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Looking back on 2015

2015 was a fairly testy and testing time in the theatre for me. Not much happened to arrest my attention until late in the year. It had been fairly dire. Belvoir with very few exceptions, awful. The Sydney Theatre Company (STC) very hit and miss – lots of miss. The Griffin mostly ordinary and the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, too, all ‘over the shop’ as they say. I took some conscious solace by attending some Music stuff just to get an injection of above average standard. Oh, well.

(Hey Guys,
This is numbered for convenience not for preferential listing.

Best New Australian Writing:

  1. BOYS WILL BE BOYS, by Melissa Bubnic. Directed by Paige Rattray at the Wharf for the STC. Cheeky provocation about the BOYS world, played by an all female cast.
  2. A TOWN CALLED WAR BOY, by Ross Mueller. Directed by Fraser Corfield for the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) at the NSW State Library. A little play that commemorated the ANZAC experience that I thought was beautifully made from actual resources of Anzac soldiers in the NSW Library collection. It was great to see new work from Mr Mueller onstage.
  3. BATTLE OF WATERLOO, by Kylie Coolwell. Directed by Sarah Goodes for the STC at the Wharf Theatre. This play was the contemporary Indigenous play that I had been waiting for. It has a reality grip of a true authenticity of inner city contemporary life, written with love and amazing skill, for a first play. A classic to be – old fashioned structure spilling with vibrant life.Great to see.
  4. THE BLEEDING TREE, by Angus Cerini. Directed by Lee Lewis for the Griffin Theatre, A poetically cauterising work bristling with the consequence of ignored physical and psychological abuse. The imagery is glorious in its graphic details. A poem, short story form.
  5. DEAD TIME, by Fleur Beaupert at 107 Projects, Redfern. Directed by Fleur Beauport. A verbatim text examining the scandal of the Australian Government’s abuse of Dr Mohamed Haneef. This play reminded me of the French Dreyfus Affair/Scandal (1894-1906) and I shuddered that the Australian Haneef Affair/Scandal has been so, conveniently buried/forgotten. This play was created and played by all with a passion for justice.  Doctor Mohamed Haneef: A subject for a major play/film, of some sought, I would have thought. A revival of this work, at least, so it can be seen and contemplated by many more in our comfortable society.
  6. MORTIDO, by Angela Betzien at Belvoir Theatre. Directed by Leticia Caceres. A dark work mostly set in Sydney with its cocaine habit/market. Raw truths mixed with a magic realism of a drug haze. Truly contemporary. Very exciting. Colin Friels giving the Best performance of the year, supported wonderfully by Tom Conroy and David Valencia. Is this my favourite new Australian play? ….?

 Other works I am glad I saw:

