In 1990, the historic Malthouse brewery building threw open its doors as the new home for what was then the Playbox Theatre Company and since 2004 has been the Malthouse Theatre. While it hasn’t operated as a brewery since the 1970s, you can still practically smell the hops (the well-stocked bar helps) as you walk in, which is what gives the building much of its character.
But it’s the artists who really dictate what Malthouse is all about, and the company has just announced a season of eclectic, bold and provocative theatre for 2020. Here’s what’s in store.
The Importance of Being Earnest (Feb 8-Mar 8)
By Oscar Wilde
Adapted by Jon Haynes, Jude Kelly and David Woods
Original director: Jude Kelly
Most people wouldn’t expect Malthouse to open a season with something as seemingly safe as The Importance of Being Earnest, but here we are. The way it’s being approached? Not what you’d call safe.
This production features a cast of just two (David Woods and Jon Haynes) working their way through every character in Oscar Wilde’s farce about polite society, and it was seen at Malthouse back in 2006. Because the play is all about role-playing and the lies we tell to maintain a social position, this highly theatrical take reveals something new in the text.
“Because it’s performed entirely by David and Jon, they create a fantastic sense of theatrical deception and lying and the absurdity of how tangled you become when you start playing every character in an Oscar Wilde play,” Malthouse Theatre’s artistic director Matthew Lutton says.
Grey Arias (Mar 26-Apr 19)
By Adrienne Truscott and Le Gateau Chocolat
Adrienne Truscott and Le Gateau Chocolat are two of the most provocative cabaret artists working in the world at the moment (if you want a sense of just how provocative, one of Truscott’s most successful shows was called Adrienne Truscott's Asking For It: A One Lady Rape About Comedy). They also happen to be very good friends and are collaborating on a new show in which they’ll together approach tough political questions with an appropriate degree of sparkle and explore their own identities – Truscott as a cisgender white feminist and Le Gateau Chocolat as a gay, black English-Nigerian drag queen.
“They have a very complicated sense of their own identity: what’s perceived, what’s projected onto them and what they live,” Lutton says. “They want to create a work that’s using Broadway showtunes and a lot of entertainment, but a lot of political debate to discuss where we’re up to in 2020 with political correctness, and is that line really possible to draw or not at the moment.”
Macbeth (This Ignorant Present) (May 9-31)
By Scott Shepherd from the play by William Shakespeare
Director: Paul Lazar
This is Malthouse’s second classic for the year being radically reinvented for two performers, in this case American actor Scott Shepherd and Australian Zahra Newman. The production is co-created with New York company ArKtype, and it will move Shakespeare’s bloody epic into a creepy domestic setting. It uses most of Shakespeare’s text, but with lines reallocated and recontextualised, and it will be performed under an electrified roof, similar to the roofs that power bumper cars.
“You get a real sense of low-fi violence; if you jam a piece of metal up into the roof it just sends a shower of sparks everywhere,” Lutton says. “And every light and sound source on stage is powered by jamming it up into the electric grid, so there’s sort of a sense of machine as god, and a machine that powers destruction and weaponry. I think the production will really be trying to create a juxtaposition between Shakespeare’s poetics and this very contemporary, visual poetic language.”
K-Box (May 29-Jun 21)
By Ra Chapman
Director: Bridget Balodis
This is Ra Chapman’s debut play, all about Lucy, a young Korean adoptee who returns to regional Victoria to spend some time with her adoptive white Baby Boomer parents. But an unexpected visit from a K-Pop star makes Lucy question her relationship with her family and cultural identity in a confronting way.
“It’s very funny and very theatrical because K-Pop is a major part of the show,” Lutton says. “But at the same time it’s pretty hard-hitting and doesn’t shy away from questioning those ethical decisions and how they may have seemed right at the time but, with reflection, what do they mean now.”
Susanna Qian stars alongside Melbourne theatre veteran Maude Davey.
Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription (Jul 2-19)
Concept and director: Tina Satter
Tina Satter’s staging of a verbatim FBI interrogation was a sell-out hit when it premiered in New York earlier this year, and it’s easy to imagine why: Its script comes from the actual interrogation of a real-life whistleblower called Reality Winner. She leaked information about Russian involvement in the 2016 US election.
“What’s amazing is that it feels like it’s been written and constructed by a master playwright,” Lutton says. “It feels like someone has crafted every thought, and it’s terrifying to know that this is actually just three agents doing their process of interrogation. It’s pretty chilling when you realise what’s going on.”
Do Not Go Gentle... (Jul 10-Aug 2)
By Patricia Cornelius
Director: Susie Dee
Patricia Cornelius is just about Australia’s most frequently awarded playwright and is finally getting more of her work up at mainstage theatres. This award-winning play from 2010 juxtaposes Robert Falcon Scott’s journey to the Antarctic with a group of elderly people coming to the end of their own journey.
“It’s an epic work,” Lutton says. “The journey to Antarctica requires a sort of spectacle to be conjured to play against the other story of the women in the retirement home approaching their own end of life. But it’s also about how moving Patricia’s writing is. I think it’s an incredibly beautiful, harrowing and moving play, and a cohort of characters that we don’t often see on the Australian stage.”
Shane Bourne, Julie Forsyth and Brian Lipson star in this production directed by Cornelius’s long-time collaborator, Susie Dee.
The Return (Aug 25-Sep 20)
By John Harvey
Director: Jason Tamiru and Matthew Lutton
Malthouse is teaming up with Melbourne International Arts Festival for this immersive theatrical experience. Written by John Harvey (Heart is a Wasteland), it spans 250 years of Australian history, tracing all the way back to grave robbers who dug up Indigenous ancestral remains to be sent to museums, homes and universities for study. It also follows the people working in repatriation today, returning these remains to Country.
“It’s not a documentary piece; it’s a piece that’s about an audience experiencing what it would be like to be removed from your home; to be dislocated and the sense of healing that comes from a return to Country,” Lutton says. “The aim is to stage it in our theatre without any seating; we haven’t done that since 1996.”
Prima Facie (Sep 16-Oct 4)
By Suzie Miller
Director: Lee Lewis
Suzie Miller’s piercing look at the Australian legal system’s failure to deal effectively with sexual assault complaints was one of the biggest hits in Sydney theatre this year. We gave it a rare five-star rave. It’s a one-woman show led by the brilliant Sheridan Harbridge (Calamity Jane, Muriel’s Wedding) as a hard-as-nails lawyer whose confidence is shaken following a horrifying attack.
“I think it’s a masterful piece of writing, and I think Sheridan Harbridge does an incredible performance in the work and does that amazing thing of seducing an audience into a complicated scenario, and then exposing a whole lot of horrible norms in the legal system,” Lutton says.
Go to Hell (Oct 9-25)
Director: Michael Kantor
Text: Tom Wright
Malthouse’s former artistic director Michael Kantor is teaming up with national treasure and cabaret legend Paul Capsis on this new show about ten plagues raining down on a city that’s a little like Melbourne. It’s a song cycle featuring originals from Megan Washington as well as Blondie, Bob Dylan and Nina Simone covers.
“I think it will feel like a celebration of a lot of work that Michael created at Malthouse during his tenure, and Paul as well,” Lutton says. “It has a full-length video component that surrounds Paul as he moves through the songs and through the city. So it’s part cinema, part rock concert, part theatre event.”
Loaded (Oct 30-Nov 22)
Adapted by Christos Tsiolkas and Dan Giovannoni
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Christos Tsiolkas’s 1995 debut novel shook Australia’s literary community with its forthright depiction of Ari, a 19-year-old unemployed gay Greek man in Melbourne seeking escape through sex, drugs and dance. It was adapted into the 1998 film Head On, but Tsiolkas will be revisiting the work and adapting it alongside playwright Dan Giovannoni. Giovannoni previously worked with director Stephen Nicolazzo on an award-winning adaptation of Tsiolkas’s Merciless Gods, so this team has a strong track record with Tsiolkas texts.
“Christos’s one condition to do it was that he wanted to write a new voice into the play, one that’s from today, reflecting back on Ari 25 years earlier, almost like a future Ari, aware of what has changed and what has remained the same in the world of race politics and the queer world,” Lutton says.