MKA – The Playwright and The Economist

I shall only touch briefly on the controversy surrounding MKA’s The Economist because some journalism, especially from Melbourne’s Herald Sun, is sensationalist and lacks the depth to persist. With taglines of ‘Norwegian Mass Killer No Madder than John Howard‘ and accounts of a Melbourne theatre’s ‘stage shocker… offering pity to a Norwegian mass murderer‘ (courtesy of Channel 10 news,) the scoops that attack playwright Tobias Manderson-Galvin seemed half baked and eventually quitened down so that by opening night a little over a week later, the outraged public had died down and audience mingled casually outside on the astroturfed basketball court eager to see the play, any memory of John Howard diminished.

The Economist. Image courtesy of MKA

Based on Anders Breivik, that Norwegian who killed 92 people this July, Maderson-Galvin created, from extensive source material, the fictional character, Andrew Berwick, played by newly blonded Zoey Dawson, and recounts a series of perturbing events leading up to the day of the massacre. Not always serious and broken up by a scattering of humor, the ensemble clammer over one another as a well oiled machine to present characters and scenes that float around his mind to torment and fuel his final decree: A spine tingling climax. Manderson-Galvin’s scintilating writing, directed by talented Van Badham (also dramaturge,) comes together to present an engaging work of theatre that is bold and unique.

The low-fi-ness of this production is probably key to MKA productions, where the focus is on the writing. Ordinarily, design enhances the story and guide the audience. Here, the audience are left to build the scenes in their minds and are thus constantly engaged, though regrettably, a couple of key moments are overshadowed by lack of clarity and confusion.

Nonetheless, the designers contribute cleverly.

David Samuel’s set prescribes the distressed room of Andrew Berwick, amongst other settings, with walls marked by charged foreshadowing red X’s. Within that, the actors slide from scene to scene effortlessly using readily available props to dress the scene to light (lighting designer Julia Knibbs) and create a pertinent and effective soundscape (sound designer Nick McCorriston.) Resourceful items like a collapsible umbrella mimics a gun being reloaded. Wall ornaments held by the actors are befitting and while amusing, they also enforce the creepiness of the environment with the suggestion of ominous voyeurs.

Chloe Greaves costumes the actors with uneasy cultish uniforms that resonate brilliantly with the syncopated rhythms of the piece. The emergency-red ‘lacoste’ sweaters, paired with 90’s cut middle aged beige pants with a Scandinavian sensibility, multiplied by six, plunges us in this world immediately.

The Economist is well worth seeing and doesn’t lessen your respect for former political leaders. It will be playing until the 10th of December.


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17 Responses to MKA – The Playwright and The Economist

  1. Jack says:

    I think you mistook the word ‘engaging’ for ‘insulting’. The downfall of the lo-fi production was that the emphasis was placed on the writing, which was undercooked, hodgepodge, and (with the exception of two images), completely devoid of imagination from the author.

    As an artist it insults me that this is the standard of work being presented as ‘new theatre’. I agree that the media sensationalised ‘The Economist’, and that that is perhaps the only sensational thing about the play.

    My vehement response to the work is fuelled by Manderson-Galvin’s insufficient writing skills. His two-dimensional realisation of the protagonist…whose name alludes me only because I would rather have a labotomy than recall the insignificant character…had potential to be interesting, but was utterly trivial. The scenes leading up to the massacre were predictable-world of warcraft, bomb making, and male domination. And if the acting was perhaps two-dimensional, I would argue that it is because the playwright has given them little foundation.

    However, the ensemble snapshots, costume design, and simplistic set design did keep the audiences engaged at some small level.

    In my opinion, neither the concept, or the characters which make this work ‘controversial’. ‘The Economist’ is no more than an unsophisticated text masquerading as art. This is particularly distressing because of its connection to real-life events, which seem to come second to Tobias’ exhibitionist need to parade himself as a playwright.

    • Eugyeene says:

      Hi Jack

      I assumed that the audience was unanimous in thinking that it was a good night out. Perhaps a bit negligent of me. And you’ve definitely provided some food for thought here.
      I still think Manderson-Galvin’s work is brave, though admittedly the exhibitionism may very well come closely associated with it. I don’t know him well so I can’t comment.
      MKA, Theatre of New Writing, provides a forum for new writing, and, as artists, I’m pretty certain we can agree that the opportunity to produce or ‘out’ a play is invaluable. MTC has its Cybec Readings and independent theatre companies everywhere take risks with their valuable and precious resources- time, and money- and with that they are entitled to it. I think this company comes with the assumed disclaimer that their work could be ‘even a little wrong’ and any work that we see has to be enjoyed within its context. Yes, the work could do with some development, and I would be interested to see what comes of it. I hope I’m not coming across as condescending to you or to the company, I’m just reiterating.
      As the audience, I think one can almost always find poorly resolved aspects in a production. For me, The Economist, is not polished but the pros certainly outweigh the cons and I certainly enjoyed it more than, say, MTC’s Return to Earth, which has glimmering resources and years behind it. I understand that the writing may not have ticked your boxes – and others’ boxes, I imagine – but I was quite satisfied with it. If they wanted to please everyone, maybe they would have a subscriber base and have lovely financial backing. But alas, I think they’re not wedded to that idea and will continue along, taking risks with that bothersome yet charming childlike abandon.

