From blockbuster musicals to indie theatre, dance and mainstage hits – here's what we've road-tested and can recommend.
To see the latest international and local indie theatre, see our list of theatre and dance highlights at Sydney Festival, running til January 28.
4 stars: excellent and recommended
In October 1920, Harry Crawford was found guilty for the murder of his wife, Annie Birkett, in Sydney. The verdict was later appealed and Crawford was released, but it wasn’t the rocky road to justice that caught the attention of the nation: it was the fact that Crawford was a transgender man (though his life pre-dated the term by some decades). The press nicknamed his trial the ‘Man-Woman Case’. In The Trouble With Harry, playwright Lachlan Philpott reclaims this ‘tabloid fodder’ and spins from it an Australian Gothic that sits within within a tradition of epic tragedy that spans from the Greeks through to Shakespeare. Harry (Jodie Le Visconte) and Annie (Jane Phegan) have a secretive, fraught, but undeniably electric marriage. They have moved into a new home on Cathedral Street with Annie’s son – also named Harry (Jonas Thomson) – and although it’s not the nicest neighbourhood, Annie is determined to keep decent and ensure her family flies under the radar. They have moved a lot, and it seems – for a moment – as though their life will now have some peace. But then Josephine (Bobbie-Jean Henning) lands on the Crawfords’ doorstep needing a place to stay. She is connected to Harry somehow, and it’s that connection and her disruptive arrival that sets in motion a chain of events that will force deeply-held secrets into the open and lead to death and destruction. Self-assured but acutely aware of the vagaries of ‘historical narratives’, this is a play that’s uncomfortable wi
Toxic work situations almost never begin dangerously. There might be a few red flags here and there – an unprofessionally angry response from an executive, a few punishingly long weeks without respite or even thanks – but generally you don’t quite know how bad it is until you’re in it. Ross Mueller’s A Strategic Plan is every work nightmare you’ve ever had: part Ask a Manager, part Save the Community Centre/Hey Let’s Put on a Show section of TV Tropes, it’s particularly “triggering” for anyone who has worked in the not-for-profit sector. Andrew (Justin Smith) is an ex-musician who once played bass for Powderfinger, but that was a long time ago. He’s the new Music Director and co-CEO of STACCATO, a non-profit music venue that offers workshops, capacity building and a place to play for young artists. At first, it’s a kind of hilarious culture clash as business jargon collides with Andrew’s real-world solutions and common sense. We grimace and laugh as STACCATO’s out of touch board chair (Matt Day) puts the kibosh on all Andrew’s innovations and suggestions, displaying his own lack of interest in music – the heart and soul of the business – in the process. When the Board decides to sell the STACCATO venue – its greatest asset – junior employee Jill (Emele Ugavule) is the only person willing to fight alongside Andrew to save it. She too has a passion for music and an ability to see through bullshit – and though she’s keen to help raise money and STACCATO’s output by throwing t
You expect a sense of ceremony and formality. Flanked by museum-style velvet ropes, the set is cavernous; it looks like it’s been carved from a block of black marble. There’s an echo. Candles flicker and the Madonna (not that Madonna) appears. You expect religious solemnity. Instead a woman alone, in contemporary neutral dress, starts to speak without preamble or politeness. She has something to say, and she will only say it once. She’s Mary, the mother of Jesus, and she is not quite the beatific figure you might know from stained-glass windows. There is absolutely no halo atop her head. Mary (Sydney Theatre Award-winner Alison Whyte) lives in seclusion. Her life hasn't been safe for quite some time – a Jew among the Romans with a son who led a quiet revolution for his people – and ever since his Crucifixion she has been watched by a couple of guardians. They are not named in the script, but the Bible would suggest they're a couple of Apostles. It's clear they think her a burden now, this stubborn and stoic woman. They keep asking for her story; they want her memories of the day her son died so that they can be incorporated into gospel. They are looking for something florid and profound – they are looking for poetry. Mary has no poetry left. She can’t speak easily about her son and is not sure she will ever be able to do so. “Something will break in me if I say his name,” she says. “I manage, but I do not manage easily and I do not manage without a considerable amount o
3 stars: good and recommended with reservations
The Eternity Playhouse, home of Darlinghurst Theatre Co, is celebrating pride along with the rest of the city, with its Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras co-production of The Mystery of Love and Sex by Bathsheba Doran (who has written for Boardwalk Empire and Masters of Sex). It’s a rare instance of a play, even in a LGBTQIA festival, with a queer woman as its lead, and this is a charming, brilliant, sort of bratty, sort of fucked-up woman to boot – someone you’d want to spend a couple of hours with. But the play spreads itself farther afield, and Charlotte (Contessa Treffone) is more of a common ground for the other three characters in the play than a protagonist in her own right; her choices spark and propel the narrative, but it isn’t solely her narrative – in the second act, she’s frequently sidelined in favour of her father and her best friend. Doran wrote the play after becoming a parent, which she says made her reckon with her own sexuality and what it means in the world, so it’s no surprise that she can’t resist Charlotte’s parents, placing them front and centre in the play. If you’re really into family stories, you’ll enjoy this. If you’d rather focus on queer stories, you might be less excited by the work; for a Mardi Gras play, it’s quite conventional with broad appeal, which seems like a missed opportunity to celebrate queerness in theatre and theatre programming. Charlotte grew up in the American south with her southern belle mother Lucinda (Deborah Galanos)
Sydney’s first look at the work of the small, tight-knit Quebec troupe Cirque Alfonse was via its lumber camp-themed Timber! Brawny, inventive and drawing on the folk music and history of French Canada, it stood out in the 2015 Sydney Festival’s circus program. Barbu (“Bearded”), the company’s 2015 Edinburgh Fringe hit now touring Australia, is no less a crowd-pleaser, if more obvious in its methods. Performing on a small circular stage and catwalk, the five-guy, two-gal company introduces itself with a series of gentle routines harking back to the early days of circus in Canada. Rollerskates, scarf juggling, a bit of beard-play for laughs. Nothing spectacular. But as Cirque Alfonse warms to the task, the physicality of each act becomes increasingly intense. The three-piece electro-folk band led by singer-guitarist Andre Gagne kicks up a gear. Costumes (vintage circus-meets-Edwardian bondage) are discarded for tight black undies. Sweat begins to bead on the performers’ brows and bodies. Soon it’s running in rivulets. For the next hour the company is pretty much flat-out. Previous circus-burlesques seen in the Studio (La Clique, La Soiree, and more recently Club Swizzle) have been compilations shows, speciality acts knitted together with emcee patter. You do your “bath boy” routine, or whatever, and it’s back to the green room until curtain call. Barbu, by contrast, is Jack (and Jill) of all trades stuff with everybody working most of the time. The four men (Jean-Philippe
An individual’s relationship to trauma and terror is complex, situational, and personal. BU21 attempts to delve into the aftermath of a terrorist attack on London from six points of view; all characters are members of a small support group for victims. Three men, three women, tea and biscuits – as one character jokes, it’s like a fucked-up version of Friends. Ana (Jessica-Belle Keogh) has been burned to the point of paralysis and struggles with the scope of her injuries; Alex (Skyler Ellis) loses his girlfriend and best friend at the same time; Thalissa (Emily Havea) finds out through Twitter that her mother has died; Clive (Bardiya McKinnon) must face the unexpected death of his father, with whom he had a rocky relationship; Floss (Whitney Richards) saw a man die in front of her, after he fell from the sky into her backyard; and Graham (Jeremy Waters) starred as the media’s first eye-witness soundbite (think: this guy). Stuart Slade’s script is built from stereotypes and clichés – there's a pain-fuelled romance, a typical douchebag finance guy, a brave invalid who must choose to live – and while there are a few twists that upend the predictable narrative, they’re never exactly surprising (like a feeble feint at making the sole Muslim character the villain, or the addition of a hero who isn’t quite what he seems). While it's a slightly more diverse cast than we see on Australian stages (not everyone is white, and there is a part for a wheelchair user – which has been cast
It would be near impossible to exit the theatre after seeing this new production of Cabaret and not feel shaken. More than one academic, literature critic or regime survivor has written about the parallels between catastrophic autocrats from history and US President Donald Trump, and this dark musical, about Berlin’s last breath of daring, beautiful life before its fall to Hitler’s Nazis, has always been haunting. On opening night, audiences were still reeling from Trump’s immigration ban and our government’s lack of response; and closer to home, news that WA Liberals are considering listing One Nation as high as second place on their preference ballot, another signal of our growing right-wing conservatism. Cabaret is no escape from this grim reality. Rather, it can be read as a warning: ignoring politics is dangerous. While you’re dancing and clinging to ignorance, it could be the end of the world as you know it. The story is simple enough to ensure its circumstances are clear and tragic. Clifford Bradshaw (played here by Jason Kos, and who represents writer Christopher Isherwood, whose short novel Goodbye to Berlin is the inspiration for the show) has come to Berlin to write. He discovers the city’s sexually and morally liberated cabaret scene and meets Sally Bowles (Chelsea Gibb), a not-quite-great, but charismatic, performer. He falls for both, in a way. An Emcee (Paul Capsis) serves as a Weimar-era Puck, our guide to the world of the Kit Kat Klub and the creeping darkn
Just announced: My Fair Lady will play at Sydney's Capitol Theatre from August 2017 – click the Dates & Time tab to see initial dates on sale. My Fair Lady made Julie Andrews a star when it opened on Broadway in 1956, beginning a juggernaut career for the future Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp. For its 60th anniversary, Andrews has moved to the director’s chair for a nostalgic production at the Sydney Opera House. The show has an oddly beloved, enduring place in our collective Western consciousness. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion (though it’s far less bleak), My Fair Lady is perhaps the most popular adaptation of the story, where a young working-class woman is transformed into a ‘lady’ by two older gentlemen, as part of a wager. Andrews’ revival comes with an extra gimmick: her production faithfully recreates each detail of the original run (then directed by Moss Hart) from sets to costumes and beyond. Old designs and designer assistants were tracked down and studied to make a show that looks just like any given night of its record-breaking 2,717-night run on Broadway in the 1950s – with the exception of fresh choreography by Tony-award winner Christopher Gattelli, which is inspired by Hanya Holm’s original work. Unlike other adaptations of Pygmalion that embrace contemporary culture and suggest that these class or makeover experiments also change the men for the better (e.g. She’s All That or the swiftly cancelled but not without promise TV series Selfie)