A full house has flocked to the seaside Riva in Elwood for the launch of Red Stitch Actors Theatre’s 2016 season launch. Excitement was high to discover the slew of dynamic and wildly different plays Red Stitch has become known for presenting, and to celebrate the year that has been.

Red Stitch is going into their 15th year, having had their first season in 2002, and is a labour of love for artistic director and one of the founders, Ella Caldwell. Involved in both on stage, programming the shows and front of house,

The evening opened with the theatre company’s gratitude and appreciation for their community, their donors, the ensemble and the Red Stitch staff.

“We are all part of this community that loves, values and is a bit hooked on theatre”, Caldwell praises in her sleeve notes of the season launch brochure.

“I’m really proud to stand here after 15 years, of this company not only surviving against the odds, as so many people said it would, but flourishing”, she shared with the crowd.

“Red Stitch is unique in this country, we put artists and collaboration at the core of what we do and the passion for the work that we do is at the heart of everything. I think that’s why terrific people continue to come work with us at Red Stitch to make theatre”, said Caldwell.

Red Stitch will be presenting a whopping five Australian premiere shows in 2016, along with two world premiere shows, including one developed as part of their INK program, and also collaborating and putting together a number of special events.

The crowd at Riva were treated to snippets of each of the following plays that Red Stitch will stage in 2016, but for those who weren’t there, they’ll have to just trust this Theatre People reporter that the breadth and variety across these shows is going to lead to a very dynamic and creative year for Red Stitch.

The first Australian Premiere is The Village Bike, written by Penelope Skinner and will be directed by Red Stitch ensemble member Ngaire Dawn Fair. The show follows Becky, who is pregnant and friskier than ever, who can’t get her husband John’s attention while he prepares for parenthood. Deeply craving adventure, Becky takes matters into her own hands and purchases a used bike from a man in town…. A show about the presumptions about sexuality and pornography, the show will run 2 February to 5 March 2016.

From 15 March to 16 April you can catch Splendour, written by Abi Morgan and directed by Jenny Kemp in another Australian premiere. An icy power play takes place between four women who harbor secrets and suspicions. In an opulent room in a Presidential palace, a western photojournalist waits to take a dictator’s portrait. A striking tale of power and secrets, our snippet into the works showed us a tale of British stoicism, of reflection of comforts and home, read in a poetic manner by ensemble member Rosie Lockhart .

The River is a mysterious piece by Jez Butterworth, where on a moonless right a man brings a woman to a remote family cabin. She may not be the first he has brought there, nor the first he has told that he loves here, but intimacy and intrigue will be centre stage when the man reads the women a poem about after a moonless night…. Catch the Australian premiere from 26 April – 28 May.

Developed as part of Red Stitch’s INK program, which is their initiative to develop new Australia plays, The Honey Bees by Caleb Lewis will premiere for the first time in the world from 14 June to 16 July. As the world’s honeybee population dwindles, a family owned apiary struggles to keep up with demand. Our sneak peek into the show revealed clashing family relationships, environmentalist values and how to save the world through the gold rush of capitalism and consumerism. Many writers and reviewers have marked Lewis as a significant new talent, so many will be hanging out for this tale of family and empire; action and consequences; and what happens when the bee finally stings.

The fifth snippet of the evening needed some context: Trevor by Nick Jones is about an unemployed celebrity chimpanzee. Branching out from the monkey stuff, and doing “normal man things”, this identity crisis is based on a real life incident, and the subversive comedy will take on fame, success, and the lies told to keep people from taking away an erratic chimpanzee. Another Australian premiere, previously having played in America, is on from 26 July to 26 August.

When you read about You Got Older, and then saw the snippet we saw at the launch event, the curiosity and intrigue is high. A tender and darkly comedic play about family, illness and a mysterious cowboy, Mae returns home to confront her family, her history and take care of her dad- and maybe herself. The snippet of the show implies a very dark, slightly creep tale, with high sexual tensions in the context of hypothermia, and perhaps some questions about consent. This is one we’re going to need to see in full to truly understand Clare Barron’s dark work, which will be directed by ensemble member Brett Cousins in it’s down under premiere, and will play from 31 August to 1 October.

Tom Holloway’s Red Sky Morning was one of Red Stitch’s first original works, so it seems natural that the Greenroom Award winning writer would mount his play Sunshine with the company from 11 October to 5 November next year. Continuing to explore the choral theatre style of show, Sunshine follows two strangers who are thrown together through one shocking event. His previous works have been called a “spoken Ontario” and “a poem for three voices” (Allison Croggan, Theatre Notes, 2008), and this show continues that theme with four voices on the backdrop of rainy Melbourne.
Red Stitch’s final show for 2016 will be a new version of Uncle Vanya, originally by Anton Chekhov and updated by Annie Baker. Lust, boredom, life and the pursuit of happiness are reborn when Baker breathes new life, attention to detail and the understanding of human behavior into Chekhov’s play. First directed by Stanislavski in 1899, a family bemoans the ennui of provincial existence, jumps through love triangles and navigates journeys of human relationships and yearning. Baker’s adaptation is said to be intimate, immersive and attempts to create a version of the play, that sounds to our Western ears the way the play originally sounded in Russian. What is sure to be and interesting and compelling right at the theatre, it will run 15 November to 17 December.

2016 will certainly be a year of great variety and opportunity for Red Stitch, who will also put on an immersive theatre experience for a fundraising event, and work with Geelong Performing Arts Centre, the Arts Centre and Canberra Theatre Centre on Hannie Rayson’s Extinction, as well as rehearsed readings with the INK initiative.

Theatre People wishes Red Stitch chookas and best wishes for the 2016 season ahead, and we are looking forward to seeing the depth and breadth of talent and works shown at Red Stitch Actors Theatre in 2016.