21 February 2010

Review: Madagascar

Melbourne Theatre Company
17 February 2010
Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre

This week the MTC announced that they have 20,000 subscribers. That’s ten full State Theatres, around 500 over-full La Mamas or nearly one quarter of a full MCG.

There’s always whinging about the MTC in foyers of independent theatres, on the blogosphere (I’ve done it myself) and in mainstream media, but 20,000 Melbourneites have chosen – and paid in advance – to see multiple shows by this company, so why should they care what a few disparate voices say.

I missed their first shows of the year, but season extensions tend to indicate that paying audiences enjoyed them and Madagascar will continue to keep the subscribers and their dinner party friends happy, and not just because it has a middle-aged academic, addresses the relationships between adult children and parents and explores the I-have possessions-but-what-have-I-done-with-my-life questions that face us as we start counting our years.

J.T. Rogers is an American playwright who doesn’t like American playwrights who write American stories, so he writes American stories about Americans out of America - that are still so American that no production can skip the accents. He writes a fine play though.

It’s so fine that the writing almost takes precedence over the story. The tale of a missing man and the impact of his disappearance on three people would sustain any telling. This telling is three monologues from different times that cross over and support each other. It’s intricate and detailed writing, but so good that it keeps drawing attention to itself and doesn’t give the story a chance to fly and, I suspect quite consciously, creates a distance with obvious imagery that forces the audience to keep looking for the patterns rather than lose themselves in the emotion of the story.

But, director Sam Strong and his cast (Noni Hazlehurst, Nicholas Bell and Asher Keddie whose performances are simply the best you will see) let the characters escape the tight control of the writer and create the emotional empathy that leaves audience caring and loving the characters more than their creator seemed to.

A creative team that create more than the writer ever imagined is the bliss of good theatre and I hope what all great writers (like Rogers) hope for when they bring new worlds into being.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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