Sydney Theatre Company reveals 2018 season focusing on Australian plays

Sydney Theatre Company will have a distinctively local focus in 2018, with 11 of its 16 plays penned by Australian writers. On top of that, two of the other five are adaptations written by locals, arguably bringing the number up to 13 Australian-made plays.

“For me, Australian writing is the key way of introducing new Australian voices and perspectives,” STC Artistic Director Kip Williams says. “And it’s the way we get to interrogate our history, ask who we are today, and imagine what we might be in the future.

“I feel very lucky to be working at a time where not only do we have a raft of incredible established playwrights, but we also have a whole new generation of young writers coming through.”

Next year marks Williams’ first full season at the head of the company, after he programmed part of the 2017 season in the wake of Jonathan Church’s unexpected departure. He was appointed permanent Artistic Director in November 2017 at just 30 years of age.

The Harp in the South, photo by Renee Vaile
The Harp in the South, photo by Rene Vaile

At the centre of the season is an epic, two-part adaptation of Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South trilogy, penned by Kate Mulvany and to be directed by Williams himself. The two plays feature 18 actors and will be performed in repertory throughout the week, and back-to-back on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The plays follow the Surry Hills-based Darcy family over several decades in the early 20th century, and will star Tony Cogin, Anita Hegh, Tara Morice, Rose Riley, Guy Simon, Helen Thomson and Contessa Treffone.

There are several other big names in the season, with Hugo Weaving returning to the company to star in Bertolt Brecht’s 1941 play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, directed by Williams. The play will be adapted by Tom Wright and is an allegory for the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany.

Orange is the New Black star Yael Stone will also return to the company for George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, starring as Joan of Arc in an otherwise all-male cast, directed by Imara Savage.

Comedy legend Jane Turner will perform alongside Amber McMahon in Dario Fo’s 1970 farce Accidental Death of an Anarchist, and Pamela Rabe and Sarah Peirse will unite for British writer Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children.

Still Point Turning. Photo by Renee Vaile
Still Point Turning. Photo by Rene Vaile

Heather Mitchell will play the intriguing Catherine McGregor in a new play about the public figure’s battle with her gender identity called Still Point Turning. The play, by Priscilla Jackman, is based on extensive interviews with McGregor and is largely told in her own words.

The company will also reach gender parity for the first time in its director roles, and features more women writers than men. Eight productions are directed by women and eight by men, while nine of the plays are written by women, six are by men, and one is an adaptation by a woman and a man.

“It’s a very important thing for me and for the company to be ensuring that parity is met,” Williams says. “It’s also important for me to be assessing the opportunities that are being given to female practitioners. I’m thrilled that three of the shows in the Roslyn Packer Theatre [the company’s largest performance space] are written by female playwrights, which is a really important step in the company starting to give female writers the opportunity to have their work shown in bigger spaces.”

Saint Joan, Photo by Renee Vaile
Saint Joan, Photo by Rene Vaile

STC’s Resident Director Imara Savage will direct her first work in the Roslyn Packer Theatre with Saint Joan, while writer Nakkiah Lui and director Paige Rattray will both make their Roslyn Packer Theatre debuts with a return season of the 2017 hit Black is the New White.

While the company was initially expecting to vacate its home at the Wharf for significant renovations from the start of 2018, that work has since been postponed for approximately six months. It means that the company will still be performing in its Wharf 1 and Wharf 2 theatres for the first half of 2018. Williams says 2019 is the year that will require the most innovative thinking in terms of venue management.

SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY SEASON 2018

TOP GIRLS

By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Imara Savage
Cast includes: Helen Thomson, Paula Arundell, Kate Box, Michelle Lim Davidson and Heather Mitchell

Kip Williams: “It’s no secret that I love Caryl Churchill, and I really wanted to do a play of hers in my first season. Imara and I talked a lot about which one might be the best one to do for 2018, and we landed on her masterpiece, Top Girls … A big reason why we were drawn to the play is the way in which Churchill talks about power and gender and leadership, and how those three things intersect. Particularly in the wake of Clinton’s loss, we felt that this play came searing back into relevance.”

