12 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 8

Everyone today loved Maltilda. Welcome Richard Watts, Sara Collins and Jason Whittaker.

But before you read. If you want to be part of this series (and your friends and fans want to read what you think), you have to send your answers to me.

Richard Watts
Performing Arts Editor, Arts Hub; Smarts Arts presenter; legend

Richard Watts. Photo by Nicola Peniguel

RW's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I’ve seen some brilliant, beautiful, challenging and moving life performances this year, in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and the Northern Rivers region of NSW, as well as in a diversity of Melbourne venues.

Works such as Zoe Coombs Marr’s Trigger Warning and Sammy J’s Hero Complex made me roar with laughter even I as marvelled at the skilled writing on display. The Artisan Collective’s Wit at fortyfivedownstairs and MUST’s Awakening at Trades Hall made me sob. Backstage in Biscuit Land and Matilda the musical made me cheer. Dancenorth’s IF _ WAS _ and Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences allowed me revel in the splendour and the beauty of the human body moving through space.

But if there’s one moment that typified everything I love about the performing arts, it was the Lotus play readings at the National Play Festival back in July. Extracts from four new plays by Asian Australian playwrights; four fresh new perspectives; four very different takes on storytelling that didn’t rely on the familiar tropes and clich├ęs of Australian mainstage drama.

Siti Rubiyah by Katrina Irawati Graham, Squint Witch by Shari Indriani, My Father Who Slept in A Zoo by Ngoc Phan and Entomology by Natesha Somasundaram – each reading made me hopeful for the future and hungry for more.

What RW is looking forward to in 2017: The further decolonisation of our theatres and performances spaces, more plays and stories by First Nations and culturally diverse artists, more amazing work by female-identifying playwrights and directors, and more stimulating conversations with friends, peers and colleagues in the foyers of Melbourne’s theatres.

SM: Every moment with Richard is pretty damn good. One of my favourites was seeing Sammy J's Hero Complex with him. We braved front row centre because we knew we were in safe hands, but had no idea just how great this show was going to be. Being able to share the love you have for a show with someone is what live theatre is all about. Laughing by yourself on the couch is never as good.

Richard is a tireless advocate for independent art and artists in Melbourne, he sees more theatre than most of us, and he listens to music, reads books, and goes to films and art exhibitions. He loves theatre and art with the kind of unconditional passion that we wish from our lovers. Every time I see Richard chair a discussion or I listen to a radio interview, I learn more about how to be a journalist. He researches, he asks excellent questions and knows when to change tack during an interview.

I'm sure that indie artists in Melbourne know how lucky they are to have Richard (I hear some very lovely things being said), so let's all make sure we make sure he knows how respected, appreciated and loved he is.

Sarah Collins
playwright, photographer

Sarah Collins

SC's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: It's been a hard old year. Where previously I felt "the less money and resources we have the more punk we will be!",  I'm really struggling to get past the cuts, the closures and the lack of opportunity in theatre in 2016. (I'm writing a comedy about it so please get in touch with me if you want to laugh your way through this too. I'm sick of feeling despondent). 

The best performance I saw this year was Lyall Brooks in A Prudent Man. He. Did. Not. Skip. A. Beat. It was a huge treat to see such a polished performance at the wonderful Melbourne Fringe and he made the script sing and every word count. Matilda was fantastic. Tim Minchin (that writing!) and James Millar were the highlights for me. James Millar could honestly play that role on Broadway; he was born for it. Unfortunately due to my niece just missing out on that role I was a bit pissed with our Matilda. I'm sure under any other circumstances I would have found her a true delight. 

Finally my favourite moment that happened IN a theatre in 2016 was a moment told by a friend who has been teaching drama at an all boys private school in Brisbane for ten years. Irrespective of the fact that support for the arts is being ripped from here there and everywhere, theatrical expression can never be killed. In the context of an all boys school this was breathtaking. In the context of why we all gravitated to theatre in the first place it's a great reminder.

SM: It's been a year without a new show from Sarah – toddler wrangling is more time consuming than making art –, so I've had to be happy with Facebooks posts that make me know why social media was invented. I think my favourite was vomiting on the way to Ikea and the Christmas photo.

Jason Whittaker
journalist, critic

JW's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: What made me feel the most? The cry-o-metre registered one Melbourne show in 2016: The Events, the singular and devastating Edinburgh Festival choir-backed play brought to Malthouse Theatre via Belvoir Street in Sydney. Catherine McClements broke me; it must be a career-best performance and she’s given plenty of them.

Malthouse had a strong year under an artistic director growing in confidence. Matthew Lutton’s Edward II and, particularly, Picnic At Hanging Rock were urgent pieces of auteur theatre. And I have enormous affection for The Glass Menagerie production bought in from Belvoir, even though the Malthouse space sucked out intimacy. Melbourne Theatre Company’s best was probably Disgraced, though Jasper Jones was a terrific adaptation and I liked Kip Williams’s Miss Julie more than most. And don’t forget The Secret River, STC’s simply yet stunningly staged adaptation that got to us in March. It wasn’t new in 2016, but it’s probably the best Australian work we saw this year.

What made me happiest in the theatre in 2016? Matilda  is the best commercial musical to come to Australia in decades. Little Shop of Horrors via the Hayes Theatre in Sydney was so smart and so much fun. The foul-mouthed, sweet-singing Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour were a Melbourne Festival highlight.

But the absolute best piece of theatre in this city in 2016? I’d give it to Robert Lepage’s masterful, magical bio-monologue 887. A spell of wide-eyed loveliness, as I gushed on Twitter afterwards. A genius theatremaker wringing everything out of himself and the form.

What JW is looking forward to in 2017: Red Stitch has secured some super-hyped US and UK plays next year: Rules For Living, The Realistic Joneses, Incognito and The Moors. I’m excited by all of them. I think the Malthouse program looks as strong as this year’s. I’ll be interested to see what MTC does with Annie Baker’s John, which I had mixed feelings about in New York and will really test subscribers, and of course what Simon Phillips does with Macbeth. And trust me: The Book Of Mormon is as good as everyone says it is.

SM: Jason and I know each other and read each other, but I don't think we've met. I'll fix that in 2017. What I love about his reviews is that he shares his gut feelings towards a show and I'm either "What he said!" or "Did he see a different show?" – no in between. And that's what I love about reading other criticism: I want an extreme reaction; reading something meh is as meh as doing something meh.

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7

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