Critics' choice theatre shows in Sydney
In 1981, a groundbreaking miniseries called Women of the Sun aired on SBS, telling the story of four Aboriginal women living in Australia between the 1820s and 1980s. Andrea James’ new play was inspired by the series and acts as a kind of fifth chapter, adding another generation to the fold. In her play, six Aboriginal women separated by time gather on the banks of a river and reflect on their lives. Belvoir's former literary manager Anthea Williams will return to the company to direct a cast including Roxanne McDonald, Angeline Penrith, Tasma Walton and Dubs Yunupingu.
It’s not often that a new Australian play premieres in the Roslyn Packer Theatre, even though Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Kip 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. Williams says: “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 ballet Sylvia falls very firmly into the “neglected classic” category, and has been rarely performed since it premiered more than 150 years ago. “It’s sadly neglected, and I think it has one of the great scores written for ballet,” Australian Ballet artistic director David McAllister says. And you don’t have to believe just McAllister; Tchaikovsky famously said that Léo Delibes’ score was better than anything he had written, including Swan Lake. The ballet draws its narrative from Greek mythology, following Sylvia, a chaste, ferocious huntress who swears off love but eventually falls for a human man. “The thing that’s always been difficult is that the story is fairly convoluted,” McAllister says. “Sometimes those Greek, Arcadian stories don’t really play for a modern audience. But Stanton has done a lot of work to make it a lot more resonant today, and not just looking at Sylvia and Diana, but the whole idea of Greek mythology and how it fits into our lives today.” The female dancers of the company will be getting in touch with their inner warriors (much like the male dancers did last year with Spartacus) and will learn to sword fight for the production. “The boys have been battling each other up in Spartacus, and now the girls are going to be fencing themselves into a frenzy next year.”
Long before it was an Academy Award-winning film, Chicago was a hit Broadway musical. Penned by musical theatre's dynamic duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, the musical was only a minor splash when it premiered in 1975. But when it was given a stripped back and sexed up new production in 1996, it became an immediate sensation and eventually the longest running Broadway revival of all time. That's the production which Sydney audiences will see, this time with Natalie Bassingthwaighte playing Roxie (the Renée Zellweger role) opposite musical theatre star Alinta Chidzey as Velma (the Catherine Zeta-Jones role). Vocal powerhouse Casey Donovan is taking on Matron Mama Morton, the prison warden who sings 'When You're Good to Mama'. The show also includes 'Razzle Dazzle', 'Cell Block Tango', 'Mr Cellophane', and, of course, 'All That Jazz'.
It's time for Sydney's boys to don their ballet shoes – Billy Elliot the Musical is on its way back to Australian shores for a tenth anniversary tour. The British musical blockbuster is still a little way off, with its Sydney opening not set until October 2019, but the producers have already started the search for the young triple threats who will share the title role. The musical is set against the background of the 1984/85 UK coal miners' strike and tells the story of Billy, a miner's son who dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Lee Hall, who wrote the popular 2000 film upon which the musical is based, adapted the story for the stage with musical superstar Elton John, who penned the score. Elton John said: "Billy Elliot for me is one of the most rewarding and creative works of my career. I have very fond memories of the Sydney production in 2007 as it was the first city outside of the UK we mounted the show and found many incredibly talented children who would go on to carry the show through its successful Australian run." After opening on London's West End in 2005 – where it scored a five-star review from Time Out London – the show had its Australian premiere in 2007, winning a record-equalling seven Helpmann Awards including Best Musical. Two years later it would go on to win ten Tony Awards, beaten only by The Producers' 12 wins in 2001 and Hamilton's 11 gongs in 2016. The initial Australian production only played Sydney and Melbourne as its set was too
Every couple of years, globe-trotting circus company Cirque du Soleil pops up its Grand Chapiteau in Sydney for a season of good, old-fashioned spectacle and entertainment. Its next show to come to town has got a decidedly retro vibe and has been widely praised as the company's best in years. When it was in New York back in 2016, Time Out gave it a glowing five-star review: "Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities is a procession of wonders: the Canadian circus giant’s sharpest, sexiest, most stylish production in years. In a departure from the otherwordly themes for which Cirque is best known, writer-director Michel Laprise embraces a steampunk aesthetic: metal and leather, chunky robots, glowing filaments under glass, a singer with a phonograph horn on her head. The style may be retro, but the acts—and the technical ingenuity that makes them possible—are fully up-to-date. The show is a mad scientist’s lab of wild invention, in which circus artists from around the planet perform routines of breathtaking beauty and precision." Kurios is at the Entertainment Quarter from October 3 to 27. Tickets go on sale March 18 at 9am.
