Tag: Matthew Lutton

Because The Night

Theatre redefined
By Owen James

Malthouse Theatre’s first major offering for 2021 is one of the most unique theatrical experiences I’ve had in my life. Because The Night is an immersive, gargantuan labyrinth of design that defies description, and will drop your jaw as you slowly realise its scale through your ninety-minute self-guided journey.

Writers Matthew Lutton, Kamarra Bell-Wykes, and Ra Chapman have used Hamlet as a springboard to create this abstract, intriguing world of Elsinore. The programme describes the world as “a collage of histories, politics, and dreams, woven into an alternate reality”, a concept fully realised in every inch of dozens upon dozens of macabre, dream-like spaces.  

As we enter the performance space, we are asked to don hooded cloaks and pointed masks – we become ghosts, there to observe the action and not disturb. I feel like I’m inside Eyes Wide Shut or The Da Vinci Code. We are encouraged to explore – open drawers, doors, books and boxes, and search every nook for a new secret to uncover. There’s forests, gymnasiums, mausoleums , hallways of archives and hermitage galore. More doors open as the clock ticks on, and the scope of this carnival baffles the mind. How does this endless estate fit inside the Malthouse?!

Six captivating performances from an ensemble in perfect harmony make for spinechilling, intense theatre – especially when oftentimes the performers are mere inches away. There’s no downtime, no offstage, and at least one audience ‘ghost’ is watching every moment – so you’d best believe these would-be Elsinore natives are thoroughly immersed in their deformed, depraved reality. The intimacy of the venue means beautifully minute, private moments can be comfortably observed, and often shared between just one performer and two or three audience members. I delighted in watching Ophelia (Artemis Ioannides) decipher scribbled diary entries alone in her bedroom, and stumbling across Polonius (Syd Brisbane) removing a revolver from its hidden hiding place.

I’ve seen other “immersive” pieces before – I recall ‘Mansion’ and ‘Mad World’ in 2019; but any expectations I had were shattered within five minutes. If “the devil is in the detail”, then Because The Night is hell itself. Every room in this impossible haven is a feast of design, and designers Dale Ferguson, Marg Horwell, Matilda Woodroofe, J. David Franzke, Amelia Lever-Davidson and Kat Chan deserve a standing ovation for dreaming up this place. You really have to see it to believe it. 

Fans of The Wicker Man, Twin Peaks, or New York’s Sleep No More MUST get to Elsinore; a beautiful, brazen defiance of our tentative, painfully lingering COVID-Normal world: https://www.malthousetheatre.com.au/


Famous tale powerfully retold

By Jessica Cornish

In a modern world where interesting things continue to be collected and people that are different are still being shunned by society, the heart-breaking historical tale of Joseph Merrick is bought to life in the 2017 season of The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man, currently showing at the Malthouse Theatre.

ElephantMan photo credit Zan Wimberley.jpg

Joseph is born different into an cold and industrial society that spits him out on to the cruel streets of nineteenth-century London. People flit in and out of his life, and ultimately he finds himself trapped as a patient at a hospital, entertaining aristocrats and posing as an educational tool for doctors. It is at once his saving grace and downfall, whereupon eventually he decides to return to the streets to live a life of a different nature.

Under the adroit direction of Matthew Lutton, the script as written by Tom Wright is heavy and bleak, but remains scattered with moments of comic relief that break through the darkness. The strong cast of five performers (including Paula Arundell, Julie Forsyth, Emma J Hawkins and Sophie Moss) are well-rehearsed and confident and easily draw you into this atmospheric world.

Leading man Daniel Monks gave an incredible performance, showing great strength and vulnerability as Joseph Merrick. The actor himself also did an extraordinary job in convincingly morphing into the physicality of this character across the entire night, including contorting his face for the duration of the performance.

The stage was remarkably bare and stark, with the muted and minimal set design of Marg Horwell, whereupon feelings of isolation, hopelessness and entrapment laid heavy upon the world of Mr Merrick. This was mirrored in the severe lighting design by Paul Jackson that relied heavily on silhouettes and harsh flood lights.  However, this enduring sterility was then complemented by a beautiful delicate soundscape designed and composed by Jethro Woodward that bought an element of tenderness in to the performance.

This was an inspiring reimagining of the famous real-life story, that shows the best and worst of humanity. It asks its audience to connect themselves to his world and to do what his peers struggled to accomplish: recognise the man that is Joseph Merrick, and allow him to simply be.

The Elephant Man will be showing at the Malthouse Theatre from 4-27 August 2017.

Bookings: Malthousetheatre.com.au

Tickets: Standard / $69, Senior / $64, Concession / $49 , Under 30s & Students / $35


Image by Zan Wimberley

Malthouse Theatre Presents AWAY

An Australian fever-dream

By Leeor Adar

The Sydney Theatre Company/Malthouse collaboration of Michael Gow’s modern classic Away opens with Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to stir the summer heat from the stage to warm this Melbourne audience in winter.


