There’s no two ways about it: the biggest news in Sydney Theatre Company’s 2017 season announcement is that the company will be adapting ’90s Australian cinema favourite Muriel’s Wedding for stage, as a musical. With a book by original screenwriter/director PJ Hogan, music and lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, direction by musical theatre guru Simon Phillips, and mega-producers Global Creatures (behind King Kong, Strictly Ballroom The Musical and the forthcoming Moulin Rouge musical) as a partner, this has star power and nostalgia in one sweet package.
Interestingly, Hogan says he will bring the Muriel story into the present – a courageous choice that we applaud, while also feeling nervous. We’re also cautiously optimistic about casting – which is still TBA.
Muriel’s Wedding The Musical will play November 6 to December 30 2017, at Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre. It’s reasonable to expect that, as per all other Global Creatures productions thus far, it will tour elsewhere – so stay tuned.
And that’s the biggest ‘star’ moment of STC’s season. As Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton’s tenure as artistic directors slips further and further into the past, the company seems to be transitioning from a star model (major international directors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steven Soderbergh and Liv Ullman; major thesps like Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt and Cate herself) to a ‘prestige’ model: recognisable classics, big international hit plays, and solid home-grown talent up front and backstage.
It’s good news for local theatre-makers and performers, who won’t be jostling as hard for plum parts. Hopefully it’s also rewarding for audiences. Certainly, incoming artistic director Kip Williams has proven he can put bums on seats while also winning critical kudos and awards (with Macbeth, Suddenly Last Summer and this year’s All My Sons, among other credits). So too has Imara Savage (the incoming resident director, replacing Sarah Goodes), with her productions of After Dinner (in summer 2015) and Hay Fever (in summer 2016).
Williams will return to a sweet spot by reassembling favourite cast and creative collaborators for a new production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, starring Eryn Jean Norvill. He’ll also direct Caryl Churchill’s breakthrough 1979 farce Cloud Nine (with Kate Box, Harry Greenwood and Josh McConville), and British writer Lucy Kirkwood’s epic socio-political thriller, Chimerica(starring Helpmann Award-winner Mark Leonard Winter), which debuted at London’s Almeida in 2013.
Savage, meanwhile, will direct two plays for STC in 2017: Colm Tóibín’s 90-minute monologue of Biblical revision, The Testament of Mary, starring Alison Whyte; and Moira Buffini’s dark, surreal skewering of middle class foibles, Dinner.
Happily, Richard Wherrett fellow Paige Rattray is moving up the ladder this year to direct her first show in Wharf 1 – and it’s a prize: Nakkiah Lui’s contemporary Australian answer to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the race politics comedy Black is the New White. Rattray is also directing a second show in Wharf 2 (where she previously presented Boys Will Be Boys and will shortly open Power Plays): Australian Graffiti, by 22-year-old first-time playwright Disapol Savetsila, which explores immigration and racism through the prism of one family business.
There are a few interesting cameos in the directors department next year. Damien Ryan (actor, director and artistic director of Shakespeare experts Sport For Jove) will make his STC debut directing (surely one of his heroes) John Bell in the international mega-hit The Father, a discombobulating tour through a mind unravelling in dementia, by French writer Florian Zeller (adapted by Christopher Hampton).
Also popping in to STC – up from Melbourne – is Malthouse artistic director Matthew Lutton, helming a co-production of Michael Gow’s Away, starring Heather Mitchell (Hay Fever). Lutton, like many young male ‘star’ directors (Kip Williams, Eamon Flack, Simon Stone – and before them, Benedict Andrews) made his reputation by reinterpreting the European classics. He will be “blowing the sentimental cobwebs” off Gow’s beloved and much-produced play from 1986, and homing in on the role of mothers in the Australian psyche – not the usual angle for this Vietnam-era drama about theatre, family and mortality.
Finally, STC regular (via Wharf Revue, which also returns in 2017) Jonathan Biggins is returning after the success of his production of Michael Frayn’s sex farce Noises Off, to direct the premiere of his new play Talk – a comedy that skewers media, the 24-hour news cycle, and the death of longform journalism. John Waters (i.e. the Australian actor/musician, not the American purveyor of bad taste – who would also be great) will star.
Sydney Theatre Company are also hosting several productions by external companies next year – from across the city, across the country, and overseas. From Sydney, a remount of Griffin Theatre Company’s Helpmann Award-winning production of Angus Cerini’s Australian gothic The Bleeding Tree will upsize to Wharf 1.
From South Australia comes the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s 2015 production of The Popular Mechanicals, a Shakespeare-inspired farce in the vein of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which was cooked up by (now-veteran) Australian actors Keith Robinson and Tony Taylor and first directed by Geoffrey Rush in 1987. Former STC resident Sarah Giles is behind this show.
And from the UK, we get Headlong’s re-imagination of George Orwell’s 1984, a West End hit created by current Almeida resident Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. Interestingly, it will be a local Australian cast rather than the import that showed at Melbourne Festival in 2015.
Williams describes the 2017 season as very political, and said: “In the past couple of years we’ve found that with the advent of tough times politically and economically, our audiences have really been responding to our political works rather than the light, fluffy works of entertainment.”
Coming up at STC
Melbourne writer-performer Angus Cerini won the 2014 Griffin Award for this gothic revenge fantasy, set in a remote farmhouse where three survivors of domestic violence are working out what to do with the body of their tormentor. When it premiered at Griffin in 2015, we described Lee Lewis's production as "stunningly lyrical" and "enthralling and essential".