MKA retains its new writing throne with

— REVIEW of ‘Double Feature’ | Artshub

Hose and Tinkertown | Review

Jennifer Penton | ArtsHub
29 Feb, 2012

✭ | Four Stars

THEATRE WORKS: A double-bill of new writing from Melbourne’s most active independent theatre company, MKA.

From acclaimed independent company MKA comes this double-bill of new writing and theatrical talent, Hose and Tinkertown, showing in a short season at Theatre Works. MKA, an unfunded, not for profit organisation, has rapidly gained a reputation for generating an astonishing amount of work but it has also become the go-to place for brave and versatile writing in Melbourne. Their current double bill from writers Bridget Mackey (Hose) and Nathaniel Moncrieff (Tinkertown) presents an emotive and triumphantly disturbing evening of hidden secrets, untouched dreams and misguided adventure.

Mackey’s Hose, directed by Alister Smith, follows Isabelle – a condemned woman – into the depths of a beauty salon where she seeks solace from herself. With a spritz of fake tan and a slick of polish, Isabelle is told that she can be new again. Although, as the list of treatments grows longer and the layers of her soul are peeled away, she begins to wonder just how ugly she might be.

As Isabelle continues to have her very essence scrubbed, waxed and exfoliated by the amazingly competent yet strangely robotic beautician, Jodie, and her team of clones, she finds herself drifting between her past and present and confronting the memories that have caused her retreat to the salon. We see Isabelle struggle through the pain of first love, the hurt of an awful event and the brutal revenge that she took as a result, as she is undone by her memories.

Director Alister Smith has captured the unsettling and mechanical feel of the beauty salon perfectly and he delights in the contrast between this discomforting oppressiveness and the unconcerned memories of Isabelle’s youth, ultimately making the return to the salon that much more troubling. The minimal staging enables the performers – and the audience with them – to escape the walls of the salon and move into the past, although the salon always pulls us back to the present. The cast is excellent, delivering the change in pace, physicality and energy that is required to convey these separate realities. Special mention should go to Claudia Tory in her role as Isabelle, who presents an authentic and realistic portrayal of this increasingly troubled character.

Shocking in some places and sorrowful in others, the piece is also able to make the audience laugh in between. This is a well-crafted piece of writing that grabs your attention and holds it until the end, though the event that inspires Isabelle’s act of revenge is unclear; one can only presume that it has been left up to the audience to decide what really happened. However, without this clarification the audience is rapidly swept away in the details of her revenge attack and there is no time to really consider all these events in any detail. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Hose leaves you talking about it long after you walk out of the theatre.

While Hose is funny and engaging, Tinkertown is unfortunately less so. It follows Chester, a father just out of jail who kills his daughter’s guardian and kidnaps the girl – taking her on a road trip for some ‘quality time’ which involves drinking, drugs, prostitutes and robbing banks. With all these elements and several sexual references directed towards the young teenage daughter, there is simply too much dysfunction here for one play to manage constructively and the result is a collection of highly dislikeable characters and a story that is impossible to invest in.

Director and MKA Artistic Director, Tobias Manderson-Galvin, attempts to bring the script to life and illuminate the softer side of the characters, but the content is too far fetched and there is nothing for the audience to grasp onto. The saving grace of this production is the beautiful and touching set, in particular the use of fairy lights as scene titles. This gives the piece a magical and fantastical feeling that is almost reflected in the script towards the end of the piece. This is possibly a whisper of what the play might have achieved, but it is sadly lost beneath the overpowering characters – the aggressive Chester and his frustrating daughter Tammy who, although clearly intelligent and aware of the situation she is in, refuses to take any action except to go along with everything her father puts her through.

Ultimately there aren’t enough layers peeled back from these characters to enable any real emotional exchange between them. By the end of the piece, when they do try to share a connection, it’s already too late and the audience has lost faith in them both.

MKA retains its new writing throne with this double bill and the imperfections of these pieces merely remind us that this is new work. MKA’s role in opening doors for playwrights is outstanding and should continue to be given the theatre community’s full support and backing. More than that, they are producing interesting and original theatre that aims to challenge the norm and lead the way towards a brighter future for Melbourne’s vibrant theatre scene.

“MKA retains its new writing throne.”