Critics' choice Melbourne shows
When we talk about landmark moments in Australian playwriting, it’s hard to go past Who’s Afraid of the Working Class, the blistering collaboration between four of our finest writers – Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves and Christos Tsiolkas – and composer Irine Vela. With their powers combined, they are to Australian theatre what the Avengers are to superheroes. The 1999 play premiered at the now defunct Melbourne Workers Theatre and melded together several separate storylines to create a startling and memorable portrait of Melbourne in the late ‘90s. Now they’re reuniting to mark the work’s 20th anniversary at Melbourne Festival with a brand new show that looks at Australia today and asks what draws us together and what divides us. To help them explore class and inequality, they’re throwing together a group of characters from diverse backgrounds on a train. Director Susie Dee will helm a stellar cast of local actors, including Amanda Ma, Maude Davey, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Eva Seymour, Carly Sheppard, Maria Mercedes, Reef Ireland, Thuso Lekwape, Osamah Sami, Eryn Jean Norvill, Sahil Saluja and Ruthy Kaisila.
It's the end of the festival as we know it. Starting next year, Melbourne Festival is joining with White Night to create an as-yet-unnamed mega winter festival, which will run from August 2020. But director Jonathan Holloway is ensuring this iteration of Melbourne Festival goes out with a bang, with a spectacular and eclectic program. For theatre lovers, there's a new international work starring Maxine Peake as the enigmatic Nico and Anthem, and a new collaboration between some of Australia's leading creatives. Music fans will lap up gigs from the Flaming Lips and Joan As Police Woman, while Japan's legendary TeamLab will be showing three new video works in a free exhibition. See our highlights from the 2019 line-up.
Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter makes some of the most distinctively vibrant dance anywhere in the world. In 2016 he was nominated for a Tony Award for choreographing a brilliant new Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, but he’s best known for the shows he creates with his own company. That company is coming to Melbourne to perform Grand Finale, featuring ten dancers who’ll be dancing their way towards the end of the world in this frequently funny (well, bleakly funny) reflection on a planet threatened by disaster. This will mark Schechter’s fourth visit to the Melbourne Festival, after he made his debut in 2009 with Uprising and In Your Rooms, and returned in 2011 with Political Mother and 2013 with Sun. But critics have been raving about this particular work – his boldest and most ambitious yet – since it premiered in London in 2017. It’s a must-see for contemporary dance fans and a pretty spectacular introduction for anybody new to the art form.
Melbourne’s Chunky Move has a massive reputation in the contemporary dance world, forged first by its founding director Gideon Obarzanek (who is actually co-directing the new iteration of Melbourne Festival next year) and then its latest director Anouk Van Dijk. Now Antony Hamilton is taking over the reins of the company, and will premiere his first work as artistic director at this year’s Melbourne Festival. We can pretty safely guarantee Token Armies won’t be like any dance work you’ve seen before. Set in an immersive environment, the futuristic work sees 23 dancers interact with various lifeforms and machines that move and seem to breathe. At the centre of the performance is a massive moving sculpture created by Creature Technology Co, the company behind the larger-than-life puppets in King Kong and Walking with Dinosaurs.
This musical from Kander and Ebb (the songwriting team behind Cabaret and Chicago) has never before had a professional mainstage production in Australia. Melbourne Theatre Company's artistic director Brett Sheehy says he’s reversing that “unconscionable neglect” with this new production starring Australia’s own Broadway and West End star (she played the leading role in Chicago on Broadway), Caroline O’Connor. It’s based on Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel set inside a South American prison where two men are sharing a cell. One is a Marxist revolutionary, and the other is a gay window dresser who escapes into a fantasy world of movies starring the fabulous diva Aurora. That’s where O’Connor comes in. The cast also includes Adam Jon Fiorentino, Natalie Gamsu, and Bert LaBonté (The Book of Mormon). Helpmann Award-winner and musical theatre dynamo Dean Bryant directs.
Long before it was an Academy Award-winning film, Chicago was a hit Broadway musical. Penned by musical theatre's dynamic duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, the musical was only a minor splash when it premiered in 1975. But when it was given a stripped back and sexed up new production in 1996, it became an immediate sensation and eventually the longest running Broadway revival of all time. That's the production which Melbourne audiences will see, this time with Natalie Bassingthwaighte playing Roxie (the Renée Zellweger role) opposite musical theatre star Alinta Chidzey as Velma (the Catherine Zeta-Jones role). Jason Donovan is playing the smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, while vocal powerhouse Casey Donovan is taking on Matron Mama Morton, the prison warden who sings 'When You're Good to Mama'. The show also includes 'Razzle Dazzle', 'Cell Block Tango', 'Mr Cellophane', and, of course, 'All That Jazz'.
Every couple of years, globe-trotting circus company Cirque du Soleil pops up its Grand Chapiteau in Melbourne for a season of good, old-fashioned spectacle and entertainment. Its next show to come to town has got a decidedly retro vibe and has been widely praised as the company's best in years. When it was in New York back in 2016, Time Out gave it a glowing five-star review: "Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities is a procession of wonders: the Canadian circus giant’s sharpest, sexiest, most stylish production in years. In a departure from the otherwordly themes for which Cirque is best known, writer-director Michel Laprise embraces a steampunk aesthetic: metal and leather, chunky robots, glowing filaments under glass, a singer with a phonograph horn on her head. The style may be retro, but the acts—and the technical ingenuity that makes them possible—are fully up-to-date. The show is a mad scientist’s lab of wild invention, in which circus artists from around the planet perform routines of breathtaking beauty and precision." Kurios is at Flemington Racecourse from March 12, 2020. Tickets go on sale March 18, 2019 at 9am.