Kip Williams’ Sydney Theatre Company tenure: a review

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Not all Williams’ cine-theatre experiments worked, with Julius Caesar a case of the technology – this time with the actors filming each other using smartphones – obstructing the drama. He’d slashed Shakespeare’s text and mass-murdered the cast until it required just three actors, with the play performed in the round for the first time at Wharf 1 Theatre. While this charged sections with an undeniable intensity, more often that quality was diluted by our eyes continually being tugged between the action on the stage and the four-side screen above the actors’ heads, so the device became self-indulgent, cancelling any chance of illuminating the play afresh.

Intermittently Williams reminded us that he could still do commendable work without a camera in sight, too. For Kate Mulvany’s 2018 epic adaptation of Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South trilogy, he marshalled 18 actors across 78 scenes and six hours’ of stage time in an entirely different model of his gargantuan theatrical ambition finding fulfilment.

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His programming, although better than Upton’s, has still wandered into the wasted opportunities of dubious commissions and crass plays. Thankfully, these were largely offset by such examples of sheer excellence as, inside just two months of 2023, for instance, Mitchell Butel’s joint STC/State Theatre Company South Australia presentation of Albee’s hilarious The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? and Shari Sebbens’ production of August Wilson’s potent Fences.

Williams championed gender parity and First Nations voices, and generally made good decisions about which of the swag of theatres at his disposal hosted each production. Comedies, from dubiously broad to extremely witty (and seldom directed by Williams himself) have been another hallmark of his programming, including Sarah Giles’s lavish production of The Importance of Being Earnest, starring Helen Thompson.

Before becoming artistic director, Williams’ STC shows had included an ill-conceived Romeo and Juliet, but also a performance that marked him out as a director to watch: 2012’s Under Milk Wood, in which he displayed a keen ear for catching all the music (and humour) in Dylan Thomas’ wondrous text.

Little did we then know that he had a technological alter ego.

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