On December 12th, 2019, Newcastle’s iconic Civic Theatre celebrated its most significant milestone yet: the 90th anniversary of its opening. For almost a century, the Civic has hosted performances for hundreds of thousands of theatre-goers, standing proud at the centre of the Novocastrian entertainment scene. And there it is sure to remain as its diverse Season 2020 program kicks off this February.
Officially unveiled on the venue’s 90th birthday, the 2020 Subscriber Season incorporates 19 shows from February to November. Some are brand-new to Newcastle audiences, while some are returning favourites, back by popular demand. It’s a genre-spanning program that ranges from dance, drama and physical theatre to music, comedy and kids’ shows – meaning there really is something for every kind of theatre-goer.
“We are delighted to offer a diverse range of shows which we hope will challenge, entertain and delight our audiences,” says Theatre Manager Leonie Wallace. “We look forward to evolving the [Civic] precinct as an even more integral component of the cultural fabric of the city, as we deliver a program ‘Beyond the Stage’ to further increase accessibility for all.”
“Season 2020 is as diverse as our ever-growing theatre audiences and is sure to be a highlight of the 2020 cultural calendar,” adds Newcastle’s Lord Mayor, Nuatali Nelmes. So what does this diverse new program of entertainment involve, exactly? Let’s dive in and take a look…
It all begins in February as Bangarra Dance Theatre, Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing arts company, brings its award-winning production Bennelong to Newcastle audiences. “The season could not be kicked off in a better way than with Bangarra Dance Theatre’s powerful production,” Leonie says. Bennelong explores the life and legacy of one of history’s most iconic Aboriginal figures: Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior man of the Eora who guided his community through a clash of cultures in the late 1700s. Pairing striking dance performances with stunning design and immersive soundscapes, Bennelong is an unmissable experience that’s sure to stay with audiences long after they leave the theatre.
If dance-based theatre is your particular jam, you’ll also want to check out Mixed Bill by Newcastle contemporary dance company, Catapult. Mixed Bill showcases the world premiere of four new works, created by renowned Australian choreographers and performed by local dancers. Running for two nights in March, the show is a bold, breathtaking display of contemporary dance.
Feats of physical theatre continue in April with Backbone, a jaw-dropping new work by internationally renowned Australian circus company, Gravity & Other Myths. Dubbed ‘contemporary circus with a twist’, Backbone celebrates human connectedness and strength throughout this incredible acrobatic performance.
The human experience is explored further throughout Season 2020’s dramatic lineup. One particularly powerful work undoubtedly set to become a season highlight is Man with the Iron Neck, heading to Newcastle in July after a critically acclaimed season at last year’s Sydney Festival. Through stunning aerial performance and arresting sound and stage design, Man with the Iron Neck tackles the increasing rate of suicide among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. But it’s a hopeful production, exploring the notion of embracing life after grief and painting a moving portrait of survival through feats of daring physicality.
Fans of classic literature should mark their calendars for September – spring kicks off at the Civic with Shake & Stir Theatre Co.’s stage adaptation of Animal Farm, George Orwell’s allegorical fairy tale. Orwell’s enduringly relevant political commentary receives a new lease on life in this critically acclaimed production, which promises to be shocking and hilarious by turns.
Bearfoot Theatre’s Do Your Parents Know You're Straight? is an equally timely addition to the 2020 program. Set in an alternate reality where kids have to come out as straight, the production runs for five performances in August, exploring the prejudice faced by members of the LGBTQI+ community in an experience that will leave eyes opened and hearts moved.
Similarly touching is Grace Under Pressure, a revelatory and disarming inside look at the lives of Australia’s health professionals. Based on extensive interviews with doctors and nurses, this unique theatre experience comes to Newcastle audiences in March, delivering hidden stories from the healthcare sector that range from the hilarious to the heartbreaking.
Season 2020 caters to the youngest of theatre-goers, too. Fans of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton may have seen the 13-, 26-, 52- or 78-Storey Treehouses live on stage – but the team is back in 2020 with the biggest show yet! In June, The 91-Storey Treehouse will take kids (and their parents) on a wild and wonderful journey in a new play adapted from the wildly popular Treehouse book series.
