In 2007 White Whale Theatre commissioned and successfully presented Melburnalia - stories about this city, as seen through the eyes and words of some of Melbourne's finest writers.
I did not see that production, but when I read about Melburnalia No 2, with five writers choosing five diverse Melbourne suburbs, I was intrigued. What a great opportunity to explore a city rich in its cultural identity.
In 2007 'laneways' was the binding theme throughout the work. This time the 'trams' invite the audience to travel to five different locations and experience a multitude of ideas and stories.
Our journey quite rightly starts with our indigenous ancestors in Andrea James' Birrarung: The Forever Zone, which weaves the trials of Connex ticket inspectors and their desperate need to ensure that every ticket is validated, with a mythical ghostly image in the heart of this city. Immediately involving the audience, this delightful and hilarious piece opened our eyes to what lay ahead.
Hoa Pham's Maribyrnong: I Could Be You looks at the lives of three migrants in our inner west, caught in a detention nightmare that most of us will only read about. Echoes of lines such as "You refuse to see me" and "You see where you could be" reverberate chillingly, long after the piece has ended.
In Caulfield: Motherfathers writer Danny Katz plays humourously with the married, financially well-off, but rather superficial lives of a group of couples at a booze-filled dinner party. While exposing the materialistic values they vie for, he manages to portray the pressures of parenthood as the same wherever you are. Degenerating the group of so-called sophisticates into a babbling army of brattish children is a fitting end to the first act.
Kit Lazaroo recreates a part of Melbourne's history that many would not be aware of. In Preston: Porktown, the piggeries of the past are given their place in the timeline and illustrates how some suburbs have evolved over the decades.
The final piece, described as a "suburban symphony of the south" takes us to Mentone: Song #1 and the imagination of writer Aiden Fennessy. With five performers standing in line like some kind of Greek Chorus, the piece is performed with little movement with the emphasis on the words. And often they are just words, not sentences.
Director David Mence, along with co-creator Kelly Farrow, dramaturge Melanie Beddie and the other creatives involved must be congratulated on bringing all this together so wonderfully. Direction and staging work extremely well in the space, with excellent use of the wheelie bins storing each scenes' props and costumes, along with other surprises.
The six talented ensemble performers (Margot Fenley, Fanny Hanusin, Shireen Morris, Bryan Andy, Grant Foulkes and Shane Lee) play 25 roles and most appear in each of the five pieces. Together and individually they give vibrant performances, especially Margot Fenley and Bryan Andy.
This intriguing and well-realised piece of theatre is an excellent example of how captivating a simple idea can be, and how successfully an independent theatre company can create accessible, enjoyable works with limited budgets.
This tram has a limited timetable - don't miss the ride.
White Whale Theatre presents
Melburnalia No. 2
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane
Dates/Times: 8pm: 20-23, 27-30 May, 3-6 June; 5.30pm: 24, 31 May, 7 June
Tickets: $26 (full) $20 (concession)
Bookings: 9662 9966 or www.fortyfivedownstairs.com