Sydney Theatre Company’s award-winning production of The Secret River is to play the Edinburgh International Festival in August, marking the company’s EIF debut and the work’s European premiere. It will also travel to the National Theatre in London.

Sydney Theatre Company’s The Secret River. Photo © Heidrun Löhr

An adaptation by Andrew Bovell of Kate Grenville’s acclaimed novel of the same name, The Secret River tells the story of a man exiled from London in the 1800s. When he moves to a penal colony in New South Wales with his family, their presence poses a major disruption to the lives of its Indigenous inhabitants. The play will be seen in its original production by Neil Armfield, whose staging of Brett Dean’s opera Bliss was seen at the Festival in 2010. The production will also retain its score by Iain Grandage, again played live.

“This is a tremendously exciting moment for Sydney Theatre Company and for the cast, creatives and crew for The Secret River,” STC Artistic Director Kip Williams said. “Since the play was commissioned in 2012, it has been the company’s hope to take The Secret River to where Kate Grenville’s novel begins.  We’re very interested to see how audiences in the UK will react to this powerful Australian story.”

The Secret River won six Helpmann Awards in its premiere season, including Best Play, Best New Australian Work, Best Direction and Best Original Score. The play returned for an encore season in 2016, which included a special outdoor staging at Armfield’s Adelaide Festival in 2017.

Sydney Theatre Company’s The Secret River. Photo © Heidrun Löhr

Other Australians taking part in the Festival this year include violist, conductor and composer Brett Dean, who appears with the Doric String Quartet to perform Brahms’s Second String Quintet. The Doric String Quartet will also give the first European performance of Dean’s Third String Quartet. Meanwhile, fellow Australian Barrie Kosky’s production of Eugene Onegin for his Komische Oper Berlin will also be seen at the festival.

“At the end of the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, conductor Bruno Walter wrote that the Festival has succeeded because ‘it was of the utmost importance and most to be desired that all the ties, which had been torn, should be re-united’,” said EIF Director Fergus Linehan. “The 2019 International Festival launch is framed against a backdrop of division and confusion. With artists and audiences from all over the world gathering to celebrate each other’s music, theatre, dance and art, we hope that the 2019 International Festival will offer a refreshing dose of generosity, inclusiveness and optimism”.

Linehan was the former Artistic Director of Sydney Festival from 2006 to 2009. He also served as Head of Music at the Sydney Opera House from 2010 – 2012, where he became Vivid LIVE’s Festival Director. Linehan’s predecessor at the EIF was Sydney-born director and composer Jonathan Mills.

The annual EIF presents three weeks of classical music, theatre, opera, dance and contemporary music from August 2, marking its 73rd year this year.


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