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Looking back on 2016

2016 was a disappointing year at the theatre in Sydney. Most of the Good Work came from the independent co-op productions and theatres. The Sydney Theatre Company just seems to be consistently artistically rudderless and moribund (is it driven, led, by Corporate visionaries or by artists? Money or art? Bums-on-seats rather than genuine artistic risk, exploration? Who are the dominant Board members? Bankers, Administrators or Artists? Be interesting to talk to Jonathan Church, don’t you think?)  Belvoir appears to be in some dynamic of flux with a balanced mixture of hits and misses – a gradual return to consistency in output and a regard for its long-suffering audience, led by Eamon Flack. Griffin, both, the Main Company and Independent productions were extremely wayward and ‘pumped’ rather than of ‘authentic’ substance. The Ensemble Theatre consistent with their conservative but reliable curation with the new Artistic leadership. The Darlinghurst Theatre fairly middle-of-the-road and a little underwhelming – dull – in what they present. Looking at my personal experience of the year it seems to me that the Old Fitz, a 60 seat theatre (!) is doing the most consistently interesting work, followed by Sport For Jove at the Seymour Centre. Both of those companies, by-the-way, doing it with the Good Grace of the Artists who do it unwaged. Why?  Because they NEED to, to continue to believe that they are artists. It can only get better, can’t it?


It’s true isn’t it? Every theatre company in Australia has commissions and development opportunities for new Australian writing. The major drama schools are doing it, for god’s sake! Even the Co-op companies are doing it – look at next year’s season at the Old Fitz, for instance. There are organisations committed to just that, the development of New Australian Plays, and nothing else. There seems to be a big ‘industry’, every year out there for New Australian plays. The funding for the new Australian Play industry seems to be enormous. For one’s company to be funded, it would be a requirement, I suspect, even if unofficially, to plan a new Australian program or include a new work to gain a sympathetic ‘ear’ to score some monetary help. True or False?

So, where are the plays, then? I mean they don’t have to be ‘great’. Just being ‘good’ would be a starter, I reckon.

When one remembers, say, THE TURQUOISE ELEPHANT, which in 2015, won the Griffin Playwriting Award and was produced by them this year, and, say, THE GREAT FIRE, produced this year at Belvoir, or LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT at Carriageworks as a new Australian play, can one really believe that they are three of the BEST works that the Playwriting Industry in Australia can come up with, that the Gate-Keepers of those producing companies approve and believe we should see? Forget the productions, I mean just read the published texts. Really? Three of the Best? I wasn’t convinced. From my conversations, with others, not many were. Should we mention THE BEAST – another new Australian work supported by a Commercial management! – what did they see in that work, to spend their own money? Oh horror, horror, horror. As Marlon Brando in APOCALYPSE NOW says: “The Horror.”

  1. 80 MINUTES NO INTERVAL, by Travis Cotton. A comic play of much exhilaration with some great performances. Not perfect but really worth seeing again. One hopes to see it produced anew. Seen at the Old Fitz early in the year.
  2. SAVAGES by Patricia Cornelius. Ms Cornelius is a writer with a savage and angry eye. There is not much compromise going on for an audience’s ‘comfort’ – a fierce but poetic truth-teller.This is a one-act play. Seen at the Eternity Theatre. Last year saw her play SLUT***at the New Theatre (this year it was produced at the Eternity Theatre. 
  3. THE BLOCK UNIVERSE, by Sam O’Sullivan. Matching ‘intellectual’ material with a love story this is a debut play by Mr O’Sullivan and it was a relief to be ‘invited’ into the material content of the writer’s interests. Seen at Old 505 Theatre.
  4. e-baby by Jane Cafarella. A kind of docu-drama about the trials of Surrogacy well told. Entertainment and enlightenment, in an easy dosage. Seen at the Ensemble Theatre.
  5. THE DROVER’S WIFE, by Leah Purcell. A contemporary take on of the Henry Lawson short story told thrillingly with an iconoclastic ‘hammer’ telling of the savagery of life for all,  through a particular indigenous lens. The best new play of the year, I reckon, not necessarily served with the writer also playing the lead role. Look forward to another production to test its impression. Seen at Belvoir St.
  6. FLOOD, by Chris Isaacs. A play from Western Australia. One would hope we get to see more of this writer’s work here in Sydney. Seen at the Old 505 Theatre.
  7. Damien Ryan’s adaptation of Sophocles’ ANTIGONE – A relevant and respectful text based on the classic play (mostly).


