Two weeks after Declan Greene took up the position of Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre Company, the theatre was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I came here, I got to see a couple of performances of [David Williamson’s new play] Family Values and then we shut the doors to the Stables and the theatre has been closed ever since then. I get quite emotional actually every time I come into this space,” says Greene, chatting to Limelight in the Stables foyer.
Declan Greene. Photograph © Brett Boardman
“In my mind, I already knew the season I wanted to program when I came into the job so I had to have a period of adjustment and say actually a lot of what I wanted to do won’t work in this world. So, very quickly we had to get onto what we would do instead and within weeks I was equally excited and equally pumped to be putting this season together.”
Like every other arts organisation dealing with the changes wrought by COVID, Greene says he has planned “around the idea of a level of instability built into making work at this time. At the same time I don’t think that that has been anything that we have responded to in a fearful way”.
“Griffin is a theatre where limitation and the creative joyful response to limitation is in the DNA of Griffin. It’s literally what we do. Since the Stables opened 50 years ago, [there’s] always been some version of a crisis. Even the Upstairs space [itself]. It’s crazily shaped, it’s a 100-seat theatre that we cram as many people into there as we can. It had a pole in it for much of the life of the space and people have always responded to those parameters really creatively. There have been huge feats of imagination that have been borne out of those restrictions so this kind of felt like just another thing to put into that matrix of stuff to respond to when you think about creative and fun ways to still make work.”
The first show the company will present in 2021, Pleasuredome, is online, while the first show in the main season, Green Park, is being staged in a park down the road from the theatre. There are also two small-scale solo shows – Oliver Twist’s Jali and Debra Oswald’s Is There Something Wrong With That Lady?, which could easily be staged in a bigger venue than the Stables if necessary.
Dogged promotional image. Photograph © Brett Boardman
“The first full-scale show that we want to deliver in the Stables is Dogged. I’d be sad if that didn’t happen in the Stables because I’ve always wanted to see dance in the Stables,” says Greene.
“I guess we have planned a much more flexible first half of the year and I have also applied that flexibility to the way we are ticketing the year as well. We have got an initiative that we are starting next year with our subscription package called Delay Pay, which means that our subscribers can subscribe as normal but they can also opt not to pay for each play in their subscription until two weeks before the show opens.”
The first show in Griffin’s main season is Green Park by Elias Jamieson Brown, about a hook-up between two gay men who meet through Grindr, one of them aged 19 and the other aged 55. The play is being staged just down the road from the Stables Theatre in Green Park – which has been a historical gay beat. “The violence and repression and lust are embedded in the soil across generations, and that weighs down on the two of them and drives this massive wedge between them,” say Greene who directs the play. “So it’s about the big intergenerational divide in the gay community at the moment, and how the inherited traumas of the gay past still bear down upon us in the present.”
Most of the action takes place on a park bench, while the audience will wear headphones to eavesdrop on their conversation – which sounds reminiscent to Back to Back Theatre’s outdoor production small metal objects. “Yes we completely ripped them off!” says Greene with a laugh. “I actually spoke to Bruce [Gladwin, Back to Back’s AD and Co-CEO] the other day and he talked me through some of the things we can anticipate might happen. Ours will be much smaller scale. We only having an audience of 35 per performance.”
Green Park plays 5 February – 6 March
Dogged by Andrea James and Catherine Ryan is set on Gunaikurnai country in the Victorian Alps. A woman, who is the daughter of an old farming family, sets out with a rifle in hand to find and kill the wild dogs that have ripped out the throats of a flock of sheep of theirs. But as she heads in to the bush and begins to hunt, a dingo starts to stalk her. “It’s this beautiful work of Australian Gothic horror,” says Greene. “It’s very creepy, but it has a very ethereal edge to it and an amazing and always prescient allegory about Indigenous dispossession.”
Presented in association with Force Majeure, Greene will direct, creating the work with Associate Director Danielle Micich, who will create a physical vocabulary for the piece. “It’s incredibly violent: really bloody, really quite shocking, but it also has extraordinary poetry as well, so there’s a beautiful tension between those two elements,” says Greene
Dogged plays 30 April – 5 June
WHEREVER SHE WANDERS
Kendall Feaver’s new play Wherever She Wanders was a COVID casualty, originally scheduled for 2020 as a follow-up to her play The Almighty Sometimes which was a big hit for Griffin. “It’s about an allegation of sexual assault on a college campus that ends up pitting these two different generations of feminist women against one another, and their definition of what safety is and what constitutes sexual violence in 2021,” says Greene. Directed by Tessa Leong, the cast includes Emily Havea and Heather Mitchell.
Wherever She Wanders plays 9 July – 14 August
Kirsty Marillier. Photograph © Brett Boardman
Orange Thrower is the first play written by actor Kirsty Marillier. Set in the very white Perth suburb of Paradise, Zadie is charged with looking after the family home and her young sister while her parents are in Johannesburg visiting relatives. Then someone starts throwing oranges at the house at night.
“It starts out as an innocent act of vandalism but as it happens more and more, it begins to cause her to become a bit unstuck and shift her sense of self and who she is in this place – which sounds heavy but it’s actually a coming-of-age story,” says Greene. “There is an unsettling, mysterious element to it but it’s super big-hearted and super funny as well.” Co-produced with the National Theatre of Parramatta, Zindzi Okenyo makes her directing debut, with Marillier as Zadie.
Orange Thrower plays 20 August – 25 September
The final work in the main season is Golden Blood by Merlynn Tong. “This is a kind of autobiographical story about a young orphaned girl in Singapore who’s 14 years old and after her mother’s death is left in the care of her brother who turns out to be a gangster who is masterminding Singapore’s biggest Ponzi scheme – which incredibly is not the made-up bit!” says Greene. “It’s about the attempt of these two to build this unconventional family of two in the midst of huge wealth and huge poverty, while their mother’s ghost is this malevolent force in the work.”
Co-produced with Melbourne Theatre Company, which developed the play through its Next Stage Program, Golden Blood is directed by Tessa Leong with Tong in the lead role.
Golden Blood plays 12 November – 18 December
In addition to the main season, Griffin will present two plays as part of a new artist development program called Griffin Lookout. Comedian and performer Oliver Twist will perform Jali, which draws on his own life growing up as a refugee in a UNHCR refugee camp in Malawi and then moving to Ipswich, Queensland in his teens, and dealing with that cultural disconnect. The other Griffin Lookout production is UFO by Kirby Medway and Solomon Thomas, a work of sci-fi theatre performed entirely in 1:8 miniature.
The Stables will also host Debra Oswald’s one-woman show Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? which sold out last year then had to be postponed because of COVID. “It’s a very beautiful, intimate, one-person show that she made with Lee [Lewis, Griffin’s former AD], which is really just a love letter to the theatre and hypochondria and sexual misadventure,” says Greene.
Pleasuredome by Xanthe Dobbie and Harriet Gillies, which examines the Internet, will have a digital season in January as part of Sydney Festival, while Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie starring Sheridan Harbridge will have a return season at the Seymour Centre in June after selling out at Griffin in 2019.