Following yesterday’s look at our opera highlights for 2018, the Limelight team today looks back on the theatre that has excited us most across the last 12 months.

Jo Litson – Editor

Jack Ruwald, Anita Hegh and Jack Finsterer in The Harp in the South. Photograph © Daniel Boud

The Harp in the South, Part One and Part Two, Sydney Theatre Company

Every now and then a very special piece of epic theatre, running across several hours, comes along and sweeps you up in its embrace. Kate Mulvany’s adaptation of The Harp in the South, performed in two parts, reeled you in hook, line and sinker. Mulvany did a brilliant job of condensing the three novels, maintaining the spirit and drive of Ruth Park’s writing and capturing her vibrant characters. Superbly directed by Kip Williams, the cast was exemplary. We laughed, cried and ached for the flawed, complicated, loving, hopeful, battered characters, and were left totally spent emotionally but exhilarated.

The Flick, Outhouse Theatre Co and the Seymour Centre

Not a lot seems to happen on the surface of Annie Baker’s ineffably tender, three-hour play The Flick but by the end of it you are so completely caught up in the small human dramas that gradually unfold that you are profoundly moved. Set in a small run-down cinema, we follow the lives of the three lonely people working there. Directed by Craig Baldwin on Hugh O’Connor’s set, which faithfully recreated the cinema with such loving detail that you could smell the popcorn, this was a pretty flawless, mesmerising production with gorgeous performances by Jeremy Waters, Mia Lethbridge and Justin Amankwah.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Sydney Theatre Company

Written as a parable about Hitler’s rise to power, Bertolt Brecht set his 1941 play in 1930s Chicago, where mobster Arturo Ui and his gang set out to control the vegetable market and gradually take over the city. Kip Williams’ production was set in a contemporary city, where businessmen do deals at Chinese restaurants and real estate is paramount. The set was dominated by a giant screen, with camera operators following the action. With a blistering, virtuosic performance by Hugo Weaving as Ui at its heart, and an astute integration of live performance and live video feed, it was a thrilling, terrifying production.

Angus McPherson – Deputy Editor

Megan Wilding and Elaine Crombie in Blackie Blackie Brown. Photograph © Daniel Boud

Blackie Blackie Brown, Sydney Theatre Company, Malthouse Theatre Company

Nakkiah Lui’s scathing and hilarious Blackie Blackie Brown: Traditional Owner of Death – riffing on superhero films, graphic novels, Tarantino revenge fantasies and more – took the audience on a wild ride following the bloody revenge mission of Indigenous superhero Blackie Blackie Brown, with artwork by Emily Johnson animated by Oh Yeah Wow on a set full of surprises by Elizabeth Gadsby. Lui’s ferocious satire – lampooning everything from film and theatre tropes to the white theatre-goers in the audience – is paired with an unflinching look at colonial Australia’s violent past in one of the most inventive plays of the season.

random, Belvoir St Theatre

Zahra Newman gave a virtuosic performance in debbie tucker green’s one-woman show random, in an economical, perfectly pitched production directed by Leticia Cáceres in Belvoir’s intimate Downstairs Theatre. Newman – recently Nabulungi in the musical The Book of Mormon – drew the audience into a vividly painted world, deftly switching between the different voices, idiomatic speech and body language of four members of an Afro-Caribbean family in London, in a heart-wrenching examination of grief and family.

Kings of War, Adelaide Festival

Belgian director Ivo van Hove’s epic Kings of War, tracing the succession of English kings in Shakespeare’s history plays from Henry V to Richard III over four and a half hours of theatre, was a highlight of this year’s Adelaide Festival. Exploring male leadership, the play was a dizzying multimedia production featuring live video which – not unlike STC’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – zoomed in and out from the intimate and private to the epic and geo-political, captivating in its fine details and underscored by the funereal sound of trombone quartet.

