Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tis The Season... (Belvoir Season Wrap-Up)

It’s that time of year! Theatre season time. Pretty much everybody in Sydney has now announced what’s going on in their 2011 seasons and isn’t it all very exciting? I know I’m a bit late to this particular party but there’s the small matter of the Sydney Fringe festival which has been taking up a significant amount of my time, (*Cough* Come see Appleloft please *Cough*). I’m going to start with Belvoir and hopefully work through the other major players in the coming days. So with further ado…

I was trying to think of a cleverer superlative here but I’m just going to say the first thing that came to mind… holy crap on a stick! The new Belvoir season is phenomenal. Aside from the not so small matter of the changes to the Downstairs theatre set-up (which I intend to devote a whole post to some time soon) I could not really be more pleased with the offering Ralph Myers has thrown up in his debut season. It’s a such a strong start you’ve got to wonder whether he’ll ever be able to follow it! Let’s go through the plays one by one.

THE WILD DUCK
12 February – 27 March
Written and Directed by: Simon Stone (after Henrik Ibsen)
With: John Gaden, Anita Hegh, Ewen Leslie, Eloise Mignon, Toby Schmitz

From the moment the picture of Toby Schmitz and Ewen Leslie came up on the screen, I knew we were off to a good start, I just didn’t know how good. Simon Stone and the Hayloft Project have made a name for themselves with their investigations of classic texts. If you feel the need to reacquaint yourself, head back to our review of the Only Child from last year. The man has done some solid work, and if we only lived in Melbourne we would have seen even more of it. Now he’s the resident director at Belvoir and his first play in the role is set to be a solid start. Now I can’t say I’ve read the play, nor am I a huge Ibsen fanboy or anything, but what excites me about this play is the cast. THE CAST. Seriously, if I was asked to list my favourite actors write now, it would read Ewen Leslie, Anita Hegh, Toby Schmitz (the order would change depending on the day). Add to that, the ever reliable John Gaden (who is currently tearing it up in The Trial) and Eloise Mignon, who is better known to Sydney audiences for her TV work, but who we’ll soon get a glimpse of in STC’s The Grenade later this year, and one can only assume that this show is going to be golden. It would take some dramatic self-sabotage for this project to turn sour with such good ingredients. I’m pretty freakin’ excited about this one.


JACK CHARLES V THE CROWN
An Ilbijerri Theatre Company Production
30 March – 17 April
By: Jack Charles and John Romeril
Directed by: Rachel Maza-Long
With: Jack Charles

Autobiography shows are something I have always found intriguing. Whether it’s William Yang, or it’s The Bouganville Photoplay Project (soon to be seen at upstairs Belvoir), there is something incredibly powerful about having someone tell you a personal story, offering insights only they, the protagonist, can give. One can only imagine that with a life as vibrant as Jack Charles’, this format will be all the more rewarding. This is also the first play in the season to show that Belvoir don’t intend to be criticised again for a lake of female directors on their stages.

CUT (Downstairs)
7 April – 1 May
By: Duncan Graham
Director: Sarah John
With: Anita Hegh

The creative team of Sarah John and Duncan Graham were last seen at downstairs Belvoir in April last year with Ollie & The Minotaur. That show was memorable, not least of all for its all female cast, but also for it’s moving script and tight performances. Now the Adelaide crew will have another chance to impress us with their new show Cut. Rather than the gritty naturalism of Ollie, this show is described as a “theatrical riddle” that walked the line between fantasy and reality. It’s great to see Myers pulling in great artists from out of state, and as I’m sure you’ve already gathered, I’m pretty happy with the casting as well.

THE BUSINESS
23 April – 29 May
Based on: Vassa Zheleznova by Maxim Gorky
Adapted by: Jonathan Gavin with Cristabel Sved
Directed by: Cristabel Sved
With: Russell Kiefel, Sarah Peirse

This is one of the projects I’m not quite as sold on. Relocating a play based in early 20th Century Russia to Australia in the eighties is always going to be a dangerous move. But that is perhaps what makes it exciting. Gorky’s reputation precedes him, and for anyone who saw Gethsemane last year, which I hope most of you did (see the archives for my thoughts) you’ll be aware that Sarah Peirse is an amazing actor to watch. She dominated the ensemble cast in David Hare’s play and I can only imagine that she will bring just as much gusto to this new project.

THE KISS (Downstairs)
12 May – 5 June
By: Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, Peter Goldsworthy and Guy De Maupassant
Director: Susanna Dowling
With: Danielle Cormack, Catherine Davies, Yalin Ozucelik, Steve Rodgers

This is without doubt the bravest of the season’s offerings. Dowling spoke at the launch about how this project, where four short stories with the common name “The Kiss” are retold word for word, was partially inspired by Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz. I was not able to see this show, but from what I’ve heard, which you can see for yourself by reading Mark’s review from last year, what began as an exciting experiment dissolved into hours of tedium. This is however a quite different prospect, calling on the work of four authors, and what I imagine will be a slightly different setting. The goal here I assume is to reacquaint ourselves with the power of the written word, and with yet another strong cast (I suppose you do expect that from main stage companies) one has to hope it will come off. For more info on the director’s previous work, check out my review of Yellow Moon from only a few weeks ago.

