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Theatre Thoughts' Best Of 2023

The end of another year is drawing swiftly to a close, and with it comes the time to reflect on what our team loved seeing throughout it. Will your favourites make the list? Let’s find out!


It’s been another massive year for Theatre Thoughts, with our fanbase expanding in both Sydney, Melbourne and London. We’ve taken on both the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, taking in the most stunning, crazy, hilarious and experimental theatre. Our content creator and reviewer, Justin, reached the milestone of 100 shows in 2023, and our podcast kept expanding for its third season, welcoming the legendary Stephen Schwartz as a guest!


But the real question is, what’s been the best of the best amongst our team? With around 200 reviews to reflect on, what productions have left a lasting impression in our teams’ minds?


In no particular order, let’s jump into our theatre thoughts!

 

Written and performed by Mel O’Brien and Samantha Andrew.

High Pony - Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Comedy duo Mel O’Brien and Samantha Andrew have had a massive 2023. With their Spotify podcast taking the second spot on the Australian comedy podcasts list (just under Joe Rogan - boo!) as well as premiering their latest comedy show High Pony at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, they also found time to appear on our podcast!


High Pony was described by our reviewer Lillian as a “silly, fun cabaret of numbers [that Mel & Sam] clearly had a lot of fun writing”. Stretching to some truly far-out funny places, Mel & Sam’s latest comedy outing may just be their best yet, proven by their bigger venue return season at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.


Book and lyrics by Julia Robertson & music and orchestrations by Zara Stanton, presented by Little Eggs Collective in association with Hayes Theatre Co.

Metropolis - Hayes Theatre Co

Reviewed by Caitlin, she had the following to say about Little Eggs Collective’s Metropolis: “I am thoroughly baffled by the fact that this is Zara Stanton’s first musical. I allowed myself to enter the space without having dreamed too much on what a genre-defining century-old scifi story might sound like in this context, and as the kind of musician who sometimes compulsively guesses at resolving phrases in their head whilst hearing new music, I have seldom been both so wrong in the space of eighty minutes and so pleased to be.”


Metropolis was The Little Eggs Collective’s venture into the world of original musicals, bringing to life the 1927 film with an eclectic score. With book and lyrics by Julia Robertson and music and orchestrations by Zara Stanton, Metropolis wowed audiences due to its stunningly powerful ensemble, its haunting music and the development of new work in the Hayes Theatre. Therefore, it stands to reason that it finds a place on our best of 2023 list.


Written by Blake Erickson & Jay James-Moody. Music & Lyrics by Laura Murphy. Produced by Squabbalogic.

The Dismissal - Squabbalogic

With some audience members and reviewers labelling Squabbalogic’s The Dismissal as “Australia’s answer to Hamilton”, this “extremely serious musical comedy” was bound to find its way onto our list.


With original music and lyrics by the incredible Laura Murphy, The Dismissal managed to capture Australia’s own political scandal in a musical satire that made audiences laugh but also reflect on the cyclical impact the shockwaves continue to have in our political system.


Tessa had this to say about the production: “Australian humour and talent at its finest, The Dismissal is an absolute must-see. With its exceptional cast, engaging story, and memorable music, this production undoubtedly deserves a well-deserved standing ovation.”


Written by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Sarah Giles. Presented by the Sydney Theatre Company.

The Importance of Being Earnest - STC

Originally reviewed by Claira, Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest was praised by audiences due to its laugh out loud interpretations of Oscar Wilde’s classic, with some contemporary twists included to both update and stay true to the work. Claira said that Earnest “remains timelessly relevant as it holds up a mirror to modern society's obsession with superficiality and wealth”.


With decadently decorated set and costume designs, superb comic timing and acting, and some lovely contemporary spins, The Importance of Being Earnest has stuck in our minds amongst the best that 2023 had to offer.


The Butterfly Club presents a Gillian Cosgriff production.

Actually Good - Gillian Cosgriff

What can we say about Gillian Cosgriff’s return to the musical comedy world that hasn’t already been said?


Actually, Good is a stellar return for Cosgriff after departing her venture at a certain school of magic in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. With Cosgriff winning awards at both the Melbourne Comedy Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Actually, Good is a heart warming, yet heartbreaking production, whilst being both a wholesome and enlightening look at what we perceive as the best that the human experience has to offer.


If you haven’t yet seen Cosgriff in action, keep an eye out on her schedule and if she comes to a town near you, get to it!


Music & Lyrics by Max Martin, Book by David West Read, Directed by Luke Sheppard. Presented by Michael Cassel Group in association with MTM/LeyLine

& Juliet - Michael Cassel Group

After exploding into Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, & Juliet took Melbournites by storm, featuring a sing along evening as well as extra performances. Now with a season in Singapore completed, Michael Cassel Group are bringing the musical to Perth before landing in Sydney with a special Mardi Gras performance with a post-show Q&A.


