There's always a lot happening on Sydney's stages – we are home to one of the world's most famous performance venues after all – but how do you know where to start? Thankfully our critics are out road-testing musicals, plays, operas, dance and more all year-round. Here are their recommendations.
5 stars: top notch, unmissable
A company like Sydney Theatre Company exists for a number of reasons: to tell new stories, to re-examine old ones, to give a glimpse into worlds apart from our own and to reflect a society back to itself. Another reason is simpler but no less important: to provide a chance to see our finest actors soaring in roles that require them to exercise every actorly muscle in their bodies. That’s exactly what director Paige Rattray delivers in this new production of Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play The Beauty Queen of Leenane, starring Yael Stone and Noni Hazlehurst. It features, without a doubt, the best acting we’ve seen on a Sydney stage this year; the kind of performances that don’t just seep into your heart and mind, but seem to take up space in your body as you watch them unfold. Maureen (Stone) is a 40-year-old woman whose life has not turned out the way she’d hoped. She’s living at home in Leenane, a tiny village in the hills of Ireland, caring for her grouchy, sick mother, Mag (Hazlehurst). She hasn’t really achieved anything she had her heart set on: she hasn’t moved somewhere more exciting, she hasn’t found a fulfilling career, and she’s nowhere near falling in love. When we meet these two women, their relationship is quickly devolving into resentment: Mag resents what her life has become and the ways she has to rely on her disappointing daughter, while Maureen resents her mother for all the chances she’s cost her. The two are locked in a bitter battle over the most mundane t
This is a five-star review of the Melbourne Festival season of Grand Finale, by the London-based Hofesh Schechter Company. It's playing a brief season at the Sydney Opera House in January and February 2020. Like all great art, Hofesh Schechter's Grand Finale is a work up for interpretation. Certainly, it’s about youth and the power inherent in the young; they’re enraged, armed (even if only with their own bravado) and almost preternaturally responsive to the pressures bearing in on them. It constantly bristles and shakes with the vitalising and destructive energy of the young, and it chimes so completely with the Extinction Rebellion movement outside the theatre doors, that the piece seems to echo beyond its own ambit. It’s also a distinctly urban work, concerned with the constraints and the thrills of metropolitan confinement. In this sense, it’s about all cities, and being young in them. It opens on a man standing with his back to us in front of a portal or grand opening space, staring up into a spotlight. As an image it’s slightly obscured, contemplative and beautiful. Suddenly, he faints, and a mob of dancers moves forward over the top of him, oblivious to his distress. This motif, of a body dropping in the middle of the crowd – from ecstasy, from exhaustion or execution – recurs throughout, a reminder that groups, that even great movements, are not without their casualties. But oh, such movement. Almost immediately, Shechter’s choreography seduces and bewitches us, no
Stephanie Lake's spectacular Colossus premiered in 2018 as part of Melbourne Fringe and is returning for a Sydney Festival season in 2020. Read our five-star review of the original season below. Nigh on 50 bodies lie in a massive circle on the Fairfax stage, their feet pointed inward and their arms stretched out; it’d be the perfect image of an open sunflower but for the costumes, which are entirely black. As the circle pulsates and breathes, bodies contracting and expanding with the rhythm of that breath, a sense of a great primordial being emerges – one with enormous power, all the more dangerous for being latent. Stephanie Lake’s Colossus will unleash that power, mould it and bunch it, and throw it around the space, in ways that are thrilling and frightening and entirely unforgettable. This is a Melbourne Fringe show the world deserves to see.Lake’s background as a dancer includes long stints with Chunky Move and Lucy Guerin Inc, and while this has certainly informed her choreographic style – specifically, the way the movement seems to flow unbidden from a sudden point of contact, a physical expression of Newtonian Law – it doesn’t explain the almost preternatural gift she has for harnessing the dancer’s body to a centralised aesthetic. This work could even be seen as a challenge she’s thrown down to herself: to unify and orchestrate an insane number of bodies in a ludicrously limited space.On a technical level, Colossus is mind boggling. Group movement is either langui
4 stars: excellent and recommended
