Sydney Theatre Company has announced its 2019 season, with a swathe of new plays – including the world premieres of works by Nakkiah Lui, Van Badham and Julia Leigh – a new adaption of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart by Kate Mulvany alongside modern classics like Lord of the Flies, Così and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
According to STC Artistic Director Kip Williams, the season extends on themes of leadership and responsibility presented in this year’s season in works like The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and Saint Joan. “Conversations about how power is assumed within our society and how power is battled for. Who has an easy path to power in our world and who has a more difficult path to power,” Williams tells Limelight. “And there’s also a shift, inwards in some ways, looking at the most personal of political institutions: the family. So there’s lots of stories about fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters and brothers and sisters – but in particular those centre upon the way in which power operates inside the family.”
These ideas will be nailed to the mast in the first play to kick off the season in the Roslyn Packer Theatre, an adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart by Kate Mulvany, fresh from the success of her epic adaptation of Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South trilogy. The work charts the rivalry between cousins Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England, who will be played by Caroline Brazier and Helen Thomson respectively. “It’s a family drama – these are two cousins – but also very much a piece about the battle for power,” Williams says. “We’ve got Helen Thomson and Caroline Brazier playing those roles. So it should be a really thrilling and exciting night, particularly given that this is a work that has often been adapted and directed by men, to have Imara Savage [directing] and Kate Mulvany bringing a contemporary female voice to this story, I think it’s a really exciting thing for us to look forward to next year.”
Michelle Lim Davidson, Nakkiah Lui and Anthony Taufa in How to Rule the World. Photo © Rene Vaile
Nakkiah Lui will premiere a new work with STC again in 2019, following the success of her Black is the New White in 2017 and Blackie Blackie Brown this year. Her new work How to Rule the World opens in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House in February. “The premise of the play is hysterical,” Williams says. “Three politicos, one Aboriginal, one Asian and one Islander meeting in a bar and hatching a plan to take over the Australian political landscape by employing a hapless white guy to be their political puppet – it’s an incredibly funny piece.” Lui herself will star in a cast with Gareth Davies, Vanessa Downing, Michelle Lim Davidson, Hamish Michael and Anthony Taufa.
The work, which will be directed by Paige Rattray, was programmed before the recent turbulence in Canberra. “It feels as the days pass it becomes more and more relevant – somewhat depressingly,” Williams laughs. “But it is a piece that asks the question about how do you have power and influence in the Australian political landscape and who has power and influence in the Australian political landscape.”
Following Chimerica last year and The Children this year, STC will present the Australian premiere of Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes in the Drama Theatre in 2019. Dubbed “a spellbinding account of sibling strife,” by The Guardian when it premiered in London, the play focuses on two sisters – one a scientist on the verge of a major discovery searching for the Higgs boson, the other “a bit of a mess of a human being,” as Williams puts it, taken in by internet conspiracies. “In that true Kirkwood way it has both a macro and micro focus: the macro looks at the chaos of the universe and science’s attempt to solve the imperfect equation of the universe, and she also in a micro sense is looking at the chaos of interpersonal relationships.” Jessica Arthur directs.
Pamela Rabe, Sahra Newman and Hugo Weaving in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo © Rene Vaile
Hugo Weaving returns to STC in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, joining Pamela Rabe and Zahra Newman in a production directed by (Kip) Williams in the Roslyn Packer Theatre. “This really is the piece that looks at the family as a political institution,” he says. “It’s a story about a family that is riddled with lies and it looks at the way in which withholding from one another can cause great pain and great damage.”
In July/August, STC brings back to the stage a neglected Australian classic in Oriel Gray’s The Torrents, in a co-production with Black Swan State Theatre Company and directed by Black Swan’s AD Clare Watson in the Drama Theatre. The play, which shared the Playwright’s Advisory Board Competition win with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1955, is set in the 1890s in the gold fields. JG Milford arrives in town to take up a job on the local newspaper, where the locals are surprised to learn her first initial stands for Jenny. “There’s a great resonance at play in terms of the way in which the play looks at the politics of women in the workplace, and I think in many ways that’s the reason why back in the 1950s and beyond Gray’s play became neglected,” Williams says. “It’s got a terrific cast, headed up by Celia Pacquola making her debut at STC, so it should be a very, very funny night at the theatre. But also, we hope, will make some progress in reasserting Gray’s play as a great Australian classic.”
