Queensland Theatre is going from strength to strength under the artistic direction of Sam Strong. In 2017, the company reached its largest audience in its nearly 50-year history with over 188,450 people seeing a QT show in 55 theatres around the world.

“I’m really thrilled that 2017 was an all-time record year in our global numbers. But it also [broke records] in terms of our subscription numbers [so] that we’re the fastest growing theatre company in Australia, which is incredibly exciting,” says Strong. “But what’s even more exciting than that is that our subscription numbers in 2018 have well exceeded our numbers in 2017… I think that’s a testament to Brisbane’s embrace of what Queensland Theatre is doing but I think it’s also testament to the size of our national footprint and our national influence, particularly through those partnerships and coproductions.”

Meyne Wyatt, who will star in his debut play City of Gold. Photograph © Tim Jones Photography

In announcing QT’s 2019 season dubbed “A Season of Dreamers”, Strong revealed a program that includes five world premieres, a record number of interstate co-productions, gender parity among writers and directors, and a new creative partnership with Belloo Creative, which is run by four women. What’s more, the Bille Brown Studio has been undergoing a $5.5 million transformation and will re-open in October when Strong directs David Williamson’s latest play Nearer the Gods. 

The 2019 world premieres begin in March with Hydra by Sue Smith, which is a portrait of the intense relationship in the 1950s between Australian writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, who end up in a Greek tragedy of their own making. A co-production with the State Theatre Company South Australia, Hydra will be directed by Strong with a cast including Anna McGahan, Nathan O’Keefe, Hugh Parker and Bryan Probets.

In June/July, comes the premiere of City of Gold – the debut play by actor Meyne Wyatt, who will also perform in it. Telling the story of a young Aboriginal man not too far from Wyatt himself, City of Gold is a production with Griffin Theatre in Sydney and will be directed by QT’s Resident Dramaturg Isaac Drandic.

Melanie Zanetti and Pacharo Mzembe will star in Joanna Murray-Smith’s L’Appartement. Photography © Tim Jones Photography

Joanna Murray-Smith’s new comedy L’Appartement will have its world premiere in August. Aussie couple Meg and Rooster head for a dream holiday in a swanky Airbnb in Paris, without their three-year old twins, but when they open a package for the cool French couple from whom they are renting their trip is quickly derailed. Murray-Smith will also be making her directorial debut with a cast including Pacharo Mzembe and Melanie Zanetti.

There is also the world premiere of a new musical called Fangirls by Yve Blake, which is a co-production with Belvoir and Brisbane Festival in association with Australian Theatre for Young People, with Blake herself starring. The final premiere is an adaption of Sophocles’ Antigone by Brisbane writer Merlynn Tong, directed by Travis Dowling with a cast including Christen O’Leary and Jessica Tovey.

The season begins in February with Arthur Miller’s American classic Death of a Salesman, starring Peter Kowitz and Angie Milliken, directed by Jason Klarwein. Belvoir’s highly acclaimed production of Barbara and the Camp Dogs, a rock and roll comedy with a powerful message about inequality, written by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine, will play in May with Yovich and Elaine Crombie reprising their roles. In July/August comes a new production of Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy, adapted for the stage by Tom Holloway, co-produced with Melbourne Theatre Company and Dead Puppet Society.

Peter Kowitz will star in Death of a Salesman. Photograph © Tim Jones Photography

“We’re particularly proud of the number of world premieres. We’ve been working to establish Queensland Theatre as the home of new stories and new talent and I think we’ve really taken that to the next level with the five world premieres in 2019,” says Strong.

“We’re really keen to get the work of great Queenslanders around the rest of the country and make sure that Queensland Theatre is seen around the rest of the country. So next year, the fact that you’ve got co-productions with State Theatre Company South Australia, the Melbourne Theatre Company, Griffin Theatre and Belvoir is really important to us [in that] we’re increasing the size of Queensland Theatre’s national footprint, and increasing our national influence as well.”

As for gender equality in terms of the number of male and female writers and directors, Strong says: “I think it’s something you need to work to achieve, and I know there are very legitimately different views on how we address questions of equity of representation on the Australian stage but from my humble two cents worth, I actually think those commitments are important… I’m proud this will be the third year in which we’ve achieved gender parity of writers and directors.”

Yve Blake will star in her own new musical Fangirls. Photograph © Tim Jones Photography

The relationship with Belloo Creative, which will become a resident company for 2019, is also part of QT’s support of artist pathways. “So what we’re doing with Belloo is bringing the entire company into the artistic inner sanctum of Queensland Theatre. I’ve been on the public record recently talking about how I think if we are going to diversify the people that are in leadership positions in arts companies, I think it’s vitally important to give people access, meaningful access, to decision making, and give people a seat at the table,” says Strong.

“That’s something I’ve done in the past with the national artistic team for example, or Paige Rattray, our Associate Artistic Director. So we’re bringing the whole company, which is four great female artists, into the artistic centre of Queensland Theatre. They will be a vital part of our artistic leadership, but they’ll also be creating work for the 2020 season [the company’s 50th anniversary] so we’re putting them to work in more ways than one. It’s a way of bringing more women into leadership positions in arts companies, and it’s a way of supporting the small to medium sector in Brisbane particularly. But it’s also a way of supporting the creation of a great work by a wonderful company with a real proven track record.”


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Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine