The Malthouse Theatre launched its first season of 2009 last night, with some bagpipes and smoke, but overall less frill than I am normally accustomed to, fewer musical numbers, shorter speeches, all much more business and much more enjoyable than usual. Perhaps they just wanted to hurry up and present their baby? I would understand. For Season One 09 looks incredibly exciting. And not they-gave-us-free-booze exciting. No no. It must be one of the most interesting-looking launch seasons I've seen in a while, by any theatre in any country. I am taking precious time off my other three hundred thousand duties to rave about it.
The flagship show, the blockbuster opening the Merlyn in January, is Bűchner's Woyzeck, with an all-exciting cast of people like Hamish Michael and Bojana Novaković, and music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (performed by Tim Rogers, also in the cast; hm), after which the Merlyn will host Dance Massive, a tiny little (not massive) dance festival for those who live outside the dance ghetto. Obvious choices: Chunky's Mortal Engine and a mini-program of Rogue (who are, in a radical departure from the usual Melbourne dance business, fundamentally those same dancers that evenly spread themselves between Chunky and Guerin Inc.), but also Lawn, by Splintergroup, which looks great and comes with a raving recommendation by the polemicist. Finally, Tom Wright rewriting Voltaire's Candide into an Aussie battler, the whole called Optimism, to be all picket fence and lawn. But, unlike Kantor's previous, more suspiciously overwrought concoctions of high and low, this looks like a sound, smart idea, particularly apt for our times of market crashes in front of incredulous witnesses. And will be possibly the last instance of Anna Tregloan's design for the Malthouse, as she heads up to the S-city (in the only sad news of the evening). Weep, Melbourne. Weep.
Beckett opens with a new commission by Lally Katz (dubbed our theatre princess) and Chris Kohn, Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd, which explores the pre-war vaudeville scene in the city and will have people like Julia Zemiro on stage. Oh how beautiful to look at a dubious concept and feel you trust your people to shape it into something wonderful. Lally could write on dishwashing and it would make riveting theatre.
Next, Kafka's Monkey, a Young Vic production with Kathryn Hunter playing a monkey playing a man – getting to the Malthouse via Sydney and looking all scrumptious. Finally, a new Peter Houghton piece, “driven by wit, cynicism and tight-slapping humour”. Unlike anything Houghton has ever done.
The Tower, apart from the abovementioned Rogue, will host Adam Cass's I Love You, Bro, which opened and closed at Fringe 07 with clamour and confusion, as we briefly agitated, trying not to miss yet another recommended show in the Fringe mania that takes over in September, and subsequently failing. The Malthouse program-makers, to illustrate the difficulties of sifting through Fringe, saw I Love You, Bro in the UK. Although I'm not sure that the one independent production of 2007 that needs to be rescued from oblivion is this one precisely, I've heard a lot of good about it, and what sort of argument am I making here, really? A confused one of a person who goes to bed late, gets up early, and misses beginnings of conference networkings in order to write blogs.
Within the genre restrictions of medium-scale theatre programming, with all the concerns about long-term financial sustainability that running a viable institution of this kind entails, this looks like a very, very promising program. Perhaps even quite brave. Nothing, except the Houghton piece, strikes me as same old, same old. While things have been looking vaguely down for the local theatre, with Brett Sheehy looming on the horizon and everything being a little bit disappointing, all of a sudden I feel quite hopeful that the next year may be the best one yet. Or something like that anyway.