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Griffin Theatre Company 2017: who and what's on stage

Dee Jefferson

Griffin Theatre Company have launched their 2017 season – and the good news is: it’s diverse (in genre, subjects, talent) and has great talent on board across three new Australian works and one classic.

The bad news is that the arts funding cuts of the last 24 months have hit home with a reduction of the season from five plays to just four. Which, as artistic director Lee Lewis noted in a pre-launch lunch, really does feel different when you’re wanting to subscribe the company, but also have some degree of choice. On that note, back to good news: Griffin subscriptions are on the rise this year, off the back of their season of The Literati and probably gangbusters sales of Gloria. And: a private investor has stepped in to underwrite a fifth show for Griffin’s 2018 season – plugging the hole that Federal funding cuts have made in the company’s budget.

Across four mainstage works, two ‘special events’ and five independent shows, Griffin’s 2017 season does what you want Australia’s home of new writing to do: it speaks to contemporary issues; it presents a socially, racially and politically complex image of Australia; it is equally an open-church for different genres, forms, and writers of different background and perspective – though obviously our theatre landscape is still extremely white, and still playing catch up with reality. Artistic director Lewis is fond of saying that she doesn’t decide what Australian writing is, she just creates a space for it, in her role as artistic director.

Lewis is directing two new works at Griffin in 2017: the Malthouse co-production of Declan Greene’s dark comic farce The Homosexuals, which takes aim at Rich White Gay Men; and the Queensland Theatre Company co-production of Michelle Lee’s two-hander Rice, about the relationship between a high-flying executive and her office cleaner. Having two Asian-Australian women on stage in a play by another Asian-Australian woman? Something to celebrate. 

Lincoln Younes stars in The Homosexuals
Photograph: Brett Boardman

Book-ending these two shows are Chris Mead’s production of Ross Mueller’s office-lyf satire A Strategic Plan, starring Justin Smith as the everyman drowning in the brave new jargon-fuelled white-collar world; and Darren Yap’s production of Katherine Thomson’s working class drama Diving For Pearls, starring Ursula Yovich as Australia’s answer to Arthur Miller’s salesman Willie Loman, Barb. She might not be directing, but Lewis says this is her favourite Australian play, and describes it as “devastating.”

Lewis pitches this concise season of works as “intimate stories with global implications,” featuring “writing that is in conversation with global issues, and is about our place in the world.”

Ursula Yovich stars in Diving For Pearls
Photograph: Brett Boardman

The two ‘special events’ happening in 2017 come from opposite sides of town, arguably: you’ve got a footy drama, and a cabaret show. First up, in May: Griffin and the National Theatre of Parramatta will co-present David Williams’ Smurf in Wanderland, a love letter to football and fandom created off the back of half a decade spent embedded in the club areas of Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Then in July, Australian cabaret legend Robyn Archer (whose one-woman 1979 show A Star is Torn ran for a year on London’s West End) will perform three nights apiece of three ‘songbook’ shows: a French showcase (including Piaf, Brel and more), an American showcase (from Bob Dylan to Broadway to Pink), and a pre-ww2 European showcase (think Weill, Brecht).

David Williams (formerly of Version 1.0) writes and stars in Smurf in Wanderland

In addition, five indie productions from Sydney and interstate will show within the Griffin Independent channel. The biggest news is Kate Gaul undertaking Patrick White’s sprawling split-level 1947 play The Ham Funeral. As Lewis points out, Griffin could not afford to do a fully-waged production of this ten-character play, so it’s ripe for indie plucking.

From Melbourne: a production of Dan Giovannoni’s Merciless Gods (based on the book by Christos Tsiolkas) by queer theatre outfit Little Ones Theatre; and Motherboard Productions’ Virgins and Cowboys – a 5-star favourite of Time Out Melbourne in 2015.

At the very front end of the year, opening January 7, is Nosferatutu, a ‘vampire cabaret’ collaboration between performer-creators Tommy Bradson and Sheridan Harbridge. Since we would watch Harbridge (recently in Hayes Theatre shows The Detective’s Handbook and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown) read/sing a phone book, this is good news.

And finally: director Anthony Skuse and playwright Suzie Miller (Caress/Ache) are reuniting for the premiere of Sunset Strip, an unlikely comedy about illness and death within a family, starring Emma Jackson.

Check out what’s on at Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir’s stage in 2017. 

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