Long before she took on Hollywood and became Fat Amy, Rebel Wilson got her start in Sydney at the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP). Now, 15 years after graduating from ATYP, she’s returning to Walsh Bay to lead Sydney Theatre Company’s new production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
Wilson goes way back with the play; the 1999 STC production starring Pamela Rabe (who is back at STC this year – more on that later) was the first professional production Wilson ever saw, at the age of 19.
“I was just blown away by how talented the actors were and how great the play was,” Wilson says. “Then, I performed in that same theatre a few months later in my first proper play, Spurboard, for ATYP and STC Education. So to me, the play holds a lot of significance.”
McDonagh is on a bit of a roll in the film world at the moment – his 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture – but he came to the attention of the world with his plays. The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a pitch-black comedy set in the Irish village of Leenane. Wilson will play Maureen, a 40-year-old woman who gets her first chance at love, but whose cruel and manipulative mother sets about destroying it.
Wilson will be taking centre stage at STC’s biggest venue, the 896-seat Roslyn Packer Theatre.
The company has programmed six plays into that theatre this season, more than its usual three or four. That’s because the home of STC’s two smallest theatres, the Wharf, is closed until at least early 2020 for renovations. Kicked out of those venues, STC will be performing almost all of its shows in either the Roslyn Packer or the 544-seat Drama Theatre at the Opera House.
“I think the Wharf, for us, is our incubator of new voices and new stories,” says STC’s artistic director, Kip Williams, “It’s often a place where we can experiment a bit more, so it’s meant that we’ve had to be quite bold this year in saying: we’re still going to live up to that mission, but we’re going to do it in bigger theatres.”
But if you want to program plays into big theatres, you’re generally going to need big names to do it. And there’s no shortage of those in next year’s line-up: Alice in Wonderland star Mia Wasikowska is making her STC debut in a provocative new production of Lord of the Flies, comedian Celia Pacquola is taking on an Australian classic, and Hugo Weaving will be playing Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof alongside Pamela Rabe and The Book of Mormon’s Zahra Newman.