Venue: The Rebel Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 21 – Jul 17, 2022
Playwright: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Valerie Bader, Milena Barraclough Nesic, Bryn Chapman Parish, Masego Pitso, Darius Williams
Images by Tracey Schramm
Before beginning her stint at university, young Tracey decides to live a little, and follows a hot DJ to clubland in Berlin. Meanwhile, her grandmother Mabel is sick of being worried about Tracey’s sudden disappearance, and promptly leaves Sydney for a worldwide trip, in search of the intrepid teenager. Lachlan Philpott’s M.Rock is thankfully less about family, and more about a part of humanity that is constantly in search mode. It is a humorous work, full of wonder and inspiration, that explores the meaning of life, in terms of its interminable thirst for something better.
Directed by Fraser Corfield, this new production of Philpott’s 2014 play is zestful and mischievous, replete with imagination, and brimming with jubilant spirit. There is perhaps no need for awkward updates that attempt to bring the story to 2022, involving the pointless incorporation of covid on one hand, and the conspicuous absence of social media on the other, but the show is nonetheless a tremendously enjoyable one, certain to resonate with audiences of all kinds.
The captivating Valerie Bader plays Mabel the older lady who surprises everyone including herself, when she stumbles upon an entirely new life, during what should have been the twilight of her years. Bader eloquently depicts all the meaningful nuances of her character’s uplifting narrative, having us simultaneously amused and enlightened. Milena Barraclough Nesic as granddaughter Tracey is effervescent with an innocent charm, and impressive with her faultless delivery of some very wordy soliloquys.
An additional ensemble of three marvellous actors, share a big roster of smaller roles. Darius Williams is especially memorable as DJ Messerschmitt and as Lucky the cab driver, demonstrating exquisite timing and unparalleled magnetism, no matter who he portrays. Bryn Chapman Parish is detailed in working with both his physical and vocal capacities, consistently convincing whether playing silly or serious, and quite literally amazing when playing against type, in bringing Tracey’s mother to life, without so much as a wig for disguise. The exuberant Masego Pitso is a ball of energy that livens up her every scene, often with unpredictable choices that keeps the viewing experience surprising and fresh.
Production designer Melanie Liertz manufactures distinct segments for the stage, so that performances can take place effectively and clearly in different times and spaces. Lights by Jasmine Rizk work with an abundance of very dark surfaces, to convey some visual interest and variation. Introducing great vibrancy is the music of Jonny Seymour, forming a techno soundscape that tells a tale of youthful vigour, at all stages of life.
It is perhaps inevitable that wisdom comes with age, yet so much of convention wants us to think of age as only restrictive and calamitous. The most significant difference between early and later stages of Mabel’s story, is the ways in which she perceives herself, and how easily that transformation occurs. It is a matter of course that others would underestimate her, but it is the gaslighting that has held her back for years, that rings most poignantly about her story. Parenthood is a saintly occupation, but it should only define a person momentarily. Mabel had believed that being a parent was the final and ultimate of her achievements, but in fact it was just a precursor to the many grander things that lay ahead.