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, February 12 to March 24

LETHAL INDIFFERENCE

By Anna Barnes
Directed by Jessica Arthur
Cast: Emily Barclay

Kip: “Anna is a long-time collaborator of mine, and she sent me a play of hers about 18 months ago after a long stint of not writing, and said ‘I think I have a play. I’m not sure? Is it any good?’ And I was shattered by it and spellbound … Essentially it details Anna’s experience of working in a legal centre for family violence, and in particular focuses on one case that’s the arc of the narrative.”

Wharf 1 Theatre, February 17 to March 10

BLACK IS THE NEW WHITE

By Nakkiah Lui
Directed by Paige Rattray
Cast includes: Luke Carroll, Vanessa Downing, Geoff Morrell, Melodie Reynolds-Diarra, Tom Stokes and Anthony Taufa

Kip: “It’s hugely exciting having Nakkiah and Paige grow into the Roslyn Packer Theatre, get to rework this show for a bigger stage, and start to dream about what their next project might be for that big theatre. On top of that, it was a smash hit for us; really popular and as a piece of writing a total game-changer in regards to the way that Nakkiah played with form and political discourse.”

Roslyn Packer Theatre, February 28 to March 10

THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI

By Bertolt Brecht, translated by Tom Wright
Directed by Kip Williams
Cast includes: Hugo Weaving, Mitchell Butel, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Anita Hegh, Brent Hill and Ursula Yovich

Kip: “Brecht ingeniously interrogates political leadership and the construction of a political identity, and how language and violence and intimidation are used to construct a movement and a following. Obviously Brecht wrote it as a parable for the rise of fascism and Hitler in Nazi Germany, and people can draw whatever links they want to to current political movements and figures around the world.”

Roslyn Packer Theatre, March 21 to April 28

GOING DOWN

By Michele Lee
Directed by Leticia Cáceres
Cast includes: Catherine Davies, Josh Price, Naomi Rukavina and Jenny Wu

Kip: “This is quite a personal piece for Michele. It’s about a writer who’s just released a book and it’s failed. It hasn’t met any of the expectations that people had for it. It’s not a feminist call to arms and it’s not a piece that details the migrant experience — it’s about her sex life. Kind of in the vein of Girls or Broad City, Michele writes a piece that’s really funny, takes an uncompromising look at failing as a millennial and trying to be a professional and balance your sex life.”

Wharf 2 Theatre, March 23 to May 5

THE CHILDREN

By Lucy Kirkwood
Directed by Sarah Goodes
Cast: Sarah Peirse, Pamela Rabe and William Zappa

Kip: “It’s a beautiful chamber piece that’s funny, searingly intelligent and very, very moving. I walked out of the piece and had to call my parents and burst into tears after seeing it. A couple, who are retired nuclear scientists, have their ex-colleague arrive at their house and call on them to return to their old workplace that has recently suffered a natural disaster, and create an exclusion zone. Within that comes a piece that talks about the boomer generation and their responsibility for their actions.”

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, March 29 to May 19

STILL POINT TURNING: THE CATHERINE MCGREGOR STORY

By Priscilla Jackman
Directed by Priscilla Jackman
Cast includes: Heather Mitchell, Andrew Guy and Nicholas Brown

Kip: “It’s based on extensive interviews that were done with Catherine McGregor, and largely uses her words to narrate her story from childhood through to present day, using the struggle she’s faced with her gender identity as the arc of that story. It covers her ultimate triumph over that struggle, as well as detailing the incredible public and professional life that she’s had: being a high-ranking figure in the Australian military, being a political advisor for the Liberals and Labor, a political speech-writer, a nominee for Australian of the Year, and finally as a spokesperson for the trans community, at times a controversial one.”

