The best productions of the 2018?
We’ll leave that to the Sydney Theatre Awards to agonise over. Instead, here, in no particular order, is our contribution to the annual media festival of wrap-ups and best-of listicles; the shows that we at Audrey Journal loved, the productions we admired, the stories we were moved and shaken by.
St Joan (Roslyn Packer Theatre)
George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 classic put a teenaged daughter of a French peasant in the dock but in Imara Savage’s grandly skeletal staging, it was the patriarchy on trial. Dispensing with much of Shaw’s original dramaturgy and inserting new elements devised with Emme Hoy of the STC Emerging Writers’ Group, Savage tightened the focus on Joan (an exceptional Sarah Snook), her “voices” and her exploits while condensing the other roles into a male chorus of black-clothed religious and secular authority figures. The final image of the production was a stunner.
Joan (Seymour Centre)
And while we’re thinking about Joan of Arc, one of the best solo performances of the year came from UK company Milk Presents and performer Lucy Jane Parkinson, who turned the warrior-saint image on its head to present an earthily funny and touching portrait of a peasant lass who could not – and would not – fit in. In-yer-face storytelling of the first order.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Kings Cross Theatre)
Speaking of solo performances, it would be remiss of us not to highlight actor Ella Prince, whose gripping and intensely focused performance as “Girl” in this stage adaptation of Eimear McBride’s novel was an absolute tour de force.
There Will Be A Climax (Old Fitzroy Theatre)
It was one of those shows you find yourself urging friends to see because even the most jaded of theatregoers wouldn’t have seen anything else quite like it. Created by Alexander Berlage and devised with the cast, There Will Be A Climax deposited its clown characters into one of the circles of Hell and then set the whole world turning to Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round. Very funny, occasionally maddening and utterly novel. The theatrical earworm of the year.
The Howling Girls (Carriageworks)
Not the kind of show you come out whistling but Sydney composer Damien Ricketson’s wordless psycho-drama opera, inspired by stories of girls experiencing psycho-somatic loss of voice and choking in the months after 9/11, made for extraordinary theatre. Directed by Adena Jacobs and sung with hair-raising power by Jane Sheldon, The Howling Girls was a mysterious, utterly mesmerising masterpiece.
Stupid Fucking Bird (New Theatre)
Director Warwick Doddrell assembled an excellent cast and creative team around American writer Aaron Posner’s reboot of Chekhov’s The Seagull. Attention to technical detail and clever design was matched by a tender regard for the characters. The performances were excellent throughout, led by Mansoor Noor as the would-be theatrical revolutionary, Annie Stafford as Masha, and Brendan Miles as the rueful local GP. Everything about this production sang so sweetly, I had to go back for a second viewing.
Fag/Stag (Griffin Theatre)
Actor-writers Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs stripped millennial man naked – emotionally speaking, at least – in this sharply written and tenderly performed two-hander from Perth theatre company The Last Great Hunt, one that turned the bromance genre on its head.
They Divided the Sky (Belvoir Downstairs)
Belvoir’s inaugural 25A experiment (which offers the Downstairs space to companies on the provision they stick to a $1500 budget) produced some excellent theatre. Daniel Schlusser’s quicksilver adaptation of GDR novelist Christa Wolf’s They Divided the Sky was the season’s standout with Nikki Shiels showing her best stuff as Rita, a young worker recovering from an accident in the train factory who falls for engineer Manfred (Stephen Phillips).
The Walworth Farce (Kings Cross Theatre)
The Druid Theatre Company’s production of Enda Walsh’s claustrophobic comedy played the Roslyn Packer Theatre in 2010 and there were a lot of empty seas at interval. This close-up production directed by Kim Hardwick for Workhorse Theatre, kept its audience nailed to their chairs. Laurence Coy was tremendously good as the delusional father. Robin Goldsworthy and Troy Harrison were excellent as the tortured sons trapped in a council flat-sized fantasy. Likewise Rachel Alexander as the Tesco checkout chick who unwisely knocks on their door.
The Flick – Seymour Centre
Annie Baker’s depiction of the evolving relationship triangle of three employees of a small town movie theatre was produced with perfect pitch by Outhouse Theatre Company. Director Craig Baldwin cast the piece flawlessly with Jeremy Waters and Mia Lethbridge but his coup was finding newcomer Justin Amankwah, who made an assured and moving stage debut as the shy film geek Avery.
Metamorphoses – Old Fitzroy
Transformation is at the heart of Greek myth and likewise in this Apocalypse Theatre production of Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Ovid, directed by Dino Dimitriadis. The stage and everyone on it reflected gender and power relationships in flux and poised to dissolve in an instant.
The Harp in the South – Roslyn Packer
Directed by Kip Williams, Kate Mulvany’s two-part adaptation of Ruth Park’s saga of an Irish Australian family provided six-and-something hours of wonderfully rich theatre that swept its audience from rural New South Wales in the early 1920s to the hovels of Surry Hills in the 1940s. It was a triumph of staging and the fine performances – particularly from Anita Hegh, Jack Finsterer, Helen Thomson, Benedict Hardie and Contessa Treffone – who brought the story alive. A gripping exercise in long-form theatre.
The Feather in the Web (Griffin Theatre)
Nick Coyle’s piercing comedy turned a queer lens to contemporary relationships to created a world where anxieties, desires and impulses were writ large. Claire Lovering’s performance was extraordinary. Our reviewer Cassie Tongue found it “near impossible to take your eyes off her”. Ditto that.
Love Song Dedications (PACT)
I never knew how much I liked the Bryan Adams-Mel C banger When You’re Gone until I saw Tom Hogan and Bonnie Leigh-Dodds’ music-stuffed tribute to radio announcer Richard Mercer’s 17-year stint as “The Love God”. A contender for most heartwarming night in 2018.
The View Upstairs (Hayes Theatre)
Composer-writer Max Vernon’s idea of a Trump-era fashion designer time-warped back to the New Orleans gay scene of the 1970s was a touch Twilight Zone but this warm and detailed production had you rolling with the premise and then immersed in an affecting story of resilience in the face of hatred. Beautifully staged and a fine cast, too, with Markesha McKoy, Anthony Harkin, Ryan Gonzalez, Thomas Campbell and Madison McKoy delightful company.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Roslyn Packer Theatre)
This STC production was the first professional staging of Brecht’s anti-Nazi parable in Sydney in 30 years. Directed by Kip Williams from Tom Wright’s translation-adaptation, it drew dark parallels between Ui’s world and that of contemporary Australia: one in which the interests of the few outweigh those of the many, and where tower cranes sprout from mounds of dirty money. A chilling message delivered in a completely exciting production.
Cry-Baby (Hayes Theatre Company)
OK, not the greatest musical ever written but Alexander Berlage’s production played up the show’s rock & roll pantomime elements to perfection: Cry-Baby was noisy, bright, and thoroughly entertaining. Beth Daly excelled in the role of suburban gorgon Mrs Vernon-Williams.
For sheer close-up magic, you couldn’t better Zahra Newman’s performance in debbie tucker green’s portrait of an Afro-Caribbean family in London on a day when the world as they knew it ended. Morphing between family members with subtle shifts of stance and intonation, Newman made difficult work look completely effortless.