News & Commentary, Stage

MTC's Rupert to STC's Blanchett

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Sydney Theatre Company continues its off-shore touring program with the announcement today that its production of Jean Genet’s 1947 play The Maids will be performed at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York in August. The production, directed by Benedict Andrews and starring Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert and Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby and MTC’s The Gift) premiered at the Sydney Theatre last winter.
Blanchett is almost certain to be anointed with a fresh Oscar for her role in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine by the time the show opens in New York on August 6. Her stage presence alongside French movie star Huppert should send New Yorkers into a frenzy and have hotel concierges making a killing from scalped tickets to the show.
New Yorkers may have a reputation for hard-boiled cynicism but when its comes to seeing glamorous movie stars on stage its audiences and critics are probably more star struck than their counterparts in any other city in the world. And if the film stars are also great stage actors, then that’s just the icing on the cake.
The Maids is a new adaptation by STC artistic director Andrew Upton, who also wrote the adaptation for STC’s production of Uncle Vanya, which played the Lincoln Center Festival in 2012. New Yorkers went as nuts for Vanya as they did for other Blanchett-led re-takes on the classics at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which include A Street Car Named Desire in 2009 and Hedda Gabler in 2006.
STC’s association with NYC began before the Blanchett/Upton STC years, when Robyn Nevin shipped a production of John Webster’s The White Devil to BAM in 2001. It starred Marcus Graham and Angie Milliken and was less enthusiastically embraced. Critic Ben Brantley in The New York Times described the results of Gale Edwards’ hyperactive directorial style as “like a very long episode of The Itchy and Scratchy Show“.
STC is now probably the best known arts company outside Australia since Blanchett began leading her troupes to NYC and other prestigious theatres in Washington DC, London and Paris. (It might further enhance its reputation at home if it worked out how to tour the same star-studded shows to Australian cities outside Sydney.)
It was no secret that when the Melbourne Theatre Company board was looking for a successor to artistic director Simon Phillips three years ago it was enviously eyeing STC’s rising reputation around the world. Before it launched its international search for a new AD it sounded out Geoffrey Rush, who said no. When the board chose international festival director Brett Sheehy it put some theatre directors’ noses out of joint, but made sense for MTC’s international ambitions.
So before STC bumps back into the Lincoln Center, MTC will be exporting its first work to the US since Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll sailed to Broadway in 1958 when the company was known as the Union Theatre. This time, MTC is playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in March, as part of “World Stages: International Theatre Festival”.
The show it is taking has no marquee names in its cast but it does have one name even more famous than Blanchett, and that is Rupert. David Williamson’s bio-play of Rupert Murdoch’s life, Rupert, which premiered last year at MTC, will undoubtedly attract plenty of attention in its four-day slot at the festival. How audiences and critics will react to its rough and tumble revue style is the big question for MTC, which will be hoping a warm reception will open more international doors for the company.
And its choice of Rupert is brave. Even though Rupert Murdoch’s finger prints are all over the globe, Rupert directed by Lee Lewis is unapologetically Aussie in its performance style and might have way more details of the mogul’s Australian beginnings than Americans might care for.
MTC’s export choice is in marked contrast to STC’s overseas touring strategy which has used its tours of theatre’s classic works to introduce our actors, directors, and lighting, set and costume designers to the world, but not to new Australian writing.
Let’s hope MTC’s first dip in these sometimes-treacherous international waters works out as well as STC’s overseas missions have.
[box]Featured image: Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert in The Maids. Image by Lisa Tomasetti. [/box]

3 responses to “MTC's Rupert to STC's Blanchett

  1. The STC production of “Uncle Vanya” was to die for. The Sydney production of “The Maids”, not so much.
    If it wasn’t for the brilliance of the cast, it would have verged on tedious and uninvolving. One of STC’s lesser productions last year – I hope the New York production will have lifted its game.

  2. If we want Australia to have or keep any kind of international reputation in the arts, Benedict Andrews must be stopped at the border and his notebooks consigned to the flames. He has been responsible for some of the worst theatre I have seen anywhere in the world. Without exception I’ve found his efforts puerile, gratuitously offensive, self-indulgent and an insult to authors, works and audiences. On the other hand … perhaps without Blanchett to cast her spell, New York audiences will see Andrews’ latest effort for the rubbish it is, and that message just might get back to the powers-that-be of the STC.

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