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Rebecca Harkins... Joined: 9th December 2010
Last seen: 25th June 2012

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MTC Lawler Studio Season 2012

 

As Australia’s oldest professional theatre company, the Melbourne Theatre Company has in recent years gained a reputation for traditionalism. They may be one of the most popular companies in the country, taking a record 20,000 subscriptions in 2010, but they are not renowned for taking programming risks.

MTC set out to challenge this perception with the launch of their Lawler Studio in 2009, an intimate 150-seat venue that provides a space to showcase new plays and playwrights. The Lawler Studio’s 2012 season continues with this goal, injecting some much needed fresh blood with five exciting new works announced this week.  

 

The 2012 season will begin on Tuesday April 17 with Boy Girl Wall, a new work by Brisbane outfit The Escapists that has already enjoyed three sell-out seasons in Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre. A one-man show starring Lucas Stibbard, it is the story of Thom, an IT professional-cum-amateur-astronomer, and Althea, a children’s book author with writer’s block, both lonely singles eking out their existences in neighbouring apartments. That is, until the adjoining wall steps in, who wants them to find love so badly that it will destroy itself in the process.

 

Tinged with magic realism, Boy Girl Wall brings to life inanimate objects, all of which are acted out by Stibbard using minimal props such as chalkboards, an overhead projector and sock puppets. While this may sound more whimsical than one can bear, reviewers in The Escapists’ home state have assured that this simple love story is saved by Lucas Stibbard’s powerful performance (which earned him a Helpmann Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play in 2011).

 

Next up is On The Production Of Monsters, a world premiere from Melbourne playwright Robert Reid that will be staged from May 23­–June 9. Known for tackling contemporary subject matters as the Artistic Director of independent company Theatre In Decay — 2003’s All Of Which Are American Dreams examined the invasion and occupation of Iraq whilst 2004’s Empire dealt with racism, terrorism and ideas of “mateship”. Reid made his MTC debut last year with The Joy Of Text, which took on the topic of the student/teacher sex scandal with acerbic wit.

 

Here Reid turns his satirical eye towards the furore that enveloped photographer Bill Henson in 2008 when a series of images were seized by police under allegations of child pornography. Taking the perspective of parents Ben (James Saunders) and Shari (Virginia Gay), your stereotypical inner-city Melburnians, this two hander examines the media mania that ensued with humour and horror in equal measure. This will also be director Clare Watson’s MTC debut.

 

German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig is one of the most prolific and widely produced playwrights in contemporary Europe, yet has only recently been recognised internationally. MTC will be bringing his 2009 work The Golden Dragon to the Australian stage for the first time, running from June 20–July 7, which has already been produced in Europe, the US and Canada to much applause. 

 

Set in a bustling Chinese Restaurant, The Golden Dragon begins with a young illegal immigrant who works there suffering from a severe tooth infection. Unable to seek medical assistance, the tooth is wrenched from his mouth, literally, in an act of amateur emergency dentistry. When the rotten fang unwittingly lands in the bottom of a bowl of Thai soup with chicken, this causes a string of events from which the episodic narrative ensues.

 

This bold play transcends boundaries of race, gender and age, with women playing men, Caucasians playing Asians and the old playing the young. It will be directed by Daniel Clarke, the CEO and Creative Director of Theatre Works, who first worked with MTC last year as Assistant Director to Simon Phillips in The Importance Of Being Earnest.

 

Another collaboration with a Brisbane theatre company, Helicopter is a new play written by Angela Betzien and directed by Leticia Caceres of Real TV, which will have its premiere season from August 2–17. Their most recent production for Belvoir The Dark Room, a thriller set in a motel in the Northern Territory, won the 2011 Sydney Theatre Award for best new Australian work.

 

Jacob has been mollycoddled by his overbearing mother (the “helicopter” of the play’s title) since birth, while his neighbour Thomas has fled war-torn South Sudan. By placing these two youths of varying privileges side-by-side, Helicopter investigates the polarity between the first and third world, and what happens with these realms collide.

 

The season will conclude with Happy Ending (September 5–22), a world premiere and MTC debut for local playwright Melissa Reeves, which was commissioned after being read as part of MTC’s Cybec Readings series last year. Susie Dee will direct this piece about a middle-aged woman who becomes infatuated with a handsome young Chinese masseur in the local shopping centre. This comical portrait looks at the nature of female desire, exploring the fantasy life of an ageing woman who refuses to abandon her sexuality.

 

Reeves most recently received critical acclaim for Furious Mattress, a play about a rural exorcism that premiered at the Malthouse Theatre in 2010, while Susie Dee directed Taxi for last year’s Big West Festival, Patricia Cornelius’ site-specific work that allowed viewers to squeeze into the back of a cab and experience what a night is like for a Melbourne cabbie.

 

United only by their contemporariness, these five new works are set to be some of the highlights of MTC’s program overall.   

 

BY REBECCA HARKINS-CROSS

The Melbourne Theatre Company's Lawler Studio Season will kick off on Tuesday April 17 with Boy Girl Wall. For bookings and further information, visit mtc.com.au.