Review: M.ROCK at ATYP

As I approach ATYP’s Pier 2/3 for M.Rock’s opening night, I’m stopped by a series of demanding bodyguards who consider whether I’m allowed entry. It’s a fun gimmick, and a nice homage to Berlin’s clubbing scene, and the infamously hard-to-enter Berghain nightclub.

These bouncers have the power to decide who’s in and who’s out, who has power and freedom in this world and who doesn’t. In M.Rock the one with social power and freedom is 18 year old Tracey (Milena Barraclough Nesic). Young and pretty, with the world at her fingertips, she can go anywhere she wants. Grandma Mabel (Valerie Bader) shares Tracey’s free spirit, but is told by society—and her own family—that old ladies must stay at home in nursing homes, out of site and out of mind.

Photography by Tracey Schramm

Tracey is 18, she’s just finished high school, and she craves adventure. Mabel is her widowed grandma, who lives a comfortable life online dating and volunteering at the local theatre, but she wants something more. When Tracey parties too hard and goes MIA on her solo schoolies trip to Europe, it’s up to Mabel to travel to Berlin bring her back. What follows is a cross-continental tale of self discovery, as both Tracey and Mabel travel the world encountering an eccentric ensemble of characters, played by Bryn Chapman Parish, Masego Pitso and Darius Williams.

As Tracey, Milena Barraclough Nesic brings a youthful charm— she draws you in and makes you love her, despite her character’s selfish decisions. The play’s first act is all about Tracey, and Barraclough Nesic immediately engages you with her delivery of playwright Lachlan Philpott’s poetic opening monologue. While Tracey dominates the first act, by the second it’s clear that this play is all about Mabel. The heart of this play lies in Mabel re-discovering herself in a foreign city after the death of her husband, and challenging how everyone thinks ‘old ladies’ should act, and its refreshing to see Philpott centring the stories of older Australians on stage.

Photography by Tracey Schramm

The change of protagonist from Tracey to Mabel is not a surprise—Valerie Bader is on the poster after all— but it does feel odd, storytelling-wise, that the play initially presents itself as a story about Tracey, before discarding her when its time for Mabel to shine. Consequently, Tracey’s story feels a bit unfinished and abandoned, but Mabel’s journey— from knitting grandma to Berlin’s hottest DJ— is so fun that you mostly don’t notice.

Overall, the pacing does feel a bit uneven. Barraclough Nesic charms you in the opening, and then the story stalls during Mabel’s trip to Africa, which feels like an unnecessary diversion. The momentum really picks up again when Mabel finally arrives in Berlin and the story becomes truly hers. The ATYP website markets this show as an 80-minute runtime but on opening night it was a lot closer to two hours, and although I really enjoyed it, it felt like some weaker moments could have easily been cut.

Photography by Tracey Schramm

Valerie Bader steals the show as Mabel, in her second outing as the character after the play’s 2014 world premiere. She is well supported by the very funny ensemble who skilfully jump in and out of many characters and accents. Specific kudos must go to Chapman Parish for his impeccable comic timing and hilarious characterisation.

Melanie Liertz’s costumes really effectively complement the two lead’s personality’s, particularly Tracey’s ‘club-rat’ outfit and Mabel’s transformation into her DJ persona ‘M.Rock’. Liertz’s sparse and simple vertical set design effectively sets the scene of a grungy nightclub. However, the nature of the Rebel Theatre—wide and shallow—makes it difficult to ‘fill out’ with a cast of only five. Despite good efforts by sound designer Jonny Seymour and lighting designer Jasmine Rizk, Director Fraser Corfield struggles to create a convincing nightclub atmosphere in this tricky venue. The play’s final moments—which sought to capture the euphoric atmosphere of a crowded dancefloor—felt a bit flat.

Despite the staging limitations of The Rebel Theatre, and at times uneven pacing, the lasting feeling I had as I walked out of Pier 2/3 was one of enjoyment. M.Rock is a crowd-pleasing coming-of-age story that proves that it’s never too late to come of age and rediscover yourself. Anchored by two charming performances and supported by a witty and versatile ensemble, it’s a guaranteed good time at the theatre.

Jo Bradley


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