It’s an exciting time for Griffin Theatre Company. For the first time in its 42-year history, the company is about to own its home, the SBW Stables Theatre in Kings Cross. Thanks to the gift of a billionaire philanthropist, the dedicated home of new Australian writing is also about to get a $10 million facelift – transforming the quaint 105-seat theatre with its kite-shaped stage into a new, improved cultural hub with almost double the capacity.
But before that happens, there is still one more season filling the Stables in its current state, and artistic director Declan Greene isn’t holding back. He took the reins in 2020, his first artistic directorship, and it hasn’t exactly been business as usual since he has been at the wheel. Where the 2022 Season leaned into “unexpected clashes”, the 2023 Season will explore “thresholds”. Greene says: “Each of the plays takes people into another aspect of our world that they wouldn't normally have access to.”
Much has changed in the Australian theatre landscape since Griffin was founded more than 40 years ago, including many of the major companies making more of an effort to put new Australian stories on the stage, which has always been Griffin’s core mission. But as Greene explains, he still feels “really clear about what the point of differentiation is” for his company:
“When other companies do new writing we’re overjoyed because it's more opportunities for playwrights and it's more Australian stories being told, which is excellent. But the kind of unique position that Griffin has always occupied is that because of our size, and also because of very unique audience base that we have here… we do the ones that are kind of riskier, the ones that take more chances, and hold the kind of the conversations that other bigger companies can't hold because it's too risky for them to do it with theatres that are much bigger and with so many more seats to sell, basically.”
Griffin Theatre’s 2023 Season
Sex Magick by Nicholas Brown (Feb 17-Mar 25)
Coming to the stage in association with Sydney WorldPride, Sex Magick is from the brilliant brain of playwright Nicholas Brown (Lighten Up). After a workplace indiscretion shatters his elite physiotherapy career in the rugby league, Ard Panicker ends up working at a metaphysical health spa giving rubdowns to well-intentioned white ladies in Bondi. When his father dies and he is overcome by seizures that cannot be explained by western medicine, he ends up on a spiritual journey to his homeland.
“So it's kind of this mystery genre story, but we're using that as the entry point into this really rich and fascinating conversation about queerness, Hinduism, and masculinity in Australian culture and in Indian culture,” says Greene.
“Nick [Brown] speaks about the play as an effort to, in a 2022 context, look at the pre-colonial history of the Hindu religion, which has a gender diversity – what you would, I guess, call queerness – built into its mythologies and deities. But that's something that got scrubbed or censored as part of the colonisation of the country… And it's going to be a six-hander, which also in the Stables is huge, it's going to be big and expansive and complex.”
Pony by Eloise Snape (May 12-Jun 17)
Hazel is no angel. In fact, she’s a delusional, reality TV-obsessed fantasist who swears like a sailor and has a fondness for greased-up male strippers. She’s also hugely, undeniably, ready-to-pop pregnant. What happens when you’re not ready to swap grinding to Ginuwine for nursery rhymes? Starring the exquisitely comedic Briallen Clarke (Muriel’s Wedding the Musical, The Heights), Pony is the sassy, oh-so-crass one-woman crusade that’s desperately searching for the light at the end of the (vaginal) tunnel.
Greene says: “[Pony] is having a really fascinating conversation about the role of motherhood and womanhood in society at large, but the play is also having a really interesting conversation about pre and postpartum mental health as well, and the the way that this massive life event can make it difficult to ascertain whether something is a moment of mental health crisis or whether something is just about a seismic change in the life of a particular person.”
Photograph: Griffin Theatre/Brett Boardman and Alphabet Studio | 'Jailbaby'
Jailbaby by Suzie Miller (Jul 7-Aug 12)
This wasn’t how it was meant to go. A few iPhones, a huge TV, and a Socceroos jersey – shove them all in the IKEA bag then drive away as fast as you can. AJ wasn’t meant to be spotted at the scene, or get ID’d in the line up. AJ definitely wasn’t meant to go to prison. But once AJ is convicted of theft, he is placed behind the walls of an institution where his own body is stolen from him. In a cramped communal cell, AJ will become a ‘jailbaby’ – the ward of a justice system that chooses to turn a blind eye to the life-altering sexual violence committed against young men behind bars.
Award-winning playwright and former lawyer Suzie Miller rocked the theatrical world with Prima Facie. A searing hot, clear-eyed look at the Australian legal system, sexual consent laws and their effects on victims, the one-woman show even took on the West End with Killing Eve star Jodie Cormer. Now, Miller is back at little ol’ Griffin with a “spiritual sequel” that once again opens our eyes to the darkest corners of society and asks us to pinpoint the exact moment when it all goes so, so wrong.
Blaque Showgirls by Nakkiah Lui (Sep 1-Oct 14)
After getting booted from the 2022 season, Time Out Future Shaper Nakkiah Lui’s sparkly, smart-arsed spoof of the so-bad-it’s-good 1995 cinematic masterpiece Showgirls is not backing down without a fight. Lui (Black is the New White, Black Comedy) delivers her trademark mix of wit, social commentary and balls-to-the-wall silliness with a throughline of Indigenous pride.
Under the expert eye of superstar First Nations director Shari Sebbens (Superheroes, City of Gold), Blaque Showgirls stars Stephanie Somerville (Chalkface), going head-to-head with all-dancing, all-diamantéd Top End drag queen Foxxy Empire.
One thing that really excites Greene about this show is that it is absolutely “far too big for the space”. He says: “It'll be just really exciting and overwhelming and overstimulating to see… It's a cast of five exceptional dancer-actors at the top of their game, doing this spectacular First Nations casino burlesque drag show with high kicks happening, you know, inches away from your face. There’s a level of engagement to that kind of spectacle that you don't get in bigger spaces.”
UFO by re:group performance collective (Apr 18-29)
Alongside the main season, Griffin’s artist development program Griffin Lookout returns in 2023 with two shows. Using an innovative blend of science fiction tropes, live cinema and exquisitely detailed 1:8 miniatures, UFO follows a group of young people tasked with keeping tabs on a grounded spaceship on the edge of a regional town. It comes from re:group performance collective, the group behind Coil at the Sydney Opera House.
“I think re:group performance collective is just doing something that nobody else is doing at the moment. On one end of the scale, you have this kind of really exciting moment that's represented by stuff like [Sydney Theatre Company’s cine-theatre productions] The Picture of Dorian Gray and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which have this sophisticated use of video in live performance… that is like big, expensive, spectacular stuff. But what re:group do on a much smaller scale, but I think it's equally sophisticated and more, I guess, accessible to other artists.”
Photograph: Griffin Theatre/Brett Boardman and Alphabet Studio | 'Gadigal Gal’'
Gadigal Gal by Graham Simms (Nov 15-25)
The other show in the Griffin Lookout program is the solo spectacular Gadigal Gal by Graham Simms, aka Sydney’s own Indigenous drag superstar Nana Miss Koori. This show is the result of 53 years of practised wisdom, theatre, comedy, drag, and a heaping serve of Gadigal glamour.
“I kind of love that I think a lot of the time when we talk about programs that are designed to support early career artists, we think of a 20-something drama school graduate with some big dreams. But Nana Miss Koori is a living legend,” says Greene.
“She is such an important part of the drag world and the queer world more generally across Australia. She's also Gadigal Elder and has lived an extraordinary life and is still living an extraordinary life, and has an amazing story to tell that's full of wisdom – it's about survival and heartbreak and family and chosen family. We're just so delighted that we get to host it.”
Tickets and subscriptions for Griffin’s 2023 Season are available now on the Griffin website.