Sex, death, rites of passage and revolution are set to be four major touch-points for Malthouse Theatre’s 2016 season: launched on the last night of winter by newly appointed artistic director Matthew Lutton.
Having spent the last three-and-a-half years at Malthouse Theatre, first as associate artist, then as acting artistic director after the departure of Marion Potts, Lutton is no stranger to the company. The Perth-born director (who started his own company, ThinIce, in Perth at age 17) has directed nine productions for the Malthouse; the most recent being Declan Greene’s sweeping new work, I Am a Miracle. Many of his subsequent directorial credits are in opera, for companies including Opera Australia and Bavarian State Opera. At age 31, he is the youngest person leading a major Australian theatre company.
Last year, Potts divided the season into three unique chapters: Body // Language, Post // Love and Ritual // Extinction – a different approach to Lutton’s. “I don’t program to a thematic,” he says. “It needs to be instinctual and responsive to the ideas that the artists are bringing. I was hunting for provocations, subversions, entertainment, collaboration. The season is one of sex, death, rites of passage and revolution. All of those involve a moment of awakening. So every show is doing that in its own unique way.”
All of these ideas seem to be encapsulated by Malthouse Theatre’s first show for the year,Meow Meow's Little Mermaid (Jan 28-Feb 14): part two of an outrageous cabaret trilogy in which the very un-Disney mermaid must sacrifice her voice and cut her tail in half to enter a new land.
Malthouse Theatre 2016 will continue a strong tradition of bold new adaptations (most recently, Antigone) with Picnic at Hanging Rock (Feb 26-Mar 30): one of the most anticipated shows of the year, directed by Lutton himself. This world-first stage production, written by Tom Wright for five female actors, will conjure the horror of the unknown evoked by novelist Joan Lindsay through language (Lutton is adamant that there will be no rock on stage). Another deeply influential Australian female author is the late poet Dorothy Porter, and her previously unpublished poems will be brought to life with music composed by Tim Finn in The Fiery Maze (Aug 18-Sep 4).
The season suffers no shortage of great poetics and epic themes: Lutton will also direct a re-imagined Edward II (Jul 29-Aug 21), originally written by Christopher Marlowe in the 14th century, but this time with no Elizabethan language in earshot. Audiences will no doubt flock to the Helpmann Award-winning Glass Menagerie (May 18-Jul 10), starring Pamela Rabe, coming straight from a sold-out season at Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney. Subversive Berlin theatre collective Gob Squad will devise a world-premiere adaptation of Tolstoy’s sprawlingWar and Peace (Oct 18-30) which will see the action break out from the theatre into a series of security cameras set up around Melbourne. “Surprise is one of the most powerful tools that theatre has,” says Lutton. “I wanted us to make sure that we’re doing surprising things in our theatre, and one of those is inviting people and then shifting their expectations.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than with Gonzo (Sep 21-Oct 1): a work that will deal with teenage boys and porn – performed by the teenage boys themselves. “They’re the missing voice,” says Lutton. “It’s a very rigorous process for the six boys that will perform the work, and only [youth arts company] St Martin’s Theatre can do this; they have the expertise of how to work with young people.” Leave your expectations (and your little ones) at the door.
Australian premieres by international artists range from UK playwright Duncan Macmillan’sEvery Brilliant Thing (Mar 8-20) – a critically acclaimed exploration into depression, love and finding the things worth living for – to The Events (June 21-Jul 10), Scottish playwright David Grieg’s response to the violent acts of a Norwegian white supremacist in 2011, which will feature a different Melbourne community choir on stage every night.
Important Australian voices – both emerging names and mid-career artists – are championed on the main stage with Nakkiah Lui’s Blaque Showgirls (Nov 11-Dec 4) and Ranters Theatre’sCome Away With Me to the End of the World (Jul 5-24) as well as in a series of four artist curated events to bring in the seasons. Given that this will involve Malthouse Theatre offering the likes of independent feminist theatre-makers The Rabble free reign over the entire building to create In the Bleak Midwinter (Jun 16-18), it’s best to expect something more than a bit edgy.
“I think the Malthouse is a beacon of alternative ideas," says Lutton. "It’s absolutely needed in our artistic climate, in our political climate, where there’s a real sense of alternate ideas being shut down and more radical voices being silenced. Art is a really important part in expanding that conversation and I think Malthouse is part of that as well. Malthouse needs to be a place that championing thinking, discussion and provocation.”
What's on stage in Melbourne?
Read about The Book of Mormon $40 ticket lottery. It can be difficult for Australian audiences to receive any international musical without certain preconceptions: the rumours of greatness tend to wash onto our shores long before the tour has even been announced. When one of the biggest Broadway hits of the millennium rolls into town, the sense of expectation can be dangerously high. The Book of Mormon comes with the kind of ecstatic hype usually found accompanying a messiah. Instead, Elders Price and Cunningham turn up – which is possibly less shattering, but ultimately way more fun. The unlikely genesis of this mega-hit is well documented; suffice to say that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the brains behind South Park and Team America, made an unholy alliance with Robert Lopez, the creator of dirty puppet porn Avenue Q, to create this monstrous satire of everything. The result is a show as perverse as it is heartfelt, as clever as it is moving. It really is as good as they say. The opening number, ‘Hello’, sets the tone as deftly and memorably as ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’defines the parameters of Oklahoma! The scene is familiar to us all: a bunch of trainee missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints are ringing on doorbells, keen to share the news “of this amazing book”. Their squeaky grins and infectious positivity are so aligned with the traditional image of the Broadway musical that the sparkly vests and tap routines that soon follow feel like a
National stereotypes almost always contain the germ of truth, and surely few national stereotypes are as enduring as the Irish gift of the gab. If storytelling were an Olympic sport, the Irish would take out the gold every time. Playwright Brian Friel understood the inherent musicality of the Irish brogue, but he employed it in a way that underscored the pain and heartbreak running just under the surface of the tall tale. He eschewed romanticism in favour of something sadder, something more deeply in touch with ruin and longing. Faith Healer is about storytelling; the stories we tell other people and the ones we tell ourselves. Frank Hardy (Colin Friels) is the spiritual magician of the title, a travelling salesman of the soul. He positions himself and his talent between the extremes of genuine seer and outright conman, and the play never lets us settle on either interpretation. In fact, this idea of interpretation, of the ways in which individual truths can differ and still be true, lies at the heart of the piece. Frank is the showman, but his wife – or is it mistress? – Grace (Alison Whyte) and manager Teddy (Paul Blackman) are the backbone and casual whipping posts of his talent and its falling off. Vehemently alcoholic, darkly suspicious and inconsistent, Frank drives through their lives like a careening lorry. It’s awful, but also enlightening; the sense that he enriches as well as obliterates is one of the great ambivalences in the text. The play is technically made