New Australian writing is at the centre of Ralph Myers’ final season as artistic director of Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre. While Myers has faced his share of criticism in recent years over the proliferation of adaptations of classic work on the Belvoir stage, he says he’s proud to announce that the 2015 season features seven completely new Australian scripts, out of 13 productions.
Myers has, over the course of his directorship, opted for new Australian plays and new Australian adaptations of the classics over new international work. The 2015 season contains the most completely original Australian work of any of that Myers has overseen.
“The season includes a lot of artists we’ve invested in as a company, and that’s now paying off,” Myers says. “I feel a new generation of artists has really blossomed and that we’ll be seeing the fruits of that labour for many years to come on stages here and around the world.”
Among those artists are playwrights Nakkiah Lui, Angela Betzien and Matthew Whittet, all of whom have new plays in Belvoir’s larger Upstairs Theatre in 2015, after previous successful work in the 80-seat Downstairs Theatre.
Belvoir will also continue to reimagine classics for the Upstairs Theatre, with Chekhov’s Ivanov, starring Ewen Leslie and directed by Eamon Flack (whose Angels in America won the Helpmann Award for Best Play this year) and Robyn Nevin in Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, also directed by Flack. Jada Alberts and Anne-Louise Sarks will look at the Elektra and Orestes myths in a double bill of new plays with Hunter Page-Lochard as Orestes.
The Downstairs season features four Australian plays, three of which, Myers says, are deliberately light. They are Nick Coyle’s camp space odyssey Blue Wizard, Lally Katz and Brendan Cowell’s The Dog/The Cat and Sisters Grimm’s La Traviata. Also Downstairs is Julia-Rose Lewis’ debut play Samson, which features Ashleigh Cummings from Channel Ten’s Puberty Blues.
Belvoir 2015 highlights
Leah Purcell directs and stars in a return season of Louis Nowra’s Radiance, which began its life at Belvoir in 1993 before being turned into a feature film starring Rachel Maza and Deborah Mailman in 1998. Playing three indigenous sisters who reunite for their mother’s funeral and uncover buried secrets and emotions are Purcell and stars of The Sapphires, Miranda Tapsell (pictured below) and Sharri Sebbens.
The Wizard of Oz
Belvoir’s resident director Adena Jacobs will re-imagine the myth of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz for today’s audience in a new play starring Emily Milledge. There’s little information about what shape the work will take, but it features a killer cast and an excellent design team in Ralph Myers, and Kate Davis and Emma Valente of The Rabble.
Kill the Messenger
Nakkiah Lui’s (pictured below) 2013 debut play This Heaven made audiences sit up and take notice of a unique and forthright Australian voice. She returns in 2015 with Kill the Messenger, which tackles institutionalised racism head-on in a funny but confronting way. It uses stories from Lui’s home suburb of Mount Druitt, including the story of her grandmother, who fell through the unmended floor of her public housing home and died in 2012. Lui stars as herself, while Anthea Williams directs.
The Dog/The Cat
Brendan Cowell and Lally Katz team up to write two one-act romantic comedies for the Downstairs Theatre. In Cowell’s The Dog, two men share custody of a dog and both fall for the same woman, while in Katz’s The Cat, two ex-lovers own a wise-cracking cat.
Matthew Whittet is perhaps best known for his work for younger audiences and his meditations on adolescence. In Seventeen, he again explores that theme with a group of characters on the cusp of adulthood. What sets this work apart is that the roles will be filled by some of Australia’s greatest senior actors — Peter Carroll, Maggie Dence, Judi Farr, John Gaden and Barry Otto.
Opera Australia might have produced a monumental outdoor version of Verdi’s La Traviata for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour in 2012, but queer theatre collective Sisters Grimm is re-imagining the opera for Belvoir’s 80-seat Downstairs Theatre. There’s no word yet if they’ll be trying to fit a 10-metre chandelier into the space, but this is bound to be a lot of fun.
Featured image: Peter Carroll, Maggie Dence, John Gaden and Barry Otto in Seventeen.