The art of light writing, as playwrights like Oscar Wilde demonstrate, is a serious business. Writing a light play about serious business is even more serious. The danger is that "light" - which is not, by any means, a synonym for "slight" - can so easily become banal or substanceless or, worst of all, indigestibly soggy in the middle. It requires a quicksilver theatrical wit, faith in the intelligence of the audience, a lot of writerly tact and, perhaps most of all, the ability to keep contradictory impulses in dynamic suspension. You can see all these qualities at work in Robert Reid's On the Production of Monsters, now playing in the Lawler Studio at the Melbourne Theatre Company.
|Virginia Gay and James Saunders. Photo: Jodie Hutchinson|
Set in the cafes and offices of inner-city Melbourne, On the Production of Monsters exploits hipster urban chic even as it pokes fun at its absurdities. The elegant conceit is that each scene is a dialogue between different characters, all of them played by the same two actors, Virginia Gay and James Saunders. The plot revolves around the young couple Shari and Ben, uber-cool Melburnites who, following the unwritten laws of hipsterdom, recognise the hip in everyone but themselves. They are sweeter than they realise, basically well-intentioned and harmless. Reid is interested in how these two are transformed, through an innocent mistake, into the favourite monster of the tabloids: child pornographers.
The play opens with Ben and Shari breakfasting in a cafe, tallying up points for hipster-spotting while they sip their coffees. Ben works in a call centre for the local water authority, where he embarrassedly fends off awkward advances from his supervisor. Shari, a keen environmentalist and aspiring artist, is seeking funding for a project which will see children from local schools clearing rubbish from the banks of the Merri Creek. When she is interviewed by an ambitious young reporter from the local newspaper, she forwards him an email leaked by Ben, which has the minutes of a meeting from the water authority. Unfortunately, Ben has also forwarded a photo of a naked and possibly underage girl which his boss has sent to him as a coarse attempt at seduction.