Experiencing the best theatre in Sydney is totally possible for the hoi polloi. Thanks to a number of indie playhouses (some of them tucked away inside bars and pubs), and backyard theatre companies, there are some truly accessible options on offer. Here are some shows you can see for less than a fiddy.
The constellation of catastrophes that makes up a family is at the heart of Sunset Strip, Suzie Miller’s regional Australian drama, set in far-west NSW. When Caroline (Georgina Symes), who has long since split for the big smoke, returns to the small town of her youth – in the middle of a dried-out dust bowl somewhere near Broken Hill – she’s more fragile than usual: she’s just been through chemotherapy and surgery for breast cancer, and her marriage has broken up. Dad Ray (Lex Marinos) has some form of dementia and her sister Phoebe (Emma Jackson) is caring for him – even though she’s fresh out of rehab, trying to win back custody of her kids, and about to marry Teddy (Simon Lyndon). Caroline is the classic fish out of water with her family: she’s had more education, is financially better off, and her clothes are tailored and chic – “city clothes,” Teddy notes. She’s much more reserved than Phoebe, who we meet for the first time dancing her heart out, singing along loudly to ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me.’ Phoebe takes care of their dad with ease and a nurturing instinct, and she has a sense of humour about her situation. Jackson plays her with brightness and an open heart; you can’t help but love her. Of course, there’s tension between the two sisters, whose lives have sharply diverged in adulthood. Phoebe keeps apologising for not being there for her sister during her illness; despite that absence, Phoebe expects Caroline, a lawyer, to help get her kids back. There are d
There’s a heatwave in the English countryside and Becky (Gabrielle Scawthorn), a newly-pregnant schoolteacher, is finally on holiday. She’s trying to look forward to the new lifestyle that awaits her as a fresh transplant from the city and as a mother to be. She buys a bike; there are paint swatches on the wall. Small problem: she wants to have sex. Her husband John (Benedict Wall) does not. In fact, he so emphatically does not that Becky thinks she must be ugly now (you know, because of the baby), but it turns out that instead he doesn’t want to hurt the baby, and no amount of convincing can change his mind. He’s more focused on the domestic: reading baby books, restricting Becky’s diet, shopping organically and ethically. But Becky has needs. A plumber (Jamie Oxenbould) stares at her and she regains some confidence, and then in with the bike comes Oliver Hardcastle (really), a neighbour whose specialty is having affairs. It isn’t long until Becky is building a fantasy sex life with Oliver (Rupert Reid) on the down-low, spinning a web of lies as she dutifully works through his sexual bucket list. It will probably not surprise you to learn that things do not go well for our heroine, who is stuck right at the crossroads of the Madonna/Whore complex; her husband unreasonably expects her to be the former so she seeks to be the latter, but of course that’s not really rewarding either – both positions deny her humanity or an equal exchange of respect with the men around her.
Jeanette Cronin (Crownies; Janet King) has built a career balancing her on-screen work with a life in the theatre. This year she’s making her debut as a playwright with two plays programmed at two different theatres in Sydney. The first was I Hate You My Mother at the Old Fitz, a shaky but deeply-felt story of generational abuse and trauma. The second, I Love You Now, is also driven by emotion rather than by structure. It’s also, like her first play, more a series of vignettes than a solid story. This time, it’s about the slow death of a marriage. June (Cronin) and Leo (Paul Gleeson) have, somewhere along the way, lost their sense of romance. Their therapist has suggested they try role-play to find their spark without self-consciousness, so here they are in a hotel room (designed with a sparing, clean-lined eye by Isabel Hudson), looking at each other awkwardly. They begin to dance. Live music (by Max Lambert and Roger Lock on keys and guitar) follows their movements. When the couple falters, they stop; it’s a show of marital struggle through musical discord. The tango-inspired steps, choreographed by Pedro Florentino Alvarez, are a recurring motif; a hint at the undercurrents of feeling the couple frequently withhold from one another. We never leave the hotel room. Instead we watch as June and Leo try on varying personalities (or actually embark on these affairs – the lines between reality and fantasy are frequently blurred) with muddled degrees of success. June is their
Patricia Cornelius’s new play is an outright provocation as the title suggests. It dares to put three female characters on the stage who are rarely if ever given a theatrical voice. Rough, rude and irrevocably damaged, they are the kind of people most theatre-goers would cross the street to avoid – but under the rich talents of the playwright and the extraordinary direction of Susie Dee, they make a compelling and heartbreaking subject. Billy (Nicci Wilks) opens the play with an expletive-fuelled rant that is hilarious and also politically charged. She barrages the audience with more fucks than prepositions – something even her friends Bobby (Sarah Ward) and Sam (Peta Brady) find over the top. Cornelius’s particular talent for turning flat realistic speech into a kind of heightened street verse is on immediate display. And as the women’s stories become clearer, as the abuse and marginalisation eat away at any hope we may have for them, the play’s real power comes to the fore. Despite the characters’ energy and vigour, the sense of despair and inevitable narrowing of options begins to choke them. They turn on each other, they mock each other’s attempts to imagine a better life, and eventually they egg each other into senseless and self-defeating violence. Cornelius’s play is in many ways a companion to her award-winning work Savages. That play was about four men aboard a cruise ship who channel their dissatisfaction and self-doubt into an act of random violence against an
Twenty-three-year-old Disapol Savetsila is the youngest playwright to be commissioned by Sydney Theatre Company for their main stage program. His debut fictionalises a story close to his heart: a family whose restaurant business puts them at the coalface of multiculturalism in regional Australia. The cast featuers Gabrielle Chan, Airlie Dodds, Peter Kowitz, Kenneth Moraleda, Mason Phoumirath, Srisacd Sacdpraseuth and Monica Sayers.