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Malthouse is staging an epic new production of Cloudstreet in 2019

Written by
Ben Neutze

Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet has come out on top in just about every poll of Australia’s favourite books since its release. Some of us probably even love the Pickles and the Lambs – the two families at the centre of this saga, sharing a ramshackle house in Perth for 20 years – more than we love our own families.

The book has been turned into a TV series, an opera and even a radio play. But it’s been almost two decades since Nick Enright and Justin Monjo’s acclaimed stage version of the novel has been seen in Melbourne.

And there’s one clear reason why – it’s a huge undertaking for any theatre company and runs to about five hours.

But Malthouse Theatre’s artistic director Matthew Lutton has been on a crusade in the last few years of bringing Australia’s classic stories to the stage with fresh eyes. And you can’t do that without bringing Cloudstreet back to life.

“If we take our own culture seriously then we should take our stories seriously,” Lutton says. “I think that’s what informs us in thinking about Cloudstreet rather than doing a massive cycle of the Greeks or Shakespeare.”

We know what you’re thinking: five hours of theatre sounds like a tough slog. But if you can do five hours of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, you can do five hours at Malthouse.

On certain nights, the company will be performing the whole thing back-to-back, with a dinner break in the middle. But if you’re going to be a wuss and skip the marathon, you can see the two separate parts on different nights.

The production is being co-produced with Perth’s Black Swan State Theatre Company and will feature a cast of 12 from both states. Lutton, a Perth boy originally, has a strong personal affinity with Winton’s story.

“I’m really interested in telling the story as a haunted house narrative and a piece about where you set up borders inside your own community and then spend 20 years tearing them down,” he says.

It’s not the only Australian classic getting a reimagining for the stage in 2019. Zahra Newman will be starring in a one-woman adaptation of Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel, Wake in Fright. The novel was famously turned into a seminal 1971 film and last year was adapted into a miniseries.

But Malthouse’s version will be rather different, driven by a provocative soundtrack composed by art electronica band, friendships.

The season also notably includes a number of collaborations with international companies, and new plays by Australian writers. See the full line-up below.

Malthouse Theatre mainstage season 2019

Underground Railroad Game (Jan 30-Feb 17)
Created by: Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R. Sheppard, with Lightning Rod Special
Direction: Taibi Magar

This boundary-smashing comedy comes from New York’s hugely influential Ars Nova theatre, where it won rave reviews. Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R. Sheppard will be coming to Melbourne to play school teachers leading a class in an R-rated lesson about American history and slavery. It was inspired by Sheppard’s experiences in primary (elementary) school, when his teachers made the students play a game trading dolls to demonstrate the slave trade in the US.

“We could never put on this show; it needs to come from America,” Lutton says. “It’s probably the most provocative piece of theatre I’ve seen about race. It’s shocking in how uncensored it is.” 

Underground Railroad Game. Photograph: Cade Martin

Barbara and the Camp Dogs (Feb 7-Mar 3)
By Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine
Direction: Leticia Cáceres

This rocking semi-autobiographical play with songs was a big hit for Sydney’s Belvoir in 2017 (read Time Out Sydney’s four-star review). Ursula Yovich stars as Barbara, an angry pub singer who takes no prisoners. Her life is turned upside down when she and her sister (played by Elaine Crombie) are called back to Katherine to say goodbye to their dying mother.

Time Out Sydney wrote: “Barbara and the Camp Dogs is a road trip buddy comedy that pulls itself apart to reveal our intergenerational, national distress – how the horrors of invasion, genocide and brutality by those in power caused fault lines that even today damage the livelihoods of First Nations Australians.”

All the songs are killer and performed with a live rock band on stage. Lutton has promised that Malthouse is going to be transformed into a big, sticky pub to accommodate Barbara.

Cloudstreet (May 6-Jun 16)
By Tim Winton
Adapted by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo
Direction: Matthew Lutton

Natasha Herbert, Bert LaBonté, Guy Simon, Greg Stone and Alison Whyte will star in Lutton’s new production of Tim Winton’s classic. Get ready to spend all night with the Lamb and Pickles families.

