Exit 2011Review: The Story of Mary MacLane by HerselfReview: The Economist, Cherry CherryReview preview ~ theatre notes

Friday, December 30, 2011

Exit 2011

Was that 2011? I'm thinking of the Venerable Bede's story, in which one of King Edwin's thanes compares the life of a man (with the Anglo-Saxons it was always a man) to the swift flight of a sparrow through a banqueting hall on a dark winter's day. The past year has seemed the mere flip of a wing. Yet somehow I reviewed around 86 shows this year - quite a lot more than last year, when I reviewed 66, and almost as much as 2010, when I did 90. So much for my vows to cut down on theatre: the totting up of the books exposes my vain strivings, and reveals me for the hopeless addict I am.

Back to Back Theatre's Ganesh Vs The Third Reich. Photo: Jeff Busby

Officially, 2011 can stand as the year my brain broke. I'm always a bit beat at this time of year, heaving up on the littorals like a storm-ravaged longship, but this December has been the full-on maritime disaster. The captain of my soul would have been advised to take a holiday mid-year, but instead pushed on, seeking ever receding deadlines, ever more strained metaphors. And lo! Something went pop. Ms TN is presently in convalescent mode, stubbornly ignoring the inconvenient tasks that scar my diary even now with the excuse that I will tackle them next year. But the obligatory end of year mop-up demands attention before 2011 vanishes altogether down the memory hole. So here it is: my top shows of 2011, with links to my reviews. It turns out there are 13, not 10, so triskaidekaphobics beware. Not all the best shows I saw were in Melbourne, either. I'm no good at round numbers or neat summaries.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Review: The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself

It's tempting to consider what Mary MacLane's life might have been, had she been born male. For one thing, I might have had a better chance of having heard of her: the work of interesting women is all too apt to disappear after their deaths. Perhaps MacLane might have been known as an early 20th century Thomas Chatterton or Arthur Rimbaud, a wayward brilliance that ignited rebellion into a literary flame. But she wasn't born male, and her sex determined her life and her later reputation. It meant that she was doomed to being considered eccentric rather than original, and the egocentricity permissible in a young man of genius put MacLane beyond the pale of womanhood.

She was certainly scandalous: precociously intelligent, unapologetically sexual, Romantic with a startling capital R. Her best selling memoir The Story of Mary MacLane was published when she was 19, and sold 100,000 copies in its first month. In it she vividly recounted her desires, her boredom, her fantasies, and proclaimed herself as a genius. In 1902, this was unprecedented only in that it was a woman writing in such a way: Walt Whitman, clearly a foundational influence, first published Song of Myself in 1855. The real scandal was (and remains) that a woman should proclaim an autonomous self, an active subjectivity.

Such proclamations have always been made, and have been routinely diminished and ignored over the past few hundred years. Watching The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself, I was struck by how much her writing chimes with the writings of women mystics in the Middle Ages. Several years ago, I became deeply interested in these women, who invented a whole new vocabulary of subjective experience for western culture. The parallels with MacLane are intriguing.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Review: The Economist, Cherry Cherry

The great holiday guillotine has now slammed down across Ms TN's diary, and so last week I saw my last shows for the year. And then, in the way of the these things, I promptly came down with a cold. I blame Melbourne's increasingly absurd weather for this, as much as the exigencies of the end of the year: this city has always, admittedly, been proverbial for its changeability ("if you don't like Melbourne's weather, wait five minutes") but in the past month it's been pushing capriciousness to excess. I am thinking of investing in a porter to carry the galoshes, mac, heated gloves, snow goggles etc that are the essential accessories to any well-prepared Melbourne summer wardrobe. The stress of deciding what to wear has practically made me a slave to laudanum.

For all this, I managed to dress (even without a maid to secure my corsets) and saw three shows, all from independent companies (the last a co-production with the Malthouse, of which more in due course). I know I keep saying that diversity is the strength of our theatre culture, but I say so for good reason: it's difficult to think of three more different productions, in approach, intent and theme. If they had all been diversely bad, Ms TN's vapours might have become melodramatic, but the public was saved such tedious demonstrations. I also keep saying that if you like theatre, Melbourne is the place to be; and last week was a neat illustration of why.

I finally caught up with MKA, the new writer's theatre that opened in September last year and has continued at a blinding pace since, with punishing schedules of readings and productions, under the artistic directorship of the magnificently named Tobias Manderson-Galvin. Taking a leaf from the original Royal Court, its avowed intent is the development of plays through productions and readings, and it has been making waves all year through a series of temporary venues. The Economist, by Manderson-Galvin himself, was MKA's final show for 2011.

This production made waves of a different kind, as it is based on the case of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian right wing extremist and racist who murdered 77 people in July this year. The play caused a brief tabloid sensation before it opened when Manderson-Galvin was pilloried for saying that Breivik was no more insane than John Howard. The far right is touchy about Breivik, for good reason: he justified his horrific crimes in a rambling manifesto that quoted some of our own rabid luminaries, and which rehearsed some very familiar rhetoric about the fall of the west, the rise of Islam, and the evils of "cultural Marxism" and feminism.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Review preview

Ms TN seems unable to get her sentences together today, so let me briefly flag a couple of theatrical events that opened this week, both from Melbourne's thriving independent scene. Get thee hence to A is for Atlas's wholly charming Cherry Cherry (details here), which takes place in a private home in Thornbury and includes a delicious dinner, and MKA's wicked take on political delusion, The Economist (details here). Both close on December 10, so get booking.

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