Tag: Marg Horwell

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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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

Theatre Works Presents ANIMAL

Core-shaking theatre

By Myron My

Watching Animal is a rare theatrical experience. It has such a visceral effect on you that you are left shaken and feeling extremely vulnerable and angry as you walk out. Created by Susie Dee, Kate Sherman and Nicci Wilks, it is an exploration of domestic violence and how women are meant to react in a world where violence against women and male brutishness are celebrated – and it is as gritty as physical theatre can be.

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The stage design by Marg Horwell feels like a large shipping container; dark, cold and empty except for a number of small square cages. The two sisters climb and crawl over them, the whole time emoting that they are also caged, desperately looking for a way out. The tattered netting that covers the roof can be seen as protection from the outside, but with the many holes in it, it is only a matter of time before it is destroyed. 

Composer Kelly Ryall builds a suffocating and unsympathetic environment from the opening moments of the show, and is relentless in drawing you into the sisters’ world. There are moments in Animal where you feel like you need to look away as the horror unfolds, but even if you do (which you shouldn’t), the sounds are so vivid that they create the visuals for you regardless. There is one moment particular, where along with Andy Turner‘s lighting design, the shadows that form along the walls and menacingly envelops the two sisters involves some nail-biting tension and panic.

All these elements work meticulously together to support the two performers on stage. Sherman and Wilks show strong commitment, strength and stamina in their challenging roles. The duality (and also the blending) of playful sisters who depend on and support each other to hyper-aggressive fighters has a complexity that the two are able to authentically create on stage. The need to swap between these “characters” in seconds is not only a physical demand on their bodies but also an emotional and psychological one.

As with SHIT and The Long Pigs, Dee’s direction allows for moments that make us laugh, surprise us, and haunt us. With a show like Animal, pacing is extremely important and Dee ensures that there are adequate breaks between the truly dark moments of the show, so that by the time we reach the powerful conclusion we are completely engaged with the piece.
While there is no dialogue in Animal, it speaks volumes regarding the immense impact domestic violence and violence against women has on women: the violence that they experience and also the violence that it breeds. Compelling, gruelling and masterful work by Influx Theatre, Animal is raw theatre at its finest.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 27 November | Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm

Tickets: $35 Full | $26 Conc, Under 30, Groups 8+

Bookings: Theatre Works

Image by Pier Carthew

Anthony Weigh’s EDWARD II

Tender chaos

By Leeor Adar

For all the chaos of Christopher Marlowe’s brief life, I’m sure he would have sat in the Merlyn Theatre last night with a wicked smile on his face to see the tender chaos Matthew Lutton and his team resurrected.

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But let’s be honest, with Anthony Weigh’s writing and Marg Horwell’s impressive set design, this work is a beast of its own glory.

The play is broken into the fragments of the artefacts the boy prince (Julian Mineo/Nicholas Ross) inspects from his father’s reign. The noble handle of a sword and handkerchief descends to a bag of faeces left at the palace gates. The frames of the scenes marked by the flint and steel of the lighter, signify the brief candle of these moments leading towards Edward II’s fall.

Edward II is a museum to the hypocrisy of the people’s love for their monarch. It’s a cold world, but despite the blood and pulp of the people within it, at the core of this rotten apple of yet another kingdom, is the most tender love story between two men I have ever witnessed on stage. Johnny Carr (Ned) and Paul Ashcroft (Piers) capture the heady, shaking, vulnerability of the impossible-to-bottle kind of love. Their energy was marvellous on stage.

Ned’s brutality and unpredictability at first drove this production, but even the bubbling inner-workings of an unstable prince could not quash the ambitions of the likes of Mortimer, played with mastery by Marco Chiappi. When Chiappi got going on Weigh’s words, it became Mortimer I. For all the sweat and passion of Carr and Ashcroft, Chiappi’s delivery drew the masses into the palm of his hand – audience and peasant alike. Even as Mortimer lulled a sensually delusional Ned towards death, we could not help but accept the sensibility of this decision. Because tomorrow, we will have another king.

The woman’s role in Edward II is to nurture the next king, but Sib (Belinda McClory) laments the loss of her potential in this world. Although Sib plays the role of the queen-to-be, there is ambition pulsing through her sinewy body for a surge of control. McClory’s voice is hollow and powerful as she pushes her lover aside and walks with purpose across the stage. But at the close of this play, she’s exhausted, calling out, unanswered, into the kingdom she birthed but could not rein.

The Malthouse Theatre has always been the Marlowe-esque bad boy of the Melbourne theatre world, challenging the dimensions of theatre and immersing its audiences in treacherous and thought-provoking terrain. This one such terrain was bold, decadent and ultimately heartbreaking.

Malthouse Theatre until August 21

http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/edward-ii