From his desk at the newly re-opened STC offices in Walsh Bay, Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Kip Williams can hear the chimes beckoning matinee audiences into the Wharf Theatre to see Playing Beatie Bow. And every time he hears that familiar sound, he's nearly brought to tears. “It’s been so affirming and confidence building, the way that audiences have returned to theatre,” he says. “It’s been far beyond our wildest expectations.”
As he sees it, “It’s really reinforced that people are sick of watching television at home, and they’re over Netflix on their laptop in bed. They want to get out and see some live performers, to connect with audience members and laugh together, cry together and experience stories together. And that’s what we’re here for.”
Unveiling a huge line-up for Act 2 of STC’s 2021 program – plus a juicy morsel about how STC's smash-hit production of The picture of Dorian Gray almost didn't happen – Williams shares why he felt he had to go big with his vision for reviving theatre in Sydney after its year-long hiatus.
Last year sideswiped this highly anticipated re-staging of the 1995 hit examining what it means to be an Aboriginal woman in Australia, penned by powerhouse duo Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman. But nothing could stop it coming back in an updated take that ensures 25 years on, it’s as vital as ever. Resident director Shari Sebbens takes the reins, with Elaine Crombie starring.
“I have a very strong connection to the show, given that it was one of the first I ever saw at the company. My mum took me to see the Wayne Blair-directed production that starred Ursula Yovich,” Williams says of the opening salvo of Act 2. “I’d always wanted to programme it during my time here, and the fact that that Shar is going to interpret this extraordinary text for 2021 audiences, after so much has happened in the past 12 months with the Black Lives Matter movement and the discourse around justice for Aboriginal Australians and Treaty, is thrilling.”
Legends of theatre John Bell and Linda Cropper join an exciting cast of rising stars in James Majoos, Johnny Nasser, Zindzi Okenyo and Guy Simon in this new play by Bess Wohl about the wash out of a 50-year marriage ending. Directed by Jessica Arthur (Wonnangatta), Williams says expect to be wowed again.
“It’s a really funny play, particularly post-lockdown, you know, with the impact that this this moment has had on families, and on older Australians as well. I think a lot of people, particularly of a certain age bracket, are looking at old age as not a time for dying. It’s a time to live.”
Renaissance ‘trans-queen’ and all the awards-winner Glace Chase will shake up STC with their latest work Triple X, fresh from a stint at Queensland Theatre. The wildly provocative piece, depicting a love affair between an engaged-to-be-married Wall Street banker and a charismatic trans drag performer stars Glace and Josh McConville, and is directed by Paige Rattray and
“This play is going to be an instant classic,” Williams says. “I was up in Brisbane for opening night and it got an extended standing ovation. It’s no surprise. I read the play, a couple of years ago and I was just astonished by both the remarkable quality of the form that Glaze has honed, as well as the uniqueness of the narrative that she’s placed within that form. We believe this is one of the first-ever trans love stories to be shown on a mainstage, and we’re very, very proud of that. It’s gobsmacking.”
We called it a “blisteringly funny satire,” so we’re pumped to see the return of this take down of an astoundingly racist ad gone viral in all the wrong ways by in-demand playwright Anchuli Felicia King. As directed by Priscilla Jackman, trust us, you won’t want to miss this encore.
“This play is an absolute cracker,” Willaims says. “The way that Felicia looks at pan Asian relations and racism, at advertising and concepts of beauty, and the perils of the Internet, she has such an extraordinary, contemporary voice and it’s no surprise that she’s in demand all around the world. This will be the first show ever in the new Wharf 2, and lots of the brilliant cast are coming back, including Vaishnavi Suryaprakash.”
Unless you’ve been ensconced in your apocalypse bunker until roughly five minutes ago, then it’s inconceivable you haven’t heard the raucous applause for Eryn Jean Norvill’s one-woman whirlwind walk through a cinematically-boosted take on Oscar Wilde's gothic fable. We rang the five-star alarm, so don’t dilly dally on booking your ticket to its encore season. Astoundingly, it almost never happened in the aftermath of you-know-what.
