The year might be quickly drawing to a close, but Sydney's biggest theatres are still churning out massive shows. Expect fireworks when two of our finest actors, Yael Stone and Noni Hazlehurst, team up on The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and discover the story behind one of Australia's dynasties in Packer & Sons. If you prefer your theatre with a side of song and dance, there are some great cabarets on their way this month and two musicals starring prodigiously talented youngsters: Billy Elliot and School of Rock.
Save some dollars, though: Sydney Festival has announced its January program, and our hit list of shows includes some must-see theatre and dance.
When Lee Hall wrote Billy Elliot, the surprise hit film about a young boy in a Northern UK mining village dreaming of a career as a dancer, he was largely writing his own story. Hall grew up working class, the son of a house painter, and his family didn’t really understand why he’d want to go to university and pursue a career as a writer.
The Rock Musical is a subset with a very chequered past. For every Hair there’s a Rent; for every Hedwig and the Angry Inch there’s an American Idiot. Andrew Lloyd Webber might have seemed an odd choice to adapt the 2003 Jack Black film School of Rock for the stage, but then the man was synonymous with the rock musical when Jesus Christ Superstar ruled the world back in 1970.
This is the Hayes Theatre’s first foray into Gilbert and Sullivan, but given the cast attached (including Thomas Campbell as Little Buttercup) and director (Sydney theatre stalwart Kate Gaul making her Hayes debut) you shouldn’t expect this to be a stuffy Victorian operetta.
Mainstage and mid-range theatre
Irish writer Martin 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.
“The Packer dynasty has been at the centre of Sydney life and, in many ways, Australian life for a century,” Belvoir Theatre's artistic director Eamon Flack says. “In that time they helped to forge the country’s cultural idea of itself and sat at the centre of that for a very long time.” This new play by Tommy Murphy will trace the Packer family’s evolution.
This new production of one of Australia’s most popular plays (that has somehow never had a mainstage production here) is directed by Sarah Goodes. Penned by Louis Nowra, it’s about a young director who stages an opera inside a mental health facility in the 1970s, using the patients as his cast.
Griffin Theatre Company's final play for the year premiered in London, where Australian writer Rita Kalnejais has relocated. It’s a strange Romeo and Juliet-esque love story between a 14-year-old boy and a fox, and is described by Griffin as: “Fantastic Mr Fox if Margaret Atwood wrote the Netflix adaptation”.
The Australian Ballet is ending its 2019 season with a special Christmas treat – this beloved classic production of The Nutcracker. The company's artistic director, David McAllister says he first saw Peter Wright’s production, originally made for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, in the early 1990s, and considers it one of the best Nutcrackers he’s ever seen.
Comedy, circus and cabaret
It’s been 35 years since French Canadian street performers Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix joined forces to create a circus company that would go on to become the largest theatrical producer in the world. Cirque du Soleil is now a global brand so successful it’s recognised just about everywhere, and it’s a name that comes with certain expectations.
First there was Fat Swan, then Little Orphan TrAshley and The Bodybag. Now Trevor Ashley is back with another Christmas panto spoofing just about every movie set in or on an island. Ashley plays Gaye Wray (from Home and Away), an actress trying to leave her soap opera roots behind now she’s starting to make it in Hollywood.