From a one-man performance of Animal Farm to Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White, Geordie Brookman’s final State Theatre season as artistic director examines communities in conflict and the individuals who have the power to make change within them.
The broad season, to be opened by Animal Farm and closed by Black is the New White, will include an all-female staging of David Williamson’s The Club from Adelaide outfit isthisyours?, a Cabaret Festival spectacular in End of the Rainbow, the return of the hugely successful The 39 Steps, literary heavy hitters Jasper Jones and A View from the Bridge, plus a new work from playwright Sue Smith (Hydra).
Brookman says the common major theme in these pieces is the idea of defining moments in peoples’ lives, and their effect on the communities they exist in.
“I got thinking about the junction points in peoples’ lives – those critical moments of choice where your life can go this way or that way… the moments where your life realigns,” Brookman says. “Sometimes those choices can have a ripple effect on lots of different people, so the second layer is really about community, which has been a big thing for me for the past seven years – the way an individual integrates into and influences their community.”
The one-man adaptation of Animal Farm is crafted specifically for Renato Musolino, who famously stepped in for Barry Otto with one day’s preparation to perform The Kreutzer Sonata in Brookman’s first season as artistic director.
“I wanted to create a vehicle around Renato that was based on his skill for direct storytelling and his ability to slip between 20, 30, 40 characters at will,” Brookman says. “He’s an incredibly mercurial actor.”
With its examination of the rise of authoritarianism having resonance with today’s political climate, Animal Farm will also tour interstate and regionally in South Australia with the aim of connecting with younger audiences.
The all-female performance of The Club will be the first time in a decade that a Williamson text will be performed for the company, and the first in Brookman’s tenure. Local independent outfit isthisyours? pitched the idea to Brookman hot on the heels of accepting a 25A development season at Belvoir in Sydney, where the crew will be given $1000 and a small space to stage the show this December. State Theatre’s rendition will add all the larger production trimmings to the show.
“It’s not an AFLW reframing of the piece, but literally asking what does it mean if you have a woman in her late 20s playing a 1970s 50-year-old dinosaur of a man?,” he says. “What does that create? I love that David was brave enough to have his work reinvented and reinvigorated like this.”
Asked about any implicit connection to 2018’s performance of Patricia Cornelius’ story about the abuse of women in footballing circles, In The Club, Brookman says the stories are very different, but the connection is there for audiences to make.
“I’m excited about it as they’re utterly different pieces in terms of mood, style and approach – [The Club is] a flat out acid comedy, really, that will be given an almost slapstick makeover. But the idea that these two plays can sit in conversation across a 12-month gap is really exciting. And it feels like the right order to do the work.”
Sue Smith returns to State Theatre Company with Hydra. Her fourth play for the Brookman era of State Theatre – after The Kreutzer Sonata, Kryptonite and Machu Picchu – comes in partnership with Queensland Theatre Company, and examines the lives of Australian writers George Johnston and Charmian Clift through the eyes of their poet son Martin.
“He [George] and Charmian had this incredibly intense relationship born out of an affair when they were both working at The Argus post-WWII,” Brookman says. “They left families and Australia, then based themselves on the Greek island Hydra, to fully focus on their writing, where George wrote My Brother Jack.”
State Theatre’s mid-season includes a big-ticket production of End of the Rainbow as part of Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and a fresh adaptation of the hit Australian novel Jasper Jones. The 39 Steps will return with its original cast in 2019 with Brookman joking that “people have been hassling us to bring it back”. The State Theatre Company’s biggest ever box office success, The 39 Steps will undertake a limited season in Adelaide before touring regionally and on to Canberra.
Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White will close out the season, in what Brookman describes as “a joyful way for the year to finish”. Noted for her excellent comedy chops and willingness to tackle Australia’s most divisive issues head on, Lui’s play explores Australia’s conceptions of race, class and individual identity in a belly-laugh comedy.
“It follows a romance between the daughter of a prominent Aboriginal activist and her boyfriend,” Brookman says. “She brings him home at Christmas but hasn’t told her family that one, he’s white, or two, that he’s the son of her Dad’s conservative arch-nemesis in politics… It’s all so wonderfully, precisely done – cheeky and provocative but so loving.”
Having programmed the 2019 season, Brookman will continue at the company until the end of March, through a changeover period with the new artistic director, who is yet to be announced. Brookman says he’s confident about the company’s future.
“My feeling is that I’m leaving the company in a really strong, brave place,” he says. “We’ve built up its capacity in terms of the amount of the work we make, the scale of work we make. It’s in a really strong financial position, and in a spot where someone can come in and be brave… I hope they do a bunch of things that I never even thought of and see how much further the company can go.”
Header image: Renato Musolino inhabiting one of the many Animal Farm characters (photo: James Hartley)