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Who What Why

Our Artistic Director's rundown of the 2019 season.

COUNTING AND CRACKING

This play is big, magnificent, ambitious, and a great labour of love. Its writer is S. Shakthidaran, who was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Australia as a kid. Shakthi has taken a decade to write it, working closely from the real stories of his community here in Australia and back in Sri Lanka. I first read it nearly six years ago and, since then, Shakthi and I have worked like fiends to bring it to life. The development of the show has taken us around Sri Lanka, to India, Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, and all over Australia. We have been helped along the way by strangers, by family, by people whose lives have uncannily mirrored Shakthi’s play; by a great assortment of arts organisations; by generous individuals; and yes, absolutely, by the public purse. The very fact the show is happening is beautiful in itself – the product of a grand coalition of people from different countries, different backgrounds, different lives.

Why do we love it? Why have we given so much to it? It is a different kind of national story – a new national story about Australia as a migrant nation and a land of refuge. It’s also a story about Sri Lanka’s determination to remain united – and this story, of battling against the politics of division and populism, has only become more urgent as we’ve worked on the play. Most of all it’s a story about family and belonging – as perhaps all good theatre is. Creating a community out of thin air. Imagining how we might all live together. What I love most is Shakthi’s vision of a society that includes all people from all walks of life. Without being misty-eyed or unrealistic, this play is driven by a great yearning for a better world.

THE WOLVES

I saw this show at the Old Fitz earlier this year and I loved the sheer vitality and energy of it. The cast was a revelation – batty, dangerous, free-spirited. The direction was alive and exact – Jess Arthur is a brilliant new talent. The play itself is simple at a first glance: a group of girls in a soccer team train together, revelling in their youth and freedom, and then reality comes crashing in. But its writer,

Sarah DeLappe, has managed to explore a big question about how the generation that’s coming of age now will handle the mess they are inheriting. It’s this mix of growing lives and big ideas that got the play named one of the top 25 American plays of the last 25 years in The New York Times.

We’ve invited the Old Fitz/Red Line production to Belvoir St in its entirety. It’s a celebration of life. It’s hopeful. It’s unexpectedly moving.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING

Every Brilliant Thing is just exquisite. It’s a solo show, except that its actor, Kate Mulvany, needs about 50 other people to help her tell the story. But before you worry about audience participation (I do!) rest assured, this is the most lovely version imaginable: nobody leaves their seat, you only have to help out if you’ve agreed to beforehand, and the most you’ll be asked to do is read something out, or perhaps give a name to a fictional dog. The show has been a hit all over the world, but we’re doing a new production specially for Belvoir. Kate Mulvany – storyteller, actor, writer – is perfect for the Narrator, and we’re turning our beloved three-sided stage into an all-sided stage, with audience all around.

Like Kate, this show’s dominant notes are generosity and humanity. It’s really a show about the wellsprings of creativity and happiness, about how to see the world afresh. It does this in the most wonderfully simple and yet inventive way. Look, you really have to see it, it’s beautiful.

BARBARA AND THE CAMP DOGS

Ursula Yovich is a force of nature and Barbara and the Camp Dogs is Urs at her remarkable best – singer, actor, writer, modern songwoman. The show blew the roof off Belvoir in 2017 – Urs and Elaine at full bore, the story cutting from hilarity and silliness to terrible poignancy and weight, Troy’s 11th-hour appearance, the big standing ovations. We loved it and knew straight away that the story would open up again.

Wonderfully, it’s also hitting the road for a national tour. The show was a collaboration between Urs, Alana Valentine and Adm Ventoura, but throughout its development it was Urs’s searching sense of truth that guided it. A discussion about a plot point or a character trait would bring up different ideas, different ways forward: Urs would listen quietly, frowning; she’d announce a different idea, deeply felt, strongly founded, and on it would go. There’s a lot of tough, deep reflection in this show, and a lot of love.

