News & Commentary, Stage

MTC Season 2016 unveiled and artistic director Brett Sheehy hits his stride

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Now four years into his artistic directorship of the Melbourne Theatre Company, Brett Sheehy’s 2016 season unveiled tonight appears his most confident and balanced season so far. Its mixture of classics, revivals of 20th century works, new Australian works (including two adaptations of novels) and proven local hits, combined with some edgier foreign plays and the inclusion of Young Turk alumni from Sheehy’s past Neon festivals of local independent theatre, appears to adopt the Sydney Theatre Company Andrew Upton/Cate Blanchett approach of offering a range of theatre aimed at audiences from the most conservative to the more adventurous.
“I came here three years ago, and the mission was to open the company up particularly to new audiences and new artists, and to make it very much part of the landscape of Melbourne,” Sheehy told Daily Review.
“And the tool we used to do that at the start was “Neon”. But now we’re doing it more and more with the kinds of works we’re presenting and the appeal that these works will have to new audiences, So to do that, one of the things I think connects with younger audiences is work which is debating social and political issues of the time,” he said.
Sheehy said the 2016 plays are more about current issues including Lungs and its issues of abandoning families and abandoning children, and  Straight White Men, a recent American play which he said takes a lens to that group of people.
“Even now, we sometimes kid ourselves more and more that they’re being disempowered, but there are glass ceilings everywhere and this is a group of people who are still dealt, I suppose, the three most privileged cards in the deck, wrongfully privileged: straight white and male, and also the degree to which straight white men frequently now complain that they’re being disempowered. (And) all you have to do is open your eyes and look around and yet still so little has changed,” he said.
Broad entertainment comes in the casting of Shaun Micallef and Francis Greenslade as the mismatched duo in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. directed by local comedy master, Peter Houghton. An adaptation of James M. Cain’s noir novel Double Indemnity becomes even more intriguing given it’s adapted for the stage by Australian playwright Tom Holloway and directed by Sam Strong.
The team behind this year’s hugely popular adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock film North By North-West for the MTC, writer Carolyn Burns and her husband, director Simon Phillips turn to late Australian ex-pat writer Madeleine St John’s novel Women in Black but retitled Ladies in Black with music by Tim Finn and starring Christen O’Leary.
The novel is about the women who work in a Sydney David Jones-like store in the 1950s . It has been rediscovered in recent years and has also been optioned for a film by Bruce Beresford.
“I love the idea of new Australian musical, Tim Finn is an astonishing composer and songwriter, and the Madeleine St John book it’s based onis just gorgeous. And Carolyn (Burns) …she’s just done this brilliant new work which I think audiences are going to go crazy for,” Sheehy said.
Another adaptation sees Kate Mulvaney bring the 2009 Australian novel Jasper Jones to the stage. Sam Strong will direct the stage version of Craig Silvey’s coming of age novel.
“I’m thrilled that we’re doing Jasper Jones. I think it’s such a great book (based on Craig Silvey’s novel) dealing with such fantastic themes, especially in a country where right now race is, again, so importantly becoming an issue. And with the Vietnamese-Australian with an indigenous Australian and with a Caucasian Australian and the relationship between those three young men and how they see the world, is just life-affirming and can teach the society today so much,” Sheehy said.
Highly regarded Sydney director Kip Williams will direct the Stringberg classic Miss Julie. Williams directed Love and Information for Malthouse this year.
Sydney Theatre Company is sending down its popular and critical hit production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s 2014 thriller about the last imagined days of misanthropic, but compelling American crime writer Patricia Highsmith. Switzerland, a two-hander, stars Eamon Farren, Sarah Peirse and directed by  Sarah Goodes.
The wildly popular Melbourne queer theatre makers Sisters Grimm, whose The Sovereign Wife was featured in the first MTC Neon festival are back at the MTC with Lilith: The Jungle Girl (pictured above).
– with Raymond Gill.
MTC SEASON 2016 (For full details go to

Ladies in Black
Book by Carolyn Burns, music and lyrics by Tim Finn, Southbank theatre, the Sumner, January  16 – February 27

By Duncan Macmillan, Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio, February  5 – March 19

The Distance
By Deborah Bruce, Southbank theatre, the Sumner, March 5 – April 9

Miss Julie
By August Strindberg, Southbank theatre, the Sumner, April 16 –  May 21

Straight White Men
By Young Jean Lee, Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio, May 6 – June 18

Double Indemnity
By Tom Holloway, adapted from the book by James M. Cain, Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse,  May 30 – July 2

By David Hare, Southbank theatre, the Sumner, June 18 – July 23

Jasper Jones
Based on the novel by Craig Silvey, adapted by Kate Mulvany, Southbank theatre, the Sumner,  August 1 – September 9

By Ayad Akhtar, Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio, August 19 – October 1

By Joanna Murray-Smith, Southbank theatre, the Sumner,  September 16 – October 29

The Odd Couple
By Neil Simon, Southbank theatre, the Sumner, November 5 – December 17

By Angela Betzien, Southbank theatre, the Lawler, June 29 – July 19

Lilith: The Jungle Girl
A Sisters Grimm Production, Southbank theatre, the Lawler, September 1–  October 1

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