Director Matthew Lutton explores the wild and desolate peak of Patrick White's theatrical imagination
It's absurd that Night on Bald Mountain, written in 1964 and regarded by many as one of Patrick White's best works for the stage, has never had a professional Melbourne première. Fortunately, director Matthew Lutton is here to end our shame with a new production for the Malthouse Theatre.
Written by White with more concentration and formal care than any of his previous plays, this is a tragedy of isolation and addiction, about a dipsomaniac wife and an anti-social husband who hide themselves away on a wind-blasted peak far above the distant glitter of Sydney.
"It joins itself to the world canon of tragedies, especially O'Neill and Ibsen," says Lutton. "After the sprawl of his first three plays, here White returns almost to the unities of place and time, where the whole play pretty much happens in twenty-four hours in this one house."
Lutton, who is also a successful opera director, is particularly attracted to the musicality of the work, what he calls its "aural quality".
"It's said that Patrick was a painter trapped in the body of a writer. I think he was a composer, too," he says. "That's how you start to deal with the heightened language that he uses: it has to be treated like an instrument in a symphony. It should feel like four musicians on stage, having to breathe and be in time with each other."
To capture the wild and desolate sound of Bald Mountain, Lutton is working with Danish double bassist and vocalist Ida Duelund Hansen on a new score for the work.
"She brings that Scandinavian resonance of the vastness and the harsh landscape," says Lutton.
Night on Bald Mountain stars Patrick White veterans Julie Forsyth (Ham Funeral) and Peter Carroll (The Season at Sarsaparilla), as well as Melita Jurisic, making her return to the Australian stage for the first time in six years.