Wharf 1 Theatre, April 21 to May 26

BLACKIE BLACKIE BROWN: THE TRADITIONAL OWNER OF DEATH

By Nakkiah Lui
Directed by Declan Greene
Cast: Megan Wilding and Ash Flanders

Kip: “Declan brought this pitch to me of Nakkiah’s play, and it’s one of the most exciting moments I’ve had in the past 12 months. This is a satirical take on the blaxploitation genre, and it’s also a riff on superhero narratives, with a lot of projection and animation used in the piece. In true Nakkiah style, she’s uncompromising and innovative and exciting, and it’s going to go off.”

Wharf 2 Theatre, May 12 to June 30

SAINT JOAN

By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Imara Savage
Cast includes: Yael Stone, John Gaden and Socratis Otto

Kip: “It’s a play that’s been on our list for some time and came soaring back to the top in the last nine to 12 months. Imara and I were talking about the way that protest had returned to the centre of the political discourse. We were interested in drawing open this play and looking at this figure of protest … One of the things that’s brilliant about the play is that Shaw bases it so heavily on the transcripts of her trial, and Imara has a really fascinating way of framing the piece through the trial of Saint Joan, and she’s cast an entire ensemble of men around Yael.”

Roslyn Packer Theatre, June 5 to 30

HAMLET: PRINCE OF SKIDMARK

By The Listies
Directed by Declan Greene
Cast: Richard Higgins and Matt Kelly

Kip: “We’re thrilled to have these great rockstars of kids theatre back.”

Seymour Centre, Everest Theatre, July 4 to 22

THE LONG FORGOTTEN DREAM

By H Lawrence Sumner
Directed by Neil Armfield
Cast includes: Wayne Blair

Kip: “In my time working at STC, I haven’t been bowled over by a new work that’s come across my desk more than this one — I had my breath taken away from me time and time again every time I read it. It’s a play inspired by the movement we’re seeing internationally of repatriating indigenous remains from universities and museums. At its core, it’s a family drama about a father and a daughter who have very different perspectives on the symbolism and meaning of the repatriation of their ancestor … I sent it to Neil Armfield, and he wrote back and said he wanted to direct it, then I sent it to Wayne Blair, who said he wanted to play the father.”

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, July 23 to August 25

THE HARP IN THE SOUTH: PART ONE AND PART TWO

By Ruth Park
An adaptation for the stage by Kate Mulvany
Directed by Kip Williams
Cast includes: Tony Cogin, Anita Hegh, Tara Morice, Rose Riley, Guy Simon, Helen Thomson and Contessa Treffone

Kip: “Kate has poured these three novels into five and a half hours of theatre. It’s a big, sprawling epic that tells the story of the Darcy family as they move from rural Australia to Surry Hills and they go through the ups and downs of life in the early and mid-20th century. There’s a cast of 18, and I always found that Ruth Park did for Sydney and Australia what Dickens did for London — she created this carnival of characters and created a sense of the tempestuous and adventurous life of living in the city. It’s a real investigation of our cultural identity and an interrogation of Australian myth-making.”

Roslyn Packer Theatre, August 16 to October 6

ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST

By Dario Fo
Adapted by Francis Greenslade with Sarah Giles
Directed by Sarah Giles
Cast includes: Amber Riley, Jane Turner and Sacha Horler

Kip: “We’re doing the play with an all-female cast in a world first, with Amber playing the Madman, and Jane Turner, iconic Australian comedian, playing the officer. It’s a really exciting group of performers and an amazing, funny, funny play.”

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, September 10 to October 27

A CHEERY SOUL

By Patrick White
Directed by Kip Williams
Cast includes: Sarah Peirse

Kip: “Patrick White, obviously one of the icons of our cultural mythologising, is an amazing writer, and his novels and plays have a way of holding a mirror up to Australian society in a uniquely revealing way. The characters are so rich and almost grotesque in their detail, but also deeply familiar. This is a very funny and moving play about community in Australia.”

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, November 5 to December 15

THE WHARF REVUE 2018

Written and created by Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe

Kip: “It’s exciting that we’re going to be able to put The Wharf Revue into that bigger space and up the cast size. There’s going to be some fresh young faces in that cast, and a real moment of generational change in The Wharf Revue.”

Roslyn Packer Theatre, November 13 to December 15

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