Australian acting royalty has come to St Kilda, and I am very glad that I was in the audience to watch it unfurl before my very eyes. If you are a fan of Australian film and television then there is no way that you could never have heard of the legendary Amanda Muggleton.
Muggleton became a household name with her portrayal of Chrissie Latham in the seminal must watch TV show Prisoner in the early 1980s before going on to appear in other classic Aussie TV shows including A Country Practice and Home And Away. Throw in some performances in classic Aussie films like Mad Max and Idiot Box and you can see why, as an Aussie film industry fan, I was pretty excited to be able to be there and see Muggleton on stage in the new Theatre Works production of The Mentor.
Directed by Christian Cavallo and written by Joshua White, The Mentor sees Muggleton play Amanda Redfern, a mature actress that was once the darling of the screen. But now in her 70s the roles have started to dry up for Redfern and she finds herself teaching and mentoring young actors in her messy suburban home.
It is through her teaching that she meets a young actor named Jordan Ridley (Conner Morel). He turns up at her home one day desperate for lessons so that he can start the career that he has dreamed of. Upon their first meeting he seems brash and eager. But as the mentorship goes on, the insecurities of both Amanda and Jordan start to reveal themselves for the audience to see.
As soon as I walked into the theatre, I found myself drawn to the set. Using a smaller space than a few of the sets I have seen at Theatre Works, the lounge-room setting drew my eyes to it, a good start, but even that didn’t prepare me for the magic that was about to start when the lights went down.
The Mentor is a production where Joshua White’s script is the centre-piece. There are no special effects or illusions to wow audiences. Instead, this is just good old-fashioned theatre where I found it is up to the plot and characters to draw the audience in, and when it comes to that The Mentor certainly works.
This is the kind of production where you never really know where the story is going to go next. At the start I was thinking this was a story that I had seen a million times before, a brash young actor that learns from someone more experienced and that he is not ‘all that’. But no, that was not the direction that White as a writer took this production. Instead, I watched on in awe as the bravado of both characters is ebbed away as the plot plays out and soon you begin to realise that underneath, these two characters need each other in their lives as a way to try and undo the insecurities that have been holding them back.
I found that the plot of The Mentor also touched on some very important topics, namely how the movie industry chews up and spits out actresses as they lose their ‘sex appeal’ when they become older. It also serves as a valuable reminder to young actors that even landing the dream job doesn’t necessarily mean that you are set for life.
As the two characters on stage go through a journey, so does the audience. White’s script mixes up the emotions right through the production. One moment you will be laughing at a zinger of a line and the next moment you will find yourself intensely watching as Muggleton and Morel deliver some of the more dramatic and intense moments of the production.
White and Cavallo also show their creativity of moving the story along by utilising the small breaks behind scenes, filling them with messages that are on Amanda’s answering machine. Through these phone messages we start to see the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place and soon realise what led to Amanda being in the space that she now finds herself in.
Of course, with a script this powerful, the other key ingredient is the performances of the actors, and I am happy to share that we have some true acting power here. Muggleton embraces the character of Amanda sensationally well, and to his credit Morel continues the brilliance that we saw from him in The Wedding Singer and never allows himself to be over-shadowed by his experienced co-star.
I found the performances here to be out of this world. Often the characters that Amanda Muggleton plays are strong, confident characters so to see her in a role where her character has vulnerabilities and is emotionally scarred was a refreshing change. While watching Morel portray a character that sees his brashness erode away was a good challenge for a young actor that has now shown that dramatic acting is well and truly in his repertoire as well.
I found that the intimate setting of the Theatre Works theatre makes you really feel that you are there in the lounge-room with Amanda and Jordan. I found myself so totally engrossed in the characters and in their lives that when the lights went back on, it felt like I had only been watching for around half an hour. The run time just simply flew by so fast.
The Mentor is a classic example of what happens when you give two strong performers such a riveting and dramatic script. This is a total theatre masterclass.
The Mentor is playing at Theatre Works (St Kilda) from November 17th to November 26th, 2022.
Photography by Lucinda Goodwin.