AN impressive line-up of Canberra-grown directors staging classic plays forms the backbone to Canberra REP’s 2021 season in its 89th year, it was announced at REP’s home theatre tonight (October 23).
Clearly designed as an antidote to 2020’s truncated season, it is, with the exception of “The Governor’s Family”, which is rescheduled from this year, an entirely fresh season of seven rather than the usual six plays.
The idea, REP staff says, is to engage audiences with high-profile works – three from Australia, two from the UK and two from the US.
The season opens with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, a huge hit from REP in 2001 when it was staged by the late Canadian director Walter Learning, to be revived by Anne Somes from Free Rain Theatre. This steamy Mississippi drama by Tennessee Williams is famous for its big roles, like Big Daddy the patriarch, Maggie the Cat the daughter-in-law, and her damaged husband, Brick.
Next up is Louis Nowra’s “Così”. Set in a Melbourne mental hospital in 1971, where a production of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” with a cast of patients is in progress as the streets outside erupt with anti-Vietnam war protests. Canberra theatre identity and drama teacher, Sophie Benassi, now studying for the directing course at NIDA, makes her debut in a play which argues that reality is unique for each person.
Ed Wightman, an ANU theatre luminary who later studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), is a favourite with REP and returns to direct the thriller “Rope” by Patrick Hamilton, who also wrote “Gaslight”. In a play made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film version, two flatmates murder their friend purely to see if they can get away with it. REP’s onto a sure thing here.
The fourth play of the season is “The Governor’s Family”, in which playwright Beatrix Christian conjures up the ghosts of our colonial past in a play about vice-regal secrets in late 19th-century NSW. Another REP stalwart, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, who studied at the ANU as a young man before enjoying a long professional career in acting, is back to direct.
Cate Clelland, another REP veteran, returns to direct Tom Stoppard’s comedy, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”, where Hamlet’s obsequious school friends watch the main action from the wings, or so they think.
Hannie Rayson’s “Hotel Sorrento” is the sixth play for 2021, a familial drama in which three sisters reunite after 10 years in different worlds. Alexandra Pelvin from Mockingbird Acting Studio and Theatre Company, joins Benassi as a first-time director for REP.
Finally, for the 2021 Christmas season, Liz Bradley, who has recently directed a hilarious “What The Butler Saw” for REP, takes on more serious fare in American actor/writer Kate Hamill’s bold feminist adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”.
And with the current worldwide craze for Austen, you could hardly call that a risky choice.
Canberra REP Theatre, Acton, book at canberrarep.org.au or 6257 1950.
Canberra REP 2021 season at a glance:
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams, director Anne Somes, February to March.
“Così” by Louis Nowra, director Sophie Benassi, April.
“Rope” by Patrick Hamilton, director Ed Wightman, May-June.
“The Governor’s Family” by Beatrix Christian, director Tony Llewellyn-Jones, July.
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” by Tom Stoppard, director Cate Clelland, August.
“Hotel Sorrento” by Hannie Rayson, director Alexandra Pelvin, September to October.
“Sense and Sensibility” by Kate Hamill, director Liz Bradley, November to December.