Black Swan State Theatre Company’s 2020 season is packed full of adaptations of the classics, bringing these timeless stories into the twenty-first century with an Australian voice. New works by Australian writers also feature strongly to add to the canon of theatre to enrich and embolden our community.

Under the intelligent and spirited guidance of Artistic Director Clare Watson, whose contract has (thankfully) been renewed for a further three years, 2020 promises to continue producing bold and imaginative work, a collection of ‘Stories from Here’ about power, progress and place – warts and all.

Starting with a bang, Black Swan’s first production, co-produced with Malthouse Theatre, is Cloudstreet, adapted by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo from Tim Winton’s much-loved masterpiece. Following the lives of two families, the Lambs and the Pickles, Cloudstreet portrays the relationships that become entwined over two decades in post-war Perth. Matthew Lutton returns to Perth to direct this epic 5-hour production, partly made up of a 90-minute interval where patrons can enjoy a meal in-house at His Majesty’s Theatre, or nearby restaurants. Cloudstreet features Ian Michael, Benjamin Oakes, Arielle Gray (Picnic at Hanging Rock), Alison Whyte (Seachange, Frontline) and Bert LaBonté (The Book of Mormon). An experience not to be missed, this production is part of Perth Festival and runs from 21 February – 15 March at His Majesty’s Theatre. 

The second production for 2020 is The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Adriane Daff and Katherine Tonkin after Anton Chekhov, and directed by Clare Watson. Reducing Chekhov’s sprawling four-act masterpiece to a new Australiana one-act adaptation may prove a master stroke that captures the tragicomedy of those who, according to the season program, “have become victims of their own privilege”. The Cherry Orchard features Perth favourites George Shevtsov, Michelle Fornasier, Brendan Hanson and Sam Longley. Showing in the Heath Ledger Theatre from 9 – 31 May.

Supporting six leading WA playwrights, Black Swan’s third offering is a collection of homegrown solo stories. A unique opportunity, Unsung Heroes will give six Perth actors (Alison van Reeken confirmed) an opportunity to deliver their own performance masterpiece with monologues about “everyday Western Australians who have done extraordinary things”. Program 1 will feature solo stories written by Barbara Hostalek, Gita Bezard and Chis Isaacs, directed by Joe Paradise Lui; and Program 2 from Hellie Turner, Mararo Wangai and Will O’Mahony directed by Emily McLean. Performances run from 4 – 21 June in the Studio Underground.

An addition to the program that I hope will be an annual event, Black Swan, in association with Perth Theatre Trust present the Maali Festival. During NAIDOC Week, on Sunday 12 July, the State Theatre Centre of WA will overflow with First Nations culture and arts at this multi-disciplinary arts festival. A program of FREE events across theatre, music, dance, film, exhibitions, and markets; plus family-friendly events and panel discussions. The whole program is one of celebration and will be led by First Nations artists and community, curated by Black Swan’s resident artists, Ian Michael and Chloe Ogilvie.

In collaboration with the WA Youth Theatre Company, the next production, York, promises to be an intelligent and courageous new work that is “inspired by 200 years of real accounts” of incidents that occurred in the small WA town of York. Written by Ian Michael and Chris Isaacs and directed by Clare Watson, York delves into “light-hearted ghost stories and harrowing hauntings” across time in this intergenerational production. Featuring Shareena Clinton (Wentworth), Alison van Reeken (Summer of the Seventeenth Doll) and Jo Morris (In the Next Room) performances are from 15 August – 6 September in the Heath Ledger Theatre.

An adaptation that is sure to pack a punch is Animal Farm, adapted by political powerhouse Van Badham. Written in the 1940s by George Orwell as a response to the rise of authoritarian governments, Animal Farm is a timely production to remind us of the timeless message that power can corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. This political satire will be directed by Perth’s Emily McLean and features Andrea Gibbs and Megan Wilding. Showing from 3 – 27 September in the Studio Underground.

The final adaptation for the season is Wake in Fright by Declan Greene with Zahra Newman, from Kenneth Cook’s Australian Gothic horror novel. Another Malthouse Theatre co-production, this one-person show will be performed by Alexandria Steffensen (Medea), with sonic accompaniment from art-electronica band, friendships. Also under the direction of Declan Greene, Wake in Fright, set in a harsh and remote outpost called Bundanyabba, is a story that punctures the ocker veneer to reveal a pent up brutality. Performances from 15 October – 1 November.

Ending the year with a twist on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical Oklahoma!, this reimagining is sure to win over audiences who can be part of the action on stage at the Heath Ledger Theatre. Directed by Richard Carroll (Calamity Jane, The Show Goes On, Once) and musical direction by Victoria Falconer, the show will have a three-week season from 28 November – 20 December.

I’m sure this crowd-pleaser will be a perfect end to an amazing year of theatre that is Black Swan State Theatre Company’s 2020 season.

Check out Black Swan’s website to book tickets and for details about becoming a member and the packages, offers and benefits available –

Pic credits: Pia Johnson; Sam Harris; Bradley Kickett; Ricky Gestro