27 February 2010

Review: Furious Mattress

Furious Mattress
Malthouse Theatre
27 February 2010
Beckett Theatre, CUB Malthouse


In her program notes, writer Melissa Reeves says that the drafts of Furious Mattress took it “from farce to tragedy”. And it would seem that every real and imagined genre in between got a look in. No wonder I have no idea what this play is trying to be or what it wants its audience to feel.

Forget what reviews say, the best feedback comes from sitting with the audience in interval and casually standing around after the curtain closes. “Can we run?” “That’s a shocker.” “I can’t believe it was reviewed well.” Perhaps I just heard the ignorant souls who didn’t get it. Well, I declare myself with them.

I have no idea what Furious Mattress is. Farce abounds with multiple entrances/exits, obviously bad stage continuity (please be done on purpose), non-connecting face slaps and a giant rat masturbating an albino exorcist who is clad in short shorts. But it’s about a woman who is slowly tortured and violently killed by her husband and her church mates. That’s not intrinsically funny, especially as it’s based on a true story.

At times it explores the pure faith and religion that brings these normal people to act so far from themselves and their faith. But then, it indicates that the possession is real with a circus trick levitation, the giant rat and the angry bedding. If the possession is real, are we meant to cheer when they vanquish the devil and all its life force from her?

By trying to be everything and then some, Furious Mattress ends up as nothing. The opening scenes (which are mysterious and beautifully written) tell us the whole story and the subsequent 90 minutes tells us again. The story is: a woman dies after an attempted exorcism, which we know from the opening moments. The story urged us to go forward, but it took us back – when we’d rather have been taken for a drink.

The cast (Rita Kalnejais, Kate Kendall, Robert Menzies and Tom Wright) make us care as much as is possible with such contradictory material, but even wonderful actors can’t invent substance and truth that isn’t in the writing.

The exorcism stories that scare the bejesus out of us and make us reassess our own faith are those that put the possibility of evil and the redemption of faith at the centre. Furious Mattress seems to laugh at both, but never gets into the heart of why loving people could believe that killing was saving.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.
Photo by Jeff Busby.

Theatrenotes's Alison Croggin thought very differently about this show. I love her analysis, even though I had such a different reaction.

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