New works by Nakkiah Lui, Osamah Sami and Michele Lee feature alongside the return of Picnic and a new Melancholia.
Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre has announced its 2018 season, with new works by Nakkiah Lui, Osamah Sami and Michele Lee featuring alongside a return season of Picnic at Hanging Rock and a theatre adaption of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. “We were very interested in looking at what were the political controversies and taboos that we need to keep talking about in Australia,” Malthouse Artistic Director Matthew Lutton tells Limelight. “I think there’s a real interest in looking at a whole lot of new diverse writers that can be working on our stages, particularly in very entertaining ways.”
Lutton is hard-pressed to nominate highlights. “It is really tricky to choose, they’re like all my children! “A lot of these works the company’s been talking about and working on for two years or so. I’m really proud of the suite of new writing that we’re premiering next year,” he says.
Malthouse Theatre Artistic Director Matthew Lutton. Photo © Andrew Gough
“I’m really excited about Michele Lee’s piece Going Down, Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown, and Osamah Sami’s Good Muslim Boy. I think they’re all pieces that are really about looking at culture clashes in Australia, but [are] also done in really subversive, entertaining and wild ways. And I love that we’re playing that sort of entertainment and colour off against some more provocative works, like Sarah Kane’s Blasted and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, which I think are pieces that present an extreme world in trouble or in danger and crumbling, and individuals finding their way out of that mess – or attempting to.”
Good Muslim Boy. Photo © Zan Wimberley
Actor and comedian Osamah Sami’s new play based on his award-winning memoir Good Muslim Boy will be the first new work of the season. Directed by Janice Muller, the play tells the story of a young man coming to grips with his father’s legacy, tracing his life from selling fireworks and chewing gum on the black market in Iran, having survived the Iran-Iraq war, to faking his way into a University of Melbourne medical degree.
A Pacificist’s Guide to the War on Cancer. Photo © Zan Wimberley
March and April will see the Australian premiere of the musical A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer – which will see UK theatre group Complicité teaming up with Bryony Kimmings – and Fleabag by UK performer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, which will be performed by Maddie Rice, before May sees the world premiere of Bliss, a theatrical adaptation of Peter Carey’s novel by Tom Wright, in a co-production with Belvoir Street Theatre. Directed by Lutton, the production will feature Mark Leonard Winter as Harry Joy alongside Marco Chiappi, Amber McMahon, Anna Samson and Mark Coles Smith. “We’re really excited to bring Peter Carey’s Bliss to the stage,” says Lutton. “Carey’s vision of Australia is brilliantly eccentric and theatrical. Harry Joy’s quest to ‘be good’ in a country that resembles a fluorescent hell, is one that could only be pulled off by an actor with the charisma and danger of Mark Leonard Winter.
Going Down. Photo © Zan Wimberley
May will also see the world premiere of Michele Lee’s Going Down. “Michele’s written a very piercing but very funny Sex and the City-style work about multiculturalism in Melbourne,” says Lutton. The play follows Natalie Yang, whose debut novel Banana Girl has just been published. “You meet a writer that is being heralded as the voice of her generation – she’s an Asian Australian writer that writes about having an incredible sexual appetite, she writes an amazing book about cocks and sex and Tinder and free dating in Melbourne, and her nemesis is an Indonesian refugee writer who writes what Natalie Yang would call migrant porn, really – it’s a whole lot of various sentimental stories about her grandparents and their recipes they used in Indonesia and then their flight from their homeland.”
“And it becomes in many ways, an argument between first and second-generation migrants to Australia, and about what defines their identity and what doesn’t and what becomes a cliché and what’s not,” Lutton says. “It’s played out as a sort of duel between these two writers, and I think it’s incredible, wet your pants funny, but at the same time really unpacks a whole lot of ideas about multiplicity of culture in Melbourne and Australia.”
The Melbourne premiere of Jada Albert’s breakout first play Brother’s Wreck follows in June, with Albert directing a cast that includes Lisa Flanagan, Shari Sebbens, and Dion Williams. Set in Albert’s hometown of Darwin, Brother’s Wreck explores the aftermath of a suicide on a grief-stricken family.
