Cassie is a writer and theatre critic in Sydney who regularly reviews shows for Time Out Sydney. She has previously written for the Guardian, Daily Review, Witness Performance, Audrey Journal and AussieTheatre.com.
Choose your own summer arts adventure
Summer in Sydney is prime time to get an arts fix, with Sydney Festival taking over the city for three weeks, blockbuster international exhibitions at our major galleries, and a stack of all-singing, all-dancing musicals. But what’s your personal arts flavour? We’re here to help you find your perfect match.
Listings and reviews (4)
Following an extended, sold-out season in 2019, and a return season that was cut short by the pandemic last year, Darlinghurst Theatre is bringing back the smash-hit musical Once from June 24, 2022, for a strictly limited season. Reprising their critically acclaimed roles are Toby Francis (Guy), Stefanie Caccamo (Girl) and Jay Laga'aia (Da). Other returning cast members include Deirdre Khoo (ex-girlfriend), Drew Livingston (Bank Manager), Abe Mitchell (Andrej), Rupert Reid (Billy), Patrick Schnur (Emcee) and Alec Steedman (Eamon). They are accompanied by Pavan Kumar Hari (Švec), who joined the production in Perth, and newcomers to the show Ruby Clark (Reza) and Emma Price (Baruška). Read on for our review from 2019: A guy and a girl meet on a Dublin street. He’s busking his last set before he gives up on music forever. She needs her vacuum cleaner fixed. Through music, a delicate, hopeful connection is forged. Once, John Carney’s quiet and soulful movie musical, was a big hit with sensitive folks and indie-folk fans back in 2007, and at the heart of it was ‘Falling Slowly’, a duet between musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. It won the Academy Award for Best Original song; it was recorded by Hansard’s group the Frames as well as his and Irglová’s duo the Swell Season; it birthed a thousand self-made mixtapes and beseeched whole swathes of the population to push through their hurts to find new little sparks of life. Now a stage musical, with a book by Irish playwright
A Chorus Line
It’s not often that a nearly-fifty-year-old musical will hold up to a new staging in 2022. The passage of time, and the eyes of a fresh creative team, tend to reveal all the creaks and cracks in the foundation – showing all the flaws that were once covered over by novelty. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, a creative team will find a couple of the right buttons to push to get people screaming with joy. Sometimes they can make a moment written so long ago, on the other side of the world, feel like it was made for these performers and this place – right here, right now. That happens twice in this production of A Chorus Line: in the opening number, in which we meet the group of dancers who we will follow through the show as they learn steps for an audition number; and in the second act, when one of dancers, Cassie (Angelique Cassimatis), performs the heart-stopping ‘Music and the Mirror’ (earning a spontaneous standing ovation from much of the opening night audience). These are timeless moments on their own, but they are re-invigorated and made dazzling again by choreographer and director Amy Campbell. Campbell has spent her career dancing, making dance, and working with artists, and this show – a love letter to the heartbreak, struggle, and joy of making art – speaks a language she knows well. While many productions of A Chorus Line retain the high-energy 1970s choreography by Michael Bennett and Bob Avian, Campbell has re-choreographed the musical herself, and it is thrilling. E
Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the most famous plays of the 20th century. It’s a vicious thing: married couple Martha and George play games that begin as wordplay and turn into emotional warfare; they drag their house guests, young couple Nick and Honey, into the fray; they speak to each other with deliberate cruelty. Erupting onto the Broadway stage in 1962, this scalding portrait of 1960s America burned up the big screen in 1966 with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the leads. Sixty years on, the play still has some power to get under your skin – when the tension builds just right, it’s agonising. This new production for Sydney Festival from the State Theatre Company South Australia, helmed by actor/director Margaret Harvey, a