    • Kerith says:

      Hi Jack.

      I think you have made some unfair and very personal remarks eg. “Tobias’ exhibitionist need to parade himself”. I found your review to be mean-spirited. I am sorry that you did not like the play, as many have said it is not for everyone. That’s kind of the amazing thing about all types of art isn’t it? That it can create such polarised opinions!

      But if you don’t like Tobi?…well, there’s no need to write a review on that.

      My review on Tobias Manderson-Galvin as a human being? 5 stars.

      Lots of love and kind words,

  2. Van Badham says:

    Dear Jack,

    Thank you for your honest commentary describing your reactions to the play. I’m very curious as to what in Tobias’ writing has provoked such a vehement response from you. It is one thing to approach the work as an object of an aesthetic that you do not share, but to declare yourself “(insulted) as an artist” by the standard of the work provokes my curiosity in no small amount. As the dramaturg on the script, as well as the director, I can authoritatively state that the script was a very considered object of dedicated craft; what drew me to it personally was Tobias’ careful use of humour, adapted verbatim and lyricism within its overriding post-structural agitprop aesthetic. Three-dimensionality has never been a prerequisite of dramatic characterisation (or we lose all of Brecht and just about everything before Zola), and certainly the stylistics of The Economist at no point pretend to the realism or naturalism that may require it. Bear in mind, also, that the piece is a work that has evolved around the talents, creativity and insights of the broader artistic team – not least the performers, who contributed so much in the adaptation of the literary text into a dramatic one. No-one is saying that you have to like it, and certainly your evaluation of whether the devices succeed is the prerogative of your own subjectivity, but to decry its entitlement to be considered “new theatre” appears to, ahem, border on the personal. I am happy to continue this conversation as I am both curious and unemotional to know your thoughts.

  3. Jill says:


    *Remember to use the space bar:

    “The scenes leading up to the massacre were predictable-world of warcraft, bomb making, and male domination.”

    *Assess sentence structure:

    “In my opinion, neither the concept, or the characters which make this work ‘controversial’.”

    Tobias’ writing may offend you, but yours offends me…and I haven’t even started on the content (nor will I bother to).

  4. Balthazar says:

    Re: Jack’s review

    It was good of the Herald Sun to cover the show before it opened, but I never thought that they would send one of their reviewers to actually see it!

  5. len says:

    Extraordinary review reads like an overreaction to me, suggesting something else at play other than the text and its realisation on stage. Congratulations Van, Tobias and cast.

  6. Theatreguy says:

    **This is not a review**

    Sorry to be blunt, but after the amount of hype attributed to MKA recently in the Melbourne theatre scene, i was really expecting to be blown away by what was, in my opinion, a piece of shit.

    **remember, this is not a review**

    We’ve all been there to be honest. Standing around during the last week of production only to realise

    “UH! Oh no. I’m in a piece of shit show. Bugger”

    Don’t take this personally as these things are rarely the sum of their parts and just the nature of putting together multifaceted art forms. It’s not anyones fault. But “The Economist” was a piece of shit. There are many shows that do not appear on my CV for this very reason. Great actors, great script, great director, creatives etc. Still a piece of shit.

    Suck it up MKA and move on.

    Remember, you are only as good as the last thing you did. Better luck next time.

    • Eugyeene says:

      I would have been glad to see how this ‘discussion’ plays out on its own, but at the risk of sounding matronly, I feel I should offer a mediating hand.

      We all love the polar reactions that make good theatre good theatre. I’d be keen to find out your qualms about the show, and especially for you to define ‘piece of shit,’ so that these jaunty pro-economistists can respond critically.

      I must say, though, that I would gladly include this show in my CV.

      Yes, syntax poorly exectued sometimes, though let’s not be nitpicky. Nonetheless, I get the irony about poor writing.

      Hear, hear.
      Also; Congratulations.

    • BleedingMan says:

      Theatre guy:

      “Your opinion” it is. And whether anyone would call healthy discussion and some positive (and some negative) reviews “hype” is questionable.

      What I’d say is, MKA is presenting as much new Australian writing as it can, at as high a level of skill it can with what little resources it has. This isn’t to make any kind of excuse – from the work I’ve seen this year, this has been an honourable and succesful pusruit, and can be counted amongst the best indie theatre in Melbourne. JATO: good example. Maybe if you’d seen a slightly larger variety of their impressively large, high calibre output this year it would put this work into context? That said, I think The Economist does stand on it’s own two feet.

      But the fact is, the response – from both friends and critics – has been largely supportive and favorable. Perhaps they can see past the lack of revolving stage and smoke machines and see the layers of hard work that have (i assure you) gone into the production.

