The Malthouse’s ’emptiness underneath’: “Optimism is bloody right,” growled one Melbourne theatre animal at the opening night of Malthouse theatre’s eponymous production earlier this year. The clowning/Jacques Lecoq/whatnot version of Voltaire’s Candide gained respectful if hardly glowing reviews in its home town, from the usual pantywaist critics, even though many attendees — including a fair few Malthouse enthusiasts — described it as an embarrassment and “one of the worst nights I’ve had at the theatre”.

The Edinburgh critics of the Festival production have been less forgiving than Gotham’s scribes. The most positive, from The Financial Times, appeared to miss the production’s — which features reworkings of 80s pop and, yawn, sinister Pierrots, all set in the cabin of a 747 — serious intent, saying “A decorous evening of high culture this wasn’t, but what the hell: surely we can take one night off from guarding the citadel.”

The Guardian praised its “wild energy” in its usual manner of antipodeanism, but noted “the surface gloss of this all-singing, all-dancing production that sends the audience out of the theatre yodelling the show is laid on so thickly you start wondering about the emptiness underneath”. And The Independent, as often the most stringent reviewer, went to town:

…. a demented punter started heckling about 15 minutes into Optimism …. Michael Kantor’s production is quite tiresome, with feeble clowning in Pierrot outfits and mock-philosophical wittering from Barry Otto’s doddery Pangloss and gawky Frank Woodley as the globetrotting ingénu, Candide.

There’s no biting satire or real sense of the horrors of war, colonial exploitation or natural disasters.

“The emptiness underneath” is something a lot of people have wondered about the Malthouse, since Kantor and co. took over the somewhat exhausted Playbox company several years ago.

No one doubts their revival of physical, spectacular and devised theatre after they abandoned Playbox’s overemphasis on writer-based productions, but many question whether they have the capacity to create more than pretty pictures. It’s hard to deny that the company’s seasons seem less a real engagement with the culture and society they live in, and more the Drama Club offerings from a Melbourne Grammar-Princes Hill High School co-pro.

The predicament is not unrelated to the personnel. Kantor is after all, a nephew of Rupert Murdoch, and has, by his own admission, lived most of his life off a family trust fund, noting once that it allowed him ‘to do things [in theatre] others couldn’t”.

Fair enough, but the harder question is whether such a life also deprives one of the capacity to make a show that takes suffering — and the ultimate cowardice of blinkered optimism — seriously enough to render something striking. — Guy Rundle

Elle takes homeless intern. A homeless woman has landed a (coveted?) four-month internship with Elle magazine, proving that unemployed journalists need only fall a “little” farther to get “back in the game.” — Gawker

YouTube: “Monetise” your 15 minutes. On Tuesday, the company announced in a blog post that it would help everyone “monetise their 15 minutes” by extending to one-off YouTube hits the sort of ad revenue sharing it has previously done just with big media companies and other so-called partners who post a lot of popular videos on the site. — The Wall Street Journal

Microsoft apologises over racial photo-swap. Microsoft apologised Tuesday for using photo-editing techniques to change the race of a person depicted on the company’s website. The move sparked controversy after it was noticed, quickly making the rounds on Twitter and various websites. — Cnet

Jackson reality show. Two months after the death of Michael Jackson, cable channel A&E confirmed on Tuesday that  Jackson’s brothers will be the subjects of a reality television series. Jodi Gomes, an executive producer at Point 7, said in an interview Tuesday that A&E had already ordered the series before Jackson died. — The New York Times

Rethinking online video. As with many things digital, we continue struggling to define new terms and concepts that really encapsulate the full experience. So it is with online video. For some time, we’ve uneasily brought over TV terminology, but that was really designed for a one-way, not-quite-so-intimate, limited options environment. Online gives us many more possibilities, so the conversation has been augmented by the “three tiers” suggested by Chet Rhodes, of washingtonpost.com. — Common Sense Journalism

Peter Fray

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