MT-Monsters-photo-by-Pia-JohnsonMonsters at Malthouse Theatre is a new script and a blending of theatre and dance. It is so full of literary, mythological, psychological and we-are-still-dealing-with-our-world-shutting-down metaphors that its overall meaning can be interpreted in so many ways that it can be confusing.

Huge sinkholes began appearing all over the world. Alison Whyte has hired a professional caver to help her find her sister, who put on a coloured puffer jacket to explore a hole that swallowed a huge building in their city.

Whyte is the only actor. She narrates and re-lives her story after casually saying hello to the audience in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.

It’s a bit Orpheus and underworld. But I love horror stories and immediately wanted that experience, especially as she describes crawling through a space so small that she had to tie her pack to her feet and trust her caving guide’s instructions to move by centimetres.

Much of Monsters was created in lockdown. I watched a lot of horror films during lockdown. I found them comforting, fear with the safety of a pause button.

Paul Jackson’s set and lighting design feels as much like an actual office building that collapsed into a sinkhole as a descent into hell. Its wonder is hidden trapdoors and curved spaces where the other performers – dancers Samantha Hines, Josie Weise and Kimball Wong – appear, disappear, hang and slither.

Literal and figurative monsters, they are often grotesque and terrifying. Stephanie Lake’s choreography creates creatures who resemble humans that look like they have never walked upright in the light.

At times, they are real humans and offer moments of hope, but we are now so deep underground that there are dead bodies, the heat is unbearable and there is no way in a story like this that the lights keep working.

Emme Hoy’s script is narration, so while Whyte’s magnetic performance and the images on stage begin the process, the horror (or not) is created in our imagination. What some see and feel as terror, others see as literary metaphor.

This is what seems to be dividing opinions.

I experienced it as a psychological horror story – which I didn’t know how was going to end! I wanted more fear, more terror, and none of the safety of seeing the lighting and the space around the stage. But I watch horror films in the dark.

Monsters is unexpected and explores original ideas in the script and on the stage. What the synergy of its parts is creating isn’t clear. Perhaps, the best way to approach it is to clip on securely, go over the edge and experience it with whatever resonates with you.

Merlyn Theatre – Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank (Melbourne)
Performance: Sunday 27 November 2022
Season continues to 11 December 2022
Information and Bookings:

Image: Josie Weise, Alison Whyte and Samantha Hines in Monsters – photo by Pia Johnson

Review: Anne-Marie Peard