Melbourne Writers’ Theatre: The Metropolis Monologues / The City Park Plays

MWT-OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD-Sue-Rosenwax-Amir-Rahimzadeh-photo-by-John-A.-EdwardsThe MC Showroom played host recently to a double-program from Melbourne Writers’ Theatre: The Metropolis Monologues – Six Souls Laid Bare, followed by The City Park Plays – Five Stories you Never Knew.

Michael Olsen’s The Forgotten Return was a strong opening, its Interstellar-inspired story delivered in committed and moving fashion by Marli van der Bijl.

Return’s final image proved an excellent segue, shifting from outer to inner space with Lois Maskiell’s The Wave, performed by Tim Clake.

Presented as the answers to an interview, admittedly the script would have benefited from a little more trust in the audience by having our main character answer the questions without starting so often by repeating the question just put to him (something akin to JG Ballard’s short story, Answers to a Questionnaire).

As affecting as Tim’s performance was, having him reach a trembling and traumatised mode so soon meant he was left with nowhere else to go emotionally, which left the story with little of the interest that it had in its first minutes.

Louise Hopewell’s The Ministry of Cicadas was a lovely Cicadoidea-ist piece with 1984 undertones, rendered wonderfully by Emma Choy.

Adèle Shelley’s Just Go with the Flow was a fun twist on some Inspirational Teacher tropes by way of a bubbly and optimistic drama teacher played by Annie Morris.

The ending as a little abrupt and didn’t quite work, whereas an abrupt and sudden end was perfect as Alison Knight took things back up into space as well as still down on Earth with The Devil Ship, performed terrifically by Alex Gilbert.

There was a little something of Jared Harris’ splendid turn in last year’s series Chernobyl in Alex’s performance, telling the story of the early years of the space race from a Russian perspective.

Gregory Vines’ 24K Magic Ringing was a fine-enough script, though possibly not the strongest piece of the six to end the first half of the night on. However, Cosima Gilbert did tremendous work in filling it with life with an engaging performance.

Michael Olsen opened the second half with another science-fiction offering in Sapling where two gardeners in a futuristic, post-plant Melbourne chat about their scheduled settling of a tree cutting in an otherwise barren park. Rhys Hamlyn and Kyle Roberts did an okay job as the gardeners, with good support from Marli van der Bijl.

Unfortunately, it all kind of hit a wall at the end as Olsen’s script ran out of steam, leaving his characters little choice but to pause, shrug, pose a poetic and rhetorical “Must a story have an ending?” question before literally running off stage and blackout.

Alison Knight’s Elysium was a story of grief told by a father played by Amir Rahimzadeh, with mother and daughter both played by Emma Choy. The actors did admirably, but it was the work from the technical operators – syncing a short circuit-esque light and sound with Emma’s repetitive jolts – that was the most memorable. In a world where we have A.I. and particularly Majorie Prime, the piece lacked any surprise or insight.

Belinda Campbell’s Another Day at the Office began in a strange, compelling way as a jogger wonders why a man has set up his office in her park, while the man admonishes the jogger for running into his office without an appointment.

Marli van der Bijl, Johnny Kinnear, and Rhys Hamlyn were all splendid here, though the reveal that one of their respective characters was merely delusional admittedly felt a little reductive considering the delightfully absurd dilemma Campbell started with.

Mazz Ryan doesn’t so much explore “The Road Not Taken” with her piece, Under a Rock, but rather a kind of guilt as our lead character realises she’s made so many sacrifices in her life with little resistance or regret. Lansy Feng, Kyle Roberts, and Jonny Kinnear do nice work navigating the script’s dramatic turns (not to mention the dumplings).

The second half concluded with Bruce Shearer’s Out of this World, a very odd story of one person trying to convince the other person they need to put their ear to the ground in a storm because the bicycles are coming.

Actors Amir Rahimzadeh and Sue Rosenwax gave the piece no shortage of manic gusto even it not unlike Sapling the text sort of ran out of words so had the characters scream and dash away.

As the post-Covid (knock wood) resurrection of live performance continues, it’s inspiring to also see continued the spirit of risk-taking and invention that Melbourne Writers’ Theatre does so well.

The Metropolis Monologues / The City Park Plays
The MC Showroom, 1 / 48 Clifton Street, Prahran
Performance: Saturday 19 December 2020
Season closed

Image: Sue Rosenwax and Amir Rahimzadeh feature in Out of this World – photo by John A. Edwards

Review: David Collins