I’ll always see a new Joanna Murray-Smith play. She’s one of Melbourne’s most commercially successful playwrights and she writes terrific jokes about being middle class in Melbourne. Her latest, True Minds at the MTC, is the theatrical equivalent of a black-and-white romcom that you’re happy to watch every time it’s repeated on the ABC because it’s an easy giggle with some terrific performances.
Daisy (Nikki Shiels) lives in her enviable converted warehouse with a collection of giraffe knick-knacks. She’s written a commercially successful book about how men need their mum’s approval before they choose the girl of their dreams. It’s a bit of a surprise, as neither of her leftie parents – mum (Genevieve Morris) is into beyond-alternative medicine and young men, dad (Alex Menglet) is a drunken academic and philanderer – are into marriage and her last beau (Adam Murphy) is in rehab. But love is strange and Daisy’s fallen for the most conservative hunk in town (Matthew McFarlane) and is preparing to meet is his mummy (Louise Silversen), who would call Julie Bishop a raving liberal Liberal. As Dasiy gets the dips ready, there’s a storm brewing outside and everyone ends up in her open plan living room.
For all the big laughs and performers who bring extra so much extra to their characters (it’s worth seeing for the three women), there’s not a second’s doubt as to what’s going to happen or an opportunity to wish for something different. Couldn’t we even like the hunky fiance for a bit and understand why Daisy wants to marry him? The jokes are easy and obvious, the politics are duller than QandA, and the characters are so full of cliches that they become unrecognisable as real people. This leaves the audience safely distanced because there’s little chance of really seeing theselves on the stage.
Peter Houghton had written/directed/performed some of our funniest theatre. He builds a manic world where the background action says as much as the script, but he seems to be pushing for True Minds to be farce. It’s not extreme enough to be farce and the characters are too likeable to push them to farcical extremes. At the same time, there’s not enough guts in the script for it to be social satire: conservative ladies in peach don’t like gay marriage, while young liberal lefties are all for it; some people are happy not to get married; and it’s all about love at the end of the day. Really? There’s so much more to explore. (And out of rehab and happily pouring booze all night without any of your loved ones keeping an eye on you?)
It’s a funny and enjoyable show, but it’s so safe that it’s inoffensive and forgettable.