MKA have to have a dud; it’s natural that their streak of you-remind-me-why-I-love-theatre shows ends eventually, but it isn’t with Group Show.
Now in their third year, this company – who still have no funding or formal financial support – have consistently been critically raved about and developed an audience who wouldn’t give a toss if they read a negative word about the company. There’s no one around like them and I try not to miss anything they do because I don’t want to miss the writers, directors, designers and performers who are reminding us why we get so frustrated with boring shows.
Group Show is a series of short plays by new writers. It’s six performers, five writers, two directors and a designer who I’d not heard of. Every one of them is now on my see-what-they-do-next list.
The writers were commissioned for Group Show because MKA “felt that Melbourne needed to know about these writers now, right now.” It’s a bold statement, but, yep, we need to know about them because each one wrote something unexpected and interesting. Interesting is a catch-all-and-nothing word that means so little, but think of it as the opposite of boring. Some of the writing could benefit from a polish, but none were dull and all five writers left me wanting to see a full work from them.
Nakkiah Lui is already making herself known in Sydney as associate playwright in residence at Belvoir and as an Emerging Culture Leader at Griffin. Her work is sexually and racially confronting and bloody hilarious. She’s dramaturging for the Sisters Grimm’s MTC show later this year and I can’t think of anyone better for the task.
Leila Rodgers is a graduate actor from VCA and her play marks her debut as a writer. She writes beautifully for actors and if this is her first piece, I can’t wait to see her twentieth.
Bridget Mackey is competing her Masters in Writing for Performance at VCA and has worked a lot in Adelaide. Her ghost story was genuinely creepy and reminded me so much of living in a haunted house in Adelaide that I wonder if she also lived there.
Chloe Martin studied writing in Melbourne and is currently at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Her writing comes from a place that’s difficult to settle into, but it’s so very funny that its oddness quickly becomes a wonderful new normal.
Maxine Mellor, from Queensland, is the most experienced of the writers with over 20 plays. She recently won a Queensland Premier’s Drama Award and a residency with Edward Albee in New York in 2012. If Albee likes her, who am I to say that anything different? Her writing draws on the absurd and is infused with the kind of heart that makes you need her characters to win.
And that’s just the writers!
Directors Prue Clark and Luke Kerridge have studied directing at VCA and I suspect that they’ve sat through a lot of very boring short-play seasons (I know I have). Their direction of Group Show is, without doubt, the best direction of a short-play season that I’ve seen. They created a world that seemed made for each of the very-different works and is so funny and fascinating that the change-over moments between each play are as good as the plays.
And the direction worked perfectly with the multi-door design by Lucy Thornett (another VCA student) whose use of colour and shape made the square Northcote Town Hall room as exciting as any of the pop-up spaces MKA have used.
Finally there are the six actors: Aaron Walton, Annabel Marshall-Roth, Amy Jones, Alex McQueen, Devon Lang Wilton and Ryan Jones. They all grasped the different tones of each work and of the night overall, and let us into the hearts of characters who could have easily been dismissed or disliked. I have no doubt that each will earn their own rave sometime in the near future.
Group Show is on at the Northcote Town Hall until 30 March. See it to get to know a bunch of creators who are going to be filling our stages in the coming years, or to be reminded that short plays can, and should, be wonderful.