WINYANBOGA YURRINGA

Winyanboga Yurringa was originally commissioned by Belvoir nine years ago as part of an ambitious project to adapt Hyllus Maris and Sonia Borg’s Women of the Sun. Andrea has been working on it in different permutations ever since, with the support of Moogahlin Performing Arts. There’s something new and exciting happening here; it’s a theatrically smart play where you think you understand where these remarkable women are coming from and then you realise their diversity and separation is much more imaginative and surprising than you first thought. It’s prepared to take on the knottiness of now, and like all good theatre, by the end you feel we’re in a different place, ready to take another step.

THINGS I KNOW TO BE TRUE

Andrew Bovell is a writer of genius – Speaking in Tongues, Lantana, the stage adaptation of The Secret River… He can turn a scene on a single line, release a whole undercurrent of life in one moment. Things I Know to be True is his newest play. It finds the beauty and scale of things inside the seeming ordinariness of our suburban lives. It premiered at State Theatre Company of South Australia two years ago and toured the UK twice. We’ve been waiting patiently for the chance to do our own production at Belvoir St. We’ve also been waiting patiently for the perfect play to bring Neil Armfield back. This is it: love, family, teapots, pyjama pants, mortality – a glorious mix of life’s biggest and smallest things.

LIFE OF GALILEO

This is Brecht’s Hamlet – perhaps his richest human portrayal, a vision of what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being when the times are out of joint. He wrote it at a time of serious out-of-joint-ness, when the bizarre inhumanity of Nazism had become the reality of life in Europe. The weird historical shit we’re experiencing today isn’t the same as Nazism, but the claims on reality are just as absurd. This is a play about reality as truth, not reality as some madman’s fantasy, or some corporate convenience, or some political expedience. It is a play about how to think for ourselves. To my mind that makes it like water in a desert. And there is great beauty in this play; a love of thought, of learning, of knowledge. But above all, a love of humanity in spite of itself.

FANGIRLS

“A 13-year-old-girl told me she was so in love with Harry Styles that she’d slit someone’s throat to be with him. So I interviewed more than a hundred fangirls and started writing a musical inspired by what they told me.” – Yve Blake

I heard recordings of some early songs from the show about two years ago when it was being workshopped at Australian Theatre for Young People. They were catchy, unrestrained, a bit mad, and frankly brilliant. They were the brainchild of a young writer/comedian/performer, Yve Blake. Her show is about fandom, and it’s for anyone who’s ever been a fan, in this age or any (5 per cent of the Australian population saw Ed Sheeran on his last tour in 2017!). But it’s also about love and other big feelings in the age of the internet, which makes it a show for teenagers and parents. It fizzes because it’s very NEW, very NOW, but it’s driven by the same ancient, wild feelings all teenagers have ever had – only amplified. I love this show. We can’t wait to see it unleashed.

PACKER AND SONS

Tommy Murphy is the great dramatic portraitist of Australian theatre. Mark Colvin’s Kidney, Holding the Man – these were detailed, complex depictions, moving and beautifully dramatised. He also has a knack for picking subjects that reflect this city and this country. Here he turns to his largest canvas so far, and a succession of men who have, king-like, ruled an Australian dynasty for nearly a century. From The Australian Women’s Weekly to Channel Nine to Crown Casino, the Packer fortunes and the national fortunes have been cheek-by-jowl for generations. Which makes this portrait of the Packers a portrait of Australia in the 20th century. But Tommy has taken the familiar outlines of this dynastic mythology and zoomed in on the moments when power passed from father to son. As one Packer declines, the next rises. It’s a naturally dramatic situation and it gives his play the heft of Shakespeare’s great history plays. The result is a brilliant game of power and inheritance – the heaviness of responsibility, the weight of the family name, unfinished business (did anyone say Nine/Fairfax?), death, hope, learning. At its centre is a complex, robust portrait of Kerry – part Falstaff, part King Lear, still echoing through the halls of Australian power today.