Belvoir St Theatre has announced its 2020 season, with a swathe of new works coming to the company next year.
Dance Nation. Photos supplied
“So many of the classics are not on the button enough right now, to be honest,” Artistic Director Eamon Flack tells Limelight. “So we’re having to kind of look in different places for work that really makes some sense of what everyone is experiencing right now, the bewilderment and insanity of the situation that everyone is in. That means we’ve got to make work in a different way.”
It’s a season, he explains, that explores the relationship between the domestic and the big picture. “Certainly at the moment it feels like we’re watching a world in which the big picture is a complete mess – and somewhat insane – and really being driven by a whole lot of men who are really out of their depth but who don’t know it. It’s kind of put the focus back on the very human level of things.”
What comes out of the works programmed for 2020 then, is “this sense of people at the home scale really having to make big decisions about what sort of a life to live,” he says.
The season opens with the return of Duncan Macmillan’s poignant one hander Every Brilliant Thing, with Steve Rodgers in the solo role, having taken over from Kate Mulvany in this year’s run. “People just adored the show,” Flack says. “It was such a huge hit for us.”
Rodgers is also responsible for the second show on the season, his Lysicrates Prize-winning adaptation of Peter Goldsworthy’s novella Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam, in Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta’s production, directed by Darren Yap, which opened in 2018. “We kind of kick off with a Stevie Rodgers fest,” Flack laughs.
The work sees the Pollard family have to make some big decisions when illness enters their home. “Like so much of Peter Goldsworthy’s work, it’s very, very human, while also kind of placing at the centre of it a very big, quite challenging moral conundrum,” Flack says. “We go about our little lives not aware sometimes of what big things the person right next to us on the bus is carrying, and I think this play is about that in a beautiful way.”
Continuing the series of new American plays coming to Belvoir that began with Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play in 2017, Clare Barron’s Dance Nation – a co-production with State Theatre Company of South Australia – opens in March. “American writing at the moment is having to respond to such big, weird things, that it’s forcing incredible inventiveness into the writing,” Flack says.
The play is about a group of teenage girls preparing for a dance show contest, and will be directed by Imara Savage. “The great device that Clare Barron’s come up with is that the teenagers are played by women of all ages, so there’s this great sense that in some ways so much of life flows from that crucial experience when you decide what kind of an adult you want to be.”
Critics in the US have drawn parallels with The Wolves, though Flack reveals that Dance Nation is “a much wilder, more exuberant play.”
“It’s a bit more manic,” he says. “Which is why we put Bec Massey and Mitchell Butel in it, for example, these great old Belvoir spirits mixed in there with a new generation of actors.”
A Room of One’s Own
In April, Anita Hegh will star in Virginia Woolf’s iconic A Room of One’s Own, in an adaptation by Carissa Licciardello (who directs) and Tom Wright. “It’s not just an electrifying piece of writing,” Flack says. “There’s something dramatic about the search for clarity that’s inside it.”
“Anita Hegh came to mind almost instantly – Anita’s ability to mix emotional extremity with utter intelligence and clarity on the text is pretty extraordinary.”
He sees the work as of a pair with Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone, which follows in May, and which Flack believes will be seen as one of Churchill’s “finest achievements”.
“In about an hour she manages to evoke a sense of the century that we’re well and truly down the track of at the moment – a fifth of our way into – and the sense that everything is being overturned and that everything is up for grabs in some way. And she does all that with four women in a backyard.”
Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks, Escaped Alone will see Judi Farr return to the stage, alongside Kris McQuade, Heather Mitchell and Helen Morse.
The Jungle and the Sea
Following the runaway success of Counting and Cracking, which took out seven awards at this year’s Helpmann Awards, including Best Play, S. Shakthidharan and Eamon Flack are teaming up again for new play The Jungle and the Sea, inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone and a story from the ancient Sanskrit epic, the Mahābhārata, which opens in July. “There was a particular story in there about a woman who puts a blindfold on and refuses to watch a war play out,” Flack says. “Those two stories really spoke to each other really beautifully.”
The play will see the return of a number of cast members from Counting and Cracking, and is co-produced by Sydney’s Lingalayam Dance Company.
As for Counting and Cracking, Flack reveals that there has been a lot of interest in the play in Australia and internationally – though the logistics of staging such an epic work of theatre are daunting. “But we are really, really determined for it to have a further life,” he says.
August will see the premiere of a brand new work, Miss Peony, by Michelle Law, who will also be in the cast alongside George Zhao, directed by Sarah Giles. “It was such a glorious hit when we did Single Asian Female here and like Counting and Cracking it brought in a huge new audience,” Flack says.
The play tells the story of Lily, whose grandmother – a former beauty queen in Hong Kong, and also a ghost – wants her to enter a highly competitive Chinese community beauty pageant, Miss Peony. “It’s a really terrific premise,” says Flack, who likens Law’s work to that of writer and film-maker Nora Ephron. “She sets up a great premise and then just knows how to pay it off,” he says. “She’s a classic comic writer in that sense.”
Multi-award winning playwright Kendall Feaver will bring a new adaptation of Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career to Belvoir in September, with a cast including Nikki Shiels and Helen Thompson, directed by Kate Champion.
While Franklin’s novel is over a century old, “it feels like it’s absolutely the same question that so many young women are facing,” Flack says. “How the hell do you escape the trap that society sets for you as a young women?”
More new work follows in October, with Balnaves Fellow Kodie Bedford’s new play Cursed!, directed by Jason Klarwein. “It’s a pretty wild comedy about very broken people,” Flack says. “It’s loosely Kodie’s own story – it’s a comedy about having a crazy mother, as she says, and when I say crazy I mean certifiable. And Kodie has this really beautiful sense that inheriting difficulty like that can actually be the source of great joy, great humour, great ridiculousness and sort of forces you to learn to love in a really different way as well.”
Belvoir have also announced another new work, but for the 2021 season, with a call-out for anyone who was married at the Wayside Chapel in King’s Cross and would like to share their story to get in touch with the company, as Alana Valentine (whose parents were married at the Chapel) is creating a new piece to premiere the year after next.
Bringing the 2020 season to a close, however, will be Flack’s own adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s Summerfolk, relocating Gorky’s 1904 play about middle class Russian holiday makers to a contemporary Australian backyard. “It is a big exuberant Russian play, and it’s full of love and love stories and missed opportunities and the kind of madcap comedy of yearning and disappointment,” Flack says.
“It definitely came onto the table in the aftermath of the [Federal] election, trying to make some sense of what people’s priorities are in Australia at the moment and what the hell we think we’re on about,” Flack says. “I think that I’m with a lot of people in that I’m baffled by the gap between our addiction to our comfort and the sense that things have to change whether we like it or not, and are going to whether we like it or not, and that’s absolutely what this play is about.”
So how easily does a play about pre-revolution Russian holidaymakers translate to Australia today? “Sadly, very easily,” Flack says. “Gorky was writing at a time when the Russian middle class was staring down the barrel of a sort of collapse, and were unable to deal with it, and so stuck their heads in the sand and continued to fiddle away – which is really a description of this country right now.”