Tag: Tom Wright

Malthouse Presents THE REAL AND IMAGINED HISTORY OF THE ELEPHANT MAN

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

AUSLAN INTERPRETED PERFORMANCE: 7.30pm, Thursday 24 August

Image by Zan Wimberley

REVIEW: PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK

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.

picnicahr

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