The Sydney Morning Herald
September 27, 2006
Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman heads the line-up of international and Australian talent in the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2007 season, which includes two new Australian plays and a couple of old favourites as well as a dash of controversy.
Hoffman, star of the film Capote, will be a guest director during the 2007 season, which was launched last night by the company’s artistic director, Robyn Nevin.
A recent play by Don DeLillo, one of the United States’s most acclaimed – and most mysterious – authors, is also scheduled, along with two new Australian plays and two oldies-but-goodies: David Williamson’s Don’s Party, which is timed to open on the eve of the next federal election, and Patrick White’s scathing dissection of Australian suburbia, The Season at Sarsaparilla.
The co-founder of the acclaimed Theatre de Complicite company, Annabel Arden, will also direct, as will that home-grown Oscar winner Cate Blanchett.
Hoffman’s inclusion in the program was not a matter of persuasion, Nevin told the Herald; he just wanted to come to work with the Sydney Theatre Company.
Hoffman will direct Andrew Upton’s new play, Riflemind, commissioned for the company and starring Hugo Weaving. "He just wanted to come and do a project in Sydney. He has wanted to come for a long time," Nevin says. "You have to realise people are very excited about Sydney, they really want to come and work here.
"Also, Philip has known Andrew for a long time, and so when I showed him Andrew’s play he just loved it and straight away he said yes. He is extremely serious about his work in the theatre. As well as his film work, he is a co-artistic director of the LAByrinth theatre group [in New York], and he acts and directs for them. He just said yes to us."
In her choices and the way she has structured the season, Nevin says, she was aiming for diversity. But she was also responding to certain responsibilities she believes a state theatre company like the STC has towards the community and the theatre.
"I believe we have to respond to the repertoire – that legacy of the plays from what I call deep time – but also to new Australian writing and to new writing from other cultures," she says.
Hence the inclusion of the Williamson and the White and the two new Australian works, Upton’s and Michael Cove’s Troupers, which kicks the season off in the new year.
And hence the inclusion of two new, highly controversial international works. These are DeLillo’s "spare and austere" Love-Lies-Bleeding, a meditation on death and dying, which received its debut at the famous Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago last year, and in which Nevin will appear; and the Scottish playwright David Harrower’s equally controversial Blackbird, "a knockout show" that stunned audiences at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, with its problematic return to what might be called Lolita territory, and its unsettling manoeuvres through it.
What is adventurous and risky about Nevin’s programming is that both of these complicated pieces of theatre are to be directed by two relative newcomers, directorially speaking. Lee Lewis, a Nevin protege, will direct the DeLillo, her first mainstage production, and Blanchett will take on the Harrower, only her second outing as a director. Her directing debut takes place in November with Harold Pinter’s A Kind of Alaska.
"Look, I believe in putting people in at the deep end," Nevin says. "Lee has been an assistant director with me – she will not be coming in cold – and Cate has a huge body of work behind her that gives her the language and understanding of theatre.
"That’s all I had when I first directed. My first production as a director was [Bernard Shaw’s] Heartbreak House at the Drama Theatre. Richard [Wherrett] just took a leap of faith with me, and that was exactly the way I was able to move across from acting to directing. I believe we have a role to play here, of giving people chances to do this.
"I have also always striven for a balance between senior practitioners and the emerging practitioners, I think it is really important for a state theatre company to offer those career opportunities, to develop people further."
Nor has Nevin forgotten the continuing need to develop her Actors Company further. She has scheduled four works for them: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (directed by Edward Dick, of the Cheek by Jowl theatre company), Tales from the Vienna Woods (directed by Jean-Pierre Mignon), the White play (directed by Benedict Andrews) and a work commissioned for the group, The Art of War, by English playwright Stephen Jeffreys, and which will be directed by Arden.
"Annabel’s process of working will be thrilling for the actors, because it is so physically based," Nevin says. "What I have tried to do is to choose directors for the Actors Company who have quite intense experiences working with an ensemble, with the idea of an ensemble and with the principles of an ensemble."
To leaven the mix the season also includes a musical, the popular Melbourne Theatre Company production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and the bizarre, crazy British hit of last year, Ying Tong: A Walk with the Goons, by Roy Smiles, which is set in an insane asylum and in Spike Milligan’s mind: how to tell which is which will be the audience’s pleasure, no doubt, to discover.