The State Theatre Company South Australia has announced its 2024 season, a diverse program of productions ranging from the intimate to the epic to the unabashedly glitzy.
It mightn’t be immediately obvious but there is a connecting thread between them all, STCSA’s Artistic Director and co-CEO Mitchell Butel tells Limelight. “It’s about getting into the minds of other people and listening. It’s about reminding us how much we can be changed by listening to other people’s thoughts, seeing other people’s experiences.”
“We’re launching the season two days before The Voice referendum. We’re very conscious of that,” Butel says. “We believe a season that speaks to how lives can be improved or better understood, one that says the world can be made better through the act of listening to someone else, feels like the right place to be.”
The play is set in the seaside English home of retired engineers Hazel and Robin, who live on a little hobby farm within sight of the nuclear power station they helped build in the 1960s.
But things are different now. An earthquake has rocked the district, the nuclear reactor’s containment vessel has breached, and Robin and Hazel’s farm now lies in a toxic exclusion zone.
“It’s an important play with a strong message about what we – and by that, I mean the older generations – should be taking responsibility for,” Butel says. “Obviously, it doesn’t take much to make the leap to issues of climate change.”
The season then takes an intimate turn next with the South Australian premiere of the acclaimed Belvoir St production Blue, written by Kamilaroi man Thomas Weatherall.
The story of a young man who stays connected to his mum by writing letters premiered at Belvoir in Sydney (read Limelight’s review). This staging will star Wiradjuri actor Callan Purcell (recently seen as Aaron Burr in Hamilton).
“I’ve wept buckets over Blue and that was just from seeing Belvoir’s archival video,” says Butel. “Thomas’s voice is so assured, and smart, just amazing for a young writer. I’m really looking forward to showing it to our audience.”
Next comes a grand collaboration, with STCSA partnering with State Opera South Australia and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to present Leonard Bernstein’s comic musical masterpiece Candide in concert form at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
Based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella, this ever-relevant Broadway hit tells the story of naïve young Candide, facing exile after falling in love with the Baron’s daughter, Cunegonde. The production brings together some of Australia’s best-loved musical and opera stars, including Alex Lewis, Annie Aitken, John Longmuir, Caroline O’Connor and cabaret star Hans (AKA Matt Gilbertson).
Butel will sharing directing duties with choreographer Amy Campbell and also assume the role of Narrator and Candide’s teacher Pangloss. It will be his first stage appearance for STCSA since The Normal Heart.
“According to Stuart Maunder, I’m old enough to play Pangloss now!” laughs Butel. “I’m not sure how to take that but I’m really looking forward to it. We like to have one thing every season that’s a little bit showy. There’s nothing wrong with kicking a leg up now and then.”
Two premieres follow in quick succession: first comes Symphonie of the Bicycle, South Australian writer Hew Parham’s story of an aspiring cyclist told in tandem with the remarkable true story of two-time Tour de France champion and WWII resistance figure, Gino Bartali; next comes playwright, columnist and author Van Badham’s The Questions, an edgy rom-com musical based on the true story of a first date-gone-wrong.
“It was one of those amazing COVID stories from China,” says Butel. “Basically, a couple who had hooked up through a dating app and weren’t hitting it off suddenly found themselves ordered to shelter-in-place and confined in the same apartment.”
To kill time, Butel explains, Badham has the couple submit themselves to a famous quiz: the so-called ‘36 Questions that Lead to Love’.
“Let’s just say it doesn’t quite work out that way,” Butel says. “But what I love about this play is the way it really speaks to the moment, to what intimacy has become over the past few years. It’s a whip-smart play, a bit cruel, but it’s also very tender.”
The Sydney Theatre Company hit Julia will have its SA premiere in 2024, with Justine Clarke (Girls & Boys) reprising her stellar performance in Joanna Murray-Smith’s portrait of former PM Julia Gillard.
2024 also sees the return of David Williamson to the stage, 50 years after his now legendary play The Department debuted at State Theatre Company South Australia.
This time around, Williamson is exploring sex, secrecy and second chances in The Puzzle. Actor Erik Thomson (Aftertaste, Packed to the Rafters) will star in a swinging comedy set taking place on a “lifestyle cruise”.
“I don’t want to give too much away but it’s about how wrong the upper middle classes can be when it comes to love and intimacy,” says Butel. “No one does that better than David.”
The STCSA year ends on a theatrical and dramatic high with a reworking of Peter Carey’s Miles Franklin Award-winning ‘sequel’ to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Jack Maggs.
Adapted for the stage by South Australian playwright Samuel Adamson, the production welcomes back former Artistic Director Geordie Brookman for the first time in five years to direct a cast including Mark Saturno, James Smith, Jacquy Philips and newcomer Ahunim Abebe – fresh from her debut role in The Puzzle.
“It’s going to be a glorious adaptation,” says Butel. “Geordie really want to explore those old-school Victorian ways of making theatre – the tricks they used to tell a tale. Prepare to be amazed!”
For more information on STCSA’s 2024 season, visit the company website.