Over the past year, Belvoir has picked up the scattered pieces from previous years that were blown apart by the impacts of Covid and turned them into one of the company’s biggest years yet. While a steady stream of intriguing plays has been treading the boards at the theatre’s Surry Hills home; homegrown pop-musical Fangirls lit up the Sydney Opera House with an elevated five-star season; there has been a successful international tour of S Shakthidharan’s groundbreaking show Counting and Cracking, whose companion piece, The Jungle and the Sea, lands locally in November 2022; and the company put on a host of indie works in the Downstairs Theatre under the 25A banner.
Next up, Belvoir’s 2023 season is bursting at the seams with joyful optimism, thought-provoking theatre and lashings of heart. From a “lesbian divorce comedy” penned by Queerstories founder Maeve Marsden to a new staging of a classic Sondheim musical, Belvoir is up to what it does best – shedding a compassionate light on ordinary, everyday life alongside the mystical worlds that only the magic of theatre can create.
Freshly landed and shaking off dregs of jetlag after touring Counting and Cracking to Europe, Belvoir artistic director Eamon Flack gave us an overview of what’s coming up next. Perhaps the biggest coup of the upcoming season is the fantastical musical Into the Woods.
Photograph: Supplied/Belvoir | Into the Woods
“The canon of classics has been feeling like it’s been falling away into the past more and more rapidly with every year that passes. I was thinking a lot about how to offer something that was joyful, while at the same time also carrying some of the… emotional complexity and murkiness that we've been experiencing the last couple of years in particular,” says Flack.
“I found myself thinking about this piece [Into the Woods] again, which is a show that in some ways saved my life when I was very sort of lost. I was in a closet inside a closet, living in Brisbane in the late ’90s… It came to mind, again, thinking about the way in which a story that is built on the pure wit of invention, and self-reinvention, is able to offer a path out.”
While most of the rest of the season is far less fantastical in premise, those same principles continue through.
Belvoir St Theatre’s 2023 season
Blue (Jan 14-29)
By Thomas Weatherall
Directed by Deborah Brown
Rising star Thomas Weatherall is about to make a splash by way of Netflix’s reboot of Heartbreak High. But you can see a tender, more personal side of him in Blue – presented in association with Sydney Festival, it’s a remarkable playwriting debut written and performed by Weatherall himself, who is also the 2021 Balnaves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fellow. Directed by Bangarra alumni Deborah Brown, Blue takes us deep into the beauty and sadness of a young life at its new beginning.
Blessed Union (Feb 2-Mar 12)
By Maeve Marsden
Directed by Hannah Goodwin
If there is one surefire way to make sure an entire sub-group of people are going to be booking tickets to theatre, it is this promise: Maeve Marsden has written a lesbian divorce comedy. Sydney’s (Australia's?) premier cabaret chanteuse and custodian of LGBTQIA+ storytelling (she is the creator and host of podcast and nationally touring event series Queerstories), Marsden made her mainstage writing debut with axe-wielding musical Lizzie with Hayes Theatre Co earlier in 2022. Now she turns her wicked wit to a traditional family drama about an entirely non-traditional family in Blessed Union. This play follows Ruth and Judith, who have two kids and a manageable mortgage in the Inner West. Their life together is a progressive success story, so why should breaking up be any different? Blessed Union is for anyone who’s looked at their life and wondered if there might be a better way to live it.
Photograph: Supplied/Belvoir | Blessed Union
Into the Woods (Mar 18-Apr 23)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book and originally directed on Broadway by James Lapine
Directed by Eamon Flack
From Calamity Jane to Fangirls, Belvoir has been gaining quite a reputation for staging some joyous and impressive musicals. And now the company is teaming up with Sydney’s beating heart of musical theatre, Hayes Theatre Co, to present a brand-new production of the classic Into the Woods, by Stephen Sondheim, 35 years on from its Broadway premiere. Back in the director’s chair for this one, Flack promises that this will be another show driven by the animating force of “How the hell are they ever going to fit this thing in Belvoir?!”
Into the Woods features a cast of 12 including Tamsin Carroll (Dusty, Oliver), Esther Hannaford (Mr Burns, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) and Justin Smith (Billy Elliot the Musical). This musical masterpiece begins, of course, with “Once upon a time…” and by the end of the opening number not one but six fairytale plots have intertwined, as Cinderella, the Baker and his Wife, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack of beanstalk fame all head into the woods in search of love, happiness and wisdom. But it doesn’t all end up as simple as “Happily ever after” – events take hilarious – and dark – turns.
At What Cost? (May 4-21)
Writer and Associate Director Nathan Maynard
Directed by Isaac Drandic
This provocative hit from Belvoir’s 2022 season returns for a limited time with its original cast before embarking on a national tour. Written by Palawa writer and 2019 Balnaves Fellow Nathan Maynard, At What Cost? is a robust story of Country, set in Tasmania. Starring Luke Carroll, the play centres on a young father and First Nations man focused on doing right by his family while also living up to his responsibilities to the land and his community.
“If you missed out, here's your second chance. Nathan Maynard’s story of Country and competing histories opened some eyes and set off a few arguments. We loved its oomph and how it asked us all to think about a very contemporary Australian issue,” says Flack.
Scenes from the Climate Era (May 27-Jun 25)
By David Finnigan
Directed by Carissa Licciardello
From the acid-tipped pen of climate expert and provocative playwright David Finnigan (Kill Climate Deniers, 44 Sex Acts in One Week), this new play is exactly what it says it is – more than 50 small plays in one that catch the exhilaration, frustration and fascination of living in a time of total environmental change, spanning from the recent past into the far future.
“Climate change by its nature is not a thing; it's kind of a hyper object that exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time. So how do you write about that theatrically? It's a really fundamental challenge to the humanism of theatre, and David's found a solution which keeps it human, while also managing to encapsulate the scale of the unthinkability of what it means to be living in the climate era. I think it’s a brilliant play,” says Flack.
Directed by Carissa Licciardello (Opening Night, A Room of One’s Own) and featuring a cast of six, including Abbie-lee Lewis (ABC’s Blak Comedy), Brandon McClelland (Packer & Sons) and Charles Wu (Jasper Jones), Scenes from the Climate Era promises to be shocking, wry and often inspiring.
Miss Peony (Jul 1-30)
Written by Michelle Law
Directed by Courtney Stewart
After it was twice Covid-delayed, this show will have its long-awaited world premiere in 2023. It's by Michelle Law, who brought the smash-hit Single Asian Female to the Belvoir stage in 2018, drawing an audience largely made up of people who had never been to a show by the company. Law’s (Top Coat at STC) Miss Peony is a glitzy, glamorous and slightly unhinged comedy about being caught between two generations, two cultures and the ghosts of generations past coming back to haunt you.
“We've been fiercely committed to the work for a very long time. Michelle is something of a force. I think her instinct for a comic premise is brilliant and quite unerring, and pretty remarkable,” says Flack.
In a first, Miss Peony will be performed in three languages – as in real life, these characters switch between English, Cantonese and Mandarin, so the show is subtitled in all three languages. Flack adds: “And it really works. I know that, I can say that, because we've seen it.” (Before its last cancellation, the production was fully staged, teched up and ready for previews.)
Photograph: Supplied/Belvoir | Miss Peony
The Weekend (Aug 5-Sep 3)
Based on a novel by Charlotte Wood
Adapted by Sue Smith
Directed by Sarah Goodes
Adapted from Charlotte Wood’s bestselling novel, The Weekend follows three old friends and one old dog. Sylvie has died, and she left behind three best friends who we find haven’t been as honest – or as good friends – as they thought. Directed by Sarah Goodes (The Sugar House), with a team bursting with fierce female talent including three of our great actors – Belinda Giblin, Toni Scanlan and Melita Jurisc – The Weekend is a captivating, funny and insightful story of growing older, age, taking stock of life lived and how still to live.
Lady Day (Sep 14-Oct 15)
Written by Lanie Robertson
Directed by Mitchell Butel
“This is Zahra Newman playing Billie Holiday, and I don't know if there's a hell of a lot more to say about it,” says Flack. “Zahra Newman, it's like she's superhuman, she's such an astonishing artist… Zahra's acting chops are second to none. But that voice is also spine-tingling.”
It’s 1959, in a bar in South Philadelphia. It’s a bit rundown. You wouldn’t know it, but we’re in a moment of history – one of Billie Holiday’s legendary last performances. As she sings her set ('‘Taint Nobody’s Business If I Do', 'Strange Fruit', 'What a Little Moonlight Can Do', 'Easy Livin'’, 'God Bless the Child' and more) she shares the story of her life – a bit risqué, humorous, political, ecstatic, tragic. This hit cabaret-style play makes its Australian debut after wowing audiences in its box office record-breaking run on Broadway.
Robyn Archer: An Australian Songbook (Oct 18-29)
Devised and performed by Robyn Archer
Robyn Archer has thrilled audiences with her rich renditions of the great songbooks of Europe and America. Now, she turns her talents to songs that describe the difficulties and wonders of Australia. Archer has been with Belvoir since its beginning, and she returns home, joined by a trio of the country’s finest musicians to turn the Belvoir stage into a cabaret.
The Master and Margarita (Nov 11-Dec 10)
Adapted and directed by Eamon Flack
From the book by Mikhail Bulgakov
Written in secret in the gloom of repression, passed around under the noses of the state police, The Master and Margarita became a legend long before the novel was published. Now this phenomenon of world literature, told via a giant talking cat, a mad novelist and an ill autocrat, lets fly on the Belvoir stage, in a brand-new adaptation by Eamon Flack and a team of brilliant theatre animals (aka out-of-work actors employed during lockdowns).
“It continues to sort of be this, and has been for decades and decades, this indestructible phenomenon of what art can be in times of panic and fear and depression,” says Flack.
“But more than anything, I think, coming out of Covid with this project for a couple of years... we've been keeping a torch burning for just the pure love of theatre and theatricality. What this novel demands of a group of artists in order to achieve it is total commitment to the idea that theatre is great and wonderful, and it requires such outrageous solutions.
“And again, it's the kind of story that really shouldn't be done at Belvoir Street. Its most recent English-speaking production… had a budget of millions and a six-month rehearsal… But we found ourselves doing it with literally nothing as our starting point and said, ‘If this company went broke, could we revive it by just putting some actors on stage with this battered old Penguin edition of the book?’ And the whole project has spawned from that place.”
This wild, joyful and magnificent show features a cast of 11 including Paula Arundell (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), Rebecca Massey (Cloudstreet), and the only actor to win two Helpmanns in one year, Mark Winter, makes his long-overdue Belvoir debut.
Subscriptions for Belvoir’s 2023 season are on sale now via belvoir.com.au.