Nowt more outcastin’: STC’s The Golden Age

Early on in her study of Louis Nowra’s work, Veronica Kelly remarks upon the fact all of Nowra’s work seems to be focused around outcasts or outsiders, the experience of being an outsider, as well as the physical and psychological landscapes the characters find themselves in. Written in 1985 and revised in 1989, The Golden Age is perhaps Nowra’s most pertinent and, certainly, his most epic play to date. It is also a play that is not afraid to ask the big challenging questions, even if it knows it does not – cannot – hold all the answers itself. Inspired by a possibly-apocryphal story about a group of people found in the Tasmanian wilderness in the late 1930s who were descended from convict runaways and social outcasts from a hundred years earlier, Nowra’s play follows this ‘lost tribe’ out of the bush and the myriad repercussion their arrival brings for them and the two young men who stumbled across their camp. Directed here by Kip Williams for Sydney Theatre Company, this ‘thirtieth anniversary’ production of The Golden Age straddles war and peace, and ranges from Tasmania to Berlin and ancient Greece, with skill, integrity, humanity, and passion. In Williams’ hands, Nowra’s play bursts onto the stage in an earthy, exuberant, and intensely moving way that defies you to see its true age, and demands we hold it in its rightful place in Australia’s dramatic and cultural legacy.


Earth cry: Stone Soup & Griffin Independent’s Thomas Murray and the Upside Down River

The thing I love most about the Stables theatre is the size of its stage. No other theatre in Sydney that I can think of has a stage quite like it – in size, shape, or layout – and I am constantly amazed at how malleable it is; no two productions ever feel quite the same – sometimes the space feels bigger, sometimes smaller, sometimes grander or more intimate, sometimes even a different shape, as directors, designers, and theatre-makers call upon our imaginations to inhabit and make total the world presented on stage. As you enter the theatre from the stairs, the first thing you notice is the dusty light, a golden glow like the sun, like lamp-light, like candles and canvas; the floor – that precious little diamond space – is covered in planks of timber, time-worn and much-loved, creams and greens and reds and browns and greys, all slotted together in a jigsaw of a stage, like a patchwork quilt, a farm seen from the air. To one side, a ladder and chair; to another, a tyre swing; behind it, a canvas backcloth. And as the lights dim, a figure enters, breathing heavily, covered in dust and mud and dirt, and the space begins to hum with a resonance I have not quite seen in that space for a little while. And it is beautiful.


Not quite fantastick: Wooden Horse & Hayes Theatre Co’s The Fantasticks

This review was originally written for artsHub.

Written in 1960, you could be forgiven for thinking that The Fantasticks is a period piece. But in the Wooden Horse/Hayes Theatre Co production directed by Helen Dallimore, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s musical is brought forward in a clever and, for the most-part, considered staging which exudes a quirky kind of charm. Sitting somewhere between Romeo & Juliet and a Tim Burton film (think, Big Fish), with a dash of a twisted Elizabethan revenge drama, The Fantasticks is the story of two single fathers (Laurence Coy and Garry Scale) who want their children (Jonathan Hickey and Bobbie-Jean Harding) to fall in love, so pretend they’re in the midst of a bitter feud, and build a wall between their two houses. Unable to determine how to end the feud, they enlist the help of El Gallo, a Pirandellian narrator-cum-stage manager, who concocts a diversion to ensure everything ends well. Or does it?


You gotta get brave: Belvoir's Jasper Jones

A darling of the Australian literary landscape ever since it was published in 2009, Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones is the story of fourteen year old Charlie Bucktin who lives in small-town Western Australia, and dreams of writing the Great Australian Novel. But when Jasper Jones appears at his window one night, Charlie knows something’s happened. Something terrible has happened that night, and the two boys take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of it. With a beautiful warmth of spirit and a keenly-observed ear for humour, Silvey’s story does not shy away from the darker side of small town life, and manages to bring the politics of the Sixties into this coming-of-age novel in a way that does not feel forced or abbreviated. Following its premiere in Perth in 2014 by Barking Gecko Theatre Company, Kate Mulvany’s adaptation of Jasper Jones now opens at Belvoir as the first production for 2016 – and indeed for Eamon Flack’s artistic directorship – and in many respects, there could not be a better show to kick-start the year.


2016, the year in preview

In Sydney’s theatres this year, there are many shows to look forwards to – Griffin has the 2015 Griffin Award winner The Turquoise Elephant, Phillip Kavanagh’s Replay, and Finegan Kruckemeyer’s Those Who Fall In Love Like Anchors Dropped Upon The Ocean Floor; Belvoir has a season of general munificence, including Kate Mulvany’s adaptation of Jasper Jones, Kit Brookman’s The Great Fire, Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife, Twelfth Night, and the conclusion of Matthew Whittet’s Windmill trilogy in Girl, Asleep; STC has Arcadia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Golden Age, Almeida’s King Charles III, and 1927’s Golem, as well as Angela Betzien's The Hanging; Bell Shakespeare has Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and another Molière adaptation in The Literati, a co-production with Griffin. There’s a cracker year at Opera Australia with John Bell’s production of Carmen, and Julie Andrews’ My Fair Lady; Sport for Jove’s No End of Blame, Away, and Three Sisters; a new Andrew Bovell play; and (fingers crossed) Squabbalogic’s original musical-theatre take on The Dismissal.