Sydney Theatre Company’s long-awaited return home to The Wharf will be marked by a stunning production of one of Australia’s most beloved tales – Playing Beatie Bow – which opens on 22 February and is set right in the historic surrounds of the company’s newly renovated theatre at The Rocks.
From celebrated playwright Kate Mulvany and Artistic Director Kip Williams, the same creative duo behind the multi-award-winning world of The Harp in the South: Part One and Part Two, comes this new adaptation of another of Ruth Park’s famous stories.
Abigail, a teenager dealing with her parents’ messy separation, follows the mysterious young Beatie Bow back through time, from the hustle and bustle of Sydney’s The Rocks in the present day to the year 1873 – when the suburb was full of struggling immigrant families, gangsters and a whole host of larger-than-life characters. With the help of Beatie, her wise grandmother and the whole Bow family, Abigail goes on a wild adventure through the twisting alleyways of history in a race to find her way home.
Williams has brought together an impressive cast led by Catherine Van-Davies (No Pay? No Way!, Hungry Ghosts) as Abigail and Sofia Nolan in her STC debut as Beatie Bow. They are joined by Tony Cogin, Lena Cruz, Claire Lovering, Heather Mitchell, Rory O’Keefe, Guy Simon and Ryan Yeates – who play up to 60 different roles between them.
Williams, for whom Playing Beatie Bow was a favourite novel growing up, said people of all ages would find something to love in this production and hopes the sense of community portrayed in the story will enliven spirits after the tumultuous year of 2020.
“This is a magical, remarkable story about a young person on a journey of self-discovery, and what makes it particularly poignant is how it beautifully explores the history of The Rocks – which is where our company is returning home to,” said Williams. “It’s a show that will also introduce The Wharf to a whole new generation of theatregoers – who I hope will continue to visit over the years.”
Having now adapted two of Park’s works, Mulvany said she was compelled to continue returning to the famous novelist because of her innate “understanding of Australia and Australian communities.”
In her work, Ruth Park dives deep into communities that have made up this country for tens of thousands of years – from the First Nations people to the white colonists to the migrants that make up the ever-shifting communities of our country,” said Mulvany. “Ruth takes all of that perspective and turns it into the most incredible yet recognisable narratives, characters and storylines that transcend time and space.”
Mulvany says the story of Beatie and Abigail is a beautiful coming of age tale that reflects the difficulties and triumphs of womanhood and the power of female friendship.“What I love about Beatie and Abigail as characters is that they encourage each other along the path of womanhood and the many varied aspects of being a girl or a woman or a femme,” said Mulvany.
“I love that when we go back to 1873, we find a young girl, Beatie, who is about as unknowingly feminist as you can get in a tiny, fever-struck 11-year-old body. But at the same time, we can move forward into 2021 and find Abigail who is really unsure where she fits in the world as a young woman, and is frustrated by the politics around her. And it takes leaping through time for both Abigail and Beatie to realise how wonderful it can be to be a woman in this world. How wonderful it should be. And also how tough it is too.”
“But it’s not just a feminist novel, it’s a deep love story. It deals with all of the awkwardness of being a teenager who’s on the cusp of their adult life. That journey comes with a lot of heartache and a lot of humour – and more than anything, love in all its many and magnificent forms, especially love of self,” said Mulvany.
Director: Kip Williams Featuring: Tony Cogin, Lena Cruz, Claire Lovering, Heather Mitchell, Sofia Nolan, Rory O’Keeffe, Guy Simon, Catherine Van-Davies, Ryan Yeates Set Designer: David Fleischer Costume Designer: Renée Mulder Lighting Designer: Nick Schlieper Composer: Clemence Williams Sound Designer: David Bergman Choral Director: Natalie Goonaratne Additional Composition: Matthew Doyle Dramaturg: Courtney Stewart Assistant Director: Kenneth Moraleda Fight & Movement Director: Nigel Poulton Voice & Text Coach: Danielle Roffe
Playing Beatie Bow
Wharf 1 Theatre – Wharf 4/5, 15 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay (Sydney)
Season: 27 February – 1 May 2021 (previews: 22 – 23 February)
Information and Bookings: www.sydneytheatre.com.au
Image: Catherine Van-Davies and Sofia Nolan – photo by Rene Vaile