Broad Spectrum: Something for everyone in 2012 STC Season

Sydney writer, David Allen attended the Sydney Theatre Company 2012 Season Launch last night at Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay. Here he writes about his thoughts on the season ahead, the launch and his discussions with ‘Our Cate’.

By Invitation – Andrew and Cate

While I have never followed with religious fervor, I have always, to some extent, marked my calendar for the Sydney Theatre Company’s season launch – by all accounts epic and glamorous affairs. Usually I follow along on Twitter or watch clips afterwards on YouTube. Last night some form of seismic shift occurred and suddenly I found myself drifting around amongst Sydney glitterati through epic, theatrical posters, smoke and lighting, wondering if that was Naomi Watts and asking Andrew Upton where the loos were.

My relationship with STC, as a theatergoer has always been decidedly love/hate. However, it’s just basic fact that they generally put on one of the finest productions in town, and their voice, however I may interpret it, is a force to be reckoned with in the national (and occasionally even the international) theatrical community.

Last night marked the launch of their upcoming 2012 season and while pomp and circumstance were definitely the order of business, Aussie casual-chic remained the defining tone. As Andrew Upton unashamedly confessed during his and Ms Blanchett’s opening remarks, against the backdrop of a nerve-racking world of impending elections, mortgages, debt, carbon taxes and angry boys, the STC’s 2012 season’s modus operandi has strictly remained “F*** it! Let’s just get out and walk!”

The last time I encountered Cate Blanchett in the flesh was at the premiere of the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There the Hollywood movie star walked the red carpet in stunning couture, heels of death and breathtaking jewellery. Last night, the movie star stayed home and the actress and the intellectual took centre stage. In simple loafers, slacks, blouse and semi-formal jacket, standing proudly beside a be-jacketed but not be-suited Andrew Upton, “Our Cate” set the tone of the season. And suddenly it became easier to picture that this Academy Award Winning legend actually shares the same planet, let alone the same city as I do.

Together, co-creative directors and married couple, amidst Nick-and-Nora-esque banter, Cate and Andrew unveiled a fascinating line up of new plays for the Sydney Theatre Company next year.

Of the fifteen announced productions (including 4 new plays and 2 new adaptations), the audience at the launch responded with greatest enthusiasm for two modern stage classics, Under Milk Wood and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. This in itself speaks volumes for what is expected for the upcoming season, as neither play’s all-star line-up had been announced before they received a solid gasp of pleasure from the crowds. They are both plays (to heavily varying degrees) about indulgence – and they’re both steeped in rich language, lush personalities and dark inner turmoil.

Throw in Hugo Weaving and Pamela Rabe for Liaisons and Jack Thompson and Sandy Gore for Milk Wood and its beyond difficult to resist.


As for the rest of the line-up, what was said spoke as many volumes as what was left unsaid. The announcement of a revival of George Bernard-Shaw’s oft-seen Pygmalion actually drew titters from the audience – and giggles from Andrew and Cate as they acknowledged their indulgence of that old chestnut. But Ms Blanchett was swift to assure everyone that this production will go beyond bustles and hats and “’Cor blimey guv’nor!”

From the romanticized classic, they swiftly leapt to the razor sharp hit, fresh from Chicago’s internationally acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre – Sex With Strangers. This dangerous comedy, a two-hander, asks difficult questions about love and literature in the age of technology – and it was very pointedly sold to the eager crowd right alongside the perennial favourites.

Most of the rest of the season came attached with the label – Made in Australia – and includes works by such authors as Hilary Bell, Tim Winton, Jonathan Biggins, and Kate Champion’s physical theatre company Force Majeure. Including a comedy, physical theatre, a play with songs, a drama and an Australian penned adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film – literally every base is covered.

And there the announcements ended, leaving the audiences to drift amongst the atmospheric dry ice as spotlights peeled down upon vast posters of the plays just announced for the season… well, most of them.

The announcement instantly raised as many questions as it answered. With two major star vehicles (Les Liaisons and Milk Wood), the international art-house (The Histrionic and Face to Face), the physical theatre (Never Did Me Any Harmand Water), the American psycho-sexual exploration (Sex With Strangers and A History of Everything), the Australiana (Midsummer, Signs of Life and Australia Day) and that perennial classic about Liza Doolittle – the line-up, as announced (and in my mind at least), ushered two elephants into the room.

No star vehicle for Cate Blanchett – despite the obvious potential for one. And absolutely no mention of the production that will be closing STC’s 2012 season – The Pirates of Penzance! … Or should that be – The Pirates of Penzance??!

When I first read that last title in the advance press kit an hour before the event, I quite literally did a double take. Surely after seemingly countless productions by Opera Australia starring Anthony Warlow, employing seemingly every plot and costume gimmick imaginable (including references to Captain Jack Sparrow in the most recent incarnation) this was a typo? STC

Then I re-read the program and discovered this was a London-bred, import production featuring an all male cast. A short conversation with Andrew Upton later and it was revealed that this production was carefully appraised before selection with a direct view to offering Sydney audiences a fiery and fresh take on this classic operetta.

