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Madwomen Monologues 2016: Six Seasons Strong

Baggage co-founder, Christina Costigan in Butter

This past week, Baggage Productions has presented the sixth season of their annual showcase of women writers, “Madwomen Monologues”. Each year, they present two programmes of solo acts from female writers in different venues across Melbourne. Their latest season was presented at the Butterfly Club, their first appearance at that space – with full houses every night.

The two programmes this year were presented twice each, on alternating nights – and on Sunday night, there was a Madwomen retrospective, a collection from the past five years.

What has impressed me about “Madwomen” is the relative strength of their seasons. Collections of short plays presented as a season of theatre can be a good way to encourage works from new and emerging writers; but often this means a quality is wildly variable. Baggage has an ability to curate collections of short plays that are mostly quite strong. This year is no exception.

Tania le Page in The Last Supper

I started with Program Two on Thursday night, a collection that crossed genres from comedy to satire to science fiction. The short monologue lends itself to comedy better than drama, I think. Easier to make people laugh in a few minutes than to move them, but this is not a criticism. Program Two was comedy heavy.

Checkmate, by short play aficionado Cerise de Gelder, is about obsession and an addiction with checking things. Lauren Bailey catches the audience’s attention within seconds and keeps them laughing but mesmerised the whole time.

Sucking the Marrow out of the Limelight and Other Mixed Metaphors is a sharp satire about finding ways to please and pleasure yourself, by Baggage co-founder Christina Costigan.

While the one rule for this collection of monologues is that they be written by women, there are a small number of male performers scattered throughout the program. Jack Matthews gives an intense performance in Cindy Tomamichel’s Apocalyptic drama, Flick the Switch. Proving that you can make science fiction and drama work in the short monologue format.

Director Natasha Broadstock brought her signature over-the-top style to Niki na Meadhra’s One Moonless Night. The highlight of the night for me was Hashtag, about a mother coping with three children, one who has selective mutism; Lucy Norton’s work with the puppet and embodying the kindergarten teacher was a real stand out.

Program One on Friday night was a much more dramatic affair, though it started out with a slight comedy about an old woman and her husband’s ashes, in Hayley Lawson-Smith’s Smuggled.

A couple of other plays didn’t quite live up to their potential, I thought. Slight Denial and Gilmore Girls hinted at an interesting story that didn’t quite emerge. Naming the Baby showcased a lovely performance by Kathy Lepan-Walker but the script didn’t have the confidence of its convictions.

Gemma Flannery’s wild performance in Diane Worswick’s Tits Mainly was the comedic highlight of a dramatic night. But program one ended on a dramatic one-two punch of Bridgette Burton’s Proprioception and Sara Hardy’s The Tree Hugger.

Proprioception, in particular, proves that you can truly devastate an audience in ten minutes, with a top-notch performance by Phoebe Anne Taylor under Natasha Moszenin’s direction.

The retrospective night was interesting, because I’ve seen most of these plays before – a couple at previous Madwomen nights and others in different incarnations.

It was really great to have the opportunity to see some of these plays again; short plays usually live for one season and then disappear.

Tania le Page’s performance as a hitwoman in Cerise de Gelder’s The Last Supper is truly unforgettable and a great opening to the retrospective. Therese Cloonan’s The Gentleman in Room 7 is utterly heartbreaking every time. And Jane Miller’s Due Diligence is so strong.

To cap off the night and the season is a truly stunning performance by Wallis Murphy-Munn playing Miss Transgression in Lesley Truffle’s Memoir of a Trollop. It starts off with a song and quickly gets out of hand, but Murphy-Munn is in complete control of us.

It’s to Baggage Production’s credit that they go from strength-to-strength every year. Here’s to many more!


Wallis Murphy-Munn in Memoir of a Trollop
Disclaimer: I have worked with and known many of the writers, performers and directors in this season; many more than I’m usually comfortable with when reviewing. But there were so many people involved and I really wanted to celebrate the anniversary and the retrospective.

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