  1. THE BLIND GIANT IS DANCING, by Stephen Sewell. An epic play that revealed its strengths despite its Direction and also its flaws. A play that doesn’t quite escape the shackles of the 80’s, its period of writing. Blue pencil, re-shaping?! Just great to have the opportunity to see again. They don’t write them like that anymore. At Belvoir.
  2. 4 MINUTES, 12 SECONDS, by James Fritz. A British play from 2013 with its finger on social ‘ethics’ and the personal corruption of our times. At the Old Fitz.
  3. JOURNEY’S END, by R.C. Sheriff. An ‘oldie’ but a play that grows in stature as time passes, when it has a good production and commitment from the actors. The horrors of war still relevant. Seen at ATYP.
  4. ANTIGONE, an adaptation of Sophocles’ play by Damien Ryan, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre.
  5. THE FAITH HEALER, by Brian Friel. Every element of this production was of the highest value: Writer, Director, Design, Acting. Seen at Belvoir St. 
  6.  THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES, the Prokofiev Opera revived by Opera Australia, this year. Cheeky, weird and provocative. Wonderful.
  7. ALADDIN, the stupid but entertaining spectacle from Disney. I had such a good time,


  1. Sarah Snook and Ralph Fiennes in THE MASTER BUILDER at the Old Vic. Ms Snook challenging her famous co-lead for every moment on stage to tell the Ibsen play.
  2. Russell Kiefel, Genevieve Lemon and Andrew Henry in THE BLIND GIANT IS DANCING.
  3. Lindasy Barrett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson in the Royal Court production of ESCAPED ALONE, by Caryl Churchill.
  4. Keith Agius in THE WHALE, by Samuel D. Hunter, at the Old Fitz.
  5. Patrick Cullen as soldier in BULLY BOY, by Sandi Toksvig at the Blue Moon.
  6. Ensemble of a London production of RED VELVET, by Lolita Chakrabarti, led by Adrian Lester.
  7. Heather Mitchell in HAY FEVER for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC).
  8. Briallen Clarke in HAY FEVER (STC) and THE BLOCK UNIVERSE, at Old 505.
  9. Danielle King in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW for Sport For Jove, and 4 MINUTES, 12 SECONDS at the Old Fitz.
  10. Elijah Williams for BLACK JESUS, by Anders Lustgarten, at The Kings Cross Hotel and in the Sport For Jove production of ANTIGONE.
  11. Taylor Ferguson in BELLEVILLE at the Old Fitz. Fearless performance.
  12. Simon London in STRAIGHT by D.C. Moore at the Kings Cross Hotel.
  13. Hilary Cole, in the Musical HEATHERS in the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House.
  14. Josh McConville and Robyn Nevin in ALL MY SONS for the STC.
  15. Ben Mortley in THOSE WHO FALL IN LOVE LIKE ANCHORS DROPPED UPON THE OCEAN FLOOR, by Finegan Kruckemeyer, at SBW Stables Theatre for Griffin Independent.
  16. Paula Arundell surviving brilliantly as Hippolyta/Titania in the STC’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
  17. Jeanette Cronin in LETTERS TO LINDY, by Alana Valentine, at the Seymour Centre.
  18. Marta Dusseldorp playing magnificently despite complex production obstacles in GLORIA***, by Benedict Andrews, for the Griffin Company at the SBW Stables Theatre.
  19. Belinda Giblin as Olympia in THE TURQUOISE ELEPHANT, for the Griffin, at the SBW Stables Theatre.
  20. Mark Coles Smith, Benedict Hardie and Tony Cogin in THE DROVER’S WIFE, by Leah Purcell, at Belvoir.
  21. Colin Friels, Alison Whyte and Pip Miller in THE FAITH HEALER, by Brian Friels, at Belvoir.
  22. David Woods with skill and committed integrity in A FLEA IN HER EAR, for the STC.
  23. Jonny Hawkins making an impressive comic debut in RELATIVELY SPEAKING, at the Ensemble Theatre.


