MKA Double Bill: Hose, by Bridget Mackey; Tinkertown by Nathaniel Moncrieff, Theatreworks, Until Mar 3.
Under the executive directorship of Dan Clarke, Theatreworks is kicking on in a big way this year. The venue has been radically underutilised recently, its offerings (with honourable exceptions) typically failing to reflect the breadth and talent of our independent theatre sector. That has already changed with the dynamic Midsumma season, and the trend continues with the programming of bright new company MKA.
I caught their double bill last weekend, and they kick off 2012 with some keen and surprising theatre. Hose is the show you’ll want to catch. Bridget Hackey’s sardonic script drags us into the world of the beauty salon, where fake tans glow in the dark and teeth are whiter than white. She vigorously exfoliates her material, exposing the raw and ugly violence behind its immaculate facade.
Isabel (Claudia Tory) is an unvarnished frump cast into a sinister and shallow milieu of physical perfection, led by the formidably coiffed Jody (Lily Constantine). As she heads for the mother of all make-overs, Isabel’s grim past intrudes and a shocking act of revenge is revealed.
Design and performance are slickly integrated to steep the audience in the sterility of body culture. The mise-en-scene is tightly focused (thanks to designer Eugyeene Teh and Rob Sowinski’s lighting): the stage framed by dressing-room lights, and centred on a dental chair.
Tory’s wary, unconfident naturalism rubs against the brazen artifice of the rest of the cast; the acting embodies a deadening irony and oppressive sense of conformity to controlling notions of beauty. Where MKA has gotten these talented young actors from I have no idea, but they’re definitely worth checking out, and Alister Smith’s direction is firmer than an unripe peach. Go forth and buy tickets.
The second show, not so much. It’s a B-side. Tinkertown is a spoof that blends hostage drama and the Western genre, but doesn’t achieve much with them. Chester (Steven Kennedy) is a crim on the run. He’s committed murder to be with his teenage daughter (Rebecca Mezei). She hates his guts and isn’t exactly pleased to be thrown into a demimonde of strippers (Marilyn Harris) and bad Johnny Cash impersonators (Cameron Moore).
This Tarantino-like romp has its points, but the acting is corralled into an extremely limited range by a tedious script going nowhere slowly. It might be the trashiest show onstage in Melbourne at the moment (though I can’t say for certain, not having seen the latest effort from Sisters Grimm, apparently a drag reincarnation of Gone With The Wind set in a Thornbury garage).
On the night I attended, the acting looked masterly in comparison to an atrocious cameo from Brynne Edelsten: a talentless Z-grade celeb married to gangsterish medico Geoffrey Edelsten. I’m not even going to try to describe what she was wearing. Actually, I will: it looked as though several slabs of VB stubbies had moulted on her chest.
Channel 7 are apparently screening a new reality TV series about Brynne trying to become a superstar, and there were cameras everywhere. I can understand MKA jumping on this tacky little bandwagon. All publicity is good publicity. But Brynne, honey, if you want to be an actress, you have to remember your lines, and not deliver them upstage or inaudibly into your ample cleavage. I’m sure there’s a diaphragm under there somewhere. Use it.
All This Intimacy, By Rajiv Joseph, Chapel Off Chapel, Until March 11.
Rajiv Joseph’s All This Intimacy had me squirming in distaste from start to finish. It’s a shocking play, a gruelling death-match between misogyny and improbability and, for a comedy, remarkably short on laughs.
The horrors of Joseph’s writing are only heightened by starting with the David Mamet monologue, A Sermon – a beautifully written and off-beat existential screed performed with affectless precision by Bruce Hughes.
After it, we move into the life of thirty year-old poet Ty (Scott Major), an immature rogue who has managed to get three women pregnant in little over a week. He invites them all over for dinner to break the news; sparks fly.
It’s a play where two condoms break, where women can’t see through superficial charm, where poetry sells large numbers of copies. But the worst implausibilities are the flat, badly drawn characters: Ty is a thoroughly unlikeable narcissist, and after the chaos he causes, to have him saying things like “Why is everyone being mean to me?” is absurd. He’s thirty, not seven.
Debbie Zukerman, Joanna Redfearn and Georgia Bolton create memorable sketches of three very different women, and there’s much to admire in the detail of their performances, played against the coarseness of the script. But their revenge is fairly limp, after the way they’re treated.
It’s a real shame. The technical aspects of the production broadly work under Anthony Prowse’s direction. The cast is experienced and unusually talented – and it’s interesting to see the low-key contours of TV acting working on a studio stage. Yet the artists couldn’t have picked a worse vehicle, and beyond casting agents I can’t see to whom this show would appeal.