First Nations woman of Saibai Island blood and English heritage, aims to complicate the play’s escalating conflicts and to have them engage with, and reflect, Australia’s structural, institutional and social practices of racism. This is tackled via three key elements. The first is accents. Traditionally, plays from the American canon are presented locally with their original setting intact. Here, however, Harvey’s cast use their own accents to make it an Australian experience. This breaks down a storytelling barrier – this story isn’t happening ‘somewhere else’. It’s happening here, which means we are socially implicated in its habits and practices. The second is the set. The play takes place in the living room of a ho
Muriel's Wedding The Musical
Sydney, Muriel has arrived. With an updated book by original screenwriter PJ Hogan and music by pop intelligentsia Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, Muriel’s Wedding the Musical will leave you smiling for days. Directed by our finest big-picture showman Simon Phillips, this is the film-to-stage adaptation critics, audiences and creatives dream of: an updated and evolved version of the original story that stands proudly as its own creation. Muriel (Maggie McKenna, in an astonishing debut) is the outcast in the fictional, Tweed Heads-inspired coastal town of Porpoise Spit. The locals worship beach bodies and traditional gender stereotypes (the women, the ensemble chirp, don’t have any pubic hair). Muriel, who still listens to ABBA in 2017, and isn’t stick-thin or blessed with social graces, is an outsider. She’s bullied by family and friends. She hates herself, and the reality of that loathing is never downplayed, her anguish sensitively explored in numbers ‘Lucky Last’ and ‘Why Can’t That Be Me?’ Her only allies are ABBA (Jaime Hadwen, Sheridan Harbridge, Mark Hill and Aaron Tsindos) – who appear in Muriel’s times of need as her friends, confidantes, and conscience. Their magical appearances satisfyingly solve the dilemma of adapting this film into a musical: how to marry its memorable use of ABBA songs with a brand-new and contemporary score? Of course, Muriel isn’t the only person suffocating in Porpoise Spit. Her mother Betty (a heartbreaking Justine Clarke) is her husb
Australia's legal system is on trial in this new play about sexual assault
If anyone was going to be able to write the definitive play on the way the Australian legal system fails women, it’s Suzie Miller. An award-winning playwright who used to practise criminal law, she’s uniquely placed to understand – and dramatise – all the ways women suffer when they report sexual harassment, assault and violence. And is there a better time for a play tackling these issues right now, when violence against women is in the spotlight, and when victims of assault by high-profile entertainers are more visible than ever? Prima Facie, which won the Griffin Award for new Australian playwriting last year, is Miller’s call to arms to the legal sector. A one-woman show, it follows Tessa, a criminal lawyer who loves the law and loves winning. But that love turns sour when she becomes a victim herself. Tessa knows the system front to back; she knows that women rarely win these kind of cases. But she’s still compelled to speak up. Over the play’s 90 minutes, Tessa will experience the law from the other side of the bar. It’s rough going and serious, but it isn’t a lecture, and like any human experience, it’s got humour and heart, the things that make a crisis easier to bear. Playwright Suzie Miller. Photograph: Brett Boardman. Miller says she didn’t intend her play to make it to stages at the same time as two high-profile theatrical figures are fighting allegations of inappropriate conduct in the courts, but that she’s glad the play is landing when the public (and the the
The end of the '60s comes to life in this genre-smashing Sydney Festival show
