Time Out Sydney

Sydney Theatre Company 2013 season

Cate and Andrew and the STC take no prisoners in 2013

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton are presenting a monumental 2013 season for the Sydney Theatre Company that boasts big names, exciting collaborations and a striking blend of light and darkness.

The Secret River
Written by Kate Grenville, adapted by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Neil Armfield

Kate Grenville’s Miles Franklin- and Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel The Secret River follows William Thornhill, a thief transported to Australia – where everybody speaks in italics – during his encounters with the indigenous owners of the land.

The novel, inspired by the story of Grenville’s own great-great-great grandfather, is to be adapted by Andrew Bovell (the Speaking in Tongues playwright whose When the Rain Stops Falling was a highlight of Blanchett and Upton’s first STC season) and directed by former Company B artistic director Neil Armfield for STC and the Sydney Festival. Jeremy Sims, Colin Moody, Anita Hegh and Trevor Jamieson star in a truly epic cast.

Kate Grenville spoke to ABC Radio National’s Book Show in 2005. “In doing all the research for this book, what I came away with overwhelmingly was the feeling that there had been no particular ill-will on both sides, at least in the beginning, but a complete inability to communicate.”

Oh, and Marieke Hardy mostly seemed to like the book, except for the England bits.

School Dance
Written by Matthew Whittet
Directed by Rosemary Myers

Channelling the spirit of the decade that brought us ThunderCats, John Hughes, synthpop and bad haircuts, School Dance was a hit at the 2012 Adelaide Festival, a production from South Australia’s theatre company for young audiences and families, Windmill Theatre.

Its unlikely heroes are three teenage dorks – Matt, Jonathon and Luke, played by Matthew Whittet, Jonathon Oxlade and Luke Smiles – who are plummeting spotty-face-first into the ritual humiliation of their school dance.

Freelance Adelaide critic Jane Howard wrote that School Dance “sits so far outside the usual expectations of theatre which most of us were exposed to in high-school that being created for that audience initially jars, until you realise that of course this silliness is the perfect theatre for teenagers.”

The Revenge of the Nerds-style work boasts a cast of multi-talents: Whittet doubles as playwright, Oxlade doubles as designer, and the appropriately Commodore 64-obsessed Luke Smiles (aka motion laboratories) doubles as sound designer. Former STC Actors Company member Amber McMahon will return to the STC to play all female roles in the production.

Mrs Warren’s Profession
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Sarah Giles

In George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Author’s Apology’, included in the publication of his 1893 play Mrs Warren’s Profession, he boasted of “sending the Press into an hysterical tumult of protest, of moral panic, of involuntary and frantic confession of sin, of a horror of conscience in which the power of distinguishing between the work of art on the stage and the real life of the spectator is confused and overwhelmed”.

It was Shaw’s frank and satirical depiction of the baseness of genteel society that so scandalised critics. In the play, young Vivie learns that her mother acquired her fortune as a madam of European brothels.

Guardian critic Michael Billington noted in 2002 that the play “reminds us of [Shaw’s] capacity to write drama which is socialist, subversive and funny all at the same time.”

Recently appointed co-resident director Sarah Giles will make her Main Stage debut, directing the divine Helen Thomson (The Splinter, Under Milk Wood, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play) and Lizzie Schebesta (the one-woman trio of witches from Bell Shakespeare’s Macbeth).

Mrs Warren’s Profession will play from February, by which time Sydney will be well on the way to becoming the home of Australia’s largest brothel.

Little Mercy
By Sisters Grimm
Created by Ash Flanders and Declan Greene

Theatre-making duo Sisters Grimm have nothing to do with the children’s fantasy series of the same name. Ash Flanders and Declan Greene are the Melbourne-based creators of such self-described cheap, accessible, faggy work as Fat Camp, Bumtown, The Rimming Club and Cell Block Booty. In 2013, STC finally gets into bed with them for Mardi Gras time.

Developed in STC’s Rough Draft programme in 2011 after a showing in a Collingwood underground carpark in 2010, Little Mercy was conceived as a tribute to “the knife-wielding boys and girls of cinema past” – a fiery, bloody combination of The Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby… and Annie. 
Critic Alison Croggon said of the production: “Nonsense, yes, but irresistibly funny nonsense, delivered with brio and flair.”
More recently, Ash Flanders was being a psycho on Bondi Beach.
Check out, if you dare, Sisters Grimm’s bizarre website and Facebook page.
One Man, Two Guvnors
Written by Richard Bean, based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
Directed by Nicholas Hytner

The National Theatre’s romping farce cracked up audiences on the West End and Broadway and earned James Corden the Tony Award for Best Actor. It was also a hit of the NT Live season, playing on Australian screens in 2011 and again, due to popular demand, in 2012.