Mia Wasikowska in Lord of the Flies. Photo © Rene Vaile
Williams directs William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (in Nigel Williams’ adaptation) in July/August, with film star Mia Wasikowska making her Australian stage debut as Ralph in the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Golding wrote his novel in the wake of World War II and for William this is a timely moment to be re-examining the work. “I think certainly with the re-emergence of certain fascist ideologies internationally, there’s an important context in which to be telling this story,” he says. But he also refers to Golding’s work as a teacher at an all boys school. “I think what Golding was interested in was looking at these young boys as a microcosm of a patriarchal power structure, and how that power structure ultimately is designed to be cruel and to be oppressive and to crush the weak and the disadvantaged – and ultimately benefit those already in power.”
In July/August a new work will hit the Sydney Opera House Studio (one of several venues STC is exploring while the Wharf is closed for renovations), directed by Jessica Arthur: Van Badham’s Banging Denmark, a satirical take on the romantic comedy genre that sees a feminist academic team up with a sleazy pick-up artist to help him secure a date with a Danish librarian. “This is very much a bold, hilarious, shocking and insightful contemporary comedy,” Williams says. “It’s right on that fault-line of society, examining the kind of contemporary phenomenon of men who claim to understand the female mind and the dark online culture that has festered around that particular way of thinking.”
Anne-Louise Sarks will direct another new work at the end of August, Julia Leigh’s Avalanche: A Love Story. “It tells the story of a couple in their later 30s who find themselves very much in love and they decide to have a child,” Williams says. “And so they make an appointment with an IVF clinic and thus begins their challenging journey towards their hope and dream of creating a baby with each other. And it’s not too much of a plot-spoiler to say that this is a very challenging and difficult and heart-wrenching emotionally honest story.”
Toby Schmitz and Geraldine Hakewill in The Real Thing. Photo © Rene Vaile
Toby Schmitz and Geraldine Hakewill star in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing in September/October in the Drama Theatre, directed by Simon Phillips. “I think this is one of Stoppard’s most joyous plays,” says Williams. “It’s a beautiful work unpacking the idea and the mess and of loving one another. Very, very funny work.”
Anchuli Felicia King, who’s just had a new play announced on Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2019 season, will be hitting STC as well, with White Pearl, at Parramatta Riverside Theatres in October. “It is an extraordinary new play,” says Williams. “Anchuli tells the story of Clearday Cosmetics, a company in Singapore which has a new product, White Pearl. They’ve contracted an advertising agency to create a commercial for the product, which unbeknownst to them has been leaked online and is going viral – but it’s going viral for all the wrong reasons.” Priscilla Jackman directs a cast starring Merlynn Tong.
An Australian classic hits the stage in November, in Louis Nowra’s Così – an autobiographical story of staging a production of Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte with inmates in a psychiatric facility. “On one level it’s a love letter to the act of putting on a show, but at it’s core it’s about the experience of community that can be forged from telling stories with each other,” Williams says. “In many ways I see Così as the answer to Lord of the Flies within the season.” A co-production with Melbourne Theatre Company, Sarah Goodes directs a cast including Hunter Page-Lochard, Rahel Romahn and Katherin Tonkin.
Rebel Wilson in The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Photo © Rene Vaile
Finishing off the year in the Roslyn Packer Theatre with a bang, comedian Rebel Wilson stars in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, directed by Paige Rattray, with a cast including Shiv Palekar and Toby Schmitz. “Beauty Queen I think is where he cracks the extraordinary dark humour that he has become so known for, and it’s also a piece where that idea of family and control within the family comes to the fore,” Williams says. “Rebel plays Maureen, a woman in her early 40s who for the first time in her life might be on the verge of having a romantic encounter in her life, and her mother Mag, isn’t having a bar of it. And subsequently enacts a number of cruel and punishing actions in order to prevent her daughter from abandoning her. So it looks at those much-known co-dependent family relationships that we often find ourselves in.”
“To have Rebel back at STC [after 2006’s Fat Pig] is a total thrill,” Williams says. “Very, very excited for that one.”