Sunday 17 November 2019

Six Degrees At A Hot Melbourne Market - Theatre Review

What: Six Degrees At A Hot Melbourne Market
When: 13 - 23 November 2019
Where: Studio Theatre, Gasworks
Written by: Louise Hopewell, Alison Knight, Michael Olsen, and Bruce Shearer
Directed and designed by: Mazz Ryan and D.B. Valentine
Performed by: Lennan Andrusiw, Emma Drysdale, Ruben Francis, Del Jordan, Faran Martin, Rebecca Morton and Jonty Reason
Emma Drysdale - photo by John A Edwards
Melbourne Writers' Theatre brings us the latest installment in their 'six' series, Six Degrees At A Hot Melbourne Market, this fortnight at Gasworks. Possibly wrongly named, this series of short plays by local writers lives up to the wonderful tradition the company has of creating a platform for writers to tell stories about the community, from the community, and with the community.

I say the season is wrongly named because in this small curated collectiont their are only four plays, not the traditional six. Whether there was an intention to have six, but other two were dropped for some reason I do not know. Regardless, this is quite a satisfying night of theatre because the four plays which are produced are a bit longer in length than some previous collections and with a different directorial team (Ryan and Valentine), the sketches have been allowed to each have a unique design and flavour whilst also being linked through location and inspiration.

For all of these short play seasons the Melbourne Writers' Theatre committee create themes for writers to explore and then a selection are chosen for performance through a blind submission process. This time the location was the Queen Victoria Market with the other criteria being the names Kitty, Scamp, and Andy had to be included (gender was not defined). This small detail is one of the things which, in this instance, really helped unify the four fantastically unique ideas - although it is intriguing to note three of the four plays deal with the future...

I have to confess I arrived late and there is a strict lockout except between plays so it meant I missed the first one ('Wormhole' by Knight). I am a bit upset because I was listening through the door and it sounded fun and exciting with a sci-fi bent. I heard wonderful time travel sound effects and declamatory acting Shakespeare would approve of. I also missed performances by two wonderful actors, Reason and Francis. Do not make my mistake. Turn up on time! Suitably chastened, I hastened into the theatre as the set was being changed and the sound of seagulls filled the air and settled into another hour of fantasy.

'The Future of Organics' is Hopewell's first play although she is a proficient writer in other disciplines. For a first play, this one is extremely well structured with a wonderful layering of text and subtext. Morton plays a grocer running an organic fruit and vegie stall at the markets. Her husband doesn't help her anymore because he has a bad back. She has been forced to bring in help but because the high cost of wages she has decided to modernise with the help of the Scamparoo 500B (Andrusiw). Her daughter Kitty (Jordan) visits her. She is about to lose her job and needs help. What ensues is a wonderful debate about the cost of human labour in a face paced technological era, versus the cost to the community with an ever growing unemployed population.

A blackout and the return of the seagulls transports us into Shearer's story 'Clothes Are Just Protective Coatings'. Martin's character runs a clothes and accessories stall and Jordan's character comes by to do some window shopping. The stall holder is a lively, outgoing person who believes that clothes are always a siren to the world expressing our sexuality and are in invitation for like minded coupling. The shopper, on the other hand, likes to hide in shapeless clothes of drab grey and black.

For me this was the weakest of the three stories I saw, but that may be because I do not agree with the premise. Don't get me wrong. I do believe that all of our clothing choices express a lot about us - our jobs, our lifestyle, our socio-economic status, our personality, etc. If they didn't how could we possibly tell the hipsters from the emos? What I don't agree with is the idea that our clothes are a siren call dedicated to the entrapment of a mate. Regardless of my opinion though, this story has a happy ending and sometimes this is all that matters.

The evening ends with what I assume is an apocalyptic future. Olsen takes us into a market which is overrun by trash. Two characters played by Martin and Drysdale are trying to tidy up for the imminent arrival of  some ill defined 'she'. Riffing off Beckett's Waiting for Godot, I have to say Martin really shines as a lackadaisical hobo and Drysdale keeps pace with a somewhat neurotic counterpart.

I really applaud the acting and directing of 'Arriving Today'. The text itself doesn't quite reach the heights of absurdism it is striving for - partly because the short play format doesn't allow enough time to communicate the unknowable - and it is the performance itself which sells the ideas and makes us believe we have seen something meaningful. Whilst the text is oblique it is clear the cast and directors have made decisions about who 'she' is and where they are and why they are there which means the audience can relax and not feel as though they will get lost in a maze of ambiguity.

I really enjoyed this curated collection of short works and the team of actors who bring them to life. I liked the directors' choices to not go minimalist with the design too, which is the standard approach to this style of programming. I am still kicking myself for being late but hopefully you will learn from my mistakes and allow enough travel time to deal with any traffic hitches.

3.5 Stars

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