  1. ANNA GARDINER, Set Design, Martelle Hunt, Costume Design, Sian James-Holland, Lighting, for INNER VOICES, at the Old Fitz.
  2. Brian Thomson, Set Design and Emma Vine, Costume design for the THE TURQUOISE ELEPHANT, for the Griffin in the SBW Stables Theatre.
  3. Georgia Hopkins, Set Design, Daniel Learmont, Costume Design and Alex Berlage, Lighting Design for THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT, at the Old Fitz.
  4. Brian Thomson, Set Design and Tess Schofield, Costume Design, Verity Hampson for Lighting Design for THE FAITH HEALER, at Belvoir.
  5. Isabel Hudson, Set Design, for THE SHADOW BOX, at the Old Fitz.


  1. PHIL ROUSE for INNER VOICES at the Old Fitz.
  3. JUDY DAVIS for THE FAITH HEALER, at Belvoir.
  4. KIM HARDWICK for THE SHADOW BOX at the Old Fitz.


  1. HUSBANDS AND SONS, by D.H, Lawrence, adapted by Ben Power and Marianne Elliott, for the National Theatre, London.
  2. ESCAPED ALONE, by Caryl Churchill, at the Royal Court, London.
  3. KING CHARLES III , by Mike Bartlett, at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney.
  4. MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, by August Wilson, at the National Theatre, London.
  5. THE KING AND I, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, in the Lincoln Center Theater, at the Vivian Beaumont.
  6. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, by Arthur Miller, at the Lyceum Theatre, Broadway, New York.
  7. SOMETHING ROTTEN – A Musical at the St. James Theater, on Broadway, New York.
  8. FUN HOME – A Musical at the Circle In the Square, Broadway, New York.


  1. LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT, by Luke Mullins and Lachlan Philpott, at Carriageworks. Design style triumphs over content substance.
  2. THE GREAT FIRE, by Kit Brookman, at Belvoir. How many drafts did this text have? Not enough.
  3. Bell Shakespeare’s OTHELLO – it toured nationally! This was the best production that the famous Bell Shakespeare could put together? Maybe, some serious discussion ought to be going on at Board level, don’t you think?
  4. Both Simon Phillips’ productions, THE BEAST and A FLEA IN HER EAR, at the Sydney Opera House. Grotesque decisions on stage.
  5. Almost everything that the National Theatre of Parramatta produced: SWALLOW; STOLEN; THE CARTOGRAPHER’S CURSE. The exception being WHO SPEAKS FOR ME.

P.S. For history’s sake I directed Anton Chekhov’s THREE SISTERS, for Sport For Jove, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre: Sydney critics nominated:

PAIGE GARDINER as Best Actress in an Independent Production. (Masha).
TOM CAMPBELL, as Best Supporting actor for an Independent Production. (Andrey).
GEORGIA HOPKINS, Best Set Design for an Independent Production.
EMMA VINE, Best Costume Design for an Independent Production.

          NOEL HODDA was nominated for a Glug Award as Best supporting actor. (Chebutikhin).

I would like to declare my thanks to the ensemble of artists’ for that production. I had a ‘dream’ time working with them all.

Thanks to my readers. Let’s hope 2017 is prosperous and safe for all of us.

Kevin J.