Sydney Theatre offers fascinating season of historical and contemporary plays

Sydney Theatre Company
Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney

The Sydney Theatre Company, Australia’s premiere theatre company, has a theatre season that combines the classics of world theatre, classic Australian, contemporary European and American as well as a lot of contemporary Australian works. Half the season is of Australian works.

The most recent production was Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood, which took as its starting point the events which occurred in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and then reflected on 23 years later in 2012 (The play was written by Luck Kirkwood in 2013) and now nearly 30 years after the event we probably bring another perspective to this geopolitical event.

The play was performed by 32 actors, among them 20 students from the National Institute of Dramatic Art. The size of the cast was important as they actors are used to represent as number of significant events but there are also more intimate moments with only a couple of actors on stage. There are also recurring images of the solitary figure called the Tank Man who confronted the tanks in Tiananmen Square.

The play explored many of the social, cultural and political ideas relating to the unknown man and the play takes that image and weaves an imagined story around it, exploring the role of the individual in such broad geopolitical movements. No one knows who the Tank Man was or what happened to him.

Kirkwood invents the photographer, Joe Schofield who took the iconic photograph who returns to. China to try to discover the identity of the man.

In his search, he collaborates with his Chinese friend, Zhang Lin, a colleague, his feisty editor and has a problematic relationship with a young woman who is trying to work in the new commercial China. The play also touches on the corruption of the media, both Chinese and American along with political collusion.

The play was relentless, with multiple snappy scenes, cutting between Beijing and New York as we followed the parallel lives of the Americans and Chinese protagonists. The full cast was able to transform the bare stage in a matter of seconds, changing the setting from airliner to restaurant to newsroom to café to a strip club, and the scenes in which the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square run from the approaching tanks and troops was chilling and dramatic.

Among the new plays on at the Sydney Theatre will be Black is the New White (May 5–June17) by Nakkiah Lui. It is a romantic comedy, which features a young female Aboriginal lawyer who has won a landmark native title case. She has made her parents proud, she could have her own TV show tomorrow but her boyfriend is not what her family expected. He's an unemployed experimental classical composer … and white! Bringing him and his conservative parents to meet her family on their ancestral land is a bold move complicated by class, politics, ambition.

Then there is a new adaption of George Orwell’s 1984 (June 20 – July 22) by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.  It follows the short life of Comrade 6079, Winston Smith who thinks a thought, starts a diary and falls in love. But Big Brother is always watching.

The play is an exploration of surveillance and identity, a vision of the future that looks a lot like our present.

Other plays include Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine (July 1–August 12), Anton Chekov’s “Three Sisters” (November 6–December 16) and a world premiere of “Muriel’s Wedding, the Musical “(November 6–December 30).

John Daly-Peoples' visit to Sydney was made possible by Destination New South Wales.

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