On the production of monsters
Melbourne Theatre Company
25 May 2012
to 9 June
Local writer Robert Reid wrote On the production of monsters for us. While the main stage MTC shows try to reach those who are happy to subscribe to capital-T-theatre for a night of capital-C-culture, the smaller Lawler Studio program starts with great scripts, employs some of Melbourne's best creators and creates theatre for those of us who want more than just an easy night away from Masterchef.
Reid has been writing plays in Melbourne since the late 90s. Like The Joy of Text, his 2011 MTC main-stage debut, Monsters is about unequal power and shocks with a humour that's as black as a Fitzroy fashion boutique.
Monsters was born in 2008 when Bill Henson's art (the photos of naked children) caused a mighty hoo ha. It's a story that starts in a laneway cafe with a twenty-something couple scoffing at hipsters and talking about baristas, and interweaves a think-before-you-press-send-it email with a primary school river-cleaning project and a too-eager new journalist. Then it gets complicated as a damaged power-PR exec, a treadmill-jogging lawyer, a sensitive school teacher and an Angry-Birds-addicted PA jump into the whirlpool.
Reid's opinions about the issues are clear, with his bitterly dark laughs balanced with painfully gentle moments of poignancy, yet its strength is his leaving plenty of room for the audience to re-think their own opinions about the questions asked about art, power and exploitation. More importantly, he shows how un-winnable debates and un-thought-through opinion can ripple down until everyone drowns.
Director Clare Watson lets Reid's voice free on the stage as she deftly finds balance in his uneasy humour, and she lets Virgina Gay and James Saunders, who play all the characters, find the perfect tone. She also lets them define each character through their performances, rather than messing it up with character props.
Reid tickles zeitgeists from the viral internet sneezing baby panda (that he references almost as much as I do) to the decency arguments around the taking of naked photos, but its genuinely hip charm comes from its reflection of oh-so-cool, coffee-obsessed, word-using, inner-city urbanites who have a point scoring system for hipster-spotting and are so aware of their own irony that they probably secretly award points about themselves.
With references that left most of the audience grinning with he's-writing-about-me recognition, Reid's grasp of Melbourne's sub-culture is possibly as fine as Edna's early reflections on Moonee Ponds. Especially as it's supported by Andrew Bailey's gorgeously nostalgic pop-up design with treats like a hidden train, metcards, movie posters, cool-again bean bags and the best toaster ever.
On the production of monsters isn't the happiest view of the world, but is very funny and Robert Reid is a Melbourne writing voice that needs to be shared and loved.
This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.
Photo by Jodie Hutchinson