2014, the verdict


Event(s) of the Year
The Seagull – STCSA, Adelaide Festival
Tartuffe; Henry V Bell Shakespeare
William Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs – Russall S. Beattie at The Vanguard
Children of the Sun – Sydney Theatre Company
Once – Melbourne Theatre Company, Gordon/Frost

Honourable Mention
On The Shore of the Wide World – Pantsguys & Griffin Independent
Noises Off; Switzerland – Sydney Theatre Company
Jump for Jordan – Griffin Theatre Company
Platonov – ATYP, MopHead & Catnip Productions
The Legend of King O’Malley – Don’t Look Away
Sweeney Todd – New Theatre
A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic (NTLive)

Dishonourable Mention
Cain and Abel – THE RABBLE, Belvoir
Hedda Gabler – Belvoir
Nora – Belvoir
Oedipus Rex – Belvoir
Rupert – Melbourne Theatre Company, David Sparrow Productions
Truth, Beauty and A Picture of YouHayes Theatre Company

Best (New) Play
Jump for Jordan, Donna Abela
The Effect, Lucy Prebble
Procne & Tereus, Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Joan, Again, Paul Gilchrist

Henry V (dir. Damien Ryan)
All’s Well That Ends Well (dir. Damien Ryan)
Richard III (dir. Mark Kilmurry)

The Red Curtain Award for Most Prodigious Use of Red Curtains
Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin & Co. – Strictly Ballroom The Musical

The Most Restrained Deployment of Trademark Style
Benedict Andrews, A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic; NTLive)


The Playlist: 2014 at the theatre

If you’ve followed my blog or read any of my theatre reviews throughout this year, you might have seen a numbered song at the bottom of the page. Collected together, they form ‘The Playlist,’ the idea being to find a piece of music that encapsulates either the production or my response to it (often both). So, as with last year’s round-up of the theatre-year, here is The Playlist for 2014.


The kindness of strangers: Young Vic’s A Streetcar Named Desire (NTLive)

Director Benedict Andrews needs no introduction to Sydney audiences. Over the past seven years, his productions have garnered considerable critical and popular acclaim, and not without detractors. Known for his striking theatricality as much as for his reliance upon certain stock examples of stagecraft – glass boxes, confetti falling from the ceiling, loud noises or music, bodily fluids (blood, urine, faeces, vomit, spit) being spread across the set, gratuitous nudity and/or drug-taking – it has almost become predicable as to what you’d expect to encounter in a production directed by Andrews. But in his recent production of Tennessee WilliamsA Streetcar Named Desire for London’s Young Vic, currently screening in cinemas as part of the National Theatre Live program, it is the distinct lack of these effects which makes it such an engrossing and relatively ‘straight’ interpretation of Williams’ play. This Streetcar is visceral, dangerous, strangely seductive and undeniably compelling. 


Follow your dreaming: Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Page 8

First staged in 2004, Belvoir’s production of Page 8 – the autobiographical one-person show by David Page – toured the country and internationally for the next five years. Presented here by Bangarra Dance Theatre on its tenth anniversary, as part of Corroboree Sydney, the show is a collection of stories from the Page family’s rich goldseam of experiences, peppered with fragments of home videos, direct audience address, re-enactment, and song-and-dance numbers.


Power to the people: Mongrel Mouth’s The Age of Entitlement

As digital content seems to reach a saturation point, and new ways of telling stories are sought out, the frontier of immersive theatre is a brave new world of possibility. Sitting somewhere between art installation, theatre, and real-life do-it-yourself adventure storytelling, immersive theatre can be created on as large or as intimate a scale as the space and resources allow, with the intention that no two experiences are identical. British theatre company Punchdrunk are game-changing pioneers in this scene, and their work is nothing short of phenomenal, bringing “cinematic [levels] of detail” to large-scale installations in often unexpected locations.
Part of The Rocks’ Village Bizarre festival, Mongrel Mouth’s The Age of Entitlement is a home-grown piece of immersive theatre set in a turn of the century world where the audience is given semi-autonomy to wander in and out of rooms, building the (a?) narrative from the fragments and scenes we glimpse. You are invited to follow a character and/or storyline, because the ending is purportedly in the audience’s hands every night. The Age of Entitlement is about power, wealth, ambitions and love, about trying to achieve your dreams in the face of adversity, and how even the strongest and best of intentions can be corrupted. Expanding upon the format of and experiences gained from their first show earlier this year, The Silence Came, Mongrel Mouth’s new production has flair and verve, but there still feels like there is a way to go before the concept is perfected to the degree of unpredictability which the form demands.


