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
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.
Career retrospectives and character encores are rarely surprising. Nostalgic? Sure. Warm and fuzzy? Absolutely. Maybe a little moving? Why not! But you can’t be excited when you know what to expect. Unless you’ve shown up to see Gerry Connolly ‘do the queen’ but instead enter the world of The Rise and Disguise of Elizabeth R. Written by Connolly, Gus Murray, and Nick Coyle (the offbeat genius behind plays like The Feather in the Web and ABC Comedy web series Sarah’s Channel) – with additional music by Connolly and Laura Murphy – Rise and Disguise starts out simply enough: Gerry Connolly is playing Gerry Connolly, and his agent Robyn (Murphy) isn’t dead; in fact, she’s gotten him a bank-account saving gig! But it means playing the Queen. Gerry is done with old Lilibet – he’s more than the queen. He’s been playing her for nearly 40 years! He was ready to show his range! – but money talks, and so back he goes into the wig and sensible heels. Then things get weird. It’s absurd. It’s exciting. And it’s never expected. Coyle, Murray and Connolly lean into meta-theatrics and common musical theatre and cabaret tropes, both to indulge them and to subvert them – there are secret children, numbers written to cover costume changes, and knowing choreography (by Leah Howard). The writers – plus Max Lambert, whose skillful musical theatre composition chops shine through, heavy on the gags and bright tones – know exactly what they’re making: something new from an old persona. The m
Long before Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 – to describe the way in which identities can overlap, and the broader systems of discrimination that relate to various minorities – writers explored the connections between how people belonging to different oppressed groups experience the world. Whether he knew it or not, Terence Rattigan was writing from an intersectional perspective when, in 1952, he wrote a play about Hester Collyer, a judge’s wife who finds herself breaking out of a dead-end marriage only to find herself in a dead-end affair. When we first meet Hester (Marta Dusseldorp), she’s unconscious on the floor, having just attempted suicide. Her neighbours arrive to rescue her and quickly discover that she’s not married to Freddie (Fayssal Bazzi), the RAF pilot with whom she’s living, but is instead the wife of a high-profile judge, whom she left more than a year ago. She left for the promise of real, fiery, passionate love, but things aren’t going particularly well. Over the course of the play – which confines its timeline to the day that follows her suicide attempt – Hester is belittled, threatened and patronised to a horrifying degree, in ways that are subtly designed to undermine her and put her in her place. At times, it’s difficult to watch, but by the end of the play she starts to take some steps towards claiming her independence and the freedom she’ll need to move forward. Rattigan based the play in large part on his own
If every girl group of the ‘90s and early 2000s were as charismatic and sang as well as the Australian cast of Six, the history of pop music would be drastically different. The six women leading this frequently funny and ferocious pop musical from UK writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are magnificently talented and a step above most of the popstars they draw inspiration from. But it’s that style of pop that’s the driving force of Six, which brings all of Henry VIII’s wives to the stage in a singing competition to decide who had the worst time with the Tudor king. The pop queens intend to ask their audience to vote for their fave. First up is Catherine of Aragon (Chloe Zuel), who was almost forced into a nunnery when the king’s attentions turned to Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare). It’s a tough story, but Boleyn, who lost her head in her marriage, must’ve surely had it worse, right? Well, what about Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter) who declares herself the only queen he truly loved, but who tragically died at 28, just two weeks after the birth of her child? Then there’s Anne of Cleves (Kiana Daniele) who never quite measured up to the king’s expectations and found herself living in her own castle, Katherine Howard (Courtney Monsma), who had already suffered her fair share of abuse before the king even entered her life, and Catherine Parr, who was married to the king when he died. The singing competition whips by in a flurry of electro pop, concert-style lighting and choreography, and dazz
Playwright Clare Barron’s comedy is one of the biggest hits to come out of the US in recent years, and it’s easy to understand why. It features a cast of adults of various ages playing a group of teenage girls preparing for a dance competition. The dog-eat-dog world of competitive teenage dance is exposed and becomes a metaphor for something much bigger. “Between Mr Burns, Hir, The Wolves and Dance Nation, we’ve had a good time with contemporary American writing because America is bonkers at the moment,” Belvoir's artistic director Eamon Flack says. “There’s some really innovative writing coming along from mostly women and mostly younger women writers. They’ve been trying to hold on to that great, exuberant American optimism in the face of insanity, and it’s producing great writing.” Imara Savage, whose brilliant production of Mr Burns was one of Belvoir’s finest moments in recent years, returns with a starry cast of performers from all stages of their careers: Mitchell Butel, Elena Carapetis, Emma Harvie, Chika Ikogwe, Yvette Lee, Rebecca Massey, Amber McMahon, Tara Morice and Tim Overton.