This is Time Out Melbourne's five-star review of the 2018 Australian premiere of Puffs. No casting has been announced for the Sydney premiere season, which kicks off this May in a custom-built pop-up venue at the Entertainment Quarter. A world of wonder and whimsy, where ordinary children are gifted extraordinary powers and sent to a fantastical school where they can master all manner of mystical talents. Yes, the universe of Harry Potter truly is a magical place. Unless you spend just a few seconds really thinking about it. The kids are armed with powerful weapons when they’re 11. There’s mass slavery, rampant racism, underage drinking and a huge class divide. There’s a disturbingly loosey-goosey attitude to child welfare. And then there’s the aforementioned school. The security guards are soul-sucking demons, there don’t seem to be any background checks on the consistently homicidal teachers, and the building itself is filled to the rafters with a perverse number of ways to mangle and maim the students. And yet, seven bestsellers, nine international blockbusters, and a record-breaking two-part theatre megahit later, the world of Harry Potter hasn’t lost any of its bewitching charm, despite these problematic niggles. But for those who just can’t shake the shortcomings, unofficial comedy Puffs – an Off Broadway success making its international debut in Melbourne – takes every plot hole to task with a hilariously enchanting mix of parody and homage. Taking a whistle-st
American Psycho, written by Bret Easton Ellis (“the thinking man’s shock jock”) is brutal. A once-banned novel that now has some currency as a social satire, it’s the story of Patrick Bateman, an investment banker dripping in designer gear and the blood of his victims. Yes, his life is so empty that he gets his kick from brutal murder. His targets are largely women and their deaths are sickening, but the male business rival who has a better business card and the coveted Fisher account could also be getting the actual axe. If you remember Bateman, you’re more likely to do so because of the 2000 film, written by queer actor and writer Guinevere Turner and directed by Mary Harron. The two massaged the empty cruelty of the novel into commentary on toxic masculinity while skewering Ellis’s clearer targets: American excess, narcissism and greed. The sharpened satire of the film and the dreamy, near-mastubatory effect of the book collide in American Psycho The Musical, which had a successful run in London before bombing on Broadway. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and with songs by Duncan Sheik, the show struggled to find itself. The New York Times called the musical’s tone “terminally undecided” – that it “suffer[ed] under the weight of having to be a big Broadway musical.” A musical that doesn’t know how to tell its story is a guaranteed flop. While you can’t erase Ellis’ cruelty from the text – even now, in its third iteration – you can mitigate, interrogate and subvert it
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 Sydney Theatre Company artistic director 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. Williams says: “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.”
Long before she took on Hollywood and became Fat Amy, Rebel Wilson got her start in Sydney at the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP). Now, 15 years after graduating from ATYP, she’s returning to Walsh Bay to lead Sydney Theatre Company’s new production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Wilson goes way back with the play; the 1999 STC production starring Pamela Rabe (who is back at STC this year – more on that later) was the first professional production Wilson ever saw, at the age of 19. “I was just blown away by how talented the actors were and how great the play was,” Wilson says. “Then, I performed in that same theatre a few months later in my first proper play, Spurboard, for ATYP and STC Education. So to me, the play holds a lot of significance.” 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. Wilson will be taking centre stage at STC’s biggest venue, the 896-seat Roslyn Packer Theatre.