      My qualm here is that you make very large assumptions about the feelings of the creatives themselves towards the work. You’re right, what you’ve written isn’t a review – a review has to be intelligent, and well founded with examples. Even a negative review should be constructive in the bigger picture. So we’ll call it a troll. We’ve heard what Mr Jack had to say about the piece, so, unless you are just the same person under a different name – I suggest you deconstruct you non-review-childish-slander-troll in a little more detail. Now.

      And if you want to criticize the work, do it from outside, not as though you had anything to do with it. Because obviously some of us did, and the only really “insulting” thing on this page is some f****ng wiseguy like you who assumes to know the feelings of the artists towards their own work.

      Perhaps you’ve never been part of something you’ve felt ownership of, despite not being at the helm. Sorry to hear that for you. Please feel free to send your CV, with or without embarrassing omittances, to my email provided.

      Jack (if you’re a different person): what do you mean the emphasis was placed on the writing? Do you mean that it was a play and therefore had lots of words and that this common formula was it’s downfall? You say that like it’s unusual for text to be at the centre of a play. I understand that you dont like the words in question but you can’t really blame the team for making those words the central focus…

      And no, it isn’t the concept or characters which make the work “controversial”. I think really the only controversial thing is the timing of it in relation to the event in Norway. But to focus on that is to miss the point.

      And yeah, what Ms Badham said about Brecht, etc. DUH

  7. Kiloran says:


    Somewhat ludicrous to presume all involved in the production share what you have stressed is your opinion that the show was “a piece of shit”. Everyone I know who is involved the production (which is about 90% of the cast and crew) is INCREDIBLY proud to be. Clearly you have difficulty discerning between your own opinion and the opinion of others.

  8. Theatreguy says:

    “Perhaps you’ve never been part of something you’ve felt ownership of, despite not being at the helm”.

    I’ve felt ownership over everything i’ve ever worked on. It’s a personal process and it’s not easy to step back and see things the way an outsider might see them. But i’d be doing a disservice to the public to constantly defend a piece of shit. I’d acknowledge it as a piece of shit, and own the piece of shit. But i would never try to justify a piece of shit as a lump of gold. I’d endeavor to work out where we went wrong and try to do better next time. It’s hard i know, but please just own your piece of shit and move on. Please don’t cry because someone didn’t like it and then felt a need to express an opinion.

    “the only really “insulting” thing on this page is some f****ng wiseguy like you who assumes to know the feelings of the artists towards their own work”

    I can guarantee that regardless of whether anyone in the cast/crew said as much, a few of them have thought it. GUARANTEED.

    Sorry but watching you all defend this awful show is making me really sad for you.

    • BleedingMan says:


      My initial response was a little personal and OTT, I realise that. But in response to your last comment:

      You take ownership of your work, fine, but you are still wrong in assuming that the company, despite the one or two people you seem to know, think the show is a piece of shit. So it’s not really you expressing your opinion if you’re advising the artists to “acknowledge it as a piece of shit and own the piece of shit” when they don’t actually see it this way. By saying this you are not expressing an opinion. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I think its totally fine if you didnt like the work, even if you say its a piece of shit (as useless as that is on its own) but your “don’t worry kids, better luck next time, we’ve all been there, suck it up” schtick is so very beyond patronizing, and bound to rile people up.

      This discussion wouldn’t be “sad” if it were taking place in real life, it would be normal. And probably none of us would be as smarmy. but as it happens this is where you posted, so you have to count yourself amongst the sadsacks for entering the forum in the first place. Right?

    • Eugyeene says:

      Now, now, Theatreguy. Your allegations are infuriating my readers mostly because of your generous lashings of the unfounded ‘piece of shit’ comments. Please critique thoughtfully. I’m interested in hearing what both parties have to say, but if it’s not going to go beyond ‘peice of shit,’ or other morsel-types that reference back to it, then I will have to remove these posts.
      Also, you might want to read some
      feedback about acceptable commenting.

  9. Van Badham says:


    As the director and dramaturg of the piece, there’s not much I can do with “piece of shit” as a criticism. Some kind of formal feedback, about *any* of the technical aspects of the show – from the writing to the performances, my direction or the design – would be something that could contribute to the creative development of everyone involved in the production. It may be that we have aesthetic differences, as I said above to Jack, at which point, alas, taste is taste and we are at an impasse – but if you have constructive technical feedback, you can be assured that we will take your recommendations to heart.

    As for the commitment of the creative team to the work, we have just made a unanimous decision to extend the season for a week. What you infer from this is, of course, subjective to your own experience.

    I must say that I find it curious that both you and Jack are so ardent in your opinions and yet not forthcoming with your names. If your opinions are so heartfelt, your names are a great validation of your claim to authority.

    Finally, I am concerned that you have appeared in so many shows that you are not confident to list on your CV. Perhaps a discussion with your agent is imperative?

  10. Kerith says:


    Swearing hurts my eyes 🙁

    Lots of love and kind words,


  11. ChrisT says:

    You’re too kind to the trolls…

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