You've seen the press release, and now the shiny black brochures are freely flowing, but were YOU there when they raised the curtain on MTC's 2012 season? No? Well, this Michelle most certainly was.
Amidst the subdued hubbub that comes with a generally over 50s theatre going crowd, we inched our way through the State Theatre foyer, down the stairs and into our plush, red seats – Row L, mid left. Here we were at the launch of MTC’s 2012 program.
Absent was the famous red curtain from the State Theatre stage, and, in its place, a mammoth multimedia screen, silent with the promise of announcements to come. The ocean of white hair and over-sized butterfly clips murmured and tittered, adjusted their elegant scarves, and delved into worn leather handbags. The space was bursting with the excitement and warmth that only such a crowd can provide. With only a few lone seats left to fill, the majority of the theatre brimmed with young and not-so-young subscribers, all crowded together to hear what 2012 would bring.
From a simple lecturn, under a single spotlight, the night was introduced by Derek Young, Chairman of the MTC Board of Management, and then it was on to the good stuff, the show choices for 2012.
From the first to the twelfth show the crowd was enraptured. Along with the clamorous unwrapping of a multitude of Vicks VapoDrops® and Kool Mints® (of course at the most inappropriate of times) they laughed in all the right places and even oohed and aahed at each bright new slide on the big flashy screen.
What most stood out among the audience, however, was the abundance of avid note-takers during the presentation. What were these audience members writing? Were they scoring each show choice? Perhaps they were exchanging pie recipes mid-event? With no way of knowing for sure, one can only imagine that these pen-mad theatre enthusiasts were taking notes to later make subscription-based decisions upon. Intense.
With all their mad scribbling, one hopes they got some good stuff down. There were certainly a number of interesting pointers about the MTC program in 2012 for any level of theatre-goer.
Of particular note was that the new season’s programmers, Robyn Nevin, Pamela Rabe, and Aidan Fennessy, would be taking a strong artistic interaction with the program itself. Nevin will appear in two of the offerings, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and Queen Lear, while Rabe will take to the stage in His Girl Friday and direct Elling. Aidan Fennessey, being a playwright himself, will direct his own work National Interest as well as His Girl Friday.
As the night went on, there were certain things I found myself hoping that the above-mentioned note-takers were getting down. One, of course, being that Richard Bean's black comedy The Heretic, introduced to us as a play about divorce alongside the thematic material of climate change, stars one of Australia’s most famous divorcees, Noni Hazelhurst. Director Matt Scholten noted, “If you’re looking to divorce your partner, come see this play.”
However, the crowd’s most enthusiastic response was toward Johnathon Biggins’ Australia Day. Programmed for April-May, a good distance from the real Oz Day, the show was announced by Biggins himself. Biggins won the crowd over with a witty and humorous rundown of its essence, a stripping of the veneer of Australian civility. He concluded by saying it would “make you think about what it is to be Australian.”
There are also some pretty darn good girl-power offerings in the program for next year. Among them Queen Lear, a female-driven version of Shakespeare’s famous play. Director Rachel McDonald discussed that the approach will be to “pretend that it was written for a woman in the first place.” McDonald mentioned that the original play is about “stuff that transcends gender” and that in this approach the “adaptation feels quite natural.” With such a notable woman in Australian theatre as Nevin performing the title role it looks to be a powerful and thrilling piece of theatre.
Rabe introduced Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, informing us that she possessed “a soft spot in [her] heart for this play.” The piece poses strong questions about female power, and will have an all-female cast directed by Jenny Kemp. Of the show, Kemp noted it as an “amazing theatrical feast” that “translates very well, but needs a re-think for 2012 – which I intend to do.” Such comments stir any listener to sit up and pay attention.
Significant to note is the cyclical nature of the program. Summer of The Seventeenth Doll, set in Melbourne, is returning to its home audience for the start of the 2012 season. The play was premiered in Melbourne in 1955 and here it is again, 56 years later. Ending the season is a new play, Music, by Melbourne-born Barry Oakely. This is its world premiere, and, really, where better to open a show than in the country it was written? It is a mix of music and dialogue and, as Fennessy described so succinctly, will be “interspersed with classical music, by, you know, classical people.” Oh, how the crowd loved that one. Looking at these two bookends of the MTC 2012 season, we see that as one Melbourne play returns to its home city, another begins its journey here on our home soil.
Concluding the night, we were informed of new MTC sponsors (for which we clapped, and I am still unsure as to why) and their donations of pens for form-filling-out use (a most exciting announcement by any crowd member’s standards, and one that received further applause). But most exciting of all (more exciting than free pens and theatre seasons with heartwarming cyclical natures) was the phrase every audience member delights to hear; “free champagne in the foyer!” You should have seen how quickly those zealous note-takers dropped their pens and made for the plush, red doors.