Belvoir has announced the first part of its 2021 season, running from January until the beginning of September. It includes three new Australian plays by Michelle Law, Nathan Maynard and Sally Sara, the return of A Room of One’s Own and the musical Fangirls, as well as a production of The Cherry Orchard.
Belvoir’s 2021 promotional image. Photograph © Daniel Boud
Speaking to Limelight, Artistic Director Eamon Flack says that the program was only finalised about a month ago: “We went down so many paths. As long as COVID is around we’re just not making any assumptions. We know [the coronavirus] could come back at any time. But having said that, we think it’s really crucial that we don’t get small-minded right now, that we don’t start thinking small. I think that Belvoir must remain a company of ambition, no matter what.”
Naturally, with reduced seating capacity due to COVID restrictions, there had to be some adjustments to the budget. But Flack says that they have not reduced cast sizes – in fact they have increased the cast size for Fangirls.
“We don’t want to hire fewer artists – we want to hire as many artists as we possibly can, otherwise, why do we exist? So that’s not where we’re making our savings, we’re keeping our cast sizes as large as we possibly can. The Cherry Orchard is an 11-hander, that’s big for us.”
“Belvoir has never put a lot of money into our set budgets. We concentrate our resources into the artists, but we’ve cut our production budgets in order to try and make savings, and we’re trying to do things a bit more simply. Where it has affected us [is] there was a show that we were developing during shut-down, in a new way. We were using a collaborative, devised process with a bunch of actors, and that show was really exciting – but it’s a show that needs to wait until post-COVID, because it’s about audiences [and it includes] audience interaction so that sort of show has to wait.”
The season opens at the end of January with the return of Yve Blake’s musical Fangirls, which had its world premiere at Queensland Theatre followed by a sold out season at Belvoir in 2019. The show returns to Belvoir as part of a national tour, having won Best Production of a Mainstage Musical at the Sydney Theatre Awards and Best Musical or Cabaret at the Queensland Matilda Awards.
Bringing it back was “a no brainer,” says Flack. “It’s such a glorious show, people were squealing with delight, and we need that [at the moment]. It is at the Seymour Centre so we could get a nice big audience in there, because if we had to do that at Belvoir with social distancing, it would be too small.”
The cast will be bigger than when the show premiered. “We wanted more bodies on stage. Dance routines are always better when there’s more bodies,” says Flack. Directed by Paige Rattray, the cast will include Karis Oka (who replaces Yve Blake), Chika Ikgowe, Shubshri Kandiah, Ayesha Madon and James Majoos.
Fangirls plays 30 January – 20 February
In March/April, Belvoir premieres a new play by Walkley Award-winning ABC foreign correspondent Sally Sara. “Sally is a great theatre lover. She brought the play to us a couple of years ago, and we’ve been just working with her on it. She’s one of our great journos, so she knows what a story is, and she knows what details are [needed to] tell that story. She’s a natural playwright,” says Flack.
“It begins overseas, but it’s really about what normal life means, and when you’ve been ripped apart from it and life been turned upside down, how you get back to that. It’s a question not just for people who have experienced trauma in war zones, it’s a question for people who’ve had to leave their country, it’s a question for people who have been through small traumas inside normal life, so it’s very beautiful, I think, a kind of portrait of how people help get each other through in life here. It’s a good play for COVID in that sense.”
Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks, the cast includes Sheridan Harbridge.
Stop Girl plays 20 March – 25 April
A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN
Anita Hegh reprises her role in a return season of A Room of One’s Own, adapted by Carissa Licciardello and Tom Wright from Virginia Wright’s text. The play, which also includes actor Ella Prince, was the first production Belvoir staged post-COVID and quickly sold out, with so many people waiting for tickets that a return season was an obvious choice.
A Room of One’s Own plays 6 – 23 May
THE CHERRY ORCHARD
In May/June, Flack directs a production of Chekhov’s great, last play. An ambitious undertaking given the size of the cast, the themes in the play, which centre around change, make it incredibly timely.
“Back in my younger days when I dreamed of running a theatre company, I dreamed of just doing Chekhov all the time,” says Flack. “It’s five years [since I took over as Belvoir AD] and I haven’t done one, so I’ve been wanting to direct one for a very long time. But this particular one has a kind of glorious, mad quality. Everyone has been feeling a bit crazy, and I think it’s good to kind of not feel alone with that. That’s one reason to do it. But also it is a play about change, it’s a play about people who get on board with it, there’s the people who just miss it, and the people who fight it, and, you know, that’s utterly timely. But the thing I love most about Chekhov, is these big gatherings of idiosyncratic human creatures. And I love that. I love the way that a stage can gather a big group of odds and ends together. That’s what I love more than anything. The work that I’ve been most proud of in my life has been the work that taps into that, from Glass Menagerie to Counting and Cracking, so it’s a work that’s very close to my heart.”
The cast will include Nadie Kammallaweera, Pamela Rabe and Keith Robinson.
The Cherry Orchard plays 29 May – 27 June
Michelle Law’s new play Miss Peony was programmed for 2020 but had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, so it has been rescheduled for 2021. Law wrote the smash hit Single Asian Female. Her new play is described as “a glitzy, glamorous and slightly unhinged comedy about a Chinese-Australian beauty pageant, the competitive advice of a ghostly grandmother and being caught between two generations and two cultures”.
Sarah Giles was to have directed the play last year, but was unavailable for the 2021 dates so Courtney Stewart, who was to have been associate director last year, will take over the reins. The cast includes Michelle Law herself, as well as Mabel Li and Shirong Wu.
AT WHAT COST?
The first part of the 2021 season ends with Nathan Maynard’s new play At What Cost? Maynard, who wrote the play The Season and was the winner of the 2019 Balnaves Fellowship, is a Trawlwoolway, Pakana man from Lutrawita/Tasmania. At What Cost? is set in Tasmania and centres on a man called Dan, who has enough on his plate between a young family and managing his responsibilities to land and people. But every year more and more folk are claiming to be Palawa. Folk no one’s heard of until now. Are they legit? Who decides? And how?
“Nathan lives this question every day of his life and he’s turned it into one of the most thrilling new plays that I’ve come across in a really long time,” says Flack. “It reminds me of [London-born Irish playwright Martin] McDonagh in some ways. McDonagh at his best writes tragedies that make you laugh along the way. [At What Cost?] definitely does that, but the added urgency and stakes of what Nathan’s writing about make it I think an incredibly compelling play.”
Isaac Drandic will direct.
At What Cost? Plays 7 August – 5 September
Flack will announce the programming for the rest of the year when the time is right. “We’re watching and learning, like everyone is, we’re not going to rush,” he says. “This season gets us through to the start of September so it’s most of the year. So we won’t hurry. That’s just going to be the way of the future for now, isn’t it.”