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. Australian audiences have known what to expect since 1999, when the company first visited our shores with the brightly colourful Saltimbanco. That show was a genuine revelation at the time. There were certainly local companies making artistically adventurous circus, but nobody was making circus of the same scale and design sophistication. Since then, Cirque has been a near constant presence in Australia with regular tours. The shows follow a similar formula (and why wouldn’t they, if they’re drawing in the crowds that Cirque attracts) and despite their beauty and spectacle, not all have felt as vibrant or as immediate as live circus should. Each one has roughly the same proportion of high-flying acrobatics to smaller-scale wonders, a clown crossing language barriers through audience interaction, a cast of strange, superhuman characters, a live band performing world music-inspired pop, bright and bold costumes and make-up, and a very loose narrative that’s usually about somebody discovering something. But it can be hard to recapture the same thrill of discovery that came with those earlier Cirque shows when audience expectati
Has there ever been a better time to be a prodigiously talented child performer in Sydney? Billy Elliot the Musical has just opened with its fleet of all-singing, all-dancing miniature triple threats, and there are some adorable roles for youngsters in Shrek the Musical, Fun Home and Frozen just around the corner. But the kids of School of Rock the Musical are something truly special – together, they don’t just form the ensemble for a musical, but a kick-ass rock group ready to rival plenty of grown-up bands. Their presence is absolutely essential for this stage version of the Jack Black-led 2003 film about a charming slacker who teaches a group of private school kids how to rock. In fact, they’re the musical’s driving force and bring more rockstar cred to the stage than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s songs and Julian Fellowes’ book. Things stick pretty closely to the film: Dewey Finn (Brent Hill) is a wannabe rockstar who assumes the identity of his roommate, a substitute teacher, to earn a little extra cash. He ends up at Horace Green, an ultra-competitive private elementary school, where the kids’ only creative outlet is classical music. They’re extraordinarily talented, but Dewey is keen to release their inner rockstars so he can win the Battle of the Bands. But there are significant obstacles in his way, not least of which is principal Rosalie Mullins (Amy Lehpamer), whose primary role is to ensure the kids achieve their parents’ dreams of getting into a top-tier university.
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. That tension between a young person’s burgeoning creative spirit and the realities of their family and community’s social situation is at the heart of the film, and it is just as central to the deeply moving 2005 musical version, with a book and lyrics by Hall, and music by Elton John, another son of the working class who was lifted by his own prodigious creative talent. Making a musical that runs on class tension is not the easiest thing to do (although My Fair Lady got it right), but Hall and John, along with director Stephen Daldry, have concocted a smart, surprising and exhilarating piece of theatre. The characters from the film – Billy, his tough-as-nails ballet teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, and his miner father and brother – are all blown up to theatrical proportions in a way that feels tactful and caring. This new tour, opening 12 years after the show first popped up in Sydney and won a swag of Helpmann Awards, proves the story’s endurability and ability to capture an audience’s heart. One key element of the set, designed by Ian MacNeil, has been adjusted slightly to make the show more tourable, but it's lost very little of its visual app
This is a review of the Melbourne Festival season of Anthem. It’s almost miraculous that, two decades after they collaborated on the landmark play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class, the Australian theatre dream team of writers Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and composer Irine Vela are back together again. Miraculous because each of the collaborators has gained enormous acclaim since 1998; while they all had individual successes back then, each is now officially a big deal in their own right. But the opportunity presented by Anthem – to collectively grapple with what this country is, and the conflicts that lie at its core – proved too lucrative to resist. The resulting work is a frequently arresting, big-thinking portrait of a nation at war with itself, where wounds fester rather than heal, and conflict begets conflict. Pain begets pain. That’s not to say that Anthem is a bleak experience. It’s set mostly on Melbourne trains and weaves together different narratives from the four playwrights in ways that are gripping and intoxicating. It’s an anthology of sorts, curated by the writers and director Susie Dee into a mostly cogent but sprawling night of theatre, performed by a superb cast of 14, including two musicians on violin and double bass. Things kick off inauspiciously with a scene by Tsiolkas in which a young Australian man (Thuso Lekwape) and an English woman (Eryn Jean Norvill) find themselves stuck on the Eurostar, travelling ba