23 July 2011

Review: J.A.T.O

14 July
MKA Pop up Theatre
to 30 July

If you've ever sat in an unlit cement car park at midnight with only over-brewed black coffee and unripe lemons to eat, your night was still lighter and less-bitter than the voice of writer Vedrana Klepica.  And there's no one in town who would bring us such a playwright, apart from than MKA.

MKA's fourth playwright for the year is Klepica. She's from Croatia and met Melbourne's Declan Greene at a playwriting conference in Cairns. Dec says that she didn't like Cairns. I suspect that she didn't like the pleasantness. With a work about pigeons with fucked up legs, jokes about fags and invalids and not washing away the clotted blood of a violently lost pregnancy, I imagine that the fat touristy happiness of tropical Australia was too much for her.

Fortunately she let Declan be the dramaturge for MKA's production of her J.A.T.O. Narratively the story needs some tightening, but her voice and her characters are so deliciously dark that plot can be damned.

J.A.T.O are an obscure European pop group who arrive in Zagrab at the same time as a dignitary. There are security officers to ensure the safety of the official and a local has on her best slutty dress to pick up the bartender, or better, at the gig.

This isn't angry Agitprop eastern European theatre that celebrates the just way forward. Rather it's a reflection of a generation who are so frustrated and angry that they have to laugh because there's not much left to do.

Director Tanya Dickson has recently graduated from VCA and brings the fullness that is missing in the script by making the conflicting layers of bleakness and comedy blend like dark sea salt chocolate. This contradiction of flavours is supported superbly by the designers. David Samuel makes the stage a giant sandpit for play, but surrounds it with black curtains and Chloe Greaves' costumes dip the heads and shoulders of the characters into a grey that makes them look like their heads are in a black and white movie.

And, again, MKA are letting us see some of the best recent graduates in their casts. This won't be the first time I write about Stefan Bramble, Rory Kelly, Cate Wolswinkel, Tristan M Watson, Janine Watson and Tom Dent.

MKA's 2011 season 1 is drawing to a close. They have no funding or formal support, but in a few months they've marked their place in Melbourne's independent theatre scene and shown us some of the most exciting new writing and emerging artists around.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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