Richard Watts  |  Artshub  |  Monday 5th January, 2015

From circus and contemporary dance to theatre and musicals, the New Year promises countless delights for performing arts devotees.

Image: Matilda the Musical (US production) via The New York Times

Assembling a list of the very best shows to grace Australian stages and performance venues in 2015 is no easy task; there are hundreds of productions to consider. And until each show opens, and the variables of each production – the interplay of script and direction, dancer and choreographer, set designer and composer are taken into account – we can’t really know how successful any production will be. 

So we haven’t tried to predict which shows will be among the year’s best. Instead, we’ve looked for those productions which we think will be among the most interesting and unique.

Here then, is ArtsHub’s guide to some of the more intriguing stage shows on offer in 2015 (outside of the major festivals, which we’ll be covering in a seperate series of articles in the coming weeks) – if you think there are any we’ve missed, please tell us in the comments below.


A Sri Lankan Tamil Asylum Seeker’s Story as Performed by Australian Actors Under the Guidance of a Sinhalese Director
Merrigong Theatre Company
16-26 September

It’s no secret that Australian stages, and the stories we tell on them, largely fail to reflect the cultural diversity of broader Australia. That’s why this production has caught our eye. Developed through Merrigong Theatre Company’s independent artist program, Studio Session, this satirical new work by Sri Lankan-born, Wollongong-based playwright and director Dhananjaya Karunarathne tells the story of a Tamil asylum-seeker who is sent to a detention centre, where he meets a refugee studies student who wants to record his story for his own purposes. Co-directed by dramaturg David Williams, the result is a play that’s sure to be memorable, funny, and politically aware.


Queensland Theatre Company
11 April – 3 May


‘Oversexed, overpaid and over here.’ The traditional complaint about American soldiers stationed in Australia during World War Two marked a deep resentment among Australian troops; resentment which boiled over into anger and violence during the so-called ‘Battle of Brisbane’ in 1942, in which one person died and hundreds more were injured. In a dramatic counterpoint to these turbulent times, playwright Matthew Ryan (Kellyboy girl wall) tells the story of a 14 year old Australian boy taken under the wing of a US airman; a tale of friendship, comedy, family and tragedy; the story of Brisbane.


It’s Not For Everyone
An acrobat production
19-29 March 

Based in Wodonga, Hothouse Theatre is a national treasure. So too are Jo Lancaster and Simon Yates, who together make up the raw and remarkable contemporary circus company, acrobat. The world premiere of acrobat’s It’s Not For Everyone at Hothouse’s Butter Factory Theatre is quite simply a match made in heaven. Stripped-back, intimate, superbly crafted and often confronting, acrobat make work that is the antithesis of grander companies’ often empty spectacle. Likely to be true its name, It’s Not For Everyone is sure to be one of the circus highlights of 2015.


Bangarra Dance Theatre
Touring nationally in 2015 


Speaking of national treasures, it’s hard to look past Bangarra, which celebrated its 25th anniversary as Australia’s national Indigenous dance company in 2014. For 2015, the company presents a brand new double bill, once more drawing upon the traditions and cultures of Australia’s first peoples to explore issues relevant to us all. She Oak, choreographed by the Green Room Award-winning Frances Rings, explores links to past, present and future, while I.B.I.S. sees the first ever collaboration between choreographers Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco, and explores Torres Strait life as frozen foods from the supermarket supplant traditional hunting techniques. Given the company’s rich history to date, it’s certain that lore will fascinate and compel in equal measure.


Matilda the Musical
By Roald Dahl, Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin
Sydney Lyric Theatre from July 2015

New musicals are always keenly anticipated – not least by their producers, who hope to emulate the box office successes of Wicked and Les Misérables rather than the failures of Moonshadow and An Officer and a Gentleman. Of all the musicals set to open in Australia in 2015, none is more keenly anticipated than the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda. Based on the novel by timeless children’s author Roald Dahl, with a book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, the production has received rave reviews in the UK and USA. This winter, it will be Australia’s turn to see the show the Sunday Times called ‘the standout musical of the decade’.


