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SBW Stables Theatre Griffin 2020
Photograph: SuppliedLike many independent companies, the Griffin Theatre Company is in jeopardy

Griffin is celebrating the 50th birthday of its historic theatre in 2020

Ben Neutze

There aren’t many stages in Sydney that are as essential to Australian theatre as the SBW Stables Theatre. Only 105 people can fit around its kite-shaped stage, but tiny theatres can have a massive impact. In 1970, the poky building was turned into a theatre by Nimrod Theatre Company, and in 1980 Griffin took over. It’s launched the careers of many of Australia’s most significant playwrights and is the only major theatre devoted entirely to Australian writing.

So in 2020, the company has a lot to celebrate, and has just revealed a full year of new plays – and one revival of a neglected recent classic. 

Appropriately, things are kicking off with a new play by Australia’s elder statesman of the stage, David Williamson, who actually featured in Griffin’s first ever season at the Stables 40 years ago. Then it’s over to a range of writers from all stages of their careers. Here’s what’s coming up.

Griffin mainstage season 2020

Family Values (Jan 17-Mar 7)
By David Williamson
Director: Lee Lewis

Few Australian playwrights have shaped this country’s theatrical expression like David Williamson. His plays run the gamut in terms of style, subject (and sometimes quality, it must be said), but Griffin’s artistic director Lee Lewis says he’s getting particularly political in this new comedy.

“He’s doing a classic David, in that he’s putting all the problems of the country on stage,” she says.

The play takes place as a retired federal judge invites his children home to celebrate his birthday. Those children are: a born-again Christian, a Border Force officer and her seafaring girlfriend, and a left-wing activist who shows up with an asylum seeker on the run from Nauru. You can guess exactly what sort of sparks are going to fly.

“He can speak to a generation in a way that other writers can’t,” Lewis says. “He’s got something to say, and he’s not going to rest until he’s shifted it.”

Andrew McFarlane will star as the judge at the centre of it all, alongside Jamie Oxenbould.

Family Values. Photograph: Brett Boardman.

Kindness (May 8-Jun 13)
By Matthew Whittet
Director: Lee Lewis

Matthew Whittet is known for writing sweetly quirky plays about the awkwardness and pain of growing up, and will continue that exploration in this new work. It follows a group of 20-year-olds trying to help their friend Lukas through his grief by telling stories and pulling him out of his black hole.

“It’s gentle, it’s subtle, it’s got really interesting curves and psychologies,” Lewis says. “There are a handful of writers in the world who do that, and do it elegantly, and Matthew is becoming one of those.”

Lewis says that the play mightn’t entirely match your expectations; while it’s about young people, it’s not specifically designed for a younger audience. And although it has a narrative thread about youth suicide, it’s surprisingly hopeful.

Wherever She Wanders (Jul 10-Aug 22)
By Kendall Feaver
Director: Lee Lewis

Kendall Feaver’s debut play, The Almighty Sometimes, was one of the best and most moving plays staged by Griffin in recent years, and also played an acclaimed London season. Now she’s returning with her follow-up play, in which a university student and aspiring journalist (played by Emily Havea) makes a sexual harassment complaint to the first female master of her college.

“On the surface, it’s about rape culture in the university college system, but really it’s about the battle between young and old feminists about how to move the conversation about sexuality, identity and sexual relations forward.”

The play, which looks at the pitfalls of online media, was crafted to Havea’s talents once she became involved.

Wherever She Wanders. Photograph: Brett Boardman.

Superheroes (Sep 4-Oct 10)
By Mark Rogers
Director: Shari Sebbens

Mark Rogers’ play for three actors picked up both the Griffin Award and Patrick White Award this year, making it particularly hot property. It features two women on different sides of the globe trying to deal with their everyday problems amidst a world grappling with big political questions.

Dubs Yunipingu plays a woman in Thirroul coming to terms with an unwanted pregnancy, while the other character is in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, having an unexpected encounter while getting her groceries that puts her right in the centre of the European refugee crisis.

“It’s a slippery little work, across time and space,” Lewis says. “It’s one of those one-night-on-earth stories, with these two women divided by space but not time.”

The play is directed by Shari Sebbens, who is known best as an actor, but just kicking off a directorial career.

Wicked Sisters (Nov 6-Dec 12)
By Alma de Groen
Director: Nadia Tass

Griffin is wrapping up its 2020 season with this 2002 play by Alma de Groen. You may not have heard of her, but De Groen was one of the most provocative voices in Australian theatre in the 1980s and ‘90s. In fact, Richard Wherrett programmed five of her plays during his time as artistic director of Sydney Theatre Company.

Wicked Sister is led by women in their fifties, one of whom is the widow to a famed genius who has created a machine that predicts total catastrophe for humankind.

“Everything [De Groen] is writing about feels more timely now than when she wrote it,” Lewis says. “She’s quite ahead of her time as a writer.”

The play is described as a revenge tragi-comedy and features Di Adams, Vanessa Downing and Deborah Galanos.

Wicked Sisters. Photograph: Brett Boardman.

Special extras

Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? (Mar 31-Apr 4)
By Debra Oswald

The playwright and creator of Offspring is performing a one-woman show about her life in writing.

Batch Festival (Apr 17-May 2)

Griffin’s now annual festival of performance that sits somewhere outside the traditional boundaries of theatre is returning for its third year.

Fear (Jun 15-20)
By Oliver Twist

The stand-up comedian is turning his material into a work for theatre, reflecting on his time as a refugee and his life today.

No Standing. No Dancing. (Aug 27-29)
By Phil Spencer

After collaborating with Susie Youssef on the sweetly funny The Smallest Hour, Spencer is performing a new work that’s an autobiographical tribute to the indie music that’s touched his life.

Prima Facie (Sep 2-12, Seymour Centre)
By Suzie Miller
Director: Lee Lewis

Griffin’s big hit of 2019 is back for a short season. Suzie Miller’s excoriating look at the legal system’s failures to deal with sexual assault cases is returning with Sheridan Harbridge leading the one-woman show.

Enemies of Grooviness – Eat Shit (Oct 26-31)
By Betty Grumble

Our favourite sex clown and queen of cabaret is back with a provocative new theatrical ritual.

Can't wait until next year? Check out our hit-list of the best theatre in Sydney this month and read our latest reviews.

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