ajcroggon at gmail dot com
My feature on the impact of the MTC's new Southbank theatre is in today's Australian.
9:09 am Full post
Nice piece, Alison.Agree the Sumner Theatre is a wonderful space. Saw Poor Boy there and the design was immersing.Certainly beats the dark and dingy Drama Theatre at the Opera House, which I visited for the first time recently. Melbourne really is completely spoilt.Jason Whittakerjasonawhittaker@gmail.comhttp://importanceofideas.com
Great story Alison,Yes, both theatre's are amazing, but it's a shame all four plays in the Sumner have been duds (I know you will disagree on this). I understand that the MTC is going through a period of change crucial to its future, and you have to congratulate Simon Phillips on his guidance. But it's a bit painful when you go and sit in what is certainly the best theatre in Melbourne and watch boring, uninspired and irrelevant theatre. I suspect there may be slightly more ambitious programing next year, now that they're settled in, but of all the plays produced so far this year August: Osage County has to be the only one you could claim to be great theatre. There is a shocking gap between the quality and ambition of our mainstage theatre and that of its Sydney equivilant. Isn't Melbourne supposed to be the theatre capital of Australia? Personally, I find it a bit embarrassing when an STC production does a clean sweep at the Green Room awards like it did earlier this year. And i'm sure Season of Sarsparilla, War of the Roses and Women of Troy all got pretty good audiences. But I guess we'll stick with Man from Mukinupin for now...Luckily, we'll be treated to When the Rain Stops Falling soon in the Sumner, for which it should be a perfect fit, and eye opening for the subscribers. I'll also add that I am looking forward to the Katz play in the festial, cheers for that MTC.
Thanks Jason and Gilligan. Aside from our differences - AOC doesn't get my vote for great theatre, although it certainly had some great performances - I too hope that artistic gap will start closing. I guess it's worth remembering that War of the Roses and Sarsaparilla came about because Robyn Nevin kept programming Benedict Andrews even though his earlier work did very bad box office with the STC audiences. That takes quite a bit of belief and moral courage.
Gillian - Malthouse did Women of Troy and MTC bought Sarsaparilla - so we did see those down this way. And i reckon if War of the Roses sold it would be in part because STC has Cate Blanchett, superstar AD who can perform in whatever she likes and people will purchase. Mukinupin was also a sydney (belvoir) show. Poor Boy also went to sydney. I seem to constantly hear sydneysiders bitching about thier own theatre scene as opposed to ours and vice versa. Half the stuff tours anyway - i think the criticism of the shows is valid but think its pretty hard to compare both states when you don't live in both or are constantly flying between them...
Rebecca- I'm aware of the origin of both those shows. And although Blanchett and Nevin were in those shows, they would have sold well regardless, as they were both incredible pieces of theatre, and directed by Andrews and Koksy. I'm not saying they shouldn't tour here, or our shows there, but Sarsparilla and Women of Troy were widely considered the best mainstage shows programmed in Melbourne last year, which doesn't reflect well on MTC. My point is that whilst we have an incredible independent scene here in Melbourne, I wish (as most people do) that MTC would do at least one ambitious project a year, and overall would be more successful if they took a leaf out of STC's book, and took some risks. They have the infrastructure now, so hopefully the art will follow. I'll quickly add that the Malthouse is great. They are very super.
Risks are fine, but not for the sake of it perhaps. Always a balance between being innovative artistically but still accessible.The wonderful thing about Melbourne theatre, and perhaps this is the real advantage over Sydney, is that arguably more people embrace it. There is more of a 'theatre culture' in the town. You don't want to alienate people with terribly earnest theatre.And if the independent scene thrives to such extent, then in some ways it IS the MTC's role to be a broad-brush, 'mainstream' company.Again, a question of balance...Jason Whittakerjasonawhittaker@gmail.comhttp://importanceofideas.com
I agree, it's terribly difficult to generalise between cities. However, a direct comparison between the STC and the MTC does lead you to conclude that there is (or at least, there has been) more space for mainstage experimentation there that there hasn't been here. (SOS, WOT and WOR - sorry for the acronyms - were all programmed on Robyn Nevin's watch, maybe modelling the STC more on Britain's National Theatre. We're still really yet to see what will evolve with Cate and Andrew at the helm.) And yes, the Malthouse has filled some of the gap; but it has quite properly a different brief to the state theatre company. When I hear the word "accessible", I reach for my gun - I've heard it used in bad ways too often. But I know what you mean. I think all major companies weigh the risks to a nicety, too much sometimes; and their perception of risk is no doubt quite different from mine, and has different measurements. I don't have to worry about budgets, for instance. But you know, the fact is that, in Melbourne at least, main stage theatre has most often been guilty of earnestness...
