A technically brilliant satire on the American political machine, The Speechmaker drips with the larrikinish Aussie wit we would expect from Working Dog, but, despite its technical prowess, it left me feeling … well … nothing.
That’s not exactly true. It left me feeling nothing about its content, but it certainly has me feeling a lot about the state of professional theatre in Melbourne.
Admittedly, these days, I don’t attend a production at Melbourne Theatre Company with the same expectations as I do for independent groups or venues like Q44, La Mama or Red Stitch. At the MTC, I expect technical brilliance and shallow content and The Speechmaker did not disappoint. It is a sad day when the theatrical heights of the unofficial theatre capital of Australia are constantly playing it safe.
Sure, The Speechmaker is funny and at times it’s hilarious. The cast are all great and the stand out performances that had me chuckling merrily were Erik Thomson’s President and Toby Truslove’s media guru, Ed. Kat Stewart’s Mitch however stole the show.
But despite all this, the main thing I walked away wondering was ‘why?’ Why as Australian’s are we looking at the political machine of America? Why is it that to create a successful new Australian work we must look away from our own country? Why doesn’t this show, and many other like it at that level, feel LIVE anymore?
Here is where the majority of the foul taste in my mouth came from. The Speechmaker didn’t, and MTC hasn’t for some time, feel live. My partner in theatrical undertakings for the evening put it best: “It’d probably be cheaper to buy a copy of The Hollowmen, you’d probably be forgiven for getting the same experience out of it too.”.
The Hollowmen is Working Dog’s highly successful ABC-aired political satire. It’s funny and The Speechmaker invites comparisons. In doing so, it highlights the decline in professional Melbourne theatre. The shows are so technically brilliant, so slick, so well rehearsed that there is no longer a live element to the craft.
The Speechmaker deserves a huge congratulations – it’s sold out, after all. But to the MTC, I implore you to look back at the grassroots theatre that makes Melbourne great. Stop taking the easy crowd pleasers. Encourage new Australian works that highlight this country! And please, please find that all important ingredient to make our theatre feel alive again.