Taking over from Wesley Enoch as Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company late last year, Sam Strong delivered Wesley’s last season throughout 2016. There is anticipation crackling in the air as we all pack into a standing room only Billie Brown Studio for the unveiling of the first season Strong has programmed for the company.
In January, the first play of 2017 is a return season of the multi-award winning musical, Ladies in Black. Set in a department store in the elegant 1950s in Sydney, this is a story of growing up and discovering the possibilities life has to offer. With catchy music by Tim Finn and slick direction by Simon Phillips, Ladies in Black makes for a chic night at the theatre.
In February, The Flick by Annie Baker will begin. Three painfully ordinary employees of a cinema while away their nights sweeping up popcorn and sharing in many mundane moments that can make existence extraordinary. Directed by Nadia Tass (Disgraced), this Pulitzer Prize winner is sure to speak to anyone who’s had love unrequited or has worked an average job.
In March, the third play presented is Constellations by Nick Payne. A quantum physicist and a beekeeper fall for each other- but is it fate? Or just one possible scenario in an endless range of multiverses? Directed by Kat Henry, with cast including Lucas Stibbard and Jessica Tovey, this is an examination of love on an astronomical scale.
In April, the fourth play is Once in Royal David’s City, written by QTC’s former Artistic Director, Michael Gow. Theatre Director Will goes home for Christmas, only to find his mother gravely ill. This is an intimate exploration of grief, loss and identity following the loss of a parent. Once in Royal David’s City will be Sam Strong’s directorial debut for the company.
In June, the fifth play is Noises Off, a classic meta-farce written by Michael Frayn. This is a beloved comedy about a theatre company falling to pieces onstage in the most spectacular manner. Directed by Sam Strong, with cast including Simon Burke, Noises Off enters a world of egos, love intrigues, and missed cue after missed cue.
In June, the sixth play is the winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2016-2017, Rice by Michelle Lee. This is the story about a relationship between a young executive, and an older cleaning lady. At first they only see each other in racial stereotypes- ‘Indian princess’ and ‘Chinese cleaner’, but everything changes as they get to know each other. Directed by Griffin Theater’s Lee Lewis, this is an exploration of the deeply personal in the global and political.
In July, the seventh play is My Name is Jimi, written by Dimple Bani, Jimi Bani and co-created and directed by Jason Klarwein. Performed by charismatic Jimi Bani and his grandmother, mother, brothers and son, this is a romp through the joys, hopes, tragedies and traditions of a Mabuiag Island family.
In September, the eighth play is An Octoroon by Branden Jacob-Jenkins. This is a new adaptation of a play originally set on a plantation in America- but directed by Nakkaih Lui (Black Comedy) and with a largely indigenous cast, it’s amazing how easily the story applies to Australian race relations.
The final play for QTC in 2017 is Scenes from a Marriage by Joanna Murray-Smith. It’s adapted from the TV mini-series by Ingmar Bergman, which was blamed for a peak in Scandinavian divorce rates. Directed by Paige Rattray, and played by an actual married couple, Marta Dusseldorp and Ben Winspear, it promises to be a comic, yet fierce insight into the cracks of a seemingly perfect marriage.
There is a lot to look forward to in this season. There is gender parity, with nine out of the eighteen writers and directors being female, and nine male. There’s also plenty of diversity, in terms of background of writers, cast and creatives. However (How I wish there was not a however)… This season worries me slightly because it is lacking in any classics. The oldest play (Noises Off) is from 1982. While I love the young, hipster vibe of the 2017 season, I wonder if this niche isn’t already filled by La Boite, Powerhouse, Judith Wright…. Should our State Theatre company be providing us with something different? I also worry that their theme for the season is nothing substantive like this year’s ‘courage and character’ but instead, ‘bringing the best to Queensland’ and #leadingfromqueensland. The whole launch felt more like La Boite, or Griffin, or Malthouse. It lacked the….gravitas I expect from Queensland Theatre.
Sam Strong and the team have one more surprise up their sleeves this evening. They unveil a new name and logo for the company. Queensland Theatre Company is no more- it is now Queensland Theatre. This is apparently to be more inclusive- but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels arrogant, it feels smothering. Queensland Theatre Company (as was) is not all encompassing of Queensland theatre. As for the new logo-it has gone from a unique, dynamic, earthy logo, to as bland as bland can be. A pale blue background with white writing and an almost Disneyland font. It’s dull. It’s corporate. And it’s wholly unnecessary. I wonder if the Queensland Theatre team have watched that superb TV comedy show Utopia. I direct them to the episode about the ridiculous rebrand of a government department…
As we leave the Billie Brown Studio and walk outside to the foyer to mingle, I look up at the newly emblazoned banners and I am bamboozled. I wonder how much arts funding was spent on this. Queensland Theatre may be #leadingfromqueensland. I just hope they’re going in a good direction.
QTC Launch Video: