With The Mall, New Zealand's Thomas Sainsbury has written a play that is a little like a stage version of multiple personality disorder. It's an hour and a bit long and comes at you from a variety of directions. There is no fucking about here. No fancy lights. No costume changes. No set or sound design... well very little anyway. But there are a lot of scene changes and a lot of characters... something like 20 (I lost count – forgot my clipboard and didn't take notes).
Basically, the play is like a collage of a shopping mall, populated by the grab-bag of humanity you'd expect in such a place. There's a depressed loser who has been working in his dead-end movie theatre job for a record number of years (eight years and counting when the average duration is three months) and his domineering boss. There are a couple of posh women working for a charity organisation, a couple of hoodie-wearing girls with, like, total 'tood. There's a struggling migrant worker and his thieving co-worker, an idiot forklift driver and his crush, a few news readers, a weatherman and scheming terrorist and probably a few characters I've left out.
All played by six actors: Jacob Antolini, Joel Horwood, Carly Jacobs, Morgan Jenkins, Stephanie Lee, Arran McKenna.
None of the actors particularly stood out from the rest because they were all just so solid. All were immersed in their roles, all handled the rapid changes from character to character with admirable skill, relying on nothing more than a subtle change in nuance or accent and overall 'being' to morph instantly from one character to the next.
The 11 days the story takes place over is punctuated by rapid-fire news and weather bytes, reflecting the way we appear to be flicking channels between the mostly mundane lives of our cast, as well as reflecting the reality of our own existence; we beaver away making ends meet and perhaps trying to make sense of our lives while this hostile universe keeps doing its thing.
And sometimes the unthinkable we see unfolding on our televisions in our homes is about to unfold during a normal lunch break on a normal day. Although the play was written in 2007, this Mellow Yellow production was performed just days after the insanity of the Norway killings, something I'm sure crossed all our audience's minds.
There is humour here. Sometimes the characterisations are played for laughs, sometimes it's the absurdity of the reality of our little lives that amuses, albeit in a quieter, perhaps squirmier way.
Director and performer Stephanie Lee has said that she has been blessed with a good local cast, and that is true. She has also been blessed with an excellent script from the playwright and her former director, Thomas Sainsbury. He, in turn, has been blessed with an excellent director, performer and her co-stars. We the audience members have been blessed with... etc.
By the time you read this review, The Mall will no longer be. But do keep an eye out for future productions by this new Melbourne theatre company.
Albion Live and Mellow Yellow Productions presents
by Thomas Sainsbury
Venue: Studio 246 | 246a Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Dates: 26 – 30 July, 2011