Australian Studies, Volume 4, Series 2 (2012)

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Shakespeare, Classic Adaptations and the Retreat into the Theatrical

Julian Meyrick


Shakespeare is the most widely produced playwright in Australian theatre. Mainstream productions of his work involve considerable resources and attract media attention. More broadly, classic revivals have made a return to the repertoire of a number of major theatre companies. Lead actors are eager to do classic roles and young directors make their name staging new versions of classic texts. What is the meaning of the continuing dominance of classic drama in Australia’s presumed post-colonial cultural consciousness? What, in Australia now, are the expectations surrounding any one individual classic production? This paper is a scholarly reflection and a professional provocation from an Anglo-Australian director whose specific commitment over twenty-five years has been to new drama. It overviews the recent repertoire of four major theatre companies (Melbourne Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company, the Malthouse and Belvoir Company B) to discern some key programming trends. It then examines the heated critical reception of Queen Lear at MTC in 2012 to question the mentality underlying the re-canonisation of the Australian mainstream. It frames the return of what ex-Playbox artistic director Aubrey Mellor has called ‘the Old Tote play list’ as a way of avoiding the serious task of developing new Australian drama.

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