Hey guys, just be glad you don't live in Brisbane, where the state theatre company's home (The Bille Brown Studio) sits below a rail-bridge and will soon be made completely redundant by the Hale St link (cue massive traffic noises). And don't talk to me about artistic innovation and risk on the main stages - biggest risk QTC has taken this year is programming plays with more than four actors. Ninety and The Year of Magical Thinking were brought up north and QTC does give good support to young/emerging writers, but this is no excuse for mediocrity.End typical whinge from Brisbane.
Oh, but I AM from Brisbane. Hence the comment about them all being spoilt.Certainly agree with your comments. Have been to everything QTC has put on and the only really impressive stuff has been imported works.We'll have to catch up and bemoan together. :-)
I'm happy to admit to being spoilt. And even happier to hear voices from Brisbane here.
I'll add a note to this discussion, since generalisation is my forte.Melbourne has a robust independent theatre community, and is very good at hybrid form, at liminal, mongrel theatre. Hayloft Project (cut-up classics), Suitcase Royale (music/stand-up/theatre), Chunky Move (technology eats the dancer), playwrights such as Lally Katz (suburban surrealism). Melbourne excels at small-to-mid-scale theatre; our best companies are fiercely independent. An institution like MTC struggles, sometimes appearing unsure of what to do with itself, too big for its own budget, too exposed by its size, its need to please a large amount of people at once; whereas Red Stitch does the same work better, perhaps because its small size makes more sense in a city that likes things compact. As Alison noted here, "mainstage theatre in Melbourne has most often been guily of earnestness".Sydney, on the other hand, does two things much better: performance or live art (of which it is deservedly the capital): version 1.0, My Darling Patricia (who are now based in Melbourne, though), Panther (ditto), the legendary Sydney Front, Open City, post (possibly the most exciting new theatre ensemble in Australia), these are all groups that have grown around PACT, Performance Space, and the very strong community around these institutions. It is also a niche form, one that the general audience usually struggles to understand, and therefore we don't hear about it much. It's a beautifully brash type of theatre, rule-breaking and harsh, and perhaps it has developed in Sydney because it's a brash, arrogant city (or perhaps it's just an accident).The other thing Sydney does well is large-scale, big-budget, usually text-based theatre. It's a city that appreciates excess more than Melbourne (Simon Stone remarked that 3xSisters was a Sydney show once, and I think he was spot-on), which may explain the Kosky productions, War of the Roses, and similar enormous projects. STC seems willing to take risk, financial risk, to stage something outrageously big - which is a good attitude towards art. In between the two extremes, however, not much happens in Sydney, save the occasional inspid staging of a West End hit. As of the pitfalls of living in Brisbane, I have one word of consolation, ahem. Perth. (However, meanness aside, both cities have seen their arts funding grow in the past few years. I think there is time for smaller Australian cities to swell up with kultcha.)
That's a really good brisk summary, Jana, and certainly chimes with my notions of what goes on in the two cities. I am wondering if the STC is heading more to MTC-style mainstream, tho.
It's embarrassingly long - there's still a margin to be cut for the purposes of generalisation!STC is not as uniformly excellent as we Melburnians may think from the touring shows. The company produces its fair share of theatre to go with a dinner in town. However, it's indisputable it has also produced some of the best theatre the country has seen recently: War of the Roses, The Lost Echo; and that it tries to use its role as a big-budget company productively. Which I'm not sure can be said about the MTC. Well. We will see with Lawler (which I mentally always spell as Lola). Fingers crossed.
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