  1. REFLECTIONS ON GALLIPOLI. Presented by the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO). Music, with dramatic readings and visuals led by Richard Tognetti and Directed by Neil Armfield.
  2. HOUSE OF RAMON IGLESIA, by Jose Rivera. Directed by Anthony Skuse for Mophead Productions in association with Red Line, at the Old Fitz Theatre. A stirring drama of an immigrant family in the USA coming to terms with the clash and influence of ‘cultures’ – old and new – in a family. Wonderfully directed,with an empathetic ensemble cast : Stephen Multari, Christian Charisiou, David Soncin, Nicholas Papademetriou, Deborah Galanos, Eloise Snape and Ronny Jon Paul Mouawai. Set by Georgia Hopkins, Lighting by Chris Page. Music by Alistair Wallace. Moving.
  3. GROUNDED, by George Brant. Directed by Kristen Von Bibra for Red Stitch, presented in the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre. This was a one person monologue delivered by a magnificent Kate Cole supported by production values of the highest order. The immaculate discipline of the show was breath taking. Its content heartbreaking and shocking. I had to swallow my prejudice against monologue as good theatre, indeed.
  4. OF MICE AND MEN, by John Steinbeck. Directed by Iain Sinclair for Sport For Jove in the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre. A truly great production with a wonderful cast led with a top knotch performance from Andrew Henry, as Lenny, with a great ensemble cast: Anthony Gooley, Andre de Vany, Laurence Coy, Christopher Stollery, Anna Houston, Charles Allen, John McNeil, Tom Stokes and Terry Serio. Set Design by Michael Hankin. Lighting, by Sian James-Holland. Sound Design, by Nate Edmundson.
  5. TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, by Richard Wagner. A concert version with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) led by David Robertson. A Great experience.
  6. JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER, A Dance work presented by Powerhouse Youth Theatre in association with Force Majeure in the School of Arts Hall, Fairfield. A work utilising the gifts of a local group of young ‘artists’ and their street honed skills of many contemporary styles of movement, organised into a kind of biographical/ verbatim show by Byron Perry. Video design by Sean Bacon. Sound design by Luke Smiles. The performers: Joseph Carbone, Johnny Do, Patrick Uy, Justin Kilic, Natalie Siri and Jimmy James Pham.The great news is that this work will be presented in 2016 at the Sydney Opera House. Don’t miss it.
  7. SUPERPOSITION, by Ryoji Ikeda. A computer generated Sound and Light show about science. Mind blowing, even to my illiterate science/mathematic brain. A gift to have had the opportunity to experience. Presented by Carriageworks.
  8. THE ALIENS, by Annie Baker.  Presented by Outhouse Theatre Co in association with Red Line at the Old Fitz Theatre. A newish American writer creating hyper-real texts of intense observation of us – us, humans. The production was less than the play, but the play still shone.
  9. THE BEAUTY OF EIGHT. Presented by Taikoz in the York Theatre, Seymour Centre. This Australian music company dedicated to a Japanese tradition of drumming and wind instruments led an hypnotic journey with Ian Cleworth and Riley Lee, bewitching us all. Inspiring.
  10. RIDE and FOREPLAY, by Jane Bodie. Directed by Anthony Skuse at the Eternity Playhouse. It is so important to see the work of our established playwrights. These two one-act pieces, from an earlier time in Ms Bodie’s career, demonstrated, revealed, the range and depth of her writing. Just why she has not her latest work shown in Sydney is a mystery to me. If we don’t support by exposure our ‘established’ writers how do we expect to have a literary canon of any depth? It is why David Williamson is still around. It is why Nowra, Buzo, Hewett etc are ‘stars’ of our cultural ‘history’. The Performing Arts Profession supported them in past times by ensuring their work was produced – both great and not so great work was seen, for sure, but that is what it is all about isn’t it? Risk taking with talent? Old as well as new? Lachlan Philpott not shown on a Sydney stage this year! Why Not? That was why I felt relief to see a work (though small) of Ross Mueller from ATYP this year. Where is the new work of Stephen Sewell, for god’s sake? (Is it any wonder they write for film or Television, at least it is relatively ‘lucrative’. Is it? Writer’s do have to eat, have families, ‘do bleed’, etc, you know.) Where is Joanna Murray