Friday, May 09, 2008

More Premature Evaluation

Okay, so we're not even twenty weeks into the year and I'm at least considering hailing 2008 as the best in Melbourne theatre in the 21 years I've been reviewing.

The beauty of it is, the goodies are coming from all directions. From (as Joan Armatrading once sang) the bottom to the top. From the usual and unusual suspects alike: La Mama (Porcelain), Red Stitch (The Winterling), Hayloft (Platonov), Malthouse Theatre (Moving Targets) and the Melbourne Theatre Company (Love Story). How wonderful, too, that the MTC has hosted two rippers from interstate: The Season at Sarsaparilla (STC) and Holding the Man (Griffin).

I've got two more to add to the list this week. Michael Dalley's one-man show Death in White Linen at Headquarters (there are three more performances, tonight and tomorrow at 8 pm and Sunday May 11 at 6:30) and the latest production at Red Stitch, an imaginative and strikingly original production (directed by Görkem Acaroglu) of Bruce Norris's play The Pain and the Itch. At least you have three weeks in which to see that! It runs through to May 31.

Death in White Linen will only take an hour of your time but (if I may quote myself!) it has a luxuriantly high thread count. It's a really interesting step from Dalley. He turns what he does -- the satirical song'n'dance hide-the-castor-oil-with-caster-sugar stuff -- into a fair-dinkum play.

The Pain and the Itch is -- if I might reach into my capacious bag of cliches -- a savage indictment of holier-than-thou US liberalism. Or should that be prolier than thou? (Mmmm... No.)

In today's Herald Sun (sorry, no link) I liken this play from Chicago to Ibsen's Ghosts and David Eldridge's stage adaptation of the Dogme 95 film Festen. And here's a bit of trivia for theatrical trainspotters. Ghosts had its premiere in Chicago, in Norwegian, with a Danish actress in the lead.

What the hell... you've read this far. You might as well get a bit more of the Dalley review.

We're used to songs that are martini-dry -- or cyanide-sweet -- from Michael Dalley. He combines the cool wit of Noel Coward and the cruel wit of Tom Lehrer. But he's so good at writing (and performing) satirical songs, that there isn't much need to go beyond threading them together, as in Vaudeville X which graduated to the Arts Centre recently.


Death in White Linen is the story of a family which flees the class drudgery of middle England for the new world... which gives Dalley the opportunity to rhyme (frozen) genitalia with Australia.

Rather than revel in the relative classlessness of the New World, the aspirational son trades on his acquired posh accent, his Young Liberal connections and his mother's savings. He becomes the "Melba toast" of the town. He marries well and lives happily ever after.



Dalley swaps voices and characters (age/sex/nationality/class) with a turn of his head. He doesn't miss a beat. There are moments that reminded me of Judith Lucy's first stage performances in Melbourne, in this theatre, almost twenty years ago. And he's every bit as funny.

But the comedy serves the drama and the subtle theme is that bullying makes bullies. That the bullied, when freed from the tyrrany of bullying or in this case class, sometimes get revenge on the world rather than make a better one.

Death in White Linen. Written and performed by Michael Dalley. Direction and dramaturgy by Anna McCrossin-Owen. Designed by Dayna Morrissey. Lighting design by Michael Jewell. Sound design by Bryan Duke. A High Performance Company production. At La Mama, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton. Bookings 03 9347 6142.


Blogger dri aquandrian said...

I could have sworn that said "premature ejaculation" this morning!


7:28 PM  
Blogger genevieve said...

Thanks for the review of Michael's show - he taught my daughter briefly, she likes to keep up with his work. Groovy.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

You can swear all you like, dri. Smut is in the eye of the beholder. =]

The show's bound to have nine lives, GT. Hope you get to see it.

8:09 AM  

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