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Sydney theatre in 2019: 15 shows we're looking forward to

How to Rule the World Sydney Theatre Company 2019
Photograph: Rene Vaile

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-com Black is the New White.

3. Angels in America

The great work begins. Tireless independent sector producer and director Dino Dimitriadis tackles one of theatre’s biggest jobs in 2019 by directing Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s definitive queer epic: that gay fantasia on national themes. Spanning two parts and more than seven hours, the play tackles everything from AIDS to gay shame to faith to Donald Trump’s mentor, the secretly closeted Roy Cohn. It’s an essential modern classic, and a huge undertaking for the small Old Fitz theatre, who will be staging this larger than life work in its pub basement space.

4. The Rise and Fall of St George

The 2017 marriage equality campaign caused a lot of hurt for the LGBTQI+ community in Australia. If you wanted to represent that hurt in one image, maybe you would point to St George, the iconic George Michael mural that appeared in the Inner West like a rainbow, and was cruelly defaced by homophobic dissenters. Now, playwright Lachlan Philpott and queer pop icon Paul Mac have teamed up to create a musical work about St George and the community’s marriage equality struggle. It’s part celebration, part call to arms, and the whole performance will be backed by a massive community choir.

4. A Little Piece of Ash

Megan Wilding has become a darling of the Sydney stage over the last few years, starring in our favourite show of 2018, Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown, and popping up at theatres all over town from the Old Fitz to Belvoir. In 2019, she’ll star in her first musical. But she’s also a writer, and her script A Little Piece of Ash was shortlisted for the 2017 Patrick White Playwright’s Award and presented at the Yellamundie National First Peoples Playwriting Festival. Finally going from page to stage at the Kings Cross Theatre, Wilding’s play is about grief, loss, and the survival of the modern Aboriginal woman. Wilding will also direct the show, which begs the question: is there anything Megan Wilding can’t do?

5. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Sometimes you just want to see the best actors in the country sink their teeth into one of the best American dramas. And that’s just what you’ll get here, when Hugo Weaving and Pamela Rabe take on Big Daddy and Big Mama in Tennessee Williams’ sexy, steamy play about a family on the edge. With Zahra Newman and Josh McConville rounding out the cast, and STC artistic director Kip Williams at the helm, you’ll feel like you’re right there in the bayou.

6. Winyanboga Yurringa

Inspired by 1980s TV series Women of the Sun, which explored the lives of four Indigenous women from the 1820s to the 1980s, comes this play by Andrea James. Six women will gather on the bank of a great river. They all come from different worlds and have markedly different struggles, but they’re all trying to answer the same questions: how do you reconnect with community? Who gets to belong, and who gets to own certain stories? Directed by Anthea Williams with an exciting cast of performers, this play picks up a part of our cultural history and continues its lineage into 2019 and beyond.

Photograph: Daniel Boud

7. Whiteley

Not only is Whiteley Opera Australia’s first new mainstage opera in nine years, it’s also composed by a woman, Elena Kats-Chernin (a rarity in the opera world; the libretto is by local playwright Justin Fleming). It’s also about wholly Australian figures: artist Brett Whiteley and his wife Wendy. The show will bring Whiteley’s artworks to life using Opera Australia’s new digital projection technology, and it will be packed with plenty of sex, drugs and drama.

8. City of Gold

Actor Meyne Wyatt is making his playwriting debut this year with Griffin Theatre Company. It’s about Breythe, an actor who left Kalgoorlie to follow his dreams, but now he’s been cast in a controversial Australia Day ad that might not be worth the paycheque. The play, which will be directed by Isaac Drandic, will look at racism within the entertainment industry and beyond, Australia’s wilful amnesia around its treatment of indigenous Australians, and what being disconnected from country and lore means for first nations peoples.

9. The Torrents

When you hear "revival of a classic" you probably also hear "play by an old dude." But The Torrents, a revival of a critically-acclaimed Australian work, was written by a woman: Oriel Gray. And it’s about a woman, too, a formidable one named J.G. Milford. She’s just been hired in an 1890s newsroom, and her employers are going to be in for a shock when they realise that the J in J.G. stands for Jenny. Barry-award nominated comedian and actor Celia Pacquola (Utopia, Rosehaven) will play the woman of the hour in this screwball comedy that was a joint winner of the Playwrights’ Advisory Board Competition alongside Ray Lawler’s The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, but gets way less of our cultural attention.

10. Caroline, or Change

From Tony Kushner, the writer of Angels in America, and Jeanine Tesori, the composer of Fun Home (and yes, Shrek the Musical), comes this 2003 musical with an entire sub-plot about the tearing down of statues that commemorate fallen racist ‘heroes’. Timely, right? Directed by Mitchell four-time Helpmann Award winner Mitchell Butel, this musical set in 1960s America will star Zahra Newman as Caroline, a struggling maid. Expect a gorgeous score with elements from blues, spirituals and Motown, a top-notch book, and a song-and-dance affair that asks tough questions about national identity and personal values.

11. Fangirls

Is there anything as all-consuming as teen girl fandom? Fangirls, a new musical by whip-smart writer/performer Yve Blake, is going to find out. She’s starring as Edna, a 14-year-old girl who is desperately in love with Harry, who just so happens to be the lead singer of a boy band called ‘True Connection.’ When the band tours to Edna’s city, she embarks on a quest to prove she and Harry are meant to be. Expect big feels, concert fervour and a cast of fresh faces all singing and dancing like no one’s watching.

12. White Pearl

Sydney Theatre Company has partnered with the National Theatre of Parramatta to present White Pearl, a new play by Anchuli Felicia King that’s been the subject of murmured admiration by insiders in theatre foyers throughout its development – and will have a season at London's Royal Court Theatre before its local premiere. Set at Clearday Cosmetics in Singapore, all hell breaks loose when one of their commercials is leaked online and meets significant backlash. This is a black comedy about corporate culture, casual racism and Pan-Asian relations, penned by an exciting young writer.

13. HMS Pinafore

In 2019, Gilbert and Sullivan need a bit of a shakeup, and that’s exactly what they’re going to get in Hayes Theatre Co’s new staging of this beloved operetta. Kate Gaul, one of Sydney’s most adventurous directors, is going to bring this seafaring satire to life without the restriction of gender binaries or period-appropriate behaviour. Expect high-calibre singing and kinky hijinks.

14. Kasama Kita

Playwright Jordan Shea looked close to home for his latest script. Kasama Kita, a play about a class of nurses in training in 1974 Balmain told through the eyes of three new Filipino immigrants, is based on interviews he conducted with his mother and her real-life nursing student cohorts. It’s a story about the Philippines, the Asian-Australian diaspora, and the harsh reality of racism faced by many ‘new Australians.’ Erin Taylor will direct this fresh perspective on an untold slice of Australian history.

15. West Side Story(ies)

It’s one of the best musical scores ever written, and this year, you get to hear it twice: West Side Story will not only be the first musical to be given the Handa on Sydney Harbour treatment, it’ll also be staged, in an entirely different production, inside the Opera House in August. Your tolerance for the different productions may vary – the Handa production has cast a white actor to play the Puerto Rican Maria, though the second cast is more thoughtful – but this Romeo and Juliet-inspired musical is beloved for its music, iconic choreography and romantic, dramatic storyline. Ever stared down your enemy with ominous finger clicks and some sweet dance moves? 2019 is the year for you.

Get your year in arts off to a strong start with Sydney Festival and check out our tips for scoring cheap tickets.

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