Coinciding with the company’s 30th anniversary, Malthouse’s 2020 season is shaping up to be a big one. Some of the highlights include the premiere of a stage adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ debut novel Loaded, a transcript of a real-life FBI interrogation performed verbatim, and a reimagining of Macbeth conceived by and starring American actor Scott Shepherd, last seen at the Perth Festival in Gatz.
“A lot of the program came from conversations with artists around the country,” says Artistic Director Matthew Lutton. “I think there’s a real thread in the season about rebels and whistle-blowers, with a lot of stories about people finding ways to speak out against injustice. I think there’s also a focus on Melbourne in particular, a sort of unearthing of its taboos as well as its underground. And there’s a thread of comedy throughout which is encouraging audiences to laugh out loud at the ridiculous chaos around us.”
David Woods in The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo © Zan Wimberley
The season begins with an old favourite, Malthouse once again presenting UK theatre group Ridiculusmus’s zany production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. First seen by Malthouse audiences in 2006, the company’s co-Artistic Directors, David Woods and Jon Haynes, also return to take on each of the playwright’s memorable characters.
Next up is the world premiere of Grey Arias, which sees cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat and performance artist Adrienne Truscott exploring political correctness and the meaning of allyship in between big show numbers. It’s one of two live music shows programmed this season, the other Paul Capsis’ Go To Hell, featuring original songs by Megan Washington as well as imagery by acclaimed filmmaker Natasha Pincus.
Then in May, Scott Shepherd will unveil his claustrophobic three-hander Macbeth (This Ignorant Present). Co-produced by Malthouse and American theatre makers ArKtype, it will be directed by Big Dance Theater and The Wooster Group’s Paul Lazar.
Scott Shepherd in Macbeth (This Ignorant Present). Photo © Maria Baranova
“This is an idea Scott Shepherd has been working on for almost 15 years or so,” says Lutton. “I think it’s really come about from the idea of a leader that consumes power from left and right and above and below. It’s about the process of how you stand on the shoulders of others and the theatricality of that. Scott performs basically all roles that Macbeth consumes, Zahra Newman plays Lady Macbeth and a child plays a witness of all the bloodshed that occurs along the way. It’s a very chamber version of Macbeth, very much just focused on the Macbeths themselves. This is bringing together an extraordinary team that have a great love of Shakespeare’s play but also a desire to radically reinvent it.”
Up next is the world premiere of Malthouse commission K-Box, from 2018/19 writer in residence Ra Chapman. Directed by Bridget Balodis and starring Maude Davey and Susanna Qian, the play is about a 30-something Korean adoptee who flees her hectic life in Melbourne to take refuge in the country home of her white parents. But her longed-for peace and quiet is rudely disrupted when a K-pop star comes to town.
Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription. Photo © David Boon
Malthouse will then present Tina Satter and American ensemble Half Straddle’s Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription in July, a work that seems to reconfirm the idea that fact is often stranger than fiction. Satter, a theatre director, first came across the story of Reality Winner in a New York magazine profile, which described how the 20-something American military contractor was charged with leaking a top-secret document about Russian election hacking. Winner was arrested in June 2017 by three FBI agents, who interrogated and extracted a confession from her. That interrogation, full of mundane queries about Winner’s pets and gym routine, was recorded, and the transcript published.
“Tina Satter has done this extraordinary thing [of staging it with] four actors who perform the transcript word for word,” explains Lutton. “It’s a recreation, a documentary piece really. The transcript itself feels like it’s been scripted by a master playwright in the way that it shows how power is used in the course of the interrogation.”
In July, Patricia Cornelius’ acclaimed 2010 play Do not go gentle… will be seen in a new production by long-time collaborator Susie Dee. About a group of characters in a nursing home confronted with the trials and tribulations of old age, the cast includes Shane Bourne, Julie Forsyth and Brian Lipson.
The Return. Photo © Zan Wimberley
Next up is John Harvey’s The Return, a Malthouse and Melbourne International Arts Festival co-commission. In his directorial debut, Jason Tamiru teams up with Lutton to help tell this story about the return of ancestral remains.
“This is drawing on two large parts of Australian history, as well as the present,” says Lutton. “It’s looking at the stories of the grave robberies that were occurring at the beginning of the 20th century where there were a significant amount of institutions involved in digging up sacred sites and the remains of Indigenous ancestors in order to progress scientific study, usually into eugenics but also out of exoticism and curiosity. The horror that creates culturally is enormous, as well as the trauma, and the show is looking at that history in a very open eyes way.”
“It’s being told in a less traditional manner,” he says. “We’re taking all the seats out of the theatre. It’s an immersive work where the audience is guided through that history and into the present in quite a tactile, interactive way.”
Then in September, Malthouse audiences will see Suzie Miller’s critically acclaimed play Prima Facie, which premiered at Griffin Theatre Company earlier this year in a production by Lee Lewis. Sheridan Harbridge reprises her role as Tessa, a defence barrister confronted with the inadequacies of the legal system when she finds herself on the stand after being sexually assaulted.
Loaded. Photo © Zan Wimberley
Bringing the season to a close is Loaded, which sees Christos Tsiolkas adapt his own 1995 debut novel in close collaboration with playwright Dan Giovannoni. Directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, it tells the story of 19-year-old Ari, an unemployed, aimless gay man who struggles to find his place in the world.
“I was actually going to meet with Stephen and say ‘I’m wondering as a company whether we should do Loaded’ and he was coming to speak to me and say that he would actually like to do Loaded so it was a moment of synchronicity and we both had conversations going with Christos about a variety of projects. We approached him and he was eager and very interested to see how Ari as a character would exist onstage today. It’s not purely a recreation of the novel from 1995, it will have a new voice that Christos is writing into it which is from an Ari from 2020, 25 years later, and tracking what’s changed in those years.”