Curtains up on 2014 theatre season

Sunday, 15. September 2019

THEATRE companies find it frustrating when the rights for a play are withdrawn after they have announced a planned season. But sometimes, as Newcastle’s Theatre on Brunker found this year, that can be all for the best.
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Theatre on Brunker had scheduled a season of Patrick Barlow’s comedy-thriller The 39 Steps for March but was advised in November last year that the rights were no longer available as a professional touring production was planned.

Director Isobel Denholm substituted in the timeslot Secret Bridesmaids’ Business, a marital comedy by Melbourne writer Elizabeth Coleman, who began her theatre work as a child at Newcastle Young People’s Theatre.

The production was such a hit with audiences that Theatre on Brunker’s 2014 program will begin in March with another of Elizabeth Coleman’s plays, It’s My Party and I’ll Die If I Want To, about a man who arranges a family get-together so that he can break the news that a doctor has told him he has just three months to live. The reactions aren’t what he expected.

The coming theatre year generally promises to be as exciting and entertaining as 2013 has been.

The National Theatre Company will get things going with the Australian premiere of the musical Dr Dolittle Jr at the Civic Playhouse from January 15 to 25. It is the story of a reticent doctor who is taught by his parrot how to talk to animals so that he can diagnose and treat their ailments. The Newcastle season, with a cast aged 10 to 18, will be followed in February by a season at Singleton that will have an Upper Hunter junior cast.

The young actors in another musical, the Hunter Region Drama School production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr, at the Civic Theatre in October, will also get to show their skills at a youth theatre festival in the United States in January 2015. The musical has been accepted as an Australian entry into what has previously been a mainly United States event.

Another Disney musical, The Aristocats Kids, will be staged by Opera Hunter at Warners Bay’s Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre in the April school holidays.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will have productions by the University of Newcastle Musical Society at the university’s Griffith Duncan Theatre in March-April, marking the welcome return of the theatre, long closed for renovations, and by Young People’s Theatre in July-August.

Metropolitan Players will follow this year’s acclaimed The Phantom of the Opera with another recent Broadway hit, Hairspray, about a teenage girl seeking to become a television dancer, at the Civic in August.

Maitland Gilbert and Sullivan Musical Society celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014 and has a good mix of shows planned. Annie, about an orphan in the United States in the 1930s, opens at Wests, New Lambton, on January 25, then tours to Maitland, Cessnock and Dungog. The company’s other shows will be The Pirates of Penzance in May and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in October.

Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company, about New York married couples trying to find a bride for a bachelor friend who likes playing the field, has been on Newcastle groups’ wishlists for years, and will finally hit the stage in a Newcastle Theatre Company production in June.

Works by Newcastle writers will include: Carl Caulfield’s The Anatomy of Buzz (Stray Dogs Theatre Company, at the Civic Playhouse, in February), a comedy about an American marketing guru’s impact on a struggling Newcastle company’s managers and their families; Emma Wood’s Mr Bennet’s Bride (Newcastle Theatre Company, March), a prequel to Pride and Prejudice, showing how the Bennet sisters’ parents came together; and Vanessa Bates’s Checklist for an Armed Robber (Stooged Theatre, Civic Playhouse, October), which was partly inspired by an employee’s handling of an attempted robbery at a Junction bookshop.

The 25th anniversary of the destructive 1989 Newcastle earthquake will be marked by a staging of the acclaimed and moving Aftershocks, a work that uses the words of people who were caught up in the quake (DAPA Theatre, March-April).

Shakespeare fans will be well catered for, with productions of Macbeth (Young People’s Theatre, February), Romeo and Juliet (UpStage Youth Theatre, May), The Merchant of Venice (Stooged Theatre, Gloucester Shakespeare Festival, May, Civic Playhouse, June), and The Tempest (Maitland Repertory’s Reamus Youth Theatre, August).

Hamilton’s DAPA Theatre will offer follow-ups to three of this year’s hits, starting in February with The Amorous Ambassador, a sequel to the laugh-filled The Sensuous Senator. There will be another work by A Streetcar Named Desire author, Tennessee Williams, the tender The Glass Menagerie (May), and a further look at Oscar-nominated songs in Winners and Losers: The 50s.

The year will offer a good mix of old and new plays, with the former including Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (Maitland Repertory, September) and the latter Rabbit Hole, a moving American drama about a family’s loss of a child (Newcastle Theatre Company, July).

Newcastle Gilbert and Sullivan Players will move into dinner theatre, with a production of the Ray Cooney farce Out of Order at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Georgetown, in March-April, and Footlice Theatre, which made a welcome return in September with the children’s show Dragon Tails after a two-year absence, has several productions planned, including a topical revue and a kids’ production at Fort Scratchley.

Tantrum Youth Arts (the new name for Tantrum Theatre) has several interesting projects planned throughout the Hunter, including a February production at Newcastle Ocean Baths called Diving Off the Edge of the World, and the NSW premiere of a new play, The Chosen, by former Tantrum artistic director Lachlan Philpott, at Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre, in September, followed by a Sydney season at the Australian Theatre for Young People.

The Herald’s 2014 Theatre Calendar on January 23 will include more details on these and other planned productions.

TWO UP: The Sensuous Senator, pictured, has a sequel coming up, The Amorous Ambassador. Picture: Simone De Peak

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