Matthew Lutton’s blaze through the Malthouse Theatre (and now as Artistic Director) has brought Melbourne audiences some extraordinary and outlandish theatre to feast upon in recent seasons. The announcement that Away would be on the banquet table for procuring no doubt left many theatregoers with a morbid curiosity. The matrimony between the rugged Australian summer depicted in Gow’s writing and director Lutton’s horror dream of dancing animal skulls somehow takes this classic to new contemporary heights. Yes, Dale Ferguson’s costume design keeps us well within the bounds of the 60s, but his set complies with the post-modern theatrics we’ve come to expect from the Malthouse under the gaze of Lutton. Lutton injects into Gow’s world a kind of dystopian synchronicity that plays out as the actors dance in formations together like glamourous zombies trying to forget their realities to Stephanie Lake’s choreography.

What we have depicted in Away is an Australia of then which is not that much different from the Australia of today. Everyone has high hopes for the Aussie dream, but even in the most comfortable homes the world outside will always rudely awaken us. What unites the families of Tom (Liam Nunan) and Meg (Naomi Rukavina), our high school would-be, could-be, not-be lovers, is the quiet sadness and acceptance of a life that was hard-won. The fear that something could steal the dream away lurks beneath the happy exteriors of (most) of Gow’s characters, and becomes a focal point of the play. That dream is already stolen from Roy (Glenn Hazeldine) and Coral (Natasha Herbert) through the loss of their son in the Vietnam War. Herbert’s Kim-Novak look-alike Coral continuously treads the line between reality and the past, slipping further and further away from the desperate grasp of her husband. Coral is not mad because Roy cannot control her; she is in such a deep state of grieving that the Aussie dream is well and truly lost for her. Herbert gives Coral a fluid naivety damaged by tragedy; her performance is one of the heart-breaking standout’s alongside Liam Nunan’s Tom.

Amongst the great pretenders are Vic (Julia Davis) and Harry (Wadih Dona) who manage to live in the moment as they watch their son Tom slip away from them due to his illness. We know the inevitability of grief will befall them, and they too may just stop smiling through their sadness and join Coral on her faraway shore.

In contrast we have the couple whose great tragedy is staying together, existing in a chronic state of unhappiness in which no holiday can salvage. Heather Mitchell’s Gwen is marvellously funny and annoying as her shrill voice drains her family of any moments of joy; a complacent husband Jim (Marco Chiappi) continues to accept his lot with a resigned shruggery. Their family is one blessed with health, but they are not untouched by the life of having lived as battlers-come-good. Gwen’s chronic state of stress is indicative of another kind of grief, one where a lifelong sacrifice for a future yet lived leaves traces of bitterness.

This is still a sensitive and poignant production by Lutton amidst the jarring devices of non-naturalism that threatens to break down the walls of their world. Audiences will be surprised from the outset of this play; if they are expecting a classic re-telling of Away they will be in for an awakening – but it really is a very good one.

Away will grace Melbourne audiences at the Malthouse Theatre until May 28th. Collect your tickets here: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/away?gclid=Cj0KEQjwoqvIBRD6ls6og8qB77YBEiQAcqqHe6-xVP730ooUfRIBdx6VZ67CrJxYFl3Ytuu3-bHvzQcaAulB8P8HAQ

Anthony Weigh’s EDWARD II

Tender chaos

By Leeor Adar

For all the chaos of Christopher Marlowe’s brief life, I’m sure he would have sat in the Merlyn Theatre last night with a wicked smile on his face to see the tender chaos Matthew Lutton and his team resurrected.

Edward II.jpg

But let’s be honest, with Anthony Weigh’s writing and Marg Horwell’s impressive set design, this work is a beast of its own glory.

The play is broken into the fragments of the artefacts the boy prince (Julian Mineo/Nicholas Ross) inspects from his father’s reign. The noble handle of a sword and handkerchief descends to a bag of faeces left at the palace gates. The frames of the scenes marked by the flint and steel of the lighter, signify the brief candle of these moments leading towards Edward II’s fall.

Edward II is a museum to the hypocrisy of the people’s love for their monarch. It’s a cold world, but despite the blood and pulp of the people within it, at the core of this rotten apple of yet another kingdom, is the most tender love story between two men I have ever witnessed on stage. Johnny Carr (Ned) and Paul Ashcroft (Piers) capture the heady, shaking, vulnerability of the impossible-to-bottle kind of love. Their energy was marvellous on stage.

Ned’s brutality and unpredictability at first drove this production, but even the bubbling inner-workings of an unstable prince could not quash the ambitions of the likes of Mortimer, played with mastery by Marco Chiappi. When Chiappi got going on Weigh’s words, it became Mortimer I. For all the sweat and passion of Carr and Ashcroft, Chiappi’s delivery drew the masses into the palm of his hand – audience and peasant alike. Even as Mortimer lulled a sensually delusional Ned towards death, we could not help but accept the sensibility of this decision. Because tomorrow, we will have another king.

