Sydney Theatre Company makes a comeback as ‘devastated’ industry returns to the stage

After months of closure, STC announces details of Death of a Salesman and Julius Caesar, two new productions that will see out the dismal year

Sydney Theatre Company will reopen its Wharf 1 Theatre on 15 November with a production of Julius Caesar, directed by artistic director Kip Williams, followed by Death of a Salesman in December.

The program reveal on Thursday follows news of the company’s partnership with live entertainment company the Michael Cassel Group, announced earlier this week.

The deal will give MCG worldwide rights to tour future Sydney Theatre Company productions nationally and internationally, beginning with Williams’ acclaimed 2020 adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Eryn Jean Norvill, which received a five-star review from Guardian Australia.

But first come the final shows of the 2021 season: Julius Caesar, performed in the round with Geraldine Hakewill, Ewen Leslie and Zahra Newman sharing all roles; and Death of a Salesman, with Jacek Koman as Willy Loman and Helen Thomson as his wife Linda, which will open on 3 December at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, directed by Paige Rattray.

It’s the latest in a spate of comebacks for the theatre industry in New South Wales. On Wednesday, Sydney’s Hayes Theatre Co also announced its return, with the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along on 21 October. Directed by Dean Bryant, the production played its first preview in June before postponing its remaining shows due to lockdown.

Hamilton will return to the Sydney Lyric Theatre from 19 October, with Come from Away reopening on 20 October at the Capitol Theatre.

All productions will operate under rules set by NSW Health, allowing for 75% capacity in seated venues with mandatory proof of vaccination and mask-wearing by patrons, cast, crew and staff.

Heavier restrictions in Melbourne, however, make it more difficult and less profitable for theatres to re-open there, meaning the Victorian industry will be slower to return.

On Wednesday night, Melbourne Theatre Company announced its 2022 season. The final run for outgoing artistic director and CEO Brett Sheehy, it will kick off on 17 January 2021 with the Australian premiere of David Greig’s acclaimed adaptation of Touching the Void, starring Lucy Durack.

The MTC season will also feature the Melbourne run of Alison Bechdel’s memoir-musical Fun Home; the Australian premiere of Joshua Harmon’s “pungent, pointed, political” college-set satire of white liberals, Admissions; Diana Nguyen and Petra Kalive’s new adaptation of Alice Pung’s Laurinda; and the full season of Virginia Gay’s Cyrano, the August premiere of which was cancelled due to the pandemic.

‘This lockdown has been devastating’

Outlining the Sydney Theatre Company’s reopening roadmap on Thursday, Williams said he was optimistic about a back-to-normal 2022 season, with 15 productions across four Sydney venues.

More than 330 Sydney Theatre Company performances across nine productions have been cancelled since greater Sydney went into lockdown in June, resulting in a $10.5m loss in box office revenue. The company’s three auditoriums and the Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre have been closed for much of this year.

“I won’t pull any punches, the impact of this lockdown has been devastating,” Williams told the Guardian.

“But we’ve again had support from our philanthropic family, and we’re extremely grateful for the NSW and federal government support.”

In May, Australia’s arts minister, Paul Fletcher, signed off on a $2m grant for STC, under the Covid-19 Arts Sustainability Fund.

In 2020, theatre closures saw the STC’s operating revenue drop by $17.8m compared to the prior year. This drop was partially offset by targeted contributions from the NSW and federal governments totalling $11.5m, and a $2.4m increase in philanthropic donations.

The government contributions included a $6m grant from the NSW government as part of its Rescue and Restart initiative and $4.7m from the federal government’s jobkeeper program.

By 2022, Williams believes, Australia will be “one of the most vaccinated nations in the world”.

“What we’ve seen in the past 18 months is that Australians are incredibly compliant with the public health orders and we’ve put a lot of faith and trust in our medical experts.

“I think that pays dividends in terms of keeping this virus under control, so although it’s been tough for us, I think it’s going to pay off for us in the long run.

“As somebody who works in the live performance industry that has been devastated by the pandemic, I’m very hopeful for the year ahead.”

Williams said the partnership with Michael Cassel was a “game-changer”.

“For us to produce 15 or 16 shows a year is a big task, and usually conversations around touring happen after the show’s opened.

“But for us to be able to have those planning conversations while we’re conceiving the work itself is going to be one of the great benefits of this partnership.”

It is expected MCG will mount a national tour of The Picture of Dorian Gray and a launch in either London or New York next year.

The production will also be reprised in the 2022 Sydney season, which will be announced on 19 October.

The STC will also head into 2022 with a new executive director, Anne Dunn, who has been the Sydney Dance Company’s executive director for more than a decade.


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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