Justine Nguyen – Staff Writer

Helen Thomson flanked by Kate Box and Contessa Treffone (left) and Heather Mitchell and Michelle Lim Davidson (right) in Top Girls. Photograph © Brett Boardman

Top Girls, Sydney Theatre Company

The danger of putting together a best of list in December is you invariably forget about the gems programmed much earlier in the year. But there’s no forgetting Sydney Theatre Company’s first offering of the season, Imara Savage’s captivating production of Top Girls. I have unreserved praise for everyone – Caryl Churchill’s still brilliant, insightful script; that marvellous cast, giants all of them; and Savage herself, whose inventiveness and clarity of dramatic purpose makes her one of our best directors. I didn’t breathe once during the play’s final 20 minutes, transfixed by Kate Box and Helen Thomson as two sisters dredging up every hurt they’ve ever caused each other.

Saint Joan, Sydney Theatre Company

Imara Savage outdoes herself again, presenting a deeply intelligent and powerful adaptation of Shaw’s classic play. Anchored by Sarah Snook’s riveting Maid of Orleans, this production had both an epic and intimate sweep. Savage deftly gives us greater insight into Joan herself – there is a moment when Snook, luminous, describes how liberating it feels to ride a horse with short hair, to experience the world as a man experiences it, full of possibility and no restrictions. It fairly takes your breath away.

The Feather in the Web, Griffin Theatre Company

Nick Coyle’s Feather in the Web resists easy description, as does the hero of the piece, Kimberly. Deeply odd and wickedly funny, it explodes the concept of love and confounds your every expectation along the way. The laughs came thick and fast thanks to a uniformly excellent cast and energetic production by Ben Winspear, with Claire Lovering a live wire as Kimberley.

Clive Paget – Editor at Large, New York

Paddy Considine as Quinn Carney and Charles Dale as Father Horrigan. Photo © Joan Marcus

The Ferryman, Sonia Friedman, Neal St Productions

Jez Butterworth’s new play – a sprawling family drama set during the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland – isn’t just my play of the year, it’s my play of the decade. Rich, hearty, tragic and complex it leavens the mounting sense of disaster with a fine sense of humour and a grand dollop of sparky Irish craic. Superbly acted by a huge and first-class ensemble, this is gripping drama that leaps off of the stage and demands to be seen.

Yerma, Young Vic, Park Avenue Armory

Simon Stone’s thrillingly directed (if very loose indeed) adaptation of Lorca’s play came to New York’s Park Avenue Armory with an excellent cast that included Brendan Cowell. But it was Billie Piper’s extraordinarily brave and utterly harrowing performance as a woman desperate for a baby that has remained fresh in my memory. Daring, dazzling and ultimately shocking, this was one of the most remarkable pieces of acting in years.

Three Tall Women, John Golden Theatre

British theatrical legend Glenda Jackson was joined by American actors Alison Pill and Laurie Metcalf in a pitch perfect revival of Edward Albee’s cunningly constructed late play about a monstrously demanding woman, wife and mother. Jo Mantello’s production was detailed and assured, but the show was a must-see for some stellar ensemble acting and the 82-year-old Jackson’s bravura, Tony-award-winning performance.

OUR CRITICS AROUND THE COUNTRY

Lachlan Woods and Esther Hannaford in Twelfth Night. Photo © Jeff Busby

Twelfth Night, Melbourne Theatre Company

“’If music be the food of love, play on,’” says Duke Orsino early in Twelfth Night, but music is only one reason why audiences will fall in love with this MTC production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. A dream cast, sublime design and assured direction make it a delightful end-of-year romp for theatre enthusiasts and dabblers alike.” – Patricia Maunder

Nearer the Gods, Queensland Theatre

Nearer the Gods is a visually stunning production that will leave you with stars in your eyes, taking its audiences beyond the achievements of Western history’s greatest minds and exploring the petty intellectual rivalries and human fallibility behind the ideas that changed the world.” – Elise Lawrence

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company

“Black Swan’s version builds on OzFrank’s dance-drama adaptation of 2002 (Doll Seventeen) and the elegantly spacious Belvoir Street production of 2011 to showcase Summer of the Seventeenth Doll as a work in which drab reality is recrafted into a dream-world rich, strange, and tragic.” – Jonathan W. Marshall

The Gods of Strangers, State Theatre Company South Australia

“Like all productions, this play can’t be all things to all people, but it will resonate impressively with many. The resounding achievement of The Gods of Strangers is its ability to show us where we’ve come from. It might just help us work out where we’re going.” – Gordon Forester


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Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine