Thursday 29 November 2018

The Melbourne Monologues: A Cabaret of Souls - Theatre Review

What: The Melbourne Monologues: A Cabaret of Souls
When: 27 November - 2 December 2018
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Christine Croyden, Brooke Fairley, Alison Knight, Neil McGovern, Martin Rice, and Bruce Shearer.
Directed by: Elizabeth Walley
Performed by: Joanna Davey, Alec Gilbert, Isabella Gilbert, Ruth Katerelos, Martin Rice, and Callum Straford
Ruth Katerelos, Alec Gilbert, and Martin Rice - Photo by Ian Thrussell
It has been a year since the last Melbourne Monologues (probably because it is an annual event...) and Melbourne Writers Theatre brings to the La Mama Courthouse stage another 6 original and intriguing monologues by local writers. Whilst there is no unifying theme and it is a blind selection process, director Walley has again brought a random collection together with a strong unifying concept  making this year's offering, A Cabaret of Souls, a evening of added depth and extra layers in exactly the way circus and cabarets do.

Alec Gilbert acts as the ringmaster for this motley collection of tired and jaded performers as he ushers us inside and dishevilled performers take their place around the stage. Rice is the strongman, Straford the clown, Katerelos the dancer, Isabella Gilbert the torch singer, and Davey takes on the persona of the burlesque artist. Their sad, tired eyes stare at us as Alec Gilbert launches into the first monologue of the evening, 'Angry Dancing' by Shearer.

This is a strong starter and Alec Gilbert performs it well, taking control of the audience from the very beginning, encouraging us to learn to dance out our anger as he, Gilkinson style, issues instructions. The cast get off their chairs and join the class. I loved this idea and I looked forward to an evening of integrating a chorus into each monologue which did happen although nothing to the degree of this first piece. My only disappointment was I felt Walley needed to have Alec Gilbert expand his audience to include the stage so that he could explore a level of interpersonal interactions which would give the monologue a more personal interpretation and allow the audience to be voyeurs as well as unwitting players in the scenario.

Knight's contribution, 'The Unspeakable Beauty of Falling' is a sad reminiscence bringing together childhood, death and terrorism. The tale is compelling but this work, performed by Katerelos, did start me thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the short form monologue. I am coming to the idea that a short form monologue is more closely related to an impressionist painting than story telling and if you try to put too much into 10 minutes you risk taking away the space the audience have to delve into the ideas and emotions of the moments.

The big hit of the night for me was McGovern's 'Sometimes' - a beautifully written work around the simple question of what a mouth should be for. Walley's direction really strikes home as Straford comes forward, the sad clown of the ensemble. Straford mourns the lack of kisses in his life with pathos and humour, reveling in the intricacies of the thoughts, condemning the overpopulation of words which cross his lips and the dearth of tender skin. I couldn't help but blow him at kiss at the end to ease his sorrow.

Going from strength to strength, Davey takes over the stage as cat/woman in '3 Out Of 9'. No, not Catwoman, but a woman playing a cat. Fairley writes us a story about the struggle to keep joy and hope in our lives through the experiences of a she cat. Davey tells us of the rejection of her kits as they ween and leave the litter box. In a lively reminiscence she tells of the barbs on the penises of toms and what interspecies sex is like before admitting she only has 3 lives left, one of them lost because she threw herself into the mouth of a volcano. What do you do when you just keep coming back?

Isabella Gilbert takes over as the dance hall chanteuse in Croyden's 'The Diamond Bracelet'. A World War 2 tale, Isabella Gilbert tells us about her terrorist plot of rebellion for which she will be paid with a bracelet made from the souls of the dead. A beautiful tale, there is a little bit too much assumed knowledge in this monologue, and I think it is really a precursor to Croyden's full length play Underground which is being produced next year at Gasworks.

Isabella Gilbert finishes with a delightfully mournful version of 'Falling In Love Again' and a small dance routine. The song is perfect, but the dance takes it all a bit too far past the writing and sits uncomfortably. I don't think in 2018 in Australia we are close enough, temporally or geographically, to the subject to get the musical reference and the choreography does not showcase her talents well.

We finish the night back in Australia with a ten pound Pom in Martin Rice's 'The Charon'. Rice culminates all of the sad clowns in the show as his strong man persona shows his vulnerabilities in the face of his dad's end of life experiences. Exploring his own guilts, dreams, and journey in parallel with his dying father's, Rice finds a way to see the world through his father's eyes in the last moments. 'The Charon' is a bittersweet portrait of how the ferryman gets you to the other side.

A Cabaret Of Souls is exploring a new level of mature presentation for these annual Melbourne Monologue events and Walley has given us a key into what makes these diverse works part of a single family, whilst also celebrating the uniqueness of each delicate tale. What better analogy for such random talent than circus/cabaret?

3.5 Stars

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