Twelve months to the day since the MTC last launched a mainstage production, the opening of Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes comes to Melbourne as highly anticipated as the COVID vaccine. Even the fog of glasses steamed by mask-redirected breath can’t obscure the excitement of sitting in a 75% full theatre and experiencing live performance once more. Even better when the production is one that explores an issue so uniquely as this one does.

Written by much awarded Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, this is a #metoo era production, that focuses on the power imbalance of a student/teacher relationship that becomes more than just scholarly in nature.

Novelist and university lecturer Jon (Dan Spielman) has just separated from his third wife and is wallowing in his bachelorhood when a girl in a charming red coat crosses his view. She’s Annie (Izabella Yena), an undergraduate in his creative writing class who has coincidentally found student digs right across the road from his home. After accidentally locking herself out of her apartment and getting scratched up attempting to climb in through a window he offers her first aid and the first step across the line towards an affair is made.

The story is narrated by Jon, and if you find people talking about themselves in the third person irritating, you might find yourself squirming until Spielman’s winning portrayal works its charms. Jon is confident about his professional talents and is bolstered by Annie’s subconscious flirtations, which could make him a repulsive character, but Director Petra Kalive ensures his swagger is seducing. Meanwhile Annie is naïvely magnetised to Jon’s orbit. The pair seem like they could be falling in love, but clearly their perspectives on the relationship are very different, despite the fact they both know what they’re doing is proscribed.

Kalive has done a superlative job of using body language to help paint the picture of what goes on between Jon and Annie. The subtext of Marg Horwell’s set design is unobvious without consultation of the programme and Darius Kedros’ compositions and sound design are predictable, but together with Rachel Burke’s lighting design the sum of the parts works well for conveying what is clearly a ‘small’ production in the larger Sumner Theatre space – another consequence of COVID.

It would be very easy to spoil this production by going too far into describing Moscovitch’s ingenious construction, so suffice to say there’s more to this story than meets the eye. At about 80 minutes in length, this economical production is perfectly paced to make its point and leave you with a satisfying conclusion and at least another 80 minutes of talking points to mull over afterwards. Attending this production with a mix of genders is recommended to get the best value out of that post-show conversation.

Images: Jeff Busby