“I wanted to create an epic theatre experience and I think you can only do that with a host of characters who you can spend five hours with and fall in love with,” Lutton says. “It can’t be an overly cerebral work, it needs to be a piece that you follow with your heart.”

The Temple (May 3-19)
Created by Gavin Quinn and the ensemble
Direction: Gavin Quinn

Gavin Quinn is one of the directors of Irish company Pan Pan and is coming to Melbourne to work with an ensemble of locals to create a new piece of theatre. The performers are all comedy experts – Aljin Abella, Ash Flanders, Mish Grigor, Nicola Gunn, Marcus McKenzie – so you can expect plenty of laughs as they play members of a cult seeking personal perfection. It’s a work being devised by the whole cast, so there should be plenty of chaos on stage.

Wake in Fright (Jun 21-Jul 14)
By Declan Greene
Adapted from Kenneth Cook’s novel

Declan Greene has adapted this Australia horror story for a solo performer, The Book of Mormon’s Zahra Newman, who’ll perform with a confronting electronica soundtrack evoking the sounds of the terrifying fictional town and home of toxic masculinity, Bundanyabba.

“It was always going to be a piece about words and storytelling,” Lutton says. “Like a campfire, gothic piece of storytelling… I think the scariest way to create the Yabba is to hear it.”

Wake in Fright. Photograph: Zan Wimberley

Solaris (Jun 28-Jul 21)
By David Greig
Adapted from Stanisław Lem’s novel
Direction: Matthew Lutton

Lutton is working with award-winning Scottish playwright David Greig on this adaptation of Stanisław Lem’s seminal sci-fi novel. It’s been turned into two films in the past, but Greig is going back to the original source material to tell a story about a mysterious planet where visitors encounter the ghosts of long-lost loved ones. Eamon Farren will star with a company of local and international performers in this co-production with Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre. Expect something spooky and potentially even terrifying.

My Dearworthy Darling (Aug 2-18)
By Alison Croggon
Direction: The Rabble

This new play brings together two women from very different times and places. One is from the here and now – a woman trying to work her way out of a difficult and abusive relationship – while the other is a mystic from the medieval period who’s been considered mad by the patriarchy. When they meet, a new power opens up.

The play was written specifically for the Rabble, one of Melbourne’s most provocative and adventurous theatre collectives. It will star Jennifer Vuletic.

“It’s a dreamlike world that the Rabble are creating where the medieval world and the contemporary world happen at the same time,” Lutton says.

Australian Realness (Aug 16-Sep 8)
By Zoey Dawson
Direction: Janice Muller

Zoey Dawson has been one of the most popular playwrights working in Melbourne’s independent theatre scene for the last few years, but this new play marks her mainstage debut. It's a comedy about class in which every actor plays two different characters – one bourgeois, one bogan. The only cast member announced so far is Linda Cropper (aka Geraldine from Offspring).

Lutton says the play starts out as a very recognisable satire but then questions the tropes of Australian class comedy.

“It’s sort of looking at the way that class is weaponised, used politically, and asking if it’s an economic definition, a cultural definition; or if any of the definitions are true anymore – or if they’re all porous and constantly changing.” 

Australian Realness. Photograph: Zan Wimberley

Apocalypse Meow: Crisis is Born (Nov 7-24)
Created by Meow Meow

“Obviously we don’t do pantomimes in Australia, but this is the closest we’d do to a Christmas show,” Lutton says.

Cabaret chanteuse, and master of pandemonium, Meow Meow stars in this self-devised piece. She’ll come wandering into the Malthouse at each performance looking for room in the Inn. Yes, she’s taking on Christmas.

Special events

Common Ground (Mar 13-17)
Created by Anouk van Dijk

Malthouse is describing this dance piece by the outgoing artistic director of Chunky Move as a “ritualistic battleground for two dance greats” and a “choreographic game of chess". Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli are the two dancers.

Blackie Blackie Brown (Aug 29-Sep 8)
By Nakkiah Lui
Direction: Declan Greene

Nakkiah Lui’s blood-splattered revenge comedy was so popular earlier this year, it’s being revived for a short encore season. Read our four-star review of the Melbourne premiere.

Can't wait until 2019? Check out our hit-list of the best theatre in Melbourne this month and our hints for scoring cheap tickets.

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