Eco-terrorists, a woman unable to find a place to rent and a female Misanthrope: some of the characters in a “wild ride”.

Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney has unveiled its 2018 season with five plays in its mainstage programme. In 2017, that number had to be reduced to four because of funding cuts. Speaking at a media launch, Artistic Director Lee Lewis said that the Company has been able to return to five in 2018 thanks to philanthropic support from Thomas and Ingrid Girgensohn.

Three of the five plays will mark the professional debut of their writers. “So, it will be a bit of a wild ride but it’s what we do – develop writers so they can go on to have spectacular hits,” said a characteristically enthusiastic Lewis.

Lucia Mastrantone will play an eco-terrorist in Kill Climate Deniers. Photograph courtey of Griffin

The 2018 season begins in February with Kill Climate Deniers by David Finnigan, which won the 2017 Griffin Award. “Kill Climate Deniers is a controversial take on the climate change ‘debate’ in Australia. It’s a play within a play, an action film inside a documentary, a satire inside a rave. It’s Kill Bill meets Tim Flannery, and it’s all true. The science is real. The media fracas is real. Only the blood is fake,” reads the brochure blurb.

“It’s a play that was shut down originally when as an indie writer [Finnigan] was commissioned by an indie director in Canberra to create a play,” said Lewis. “They applied for some project support… from the ACT [and] got around $19,000 and when that was publicly listed Andrew Bolt objected to that and kicked up a bit of a storm, which got too big for that small group to contend with so the whole project collapsed.”

Finnigan went on to write and perform a one-person show about the whole experience, which he took to Edinburgh. Lewis will now direct the play for Griffin, which has been rewritten to include the media furore. “The core story of the play is about a group of eco-terrorists who take over Parliament House on the night of a Fleetwood Mac concert with the intent of holding the Environment Minister hostage until the government ends climate change. There is now the play within the play [with] a very adamant playwright who makes it very clear that it is a satire, it is not real, it is always meant to be funny,” said Lewis.

“David Finnigan’s father is a climate scientist so he grew up hearing this conversation in his house. All the science is real. All the political and journalistic parts are real and we have some lovely pro bono lawyers to protect us from Andrew Bolt… The question [the play is asking] is are we being forced to be terrorists in order to get our point across – and that’s a very real question. It is sad that it’s being asked but it’s lovely that it’s being asked in such a theatrical way.” The cast includes Lucia Mastrantone, Sheridan Harbridge and Rebecca Massey.

Tara Morice stars in Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. Photograph courtesy of Griffin

The second play is Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. Written by Brooke Robinson, who came up through ATYP, it was shortlisted for the 2017 Griffin Award. It is about a woman in her 50s, played by Tara Morice, who is asked to move out of her share house and struggles to find somewhere else to live in Sydney’s ruthless rental market. “It’s about how we are not taking care of people in the housing crisis in Sydney and in the country, and it’s about a vulnerability that honestly a number of my staff feel keenly – ‘if I haven’t managed to create a family, if I haven’t managed to create a home that I own, what will happen to me as I get older?’ The end is devastating but the beginning of it is very definitely comic – and as a young writer I’m very excited for her voice to develop through the year,” said Lewis. Marion Potts directs.

The third play, The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver, was shortlisted in the 2105 Griffin Award. After that, Feaver did another draft of the play, which recently won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, run by the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, in the UK. “And so, she is having her first production in Manchester and we are doing the second production for the theatre she wrote the play for originally,” said Lewis. “She’s another writer that’s come up through the ATYP and it’s an extraordinary story about what happens when your daughter is 20 and has been medicated since she was six [and] decides to take herself off the medication because she realises she doesn’t know herself unmedicated… It’s insightful and clever and it has beautiful roles that actors are falling over themselves to play.” Hannah Waterman has been cast as the mother, with Lewis directing.

In August, Griffin joins forces with Bell Shakespeare to present another of Justin Fleming’s rollicking, contemporary Australian adaptations of Molière, written in verse, this time The Misanthrope with Lewis directing and Danielle Cormack playing the title role. Lewis has previously directed Fleming’s rhyming adaptations of Molière’s The Literati and The School for Wives.

“When Peter Evans [Bell Shakespeare’s Artistic Director] first said to me, ‘how about The Misanthrope?’ I said, ‘oh, I really don’t want to do another thing with an old dude and a young woman and it’s all so tragic,’ and he said, ‘what if it is a woman?’ and I went, ‘oh, hello!’’ recalled Lewis. Cormack will play a savvy sophisticate surrounded by sycophants and yes men in the play, which is set against the backdrop of the Australian music industry.

Nikki Shiels stars in The Feather in the Web. Photograph courtesy of Griffin

The final play in the mainstage season, which has been programmed with the support of the Girgensohn Foundation is The Feather in the Web by Nick Coyle, whose previous plays include Hammerhead (Is Dead) and his one-man show Blue Wizard. The Feather in the Web was one of the shortlisted plays in the 2017 Lysicrates Prize, which is run by Griffin. While admitting that it is “a weird play”, Lewis described it as “one of the most beautiful speculations I’ve read about how a young woman finds a voice. When the world tells you how you should behave, what you should do to be successful, how do you find your individual voice and at what point do you say no?” Ben Winspear directs. Nikki Shiels plays the central protagonist Kimberly, with a cast that also includes Tina Bursill, Gareth Davies and Michelle Lim Davidson.

Next year, while the Wharf is closed for renovations, ATYP has been invited by Griffin to share the stage at the SBW Stables Theatre. ATYP will stage three world premieres across 2018: Intersection 2018: Chryslis, a collection of short plays written by participants in ATYP’s National Studio writing programme; Impending Everyone by Michael Andrew Collins; and Charlie Pilgrim (Or a Beginner’s Guide to Time Travel) by Sam O’Sullivan. As a result, the Griffin Independent programme will feature shorter seasons for 2018. The plays include Fag/Stag written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs; The Orchid and The Crow, written and performed by Daniel Tobias; Hello, Beautiful! written and performed by Hannie Rayson; Shabbat Dinner by Jessica Bellamy; and The Smallest Hour written and performed by Phil Spencer and Susie Youseff.

In April, Phil Spencer will curate a three-week festival of alternative Australian writing called Batch Festival sponsored by the Batch Brewing Company. The programme, which will feature a line-up of storytellers, poets, comedy artists and non-traditional performance makers, will be announced in the New Year.


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