MELANCHOLIA - MELBOURNE
MELANCHOLIA, Malthouse Theatre 13 July-12 August 2018. Photography by Pia Johnson
Written by Lars von Trier and adapted for the theatre from his 2011 movie by Declan Greene, this world premiere production is directed by Matthew Lutton. Melancholia can be read as a touch of Chekhov with undertones of science fiction.
On a set designed by Marg Horwell, lit by Paul Jackson, a bride, Justine (Eryn Jean Norvill) enters late for her own wedding reception which is taking place at the home of her sister Claire (Leeanna Walsman) and brother-in-law (Steve Mouzakis). It’s a former castle now golf resort. She seems flushed with the joy of being a bride but she is distracted, in no hurry to join well wishers, she falters and delays. Her husband (Gareth Yuen), at odds with her behaviour, tries his best, but ultimately walks away. Her sister Claire is angry and tense, having had the task of keeping everyone happy while Claire yet again takes the spotlight and sabotages the party. Their mother (Maude Davey) drunkenly causes mayhem. They form a disparate family, colliding and falling into the abyss.
This opening part is – on the surface very funny, but the underlying distress from each person is palpable. Justine is a woman living in a hell of her own, trying to keep it together but losing the battle. We are witness to a woman in mental crisis, her presence tenuous. She is unaware that her fragility is seen by Claire as sabotage. There are inescapable Chekhovian overtones: the two sisters at odds. Manipulation, desire, everyone wanting something that the other can’t give.
Justine is at the mercy of her brother-in-law for work that she hates and, hating his amassed wealth, she spits back. To keep herself on track and from retreating into her madness she recites words, attempting to stay in the present, wandering the golf course naming the holes to no avail. Her monologue of the sex she has in a bunker with someone other than her husband is brilliant.
The second – fantastical – part (no interval) also takes place outdoors, the terrace moves back to reveal a grassy expanse. Claire has taken a catatonic Justine into her home to care for her. She has been in this state since the “wedding”, unable to speak and barely able to walk. The other unspoken fear that keeps them on edge is the forecast that a new planet is hurtling towards earth with the very real possibility of global annihilation.
They want answers. They need Justine to be well to find out if they are going to live or die. Apparently, Justine has “the power” – an uncanny gift of knowing when things are about to occur. But in her catatonic state they can’t get what they want or need to know.
Structurally this part is too long, but I was still hooked. The music (sound design J. David Franzke) and Jackson’s lighting, as we wait to see if it is “the end” is extraordinary. I actually felt as if Horwell’s set – of an expansive stage with an open dome where petals fall – was lifting or the grass was undulating as my eyes played tricks.
It was always going to be a big ask to bring von Trier’s film to the stage and while there are parts that I questioned, ultimately Green and Lutton have given us a great piece of theatre.
Norvill has great presence as Justine, more so as the bride, her mannerisms and voice contributing to a great, honest performance. I wasn’t as convinced in the second part. Davey, as Justine’s mother ,is suitably appalling: the mother no one wants at a wedding. Walsman’s attempts to keep it all together, coupled with fear is a fine performance and Mouzakis manages well the intricacies of his role.
I also loved the set and lighting: the mood changes, the starkness, the warmth coupled with the sound design that partnered well – the end of the world certainly was nigh. Highly recommended.