07 March 2007

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer
Melbourne Theatre Company
7 March 2007
Fairfax Studio, The Arts Centre

I think Ross Mueller is one of the best playwrights around. His structure is flawless, he creates characters and situations that we see in ourselves and our lives, and the emotion he creates resonates in the hearts of his audience. I was thrilled to see the Melbourne Theatre Company commission and present his latest work, The Ghost Writer. I just wish I wasn’t disappointed with the result.

The Ghost Writer had all the marks of a Mueller work. It explores the fictionalisation and sensationalising of other people’s tragedy’s and horrors. His familiar themes are all in place – the complexity of grief, pain and forgiveness, inner city living in Melbourne, writers trying to earn a living and the unimaginable death of a child.

Nonetheless, The Ghost Writer didn’t seem like an authentic Mueller. It felt like there was almost too much effort in the writing. The structure was a bit too perfect and contrived.

Act 2 was especially frustrating. Everyone I spoke to during the interval was predicting the ending and hoping that we were wrong. We weren’t wrong and were given the final clues at the opening of Act 2. There were no surprises. Everything had already been neatly revealed or blatantly stated. The mystery, tension and pace developed in Act 1 were gone.

And, at the end of the day, I wasn’t feeling for these characters. Mueller has written some of the most heartfelt and authentic characters I’ve seen. Everyone in The Ghost Writer was well drawn and delightfully flawed, but they were a step away from believable.

Is this because he is writing for the MTC audience? The MTC audience is not the same audience who goes to independent theatre. They may love this work. It is easy to understand, the overt and latent ghost symbolism is obvious, the story is a bit like that well known Jaiden Leskie murder and it has, the ever lovely and wonderful, John Wood (whose performance is memorable and beautiful.)

The Ghost Writer allows many people get to see Mueller’s work. This is a very good thing. The MTC supporting and commissioning local playwrights is bloody marvellous. I just wish this work was as brave, original and focussed as some of his past works. (Construction of the Human Heart remains my favourite piece of recent theatre.) And I hope that he isn’t alienating his original audience by creating work for this new audience.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

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