By Ash Cottrell
Rounding off the week with a trip to Malthouse Theatre on a Sunday night, is always a pretty good place to start. If only Melbourne’s weather made up its mind and picked a season, the outdoor area that once thrived at Malthouse during COVID would be a delightful place to perch on a summer’s evening. I begrudgingly swapped my sunglasses for what could only be described as a winter coat and embarked on a night at the theatre.
Monsters at Malthouse marks the first play I have seen since the Melbourne International Comedy festival, earlier this year. This out-of-action malaise meant that I was reasonably primed to see what my favourite playhouse had to offer. It pains me to say that for me, Monsters missed the mark. Profoundly this was due, as it often is when I don’t connect with material, to the storytelling.
Monsters, written by Emme Hoy and directed by Matthew Lutton is the tale of a woman on a quest to find her missing sister. The location of this desperate and impassioned search is a terrifying sinkhole that has opened in the ground, against the backdrop of what I took to be a post-apocalyptic urban city. Together with a cave guide (both played by Allison Whyte), the woman seeks out the missing sister, only to find that the sinkhole is a horror-fuelled locale, possessing terrifying visions, haunting memories, palpable claustrophobia and, as the title suggests, monsters.
In the absence of traditional storytelling structure, I need great characters to connect with and I left this play not knowing anything specific about our protagonist, or her relationship to the mysterious sister, who remains at large until the final showdown. In short, I wasn’t really invested in the ‘woman’s’ plight to find her next-of-kin and without that investment in the overarching quest, it wasn’t a play that propelled me into that wonderful space of disbanding belief. As is often the case though, I appeared to be in the minority, with a slew of rave reviews online for, Monsters and an audience that (in part), gave this show a standing ovation.
Have I missed something?
While the story failed to engage me, what was undeniably impressive and, in many cases, spectacular, was the agility and onstage beauty of the dancers – Samantha Hines, Josie Weise, Kimball Wong and their choreographer, Stephanie Lake. Their movement was something to behold and created the only tension I felt from this play. Other exquisite elements were the bold stage and lighting design by Paul Jackson, which is about as good as I have ever seen. Sound design and composition were also adequately haunting, kudos to Marco Cher-Gibard and Rosalind Hall, respectively, for this work. I also have to say that the blocking, which is often a pet peeve of mine, was excellent, as were the use of levels and visual storytelling which should be credited to the direction of Matthew Hutton.
In the end, these impressive elements weren’t enough to round things out and I left the theatre craving more. With that said, I couldn’t help but smile as I awaited the all-too-familiar aeroplane mode phone reminders and the ever-important acknowledgements that signal the commencement of the play. It’s been a rough couple of years for live performance and the plethora of artists that the pandemic has affected. The good, the bad and the ugly aside – theatre is back, with vengeance and evidently, monsters.
Images: Pia Johnson