September 4, 2014
It takes audacity to upstage two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. But the prospect of a naked Geoffrey Rush performing the title role in King Lear may draw attention away from Blanchett’s return to the Sydney stage.
Both Oscar-winning actors will headline the Sydney Theatre Company’s star-studded 2015 season, launched on Thursday by artistic director Andrew Upton.
Drawing attention: Geoffrey Rush set to play the title role in King Lear. Photo: James Green
The promotional material for King Lear, which will be directed by Neil Armfield, shows an undressed Rush dusted in white make-up and wearing a crown of twigs.
Upton said the image was meant to convey the vulnerability of Rush’s character: “There’s a sense that when he goes to Dover, having gone mad on the heath, that he has in some way been stripped down and reduced to the garland crown.
“I don’t know he’s going to get his kit off.
“That I will leave in the hands of the production. I wouldn’t say no though.”
Upton said he had long aspired to bring back the Melbourne-based Rush to the STC – where he last performed more than two decades ago in the 1993 production of Oleanna alongside Blanchett.
“Cate and I have been talking to him for years,” he said. “Obviously, Cate worked with him on Oleanna and onElizabeth. They’re very old friends, actually.”
“But Geoffrey was very much based in Melbourne while his children were at school, which I very much understand.”
Blanchett will perform opposite Richard Roxburgh in The Present, Upton’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s unfinished play Platonov.
Blanchett and Roxburgh were previously partnered in the STC’s acclaimed 2010 production of Uncle Vanya.
Upton said he had grabbed hold of the “long and baggy” play about a group of young men who fall in love with their friend’s mother, played by Blanchett, and are then reunited years later.
The 2015 season features familiar faces from television including comedy icon Jane Turner, from Kath & Kim, playing a middle-aged woman whose life is disintegrating in the comedy Jumpy.
The star of Underbelly: Razor and Wentworth, New Zealand actress Danielle Cormack, will play an abrasive, foul-mouthed currency trader in new Australian play Boys will be boys.
In a revival of the thriller Death and the Maiden, Susie Porter plays a torture victim who, years later, comes face-to-face with the man who may have been her captor.
Torture of a different kind will be faced by Hugo Weaving as he grapples yet again with the complexities of Samuel Beckett in Endgame, which Upton will direct in the Sydney Theatre.
Weaving plays the monstrous Hamm, who mercilessly bullies his son, Clov, while his old parents, Nagg and Nell, are kept in rubbish bins.
“He and I cooked this up,” Upton said. “He’s actually acting as the associate director on this as well just to sort of talk through the design, casting . . .”
Upton said the play was a companion piece to Waiting for Godot, which Weaving performed with Roxburgh in 2013: “I feel like it’s the underbelly of Godot in a funny kind of way. It’s another relationship that’s both hilarious and tragic.”
The STC will also stage Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer, starring Robyn Nevin as a southern matriarch trying to cover up her son’s homosexuality.
Nevin, a former artistic director of the STC, will also play the fool opposite Rush in King Lear at the Sydney Theatre later in the year.
Enlisting so many stars was not without risk, Upton said.
“It’s not the risk of failure. We’re not ambulance chasers. The potential for creative risk is increased with the confidence and capacity of the contributing artists.”
But the presence of so many famous actors is likely to benefit the company’s already healthy bottom line.
The STC reported a $430,837 profit for 2013 on turnover of almost $35 million following a loss of $254,420 in 2012. However, executive director Patrick McIntyre said the company would make less money this year.
The 2015 season will again feature the popular and highly profitable Wharf Revue.
However, Upton revealed next year “may be their last”.
“I don’t know. They don’t know either . . . that might be a farewell party. Who knows?”
Upton also suggested his reign as the STC’s artistic director was close to an end.
“If it’s not my last, it will be my second last, I reckon,” he said.
Read an exclusive interview with Geoffrey Rush this Saturday in Spectrum.