Viewed in such a context this fits in far more neatly with the line-up – diverse, intellectual, Aussie-chic – fabulous!

With this in mind, I downed another glass of Bridgewater Mills sparkling, and contemplated the zen question: how does one speak to Cate Blanchett?

Being in the same room as “Our Cate”, as I had first learnt at that film premiere a few years earlier, is a disconcerting experience for the simple reason that she appears so effortlessly graceful. And I watched with confused astonishment the growing number of people (aliens, I judged, after another glass of sparkling) who were capable of simply walking up out of nowhere and talking to Ms. Blanchett while simultaneously putting it out of their minds that her performance in Elizabeth in 1998 redefined a near century-old cinematic genre (to say nothing of my entire adolescence!).

Finally, prompted by taunts from my photographer, I walked up and asked Cate Blanchett a question: “did you consider playing anything this season?” And how could I not ask? Madame de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses might as well have been written for her!

“Oh no! Pam Rabe was just born to play that part – thank you darling” a waiter refills her glass. We then go on to talk about the line-up of plays. Face to Face– a risky and decidedly complex adaptation of the Ingmar Bergman film, and hubby Andrew’s labour of love with Simon Stone – is one her favourites. “In fact I really would have loved to have been in it, but I can’t take all the plum roles now can I?”

Laughter. Effortless grace. Tres tres Aussie chic – that’s Our Cate. And Sydney Theatre Company is better off for having Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton around. Under their direction, the company has blossomed into something vibrant and thought provoking – arguably the only evolutionary road STC could have taken under any circumstances given it’s pedigree, but, however the road, audiences are better off for its having gotten there.

I’m not saying I will be seeing every play produced by STC in 2012. And of the plays I do see, I’m not saying I will necessary even like all, or many, or any of them! But there is enough there for me to be fascinated – and to want to attend. And so broad is the spectrum covered – there will literally be something there for everyone to feel the same way.

So roll on 2012 – and f*** it! Let’s just get out and walk.


Full STC 2012 Season:

NEVER DID ME ANY HARM devised by Force MajeureVenue: Wharf 1Previews from 6 Jan 2012. Season 11 Jan – 12 Feb 2012 PYGMALION by George Bernard ShawVenue: Sydney TheatrePreviews from 31 Jan 2012. Season 4 Feb – 3 March 2012 MIDSUMMER (A PLAY WITH SONGS) by David Greig & Gordon McIntyre Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera HousePreviews from 1 Feb 2012. Season from 6 Feb – 10 March 2012 LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES by Christopher HamptonFrom the novel by Choderlos De LaclosWharf 1Previews from 31 March 2012. Season from 5 April – 10 June 2012 UNDER MILK WOOD – by Dylan Thomas Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera HousePreviews from 22 May 2012. Season from 26 May – 7 July 2012 THE HISTRIONIC by Thomas Bernhard. Translated by Tom WrightVenue: Wharf 1Previews from 15 June 2012. Season from 20 June – 28 July 2012 FACE TO FACE a film by Ingmar Bergman. Adapted for the stage by Andrew Upton and Simon StoneVenue: Sydney Theatre.
Previews from 7 August 2012. Season from 11 Aug – 8 Sept 2012 THE SPLINTER by Hilary BellVenue: Wharf 1Previews from 10 Aug 2012. Season from 15 Aug – 15 Sept 2012 AUSTRALIA DAY by Jonathan Biggins Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera HousePreviews from 7 Sept 2012. Season from 12 Sept – 27 Oct 2012. SEX WITH STRANGERS by Laura EasonVenue: Wharf 1 Previews from 25 Sept 2012. Season from 28 Sept – 24 Nov 2012. SIGNS OF LIFE by Tim WintonVenue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera HousePreviews from 2 Nov 2012. Season from 7 Nov – 22 Dec 2012

Extra Offers:

A HISTORY OF EVERYTHING Text by Alexander Devriendt, Joeri Smet in collaboration with the cast Venue: Wharf 2.
Previews form 13 Jan 2012. Season 17 Jan – 5 Feb 2012. WATER Created by Filter and David FarrVenue: Sydney Theatre.
Previews from 12 Sept 2012. Season 13 – 23 September 2012. THE WHARF REVUE 2012 Written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott.Venue: Wharf 2 & Wharf 1Previews from 1 Nov 2012. Season 2 – 25 Nov (Wharf 2) & 27 Nov – 22 Dec (Wharf 1) Sasha Regan’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE by W.S. Gilbert and A. Sullivan
Venue:Sydney Theatre.
Previews from 8 Nov 2012. Season 10 – 24 Nov 2012

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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