|Brad Williams, not in The Economist|
Let’s hear it for new Australian work – from pop-up theatres to our mainstages, new work from established and emerging artists is flourishing across Melbourne. And these are only the ones I’ve seen. But it’s thrilling to have seen four new Australian shows in a row, even when the end results are mixed.
THE ECONOMIST by Tobias Manderson-Galvin, directed by Van Badham
There’s been a lot said of The Economist, even before its first preview on Tuesday night. It tackles the difficult subject of Norwegian terrorist Anders Brevik – slightly fictionalised here as Andrew Berwick. Local media didn’t like Manderson-Galvin’s criticism of the media in regards to the case, nor of his highlighting the fact that Brevik had quoted rightwing Australian politicians and pundits in his manifesto.
The play, as I expected, cannot be judged on the conservative backlash it has received. The play is an interesting meditation on how a man like Brevik and his worldview is formed, but it doesn’t really attack his political beliefs any more than it deconstructs his love of first-person shooter games and World of Warcraft. It does have interesting commentary on the media’s role in creating the madman they want rather than the cunning terrorist they have, but it’s the fusion of all these little pieces that make both the person (be it Brevik or Berwick) and the play fascinating.
Manderson-Galvin’s script is thoughtful and poetic and Badham’s direction keeps the whole thing moving like a freight train, which makes it all the more unnerving when the shooting begins. Though the question might be “too soon?”, the answer most surely is a thrilling piece of up-to-the-minute theatre that I think will grow over its season - and probably seasons to come.
Open until December 10
RETURN TO EARTH by Lally Katz, directed by Aidan Fennessy
As has been written in several places, Return to Earth feels like a transition play for Katz – from her anarchic beginnings to the more controlled and mature work that was on display at the Malthouse this year with A Golem Story. (I wish I’d seen Neighbourhood Watch at Belvoir this year, just to know where it fell on the Katz continuum.)
Earth is a few years old now, but exciting to see such a daring writer on the Melbourne Theatre Company’s main stages. Unfortunately, while I think the script is strong, the production didn’t seem to serve the text very well at all. It’s as if someone was scared that they were putting Lally Katz on stage in front of MTC subscribers – and everything was played with a heavy-hand or too literally.
The strength of the script to me is that reality abuts the bizarre here; it’s family dramedy mixed with magic realism. But I felt at a remove for almost the entire show. I didn’t engage with these characters, even though there were moments that I should have; moments that demanded passion and got nothing of the sort.
It’s puzzling that MTC would program such a daring script only to try to make it easier to digest.
Open until December 17
BOXMAN by Daniel Keene, directed by Matt Scholten
I first came aware of Scholten’s work when he directed a production of Keene’s play The Nightwatchman at TheatreWorks last year. The writer and director have a history of working together, though Scholten says this was the first play Keene wrote specifically for him. I have seen everything Scholten has directed since – it’s been a busy year with Crossed and Black Box 149, which were both strong scripts that Scholten took to another level. But the Scholten/Keene combination seems to make them both even better.
The story of a child soldier who nows lives in Melbourne’s western suburbs in a box – a home he has built for himself in a park – is both moving and joyous. It’s intimate and epic, almost at the same time. Ringo (his real name is hard to pronounce for Australians, he says) is played by Terry Yeboah, who held the audience in the palm of his hand for the entire seventy minutes. And the combination of writer, director and actor all working together from early in the development of the piece, makes for a very memorable night at the theatre (or in a shopfront in Footscray).
Boxman was part of the Big West Festival and closed on November 26
MEOW MEOW’s LITTLE MATCH GIRL by Meow Meow & Iain Grandage, directed by Marion Potts
Cabaret and Hans Christian Anderson’s bleak fairytale don’t seem – at first – to be very suited to each other at all. In fact, having seen Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl, it still seems incredible that it works so very well. Actually, scratch that. Given the talent involved – Meow Meow, Grandage, Potts and “guest star” Mitchell Butel, of course it worked. In the most wonderful of ways and for the most spectacular reasons.
While it’s hard to translate the Little Match Girl story to Australia, its subject continues to be universal. Homeless children is still a major issue all over the world and that is certainly discussed between the songs – spanning Cole Porter, Megan Washington, Noel Coward, Wagner and Meow Meow’s own compositions. But structurally the most important part is that the Little Match Girl tried to get people’s attention and Meow Meow tries her hardest to keep our attention, even when disaster strikes and the theatre loses power less than ten minutes into the show.
Potts directs Meow Meow’s epic imagination onto the large stage of the Merlyn and we are caught inside a dream, but reminded all along that were are there in the theatre with this force of nature, helping her to keep going, supporting her through every song, every moment and every piece of physical comedy.
Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl closes on December 4
Disclaimer: I know people involved in two of these productions, but I’m not telling you which ones. Unless you ask nicely.