It’s a rare occurrence for an organisation as big as the Melbourne Theatre Company to stage a play written by one of its own employees. But this is the current state of play via a series of indirect routes where Realism, written by the MTC’s Publications Co-ordinator Paul Galloway, is playing to very appreciative audiences in the Sumner Theatre.
Realism is not just a play, but a lesson in theatre for everyone … literally! Set in a small Moscow Theatre in 1939, Realism follows a group of actors rehearsing a play under the frightful rule of Joseph Stalin.
It is Galloway’s method of communicating a story partly about the life of oft-forgotten Russian theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold. Here was a man almost as famous as Constantin Stanislasvki himself, who disagreed with many of his artistic principles and has ever since fallen into the great Master’s shadow.
Meyerhold is best remembered today for his own system of actor training, a movement-based method known as Biomechanics. He is also known as a major contributor to Constructivism, a style of theatre set design displaying large machinery-like treadmills and ramps.
This was an era when Soviet censorship in the arts was common. The official artistic line was Socialist Realism, Stalin’s version of Soviet propaganda about a communist USSR involving plays about life in the factory etc.
Realism the play is actually a black comedy. In amongst the tragedies of life under Stalin, where plays were heavily censored by the authorities and people feared for their own lives and those of others every day, Galloway places largely stereotypical comical characters into the plot.
As for Meyerhold, his life did not end in a comedy as this talented Russian theatre director strayed too far from the Socialist Realism line, resulting in his own execution reportedly ordered by Stalin himself.
Realism is a fantastic lesson in early 20th century theatre, as well as being an entertaining production with some fabulous acting. The actors were trained in Biomechanics for this play and by the end of the night one will have witnessed seldom-seen examples of both Biomechanics on stage and a reproduction of a famous Meyerhold constructivist set.
If you live in Melbourne and are studying theatre or the performing arts at university, Realism is particularly relevant. For the general theatre-goer, an entertaining lesson in theatre (at the theatre itself) is not such a bad thing after all.
Realism is playing at the MTC’s Sumner Theatre until May 17.