After a mixed 2018, Auckland Theatre Company has pledged to make next year one where "bold, award-winning and big-hearted" plays fill its theatre — and beyond.
The country's largest theatre company wrote to its subscribers in July to acknowledge that feedback received on some shows this year, notably adapted versions of classic plays and ones reinterpreted with contemporary references like Mrs. Warren's Profession and The Cherry Orchard, had been divided.
"While we received some positive reviews and feedback on these shows, we appreciate the adaptations didn't resonate with everyone," said the letter, which went on to explain that programming is a tricky thing.
"We need to satisfy a wide range of tastes and we also need to ensure shows reflect not only the vast theatre canon but the world we live in right now. We are committed to presenting theatre which our audiences will enjoy, with storytelling that explores the human condition in a way that is engaging, entertaining and moving."
Departing ATC chief executive Lester McGrath says it welcomed the feedback and he was heartened people emailed, wrote and telephoned because it shows Aucklanders care about theatre.
"We didn't set out the year to disturb people, but what's been great for us has been getting all the feedback from our audiences and subscribers and casual attendees. They are passionate about theatre; they care about theatre and they're not backward in coming forward to tell us what they think," says McGrath. "You know they are deeply engaged with theatre, particularly some of the theatre clubs. You know they care about it and to have that level of engagement is exciting."
For 2019, artistic director Colin McColl has put together a programme that returns ATC to big family dramas, classics done well, Pacific work and the newest plays straight from Broadway and the West End. However, it remains mindful of what he and McGrath see as a responsibility to ensure a bright future for emerging New Zealand theatre-makers by commissioning NZ plays and recognising Auckland's diversity on stage.
That's led to a new initiative for 2019 where ATC will stage two productions at the smaller Q Theatre. ATC will partner with emerging Māori theatre company Te Rēhia and Auckland Arts Festival in February then, in June, join forces with ground-breaking South Asian theatre company Prayas.
"We've never done co-productions like these before and working with independent companies and diverse voices is interesting," says McGrath. "We can't be all things to all people in the ASB Waterfront so this allows programming to sit alongside at Q Theatre."
McColl says the aim is for companies to upskill and hone productions in order to, in future, take on the challenge of working in bigger theatres.
Auckland Theatre Company's 2019 on Stage:
Tom Scott's Ma and Da Season:
A double-bill to pay tribute to one of our most celebrated writers, Tom Scott. Based on Scott's Irish father and childhood, The Daylight Atheist stars Michael Hurst and will be performed in repertoire with Joan. Scott wrote Joan 16 years after 2008's The Daylight Atheist as a story about his mum raising six children under difficult circumstances with an alcoholic husband.
Real-life mother-daughter acting combo Ginette McDonald and Kate McGill play the older and younger Joan. While describing both plays as extremely funny, McColl says they have touchpoints people will relate to about immigrant, motherhood and the responsibilities of a father.
ASB Waterfront Theatre, February 7-23
It's 1983 and young Hemi 'Jimmy' Te Rehua dominates the "spacies" at the Whakatāne Astrocade Amusement Parlour. Too smart for his own good, Jimmy's a computer whiz who snoozes through school and has a knack for trouble, but he's about to get an education of a different sort when his mischief finds him working for the grouchy Astrocade owner, Mr Macrae. A co-production with Te Rēhia, this is leading local playwright Albert Belz' latest with Miriama McDowell and Nicola Kawana leading the cast and ATC promising a "touching story of family, friendship and courage" with an epic 80s soundtrack.
Q Theatre, March 16-April 7
Peter Morgan, the acclaimed UK writer behind Netflix series The Crown, has long been fascinated by the machinations of the royal family. He's updated his 2015 play The Audience, which starred Helen Mirren in the titular role, to include her meetings with all her prime ministers FROM 1952 up to David Cameron. Here, Theresa Healey plays the Queen with Ian Mune, Paul Barrett and Cameron Rhodes among those starring as the PMs.
ASB Waterfront Theatre, May 8-23
A Fine Balance:
Adapted from Rohinton Mistry's Booker Prize shortlisted novel, this heart-rending story is set in an unidentified Indian city between 1975 and 1984, during the turmoil of "The Emergency" when President Indira Gandhi's government cracked down on civil liberties and drove thousands of poor from their homes. Working with community theatre group Prayas, the production will promote South Asian talent and is directed by Ahi Karunaharan.
Q Theatre, June 14-July 6
Six Degrees of Separation:
An American classic, John Guare's play popularised the idea — and the phrase — that everyone in the world is only six or fewer steps away from one another. Based on true events, the play was inspired by the real-life story of a con man who managed to convince a number of people in 1980s high society New York that he was the son of actor Sidney Poitier. Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Bruce Phillips take leading roles.
ASB Waterfront Theatre, August 14-29
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: ATC have staged Tom Stoppard's classic comedy before, but McColl says it's so good, it deserves to be revived. A wry take on Shakespeare's Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's university friends, have an existential crisis on why they exist — in life and the play. Benjamin Henson directs.
ASB Waterfront Theatre, September 11-26