Crowd-pleasers bring Rep back from its ‘Edge’

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Arts editor HELEN MUSA previews Canberra Rep’s new season, ‘From the Edge’, and discovers there’s to be a new name for Theatre 3.

“FROM the Edge” is the nominally edgy theme for Canberra Rep’s 2020 subscription season, announced tonight (September 13) before a crowd of members. 

Promising “well-loved classics, confronting dramas, riotous mayhem, and laughter with thought-provoking, poignant and, at times, outrageous humour”, the company also announced that it’s renamed the venerable Theatre 3 (the third of Canberra Rep’s theatres after Riverside and The Playhouse) unexcitingly “Canberra Rep Theatre”.

But as for “edgy”, with crowd-pleasers by Neil Simon and Alan Ayckbourn, a historical drama by Beatrix Christian and an ethical think-piece by John Patrick Shanley, much of the program in fact seems far from the edge.

Unless, that is, you count the perennially edgy “The Grapes of Wrath”, to be directed by Chris Baldock in Frank Galati’s adaptation of the classic Steinbeck novel of flight from the dust bowl of Oklahoma or Liz Bradley’s staging of the subversively outrageous farce, “What the Butler Saw” by Joe Orton, a reminder of English theatre’s greatest master of repartee since Oscar Wilde. 

As for the rest, it’s classic Canberra Rep fare, reminding us of why the company, which has been going strong since 1932, delivers its loyal members a diet of sure-fire entreating plays with meaty roles for actors who do it for the sheer love of the art.

Karen Vickery… making her directorial debut for Rep with “Brighton Beach Memoirs”.

Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, for instance, through Eugene’s memoirs shows us how his family meets life’s challenges with pride, spirit and humour. But as this innocent era of Eugene’s life ends, it foreshadows a more mature one just beginning. Star actor Karen Vickery will make her directorial debut for Rep with this one. 

A favourite Rep director, ANU graduate and well-known Australian actor, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, will be here to direct a play about a fictional governor in late 19th century NSW “The Governor’s Family” by Beatrix Christian, screenwriter of the film “Jindabyne”, television’s “White Collar Blue” and plays such as “ Blue Murder” and “Old Masters”. 

Tony Llewellyn-Jones… directing “The Governor’s Family”.

“What the Butler Saw” – and Rep is banking on it – retains its capacity to shock more than 50 years after its 1969 premiere. 

Ed Wightman, another ANU graduate-turned-professional actor and director, will be back to stage Shanley’s “Doubt, a Parable” in which a progressive parish priest teaching in a school faces up to the rigidly conservative nun who is principal. The play, Rep says, “promises to entertain as well as to make you think”.

Ed Wightman… directing “Doubt, a Parable”.

And for the silly season, Jarrad West will direct Ayckbourn’s “Absurd Person Singular”. As Christmassy as plum pudding, it shows us three couples, three kitchens and three successive Christmas Eves, as all the secrets come out.

And what could be more entertaining than that?

Canberra Rep Season 2020, subscription bookings to

Season at a glance

  • “The Grapes of Wrath” by Frank Galati, February 13-29
  • “Brighton Beach Memoirs” by Neil Simon, April 30-May 16
  • “The Governor’s Family” by Beatrix Christian, June 11-27
  • “What the Butler Saw” by Joe Orton, July 30-August 15
  • “Doubt, a Parable” by John Patrick Shanley, September 10-26
  • “Absurd Person Singular” by Alan Ayckbourn, November 19-December 5




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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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