, and this show demonstrated how wonderful that can be.

Wild Bore is now showing at The Malthouse until 4 June. Tickets and more information: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/wild-bore

Image by Tim Grey Photography

Malthouse Theatre Presents AWAY

An Australian fever-dream

By Leeor Adar

The Sydney Theatre Company/Malthouse collaboration of Michael Gow’s modern classic Away opens with Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to stir the summer heat from the stage to warm this Melbourne audience in winter.

Away

Matthew Lutton’s blaze through the Malthouse Theatre (and now as Artistic Director) has brought Melbourne audiences some extraordinary and outlandish theatre to feast upon in recent seasons. The announcement that Away would be on the banquet table for procuring no doubt left many theatregoers with a morbid curiosity. The matrimony between the rugged Australian summer depicted in Gow’s writing and director Lutton’s horror dream of dancing animal skulls somehow takes this classic to new contemporary heights. Yes, Dale Ferguson’s costume design keeps us well within the bounds of the 60s, but his set complies with the post-modern theatrics we’ve come to expect from the Malthouse under the gaze of Lutton. Lutton injects into Gow’s world a kind of dystopian synchronicity that plays out as the actors dance in formations together like glamourous zombies trying to forget their realities to Stephanie Lake’s choreography.

What we have depicted in Away is an Australia of then which is not that much different from the Australia of today. Everyone has high hopes for the Aussie dream, but even in the most comfortable homes the world outside will always rudely awaken us. What unites the families of Tom (Liam Nunan) and Meg (Naomi Rukavina), our high school would-be, could-be, not-be lovers, is the quiet sadness and acceptance of a life that was hard-won. The fear that something could steal the dream away lurks beneath the happy exteriors of (most) of Gow’s characters, and becomes a focal point of the play. That dream is already stolen from Roy (Glenn Hazeldine) and Coral (Natasha Herbert) through the loss of their son in the Vietnam War. Herbert’s Kim-Novak look-alike Coral continuously treads the line between reality and the past, slipping further and further away from the desperate grasp of her husband. Coral is not mad because Roy cannot control her; she is in such a deep state of grieving that the Aussie dream is well and truly lost for her. Herbert gives Coral a fluid naivety damaged by tragedy; her performance is one of the heart-breaking standout’s alongside Liam Nunan’s Tom.

Amongst the great pretenders are Vic (Julia Davis) and Harry (Wadih Dona) who manage to live in the moment as they watch their son Tom slip away from them due to his illness. We know the inevitability of grief will befall them, and they too may just stop smiling through their sadness and join Coral on her faraway shore.

In contrast we have the couple whose great tragedy is staying together, existing in a chronic state of unhappiness in which no holiday can salvage. Heather Mitchell’s Gwen is marvellously funny and annoying as her shrill voice drains her family of any moments of joy; a complacent husband Jim (Marco Chiappi) continues to accept his lot with a resigned shruggery. Their family is one blessed with health, but they are not untouched by the life of having lived as battlers-come-good. Gwen’s chronic state of stress is indicative of another kind of grief, one where a lifelong sacrifice for a future yet lived leaves traces of bitterness.

This is still a sensitive and poignant production by Lutton amidst the jarring devices of non-naturalism that threatens to break down the walls of their world. Audiences will be surprised from the outset of this play; if they are expecting a classic re-telling of Away they will be in for an awakening – but it really is a very good one.

Away will grace Melbourne audiences at the Malthouse Theatre until May 28th. Collect your tickets here: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/away?gclid=Cj0KEQjwoqvIBRD6ls6og8qB77YBEiQAcqqHe6-xVP730ooUfRIBdx6VZ67CrJxYFl3Ytuu3-bHvzQcaAulB8P8HAQ

Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2017: ASSISTED SUICIDE – THE MUSICAL

Seriously funny

By Joana Simmons

From turning dirty thirty, to having a poke at their nationality, to everything in between, this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival has artists with all sorts of reasons to put on a show. In Assisted Suicide, The Musical, the motive for putting on the show here is a very important one. Described as “a TeD Talk with show tunes” UK’s disability rights campaigner and actor Liz Carr (Clarissa Mullery in the BBC’s Silent Witness) and her cast of upbeat cheesy chorus members sing, dance and shed light on what can be seen as a dark issue, especially at this time as our Victorian Premier pushing for a parliamentary conscience vote on euthanasia this year.

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Opening with a classic kick-line chorus number “Choosing Choice”, we are warmed up for a night of musical messages and edgy issues. Liz Carr graces the stage in her glitter-filled hair and sparkly boots and is engaging and relaxed. She speaks with eloquence and passion, peppering facts with comedy, piece by piece revealing how assisted suicide is not black and white: there is a fine line between terminally ill and disabled. We see how by making it legal will eventually mean that people like her will feel like there is an exit sign hanging over their heads. The show is humorously and well written, including some wonderfully cringe-worthy puns and catchy tunes.

Many theatrical elements were used to make this discussion entertaining and compelling. Carr and director Mark Whitelaw have got in our faces and pushed us to think harder. The set is simple and effective, and space used well by all the cast. The choreography and singing is relatively basic: initally I was unsure if the chorus were meant to be taking the mickey or just giving a tacky delivery, but as the show went on there were some standout moments that left us chortling, such as the marking meeting meeting to ‘jazz up’  the idea of euthenasia with a new brandname, or the raunchy number to make end-of-life care more appealing (“Palliative Claire”). Composer Ian Hill’s music follows the famous showtune formula that we love, and the sound was good as expected in a venue like Malthouse. The lighting however was not as coherent, with some cast members being in half darkness or cues being missed the night I attended.

Amazing work and thought has gone into this show to deliver a complex and controversial subject in a comedic and highly digestible way. It’s meaty, it’s memorable, and sometimes it melts your heart. My eyes were opened and shows like this remind us how powerful theatre can be. If you are looking for something to sink your teeth into this comedy festival, or even have a nibble and then think a little; this is the show for you.

Assisted Suicide, The Musical

30th March- 9th April

6.00pm

Beckett Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse

Southbank

$17.50 – $25’

http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/assisted-suicide-the-musical