Sydney is an outdoor city. At times this means its theatre struggles for an audience – why would you be inside on a night like this? However, it does offer an advantage to the summer outdoor productions, which can be planned with confidence in a much less interrupted run than in many parts of the world. This being so, it is surprising how slight a hold the idea of summer as Shakespeare in the Park season has on Sydney’s theatregoing public. Perhaps our warm evenings are not so precious to us since they are in such generous supply, so we don’t feel an imperative for them to be well spent. Perhaps most people devote their attending-things energy to the Sydney Festival, which takes place in January. Balmoral’s Shakespeare by the Sea had its own little following, but did not attempt to continue after the death of its Artistic Director, David Finalyson MacSwan. In the last few years several different groups of artists have spotted the gap in the market, and are making a real effort to make a trip to see some Shakespeare into part of people’s list of summer treats.
Of the four productions reviewed here (two outdoors, two in theatres) only one was a fully professional production from an established theatre, so it makes a most interesting task to describe where each falls in the amateur/co-op/professional spectrum. Sport for Jove, Shakespeare on the Green, and the Sydney Shakespeare Festival (which formerly gave outdoor performances, but has moved indoors to the Old Fitzroy, as part of an amalgamation with the Sydney Independent Theatre Company) would all call themselves professional companies working on a cooperative model, yet only the first achieves a production standard that convinces. So what gives a piece of theatre the sense that it is a genuinely professional production? My (cautious) conclusion is that it has something to do with a combination of coherent design and mature voices.
My intention was to make this one large review of Shakespeare over the Sydney summer of 2013/2014, but it is a waste of the luxury of space a blog affords to skimp on addressing productions in detail, so I have decided to put them up separately. It is worth noting that all these productions took place in venues that were built for other uses, and have been re-invented as artists’ spaces. What a pleasure it is in itself to see the range of possibilities for theatre work in such a variety of gorgeous spaces, each with its own personality. The reviews coming up will be:
– As You Like It by Shakespeare on the Green at the Waverton Coal Loader
– Much Ado About Nothing by Sport for Jove at the Norman Lindsay Gallery
– Measure for Measure by Sydney Shakespeare Festival/Sydney Independent Theatre Company at the Old Fitzroy Hotel
– The Shadow King by Malthouse Theatre at the Carriageworks