Photos - Jeff Busby
Furious Mattress is a maddeningly uncomfortable experience.
As a theatrical technique, the palpable sense of unease is brilliantly conceived. From the moment the curtain slides across, as if the audience is peering through the window of this vaguely familiar slice of small-town suburbia, nothing seems particularly real.
And yet it is a story loosely based on true-life events in rural Victoria in the mid-1990s, so shocking the humour writer Melissa Reeves (with dramaturge from Maryanne Lynch) imbues in a farcical story is delivered with guilt for laughing. It is duplicitous, this work; days after seeing the world premiere at Malthouse’s Beckett Theatre I’m haunted by the emotional deceit it inspires.
As an exercise in provocation, it is brilliantly executed. Students will study this play; essays will be written about it. As to whether that makes this a good night at the theatre, only the individual can decide.
I still haven’t.
We are witness to an exorcism, in all its macabre and hilariously fantastical drama. Else (Kate Kendall) has the dreaded demon in her, it is decided, and devoted husband Pierce (Robert Menzies) invites the local religious community to save her soul.
At its core Furious Mattress is an Arthur Miller-esque examination of heathenistc paranoia. It is about the extraordinary lengths Pierce will go to ‘save’ his wife, employing the services of Anna (Rita Kalnejais) and Max (Thomas Wright) – “I was a plumber for four years, and I like to think that’s not the worst apprenticeship for an exorcist” – to rid her body of the devil’s evil spawn. We learn mid-way through the first act things will end in tragedy, but the journey there, the deep delusion and failure of character, is at the heart of the storytelling.
While our revulsion swells in The Crucible, Furious Mattress never lets it settle. The ground shifts quickly, transcending time (the story opens on a lifeless body before we learn what happened) and reality.
It is these moments of extreme unreality where things get a little whacky and pretty confronting. To say much more would only ruin the genuine shock value, but you haven’t seen anything like this on a stage before. Trust me.
All those special effects are cleverly designed by Anna Cordingley, who creates much mirth in her suffocatingly small farmhouse kitchen and bedroom on stage. Jethro Woodward’s sound design is particularly potent; he has composed a creepily sparse score that would be the perfect soundtrack for any B-grade horror schlock film were the scenes not so genuinely terrifying.
The performances, too, are perfectly pitched. The two leads, particularly, are brilliant: Menzies balances Pierce’s comic naivety with a heartfelt love and sense of duty; Kendall, as the all-too-willing victim, is unglamorously and agonisingly effective as Else. Director Tim Maddock instills a rhythm, however deliberately uneven, to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
And you will be, no question. Just don’t expect it to be comfortable.
Malthouse Theatre Presents
by Melissa Reeves
Directed by Tim Maddock
Venue: Beckett Theatre, The CUB Malthouse
Dates: 19 February – 13 March 2010
Times: Wednesday – Saturdays @ 7.30pm, Sundays @ 5.00pm; Tuesday 25 @ 7.30pm, Tuesday 2 March @ 6.30pm
Matinees: Thursday 4 March @ 1.00pm and Saturday 13 March @ 2.00pm
Tickets: $16.50 – $49 + min booking fee $1.50
Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au | 03 9685 5111