The stage adaptation of award-winning picture book The Gruffalo’s Child will also be here to enchant audiences in May. Featuring a magical combination of physical theatre, music and puppetry, The Gruffalo’s Child will have kids aged three and up laughing, gasping and singing along.
Speaking of laughter… The Civic will be welcoming back two of the nation’s favourite comedy offerings in 2020. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow makes a stop in Newcastle in June; Aussie comedy faves, hilarious up-and-comers and some special international guests will perform over two belly-laugh-filled evenings. And in October, the Sydney Comedy Festival Showcase brings some of the festival’s best acts up the coast for a one-night-only comedic extravaganza.
Also returning this year is the hugely popular one-person show, The Gospel According to Paul. Written by and starring Newcastle-born performer Jonathan Biggins, Gospel was a smash hit at the Civic in 2019 and is back for round two this May. Biggins transforms into former prime minister Paul Keating before the audience’s eyes, distilling the essence of Keating’s politics and personality into 90 minutes of biting wit and compelling insight. And that’s not the last you’ll see of this particular performer in 2020.
“We’ll have the delightful Jonathan Biggins back again later in the season when, after two decades of keeping audiences entertained and politicians nervous, we bid farewell to the magic that is The Wharf Revue,” Leonie Wallace reveals.
The Wharf Revue 2020: Good Night & Good Luck is the last hurrah for the Revue – a satirical comedy venture by the Sydney Theatre Company that’s become a cultural institution since its debut in 2000. Original trio Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott are joined by Mandy Bishop for a night of satire, sketches and songs to send the Wharf Revue off in style this August.
The Civic’s comedy stylings stretch right through to November, with a special show celebrating one of the great comics of our time: Peter Sellers. Being Sellers is a transformative one-man performance by Novocastrian theatre veteran Carl Caulfield, who takes audiences through a gallery of Sellers’ most memorable characters – and in so doing, unmasks the inner life of the man himself.
Keeping in the vein of classic comedy, we can’t forget the marvellous mid-year romp that is Mother & Son. Fans of the classic Aussie TV series can experience the laughs live at the Civic this July, as everyone’s favourite characters are revisited in an all-new story for the stage.
Last, but of course, not least, Season 2020 features a rich musical offering for lovers of sound and song. In March, South Sudan’s ‘king of music’ Gordon Koang makes his first appearance in Newcastle with Gordon Koang Presents Unity. Once a star in his local music scene, Gordon resettled in Australia after fleeing civil war – and now he’s bringing his music and his message of peace, love and unity to audiences across the country.
In April, the 2020's become the 1920's at the Civic with Echoes of the Jazz Age. Centred around F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay of the same name, this bedazzling show brings the Roaring Twenties back to life with a vivacious blend of words and music. Audiences will join actor and director John Bell, renowned pianist Simon Tedeschi and guest actress Blazey Best for a sparkling night of jazz and excess.
The Sapphires, the heartwarming musical play that inspired the hit 2012 movie, will be here to charm Newcastle audiences in May. This uplifting tale follows four Indigenous women who are plucked from their lives in regional Australia to form a music group and perform for troops during the Vietnam War. Based on a true story, and full of heart, hope and classic soul hits, this one’s sure to put a smile on every theatre-goer’s face.
Finally, if you’re an opera lover, there’s no need to travel far and wide for your fix this year! Opera Australia is bringing its 25th Anniversary Tour of Bizet’s Carmen to our neck of the woods in September. This classic opera in four acts features everything you could ask for: drama, passion and incredible music, brought together by some of the country’s finest opera singers, a chamber orchestra and a local children’s chorus.
With all these incredible shows on offer, why wouldn’t you want to become a Civic Theatre subscriber this year? All you need to do is purchase tickets to a minimum of four Season 2020 shows. Subscribers get a great ticket price and only pay one booking fee – plus you’ll enjoy discounted pre-show drinks at the theatre, free parking and many more benefits! Head to www.civictheatrenewcastle.com.au for further info, or call Civic Ticketek on 4929 1977.
Top Image: September's 'Animal Farm'
Second Image: Beau Dean Riley Smith, Bennelong, Bangarra 2017 - Photo by Edward Mulvihill
Third Image: Aaron Walker - 'Man With The Iron Neck'
Fourth Image: Jonathan Biggins - 'The Wharf Revue'. Photo by Brett Boardman
Final Image: The Wharf Revue