By Lourdes Zamanillo
After a year marked by the absence of live entertainment, Melbourne Writer’s Theatre brings the MC Showroom’s stage back to life with its Season 2020. The Season is presented as a double bill (The Metropolis Monologues followed by The City Park Plays) that features 12 actors, 3 directors and 11 scripts.
In alignment with Melbourne Writers Theatre’s vision to develop Australian plays and playwrights, the Season showcases new work written by Melbourne-based playwrights. It’s always good to see talented actors bring new writing to life. It’s nice to hear new voices and refreshing to bear witness to new ideas. However, as with anything of this nature, it doesn’t come without its risks – while some stories are pleasantly satisfying, others fall out of memory quite easily as they fail to challenge. In short, there’s good, bad, and everything in between, but with 11 stories showcased, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
The Metropolis Monologues features the work of six Melbourne-based playwrights that tell stories of loss, grief, and courage. The show opens with ‘The Forgotten Return’, a monologue set in outer space, where a woman that has landed on a foreign planet negotiates the loss of a dear one. ‘In ‘The Wave’, a man recounts his experience after surviving a tsunami while others did not. ‘The Ministry of Cicadas’ introduces us to a draconian world of bureaucracy within a dystopian Melbourne’s Department of Complaints, where typewriters hard at work are the closest resemblance to what used to be the peaceful sound of cicadas. ‘Just Go With The Flow’ is a nice comic relief to the first three monologues. In it, a drama teacher recounts her first day facing a classroom of teenagers and how, through empathy, she emerges victorious. By exploring the question ‘what is a man?’, ‘This Devil Shop’ presents a story of guilt as a Russian man recounts how his work killed Yuri Gagarin. And finally, ‘24K Magic Ringing’ wraps up The Metropolis Monologues with the story of a 16-year-old foster girl that negotiates finding her long-awaited freedom with the need to let go of the desire of finding love at home.
The City Park Plays are a nice contrast to The Metropolis Monologues in their overarching comedic tone. All of them 2-3 handers, they remind us what we’ve been missing – the dynamic of conversation and of seeing more than one person interacting live on a stage. Bound together by the theme of a park (in many cases, Flagstaff gardens), the plays are fast-paced and funny. ‘Sapling’ follows two gardeners in a dystopian future as they prepare to plant a tree in Flagstaff gardens (a ground-breaking event). ‘Elysium’ tells the story of a couple that lost their child and how the past can entice us in its luring nostalgia. Slightly reminiscing of ‘The IT Crowd’, ‘Another Day At The Office’ explores the absurd as a man sets up an office at the park, intriguing a woman that is running by and sucking her into a ludicrous situation. ‘Under A Rock’ highlights the power of random encounters as two strangers strike up conversation in a park, causing a life-changing transformation in the life of one of them. Finally, ‘Out Of This World’ follows two researchers as they eagerly await a paranormal event to happen – half hopeful, half cynical and very, very scared.
Overall, the acting across all pieces is great. Marli van der Bijl, Emma Choy and Amir Rahimzadeh have stellar performances across several pieces and their experience shines through in their roles. Alec Gilbert is an excellent casting choice for ‘This Devil Ship’ as is Annie Morris.
The set design is simple yet effective, reminding us that we don’t need much to be transported into another world – a few chairs, a desk here and there, and simple attires that match the characters do the trick. In terms of sound and light, using a projector with moving images works well for transitions. ‘The Forgotten Return’ and ‘The Wave’ feed nicely into each other by using a ‘wave’ as a transition from one story to the next; a common element in both monologues. The use of ambience sound in The City Park Plays is highly effective to set the scene (be it in a dystopian future full of rumbling roadworks or a peaceful park). However, it becomes a bit much in ‘24K Magic Ringing’, where the teenager’s popular pop song ringtones suck you out of the story with their loud lyrics.
Overall, Melbourne Writers Theatre did a great job at putting these stories together in a challenging context like 2020. A short lead time and restrictions around venue capacity must not have been easy to handle, and yet, Season 2020 comes together well. If you’re interested in looking at new, local work, it’s well worth watching.
Dates: 17th – 22nd December, 2020
Level 1, 48 Clifton St, PRAHRAN, VIC 3181
6.30pm – 7.30pm The Metropolis Monologues
7.30pm – 8pm Intermission
8pm – 9.15pm The City Park Plays
Book tickets now: https://www.trybooking.com/events/landing?eid=685693
Images: John A. Edwards