In the Cate-and-Andrew tradition of importing the best the international stage has to offer (August: Osage County, Terminus, Midsummer), they’re giving Sydney a chance to experience the production in all its laugh-out-loud glory, with Owain Arthur as the ungovernable Francis Henshall.

Caution to those in the good seats: There may be the teeniest hit of audience participation.

Dance Better at Parties
By Gideon Oarzanek

2004 saw the premiere of Chunky Move’s part-documentary, part-dance performance I Want to Dance Better at Parties, a production that explored true stories of men and their relationships to dance. One of the stories in the show was that of a grieving husband who attempted to shake off his loneliness by taking up dance classes.

Chunky Move’s former artistic director and STC artist in residence Gideon Obarzanek has proven his adeptness as a storyteller (and in poking fun at stories, as with his Swan Lake piss-take in the Australian Ballet’s Infinity). Obarzanek will revisit the grieving husband’s story in Dance Better at Parties, with Steve Rodgers playing the stumbling Dave and Elizabeth Nabben playing the beautiful instructor. Stefan Gregory is on board as sound designer.

Obarzanek and filmmaker Matthew Bates’s 30-minute docu-drama I Want to Dance Better at Parties is also in the works.

Written by Joanna Murray-Smith
Directed by Andrew Upton

Having directed, in his time as co-artistic director, such towering works as Long Day’s Journey into Night and The White Guard – and very nearly directing Under Milk Wood – Andrew Upton turns his nimble directorial fingers to a new play by Joanna Murray-Smith commissioned by the STC.
Robert Menzies (Gross und Klein) and Sarah Peirse play a happy, successful couple whose lives are shaken up when their son is accused of vandalising a mosque. Geraldine Hakewill (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) also stars.

Cate Blanchett: “She’s an acute observer of the things we want to ignore.”

The Maids
Written by Jean Genet
Directed by Benedict Andrews

Cate Blanchett materialises on the Sydney Theatre stage under the ever-watchful eyes of director Benedict Andrews for the third time, following Gross und Klein (Big and Small) and The War of the Roses. Blanchett will go head to head with acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert (Coup de Foudre (Entre Nous), Loulou, Amour (Love)) in the psychosexual thriller The Maids by Jean Genet, the French thief-playwright who wrote his first work while incarcerated.
Blanchett and Huppert will play troubled sisters Solange and Claire, who enact sinister, incestuous, sadomasochistic role-play fantasies while their mistress is away. The play,inspired by the chilling true story of the murderous Papin sisters, has been called “one of the most unremittingly moving works in the modernist repertory.”

Coincidentally and incidentally, Isabelle Huppert won a César Award for her performance in La Cérémonie (A Judgement in Stone), a film in which two women also murder their employer. From the review of the film by Roger Ebert: “Huppert, the busiest major actress of her generation, wears so well in so many different roles because she only reluctantly reveals a character's feelings. She leaves it up to us to figure them out; there may be some play-acting involved, but we sense that most is hidden. Above all she's ideal for characters with an enormous stubborn determination that she holds very much inside.”
For your desktop wallpaper: a charming family photograph of the Papins.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Simon Phillips

From August, Sydney cult figure Toby Schmitz and the atheist messiah of musical comedy Tim Minchin – soon to play Judas Iscariot in a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber musical – will be together again at last. The former WAAPA boys will be reunited as the doomed non-heroes of the great Hamlet spin-off, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Which is it, Ros or Guil, who plays the piano?

Schmitz performed as the dandy Tristan Tzara in a production of Stoppard’s Travesties in Cate and Andrew’s 2009 season and has made no secret of his feelings for the playwright.
For Minchin’s part, R&G is apparently his favourite play. Rosencrantz was the name of his short-lived Melbourne band, with whom he recorded such ditties as ‘Shag with the Stereo On’.
Toby and Tim will do Tom under the direction of odd-sock aficionado Simon Phillips, who directed Schmitz’s Jack in Melbourne Theatre Company’s The Importance of Being Earnest in 2011. Phillips will also be joined by his frequent collaborator, designer Gabriela Tylesova (Love Never Dies).

Schmitz will spend his nights on R&G, whistling in the Elsinore dark, at the very time he will be rehearsing to play the Great Dane himself. Which ought to make this dish even more delicious.

Storm Boy
Written by Colin Thiele, adapted by Tom Holloway

“Storm Boy lives between the Coorong and the sea. His home was the long, long snout of sandhill and scrub that curves away south-eastwards from the Murray Mouth. A wild strip it is, windswept and tussocky, with the flat shallow water of the South Australian Coorong on one side and the endless slam of the Southern Ocean on the other...”

