Griffin Theatre Company has announced its 2022 season, which features six Australian plays, of which four are new. The other two are Sydney premieres after seasons in Melbourne.
“Like the best and worst parts of our locked-down 2021, Griffin’s 2022 season is all about exciting, unexpected clashes. The mundane with the euphoric, the comic with the absurd,” said Artistic Director Declan Greene.
“There’s Dylan Van Den Berg’s queer love story set against the backdrop of First Contact, Melissa Bubnic’s comedy about assisted dying, and Nakkiah Lui refitting an infamous sexploitation-dance-film to serve cutting arguments on ‘authenticity’ and First Peoples art. It’s been a wild and woolly year for Griffin, but we’re proud to support a new group of phenomenal Australian playwrights in 2022, along with some familiar faces from last year.”
Two of the plays in the 2022 season were originally scheduled for 2021 but had to be postponed due to COVID restrictions.
“Because all we do is new writing there is a particular sense of responsibility that we really feel to every play in the season,” Greene tells Limelight. “I’m a playwright so I have lived knowledge of how long it takes to get a play to the stage, and the significance of having a play [staged] in Australia. So there was never a kind of world that we might have had if we were producing a Shakespeare or a Chekhov or something where we might say, ‘maybe the world can do without these’. So we’ve been trying to move hell and high water to ensure that these plays go on. That necessitated moving two plays from last year but saying ‘OK, we’re not going to just jam these in there or put together a Frankenstein season, we’re really going to think about everything that is going to be in there’ and this is what we came up with.”
The season opens in February with Kirsty Mariller’s Orange Thrower, originally scheduled for 2021. Co-produced with National Theatre of Parramatta, and directed by Zindzi Okenyo, it is a fresh twist on an Australian coming-of-age story. Set in the very white Perth suburb of Paradise, Zadie is charged with looking after the family home and her young sister while her parents are in Johannesburg visiting relatives. Then someone starts throwing oranges at the house at night.
Marillier is an actor. Orange Thrower is her first full-length play, which she began writing while performing in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Melbourne.
“Since then she has won a bunch of awards; she’s [been involved] with Griffin Studio and she’s in a Sydney Theatre Company writers’ group at the moment so she has this huge trajectory as a writer starting to happen, and it felt like this was a really important part of that, and we had to make sure it happened,” says Greene.
Marillier was to have performed in the play in 2021 but she has just been cast in Home and Away so another performer will replace her.
In May, Griffin stages the world premiere of Melissa Bubnic’s Ghosting The Party, an uproarious black comedy about assisted dying, which revolves around a grandmother, mother and daughter.
The play won the 2017 Lysicrates Prize. “It’s a very incongruous and surprising combination of subject matter and treatment – which is common throughout this season, “ says Greene. “It’s very much a year of these unexpected, and perhaps slightly jarring, takes on particular subject matter.” Griffin’s Associate Artist Andrea James directs.
Merlynn Tong’s Golden Blood, originally programmed for 2021, opens in June. It tells a semi-autobiographical story about an orphaned 14-year-old girl in Singapore who is left in her brother’s care after her mother dies. He turns out to be a gangster who is masterminding Singapore’s biggest Ponzi scheme – “which incredibly is not the made-up bit!” says Greene.
“It’s this completely bizarre, almost tall-tale that has its origins in autobiography. It’s so far-fetched and so ludicrous, and Merylnn’s treatment is very surreal and unexpected and bristling and beautiful. It’s one of those incredible true stories where you would never be able to guess which are the true bits.”
Co-produced with Melbourne Theatre Company, which developed the play through its Next Stage Program, Golden Blood is directed by Tessa Leong with Tong in the lead role.
In August, Greene directs Whitefella Yella Tree by Dylan Van Den Berg, a Palawa man from the northeast of Iutruwita/Tasmania. In the two-hander, a friendship between two teenage Indigenous boys turns into romance. But before long, one of them is drawn into the religion of the white man and a wedge is formed. Guy Simon will play one of the boys.
“It’s bit of a different one for me as a director. I don’t think I’ve ever directed a love story before. I am not known for lush, tender-hearted romances, but it’s exquisite, it is such a beautiful piece of writing,” says Greene. “Dylan describes it as creating sites of imagination for histories that haven’t been recorded. Of course, Australia has its Indigenous queer history, it’s just one that has never been archived by colonial settlers, so this play is this attempt to write that story or create that narrative so young Indigenous queers have access to that story.”
In 2020, Van Den Berg won both the Griffin Award and the Rodney Seaborn Playwights Award for his gothic revenge drama Way Back When. In 2021, his play Milk won the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting. He is a 2021 Studio Artist at Griffin.
In October, Ash Flanders (who co-founded the Melbourne company Sisters Grimm with Declan Greene) performs his solo piece End Of. which he premiered in Melbourne at the start of last year. After years of glittering appearances around the country, Flanders is questioning his career and realises that it’s all about making his formidable mother Heather laugh.
“You meet Heather and a lot about Ash makes sense immediately,” says Greene. “She is just as funny as him, just as quick as him, just as cutting as him. The show is this beautiful examination of their relationship at a difficult point of Ash’s life at a time when he was questioning his career.”
Stephen Nicolazzo (who directs Looking for Alibrandi at Belvoir next year) is the director.
The final production is Nakkiah Lui’s Blaque Showgirls, which premiered at Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne in 2016, in a production directed by Sarah Giles, on which Greene worked as dramaturg. Shari Sebbens (who performed in Lui’s play Black is the New White for Sydney Theatre Company) directs the Griffin production.
Blaque Showgirls revolves around Sarah Jane Jones, a lonely, fair-skinned girl in rural Australia, who is sure she’s the best dancer in town, and equally sure she is a proud Aboriginal woman – though there’s little proof of either. So when a long-lost photograph offers hope of her Indigenous ancestry, she hightails it to the glitziest casino in Queensland.
“I think Nakkiah writes the best premises of any playwright in Australia – they are just so exciting to talk about,” says Greene. “They are huge and wild and unwieldy. Just the notion that she was going to take one of the worst sexploitation films all of time [Showgirls] and refit it to create a piece of political theatre about the Indigenous arts industry and questions of authenticity – it’s wild! What it has to say about questions of authenticity still feels like a burning question in 2022 as it did in 2016.”
While the Malthouse production was staged in the large Meryln Theatre, the show will be “crammed into” the Stables – “and I’m very excited about that!” says Greene. “Shari is casting it with drag queens and showgirls and scene-stealers that are all going to be tightly compressed onto this tiny stage [where they will] tell this huge, larger-than-life, ludicrous casino-burlesque floorshow. It is a complete re-envisioning.”
Griffin’s artist development program established in 2021, Griffin Lookout, continues in 2022 presenting works by Jessica Bellamy and Mel Ree. Bellamy’s A is for Apple is a genre-bending work exploring faith and womanhood, asking provocative questions about what a Jewish woman really is. Ree’s Mother May We is an epic poem about intergenerational trauma forged from interviews with ten powerful artists who identity as BIPOC.
More information about the 2022 season can be found on the Griffin Theatre Company website.