Like every dynamic cultural form, Australian theatre is cyclic. The mid to late 2000s experienced a massive surge of energy as productions by young independent theatre companies such as the Hayloft Project, The Black Lung Theatre and Sydney-based My Darling Patricia hit the main stages. At the same time, the main stages themselves became more hospitable to alternative ways of making and seeing theatre. In 2012, that impetus has now passed, leaving in its wake a culture of enormous diversity and, at its best, outstanding quality. Although it premiered in 2010, Belvoir St’s The Wild Duck, directed by Hayloft alumnus Simon Stone, was a highlight of the Malthouse Theatre’s season last spring, and recently travelled to Oslo to be performed as part of an Ibsen festival. In its bold, lucid and devastatingly moving attack on the Norwegian playwright’s classic work, The Wild Duck stands as an example of the quality this recent renaissance has produced.
This diversity makes it hard to pick a single work, or even a single instance of theatrical direction. Melbourne director Daniel Schlusser showed one facet with his uncompromising Malthouse/Sydney Theatre Company production of Dutch-born Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard’s The Histrionic, a self-reflexive satire on the agency of history, which featured a virtuosic Bille Brown in the title role. Another was Declan Greene’s Moth, one of the best new Australian plays of recent years. Given a shattering and impeccably performed production by Arena Theatre Company’s artistic director Chris Kohn at the Malthouse last year, Moth has just finished touring regional Victoria. Premiering at the Darwin Festival, Doku Rai – The Black Lung’s collaboration with the East Timorese companies Galaxy and Liurai Fo’er – gave us rock ’n’ roll theatre with an anarchic political edge. But maybe the work that stuck with me most was an adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film, Persona, directed by Adena Jacobs for her independent company, Fraught Outfit.
Persona had a short sold-out season at Theatre Works in May, but will re-emerge in 2013 at Belvoir. Much more than simply adapting a film for the stage, Jacobs recreates Persona from the ground up, taking Bergman’s text and turning it into an autonomous work of theatre. A startlingly original work performed with extraordinary precision and passion, it’s stylishly austere, confronting and deeply intelligent. As theatre, wholly riveting. Watch out for its return.
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