Tuesday, 27 September 2011

DON’T MISS THE MOMENT: MTC’s 2012 Season

The amazing Robyn Nevin will star in Queen Lear
- Shakespeare's King rewritten for her 
The first thing that struck me about this new Melbourne Theatre Company season – designed by Robyn Nevin, Pamela Rabe and Aidan Fennessy – was how it has veered away from showcasing emerging local writers (Robert Reid, Lally Katz) but has been thoroughly generous with debuting exciting independent directors (Matt Scholten, Anne-Louise Sarks, Alkinos Tsilimidos) on Melbourne’s main stages.

Not so many World Premieres then (Australia Day, Music) but a rash of exciting productions from beginning to end – with two venerable Melbourne writers bookending the season with Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (a Neil Armfield transfer from Belvoir) and Ray Oakley’s brand new Music.

Though Australian classics don’t always fill me with confidence, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, always feels like an important Australian work to me – an important Melbourne work, in particular. Ironic then that this production with birthed in Sydney, but exciting to have a Belvoir show transfer to MTC rather than the Malthouse. With Steve LeMarquand, Helen Thomson and Robyn Nevin, the year is off to a good start.

Tribes by Nina Raine gets its Australian debut here, after winning the 2011 Olivier Award for Best New Play on the West End. Alison Bell and director Julian Meyrick described a fascinating familial portrait, at the centre of whom is a deaf boy who seems to listen more than any of the rest of the family.

Writer Kate Mulvaney draws on her own family history in The Seed, to write a piece on the affects of war on those who go and those who stay behind. A three-hander, starring Tony Martin (Wildside) and Sara Gleeson (the third actor as yet uncast), the premise doesn’t leap off the page – but I am thrilled that Anne-Louise Sarks (The Hayloft Project) is getting her main stage debut and can’t wait to see what she does with this intimate little drama.

2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Play – Red by John Logan – was a show I always regretted missing while in New York last year. And while the production (transfered from London) was a big part of its success, I cannot wait to see what film director Alkinos Tsilimidos brings to the work – especially with Colin Friels in the lead role of Mark Rothko. Amazingly, this is Friel’s MTC debut.

If Australian classics don’t always fill me with confidence, I bristle at Australian political satire – since it’s often too broad for it to make its point. Jonathan Biggins has been responsible for the Wharf Revue at STC the last couple of years, which means he knows his stuff – but I hope this play, Australia Day, doesn’t just feel like a review with more plot. That said, Geoff Morrell is perfectly cast here – but again, this play will be competing with his previous work on “Grass Roots”, which to me was a perfect season of television (and political commentary).

I have not heard of playwright Richard Bean, nor his play The Heretic, before tonight – but a comedy about climate change science sounds good to me. Even better? Noni Hazlehurst in the lead role and director Matt Scholten (The Nightwatchman, Black Box 149) guarantee a brilliant night in the theatre. Scholten assisted Aiden Fennessy on Life Without Me at MTC last year (which was penned by Scholten’s long time collaborator, Daniel Keene), so it’s great that he’s been able to move up the ladder after doing such great work on the independent scene the last few years.

Aiden Fennessy not only co-programmed this season, he also gets to direct his own play, National Interest – in a co-production with Black Swan Theatre Company. It’s a personal story about Balibo, East Timor – where his cousin was one of the five Australian journalists killed in 1975. Here is a reflection of a mother whose grief continues for thirty years after her son’s murder, reflected through Fennessy’s recollections of stories told over dinner tables across the years.

While Robyn Nevin co-stars in the first show of the season, she gets to take the lead role in this absolutely thrilling adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear – playing the title role as Queen Lear, in a production developed for Nevin with director Rachel McDonald. One of my great regrets is not seeing Sir Ian McKellan in this role when he toured Australia with it. Nevin in a gender-reversed production should make up for that ten-fold. This is the show I cannot wait to see in 2012.

His Girl Friday, a stage version of the classic screwball comedy of the 1940s, both excites me – I love rapid fire dialogue, large casts and Pamela Rabe – and scares me – I don’t particularly want to see classic films remade for the stage too often. The 39 Steps has a lot to answer for.

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, directed by Jenny Kemp (a director I’ve long admired) with a cast of seven female actors playing seventeen female roles, thrills me because I’ve read the play – years ago – and never thought I’d see it produced. It is so of its time – the early 80s – but feels like it could be a good way to see how far society has or hasn’t come for women in the corporate world.

I’m puzzled by Elling, but I think we’re supposed to be. The character is a misfit, the premise centres around an odd couple relationship – and the show is to be directed by Pamela Rabe, with the same actor she directed in the role at STC a few years ago. But in a whole new production.  Doesn’t exactly leap of the page, though Rabe waxed rhapsodically about the characters and the world they inhabit.

Music by Barry Oakley, starring Jane Menelaus and Richard Piper, rounds out the2012 Melbourne Theatre Company season – a four-hand, chamber piece, infused with classical music, sounds delicious purely from the structure of it.

The challenge of having three people program MTC’s 2012 Mainstage season seems to have been well met. And the “Don’t Miss The Moment” theme is general enough to accommodate this variety of stage shows, whose productions will sing with their eclectic group of directors – even if young, local voices (and some MTC regulars) miss out.

My first reaction? I want to see all twelve. On reflection, maybe ten. I’ll sleep on it.

2 comments:

noplain said...

From a post-midnight glance from Adelaide, I'm interested in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, because I couldn't get up to Sydney, and The Heretic because I've heard great stuff about Bean and the research he puts into his work without it feeling like he's hitting you over the head with it.

Top Girls is interesting as it's playing in Adelaide as well, and as a young feminist who is often frustrated with how much feminist dialogue is co-opted by women saying "well, when I did it in the 70s/80s..." I am concerned by the inclusion of this play: what relevance does it hold today? Is there no one writing contemporarily about these issues? How much will be be able to see "how far society has or hasn't come for women in the corporate world" if those stories of today aren't getting a chance to be shown?

Keith Gow said...

Well, Jane, I think even the Jenny Kemp suggests that the work needs to be looked at with a 21st Century perspective - which is encouraging. I think that dismissing it because it's from the 80s is a bit troubling, at least for me and my contemporaries - because it's a decade I'm familiar with and one that doesn't really feel like that long ago. I also think reviving texts from within my lifetime to see what has and hasn't changed is a more-than-valid reason to see a show like Top Girls staged again.

Of course people are writing contemporarily about these issues, but there's also something about a text that has withstood the test of time - which obviously Top Girls has, being independently programmed both in Melbourne and Adelaide for next year.

So the comparison of what has and hasn't changed doesn't have to be 2011 text versus 1982 text - it's 2011 knowledge/ideals/contemporary life compared with a story that was very much of the time in 1982.