Malthouse Theatre’s 2017 Season
Not meaning to be salacious, but it’s all sexy and disruptive over at Malthouse. Malthouse’s 2017 program picks up the 2016 trend of theatre as provocateur and bolts with it. The fact that the company’s program is the antithesis of staid theatre is, in no small degree, due to Malthouse’s artistic director Matthew Lutton’s deft and bold leadership.
Lutton is stupidly talented. For instance, while the rest of us were struggling to pick subjects, Lutton was starting his first theatre company, ThinIce. ThinIce folded only when Lutton became Malthouse’s associate director in 2011, thereby becoming the youngest cat to head up one of Australia’s major theatre companies. On top of that, he is a well-loved, hands-on director who’s renowned for teasing out the best in his company. He plays the piano and double bass. He’s equally adept at directing opera, and he’s lovely to boot. Bloody hell.
Since Lutton took the reins at Malthouse his imperative has been for audiences to revolt against the status quo and challenge established views. “I think there’s a tendency to avoid the hard conversations,” Lutton says, by way of explanation for programming which prods. “There’s a tendency to avoid conflict when we’re discussing the country and where we are going and what’s happening in the psyche. One of the best and most productive ways to start a conversation is to be loud and to set up a provocation and get the debate started.”
Suffice to say, the 2017 program is provocative, but it’s also diverse – works range from The Encounter, a 3D work which immerses the audience in the Amazon, The Black Rider: the Casting of the Magic Bullets, an opera written by Tom Waits and infamous literary junkie William S. Burroughs, which will be performed by cabaret queen Meow Meow and Opera Australia, through to a punk-feminist riot by UK playwright Alice Birch called Revolt She said. Revolt Again.
“There’s a lot of different stories and tones in there, but hopefully along the way there’s a few core ideas,” Lutton muses. “We are trying to spark some debate, but do it in a really entertaining way. I think there’s a strand all the way through the season.”
Indeed, the works in the 2017 program pose one curly question after another. For instance, Nicola Gunn’s work Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster explores the ethics of intervention – how far do you go in a situation where there’s conflict to save someone? Inspired by an event from Gunn’s own life, the work examines what happens when a woman comes across a bloke hurling rocks at a duck. At first blush, it’s a no brainer: obviously, you tell him to stop – but what if you’re alone? Do you place yourself in a position of risk?
“It’s the issue of when we should step up and say something and when we should just mutter to ourselves,” Lutton reflects. “Should I have acted this way? How much outrage should be expressed? How much is appropriate; how much do you humiliate someone or not? When you think about it, you start to go down a massive spiral. It also asks us to reflect on ourselves. It’s not just about asking others to be better people – how do you be a better person yourself?”
In fact, many of the works urge us to consider that question. Take The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man, which makes a compelling case for compassion. “It’s a really strong narrative outlining what grace and empathy we can offer to others,” Luttons reflects. “It’s also a question about how we become selfish. In Australia and worldwide there is almost a reduced empathy for others because the interest in self is so strong. This version of the Elephant Man is about how to be compassionate. The Elephant Man is a fairy tale about a figure who is considered monstrous and a world that can’t imagine a place for him. It’s very difficult to imagine how he could live. It’s very problematic when we fail to imagine a place for someone in the world.
“It also looks at how Florence Nightingale pioneered nursing and the way in which we care for the body and others. How can that be extended? It’s also about the figure of the Elephant Man – that’s why it's called the Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man, because it is looking at his imaginative world and ideas about beauty and the body. He had incredible optimism and hope in his outlook – it’s incredibly beautiful in that way, even when the world perceived him as ugly.”
So, is the audience rising to Malthouse’s call? “Statistically, we’re having great attendances and there’s great engagement with the work,” Lutton observes. “Even when our work sparks debate or controversy, it attracts more conversation. If we continue to be fearless and not afraid of the risks, while being entertaining, it continues to attract more people. We’ve noticed that this year it’s not just loyal Malthouse fans coming, there are new audiences coming to the company. We want to keep the subversion, entertainment and anarchy high. We want to make sure that we’re asking big questions, but in a very entertaining way.”
BY GEM DOOW
THE MALTHOUSE THEATRE 2017 season runs from Thursday February 2 - Sunday November 26, 2017. Season Pass subscription packages are on sale now.