Left – Brenda Palmer. Cover – Alec Gilbert
The set of The Melbourne Monologues, a production by Melbourne Writers Theatre, is simply a door in a frame. Most of the monologues make use of it but not often frequently enough nor in ways to keep us guessing, with the exception of the last piece. The performances overall are meaty and grounded and provide for a night of, if not riveting theatre then enough strong moments to satisfy. The first monologue, War Artist by Christine Croyden and performed by Alec Gilbert, is about a veteran returned from service in Iraq, questioning the politics of war and whose post-traumatic stress has become enmeshed with his ambivalence towards his marriage. Sadly the audience is left with nothing to guess at, only a feeling of being lectured to with few stakes to keep us hooked.
Cry of a Forgotten Woman, by Barry Revill, is stunningly performed by Brenda Palmer in one of her best moments on stage, it's a piece where concrete details and memories fuse into a sense of place as the personality of an individual unravels; a satisfyingly engaging journey is on offer. The other monologue which takes into account theatrical language is Neil McGovern’s I Love You; McGovern’s a first-time playwright with an instinct for drama. I Love You is performed by Alec Gilbert, and here you do get to wonder if the character is going to let his unseen visitor into his house. Here something solid is grappled with, in the moment, on stage. I Love You also made the most interesting use of the door on set. I Have Everything I Want, by Carmen Saarelaht, was nicely delivered by Carolyn Masson, but concealed little and left us unmoved. Lost, by Mazz Ryan, was saved by Milijana Cancar, always an expressive actor who does her best to bring to life a text dragged down by unimaginative phrases like ‘oceans of uncertainty’ and ‘the vastness before me’.
It’s been said to death that conflict is the essence of drama and it needs to be said again. All of the stories feature characters wrestling with themselves in some way, but we are hearing about it rather than seeing it in live dramatic action. Nearly all the pieces suffer from the perennial flaw of monologues – we are given stories on a plate rather than present action to make us wonder or care. More engagement with theatrical language and conventions would have helped all of these monologues generally, along with an appreciation that sensual concrete details and idiosyncratic utterances, along with conflict, are what make a story roar, sigh and rattle on stage. Direction is by resident Melbourne Writers Theatre resident director and dramaturg Elizabeth Walley.
Melbourne Writers' Theatre presents
The Melbourne Monologues
Directed by Elizabeth Walley
Venue: La Mama Courthouse | 349 Drummond Street, Carlton VIC
Dates: 20 - 25 October, 2015
Tickets: $25 – $20