Motion Picture
Lucy Guerin Inc
17-22 March 

Motion Picture

Exploring the tensions between live performance and cinema, the latest work from acclaimed dance company Lucy Guerin Inc uses Rudolph Maté’s labyrinthine D.O.A. (1950) as its starting point: a film noir classic about a dying man’s search to uncover his poisoner before he succumbs to the toxin coursing through his veins. Guerin’s Motion Picture is choreographed in collaboration with an extraordinary roster of dancers including Stephanie Lake, Briarna Longville, Alisdair Macindoe, Jessie Oshodi, Kyle Page and Lilian Steiner; and promises to be both homage to and physical interrogation of the nightmare, chiaroscuro world of noir. Part of Dance Massive 2015, it’s sure to be a highlight of the year’s dance calendar.


Prize Fighter
A La Boite Theatre Company and Brisbane Festival co-production
5-26 September

Presented as part of the 2015 Brisbane Festival, Prize Fighter is written by La Boite Artist-in-Residence Future D. Fidel, who fled the Congo as a child and spent eight years in a Tanzanian refugee camp before being granted refugee status in Australia. Inspired by his own life, and the lives of people he knew, Prize Fighter is the story of a young boxer on the verge of greatness, whose biggest obstacle is not his opponent in the ring, but his own past. Directed by former La Boite Artistic Director Chris Kohn and performed by young Queensland actor Pacharo Mzembe, Prize Fighter promises to be a visceral and compelling piece of theatre, and another step towards greater cultural diversity on the Australian stage.


The Bleeding Tree
Griffin Theatre Company
31 July – 5 September 2015

Production poster image

Angus Cerini is one of Melbourne’s most electrifying playwrights and performers. His new play, The Bleeding Tree – a Gothic comedy about domestic violence, set shortly after three women have taken matters into their own hands – won the 17th Griffin Award for playwriting, presented annually to ‘an authentic, inventive and contemporary Australian voice’.

According to Griffin’s Artistic Director Lee Lewis, who will direct the play, Cerini – whose dance background often sees him performing his own work – has in this instance ‘given his extraordinarily muscular voice to the mouths of women, and I think that’s going to blow people away. It is a rude and rudely talented play that he has written’. The Bleeding Tree is sure to further strengthen Cerini’s reputation on the national stage.


The Last Man Standing
Melbourne Theatre Company
6 November – 12 December

Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2015 subscription season has much to tempt dedicated theatregoers, including the Cybec Electric play readings; a spectacularly-staged adaption of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; and the unmissable NEON Festival of independent theatre – now in its third year. But perhaps the most intriguing work in 2015 is the company’s unique take on the Gallipoli Centenary: Last Man Standing by Steve Vizard, with music by Paul Grabowsky.

While other companies have chosen approaches by turn sombre and overly reverential to this significant anniversary, the MTC has gone with a comedy. As Artistic Director Brett Sheehy told ArtsHub in September: ‘What I love about this piece is that it absolutely cuts to the quick – no-one gets off unscathed. Not the politicians who are trying to score points through the ANZAC commemorations, not the ratings-hungry media, and most of all, not people who gloss over the repulsive brutality of war.’ We can’t wait to see it.


The Tempest
Bell Shakespeare
Sydney, 19 August – 18 September

Though he has acted in The Tempest on three previous occasions, John Bell has never before directed this marvellous story of magic, adventure, romance and redemption – and that many critics over the years have interpreted the play as Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre, it is only fitting that the Bard’s final play marks the end of Bell’s tenure as Artistic Director of the company he founded. He will be missed – but as the curtain falls on his final production, he has ensured a glittering future for Bell Shakespeare in the years to come.

Image: Acrobat Jo Lancaster on Static Trapeze Photo by Ponch Hawkes [via Arts Hub]