Smith’s work? There are so many plays of her’s that have never seen the light of day in Sydney – why not? Encourage the young writers for sure, but, keep the ‘established’ writers in front of us and ‘grow’ their contributions. Practice makes perfect. Look at some of the ‘horrors’ supported at Belvoir this year as new writing – most of it seemed to be  second or third draft auteurism of the most awful kind. Awful because it forgot that there was an audience that they were writing for, and that were paying for their opportunity to do so, in good faith – not all of us are going to continue to invest with our ‘good faith’, subscription, in those writers/directors unless we are considered in their formula of creative output. The audience pay to witness the outcome!
  11. ENGLISH ECCENTRICS, an Opera by Australian, Malcolm Williamson, rarely performed, presented by students at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, directed with clarity and wit by Kate Gaul. This was a discovery worth repeating – someone, please.
  12. A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN, by Nick Enright. A theatre-in-education (TIE) play presented by Don’t Look Now and Blancmange Productions. Directed by Phil Rouse with an ensemble cast of dedicated excellence under very trying circumstances: George Banders, Megan Drury, Samantha Young and Jack Starkey. Disturbing. Still.
  13. TANGI WAI – The Cry of Water, a dance/movement work created by Victoria Hunt with a brilliant Lighting/video contribution by Fausto Brusamolino and Boris Bagattini, and an absolutely great Sound Design by James Brown. Presented by Carriageworks. A very exciting, immersive work.
  14. AN INDEX OF METALS, by Fausto Romitelli. Sydney Chamber Opera and Ensemble Offspring under the Musical Direction of Jack Symonds. The work is a concert piece with video images that had an ‘opera’ production created by Kip Williams on top of it, discarding the video artists’ work. The Opera was not interesting. The music was thrilling. The Lighting by Ross Graham, monumental.  Presented by Carriageworks.
  15. 20 : 21, a trilogy of ballet from the Australian Ballet. Symphony in Three Movements, choreography by Balanchine, Music by Stravinsky; In the Upper Room, Choreography by Twyla Tharp. Music, by Philip Glass. But most striking was new work FILIGREE AND SHADOWS, Choreography by Tim Harbour. Set Design by Kevin Ho. Lighting, by Benjamin Cisterne. Sound Composition by 48Nord – Ulrich Muller and Siegfried Rosssert. The sum total of the work was a greatness. The dancing was propelling, compelling. The work thrilling.
  16. AUDRA MCDONALD SINGS BROADWAY, presented and with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO). I was gifted/taken to this show and it was the most inspiring night in the theatre I have had for some time. Ms McDonald is a craftsman of genius, and artist of the highest standing. I cried with envy, joy and amazement for most of it – so there.
  17. KING LEAR, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Neil Armfield  for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, with a towering performance from Geoffrey Rush as Lear of the highest order, supported with another by Helen Buday and Mark Winter Leonard. Lear is a big show and not all of it was of a whole, when I saw it, BUT, it was a magnificent achievement, haunting one still.
  18. VIOLET, a musical presented by Blue Saint Productions at the Hayes Theatre. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Book and Lyrics, by Brian Crowley. Impeccably Directed by Mitchell Butel. A great cast: Damian Bermingham, Barry Conrad, Steve Danielson, Sam Dodemaide, Kate Elle Reeve, Linden Furnell, Ryan Gonzalez, Dash Kruck, Genevieve Lemon, Elenoa Rokobaro and Luisa Serofani. A roof raising time. Lucy Bermingham as Musical Director keeping the show taut and shimmering.
  19. MISTERMAN, by Enda Walsh. Presented by Siren Theatre Co in association with Red Line at the Old Fitz Theatre. Directed by Kate Gaul. A one person monologue. Irish, to boot. And I had to eat my prejudices again, it was an immense night in the theatre. Cage rattling in its seamless ferociousness. A wonderful example of Ms Gaul in passionate pursuit of telling a story.
  20. Basel Chamber Orchestra, presented by the ACO with a guest Cellist Sol Gabetta. Besides Bartok and Saint-Saens, the orchestra introduced two contemporary works: META ARCA by Swiss composer, Heinz Holliger and a work that Ms Gabetta commissioned, by Latvian, Peteris Vasks called Cello Concerto No.2 Presence. Mesmerising. Held breaths.

