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Rose Byrne and partner Bobby Cannavale are headlining STC’s 2020 season

Written by
Ben Neutze

As far as we know, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale’s relationship is rock solid. They’ve got two kids together, have starred opposite one another in a few films, and always look pretty blissful on a red carpet. But that’s not what Sydney Theatre Company audiences will see when they appear together in Arthur Miller’s classic A View from the Bridge, one of the highlights of the company’s 2020 season.

They play Eddie and Beatrice, a married couple living in the shadows of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1950s, looking after their orphaned niece, Catherine. They’re not exactly living the high life, but they’re a pretty happy family until Beatrice’s two cousins arrive from Italy and unsettle the peaceful balance. 

“The idea of Beatrice being played by Rose is enough to want to lure an audience into a night of theatre,” STC artistic director Kip Williams says. “But I really think if you could cast any actor in the world as Eddie Carbone, you’d be hard-pressed to go past Bobby Cannavale.”

You probably know Cannavale from his film and TV appearances (including Emmy Award-winning performances in Boardwalk Empire and as Will’s cop boyfriend Vince in Will & Grace) but he’s also been nominated for two Tony Awards for his work on stage. Byrne is also best known for her film and TV roles, but is no stranger to STC, having appeared in La Dispute and Three Sisters in 2000 and 2001, right at the beginning of her career.

They aren’t the only big names coming to STC in 2020, with Hugo Weaving, Marta Dusseldorp, Wayne Blair, Lisa McCune and Eryn Jean Norvill all popping up during the season. And there are plenty of big shows across the year, including the Broadway musical Fun Home

Those big shows are pretty important because STC doesn’t have use of its regular home at the Wharf for a second full year. It’s currently closed for a major renovation, which STC says should be completed in time for the company to perform there at the start of 2021.

That means the company has most of its shows next year in big theatres: the 896-seat Roslyn Packer Theatre and 544-seat Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. So for two shows next year, STC is reconfiguring the Roslyn Packer Theatre into a more intimate space by curtaining off the dress circle and building a thrust stage out over the first five rows of seating.

“It’s a big challenge to not have the Wharf, which is our traditional home for doing a lot of new Australian work,” Williams says. “It’s also the traditional home for our more experimental work, because there’s just a greater safety net for that work – to be crude and pragmatic, from a financial perspective – because you don’t have to get as many people in there to make it financially viable.”

So what else will audiences be seeing in 2020? Here’s the full line-up.

The Deep Blue Sea (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Feb 4-Mar 7)
By Terence Rattigan
Director: Paige Rattray

Anybody who has watched Janet King or A Place to Call Home knows that Marta Dusseldorp has serious acting chops. But the stage is where she really unleashes her full actorly power.

Dusseldorp will star in this 1952 play by British playwright Terence Rattigan about Hester Collyer, the wife of a High Court judge, whose life is imploding.

“I think Hester is one of the great characters of the 20th century and certainly one of the great heroines of the 20th century,” Williams says. “We meet her at the start of the play, and she has gambled her marriage, her home, her status, everything in her life, in pursuit of an affair with this young RAF pilot, and it’s fallen through and she’s left with nothing. So she has a choice either to give up or struggle on. And she chooses to struggle on, and what unfolds is this beautiful story about finding independence and finding autonomy for the first time in an individual’s life.”

The cast also includes Fayssal Bazzi, Brandon McClelland and national treasure Paul Capsis.

The Deep Blue Sea. Photograph: Rene Vaile.

No Pay? No Way! (Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Feb 10-Mar 20)
By Dario Fo in a new adaptation by Marieke Hardy
Director: Sarah Giles

Dario Fo’s farce about a group of rowdy housewives shoplifting from the local supermarket in protest at the rising cost of groceries feels pretty overdue for a rethink. And that’s exactly what it’s getting in this new version by Marieke Hardy, which Williams promises will have audiences in stitches.

“This is a brand new play, really,” he says. “Marieke has given it an incisive new set of politics, and turned up the volume, in a contemporary sense, on Fo’s politics. Even though the setting is still going to be period, the dialogue feels very contemporary and the humour is very much in Marieke’s vein of contemporary satire.”

Sarah Giles, who directed a brilliantly funny version of Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist in 2018, will be setting this production in Australia in the 1960s. Leading the cast are Helen Thomson and Catherine Van-Davies as two women who have to hide what they’ve done in increasingly hilarious and inventive ways.

Home, I’m Darling (Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Apr 6-May 16)
By Laura Wade
Director: Jessica Arthur

In the first scene of this award-winning British comedy, we meet Judy, a 1950s housewife preparing for the day ahead and sending her husband off to work. So far, so Stepford. But at the end of the first scene, she pulls a laptop out of a kitchen drawer and it becomes clear that she’s actually in the 21st century but has opted to live her own retro fantasy.

