Sydney's theatres are always packed, meaning it can be difficult to figure out what to see. Thankfully Time Out has a team of critics who see pretty much everything and know what's what. From blockbuster musicals to indie theatre, dance and mainstage hits – here's what we've road-tested and can recommend, alongside upcoming shows that we think are going to set your heart racing.
Critics' choice theatre shows in Sydney
This immersive theatre experience will give you goosebumps as you join the story and discover the truth about crimes that have haunted Sydney for decades. Set underneath St James Church in the historical crypt, everything becomes more chilling as you walk through the long tunnel and explore the dark caverns within. This spooky season, you’ll have the chance to be imbedded in two fascinating cases that will leave you wanting more. Each story is brought to life by ten talented actors who draw a shivering crowd of 30 spectators into Sydney’s historical world crime. A Poison Crown transports you to 19th century Sydney where Louisa Collins, who was convicted of killing her two husbands by poisoning them, was the last woman hanged in NSW. With all the doubts about her guilt, it’s up to you to decide if her fate was deserved or a deadly mistake. Simmonds & Newcombe: The Deadly Run is another mind-blowing story that will keep you on your feet and running. Find out how two convicts managed to escape and stay undercover while 500 police officers were on their tail for five weeks. If you miss out on this immersive theatre experience on All Hallow’s Eve itself, fear not (or maybe just a little) because the season runs from October 23-November 30.
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.”
When Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat premiered at Edinburgh Fringe in 2016, Time Out London declared in a five-star review that the show was either the best or worst of the entire festival – and somehow probably both. Directed by Ursula Martinez, McCormick retells the New Testament in an appropriately sacreligious fashion, with the help of her “Girl Squad” (i.e. two buffed male back-up dancers). It’s cabaret meets transgressive performance art meets trash pop extravaganza. The show is coming to Sydney Festival to play a brief season at Carriageworks. It’s strictly restricted to audiences over 18, and we think you’ll understand why after you’ve seen it.
A trip to the circus inevitably involves an ample number of OMG moments, when bodies fly through the air, clamber on top of one another, contort into infeasible shapes and generally defy belief. A trip to see the Flying Fruit Fly Circus delivers exactly the same experience, but with the added jaw-drop that these are youth performers – aged 8-18 – at the very highest levels of their craft. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Australia’s national youth circus, this major new work brings together the full ranks of Flying Fruit Fly Circus for the first time, in the troupe's most ambitious production to date. Taking to the York Theatre stage at the Seymour Centre from January 14 to 19, expect feats of acrobatic, aerial and physical dynamism delivered by a mighty mob of the country’s top young circus talent.
In many ways, now is the perfect time to revisit Joan Didion’s 1979 essay about the end of an era – as an American counter-culture started to crush itself. That sort of cultural disintegration feels all too familiar to us now, which is why director and artist Lars Jan has adapted the work for the stage. He’s created a striking visual production which uses an onstage audience of people in their twenties, reflecting the many people Didion encountered when she was living in a large Hollywood house during what felt like the cusp of a great revolution. Obie-winning actor Mia Barron delivers the text as the action unfolds behind and around her.
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
In 1990, Jimmy Chi's musical about a runaway teenage Aboriginal boy on a wild and eye-opening road trip became a surprise hit. Bran Nue Dae premiered as part of Perth Festival – which is rather appropriate given that its central character Willie is on a road trip through Western Australia – and won a bunch of prestigious awards before touring the country for three years. It was Australia's first Aboriginal musical, long before Jess Mauboy took The Sapphires to the world. Now it's returning for a 30th anniversary tour produced by a group of Australia's biggest opera companies (but don't worry, the rock and pop-inspired score isn't suddenly going to get an operatic bent). The new production will be directed by Andrew Ross, who was behind the original staging, with choreography by Bangarra dancer Tara Gower. Based loosely on Chi's own life, the musical was written his band, Kuckles. And unlike a lot of the Aboriginal stories that white audiences were demanding at the time, Bran Nue Dae is bright, uplifting and very, very funny – although it still touches on political and social issues. The musical was turned into a film in 2009 with a starry Australian cast, including Jess Mauboy, Ernie Dingo, Magda Szubanski, Dan Sultan, Deborah Mailman and Missy Higgins. The new Australian cast will be led by Marcus Corowa as Willie, with Ernie Dingo reprising his role from the movie.
The annual cultural celebration is the big one on Sydney’s summer must-do list, and the festival’s contemporary programming always manages to surprise. Last year’s highlights included the Helpmann Award-winning Counting and Cracking – a play that transformed Sydney Town Hall into a Sri Lankan village, and Joel Bray's very intimate solo show performed inside a hotel room, Biladurang. In 2020, Sydney Festival will run for 19 days from January 8-26. The program will no doubt include experimental art and premiere performances. Check back in on Wednesday, October 30 to read about the full program.
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