Performances I relished:

  1. Robert Rhode, as Doctor Mohamed Haneef, in DEAD TIME, by Fleur Beaupert, at 107 Projects, Redfern.
  2. Huw Higginson in THE HOUSE ON THE LAKE, by Aidan Fennessey, at the Griffin Theatre. This was simply confirmation of the greatness of his work seen at the Griffin last year. Why don’t we see him more often?
  3. Brandon McClelland in A TOWN NAMED WAR BOYS for ATYP, and in THE PRESENT for the STC
  4. Luke Carroll and Shari Sebbens in BATTLE OF WATERLOO, at the STC. Great performances, great sympatico between them.
  5. Paula Arundell in THE BLEEDING TREE, one of the best performances of this year. Supported well by Shari Sebbens and Airlie Dodds at the Griffin. An amazing Ensemble.
  6. Kate Cole in GROUNDED, at the Reginald. As much as I loathe the monologue performance – this was a great one.
  7. Kate Box in DOLORES at the Old Fitz. Great work of great detail.
  8. Tom Campbell in MISTERMAN at the Old Fitz. Terrifying. 
  9. Andrew Henry as Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN. A wonderful physical transformation created with a sustained concentration of a most admirable intensity.
  10. Belinda Giblin In BLONDE POISON at the old Fitz. Another monologue where I had to forgo my prejudices. Horrifyingly attractive.
  11. James Bell as the innocent, Evan, in THE ALIENS, at the Old Fitz.
  12. Matthew Backer as Ariel in Bell Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, and as a member of the company of ORLANDO for the STC.
  13. George Banders in A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN.
  14. Josh McConville in Bell Shakespeare’s HAMLET. A spectaular marathon of talent and commitment.
  15. Taylor Ferguson ( a force of vibrating creativity) and Lucy Goleby in Nick Enright’s GOOD WORKS, at The Eternity Playhouse.
  16. Geoffrey Rush as KING LEAR – a Great Performance – for the STC. Helen Buday, as Goneril and Mark Leonard Winter as Edgar/Mad Tom.
  17. Audra McDonald in concert with the SSO. Genius. Not kidding.
  18. Sol Gabetta, Guest Cellist with the Basel Chamber Orchestra, presented by the ACO. An artist destined for legendary status, I reckon.
  19. Sam Dodemaide in VIOLET at the Hayes Theatre. It takes courage to play a difficult (unpleasant) character in a musical and not be tempted to want to be liked by taking ‘cutesy’ choices to be so – a habit of so many artists in the musical theatre genre, who should know better. Remarkably sustained craft that paid off “in spades”. Courage and gifts galore.
  20. Lucy Bermingham, Musical Director of VIOLET. Taut and thrilling work, to my ear.
  21. Genevieve Lemon, giving a tour de force commitment to a number of small roles and chorus responsibilities that simply ‘blew one’s head off’ with her creative comic insights and energy in VIOLET – one of a kind.
  22. Amy Lehpamer as Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. One could not wish for more. Wonderful.
  23. John Bell in IVANOV at Belvoir Theatre. Dazzling bravura.
  24. Colin Friels in MORTIDO, the best performance of the year, I reckon. 4 characters he loved and honed for us. Wow. He made the complicated look simple.

Designs I noticed:

  2. Georgia Hopkins for Set Design, THE HOUSE OF RAMON IGLESIA and MINUSONESISTER (and much else).
  3. Renee Mulder for Set Design, BATTLE OF WATERLOO and THE BLEEDING TREE.
  4. Verity Hampson’s, Lighting Design BATTLE OF WATERLOO and THE BLEEDING TREE, and much else. A jewel in the Sydney crown of talent.
  5. Matthew Adey’s Visual Design on GROUNDED. Sound Design by Elizabeth Drake – amazing.
  6. Kate Gaul’s Design for MISTERMAN.
  7. Michael Hankin for Set Design for OF MICE AND MEN. Lighting by Sian James-Holland. Sound Design by Nate Edmundson.
  8. Sound Design by Luke Smiles on JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER.
  9. Lighting Design by Ross Graham for AN INDEX OF METALS and VIOLET.
  10. Lighting Design for TANGI WAI by Fausto Brusamolino and Boris Bagattini. 
  11. A monumental Sound Design and Composition by James Brown for TANGI WAI. You need to hear it to believe it.
  12. Sound composition and Design by 48NORD: Ulrich Muller and Siegfried Rosssert for FILIGREE AND SHADOWS for the Australian Ballet.

Direction I noticed:

  • Fleur Beaupert for DEAD TIME.
  • Paige Rattray for BOYS WILL BE BOYS.
  • Fraser Corfield for A TOWN CALLED WAR BOYS.
  • Sarah Goodes for BATTLE OF WATERLOO.
  • Lee Lewis for THE BLEEDING TREE.
  • Kristen Von Bibra for GROUNDED.
  • Iain Sinclair for OF MICE AND MEN.
  • Jennifer Hagan for BLONDE POISON.
  • Byron Perry for JUMP FIRST, ASK LATER.
  • Phil Rouse for A PROPERTY OF THE CLAN.
  • Victoria Hunt for TANGI WAI.
  • Tim Harbour for FILIGREE AN SHADOWS.
  • Mitchell Butel for VIOLET. 
To Finish:
Perhaps, the MOST important event in the Performing Arts in 2015, in Sydney (Australia), was the creation of WITS – Women In Theatre and Screen. A movement to actively engage women at the forefront of our city’s artistic endeavours. Congratulations to the founders of this entity who decided ‘enough was enough’. Things have to change. I hope they (we) find the way to sustain the pressure and leadership. Action not just debate. Doing, not just talking.

Here’s to a Happy New Year for 2016!