An eclectic three-week festival, a repertory season of two plays about power and change by two women playwrights, and the company’s first panto – Belvoir is taking a different approach to its programming for the last few months of this year.

Artistic Director Eamon Flack admits the company went through “about seven or eight different versions of what to do, because it’s such a weird thing, like having this little rump of the year,” he says referring to the three and a half months that had not yet been programmed. “What to do with three and a half months? So, what we’ve decided is Part Two 2 comes in three parts,” he says.

Sacha Horler and Angeline Penrith will be part of the cast who will perform Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire and Alana Valentine’s Wayside Bride in repertory. Photograph © Dan Boud

The first part is the Festival of Everything, which features nine acts across various genres – comedy, cabaret, dance and music – over three weeks in September. Artists involved include Eddie Perfect, Judith Lucy and Zoë Coombs Marr among others, as well as the Lingalayam Dance Company, run by Anandavalli, which draws on the ancient dance forms of Bharatha Natyam and Kuchipudi in its repertoire.

“So, it’s a genuinely eclectic mix,” says Flack. “The idea was simply ‘how many different kinds of audiences and artists can we get together in one go?’ And really just to celebrate the performing arts after COVID, to just sort of party [and] remember how great it is just to get together. So, it’s a real smorgasbord of things.”

In October/November, for the first time in its history, Belvoir is offering a repertory season of two plays, which will be performed by the same cast on the same set. One is a new play by Australian playwright Alana Valentine called Wayside Bride, which is set in Kings Cross in the 1970s and tells the story of the Wayside Chapel set up by Reverend Ted Noffs – a space where those who didn’t quite fit into the mainstream could walk down the aisle.

Belvoir has been working with Valentine on the play for a while. “It’s about the idea that a city must have spaces for outsiders. If the city is only for the strong then it’s a brutal place to be, and the places like Wayside, and like Belvoir, are these little bubbles inside Sydney, that allow for fragility, for idiosyncrasy. So it really tells that story, it flashes back to 1974, and it’s a mix of verbatim and scene work, like Alana’s [other plays],” says Flack.

Wayside Bride will play in repertory with British playwright Caryl Churchill’s 1977 classic Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. Set in England in 1649 after a bloody civil war, during which the king has been beheaded, it asks what the country’s brave new world will look like and who decides how it will work.

“The question of the play is great – it’s what happens when you cut the king’s head off? What do you do? How do you create a new society? Who gets a say? So, it’s really about that state of turmoil and revolt from the 17th century, but it’s also the same kind of turmoil and revolt we’re dealing with now [where] metaphorically there’s an instinct to cut the heads off many kings [and where] there’s a very strong instinct to kind of rebuild and find new ways so that everyone has a place in society again, so it’s not just a place for the strong. So, both plays have very similar fundamental politics and fundamental interests, but one is set in the 17th century in the English civil war and the other is set in 1970s Sydney,” says Flack.

Flack co-directs with Hannah Goodwin, who was awarded the ATYP Rose Byrne Leadership Scholarship in 2019, recognising her as an emerging arts leader, and is currently a resident artist at Belvoir. The cast for the two plays includes Sacha Horler, Brandon McClelland, Angeline Penrith and Rebecca Massey.

Virginia Gay will co-direct and perform in The Boomkak Panto, which she also wrote. Photograph © Dan Boud

To round off the year, Belvoir presents its first ever pantomime, The Boomkak Panto by Virginia Gay.

“At the beginning of the shutdown, right as COVID was beginning [and] we felt like this thing was really going to crash down on everything, I got an email from Virginia Gay,” says Flack. “She was in Los Angeles, she’d just come back from London where she’d seen a panto for the first time in her life and she was blown away by it.”

Gay pitched the idea of a pantomime set in a small, dry, dusty, little Aussie town called Boomkak, where a Big Developer plans to move in. The community finds itself in a fight for survival and decides to stand up to the developer – by putting on a panto. Flack loved the mad idea.

“There’s no one like Virginia Gay – witty, clever, big of heart, and ridiculously talented. When she said she wanted (in her own way) to revive panto, how could we resist? And the team she’s assembling knows how to make a good night of theatre. This will be fun,” he says.

Gay will co-direct The Boomkak Project with her theatrical partner in crime Richard Carroll, who directed Calamity Jane in which she starred at the Hayes Theatre and then on tour. Gay will also be one of the performers.

“It’s suitably ridiculous and a suitably panto plot line, so it’s really a panto about putting on a panto,” says Flack. “But also, it’s a celebration of again, pushing back against the big guys, and fighting to create space for the little guys. But also, a panto is just an excuse to put every possible kind of theatrical joy into one plot, and that seemed like a nice way of ending the year.”

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