I have been in spillover for weeks now. That means: at the end of every day, a little bit of unfinished work spills over into the morning. The accumulating backlog, or just ballast of duties, is, with the end of semester edging closer, just about to become unmanageable. I am toiling on three intellectual (but unrelated) fronts – my research job, my degree, and my writing, theatre or otherwise – and I can recognise the feeling of brain in deep fryer that always precedes mental burnouts.
Four shows are currently playing in Melbourne, two I have already seen, and two I will soon. All deserve to be treated with much more dedication than I can currently give them. Hoy Polloy – whom I had a skirmish with, this time last year, over theatre and naturalism – are currently doing a Franz Xaver Kroetz play, Mensch Meier, a moment of 1970s German ubernaturalism; while, across the river, Simon Stone of Hayloft Project directs Phillip Ridley’s Leaves of Glass for Red Stitch. Leaves of Glass looks like another contemporary British post-realist drama about family, memory and dark secrets, and is Ridley’s second outing in Melbourne after the acclaimed Mercury Fur in 2007 (with Luke Mullins, Russ Pirie and Aaron Orzech, who has since gone on to do great things). It’s also Stone’s second gig for Red Stitch, after the similarly acclaimed pool, no water by Mark Ravenhill this-time-last-year (which I missed). Uh, a lot of name-dropping. I haven’t seen either of the two, and can only recommend them on the basis of my own interest.
However, the other two plays I recommend wholeheartedly on the basis of having seen them. They both finish this weekend, and are worth catching. At Trades Hall, IGNITE are doing A Dream Play, Strindberg’s 1901 proto-surrealist play, in a new, terse version by Caryl Churchill; across the river (note the perfect symmetry of this text), Paul Terrell directs Fernando Arrabal’s Garden of Delights, a 1968 work of ripe surrealism. I am seriously torn over the right phrasing: both are flawed works, but exciting in the way in which a staging of an unearthed and unforgotten (de-forgotten) classic is exciting. IGNITE’s Strindberg, despite the stellar cast (which reads like a who-is-who of Melbourne’s independent theatre) and Olivia Allen’s intelligent direction, seems somehow nervous and underdone when one would expect a certain deftness of touch (both because of the age of the play and the reputations of the artists involved). Describing the play, Strindberg wrote: anything is possible and probable. It is disappointing that rather early on the visual, narrative and emotional possibilities and probabilities of the production are clearly marked. Terrell’s Arrabal, on the other hand, would benefit immensely from being exactly half the length (or double the pace), without losing a single bit of stage business. Arrabal’s oneiric fantasia of repressed childhood and distorted feminine sexuality proceeds at a Jodorowskian pace that gives an air of datedness to the production, which it doesn’t require. However, both are works of theatre on very strong foundations, marrying exquisite text with visual richness in a way rarely even attempted by either physical or textual theatre these days.
I am convinced that the way forward for Melbourne theatre is through surrealism – while I’m not sure it is in historical revivals, it is certainly on the other side. My problem with both productions stems from the geohistorical moment, the meaning of surrealism in a society without oppressive structures. But it’s a frivolous argument, one I don’t have the stamina to develop this week. Until I have thought my way through this conundrum, found out exactly what’s nagging me, for which I do need to brush up on my Freud, I suspect I should say only that these productions should definitely be seen.
A Dream Play. By August Strindberg, in a new version by Caryl Churchill. Direction Olivia Allen. Cast: Gary Abrahams, Meredith Penman, Mark Tregonning , Michael Finney , Heath Miller , Kate Gregory, Nicholas Dubberley, Hannah Norris, Karen Roberts. Sound Design by Russel Goldsmith. Lighting Design by Angela Cole. Set and Costume Design by Kat Chan, and Eugyeene Teh. New Ballroom, Trades Hall, Carlton South, until May 5-17.
Garden of Delights. By Ferando Arrabal. Adapted & Directed by: Paul Terrell. Produced by: Nic Halliwell. Set Designed by: Yunuen Perez. Lighting Designed by: Katie Sfetkidis. Sound Designed by: Keith McDougall. Costume Designed by: Chloe Greaves. Stage Managed by: Amelia Jackson. And Featuring: Jono Burns, Austin Castiglione, Marita Fox and Julia Harari. Theatreworks, Apr 30 – May 16.
Tom Fool / Mensch Meier. By Franz Xaver Kroetz, translated by Estella Schmid and Anthony Vivis, directed by Beng Oh. Design by Chris Molyneux, lighting design by Ben Morris, sound design by Tim Bright. With Chris Bunworth, Liz McColl and Glenn van Oosterom. Hoy Polloy, Brunswick Mechanics Institute until May 23.
Leaves of Glass. By Philip Ridley, directed by Simon Stone. Design by Peter Mumford, lighting design by Kimberley Kaw. With Dan Frederiksen, Johnny Carr, Jillian Murray and Amelia Best. Red Stitch, until May 30.