Belvoir’s 2018 season could be described as either theatre for our times, or theatre that defies our times.
“I very strongly believe that one of the things theatre does is loosen the knots that people carry around all the time, and it’s a pretty god damn knotty time and a really scary time,” says the Sydney-based company’s Artistic Director Eamon Flack.
“But there’s a bit of me that refuses to talk about terrorism, and refuses to talk about Donald Trump, because fuck ‘em. I want to in some way defy that and provide some kind of alternative.”
Flack says he’s looking to resist conservatism in his program by maintaining freedom and a sense of looseness.
“I always remember the way that Howard successfully kept the Left bound up in its own earnestness for the entire time, and I’d really love for that not to happen again,” he says.
At the centre of the season is A Taste of Honey, the debut play written by Shelagh Delaney in 1958, when she was just 18 years old. It takes place in a messy, crumbling tenement building, but inside the kitchen is a live jazz band.
According to Flack, the season is “the jazz band in the mess”.
Flack will direct the play, a British kitchen sink drama which premiered soon after John Osbourne’s Look Back in Anger. Unlike Look Back in Anger, A Taste of Honey comes from a female perspective and has some more adventurous features. Belvoir’s production will star Genevieve Lemon.
The season kicks off with two works that originated in Queensland: My Name is Jimi, followed by Single Asian Female. It’s the second year in a row that a Queensland work has opened the season, after this year’s Prize Fighter.
My Name is Jimi is a biographical work by actor Jimi Bani, which sees four generations of his family performing on the one stage. The play premiered this year at Queensland Theatre, and although Belvoir has a long history of Aboriginal work, it’s a rare work from Torres Strait Islander artists.
Michelle Law’s Single Asian Female premiered at Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre Company to strong reviews, and will have its Sydney premiere at Belvoir. It’s set inside The Golden Phoenix, a restaurant on the Sunshine Coast.
In addition to bringing those popular interstate works to Sydney audiences, Belvoir will bring the Hayes Theatre’s sold out production of Calamity Jane across the city to Belvoir. It will be the first musical to play Belvoir since Keating! and stars Virginia Gay in the title role.
Flack remembers seeing the production earlier this year and speaking to Sydney theatre stalwart Peter Carroll, who was also in the audience.
“Peter said with tears in his eyes, at the end of the show, that it was like watching that mad spirit of Nimrod alive again,” Flack says. “The show does feel like it’s coming home in some way as it comes in to Belvoir.”
There are also a series of adaptations in the season, including writer Tom Wright and director Matthew Lutton’s take on Peter Carey’s Bliss. The production will premiere earlier in the year at Melbourne’s Malthouse, and feature Marco Chiappi, Mark Coles Smith, Amber McMahon, Anna Samson, and Mark Leonard Winter as Harry Joy.
Kate Mulvany will star in a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People by Melissa Reeves, and 13 actors will appear in a new version of Nikolai Erdman’s comedy The Suicide, rebadged as Sami in Paradise.
Flack says this new version of Sami in Paradise is explicitly about statelessness.
“It’s about that desperate desire to live a dignified life in circumstances that don’t let you,” he says. “But it’s not a show about Nauru; we wouldn’t treat that comically.”
Judy Davis and husband Colin Friels, who had huge success with Davis’s production of Faith Healer, will reunite for a new production of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death, also starring Pamela Rabe and Toby Schmitz.
There’s only one entirely new play premiering in the season with Alana Valentine’s The Sugar House. The play follows three generations of Australian women, starting in Pyrmont in the 1960s.
“It’s about how Australia went from working class to middle class, and the criminalisation of the poor,” Flack says.
In addition to the main season, there are a series of special events, including the first capital city season of Daniel Keene’s Mother, starring Noni Hazlehurst, and four nights of stand-up with Cal Wilson, Mel Buttle and Anne Edmonds.
Although Belvoir has two theatres, the company has programmed just two works into the smaller Downstairs Theatre for 2018.
Flack says the company is focusing mainly on hiring artists to work in the Upstairs Theatre, and that several of the shows feature quite large casts.
When asked whether the Downstairs space will be opened up to more independent companies — in particularly high demand while Griffin Theatre Company’s annual independent season is on hiatus — Flack says there are some plans for the theatre that have yet to be announced.
“The Downstairs Theatre is a beautiful theatre that you can do anything from a solo show to a full Shakespeare in, and we would love to see it used more than it is. Watch this space,” he says.
BELVOIR SEASON 2018
My Name is Jimi (January 5 to 21)
Based on a story by Dimple Bani, Jimi Bani & co-created with Jason Klarwein
Director Jason Klarwein
Single Asian Female (February 16 to March 25)
By Michelle Law
Director Claire Christian
Sami in Paradise (April 1 to 29)
Based on The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman
Director Eamon Flack
The Sugar House (May 5 to June 3)
By Alana Valentine
Director Sarah Goodes
Bliss (June 9 to July 15)
By Peter Carey, adapted for the stage by Tom Wright
Director Matthew Lutton
A Taste of Honey (July 21 to August 19)
By Shelagh Delaney
Director Eamon Flack
Calamity Jane (August 23 to September 30)
Director Richard Carroll
An Enemy of the People (October 7 to November 4)
By Melissa Reeves after Henrik Ibsen
Director Anne-Louise Sarks
The Dance of Death (November 10 to December 23)
By August Strindberg
Director Judy Davis
My Urrwai (January 19 to February 4)
By Ghenoa Gela
Director Rachel Maza
Mother (January 24 to February 11)
By Daniel Keene
Director Matt Scholten
Belvoir Ha Ha (February 1 to 4)
With Mel Buttle, Anne Edmonds, Cal Wilson
Random (October 18 to November 11)
By debbie tucker green
Director Leticia Cáceres