So, in many ways but one, for me, 2017, was not a very stable year or a good one - you know, Trump, Aussie politics, Global Warming (Ageing!). The exception was the general quality of the theatre work (and film) that I got to see in Sydney this year. In that regard, 2017 was a very good year. Just look at these listings!
NEW AUSTRALIAN PLATWRITING.
Of the many new Australian plays of 2017 here are my outstanding experiences, in no particular order.
- Monkey Baa's DIARY OF A WOMBAT, Concept by Sandra Eldridge, Tim McGarry, Eva Di Cesare, based on a children's book, by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. A delightful children's show with gorgeous puppetry - it kept us all transfixed and transported.
- TRIBUNAL, a devised work, Concept and Direction by Karen Therese, for PYT Fairfield (Powerhouse Youth Theatre). This was this verbatim play's fourth appearance in Sydney (all short seasons) and it has two more coming up in 2018 in the Sydney Festival and later at the Sydney Opera House. If a play speaks confronting truths it is hard to shove it away. Indigenous and Refugee politics.
- THE HOMOSEXUALS OR 'FAGGOTS', by Declan Greene. Mr Green keeps writing work that is always provocative and is a development on what he has done before, either in form or content. In this case he tackles the Farce as form on which to hang some very important and incisive observations about the lives of certain parts of the 'queer' community. Helter skelter hilarity with an under taste of acidic politics. A Melbourne based playwright.
- THE LADEN TABLE, by Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Keranhan and Ruth Kliman. This play was many years in development. Two families, one Muslim, one Jewish, sit at a table in seperate houses on a holy day, and speak uninhibitedly of their daily lives through the voices of three generations. What is said is not always 'politically correct' and it is this bracing truthfulness and passion that gives its audience a powerful insight to some of our communities living and finding a way to integrate their family heritages in their new country. The Past creating the generational tension in the Present. What will the Future evolve into? This is the first bAKEHOUSE Production that scored brilliantly on this year's Kings Cross Theatre stage.
- LITTLE BORDERS, by Phillip Kavannagh. This small one act play with two characters won the Patrick White Award a few years ago, but had its first outing this year in Sydney. Beautifully constructed interwoven monologues, the satirical concerns confronting and spot-on, in a very accomplished production by Dominic Mercer.
- JATINGA, by Purva Naresh. This is a play co-developed over several years, in Mumbai and Sydney, with Suzanne Millar, of bAKEHOSE Productions, revealing some of the 'pressured' lives of ordinary, poor women in contemporary India. Shocking, heart breaking and compassionate. Its dramatic scope, epic in its stylistic embrace. All elements of the supporting Design telling. bAKEHOUSE's second important contribution to the Sydney theatre scene.
- MERCILESS GODS, by Dan Giovannoni, adapted from a book of short stories, by Christos Tsiolkas. Mr Giovannoni was fearless in the eight short vignettes he created, and although, for me, the work was not always consistent (and I dislike the monologue form) it was with a relish of language (always gets me!) and content that could not be ignored. Exciting. A Melbourne based playwright.
- ATLANTIS, by Lally Katz. Ms Katz let her imagination explode and embraced the world of Farce to talk about some serious stuff confronting her heroine,'Lally' - her urgent ticking biological clock. It is whacky and off-the-wall and really, really difficult to do. A craftsman with a very serious intent underneath the comedy.
- VIRGINS AND COWBOYS, by Morgan Rose. Another Melbourne based playwright. This play busted form and talked of some very existential dilemmas. This playwright excited me very much. Need to see more of her work. Take note.
- MURIEL'S WEDDING. An Australian Musical, based on a favourite Australian film, given a full scale production. Written by PJ Hogan (the originator of the film, as well) with original Music and Lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall (augmenting the ABBA songs), this new work was robust and secure in its first outing. Remarkable.
- BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS, by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine. An Indigenous story with rock and roll songs. It is brave and naked in its observations of personal relationships and politics between siblings and the status of the first nation communities in the National Political arena. A play that speaks full-on to its audience and as cauterising as any play seen in Sydney this year. Pertinent.
PRODUCTIONS THAT I ENJOYED.
- AWAY, by Michael Gow, in the Drama Theatre, for the Sydney Theatre Company. A very contemporary Directorial take on the play that I would never have contemplated but was extremely glad to have being challenged with, from Malthouse in Melbourne, under the Direction of Matthew Lutton, with a spectacular Deisgn by Dale Ferguson. I reckon one of the marks of quality playwriting is to see the elasticity of that writing and its ability to hold thematically and dramatically firm, no matter the artistic pressure put on it by auteurial conception. Fabulous.
