I’ve made no secret about the shows that got my knickers in a knot this year so let’s take a tiny moment and reflect on what the Sydney theatre scene has presented in 2011 that made me glad to be at the theatre. Here’s my top 5 shows (so far):
1. Terminus. STC. You can read my full review in previous entries but essentially what I loved about this show, staged at the Drama Theatre, was the vivid, evocative writing that catapulted my imagination into these three interconnected stories. The immense performance skills of the actors to engage me through their complete commitment in deconstructing their stories, without the need for contrived dramatic action, makes it a clear winner. A polished, professional and engrossing show.
2. Speaking in Tongues. Griffin. Andrew Bovell, one of Australia’s best playwrights, proves that his writing rarely dates. The beautiful weave of duologues, played in multiple roles by an exceptional cast and directed by Sam Strong still hits its mark 15 years since its debut. I love Griffin’s rationale- put on emerging and landmark Australian works, such as Lachan Philpott, Jane Bodie, Patricia Cornelius, Sue Smith et al. Bovell’s manipulation of form and text proves he is a master-craftsman at what he does and Griffin is one of the most crucial companies in exploring local works and deserves more recognition from government and arts funding.
3. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Belvoir. Yes, it hasn’t all been roses this year from Belvoir but they got the formula right with this seminal Australian play. Embroiled in scandal before its debut, with the last minute retrenchment of Luke Ford as Johnny Dowd, the design, direction and beauty of this play breathed its way again onto the stage, as fresh as the air coming through the exposed window onto the street. Sure, I wasn’t completely convinced by the paralysed physicality and constant tension of Steve Le Marquand as Roo and Yael Stone’s Bubba pursued the bounce like a lazzi out of control and needed a thumping as the season went on, but I forgive it because most of the time it got it right and I was thoroughly engaged. Susie Porter, Helen Thomson, TJ Power, Dan Wylie and Robyn Nevin were outstanding. Once again, a special mention to Nevin. The lady could kill you with one lashing of her tongue but my god, she can act.
4. The Dark Room. Belvoir Downstairs. This was a close tie with They Called Him Mr Glamour. There is an intimacy of space in this small but beautifully designed theatre that allows you as audience to connect with these powerful works. The Dark Room, written by Angela Betzien and directed by Leticia Caceres came out of nowhere and slammed you into the wall and held you there for the entirety of the show. I was completely transported into the remote world of the outback and the abject despair that comes from living in a place the rest of the country neglects. The characters dug their way into your consciousness and even now, weeks later, still knock at my temples for recognition. I was in that room with them and am complicit in their actions. Superb acting, writing and direction. We haven’t seen the last of this play.
5. The Laramie Project. Riverside. Amateur company, Chalkdust Theatre, deserves a special mention in their staging of this verbatim piece about the gay hate crime of Matthew Sheppard. I didn’t love this play when it was first staged by Belvoir some years ago but Chalkdust and director Jonathan Llewellyn found nuance and intent and their control in performance and form and it was beyond what I have seen many professional companies do this year. This one took me by surprise and has earned its place in the top five. The stalling opening of actors preparing for their roles was perhaps the only choice that marred what was an otherwise excellent production. This also serves as a reminder that there is a wealth of talent outside of the mainstream and for those who are overlooked by the big guns, get out there and tell the stories that excite you.
So although I’ve seen some shows this year that made me want to set Chopper loose with a loaded weapon on stage, it’s worth reflecting on what’s out there that makes it a pleasure to go to the theatre. It is a pity I missed Threepenny Opera and Bloodland as I have heard great things and no doubt they would have given the list a shake up.
I’m also challenging theatre patrons to go and see productions outside of the mainstream. Check out Griffin, Darlinghurst Theatre, Seymour’s Reginald Theatre, Belvoir Downstairs, the Old Fitz- see what’s on around Sydney and think twice before taking out thousand dollar subscriptions with the top dogs. I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.
And for those who hate the foray into happy critic, don't worry. The hit list of bottom 5 will be finding its way into a post by the year's end, I promise!