Tag: Paul Jackson

Malthouse Presents THE TESTAMENT OF MARY

Listening for a voice

By Bradley Storer

In the darkened corner of a modern apartment, a woman in blue is curled up weeping and clenching her fists. A stark blackout, and the same woman stands expressionless and walks into the kitchen to chop vegetables. With this bleak contrast of mourning and domesticity, The Testament of Mary begins to unfold the hidden story of the mother of God.

Testament of Mary.jpg

Colm Toibin’s script, adapted from his own novel of the same name, is certainly evocative, and the passages describing Mary following the trail of Jesus’ march to crucifixion, her vigil and eventual terrified flight from Golgotha are as heart-breaking as they are harrowing. While the aim of the play seems to be to break down our historical and religious pre-conceptions of Mary, in Testament she never emerges as enough of a fully-formed character to do this. In sections describing her situation years after the crucifixion, flashes of a full-blooded Mary emerges – in a poignant description of a chair left eternally empty waiting for its occupant to return, or in her bafflement in dealing with the outlandish declarations of her son’s former followers, we can see her humanity appearing. Once the play moves on to re-telling Jesus’ rise and subsequent downfall, however, Mary becomes a reactionary character with no agency to affect her own fate. She is simply shuffled around according to the actions and desires of other (mostly male) characters, whether it be her mysterious cousin Marcus or Jesus himself, but what Mary herself desires is very rarely evident.

Pamela Rabe works incredibly hard to form a character out of these materials, and the fact that Testament works at all as a dramatic piece can be credited entirely to her as a brilliant actor. The unrelenting darkness and bleakness of Toibin’s writing begins to feel almost monotone as the play goes on, which unfortunately the direction of Anne-Louise Sarks seems unable to combat. The contemporary apartment set by Marg Horwell and Paul Jackson – while maybe intended to divorce the story of its distant historical context – alas adds nothing to the overall meaning. Steve Toulmin’s compositions and sound design, while sometimes overused, add subtle poignancy and gravitas to several key moments.

The Testament of Mary is described as having the goal of ‘to examine how myths are made, and to question who has the power to tell them’ but never offers up a strong enough voice of its own or an alternative to accepted mythology. The key divergence from biblical text, that Jesus was not the son of God, doesn’t feel like enough of a dramatic twist to build the entire plot upon. For a play about the historical silencing of women and the narrative exclusion of the feminine viewpoint, The Testament of Mary feels oddly voiceless.

Dates: 3 – 26th November

Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Malthouse, 113 Sturt St, Southbank VIC

Times: Tuesday 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Matinee Saturday 3pm, Sunday 5:30pm.

Prices: $35 – $69

Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au , boxoffice@malthousetheatre.com.au , Ph: 03 9685 5111

Image by Zan Wimberley


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 BLAQUE SHOWGIRLS

Truly outstanding

By Caitlin McGrane

Nakkiah Lui’s searing portrait of white Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal people, Blaque Showgirls, is vital viewing for all white people. In this production, Lui does not shy away from intensely uncomfortable subjects, but her punchlines always hit their target.


The show opens as Sarah Jane (Bessie Holland) starts performing her signature dance, the Peking Emu on stage in Chithole, Queensland. Sarah Jane is a white-skinned ‘blaque’ girl who dreams of making it as a dancer at the famous Blaque Showgirls show in Brisvegas, just like her mother. With a voice that could shatter glass, and dance moves that would not be out of place in any reputable club in Melbourne, Sarah Jane is unceremoniously booed offstage. Sarah Jane makes the journey to Brisvegas to begin her journey to stardom, where she meets the amazing Chandon (Elaine Crombie), Kyle McLaughlan (Guy Simon), and Molly (Emi Canavan). Chandon and Kyle are the owners of Blaque Showgirls, the best and toughest show in town; Molly meanwhile is Sarah Jane’s Japanese sidekick who gets continually cut off when she’s talking. As Sarah Jane (aka Ginny) begins to work on her dancing with TruLove Interest (spelling: uncertain, Guy Simon) she starts to discover her true culture through the ‘Sacred, Sacred Really Sacred Dance’ (never-before-seen).

By the end of the performance my face hurt from laughing so much. Director Sarah Giles has worked magic with Lui’s exceptional script, and with it the duo has delivered something truly outstanding – the production perfectly skewers Australia’s bonkers and backwards attitudes to race and cultural appropriation, while Ginny continues to wreak havoc and destruction on the lives of those around her, her life continues to get better and better. Even finding out the truth about her past fills her with unconscionable optimism.

The production is completed with wonderful set and costume design from Eugyeene Teh, lighting design from Paul Jackson, composition & sound design from Jed Palmer, and movement direction from Ben Graetz. The team obviously have a tremendous passion for the subject matter, which left me deeply sympathetic to the tiny bumps in the production, which should be ironed out once the cast gets further into the show’s run.

There is so much more I wish I could say about Blaque Showgirls, but you should just go see it, especially if you’re white.

Blaque Showgirls is now on at the Malthouse until 4 December 2016. More information and tickets at: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/blaque-showgirls

Image by Pia Johnson