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A women with unruly hair with leaves stuck in it
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin Theatre/Brett Boardman

Get ready to return to the Stables as Griffin Theatre launch 2021

From the return of a huge hit, to a livestreamed event and cruising in the local park, it's going to be a bumper year

By Stephen A Russell, Maxim Boon and Debbie Zhou
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Declan Greene stepped into the new artistic director gig at Griffin Theatre Company in February full of beans, raring to get cracking on his 2021 program. One month later, the world as we know it fell apart and theatres went dark. “So I think I had two minutes of feeling totally brattish, like ‘Life isn’t fair, why me,’ and then just got to the good work of rethinking everything, working out new parameters,” he says.

After all, they're used to doing things a little differently. “The stables are a perfect embodiment of that,” Greene says. “They’re such a kooky shape, with a tiny foyer, and the artists and performers have created extraordinary feats of imagination inside that building in the first 50 years of the space. And so now, going into the 51st year, it kinda feels like, ‘Okay, we’re gonna be fine’. And I feel like we’ve responded to it in a way that I’m super-proud of. I’m just so happy with the season.”

That includes remounts of hit show Prima Facie, plus a livestream Griffin Lockdown happening Pleasuredome swanning into Sydney Festival. Greene will kick off the year a site-specific outdoor show in Green Park, looking at gay hook-up culture and the secret queer history of Griffin’s neighbourhood Darlinghurst. “If the world falls in a fucking heap again, and we go back into four square metres social distancing, we can’t actually use the stables so it’s good to look at performances that can be moved elsewhere. And also there’s like an online show and an outdoor show.”

He’ll also helm visceral drama Dogged, set on Gunaikurnai country. Associate artistic director Tessa Leong takes on Kendall Feaver’s topical drama about rape culture in Australian universities, Wherever She Wanders, and Singapore-set gangster comedy Golden Blood. “Tessa is brilliant,” Greene says. “We’re both people who carved a career building our own DIY spaces in car parks, really learning our craft through kind of just doing. We have similar tastes in a lot of ways, but she also brings has a whole world of dramaturgical insight into the company.”

Kirsty Marillier’s Rodney Seaborn Playwrights Award-winning, Johannesburg-set coming-of-age debut Orange Thrower, directed by Zindzi Okenyo, is sure to wow. All this plus we finally get to see Debra Oswald’s hilarious one-woman show Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? It’s such a beautiful story about her extraordinary career. We had such an extraordinary response to the cancellation, probably more so to any other show in the 2020 season, with people demanding we bring it back, which we were always going to. It’s a testament to how beloved she is.”

Also look out for the first two cabs off the rank in brand new artist development program Griffin Lookout. They'll present comedian Oliver Twist’s remarkable life story in Jali, while Kirby Medway and Solomon Thomas will perform an entire bonkers sci-fi show using 1:8 miniatures in UFO. “We wanted to think about a way that we could create a step between the independent sector and the mainstage,” Greene says. “It’s slightly self-indulgent, because that idea has been absolutely essential to me getting into this role. I’ve been the beneficiary of initiatives like Griffin Independent MTC, neon, and STC Rough Drafts, and the fact that a lot of those programmes don’t exist anymore has created a bit of a market gap there.”

It’s all about giving back to emerging theatre-makers. “It’s not just that we’re going to give you kind of like a space and say go forth. We’re also going to give a budget to those artists, and a really good box office split as well as marketing and producing support to bring these two shows to the stage”

Grand old Griffin. It’s damn good to have you back.

This is what's happening at Griffin in 2021

A man in jean and a red t-shirt stands in a pile of clothes
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin/Brett Boardman

Green Park

Theatre Drama Green Park, Darlinghurst

Griffin opens the 2021 season with Elias Jamieson Brown’s Green Park, literally set in the public space down the end of Victoria Street. While Google might now list it as family-friendly, once there was a public toilet thriving with hook-ups until the cops shut it down in 1988, inspiring the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to erect a shrine to its long lost urinals. Artistic director Declan Green grabs this thrilling new work with both hands. It asks audiences to meet at the rotunda and done headphones. Then they’ll listen in voyeuristically to Warren and Edden as they meet there to suss each other out on a Grindr meet. One of them doesn’t look like his photo, and there’s a big age gap and a dangerous buried secret. This one-hour play will leave you breathless. “The show embodies the fascinating tensions of the Darlinghurst area,” Greene says. “This is queer culture. It happens under the surface of the mainstream world.”

Debra Oswald with a cardboard box full of life mementoes
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin/Brett Boardman

Is There Something Wrong With That Lady?

