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NOT: Moth, Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Southbank

Being a regular theatre-goer, I’ve been a subscriber of the email newsletter for Theatre Alive for years. It’s an Arts Victoria website which provides information on Melbourne’s independent theatre scene and it’s a great way to discover new dance, theatre and comedy shows.

So I was quite thrilled when they contacted me to see whether I’d be interested in reviewing a show for their new review section - an area where you can submit short reviews of shows (listed on Theatre Alive) along with a small selection of audience vox pops. Having a look at the many shows listed on Theatre Alive, my pick was Moth at the Malthouse Theatre.

It came with high praise and high expectations – ‘Playwright Declan Greene’s startling new play won the Malcolm Robertson Prize and was shortlisted for the Victorian Premiere’s Literary Award. After sell-out seasons for Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Opera House in 2010, this coproduction with Arena Theatre Company returns by popular demand.’ My friend IW and I joined the Saturday night crowd for a performance during the opening week which appeared to be close to selling out.

The small stage of the Beckett Theatre was draped in a dirty-brown carpet which appeared to have been slashed in various places, seeping a dim light into the darkness. Two figures appeared and the action began, with an unusual story unfolding with tangents on bullying, mental illness and estactic religious visions.

Thomas Conroy and Sarah Ogden played the two main characters, teenagers Sebastian and Clarissa, and they were convincing in their portrayal of all the awkwardness, edginess and freakiness of being a teenager and an outsider. The two actors also played every other character in the play and their acting craft was commendable as they switched seamlessly between clearly delineated characters through only a slight change in tone and stance.

However, the play was hard going. It was only just over an hour long but I had trouble staying awake at certain times. This is despite the fact that the action on stage was pitched mostly at a very loud, shouty and anxiety-creating level. Maybe that was the problem – it was almost monotonous in its intensity. It’s hard to say whether it was the writing or the direction that lacked the necessary light and shade, but while IW and I both felt a bit battered as we left the building, neither of us felt that we gained much insight from the experience. And let’s just say that in our adolescence we were both outsiders in some way, so I would have expected to really relate to the themes of the play.

While IW and I were in firm agreement about the NOT, I fully expect others to disagree. At the end of the performance people around us gave enthusiastic applause, even standing ovations. IW and I looked at each other and asked ‘what did we miss?’.

This review also appears on Theatre Alive’s review section.

pixel NOT: Moth, Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Southbank

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