Swing your razor wide: New Theatre’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Based on a nineteenth century penny dreadful, the story of Sweeney Todd, the ‘Demon Barber’ of Fleet Street, is the stuff of legend. Whilst a largely fictional character, he is often likened to Jack the Ripper as a figure whose mythology is larger than that of any real person from the time. First published in serial form in 1846-7 as The String of Pearls, a romance, the story was quickly adapted and appropriated into different mediums, with the name Sweeney becoming ubiquitous with that of a barber. A deliciously Victorian melodrama, it has captured the imaginations of millions across the world, including those of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler who adapted Christopher Bond’s play into their successful 1979 musical.
Playing at Newtown’s New Theatre, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the story of Todd, a man who is sentenced to life imprisonment in Australia under a trumped-up charge and makes his return to London, vowing vengeance upon those who removed him in the first place. Straight off the ship, he makes his way to his old stomping ground on Fleet Street, where he meets Mrs Lovett, a pie-maker with a failing business, and the result of their two devilish wits and cunning schemes is nothing short of, well, delicious. Written with panache and flair by Wheeler and Sondheim, the musical has a dark and lyrical momentum which keeps the story moving, as it combines a story of jealousy, love, horror, thrifty business. It is, by turn, a full-blooded melodrama, a Grand Guignol concoction of blood and hellish deeds, but also a pointed social commentary that is gripping, emotional and, at times, quite darkly funny.


The world of the news: MTC’s Rupert

First staged by the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2013, David Williamson’s Rupert is a cabaret-style ‘This Is Your Life’ of Rupert Murdoch, a man who needs no introduction. The second richest Australian who ever lived, as Williamson’s note in the program tells us, Murdoch is everywhere – in the films and television we watch, in the news we consume, in the way we think about the world – whether we are aware of it or not, whether we like it or not. Williamson’s Rupert is “a kind of Rupert Cabaret, in which he invites the audience to sit down and listen to the real story of his life, not the story peddled by lefty, inner-city, latte-sipping, acai berry-eating critics.” Directed by Lee Lewis, it is a carousel indicative of the media-saturated age we live in, where information is at our fingertips, where everything is apparently bigger bolder faster louder higher stronger better.


Pandemonium: National Theatre's Frankenstein (NTLive)

We all know Frankenstein’s monster – the block head, the shock of dark hair on its flat top, the bolts in the neck, the ill-fitting clothes, the immense iron shoe-clad feet, the lumbering gait, arms outstretched. We erroneously call this monstrosity ‘Frankenstein,’ not realising that is actually the name of the scientist who created him; the creature is, in fact, unnamed, although as this production illustrates so clearly, both creature and scientist are two halves of one being – creator and created – thus the title of Frankenstein being applicable to both man and creature. But underneath the myth and horror-appropriation of the story is Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, and this production – created for London’s National Theatre in 2011 – springs forth from Shelley’s novel into full-blooded life, first upon the stage and now upon cinema screens as part of the popular National Theatre Live program.
First published in January 1818 when Mary Shelley was twenty years old and pregnant herself, the novel is often credited as the first work of science-fiction. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the age of science was beginning – surgeons and anatomists were plumbing the human body for its secrets and workings, the discovery of electricity was almost visible on the horizon, and the modern world was about to explode in all its hulking smoking burning glory into full being through the Industrial Revolution. There was much less of a distinction between art and science as we know them today, and for many writers and thinkers of the time, the two were intertwined. At the heart of Shelley’s Frankenstein is not Hollywood’s idea of horror, but a very morbid and human fear of being born.