One of the finest and most beloved works of Australian children’s literature, Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy was published in 1963.In celebration of its 50th anniversary, STC and Perth’s Barking Gecko theatre company collaborate to bring it to the stage in an adaptation by playwright Tom Holloway (Beyond the Neck, Don’t Say the Words, Red Sky Morning, And No More Shall We Part).

Romeo and Juliet
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kip Williams

Newly appointed STC co-resident director Kip Williams got his big break in 2012 taking over as director of STC’s Under Milk Wood, a play originally on Andrew Upton’s to-direct list. He goes from fishy Llareggub to fair Verona in 2013. Playing Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers are Dylan Young (Face to Face, The Seagull) and Eryn-Jean Norvill (last seen in Sydney playing white trash in The Boys and Truck Stop but remembered in Melbourne for her delicate Ophelia in MTC’s 2011 Hamlet).
Most recently, Kip has done fantastic and chilling work with the Sydney Chamber Opera.

Laser Beak Man
By Bruce Gladwin

Laser Beak Man is a collaboration between STC, Malthouse Melbourne and Geelong-based company Back to Back Theatre, whose productions (including the Helpmann-nominated Ganesh Versus the Third Reich)draw on the experiences of persons with disabilities.

Laser Beak Man is a masked superhero with a duck-bill – the creation of 23-year-old autistic illustrator Tim Sharp. The new production, playing Wharf 1 from September, follows a group of auditionees trying out for the role of the colourful character. Back to Back artistic director Bruce Gladwin (Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, Food Court) directs.

Check out more of Laser Beak Man on the Laser Beak Man website or hit up YouTube.

The Wharf Revue 2013
By Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phil Scott

STC’s annual prick in the balloon of the year’s politics. But will Biggins and company have anything to satirise under an Abbott government?

Vere (Faith)
Written by John Doyle
Directed by Sarah Goodes

Newly appointed STC co-resident director Sarah Goodes, whose production of Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness played Wharf 1 in 2011 and whose production of The Splinter spooked audiences there in 2012, will tackle Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre for a new play by writer, broadcaster, actor and occasional sports commentator (as ‘Rampaging’ Roy Slaven) John Doyle. In Vere (Faith), actor Paul Blackwell plays a respected physicist forced to confront his own mortality.

John Doyle touched on some of his own feelings in relation to mortality in a conversation on ABC Radio National’s Big Ideasprogramme: “If humans are to develop as a species, we have to stand on our own two feet,” Doyle said. “The hardest thing is to imagine a world without God, I think, that’s the hardest call to make. But if we do not do that, then we are destined to repeat the errors of history…”

Vere (Faith) is a co-production with the State Theatre Company of South Australia.

Waiting for Godot
Written by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Tamás Ascher

In a spiritual companion piece to STC’s acclaimed production of Uncle Vanya directed by Tamás Ascher, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh return to the Sydney Theatre from November to play Samuel Beckett’s “tatterdemalion stoics”, once again under the meticulous direction of Ascher. The impasto Weaving will play Vladimir to luminous Roxburgh’s Estragon in Waiting for Godot.
Andrew Upton: “It is massively resonating as a play but, as an artistic director, you need to have a reason to put it on, especially if people have seen it. We’re offering people the youth of the cast, very virile presences, but, as you saw in Vanya, a lot of impotence; and I think that make for an incredible friction and humour – as well as melancholy in the play, which will be wonderful.”
Cate Blanchett: “When we brought Vanya to New York so many said they had seen the play for the first time. Tamás has this ability, and Rox and Hugo have this openness, to serve the story but be iconoclastic and open up new terrain to the piece.”

Written by Sophie Treadwell
Directed by Imara Savage

The echoes of STC’s production of The Maids may linger in its last production of the year in its Wharf 2 Theatre. Machinal is a 1928 Expressionist play by American playwright-journalist Sophie Treadwell, inspired by the story of murderess Ruth Snyder, the first woman to be executed in the electric chair, of which there is a somewhat famous picture.
Directing is STC's current Richard Wherret Fellow Imara Savage, who last dabbled in cruel and unusual punishment in a 2012 production with the Sydney Chamber Opera and directed The Brothers Size for Griffin in 2011 and Fool for Love for B Sharp in 2010. 


Cate and Andrew interview part one: The vision



"On a personal level, it’s been very stimulating and invigorating."

Cate and Andrew interview part two: The 2013 season



"We planned it over the last nine months, we talked to the board, our producers, our head of production and we all decided on this banner-waving bonanza."

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