26 September 2007



Melbourne Writers Theatre
26 September 2007
Carlton Courthouse

The Melbourne Writers Theatre celebrates its 25th year in true Fringe style with MelBorn. It’s is a collection of 10 terrific stories, written by 10 great writers, told by 10 skilled directors and 10 hot actors. This is what good independent theatre is all about and may be the best value ticket of the Fringe season.

MWT was formed by playwright Jack Hibbard in 1982 and, obviously, focuses on developing great writing for the theatre. Scripts at MWT are developed with panel discussions, readings and workshopping by professional directors and actors. A MWT production will always showcase some of the best written and developed scripts from this town.

The success of Short and Sweet in Melbourne has fanned our interest in short scripts. MelBorn is unique because every work was written by a Melbourne playwright. 150 plays were submitted for selection. The final 10 demonstrate very different styles of writing and different explorations of the short form.

My only concern is that sometimes the focus was on the writing, rather than telling the story. Ironically very good, well crafted writing can actually distract, rather than support a work. At times I found myself listening to the writing, rather than engaging with the characters and their journey. Do we write plays to tell a story or to show how well we can use language?

The New York influence of Artistic Director Christina Cass is evident throughout the production. Cass has ensured that the 10 plays work as a sustained piece, rather than individual moments. This is supported with the highly creative and inventive design by Magdalena Romaniuk.

At two hours, MelBorn is long for a Fringe show, but don’t worry - it’s never dull and even if one story doesn’t interest you, a new one will start very soon.

The Ten Plays

The Elevator
Do we our real personas cease to exist at work? What happens to our work selves out of the office? An exploration of communication and power among women in the corporate world. The dialogue was a bit clumsy at times, but the characters and story keep our attention.

Any book about writing will tell you a sure fire way to create a story is to change the status of your characters. This technique works especially well in the short form. Protocol is unexpected and creates the tension needed to capture and sustain the audience’s interest. Sure it’s about a car space, but the writer draws parallels to a much bigger picture, as “you’d be surprised how touchy people get over territory.” This story may work better ending without the obvious resolution though. Very powerful performance by Matt Maloney that at times overpowered Simon Kearney.

This is a piece written for the language. A simple story is created to use every clichéd piece of work place jargon. This is clever, witty and playful writing. The story and characters are not that relevant. Itchy is successfully directed for its humour and will tighten up as the performers react to the audience’s enjoyment of the piece, rather than trying to show the audience the funny bits.

Can’t Wait For Love
This is a very well written portrait of an original character, told beautifully though Phil Robert’s performance. He’s engaging and interesting, but it’s illustrative. There is no story, no action and no drama. After a while he’s just telling us things we already know about him, so there’s no real journey for the character or the audience. He belongs in a larger story.

10,000 Cigarettes
A love poem to the cigarette. I think this piece would work very well on paper. As a free form poem, I love its use of language, its humour and its references to brands and famous smoking moments in film. It’s written for 30 and 40 somethings who used to smoke and, in our non-smoking world, many of the jokes were completely missed by younger audience members. I don’t know why it’s a short play. The only action in the script is some coughing. Sorry for the spoiler, but it ends with the hint that those smokes may kill you. That’s no revelation, so why not keep it as the love poem? 10,000 Cigarettes is enjoyable because its very well directed and performed to create life and movement.

This was my stand out winner of the night. Scott McAteer has created authentic characters who we care about, a situation that surprises and plot that is always one step ahead of our expectations. Tightly directed by Harry Paternoster and honestly performed by Simon Kearney and Bobbi-Lea Dionysius.

Waiting For Derek
What happens when you husband doesn’t know you, or your best friend, and they both proceed to tell you about their affair? A very clever piece about dementia with a bonus twist that makes the ending more satisfactory than expected. Relies a bit too heavily on exposition and may benefit from more action in the present.

A Drop Would; Be Nothing
There’s an ongoing joke in television that children are only put in stories to get cancer or die in accidents. There is nothing more heartbreaking than a dead child, but sometimes they are just plot devices. There’s some very good writing and exploration about hate and anger in this piece. It questions why people stay in situations when common and every other sense says to leave. It’s sustained by very strong performances, but did it need a dead child cliché to create the situation?

Greener Pastures
Sometimes the telling of a joke can and should take ten minutes. For 9 and a half minutes this is a one joke piece, but the final 30 seconds are the real joke. Greener Pastures is just the telling of a joke, but it’s done very well.

The Painter
This is the second piece of the night that told a complex, authentic and sustained story. What happens when you have a dead rat rather than a Nobel Prize? The main joke of the play is in the title and for too obvious, but it doesn’t detract from the characters or their situation. Original, authentic writing that knows who it’s talking too and never lets the writing become more important than the story.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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