The woman’s role in Edward II is to nurture the next king, but Sib (Belinda McClory) laments the loss of her potential in this world. Although Sib plays the role of the queen-to-be, there is ambition pulsing through her sinewy body for a surge of control. McClory’s voice is hollow and powerful as she pushes her lover aside and walks with purpose across the stage. But at the close of this play, she’s exhausted, calling out, unanswered, into the kingdom she birthed but could not rein.

The Malthouse Theatre has always been the Marlowe-esque bad boy of the Melbourne theatre world, challenging the dimensions of theatre and immersing its audiences in treacherous and thought-provoking terrain. This one such terrain was bold, decadent and ultimately heartbreaking.

Malthouse Theatre until August 21



An impressive experiment with palpable discomfort

by Rachel Holkner

This new adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s classic Australian novel, written by Tom Wright and directed by Matthew Lutton, is a stylish exploration of the themes of time, space, alternate dimensions, past, present and future. And hanging over it all, an ancient volcanic rock and the intolerable heat of an Australian summer.


The play requires some familiarity with the story whether from the novel or the 1975 film by Peter Weir. With a small cast it is necessary to recognise quickly the various characters and their place in the story, as the performers often leap from one to another without overt costume changes. Surtitles present chapter headings throughout, granting the original 1967 text an unnecessary supernatural presence. It remains unclear whether the production intends to seat the audience inside the novel as it suffers a sort of intrusion of the present, or develop an entirely new interpretation of the ‘disappearing girls’ story.

An extended opening in the style of a school reading, grounds the work. Re-admittance to the theatre is not permitted after this sequence as the entire room is plunged frequently and suddenly into complete darkness. It is this darkness that carries the emotional burden, as the audience slowly learn to fear what it may bring. This is not a performance suitable for children or those of nervous disposition!

Just five actors take on over a dozen roles in a commanding fashion. While each has a part they default to, they switch with ease into alternate characters, sharing the burden of story-telling evenly. Of note are Amber McMahon as the visiting English gentleman Michael, and Arielle Gray as the unloved outsider Sara. The character of Sara was particularly well conceived, her body distortions and hurried whispers reflecting her state of mind and lack of autonomy. Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Elizabeth Nabben and Nikki Shields round out the cast with assuredness.

The sound design by J. David Franzke and composer Ash Gibson Greig ranges as wildly as the natural environment it is attempting to evoke. As tensions rise sound effects evolve from precise recreations of the bush to a barrage of noise. Discomfort became palpable as the audience grasped at any moment in the dialogue which might relieve the tension.

The play’s weakness is that it tries to encompass too many themes at the same time. The final act is muddled, the costume choices and staging do not carry enough conviction as all the ideas of nature, time, legacy and even gender are attempted to be resolved in the final few minutes. The successful use of light, shadow, sound and minimalist staging earlier on have been forgotten in a flat-lit confusion of props.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is an impressive experiment in bringing the colonial inferiority and fear of the environment of the late 19thC into the beginning of the 21st under the heavy volcanic overhang of millions of years.


Venue: Malthouse Theatre

Season: 26 Feb – 20 March

Tickets: $35-$65

Bookings: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/picnic-at-hanging-rock

REVIEW: Declan Greene’s I AM A MIRACLE

Grim tales woven together with heavenly music and powerful imagery

By Margaret Wieringa

Chairs are strewn across a bare stage, and a few other items, hard to distinguish, lie in piles. Three actors in the orange jumpsuits recognisable as those worn by people incarcerated in US prisons are in place around the stage. As the lights come down, one begins to address a prisoner on death row who has only a few minutes to live, while the others whisper, possibly prayers. Thus begins the intense journey of I Am A Miracle.

I Am A Miracle

The title comes from the last words of Marvin Lee Wilson, a man with an extremely low IQ who was executed in 2012. Such a low IQ should have prevented his death, but did not. Declan Greene wrote this play for Marvin, to document various miscarriages of justice. There is the story of a young Dutch solider in Africa in the eighteenth century, sent on a mission through the jungle to quell a slave uprising, and that of a man in Melbourne entrapped by his carer.

This is a hard production to watch; the Malthouse publicity has the message that this is “not for the timid”. The story of the Dutch soldier has images that are hard to forget, and while the boy is seventeen, Melita Jurisic brings an innocence and purity to the character that makes him seem so much younger, so much easier to be broken. Later, she plays the carer (and possibly partner?) of Bert LaBonté‘s character, and while this woman seems to have the emotional control, he is clearly physically able to overpower her. It is the music, notably the beautiful singing of Hana Lee Crisp, that ultimately brings the pieces of the play together. Crisp drifts through the performance, or stands aside, like some kind of angel.

At times, the combination of the soundscape and music and lighting are overwhelming, as though director Matthew Lutton is deliberately creating a religious experience. Indeed, the powerful climax is the world being reborn, blinding the audience with light and deafening with sound. While I must admit that I did not understand everything that happened, it was a theatrical event that I am very glad I experienced.

Where: Malthouse Theatre, Sturt St Southbank
When: July 18 – Aug 9.
Tickets: $30-$60
Box Office: www.malthousetheatre.com.au
WARNING: Contains dynamic sound, strobe lighting and some adult language.