The 2013 season at Malthouse Theatre has now been announced, the third under artistic director Marion Potts, and once again the emphasis is on diversity, with an eclectic medley of performing arts forms and progressive themes. Even the program art has a cut-and-paste collage look. Tickets to the first four shows of 2013 are now on sale. All remaining shows will go on sale on Tuesday 12 March.
"There is that diversity because, first of all, we're not a playhouse, we're a hybrid performing arts venue, and so we draw from a very broad spectrum of creativity," says Van Badham, one of the three associate artists who work with Potts in putting the program together. "The core team come from very different backgrounds and specialisation. We all have different areas of interest, even as we come together and share this performing arts vocabulary. Always what we're looking for is something that challenges our expectations."
Despite this emphasis on novel combinations, season 2013 kicks off with a more traditional form, a rare nod by Malthouse Theatre to the Australian cannon. Twenty-five years after its premiere, they're re-staging Hate, a brutal study of power and loathing by the vehemently polemical Stephen Sewell. The play is what you might call vintage Sewell, a relentless ideological assault compelled by anger bordering on the obsessive ... but also funny. Potts, who is directing, points the play squarely at the Clive Palmers and Gina Rineharts of the world – right-wing plutocrats with designs on controlling the country for their own profit. Badham agrees, "I can't think of an Australian play that is more relevant right now."
Less unusual for Malthouse Theatre, though no less exciting, is the return of Back to Back Theatre. The show, opening in November, is Laser Beak Man, an adventure based on the illustrated stories of artist Tim Sharp, a 23 year-old artist with autism. Sharp's bright colours and surreal narratives have already been produced as a cartoon for the ABC, but it will be fascinating to see what auteur Bruce Gladwin and his ensemble can make of them.
Contemporary dance is massive in Melbourne right now, so it's appropriate that Dance Massive, the city's biennial contemporary dance festival is returning for 2013. Malthouse Theatre, which has always been a strong supporter of the local dance community, is hosting two events, Larissa McGowan’s Skeleton, inspired by the sculptural works of artist Ricky Swallow, and a new work from Anouk van Dijk's Chunky Move, 247 Days.
Since its artistic reinvention in 2005, Malthouse Theatre's signature dish has been classic texts freely transformed as vehicles for talking about contemporary issues. This continues in 2013 with Dance of Death, a new adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Play Strindberg, itself an adaptation of an earlier Strindberg play. Tom Holloway has adapted this bleak comedy of "marriage-torture", while Matthew Lutton directs.
At the other end of the dour-to-delightful spectrum of classic comedies, Malthouse Theatre is also staging Soviet satirist Evgeny Shvarts' fantastical Dragon, adapted by winsome actor-cum-budding-writer Toby Shmitz. Lancelot sets forth to free a town from the tyranny of a monstrous dragon, only to discover that the psychology of those living under tyranny is more complicated than expected. Comic trio Tripod provide original tunes and also star as the three-headed dragon.
For the rest of the season, file under "miscellaneous", as the connections become esoteric indeed. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is an unusual piece from the resourceful Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. The actors are only handed their scripts as they enter the stage. Playwright Lally Katz pushes her way to the front of the curtain for he one-woman show Stories I Want to Tell You in Person, co-presented with Belvoir in Sydney. Puppetry gets a look in as obsolescent furniture condemned to the median strip comes to life in a show aimed at kids, Hard Rubbish. Meanwhile, last year's Malthouse female director in residence, Adena Jacobs, gets a shot at putting her admired adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's Persona on the main stage.
If you are looking for general themes, Badham suggests that one thing they all share is provocation. "We look for shows that pose a question to us and to the audience, the ancient questions that we invented theatre for," she says. "Fundamental questions about community, like how is it that you walk into the theatre as an individual and yet leave as a part of this collective?"
Apart from her role behind the scenes at Malthouse Theatre, Badham is also writing an adaption of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber for a new opera composed by David Chisolm. Working with Badham and Chisolm will be the two other Malthouse associates – Matthew Lutton directing and Paul Jackson as the lighting designer.
It's an interesting bunch, though perhaps the most interesting project is from former Malthouse Theatre artistic director Michael Kantor and his take on King Lear, The Shadow King. It's an epic adaptation which replants Shakespeare's tragedy into Indigenous Australian history. It's one of three productions to come from the Malthouse’s own development arm, the Engine Room.
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