The arts are alive and well heading into 2015
To follow a career in the performing arts, which I did for over four decades, you need to be a robust optimist but also a realist. That is still my approach in attending performances; I enter the theatre hoping to experience something sublime, a hope not always realized. For this Christmas edition I’m trying to bring that same combination of realism and optimism to looking at the first part of 2015.
The year begins, as it always does, in the grandest possible way with the Sydney Summer Opera Season. It gets underway on New Year’s Eve at the House with La boheme and ends on April 26 after 26 performances of Aida on the harbour. It’s a frankly populist year; indeed the brochure states: ‘this season focuses on the operas audiences love the most’. It’s hard to imagine what operas they will program in the following year; perhaps they will just recycle the 2015 repertoire year after year. Or perhaps it’s a matter of somehow surviving 2015 and then worrying about the future when it comes round.
Puccini and Verdi hold most of the cards: there are four Puccinis, three Verdis, two Mozarts and one Gounod. Nothing to frighten the horses there. In the summer, as well as the two operas mentioned above, there will be Tosca, Moffatt Oxenbould’s gorgeous production of Madama Butterfly and Faust in a production borrowed from Covent Garden. The summer Mozart is the kiddies version of The Magic Flute. But the really big deal is Aida on the harbour, logistically demanding but likely to be the most artistically successful yet of these enormous entertainments which work at a much higher level than might reasonably have been expected.
Over at the Sydney Theatre Company things are quieter in January but they are opening After Dinner by Andrew Bovell in the Wharf Theatre on 15 Jan. Bovell, the gifted writer of Lantana and The Secret River, wrote a comedy of 1980s singles relationships with the consumer advice: ‘sexual themes’; a bit of summer spice. It’s short (1hr 30 mins) with no interval. A performance in summer with a drink before (and after) at the end of The Wharf is one of the great Sydney experiences.
The STC gets more intense in February with Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer at the Opera House (9 February-21 March). Starring Robin Nevin, it is set in New Orleans with ghastly family secrets. It’s also short with no interval. More and more, I love a short night in the theatre.
In Melbourne the biggest excitement will be the opening at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 17 January of Baz Luhrmann’s and Catherine Martin’s fabulous production of Strictly Ballroom: The Musical. This just might be the most fun you have all year in a theatre. It expands and enhances what you saw in the movie. Do yourself a favour and go.
Across town at the Victorian Arts Centre, if you’re quick, you can see Verity Hunt-Ballard (previously wonderful as Mary Poppins) in an award winning jewel box production of Sweet Charity in the Playhouse 25 Feb-1 Mar. She’s certainly not letting herself be typecast. Meanwhile in the Fairfax Studio, the MTC is presenting its innovative musical entertainment What Rhymes with Cars and Girls, an adaptation by playwright Aidan Fennessy of the first solo album by You Am I frontman Tim Rogers.
The Australian Ballet comes back to the State Theatre after a hugely successful 2014 around the country. It opens its much-loved production by Maina Guilgud of Giselle on 13 March, running to 23 March.
Over in the west, an important Perth International Festival returns 13 Feb – 7 March. Its overwhelming attraction will be The Incredible and Phenomenal Journey of the Giants to the Streets of Perth. Coming from Nantes, this French mechanical marionette street theatre company is proving to be a literally huge attraction as it starts to march across the globe. It made a great impact on English crowds in Liverpool this year in a presentation marking the start of WW I. In Perth the company will bring the Anzac story to bear on their amazing performance.
The Perth Festival has other wonders: The Mark Morris Dancers from New York in Mozart Dances are all style and grace, film director Anthony Minghella’s acclaimed production of Madama Butterfly will be at Her Majesty’s from 24 February and a baroque musical banquet In an Italian Garden will be presented by Les Arts Florissants with William Christie on 7 March. Throw in a side trip to the Margaret River and you have overwhelming reasons for a holiday in WA.
Brisbane has two big Broadway babies at QPAC in the Summer. The breathtaking production of Disney’s The Lion King plays until 25 Jan to be followed by the dazzling Wicked running from 12 February. Children who see these shows will love theatre forever, adults will be reminded why they love theatre so much.
Adelaide’s Festival Centre has Barmy Britain, a new show in the Horrible Histories series from the Birmingham Theatre Company in the Playhouse 15-17 January. You won’t find it too subtle. Meanwhile, billed as the biggest selling magic show in the world, The Illusionists 1903 will bring the wow factor to the Festival Theatre 15-25 January in celebration of a golden age of magic.
Not everything is for everyone but there are plenty of rewarding ways to start the New Year.
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