Great theatre looks beyond our society and time, inspiring us to project our minds into far-off realms. On the other hand, it also takes us within — to the tragedy, happiness and unconditional love of the family. Mosquitoes, a play which features some of the biggest scientific events of our time, is truly about the bittersweet relationship of two very different sisters.
It is an almost universal experience: over ninety per cent of Australians have a brother or sister. It is also, in most circumstances, the longest relationship a person will have; one that runs the full gamut of human emotion.
Here we look back at the most memorable sibling relationships that have enlivened the STC stage.
THE VENETIAN TWINS (1979)
In 1979, as part of its inaugural season, STC mounted a co-production of The Venetian Twins with the Nimrod Theatre Company. The two-act musical featured a young Drew Forsythe as both the titular twins, and was adapted from the commedia dell'arte play I due gemelli veneziani by Carlo Goldoni. The John Bell-directed production premiered for a season at Sydney Opera House, and two years later was remounted with most of the original cast, touring nationally.
THREE SISTERS (1990, 2001 AND 2017)
Throughout STC's 40 years of theatre, many works have inspired our creatives again and again — perhaps none more so than Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. The timeless story of three sisters' dreams of love, adventure and freedom is set against the backdrop of the earliest stirrings of the Russian revolution.
STC first brought Three Sisters to the stage in 1990, for Richard Wherrett's final play as Artistic Director. The landmark production, featuring Pamela Rabe (The Children), Linda Cropper (Top Girls) and Angie Milliken (The Effect), highlighted Richard's lifelong love of Chekhov.
At the turn of the century, Benedict Andrews and Beatrix Christian teamed up for a new adaptation of Three Sisters, to be directed by Benedict. Originally separate works, the two writers amalgamated their writing into a wholly unique adaptation: part dense, romantic poetry; part literal translation; part simplification. For their trio of sisters they chose STC greats Paula Arundell (The Bleeding Tree), Melita Jurisic (Suddenly Last Summer) and Rose Byrne (Speed-The-Plow).
The sisters wouldn't grace STC stages for another 16 years until, in 2017, former STC Artistic Director Andrew Upton wrote a new adaptation, to be directed by current Artistic Director Kip Williams. This time, our three sisters were Alison Bell (Doubt), Miranda Daughtry (STCSA's A Doll's House) and Eryn Jean Norvill (All My Sons).
When interviewed, Kip was quick to point out just how significant the sibling relationships in Three Sisters are, saying "Chekhov is exploring the ways in which we seek to define our identity — through work, through relationships — so I think it's no coincidence that he contextualises that interrogation through a sibling dynamic. It's one of the most fundamental ways in which we are first narrativised...".
TOP GIRLS (1993 AND 2018)
British playwright Caryl Churchill's most beloved and celebrated play, Top Girls, is a witty, enduringly topical exploration of women in society, and the idea of 'having it all'. Marlene is a successful career woman whose contentious relationship with her sister, Joyce is a running thread throughout the story.
STC first produced Top Girls in 1993. Directed by Melissa Bruce (The Crucible), it featured a stellar Australian cast including Cate Blanchett in her first appearance at STC.
Last year, Top Girls returned to the STC stage with former STC Resident Director Imara Savage at the helm. The production starred Helen Thomson, Paula Arundell, Heather Mitchell and Kate Box.
THE SISTERS ROSENSWEIG (1994)
In 1994, STC presented Melbourne Theatre Company's The Sisters Rosensweig, featuring an incredible, internationally-renowned cast including Jacki Weaver (Uncle Vanya) and Rachel Griffiths (MTC's Proof). The culturally revolutionary Wendy Wasserstein play tells the story of three Jewish-American sisters as they navigate relationships, love and middle-age.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (1997 AND 2010)
Shakespeare's short comedy of mistaken identities has had many stagings and revivals over its long lifespan. It centres on two sets of twin brothers: one from a poor family, and one from a wealthier family. When a ship carrying both sets of twins is struck by a huge storm, the twins are all separated, sparking a farcical tale of mistaken identity.
The first STC production of The Comedy of Errors in 1997 featured Tony Taylor, Celia Ireland, Arky Michael and Nicholas Opolski.
In 2010, the work was updated and transformed for more current audiences: the setting was transported from Ephesus (a city renowned for witchery in Shakespeare's time) to Latin America (in a nod to voodoo traditions), and the set design and music both hinted at a more multicultural, ever-changing society. Charmian Gradwell, STC's voice and text coach, directed the production, which featured STC's former permanent ensemble of actors, The Residents.
AFTER THE BALL (1998)
In After the Ball, David Williamson investigated an event which brings together siblings like no other: the death of a parent. Stephen and Judy have returned home to their mother's deathbed, forced to sort through family belongings and confront their starkly different memories of their parents' unhappy marriage. Garry McDonald (Amigos, and the TV show Mother and Son), and Jacki Weaver played the forlorn pair.
TWO BROTHERS (2005)
In the grand tradition of family dramas, Two Brothers focuses on two siblings – Eggs and Tom Benedict – united by genetics and divided by ideas. The two are vastly different in aspiration, wealth and ideals, but have managed to find an equilibrium — that is, until their values clash over a tragic government decision, and each much decide if politics trumps family. Written by Hannie Rayson, the play was commissioned by STC, and co-produced by STC and MTC. Simon Phillips, who would later go on to direct Muriel's Wedding for STC, directed a stellar cast including Garry McDonald, Nicholas Eadie (Three Sisters) and Caroline Brazier (Mary Stuart).
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (2009)
Tennessee Williams drew a bitter, breathtaking portrayal of sisters at the mercy of male violence, poverty and their growing madness in A Streetcar Named Desire. In 2009, then-Artistic Director Cate Blanchett and Robin McLeavy (The Great) played the tragic siblings: fanciful, ephemeral Blanche and trapped, helpless Stella. For her performance, Cate won a Sydney Theatre Award, as well as a Helen Hayes Award when it toured to Washington DC.
TUSK TUSK (2010)
When their mentally ill mother disappears in another psychotic episode, teenage siblings Eliot and Maggie form a makeshift family for their baby brother, Finn. Written by Polly Stenham (who was then only 22), Tusk Tusk was a co-production with the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP). The show was part of STC's Next Stage, an artistic development program that gave emerging artists and experimental works a platform.
MARIAGE BLANC (2012)
Adapted from the original play by Tadeusz Rozewicz, Melissa Bubnic's take on this story of sexual identity in the Victorian age bristles with dark humour and repressed desire. Bianca and her sister Pauline are sexually curious, reading anatomical textbooks and literature for any shred of information on sex. Bianca exists in an unconsummated marriage (or a mariage blanc) with her husband, Benjamin. Her intense fascination with all sex except with her husband is slowly revealed to be a deeply stifled same-sex attraction. Directed by former Co-Resident Director Sarah Giles, the production starred STC newcomers Paige Gardiner as Bianca and Katie McDonald as Pauline.
THE MAIDS (2013)
In 2013, Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton's new English translation of The Maids by Jean Genet hit the stage. Cate Blanchett and the iconic French actress Isabelle Huppert starred in the eponymous roles: downtrodden, delusional sister-maids. Night after night, they fantasize about murdering their mistress, but can never go through will the killing, until – in a frenzy that blurs fantasy and reality – they finally do. The thrilling production would go on tour to New York's Lincoln Center Festival in 2014.
THE HARP IN THE SOUTH, PART ONE AND PART TWO (2018)
Last year, Kate Mulvany adapted Ruth Park's beloved trilogy into a world premiere, landmark theatre event: The Harp in the South, Part One and Part Two. The two plays trace the lives of the Darcy family in 1950s Surry Hills, then an inner-city slum. Ruth and Hughie are parents to Roie and Dolour, sisters on the cusp of adulthood, their tragic lives interwoven with love, pain and violence. Directed by Kip Williams, the epic, inter-generational saga featured many favourites of the STC stage, including Anita Hegh (Love and Information), Heather Mitchell (Cloud Nine) and Helen Thomson (Top Girls).
Mosquitoes, 8 Apr – 18 May 2019, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House.
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