On a personal level, 2011, or two-thousand-and-the-raven, was torrential. It seems like someone with a mischevous eye and a wicked sense of humour has been leering at me from the start to the finish, when I will be ushering in the New Year while tending to my dad at the hospital. Painful? Yes. Life lessons learnt? Plenty. Thank you very much Herr Nietzsche, and to a certain extent, with some degree of annoyance, Craig, globalist, humanist and laissez-faire afficionado who reprimanded me frequently for dwelling on things. At times I remind myself of that red gun-toting Hermes Kelly bag in Merchant Ivory’s last film, Le Divorce, flung from the Eiffel Tower and buoyantly drifting over the Parisian rooftops after a series of horrid events while Isabel, the film’s youthful American protagonist realizes she should heed the simple French advice to ‘prendre la vie comme elle vient,’ or, take life as she comes.
And so I do, just as I float from one show to the next, one dramatic episode after the other.
This year began quite slowly with new Malthouse artistic director Marion Potts and Jo Porter, executive producer, offering us the much touted yet underwhelming ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, followed by MTC’s shall-we-attend-and-leave-at-interval Don Parties On. Then there was Baal, that much talked-about Hayloft show where a certain friend, in an awkward conversation, famously said ‘I heard there was going to be lots of testiclés. That’s why I wore my glasses.’ Tap tap (on the rim of the frames.) Blank look. Dance Massive, as its name suggests, was a massive two weeks abound with all sorts of beauteous contemporary feats of the body including Gideon Obarzanek’s bow-out-of-Chunky-Move one-man piece, Faker, our favourite hirsuit dancer Luke George’s very cute, sparse and intimate Now Now Now, and Helen Herbertson’s impossible-to-get-tickets-for Sunstruck.
In the middle of the year, designers all over extricated themselves from their local scene to attend the Prague Quadrennial, the international Scenography Convention (and then travel around Europe, as you do.) As you may expect, there might have been a shortage of designers, though that wasn’t so much the case, as they have this curious ability to be omnipresent even if they’re all physically strewn diagonally across the hemisphere. My friend Adena Jacobs travelled all around the world under the Harold Mitchell Fellowship to see theatre, and though our itineraries did not intercept, I hung out with countless other theatrefolk who travelled in those parts at that time so much so that it seemed we were displaced as easily as one would remount a show. A couple of noteworthy viewings for me: Robert Wilson’s Katya Kabanova at the Prague National Theatre for mere tuppence (the price of a cup of coffee, albeit nosebleed seats,) where stylized imagery was executed with precision and perfection, right down to their doll-silhouette fingertips. Also a treat was watching Rusalka, the Czech opera by Dvorak, and the orignal The Little Mermaid as it was meant to be produced, at the Prague State Opera, thoroughly more magical than Opera Australia’s version in 2007 with a set that left me cold and disapproving. Note to designers; you don’t reinterpret a lush fairytale with a white, minimal architectural design. (Green Room, what were you thinking?!) Tsk tsk.
Upon my return to Melbourne, 2011 part 2 seemed to rear its lazy hind legs and gallop in full force to the finish line. Independent production company Magnormos regaled us with song with the popular The Flower Children: The Mamas and Papas Story and the cheerful A Jerry Herman Triptych.
Back at the Malthouse, I made sure I got a ticket for Tamara Saulwick’s chilling Pin Drop, after repeatedly missing the previous shows that garnered gleaming reviews. I was told afterwards that women are probably more sensitive to it. I probably lost my focus due to a slight cough I was stifling and Rudeness sitting next to me who would turn and stare disapprovingly. Leunig inspired Look Right Through Me by Kage Theatre was beautiful like the cartoons while The Story of Mary Maclane, by Herself, was a fun evening out to hear Mary MacLane rant, blog inspired, in her skittish manner amidst a trio of folk musicians led by Tim Rogers.
Meanwhile, at MTC, both Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation and Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park left me in a state of hysterics. Debbie Tucker Green’s Random displays Zahra Newman’s versatility. Here, she leaves precision comic timing in the background and delivers a powerful punch of a one woman show. And of course, The Importance of Being Earnest was a happy, pristine and glorious favourite that ended the company’s 2011 season with a handbagful of glee.
A show I’m kicking myself for missing is Chamber Made Opera’s Ophelia Doesn’t Live Here Any More, with three of my really-need-to-see-performers, Karen Sibbing, Lilly Paskas and Daniel Schlusser. Reviews came streaming along and taunting me for weeks after it closed. Nonetheless, I managed to catch Karen in Four Larks’ Undine, another Little Mermaid adventure, in an atmospherically driven little show that left its audience spellbound but left its actors with the flu. Finally, I caught quite a few MKA shows, some of which were part of a series of readings in Open Season: 15 Plays, 15 days. Ambitious much? The Economist, (what controversy?) wrapped things up nicely for the independent theatre scene and ended things with a bang. Literally.