By Alana Valentine
The Street Theatre, Saturday 1st October 2011
Commissioned by The Street Theatre with the purpose of creating a play reflective of Canberra’s cultural environment, MP captures a crucial time in the career of fictional Member of Parliament, Ava Turner – played by Geraldine Turner.
Based on the real-life accounts of some prominent political players, such as the Federal Minister for Human Services, Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop, and political journalists Annabel Crabb and Laura Tingle - to name a few - MP paints a sympathetic picture of the daily grind of life as a woman in contemporary Australian politics and the limitations imposed on her power.
Upon hiring plucky new advisor, Nadia Ravenburger (played by Canberra thespian Leah Baulch), and receiving a visit from the Robbins’s (Stephen Barker and Andrea Close) - constituents requesting assistance after the death of their disabled daughter in a Commonwealth nursing home - something deep-seated within the usually cynical Ava is triggered and a perfect storm begins to brew.
From then on, Ava is on the war path for disability reform from the impossible vantage point of Federal Opposition. She is driven both by the Robbins’s and by her own personal experiences with her intellectually disabled son Cliff, who is performed with incredible realism by Soren Jensen.
The complex relationships between politicians and their party, advisors and constituents, public servants and the media soon begin to unfold. The play reveals the manipulative and subversive tactics seemingly necessary to push an unpopular agenda within your own ranks, in an environment that constantly shifting beneath your feet.
Some powerful monologues find their place alongside more stilted conversations between the cast members, with some extremely moving deliveries from Geraldine Turner and Andrea Close as their characters finally unleash the grief about the decisions they’ve made as mothers of disabled children.
Designer Imogen Keen provides a stellar outcome with the minimalist and starkly white set design. She creates a sterile environment using lit up towers of crockery plus a few simple props to transition from scene to scene – reflecting the harsh and impersonal environment in which the protagonist finds herself in.
However, the lighting effectively creates intimacy and texture as the characters become more three dimensional and emotionally involved as the plot progresses.
For a play that runs more than two hours in duration, director Caroline Stacy has done a quite a job in maintaining the intrigue of MP. There really wasn’t a dull moment throughout the show (as I’m sure is the case in the life of an MP) and the plot unfolded at confident pace, with Ava keeping the audience guessing about her capabilities and intentions until the final scene.
Another factor as to why MP is so engaging is that it’s not retrospective, but rather a representation of national politics in the here and now. Even the theme of disability reform parallels with changes occurring in Government at this moment, and all this serves to make this production a relevant reflection of our times.
MP is a fascinating insight into the rules of engagement of Australian politics, and succeeds in converting the caricatures we see on the evening news back into the humans who serve the public despite the shit that’s flung at them from every conceivable direction. It’s a peek inside the elite world lying under the noses of ordinary Australians, and a bit of comic relief for those who operate from the inside.
By Deborah Hawke
MP is playing at The Street Theatre in Canberra until October 15
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