Theatre Comedy SBW Stables Theatre - Griffin Theatre Company, Darlinghurst

Former Griffin artistic director Lee Lewis returns to direct this 2020 WTF-scuppered one-woman show starring Offspring TV show creator Debra Oswald. Royalty at the Griffin, her plays Mr Bailey’s Minder and The Peach Season were enormous hits. This is a deeply personal insight into the mind of the proud hypochondriac and floundering novelist. What should she do next? Why do we strive to create when it often causes us such pain? Will it  help her score? Or stave off the fear of death and shame? Who can say? All we know is this will be one show not to miss. “It’s a beautiful story that’s essentially an evening with Deb, about her extraordinary career and the forces in her life that have created the incredible workaholic, hypochondriac theatre-lover that she is,” Greene says.

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A women with unruly hair with leaves stuck in it
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin Theatre/Brett Boardman

Dogged

Theatre Drama SBW Stables Theatre - Griffin Theatre Company, Darlinghurst

Griffin teams up with dance theatre outfit Force Majeure for this very physical look at alpine Victoria’s fraught history. Set on Gunaikurnai country, this Australian gothic opens on a slaughtered flock of sheep. A farmer’s daughter is determined to hunt down and shoot whatever feral dog is responsible. But she’s not alone out here on the tree-shrouded rocks. Deep amongst the eucalypts, a dingo watches her every move, and is waiting to pounce. Playwrights Andrea James (Sunshine Super Girl, Sydney Festival) and AWGIE-winner Catherine Ryan have summoned forth raw poetry for this stirring and shocking meditation on contested territory and elemental forces out for blood. Greene takes the helm. It’s set in a lush part of Victoiran country that has also been the site of extraordinary violence and dispossession. And that story runs under the surface. Like the best Australia Gothic, there’s a deep unease and anxiety about what it means to live on stolen country.”

A young woman in jeans and red shirt and an older woman in a dark grey twin suit with a row of books on the floor between them
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin/Brett Boardman

Wherever She Wanders

Theatre Drama SBW Stables Theatre - Griffin Theatre Company, Darlinghurst

Bold new drama Wherever She Wanders from Kendall Feaver (The Almighty Sometimes) tackles a worrying trend. Set in one of Australia’s oldest residential colleges, as far as the public knows, scandal doesn’t happen here. But what goes on behind closed mahogany doors tells a different story, and abundant coffers can cover up all sorts of unsavoury goings on. Student and aspiring journalist Nikki Gonçalves interviews Jo Mulligan, the first female Master in the college’s hundred-year history, and the person who writes those ‘never happened’ cheques. As Greene says, the story is sadly all too familiar. “There’s no fear of this story becoming irrelevant anytime soon. It reminds us of its relevance with alarming frequency. It’s an extraordinary brave play that’s really about an intergenerational conflict, questioning the values of those who come before. It’s about a tussle over who gets to define contemporary feminism in an age of online outrage.”

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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. Our reviewer Debbie Zhou said, Prima Facie gives a platform for a woman to speak her truth, asking us to look beyond first impressions and to dig deeper into the very structures and procedures that embed underlying injustices. This is an urgent and compelling work.” 

 

A woman in a pink dress sits in a pile of oranges, some cut in half
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin/Brett Boardman

Orange Thrower

Theatre Comedy SBW Stables Theatre - Griffin Theatre Company, Darlinghurst

South African playwright Kirsty Marillier also stars in her debut Orange Thrower. She plays Zadie in this poignant love letter to South African women. A perfect house in one of those suburbs where the houses, gardens cars, and dogs match, somehow the Petersen family don’t quite match the stucco sprawl of Paradise. And when their house is pelted with oranges, Zadie, home alone, has to deal with more than just her nice white neighbours trying to touch her hair. And the oranges keep coming, night after night. What does it mean? Do they want her gone? Beloved Play School alumna and Griffin regular Zindzi Okenyo (Masquerade) also makes her directorial debut helming this juicy romp. It's a co-production with Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta. Griffin artistic director Declan Greene says he fell in love with Marillier’s writing immediately. “It’s got some of the most extraordinarily bizarre and wonderful characters and dialogue. It’s very much Kirsty’s story and she’s extraordinary, as is Zindzi.”

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A girl ini a pink dress clutching shopping bags with incense smoking all around her
Photograph: Supplied/Griffin/Brett Boardman

Golden Blood

Theatre Comedy SBW Stables Theatre - Griffin Theatre Company, Darlinghurst

When her mum dies, a young girl find herself all alone in an empty home in Singapore. Which might be a better situation than her estranged brother becoming her guardian. You see, he’s only a couple of years older and, errr, a gangster. Can Chanel, Miu Miu and Balenciaga paper over the worrying cracks in their new arrangement? These are things their late mother has a few thoughts about, and sometimes the dead aren’t so quiet. That’s the glorious set-up for actor-turned-playwright Merlynn Tong’s Golden Blood. This MTC co-production, drawing loosely on her own life, will be brought to life by Griffin’s associate artistic director Tessa Leong. Greene  knew they had to swoop on it. “It was a jaw-drop moment. The audience were screaming with laughter. Merlynn has such an amazing comic voice. But it’s also a really tender and beautiful story as well.”

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