Producing numerous events each year is no mean feat, but it seems that up to fourteen is an optimum number on offer, to celebrate the art of theatre with the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) and Sydney Theatre Company (STC) in 2016.
Both have enviable reputations on the national scene and are also highly regarded professionally in the broader world of the performance arts. Like all other arts companies day by day they survive with the funding and sponsorship given generously by those who seek to embolden their efforts.
The Melbourne Theatre Company has an interesting assortment of plays, under the auspices of Artistic Director Brett Sheehy AO and his team, including Double Indemnity, a great crime novel brought to the stage by award winning Australian playwright Tom Holloway and directed by MTC Associate Artistic Director Sam Strong.
They have a principal home within the Arts precinct in Melbourne; the Southbank Theatre houses two performance spaces one 500 + seats with a smaller 150 seat auditorium. Additional performances are presented in other spaces at the nearby Arts Centre Melbourne.
Australian actor Colin Friels, who had such a hit in Red is back, directed by Helpmann Award winning director Dean Bryant in Skylight by British dramatist David Hare, which won the Laurence Olivier Award for the Play of the Year in 1996 and then the 2015 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
Later in the year popular TV presenter and actor Shaun Micallef will feature with Francis Greenslade, playing the most mismatched pair of bloke’s living together in the comedy classic The Odd Couple directed by Peter Houghton.
The MTC start their year with the Queensland Theatre Company’s sterling production of Ladies in Black, with music and lyrics by Tim Finn. Already a hit in Queensland last year, the play is based on Madeleine St John’s novel, which has been adapted by writer Carolyn Burns, fresh from her triumphant adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s splendid North by Northwest.
Simon Phillips the former MTC Artistic Director has returned to direct a stellar cast including Christen O’Leary (The Boy from Oz), Naomi Price (The Voice), Lucy Maunder (Grease) and Bobby Fox (Jersey Boys) performing 16 January to 27 February at Southbank.
Founded in 1953 the Melbourne Theatre Company is unique in that it is a semi-autonomous department of the University of Melbourne. This means their focus goes beyond what is happening on stage to inspire new writing, empower independent theatre companies, appeal to younger audiences and to engage with emerging artists.
The Sydney Theatre Company on the other hand, was not formed until 1978.
It has a vision of being a ‘theatre without borders’, everyday going way beyond boundaries to produce works either at the cutting edge of theatre practice, or integral to its most ambitious and successful works of the past 100 years or so, which have now become traditions.
It is also mindful of its responsibilities as a leader in the field, exploring the traditional role of theatre as ‘a place for the discussion of the great ideas of the day’. This is a concept inherent in the traditions that come down to us from ancient times with the birth of democracy brought on by expressing the ideas about freedom our civilisation is based upon.
There are many considerations attached to the development of theatre from the days in ancient Greece when 12,000 people would sit on a hillside in a semi-circular space on banks of seats overlooking a platform designed not only to allow for movement of characters and stage settings, but also cater for increased architectural and engineering sophistication that grew up throughout the Hellenistic Age, encouraging further innovation.
During the European Middle Ages performers where more like paupers than actors. In the Elizabethan period works by playwright Will Shakespeare were performed in The Globe at London a theatre-in-the-round everyone could be vocal cheering the villain and hissing the hero.
Then there is the period during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when theatrical displays were employed in the public domain, heralding the arrival in the city of a prince and his entourage, or a group of players performing ‘masques’ in the great hall of English country houses or the courtyard of a palace.
The Sydney Theatre Company starts its year with The Golden Age an Australian classic, the true story of a lost band of outcasts found wandering in the Tasmanian wilderness in 1939. Writer Louis Nowra blends myth, historical fact and poetry together eloquently, to produce the landmark play.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville, which has been adapted for stage by Andrew Bovell has already won six Helpmann Awards, including Best Play, Best Direction and Best New Australian Work.
It is heralded as “a stunning, shattering piece of theatre that goes to the heart of our history” (The Sunday Telegraph).
It’s followed by one of the twentieth century’s most successful plays, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard to be presented in the Drama Theatre of Sydney Opera House, described as a ‘a cocktail of ravishing comedy, literary sleuthing, romantic entanglements and scientific discoveries’.
Featuring one of the hottest young Australian actors of the present Ryan Corr, it’s sure to be a sell out and might mean a trip to Sydney for me if there are any seats left, have noticed many of the STC’s season of plays are already ‘sold out’.
This seems indicative of wonderful programming, which will now be managed by their all new Artistic Director English born Jonathan Church and his artistic team, taking over from Andrew Upton. Church’s first programming won’t begin until 2017.
Church is a young man who started his career as a lighting technician in the Midlands and worked his way through the company to become artistic director of the Salisbury Playhouse (1995-1999), the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company (2001-2005) and the Chichester Festival Theatre (2006-2015). He’s also a very experienced fund raiser, having taken those three companies out of the red into the black.
The Sydney Theatre Company presents its plays in its purpose built theatre on The Wharf in Sydney, which was opened in 1984 after being fashioned from an industrial site and transformed into an arts precinct with adjunct services.
The Sydney Dance Company, Ausdance, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Gondwana Choirs, Sydney Children’s Choir, The Song Company, Australian Theatre for Young People, Regional Arts, Accessible Arts and Bangarra Dance Theatre also share the space.
Designed originally by architects Vivian Fraser, in association with the NSW Government Architect The Wharf was presented with the RAIA 25 Year Award for Enduring Architecture by the Institute. As theatre is part of an enduring tradition since ancient times, it certainly seems appropriate.
Carolyn McDowall, Writer, Editor, Publisher, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016