The publicity material for Melbourne-based playwright and MKA creative director Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s new collection of short plays explains that the thread drawing the various pieces together is “dying on stage”. The five plays swoop in and out so rapidly and the laughs come so quickly that you don’t have time to put much thought into broader connections between the pieces. But for a work ostensibly about dying onstage, Thank You, Thank You Love couldn’t be more alive.
To give away too much detail about each play would be to spoil the fun, and the entire energy and audience could end up changing the work by the next performance. That’s not to say that this isn’t a structured and finely crafted piece of theatre, with peaks and troughs and a masterful use of language. But it’s about as loose as a play can be before it becomes an improvised work.
Thank You, Thank You Love begins with an “overture” of seemingly random audio snippets which set the tone and hint at the themes we’re about to cover.
The Holiday Video sees Manderson-Galvin reciting a speech as an astronaut returned from space. He tells us about how he’s “made contact”, and all he’s discovered about the world we’re living in while on his expedition. His performance and text both bubble with intensity, but the final twist seems a little abrupt.
In The Caterpillar and the Wasp, Champions, Manderson-Galvin and Sam Young play two boxers in a verbal sparring match. They talk themselves up and talk each other down, but soon enough, their sledging starts to cut a little too close to the bone.
The Invasion is perhaps the most sinister of all the works, with Becky Lou Church (Miss Burlesque Victoria) addressing a gathering of company employees about the benefits they’ll all receive now that certain other employees have been let go. Manderson-Galvin is tackling corporate greed and the things we say to justify it head-on. But it’s so funny, you could be forgiven for thinking it was just a light satire on corporate culture and the characters and language that occupy that world.
The Lola Montez Polka sees Becky Lou embody Lola Montez, a feisty Irish dancer, who became famous as a Spanish dancer, a courtesan and then a countess. Montez wants to perform her famous Polka, but nobody can find the right music. She’s best known for her rowdy performances during the gold rush, and after a particularly scathing review in The Ballarat Times, she attacked the editor with a whip. (A quick note: this particular critic was never threatened with a whip.)
In Thank You Love, Manderson-Galvin and Becky Lou disagree on how the show should end; Manderson-Galvin wants to make a child, but Becky Lou wants a human sacrifice. Should they combine the two and sacrifice a child? The pair ponder the world they’d be bringing the child into, with all its horrors, even Melbourne’s Green Room Awards.
Everything about this production is messy, from Daniel Harvey’s lo-fi, well-worn design through to the performances, which slip in and out of character. Manderson-Galvin had particular difficulty remembering his lines on opening night, especially in the second play; The Caterpillar and the Wasp, Champions. Thankfully his prompt, Dr. Lambzini (a Lamb Chop-style puppet) was always on hand (pardon the pun) to feed him the line.
But I hope that the kinks are never ironed out; that they continue to push and evolve and change the work as it happens. This is theatre that’s playful, thoughtful, scattered, indulgent and gloriously obnoxious. Manderson-Galvin has clearly written these plays for himself, which is perhaps why there’s such conviction in every moment. If you find your windows and avenues into the work, it’s absolutely irresistible. Theatre lives at MKA.