September 4, 2014
Sydney Theatre Company tonight announced a star-studded 2015 line-up of new plays and much-loved and rarely performed classics by theatre’s most iconic writers.
“I feel very confident that it’s full of the things I love,” artistic director Andrew Upton told Daily Review of the 2015 season. “So hopefully other people will too.”
At the centre of the season are several classics filled with Australia’s most iconic actors — Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving and Robyn Nevin.
Geoffrey Rush reunites with his longtime collaborator, director Neil Armfield, for a new production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, which Upton says is a personally significant piece of theatrical history to bring to the stage.
Ex-STC co-artistic director Cate Blanchett will appear opposite Richard Roxburgh in another Chekhov play adapted by Upton, after touring STC’s Uncle Vanya to Washington D.C. and New York in 2011 and 2012.
Hugo Weaving and Upton will again tackle Samuel Beckett in Endgame, after their joint success with Waiting for Godot last year, while Robyn Nevin returns to STC to perform in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer.
There are also world premieres with Kylie Coolwell’s debut play Battle of Waterloo, which looks at the indigenous community in the Sydney suburb of Waterloo and Melissa Bubnic’s Boys Will Be Boys (more information below).
Upton says the season crosses broad ground and that there’s a tension between new work and classics.
“It reaches from the very immediate work of The Wharf Revue (which celebrates its 15th birthday in 2015) and works by Bubnic and Coolwell, right back to the deep pillars of Chekhov, Shakespeare, Beckett and Williams.”
In the season, there are only two completely new works by Australian writers (down from six in 2014 and eight in 2013), one Australian classic (Andrew Bovell’s first play After Dinner) and one Australian adaptation of a classic by Upton. The scarcity of local playwrights will undoubtedly attract controversy given recent debates around the amount of new Australian writing on our stages.
But notably, all the new plays (both Australian and international) in the season are written by female writers, with Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Olwen Fouere’s Riverrun and April de Angelis’s Jumpy, starring Jane Turner (Kath and Kim).
The decision to program so many female writers wasn’t intentional, according to Upton, but it does feed into the broader narrative of the season.
“There have been quite a few seasons I’ve programmed where there’s been a thing that holds the conversation together,” he says. “I think gender, identity and history are really big in this. Gender in the canon, as well, is hugely interesting.”
Upton has now been in the role since joining as co-artistic director with wife Blanchett in 2007, and flying solo since 2013. His contract with the company is up at the end of 2015, and he says he’s still unsure as to what will happen after that point. But he says he believes artistic directors shouldn’t stick around at major companies like STC for too long.
“The jobs are limited, the opportunities are limited, and after a while you end up with the things that you love and the artists that you love, which is great, but that can limit others. When I do leave, it will be a lovely thing giving this job to whoever gets it. It’s a beautiful company and a beautiful job if you love theatre. Because it’s theatre 24 hours a day.”
Suddenly Last Summer (from 9 Feb)
Australian theatre doyenne Robyn Nevin (“The Nevster is back!” according to Upton) stars in Tennessee Williams’ American thriller Suddenly Last Summer, directed by STC resident director Kip Williams (behind this year’s Macbeth). Although the play was adapted for a film starring Elizabeth Taylor in 1959, it’s not one of Williams’ most-performed works, and hasn’t been seen in Sydney since Neil Armfield’s 2000 production for Belvoir.
Andrew Upton: “It’s a really interesting piece of drama. A really pungent story. We had a reading of it, with Kip directing Robyn, and his sense of it was so clear. It’s in that space like The Maids or Our Town or Under Milkwood, as plays you know of but haven’t necessarily seen.”
Endgame (from 31 Mar)
Hugo Weaving reunites with Upton for another Samuel Beckett play, after their Helpmann-winning production of Waiting for Godot. Upton will direct and Weaving will star and serve as associate director.
Andrew Upton: “The Beckett experience is kind of unforgettable. It’s so profound, simple and difficult. Endgame has this terrible, inverse relationship to Godot. Godot is essentially a very warm human picture, but this is the darker underbelly of that. But it’s still funny.”
Boys Will Be Boys (from 16 Apr)
Australian playwright Melissa Bubnic (who won the Patrick White Playwrights Award in 2010 for her play Beached) takes a look at the women who occupy the macho world of the stock exchange, and asks questions about gender identity in a new play starring Danielle Cormack (Rake, Wentworth).
Andrew Upton: “It’s quite an abrasive, blunt, but very funny satire on the world of trading. It’s not a straight narrative at all — it’s got elements of cabaret, songs and a subplot that goes somewhere quite interesting.”
The Present (from 4 Aug)
Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh team up for another Chekhov, directed by Irish Tony Award-winner John Crowley in his Australian debut. The Present is a new play by Andrew Upton, based on Chekhov’s first, Platonov, which was rejected by theatres and lost for 45 years.
Andrew Upton: “It’s a complete play — about five hours of theatrical material that’s uncut, unedited and unshaped. He wrote it, was told it was terrible, put it in a drawer and it wasn’t found until 1923. There’s a lot of room inside it to shape a semi-new work. There’s something about the wealth of the characters which is very pertinent to today.”
Love and Information (from 9 Jul)
One of the new plays coming to STC from London is Love and Information. Written by one of England’s greatest playwrights of the last 50 years, Caryl Churchill, it features an ensemble of eight who play more than 100 characters in various vignettes looking at how we live our lives in the digital age. The STC production is directed by Kip Williams and features Zahra Newman, Alison Whyte and Ursula Yovich.
Andrew Upton: “It paints this very fragmented picture of the modern world with the main uniting question asking how love and intimacy works in cyberspace — in a world where private and public are blurred and it’s hard to negotiate intimacy or connection.”
King Lear (from 24 Nov)
With Geoffrey Rush performing in his first STC production in more than 20 years and veteran director Neil Armfield at the helm, King Lear may well be the Sydney theatre event of 2015. Armfield reunites with designers Robert Cousins and Alice Babidge, after their huge success with Opera Australia’s Melbourne Ring Cycle, and brings Robyn Nevin back to the stage as The Fool.
Andrew Upton: “I’ve said this before — Neil’s production of Hamlet, with Richard Roxburgh playing Hamlet and Geoffrey as Horatio — I was in my early 20s when it was on and it was the most influential piece of Australian theatre for me. It was a great, truly Australian voice inside the canon. It’s why I do adaptations and why I do this job. It’s vital to do new Australian work and keep the Australian story onstage, but it’s also really great to get inside those big old works and tell them from our perspective. I don’t know anybody who can do that as well as Neil.”