J.A.T.O.

MKA THEATRE: The fourth and final offering in this independent Melbourne theatre company’s first season of new writing is by Croatian playwright Vedrana Klepica.
J.A.T.O.
J.A.T.O. (pronounced ‘jayto’) is the fourth and final offering in independent Melbourne theatre company MKA’s first season of new writing. Performed in their new home on Chapel Street – a cosy and intimate space that’s made for exactly this type of gritty artistic vision – J.A.T.O. is the work of Croatian playwright Vedrana Klepica, who presents us with an absorbing illustration of new European political theatre, and supplies an international flavour to an otherwise exclusively Australian line up.

The story, which is probably not the best way of describing the series of fractured and disjointed scenes, focuses on the arrival of three travellers in Zagreb, Croatia and the visiting dignitary who descends the city on the same day. The travellers have instruments, but they are not a band. Nor are them members of a religious organisation or a political movement; and they are not nationalist whores. They have a luggage list etched onto their skin (and perhaps their souls) with just one saxophone missing from their inventory.

Somewhere else in the city, a woman drinks at a bar. As she eyes a handsome musician, her hopes that she won’t have to sleep with the barman tonight begin to seem real. At the welcome celebration for the visiting dignitary, a security guard reflects upon his lonely and disinteresting life whilst his colleague dreams of the beautiful woman he sees in the crowd.

Piece by piece, Klepica weaves her splintered narrative around these characters, tangling them so that we can only watch them ride towards their final collision, as if a car crash in slow motion, inevitable until its devastating finish.

Klepica’s writing combines dark discomfort with moments of fresh humour, and presents an array of strange characters. We’re left wanting to know so much more as we exit, with questions on the tips of our tongues rather than answers.

The tiny intimacy of the space lends itself to a quiet and simple aesthetic, and this works effectively with this production. The bed of sand in place of a stage features strongly. Its bland colour mirroring the ash-coloured skin and hair of the actors, their clothes seeped in the colour of decay, the overall design is discomforting and unsettling. Director Tanya Dickson has made exceptional use of the space, shifting the actor’s so they both dominate and recede from the stage in turn, like a tidal wash. Dickson also controls the energy well and injects moments of humour to alleviate the darkness.

I believe there was the potential for an interesting physical aesthetic that wasn’t fully explored here; instead, we saw several physical sequences that weren’t entirely convincing. Nevertheless, the six actors do consistently well with complex and relatively obscure characters, Cate Wolswinkel in particular, whose balanced portrayal of Helenna deftly captures the character’s struggles. The variety of accents, whilst difficult to maintain at times, are almost all flawless. This is a great relief, as there is nothing worse than a cast that cannot maintain or even reach the point of sounding believable. Voice coach Leslie Cartwright has done great work with these actors and the realistic accents add a welcome element to the performance.

J.A.T.O. is a fascinating and effective piece of theatre that showcases some of Melbourne’s finest young talent. Even if gritty European theatre doesn’t quite sound like your thing, the space is worth a visit, if only for the intense intimacy of the production and the feeling of a cosy and welcoming theatre that you’ll no doubt want to return to.

Rating: Three stars

J.A.T.O
Written by Vedrana Klepica
Directed by Tanya Dickson
Dramaturge Declan Greene
Set Design by David Samuel
Costume Design by Chloe Greaves
Lighting Design and Stage Management by Megan Fitzgerald
Sound Design by Russell Goldsmith
Voice Coach Leslie Cartwright
Language Coach Naomi Rukavina
Performed by Stefan Bramble, Rory Kelly, Cate Wolswinkel, Tristan M. Watson, Janine Watson and Tom Dent

MKA Theatre: Level 1, 211 Chapel St, Prahran
July 12 – 30 www.mka.org.au

Jennifer Penton

Friday 22 July, 2011

About the author

Jennifer Penton is a Brisbane-based reviewer for ArtsHub.