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The Star Observer caught recent VCA graduate Matthew Whitty during a break in rehearsals for what’s to be his Red Stitch debut, the Australian premiere of Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s Penelope.

“It’s a pretty crazy rehearsal room – four guys running around in their underpants the whole time,” he chuckled.

Given Melbourne’s seemingly never-ending stinking hot summer, we felt the need to clarify: will the underpants make it to the stage, or are they a mere necessity of the heatwave?

“That will make it to the stage – I can assure you it’s written in the script. But it is quite handy in this heat as well, I must admit.”

Penelope is a surreal, blackly comic adaptation-of-sorts of Homer’s Odyssey. The titular Queen Penelope (played by fellow newcomer Rosie Lockhart) sits high above proceedings as four potential suitors do their best to woo her.

“It makes for a bit of a wacky working day. There’s a lot of junk, mess and noise in the set. It’s very high energy and explosive, and very silly as well. It’s hard to get through a rehearsal without us all laughing about how silly it all is,” Whitty said.

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While the play takes its inspiration from Greek mythology, Whitty was keen to point out that audiences didn’t need to swot up on Homer’s mammoth epic poem ahead of the performances.

“It’s completely contemporary. The first time I read it I didn’t know it was based on The Odyssey, and I just thought it was this amazing exploration of the human condition at its barest, its ugliest and most tender. That’s what it’s exploring, but using that parable as its basis,” he said.

“Really all you need to know is that these are the last four men in this competition to get a woman’s love. If they get her love they get everything, and if they don’t they die.”

Whitty is the youngest of the four suitors, with the eldest in his ‘60s. Each has his own distinct personality, and his own pros and cons, making Penelope’s choice difficult to predict.

“I’m basically their little servant – for lack of a better word, their bitch. I have to do everything for them. I’m completely subservient and I can only speak when spoken to, but that all changes a bit over the course of the play, which is nice.”

This is the first of two back-to-back Red Stitch shows for Whitty, who arrived at the company through its drama school graduate intake program. Each year, Red Stitch plucks one actor from a Victorian arts school to join the ensemble – 2012 was his year.

“It really is an amazing little family – a theatre company that was built from the ground up, and that spirit of everybody pitching in to get things done is still there,” he said.

INFO: Penelope, Theatre Works, St Kilda, March 22-April 12  •



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