The Right Connections

After a difficult start, Geordie Brookman’s first season as the State Theatre’s Artistic Director was a commercial and critical success but Brookman says the 2014 program moves up another level in terms of scale and ambition.

With the highly publicised father and son team of Geordie and Rob Brookman as the State Theatre Company of SA’s CEO and Artistic Director respectively, its 2013 season got off to a troubled start when veteran Australian film and stage actor Barry Otto pulled out of the company’s opener The Kreutzer Sonata due to exhaustion. The company’s season went from strength to strength from that point on with a smart and successful mix of local content (Babyteeth), updated classics (Hedda Gabler and The Comedy of Errors) and collaborations with international and national companies on work such as Brief Encounter and Vere (Faith). This season saw State Theatre win only its second Helpmann Award (for Alison Bell’s powerhouse performance in Hedda Gabler) and on a commercial level, ticket sales were up 30 percent on last year’s figures. Brookman wants the company to aim higher with every project for next year’s season while staying true to a mix of programming that’s “based very much around Australian writing and the Australian voice and a reinvigoration of classic repertoire”. “We’ve tried to be as collaboration- heavy as possible, whether it’s with the Sydney Theatre Company on Sue Smith’s new play Kryptonite or with the Adelaide Festival (The Seagull) and the Cabaret Festival with Little Bird, which is the piece we’ve built for Paul Capsis,” Brookman explains. Connection seems to be the overriding theme to the 2014 season. “Part of it is about wanting to explore community and the human need for connection. Even the safe and tragic pieces in the season are about people needing connection or community or love. That’s not to say it works out happily in every piece we’re producing but that was really the concern that I wanted the season to discuss.” State Theatre is connecting with international and interstate companies, as well as globally recognised actors such as Adelaide’s Xavier Samuel (Twilight, Anonymous) and England’s Miriam Margolyes (The Age of Innocence, Dickens’ Women). “Xavier Samuel is coming back from Los Angeles to play Kostya in The Seagull. Xav and I started talking as soon as I came into the job. He wants to get back on stage because it’s where he started and he loves it. But once you get caught up in the world of Hollywood it’s very easy for that to take off. He said to me that if we find the right project, the one that gels, and the one that we both really want to do, he’d just block everything and commit to it. The beautiful thing was that it lined up with another long running conversation, one that I’d been having with Rosalba Clemente, and trying to convince her to come back on stage. I was talking to Xavier and Rosalba in tandem and I thought, ‘Hang on the combination of these two actors would be incredibly exciting. What is the perfect play for them? The Seagull!’ So there are a few situations that have come together like that. Miriam Margolyes coming here to do Neighbourhood Watch is another one.” The original production Little Bird is the combination of many connections. Nicki Bloom (Land & Sea) wrote the State Theatre and Cabaret Festival collaboration created for dynamite cabaret singer and actor Paul Capsis. “We had this idea of creating something in partnership with the Cabaret Festival, because we hadn’t worked with them before. Paul was such an obvious choice. He’s an utterly unique performer. Nicki came up with this idea of essentially writing an adult fairy tale for him.” All they needed was music, which came from a source closer than expected, through State Theatre regular Cameron Goodall and Quentin Grant’s project You Me and the Bloody Sea who performed at the Cabaret Festival with Paul Capsis. “When I rang Paul to say that I found the guys, he said, ‘Who are they?’ I said: ‘The guys who started out as folk and then went into this Tom Waits-y rock number’. He went, ‘Oh, the pirate guys – great!’ I don’t know where he got pirates from but it was a group of artists that immediately excited each other.” Then there is perhaps the most thrilling announcement of the 2014 season – Peter Brook’s The Suit, which is the result of another connection as Brookman says his father and the groundbreaking director go back 25 years, when Brook brought The Mahabharata to Adelaide in 1988. “The Suit is beautiful, it’s just an incredible show built around that really bare theatre style that only Brook can do. I truly believe he is the world’s greatest living theatre director. The Suit is the perfect distillation of his work. The 88-year-old director won’t be in Adelaide for the show’s run. “He doesn’t come as far as Australia anymore, he’s in his mid-80s now. His associate director will come out with it. It’s an incredible piece of work and most people are saying it’s the best piece he’s created in over a decade. So it’s an extraordinary opportunity to bring it here.”

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