Sydney Theatre Company has announced the second part of its 2021 Season, Act 2, which includes the world premiere of the new Australian musical The Dismissal and the return of Kip Williams’ smash-hit production of The Picture of Dorian Gray starring Eryn Jean Norvill.

The announcement by Artistic Director Kip Williams follows in the wake of news that the company has been granted an exemption to return to 100 percent capacity at its Walsh Bay venues, and at the Sydney Opera House. So finally, it feels as if things are returning to something close to normal for STC, after the cancellations and reduced seating capacities forced by COVID.

The Dismissal at the Seymour CentreMatthew Whittet as Norman Gunston in the 2019 Squabbalogic workshop production of The Dismissal at the Seymour Centre. Photograph © Clare Hawley

The Dismissal – which will have its world premiere at the Canberra Theatre Centre, followed by a season in the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre in November – is a co-production with independent music theatre company Squabbalogic, which commissioned and developed the show.

Dubbed “An Extremely Serious Musical Comedy”, The Dismissal features music and lyrics by Laura Murphy (a well-known musical theatre performer whose credits include Muriel’s Wedding), and a book by Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody.

James-Moody, who is the Artistic Director of Squabbalogic and conceived of the musical, will direct the production, which revives a rogue’s gallery of 70s Australian politicians: the ambitious Gough Whitlam, who was dismissed as Prime Minister in November 1975, the seductive Malcolm Fraser, and duplicitous silver-fox Sir John Kerr, not to mention Her Majesty the Queen.

Workshop performances at the Seymour Centre in June 2019 triggered much excitement, with praise for the show’s witty structure (which uses Norman Gunston as a narrator), its razor-sharp lyrics and appealing score. Matthew Whittet, who played Norman Gunston, will take on the role in the world premiere production.

Act 2 begins with The 7 Stages of Grieving, a now legendary solo show by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman. Originally scheduled for STC’s 2020 season, it will play in Wharf 1 from 21 May. Resident Director Shari Sebbens will make her STC directorial debut with the production, which will star Elaine Crombie. Enoch and Mailman have added some new scenes to bring a contemporary perspective to the play, which premiered in 1995.

In June, STC Resident Director Jessica Arthur, who directed Wonnangatta, will direct the Australian premiere of Bess Wohl’s family comedy Grand Horizons. When it opened on Broadway in January 2020 just before the COVID lockdown, The New York Times described it as “one of the brightest shows to hit Broadway in years”.

After 50 years of married bliss, Nancy, a retired librarian approaching 80, tells her husband Bill that she wants a divorce so she can take a last chance at living her best life. Bill doesn’t seem to mind, but their adult children Ben and Brian are definitely not happy about it. The STC production will star John Bell and Linda Cropper as Bill and Nancy, alongside James Majoos, Johnny Nasser, Zindzi Okenyo and Guy Simon.

In July/August Glace Chase’s Triple X will play at Wharf 1. The co-production with Queensland Theatre had its world premiere in Brisbane earlier this month, where it earned a 5-star review from Limelight. The raunchy romantic comedy focuses on a successful but miserable Wall Street banker, played by Josh McConville, who is about to get married but has a secret affair with a trans performance artist, played by Chase. Triple X is directed by STC’s Associate Director Paige Rattray.

White Pearl at Parramatta Riverside TheatresThe STC/National Theatre of Parramatta 2019 co-production of White Pearl at Parramatta Riverside Theatres. Photograph © Philip Erbacher

In 2019, STC and the National Theatre of Parramatta co-produced White Pearl by Thai-Australian playwright Anchuli Felicia King, the STC Patrick White Playwrights Fellow. The blisteringly funny satire is set in a cosmetic start-up company called Clearday in Singapore, entirely staffed by women, which produces a skin whitening product. The day has not begun well. The company’s uber-confident founder Priya Singh (Vaishnavi Suryaprakash), who was born in India but has a British education, arrives to discover that a mysterious French social media account has leaked their forthcoming television ad on YouTube. Designed to make a splash, the ad is appallingly racist, and the clip is going viral.

In a 4.5-star review of the 2019 Parramatta season, directed by Priscilla Jackman, Limelight said that the “dazzling production… has you riding the roller-coaster plot with your jaw on the floor at the brazen, daring brilliance of the writing. It’s a play that feels fresh, fearless and very funny.”

When Kip Williams’ stunning, inspired stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s gothic melodrama The Picture of Dorian Gray, brilliantly performed by Eryn Jean Norvill, opened to reduced capacity houses in November 2020, it won rave reviews and quickly sold out. The production, which Limelight gave 5 stars, returns to the Roslyn Packer Theatre in July/August.

Shari Sebbens directs her second play for STC, when she helms Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic American play A Raisin in the Sun – the first time it will have been performed on an Australian mainstage. Set in Chicago in the 1950s, it centres on the Young family who are looking to rise above the injustices that have shaped their lives and improve their lot. Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun when she was 29. When it premiered in 1959, it was the first play by an African American woman to have a Broadway season. The STC production will feature Bert LaBonté and Zahra Newman.

Sigrid Thornton makes her STC debut when she appears in The Lifespan of a Fact by David Murrell, Gordon Farrell and Jeremy Kareken. The stylish, hyper-intelligent Broadway comedy tackles one of the big questions of our time – true or false? With “fake news” now part of our vocabulary, the theme is decidedly topical. In the play, a young man called Jim has landed an internship at a prestigious magazine and a once-in-a-lifetime assignment to face check a new essay by a writer he idolises. But he quickly discovers that separating fact from fiction is not an easy task.

The Lifespan of a Fact had a Broadway season in 2018 with a cast including Daniel Radcliffe and Bobby Cannavale. In the STC production, which Anne-Louise Sarkes will direct, Charles Wu will play Jim.

In October/November, Paige Rattray directs Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, with Wayne Blair as Willy Loman. The mainstage season concludes in November/December with a production of  Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar directed by Kip Williams in the round in Wharf I.

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