“Time has taught us to be very Zen about change and adaptability, hasn’t it?” says State Theatre Company South Australia’s artistic director Mitchell Butel to Broadsheet, reflecting on a pretty good year for the theatre company, considering the circumstances.
“We were the first theatre company to have a mainstage play on after Covid, with Gaslight. We had to cancel one production because we couldn’t get it in from Sydney, and we had to postpone Virginia Woolf because of a bereavement, but besides that we’ve had a cracker year and audiences are desperate to return to the theatre. They’ve come in droves.”
For Season 2022, Butel and his team haven’t played it safe. “It’s actually one of the biggest seasons we’ve ever programmed,” he says. “We feel like we’re on the crest of a really great wave – and rather than plan from a place of fear, or be incredibly risk averse, let’s give people something to look forward to.”
The first show in State Theatre Company’s 2022 program will be an edge-of-your-seat comic drama in the Odeon Theatre, Girls & Boys (Feb 25 to Mar 12), presented in association with Adelaide Festival.
“It’s an electric play. Carey Mulligan did it off-Broadway and in the West End, and we have the wonderful Justine Clarke. I’ve been wanting to work with her for years. It begins as a Fleabag comic romcom initially, but as this family that she builds starts to implode it becomes very surprising and compelling and takes a disturbing turn.”
Following the intense one-woman show, the company dives into large-scale musical Girl from the North Country (Mar 25 to Apr 10), which is a collaborative work with Adelaide company GWB Entertainment and Sydney Festival.
“One of my big ambitions with this company was to be part of a really large-scale, inventive new musical, so we’re thrilled to be part of this. We probably couldn’t do a show of this size by ourselves, but we’re building the entire set and the costumes right now. It takes the songs of Bob Dylan but through [Irish playwright] Conor McPherson’s incredibly beautiful and humane lens. It’s a really beautiful story, set in Minnesota, about community, second chances and redemption. It has a cracker cast too.”
It stars Lisa McCune, Adelaide performers Elizabeth Hay and James Smith – who were in Hibernation – Terry Crawford, and Zahra Newman, who was the female lead in The Book of Mormon.
On the other end of the scale is Cathedral (May 6 to 21), which sees Adelaide actor Nathan O’Keefe (Gaslight, Macbeth) take to the State Theatre stage alongside a prerecorded soundscape, telling the story of a diver’s journey to self-discovery. “Nathan will be intercepting his memories and voices from his past, so that’ll be a very moody and intimate experience,” says Butel. “It’s also quite form-busting. It’s a very different experience to all the others in terms of the technology behind that one.”
Following playwright Caleb Lewis’s Cathedral is a modern-day take on Antigone (May 27 to Jun 11) from playwright Elena Carapetis (The Gods Of Strangers, Gorgon). Carapetis pulls apart Sophocles’s Ancient Greek play to bring it into the 21st century, starring Adelaide rising star Kidaan Zelleke. It’ll be a love letter to feminism and an all-hands-raised tribute to women and girls who’ve rocked the world, from Malala to Greta.
Then there’s Sunshine Super Girl (Sep 2 to 17), which will turn the Playhouse stage into a tennis court for a moving show about Evonne Goolagong – from her country upbringing to becoming the world number by age 19, written and directed by Yorta Yorta and Gunaikurnai theatre-maker Andrea James.
“There’ll be four rows where you can sit on stage, up-close and personal. The notion of it all being played on the tennis court is amazing. I cried when I saw it [at Sydney Festival]. I was really moved, not only by the love story but by the sense of community in Griffith wanting her to do well – someone made her a tennis racket, someone sewed her dress, everybody pitched in to get her overseas. I was so touched by the sense of goodwill and love that’s in the show.
“I think there’s a wonderful link between sport and the arts – we see people who are virtuosos, at the top of their game. Sport, like theatre, depends on its audience. [As spectators,] we really celebrate artistry, hard work, preparation and skill, and this show is a great example of that.”
The artistic director tells us he didn’t plan the season with a theme in mind, but an emerging connection across the works is that of community and people overcoming adversity. “These last two years we’ve experienced crisis, but what has been great to see is people’s incredible strength and agility, and their sense of fortitude. In many ways, all the plays are about ‘How do we make the world a better place?’ and they do that with incredible power and humour.”
Chalkface (Aug 5 to 20) is a new Australian black comedy set in the classroom. Catherine McClements (Wentworth) takes on the role of a bitter schoolteacher in the co-production with Sydney Theatre Company. And, 40 years since the beginning of the global Aids epidemic, The Normal Heart (Sep 30 to Oct 15) is an autobiographical play in which Butel will take the leading role and hand over the directing reins to Helpmann Award-winning Dean Bryant. It’s set in the early days of the crisis in New York.
“I guess the big vision with art coming out of Covid is: What experiences do we think people will enjoy, be moved by, or provoked by? And Covid has affected that. We’ve learned so much about ourselves, and as a nation, and a world. It’s important to have works that speak to the zeitgeist, but also make you feel good about leaving the house, whether it’s a challenging piece or a hilariously farcical piece.”
Bringing the belly laughs as well as the sniffles is Michelle Law’s riotous Single Asian Female (Nov 4 to 19), which was originally scheduled for 2020’s season but was cancelled due to the pandemic. In 2022, audiences will see a new South Australian production directed by Nescha Jelk, starring Juanita Navas-Nguyen.
“It’s such a beautiful play – two generations of Asian Australian women set in a Chinese restaurant – very funny, very naughty, mischievous, sexy, but also with a really affecting emotional understory. And heaps of karaoke! You can’t go wrong. Songs like I’m Every Woman, I Will Survive, Tina Arena’s Chains – who doesn’t want to hear those in a theatre?”
Subscriptions to State Theatre Company’s 2022 season are on sale now.