The Sydney Theatre Company is plugging the large “theatre-shaped” hole left by the forced closure of public venues to prevent the spreading of Covid-19. Rather than using archival material to ensure that audiences and artists stay connected, STC chose to present a series of short videos featuring well-known actors, writers and directors.
The videos came in weekly instalments with in-home actors either performing original commissions from STC’s Emerging Writers Group (EWG), excerpts from plays in which they had performed (or were about to perform), and speeches, poems and passages of prose which they found personally meaningful. A key initiative in keeping artists and theatre in the public eye, and providing some employment in a difficult time, STC Virtual also provided an attractive platform from which to appeal for much needed donations to an entertainment industry in crisis.
Writers from the EWG jump-started the series. An engaging Miranda Tapsell gives a lively performance of Tiger Scare (writer, Wendy Mocke), which satirises airline peculiarities but also pays a tribute to the wisdom of Aunties. Both funny and moving, Ex Utero (Jordan Fulcher), performed by an utterly convincing Stephanie Somerville, explores a pivotal shift in power in a mother-daughter relationship. While in Lebanese BBQ (James Elazzi) Priscilla Doueihy gives a sensitive portrayal of a young woman’s “betrayal” of her protective father as she pursues a desirable stranger.
The wide-ranging series features two favourite Australian theatre presences, Tim Minchin and Hugo Weaving, both of whom chose to read monologues from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. To play the Danish prince is something both actors have always wished to do – and both disclaim the likelihood of ever being invited to play this role – the difference in their approach is personally revealing.
Revealing also, and fascinating, is the moment that Shari Stebbins becomes Medea (Black Medea) and Helen Thomson transforms into Elizabeth l (Mary Stuart), and the moment that each returns to their everyday self. Astonishing, in fact, is the rapid transition made by Stebbins from Rose-in-meltdown (Black is the New White) back to friendly Shari. Stebbins, a Richard Wherrett fellow at the STC, shows her versatility – playing several different roles throughout the series.
There is so much to see: Tracey Mann reading a savage critique of the ’50s from Home, I’m Darling and Glace Chase giving a heart-breaking monologue from Triple X – both plays that were on the verge of opening only to be cancelled. There are excerpts from the tried and true: Stebbins and Luke Carrol in a scene from Kylie Coolwell’s Battle of Waterloo, Stebbins and an hilarious Ash Flanders in Blackie, Blackie, Brown and that unforgettable speech by Tommy Ryan (Hamish Michael) in How to Rule the World.
All this and more, so watch STC Virtual now. Binge, and why not?