Can you be too in love with love? Linda (Emma Jackson) and Rick (Matthew Whittet) fall for each other at university, and their world becomes a bubble: it’s nothing but each other. Everything else starts to fall away. When they have children – Ben (Liam Nunan) and Emma (Grace Truman), whom they affectionately call ‘Wol’ – their world shrinks even further. They get rid of their TV. They sing songs and share stories. No one’s dissenting opinions or criticisms about their lifestyle will be heard. They are a cloyingly happy, crunchy family. And then Wol gets sick. The family’s reaction is understandable until it isn’t: their faith is questioned, their search for answers irrational, their mistrust of the world ever higher. Also totally understandable, until it isn’t. Based on Peter Goldsworthy’s novella, adapted here by writer and actor Steve Rodgers, Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam has an unthinkable twist that isn’t really a twist, as it’s built into the framework for the piece, but would nonetheless be wrong to reveal here. Suffice to say that Ben, the surviving child, spends the short play trying to understand his parents’ motivations for the action they decide to take. Ten years later, his present is shaped by significant trauma. Ben just wants to understand. But it’s all so incomprehensible. At just 80 minutes, the play has a real sense of warmth – Rodgers imbues all his work with stubborn fingers of sunlight, like he can’t bear to leave us without at least a little hope –
What do you do when you’re almost completely broke – can’t afford to pay your rent, your electricity bill, your gas – and basic groceries are suddenly out of your price range? Do you accept your fate? Do you starve, forced into poverty by a system in which the rich get richer? Or do you defy that system and demand what you need to survive? Sadly for many people living in Australia in the 21st century – where wealth inequality has grown sharply over more than a decade – this question isn’t hypothetical. It’s also the question at the centre of No Pay? No Way!, Marieke Hardy’s adaptation of Dario Fo’s 1974 farce Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga! (commonly given the English title Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!) a ferociously funny piece of political theatre. When we first meet Antonia (Helen Thomson), she’s just stumbled home with a swag of assorted groceries (including dog food, despite her having no dog). She reveals to her friend and neighbour Margherita (Catherine Van-Davies) that when she arrived at her local store earlier in the day, she discovered that management had doubled the price of every item. In retaliation, she and a group of angry housewives started a riot, demanding the price hike be reversed, and ended up “liberating” some choice items for themselves. The only problem is that Antonia’s husband Giovanni (Glenn Hazeldine) has just returned home from work early and, despite his passionate unionism, he’s a stickler for rules and maintaining the system. The idea of his wife being
Australian musical theatre fans have been waiting for several years to see Fun Home, a deeply moving Tony Award-winning musical about a young woman discovering her sexuality and grappling with a difficult relationship with her father. She’s played by three actors at different stages of her life. “It comes from the world of Alison Bechdel, who is such an extraordinary graphic novelist and a feminist pioneer in terms of thinking about how we construct narratives and character,” Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Kip Williams says. Jeanine Tesori’s sweeping score and Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics have been lavished with praise – when Fun Home opened on the West End in 2017, Time Out London declared it the best new musical they’d seen since Hamilton – and the pair became the first female team to win the Tony for Best Original Score. “One of the things that’s so exciting about this production – aside from Dean Bryant directing it, who is one of the great musical theatre directors who we’re lucky enough to have in Australia – is this cast,” Williams says. “Having Lisa McCune back on our stages, but also having Maggie McKenna, our Muriel, back on our stages too, playing the college-aged Alison.” The cast also includes Ryan Gonzalez, Lucy Maunder, Adam Murphy and Chloe Zuel.
One of the best Australian plays to premiere in recent years is Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree. It started its life in the tiny Griffin Theatre, picked up a Helpmann Award for Best Play, and then had a season at Sydney Theatre Company. Like many audience members, Hugo Weaving was dazzled. “Hugo had seen The Bleeding Tree and loved it, and said ‘I’ll do anything to perform some of that extraordinary, poetic language’,” Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Williams says. “I had in the back of my mind that there could be a marriage of artists with those two, and Angus came back with a pitch about the Wonnangatta murders.” Cerini's new play explores the 1917 murders from the perspective of two friends of the murder victim. Played by Hugo Weaving and Wayne Blair, the two men arrive on a farm to visit their friend, Jim Barclay. They learn he’s been missing for months so they embark on a journey across the gothic Australian landscape in search of their missing friend. “I always think of Angus’s plays as being akin to the experience of gathering around a campfire and having somebody tell you a terrifying ghost story,” Williams says. “And it’s fabulous to have these two great Australian actors backing a new Australian work, because it doesn’t always happen.”
After picking up nine Sydney Theatre Awards, this bold and provocative production is returning to Sydney. Alexander Berlage's staging premiered at Hayes Theatre Co in May 2019, and will have its return season at the Sydney Opera House in June 2020. Ben Gerrard will reprise his role as Patrick Bateman alongside a company of new and returning cast members. 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 itse