By Lachlan Philpott. Australian Theatre for Young People. Director: Fraser Corfield. The Rebel Theatre. 24 June – 17 July, 202.
Reviewed : 24 June, 2022*
Valerie Bader brings Mabel Mudge, aka M. Rock, blasting back into the Sydney theatre scene in this happy, inter-generational play that is as inspirational today as it was in 2014. It’s a play about age and youth. About how often both are misunderstood, mislabelled. It’s a play about their dreams … and their right to dream them.
“It reminds us how vital it is for each of us to beat our own drums and let go and dance, however badly.” (Lachlan Philpotts, playwright).
Fraser Corfield, directing M.Rock for a second time. says: “Lachlan’s beautifully original and refreshingly comedic play intertwines the coming-of-age tales of two generations … and it does so in a way that honours both generations”.
Just as Corfield does in his direction. His respect for Philpott’s characters is obvious in the care he has taken with this production. He has chosen his cast well – and rehearsed them with the passion necessary to make sure each of the characters is real, warm and believable, even those that appear fleetingly. “The Chorus” played by Bryn Chapman Parish, Masego Piso and Darius Williams, links the generations. They play a multitude of different characters, with different accents, and provide some cute sound effects. Their commitment, talent and their energy are essential in sustaining the pace and tempo of the production.
It is they who physically transport the play from Bankstown to a plane, to Berlin, to a taxi in Africa on Melanie Liertz’s very dark and funky stage. There are dark walls and different levels, movable steps that hide a plethora of props. There are lights and smoke and haze – and a high DJ stage where Venus Guy Trap presides and keeps the beat thumping. It is a real ‘atyp’ stage, one that has space and possibility, a stage where Valerie Bader and Milena Barraclough Nesic can relax into the roles of Mabel Mudge and her granddaughter, Tracey.
Philpott’s “close relationship to his grandmothers” inspired his creation of Mabel. She is funny, concerned, loving, generous, supercilious. And like many grandmothers, she’s a bit outrageous! That’s part of the fun of being old – believe me! Her granddaughter Tracey accepts it as normal; her daughter Kerry doesn’t! It’s another generation gap thing!
Tracey finishes her HSC and takes off for a whirlwind overseas trip. When she’s not on the scheduled flight home and hasn’t kept in touch, Mabel sets off to find her!
She starts off in Africa, then moves on to Berlin, where she meets DJ Messerschmidt and begins a whole new phase of her life – clubbing, dancing and eventually taking over as DJ and becoming M. Rock.
Bader has played many strong women. She brings them all together in this wonderful role which she plays with charm, love, insight … and incredible energy. She makes the very most of every aside that Philpott has cleverly woven into the script – and that Corfield has blocked accordingly. Her transformation to DJ M. Rock is totally believable because of the character that she develops so strongly. It’s there in every wistful smile, every cheeky aside, every knowing nod – and she makes it her very own – for the second time around!
Milena Barraclough Nesic is a convincing Tracey. She finds all of Tracey’s ‘personas’ – the understanding granddaughter, the rebellious daughter, the excited new ‘traveller’, the inspired clubber – with youthful energy and mature conviction. She is expressive, physically adept and engagingly opens herself to Corfield’s vision of the emotions Tracey can convey.
It is too hard to cover all the many characters played by ‘The Chorus’. Each is essential to the action, some especially so.
Bryn Chapman Parrish uses fine comedic timing and a very expressive face to create some strong and contrasting characters, among them Kerry, Tracey’s mother (and Mabel’s disapproving daughter), Elvis, the German club follower who finds a place for Tracey in a crowded vegan ‘squat’, and a stern club bouncer.
Masego Pitso plays a similar variety of characters including an African woman Mabel visits in Kenya and Elvis’s blind grandmother in Berlin. Pitso has a haunting voice which brings depth to several scenes.
Darius Williams plays two taxi drivers – one in Africa, one in Europe – both incredibly funny and understanding, but it is as the sexy DJ Messerschmidt that he really come into his own!
All three portray the characters that jump the generation, cultural and social gaps that Philpott has made important in his story – and that Corfield has accentuated in his direction. The play is peopled with characters that are inclusive and tolerant and non-judgemental.
M. Rock is a perfect production to celebrate atyp’s new home and The Rebel Theatre. It is moving, funny, passionate – and a bit wild! Just like Tracey. Just like Mabel.
“M. Rock connects generations. And it does so through an understanding of qualities that are timeless – love, loss, laughter, adventure … and music.” (Fraser Corfield, director).