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Malthouse 2020

05 Feb 2020

Malthouse 2020 Image

Words by Meg Hill

This year, Malthouse is celebrating its 30th year as Melbourne’s most provocative theatre company.

Its 30th season includes five world premieres, three Australian new works, three literary adaptations and four new works from the US and the UK.

It opens with an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Wilde’s “most famous comedy of lies” was reworked by UK theatre company Ridiculusmus in 2005. It struck a chord in both Australia and the UK, hence a second run revival.

Ridiculusmus proclaim the “oxymoronic” aim of being both serious and funny. Actor and co-director Jon Haynes said the adaption was the only show the company has performed using an unoriginal script.

The exception was made for a natural fit.

“Both the other director David Woods and I went to the same drama school in London where we met, and the approach there was a kind of serious heightened naturalism,” he said

“That was our background and that’s always been our approach with comedy, however ridiculous something is, we approach it with utter seriousness.”

“Wilde gave his play the subtitle ‘a trivial comedy for serious people’ and when we first adapted it, we changed it to ‘a trivial comedy performed by two serious people’.”

The play, Wilde’s most popular, is based on interrogating and satirising Victorian era society. There are lines, Jon said, that strike you with an image of a gasping response from 19th century audiences.

“What’s different between when it was first performed and now, and whether the satire had the same effect it did then, we can’t really know,” he said.

“There are a lot of themes, but I suppose one is appearances or lying, are people what they appear to be, that hinges a lot on the plot development.”

And when the show opens at Malthouse on February 14 audience members may notice the cast reduction.

“We’re just two people playing nine characters between us,” Jon said.

“We do lots of costume changes. Early on I change from a man in full evening dress to a woman in full dress, and then back.”

“It takes a considerable amount of time so the audience might think ‘are they going to do the whole play like this’ but we it goes on we start speeding things up and we’re less meticulous.”

“So, we end up representing a character only by a hat or something like that.”

Following the Wilde adaptation is the world premiere of Grey Arias – a performance of a multiplicity of identities between a gay, black, English-Nigerian man and drag artist and a cis white feminist American performance artist.

Third up is the world premiere of Macbeth (This Ignorant Present) featuring the return of Zahra Newman to the Malthouse Theatre. Last year, she stunned audiences as the sole star of a Wake In Fright production on the Beckett stage.

And provocative Australian writers and directors Patricia Cornelius and Christos Tsoilkas will both run shows at the Malthouse – the former with Do not go gentle … and the latter with Loaded

malthousetheatre.com.au

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