Above – Josie Weise, Kimball Wong, Alison Whyte. Cover – Josie Weise, Alison Whyte, Samantha Hines. Photos – Pia Johnson

Emme Hoy wrote the script of Monsters during lockdown, when the world was extremely uncertain, and nobody knew what theatre would look like on the other side. If audiences want happy and distracting, Monsters will not fit the bill. It’s an ambitious, somewhat heavy-handed performance between a monologist and a trio of dancers. It is very dark, literally and figuratively.  

The literal is Paul Jackson’s subterranean set that could be a freeway underpass, a sewer, a cave, heavily dimmed and occasionally in pure blackout. 

Figurately, it’s an extended metaphorical tale, told by Alison Whyte, of a woman who nervously enters a sinkhole, accompanied by a professional caver, to search for her mentally unsteady sister Claire.  

Before the show starts Whyte lingers near the audience, delivers Welcome to Country, casually sips a cup of tea and asks the audience to close their eyes and go deeply inward.  

She then shifts into her horrific story, stays there unflinchingly for an intense hour and then seamlessly relaxes into a curtain call.  

Whyte’s delivery is stunning and wholehearted; her command of the text and cadence modulated and heightened for maximum impact. The story is unrelenting in tone and slow to unfold. Sometimes specific and often allegorical, the dense script, despite Whyte’s unwavering commitment, remains nebulous.  

It evokes symbolic terrors, staying in a heightened, repetitive state for long stretches of time, as Whyte describes descending the cave, the claustrophobia within, the wretched, piled-up bodies and the desperate hunt for her sister in the mass of humanity.  

A trio of dancers – Samantha Hines, Josie Weise and Kimball Wong – exist in the background and sometimes punctuate the foreground, to build physical tension and suggest the constant threats of death and despair. 

The tiered, cavernous space allows the dancing bodies to roll and fall through trap doors and holes, or just emerge from the depths and sprawl out deadly still, all with a foreboding chiaroscuro light.  

Often the choreography is more image than movement – a glimpse of a curled up back or a muscly limb. All three dancers are extremely robust and athletic, drawing on physical skills in line with acrobatics and climbing to plunge headfirst into abysses or suspend, corpse-like, with a single arm from a rafter.  

 The movement style is atypical of choreographer Stephanie Lake who often works with large, joyous groups.  For Monsters, Lake adopts a skittery, jerky style that flickers with menace and sustains the sinister ambience.  

Only once does the dance trio physically interact with Whyte in what seems more obligatory than organic. Whyte is really in her element with the text and the dance works best as a nightmarish peripheral.  

With direction by Matthew Lutton and a score by Rosalind Hall, this highly- conceptualized collaboration is executed to the highest standards. The individual artistic elements fill their briefs, yet as a theatrical totality veer towards overwork rather than nuance.

Event details

A Malthouse Theatre production, in association with Stephanie Lake Company
by Emme Hoy

Director Matthew Lutton

Venue: Merlyn Theatre | The Malthouse, 113 Sturt St, Southbank VIC
Dates: 24 November – 11 December 2022
Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au

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