You’ve probably heard the phrase “we tell ourselves stories in order to live”. It’s the opening line from Joan Didion’s The White Album, an essay collection that takes a deep dive into the tail end of the 1960s, when the Black Panther Party started a revolution and the Manson family committed murder. This was a turning point: Didion said the 1960s, all social change and counterculture, truly died when Sharon Tate did. Also in 1968, Didion was an outpatient at a psychiatric facility in Santa Monica. Somehow, marvellously, her essay captures these fragments, from her life and the world outside, and presents them as a whole. Now, American director Lars Jan is bringing the essay – with its whorls of reportage, cultural references and personal confession – to the stage as part of Sydney Festival. Jan has envisioned The White Album as a partially immersive theatrical experience that rises from the din of a party in a beachfront house: “Out of this morass of people, a woman comes to the sliding glass doors, steps outside onto the veranda, shuts the door behind her… She starts talking, and she’s reading The White Album. And as she's talking, the party starts to morph to syncopate and illustrate her words in indirect and sometimes direct ways.” An “inner audience” of around 25 pre-selected people will make up the party, interacting with the performance and the items on stage to bring the touchstones of the piece to life. Regular audience members are off the hook – at least until the
The best on Sydney stages in 2019: our top 10
When Sydney theatre is good, it’s very good. To reach that level, you need both an independent and a subsidised scene firing on all cylinders; you need daring new works that attempt to define and examine us – and sometimes the world is on fire, and you just need something to make you feel better (or at least just feel). There are four plays that scored elusive five-star reviews on this list, and they make up our top four – consider them a tier of equal moments where we sat in the dark and felt something that caused within us a profound shift. There are also a bunch of debut plays – Sydney has been so lucky to host some excellent new writing onstage this year – and some new takes on old work that made us sit up straight and lean forward in our seats. Here are the ten best things we saw this year (and a few honourable mentions, because we have a lot of love to give). 10. Caroline or Change Tony Kushner is best known for his epic play Angels in America, but he maintains that this musical about a Caroline Thibodeaux, a maid in 1960s Louisiana, was his favourite thing he’s ever written. With a soul-flecked score by Jeanine Tesori and elegant storytelling that delves into the slow and often parallel processes of internal and systemic change, Mitchell Butel’s production at the Hayes Theatre was lovingly rendered. It’s a great script and score, but the real magic of this production was Elenoa Rokobaro’s performance as Caroline. She could just shatter your heart. Honourable mention:
Time Out Sydney's second annual alternative Helpmann Awards
The annual awards for live performance in Australia, the Helpmanns, have moved to Melbourne. It’s like the Tonys leaving New York – it’s fine, really, but also we’re not going to miss out on all the fun. The winners will be announced today – you can find all of this year’s nominees here, and of course we'll bring you the full list later tonight. The awards cover dance, opera, ballet, music festivals, comedy, classical concerts, as well as theatre, musicals and cabaret. We’re not convinced a national awards show can truly represent our arts landscape: voters are scattered across the country so works that have played more than one city tends to win just because it has been more visible; and, while it’s better this year, few women and people of colour are nominated for prominent awards. Plus, once an actual long-dead costume designers was nominated for his decades-old work over deserving local, living talent. We’re still a little mad about that. So for the second year in a row, we’re filling in the gaps with our own gongs! We’re sticking with Sydney works, because a) we live here and b) there’s so much talent here we’ve given up sleeping and social lives to experience it all, so we have to make the sacrifice worthwhile. Sydney artists, these awards are for you. Don’t restrict your acceptance speeches to under 30 seconds: we want to hear every single word you have to say. BEST MUSICAL IMPROVING ON HISTORY BY CASTING WOMEN INSTEAD OF WALL-TO-WALL DUDESThe Dismissal BEST USE OF V
Sydney theatre in 2019: 15 shows we're looking forward to
