Theatre remount culture needs a reboot

Dozens of new plays are produced in Australia each year, the majority of them never to be seen again. What can we do to change our theatre culture?

Photo: John Marmaras Broadly speaking, the Australian theatre sector does not have a strong culture of remounting and reviving works. For every Switzerland by Joanna Murray Smith, produced several times by different state companies, there are scores of new plays which are staged once and never seen again. While some recent plays have been revived – Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree,  Patricia Cornelius’ SHIT, Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife – too many recent plays vanish all too quickly.  Playwright Tommy Murphy, whose 2005 work Strangers in Between opens in Sydney this week following an earlier Melbourne season, describes this situation as a ‘real deficiency’. ‘There’s something missing from the playwriting culture of Australia if we’re depriving ourselves of a second look at a play,’ he said. Not everyone agrees, however. Sydney-based playwright Alana Valentine, whose Letters to Lindy is touring nationally from June to September this year, questions the assumption that we don’t have a strong culture of remounting and reviving work in Australia. ‘We see a lot of plays from Melbourne in Sydney, and we’ve seen a lot of plays lately from Brisbane – Prize Fighter was on at Belvoir, we’ve just seen Mother, and we’re about to see Single Asian Female. So, there’s quite a few shows in the Belvoir season at least that are remounts – Calamity Jane was on last year at the Hayes Theatre and that’s being remounted too,’ Valentine said. Nonetheless, she believes that more needs to be done in order to foster a truly national conversation. ‘Obviously, an individual playwright is always going to want their shows to tour; when you’re proud of your work you want other people to see it. But I suppose if I pull out of my individual perspective and think about the Australian theatre scene, I think a good thing to be asking is: where are the plays that are part of a national conversation, as opposed to a global conversation? ‘A lot of the big [theatre] companies think about “global issues” – climate change, gender politics and things that are big on the global stage. And then they do plays which are specific to their local audience – and again I’m a great believer in that, it’s great to do a play specifically for a local audience. But what are the plays that are part of the national conversation and which are not being seen?’ she asked. 

Producer, director and publicist Dino Dimitriadis is currently in the thick of staging Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, at Sydney’s Old Fitzroy Theatre for Mardi Gras. He directed an earlier production of the play in 2012

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Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts