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American Psychopath, Sydney Opera House 20211/5
Photograph: Supplied/Clare Hawley
The 7 Stage of Grieving, STC 20212/5
Photograph: Supplied/STC/Joseph Mayers
Prima Facie, Griffin 20213/5
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin/Brett Boardman
The cast of Come From Away's Melbourne run4/5
Photograph: Jeff BusbyThe cast of Come From Away's Melbourne run
The Woman in Black, Ensemble Theatre 20215/5
Photograph: Supplied

Our guide to the best theatre to see in Sydney right now

Musicals are razzle dazzling us this June, with a bunch of huge shows shaking a leg alongside the irrepressible Hamilton

By Stephen A Russell
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Musicals are back in a big way this month, with smash hit Hamilton joined by fellow Broadway sensations including bittersweet 9/11 drama Come From Away, Sondheim classic Merrily We Roll AlongIrish film brought to melodic life Once, and slash-happy dark comedy American Psycho

We're also pumped for Sheridan Harbridge's encore as criminal lawyer Tessa in Griffin's powerful hit Prima Facie, spine-tingling thrills in terrifying British horror story The Woman in Black at Ensemble Theatre, and stage legends Linda Cropper and John Bell joining forces at STC with Grand Horizons.

Recommended: Read our interview with Sheridan Harbridge and Prima Facie director Suzie Miller.

Mainstage and indie theatre

A family, including a pregnant woman, gathers around a man in an armchair
Photograph: Supplied/STC/Rene Vaile

Grand Horizons

Theatre Comedy Roslyn Packer Theatre, Millers Point

Whether you know Linda Cropper from her esteemed theatrical career, treading boards across Australia, or as outspoken grandmother Geraldine from TV show Offspring, chances are you absolutely adore her. So imagine our excitement on hearing she would team up with stage stalwart John Bell, the founder of Bell’s Shakespeare, in a new comedy direct from pre-lockdown Broadway? Grand Horizons, written by Bess Wohl  and opening at STC on June 7, pairs Cropper and Bell as a married couple calling it quits 50 years in. Cropper plays Nancy, ready and supremely willing  to tackle the world on her own terms, and Bell’s Bill is just going with the flow. The kids, despite being decidedly adult now, are not ok with it. Not one bit.  Resident director Jessica Arthur (Wonnangatta) has tweaked the play for Australian audiences, and it also stars legends Zindzi Okenyo (The Golden Age) and Guy Simon (Playing Beatie Bow).

A woman wearing a fascinator is in a box, with a man looking on
Photograph: Supplied/Robert Catto

Happy Days

Theatre Comedy Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo

Red Line Productions dig up the genius of Samuel Beckett’s dystopian Happy Days at the Old Fitz. Stage stalwart and Home and Away lead Belinda Giblin plays Winnie, a woman who starts each day in a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic wasteland inexplicably buried in the dirt. Lex Marinos (Glitch) plays her not entirely helpful husband, Willie. Increasingly isolated, Winnie is all of us during lockdown, trying to figure out a way to get through the new normal as unscathed as possible. Beckett’s wildly weird and oddly funny work is perfectly tailored to the intimate basement space of the Old Fitz, and we can’t wait to see Giblin shine in this incredible role, as directed by Craig Baldwin (The Aliens), who previously collaborated with her on John

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A woman in a red suit jacket leans her elbows on a desk
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin/Brett Boardman

Prima Facie

Theatre Drama Seymour Centre, Darlington

Award-winning playwright Suzie Miller drew on her experiences as a lawyer for Prima Facie, the hugely succesful, hard-hitting one-woman play that takes a searing hot, clear-eyed look at the Australian legal system, sexual consent laws and their effects on victims. Sheridan Harbridge stars as Tessa, a criminal lawyer at the top of her game who knows the law permits no room for emotion, with this production speaking directly to an all-too-familiar reality where one in three women experience some form of sexual assault, and the law’s delivery of ‘justice’ fails to account for the deep imbalances of power and gender. Former Griffin artistic director Lee Lewis retruns to helm the show. “It’s the last story any of us want to tell, but it’s one that has to be told,” Lewis says. “So we’re all joining hands and leaping in together in the hope of bringing about enough provocation to create a meaningful dialogue around change.” 

Read our interview with Suzie Miller and Sheridan Harbridge.

A man in a black suit and tie, with the ghostly figure of a woman behind him
Photograph: Supplied

The Woman in Black

Theatre Drama Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli

If these long, dark and cold nights have you hankering for a shivering of a different kind, terrifying British horror story The Woman in Black has been giving folks the spine-tingling creeps for a very long time. The original novel by Susan Hill, published in 1983, relays the eerie tale of a young lawyer haunted by the memory of his supernatural experience while dealing with the estate of the late Mrs. Drablow, who died alone in the desolate surrounds of at Eel Marsh House. The stage play, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt, spooked audiences silly on London’s West End, where it soon became the second-longest show to ever run there. Now Sydneysiders can test if they have the mettle to make it through without screaming when it opens in the unnervingly intimate surrounds of Ensemble Theatre on June 11, the perfect spot to recreate Eel Marsh.

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Pamela Rabe in a black dress leans on a wooden chair in The Cherry Orchard at Belvoir
Photograph: Supplied/Brett Boardman

The Cherry Orchard

Theatre Drama Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills

Artistic director Eamon Flack takes the dramatic reins for the first time in Belvoir’s 2021 run with a fresh look at one of his favourite classics, Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. The literary great’s final play depicts the troubled return of Russian widow Madame Ranevsky and her daughter Anya to their family estate. It's a less-than glorious homecoming, as the joint’s been mortgaged to the max to pay for the high life she’s been living in Paris these last few years, which leads to more than a few difficult decisions in a time of great turbulence. The magnificent Pamela Rabe (The Children) stars as Ranevsky, alongside Keith Robinson (Twelfth Night) as her brother Gayev, Nadie Kammallaweera (Counting and Cracking) as adopted daughter Varya and Charles Wu (Enemy of the People) as their servant Yasha. The show opens on May 29, 2021, running through June 27.

A man wearing a Statue of Liberty crown holds a cigarette
Photograph: Supplied

Lunch With Bernays

Theatre Comedy Kings Cross Hotel, Potts Point

When it comes to the dark art of spin, Edward L Bernays is an intriguingly complex figure. He's dubbed the father of PR, but others see him as a pusher of propaganda. Sydney-based indie theatre group 180 Collective feature him in new work Lunch With Bernays. Written by Bryce Bofinger and directed by Samira Spring, it will play at Kings Cross Theatre’s Bordelllo Room from June 21 to 24. It presents an expressionistic exploration of his troubling legacy, hung on an interview for a book by feminist scholar Susan Henry’s new book. It’s during this chat that figures from his past, including rebellious daughter Anne, his little-known uncle Sigmund Freud, several US presidents, and a fascist propagandist return to haunt him. It stars Pat Mandziy, Alana Louise, Natasha Cheng, Luke Visentin and Alexandra Rigby, cand consider us intrigued by how Lunch With Bernays plays out. And at only $25 a ticket, it sounds like the perfect night out. We’re sure that’s how Bernays would sell it, anyway.

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Pacific Opera and Willoughby Symphony present The Magic Flute Pocket Opera
Photograph: Supplied

The Magic Flute

Theatre Musicals The Concourse, Chatswood

There's a reason why The Magic Flute is one of Mozart's most popular works. The fairytale world of princes and princesses, dragons and adventure has captivated audiences for centuries. In terms of family-friendliness though, it runs a little long to keep the kiddos engaged. Thankfully, The Magic Flute as part of Willoughby City Council’s Chatswood Culture Bites 2021 program is a pocket-sized one hour adaptation perfect for the whole family's enchantment. The production directed by distinguished baritone Peter Coleman-Wright AO truncates the classic's magic without skrimping on any of the timeless story. Follow Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno as they set out to rescue Princess Tamino while a giant dragon follows hot on their tails. Of course, the eponymous flute makes an appearance alongside a bevvy of musical instruments with all-important magical powers to assist our heroes in their quest. 

a soldier ln uniform lies curled in the foetal position
Photograph: Supplied/Fuser Production/Robert Catto

Intact

Theatre Performance art Woodburn Creatives, Redfern

New physical theatre company Fuser Productions takes a look at the same dilemma, but from a soldier’s perspective in immersive show Intact. Steve Lu and Olivia Hardley both take on the role of the returned veteran on alternate nights in this powerful work that centres an intense performance of few words. They also co-created it with Fuser founders Cecile Payet, Emily Yali and Sabrina Muszynski. Described as a dream-like and surreal performance piece, it features moody lighting by Travis Kecek, set design by Sam Wylie, and video sequences whipped up by Kalani Gacon of Video Friendly Dog Films. The show asks us to interrogate how we reinvent ourselves in an attempt to adapt to extreme challenges. Both the protagonist and the audience are encouraged to sit in what ‘stuck’ feels like and confront the hero’s transformation in a revealing experience of identity. You’ll be no passive observer either, with audience members actively encouraged to hang back and talk out what you’ve just experienced with the stars and creative team. You get to have your say on what it all means, and how it affects you.

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A pewrson with outstretched arms on stage in purple light.
Photograph: Tracey Schramm

Follow Me Home

Theatre SBW Stables Theatre - Griffin Theatre Company, Darlinghurst

The power of theatre is that it lets us walk in other people's shoes. This new play opens up the world of homelessness and youth through a series of powerful vignettes and perspectives. Follow Me Home is a co-production from Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) and Arts On Tour coming to Sydney's SBW Stables Theatre (Griffin Theatre Company) this winter. The production was written by award-winning playwright Lewis Treston inspired by the real-life stories of young people who have experienced homelessness. See the stories of young people from across NSW brought to life by the four key performers in Follow Me Home. Directed by Fraser Corfield, this production follows this group of young actors playing multiple roles in a series of fast-paced scenarios. With a backing in real-life stories and with Treston at the storytelling-helm, this play is bound to open your eyes and hearts.

Potted Potter Seymour Centre 2020 supplied
Photograph: Supplied

Potted Potter

Theatre Comedy Multiple venues

Potted Potter condenses the entirety of the Harry Potter books into a nice, tight 70 minutes. We are assuming show creators Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner elide over a lot of the endless camping that takes up an enormous amount of Deathly Hallows. The show has been touring for 15 years and played Off Broadway and on the West End. It's been in Australia in 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2019, but this latest version has new material, so even those who have seen it before will still get something out of it. So go on, relive Harry's days at Hogwarts. And although the show wasn't written by You Know Who, what it lacks in intellectual property compliance it more than makes up for in laughs. We're pretty sure Fed and George Weasley would approve.

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A woman on a phone and a man holding up a glass of red wine
Photograph: Supplied

Short+Sweet

Things to do Fairs and festivals Tom Mann Theatre, Surry Hills

Some of us spent lockdown deciding to finally tackle hefty classics like Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Others, well, errr, we streamed a whole lotta 20-minute comedy shows. The thing is, you don’t have to choose between high and low brow, bite-sized or behemoth. Sometimes life, and art, allows for both at the same time. Billed as the “biggest little theatre festival in the world,” Short+Sweet returns to Sydney on May 16 bringing mini-plays galore to those hungry for more easily digestible culture, until August 23. Kicking off with the Hindsight 2020 Gala, it presents ten ten-minute plays that were supposed to compete for glory last year, until you-know-what happened. 

Musicals

Come from Away Australian cast
Photograph: Jeff Busby

Come from Away

Theatre Musicals Capitol Theatre, Haymarket

Tony, Olivier and Green Room Award-winning musical Come From Away is finally about to touch down in Sydney this winter, after having to divert last year because of you know what. Which is oddly on-brand for a show that’s all about a massive global upheaval. Set in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the US 20 years ago, the Irene Sankoff and David Hein musical details the incredible true story of the teeny Canadian town that welcomed a fleet of diverted flights bearing folks from all over the world. For five days, the Newfoundland outpost of Gander hosted squadrons of disoriented passengers, with the locals making them feel right at home. The Christopher Ashley-helmed show with musical staging by Kelly Devine will now open at Haymarket’s atmospheric Capitol Theatre on Thursday June 3, 2021. Time Out Melbourne arts editor Nicola Dowse gave the show five stars, saying, “The underlying message of kindness and compassion in the face of unspeakable horror is one that's sorely needed right now... The musical captures the grief and terror of tragedy, but more importantly, that human kindness and compassion are essential salves in desperate times.”

Merrily We Roll Along cast Ainsley Melham, Andrew Coshan and Elise McCann
Photograph: Supplied/Peter Brew Bevan

Merrily We Roll Along

Theatre Musicals Hayes Theatre Co, Elizabeth Bay

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Merrily We Roll Along is one of the very best of the self-referential showbiz shows. Adapting and updating a 1939 play by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart, the show depicts the story of a man called Franklin Shepard, a composer who has chucked in a gig writing musicals to produce Hollywood movies instead. It grapples with the price of success and those that get left behind. Hayes Theatre Co will present a razzle-dazzle take on the fabulous show that traces Franklin's life backwards, from movie-making fame to the Broadway game, depicting how he became the man he is today. Emerging talent Andrew Coshan (Jersey Boys) will play Franklin. He’ll be joined by Everybody Loves Lucy star Elise McCann and Xanadu lead Ainsley Melham, alongside a cast including Georgina Hopson (West Side Story) and Aaron Tsindos (Muriel’s Wedding).

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People in varying flannel attire dance, sing and play guitar on a moodily lit stage.
Photograph: Supplied

Once the Musical

Theatre Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst

Once is a wildly popular musical film that won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and had a soundtrack that was nominated for a Grammy. The stage musical, based on the film and sharing its soundtrack, went on to pick up more awards: the Olivier Award, Drama Desk awards and Tony Awards. Once, it seems, is almost closer to being an EGOT than Elton John or Bette Midler. Now, you can soak up that award-winning, stellar songwriting with Darlinghurst Theatre Company's new iteration from June 4 to July 18. Once The Musical is based on the film written by John Carney with book by Enda Walsh. Music and lyrics are by the film's famously non-actor protagonists Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. This production harnesses the film's solid baseline with additional magic added by director Richard Carroll and with musical direction from Victoria Falconer. Once The Musical is also peppered with dance sequences from the local staging of Hamilton's director Amy Campbell.

Elandrah Eramiha, Chloé Zuel and Akina Edmonds in silk dresses as the Schulyer sisters in Hamilton
Photograph: Supplied/Daniel Boud

Hamilton

Theatre Musicals Sydney Lyric Theatre, Darling Harbour

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now,” sings Eliza to Hamilton in the mega-successful, 11 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and frankly she could have been talking about Sydneysiders. The excitement is palpabale now it's almost time for curtains up at the Lyric Theatre from March 17. Miranda was involved in all the local casting calls, and the entire ensemble are Australian or Kiwi. South African-born and Perth-raised actor of colour and Aladdin support actor Jason Arrow will play the United States’ least well known (pre-Miranda) founding father, Alexander Hamilton himself. Lyndon Watts, who recently led West Side Story, will play Aaron Burr. Māori man Matu Ngaropo is George Washington, while Victory Ndukwe takes on Daveed Diggs’ gig playing both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. Mauritian-Australian Chloé Zuel (West Side Story’s Anita) is Eliza Hamilton, with Bring It On’s Marty Alix as her son Phillip. First Nations man Shaka Cook of the Innawonga people grew up in the the Pilbara region of Western Australia and plays the dual role of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison. Kiwi Akina Edmonds (Beautiful) is Eliza’s sister Angelica Schuyler, with Elandrah Eramiha as Peggy, and  School of Rock star Brent Hill in the comic role of the Mad King George III.

Circus, burlesque and cabaret

A close up of cabaret star Alan Cumming
Photograph: Supplied/Joshua Going

Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age

Comedy Musical comedy The Enmore Theatre, Newtown

Alan Cumming is a force of nature. You'll get to see the whirlwind up close and personal, when Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age arrives at the Enmore Theatre on July 1 and 5. The first gig sold out quick smart, so get in quick before the second follows suit. It promises to be a bewitching night of showbiz, tunes and life-affirming laughs; an unashamed celebration of that most communal of pastimes: ageing. Age cannot wither his infinite variety. There’s simply no joyous sparkle quite like Cumming’s, so consider us itching to spend an unforgettable evening in his fine company once more.

Dance

A group of people in earthen colours create a pyramid of bodies against a red rocky backdrop
Photograph: Supplied/Daniel Boud

SandSong

Dance Multiple venues

Beloved First Nations company Bangarra Dance Theatre, one of Australia’s most revered performing arts troupes, returns with a spectacular new work, SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert. It debuts at the Sydney Opera House on June 10 and runs for one month, before going on a national tour including the Canberra Theatre Centre and Arts Centre Melbourne. Created by Bangarra in consultation with Wangkajunga/Walmajarri Elders from the Kimberley and Great Sandy Desert regions, the work explores the majesty of this great, open space that glows with red pindan dust. It harnesses the joy of ancient songlines that have been handed down for countless generations, while also addressing the horror of forced removal from Country and the injustice of back-breaking labour with no wage and minimal rations. SandSong celebrates the survival and resilience of the indomitable people who have maintained an unbroken connection to the staggering lands of the Western Desert, and the strength of their kinship. It's choreographed by national living treasure Stephen Page, alongside incredible associate director Frances Rings, a descendant of the Kokatha Tribe from the West Coast of South Australia.

Take a look at STC's show-stopping second act

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