Our reviewer Annika had this to say about the production: “Merrypor expertly leads this cast of theatre veterans and debuts. As a relative newcomer, Merrypor is the standout as Juliet. Her entire performance is exceptional, being a joy to watch as the young, energetic and excitable teen.”


Directed by Eamon Flack. From the book by Mikail Bulgakov.

The Master & Margarita - Belvoir St

A later addition to the “best of” list, Belvoir Theatre’s The Master and Margarita extended its run due to an overwhelming demand from audiences. Receiving rave reviews across the theatre review industry in Sydney, The Master and Margarita has earned its place due to its sharp, contemporary adaptation which expertly honours Bulgakov's satirical and philosophical message in an action-packed production.


Reviewed by Juliana, she had the following to say about The Master and Margarita: “Eamon Flack’s theatrical adaptation of a complex and complicated novel written in Russia during Stalin’s reign enlists an armoury of classic comedic, absurdist, and slapstick techniques that create the arena where the drama plays out…once the action gets going, it’s really just a matter of allowing yourself to be swept along.”


Written by Nathan Maynard. Directed by Isaac Drandic.

At What Cost? Belvoir St

Belvoir Theatre’s production of At What Cost? was so well recieved that it had its own return season in 2023. We had Claira attend to review the production and the feedback included phrases such as “The writing is brutally honest, funny, and frighteningly close to reality” and “a tragedy of intergenerational trauma, grief, and the continued exploitation of First Nations culture. It highlights the white settler-inflicted horrors that fill our history, and how far we still must come to ensure Aboriginal Australians get equitable treatment in our country.”


With other notable productions highlighting First Nations’ issues, such as The Visitors, finding their way to the stage in 2023, we hope to see many more pieces of work such as At What Cost? in future seasons.


Book and lyrics by Kellen Blair, book and music by Joe Kinosian. Presented by the Hayes Theatre Company.

Hayes Theatre Co - Murder for Two

With the return season taking place at the Hayes Theatre in the same year since its debut (with a Christmas spin included), the production of musical comedy two-hander Murder For Two was well reviewed by pretty much all who had the pleasure of seeing it.


Starring musical comedian Gabbi Bolt and performer Maverick Newman, the pair “put the laugh in manslaughter”, with the production being described by Claira as “the perfect blend of musical genius, physical comedy, dancing and a touch of murder.”


Murder For Two finds its way onto our list due to the inspired casting, superb range of musical stylings, and the Hayes Theatre’s continuation of bringing new spins to theatre productions in the Sydney scene.


Written by Dave Malloy, directed by Dean Drieberg, Musical Director Claire Healy and Choreographed by Brendan Yeates. Produced by Darlinghurst Theatre Company

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Making its Australian premiere at Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 was a sensational highlight of the 2023 theatre season. Directed by Dean Drieburg, with musical direction by Claire Healy and choreography by Brendan Yeates, The Great Comet utilised the skill of each and every performer in the cast, as well as the wealth of experience from each member of the production team.


With its rich text that covers parts of Leo Tolstoy's Love and War, the work, composed by Dave Malloy was originally staged in New York featuring Josh Groban in the role of Pierre. The Sydney production took what made the Broadway version great, and twisted it into a rich tapestry of images, shapes and sounds that showcased the best of what the Sydney theatre scene has to offer.


Reviewed by Tessa, she labelled The Great Comet as “an absolute must-see that is a testament to the transformative power of theatre.” Here’s hoping for a return season in 2024!


 

Honourable Mentions


Labelled by our Melbourne reviewer, Martha, as “a witty, poignant masterpiece that delves into the complexities of gender and art”, Bernhardt/Hamlet was one of the early must-see pieces of theatre from 2023.


Filled with humour and insight, Bernhardt/Hamlet also touched on notions of gender inequality in the arts, approaching its themes with a light touch, never sacrificing the play's wit and humour for heavy-handed messaging.


Bernhardt/Hamlet. Pia Johnson

Photo: Pia Johnson.


Labelled by our reviewer Kate as “one of the strongest productions seen at KXT,” The Hero Leaves One Tooth was a unique piece of theatre that utilised dark themes coupled against equally sharp dialogue.


Altogether, the production was “quite thrilling, entertaining, and very tasteful!”

The Hero Leaves One Tooth

Documenting the humans and events surrounding the Lindt Chocolate shop siege of December 2014, Human Activity was a gorgeously performed piece of theatre that deserves to be mentioned.


Our reviewer Natania had this to say about the production: “A must-see this season at KXT on Broadway, Human Activity gives an audience the chance to experience a range of emotions and leaves you to make your own conclusions about how you want to treat your fellow human.”

Human Activity Poster KXT

 

Congratulations to everyone who put together these stunning productions.

Read all our reviews and thoughts from 2023 here.

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