Ensemble marks 40 years of David Williamson with a timely double*

In 2011 it will be 40 years since David Williamson burst on to the Australian theatre stage with The Removalists. Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre will celebrate the landmark next year by presenting two brand-new Williamson plays — At Any Cost? (from 7 July), about a family dealing with some of the inherent problems in our current healthcare system, and Nothing Personal (from 1 December), a blackly funny story set in a Sydney publishing house, about a bitterly fought power struggle between baby boomer Bea, played by Greta Scacchi, and her nemesis, generation Xer Naomi, played by Emma Jackson. Two very different plays, but both very timely.

“We rarely ask for government funding for our productions and we have very little sponsorship, so we program to please only our audience,” said the company’s Artistic Director Sandra Bates. “If Australian plays make it into our season, it means they have competed with the very best from around the world. So it is with great pleasure that we can tell you we have five new Australian plays in the season, because of all the hundreds of plays Mark Kilmurry and I read, these eight, including the five Australian plays, were simply the best.”

Apart from the Williamson duet, the other three new Australian plays are: Casanova (from 1 March) has been adapted by Associate Director Mark Kilmurry, whose previous hits at Ensemble have been You Talkin’ To Me – Diary of an Olympic Cabbie in 2008 and The Cow Jumped Over the Moon last year. Based on the highly acclaimed BBC television mini-series by the brilliant Russell T Davis (Doctor Who), Casanova is a comedy, a period drama and a love story. Mark Kilmurry will also direct, and the cast includes Katie Fitchett, Catherine Moore, Catherine McGraffin, Jamie Oxenbould and Michael Ross.

From 20 July, Ensemble will present Jamie Oxenbould’s magical The Spear Carrier. Jamie is well known to Ensemble audiences from Mark’s two plays above, and his unforgettable one man show Fully Committed. This is his debut production as a playwright, and he will once again play all the parts. Nathan is a brilliant actor, a star in the making, a perfect Hamlet! So why is he standing at the back of the stage holding a spear while the cast of Hamlet perform the Bard’s greatest play — without a proper part for him?  Jamie Oxenbould’s solo show is a hilarious journey in self doubt, wild fantasy and brilliant leaps of faith. He is a spear carrier … with a mission. Directed by Mark Kilmurry.

And playing from 27 October is the world premiere of  Geoffrey Atherden’s Warning: Explicit Material, featuring William Zappa in the lead role as semi-retired artist Barry Smith — a former member of the Sydney Push and the Libertarian movement who was more of a show-off than the enfant terrible of Australian art, but whose biggest claim to fame and his proudest moment was having an exhibition raided by the Vice Squad and shut down. Geoffrey Atherden is best known for his television writing, particularly seven-time AFI-Award-winning Grass Roots and his much loved Mother and Son. “If we give him a great time here at Ensemble, who knows, we may steal him from television to the theatre more often, a very great coup indeed,” said Sandra Bates. Directed by Mark Kilmurry.

And the three international plays:

British playwright Peter Quilter has written a brand-new play set in Sydney, Just the Ticket  (from 3 February) — a fresh and hilarious tale of one woman’s global journey in search of love, joy — and cocktails! Directed by Sandra Bates, featuring Amanda Muggleton as Susan — an eccentric, charming, endlessly chatty, accident-prone woman who often looks like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards. This is the fourth Quilter play to premiere at Ensemble. His previous hits include End of the Rainbow (the Judy Garland story played by Caroline O’Connor), Glorious! and Duets, (both featuring Noeline Brown and Barry Creyton).

My Wonderful Day (from 12 April) is Alan Ayckbourn’s 73rd play. It premiered in London and New York in 2009, the same year he turned 70 and the 5oth anniversary of his very first play, The Square Cat.  He describes the play in these terms: “Adult dreams and disappointments as seen through a child’s eyes.” The play received a Drama Desk Award Nomination for Outstanding Play in May 2010 and will be directed by Anna Crawford. Cast includes Pamela Jikiemi, Mark Owen-Taylor and Matilda Ridgway. 

Finally, from just across the pond, Ensemble will present Four Flat Whites in Italy, a brand-new comedy by New Zealand’s most popular playwright, Roger Hall. Holidays from hell were never so much fun! With a copy of Lonely Planet in one hand and an Italian phrase book in the other, recently retired librarians Adrian (Michael Ross) and Alison (Sharon Flanagan) feel prepared to face the excitement of la bella Italia.  But when their best friends suddenly drop out of the trip, their new neighbours decide to join them. From Viagra to Vespas, from bingeing to budgeting, Michelangelo to la dolce vita, this is one journey they’ll never forget. They may even need a holiday to recover! Directed by Sandra Bates.

Ensemble Theatre’s 2011 subscription season brochure is available from Ensemble box office.  Request a brochure by phoning (02)  9929 0644 or by visiting www.ensemble.com.au.

*Based on media release issued by Ensemble Theatre.

Amanda Muggleton as the eccentric, charming Susan in Just the Ticket.

William Zappa in the lead role as semi-retired artist Barry Smith in Warning: Explicit Material.