Thursday, January 2, 2014

Looking back on 2013

2013 was a very satisfying year in the theatre.

The overall impression was the high quality of Acting that we, generally, saw, and that the Independent Theatre scene provided a lot of it. It was often the strength of the ensemble of a production that was striking, not, necessarily, a single outstanding performance or duo. This was usually supported by all the elements of the design crafts as well.
The major disappointment was the lack of new arresting Australian writing for the theatre.

Where to begin?


  1. I was wonderfully moved by SMALL AND TIRED by Kit Brookman at Downstairs Belvoir - in fact, exuberantly distressed by it, for all the right reasons.
  2. THE WESTLANDS by Dale Turner, presented by Weatherboard Theatre Company and True West at the Riverside Theatres in Paramatta. It truly spoke to me in a contemporary Australian voice, in a way that I have not heard for a long time. I wept with recognition of the world, of the characters and of a way of writing that I hadn't realised, up till then, I wasn't hearing anymore.I was proud to be an Australian - peculiar, huh? The play needs 'work', for sure, but the production and vision of Michael Piggott (see also THE TWELFTH DAWN) and his company of actors had me tearfully grateful. Excited.
  3. THE SECRET RIVER by Kate Grenville. Adapted by Andrew Bovell (I love the appellation of the writing credits). The play, when working closely to the material of the source novel was best. Emotionally powerful. The addition of the indigenous narrator was, for me, uncomfortably inauthentic - it undermined the whole (Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Festival and Allens).
  4. SONGS FOR THE FALLEN by Sheridan Harbridge, a musical-cabaret hybrid, an exploration of the life of the Parisian Courtesan, Marie DuPlessis in the Reginald, at the Seymour Centre. An impressive work with a great central performance by the writer.
  5. ONE SCIENTIFIC MYSTERY OR WHY DID THE ABORIGINES EAT CAPTAIN COOK? by Victoria Haralabidou. Presented at the Tap Gallery for VHS Productions, directed by Ian Sinclair with wonderful performances by the author, Ms Haralabidou, and Aaron Jeffreys. Silences were valued by the writer and the company - wonderful
  6. LITTLE MERCY by Sisters Grimm - Ash Flanders and Declan Greene. Just flat out camp-audacity with quality artistic support from the Sydney Theatre Company artisans. A romp.
  7. THIS IS WHERE YOU LIVE by Vivienne Walshe was a Griffin Independent with Just Visiting. None of the other new work at Griffin struck a chord with me at all. Simple, honest, coming of age journey. Yalin Ozucelik and Ava Torch  (aka Amie McKenna)  gave beautiful performances, directed by Francesca Smith.
  8. FORGET ME NOT by Tom Holloway at the Belvoir St Upstairs; 
  9. LENNY BRUCE: 13 DAZE UN-DUG IN SYDNEY 1962 by Benito Di Fonzo, for Rock Surfers at Bondi Pavilion; 
  10. CUT SNAKE by Amelia Evans, Dan Giovannoni and Paige Rattray for Rock Surfers at Bondi Pavilion; 
  11. ATOMIC, a New musical Book and Lyrics by Danny Ginges and Gregory Bonsigore, Music and Lyrics by Philip Foxman in the Parade Playhouse. A development project of some sophistication. Stuff to do but extremely promising. 
  12. I'M YOUR MAN by Roslyn Oades - fascinating technique for verbatim theatre.
I admired and applauded the Rock Surfers and all who sailed with them for the support they gave to Toby Schmitz's audacious, EMPIRE: TERROR: ON THE HIGH SEAS - a failure but a GLORIOUS one. Bravo.

I was made angry by STORM BOY adapted by Tom Holloway at the Sydney Theatre Company; and absolutely appalled by BEACHED by Melissa Bubnic at the Griffin.


Let's start with the Independent Theatres first. They have had an excellent year.

  1. THE MOTHERF**CKER WITH THE HAT by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Presented by Workhorse Theatre Company at the Tap Gallery. Directed by Adam Cook the ensemble of actors were terrific: Troy Harrison, John Atkinson, Zoe Trilsbach, Nigel Turner-Carroll and Megan O'Connell. A verbal and emotional knock out.
  2. PENELOPE by Enda Walsh. Presented by Siren Theatre Company at the Tap Gallery. Directed by Kate Gaul working with a top notch set of actors: Arky Michael, Tom Campbell, Philip Dodd, Nicholas Hope and Branden Christine. Verbal feast and comic desperation.
  3. THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW by John Patrick Shanley. Unpathed Theatre Company at the Tap Gallery. Directed by a new comer Vashti Pontaks with Ainslie Clouston, Scott Lee and Peter McAllum. I had to seriously address my prejudice about the quality of Mr Shanley's oeuvre. Took me some place special!
  4. THE REMOVALISTS by David Williamson. A revival of this Australian classic that presented it in an entirely arresting way. The play was re-discovered. Led by Leland Kean with a great cast: Sam O'Sullivan, Laurence Coy, Sophie Hensser, Caroline Brazier and Justin Stewart Cotta for the Rock Surfers at Bondi Pavilion. "Kick-ass" integrity.
  5. TORCH SONG TRILOGY by Harvey Fierstein at the Darlinghurst Theatre, directed by Stephen Colyer. The three and a bit hours passed absorbingly.
  6. CARRIE THE MUSICAL, Music Micahel Gore. Lyrics, Dean Pitchford. Book, Laurence D. Cohen. A surprise production of real conviction by Squabbologic directed by Jay James-Moody in the Reginald, at the Seymour Centre. 
  7. TOP GIRLS by Caryl Churchill at the New Theatre. Directed wonderfully (except for that awful set) by Alice Livingstone. What a great play! 
  8. A BUTCHER OF DISTINCTION by Rob Hayes at Old 505, Surry Hills. Directed by James Dalton. A curiously kinky play.
  9. DIRTY BLONDE by Claudia Shear and James Lapine, directed by Stuart Maunder at the Darlinghurst Theatre. Tracing the career of Mae West was surprisingly winning.
  10. ALL MY SONS by Arthur Miller at the new Eternity Theatre, directed by Iain Sinclair. A great writer respected by all working for him.
N.B Tap Gallery and the number top experiences - punching way above its weight.
        Welcome to the ETERNITY THEATRE - an exciting new space.

Mainstream Companies:

  1. THE MAIDS by Jean Genet, in a new English translation by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. A play that I used to "hate", directed by Benedict Andrews with three extraordinary performances, Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert and Elizabeth Debicki. Great theatre, my favourite experience in Sydney this year. Sydney Theatre Company.
  2. ANGELS IN AMERICA by Tony Kushner. This epic play carefully and faithfully directed by Eamon Flack with an extraordinary ensemble:Marcus Graham, Paula Arundell, Robyn Nevin, Amber McMahon, Deobia Oparei, Luke Mullins, Ashley Zuckerman and Mitchell Butel shook the world about me.It was the length of the 'double-banger' structure that seduced me with this unflagging company of actors. Belvoir St Theatre.
  3. MACHINAL by Sophie Treadwell. Directed by Imara Savage in the Wharf 2 Theatre, the ensemble of artists: Robert Alexander, Matthew Backer, Brandon Burke, Ivan Donato, Harriet Dyer, Katie McDonald, Terry Serio and Wendy Strehlow with Design by David Fleischer, Verity Hampson and Steve Francis:  a small masterpiece appeared - almost.
  4. ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD by Tom Stoppard, Directed by Simon Philips with a stellar cast, including Toby Schmitz, Tim Minchin and Ewen Leslie, this old warhorse of a play took off - Sydney Theatre Company; and WAITING FOR GODOT by Samuel Beckett played by Philip Quast, Luke Mullins, Hugo Weaving and a glorious, Richard Roxburg, similarly, a great old warhorse of a play, that had its moments (neither of these plays (not the productions ) are in my top list), directed by Andrew Upton - Sydney Theatre Company.
  5. HAMLET by William Shakespeare survived a 'treatment', given by Simon Stone, with a great ensemble cast: Emily Barclay, Thomas Campbell, John Gaden, Nathan Lovejoy, Robyn Nevin, Anthony Phelan, Toby Schmitz, Greg Stone - Belvoir St Theatre, (certainly streets ahead of the disaster of the year, for me, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, also directed by Simon Stone).
  6. DRIVING MISS DAISY by Alfred Uhry at the Theatre Royal with Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines. Directed by David Esbjornson with an immaculate set design by John Lee Beatty this was a showcase of quality acting from some masters of the craft. Spell binding.

Performances to relish:

DESIGN I noticed:


OTHER PERFORMANCES that I am glad to have experienced:
  • THE RISE AND FALL OF MAHAGONNY by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht at the Komische Opera, Berlin. - an education.
  • THE FORTY PART MOTET a reworking of Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis by Janet Cardiff and George Bure. A sound installation on tour in Bruges, Belgium, in an old converted Hospital for the Poor. I was moved to tears. (shown in Melbourne some years ago).
  • IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS by Martin Crimp at the Royal Court, Londion - a disturbingly relevant play.
  • TWELFE NIGHT and THE TRAGEDIE OF RICHARD THE THIRD: Globe Theatre at the Apollo Theatre, London. A Quintessence. (Both).
  • THE EFFECT by Lucy Prebble in the Cottesloe at the National Theatre, London. Outstanding performance by Anastasia Hille. Terrific writing and performances.
  • Paris Opera Ballet; GISELLE. Unearthly.
  • BIRDS WITH SKYMIRRORS: Leni Ponifasio - MAU at Carriageworks. Breath taking.
  • G from the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) by Garry Stewart at Sydney Theatre. Staggering.
  • NEDERLANDS DANCE COMPANY at the Sydney Opera House this June. Amazing. Smart. Moving.
  • EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH - Philip Glass and Robert Wilson at the Arts Centre Melbourne. Fun seeing a Masterpiece of what was once the Avant Garde and now is, Museum. Theatre - the media developments have surpassed what was once achieved - let's see a new Directorial vision dealing with the material. Philip Glass is the great thing. One that had to be seen.
  • THE GLASS MENAGERIE with Cherry jones and Zachary Quinto in the Booth Theatre in New York. A Shining Gem of a production - how to renovate a play with all the respect in the world for the writer and the text.
  • ANNA NICOLE - an opera. Music by Mark-Anthony Turnage with Lyrics by Richard Thomas at BAM. Astounding and moving. It happened to be the last performance of the New York City Opera, as well- tragic to witness that end! on such a high.
  • THE NOSE by Shostakovitch at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center. William Kentridge director and designer - a genius (?)
  • LIFE AND TIMES: EPISODES 1-4, presented by Nature Theatre of Oklahoma at the Melbourne Festival - a 10 hour marathon, of quirky 'stuff' with the promise of another 6 episodes to come! I love a marathon.
  • Anything and eveything presented by the AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (ACO).

Ta, da.

2014 begins.

Thanks for reading.

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