And now one for the cheap seats in the back, MTC’s 2014 launch. Embracing a bigger, broader audience.

Somewhere between St Kilda road and completely saturated, I stopped caring about the water seeping in to my new leather boots and resided to the fact that I would arrive at Hamer Hall looking like something that had been pulled out of a drain. I also let go of worrying what the sophisticated and well attired MTC audience would think of the ‘soaking wet look’. Let’s be honest folks, with the line-up of Aussie stars at the launch, nobody was going to be looking at me.

Melbourne, you mostly make me happy but on Monday night you truly outdid yourself weather-wise. Luckily I wasn’t the only patron who’d failed to remember an umbrella on this unprecedentedly wet evening and as others made their way to the stalls for the commencement of the launch looking like extras from Titanic, I began to relax. These theatre brethren took their seats wet, cold and eager to see what plays MTC was going to uncover.

The Artistic Director of the Melbourne Theatre Company, Brett Sheehy convened the launch, welcoming us and assuring the audience that the respective presenters were on a time limit and that there was an enormous amount of content to get through. Indeed there was! 2014 appears to be quite the year for the MTC and I for one was sold on their eclectic line-up of both home-grown and international plays. From a Pulitzer Prize winner to a Rob Sitch/Tom Gleisner comedic collaboration, next year will take audiences from the  Eastern suburbs of Melbourne (Neighbourhood Watch), to the luxurious seats of Air Force One (The Speechmaker). It is a journey of variety and genre and for want of a less pedestrian way of describing the line-up, there looks like there’s something for everyone!

The two huge plusses for me were the company’s focus on engaging a youthful audience, while still having plenty of content for their more seasoned members. Second to that, I was impressed by the variety the program provided. In saying this, I was most drawn to the comedies with the picks of the season including, Private Lives (Noël Coward) and The Speechmaker (Rob Sitch, Tom Gliesner and Santo Cilauro).

There also seemed to be a few zeitgeist plays exploring (among other themes) the changing nature of relationships in a post-modern landscape. The Australian premier of Cock, written by Mike Bartlett fulfilled this brief and is sure to capture audiences who enjoy naughty words just as much as the play’s director, Leticia Cáceres  enjoyed saying the word ‘cock’ in her synopsis of the play.

Suburban themes (another favourite of mine ever since I saw American Beauty as an adolescent) are explored in a play written with Robyn Nevin in mind and staring the actress, entitled Neighbourhood Watch. This play, having already impressed audiences in Sydney is sure to do the same in its hometown with added resonance. Written by Lally Katz, Neighbourhood Watch is (put simply) the story of an eighty year old Hungarian/Australian woman, the dog that lives with her and the unlikely neighbourhood interactions that unfold.

While I am admittedly more one for independent theatre where the audiences aren’t as large and innovation is borne out of the collision of mistakes, enthusiasm and risk taking, I must admit I was quite taken with the launch. As a result, I am seriously considering taking out an Under 30s membership and committing to seeing these great shows in 2014. The vibe of prestige, polish and the company’s desire to attract a youthful audience inspired me.

Beyond the mainstage plays, MTC’s Open Door program interested me particularly, encapsulating subcategories Neon (the festival of independent theatre), Cybec Electric play readings, Young Audience and more. I was impressed to see that MTC’s idea of a ‘youth audience’ not only captured those 20 something arty types (myself included) but also primary school audiences. How fantastic! I can directly connect my career aspirations today with youthful interactions with the theatre and my membership to the Queensland Theatre Company as a teenager.

The theme for next year is Illuminate and while the word can be evocative, I thought as an overarching theme it wasn’t particularly innovative. The plays look to be though and the launch really pulled out all the stops introducing to the stage the likes of Robyn Nevin, Rob Sitch and Tom Gleisner, Alex Dimitriades and Sigrid Thornton.

The Melbourne Theatre Company has a long and respected reputation and I think that this program is the best from them yet. For someone who would rather see a play in a hired venue at the Abbotsford Convent where staging and lighting is a bit amiss, I was sold on their eclectic mix of plays. There was also a social conscience to MTC’s approach next year (as I’m sure there has been in other years) expressed primarily through their vibrant education program.

As if saving the best to last, one of the plays that I can’t wait to see is, I’ll Eat you last by John Logan, telling the story of Hollywood agent Sue Mengers. This play stars British gem Miriam Margolyes and looks like it will deal with a lot of glitter, gold and fame and fortune.

There’s also plenty of schmaltz for the music lover with Tony Award-Winning play, Once and Pennsylvania Avenue. As if that wasn’t enough, Missy Higgins is composing the music for Cock. There is even something for the sports lover with Brendan Cowell’s The Sublime, which looks to be topical as well as comical.

MTC’s sense of fun this year, active interest in engaging a broader demographic and their commitment to a percentage of Australian and even intrinsically Melbourne stories impressed me. I just hope that my next visit to Hamer Hall is spectacular rather than slippery as I catch one of the last MTC performances for this year, Rupert.    

 

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