Belvoir, Griffin and Opera Australia have all revealed their 2019 seasons, and now it's time for the biggest theatre company in the country: Sydney Theatre Company. As is usually the case, they've got some serious star power to light up their two biggest theatres (their smaller spaces in the Wharf are closed this year for renovations). We've got Rebel Wilson, Mia Wasikowska, Hugo Weaving, Celia Pacquola, Pamela Rabe, Zahra Newman, Nakkiah Lui, Toby Schmitz, Hunter Page-Lochard and Caroline Brazier taking to the stage.
Here's the full line-up and STC artistic director Kip Williams' thoughts on the shows.
Mary Stuart (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Feb 5-Mar 2)
A new adaptation by Kate Mulvany, after Friedrich Schiller
Director: Imara Savage
Caroline Brazier and Helen Thomson will be going head-to-head as Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, respectively, in this radically reimagined take on Friedrich Schiller’s play about the two rivals.
Kip Williams: “For me, one of the big highlights of 2018 has been Imara’s production of Saint Joan and the radical way in which she reexamined an incredible female figure from history, giving a contemporary perspective on that figure and new voice to that individual. That’s very much the approach Kate and Imara will be taking to these two women.
“At a different point in history, these two women would be great allies to one another, and the circumstances of the world they lived in forced them to be great rivals.”
How to Rule the World (Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Feb 11-Mar 30)
By Nakkiah Lui
Director: Paige Rattray
Nakkiah Lui (Blackie Blackie Brown) will star in her own play alongside Michelle Lim Davidson and Anthony Taufa as three political staffers from different cultural backgrounds who want to get into power and effect real change. The only problem is, they don’t look like the type of people that political parties or voters will install in positions of power. Their solution? They find an affable white man and use him as a political puppet.
Kip Williams: “It continues Nakkiah’s great run of political comedies with a really radical, provocative thrust to them.”
Mosquitoes (Drama Theatre, Apr 8-May 18)
By Lucy Kurkwood
Director: Jessica Arthur
British playwright Lucy Kirkwood has been hugely popular at STC in recent years, with her plays Chimerica and The Children. Anita Hegh stars as Alice, a high-flying scientist searching for the Higgs Boson particle, opposite Mandy McElhinney (who has a stack of important stage and screen credits but will always be Rhonda from the AAMI ads), who plays her screw-up sister. It’s a play about how to maintain a relationship with somebody you’re bound to, but with whom you have little in common.
Kip Williams: “What’s beautiful about this new Kirkwood is that it’s a synthesis of the great virtues of the two previous Kirkwoods that we staged. Essentially it’s got the sweeping, global epic quality of Chimerica with the moving, nuanced, intimate drama of The Children.”
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Apr 29-Jun 8)
By Tennessee Williams
Director: Kip Williams
This is the big classic for the year, and it’s being directed by Kip Williams, who won a Helpmann Award the last time he directed a Tennessee Williams play (Suddenly, Last Summer). If you don’t know anything about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, it’s an explosive drama about a Southern family at loggerheads with each other. And it’s difficult to imagine a much more impressive cast: The Book of Mormon’s Zahra Newman will play Maggie the Cat opposite Hugo Weaving as Big Daddy and Pamela Rabe as Big Mama.
Kip Williams: “This, for me, really is a play about the family being a political institution. A place of power navigation, and where that institution can regulate people and censor people, and make people feel controlled, stuck and disconnected from their own autonomy. And it’s a play about lies, and it’s a play about truth, and I think in the times in which we’re living where the notion of truth, both in a societal sense and in an interpersonal sense, seems to be debated on an everyday basis, this play feels like it really sings with a contemporary resonance.”
The Torrents (Drama Theatre, Jul 18-Aug 24)
By Oriel Gray
Director: Clare Watson
You probably haven’t heard of Oriel Gray or The Torrents, but in 1955 it was the joint winner of the Playwrights’ Advisory Board Competition with Australia’s most famous play, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. It’s been rarely performed since the 1950s, making it a hugely neglected classic – and look, that’s probably because it wasn’t written by a man. Director Clare Watson is working with Virginia Gay to polish up the George Bernard Shaw-esque comedy and ensure the humour all zings.
Rosehaven star Celia Pacquola plays JG Milford, a woman who shows up to take on a job at a local paper in a small outback town in the 1890s. None of the townsfolk realises that JG is a woman and the J stands for “Jenny”.
Kip Williams: “I hope that one of the outcomes of us staging it is that it’s reasserted in its rightful place as one of the great Australian plays of the 20th century.”
Lord of the Flies (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Jul 23-Aug 24)
By William Golding
Adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams
Director: Kip Williams
Mia Wasikowska, who played Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movies, probably isn’t the first person you’d think of to cast as one of the young boys in Lord of the Flies, but Kip Williams is giving the story a significant rethink. Yes, the characters will still be young boys going savage on a deserted island, but they’ll be played by performers who don’t really look like what you’d imagine an 11-year-old boy to look like. This marks Wasikowska’s professional stage debut, and she’ll appear with actor Daniel Monks.
Kip Williams: “Mia is a writer/director for screen as well, so she’s a very artistic and creative soul. She’s always been interested in doing theatre, and it’s just by virtue of her having this explosive film career from such a young age that she hasn’t stepped into it.
“I think the story is so often talked about as the piece that reveals the innate animal within humans, and I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that the action that unfolds on this island is born of some innate, cruel, dark animal within us. I believe it’s born of the behaviour these boys have been indoctrinated into before they reach the island. I think it’s bullying behaviour. I think it’s behaviour that’s been modelled off their fathers, that’s been modelled off a patriarchal power structure that they’re going to inherit when they come back to society.”
Banging Denmark (The Studio, Sydney Opera House, Jul 26-Aug 24)
By Van Badham
Director: Jessica Arthur
This new work from The Guardian commentator Van Badham is about a feminist academic called Ish (Amber McMahon) and a pick-up artist called Jake (Patrick Jhanur). They’re not exactly fans of one another, but when Jake falls in love with a Danish librarian – who doesn’t fall for his pick-up tricks – he needs to call in Ish for advice on how to woo her in a less problematic way.
Kip Williams: “It’s really Van probing at the faultline in society between the current wave of feminism and the progress that it’s making, and the online backlash to that movement. It’s interrogating how romance exists between men and women in the current day.”
Avalanche: A Love Story (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Aug 29-Sep 14)
By Julia Leigh
Director: Anne-Louise Sarks
It’s not often that a new Australian play premieres in the Roslyn Packer Theatre, even though Williams says it’s his ambition to have more Australian voices in our biggest spaces. But this new play by Julia Leigh is a co-production with London’s Barbican Centre, giving it significant kudos. Leigh, who is known as a novelist and filmmaker, has adapted her own memoir about going through the trials of IVF at 38 with her new husband.
Kip Williams: “There are quite profound universal themes that emanate from this story of that struggle that we all go through of wanting something very deeply and slowly having to come to terms with the reality that what we want doesn’t always happen. I think it’s about that moment in life where a dream that you have held onto for a very long time starts to become an impossibility. How do you deal with that?”
The Real Thing (Drama Theatre, Sep 9-Oct 26)
By Tom Stoppard
Director: Simon Phillips
Geraldine Hakewill and Toby Schmitz will star in this play about the nature of real love. Of course, being Tom Stoppard, things aren’t entirely what they seem and there’s a play-within-a-play device happening. But it still ranks as one of his most accessible, charming and human plays.
Kip Williams: “It’s kind of a younger play from Stoppard. It’s less intellectual and more of an emotional piece from him, and very funny and entertaining. It’s directed by one of the best Stoppard interpreters, I would argue, in the world, but certainly in Australia.”
Così (Drama Theatre, Nov 1-Dec 14)
By Louis Nowra
Director: Sarah Goodes
Hunter Page-Lochard leads this new production of one of Australia’s most popular plays (that has somehow never had a mainstage production here). It’s about a young director who stages an opera inside a mental health facility in the 1970s, using the patients as his cast.
Kip Williams: “It’s a real love letter to the act of putting on a show. It’s based on a very personal experience of Louis’s. But I think, at its core, it’s about the family that can come from making theatre, and how the act of storytelling for both audience and participant can be an act of acceptance. It’s where people can feel a sense of belonging; where difference can be celebrated and people who are different can be brought closer together.”
The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Nov 18-Dec 21)
By Martin McDonagh
Director: Paige Rattray
STC’s associate director Paige Rattray will direct Rebel Wilson in this pitch-black modern classic set in the Irish town of Leenane.
McDonagh is on a bit of a roll in the film world at the moment – his 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture – but he came to the attention of the world with his plays. The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a pitch-black comedy set in the Irish village of Leenane. Wilson will play Maureen, a 40-year-old woman who gets her first chance at love, but whose cruel and manipulative mother sets about destroying it.
Kip Williams: “It is dark. I think one of the great ideas alive in it is that families can be cruel to one another. McDonagh doesn’t pull any punches in that regard. All of his work has that quality where you careen from laughing uproariously to gasping in shock.”
The Wharf Revue 2019 (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sep 25-Oct 26)
By Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott
The annual satire returns – although it’s in the Roslyn Packer Theatre and not the Wharf – with Drew Forsythe and Simon Burke in the cast.
White Pearl (Riverside Theatres, Lennox Theatre, Oct 24-Nov 9)
By Anchuli Felicia King
Director: Priscilla Jackman
Anchuli Felicia King is an emerging playwright with a huge year ahead: there’s a play in Melbourne Theatre Company’s mainstage season, as well as one at STC. And before it premieres at STC, this play will have a season at one of London’s most prestigious theatres (we can’t reveal which one yet, sorry). White Pearl is set in the offices of Clearday cosmetics, a Singapore company that’s come under fire for a racist ad. The play is a co-production with the National Theatre of Parramatta.