5 Melbourne Shows Every Cinephile Should See
Hollywood has a long history of sourcing compelling narratives from great literature, transforming bestsellers into blockbusters. In 2019, however, several Melbourne theatre productions are flipping that script. With storytelling transported from the screen to the stage, these five film-to-theatre adaptations offer a new perspective on cinematic classics, reimagined through the lens of live performance.
The Lady in the Van
When an eccentric vagrant parked the dilapidated van she lived in on the London driveway of dramatist Alan Bennett, the British playwright imagined she’d be a temporary tenant for a matter of weeks. In actuality, Miss Mary Shepherd – a cantankerous, filthy, mysterious women with whom Bennett shared a bittersweet relationship – stayed for 15 years, until her death in 1989. While Miss Shepherd may not have paid rent when she was alive, Bennett has certainly gotten his money’s worth out of her extraordinary story since her passing. First published as a diarised essay, then as a novella and finally as a stage play, this surreal true story was adapted by director Nicholas Hytner into a movie in 2015, starring the UK’s most indomitable character actress, Dame Maggie Smith. In Melbourne Theatre Company’s new production, directed by Dean Bryant, one of Australia’s greatest theatrical luminaries, Miriam Margolyes, takes on the title role.
Arbus & West
Strictly speaking, this isn’t an adaptation of a film, but it is an example of a remarkable celluloid story nonetheless. This premiere season of Stephen Sewell’s latest play imagines what may have transpired when celebrated photographer Diane Arbus photographed faded Hollywood sex symbol and innuendo savant Mae West. Arbus was not a typical celebrity snapper. Her canon of work was an investigation of life on the fringes of society, capturing intimate, revealing, tender moments in the lives of outsiders and marginalised communities: trans people, people with physical and mental disabilities, sex workers, nudists, carnival performers, drifters. Despite West’s fame, this same liminal fascination can be found in Arbus’s photos of the aging bombshell, as she poses alluringly in a pink, feather-trimmed negligée, age-inappropriate by several decades. It’s said a picture says a thousand words, and now, thanks to Sewell and director Sarah Goodes, you can find out what they were.
Colin Thiele’s 1964-penned novel is a timeless classic of Australian children’s fiction — a tale of mateship, the uncorrupted compassion of childhood, and the special relationship between a boy and his bird. Set on a blasted stretched of South Australia’s Coorong coastline, Storm Boy and his father are recluses, living outside of the laws and authorities of normal society. When Storm Boy finds three orphaned pelican chicks, his decision to rear them himself begins a chain of events that will shake his sheltered world to its core. Since its publication, “Storm Boy” has been adapted for film twice, the most recent of which was released at the beginning of 2019. The first stage version wasn’t attempted until 2013 when the Sydney Theatre Company produced Tim Holloway’s theatrical adaptation. That same text will be the backbone of MTC’s new production, featuring the same creative team behind Kate Mulvany’s smash-hit adaptation of Craig Silvey’s “Jasper Jones,” in partnership with the marionette masters of Dead Puppet Society.
Shakespeare in Love
Arguably the most famous film to receive a theatrical transformation this season is also set to be one of the most lavishly realised. Originally adapted by Lee Hall, the screenwriter behind “Billy Elliott,” the stage iteration of the 1999 Oscar-winning movie premiered on London’s West End in 2014. With a cast of no less than 21 characters, it is an audaciously scaled work, but this Melbourne premiere production is in safe hands. Director Simon Phillips not only has fine form staging Shakespeare, including the wildly successful MTC productions of “Macbeth” and “Twelfth Night” in 2017 and 2018 respectively, he’s also a tried and true exponent of marquee value shows. Audiences can expect Shakespearian savvy and showbiz spectacle in equal and ample measure. And be sure to keep your ear to ground for the upcoming announcement of the actors who will play the roles of Will Shakespeare and his forbidden love, Viola.
When Malthouse Theatre’s artistic director Matthew Lutton first announced his 2018 season, many were left scratching their heads. One of last year’s major productions was a new stage adaptation of Lars von Trier’s planet-smashing psychological drama “Melancholia,” a film so epic in its imagery, conjuring it onstage seemed a baffling impossibility. However, any doubts of Malthouse’s ability to pull off such a seemingly undoable task were proven baseless by Declan Greene’s sublime script and Lutton’s monumental staging. Never ones to shy away from a challenge, the creative team at Malthouse is once again tapping the world of psychological sci-fi for an equally unexpected adaptation in 2019. With a new script by David Grief based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel, Lutton helms this world premiere production of Solaris, most famously captured in Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 film starring George Clooney. If “Melancholia’s” success is anything to go by, “Solaris” is set to be one of the must-see events of the year.