1989 : Four Writers. Four New Plays. The year, 1989

1989: the year of global change as a new decade of promise looms on the horizon was the source inspiration for the St. Martin’s Emerging Writers Studio 2009. Twenty years have passed since 1989 but the repercussion of this year echo throughout each of the plays. The short plays were performed by the St. Martin’s Performance ensemble in a non-naturalistic space dominated by a glass brick façade and were directed skilfully by Adena Jacobs and Sarach Austin.

The first play Dancing Dogs by Samantha Hill approached 1989 through the suppressed memories of a teenager. Frankie, lost in a class-orientated world escapes into intimacy with Joseph, but there re-established connection opens the cruelty of circumstance and childhood. A highlight of this performance was the antics of the characters Mel and Mel. The actors Angelique Murrary and Ruby Mathers successfully encapsulated the farcical nature of the girls with an element of self-awareness that prevented them from descending into outright caricature. Although of course it was also testament to the quality of writing that they connected so well with the audience!

Christopher Summers’ play Technique was a piece split three ways in time. 1989, the year of conception when Noel abandons his wife for the lights of New York; some time in the 90s when Ruth confronts her petulant daughter; and the present: 2009 when a grown up Joy plans to leave her re-united parents to see the world. The use of the space in this work was clever and assisted in establishing the separate time frames. Danielle Asciak delivered a powerful performance as Ruth and all of the actors were commendable in developing their characters across the time periods. The outside perspective to the family was deftly performed by Juliet Hindmarsh with an almost sadistic glee at the grotesque subjects of her photos. Her use of the camera reflected the beautifully written imagery of the script.

The third play differed from the other three in that it was not time specific (as far as I could establish). Love by Michelle Lee told a confusing tale of murder, tennis and Batman tied together with threads of the love in the title. Xavier O’Shannessy and Danny Ball were very impressive as the would-be lovers, determining not only their future but their pasts. It was an impressively written and performed work but ultimately this play left the audience with a lot of unanswered questions. Ambiguity is an element to be used reasonably sparingly in theatre. When you loose the audience the meaning often cannot be effectively communicated. Why was the pizza joint suddenly the murdered parents’ house? Was Lyle really the murderer? Was this all occurring in Erik’s head? Were Erik and Rob actually the same person? It was an intriguing work but a little unresolved.

Dan Giovanni’s work was the longest of the group. How George got her Jacket was a very identifiable tale of travel. Through the jacket we are taken back to 1989 where it manages to unite a group of people in time for the NYE celebrations. Of all the works it most effectively brought to life the atmosphere of 1989, the sense of hope, fear and freedom that burst when the Berlin Wall was torn down. Both in terms of place, time and characterisation of Jessie: Melissa Kahraman performing her infectious enthusiasm at being a part of this new world. The comic turns by Doug Lyons and Darcy Hegz were especially endearing after having seen them perform less appealing characters earlier in the evening. I also want to mention Danny Ball’s amazingly bouncy characterisation of Marty – whose ‘Bad’ dancing was a highlight of the evening. Using the glass brick wall as a theatrical representation of the Berlin Wall was inspired staging and direction.

Interestingly none of the plays were exclusively set in 1989, each writer preferring to take the challenge of the year through a retrospective glass, distorted through time and memory. This collection of plays was a fascinating insight into the emerging talent of writers and performers in Melbourne. St. Martin’s is to be applauded for the initiative as should everyone that was involved. It was a long night of theatre full of emotions, laughter and violence, but then again, so was 1989.

9/12 - 7.20pm - Irene Mitchell Studio