Melbourne Fringe Part The Second: MKA’s Side Effect. Please note: these are not reviews. They are responses to work. However, the artists may use these words however they please. Know that I am always up for a discussion and I thank you all for creating your work.
I was THERE for the first half of Side Effect. Capital letters THERE. Side Effect is part of MKA’s contingent of shows at this year’s Melbourne Fringe and, true to their mission they are continuing to produce an excellent array of challenging work by emerging writers from across Australia. Side Effect was the darling of Anywhere Theatre Festival in Brisbane and, in keeping with the tradition of the festival it was created for, performs in Melbourne in an alley at the back of the Fringe Club. Side Effect offers glimpses of life from sequined, cum-stained, rough, raw Fortitude Valley. It reeks of rum, sex, vomit and unwashed socks. It is glamour and sadness and regret and lust and, at times, is totally offensive.
I’m not talking the good kind of offensive. In the third act I found myself composing my face into a mask of blankness and just ‘enduring’. It lacked the energy and drive to pull off its extreme racism and ended up feeling like crassness for crassness sake. They hit their peak too soon and the reveal of Miranda’s indiscretion was passé compared to Olivia charging men $5 to finger the Japanese exchange student, Jui An. I know I am basically a nana stuck in a twenty-six year old body but I believe you have to work much harder to justify such shock and awe language. It did not feel earned. The cast intoning the stage directions also felt unnecessary, like a device instituted so that the actor didn’t have to physically throw her mobile phone across the alley.
But I don’t want to dwell on it because, as I said, I was THERE for the first half. The short plays by Maxine Mellor and Eloise Maree were exquisite. In the tradition of Keene and Cornelius, they have not tried to beautify or smooth out the ugliness to be found at the dirty heart of our culture but, if you listen closely, you find the poetry. It vibrates in the space between the words; in the energy passed between the stumbling Benjamin Jackson and his audience; in the hopeless E-fuelled love of Dale for Wren.
Look, I loved half. For a night of four very different writers attempting to fit into a single theme and site-specific location, I call that a win. A chance to see emerging Australian writers working bare and dirty is also not to be sneered at. All four pieces used the space wonderfully. Moving about to face the various acts was messy and awkward but so were the stories. The production embraced its venue, and every part of the alley was put to use. MKA is such a uniquely Melbourne company. Its touring and national pool of playwrights doesn’t change the fact that this is a company that knows Melbourne. MKA fucks this city in a back alley, whispers dirty secrets and stalks off into the night.