Tuesday, 5 December 2000

Art and Soul, MTC, Dec 2000

Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax Studio until December 16, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

New work can be exciting and innovative or incomplete and confused. There is some of both in the MTC program of seven short plays, Art and Soul, directed by Kate Cherry and Peter Houghton.

Writers whose work has not been seen at the MTC were invited to write a play stimulated by Homage to Rembrandt, a recent painting by Garry Shead , winner of the 1993 Archibald Prize.

By far the most successful of the seven selected works is Matt Cameron's Whispering Death . Cameron takes less literally than some of the other writers, the pre-requisite "to reflect in some way the configuration of the painting".

Zed (Kim Gyngell) is delightful as a filing clerk made redundant. His dream-like journey into weirdness, is an alphabetical rhyme-fest. He meets Oblivion, Paranoia, Quietude, Regret and so on through the ABC.
The writing is witty and ironic, clever and often hilarious. The performers (Louise Siverson, Genevieve Morris, Ben Rogan, Kate Kendall) relish every moment and every wacko character.

Joanna Murray-Smith's Untitled begins very well with Gyngell as a grieving widowed artist who is visited by a woman he thinks is a life model. She is surprised when he demands she take off her clothes.  The dialogue is smart and funny with broad references and lots of surprises. The pay-off - that the woman is an angel come to end his grief- is a good idea but the resolution is not as successful as the beginning.

At Last the Famous Artist is Dead by Tom Wright is wildly funny and absurd. A bunch of peculiar characters wait drinking tea for the famous artist (Robert Essex) to die. Wright wittily takes a few swipes at Sydney's superficiality and at Melbourne's glut of middle-class artists and at the entire art-loving world for celebrating a prize-winning painter who is, in fact, blind. Essex's mad diatribe as the painter is splendid.

Aidan Fennessy's The Slaughterhouse,  first on the bill, has merit but does not challenge the issues of the artist. Melissa Reeves' Ray's Painting is given a jaunty ride by a naked, playful and romping Louise Siverson.

Glenn Shea's Masterpiece and Tee O'Neill's Homage to Rembrandt are the least successful.
The concept is challenging but a theme does not always stimulate a writer's best work. A night of seven plays is too long. Five pieces at two hours would be a happier length.

By Kate Herbert

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