“There were there were many, many meetings with the finance team where I had to make a very strong case for why we would spend any money on a one-person show that was a new adaptation of an Oscar Wilde novel,” Williams reveals of his new adaptation, which he also directs. “It had its budget cut three times. And in many ways, it was the little big show that could when it opened and got the critical reception and the audience response that we got. It was a great moment of vindication, and EJ’s very, very special performance at the centre of it is truly one to be witnessed.”
Shari Sebbens also steps into directorial duties for this game-changing play written by the late Lorraine Hansberry. It was the first by an African American woman to light up Broadway, and it continues to move audiences generations later. This new production casts Zahra Newman and Bert LaBonté.
“It’s truly one of the great plays of the 20th century,” Williams says. “Lorraine was only 29 when she wrote it and, tragically, she died a couple of years later. She was speaking at a time when she was very ahead of the of the historical context in which she lived. And so for us to look back to this play now in 2021, in the wake of Black Lives Matter, it’s a great privilege to be able to listen to this young, black female voice and to reflect upon what has changed since then, but I think also to recognise what hasn’t changed.”
Sigrid Thornton makes her STC debut alongside Charles Wu in this staggering true story-turned Broadway hit by David Murrell, Gordon Farrell and Jeremy Kareken. The show unpicks fake news when a young intern fact-checking a feature by a writer he idolises realises that something has gone horribly awry.
“It’s one of those plays that you read and you go, ‘How did they hit the Zeitgeist in such an apt way?’” Williams says. “It speaks so directly to the post-truth era, of a time where the faith in journalism has been denigrated from all sides and the notion of truth has been turned upside down. It speaks to all of those phenomena in a searingly funny way and we’re very lucky to have the brilliant Anne-Louise Sarks directing. It’s gonna be a cracker.”
We can neither confirm nor deny if any chickens will be harmed in the making of this Roald Dahl classic adapted by Shake & Stir Theatre Co. Although we can say that this one is for kids with a taste for stories that do not shy away from the darker side of storytelling.
"I was obsessed with Roald Dahl when I was a kid, absolutely obsessed,” Williams says. “It’s terrifically entertaining work that uses a lot of projections. And I think for parents who’ve had their kid locked indoors for a while, it’s a great excuse to get them out of the house.”
Another Great American Play TM gets a whole new airing with national treasure Wayne Blair stepping into Willy Loman’s worn out shoes in this ballad of broken dreams directed by Paige Rattray.
“Paige has that uncanny ability, as she demonstrated in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, to take a play that we think we know and find a depth and a truth, a darkness and a pathos in it that you never knew was there,” Williams says. “And a sense of humour as well. And Wayne is one of the all-time greats, one of our living legends, so to have him take on this iconic role, you know, it’s a once-in-a-generation moment.”
Speaking of once-in-a-generation moments, the long fought for reveal of the 'palace papers' recently shed new light on the forced removal of the Gough Whitlam government, which makes it the perfect time to revisit that constitutional shocker. But make it a musical. Conceived and directed by Jay James-Moody, he co-wrote the book with Blake Erickson, with Laura Murphy on music and lyrics.
“The 1970s was this moment of amazing possibility, and a lot was achieved by the Whitlam government, and a lot was prevented from being achieved,” Williams says. “The musical is delicious. It looks at how our political system operates and, in particular, who gets into power and why, and what they need to do in order to stay in power. And it kind of asks the question, you know, has anything actually changed since 1975? I think that’s a very pertinent question to ask, particularly at this moment in time.”
Audiences can expect yet more political backstabbing when Williams directs a new in-the-round staging of Shakespeare’s blood-soaked Ides of March tragedy to round out STC's 2021 season.
“One of the central characters in Julius Caesar is the public, so to tell this story at this time, with audiences literally looking at each other the whole way through the night will be really powerful,” Williams says. “Particularly during the Trump era, but not just in America. In the UK, here in Australia, across many nations around the world, the democratic experiment has descended into a farce. And we are witnessing, more than ever, the way in which leadership is something that depends upon manipulation in order to in order to obtain and maintain, and the moral crisis around leaders who are who are interested in assuming a role, as opposed to those who are interested in serving the public interest.”