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POSTED: 21 SEPTEMBER 2010

Leviathan, by John Birmingham | Adapted and directed by Stefo Nantsou

Sydney Theatre Company & Hurstville City Council | Hurstville Entertainment Centre 18–19 Sep | Casula Powerhouse, Liverpool, 24 Sep | Sydney Theatre Company Open Day, The Wharf, Walsh Bay, Sydney, December 2010

Sydney Theatre Company’s motives in combining with Hurstville City Council to produce Leviathan are obviously twofold.

Firstly, there is the simple, straightforward desire to create some fine theatrical, at times quite provocative, entertainment based on Leviathan: The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney, a book by John Birmingham.

Secondly, by intertwining its developmental arm, The Residents, with a number of southern Sydney schools and community theatre and dance groups, STC is spreading its wings and broadening its support base, both geographically and ethnically.

Given the city’s multicultural diversity, I’ve often felt that Sydney’s theatre audiences are much more European-based than they should be. You don’t have to stroll far to realise the strength of Asian and Middle Eastern influence in Hurstville, and that was certainly reflected in the audience that packed the council’s Entertainment Centre last Sunday.

Many were there, of course, just to watch their children perform and will never embrace mainstream theatre. Some, no doubt, will be encouraged to venture further and I can certainly see quite a few of the young performers being bitten by the thespian bug, especially a couple of young Chinese lads who so confidently strode the stage brandishing newspapers and shouting “Read all about it!”

And that is a very good thing.

STC’s Stefo Nantsou has done an excellent job in adapting Birmingham’s “history of Sydney for the Tarantino generation” into a multi-faceted, multi-layered stage show with a cast exceeding 300.

It’s essentially the tale of how waves of migration have created the booming, multicultural city that is Sydney — and it doesn’t pull any punches in demolishing the myths surrounding equity, the classless society, a fair go for all and racial harmony. This is a warts-and-all story.

There are some lovely segues highlighting how some attitudes have remained remarkably constant in a radically changing world.

There’s a quite numbing transition from the killing and beheading of natives in the colony’s early days to police shootings of Aborigines in Redfern more than two centuries later — both events being concerned much more with arbitrary vengeance than any form of justice.

There’s also a beautiful link from Captain Francis De Groot’s unofficial “opening” of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 to the rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, though given the unwitting help De Groot received from the police as he crashed the celebrations, it could just as easily have segued into The Chaser team’s infamous Canadian-motorcade stunt during the 2007 APEC meetings in Sydney.

It’s hardly surprising that STC’s The Residents — Alice Ansara, Cameron Goodall, Ursula Mills, Julia Ohannessian, Zindzi Okenyo, Richard Pyros, Sophie Ross, Tahki Saul, Brett Stiller — perform magnificently and hold the show together. They are, after all, some of Australian theatre’s most rapidly rising stars.

The real eye opener is the outstanding quality of work from groups such as the Abhinay School of Performing Arts, the Australian Macedonian Theatre, the Bosnian School and Penshurst Girls College Georges River Campus ... and plenty of others.

Very sincere congratulations to Sydney Theatre Company and Hurstville City Council for this initiative in raising the profile of theatre in the ’burbs.

Leviathan’s all-too-brief two-show season at Hurstville Entertainment Centre is finished. It will be performed at Casula Powerhouse on Friday 24 September, and at The Wharf, Walsh Bay, during Sydney Theatre Company’s open day in December. Be there to go back to the future.

 

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