This is the much awaited debut for The Sydney Theatre Company’s Residents- a collective of hand-picked young actors who have been brought together to be hothoused and nurtured for a period of 18 months… with a view of creating work. Words being bandied around include: “edgy”, “young”, “collaboration.”

The SMH ran an article back in June with a grungy/hip picture of what appears to be the spice-girls equivilent of these actors….
…. an idea which takes the idea from Robyn Nevin’s Actors Company and transforms it somewhat into a tight bunch of “multi-skilled artists.” But this time it is strengthening the rise of the actor as prominent creator of Australian theatre. It seems that the actor/writer, actor/producer, actor/director is the most prominent form of creator on Australian stages… And I wonder is this yet another side effect of a celebrity driven world? We are now in the age of actor as auteur! Is this project about grooming the actors of today to be the artistic directors of tomorrow?I this what this project is about? I was curious- desperately curious – to see what this residence would yield as their remarkable, innovative, edgy collaboration… Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. The STC actors residents have yielded (drum roll please…)…



No. Not the Phil Collins band. We got The Bible. The first book of the bible (which means there is room for quite a few sequals!!!) Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noahs Ark. For three hours. Two intervals. Three directors (Matthew Lutton, Andrew Upton and Tom Wright) and an absolutely laughably HUGE budget, for the first three bible stories.

Now, let me first declare a few things.

1. There are two writers that I hold in remarkably high esteem- Lally Katz and Hilary Bell- as far as I am concerned you can not get two more significant and impressive, classy and intelligent and elegantly perfect craftspeople. And they are the playwrights on this project… an interesting co-authorship- one with a perchant for the bizarre and gruesomely hilarious , the other with the grandest command of the poetry of the English language of any current Australian playwright.

2. I am not a church goer. I am not baptised. I did attend a Catholic School for a bit in my primary years. Had a Prespetarian grandfather who I would attend church with on regular occasions… for a while I dated the son of a preacher man… and most people know me as a woman who enjoys the aesthetic of men who have a remarkable resemblance to Jesus. I own 3 versions of the bible- even studied it as a text during university… and wrote a huge assignment on the York Crucifixion during my degree. I’m not religion adverse- infact I find it fascinating.

3. I spent 5 months working with one of the leading directors of promanade theatre in the UK- Mr John Oram… who taught me a huge amount about blocking promenade theatre, managing crowds and sight-lines and story in a mass of spectactors (all without the use of lighting) so I was curious to see how Andrew Upton handled the challenges of promenade.

So now I have all my confessions out of the way… I will say this. I can’t really talk about the performance, because I was absolutely dumbstruck/awestruck by the space. The seats of the Wharf 2 space- the stage… ripped out completely and transformed architecturally. A huge square space- with a mezzanine floor with hard wooden benches. Audience peering down into Eden from a one storey height.

And it has really made me think about the true essence of promenade- which came from a desire of taking theatre to the people. It came from using the qualities of everyday community space and creating work that fit in the space that everyone could access. I wonder if a very similar effect could have been acheived had the audience been asked to stand along the foyer of the wharf two space and look down on the actors/action in the corridor of the wharf? But regardless- the Sydney Theatre Company has completely changed the architecture of the theatre space.

Also it also made me think about the history of liturgical plays of which the Mysteries (The Fall , the flood, the crucifixion) were performed by the Guilds of the town- and this was a significant step in the development of Community Theatre. So the history of this style of play or performance to me is steeped very much in tradition and history. It is also about the building of community and the relationship between church and theatre (which is a really fascinating relationship, politically and socially).

However- The Mysteries: Genesis to me, has absolutely ignored this history. A history where in community space is re-defined as artistic space. (Instead Artistic space is re-defined as architecturally conquered). A community event is made elite (the lucky chosen 9 are showered – literally in resources – as opposed to inviting the community in (theatre or otherwise)). It also seems to ignore Australia’s relationship with Christianity.

(On a side note- One thing I must also mention is that the acknowledgment/opening night speech of Sydney Theatre Company events always manages to thank Audi and Georgio Armani- and never the original custodians of the land. I for one always wonder why that is?)

So I am left thinking: who is this production for? Is it for the punters who spend their days battling traffic and interest rate hikes? Is it for Christians keen to see the bible embraced (be warned – there is a breathtakingly overt amount of nudity in this production and scant clad folks- something I’m sure they don’t talk about in Sunday school!)? Is it for theatre folk to see what amazing epic budget can acheive?

And what is it saying about these stories? Are we to believe in God’s mercy or love or fickleness or vengence? Is it about explaining our history? What are these myths illuminating in us? What am I seeing beyond the impressive flourishes of well-sponsored project?

Mainly I feel a little disheartened that the production values and the design overwhelmed my experience of connecting with the actors performances. Perhaps I am a little old fashioned in thinking that all one needs to create an amazing transforming piece of theatre is an actor, a space and an audience… or perhaps I am too simplistic in my vision and have been living too long in Grotowski’s poor theatre?


This post is dedicated to Associate Professor Gay McAuley and Professor Penny Gay who both were absolutely instrumental in my theatre education- I didn’t probably appreciate you at the time- but if you are out there- thank you. I wish all practitioners could have the benefit of your perspective, knowledge and intelligence.