- THE JUDAS KISS, by David Hare, at the Old Fitz Theatre. A fairly conventional play structure looking at the last days of Oscar Wilde and his friends. Iain Sinclair Directed with care and compassion to give a very satisfying time to his audience.
- THE DIARY OF A WOMBAT, concept by Sandra Eldridge, Tim McGarry, Eva Di Cesare, based on a book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. A beautifully rendered show for young children with puppetry that was totally enchanting for all of us in the audience - children and adults.
- THE LADEN TABLE, by six women: Yvonne Perzcuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernaghan and Ruth Kliman. This work was developed over many years, guided by Suzanne Millar (and Tony Harrison) of bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co in the Kings Cross Theatre and had 12 actors on stage revealing a large canvas of inter-tribal/religious convictions of great passionate concerns: Palestinian and Israeli. The production had all the care, love and respect of a most remarkable ensemble and Design element. It needs to be seen by a wider audience. This was a remarkable event in the Sydney Theatre scene.
- CALAMITY JANE - A musical adaptation, Directed by Richard Carroll at the Hayes Theatre, with a rambunctious, outrageous ensemble cast: Virginia Gay, Sheridan Harbridge, Rob Johnson, Tony Taylor, Anthony Gooley, Matthew Pierce and Laura Bunting, that puts a 'twist' to the storytelling of this famous film script source of a very satisfying kind. So well liked, that it is been revived under the aegis of Belvoir in the coming season. Great Musical Direction by Nigel Ubrihiem (underrated star) and Design by Lauren Peters - both Set and Costume. Go see it.
- BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, by Rajiv Joseph, an American play of politics, of a superior, erudite literary kind, set in Baghdad, at the Old Fitz Theatre, beautifully Directed by Claudia Barrie; Set Design, by Isobel Hudson, Costumes by Stephanie Howe; Lighting by Benjamin Brockman; Sound Design by Nate Edmondson. Again an impeccable Ensemble cast: Josh Anderson, Stephen Multari, Tyler de Nawi, Megan Smart, Aanisa Vylet, Maggie Dence and Andrew Lindqvist. This was one of the most memorable nights in the theatre this year. I recommended it to everyone I knew who loved theatre.
- WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, a revival production of Edward Albee's great play at the Ensemble Theatre. Meticulously Directed by Iain Sinclair with two great leading performances by Genevieve Lemon and Darren Gilshenan. The Design by Michael Hankin, absolutely detailed and ingenious in this small space - outstanding.
- THE VILLAGE BIKE, by Penelope Skinner, an English play, Directed by Rachel Chant with a very focused company of actors led by a standout performance of a very amazing, provocative heroine, Becky, given by Gabrielle Scawthorn - an actor that deserves to be seen more often.
- JATINGA, by Purva Naresh. Suzanne Millar of bAKEHOUSE Theatre in the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT) has been working with a theatre collective in Mumbai and brought this play to Sydney and cast it with Australian/Indian actors (and two guests from India). A play of epic proportions and tragic contemporary thematics that gripped one from start to finish. Another example, like THE LADEN TABLE, of contemporary Australian theatrical enterprise that is finding the way to tell important stories to an Australian audience. Both these bAKEHOUSE productions should be seen in a larger theatre.
- CLOUD NINE, by Caryl Churchill - a revival production. Ms Churchill is STC Director's, Kip Williams, favourite playwright. This production was an outstanding evening in the theatre. Cast amazingly well: Matthew Backer, Kate Box, Harry Greenwood, Anita Hegh, Josh McConville, Heather Mitchell and Anthony Taufa. The convulsions and political heat of this play were made relevant and funny for today's audience - a vital tonic of wonder. Didn't like the Set much - I thought, when the actors were in the 'glass box' that it inhibited the play's momentum.
- HOT BROWN HONEY, an activist political cabaret/burlesque revealing what it is to be hot, brown and a honey in a white patriarchy. Bracing, stimulating and confronting whilst having a very good time. Balancing its politics with a savvy entertaining technique to coat the savage 'pill'. This production in the Studio Space at the Sydney Opera House.
- HIR, by Taylor Mac in the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre. A hip political night in the theatre with red-hot sexual politics of diversity front and centre. A play of refreshing relevance. A committed cast and another outstanding Design by Michael Hankin. Anthea Williams Directed. Witty, provocative.
