Best on Stage

Which piece of theatre this year left you on the edge of an existential crisis? Made you laugh till you cried? Had you painfully reexamine our cultural history? The breadth of Sydney performance in 2016 was incredible—picking only five standouts was a huge challenge. Which one of these did you walk away from awestruck or in delight?

Desert Body Creep

Angela Goh’s Desert Body Creep takes its starting point from the notion of the worm. The worm is a creator and destroyer, a symbol of decay, decomposition and the potential for transformation. This playful and thoroughly original dance-based work is set in a ‘post-post-everything’ environment, complete with giant gummy worms, synthpop and live sampling. With humour and great skill, Goh’s work proves itself to be among the most imaginative of contemporary dance. Desert Body Creep had its debut at Next Wave Festival 2016 and toured to PACT as part of AFTERGLOW.

Lake Disappointment

When it’s your job to be someone else, who are you? Lake Disappointment depicts the strangeness of what must be the most beguiling profession: the celebrity body double. Our nameless lead, played with precision by Luke Mullins, grows steadily more anxious each day he is without his doppelganger. Exposing exactly what it means to live in a culture obsessed with image, we are faced with the disquieting realisation that narcissism has corroded our identities from the inside. Luke Mullins and Lachlan Philpott’s first-time pairing as writers is a masterful rendering of our celebrity-chasing culture. Lake Disappointment was directed by Janice Muller and presented by Carriageworks 2016.

The Drover’s Wife

Leah Purcell creates a bold vision of Australia’s past in The Drover’s Wife, adapted from Henry Lawson’s chilling short story. It’s 1893 and Molly, played by Purcell, is pregnant and in labour. Her husband is away droving and a bloodied Aboriginal man with a steel iron collar around his neck appears on her property, but something holds her back from turning him in. Upending the colonial underpinnings of the original, Purcell twists the tale into a new and compelling comment on racial politics. She made the perfect call in comparing the work to Tarantino’s Django Unchained—two violent reckonings with histories of brutality. The Drover’s Wife, was produced by Belvoir in association with Oombarra Productions.

The Tribe

Staged in the intimacy of a handful of Sydney backyards, The Tribe is a portrait of a boy (played by by Hazem Shammas) finding his place through stories of his family’s homeland. Writer Michael Mohammed Ahmad wanted to push back against the limited and simplistic representations of Arab-Australians living in Western Sydney, and he succeeded in a clever way. The Tribe isn’t a political attack—it’s a rich and arresting collection of memories, grounded in the familiarity of domestic life. The Tribe, adapted by Ahmad and Janice Muller from Ahmad’s novel of the same name, and produced by Urban Theatre Projects, made its debut as part of BANKSTOWN:LIVE in Sydney Festival in 2015 and was co-presented with Belvoir in 2016.

Trigger Warning

Zoë Coombs Marr is Dave—a comic whose career of dick jokes and misogyny is in tatters thanks to political correctness. Packing off to French clown college in a desperate attempt to reinvent his act, he returns as his inner-clown named Zoë, a “cranky lesbian in her 30s”. Trigger Warning is about as meta as it gets, a slapstick black comedy that is as subversive as it is clever. Dave is a character caught in a changing world, a hapless neckbeard that is mercilessly lampooned – but captured with a certain tragic vulnerability. Trigger Warning was first presented at the Melbourne Comedy Festival 2016 and then at Giant Dwarf.