impressive, psychologically sound and surprisingly staid

— REVIEW of ‘The Economist’ | The Australian

The Economist | Review

Chris Boyd | The Australian
6 Dec, 2011

WITH preternatural timing, reports on the mental state of Anders Behring Breivik were tabled in an Oslo court on the day that previews of MKA’s stage play about the Norwegian mass murderer began in Melbourne.

A melodrama it might be, but The Economist takes remarkably few liberties with the established facts. It’s a matter of record, for example, that Breivik, the son of an economist, was an admirer of the words and deeds of John Howard, George Pell, Keith Windschuttle and Peter Costello.

Here, as in the manifesto he emailed hours before his killing spree, Breivik trades as Andrew Berwick. The one rather cheeky liberty playwright Tobias Manderson-Galvin takes is to give Berwick the middle name Bolt – but that’s the lone cheap shot in this impressive, psychologically sound and surprisingly staid piece.

It’s entirely different – in content and intent – to Robert Reid’s appalling and wicked musical about the Belanglo State Forest murders, which had a guiltily cathartic effect. It’s rather closer to 9 Scars, an ambitious work of dance theatre about a Columbine-style school shooting seen at the Space in Melbourne’s Prahran in September.

The uncredited original music escorts us into the abyss with a toothy Barry Morgan smile. Like an Angelo Badalamenti film score, the keyboard chords, guitar feedback and vocal harmonies are primal in their simplicity. They strike at the heart without stopping to be unpacked intellectually.

The casting of a tall, slight and scarily Aryan-looking woman (Zoey Dawson) as Berwick has a similar not-quite-Brechtian effect. We’re made acutely aware of Berwick’s physical and psychological vulnerability – and his individuality – in early scenes. Berwick’s transition from loner to loony is fast, deft and plausible.

In Van Badham’s tight, disarmingly imaginative and superbly acted production, Dawson is first among equals. Around her, members play hookers, gun club members, brutal police, nosy neighbours and the odd demigod. (Almost all the women Berwick encounters are played by men.)

Manderson-Galvin’s script is clever without being ostentatious, and poetic without sacrificing authenticity. It springs from a fascination with the pathology of Breivik rather than his particular isolationist, white supremacist, anti-Muslim obsessions.

For this show, MKA uses a tiny hall (it seats 60) in a soon to be demolished Steiner school. The urban location, so close to Hoddle Street, scene of another infamous rampage, adds to our sense of exposure and helplessness.

“impressive, psychologically sound and surprisingly staid”