Newcastle a hotbed of theatre talent

ENGAGING: Tim Moran and Karen Lantry performed in Post, one of several impressive shows written by Newcastle locals.
ENGAGING: Tim Moran and Karen Lantry performed in Post, one of several impressive shows written by Newcastle locals.

WHEN the cast of the new touring production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was announced recently, it included five male actors whose early theatre work was done in and around Newcastle.

But that was not surprising. This region has become one of the best in Australia for the development of theatre talent. The 25th production of the public schools show StarStruck, Shine On, confirmed that, as did the St Philip’s Christian College staging of the Mary Poppins at the Civic Theatre, with the show winning CONDA Awards including best musical production. The Hunter School of the Performing Arts’ production of the new American musical Catch Me If You Can likewise showed the theatrical strengths of young people, as did youth theatre groups such as Young People’s Theatre, Hunter Drama and Tantrum Youth Arts, and the newly established WEA Hunter Academy of Creative Arts shows.

Adult groups also had notable achievements, with Stooged Theatre making good use of the large Catapult Dance Studio hall in presenting Love and Information, a show usually staged in small venues. Several productions of long-established works, among them Newcastle Theatre Company’s comedy-drama Picnic and Metropolitan Players’ musical Les Miserables, gave new life to the stories. Likewise, the story of The Diary of Anne Frank was even more attention-grabbing because directors Guilherme Noronha and Lesley Coombes had visited the Anne Frank house in the Netherlands and stunningly recreated the small attic living spaces.

The ability of theatre teams to stage very good, but different, productions of established works was evident in two contrasting editions of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. New group Shakespeare’s Women gave it a colourful 19th century look on the stage of Newcastle Theatre Company’s venue, and Maitland’s Upstage Theatre presented it outdoors at Maddie’s of Bolwarra, with a World War II London setting enabling women to play military-style characters.

There was also an effective sex change in NTC’s staging of the American court-room drama Inherit the Wind, with the attorney defending a 1920s teacher in a religious southern US state charged with telling students about evolution theories becoming a female, so that sexual relationships became a factor.

Several engaging locally-written new works were staged, among them Riley McLean’s Do Your Parents Know You’re Straight?, in which a boy attracted to girls in a same-sex relationship future struggles to hide his feelings, and Post, by Ann Croger and Jerry Bowden, which looks at the impact a forced shooting of a knife-wielding teenage boy has on the police officer involved.