“Every year in the foyer and on the street, I get stopped by people who give me their recommendations of plays that they’ve seen that they think Sydney audiences should see.” Williams says. “In the last 12 months, this is the play that everybody has mentioned to me, and when I read it, I understood why.”

In fact, the play has proven so popular, Melbourne Theatre Company has programmed a different production for its 2020 season. Andrea Demetriades plays Judy in the Sydney production, but there’s no casting announced yet for the role of her mother, a former hippie feminist who arrives on the scene and levels an explosively political critique of her daughter’s nostalgia obsession.

Triple X (Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, Apr 30-May 23)
By Glace Chase
Director: Paige Rattray

This play by NYC-based Australian artist Glace Chase is a romantic comedy unlike any other you’re likely to see on stage. It follows Scotty, played by Josh McConville, a Wall Street banker at the peak of his career who is on the cusp of marrying his fiancee. But he’s secretly having an affair with a trans drag performer, Dexie, played by Chase. It starts off as a purely sexual thing, but soon develops into genuine love.

“What Glace has done is taken quite a conventional form of the well-made play, and quite a conventional genre of the romantic comedy, and they’ve completely turned it on its head,” Williams says. “What they do is create quite an outrageous set of dynamics in telling this romantic comedy. It’s very in-your-face. It’s provocative, it’s explosive. It will have people with their mouths open in shock in many moments. It’s also thrillingly brilliant writing; it’s excellent craft.”

The play, a co-production with Queensland Theatre, will be at the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House.

“I hope that, like Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White, we can start this show in a smaller venue then bring it back to a bigger venue. I hope it’ll be seen around the country and then around the world.”

The 7 Stages of Grieving (Roslyn Packer Theatre, May 30-Jun 13)
By Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman
Director: Shari Sebbens

Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman’s 1995 play tracing seven phases of Aboriginal history through intimate, personal and funny stories, is a pivotal moment in Australian theatre. It also holds a special place in Williams’ heart.

“When I got the job at STC, I knew that at some point I would program this play, and that’s because when I was a teenager I came and saw The 7 Stages of Grieving at STC,” he says. “Ursula Yovich was performing in it, and it’s a touchstone theatrical experience for me. It’s one that’s stayed with me ever since. It’s now the 25th anniversary of the play and it feels like the right time to revisit it.”

Shari Sebbens, who is known to STC audiences as an actor, is making her directorial debut with this production which will be performed in an intimate configuration at the Roslyn Packer Theatre. 

“I think this is going to be the beginning of a prolific directorial career,” Williams says of Sebbens. “I hope she runs this company one day.”

Performing the one-woman play is the brilliant – and brilliantly funny – Elaine Crombie. Together, Crombie and Sebbens will be adding some additional material to the end of the play to reflect on the 25 years since it premiered.

The 7 Stages of Grieving. Photograph: Rene Vaile.

The Writer (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Jun 20-Jul 11)
By Ella Hickson
Director: Jessica Arthur

When this play premiered in London in 2018, Time Out wrote: “Ultimately The Writer feels very punk rock, a thrillingly uninhibited rally against the establishment.”

How does it rally? Well, it’s sort of difficult to describe. It’s a play about a young writer and an encounter with a director, but the rules of this encounter – and how the audience sees it – are constantly changing.

“I think this is the first time Australian audiences are going to see Ella’s writing, which is very exciting to be introducing this new, young voice,” Williams says. “What can I say about this play that does it justice? It’s a play about writing, it’s a play about who gets to speak, it’s a play about the power of language, the power of storytelling, the corrupting power of success, how your own personal narrative can be taken away from you the more you become incorporated into a capitalist framework. It’s a remarkable, explosive piece of new writing.”

Emily Barclay, Toby Schmitz and Charmaine Bingwa star in Jessica Arthur’s production, which is using an intimate configuration of the Roslyn Packer Theatre.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Jul 21-Aug 15)
By Oscar Wilde, adapted by Kip Williams
Director: Kip Williams

Oscar Wilde’s novel about a man who makes a Faustian wish for eternal youth has been on stage plenty of times before. But this production might not be exactly what you expect. It will be performed by just one actor – the excellent Eryn Jean Norvill – and use the live video technology that Williams has used to such strong effect in Suddenly, Last Summer and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

“I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine about nine months ago about our culture’s obsession with youth, and our obsession with constructed identity and selfie culture, and we were talking about how you might make a work that could start to unpack and challenge those ideas. Dorian Gray feels like a timely piece to investigate,” Williams says.

This production continues the collaboration between Williams and Norvill, who first worked together on a 2013 staging of Romeo and Juliet which reframed the action through Juliet’s perspective. So you can be sure Wilde’s story will be approached with a very contemporary eye.

The Picture of Dorian Gray. Photograph: Rene Vaile.

Fun Home (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Aug 29-Oct 2)
By Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, based on the novel by Alison Bechdel
Director: Dean Bryant

Australian musical theatre fans have been waiting for several years to see Fun Home, a deeply moving Tony Award-winning musical about a young woman discovering her sexuality and grappling with a difficult relationship with her father. She’s played by three actors at different stages of her life.

“It comes from the world of Alison Bechdel, who is such an extraordinary graphic novelist and a feminist pioneer in terms of thinking about how we construct narratives and character,” Williams says.

Jeanine Tesori’s sweeping score and Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics have been lavished with praise – when Fun Home opened on the West End in 2017, Time Out London declared it the best new musical they’d seen since Hamilton – and the pair became the first female team to win the Tony for Best Original Score.

“One of the things that’s so exciting about this production – aside from Dean Bryant directing it, who is one of the great musical theatre directors who we’re lucky enough to have in Australia – is this cast. Having Lisa McCune back on our stages, but also having Maggie McKenna, our Muriel, back on our stages too, playing the college-aged Alison.”

The cast also includes Ryan Gonzalez, Lucy Maunder, Adam Murphy and Chloe Zuel.

Wonnangatta (Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Sep 7-Oct 17)
By Angus Cerini
Director: Jessica Arthur

One of the best Australian plays to premiere in recent years is Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree. It started its life in the tiny Griffin Theatre, picked up a Helpmann Award for Best Play, and then had a season at Sydney Theatre Company. Like many audience members, Hugo Weaving was dazzled.

“Hugo had seen The Bleeding Tree and loved it, and said ‘I’ll do anything to perform some of that extraordinary, poetic language’,” Williams says. “I had in the back of my mind that there could be a marriage of artists with those two, and Angus came back with a pitch about the Wonnangatta murders.”

The play explores the 1917 murders from the perspective of two friends of the murder victim. Played by Hugo Weaving and Wayne Blair, the two men arrive on a farm to visit their friend, Jim Barclay. They learn he’s been missing for months so they embark on a journey across the gothic Australian landscape in search of their missing friend.

“I always think of Angus’s plays as being akin to the experience of gathering around a campfire and having somebody tell you a terrifying ghost story,” Williams says. “And it’s fabulous to have these two great Australian actors backing a new Australian work, because it doesn’t always happen.”

Wonnangatta. Photograph: Rene Vaile.

The Wharf Revue 2020: Good Night and Good Luck (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Oct 21-Nov 21)
By Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott
Director: Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe

After 20 years of political satire, the team behind the Wharf Revue will take their final bow. This time around, it’s the original trio of Biggins, Forsythe and Scott. They’ll be joined by one of their most popular collaborators, Mandy Bishop, whose take on Julia Gillard is comedy gold. While Gillard’s political career mightn’t be reviving any time soon, we’ve got our fingers crossed she’ll be back on stage.

Rules for Living (Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Oct 26-Dec 12)
By Sam Holcroft
Director: Susanna Dowling

Who doesn’t love plays about dysfunctional families having dysfunctional Christmas lunches? They’re a mainstay of our stages, but British writer Sam Holcroft’s take on the genre dials up the madness with a brilliant conceit: every family member’s neurotic habits and ticks are made apparent to the audience using a set of rules. For example, if one character lies they have to stand up, or if another is concealing their passion, they have to eat.

“Essentially a group of family members and their respective partners arrive for Christmas lunch, all with the intent to treat each other very nicely, and that doesn’t happen and things go awry,” Williams says. “The rules become more absurd and hilarious as it goes on, and an amazing farce unfolds.”

STC veteran Heather Mitchell will star as the matriarch, and Michelle Lim Davidson plays one of wives.

Rules for Living. Photograph: Rene Vaile.

A View from the Bridge (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Dec 8-Jan 16)
By Arthur Miller
Director: Kip Williams

There have been quite a few productions of Arthur Miller’s play in recent years in Sydney, around the country and overseas. But none has been as starry as this one, led by real-life acting power couple Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale. 

“Rose, Bobby and I have been talking for a couple of years about them coming to work at STC as a duo,” Williams says. “We’ve been looking for the right play and have cycled through so many looking for the right one. About 12 months ago, they came to me and said ‘What about A View from the Bridge?’, and I felt a little foolish that I hadn’t thought of it already myself, given that I had been looking to return to Arthur Miller following All My Sons in 2016.”

Anybody who saw that production knows that Williams has a knack for exploring the intersection of high-stakes drama and politics at the centre of any Miller play. He’s reuniting with the design team behind acclaimed productions of The Harp in the South and Chimerica: David Fleischer (set), Renee Mulder (costume) and Nick Schlieper (lighting). 

Can't wait until 2020? See our hit list of the best theatre in Sydney this month and our tips for scoring cheap tickets.

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