Last Men Standing

17 May 2012 | 6:04 pm | Aleksia Barron

Part of McCarthy’s reasoning lies in the idea that the 1% aren’t as isolated as some might think, particularly in a country like Australia

Since their formation in 2008, independent theatre company Mutation Theatre have made some exciting contributions to Melbourne's theatre scene. They achieved particular acclaim with their adaptation of Shaun Tan's wordless graphic novel The Arrival, which won the People's Choice and Theatre Works awards at the 2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Over the last 18 months, artistic director Patrick McCarthy has been helming Mutation's new production, an original work titled Liberate Yourself From My Vice-Like Grip!!! “[The title's] a mouthful, but we quite like it,” laughs McCarthy. “It's actually a line from The Catcher In The Rye. I was re-reading it a couple of years ago when I had the idea for the show.”

It's a strong, jarring statement that turned out to fit well with the concept McCarthy was exploring. “What we're looking at are the emotions of power and privilege,” he explains. Liberate Yourself From My Vice-Like Grip!!! revolves around four men who find themselves on a cruise ship together at the end of the world. “As far as these four men know, they are the last four people left,” says McCarthy. “It's a work of human expression, of power, and the story that the show tells is what happened to the planet to lead to this moment.”

Mutation Theatre pride themselves on marching to the beat of their own drum. They eschew traditional scripts, preferring to evolve the production organically with all hands on deck. “We develop and rehearse the show where it will be performed,” says McCarthy, who has had the good fortune of securing the company's Collingwood studio as its home for rehearsals and performances alike. “We do very long improvisations – we do hours at a time and really get into it. This goes on for days. And eventually when we've generated enough, we have very long and complex discussions about it, how it should work, and add design elements in.”

As Liberate Yourself From My Vice-Like Grip!!! was developed, McCarthy began to see parallels between the news headlines and the production's themes. The four men on the cruise ship, he explains, are men of privilege – the 1% if you will. “We actually started looking at this project before [the Occupy movement] happened, so it's provided a very interesting backdrop,” he says.

Where McCarthy's production diverts from much of the mainstream discourse, however, is in its placement of blame. McCarthy doesn't seek to demonise his four characters, even though trashing the wealthy is currently so in vogue. “We're kind of trying to look at it in a way that isn't judgmental or didactic,” he explains. “Often, theatre is made from the point of view of the victim. We've tried to make a work from the point of view of the people who were kind of the problem.” Part of McCarthy's reasoning lies in the idea that the 1% aren't as isolated as some might think, particularly in a country like Australia. “We've tried to move towards a point of questioning our own apathy, I suppose, and how that relates to how we live in the first world in Australia at the moment. When it all comes to an end, how will we look at ourselves?”