(Hilarious photo)

THE SEAGULL
4 June – 17 July
By: Anton Chekhov
Director: Benedict Andrews
With: Emily Barclay, Gareth Davies, Judy Davis, Maeve Dermody, John Gaden

It’s truly odd that considering the fact that for all writers at the Perf (past and present) Benedict Andrews constitutes one of our favourite directors, that only one of his shows (The City) has ever been written about here. Well, just to get you up to speed, we’re all pretty big fans, and so the prospect of Andrews taking on Chekhov’s classic with such masterful actors at his disposal is a pretty exhilarating one. There’s not really much else to say. Oh, this play does mark the first, but certainly not last, appearance of another of our favourites, Gareth Davies, in the season.

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH
23 July – 28 August
By: Lally Katz
Director: Simon Stone
With: Charlie Garber, Heather Mitchell, Robyn Nevin

Lally Katz, why aren’t you brought to Sydney more often? Who knows, but let’s just be happy for the ones we get! This play, which Katz wrote specifically for Nevin, is set to be hilarious, and as with all things hilarious, it will be great to have Charlie Garber along for the ride. Simon Stone wins again, getting to direct one our finest actors in a role that is set to stick in the memory for a long time to come.

WINDMILL BABY (Downstairs)
28 July – 21 August
By: David Milroy
Director: Kylie Farmer
With: Roxanne McDonald

Continuing the drawing in of talent from all over Australia, this project comes from Perth-based playwright David Milroy, whose new script has already been seen and read all over the world, from Paris to Ireland. Somehow, Sydney has always been left out, but Belvoir are jumping in to fix that. Along with Jack Charles vs The Crown, this show reaffirms Belvoir’s commitment to supporting Indigenous stories on Australia’s main stages, and considering the play has already won the 2004 Patrick White Award and the 2005 Equity Guild Award, I think we’ll all be better for it.

HUMAN INTEREST STORY
A Lucy Guerin Inc. and Malthouse Melbourne Production in association with Perth International Arts Festival
31 August – 18 September
Choreographer: Lucy Guerin
With: Stephanie Lake, Alisdair MacIndoe, Talitha Maslin, Harriet Ritchie, Stuart Shugg, Jessica Wong
Hold your hourse, what’s this? Cross-artform programming at Belvoir? This is a new age indeed! Perhaps that like the theatre that this work premiered at (Malthouse) Belvoir is going to become a place for more broader sort of theatrical experimentation. By all accounts this show should be pretty phenomenal, an exploration of the bombardment of media in our society, and again shows that this season is set to be one of the most varied Belvoir seasons yet.


AND THEY CALLED HIM MR GLAMOUR (Downstairs)
A co-production with The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm
15 September – 9 October
By: Gareth Davies
Director: Thomas Wright
With: Gareth Davies

If there is one show in the season that I am perhaps more exciting about than the Wild Duck it is this show. I have been reading reviews of Black Lung shows for years now and could not be more excited for them to finally come to Sydney. Gareth’s second entry in the season is a one-man plea for respect. I only hope that this production is chaotic as all the descriptions I’ve read of other Black Lung shows. If what I’ve read and heard is true, we are sure to leave this performance truly affected.

SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL
24 September – 13 November
By: Ray Lawler
Director: Neil Armfield
With: Robin Nevin, Yael Stone, Helen Thomson, Dan Wyllie

As far as texts go, this is the play I’m least anticipating. The HSC has a way of draining the life out of many things and this play is one of its victims. However, the fact that Neil Armfield, who is barely out the door, is at the helm gives me hope. To quote one of my previous reviews “I’m yet to see an Armfield show I dislike”, and with a cast this strong I doubt I’ll change that opinion. Particularly happy to see Yael Stone working with Armfield again after her brilliant turn in Scorched two years ago.

THE DARK ROOM (Downstairs)
3 – 27 November
By: Angela Betzien
Director: Leticia Caceres
With: Brendan Cowell

Bringing the tally to five out of eight of Australia’s states and territories represented in the season, this new work from the founders of Queensland theatre company Real TV sounds fascinating. Billed a work of great emotional complexity yet theatrical simplicity, my interest has certainly been piqued, not least of all because of the casting of Bredan Cowell, who let’s face it, was totally awesome in SBS cult series Life Support.

AS YOU LIKE IT
19 November – 24 December
By: William Shakespeare
Director: Eamon Flack
With: Alison Bell, Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber, Shelly Lauman

I think I’ve gushed enough already, so all I will say about this last show is that you should go and read my review of the Flack’s Midsummer from December last year, and you’ll know why I’m keen for this new Shakespearian outing. The show completes Gareth Davies acting residency at the theatre this year, one assumes that he will have set up some sort of tent in the rehearsal room by this point.


All in all, I think Myers has delivered a season that answers all the critics. If you want more new Australian plays on our stages, they’re there. If you love the classics, they’re there. If you want more female directors at Belvoir, they’re there. There's even some dance just to mix things up. If you read this blog you’re probably aware I have a pretty strong pro-Belvoir bias, the humanity of the plays offered gets to me pretty much every time, but even I was stunned by quality of the works on offer next year. It’s diverse, drawing on artists from all over the country, and there is not one play that I don’t want to see. Let’s hope they deliver on the hype (that I am creating for myself). If you’re still reading, thanks for putting up with my gushing.

- Simon

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