Somehow, despite loving theatre like the puppy I never got, I have never seen an UMMTA show. I have missed showing after showing, year after year of their music theatre extravaganzas, but I am glad to say I finally made it. And of all the shows to see, a double bill of new works written by up and coming artists is quite the first time.
Inside the glowing facade of The Lithuanian Club, UMMTA’s The Factory involves two shows running back to back. A Short Intake of Breath kicked off the night, followed by Chicks Dig It.
A Short Intake of Breath is wonderfully meta, with a stage set up within the performance space, along with a freestanding mic and a band that is as much a part of the story as the cast. This brings me to how wonderfully cast this production was. Aesthetics aside, all actors were able to effectively shape their performances to reflect the mannerisms of their characters, with Rory Preece and Florence Mckay playing dysfunctional parents with striking accuracy. Although it is difficult to separate stand out performances, I cannot truthfully review this show without mentioning Kara Sims by name. A complete commitment to character and circumstance renders her a captivating presence on stage.
While performances are strong across the board, subject matter is less consistent. A problematic and often inaccurate representation of Alzheimer’s is slotted into an otherwise touching storyline. It is portrayed often in an overly didactic sense, with continual slightly obtuse references to the illness. No characters mention the word specifically, leaving this theme relatively interrogated, with the ending providing no further explanation or closure. Despite this, flashbacks are subtly interwoven through the main action, providing contrast and depth to the storyline. It is a testament to both the writing and the actors that, even without set changes or specifically marking these time jumps, it is always evident to the audience when in time the action is occurring. Ultimately this production is an excellent representation of what student theatre can be, moving, unexpected and fun.
Chicks Dig It presents a refreshing narrative that follows the struggles of minority groups, with a gorgeously diverse and talented cast. Humour from the outset provide the perfect balance against the dramatic storyline, with well-placed comedy winding its way through relevant issues and touching moments of character connection. The storyline is engaging, relevant, and the use of props and costume to add to the atmosphere and create further comedy provide a depth beyond the writing.
An immensely strong cast makes this truly an ensemble piece, with Caitlin Tjandra, Michaelia Liu, Jess Marshall, Olivia McLeod and of course the bumbling Abbot and Costello that is Finbar Todd and Alex Gall, all providing striking performances. This work is as much a piece of physical theatre as it is a musical, with tightly performed dance routines, comedic character physicalities, slow motion fight scenes, as well as an unchoreographed dance finale. This creates an aesthetic dynamism that supports the script, ensuring the audience is never tempted to take their eyes off the stage, for fear of missing the next physical reference or gag.
Unfortunately, despite the strength of the performances, the technical side of The Factory requires some tweaking. The mics are patchy, often being left on with actors talking backstage, or not turned on in time for actors lines or songs. A constant hum of feedback accompanies both shows, and many of the actors’ lines were lost over the background noise. Some of the lighting design is similarly inconsistent, with multiple songs featuring a light that blindingly flashes at the audience at regular intervals. This is not only distracting but causes real discomfort within the audience.
However, these technical errors also serve to highlight the strength of the shows, which are still engaging and joyous to watch, and leave the audience buzzing. I am truly delighted after seeing the enthusiasm and true entertainment this company brings to a show, all the while supporting emerging artists and providing them with an opportunity to perform at Melbourne Fringe. I can now say with confidence that I am an UMMTA convert.
UMMTA’s production of The Factory ran from the 18th-19th of September at the Lithuanian Club as part of the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival