09 November 2007

Melburnalia

Melburnalia
White Whale Theatre
9 November 2007
fortyfivedownstairs


White Whale Theatre commissioned three of our best playwrights and two of our most outstanding new fiction writers to each write a short play about Melbourne. White Whale is independent, unfunded and with a creative core not even thinking about turning 30 for while. Why can’t our flagship companies think of (or support) such a brilliant and obvious idea as Melburnalia?

One of the many joys of this city is the subtle and obvious cultural differences between our suburbs. White Whale’s production explores this through ordinary lives. “Bohemians to bogans” – that’s our Melbourne. A couple of the works captured the essence of place perfectly, while others fell into stereotypes. But the journey was better than what you could do on a two zone daily Metlink ticket.

Tee O’Neil starts our trip with The Queen of Ringwood. If we don’t already know, it’s made clear that Ringwood is full of bogans. (That’s westies to anyone from NSW). They are bogans with ambition though. Gary wants to eat at the local Italian restaurant and pay, instead of doing a runner. Terry wants to eat in Italy. Engaging and original, but could have been any outer 'burb.

Many, many people are currently reading Kate Holden’s novel In My Skin: a Memoir. Waiting It Out is her first work for the stage. She portrays the feel of lost bohemian St Kilda beautifully. It was almost like having a cappuccino and spanikopita in The Galleon - before the new owners. However, what is irresistible in a novel, doesn’t always work on a stage. With some work on dialogue and creating action, I’m sure Holden will create some unforgettable theatre in the future. The charters and concept are there, but nothing seems to actually happen to them.

The Fag from Zagrab is Lally Katz’s contribution about Far Kew. She nails Kew. Jeremy couldn’t have be from Toorak or Camberwell or even mid Hawthorn. He is Kew – obnoxious, polite, demanding and unsure of what life is like a tram stop or two down the line. He dreams of being a guest on Rove and Jonathan Wood’s performance is the best of the evening. As this is a Katz work, the other character is The Apocalypse Bear (Gareth Yuen’s performance is also a delight). I wouldn’t be surprised if the end of the world does begin in Kew. It may be the least obvious piece of the night, but it’s the most balanced, the most interesting and would easily stand alone outside of its contex

From Kew to Footscary. There’s no direct and easy route by public transport and driving is annoying, unless you take Citylink. So Kew residents just go to Richmond for their Asian takeaway. However Alice Pung is clearly the writer to take us to Footscray. Her first novel, Unpolished Gem, is making many 2007 best seller lists. She doesn’t take us to the markets, train station or two dollar stores – but to the Footscray library. Gretchen, a Melbourne Uni arts student, comes to help Riah with her homework - so she can lean about a side of life she doesn’t know about. As with Holden, Pung needs to work on her dialogue and action, but she created authentic characters and let one of them make a decision.

Ross Mueller takes us to an inner city laneway for a latte in (Becoming) Greg Stone. Last week I reviewed a Mueller play and pretentiously wrote about pretentious references and bizarre self-referencing. Let me just say “ditto”. This time I had to Google Greg Stone. And yes I have seen him perform – but nothing in this play jogged my memory. This was also the one work that doesn’t reflect the essence of the area or the people who frequent it. Robyn is Windsor trying to be South Yarra. Natasha is Clifton Hill trying to be Fitzroy. Neither are inner city Melbourne. And Greg Stone, the waiter, would be serving coffee on High St – not on our beloved Degraves St. It is, nonetheless, very funny and original. It’s not Muller at his best, but I’ll keep seeing his works until I start loving them again.

I had very high expectations of Melburnalia and was a bit disappointed. The scripts feel like the stuff you write in writer’s class to impress your class mates with your wit. They all need another draft. The direction needs a much more varied pace and there’s a tendency to present the characters as types, rather than individuals. The cross overs are absolutely fabulous though.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters that my expectations weren’t met. This young company are producing original, inventive and intelligent theatre, and they have the support of our best writers. So let’s hope we see more and more of them.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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