The new year is just around the corner, and that means Sydney’s many stages will soon be packed with hundreds of new stories. We love Sydney’s artists, and we wanted to share with you a few of the plays, musicals and performance pieces that we’re excited about in the new year. This is a list of epics and works in progress, new stories and old, from some of our most exciting creative minds. 1. Counting and Cracking Is this the most ambitious theatre in Sydney in 2019? Probably! Belvoir is transforming Sydney Town Hall into a Sri Lankan town hall for Counting and Cracking, S. Shakthidharan’s epic play about love, exile, political strife and family. Sixteen actors will play four generations beginning in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and ending in Sydney’s Pendle Hill. The play will consider refuge and reconciliation, and what these ideas mean in Australia in the past, present and future. This is Theatre with a capital T. 2. How to Rule the World One of Australia’s best playwrights, Nakkiah Lui, is back with a brand new comedy and this time, it’s set in the world of politics. Three insiders – who are Aboriginal, Asian and Islander – decide that the best way to take over Parliament House is to find a likeable white guy and use him as a political puppet to get their viewpoints heard. She’ll be taking aim at our lofty ideals of multiculturalism and the ‘fair go’, as well as the circus of Australian politics. The production will be directed by Paige Rattray, who last worked with Lui on her rom
The best on Sydney stages in 2018: our top 10
In 2018, Sydney stages have been burning up with talented writers, performers, directors and creative teams. We’ve seen culture-defining new Australian works, plays that ask big and tricky questions, and a collectively thoughtful exploration of identity, place and belonging in a nation that’s still figuring itself out. Plus, that rare gift: cracking comedies. You’ll notice that two companies had a particularly strong year: Sydney Theatre Company, in its first full season under artistic director Kip Williams, and Griffin Theatre Company, the tiny, beloved Kings Cross institution for Australian works, led by artistic director Lee Lewis. This year, they made work that was surprising, challenging and invigorating. Lucky us! Here are the ten best things we saw this year – and a few honourable mentions, because why wouldn't we spread the love? 10. In the Heights Before Lin-Manuel Miranda turned the world upside down with Hamilton, he wrote In The Heights. This high-energy slice of life musical about the New York neighbourhood of Washington Heights received a smart and big-hearted production at the Hayes Theatre this year, and it was so good it’s coming back as part of Sydney Festival – and moving to one of our most prestigious stages: the Opera House's Concert Hall. With a cast of triple threats from mostly Latinx backgrounds, an infectious pastiche score that blends hip-hop and rap with salsa and Broadway standards, this production is a joyous force of nature. Honourable mention
Does Opera Australia have a problem with women?
When you think of opera, chances are you see a glorious woman on stage, arm dramatically outstretched, belting to high heaven. You probably think of strong-willed Carmen, the yearning Cio-Cio San or formidable Turandot. For many of us, opera and women’s voices are intrinsically linked. But that’s not the whole story. While women sing on stage – yes, gloriously and often with that arm reaching out towards the audience – they are generally singing roles created by men, and they’re usually directed to hit those notes, and raise that arm, by yet more men. "...there are more men named David (or Davide) than women directing opera in 2019" Often, all women are allowed to do is sing. They rarely have the chance to tell the story or shape the music that lifts a woman’s voice and forms the face of the artform. And at Opera Australia, the country’s national opera company that calls no less than the iconic Sydney Opera House home, there are more men named David (or Davide) than women directing opera in 2019. There are some genuinely exciting things about Opera Australia’s 2019 season, particularly in Sydney – a new Australian opera about artist Brett Whiteley, and a commitment to technology to move with the times – but the company, and by extension, the nation’s best example of any enduring power opera may have, remains dominated by the thoughts and ideas of men. Only 17.5 per cent of creative roles at OA in 2019 will be filled by women. But in the positions of greatest artistic contr
Does Opera Australia have a problem with women?