Blackie Blackie Brown. Photo © Zan Wimberley
July offers another world premiere. Billed as a “live action feminist Blaxploitation super hero comic book”, Blackie Blackie Brown follows the success of Nakkiah’s Lui’s Black is the New White, which premiered at Sydney Theatre Company this year and will be performed in Queensland Theatre’s 2018 season. Lui’s newest work centres on archaeologist Dr Jacqueline Brown, who transforms into Indigenous superhero Blackie Blackie Brown: Traditional Owner of Death after unearthing a mysterious skull during a dig. She then embarks on a revenge mission to track down every descendent of the men who killed her ancestors. The play will combine live action with animation by Barkindjii, Birri-Gubba illustrator Emily Johnson and will be directed by Declan Greene.
“I think what is exciting about Nakkiah’s voice onstage is that it’s a very political voice,” Lutton says. “What I love about Nakkiah’s voice is that she uses subversive comedy to constantly keep us thinking about the relationship between white Australia and Indigenous Australia and the way that our history, Indigenous and colonial, is so fraught, and the way that we need to almost bring Indigenous history and thinking into the centre of our thinking in Australia.”
“And I think she offers these provocations that are unexpected. And therefore I think she makes work that gets audiences – and certainly me – thinking in new ways. It’s a new voice, in many ways, not looking necessarily at biography and history dramas as a way to unpack history, but looking at more contemporary forward-looking approaches, and I find that very exciting.”
Melancholia. Photo © Zan Wimberley
Lutton will direct a brand new stage production of Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia, adapted for the stage by Declan Greene, which comes to Malthouse in July and August. Reimagining such an epic film in the theatre comes with challenges. “One of them is how to make it a theatrical experience and not one that tries to duplicate the film,” Lutton says.
The film focuses on two sisters, one who is getting married, as a rogue planet – the titular Melancholia – is on a collision course with the Earth. “We have to create a planet that’s going to crash into the theatre,” Lutton says, “and that’s an exciting challenge as well.”
Sarah Kane’s Blasted comes to Malthouse in August and September, in a new production directed by Anne-Louise Sarks and starring Andrea Demetriades. “It’s a play and a playwright that has been neglected on the Australian mainstage,” says Lutton. “It’s been performed in other independent sectors and once on a mainstage in Adelaide, but it’s a play that I think is about us looking away from the violence that’s in the world.”
For Lutton the play is particularly relevant in Australia today, where it is easy to feel detached or distant from the atrocities and violence happening in other parts of the world. “This is a play about what happens if that distance is removed,” he says. “What if suddenly a war zone intrudes savagely into your own personal space, and how do you respond to that when it’s real and not something that’s just reported to you. I think it’s a real provocation about why we decide to look away from what’s happening in the world.”
September will also see Ich Nibber Dibber by post (Natalie Rose, Mish Grigor and Zoë Coombs Marr) – a play drawing on ten years of recorded personal conversations spanning a decade of friendship. The 2018 season will also see Belarus Free Theatre come to Malthouse, with the world premiere of Generation Jeans – a “duologue between an actor and a DJ, about jeans, rock music and freedom” (any of which can still get you arrested in Belarus) – and Trustees, a new collaboration between Belarus Free Theatre and Malthouse that explores ideas of authority, the media, self-censorship and freedom of speech in Australia. The cast includes Gregory Fryer, Sophie Ross, Niharika Senapati, Hazem Shammas and Daniel Schlusser.
Picnic at Hanging Rock from Malthouse’s 2016 season.
The season opens in February with an encore season of Tom Wright’s adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock, directed by Lutton, which has already enjoyed successful seasons in Melbourne, Perth and Edinburgh. The cast will include Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Arielle Gray, Amber McMahon, Elizabeth Nabben, Nikki Shiels and following the 2018 Melbourne run, Picnic at Hanging Rock will transfer to the Barbican Centre in the UK. Lutton posits several reasons for why this production has resonated so strongly with audiences – in particular that it looks at an Australian myth a lot of people are familiar with but exploring it from a different point of view. “Looking at it from only being told by five schoolgirls onstage as a sort of chorus,” he says, “a sense of it being about the ignorance of colonisers and the problematic desire to try and tame landscape.”
“I think it’s exciting to see audiences responding to that approach to the story, but also it was great that audiences were screaming in their seats while watching it,” he says. “We didn’t realise we were making that while we were making it, but once we got it in front of an audience we realised it was something that does terrify people, and that adrenaline is exciting in a theatre and goes hand in hand with the big ideas.”