In 2005, after suffering heart problems, Australian playwright David Williamson announced his retirement. But as a new drug helped his recovery, the playwriting bug bit again and before long he was writing prolifically, with the Ensemble Theatre becoming his regular Sydney home.
In unveiling the Ensemble’s 2020 season Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry announced the inclusion of yet another new Williamson play, Crunch Time – but this time it really will be Williamson’s final play before he retires after a remarkable 50-year career as one of Australia’s most popular dramatists.
The 2020 Ensemble program features 11 plays, eight of which are world premieres. Seven plays are written by women and four will be directed by women. The company is also co-producing its first play with Sydney Festival as the season opener. So, what is in store for Ensemble audiences?
Promotional image for Black Cockatoo. Photograph © Christian Trinder
The 2020 Ensemble season opens with Black Cockatoo, a new play by Geoffrey Atherden, inspired by the true story of legendary cricketer Johnny Mullagh, a Jardwadjali man from Western Victoria, and member of Australia’s first ever international sporting team, which saw 13 Aboriginal men from country Victoria travel to England over 150 years ago to play cricket. While they were away, the authorities moved their people off their land onto reserves and into mission stations.
The play begins in the present day, when a group of young activists sneak into the Wimmera Discovery Centre to expose the truth about what happened to Johnny and his teammates. In writing the play, Atherden has collaborated closely with Sydney Festival Artistic Director Wesley Enoch and Uncle Richard Kennedy, a Wotjobaluk traditional owner and descendant of one of the cricketers. Co-produced with Sydney Festival, Enoch will direct a First Nations cast including Joseph Althouse, Luke Carroll, Chenoa Deemal, Aaron McGrath, and Dubs Yunupingu.
Black Cockatoo plays January 4 – February 8
In David Williamson’s final play, Steve, a sports-mad Aussie bloke, has just retired and passed the successful family business to his son Jimmy. However, Steve and his eldest son Luke, an engineer with little interest in AFL, haven’t spoken for eight years. When Steve suddenly falls ill, Luke and Jimmy will have to unite and bury family hostilities to fulfil their father’s final wishes. Describing it as a “razor-sharp” comedy and “a cracker to go out with”, Kilmurry directs a cast led by John Wood and Guy Edmonds.
Crunch Time plays February 14 – April 9
A BROADCAST COUP
Melanie Tait had a sell-out success when her play The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race premiered at the Ensemble in March this year. Priscilla Jackman returns to direct Tait’s new comedy, A Broadcast Coup, in which a cut-throat journalist called Jez Connell, who recently brought down a lauded TV star, sets her sights on Michael King, the darling of public radio. And this time it’s personal. Amber McMahon plays Jez.
A Broadcast Coup plays April 17 – May 23
Based on the much-loved 2006 film Kenny by Shane and Clayton Jacobson, about a cheery plumber who works for a portable toilet rental company, Steve Rodgers has adapted the Australian mockumentary movie for the stage. Ben Wood steps into Kenny’s overalls for the quirky adaptation, which has its world premiere at the Ensemble, directed by Kilmurry.
Kenny plays May 29 – July 4
Mark Kilmurry. Photo © Karen Watson
Joanna Murray-Smith’s award-winning 1995 play Honour has been performed in more than three dozen countries, with seasons on Broadway and in London’s West End. Exploring the breakdown of a seemingly rock-solid marriage, when husband George leaves his wife Honor for a younger woman, Kate Champion directs a cast including Lucy Bell and Catherine Văn-Davies.
Honour plays June 9 – July 4
Iain Sinclair, whose acclaimed, stark production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge is currently playing at the Ensemble (until August 24) returns in July to direct Harold Pinter’s compelling, psychological masterpiece, The Caretaker, with a cast including Darren Gilshenan.
The Caretaker plays July 10 – August 8
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
This spine-chilling ghost story by Stephen Mallatratt, adapted from Susan Hill’s novel, is one of the longest-running plays in West End history, second only to The Mousetrap. Kilmurry directs the spooky two-hander, to be performed by Garth Holcombe and Jamie Oxenbould.
The Woman in Black plays August 14 – September 12
KILLING KATIE: CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK CLUB
Tracey Trinder’s new play was inspired by “a big drama” in her book club. In her new play, Robyn – who has been Queen Bee of her long-running book club – has her nose put out of joint when the free-spirited, sparky Katie joins the group, and plots to get rid of her, with shocking consequences. Francesca Savige directs the brutally honest comedy with a cast including Kate Raison as Robyn and Chantelle Jamieson as Katie.
Killing Katie: Confessions of a Book Club plays September 18 – October 24
UNQUALIFIED 2: STILL UNQUALIFIED
Comedy actors Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore had a sell-out success at the Ensemble this year with their madcap comedy Unqualified about two women, Joanne Truebody and Felicity Bacon, who bump into each other at Centrelink and decide to form their own temporary employment agency. However, without any clients, the disorganised, mismatched pair end up having to take on all the jobs themselves. Asked by Kilmurry to write another play for 2020, they decided to tune into how Joanne and Felicity are going now. Janine Watson returns to direct the sequel.
Unqualified 2: Still Unqualified plays September 29 – October 24
Kilmurry directs his own new play Outdated, a bittersweet comedy about venturing back into the dating scene when you’ve hit your 40s, with Rachel Gordon and Yalin Ozucelik as the awkward couple in question, who are attempting to put single-dom behind them but are not sure if they should be swiping left or right.
Outdated plays October 30 – November 21
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
The Bells unite for Christmas when John Bell directs a new stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ perennial classic by his daughter Hilary Bell. John also plays the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge who must be taken in hand by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come before he sees the light and is transformed into a warm-hearted, generous, happy man. The perfect, festive way to end the year.
A Christmas Carol plays November 27 – January 9