- A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, a revival production of Arthur Miller's play, at the Old Fitz Theatre. Directed by Iain Sinclair, this may have been the Best Night in the theatre this year in Sydney. With clear unfussy and inspired clarity the company of actors, Janine Watson, Zoe Terakles, David Soncin, Lincoln Younes, David Lynch and Giles Gartrelll-Mills led by Ivan Donato, as Eddie Carbone, grabbed the audience by the throat and kept us spellbound in mounting terror and horror. It was a totally absorbing and thrilling night in the theatre.
- NO END OF BLAME, by Howard Barker. In a relatively lack lustre season for Sport For Jove (SFJ) this year - unusual - this revival of this playwright's work, brought not only an important voice back to the Sydney scene but also produced an outstanding production with a dedicated company of actors Directed by Damien Ryan. Muscular theatre.
- GHOSTS, by Henrik Ibsen, Adapted and Directed by Eamon Flack, in the Upstairs Theatre Belvoir. The thematics of this play proved to be as relevant for today as when it was written. The Design by Michael Hankin created a space that kept us totally enthralled with a company of actors committed to the telling of this story. Excellence.
- ATLANTIS, by Lally Katz, at Belvoir Upstairs Theatre. Ms Katz at her zaniest, farcical, and yet, serious, best, beautifully managed by Director, Rosemary Myers. A superior accomplishment. The casting was impeccable, a great ensemble: Amber McMahon, Matthew Whittet, Paula Arundell, Lucia Mastrantone and Hazem Shamas. Hilarious and whirl of daring.
- MURIEL'S WEDDING. A new Australian musical, adapted by PJ Hogan from his fllm, with Lyrics and Music by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall (augmenting the ABBA songs) in an absolutely knock-out Design by Gabriela Tylesova, and an abundantly talented and energetic cast, Directed by Simon Phillips, giving a time melting dessert of fun, and satiric intention, in the theatre.
- BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS, by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine, in the Upstairs Theatre at Belvoir - a play with rock music that reveals two siblings and their 'family' politics and, as they are Indigenous, an injection of National Politics, that makes this production a necessary contribution to the Australian canon. As important as last year's THE DOVER'S WIFE. Ursula Yovitch and Elaine Crombie a dream combination with a thrilling rock band of the highest order.
19. RESTRAINT(S). A dance work from Ken Unsworth and the Australian Dance Artists: Susan Barling, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Ross Philip and , especially Anca Frankenhaeuser, with creative collaborator, Norman Hall, that confirms the quality of these artists integrity and persistence to continue to create. It featured a live score for a chamber orchestra, by Kate Moore. The performances were given in the studio of the sculptor Ken Unsworth, in Alexandia, for a 'boutique' and lucky audience. This company create annually, startling work, RESTRAINT(S) being one of the most impressive inventions and deserves to be seen by a larger audience - Sydney Festival or Carriageworks, anyone? ????
PERFOMANCES I ADMIRED (AND ENVIED.)
- Pachero Mzembe in PRIZE FIGHTER. Passionate commitment.
- Heather Mitchell. Is there a better (more consistently great) actor in Sydney? This year two daring and supremely compassionate performances: in AWAY and CLOUD NINE.
- David Soncin. Playing in supporting roles his consistency over the past few years was registered again this year with honest, ignited, and beautiful work in THE JUDAS KISS and in a stunning contrast of versatility in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE as volatile Marco.
- Simon London. Mostly working in supporting roles but always immersed with craft and inspiration, this year in THE JUDAS KISS, SUNSET STRIP and TAKING STEPS. There is such seductive ease in his creations.
- Mansoor Nur. Sits in the fringe but always arresting, this year in THE LADEN TABLE.
- Kate Mulvany in an astonishing performance/possession as Richard III, for Bell Shakespeare, this year. The reason to see this production.
- Andrew Lindqvist gave an extremely subtle performance in BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO.
- Genevieve Lemon an important and constant contributor to the quality of acting on Sydney Stages. This year, demonstrating her versatility: in the Australian Farce, THE HOMOSEXUALS OR 'FAGGOTS'; the great American classic, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? as Martha; and finally in a supporting singing role in a new Australian musical MELBA. Amazing and invaluable.
- Darren Gilshenan, as George in Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
- Gabrielle Scawthorn, giving an amazing second-by-second possession as Becky in THE VILLAGE BIKE. Hauntingly brave and brilliantly executed artistry.
- Matthew Backer in the Australian musical ONLY HEAVEN KNOWS*** and a dual role in CLOUD NINE. Superb in both their intricacies.
- Lucy Goleby and Brandon McClelland in LITTLE BORDERS - a clever duet of interaction.
- Kate Box, being remarkable again in her dual responsibilities in CLOUD NINE.
- Harry Greenwood in CLOUD NINE, his colonial wife contrasted so eloquently with his homosexual gardener.
- Amanda Muggleton, giving a display of wonderful technique and the joy of performing in LIP SERVICE. The best reason, the only reason, to have seen this play.
- Steve Rodgers in DIVING FOR PEARLS. Another consistent work of complicated 'naturalism' that serves his character and the other actor's characters faultlessly. The bedrock of this production.
- Michellle Doak, for her tour-de-force in a supporting task in DIVING FOR PEARLS. The layers of her contribution astonishing - comic and tragic in the same moments.
- Ursula Yovitch, twice, for two Barbara's - one in DIVING FOR PEARLS, and especially for her ferocity and emotional nakedness in BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS.
- Helen Thomson, as Paige in HIR. At last a role that absorbed her into transformation - her best work, to my eyes, since her STC challenge in Shaw's MRS WARREN'S PROFESSION, many years ago now.
- Ivan Donato, creating an extraordinary performance as Eddie Carbone in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. Incandescent. Superior work.
- Tom Conroy as Oswald in Ibsen's GHOSTS. Daring and thrilling.
- Toby Francis as Rob in the Hayes musical, HIGH FIDELITY - honest, naked and certainly, here, a triple threat of some astonishing expertise.
- Jennifer Vuletic for three absolutely volcanic creations in MERCILESS GODS.
- Drew Livingstone, insanely hilarious with a superior comic technique detail in TAKING STEPS.
- Andrew Henry for his revelations and craft in his work VERTICAL DREAMING, at the Old Fitz.
- Elaine Crombie for her balanced and compassionate support in BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS. Mesmerising and a revelation.
- Sheridan Harbridge in CALAMITY JANE. 'Don't act with animals, children or Sheridan Harbridge!' Is there a more wickedly inventive artist on the Sydney stage? I don't think so!
- Virginia Gay, in CALAMITY JANE. Cheeky powerhouse of a leading lady.
- Paula Arundell in ATLANTIS. One of the great, consistent artists of the Sydney stage.
DESIGNS THAT I OBSERVED (in no particular order).
Lauren Peters for CALAMITY JANE and HIGH FIDELITY.
Isabel Hudson (Set) and Stephanie Howe (Costume) for BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO.
Michael Hankin for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF; HIR; GHOSTS and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
Melanie Liertz for NO END OF BLAME.
Jonathan Oxlade for ATLANTIS.
Gabriela Tylesova for MURIEL'S WEDDING.
Multiple Lighting Designs from Benjamin Brockman.
Multiple and intricate Sound Designs from Nate Edmondson - is there a busier artist?
DIRECTORS I NOTED.
Iain Sinclair - consistent excellence. THE JUDAS KISS; WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF; A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE.
Claudia Barrie - BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO.
Dominic Mercer - LITTLE BORDERS.
Stephen Nicolazzo - MERCILESS GODS.
Leticia Carceres - BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS.
Simon Philips - MURIEL'S WEDDING.
Suzanne Millar - A LADEN TABLE and JATINGA.
Matthew Lutton - AWAY.
Kip Williams - CLOUD NINE.
Rosemary Myers - ATLANTIS.
Darren Yap - DIVING FOR PEARLS.
Elsie Edgerton-Till, for WASTED, by Kate Tempest and LA CALISTO (a student opera production at the Conservatorium of Music.)
I noted the consistently good curating at the 'experimental' space the OLD 505 by Kerri Glasscock this year. I saw some consistently interesting work in the Eliza St Newtown space.
- A PERIOD PIECE from Glitterbomb.
- THE SYLPH - a play by Jodi Pose, with Gertaud Ingeborg, Directed by Colleen Cook.
- TRADE - from Hurrah, Hurrah.
- THIS IS NOT MILLS AND BOON - by Erica J,. Brennan, from Glorious Thing Theatre.
- PERHAPS. PERHAPS ... QUIZAS, from artist, Gabriela Munoz. (Outstanding.)
- LITTLE BORDERS, a play from Philip Kavangh.
Another Newtown bonus this year. The consistent work at the New Theatre - not, by the way, always the case. 2017, an exceptional year.
- THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED
- THE CHAPEL PERILOUS
- THE CLEAN HOUSE
- AUSTRALIA DAY
There were a few disasters as well.
Have a Great New Year - 2018. Thank you for reading.