Maxine Mellor is an astonishingly talented young writer and Magda’s Fascination with Wax Cats is a beautiful piece of writing. I saw it on stage a few years ago and was mesmerised by the poetic language. Reading it today reinforced that for me, but also made me question whether a stage play is the right form for it. It could be published as a verse novel and it would also make a stunning radio play …
The play is told as a long monologue by Magda, an awkward young girl who narrates her life in the third person. (I call it a monologue because even though there are three other actors who do occasionally speak, Magda’s narration means that you don’t actually need them there. This could easily be a one-woman show.)
Magda lives in rural Australia where corn grows high in fields and two bitumen roads meet. Her parents own a petrol station and she pumps the petrol when a car happens by. Magda is the ninth child, unloved but planned, cruelly called Mong by her family and most people who know her.
MAGDA: The Parents are old/ and their reproductive organs are shrunken/ sallow/ and saggy/ Nine children/ nine names/ Remove a few syllables from the birth certificate/ so everyone fits in a sentence/ Seven after eight/ nine was a test/ to see if the womb was still floppy/ and stretchable/ And nine was a plan/
She would stay at home until death/ and see the parents through death/ And make sure the kettle sat on the doily/ when the masked mourners made cups of weak tea/ to rinse their mouths of their poor speeches made/ and flyspecked triangle sandwiches/
With bottle top glasses, legs like tree trunks and wire on her teeth, Magda is the unlovely last child, but she possesses an imagination that can take her far away from the house of congealing microwaved meals and elderly parents. In her imagination Magda is a cat.
MAGDA: And Magda is following/ surefooted and silent/ No-one knows/ She wants to go where the storyline goes/
But when she tries to sneak out and follow people in real life she is sprung, pelted with stones and left bruised and bleeding in the corn.
MAGDA: Magda lies/ in the paddock in the dark/ She might be dead/ Killed by curiosity/ And she wishes more than ever to be surefooted/ silent/ ghostly/ Her body sleek/ Nimble/ Weightless/ Made of balsa covered in wax the colour of corn in the night/
There’s menace in the cornfields: two brothers, the Wax Cats, who’ve been rejected by Magda’s beautiful sister Ellie and want payback. Following them, Magda witnesses something brutal and terrible and is finally pushed out of third person and into being the lead character in her own life. The violence is brutal and yet it is strangely unmoving, perhaps because it is told through this third person narrative so that the other characters don’t feel real: they are distorted through Magda’s thick glasses and turned into cartoon versions of themselves.
Publisher: Playlab Press (published in Independent Brisbane: Four Plays)
Cast: 2F, 2M