When you think of opera, chances are you see a glorious woman on stage, arm dramatically outstretched, belting to high heaven. You probably think of strong-willed Carmen, the yearning Cio-Cio San or formidable Turandot. For many of us, opera and women’s voices are intrinsically linked. But that’s not the whole story. While women sing on stage – yes, gloriously and often with that arm reaching out towards the audience – they are generally singing roles created by men, and they’re usually directed to hit those notes, and raise that arm, by yet more men. "...there are more men named David (or Davide) than women directing opera in 2019" Often, all women are allowed to do is sing. They rarely have the chance to tell the story or shape the music that lifts a woman’s voice and forms the face of the artform. And at Opera Australia, the country’s national opera company that calls no less than the iconic Sydney Opera House home, there are more men named David (or Davide) than women directing opera in 2019. There are some genuinely exciting things about Opera Australia’s 2019 season – a new Australian opera about artist Brett Whiteley, and a commitment to technology to move with the times – but the company, and by extension, the nation’s best example of any enduring power opera may have, remains dominated by the thoughts and ideas of men. Only 17.5 per cent of creative roles at OA in 2019 will be filled by women. But in the positions of greatest artistic control and influence – directo
Time Out's alternative Helpmann Awards
This week Sydney played host to the Helpmann Awards – the annual awards for live performance in Australia. Think the Tony Awards or the Oliviers, but local and reaching out to include dance, opera, ballet, music festivals, comedy, and classical music. You can find all of this year’s winners here. The Helpmanns are fraught for a number of reasons – the fact that it’s difficult to have a national awards program when voters are scattered across the country (work that has been seen in more than one city tends to win just because it has been more visible); that few women and people of colour are nominated for prominent awards; and that long-dead costume designers can secure a nod over and above our local talent. So to address those problems, we’re awarding some gongs of our own. We’ll keep the hometown advantage, because Sydney’s arts scene is vibrant and deserving of recognition by its own city-based media (and that’s where we do most of our theatre-going), but we’re going to reach out and pick some winners that might never get their work celebrated in a flashy ceremony at the Capitol Theatre, on the set of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert the Musical. BEST MUSICAL TO CAST LATINX PERFORMERS IN LATINX ROLES, FOR ONCEIn the Heights, Hayes Theatre. LEAST SENSITIVE CASTINGThe upcoming West Side Story, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, for its casting of a white woman in the role of Puerto-Rican Maria. BEST ACTORS SHARING A LEADING ROLEMichala Banas, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Casey Donovan
Discover the secret life of unicorns in these medieval tapestries showing in Sydney
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are almost as difficult to spot in the wild as the horned creature itself. Just installed in Sydney, this is only the third time the detailed, surprisingly playful medieval tapestries have travelled from their home at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. AGNSW curator Jackie Dunn describes the tapestries as feeling like a garden that, like any beautiful landscape, invite viewers to take a long, slow look and reflect on what they see. And she’s not the only one to find such depth and inspiration in the tapestries – Rainer Maria Rilke and Tracey Chevalier have written about them extensively, and art-loving video game designers and movie set dressers have been compelled to slip them into their own worlds for years (you might have caught sight of them in the Gryffindor common rooms). “I think one of the reasons that they’re considered to be so special is that we actually don’t know that much about them,” Dunn says. “We know that they were made at about 1500 on the dot, at the turn of the century. We know they were made by a wealthy lawyer-class family in France. But we don’t know exactly who made them and we don’t know why they were made. “And they’ve got this particular beauty. People seem very moved by the figure of the woman and the figure of the unicorn and the relationship that they appear to have in the tapestries.” The Lady and the Unicorn consists of six tapestries; the widest is four and a half metres long and the tallest stretches three metr
I love Sydney theatre. This week I realised it really doesn’t love me back.
I love the theatre. I’ve loved it for a very long time and I’ve been writing about it for several years as a critic. I love it anew every time I sit down and wait for that hush before the play starts – the promise of something real, something revelatory, that incredible power of the form to tell us something new we’ve always felt, but never quite could put our finger on. Or those times it blows us apart, smashes us open, and remakes us into better humans. I love that. I just wish the theatre loved me back. Last night I attended the opening night of Speed-the-Plow, Andrew Upton’s production of David Mamet's 1988 play, in the Roslyn Packer theatre. Starring Rose Byrne (in the Madonna/Lindsay Lohan role), it was a hard piece of marketing and casting to resist. Rose Byrne and Damon Herriman in Sydney Theatre Company's Speed-the-PlowPhotograph: Lisa Tomasetti It also felt like a homecoming of sorts, for me. I saw Byrne in a Sydney Theatre Company show 15 years ago – Benedict Andrews’ Three Sisters – and the production ignited in me a love for Chekhov and theatre that well overtook the fondness for the form that had come before. I had come to Sydney on a bus from Dubbo, where I was an overachieving accelerated English student and an eager Drama student, in Year 11 but about to sit the HSC for English, bursting with new ideas from new books. I was desperate for stories and experience beyond my quiet life. I was desperate for words and poetry. Ever since that excursion I