It seemed fitting, although somewhat ironic, that the Melbourne Theatre Company chose to herald its new season of productions under the catch-cry ‘New Light.’ As dark clouds ominously massed over the CBD towards the Arts Centre, new light certainly wasn’t something on the current weather radar. However, within the cozy confines of a recently refurbished Hamer Hall and in the capable hands of new Artistic Director Brett Sheehy, there was an unmistakable air of ‘the new’ at the launch of MTC’s 2013 season.

After taking over from the trio of Pamela Rabe, Aidan Fennessy and Robin Nevin plus an eleven-year stint from Simon Phillips, Sheehy was given the daunting job of leading MTC into its 60th Anniversary or ‘diamond jubilee’ season. However, judging from the look of excitement on Sheehy’s face, it seemed to be a task he was very much relishing. This abundance of ‘new’ certainly didn’t end at Sheehy’s appointment either, as the audience was introduced to a wide variety of new artists, directors, actors and technicians who will each contribute to the 2013 season. Even the name MTC Theatre has been given a makeover and will now be known as simply ‘Southbank Theatre.’ With the words ’New Light’ projected as colourful neon lights on the screen at Hamer Hall, the ‘rainbow of opportunity’ Sheehy was referring to resonated all the more profoundly, as MTC has always strived to illuminate their audiences.

Introducing Sheehy was MTC chairman Derek Young who praised the full house attendance and humbly thanked the sponsors for their ongoing support. Likening the company to a ‘slightly wild adult child,’ Young asserted that without the financial support and commitment of their wise, elderly parent, The University of Melbourne, MTC would never have achieved the success its had up to this point. At a time when sponsoring of the arts is in a state of plateau and sometimes even decline, it seems fortunate that this wild child is being given ample space in which to achieve its full potential.

OK, enough chit-chat for now, let’s get down to the juicy stuff and delve into the program for 2013.

For all the ‘changing of the guard’ imagery, I’m pleased to report that several mainstayers of Australian theatre will be sticking around to once again delight us with their performances in 2013. Stalwarts Catherine McClements and Philip Quast will be taking the reins in the Australian premiere of The Other Place by Sharr White. Described as ‘Arthur Miller meets Aaron Sorkin,’ this story is an intense examination of the human brain, particularly when it has stopped functioning. So be prepared to be taken down a non-linear psychological labyrinth of theatre. Speaking of the brain, the mind-bending Constellations will be sure to stimulate discussion with its meditations on the science of love and life. It also features the wonderful Alison Bell in the lead role of Marianne. Australian theatre favourites Robin Nevin and Jackie Weaver will feature in Other Desert Cities and Solomon and Marion respectively, the former being a family drama with a difference set in Palm Springs and the latter being an award wining South African play, billed to be directed by MTC favourite Pamela Rabe.

As with most MTC seasons, a few theatre classics are to be expected and next year is no exception. Despite giving Shakespeare a spell on the bench, MTC are bringing in two heavyweights of theatre history in Arthur Miller and Anton Chekhov and their seminal works The Crucible and The Cherry Orchard. After playing Danforth twenty-five years ago, David Wenham returns to the MTC stage to appear in Arthur Miller’s always relevant and enduring portrait of the Salem witch trials that eerily manages to evoke 1950’s McCarthyism. The Cherry Orchard, which will feature Pamela Rabe, is billed as being written by Melbourne theatre mastermind Simon Stone ‘after Anton Chekhov’ which hopefully suggests that Stone will be working similar wonders that he did with his reimagining of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, currently touring the International Ibsen Festival in Oslo.

Two characters of history, one paramount, the other polarizing, will be gracing the MTC stages in 2012: Dr. Martin Luther King and Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch will be the subject of the world premiere of David Williamson’s Rupert, an ‘enthralling political fantasia’ that examines all facets of the charismatic business mogul. Williamson himself compares Murdoch to a modern-day Richard III, minus the homicidal tendencies, however all the Shakespearean themes of power and influence stay remarkably relevant. The Mountaintop, to be directed by Alkinos Tsilimidos, turns its attention to Dr. Martin Luther King and forty-five years of the civil rights movement in America. After winning the Olivier Award in 2010 for Best New Play, this doesn’t look like one to miss.

Although there’s a lot of drama on offer in this season, fortunately Sheehy is able to balance this with the inclusion of True Minds, One Man Two Guvnors and The Book of Everything. It’s easy to see why The Daily Mail asserts that Joanna Murray-Smith, writer of True Minds, has a gift with one-liners as she hold the sold-out Hamer Hall attendance in stitches, recounting her new romantic comedy, scheduled to be directed by Peter Houghton. Closing the season will be The Book of Everything, a fantastical and funny production for the whole family. Having taken New York by storm, The Book of Everything is bound to be the perfect Christmas treat at the end of the year. MTC will also be bringing the original West End production One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean, which a video trailer previews as a slapstick and satirical smorgasbord of British comedy. “Snap up tickets to this one early” warns Brett Sheehy. Sage advice.

Phew! Exhausted yet? And I haven’t even touched on the “Open Door” Festival of Independent Theatre, the Young Audiences season, the educational Pathways program or that mysterious Zeitgeist innovation scheduled to take place in early October. Although MTC clearly want to keep a few tricks up their sleeves, thankfully we undoubtedly have a very exciting and eclectic season of theatre to look forward to.

MTC MAIN SEASON

2013

THE OTHER PLACE by Sharr White: 26 January – 2 March
CONSTELLATIONS by Nick Payne: 8 February – 23 March
OTHER DESERT CITIES by Jon Robin Baitz: 2 March – 17 April
TRUE MINDS by Joanna Murray-Smith: 25 April – 8 June
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS by Richard Bean: 17 May – 22 June
SOLOMON AND MARION by Lara Foot: 7 June – 20 July
THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller: 22 June – 3 August
THE CHERRY ORCHARD by Simon Stone after Anton Chekhov: 10 August – 25 September
RUPERT by David Williamson: 24 August – 28 September
ZEITGEIST: AN MTC INNOVATION: 3 October – 9 November
THE MOUNTAINTOP by Katori Hall: 1 November – 14 December
THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING by Guus Kuijer: 27 November – 22 December

OPEN DOOR SEASON

2013

Neon – Festival of Independent Theatre
DANIEL SCHLUSSER ENSEMBLE
FRAUGHT OUTFIT
THE HAYLOFT PROJECT
THE RABBLE
SISTERS GRIMM

Young Audiences
BEACHED by Melissa Bubnic: 22 April – 10 May
I LOVE YOU, BRO by Adam J A Cass: 30 July – 16 August
 

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