Left – Virginia Gay and James Saunders. Photo – Jodie Hutchinson
Born of his frustration with the Bill Hensen artistic furore of several years ago, resolutely independent playwright Robert Reid's eagerly anticipated work, On the Production of Monsters, explores the effect of a story out of control and its effects on innocents. There is no doubting the playwright's position on the role played by the media in this nasty tale of prurience. An urban couple, Shari and Ben, articulate, bitchy and funny, in a convincing relationship, although they are both mavericks and she is inclined to erratic flights of fancy and behaviour. Bad luck visits Ben in the form of a misguided email from Ben's hilariously manipulative boss. In brief, the e-mail is unfortunately circulated to the wrong people; what follows conspires against the couple's cosy lifestyle and eventually costs them their relationship.
This MTC production, directed by Clare Watson, employs some nice staging and set devices, with the two actors playing all the roles and producing props from boxes set in the floor. The tone of the performance remains generally even, despite the drama of events, and so too, does the pacing of the scenes, which leads to a sense of the work being overlong. Strong performances from Virginia Gay and James Saunders, each playing a several different characters, bring an astringent script to life in a work which relishes in having a go at Melbourne's northern hipsters, even including Friends of the Merri Creek! Pacy dialogue is a signature of Reid's and he doesn't hold back here. Ben and Shari are a pair of annoying smartarses, though, and it is hard to sympathise with any of the other characters, either.
The play is set in Northcote which almost features as an additional character; being so locale specific adds to the play's sense of claustrophobia and the characters' loss of privacy. Here, Reid is pointing out how common sense, amongst other things, flies out of the window when the media sacrifices accuracy to sensation. However, it is hard to imagine the good old Northcote leader as a major player in a media beat-up!
Although engaging and witty and very nicely staged, there is something tiresome about the nastiness of On the Production of Monsters. Even though the characters are interesting and albeit somewhat self-consciously complex and articulate, none of them are especially likeable and the work is too cynical for words. On the Production of Monsters is an ambitious production which doesn't doesn't quite live up to expectations; it isn't a failure but nor is it a resounding success. It doesn't end properly, either, it just rolls to a halt in a truncated, unsatisfactory kind of manner.
On the Production of Monsters
Venue: The MTC Theatre, Lawler Studio
Dates: 23 May – 9 June 2012
Tickets: from $40; Under 30s just $25
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au